There is –
- dark and cold and the walls closing in, no air, no breath, dark, dark, dark, heartbeat like a drum, this is what panic feels like, this is what dying feels like, please, daddy, please –
- something wrong.
When Stiles is four years old, his mother tries to make him wear his polar bear sweater to pre-k. He refuses. Loudly.
“But, honey,” she says, “it’s your favourite.”
And Stiles buries his face in her warm stomach and howls, “But Jackson’s g’nna get pain’ n’t!”
His mother stills, hands going to his head, rubbing his buzz cut. “How do you know? You don’t paint on Wednesdays.”
“Ms. Amy’s sick,” he mumbles into her shirt, “Ms. Colleen’s g’nna paint wif us.”
Mama Stilinski takes a deep breath, lets it out. “Oh, baby,” she murmurs, and nothing more.
Inside Stiles, deep in his bones, something surges and settles.
There are wolves in the woods, but Stiles will never meet most of them.
They play a game.
Every morning, his mother will sneak into his room, press her hand over his eyes, and whisper, “What’s the weather, baby?”
And he will tell her. Rain, sunshine, snow, showers, winds, storms.
Stiles always tells her. And he’s always right.
“It’s our secret,” she says, afterwards. “You can’t tell anyone, unless you can.”
He squints at her because he’s only seven, but that makes no sense. “How do I know that?”
She taps his temple with a purple nail. “You’ll know.”
- they laugh, they always laugh, he opens his mouth and the st-st-stu-stutter comes and they laugh and it hurts, it feels like an arrow to the chest (not yet, not yet) and his eyes burn, his fingers hurt from clenching them into fists and he would hate but he’s just afraid and so he stops, stops, stops, if he doesn’t talk they can’t laugh, if he never says a word, if he’s just quiet, so quiet, then they won’t –
There is a raven tattooed on his mother’s hip, a study in greyscale, intricately perfect.
Stiles traces it with pudgy child’s fingers, learns words like wing and beak with it, and asks what it means.
“You’ll understand,” she tells him, rubbing her hand over his head because she loves the way his stubble tickles her palm.
Once a month or so, his mother disappears for an afternoon.
It’s not until she gets sick and he gets clingy that she takes him along. They drive into the woods, park at the edge of the preserve, and walk up a rocky path toward a white house on a steep hill.
Talia Hale greets them with smiles and kisses, invites them in for tea.
Cora, who is in Stiles’ class, makes faces at him. He cocks his head to one side and says, “You’re gonna fail the English quiz tomorrow.”
His mom swats him on the bum and tows him along, laughing. It’s quieter than it used to be, her laugh, and it gets thinner every day. She let Stiles cry for exactly three days, before she ordered him to stop.
“We have two hundred and seventy-three days left,” she said, face stern. “I want you happy for every one of them.”
And then they had ice-cream for dinner because his dad was working overtime again and they could.
Stiles blushes and follows her into the kitchen, because, right, secret. There’s only a hundred and ninety days left. He needs to remember these things on his own now. So he sits and sips his tea while his mom talks to Mrs. Hale about perimeters and something called omegas. His mom dispenses warnings and reminders and Mrs. Hale listens quietly to every word.
Later, just before they turn to go, she asks, “How are you, Claudia?”
And Mom smiles and says, “Still kicking.”
Later that night, Stiles lies in his bed, staring at his alarm clock as the minutes tick over to midnight. A few streets down, Isaac Lahey dreams of dark spaces.
One hundred and eighty-nine.
His mother dies too early.
There are still three days left on their mental ticker, but she refuses to take her meds anymore and her body goes into shock.
It’s one last lesson for him, Stiles knows, in the abstract way children sometimes understand adult reasoning. Keep the secret, be careful. And now: don’t trust your own abilities because nothing is certain.
It’s a fucked-up thing to leave your eight-year-old with, he thinks, but then, so is being able to predict the date of your mother’s death.
They bury her on day zero and he figures that means he’s allowed to cry.
