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advesperascit (v): the approaching dark; the evening draws near

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The thing about dragons was that no one knew just when they were going to get tired of pretending to be human, and (according to superstition, at least) rise up to kill them all.

Of course, many people believed that the dragons had died out decades ago; a theory that Lydia herself had agreed with until rather recently. Now, she was more than halfway convinced that they were even more dragons than the conspiracy theorists suspected, in hiding, just waiting for humans to kill themselves off.

Furthermore, Lydia strongly suspected that one of those dragons was Stiles Stilinski. Lord Stilinski was by no measure an ordinary gentleman, and where that would have been a detriment to others, the young lord made his apparent weakness into a strength. He seemed to care very little for the rules of high society, preferring instead to seek out any intellectual pursuit that caught his fancy, no matter how fleeting, and unashamedly admitting to having far more books than friends. To snub Stiles was to do so at one’s own peril, and those who were wise listened when he spoke, even if he seemed not to make much sense at all. Lydia had long been both infuriated and grudgingly impressed by Stiles's unwillingness to follows the norms of his peers, but she was loathe to think that she had underestimated him to such a degree.

Looking at him now from across the room, with the sunset peeking through the windows at his back, Lydia could easily imagine the young lord soaring triumphantly through the clouds. Or raining down fire on the masses below.

Lord Stilinski turned slightly, as if he could sense her eyes upon him, and met her startled gaze. Lydia briefly started at being caught staring, but Stiles didn't give her any of the normal responses that he would normally offer at having caught the attention of another of the peerage; he didn't bow, or wink, or offer her his famous half-smirk, but simply looked back at her in a way that raised every hair on her arms.

After a long, long moment, Lydia looked away first.

“Hasn't anyone ever told you that it's best to let sleeping dragons lie?”

Only years of training kept Lydia from jumping in surprise as Peter Hale and Christopher Argent appeared next to her elbow. According to rumor, the two men had been seen often going to Lord Stilinski’s manor as of late, though they had barely been friends only a few months ago. It was one of the many mysteries surrounding Stiles that Lydia wished to solve, especially if she intended to ask for his help.

Peter, who had asked the question, was watching Lydia with barely-concealed mirth, though Christopher was looking at Stiles from where he had resumed his conversation across the room.

“Lady Martin?” Peter prompted.

Stiles might (or might not be, her inner scientist whispered) a dragon, but Peter Hale was just a man, and Lydia Martin could handle men, even those as clever and charming as he. She turned to him with a smile on her face and a question in her eyes. “I wasn't aware that you believed in dragons, my lord.”

“Unfortunately, some things don't care whether you believe in them or not, they carry right on existing regardless,” he said lightly, and Lydia watched as he, too sought out Stiles across the room. With all three of them looking at him, Stiles glanced in their direction once more, and Lydia's breath caught at what she could have sworn was a flash of gold through Lord Stilinski's eyes. “And most of those things bite,” he added when they had once again turned away from Stiles.

“Are you threatening me?”

Peter opened his mouth, no doubt to say something cutting, but a unsubtle nudge from Christopher made him reconsider. Instead, he smiled. “I didn't know that you were capable of being threatened, Lady Martin. I apologize. I'm merely here to warn you that some things, once known, can never be unknown. Keep in mind that the thing that you wish for might not be worth the price you pay. Christopher and I are proof enough of that.”

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allure (v): to attract, fascinate, or charm

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There was no one alive who would ever have accused Katherine Pierce of being kind. Katherine was a survivor, unashamed of hurting others if it meant saving herself. She hadn't always been this ruthless, she remembered; but any compassion in her heart had poured out with every drop of her family's blood all those centuries ago.

At the time, she had only wanted to to escape from Klaus and everything he represented, but she quickly discovered that the thrill of being the hunter rather than the hunted was intoxicating, and by the time Katarina became Katherine, there was nothing left of the girl who had once dared fall in love with a Mikaelson.

Meeting Matthew had soothed a wound that she hadn't even realized was still bleeding. He was everything that Katarina would have hoped for, but that Katherine had learned to avoid. He was quick-witted, but kind, and he never treated Katherine like the monster she knew she was. He knew how to push without pushing too much, and pull in a way that made the vampire surprisingly happy to yield. Before she’d even realized it, the woman who had grown to scorn love found herself imagining a future with a man with eyes like whiskey.

Matthew wasn't meant to be anywhere near the cliffs that night, let alone throw himself into a fight between two vampires. Katherine had known and accepted that she would eventually need to turn her love to keep them together, but she was cruelly denied that chance. Instead, she felt her heart shatter with Matthew’s body as she watched him hit the rocks below.

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For Stiles, Katherine was a breath of fresh air amidst the perpetual thunderstorm that was Beacon Hills. They’d gotten along about as well as Stiles and Derek had at first, but much like Stiles and Derek, Stiles and Katherine had gotten over their dislike of each other through a series of life-or-death situations that would have been ridiculous if Stiles hadn't been so tired.

Even with support from Deaton, his dad, and Chris, holding the territory had been an exhausting, thankless job. He had done it, though, while living the life that should have belonged to Derek. He’d finally gotten over the bitterness of it a couple of years ago, but it had been a tough road to reach.

Katherine’s arrival in Beacon Hills actually couldn't have come at a worse time: Stiles was just getting over the flu, there were problems with the construction of the house, and there was a wendigo roaming the edges of the territory. The vampire had waltzed into town looking for fun and instead had received a face full of vervain for her trouble. Needless to say, they hadn't gotten off to the best start.

A few nights later, Stiles saved her from the wendigo, griping about it the entire time. A week after that, Katherine saved him from drowning, complaining loudly as she did so. He saved her from vampire hunters; she saved him from other vampires.

They'd needed to work together to stop the ogre rampaging through the Preserve, which was why Katherine was in Stiles's car in the first place; that, and the young man didn't want to have to listen to all of the complaining later if Stiles left Katherine to get back to wherever she was staying on her own.

It was a decision that would save the human’s life.

Stiles didn't have time to evade the car that ran the red light, and only Katherine’s quick reflexes kept him from being impaled by the debris as his jeep all but crumpled like tissue paper. They didn't, however, keep him from hitting his head on the window hard enough for even the vampire to flinch as she recalled another young man lying so still.

Her breath caught.

She didn't feel the least bit guilty about feeding Stiles some of her blood, or compelling her way onto the ambulance, or manipulating the hospital staff. By the time the Sheriff arrived, Katherine had convinced half of the nurses that she and Stiles were practically engaged.

Katherine found that she rather liked the prospect.

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anacampserote (n): something that can bring back a lost love

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To the world at large, Elijah Mikaelson was the epitome of familial duty. He was calm, collected, and he stood with his siblings even when they did horrible things. To the world, he was the kindest, most reasonable of the Mikaelsons, and his dress and mannerisms drew people more to him than his more volatile siblings.

In truth, Elijah was much more than the confident, even-tempered picture he presented to those around him. His suit was his armor, and although his mother hadn't been wrong about his part in Tatia’s death, the guilt he harbored over her demise was minimal compared to his desire to see his soulmate once more.

Elijah's wardrobe, for all of its other benefits, was also an excellent way to hide his unlikely soulmark from prying eyes.

Just the thought of the words scrawled across his bicep made him smile wider than most people would ever get the chance to see. It had been far too long since he had last seen the other half of his soul, and if it wouldn't make the others suspicious, he would gladly pack up and go in search of his beloved.

What would the world say, he wondered, if the ever-faithful Elijah abandoned his family to search for love?

Each of the Mikaelsons had had soulmarks written across their skin over the centuries: once-in-a-lifetime matches to potentially mend broken and lonely people whose lifespans were so much longer than those of the humans that surrounded them. And while Rebekah had searched tirelessly for her soulmate from the moment her mark had appeared, they had all been forced to watch as their marks lightened and vanished as their soulmates aged and died.

Unlike Niklaus or Kol, Elijah had mourned when the soulmark on his ribs had finally faded away, and he couldn't help but wonder what kind of person had been made to fit such a monster like him.

A century after his soulmark had vanished, new words bloomed across his heart, as so was born Elijah's greatest secret: in time, his soulmate always returned.

And to loyal, steadfast Elijah, that meant that it was the Original’s (hope, prayer, purpose, reason for living) duty to find them.

If only the task was not made infinitely more difficult by his siblings’ machinations.

Once, Niklaus had daggered him in a fit of pique, and Elijah had revived to discover that his mark had faded while he slept. He never found out how the other man had died for fear that his brother would use the information against him.

In another life, as soon as his beloved said the words written across his skin, Elijah had turned and run away like a coward, never to see his soulmate in that lifetime again. He prayed every day that the ache in his heart was not echoed in the other man's.

The one time that Elijah had inadvertently said his words first, the Original and his lover had shared only a few blissful years together before Elijah was forced to watch his lover die; this time, at Mikael’s hands.

All too easily, Elijah had convinced himself that it was better for the both of them if the two of them never again crossed paths, but unlike his siblings (and so many others who never found the other halves of their souls), they inevitably passed each other on the street, or met through a mutual acquaintance, or encountered one another in the most unlikely circumstances.

Elijah had given everything to his family, except his heart, and now his heart had finally taken control.

For once, the knowledge (the certainty) that it didn't matter which direction he traveled--they would always find each other--gave him comfort; this time, he would not let anyone come between he and his beloved.

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assassination (n): the murder of a prominent person, usually for political or monetary reasons

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Peter woke to the smell of blood and a warm body beneath him.

Despite what some people might have assumed, this was not a regular occurrence for Peter, and it took him longer than he’d like to admit to orient himself to the situation. He rolled himself off of the body in question with a low groan and turned to face his companion, trying to recall just how he'd gotten into this mess.

Prince Stiles’s face was mere inches from his own, the scents of wildflowers and ozone clinging to him like perfume.

Peter jerked in confusion. He knew who the prince was, of course, and had likely been introduced to him once or twice, but they’d never shared a conversation, let alone spent any significant time together. Peter had heard the rumors--Prince Stiles was widely regarded as obstinate, defiant, and an all-round bad influence on his brother Scott--but the werewolf had yet to see any of those traits in person.

(For his part, the prince seemed to thrive on the rumors in a way that Peter could appreciate, even if the werewolf personally preferred to work from the shadows.)

Stiles let out a moan, but his eyes opened easily and focused almost immediately on the werewolf next to him. Peter stilled. His dislike of humans outside of his family was well-known, and the prince could easily have him killed if he was in any way offended by Peter's presence.

Stiles's eyes widened briefly at the sight of him, but it was quickly followed by a resigned grin as he pushed himself up with far less grace than Peter would have expected from a royal and started brushing himself off and then leaned down to offer his companion a hand up. “Lord Hale, what a pleasure seeing you here.”

Peter couldn't help it--he stared. Even with his sister's voice screaming through his head about proper deference and decorum, Peter sat there like he was frozen to the spot as the Prince shrugged and began patting himself down in search of...something.

“Well,” he said amiably after a few moments, and finding everything apparently in its place, “I have no idea what happened here, and I'm guessing you don't, either.” The werewolf barely remembered to shake his head in response. “Okay, murder failure number five. Good work, team.” He moved smoothly past the wolf, stopping only long enough to pat a still-dumbfounded Peter on the arm.

The scent of blood wafted to the werewolf once again, and after a moment to process the other man's words, it occurred to him that perhaps someone had left the two of them like this on purpose. It was no secret that the Hales were wolves, and the perpetrator must have hoped that Peter would react mindlessly to the scent of blood and attack the Prince. Honestly, Peter wasn't sure what disturbed him more: the fact that there were people in the Court ignorant enough to think that such a plan would work, or the fact that Stiles didn't seem the least bit surprised or bothered by it.

“Someone is trying to kill you,” he said flatly.

Stiles shrugged Peter's revelation off with an infuriating nonchalance. “It isn't the first time,” he admitted, “and it undoubtedly won't be the last. Are you okay?”

Peter nearly snorted. Of course he was fine, he was a werewolf. “I’m well, but I refuse to be party to murder plots without my consent.”

Stiles shrugged again. “It's brilliant, really, pitting the bastard prince and the black sheep of the Hales against one another. I'm surprised no one has tried it before now.”

“I'm sorry to leave you like this, my Lord, but I'm sure that Scott is worried about me, and I try not to worry him more than absolutely necessary. ” Stiles glanced at the afternoon sun, and back to Peter with a grin. “Let's do this again sometime, shall we? Maybe when we're both likely to remain conscious during the encounter?”

Peter watched him go, confused, concerned, and more than a little fascinated.

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atonement (n): reparation for wrong or injury

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Tony had always known that it would end like this; after all, there was ample evidence to show that no matter how hard he tried, no matter how well-meaning, his choices were never good enough.

He was never good enough.

There was a part of him, of course, that still hoped that everything would end happily (the same part that had constantly craved his father's attention and cherished Captain America and everything he stood for) but that piece of him was being steadily crushed under the knowledge that, in the end, no one ever cared for Tony as much as he cared for them.

(Well, that wasn't entirely true, but the one person who had always loved him best was so far out of his reach at the moment that it was practically painful to think on, so he didn't.)

He'd learned that lesson well, over the years. He'd become an expert at playing to people's expectations: he gave them (the press, the Board of Directors, SHIELD) what they wanted because it was easier to die by inches than to raze everything and start over.

He had let himself believe that being part of the Avengers would make things better. He spent his time trying to build everything that they needed (relationships, weapons, a home), but it still wasn't enough.

Between the UN, and Ross, and meetings, and hearings, and SI, Tony was fairly certain that the only thing keeping him upright half the time was the Iron Man suit. Sleeping and eating, which had never been big priorities before the blowout, were practically nonexistent now, and when Tony did sleep, his nightmares had graduated from water and black holes of nothingness to cold and endless empty hallways.

Kind of like now, actually, Tony thought bitterly, as his footsteps echoed through the mostly abandoned tower.

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Tony woke the next morning to sounds drifting from the kitchen. Before everything went to hell, Tony would have already bounded out of bed to investigate; now, he found himself hovering between the tiny hope that one of his friends had returned to him, and the twinge of something that made him hope that his visitor was there to put him out of his misery.

Tony faltered at the sight of the young man in his kitchen. There was no way that Noah would have let Stiles come to New York right now. “Are you real?”

“Of course,” he answered, pushing a plate in Tony's direction and sitting down to eat his own meal. “Where else was I supposed to be?”

Tony snorted, but dug into his meal, regardless. If his brain wanted to conjure up Stiles and his excellent cooking, Tony wasn't going to complain. “In California, maybe?”

“Who says I'm not in California?”

“Physics, maybe?”

Stiles grimaced. “It's magic.”

“I hate magic.”

“I know.”

“So, you're in California, and you're with me?”

“Something like that.”

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It was inevitable that they talked about the Accords. They talked about how much quieter the Tower was without the Avengers to fill it, and whether or not Tony wanted them to fill it again.

“The blame isn't entirely yours, you know,” Stiles consoled him over pancakes. “Everyone made their own choices.”

“But how do I fix things?”

For a moment, something like sadness passed through Stiles's eyes, but it was gone before Tony could be certain. “I don't know if you can or even if you should change things,” and that wasn't what Tony had asked, but Stiles was still speaking, “but the one thing that will always be true? You can always come home to us.”

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The third time it happened, it occurred to Tony that he never saw Stiles outside of the kitchen. Usually, when Stiles visited, he would camp out in the living room, or play with the bots, or any number of things, but this Stiles was silent like a ghost.

By the time he made it to breakfast that morning, Tony was torn between pretending that everything was fine and finding out the truth. After all, insanity was probably worth it if it gave him Stiles.

“You're not real,” he accused the specter in his kitchen. “I'm finally losing it, and you're not real.”

Stiles reached out to him, and Tony didn't pull away. Instead, he sunk into the warm comfort of his little brother's hand on his and waited for whatever fate was about to hand him. He wished he'd had another chance to visit Noah and Stiles before everything had fallen apart.

“If I promise you that everything is going to be fine, will you wake up?”

Tony's head whipped up so fast that his neck cracked uncomfortably, making both men wince. “What?”

“Don't let the darkness scare you; there's always time to figure things out.”

Tony frowned. “I don't--”

“I love you, but you need to wake up now.”

In the middle of a ruined street in New York, the Hulk roared.

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balams (n): In Mayan mythology, jaguar spirits who would guard a village’s people and protect them from outside threats.

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I'm scared. Please hold my hand.

Stiles inwardly snorted at his friend’s antics and fought not to roll his eyes. This wasn't the time or the place for that, and Derek's growl and eye flash combination had long since lost its ability to keep either one of them in line. Not to mention, Xan certainly didn't need protection from Derek or anyone else.

We have to let the pack handle this, remember? Stiles countered. Derek is going to have my hide if it looks like I'm causing trouble.

Of course, it had been Derek's fault that he’d almost been caught by the last monster-of-the-week, considering his research-to-sleep ratio at the time. If Derek wanted a quicker reaction time out of Stiles, someone needed to help with the information gathering portion of the operation. Of course, if Stiles hadn't been severely sleep deprived, there was no way that the thing could have ever laid a hand on him, but Derek didn't need to know that part.

Exactly how are we supposed to keep these creatures in line if we're not allowed to interact with them at all? Xan grumbled.

Stiles didn't know the answer to that, yet, but both he and Xan knew the importance of keeping their secret safe, even if it initially jeopardized the town.

(He couldn't deny his instincts for long, though, even when he should, and those instincts were telling him to see the whatever-it-was to the county boundary as quickly as possible.)

Naturally, Derek and Scott wanted to negotiate with them. Peter and Lydia were both vehemently opposed to the idea, and everyone else knew better than to jump into the middle of it.

At least Derek isn't advocating outright fighting them, Xan noted. That would be a mess and I have no desire to deal with another alpha pack fiasco.

That time, Stiles did snort; loudly enough to catch the attention of everyone in the room.

“Do you have anything to add, Stiles?” Peter asked from his faux-lounging spot on the stairs. By the sly, amused look on his face, he knew that Stiles hadn't been paying attention.

Yes, Xan piped up in his head. We do have something to add. Remove them as quickly as possible, by force if necessary. Also, chocolate chip ice cream is the best, and we'd really like to stick our tongue down you throat in the near future.

Stiles choked. “Nope, I've got nothing to add.” Seriously?

Well, you do, don't you? He’s quite attractive and intelligent, and he trusts his instincts. We could do far worse.

That's not the point. Monsters are the point right now, remember? We can flirt with Peter later.

So you do admit that you want him.

“Of course I want him, I have a pulse!”

Every person in the room turned at his unintentional outburst, and Stiles felt his heart begin to pound at the sight of everyone's eyes on him. He didn't dare glance in Peter's direction.

Time to make a quick exit.

“Look, if you want my opinion,” he said hurriedly, moving toward the door and absolutely refusing to look at the elder Hale, “these aren't the type of creatures to keep around. Now, if you don't mind, I have to take dinner to my dad.”

He wasn't the least bit ashamed with the way he practically ran out the door. He really could have done without Xan’s laughter in his head, though.

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behemoth (n): any creature or thing of monstrous size or power

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Ichigo cursed lowly as he put on another burst of speed, Zangetsu and Shiro’s urgency ringing in his ears. Why did everything always have to be so complicated?

It wasn't like he wanted to be stuck in the past, waiting for a rescue that might never happen. He had faith in Kisuke, but even the genius shopkeeper’s inventions took time to build, assuming that building a time machine was even possible.

Of course, Ichigo was more than just a strange-haired hothead with a big sword. He knew better than to go around changing things in the past because it might lead to an even worse future, and there way no way he wanted to deal with extra problems when he got home. He had no desire to meet the younger versions of the people he knew, or learn anything more about the time period. All he wanted or needed to do was keep his head down and go home.

Naturally, his resolve to avoid anything Shinigami-related until Kisuke could get him back to his own time lasted a minuscule three days, when he happened to come across Aaroniero trying to devour Shiba Kaien and stepped in before Rukia and Ukitake could arrive.

Ichigo wasn't even sure how he had managed to be anywhere in the vicinity of Kaien’s fight considering the pains he was taking to avoid being seen, but as soon as he realized what was going on, he'd had no choice but to intervene. Preserving the timeline was important, but what kind of person just walked by when someone else was in danger?

Ichigo saved Kaien and hurried away, only to be hunted down by Ukitake a week later and manhandled into both the Shiba clan and the Shinigami Academy in alarmingly short order.

The Shibas welcomed a shell-shocked Ichigo into their midst, bulldozing over any and all objections and treating him like a prodigal son returned, and Kaien practically became Ichigo's shadow from the time he woke up after the attack until the younger man was enrolled at the Academy a month later.

Despite everything, Ichigo found himself forging a friendship with Kaien, and not minding the rest of the intrusive Shibas as much as he probably should have. Ichigo knew better than to get close to any of them, but he couldn't help but be lured into the warm-hearted family.

The substitute Shinigami’s inability to keep himself isolated was the reason he was racing through the Academy halls right now, instead of hiding in his room like any ordinary first-year student. He breathed out a sigh of relief as he barely avoided being spotted by one of the invaders.

Be careful, Ichigo, Zangetsu warned. The barrier they have created will keep the captains and lieutenants out for some time. We may have to fight.

Better than creepin’ around like we're doin’ now, Shiro offered. Let's kill ‘em, King, before they start makin’ a mess.

Ichigo grimaced at the idea of letting loose on school grounds, even if it was looking increasingly necessary, and ducked out of sight as an arrancar passed through the hallway in front of him.

The teachers had done an excellent job of herding students into safer areas, but it was unlikely to confuse these creatures for long. These weren't like the Espada, most of whom were actually reasonable people, but they were just as strong, and dangerous.

For a second, Ichigo contemplated finding Hideyoshi and Sei; they were by far the most suspicious of his teachers, but they were also the ones he could trust to be helpful during the fight. He certainly couldn't ask his fellow students for help. Both of them would no doubt jump at the chance to learn some of his secrets; but hopefully, Ichigo would have a chance to vanish after the rescue without being questioned.

Remember what happened last time you thought that? Shiro sing-songed at him. We were adopted. I don't think Kaien’s gonna let us walk away.

We could likely find sanctuary with the Soul King if the Gotei 13 react poorly, Zangetsu added. But first--

The zanpakuto was cut off as a scream ripped through the air.

Ichigo sighed. “Damn it.”

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benevolent (adj.): desiring to help others; intended for benefits rather than profit

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He's going to have to kill Lydia first.

It's not because he likes her the least; or the most, for that matter. She’ll be the first one to die because she's the most rational choice. She's the one most likely to see the pattern, given the chance, so she needs to be first.

It will take time, and patience, of course. Lydia deserves better than to be thrown into the river or chopped into bits, and poison will be a good way to see just how the others react in a crisis.

He’ll think of it as preparation for future incidents.

(It's unfortunate that things had to turn out this way, and really, he’d like to blame Liam, but he's sure that the humiliation of falling into a hole and breaking one’s neck has followed the young man into the afterlife.)

Still, it's difficult not to get annoyed when he’d thought that this life would be the one to finally break the curse. After all these centuries, everyone was finally together, and mostly tolerant of each other's company, and--

And then Liam goes and accidentally kills himself, dashing his hopes and their one chance of breaking the curse in this lifetime.

He must admit, he's a little bit resentful of the fact that for all that it was Liam who died, he is the one who is suffering.

Stiles knows that he used to be more hopeful, and patient, but he's finding it increasingly difficult to watch Lydia and Jackson circle each other, or Scott make moon eyes at Allison, and know that things will only end badly. The others won't fare any better.

Rather than draw the torment out indefinitely, he’s going to wipe the slate clean. It's going to be painful for all of them, but it will be better for them in the long run.

Lydia will be first. Slowly, carefully, so that by the time Allison notices that something is wrong (because Jackson is many things, but observant is not one of them), it will be too late to save her. Jackson will no doubt drink himself to death shortly thereafter, and then comes the task of getting rid of Allison...though hunting isn't exactly a safe occupation for a lady. Scott will be the most difficult--if only because he deserves to grow old and gray--but Stiles will make sure that his best friend doesn't suffer when he takes his last breath.

The others will be easy enough to kill, save Peter.

Stiles can never predict Peter's role in the group from one life to the next. The two of them manage to love and hate each other with equal frequency and intensity, and though this life has been better than most, Stiles knows that Peter will be just as quick to uncover the pattern of deaths as Lydia.

Nevertheless, he wants to save Peter for last. Call him sentimental, but he wants to spend as much time with his lover as he can before the end. He owes it to Peter to kill him personally; to be there as the light fades from the other man's eyes, to listen to any insults or recriminations Peter might toss his way. It's the least he can do for the one he loves.

(It's not that he wants to kill any of them, but he's tired of wasting time.)

Lydia will be first, Peter will be last, and then he will be alone.

At least until the next time.

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confluence (n): a coming together of people or things

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Of the otherwise sad members of the Beacon Hills pack, Peter was (for once) the luckiest one.

Unlike the others, who had only managed to receive glimpses of Stiles since his return, Peter had at least spent some time with him, stood in his presence, and breathed in his scent.

And he'd kissed him. Once.

The experience had been everything and nothing like Peter had imagined (and his imagination had come up with a good number of scenarios over the years), and then Stiles had pushed him away with a smirk that said that if Peter wanted another kiss he was going to have to earn it.

Shortly thereafter, Cora had all but thrown him out the door and refused to let him back in, and Peter, not wanting to antagonize the newly-returned trio, had accepted the ouster with (some) dignity.

Since that day, though, efforts to meet with Stiles had proven frustratingly difficult. Peter had tried any number of schemes to get Stiles alone, but he had been thwarted at every turn by his niece, Brett, and, in one unfortunate instance, a kitten stuck in a tree.

(Peter had absolutely not been jealous of the tiny gray and white ball of fluff that Stiles had happily cradled to his chest moments after its rescue; Cora’s corresponding smirk in his direction was entirely unnecessary.)

The Sheriff, while he did nothing to prevent Peter from seeing Stiles, seemed to take an inordinate amount of glee in watching Peter make a fool of himself, and the werewolf was sure that he had seen the man’s deputies following him around on more than one occasion.

(Peter, thankfully, had escaped the rash of tickets for everything from loitering to jaywalking that had befallen the rest of the pack over the last two weeks, but he had reached the point where he would willingly pay any sort of fine to be allowed to talk to Stiles again.)

Which led the werewolf to this moment, in this position.

On his knees, in front of a young man he was fairly certain he loved.

Stiles paused in the middle of his work with the wards to raise an eyebrow in his direction. “Is there something I can do for you, Peter?”

“Quinn was everything I wanted her to be.”

The tentative smile that had been on Stiles's face fell, and he actually took a step backward before Peter reached forward quickly enough to grab the human’s hands.

“I knew that she would turn on us in the end, but the pack was listening to ideas that they never would have considered if they had come from me, and I'll admit that there was a part of me that relished the thought of watching the pack implode because of Scott's naïveté,” the werewolf explained.

Stiles scowled at him, but he didn't pull his hands away, and Peter didn't dare draw attention to that fact lest those circumstances change. “If this is meant to be an apology, I think it needs a little work.”

“No, you need to understand.” And Peter needed to say it, because being on his knees was getting uncomfortable, “I convinced myself that I had everything under control,” he gave a self-deprecating smirk, “and that you would be there, helping with the mess afterward, because, of course you would be there. And once I was finished with Quinn, I told myself that we could explore the attraction between us.” He stared up at Stiles, willing the younger man to believe him. “I was a fool.”

For a few long moments, Stiles did nothing but watch him with a look that the werewolf couldn't quite interpret, before he covered it up with a smirk. “I have to say, ‘on your knees’ is a good look for you, but it's going to take more than one really good kiss to make things better.”

Peter nearly swayed with relief; he still had a chance to make things right. “I--”

“I'm going to kiss you again,” Stiles interrupted, pulling the werewolf to his feet and leaning close enough for Peter to see the flecks of color in the younger man's eyes, “and it's going to be fantastic, and then you're going to find Cora, and let her beat the crap out of you, and we’ll go from there, okay?”

Peter had barely nodded his consent when Stiles pressed his lips to the werewolf’s with a force that made heat swirl through his belly and his eyes flash.

Stiles was right; the kiss was fantastic.

Chapter Text

consenescere (v): to decay, to fade

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There wasn't much time, but that was okay, because there wasn't much left to do.

(Except maybe hope that Steve remembered in time to save him. He wouldn't, though. Remember. And Bruce and Thor were too far away to make a difference.)

Tony had thought of a hundred ways Ross might have taken him out of the game--stray bullet, runaway car; hell, even a random dog mauling would have made the list of the “Secretary's Ways to Potentially Kill Tony Stark” before poison.

But here he was, working with the Secretary, and the UN, and everyone else, all while ignoring the firefirefire rolling through his veins and burning him from the inside out.

(Frankly, he’d always assumed that Ross was the type to want to see someone's eyes while he stabbed them, metaphorically speaking; Tony couldn't help but huff in self-derision at the thought that he'd miscalculated so badly.)

Tony was still going to get what he wanted when it came to the Accords, but it was a hollow victory at this point. He was too sick, and too tired to appreciate everything he'd accomplished in the past few months. By the time the pardons were granted and the Avengers were all back on US soil, Tony would be long gone.

(At least he'd finally be getting some of that rest that Rhodey kept bugging him about.)

And to think, the choice they'd made was meant to save the world, not tear it into two.

Not for the first time, Tony wished that Steve hadn't hit him hard enough in Siberia to jar his memory; the blind rage that he'd felt before had been so much easier to deal with than the exhaustion and despair that pulled at him now, and he wasn't sure how to fix things without JARVIS.

JARVIS was the reason they’d all agreed to the wipe to begin with, trusting the AI to bring them out of it when the time was right. It had been an easy decision at the time--to let go of the maddening knowledge granted them by the reality stone, but they hadn't anticipated just how much memory the gem would erase.

It might still have turned out all right, but then Wanda had happened, and Ultron, and then JARVIS had died, and the fallout was more powerful than anyone had expected, but there was no one left to save them from themselves.

(If they had known just what forgetting would cost them, how much they would hurt each other in their ignorance, they might have chosen a slightly different path. Or maybe not.)

Everything had gone downhill from there, and it wasn't until the genius had gotten his brains thoroughly scrambled by Steve and Bucky that he'd remembered and understood what had happened and started trying to fix it, but by then Ross had been everywhere and, well--

The point was, Vision wasn't JARVIS, and FRIDAY wasn't JARVIS, and even though Tony could leave all of the important stuff for the others to find and they'd know, J was supposed to have been the one to help them make it all better.

It was never meant to happen like this, and it broke the engineer’s heart a little (a lot) to know that he'd never see his friends again.

They would come home, but Tony wouldn't be waiting.

(Well, his body would be, but--)

Tony choked down a gasp as the heat burst through him again, and it took everything in him to stumble his way to his room and into bed, where he curled up and waited for the wave to pass. If it passed.

He would have preferred to do this in the lab, but DUM-E and the others were already taking this hard, and he didn't want them to have to watch him die.

“Everything's set, right, FRI?”

Of course, Boss. Captain Rogers and the others should be stateside in approximately fourteen hours, and all documentation is ready to be forwarded to the proper parties.”

“Go ahead and send it all, FRIDAY.”

“Are you sure, Boss?”

Tony chuckled drily. “What's Ross going to do, arrest me? I'm already dead.”

He let his eyes drift shut, and thought about the way things had been, when there was laughter and smiles and camaraderie between them, and he sighed.

“Just hold on a little bit longer, Boss; they're coming. Help is on the way.”

Tony was too busy burning to hear her.

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contagion (n): a disease-producing agent (such as a virus)

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It was a meteorite that changed everything for the residents of Karakura; a freak occurrence that would have repercussions beyond the human world.

There was no official explanation for how it happened, but the first people to find the meteorite contracted and then unknowingly spread the virus to others days before any symptoms appeared. By the time the first man realized something was wrong, ninety-two percent of Karakura had already been infected.

Most of the infected died quickly and painlessly. They grew tired and lethargic, but were mostly healthy until they went to sleep and didn't wake up again.

For the rest, they went to sleep and woke up different. They were stronger, faster, and more resilient. It seemed a small thing, at the time.

They survived. They evolved. They lived.

Ichigo and his friends were among the lucky ones. Everyone except for Orihime got sick, but none of them perished. They survived. They still had their powers, but there was something else there, too. Sharper. Harder.

The Visored had all happened to return to Soul Society shortly before the infection, but for those Shinigami who hadn't--Isshin, Urahara, and Tessai--life carried on as normally as possible when their world was falling apart.

If any of them could have caught the sickness, it would have been Ichigo’s father, but he nursed his children through their illnesses with no troubles of his own. He could, however, see the subtle changes in his children in the aftermath of the virus.

Isshin was concerned enough that he asked Kisuke for help, first to research the virus, and then to ask Soul Society if they knew anything about the large influx of souls that was undoubtedly showing up from Karakura.

The first task was a work in progress, even with Ichigo, Chad and Uryuu all volunteering as research subjects, but the second task proved to be impossible. Instead of a clear line of communication to the Twelfth Division, there was static. No one came to visit or to patrol, and there was no indication that Seireitei knew that anything was wrong.

Ten years after the virus, the surviving infected looked much the same as they had before their illnesses. They were easy to spot: their movements fluid, and their features sharp. Longtime residents of Karakura knew who they were and accepted the changes, but outsiders often moved away as quickly as they came.

Twenty years after the virus, Ichigo, Chad, and Uryuu looked closer to twenty than to forty. Kisuke had found no answers, and had still received no response from the Shinigami.

Sixty years after the virus, Orihime passed away in her sleep, her children and grandchildren in the house, her boys sitting patiently by her bedside. She promised them that she was going to speak with the Captain Commander about their strange situation as soon as she made it to Soul Society.

They never heard a word from Seireitei or the Gotei 13.

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One hundred years after the virus, Karakura was an odd mix of humans and the infected who fiercely protected them. It was ruled by the strange and charismatic Kurosaki family and their equally odd friends. Under Kurosaki Ichigo's guidance, the Infected had become an unparalleled fighting force, and there was no place in Japan safer than his town.

Isshin and Urahara had long since abandoned the idea of ever contacting Seireitei when Shinji showed up acting as if mere months had passed. Like its residents, Karakura had become stronger, stranger, and fiercely beautiful. It welcomed the Shinigami, but it did not need them.

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cynosure (n): something that strongly attracts attention by its brilliance, interest, etc.

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There was an almost tangible electricity in the air as the convoy reached the Beacon Hills border. A single glance told Peter that Deucalion could feel it as well, and even the humans in the group sensed the change in the atmosphere the closer they came to the line.

It felt markedly different from the other times they had approached Beacon Hills in recent years, but many people had learned the hard way that the nemeton was ruthless in its defense of the territory, and none of their group wanted to risk its wrath.

“I don't see anyone,” one of Deucalion’s newer betas--a hawk shifter with the senses to match--reported from his position atop on of the trucks, “and I don't hear anything, either. Maybe the reports were wrong.”

It was possible, but unlikely. They had kept surveillance on the town ever since it had been evacuated five years prior, using an effective mix of magic and technology that had yet to fail.

For those past five years, everyone who had approached Beacon Hills had been repelled--sometimes fatally--by the nemeton. Then, a few months ago, the nemeton had become considerably more active, and two weeks ago they had seen what looked to be a sandy-haired young man cross the southern border unimpeded.

An exploratory search party was put together to discover how and why this man was allowed into the town when so many others were not. Talia had wanted the force to be exclusively supernatural, but everyone had known that neither Chris nor the Sheriff would pass up the opportunity to go home. Both of them were already out of the trucks and were staring at the ward line like they were seriously considering taking their chances with the tree.

“The young man disappeared almost immediately after crossing the border, so it's possible he's still here,” Duke said, narrowing his eyes at the barely visible ward in front of him and pulling Peter's attention back to him. “Does anyone have an idea of how to get across?”

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Sheriff Stilinski barely listened as the shifters in the group debated how to get inside Beacon Hills. The only thing on his mind was his son. If only he could cross the border, he'd scour every inch of the town looking for any clue as to what had happened to Stiles, who had failed to appear at any of the aid stations in the wake of the evacuation.

The Sheriff knew that he could find answers in Beacon Hills, if he could get in. He respected Peter and Deucalion immensely, but at the moment he didn't care about the nemeton or the supernatural; he just wanted to find his son.

All at once, the Sheriff heard buzzing, like hundreds of bees were flying overhead, and then everything went black.

Beside him, Chris Argent barely had time to be shocked by the Sheriff's sudden disappearance before he, too, heard the buzzing and vanished as well.

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“Do you think it's safe to go out today? The hounds have been hunting the past couple of days, and I'd rather not run into them if I can help it.”

Stiles glanced up from the textbook he was reading and shrugged. It wasn't as if he was really paying attention anyway--he had finished reading every book in town a couple of years ago. “I know they're kind of scary,” he said, ignoring Allison’s unamused snort, “but they're not going to hurt you as long as you don't try to hurt them. The nemeton wouldn't have let them in, otherwise.”

“Why did the nemeton let them in?”

“Who knows why it's doing whatever it's doing? Why keep us, but kill almost everyone else who tries to get in? Why us, and not the Hales, who’ve spent their whole lives protecting the thing?”

It was a question that the three of them still couldn't answer. As far as they could tell, the nemeton had no use for them, but it wouldn't let them leave, either. They’d discovered that Jordan could cross the boundary a couple of years back, but only for a limited amount of time before the rest of the town's eclectic creatures started getting restless.

Jordan burst into the room, before schooling his face into something that was almost gentle. “You'll never guess who just crossed the border.”

Chapter Text

devour (v.): to absorb or engross wholly

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This is highly improper, Lydia's inner voice chided her as she made her way through the massive Stilinski gardens in the dead of night. So many things were wrong with this picture: she was trespassing, for one; for another, this whole enterprise was entirely beneath her dignity. I wouldn’t even have to do this, she thought crossly when her dress snagged on yet another bush, if Stiles would simply make the time to speak with me.

Lydia considered herself fortunate for making it this close to manor unimpeded. Regardless of whether Stiles was or was not a dragon, the Stilinski estate was well-known for its unconventional means of defense. Those who attempted to visit the supposed Dragonlord’s home without invitation rarely spoke of their failures, but the glint of fear in their eyes was present for everyone who looked for it.

Still, Lydia would not be deterred. She would speak with Stiles, and she would do whatever she needed to do to procure his help.

She had just pulled another bramble from her hair (didn’t anyone care for these grounds?) when there was a sudden gust of wind, and a familiar voice rang out behind her.

“You’re going the wrong way, you know,” Stiles said, voice heavy with amusement. He merely grinned when Lydia screeched like a banshee and nearly fell over in surprise. “I wouldn’t have taken you for the gardening type. Or the midnight stroll type,” he added with a smirk.

Lydia mustered as much dignity as she could under the circumstances admitted plainly, “I was trying to make my way to the manor.”

“In that case, I have a perfectly good front door,” he said, stepping forward to take Lydia’s arm. When she hesitated, he grinned at her. “Surely, you’re not giving up now, after having wandered the grounds for half the night. This is what you wanted, isn’t it? The chance to plead your case?”

He pulled her along steadily but unerringly through the grounds (she really had been going in the wrong direction, she thought dizzily), and then into and through the manor until they reached a sunroom that was somehow unsettling in the night.

"It's quite fascinating, you know,” Stiles began once they were seated, “the differences in the perception of dragonkind in East and West. There, dragons are seen as lucky and wise, while here, they're spoken of only in the darkest corners of the darkest rooms. Why do you suppose that is?"