- light, pain, muscles cramping, nerves firing, brain exploding and they say there’s a warning, they say there’s a strange taste, but it’s not strange, it’s just blood, it tastes like blood and dying and it hurts, the shakes afterwards, the humiliation, the tears that come without permission, the aching jaw and the sore bones, it hurts, hurts, hurts and it never stops because she’s a bomb, there’s a bomb inside of her and everything can set her off and it’s like a nightmare where you can’t wake up (nightmare, nightmare, this is a nightmare) and –
The Hales burn three months later.
Stiles kneels in front of the toilet, puking his guts out, when his father gets the call. He stands in the doorway, torn between his sick son and the radio screaming, “all of it, Jesus fuck, the whole house, they’re in the basement, we can’t….”
Stiles waves him off. “Go,” he says, with his dead mother’s authority in his voice.
His father goes.
Hours later, the fire finally dies. Eleven people are dead. No-one tells Stiles that they –
- blood and pain and blistered skin, cooking meat, healing over it and burning again, burning, burning, burning, screaming till the lungs burst, agony and a body that doesn’t know how to go into shock, blinded by smoke and the children have stopped crying -
- die screaming, healing and burning in turns. No-one has to.
Vernon Boyd cries when he hears the news that Cora is dead. She was kind to him when no-one else ever bothered.
Stiles researches ravens, prints pictures off the internet and puts them up around his room until he lives in the eye of a storm of black feathers.
He reads books and trolls Wikipedia, googles until his fingers bleed. He still doesn’t understand.
Then, one day, there’s a link, an article, another link. Somehow, he ends up reading, ravens have been known to live in symbiosis with wolves. The birds warn the wolves of danger and even play with them. In return, the wolves share their prey. Occasionally…
Closing the window, Stiles spins on his swivel chair, contemplating. He still doesn’t understand, not really, but he feels like he will.
That night, he dreams of wolves.
ADHD, the doctors say.
Stiles thinks, “I’d like to see you concentrate when your brain’s five minutes in the future, six feet to the left and halfway across town at the same time,” but secrets.
He says nothing.
His father looks at him with fondness and disappointment and Stiles flushes the pills down the toilet as often as he can get away with it and suffers through the strange, floating feeling of hyper-awareness when he can’t.
Teachers keep yelling at him, the other kids keep even further away from him. Sometimes he wants to tell his dad, but whenever he tries, he hears her voice in his head, telling him no.
Loneliness, he argues with her ghost. Fear.
But in the end, he always remembers her last lesson, remembers, don’t even trust your own ability and wonders when he stopped calling it a gift.
He doesn’t know –
- mommy has an affair and daddy is never home, love is a plastic card with a microchip and she cries at night, sobs into her pillow until her chest aches and her heart is empty, cries and learns how to apply make-up in the morning to hide the bruises because daddy, daddy, don’t you love me, mommy, where are you going, where are you –
- how to turn it off.
Sheriff Stilinski knows that his son has ADHD and the occasional strange but valid insight.
Scott McCall knows that his best friend has the most reliable gut feelings in, like, the whole world.
Lydia Martin knows that the weird kid from her math class always seems to know when she needs cheering up, because he always finds her gaze, holds it, and smiles.
Everyone else doesn’t even really know Stiles exists.
When he is thirteen, he starts plotting a tattoo. It’s a raven, captured in flight, wings spread from the centre of his back to cover both shoulder blades and the tops of his arms.
He sketches it a hundred times, getting better, better, better, without knowing why it matters.
Outside his room, actual ravens land in the neighbour’s cherry tree, eerily silent, staring at him through two panes of glass like they want to… he has no idea what they want to do with him.
But he knows that they’re here for him anyway.
Scott sleeps over sometimes –
- dreams of a closet and the sound of fists hitting flesh, of mom crying and dad shouting, of hidden bruises and fading smiles, of blood on the bathroom floor, honey, can you help me put a band aid on that, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll never hit her again, I swear –
- and the birds outside the window go wild.
On Valentine’s Day, he walks up to Lydia with a box of chocolates, holds it out, asks her to be his Valentine, stuttering and afraid and with his heart in his throat, on his sleeve, anywhere but where it belongs.
She blinks at him, owlishly and a bit condescending and asks, “Who the hell are you?” Followed by, “I’m with Jackson.”
The boy in question appears behind Stiles, bumps into him hard enough to send him sprawling. It’s probably not even intentional, but he goes down hard, chocolates scattering across the dirty floor.