Lydia paused. This was not quite the same Stiles that she’d known in school, quirky and unafraid. This Stiles, who would sneak up on her in the dark, made her more cautious. “I don’t know.”

"It’s jealousy. Jealousy, and greed. Most of the nobility thinks that I can roast the meat from their bones, but they still fall all over themselves if it means a glimpse of my hoard. Assuming that I am a dragon, of course."

The grin he shot her was human, but there was something in his eyes--

“I’m not interested in speculation, Stiles, you know that. You have something that I need, so I’ve come to make a deal,” she huffed.

He smiled again, broader this time, with more teeth. "Let’s say that I am a dragon. Come now, I know you've done your research. What do you know about dragon hoards?"

Hoards were precious, and well-guarded, and could be anything from dandelions to gold to people. She thought of the old dragon she had seen as a child, with his collection of servants following meekly behind him, and shivered. Stories also said that sometimes dragons who collected people kept them locked up and never let them outside. Lydia didn’t think Stiles was like that—

“What if I told you that the price for my help was something new for my hoard?” The man in question interrupted her thoughts. “Not you, personally,” he added, as if he could tell what she was thinking. “Though that deal has been made before,” he added under his breath.

"Here are my terms. Tell me a secret I don't already know, something valuable, and I’ll give you what you need.” Lydia tried not to shiver at the way it sounded more like a threat than a promise. “If your secret is not worth my time, I will find something of yours that is. Do we have a deal?”

Chapter Text

diablerie (n.): the lore of devils; reckless mischief 

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Nogi opened his eyes to white, unsure of what had happened to him. He remembered Stiles, and taking his revenge against Noshiko for disturbing his rest. He remembered the two of them, sitting on the stump playing Go. He vaguely remembered a house, angry eyes staring down at him, Stiles shivering on the floor.

Someone had pulled Stiles away even as Nogi had reached for him, even as the nogitsune had tried to tell them that the two of them needed to stay together, like a shifter and his wolf. They had sneered at him and told him that he had hurt Stiles enough (which was true, a tiny voice told him), and they ignored Nogi when he told them that they were the ones hurting Stiles now.

The pack had kept them separated, and Stiles and fallen deeper and deeper into the quiet until Scott finally noticed that his friend wasn't getting any better. From his prison in the clinic, Nogi tried to reach Stiles--to dream with him--to no avail.

When Kira, blinded by grief, told Scott to banish Nogi, the alpha agreed, no matter how many times the nogitsune told him that doing so would harm Stiles.

When the emissary had begun the ceremony--all the pack but Stiles in attendance--the most Nogi could do was close his eyes and pray that his spirit stay on this plane with Stiles to help him survive, even if he himself could not.

Nogi opened his eyes to white, and realized with a start that he was in an unfamiliar bedroom, in a very soft bed, and there was an unknown young man standing over him. The green-eyed man watched him curiously, moving to help Nogi sit up as soon as he saw that his charge was awake.

“Relax, you're safe now,” he said, settling Nogi against extra pillows that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. Nogi blinked; he wasn't expecting his banishment to be quite so comfortable.

“Where am I?”

“You're on my family's property.” At the kitsune’s blank look, he added, “You're in Vermont. I'm Derek.”

Nogi glanced around the room. It was simply decorated but incredibly comfortable, and he found himself thinking that Stiles would definitely enjoy the bed. He would probably be interested in Derek as well, Nogi thought with a smirk. If this man and his family weren't trying to trick him, perhaps he and Stiles could find help here.

He just needed to rescue the other boy, first.

He ignored Derek surreptitiously scenting him for a moment to concentrate on his own body. He felt stretched thin--his bond with Stiles straining at the distance between them--and sore, but he was acceptable overall. The longer he was away from Stiles, however, the worse it would be for the both of them.

He came back to himself with Derek watching him carefully, hands hovering over Nogi like he was afraid to touch him. “Do we know each other?” he asked finally, though he was quite certain they had never met.

“I'm sorry,” the wolf said, flushing. “You just feel familiar somehow.”

Chapter Text

dissonance (n.): inharmonious or harsh sound; discord

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Ichigo wasn't sure how long he'd spent in Kurotsuchi’s lab, but based on the pinched looks that crossed Uryuu and Chad’s faces the two times he’d asked, he probably didn't want to know the answer.

In fact, his friends refused to speak at all about how they finally managed to rescue him, or what the first weeks of his recovery were like, when he was all but blind with pain and struggling with his grip on reality.

Ichigo thought he remembered seeing the blurred faces of his father and sisters, felt the warmth of Yoruichi’s comforting touch, and heard Urahara’s teasing voice, but he was afraid to ask and find out that he’d dreamed their visits.

It was only after the three young men had escaped half a world away from Japan that Chad had finally told him that Soul Society was divided between those who supported the mad scientist's efforts to study his powers and those who adamantly opposed the treatment, but he refused to name who stood on either side.

Chad’s silence scared Ichigo, even more than Uryuu’s blatant anger at how easily Seireitei could turn against the person who had saved them. The only reason Chad would refuse to name their allies, Ichigo knew, would be because someone Ichigo trusted had betrayed him, and Chad was trying to spare him the pain of knowing the name.

The problem was, of course, that Soul Society would catch up with them eventually, and if Ichigo didn't know who was after him, he might trust the wrong person. They all knew that Chad and Uryuu would have to explain everything eventually, but Ichigo let them have their silence. For now.

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“Where do you want to go now, Ichigo?”

Chad was bent over the world map, carefully marking places that they had been, and likely places for the Shinigami to look for them. So far, he and Uryuu had made all of their living decisions, first because Ichigo couldn't make them, and then because he didn't understand their situation.

The arrival of the Onmitsukido had put things into perspective for Ichigo very quickly. It was only after they were halfway to Canada that the orange-haired teenager heard the story.

The members of the Gotei 13 had acted in one of two ways to the substitute Shinigami’s final display of power: awe or fear. The Shinigami, who were mostly used to Ichigo’s brand of insanity, merely thanked their lucky stars that Ichigo was on their side. Central 46, however, had the opposite reaction.

Before they could strike against the injured boy, however, Kurotsuchi took the opportunity to steal Ichigo away from the Fourth, leading the 46 to believe that Ichigo had defied them and escaped.

The Gotei 13 was starkly divided on their opinions of the teenager, but no one could openly defy them, especially with Yamamoto still injured and unconscious.

Uryuu was good at keeping them ahead of their pursuers, but the Shinigami had a lot more experience at this sort of thing than the teenagers.

Ichigo sighed. He’d been thinking about it since their run-in with Love earlier in the week. The Visored had promised to give them time to get away, but where one Shinigami was, more weren't far behind. “Wherever we go, we have to drop off the map completely--no contact with our dads, or Urahara, or anyone else. It's the only way we'll lose them.”

“Kurosaki’s right,” Uryuu added. “Running only makes us weaker, and we need to grow stronger.”

None of them wanted to cut what few ties remained between them and their friends, but if it kept them and their allies safe, it needed to be done. The trio glanced thoughtfully over the map before choosing a new destination.

“Can we do this?”

“We don't have a choice.”

Chapter Text

dominion (n.): the power or right of governing and controlling

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Stiles knows that he has hurt them by walking away, but he can do nothing else. He loves them too much to drag them into his battle, knowing that he will no longer be the same person when the war is over. It is better for them to be angry and heartbroken now, than later when those emotions will be useless and still won't stop what is to come.

Stiles curses his mother for turning them all against each other, and his father for abandoning them to their mother's schemes. It had been hundreds of years since one of his siblings had pulled him into their squabbles, and he still wanted no part in them.

How little what he wanted mattered.

Elias’s stone was a threat to all of them and everything that they had made. Derek and Peter might have held his heart, but they had no claim over his soul.

Unfortunately, someone else had already taken that.

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“I know who you are.”

Almost as one, the pack jolted in surprise at the little girl who had abruptly appeared next to their table. She was about eight or nine, wearing a pretty floral dress, and had ringlets in her hair. At first glance, she was adorable, but her eyes gave her away as something not quite human.

“He can't save you this time,” she continued in the silence, “not without showing his hand, and Gray is still trying to convince him to seize the throne.”

A quick glance around the room showed that everyone else in the restaurant could see her as well, and were watching the girl with a mix of interest and distrust.

Peter fought back a sigh. The pack and the town had both rallied around he and Derek after Stiles had so abruptly left them, but while Derek had found comfort in the attention, Peter resented the repeated reminders of what he had lost. He’d much rather fight his own battles.

“Who are you?”

Derek had been more morose than usual lately, but at least he knew better than to start a fight in a crowded restaurant. Deaton, however, made a strangled noise that had the entire room turning to him in alarm.

The girl was completely focused on the Druid. “He liked you, you know. It was surprising, really, since we haven't had the best luck with your kind.”

Deaton looked briefly toward the Hales before focusing again on their visitor. “The story is true?”

The girl's grimace looked out of place on her young face. “Elias meant well when he created the stone, but it has only made the divisions among us stronger. It made Rian a mockery of what he once was, and now it threatens to consume us all.”

“Do you need help?” Scott asked suddenly, ever the considerate alpha.

The girl turned and stared at him long enough to be uncomfortable, and more than one wolf at the table started to squirm.

“He doesn't know what he's asking,” Deaton broke in, almost pleadingly. “Stiles wouldn't want it.”

The response from the wolves was immediate, and only the Sheriff and Melissa’s quick reactions kept people from shifting.

The Sheriff was much more calm than either of the Hales when he spoke. “What does this have to do with my son?”

Peter fought off a flinch when the girl's eyes passed over him to look at the Sheriff.

“He was your son,” she said, eyes softening a touch as she looked at the man, “but he is my brother, and we need him now.”

She turned back to Derek and Peter. Derek was as pale as the Sheriff had been, but Peter’s eyes flashed at Stiles's sister. The girl stared back, unperturbed.

“My brother loved you once,” she began, ignoring Derek's whine and Peter's growl, “so take some advice: protect you and yours, and let the rest of the pieces fall where they may.”

A blink later, she was gone.

Chapter Text

Elijah Mikaelson had never let himself be ruled by fear. He was many things--not all of them pleasant--but not since his final encounter with Tatia had he ever considered running from something.

It was ironic, then, that his current foe was a plain white envelope with his name written in Damon's messy scrawl.


Elijah,

Despite our time together, you and I have never been friends, though I'd like to think we respect each other as adversaries. I hope that you never see this letter, because if you do it means that I have failed in the most important task of my life.

As you may know, I was a prisoner of the Augustines decades ago, and had the dubious honor of taking part in numerous experiments that I still don't like to talk about, and probably a few that I'll never remember.

After my escape, I managed to forget about them until seventeen years ago when I was approached by a former Augustine with an insane story.

Evidently, mad scientist plus vampire blood plus magic equals babies.

I was suddenly the father to two tiny lives who deserved far better than me as a guardian.

Guess who else’s blood they used?

Congratulations, Elijah, it's twins. A boy and a girl.

I don't know how they got your blood, or why they used blood from the two of us, but I have done everything in my power to protect them from everything, including us.

I only got to see them once before they were taken away, given different names by different families on opposite sides of the world, but even as an infant, our daughter reminded me of you.

I made sure that they were both given to people who could protect them, but I've had to stop myself from seeking them out over the years, worried that I might lead the Augustines to them.

If you're reading this, it means the Augustines found me instead, and it's your job to protect them, now.

There's a lockbox in the back of my closet with all of the information I have on the twins; it's not much, but I think you’ll come to enjoy it just as much as I do.

I realize that you have no reason to believe anything I say, but I think the evidence--as insane as it is--speaks for itself.

No matter what you think of me, I hope that you'll find it in you to look out for the twins. They're good kids who don't deserve to suffer at the hands of a group like the Augustines.

It's up to you.

Damon

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enthralled (v.): to captivate or charm

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When Captain McCall had announced to the crew that his best friend would be coming aboard for the last leg of their journey, they had been excited to meet the man that their captain spoke so highly of, and curious to know whether all of the tales about him were true.

What Scott had neglected to mention during his stories of magic and mayhem, however, was how heavenly the other man smelled. Every single were on the ship viscerally reacted to the man’s arrival by mobbing him like a pack of overeager puppies.

Even worse, Stiles took everything in stride; he didn't get angry or upset when his clothes disappeared or when someone violated his personal space. He didn't mind that Malia practically stalked him through the halls, or that Liam idolized him.

Evidently, the Captain had built up some sort of resistance to his best friend's charisma over the years and so was unaffected by his scent. Peter wanted to be jealous of Scott's immunity, but instead found himself contemplating spending the night outside Stiles's door just to be the first to greet the man in the morning.

There was no way that Peter was going to survive eight weeks in Stiles's presence.

It was almost inevitable that Peter was hurt on the next mission; his focus had been shot all week, and that was the only reason the creature managed to claw him. Usually, he wouldn't have been so careless, but the warning yell reached him a second too late for him to react properly. He screamed as fire tore through him, and let himself fall into blissful darkness.

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Peter woke in the medical bay with another body pressed underneath his, his face smashed into someone else's neck. He knew he should have been alarmed--especially when he realized who the other body belonged to--but his limbs were too relaxed to listen to the rest of him, intoxicated by the scent of Stiles.

“You're going to have to let me up eventually, you know.”

“Mmm.” Peter dug his face even further into Stiles's neck, sensing the other man’s amusement before he chuckled.

“You know, I didn't even realize you were interested until you snatched me as your pillow. Not that I'm complaining,” he wiggled a bit, and Peter let out a pleased rumble and shifted just enough to make the other man more comfortable, “but next time maybe you could feed me first before you take me to bed.”

He grunted in agreement and went back to sleep.

The next time Peter woke, it was to the red eyes of his captain staring at him through the early morning light. The beta’s brain was clear for the first time in days, and he was suddenly well-aware of the precariousness of his situation.

“He was in here helping when they brought you in; you grabbed him and wouldn't let go,” the alpha explained before he pinned Peter with a glare. “If you hurt him, I'll kill you.”

Thankfully, that wouldn't be necessary.

Chapter Text

erstwhile (adj.): former; of times past

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There was no doubt about it: the goblins were getting smarter.

Peter wasn't sure how they'd managed that feat, but it was increasingly obvious in the way that the ones assigned to patrol the land around Stiles's home had slowly replaced their love of throwing themselves from great heights with hiding in tight, dark spaces, leaving the light of their eyes the only hints to their locations just before popping out to attack unsuspecting wildlife or Peter's shins.

Popcorn and the other goblins who regularly stayed with them were still largely nonverbal, and still giggly, but Peter couldn't help but worry sometimes about what the Goblin King would think of his new, more serious subjects.

If he hadn't known better, Peter would have thought that Stiles had either placed enchantments on his land or had simply settled on a ley line, but the younger man had, in fact, shunned most magic since returning from the Goblin Kingdom, so there had to be another, unknown reason for this sudden evolution.

For his part, Stiles seemed far more proud than worried about this turn of events, but it wasn't until Peter almost decapitated a goblin for startling him one evening that the the younger man decided to sit the werewolf down and explain the situation.

The goblins must have somehow known that they were going to be the topic of conversation, because Peter spotted a disconcerting number of eyes peering at the pair as they settled in the living room.

“What do you know about how goblins are made?”

The werewolf blinked, and ignored it when another set of eyes appeared in his peripheral vision. “Made?”

“You've heard the rumors about people who end up in Uncle Jareth’s domain, right?” At Peter's confused nod, he continued, “When humans come to the Goblin Kingdom, one of two things happens. The people who wished themselves to a better life generally find homes outside of Goblin City, though they answer to Uncle Jareth if something goes wrong. But people who have been wished away...well. The magic isn't always kind to them. Most of the goblins in the castle used to be human.”

Peter's breath caught. Stiles couldn't be implying what the werewolf thought he was implying, surely. “I don't understand.”

Stiles shrugged ruefully and reached out to grasp the werewolf’s hand, and Peter, though he wasn't as needy as he had been while feral, didn't hesitate to accept the contact. “Our goblins?” He nodded at a set of eyes poking out from behind the refrigerator. “Popcorn and the others? They're working their way back up to human. They're evolving, hopefully becoming better people than they were before. When the magic decides someone is unworthy, it changes them. It takes away almost everything that makes them human--it makes them children, really--and forces them to grow up again. If they do it right, they eventually become human again. I know that they can be annoying, but they mostly mean well, and Uncle Jareth always has more goblins than room. That's why it's a good thing that the goblins here are changing.”

One of the goblins started giggling then, which set off the others, and Peter found himself grateful for the interruption, because he had no idea what to do with the knowledge that the creatures that routinely followed he and Stiles around used to be human. He was equal parts fascinated and horrified, but Stiles acted as if it was perfectly normal for people to turn into goblins and back again.

The calm, confident, open way that Stiles proceeded to describe the transition from human to goblin made Peter's wolf stir in interest. Peter may have been happy with the younger man's return to the human world, but anything that put that gleam in Stiles's eyes was well worth investigating further.

Chapter Text

fantastical (adj.): conceived or appearing as if conceived by an unrestrained imagination; odd and remarkable

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Stiles was in his final semester of college by the time that Peter met Luna.

The pack had heard about Luna for years; every time they came across something new or interesting (assuming they weren't running for their lives at the time), Stiles would whip out his phone with a, “Luna’s going to love this,” or “Luna’s never going to believe this,” or “I wonder if Luna’s ever seen one of these before?” Occasionally, he would even send the mysterious girl photos of the pack or other creatures that Stiles found worthy.

At first, Derek had been concerned about Stiles potentially exposing the supernatural to humans, but Scott had pulled Derek aside and quietly suggested that Stiles had been talking about Luna for years, and Scott was almost certain that the girl didn't exist.

After all, no matter how many times Stiles sent something to Luna, she never once responded.

Things were awkward between Stiles and the rest of the pack for a few months after that, but the others eventually put Stiles’s imaginary friend down as one of his many quirks, and left it at that.

Peter doubted that the situation was as easy explained as that, but as long as it wasn't harming Stiles, he didn't care whether or not Luna existed.

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By the time Stiles and Peter began dating during Stiles's junior year in college, Luna had all but been forgotten in the face of all the other mischief the pack managed to find for themselves. The supernatural threats had died down to a couple a year, rather than a new one every month, and Peter took the opportunity to insert himself into Stiles's life with no intention of leaving.

Stiles had accepted the compliments and gifts--first with suspicion, then with embarrassment--but it had taken the younger man a few months to trust that Peter was genuinely interested in him.

Four months after the first gift, Stiles kissed Peter, and they’d been happily together ever since.

One of Peter's favorite pastimes was to randomly intercept Stiles during his day--at his apartment, between classes, at the grocery store--and watch Stiles's reactions when the human spotted his wolf.

This time, Peter was surprised to hear a voice other than Stiles's coming from his apartment. He didn't want to lurk outside, but he couldn't help but wait and see what interesting tidbits he might learn about Stiles.

There was a loud bang, and some coughing, followed by a young woman's voice saying, “Well, that was certainly unexpected.”

“Holy--Luna, I can't have that here!”

“Obviously, the spell needs to be refined.”

“Just because the thestral is invisible, doesn't mean the damage he’s going to cause will be. I've survived way too much in this apartment to be done in by an invisible horse. Although, he is really cute. Maybe I could--”

Peter heard the woman laugh and say some incantation that he didn't recognize, followed by Stiles's audible sigh.

“I really hope you consider my offer. You’d make a wonderful magizoologist. At least say you’ll come this summer.”

“I promise I'll talk to Peter about it,” Stiles assured her, and Peter couldn't help but feel a spurt of pleasure in his gut at being included in the other man’s decision.

“Oh, is that who’s outside?”

Peter blinked, dumbfounded. How had she known? Before he could react, though, Stiles had thrown open his door and ushered the wolf inside.

The grin on the younger man's face clearly communicated his amusement at catching Peter unaware, but Peter only focused on Stiles for a moment before his gaze was drawn to the other occupant of the apartment.

“She's reading her magazine upside down.”

Stiles smirked, and Peter nearly smacked himself at his rudeness.

“She prefers them that way,” Stiles noted, and pulled Peter across the room to where a pale, ethereal-looking young woman was waiting, a serene smile on her face.

Peter recovered enough to settle into what Stiles called his “charming and polite” place, only to come up short at the blonde’s next words.

“You're a very handsome werewolf, aren't you? You also have quite the aura.” She and Peter both glanced at Stiles, who was grinning again. “I can see why Stiles likes you so.”

“Luna’s a magical naturalist, and a very competent witch,” Stiles explained, threading his fingers through Peter's. “She wants us to run around Europe searching for magical creatures. What do you think?”

Peter thought about all of the knowledge he could gain; then he thought about having Stiles to himself, thousands of miles away from the rest of the pack.

There was no question, obviously.

“When do we leave?”

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forsaken (adj.): deserted; abandoned; forlorn

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Stiles Stilinski killed himself on a Thursday. That was what it looked like to the werewolves of Beacon Hills, at least.

Those who knew better kept their peace--the Sheriff, out of anger that his son felt compelled to even consider the option; and Deaton, out of disappointment that the pack could willingly throw such a formidable ally and friend aside.

Stiles had given everything he had to Derek and the pack, and they had given little in return, until even Scott viewed his best friend with a critical eye. Stiles didn't mind being underestimated, and he didn't care about not being invited to “wolfy” activities, but being berated once again because someone got hurt not following his plan was more than he was willing to overlook.

Stiles told himself that he was willing to be used in order to protect his town, but the more people tried to lure him away--alphas with larger, happier packs; witches in search of new coven members; a wizard, looking for a new apprentice--the more he considered the idea that maybe he could make more of a difference elsewhere. After all, not even Stiles had realized just how far his reputation had stretched until he had had a very enlightening video chat with an emissary in Scotland, courtesy of Deaton.

By the time Stiles was driven to fake his own death, there were more than a dozen concerned parties watching the events in Beacon Hills, and many more who mourned the loss of such a rising star in the supernatural world when they heard of his passing.

There were those who suspected the truth, of course, but they were respectful of the blooming emissary’s choice and willing to wait until he made himself known again.

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Peter watched avidly as the pack worked itself into a frenzy over the latest monster to invade Beacon Hills. Deaton was out of town, Lydia--the only one who could read the Argent Bestiary--was getting more snappish by the second, and Derek had flashed his eyes so many times in the past few hours it was a wonder they hadn't gotten stuck that way.

If this was the pack working together, he'd hate to see what would happen if a real threat came to town.

“I can see why Stiles wanted to get away from you so badly,” Peter said blandly from his spot on the stairs. “This level of incompetence is practically offensive.”

The rest of the room froze, and Peter barely managed to stamp down his smile at the way his nephew's face paled at his words. That was good; Derek should feel guilty for the part he played in this mess.

“Why so upset, nephew? It was hardly surprising, considering the way you used the poor boy. Your betas weren't any better, of course, bullying and taunting him as they did.” Peter did smirk, then, and added, “He’s undoubtedly in a better place now, far away from you.”

Someone gasped--possibly Allison, by the way Scott started growling--but Peter didn't even blink. Even if Stiles was dead (and Peter highly doubted that he was, considering the number of people that were invested in his survival) it wouldn't be long before he returned, one way or another.

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Gemini (n.): In astronomy, the Twins, a zodiacal constellation between Taurus and Cancer containing the bright stars Castor and Pollux.

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The power washed over the clearing like a wave, strong enough that even the humans could feel it. Scott heard the familiar rumble of the jeep just behind it, and the alpha grinned at the fact that his best friend had gotten even stronger since the last time they’d seen each other.

They had been gone for seven years. It still didn't seem possible, even though the Sheriff had assured them that it was true. Scott was still twenty-one, but Stiles and Lydia were twenty-eight. Life had gone on for them, and Scott was determined to make up for lost time as soon as possible.

He wasn't the only one who went a little wide-eyed at the sight that Stiles and Lydia made as the exited the jeep. Scott was pretty sure he heard a gasp of surprise--the last seven years had been very kind to the two of them--but he sprinted toward his friends without looking to see who had made the noise.

“Oh, my gosh!” he yelled, crashing into his best friend. “Who’s the hot girl now?”

“I am, of course,” Lydia announced simply before joining the hug.

“Welcome back,” Stiles said, grinning when he finally extricated himself from Scott's arms.

That seemed to be a signal to the rest of the pack because they were there a second later, joining the hugging and teasing Stiles about being a hot deputy. Peter and Derek hovered near the edge of the group until Stiles and Lydia pulled them in with the rest of them.

Scott sent Deucalion and a dark-haired woman who must have been Katherine Pierce--who were standing with the jeep--a nod of thanks. Stiles followed Scott’s gaze and rolled his eyes.

“Really, guys? We're among friends, here.”

Deucalion just smiled. “As far as the territory is concerned, you two are still the alpha pair. Until such time as that changes, I will treat you accordingly.”

Stiles huffed. Lydia snorted. Katherine smirked.

The Mikaelsons and Hales had crept forward while McCalls were reconnecting, curious to reacquaint themselves with the duo that had held Beacon Hills in their long absence. The power and maturity in both of them was obvious, and it was easy to see why the territory's supernaturals followed the Stilinskis.

For the Mikaelsons, it was yet another confirmation that Stiles and Lydia were the siblings that they had been searching for.

For the Hales, it was a reminder that the McCalls, for all of their youth and exuberance, were a far more formidable pack than they appeared to be.

For Peter and Derek, it was a lightning bolt of recognition; the combined power of Stiles and Lydia felt exactly like the magic that had permeated the air the night their family returned to the land of the living. The two wolves looked at each other and then slowly turned back toward the twins.

Peter moved forward and all but pushed his younger packmates out of the way until nothing stood between he and the twins, Derek a half-step behind him. The twins’ faces gave nothing away, but neither one of them said a word as the men approached.

“I always knew that the two of you were special,” Peter said lightly. “But I never would have expected this.” He reached his arms around both twins and pulled them toward him until Stiles was pressed into his chest, and Lydia into the curve of his shoulder.

“Thank you,” he whispered between them, and moved to let Derek do the same.

The twins smiled.

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genesis (n.): an origin, creation, or beginning

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One of Ichigo's earliest memories was of Engetsu; a silent, mostly incorporeal, but still reassuring presence at his side as toddler Ichigo played at the park. Of course, in the beginning, the spirit was nothing more than an imaginary friend who wore strange clothes and never spoke, but he smiled often enough to make up for his lack of words and he made Ichigo feel like he was safe from all of the monsters his parents couldn't see.

(For five-year-old Ichigo, it was a great game that he didn't know his companion’s name, and it took years for him to stop guessing at it.)

After a few months, Engetsu became a near-constant presence in Ichigo's life. He sent chiding looks to Ichigo when the child didn't finish his dinner, clapped his ghostly hands in support whenever Ichigo accomplished something new, and sat by his bed every night until Ichigo fell asleep.

It wasn't until after the twins were born that Ichigo started to hear the faintest rushes of sound when his friend spoke, and feel the barest tingle of a cold touch whenever Engetsu reached out to him. The spirit watched over him while his parents were busy with the girls and silently encouraged his young charge whenever Ichigo was unhappy.

Zangetsu arrived shortly after his mother's death, another silent, reassuring shadow during Ichigo's day. Unlike Engetsu, who had slowly worked his way into Ichigo's life, Zangetsu simply appeared at his side one morning while Ichigo was walking to school, dark robes blowing in the nonexistent wind, and never really left. Ichigo could barely hear Zangetsu's whispers at first, but the boy felt the touch every time his new friend laid a hand on his shoulder or gave him a gentle shove from behind. By the time Ichigo turned nine, he and Zangetsu were speaking to one another, and Ichigo finally learned his other, longtime companion’s name.

Ichigo worried when Shiro appeared that Engetsu would disappear in protest of his inner hollow, but his once-imaginary friend and guardian promised them that Isshin would always want him to look out for his children, even when he and the Kurosaki patriarch were finally reunited.

Ichigo couldn't wait to see the look on his dad’s face when Isshin could finally see his friend again.

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Over the next few years, Ichigo learned more and more about the world of Shinigami and hollows. He had a handful of brief but memorable encounters with Sakanade, one of the other zanpakuto spirits in town, and by the time Rukia arrived on the scene, Ichigo knew more about the three worlds than most people three times his age. 

Sode no Shirayuki was entirely different from the other zanpakuto in Ichigo’s life. She was calm, quiet, and beautiful in an untouchable sort of way that was a far cry from Engestsu's indulgence, Zangetsu's encouragement, Shiro's pushiness, or Sakanade's playfulness. She was kind enough not to tell Rukia about him, and she seemed to be genuinely distressed with his involvement when he was forced to help her wielder fight hollows.

Sharing powers with Rukia made it slightly easier for Ichigo to hear Sode no Shirayuki, but it wasn't enough to help him when Byakuya and Renji came.

Ichigo wasn't sure what Rukia’s zanpakuto said to her two counterparts that night, but whatever it was, it was enough for the teenager to see the vague outlines of the spirits he would come to know as Senbonzakura and Zabimaru for a few seconds just before the sixth division captain cut him down.

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glorious (adj.): brilliantly beautiful or magnificent; splendid

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It was unfortunate, in Stiles's opinion, that little Cora was a werewolf.

She would never know the majesty of soaring above the clouds, the restorative power of a nice century-long nap, or the pleasure of acquiring a new piece for her hoard.

Still, she was compelling in her own way, with her big eyes and boundless curiosity; if nothing else, Stiles could appreciate her seemingly endless desire to explore, wings or no.

After all, how else did one learn the secrets of the universe than by searching for them? Better yet, how much easier to teach the older ones the truth of things than through the eyes of their child?

It was that thought that let Stiles despair slightly less for the fate of the wolves; a topic he often considered as he sunned himself in the late afternoon.

For once, his nap was not interrupted by little Cora, but by her uncle Peter instead.

(Stiles had to admit that of his new acquaintances, Peter was only slightly less interesting than his niece, much less likely crawl atop him, and a better conversationalist. He was also, Stiles was pleased to discover, much more trainable than the rest of his family.)

As such, Peter situated himself in the grass a few feet from where the dragon rested and waited until Stiles opened one giant eye to stare at him before he spoke. 

“Talia told us that a pair of water sprites have moved in down the river. Our emissary says that we should try to get rid of them, but no one agrees on how it should be done.” He glanced expectantly at the dragon, who stared mutely back. When Stiles remained silent, Peter prompted, “Well?” 

“You haven't yet asked me a question.” 

Peter, who (unlike his sister) had already accepted the futility of arguing with a dragon, rephrased his query. “How do we get rid of the water sprites?”

“Why would you want to get rid of them?” 

Peter wasn't well-versed in dragon expressions (insofar as his kind had facial expressions), so the werewolf couldn't read the rebuke there. Which was just as well, because Peter needed to learn.

Still, Peter was nothing if not clever. Rather than anger, as his sister would have done, Peter paused. “All of the books say that rusalka are dangerous,” he ventured.

The sigh Stiles heaved was big enough to rustle the nearby trees. “Poor maligned rusalka,” he muttered, before refocusing pointedly on his guest. “Do you live in the river?” 

Peter frowned. “No.”

“Do you hunt in the river?”

“...No.”

“Then what does it matter that the rusalka are there?”

“It’s said that they lure--”

“I say that anyone that the water maids decide to lure into the water probably deserves it,” Stiles interrupted. Peter blinked. “Does that answer your question?”

While it was likely not the answer Peter had been hoping for, it would give him plenty to think on.

Still, Stiles would visit the river soon, just in case.

Chapter Text

grotesque (adj.): outlandish or bizarre, as in character or appearance

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Peter had to hand it to the townspeople--they were unfailingly loyal, even under the cloud of notoriety that encompassed their most famous resident. He’d spent two days in the town already, and even those who were divided on what had occurred at McCall House seemed not to blame Mr. Stilinski for the happenings.

Even the couple who owned the inn where Peter was staying disagreed on their interpretation of events while seeming to find the lone survivor mostly blameless.

“He’s a strange one, to be sure,” the husband admitted with a sure nod as he placed Peter’s dinner before him, “but I suppose it makes sense, given everything he’s been through, what with all those murders and such.”

Peter leaned forward. “You think he killed them, then?”

The husband's face lit up like he had a particularly juicy piece of gossip, but whatever the man might have said was lost when his wife swept into the room, pinning both men with a quelling look. “Stop telling tales about that poor boy. He hasn't killed anyone, and you know it. It's that place, is what it is.”

“I'm just saying that people might not be so wary of him if he left that house of his more often,” the man argued.

“Is it any wonder he doesn't? It's shameful, really, the way some people butt into things that are none of their business.” The woman sent a pointed glare in her husband's direction before turning back to Peter. “You look like you won't be dissuaded from your mission, so let me give you a little advice. It's not Stiles you need to be afraid of.”

Peter barely held back his derisive snort. With nearly two dozen deaths on his hands, Stilinski was definitely a cause for concern. Even being a werewolf wouldn't necessarily save Peter if Stilinski was as knowledgeable in supernatural affairs as he appeared. He would still meet his end at Peter’s hands, but it would do no good to be careless in the meantime.

The wife glared at him once more before bustling off to wherever she had been, leaving her husband sighing after her. He shrugged at Peter and glanced out at the rain. “You should probably wait to head up until the day after tomorrow. Stiles locks the gate at dusk and the storm will keep you inside until then. Enjoy your dinner, sir.”

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The house was somehow both everything and nothing like Peter expected. It sat alone atop a steep hill, held aloft by crumbling white pillars and surrounded by an alarming number of trees, as if the forest itself was trying to swallow the place whole. It had taken the werewolf much longer than expected to make the trip, and the lights filtering out from windows cast a surprisingly eerie glow into the yard below.

It had taken more than a little persuasion to convince Stilinski to open the gate. Naturally, Peter had been equal to the task, and now he was mere steps from his target.

“I'd ask who sent you,” Stilinski commented without turning around, “but it hardly matters at this point.”

Peter followed Stiles into the house and shut the door firmly behind them.“I agree,” he said silkily, “although it may offer you some comfort in your final hours.”

“You think so?” the young man asked. He turned just long enough to half-smirk at his guest. “You’re not the first person sent to kill me,” he said flatly, guiding Peter unerringly through the maze of rooms. “You're not even the first werewolf.”

They stopped in front of a closed door, and Peter watched in fascination as the other man traced a careful unfamiliar pattern into the wood before stepping away with an almost inaudible sigh.

“This is your room for the night. For your own protection, please don't roam the halls.”

Peter scoffed. “If you have had as much contact with werewolves as you say, you would know we’re quite hard to kill.”

For a moment, Peter thought he saw something like regret flash through Stiles’s eyes before they darkened once more.

“That's what they all say.”

Chapter Text

hallowed (adj.): regarded as holy, venerated, or sacred

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Stiles couldn't have said how he knew where to go, but his feet carried him effortlessly away from the rest of the pack, to the room at the end of the hall. He couldn't have explained how he knew there was a loose brick in the fireplace, and that if you wiggled it just so, the brick could easily be removed.

Stiles couldn't have said why he reached into the hole and pulled the puzzle box out of the space left behind.

It was his, though; that he knew down to the marrow of his bones.

He was peripherally aware of the others wandering through their new property--a gift from a newly allied pack--but his focus was on the box in his hands. It was small, but intricately carved with the sun, moon, and various stars, and Stiles itched to open it.

“Hey, it's getting dark, and Isaac keeps complaining that he's hungry,” Scott called from the doorway. “Let’s get some dinner and come back tomorrow.”

Stiles hastily shoved the box inside his jacket and turned to his best friend with a smile. “Good call, I'm starving. How about pizza?”

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Later that night, when everyone else was sleeping, Stiles pulled out the puzzle box. He ran his fingers slowly over the lines and grooves in the wood before twisting them slightly to open the largest compartment at the bottom.

Inside was a note, folded and yellowed with age.

My dearest, it read.

I find myself torn between hoping this letter finds you safe, and hoping it never finds you at all. I know how dangerous it is for you to be here, especially with hunters roaming the area, but I selfishly wish that you will receive this last token of my affection.

By the time you read this, my family will have left the area, and I pray that you will do the same. I know for certain that you care for the wolves here, but I am equally certain that they do not want to see you killed for your connection to them.

If I was with you now, you would speak to me of duty, and family, and how we should do what we must for the sake of both, but I promise you that if you came to me and said that we should run away together this very night, I would do so without hesitation.

You would never ask it of me, of course, so I can but hope the wolves will protect you as well as I would, and pray that we will meet again one day.

With love, Elijah

Stiles fell asleep with the note clutched in his hand and dreamed of dark hair, dark eyes, and stolen kisses in the dead of night.

Chapter Text

harbinger (n.): anything that foreshadows a future event; omen; sign

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The first thing he needed to do was check on Stiles. If his dates were correct (and Peter was sure that they were), Stiles's mother had just died after her lengthy illness, and his father was heartbroken and emotionally absent from his life. It was the perfect time for Peter to make contact.

Waiting for Scott to be bitten would just make things unnecessarily troublesome for both of them in the long run. In fact, he wouldn't even bother with making Scott a werewolf at all except for the added protection it would offer Stiles. Something would need to be done about Lydia as well, but Peter would worry about that at a later date.

Older Stiles had never quite learned to trust him; the two of them had reached a tentative understanding, but he’d never truly recovered from the blowout with Scott. Scott and Stiles had eventually reconciled, but Stiles had never again been as open with any of them as he had before Scott had accused him of murder. This younger Stiles was battered, but not broken, and Peter was determined to make them both strong enough to withstand the coming storm.

The real difficulty was deciding what to do about his own pack. There was no doubt that their deaths (and his subsequent stay in the hospital) had profoundly affected him, but he was not the same Peter that he had been before the fire, and he was practical enough to consider letting these Hales die.

After all, saving his family would change too many variables to anticipate, and make it harder for him to be a part of Stiles's life. On the other hand, allowing his family to deal with any supernatural threats would take pressure off of both Stiles and the Sheriff, and a happier Stiles would be a more powerful Stiles.

Assuming that he prevented the fire, he’d also need to make sure that Talia and her ideals stayed away from Chris as much as possible. Peter loved his sister, but she'd bind Chris with treaties and family dinners and soften him up in a way that would only hurt their chances to survive.

Unfortunately, the details were mostly inconsequential; there was nothing Peter could do to avert the tragedy ahead, but he could make sure that the people he loved the most would be prepared to thrive in the aftermath.

He could count those people on one hand, and none of them were wolves.

The first, and most important, was Stiles.

Chapter Text

homecoming (n.): a return to one's home; arrival at home

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"Watch out!" Stiles barely heard the words over the explosion before he was being pushed to the ground.

Based on the feel of metal above him, it was Tony that had tackled him, but it took a minute of loudly grunting and shoving on Stiles's part to get his rescuer to move. As soon as Tony shifted, Stiles shot him a grateful smile and dove back into the battle, blasting magic at anything that came too close. He covered Natasha while Tony covered him.

Uncle Nick was going to kill him if one of these robots didn't do it first.

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“You know your dad will kill me if something happens to you,” Nick explained over dinner that night. “He sent you here to be safe, not to get involved with SHIELD.”

Neither man mentioned that SHIELD was the reason that Stiles and the boys had survived: if it hadn't have been for FitzSimmons discovering his impossible situation and contacting Peter (when Stiles refused to let them contact Derek), they might not have known how to get Stiles through his pregnancy.