Everyone stops and laughs.
Stiles picks up his bag and runs all the way home, slamming into his room and wrenching open the window. “What good are you?” he hisses at the ravens – quietly, because the lessons still stick, “What fucking good are you, when I don’t ever know…”
- Jackson cried himself to sleep last night because he got a C on his history project and his parents were so, so diasappointed -
He stops, because it’s useless. He knows that much. Just not ever what matters. Just not ever what helps. This morning, he knew that Scott will get a D in history, but not that he was going to get humiliated in front of half the school.
And he knows that it doesn’t really matter, that in the grand scheme of things, it’s unimportant, but he’s thirteen. He’s thirteen and living with his dead mother’s rules, trying to figure out what the fuck he’s supposed to be and everything’s just…
He takes off the pictures. All of them. Every single raven he’s ever printed, bought, drawn. Stacks them all together and dumps them in the trash.
Then he fixes dinner, because Dad will be home early today. His deputies will send him home to get drunk and grieve for his dead wife in peace. He’ll like the lasagne because it’s a good memory.
Stiles always knows how to fix others. Just never himself.
He visits Peter on the three year anniversary of the fire.
He doesn’t talk, just sits next to the man and tries to figure out if they knew each other, before the scars. Before everything went belly up, starting with his mother shot down like an albatross.
Eventually, Mrs. McCall comes and insists on driving him home. He lets her.
He knows, the night they find half a body in the woods.
Something is going to happen before sunrise, something terrifying and amazing and Stiles has no idea what it is, or which side of the fence it will come down on, but by god, he is going to let it come down.
Because he’s been predicting his grades, the weather, and Lydia’s clothes for the past three years, and he feels the urge to peel back his skin and climb out of it. Because the Adderall gives him nightmares, the ravens outside his window have been raising hell for the past three weeks, and everything itches.
So Stiles bangs into Scott’s room, ignoring the feeling of Erica Reyes having a fit in her living room, of the rain coming from the coast, and the test he’ll ace tomorrow, and says, “Get your things, we’re going adventuring.”
Twenty-four hours later, his best friend is a werewolf and he still doesn’t know which side it all came down on.
Derek Hale has his mother’s pride in his posture and his little sister’s eyes. He smiles at Stiles with too many teeth in his mouth –
- teeth for biting and tearing, for snarling to hide the pain, for nipping at the lips of the woman who burned his family alive, teeth for blood and broken bones and he dreams of dying in fire, every single night, but he never does and that may be the worst thing –
- and Stiles knows Derek doesn’t remember him.
Ravens run – fly – with wolves and Derek and Scott are werewolves, the Hales were wolves and Stiles laughs himself sick, takes twice the recommended dose of Adderall and tries not to freak the fuck out.
Stiles can’t see the past, but he can see the way it unravels the future, the way things echo and repeat down the line, beginnings and endings in fire and blood, family and enemy and a raven with a warning that comes too late.
Kate made Derek love her and then burned his family to death and now Derek hunts her family while Peter kills her accomplices and Stiles takes Derek’s part, hopelessly falling for a monster in human skin, only Derek isn’t Kate any more than Scott is Derek and Allison might be Kate, but she isn’t.
Peter kills Laura and Derek kills Peter, fire then and fire now, alpha powers are passed down in blood and Stiles wonders if that means that every alpha in a functioning pack kills one of their parents at some point, to inherit the way he inherited his mother’s ability to see what no-one should and Derek inherited Talia’s ability to stand straight when all he wants to do it curl up and beg.
Stiles doesn’t know why Peter took Scott and not him.
Perhaps some part of the mad monster remembers the boy that sometimes visited his home, telling Cora what to study for.
Or perhaps he knew that way lay only more madness because Stiles with teeth is –
- horror, nightmare blood and pain, a monster in monstrous skin, a wolf that’s forgotten to be human, an animal with wings and fur and fury an foresight, four sythe, four scythes, reaping, reaping, murder endings, Stiles with teeth is a death sentence for all of them because he can barely hold on to his skin most days as a human and if Peter bites that out of him –
- a bad idea.
Scott is, all in all, not a bad choice, because Scott is broken, too, in his own way. An abusive, cheating father, a cynical, overworked mother, an empty house and no friends.