Peter still came around every few months to check on Stiles and his sons and lament the fact that Derek was stupid enough to give up Stiles for yet another manipulative woman. Stiles was fairly certain that Peter had formed an unholy alliance with Clint and Natasha to make the alpha suffer; unfortunately, they were really good at hiding the evidence of their exploits.

It was nice to know that there was at least one person in Beacon Hills other than his dad who still cared about him.

"It would be good to get the kids out of the city," the man said finally. "Can they stay with your dad for a little while?"

Stiles frowned at his godfather. "Yes, but--"

"I'll be sending a couple of agents to keep an eye out,” he continued, “but they won't interact with the pack except in an extreme emergency."

Stiles didn't like it, but what else could he say?

"We would keep them here if we could," Tony added at the meeting the next morning, "but eventually, these things will attack the tower, and we don't want the boys to get caught in the crossfire."

Stiles sighed. He’d rather his sons go to Antarctica before they went to Beacon Hills, but he would do whatever was needed to protect them. "They're going to hate missing all of the action."

Steve smiled gently at him and clapped his shoulder. "They wouldn't be your kids if they didn't,” he agreed.

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John Stilinski was in a bind. When SHIELD agents shown up at his door with his grandsons in tow, his heart had nearly stopped in his chest. Adam, sensing his panic, had been quick to wrap his arms around his waist and reassure him that Stiles was fine.

The Sheriff wrapped his arms around the boys and held on until his heart stopped beating so wildly. The boys obliged him by holding on just as tightly.

"Who's that?" Evan asked, pointing curiously at Boyd in his deputy uniform.

Boyd watched them impassively, but John had worked with the werewolf long enough to recognize the spark of curiosity in his eyes.

The Sheriff hesitated for a split second before turning to the older wolf. "Boyd, these are Stiles's sons, Adam and Evan. Boys, this is Deputy Boyd."

The twins studied Boyd intently before Evan grabbed the deputy's hand and pulled him into the house and toward the living room. As soon as everyone was settled, the boys exchanged glances and turned as one to the increasingly nervous Boyd.

“So,” Adam started with a tiny, but familiar, smirk, “if we're all going to live in this town together, there are some things you need to know…”

Chapter Text

hush (n.): silence or quiet, especially after noise

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Stiles couldn't say exactly when he had started hearing them.

Looking back, he thought that the ability must have developed over time, because he would remember if he’d ever heard his mother's daemon speak. Instead, his last memory of Seraphine was her too-wide eyes staring at him from the hospital bed as he was pushed from his mother's room.

(He couldn't recall much from the first few months after her death, but he thought that he would remember hearing voices. At the very least, his daemon Eli would have mentioned that he was acting strangely; he was way too protective of Stiles to not mention something that important to him.)

The first time he recognized that the conversations he was hearing were between daemons and not people was in Mrs. Healy’s seventh grade math class. At first, Stiles had wondered why Mrs. Healy hadn't asked whoever was talking to stop, but it wasn't until a third, booming voice entered the conversation from the back of the room--and nobody noticed--that Stiles started to get concerned. He didn't dare turn around, but he realized after a few minutes of listening to the ongoing chatter that the voices he heard sounded nothing like his classmates.

That first realization seemed to open up the floodgates, and after an intensely emotional conversation with his own daemon about the implications of his ability, Stiles found himself listening to conversations all around him as daemons spoke to each other or muttered to themselves. It was fascinating, and more than a little informative, but he and Eli kept it a secret; Stiles had no desire to see the Magisterium on his doorstep anytime soon.

Over the years, he trained himself to recognize the subtle differences between daemon and human speech and react--or not, as the case may be--accordingly. Daemon speech had a gravelly, echoey quality to it that human speech didn't have, like it was on a radio frequency that only tuned in intermittently, and it sometimes gave Stiles a headache if too many of them were speaking at once. Sometimes, it was easier to ignore than others.

Stiles forced himself not to react when the voices he heard were too loud or too high or coming from closer to the ceiling or floor than human voices when he was out in public. His skill in pretending to be normal was how he learned that other people weren't: the vet and her sister were druids; one of dad’s deputies was a hellhound; and the Hales were werewolves.

Without even trying, Stiles and Eli knew most of the town’s secrets.

The knowledge of the supernatural was probably the hardest of the secrets to ignore. He didn't particularly care when his elderly neighbor’s daemon spent fifteen minutes counting the flowers on their morning walk, or that the grocery clerk’s daemon liked to tell jokes while people were checking out, but supernatural knowledge--especially when it might affect his dad--was trickier to handle.

He understood the need for secrecy, but his dad’s safety trumped werewolves every time. If he had to, he would out the Hales and himself in a heartbeat.

Of course, Stiles was also his father’s son, so he didn't even hesitate the night he heard Peter Hale’s daemon screaming in the woods behind his house.

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imaginary (adj.): existing only in the imagination or fancy; not real

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It was supposed to be a celebration—food and wine and happiness to be alive—but what was supposed to have been a good time had quickly sunk into politics and planning for the next inevitable apocalypse, which Niklaus wouldn't be part of.

(The only reason he'd been involved this time was because of Freya and a deal she’d struck with a spitfire banshee. The details of said deal were frustratingly vague, as his sister told them, but the redhead, Klaus discovered rather quickly, was well worth the effort.)

Now he was stuck in a room with too many supernaturals drunk on victory to realize how little their successes mattered.

He was starting to consider sinking his teeth into the jugular of the wolf next to him—that would certainly liven things up a bit—when the banshee in question entered the room, a dark-haired young man on either arm. One was the True Alpha, the other human, and hardly worth a Mikaelson’s notice, except—

Klaus recognized that face. His breath caught. It couldn’t be.

The man in front of him was older than Klaus remembered; the boy in his dreams had been softer, almost clumsy in the way he had run his hands through the wolf’s fur, in the way his hot breath would puff into Klaus’s face when the child laid his head against his belly.

Even now, if Klaus closed his eyes, he could picture the endless gray of the world in-between, where he’d been trapped in for that decade when his mother had overpowered them. He could all-too-easily recall the righteous glee in her eyes as she’d driven the stake through his heart, as she had forced him to his knees just before everything had gone dark. He could still recall the bleak despair of waking alone, forced to wander on four legs instead of two and how, after what felt like years of wandering, he would have done anything to feel something...and then the boy had come.

Like a gift from some unseen benefactor, the child was a splash of color in an otherwise drab world. Klaus had never been so grateful to see another person, even if his delusion was a bright-eyed and chubby-cheeked child who appeared and disappeared like the wind. Klaus had never liked children, but the boy’s endless stories and reverent touches were a balm to his monstrous soul.

Little Stiles felt real when nothing else did.

Over time, the child grew from bright-eyed to solemn and watchful. His stories changed from unlikely adventures to realistic tales of loss and broken families, but his hands were ever gentle as they brushed through Klaus’s fur.

(Had Niklaus been a better man, he would have given more comfort than he’d taken from those encounters; but no one had ever called Niklaus Mikaelson a good man.)

Still, the memory of that boy had been the only reason that Niklaus hadn't slaughtered half the world when he’d finally been revived, and now the child—young man, now—was standing so close, unaware that his friend Wolf was staring at him from across the room.

The boy was real. Stiles was real.

Did Stiles remember him? Did he even realize that Niklaus was real? Would Stiles pour his heart out to one of the Originals the way he had to the wolf in his dreams?

Niklaus needed to know.

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impervious (adj.): incapable of being influenced, persuaded, or affected

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There was a saying about the people who lived in the neutral zone: they’re neutral right until they take your head.

Sandwiched between the human and supernatural territories, the people who lived in the neutral zone dealt with both groups, with varying degrees of success. By and large, they tolerated their supernatural neighbors just as much as their human ones, and were willing (and able) to defend themselves against most any threat.

Shrinking violets didn't last long in the neutral zone. Neither did bigots, racists, or people who had more money than common sense.

(Actually, most people didn't survive the neutral zone, period. Rumor had it that only crazy people ever tried, and those who lived in the zone were willing to admit that there was an element of truth to that.)

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Stiles rolled his eyes as he watched Mrs. Henderson shut her door against the last rays of the setting sun.

Honestly, he didn't know why she bothered—everyone that passed through the area knew better than to mess with that old witch. Anyone who didn't probably deserved to get themselves killed.

Needless to say, Stiles loved living next to Mrs. Henderson. She didn't judge him for being young and alone, or for regularly flirting with disaster, and she always intervened if she thought he was in a situation he couldn't get out of. Mostly, she stood back and laughed at him, and Stiles was fine with that.

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No one understood why Stiles hadn't packed up and moved when the territory lines had changed. Most of his neighbors had pushed inward toward humanity, while Stiles sat and watched them from his front porch. When Mrs. Henderson had moved in, Stiles had offered a nod and a wave, but otherwise ignored the woman's presence; at least, as much as someone could ignore Mrs. Henderson. When other supernaturals pushed farther into the territory, Stiles shrugged it off and went back to minding his own business.

Peter Hale was the only exception to the rule.

Peter liked to invite himself into Stiles's house without so much as a by-your-leave. Unlike all of the others who eventually became bored with the human’s ambivalence, Peter seemed to take it as a challenge. Stiles had lost count of the number of times he’d come home to find the werewolf eating his food or sleeping in his bed, and although he'd hit Peter with wolfsbane more than once, the man kept coming back again.

Stiles probably would have been more annoyed if he wasn't so intrigued.

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inconnu (n.): a person who is unknown; a stranger

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When it was all said and done, Stiles won; though it certainly didn't feel like it.

He somehow managed to go back in time, befriend the Argents, and save the Hales. Gerard was dead, Kate was dead, and Deucalion wasn't crazy. There was still plenty to do in this life, but somehow it paled in comparison to what had come before for Stiles, even if it had been painful at the time.

There would be no kanima, or alpha pack, or deadpool or Doctors or chimeras.

Stiles was twenty-four, but he was also four. He had friends, and people who would call him family, but they weren't exactly who Stiles wanted. He watched his dad with his younger self, and his heart ached.

He knew that he had no right to complain. He had made this choice, and he’d worked hard to make things better. And things were better.

He loved younger Derek and Cora and Allison, and he didn't mind babysitting them, but sometimes he inwardly railed at the unfairness of it all, because didn't he deserve a happy ending, too? He wasn't sure he could stay sane, living in Beacon Hills and watching his friends grow up without him.

Stiles spent the next few months of his life surreptitiously researching memory potions to see if he could make himself forget; he even considered casting a “sleeping beauty” spell on himself before Chris took an interest in what he was doing and Stiles made himself stop.

The night of Derek’s high school graduation, Stiles sat with the rest of the family and thought about how the pack had missed their own ceremony because there were harpies in the Preserve and they had been too busy trying to keep Liam from bleeding out to attend.

He loved these people like family, but he hated the resentment that bubbled in the back of his brain as he watched them celebrate the life that Stiles would never have.

Two days later, in the middle of the night, Stiles packed a bag and took himself on a fourteen-day road trip. He saw all of the things that he and Scott were supposed to see together in his other life and bought books that he thought the other Lydia would like to read.

No one tried to call him—probably on the Matriarchs’ orders—and he was grateful. He had caught both Fiona Hale and Adrienne Argent watching him carefully numerous times over the past few months; they were probably just as grateful to not have to deal with him for a little while.

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Stiles was marginally better by the time he got back to Beacon Hills, and he was good enough at pretending that the concerned looks on both sides died down after a few weeks. Stiles learned to meditate, started keeping a journal, and did his best to appreciate the new life he had been given.

Every once in awhile, he would wake up with the sounds of screams ringing in his ears, or see a flash of red out of the corner of his eye, but he forced himself to ignore them and not let himself get any crazier.

One night, he felt the nemeton scream in his head like it had the night he had gone back in time, and Stiles was already halfway through the Preserve—clad only in his tee shirt and boxers—before he even realized he was awake. If some sort of monster had been drawn to the nemeton, he’d need to deal with it. If not, then he probably needed to talk to the tree anyway about how rude it was to wake people up in the middle of the night.

Stiles burst into the clearing, took one look at the nemeton, and felt the overwhelming urge to sit down.

He put his head between his knees, took a few deep breaths, and looked up again—straight into Lydia Martin’s eyes.

“You didn't think I was going to leave you all alone, out of time, did you?” she smirked.

Stiles just stared at her and spent the next few minutes talking himself out of having a panic attack, because twenty-four year old Lydia Martin was watching him, a mix of affection and concern etched into her features.

“Are you okay?”

Stiles pulled the banshee into his arms—probably with more force than necessary—and without so much as a by-your-leave, began sobbing onto her shoulder. For the next long while, Lydia rubbed Stiles’s back and whispered quiet assurances to her friend until he all but sagged against the nemeton.

The next morning, Stiles squared his shoulders, took Lydia's hand, and led her toward their new lives.

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indomitable (adj.): something that cannot be subdued or overcome, as persons, will, or courage; unconquerable

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There were many people who would say that Kurosaki Isshin was not the best father in the world, but none of them could deny that he unconditionally loved his children.

The evidence for those feelings was no more obvious than now, sitting in one of Urahara’s hidden labs and risking everything to spy on his son.

Not for the first time, Isshin cursed the deal that Central 46 had struck to undo all of the damage but the Quincy War had wrought. It had probably seemed like a sensible idea at the time, Isshin was sure, but he would have gladly continued fighting for a thousand more years to keep his children safe.

After all, he’d already given up Soul Society for love once; he would certainly be willing to do it again.

To be fair, no one had realized exactly what they were agreeing to when they chose to distance themselves from the other two worlds in return for negating the loss of life for the past twenty years. The residents of Hueco Mundo would be fine left to their own devices, but it was the human world—specifically, the alarming number of residents of Karakura that could see Shinigami and hollows—that concerned Seireitei. At the time, more than one captain had been torn between gratitude and despair that Ichigo and his friends had once more been pulled into a conflict not of their making. The children—and they were children, no matter how much the Shinigami would have liked to pretend otherwise—deserved to live their own lives.

Unfortunately, while Ichigo and the others were sent home to live their human lives, the adults—even Ryuuken—were trapped in Soul Society. Thus, the only adult support system the teenagers had was taken away from them in the blink of an eye. The two fathers, Urahara, Tessai, Yoruichi, and the Visored were all forced to stay behind, and no financial compensation or captaincy could make up for the deception.

Kisuke hadn't been able to get them home, but he had managed to create device that let the fathers (and any other interested parties) look in on their sons whenever they managed to get away from their duties.

Of course, Isshin wasn't worried about Ichigo. His son would take care of his sisters, and his friends, and Karakura, too. They would all grow without interference from Soul Reapers or Arrancar, and Isshin had no doubt that they would thrive.

The real question—at least in the eldest Kurosaki’s opinion—was not whether his children and their friends would come back to them, but exactly how angry they would be when they arrived.

Isshin couldn't wait to find out.

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insignificant (adj.): unimportant, trifling, or petty

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“Go home, Ichigo.” Ishida Ryuuken looked dispassionate as always, even with a bleeding Uryuu in his arms. “You’ll only get in the way, here.”

Ichigo’s heart lurched. He wanted to follow, to help in any way he could, but…

Before, you could have saved him. You would have saved him. Now, you're just useless.

Uryuu had tried to remain his friend after Ichigo had lost his powers, but what did the two of them have in common besides killing hollows? The fact that neither one of them were particularly sociable only strained things further until they hardly even looked at each other at school.

Sometimes, it made Ichigo feel like maybe Aizen had won their battle after all.

Still, Ichigo wasn't the type to give up without a fight. He still had Tatsuki, Keigo, and Mizuiro. He was still strong enough to defend against the human bullies and thugs. His sisters were safe. When the emptiness in his soul became too much to bear, he said something to make Tatsuki hit him, or pulled Yuzu into a hug.

It was barely enough, but it was something that he could hold on to.

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How ironic, Ichigo thought as he stared at the clear blue sky, that Ryuuken was right. I really don't matter much after all.

Ichigo could take comfort in knowing he'd saved the girl from those thugs, but he was still bleeding out with no help in sight. He huffed in irritation. Not even a year after losing his Shinigami powers, he’d gotten himself killed.

Never mind that one of the thugs had a gun, it was still embarrassing. Renji would undoubtedly laugh at him when the lieutenant found out what had happened, assuming the other man would even talk to him. After all, it wasn't like Ichigo could become a Shinigami without his powers, and none of his friends from Soul Society had contacted him in the past year.

Where can I go if not Soul Society? was the last thought that drifted through Ichigo's mind before his eyes slipped shut.

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Ichigo was dead.

No matter what she saw—the body, Karin and Yuzu sobbing, the blood-stained ground—Rukia couldn't believe it. The entire situation was incomprehensible to her. She felt like a balloon, drifting aimlessly on the wind with only Renji to ground her. Her childhood friend wasn't doing much better, and without her Nii-sama to keep them both in check, who knew what the two of them might have done?

Worse, no one had seen or felt Ichigo's soul since his death. He wasn't wandering around Karakura, he wasn't in Soul Society, and even though no one dared mention it in front of Rukia, not even the Twelfth Division had any idea of how to find him.

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In a place far away from the life he’d once known, a young man lived a peaceful, carefree life. He was never sad, or hungry, or hurt, and he had everything he had ever wanted, except his memories.

Ichigo knew a little about his life before—he had been a warrior, and he had died protecting someone—but the details and faces of his life were fuzzy. It didn't bother him, exactly, but he was curious about how he had ended up where he was.

Old Man Seth was the one to offer him a solution.

“It's a long way back, if you wish to make the journey,” he suggested slyly, sipping his tea one evening while the two of them relaxed on Ichigo's porch. Ichigo rolled his eyes as he watched the other man's face light up. “It will undoubtedly be filled with all sorts of excitement that my poor old heart couldn't handle.”

“Don't lie, Old Man,” Ichigo scoffed. “We both know you're stronger than me.” It was true, too, despite appearances to the contrary.

“Only in some ways, dear boy,” Seth assured him. “Unfortunately in this, I can only point you in the right direction.” He raised a hand to motion at the road in front of him. “The path is there for you, whenever you're ready to take it.”

Ichigo eyed the road like it was something more than just a long line of dirt. “Where does it go?”

Seth grinned. “Why don't you take it and find out?”

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jetsam (n.): goods cast overboard deliberately, as to lighten a vessel or improve its stability in an emergency, which sink where jettisoned or are washed ashore

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There was a tale, whispered throughout the far reaches of the galaxy, of a utopia, a civilization apart, where people lived and worked in harmony and built a society unlike any other. The planet was so full of wonders and curiosities that many who came to visit never left, and those who did never forgot the experience.

The rulers of Atlantis were as compassionate as they were wise, and when a certain orange-hued stone made its way to them, they made sure that the gem was well-hidden from all who would seek to use it. Barely a handful of people even knew that the stone was on Atlantis, which was why, in the midst of the Mad Titan’s destruction of their planet, young Anthony (small and clever, but often overlooked among his multitude of cousins), was secreted far away from the only home he knew with a very peculiar rock in his pocket.

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Tony missed the days when he could disappear into his workshop for a day or two and no one would think twice about it. In the past three weeks, though, he’d been lucky to get two hours uninterrupted workshop time, which was why he was going to milk his free time today for all it was worth.

He’d managed to finish a particularly tricky bit of work when FRIDAY pinged him with an update on the Tower’s newest residents.

“How are we looking, FRI?”

“The Asgardians are settling in quite nicely, Boss. Floors thirty-five through forty are filled to capacity, but some of the older women have discovered the large dining room on the fortieth floor, so you should probably expect a feast in the next couple of days.”

Tony wasn't surprised; Thor had been making noises about having a banquet in his honor ever since the genius had taken them in. It was actually kind of embarrassing, so he tried not to think about it. “How are things at SI?”

“The Board requests a meeting as soon as possible, to discuss longer-term adjustments to the Welcoming Committee Protocol, as well as to discuss possible discovery. Whenever your Grace has time, of course,” she added cheekily, because she was a horrible daughter who liked to make him feel uncomfortable.

(At least she hadn't addressed him as Majesty. Some of the younger ones called him that, and he hated it. Until he had proof that no one else had survived, no matter where in the galaxy they might be, he didn't want anyone addressing him as king.)

Regardless of title, though, Tony was still in charge—of his people, of his employees, and of any visitors who sought his aid.

Thus far, SI had successfully integrated each of the refugee groups that had ended up on their doorstep, but those had been small family groups who had slowly and carefully been introduced to and integrated into Earth culture.

The Asgardians were a much larger (and louder) challenge.

Unfortunately, there were older Asgardians who would certainly recognize the company's unparalleled workmanship for what it was, and once word got out that some Atlanteans had survived, it would give the Mad Titan another reason to hasten towards Earth.

(Not to mention, once SHIELD found out, Tony would never hear the end of it.)

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juggernaut (n.): any large, overpowering, destructive force or object

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Peter watched dispassionately as the rest of the pack argued about the latest monster to visit their quaint little town. No one agreed on what they had seen in their brief encounters with the thing, and the bestiary was proving less than helpful in determining its identity.

“If only we knew someone who had the resources to figure this out,” Peter mused over the din of the others. “Oh, wait, we did.” He curled his lips in a poor approximation of a smile. “You burned him alive.”

Derek growled. “Peter—”

“No, no. I'm sure you had a perfectly good reason,” he assured them from his spot on the stairs. “I'm sure your mother would have done the same thing, under the circumstances. “I'm sure little Cassie would have made a lovely sacrifice, or maybe your Aunt Jamie.”

For a moment, Derek looked like he was going to be sick, until Lydia cut in with a snappish, “We did what we had to do.”

“Oh, really? And what exactly is it that you bring to the pack, besides pretty shoes and a self-loathing boyfriend?”

Lydia sniffed disdainfully. “I'm the brains of the pack.”

“And yet, you’ve had to go to Deaton for assistance every time the pack has had a problem. I would argue that you managed to get rid of the most useful member of the pack.” He gestured around the room. “Scott has no common sense, Isaac is all bark and no bite, Erica is a child pretending to be an adult, Lydia is too self-important to think of the pack as a whole, Jackson has the emotional maturity of a goldfish, Boyd is turning into a bully, and you,” he looked at his nephew, “still seem to think that the world owes you something. I can promise you, it doesn't.”

Peter enjoyed watching their reactions. Most of them would simply shrug off his assessment, unwilling to listen to criticism from someone they already disliked, but it was still amusing to watch them twitch as the verbal hits landed.

There was a beat of silence before the conversation devolved into an almost childish bout of insults and name-calling against him as the rest of the pack struggled to get their equilibrium back against Peter's critiques.

It was a shame that Stiles wasn't there to verbally thrash the pack himself, but Peter had no doubt that his new friends in New York were taking care of him, and that whatever deity had seen fit to raise him would no doubt orchestrate Stiles's revenge sooner or later.

Pushing the bickering out of his mind, Peter made a mental note to check on the Sheriff; the man was doing as well as could be expected, but Peter had made a point to keep the other man healthy until Stiles's return.

If he managed to sow the seeds of discord within the pack in the meantime, well, he was just smoothing the way for his absent almost-alpha.

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juniper (n.): any evergreen, coniferous shrub or tree of the genus juniperus, having cones that resemble dark-blue or blackish berries, the smoke of which is used in ritual purification and protection

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It was a testament to the general weirdness level of Stiles's life that he didn't even blink at the sight of the second-rate villain unconscious on his couch.

Instead, he headed straight for the kitchen, grabbed his favorite novelty coffee mug, and poured himself a cup.

Black, like my soul, he thought wryly, and the guest in the back of his brain hummed in amusement.

He still breathes, Nogitsune pointed out, a little too smugly, in Stiles's opinion. We shall set him free, and so he lives to be caught another day.

Stiles snorted, but mentally started thinking of various alleys where he could dump the guy where he wouldn't be disturbed in his unconsciousness. Once, he might have taken him to the police, or there were any number of superheroes around, but...Stiles had made a deal, and Nogitsune needed to eat. “When I introduced the concept of ‘catch and release’ to you, it was sort of implied that you would do both the catching and the releasing, not bring them home for me to deal with.”

You were asleep, and I was hungry. It is not my fault chaos most often happens in the dark.

They both knew that that wasn't true, but Stiles didn't call him on it. “Did you get enough to eat, at least?” he asked instead.

Nogitsune’s pleased hum echoed through his brain. He was surprisingly tasty. With any luck, he’ll mature into quite the supervillain one day, and I shall feast on his pain.

“Yes, lucky you,” Stiles said drily, finishing off his coffee and heading back toward the bathroom to finish his morning routine. “Do I even want to know where you found this guy?”

I doubt it.

“Do I need to worry about anyone coming after me for this?”

The “no” was immediate, and Stiles automatically believed him. Not only because Nogitsune didn't really lie (trick, yes, but he never told an outright falsehood), but because Stiles had tied their fates together back in Beacon Hills, and he wasn't about to back out now.

It still hurt sometimes, thinking about home and everything he'd left behind, but he couldn't regret saving the people he loved. It had taken some time for he and Nogitsune to come to terms with each other, but the life that they had now was...good. It wasn't great, because his dad was on the opposite side of the country and had no idea that Stiles was alive, but Stiles had a roof over his head, and food to eat, and New York angst kept Nogitsune sated. Hopefully someday, Stiles would see his dad again, but he didn't let himself dwell on it.

For now, Stiles had some late night leftovers to deal with.

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keystone (n.): something on which associated things depend

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Damon knew better than to get in Bonnie's way when she was like this, focused and determined to get her way; it reminded the vampire of what Stiles had been like during those months that they had been searching for a way to bring Bonnie back from the prison world.

At that time, Damon and Stiles had never even met in person, yet the younger man had worked twice as hard as anyone else to help him, staying up at all hours and always making time for Damon when he called for an update. Damon had been downright threatening at times, yet Stiles had merely laughed and said he was used to those sort of reactions.

After the rescue, it had been Bonnie that had reached out to the other man and had struck up a friendship with him. It was Stiles who had convinced Bonnie to pursue Damon, and kept her motivated when the vampire tried to rebuff her efforts. It was Stiles who had helped Bonnie plan her cross-country road trip away from Mystic Falls that just happened to eventually take she and Damon to Beacon Hills and led to their first date.

Damon would admit—if only to himself and Bonnie—that it was the most fun he’d ever had. Stiles was everything and nothing like Damon had expected, and his friendship with the Hale wolves became an almost constant source of amusement for both Bonnie and Damon over the next year.

The pair had watched as Peter and Derek had pursued the oblivious young man, helping and hindering their efforts by turns. They still hadn't settled things when Bonnie and Damon left for Mystic Falls, or when the Hales left town shortly thereafter.

Now, unless they could find a way to resurrect Stiles, the two wolves would never get their opportunity.

Without Stiles's help, Bonnie wouldn't have been around to save Kol, and Damon would likely be drowning in bourbon. It suddenly occurred to Damon that although the two of them had given Stiles some general information about the Mikaelsons over the course of their friendship, the young man had no idea about their new relationship; they hadn't had a chance to tell him. Damon inwardly snorted just thinking about Stiles's possible responses to the triad.

Not that he would care. The Originals were willing to help now because Bonnie and Damon had asked them to, but it would only be a matter of time before the family was (likely unwillingly) pulled into Stiles's orbit.

They just had to save him first; Stiles's instinctual saving of everyone else would follow naturally after.

Damon watched as Bonnie pulled yet another book open and started muttering to herself while Kol surreptitiously tried to get her attention. He should probably tell Kol to just leave the tea and sandwich and save himself the effort, but it was probably better to start building up Kol’s tolerance for frustration now.

Besides, Damon was looking forward to the struggle of Stiles's unstoppable force versus the Mikaelsons’ immovable object that would inevitably occur when his friend was feeling better.

He reached around Kol with a smirk and grabbed a book.

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kismet (n.): fate; destiny

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I.

It was a good thing that the two of them were alone, Stiles thought, or he never could have gotten up the courage to leave.

Stiles breathed in the scent of Peter’s cologne—fighting the urge to bury his face further into his lover's shirt—and tried to commit to memory the heat of the werewolf’s hands on his neck before he pulled away.

He didn't get far. Peter only gripped him tighter.

“You might be ready to leave, love, but I'm not ready to let you go,” he whispered against Stiles’s hair.

“I know,” Stiles admitted, “but you have no choice.”

His lover snarled, but didn't fight when Stiles pulled away this time. “I'm going to rescue you,” he promised. His fingers twitched as he fought not to reach out and clutch the other man to him.

“Please, don't. This is for the best.”

Peter's heart twisted, but he still didn't move. If he did, he'd never let Stiles go. Stiles would be safe, but he'd never be free, and he'd eventually grow to hate them all. Still, “That you truly believe that breaks my heart.”

Stiles smiled, but it was a sad smile that Peter had never seen before, and one that made him suddenly afraid for Stiles. He was inexplicably glad that the younger man couldn't hear the wild thumping of his heart.

“All the more reason for me to do it.”

II.

Stiles watched quietly as Gerard savored his food, blatantly taunting the younger man with his meal.

It didn't matter, though. Stiles's sense of hunger had practically disappeared over the past few months, living on Gerard and Kate’s scraps as he had.

There wouldn't be much left of this meal, but there would be enough for what Stiles needed to do. After all, he had already spent his time with Kate today.

Stiles could already feel the heaviness in his bones that Kate would no doubt be feeling soon, that Gerard would feel in a few hours.

The only thing that Stiles regretted was that their deaths wouldn't be painful.

III.

Peter had always been a pragmatist. He had approached Stiles as a potential asset to the cause, only to find that he had started treating their interactions as flirtations rather than arguments. He looked forward to seeing the other man, and nearly attacked Deucalion then he suggested that Peter should simply kill Stiles if he wasn't going to be useful.

By the time Peter got around to introducing Stiles to the rest of his pack, the werewolf was in so deep that he would have sacrificed anyone to save his lover.

The pack grew just as fond of Stiles as Peter—not for his usefulness, but for his wit, kindness, and strength—and would have done everything they could to prevent Stiles from leaving.

Peter should have known that Stiles would sacrifice himself to kill Gerard—he was smart enough to see the signs—but it didn't stop him from locking himself in their bedroom and burying himself under the covers, hoping to catch the smell of his lover on the sheets.

IV.

“I know you miss them,” Marin said softly. Stiles always became a little melancholy when they came across wolf packs.

As expected, however, her apprentice snorted and shook his head.  “If it wasn't for you, I'd be dead, and all of my friends would be running for their lives.”

“That doesn't make this any less painful for you, I think.”

Stiles frowned, but Marin could see that his knuckles were white from where he was gripping his weapon. “This isn't about me,” he argued.

“That's where you're wrong.”

V.

“You know the price for our assistance: information or weapons. If you can't afford either of those things, we can take our payment in another way.” Peter said it lightly, but everyone could tell his patience was at an end. This man reminded them all too much of one of the Argents’ cronies, which in turn had reminded them of Stiles.

Considering the resemblance, it was a minor miracle that Peter hadn't disposed of the man already.

If the sweat pouring down the man's face was any indication, he could feel the killing intent rolling off of the alpha just as much as they could.

“What if I tell you a secret, a secret no one else knows, that is of personal significance to your pack?”

Peter narrowed his eyes at the man. “If I don't care for this secret of yours, I reserve the right to rip your throat out.”

The man visibly swallowed, but nodded. “Fine.” He took a minute to glance at the pack behind their alpha, and wondered if anyone would survive the coming rampage. “Rumor has it that Morrell has taken a new apprentice in her war against Blake. They say that her new follower looks exactly like your dead lover.”

Chapter Text

koyaanisqatsi (n.): nature out of balance; a state that calls for another way of living

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Stiles could feel the fire burning through his veins and knew that his time was almost up. He'd tried a dozen times to change things, and every attempt had ended in failure. The nemeton wouldn't abide by his presence much longer.

After the second time he'd watched the pack fall apart around him, he'd realized that the key to survival was getting Derek and Klaus to work together; but that was an accomplishment much easier said than done.

Rather than getting easier to bear, the guilt he carried grew heavier every time he had to try again. He supposed he should have been grateful for the chance to change things—he still had no idea how his desperate, fumbling attempts at the spell had been successful—but all he felt was the drive to save his friends before it was too late.

The first time—just before everything had gone to hell—Stiles had asked Klaus for help despite Derek's orders, only to be ostracized by the pack that he loved. He hadn't regretted asking for help the pack had desperately needed—but it had been agonizing watching from the outside as everything fell apart.

The second time, he tried to do things Derek's way at first. When it became obvious that pack alone wouldn't save them, he locked Derek and Klaus in a room together and told them to work it out. The day (and shortly thereafter, their lives) ended in bloodshed.

The third time, Klaus's brother Kol showed up and ruined everything.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth times resulted in the pack and Klaus fighting so much among themselves that they were easily defeated.

During the seventh attempt, Stiles started noticing the pain (the payment) for his meddling. He welcomed it.

During the eighth, Klaus accidentally killed Stiles (and destroyed half of Beacon Hills in the aftermath).

During the ninth, Derek accidentally killed him (and only Stiles's father was left alive).

Ten and eleven had been increasingly desperate attempts to get everyone to work together. Scott and Lydia had tried for Stiles's sake, but Derek had been too wary of Klaus, and Klaus, too insulting to Derek, for them to truly trust each other. They stood together long enough to give Stiles hope, but not long enough to survive.

The last time, Klaus had abducted him in the middle of the night and taken him to New Orleans while Beacon Hills burned. The hybrid had made no apologies for his actions, and although Stiles had loved him for it, he had hated him for it as well.

He'd almost let it end there, but the nightmares wouldn't let him be.

This time would be the last, Stiles knew, even as this end creeped closer. It was a relief, really, to lack the power to turn the clock back yet another time. Even if he failed this time, he wouldn't have to bear the burden of his friends’ deaths any longer. If the nemeton claimed him as reparations for the spell, it was a small price to pay for what he had gotten in return; and if he died in defense of the pack, he could finally be at peace.

Klaus would probably never forgive him, but he would move on, eventually; not even Freya would be able to bring him back after this.

Chapter Text

lamentation (n.): the art of lamenting or expressing grief

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“Good afternoon, Ukitake-san,” Urahara greeted his former colleague with a smile and an offer of tea. “Visiting Ichigo today, are we?”

The white-haired captain accepted with a gentle smile. “Yes,” he nodded. “I must admit, I'm curious to see Kurosaki-kun’s home, though I'm afraid I'll feel a bit like a voyeur. Tell me, is he well?”

Urahara did his best to hide his frown behind his teacup. “Ichigo pretends that he is fine, but I know it must be difficult for him to be so removed from his friends.” The shopkeeper sighed. “It has been difficult for all of us, I suppose.”

“Has no one told him about the visits?” Ukitake asked in surprise. “I know that Isshin-san wants to protect his children, but surely it would give Ichigo peace of mind to know that we are with him, at least some of the time?”

Urahara sighed. “I'm trying to respect his father's wishes.”

The white-haired captain hummed, and let the other man change the topic of conversation. He’d simply go to the Kurosaki house that evening as planned and see for himself how Ichigo was doing.

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Ichigo, the captain soon realized, was not doing well at all.

It felt strange, being in the Kurosaki house with the family none the wiser. He watched with growing concern as the teenager put on a smile for his sisters at dinner, only to drop it as soon as they stopped paying attention. Ichigo immediately excused himself after the meal was finished and shut himself in his bedroom.

Ukitake followed after, curious to see the young man's space, and anxious about how he might act when he was alone. The captain settled in the room, prepared to watch a few hours of homework, when Ichigo spoke up only a few minutes later.

“Why does everything have to be so hard?” he asked aloud. He tapped his pencil against his paper, and for a moment, the captain thought he was talking about his schoolwork.

“They think I don't know about Karin, but I'm not blind.” His pencil scratched aimlessly on his paper, and Ukitake frowned in sympathy. He was sure that Ichigo’s sister and friends meant well, but the young man was obviously hurting. “It's not even that...I know that Karin is strong, she should be a Shinigami if it's what she wants, but…” his voice lowered to just above a whisper, “it's the fact that everyone is hiding things from me. I know that I can't fight right now, but that's not all that I am, right?” He let his pencil fall, and put his head in his hands.

Ukitake’s heart clenched, and he wished he had a gigai so that he could offer Ichigo a much-needed hug.

Eventually, Ichigo shook himself from his melancholy and continued working, but Ukitake had seen enough to know that keeping the young man from Shinigami affairs was only causing him pain. He stayed with Ichigo the entire night, until long after the young man had fallen asleep, and bent down to brush a lock of hair from his face and whisper in his ear.

“Be at peace, Kurosaki Ichigo. You are not alone, and we will see you again soon.”

Chapter Text

lucida (n.): the brightest star in a constellation

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“Dad, your sword is glowing!”

Fumie’s head appeared around the door a moment later, eyes expectant as she waited for her father’s reaction to this latest news.

Aizen plastered a smile on his face for his daughter, but inside he was already raging. Hadn't they done enough? What could the King want from them now? Another brother?

“Thank you, darling. I'll speak with Kyoka Suigetsu later.”

The girl pouted, upset at the lack of visible reaction, and ran off. Aizen breathed a sigh of relief.

He needed to talk to Shunsui and Ukitake as soon as possible to find out if they, too, had been summoned. His eldest brothers, out of all of them, would be the most likely to answer such a call, and they were also the ones that all the rest would turn to for guidance if everyone had received the message.

For Aizen’s part, he was ready to forget the war entirely, but he knew that not everyone was capable of his level of detachment, especially considering what had happened to Ichigo. Kaien in particular hated it when someone asked to see Nejibana, or talked about his skill in battle. Kisuke and Shinji cringed when someone called them “death gods”—the ridiculous moniker some overenthusiastic idiots had given their family during the war. Byakuya had grown colder and Gin sharper and none of them were interested in fighting anyone. If the King tried to recall them—for whatever reason—the man might find himself with a sword in his gut. Maybe more than one.

No one could deny that their family had done its duty; their time for sacrifice should have been through.

Ichigo's disappearance had highlighted all too clearly that he was the glue that held them together; when the King refused to help with the search, the rest of the brothers had promptly resigned. They had ignored the palace, its representatives, and each other ever since.

They had scattered across the stars after the war, but they were easy enough to find if one knew where to look, and Aizen almost always knew where everyone else was, even if he wasn't talking to one (or more) of them at any given time.

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It was a surprise to everyone that Prince Sora had been the one to summon them, and it was the only reason why none of them had stormed out before now.

“I apologize for how cruelly my father treated you,” the other man offered once tensions had calmed. He smiled unsteadily. “I promised myself that I would not call on you, but I think that you would be more upset if you weren't involved.”

“What do you mean?” Starrk looked implacable, but Lilynette had appeared and was staring at the prince like she was contemplating violence. Starrk gave her a pat and she snuggled into the crook of his arm. “Orihime is a lovely girl, of course, but what does her disappearance have to do with us? I doubt your father trusts us to find her.”

“If we even wanted to find her,” Kensei grumbled from his corner.

Sora sighed heavily enough that Shunsui and Ukitake traded looks. “Despite what my father thinks, Orihime wasn't kidnapped. She ran after Ishida Uryuu.”

“The Quincy Prince?” Ukitake asked. “Why?”

“Because Ishida is looking for your brother.”

The reaction was loud and immediate, but Sora wasn't nearly as concerned with the noise as he was with Senbonzakura suddenly at his throat.

“Explain,” the sword demanded.

The young man pulled out his sister's carefully hidden photograph and pushed it across the table.

“I don't know how they met, but the three of them are friends,” he said, nodding as much as he could with a sword at his throat. “I know that your brother was the one to rescue the prince during the invasion, and I think that Ishida is trying to repay the favor.”