Really, he couldn’t have picked someone better, except for how he could have.
(Stiles dreams of broken children all the time and it takes too much to not walk up to them and sob into their necks when he sees them in the morning, shattered, pretending to be something else.)
Among the broken misfits of Beacon Hills, Scott is probably one of the least screwed-up.
Stiles would have told Peter that, if Peter has asked. Or, you know, had a human mouth with which to form words.
“Werewolf,” he explains to Scott and still feels that little shudder of finally, every time he says the word.
His mother didn’t just teach him secrets and fear and loneliness. She also taught him duty and loyalty, every single time she took him to the Hale house.
The day before she died, she placed his hand on her hip, above her tattoo and said, “You’ll understand.”
Sometimes, Stiles wishes he could hate her.
“You’ll have to cut my arm off,” Derek announces, tying a makeshift tourniquet around his bicep.
Stiles snorts and refuses to take the bone saw. “It won’t come that far,” he tells the wolf, steady as rock. And then, because Derek looks at him funny, he goes off on a rant about blood and trauma and therapy and it tides them over until Scott comes stumbling in, bullet in hand.
He never tells –
- run, run, run, hide and bleed and fear, do you know what hunters do to their kind, to the ones that warn their prey, the birds in the trees that fall silent when death comes knocking with a notched arrow, hide, never tell anyone, never trust anyone, never let them carve out your eyes so they can see what they shouldn’t, never tell anyone, you can’t –
- anyone the truth.
He lets Scott dig up Laura, lets him lie badly – really, really badly – at the school, let’s Derek nest in his bedroom for weeks and doesn’t say a fucking word about anything to anyone because the alternatives are all worse.
And that’s the thing, that’s the most important thing: alternatives.
Suddenly, it’s not just the world’s most accurate gut feeling. Suddenly it’s film reels, even with his eyes open, A leading to B, leading to C, leading to Z, and the divergence, skip G, go straight to N, twist back to A.
He doesn’t just know anymore, he predicts, and it gets easier, stronger, every day.
Ravens are clever and fast, but wolves are stronger and the raven needs that strength the same way Stiles needs werewolves around to tell their fortunes accurately.
Things are starting to make an awful kind of sense, lately.
“Listen,” Stiles says, after the fucking car chase, after Derek drops off Scott and rolls to a halt in front of Stiles’ dark and empty home, “It’s gotta be you.”
Derek looks at him sideways.
Stiles scrubs a hand over his face.
“I know this doesn’t make sense, but you gotta remember, when it ends, it’s gotta be you. Otherwise we are all so fucked, dude.”
Then he flees, Derek’s, “Don’t call me dude,” floating after him.
Letting Kate have Derek, letting that monster have her victim for another bout of torture, is the hardest thing he’s ever done.
He spends days without sleep, calculating the odds. Tell Peter now, get everyone killed.
Send Scott, get Derek killed.
Go alone, make Allison hate them all.
Kill Kate, drive Peter around the bend for good.
The ravens outside the window caw angrily and Stiles screams until they go away.
In some parts of Europe, people used to burn whole forests down so they could grow new and fresh.
Stiles stands in the ashes of eleven people and a home, inhales the acrid stench of ash and smoke and wonders why his mother didn’t want to be cremated.
Somewhere below his feet, Derek roars with 900.000 volts in his veins and Kate Argent laughs. Stiles calculates the slowest possible death for her and then drives home to get dressed for the dance.
His father takes a picture of him in his suit, smiles, tells him how proud his mother would be.
(Secret. Danger. Loneliness. Fear. His mother taught him how to know every possible outcome, except for the one where he’s happy.)
He’s starting to understand how smart his mother was, and how stupid, too. He smiles at Dad, ducks his head, and promises to be home by two.
It’s a shame his shirt will get ruined.
“Don’t,” he tells Lydia. “Don’t go out there. Jackson went through there, he’ll be back in a moment. You can catch him at the buffet.”
He smiles at her, presses a peck to her cheek, and turns to go.
She stops him with a hand on his arm, squeezing. “You might be more interesting than I thought,” she informs him, like he’s a specimen that just did a neat trick.
Mockingly, he bows.