Kisuke was the one to ask the important question. “Ichigo’s alive?”

“Orihime thinks so.”

No one bothered to look around, because discussion was absolutely unnecessary. If the princess led them to Ichigo, they would track her to the ends of the universe.

“What do you want us to do?”

Chapter Text

machinations (n.): crafty schemes; plots; intrigues

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“I have an evil uncle too, you know, except he’s not all that evil. It's mostly a front. He's done bad things, too, in the name of family. I have a feeling that Peter's the same way,” Stiles announced one night about a week after the kanima incident.

He had come over intending to help Derek look for Erica and Boyd, but had quickly gauged the alpha’s mood and altered his plans. He knew that Derek was worried about Peter and what he might be planning, but fixating on Peter wouldn't help Derek find his betas, and the older werewolf seemed much more settled now than he had before his death. He shrugged at Derek's incredulity and snagged another handful of popcorn from the bowl between them.

Derek stared at him as if he was insane. “What?”

“I just think you should cut him some slack; he’s had some trauma. Besides, I'm sure Peter was never a sunshine and roses kind of guy anyway.”

“Are you serious? He tried to kill you.”

“No, he didn't. He kidnapped me, which wasn't cool, but he hasn't truly hurt me.” Stiles sent Derek a pointed look and paused the movie. “No offense, but you’ve hurt me more than Peter. I've gotten a close look at some walls and a steering wheel, thanks to you.”

“Look,” Stiles added when Derek just glowered silently, “my uncle basically worked undercover for a decade. He was underestimated and unappreciated, he played the villain well enough to fool everyone, and he did what he had to do to protect someone important to him.” Stiles paused. “He was a hero, and no one knew it until the end.”

The alpha made a face. “Peter isn't a hero.”

“No, he isn't,” the boy agreed. “He shouldn't have killed Laura, and he shouldn't have bitten Scott, but he didn't just go on a random killing spree, either. Plus, you have to factor in the fact that Peter was crazy when he did both of those things, through no fault of his own. I'm not saying you should completely forgive him right now, but don't shut him out without asking him why he did the things he did.”

Derek wasn't sure what to say, but Stiles seemed to sense that the alpha needed time to think about everything, because he started gathering his things to leave.

“Just think about it, okay?” he requested, briefly clapping Derek's shoulder as he passed. “I'll do some research tonight and see if I can find anything on Erica or Boyd. I'll see you tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

maelstrom (n.): a restless, disordered, or tumultuous state of affairs

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Duke Danny Mahealani had long been regarded as one of Beacon’s kindest and most reasonable citizens, which was how he knew that what he was watching unfold at that moment was wrong. Whatever secrets Princess Lydia and Lord Stilinski had, Danny doubted that the duo deserved to be so publicly disgraced as Christopher and Peter were doing to Stiles at that very moment.

“Did you think that we would never find out?” Chris asked quietly, while Peter snarled, “Does His Majesty often whore you out for the sake of the crown, or do you take joy in violating your vows?”

Stiles looked both confused and horrified. “What are you talking about?”

“I met a fascinating young man earlier today,” Peter said. “Mr. Dahler explained to me how you were leading King Theo on a merry chase, but that His Majesty was growing tired of your indiscretions.”

“You mean Matt?” Stiles's brow furrowed, and he shot a glance at Lydia, who was openly glaring at both Peter and Chris. “If you would just let me—

Peter stepped forward, eyes flashing, only for his sister to grab his arm before he could reach his younger lover. He glared at her, then back at Stiles. “You came here under false pretenses, likely spying for your abhorrent king—”

“I do nothing for that man,” Stiles bit out, “and we came for sanctuary, nothing else.”

Peter snorted, but it was Chris’s disbelieving noise that told Stiles that it didn't matter what he said. Matt had no doubt done his job; Stiles and Lydia had nowhere else to turn for help.

“Be that as it may,” Queen Talia said, not unkindly, “I'm afraid we have to turn you over to Mr. Dahler’s custody so that he can return you to your home. It is either that, or face execution for high treason against Beacon.”

Stiles and Lydia had no choice but to return home.

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Seventeen months later

Jackson and Aiden had been disappointed, though not surprised, when Lydia left the country without a word to either of them. Still, they had subtly (and not so subtly) inquired after the princess, so Danny would do his best to ease their minds. He hoped, too, to speak to Stiles and make sure that he was well.

The problem, he realized rather quickly, was that mentioning either Stiles or Lydia to the king was a very bad idea. The young man who had been assigned to escort him around the kingdom had jolted visibly when Stiles was mentioned, and Danny took the opportunity to ask about his missing friends in his quarters that evening.

“It's well-known that King Theo was obsessed with Lord Stilinski,” Liam said, glancing around as if to make sure no one else was in the room. “He wanted Stiles as a concubine, and when he refused, the king did everything he could to ruin the poor man.”

“What happened?” Danny prodded.

“Stiles's father was killed,” Liam said bluntly. “Oh, they made it look like an accident, of course, but everyone knows the truth. Then his beloved childhood home suddenly catches fire, and the man he was apprenticed to leaves town without warning, and suddenly the young lord’s only option was to stay in the palace. Thankfully, the Princess realized what was happening and did her best to keep Lord Stilinski hidden from the His Majesty.”

“Mr. Dahler said that Stiles was promised to the King.”

Liam snorted. “By the King’s tongue alone, I'm sure. More than one nobleman has disappeared after being the object of his affections.”

Danny went cold at the thought that everyone had believed Matt so easily over Stiles, and once again berated himself at not having spoken up that day at court. “Liam, did something happen to Stiles?”

The young man's face crumpled briefly, and Danny's heart sank. “The King locked him in the Tower for months until Stiles agreed to marry him, and the only person that was allowed to visit other than His Majesty was Dahler. Other servants said that sometimes,” he sniffled, “they could hear screaming coming from there, too. No one knows what happened next: some people think that Stiles threw himself from the tower, some say one of the cooks poisoned him out of kindness, but most people think that the King murdered him.” One look at Liam’s face told Danny which story the young man believed. “The Princess had already been in poor health since Stiles's imprisonment; she vanished not long after him.”

Danny's visit couldn't end quickly enough.

Chapter Text

magnanimous (adj.): generous in forgiving insult or injury; free from petty resentment or vindictiveness

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Tony is mostly sleeping through the third hour of the monthly SI board meeting when he gets the text. It contains only one word, sent from an unknown number, but it's enough for him to shake off the lethargy of the morning and bring a certain smile to the man's face.

The board members that notice the look do their best to ignore it and focus on Ms. Potts instead; that gleam in Tony Stark’s eyes could mean either very good or very bad things, depending on the situation, and all of them know better than to draw attention to themselves in the interim.

Pepper also recognizes this particular look on Tony's face, and wraps up the Tony-relevant parts of the meeting soon after. She dismisses her friend with a smirk and an indulgent wave as he all but runs from the room, texting furiously as he goes. The rest of the room is silent as they watch him leave.

Pepper takes a moment to mentally wish SHIELD luck before turning back to the room and business; if that smile is any indication, she knows they're going to need it.

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Across town, another meeting is taking place between two men who should know better than to set Tony Stark on their unsuspecting employees, but are looking forward to the game, regardless.

(Call it advanced field training, if you will.)

“How long do you expect this to take?” Fury asks.

“Based on what little he's allowed me to see of his plans, I’d estimate no more than forty-eight hours; less if he lets the AIs get involved.”

“How much damage can we expect?”

“It's hard to say at this point, but FRIDAY has been on an 80s movie kick recently. Her current favorites are Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and WarGames, Sir.”

The long-suffering sigh from his boss is expected, but it still makes Coulson’s mouth twitch, just a little. Tony is rubbing off on him.

“We’ll regroup in twenty-four hours, then.”

“That would probably be best, Sir.”

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The plans for what will become known around SHIELD as the AI Armageddon begin one night when Phil is exhausted and complaining to Tony over tiramisu that it seems like everyone—heroes and villains alike—is only going through the motions.

“I had one agent who actually went up to Xavier after a skirmish with the Brotherhood to ask for his autograph,” he complains. He's been going at it for fifteen minutes—which might have been a record for him—and it's a testament to how irritated he is that he's only now starting to get distracted by the way Tony is licking the last remnants of dessert from his fork. They both know that Tony's doing it on purpose; it's one of his favorite ways to calm Phil down.

(In public, at least. Most of their favorite stress relief methods happen only in private.)

“If we had an actual battle, or god forbid, an invasion, I'm not sure whether SHIELD would be a help or a hindrance right now,” he finishes.

A heartbeat later, Tony removes the fork from his mouth and, with a deliberate care that still sends a thrill down Phil’s spine, locks eyes with his husband. He smiles.

“Well, let's have an invasion, then. Don't worry, I won't invite the Chitauri.”

(Phil knows he should probably be concerned with the glint in Tony's eyes, but he isn't.)

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The workshop is already bustling with activity by the time Tony gets home. He knows that JARVIS and FRIDAY have been looking forward to this almost as much as he has, and Tony wouldn't be surprised if the two of them had actually intercepted the message before it reached the genius himself. Multiple screens are broadcasting video from both SHIELD headquarters and a nondescript hotel in Brazil, where Natasha, Clint, and Steve are currently staying. Tony hasn't decided whether or not he's going to let a distress signal get to them or not—while it would be amusing to see how quickly they could make it home, there’s really nothing they could do to stop him, so it would really only be a waste of gas.

(Since this whole scenario is about making things easier for Phil, it would make more sense to keep them out of it; they'd be on Tony's side anyway, and they can come up with their own grand gesture for Phil, later, if they want.)

JARVIS and FRIDAY may be doing most of the heavy lifting at the moment, but the bots are helping in their own ways. DUM-E is blending something that it likely inedible, and U is excitedly circling around the legion of bug bots set in one corner of the shop like a proud parent.

“J, give me the numbers.”

“Discounting SHIELD locations that are outside of the parameters for this exercise, Stark technologies make up approximately 87% of available resources in the targeted areas, and will easily be infiltrated, making the likelihood of reinforcements low. Medical records indicate that 99% of employees will be susceptible to the compound’s effects, and Dr. Banner has graciously double-checked the formula from his conference in Bern and assures us that there will be no lasting harm to those exposed.”

That’s good. Tony wants to make things easier for Phil, not harder; at least for a few hours. And it wouldn’t hurt for everyone at SHIELD to lighten up a little.

“Everybody ready? Let’s phone home.”

Chapter Text

metamorphosis (n.): any complete change in appearance, character, circumstances, etc.

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Unlike most people, Stiles never needed to wish for the goblins to come and take him away. He was perfectly capable of reaching the palace on his own, but the goblins always had so much fun “rescuing” him from the human world that Stiles usually didn't have the heart to stop them when they came to spirit him away.

Peter found the spectacle of the goblins poking, prodding, and petting Stiles into compliance entirely too endearing for a man of his reputation, not that he said as much to Stiles.

Instead, he watched as the smallest goblin (Peppermint, maybe?) climbed up Stiles's body high enough to flip himself upside down and hang from the young man's shirt as the two of them talked about whatever had brought the goblin to their home.

The goblin’s speech was still mostly incomprehensible to Peter, but Stiles followed it easily enough, if the ever-deepening frown on the other man’s face was any indication.

“You’re sure?” Stiles asked after the creature was finished. The goblin nodded vigorously, and then yelped as it nearly lost its grip. “Does Uncle Jareth know?

The goblin shook its head, only slightly less vigorously this time.

“Huh. Well, I can't say I'm surprised.”

Message delivered, the little goblin cackled as it let go of Stiles's shirt and fell to the ground with a thump. This, naturally, sent the rest of the goblins in the room into peals of hysterical laughter that only ended when they realized that Stiles was staring off into space rather than of looking at them.

“Is there a problem?” Peter asked, bringing Stiles's attention back to the present.

After a moment, the young man's eyes refocused and he huffed out a laugh. “No. Yes. Well, it depends.” He glanced at the goblin. “Has anyone come to claim him?”

“Nnn.”

“Who stole him?”

The goblin spouted more gibberish that Peter didn't understand—something that the werewolf resolved to take care of as soon as possible.

“But what was he doing in London?” Without waiting for an answer, Stiles continued, “Was the rest of the pack there? Did they come for him?”

When Peppermint answered in the negative again (that much, at least, Peter understood), the werewolf looked to Stiles for an explanation.

Unfortunately, the look on Stiles's face in that moment was one that Peter wasn't sure he liked. It wasn't worry, or concern, but more of a wry resignation; the same look Stiles used to get right before he ignored his own instincts and followed Scott into danger.

“We’re not going back to Beacon Hills, I hope?”

One of the goblins chose that moment to bump into Stiles's leg in the search for affection, and Peter watched as he absentmindedly reached down to scratch the creature's head while he answered, “Jackson evidently pissed off the wrong person, because he showed up in Jareth’s palace a few days ago. With his attitude, he won't last long, and the goblins want to know what I want to do about him.”

“Well, I for one think that dear Jackson would make an excellent goblin. It would certainly be no mental hardship.”

“It would be nice to test some of the newer traps for the maze,” Stiles mused, reluctantly grinning at Peter's smirk. “Do you think Dad would want to come along? I'm sure he has vacation time saved up.”

And if Peter got in some revenge of his own against the brat, who would know? The Sheriff certainly wouldn’t tell. “I'm sure he’d love to come.”

Chapter Text

nonsensical (adj.): making little or no sense

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No one was quite sure how it had happened, but everyone agreed that witches were probably to blame. Unfortunately, that was the only thing that the two groups could agree on.

The Original family and the Hale-McCall pack had been trapped together for hours, and despite Stiles's continuous efforts to get people to focus on getting out, no one was listening. Klaus and Peter kept passive-aggressively threatening each other, Derek and his minions hovered in the corner and glared, and Allison and Scott were mostly focused on each other while Rebekah mocked them. Elijah and Lydia looked mostly bored, though Stiles had no doubt that the redhead knew what was going on; he'd have to make it up to her later. Stiles didn't know Elijah well enough to guess what he was thinking, but Stiles thought he'd seen the other man roll his eyes at one point when he thought that no one else was looking.

Five hours into their impromptu incarceration, someone came for Stiles. Which, at this point, did not bother Stiles in the least. He'd never seen a more whiny group of super-powered people in his life.

He was more surprised than he should have been to see Bonnie. He was not at all surprised to see Damon and Darcy, who were gleefully watching events unfold through an enchanted mirror of some kind.

"Ooh, I think it's a rumble," Darcy purred, barely glancing up as Stiles entered the room. Stiles stamped down a laugh; he had known that letting his friend watch West Side Story was going to come back to haunt them.

"Or a Mexican standoff," Bonnie added, patting Stiles's arm in welcome.

"Don't be silly, do you see any tumbleweeds?"

"No sombreros, either." Damon looked almost sad about that.

"Can you picture Elijah in a sombrero? Or Klaus?"

"Derek might be able to do it if we tilted it just right," Stiles added. Darcy grinned at him before jumping forward for a hug.

"Hey, stranger. Welcome to the party." She turned back to the mirror with a considering look. "We could give him a poncho too, and he could be Dirty Harry."

"He could go around telling people to 'make his day'." Just the thought of it made Stiles and Bonnie laugh.

"I think it's more like a rumble, see the leather?"

Damon groaned, and Stiles rolled his eyes. "Well, we're not in the middle of a Broadway production."

"Hey, this could be The Outsiders !” Darcy offered suddenly. “Stiles would be Ponyboy and I'd be Soda."

"Who would that make Damon?" Bonnie asked.

"I'm not Darrel," Damon stated.

"Nope. You're Dallas: dangerously attractive and likely to go out in a blaze of glory."

The vampire grumbled, but didn't disagree.

"Should we let them out?” Stiles asked finally. "They're not going to fix anything today."

Bonnie shrugged. "The spell only lasts for twenty-four hours, so..."

"Let's get some dinner first. Then we'll deal with the drama," Darcy suggested.

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Damon, Bonnie, Darcy and Stiles did go to dinner, and had a great time, and they only had to buy Lydia two designer handbags in apology for leaving her behind.

Chapter Text

numinous (adj.): surpassing comprehension or understanding; mysterious

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Rukia bounced lightly on the soles of her feet, standing as close as she dared to the fissure that separated Soul Society from whatever lie beyond it.

I don't know how long it's been in the human world, Rukia thought, but it's been nearly 500 years here, and we miss you, Ichigo.

To this day, no one was quite sure what had happened between Ichigo and Yhwach, but most believed that the combination of Ichigo, Yhwach, and Aizen’s powers somehow collided with Orihime’s power of rejection and obliterated the pocket dimension where they were fighting.

Orihime and Uryuu appeared as souls mere weeks after the fight, but Ichigo was nowhere to be found.

Chad, too, was missing, and when neither one of them showed up in the next few weeks, and searches of both the human world and Hueco Mundo proved fruitless, most people assumed that Ichigo and Chad had both died and would eventually show up in Soul Society.

They were wrong.

After a hundred years and dozens more searches, rumors circled that perhaps Ichigo’s soul had been destroyed in the battle, never to return. Others suggested that perhaps the young man's mixed soul meant that he was bound for somewhere else, though all of the rumors were ruthlessly squashed by every captain and lieutenant who heard them.

It was Hanatarou who haltingly suggested that perhaps Ichigo wasn't in Soul Society because, as a great protector, someone else needed him, and that Chad had naturally followed Ichigo to wherever the hero had gone. Multiple parties had glared at him for the suggestion, but not even Urahara could totally discount the possibility, even if he visibly disliked it. With no better explanation and no leads, the rest of the Gotei 13 was forced to concede that they might simply have to wait for their savior to return to them.

In the centuries that followed, three distinct groups emerged: those who had known (and loved) Ichigo; those who idolized the young man as the hero of Soul Society; and those who discounted the stories about him as exaggerated nonsense meant to inspire the lower-ranked (and weak-willed) Shinigami.

Rukia wasn't sure what had happened to Chad and Ichigo, but she was almost certain that the fissure held the answer. She wasn't alone in her assertion, either, but every invention that the Twelfth Division sent through the rift had died almost as soon as it crossed to the other side, leaving them with no usable data about what might be waiting inside the fissure. Regardless, Rukia and Renji had both volunteered to step into the crack, only for the request to be reluctantly denied by Kyouraku.

(He didn't want to send them in blindly, he’d said, and had no desire to be run through by Ichigo if anything were to happen to them before the young man returned.)

Rukia visited as often as she could, hoping for a sign of Ichigo or Chad, and she refused to give up even when most people had moved on. Others would visit the fissure occasionally, or run through Karakura, but no one searched more regularly than Rukia. Some of the younger Shinigami mocked her for her devotion, but considering what Ichigo had done for her, the adoptive Kuchiki thought that patrolling the fissure was the least she could do for her friend.

Five centuries to the day after Ichigo had disappeared, Rukia’s dedication to her best friend payed off.

A tear, much like a garganta, opened up in the fissure, and Rukia stared as a mismatched group of about twenty people emerged. They didn't look much like humans, or Shinigami, or Arrancar.

They seemed exotic, beautiful, and dangerous, but that paled in comparison to the sight of a familiar head of bright-orange hair in the center of the throng, the owner of which was talking to yet another welcome face.

Rukia didn't care who these new people were, or what they wanted; she simply shunpoed straight into Ichigo’s arms.

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oblivescence (n.): the process of forgetting

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He knew as soon as he saw her that she was the one who would give him what he needed.

A careful brush of fingers on skin, and…

Yes . This was helpful. This would take him where he needed to go.

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

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Stiles wasn't sure how long he had been walking along this road.

Birds chirped. Sunlight filtered through the trees surrounding him. It was beautiful. Peaceful. And yet…

It didn't mean anything to him. Not really. He could feel in his bones that he was headed in the right direction, but he had no idea what was going to happen after he reached his destination. Were there people waiting for him? What did they want with him?

The others had tried to shape him, control him, but he had always been free. The others had learned.

The girl's gift had let him teleport here, but where was that, exactly? Nothing in this forest was giving him any clues, and he was getting tired. He felt his fingers spark as he walked—another gift, this time from a kind old man with fire in his eyes—as he thought about what Noemi had told him.

She hadn't seen much, only his name and a man wearing a Sheriff's uniform, but it was enough to give Stiles hope that he would eventually make it home. She had taken him in off the street, given him time and a place to heal, and had done her best to help him remember.

Noemi introduced him to other gifted people who shared their knowledge and abilities, but his memories stayed buried.

Eventually, Stiles left and wandered for a while. He took odd jobs and kept an eye open in case the others came after him, aimlessly moving west.

The dreams started shortly thereafter.

Two months later, he was walking down this road, looking for his past.

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Peter didn't recognize the smell, and he’d be lying if he said it didn't concern him. It wasn't bad, per se, but it was steeped in enough power that the wolf considered retreating and calling his sister.

He blinked. Was that the Sheriff's son? Granted, he hadn't known Stiles all that well, but his nieces and nephews had always spoken highly of him, despite the young man's nominal power.

For all that he hadn't had a magical bone in his body, Stiles had always been the center of his exceptionally talented family until his disappearance all those years ago.

The man before him was a far cry from the confident, easygoing youth that had vanished on his way home for summer break, but it was Stiles.

Peter approached him without a second thought, deliberately making enough noise for the other man to hear his approach.

Stiles stopped and watched impassively as he approached, and Peter forced himself to shake off his unease at the lack of awareness in the human’s eyes.

“Are you here to take me home? I need to go home.”

Peter blinked. This close, the power coming from Stilinski’s son was palpable, but there was a brittleness in the way Stiles carried himself that Peter didn't like at all.

“Of course, I'll take you home,” he promised. He tentatively extended his hand toward the other man. “Can I touch you? It's a long walk, and I don't want you to get lost.”

“I won't get lost,” Stiles said, put he placed his hand in Peter's and let the wolf lead him away.

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obtuse (adj.): not quick or alert in perception, feeling, or intellect

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Matt was the first one to notice, though he wouldn't realize exactly what he had seen until much later.

To him, it looked like Damon had come in for a drink, and Klaus had come in to irritate him. They were sitting next to each other, but Klaus was smirking and Damon was scowling in a way that suggested the younger vampire was less than pleased at the company. When either of them had those looks on their faces, it generally meant trouble for the rest of them.

Frankly, Matt didn't care what was going on as long as neither one of them went on a rampage.

He couldn't hold back his sigh, though, when both vampires ordered another drink.

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Caroline came across the pair a week later, having an argument in front of the public library, of all places, in the middle of the afternoon. The two of them had obviously been arguing for a while, because they hovered only inches apart from each other, close enough to touch. Or kill, Caroline's suspicions were correct.

What were the two of them doing together? In town? Did they want everyone to know about vampires? The sight was so unnerving for Caroline that she didn't bother to listen to what they were arguing about, and instead turned around and walked in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.

She'd ask Stefan if he knew what was going on later.

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“Is that your shirt?”

Damon glanced down at his clothes and shrugged. “It was in my closet. Is there a reason everyone is in our kitchen at 9:00 in the morning?”

By everyone, he meant his brother, Elena, and Jeremy, but that was already two too many people for him. All three of them were giving him dubious looks, as if wearing a shirt they didn't recognize was unthinkable to them.

“There’s a weird new teacher at the high school,” Elena said. “We’re trying to decide whether or not he's dangerous.”

“Why don't you go with ‘yes’, just to be on the safe side, and get on with killing him already?”

“Are you serious?”

Damon shrugged again. “Sure. It would be good to get a preemptive strike in once in awhile.”

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“Ohmy—!” Rebekah Mikaelson's voice rang through the halls as she slammed Klaus's door behind her. She sped to where the rest of her family was waiting and tried to wipe the image of her brother draped over Damon Salvatore from her mind.

She shook herself. No doubt, the two of them would want to forget the incident as soon as they woke up as well.

“The good news is, I think I know what the witches’ curse did,” she told her siblings. “The bad news is, I hope our house survives when they wake up in bed together. Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll both have memory loss.”

“Who?” Kol asked. “Please tell me it's not Elena.”

“As if I would waste my time with the doppelgänger,” Niklaus huffed as he entered the room. “I assume you haven't learned anything more about the curse,” he added, starting on breakfast for two.

“What about you and—” Rebekah's eyes flicked toward the ceiling, the sounds of the upstairs shower clear to everyone but Freya.

Klaus smirked. “I assure you, that has nothing to do with the curse.”

Chapter Text

oneiric (adj.): of or relating to dreams

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Peter blamed steady infusions of drugs and the inability to mark the passage of time for not recognizing the problem sooner.

His stay in Eichen House had been monotonous and dull, and if not for Stiles's regular visits, the werewolf would have long ago succumbed to the numb lethargy that kept threatening to pull him under.

As it was, Peter had found himself inordinately pleased when Stiles started visiting; at first, because Stiles was the only thing keeping him anchored to reality, and then because he enjoyed trying to talk the other man into organizing a jailbreak.

(So far, Stiles had refused to help, but the werewolf took heart in the fact that he always listened—and sometimes thoughtfully critiqued—Peter’s plans.)

The last time Stiles had visited, he had smelled faintly of pumpkin and had spent half an hour explaining the importance of choosing the right face for his jack o’ lantern.

Stiles had left with an easy smile and a promise to return the next week.

Sadly, Peter's next visitor was not the Stilinski he was anticipating.

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“When was the last time you saw my son?”

Peter rose from where he was lounging on his bed and arched an eyebrow at his visitor. “Hello to you, too. Don't worry, Sheriff, my cell is quite secure,” he quipped.

The Sheriff ran his hand over his face in a way that reminded Peter of his son, and the werewolf felt his heart kick up a notch. “Just answer the question, Peter. Please.”

Peter's heart swooped again. He could practically smell the worry and weariness on the other man, and he felt an irrational burst of rage at the thought that something had happened to Stiles. He wasn't about to let the Sheriff see it, though, so he nailed a nonchalant smile on his face instead. “It hasn't been too long ago; just before Halloween.”

The Sheriff blanched. “Christmas is next week.”

Peter felt the smile slide right off his face. “What?” he asked dumbly. Surely, he hadn't lost two months of time? And, if Stiles had been missing for the same amount of time, why was his father only visiting now?

He must snarled that last part aloud, because the Sheriff hurried to add, “He’s not missing. He’s…” the man paused, and frowned, and the werewolf was fairly certain that he could see lines on the Sheriff's face that hadn't been there the last time they’d met. “My son has barely spoken in the past month. He moves around town like a ghost. I'd thought that...if he was visiting you, at least he was talking to someone.”

“I'm sorry,” Peter said, and meant it. “What do you need from me?” he added, just as sincerely.

“I need my son back, Peter,” he said, the steel in the human’s gaze once again reminding him of Stiles, “and I think you do, too.”

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otherworldly (adj.): of, relating to, or devoted to another world

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There was a reason that Stiles could never visit with all of his brothers at once.

The righteous of the world would likely believe the reason behind that rule to be obvious, but in truth, the explanation for their distance was more complex than “proximity equals apocalypse”. The Horsemen, as brothers, and by design, naturally worked in concert. After all, what was war, but a fight against hunger and hatred (of the heart and of the mind), and an agonizing march toward death? What was pestilence, but a dearth of health, the body's war against itself, that often left nothing but tragedy in its wake?

It was practicality, not prophesy, that kept them apart, even as they were drawn to each other as brothers, and as parts of a whole.

Stiles couldn't help but look for shadows of his brothers in the pack, though they wouldn't understand how he took comfort in Death’s cloak woven around Lydia's shoulders, or in the lingering echo of Famine that sometimes lurked in Isaac's eyes. It wouldn't do to tell them that everyone, eventually, was touched by each of the Horsemen, and that it was the depth and breadth of those marks that would ultimately call Death to each of them.

That was a burden too heavy for such young minds to bear.

Peter, he knew, understood better than the rest that though Stiles enjoyed the pack’s company, he could never truly be one of them. Still, the pair of them fell into something that would nominally be called a relationship, full of frantic hands and heavy breathing in the dark, made all the more significant by the looks Peter sent him when he thought Stiles wasn't looking.

For Stiles, it was nice to desired for himself rather than what he represented—many people loved war, often at the expense of others—and while his brother occasionally chided him for engaging in what he saw as an ill-fated romance, Stiles knew that Peter was someone that he would carry with him always, even if the affection between them eventually faded.

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After the incident with the alpha pack, Peter had expected Death to leave Beacon Hills as quietly as he had arrived.

Which he did. For about a week.

When the fourth Horseman returned, he looked slightly different than he had that night in the clearing—his hair was more golden; his eyes, a clearer blue—and if Peter hadn't known better, he'd have said that the town's newest deputy was as clean-cut and apple pie as he appeared.

It was easy to forget, even when Peter knew that Death and Jordan Parrish were one in the same, that Stiles and his brother weren't human.

The rest of the pack may have liked to pretend that things were normal, that Jordan and Stiles were simply a different kind of supernatural creature, but there was a reason that people unconsciously tried to avoid looking either man too deeply in the eyes that had nothing to do with their reputations as officers.

For all that the Horsemen were immemorial and supposedly existed outside of the tethers of humanity, Jordan still treated Stiles like an older brother might, and took every opportunity to harass Peter when Stiles was not around. It comforted the werewolf in times when he wondered if perhaps the day would come when he would be consumed by a Stiles, by War, leaving nothing but an echo of Peter behind.

He found that he did not mind so much as he thought he probably should.

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Deep in the woods of the Beacon Hills Preserve, a woman wandered. Her hair was matted and her clothes dirty, but it mattered little compared to the pulse in the air, drawing her ever closer to the others. She was glad; she had missed them.

Chapter Text

pandemonium (n.): wild uproar of unrestrained disorder; tumult or chaos

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It seems like a miracle, sometimes, that he made it so long and so far, and yet it also seems like yesterday when he and his friends were going off to rescue Rukia. If anyone had asked him when he was fifteen about how long he thought he’d live, he might have guessed fifty years. He wasn’t quite sure how he’d managed to live more than twice that long.

(If nothing else, he’s surprised that the high blood pressure from dealing with all of his crazy “acquaintances” didn’t kill him years ago.)

Other than a pair of grandnieces on Yuzu’s side and one grandnephew on Karin’s, everyone else has beaten him to Soul Society. That isn’t to say he’s been lonely—the Gotei regularly continue to poke their noses into his business, even though he hasn’t been a substitute Shinigami for decades—but he’s looking forward to everyone being together again.

(Also, he’s a little tired of everyone’s well-meaning but also sort of worried, “You are going to die, eventually, right? You’re not planning on living forever, are you?” like that’s something he’d want to do. Also, frankly, he’s curious to see who’s going to win the betting pool on the hows and whens of his impending death. They seem to think he doesn’t know about it, but subtlety has never been a Shinigami strong point.)

If he’s lucky, after he dies he’ll land pretty close to Seireitei and he can sneak in and somehow bypass whatever loud, ostentatious party Kukaku and his dad are planning. If he’s really lucky, he’ll manage to find a sympathetic soul—Byakuya maybe—who will be both willing to hide him for a few days, and remain unintimidated by his pushy family.

He’s looking forward to seeing everyone, of course, just not all at the same time.

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Ichigo finally passes away on a sunny afternoon in June. His grandnieces—both of whom have an impressive amount of spiritual power—wish Ichigo well and watch Byakuya critically as the captain sends him on to Soul Society. 

Byakuya is, naturally, nothing but professional. Unfortunately, he also shoots down Ichigo’s hide-a-few-days hopes with the news that Rukia and Ichigo’s formerly human friends are waiting for him. Ichigo briefly considers bolting anyway, but only for a minute. Even if Rukia and Orihime have something planned, he’s confident that Chad will keep things from getting too out of hand.

(What Byakuya neglects to mention is that that group is not the only one preparing for his arrival. He does promise, however, that only Yasutora-san will meet them at the gate, which really should tip him off. It doesn't, because dying is surprisingly hard work.)

It's great, seeing Chad, and an effective way of distracting Ichigo from the growing roar of noise until it crests over the horizon.

It isn't even the sound that strikes Ichigo first—it’s the riot of colors and shapes and...are those feathers?—that are impossible to focus on all at once.

Ichigo can't help it. He stares.

“It’s so...bright.”

Chad's lips curl up so quickly that Ichigo thinks he might have imagined it. “Try not to be too hard on them,” he advises softly, though he also squeezes Ichigo’s shoulder in understanding. It is very loud, in more ways than one. “Someone told Yachiru about Mardi Gras,” he explains, as the mob steadily works its way closer. “The Women's Association managed to mostly rein her in, though. We're just lucky that Kyouraku-san prohibited candy and alcohol during the parade—there are still people in the Fourth from their practice run last week.” Chad’s explanation is punctuated by distant screaming, shattering glass, and possibly noise from a kazoo.

The parade—and now that Chad has named it as such, Ichigo can make out a vague sort of organization—seems to be getting more frenetic as it gets closer, and the former substitute Shinigami is a little concerned about what's going to happen when it reaches them.

And really, Ichigo is smarter than this, but all he can think is that he has some kind of bad luck, dying on some major holiday, when everyone is out and about. There’s no way he can dodge everyone, now. “So who’s the parade for, anyway?”

Someone in the mass of bodies spots them before Chad can answer, and the noise from the parade seems to double instantaneously. Suddenly, people are waving and cheering, and it’s with dawning horror that Ichigo realizes that everyone seems to be waving at him. Ichigo isn’t sure what his face does right at that moment, but it makes Chad laugh loudly as he welcomes his friend home.

Chapter Text

paramnesia (n.): a distortion of memory in which fact and fantasy are confused 

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No one expected it to work. There was too much bad blood on either side, too many years of hatred, for the two sides to ever truly live in peace. Even the most neutral of the townspeople—those unwilling to support either family—had looked at Stiles like he was even crazier than usual for even suggesting an arranged marriage, let alone between Chris Argent and Peter Hale.

Still, both Chris and Peter were ruthlessly practical people, and they got along surprisingly well for mortal enemies. Stiles's advice was good (not that anyone would admit it in public), and for a time, people started to believe in the possibility of peace.

It came as a surprise when, mere months after the marriage, Stiles began warning everyone of danger on the horizon. Many people scoffed at him for what they saw as an attempt to position himself as an advisor for the new couple, and either taunted him or shunned him. Those who knew the young man best, however, listened to his claims, and prepared accordingly.

Peter and Chris, though not very familiar with the seer, were smart enough to heed his warning and thus escape the initial devastation when the attacks began weeks later. 

The city that had weathered dozens of attacks over the years fell in less than a fortnight, laid low by an enemy that only the most gifted could see or hear.

Naturally, even after Beacon Hills had crumbled, Eichen House stood strong. Locked behind its iron gates and bolstered with all types of magic, it remained untouched the nemeton’s influence. Those who were wise enough to see the strangeness in their neighbors watched the activity in the asylum with the cautious longing of those who knew that a cure might be worse than the disease.

Those knowledgeable about the supernatural often said that even the building was evil, but the truth was that the building itself was a sanctuary; it was those who ran it that twisted the place into something dark and foreboding. But, power was power, and it would be needed in the times to come.

Unfortunately, most were blind both to the nemeton and Eichen House, so they could neither avoid the tree nor seek help. 

Most of the townspeople succumbed to the lure of tree quickly, unprepared for this new twist in a decades-old feud that had already carried on for far too long.

By the time the Argents realized exactly what their patriarch had released, it was far too late for any of them.

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peripeteia (n.): a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal 

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“Your dad is going to kill me,” his godfather hissed as the two of them ducked behind an upended desk. Bullets sprayed into the wall next to them, and Stiles grimaced. 

“Not if these people have anything to say about it,” Stiles pointed out, ignoring the glare sent in his direction. 

In Stiles’s defense, he’d probably been in enough life-threatening experiences that his response to this kind of situation was atypical, but Fury should have known by now not to expect Stiles to be subdued just because their lives were in danger.

“On the plus side, the guns make this non-werewolf related, so it's you they're after,” he added.

Fury cursed and returned fire. “I need a damn vacation,” he complained. “One where people aren't trying to kill me every five damn minutes. How do you feel about Fiji?”

Something crashed outside the door and the two pinned men exchanged looks. Either help was coming, or things were about to get worse for them, and they couldn't exactly break cover to find out whether the noise represented friend or foe. There was another smattering of panicked gunfire, followed by an eerie silence. 

The two men exchanged another glance. If Agent Hill or the Avengers had come to the rescue, they would have made themselves known by now. It was possible that another hostile group had taken out the first, but not even their luck was that bad, right?

Hopefully, if whatever was outside the door was friendly, it wouldn't go spreading around the fact that Fury’s godson was in town, especially considering that the vast majority of the world didn't know that he had a godson. The man had put too much effort into keeping Stiles and his dad out of the spotlight to have a group of random hostiles ruin everything.

“Should we check it out?” Stiles asked, easing up from his spot behind the desk.

Fury’s first thought was that he should investigate, not Stiles, but the young man was already inching toward the door. He stopped to let the older man pass and ease open the door.

The room outside the office was littered with mangled bodies. The guns were laying wherever their owners had dropped them, left behind by whoever had created the carnage.

That question, though, was easily answered for Stiles, even without the claw marks and the, “You're welcome, love,” written on the far wall.

Evidently, Peter wasn't going to ignore Stiles's presence after all. 

Chapter Text

phenomenon (n.): a fact, occurrence, or circumstance observed or believable 

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Stiles would like to say that he was surprised as he dodged another fireball, but that would be a lie.

Less than twenty-four hours in town, and he was already being unwillingly sucked back into supernatural drama.

(From wherever she was, his partner was probably laughing at him. Stiles knew it was a terrible idea to come home during his vacation.)

Stiles didn't recognize any of the fight’s combatants, but he knew for a fact that neither the Hales nor the Mikaelsons had remained idle while he'd been gone, so it wasn't a surprise that both clans might have grown.

The fireball thing was new, though.

What was a surprise, however, was that these idiots were fighting in broad daylight, in a public place where civilians could be hurt. The supernatural might have been an open secret in this town, but both families kept tight reins on their members. Unless things had changed even more than Freya and Cora had told him, brawling like this was an execution-worthy offense; not to mention, if either family found out that Stiles was in the middle of the conflict, those deaths would likely be drawn out and painful.

Stiles shook his head in exasperation as one of the wolves slammed one of the vampires into the wall close to him. He wanted to break up the fight—if for no other reason than he was really hungry and would like to get back to his lunch—but that would essentially be the equivalent of hiring a skywriter to tell everyone that he was in town, and he had been hoping for at least a day of peace.

With Peter and Niklaus chasing after you? a smug voice that sounded suspiciously like Lydia asked. You can kiss that quiet vacation of yours goodbye.

Lydia had wanted to come home with him—for reconnaissance purposes only, she’d said—but Stiles had quickly nixed that idea. He had no doubt she'd show up at some point to judge everyone regardless, but for the moment all he wanted was to finish his lunch, visit his dad at the station, and then sleep for twelve hours.

Another crash brought Stiles back to the present, and he smiled balefully at his lunch as he moved his hand toward one of the anti-magic talismans around his neck.

“Freeze!” he yelled, a pulse of power following his voice.

Two of the brawlers collided against each other in a heap of now-human limbs. The others tried flashing fangs or claws, to no avail, while most of the humans in the shop took the opportunity to vacate the premises.

“Why don't you boys sit down and wait for a deputy to show up, and the rest of us can get on with our meals?” he said blandly. 

If he hurried, he could probably finish his sandwich before Jordan walked in.