Now for his next trick: saving a pack of wolves, half of which aren’t even wolves yet, from their own idiocy.
(Erica didn’t go to the dance because of the lights, Isaac is working late at the cemetery, Boyd has no-one to go with, Cora is hundreds and hundreds of miles away, Laura is dead and Peter is mad and Jackson and Lydia are running in circles. Derek screams under a torturer's hands.)
“Stiles,” Peter says, voice like velvet.
Stiles stands still and quiet at the centre of the lacrosse field, bathed in floodlights. His feet are damp from the dew on the grass. It smells like winter and there is music in the air.
Peter detaches from the shadows, steps forward. Even in human form, the madness shines through, in eyes too bright, shoulders too bulky. He’s been burning for six years, burning with the screams of his pack-
- he left them there, he saw the tunnel and he ran, he left them-
- ringing in his ears.
This is probably what they mean when they talk about sympathy for the devil, Stiles thinks. He smiles, strips off his jacket.
Arm extended, he requests, “Make it quick, yeah?”
Head cocked to one side, eyes darkening, reddening, the alpha asks, “You’d let me do it? You’d let me… take that from you?”
He quirks a grin. “May the odds be ever in your favour,” he says, and mourns the wasted reference even as he says it. They need Peter for what’s coming, but not as he is. First, Stiles needs to bleed the madness from him.
Or rather: burn.
(Hales die in fire. It’s their curse. And their blessing.)
Running with wolves is just a laugh a minute, really. The trauma is free.
“If you poke around my head where you’re not welcome, I am going to cut the dick off your corpse before bringing you back.”
Peter nods, satisfied. “You are your mother’s son.”
Snorting, Stiles shakes his head. “Let’s hope I’m not. For all our sakes.”
The alpha really has a lot of teeth. A second later, the world turns red.
Peter’s mind is red hot agony and Stiles can’t say he’s surprised.
(Stiles is never surprised.)
When he comes to, Peter is crouched above him in the wet grass. There is blood on his teeth. Stiles’ blood. It matches his eyes.
“Now,” he says, “Tell me where to go.”
Stiles shakes his head, holds out his hand. Peter pulls too hard. The wound on his arm fires pain, pain, pain into his system.
“When?” Peter sounds sullen, like a child deprived of playtime. Jesus. Batshit doesn’t begin to cover it.
“Not yet,” Stiles repeats. “Unless you want your pack to be annihilated before it even exists. Again.”
That gets him claws dug into the soft skin of his wrist. He hisses in pain. Peter grins with all his teeth.
“Careful,” he warns, “tonight, there are wolves in the woods.”
“Yeah. Tell me something I didn’t know at the age of six, dude.”
“I’m sorry,” he offers on the car ride to the Hale house.
“The way you die.”
Peter doesn’t even flinch. “It can’t be worse than what I’ve been living with.”
Allison rides in a car with Kate, feeling hollow and dark, bleeding out on the car seat, bruised and used and terrified at her lack of terror, at the void inside that feels like it’s been waiting for her all her life.
Stiles swallows back her apathy and guns the car.
Peter dies in fire for a second time and the fact that it’s the least horrible scenario there can be tonight doesn’t help at all.
Stiles stands next to him as Derek approaches, and he almost manages a smile through the bile rising at the back of his throat. “See you,” he offers.
Peter snarls at him and then Derek ends it, the way he always had to. The way Stiles told him to. His eyes fade to green and then burn, burn, burn, and he never noticed before, how much alpha eyes look like fire.
Stiles counts his heartbeat in his throbbing, injured arm and inhales the stench of boiling meat, like pork. His hands, if he sniffed them, would stink of chemicals and he wonders what death smells like. Peter is dead by these hands and alive in his bloodstream, waiting like a disease, just under his skin and Stiles will carry him because he’ll be damned if he lets another member of his pack die in fire.
“Allison,” he says, without turning. No-one besides him is moving. “We need your pendant to pin the murders on Kate. Mr. Argent, there’s a dead hunter in the tunnels. Get him the fuck off Hale property before the pack eats him. Lydia, Jackson,” – where did they even come from – “Go back to the dance and shut up about this. I know why you’re here, but not tonight. Not until things have calmed down.
“Scott, we need to bury Peter. Make it shallow, I don’t really feel like digging my ass off on the next full moon. Derek will show you where.”
He looks up from the smouldering corpse to find everyone, including the new alpha, staring at him. “You’ve been bitten,” Scott finally grinds out between fangs.
Stiles pokes at his bloody arm. “This? Yeah, no. Not going to turn. Not that kind of bite. Also, why is nobody doing what I told them to?”
“You’re not the alpha,” Derek rumbles, low and angry and running on pain and instinct.
Kate is finally dead, Peter burned again, and there’s a werewolf in love with a hunter just across the clearing. Everything’s come full circle. Stiles’ ears are ringing with the echoes.
“No,” he says, incredibly tired. “But both our mothers are dead and that means it’s you and me.”
Because Derek may be the one with teeth and claws, but Stiles has been dreaming in red since he was four years old and all his horrors are here tonight.
Stiles is afraid, at first, of all the things he must do, the steps – A, B, G, H, Q – that depend on him doing what others won’t or can’t. He’s fucking scared of what he knows he will do, without hesitation or compunction, at some point or another.
Coach keeps telling him he has no killing instinct, goes in to wound instead of murder. He says it makes him weak.
Coach has obviously never even met Stiles Stilinski when there is something real on the line.
- carries a bat in one hand and a knife in the other, both soaked in wolfsbane and anointed in mountain ash, both bloody and well-used –
Kind of terrifies himself.
Derek sits in the ruins of his home, soot-stained and hollowed out – man and wolf and house alike – and doesn’t even blink when Stiles comes clomping through what used to be the front door, before Peter happened.
“You mother,” he says, when Stiles stops in front of him. “She was the pack’s…”
“Yeah. And she was fucking stupid about it.” He drops a folded piece of paper in Derek’s lap, sinks own cross-legged next to him.
“What’s that?” the wolf asks without really asking, because intonation is not his friend.
“That’s a list of names and times when you can bite them without everything going to shit.”
That earns him a glower. “I choose my own pack.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You choose a bunch of misfit toys, the people who broke the prettiest in this town, and you make them shine. Blah, blah. I know. Those are your choices. I just added a few details that might make the next year not suck as much as it could. We don’t really need Jackson on a killing spree, for one. And Lydia will be absolutely terrifying if you turn her too soon.”
“Your mother never….” It seems now that he remembers why the name Stilinski should mean something to him, Derek can’t see past it.
“My mother was fucking stupid!” Stiles snaps, springing to his feet. He stalks the length of the room, broken wall to broken wall, spins, does it again. “In nature, ravens and wolves coexist. They work together. They need each other. And I have no idea how my mother got to be your pack’s Raven, but she was and she didn’t understand… Do you know what she taught me? She taught me to be afraid. To never trust anyone, to never show anyone. Not even Dad.”
- an empty bed and an empty house, a row of graves without bodies, lost parents and siblings and friends, silence that becomes suffocating and scars that never heal -
“And she pulled away from the pack after I was born. I don’t know if it was because of me, or Dad, or whatever, but she did. And that was… we need you, as much as you need us. I can… everything is clearer around you. But my mom withdrew.”
And from there it’s all dominoes falling.
“That’s why no-one smelled the cancer until it was too late, why she died. And because she wasn’t there, no-one could warn you of Kate Fucking Argent and everyone died. And because everyone died, I grew up alone, not knowing shit about any of this, far away from any wolves. I didn’t know about Peter, not really, not soon enough to change anything. I didn’t know about Laura and by the time I knew about you, I had to let it play out!”
He stomps on the floorboards, sending up billows of dirt and ash. Derek stares at him. “My mother was so stupid! She tried to protect me and doomed us all because she didn’t get it!”
He throws up his hands, stops, rubs at his scalp. “Everything is wrong. Because of that. Because our mothers both dropped the ball so far it came out in China. And this,” a wave to encompass the house, “is what’s left.”
He finally runs out of steam, out of all the things he’s been holding in for six damn years. All the things he always knew and never could articulate before.
(Because there’s never been anyone who could listen before.)
Derek sits motionless, watching him with red eyes. Silence rings between them. If Stiles tries, he can still smell how Peter died.
Finally, the werewolf stands, list crumpled in one hand. “How?” he asks.
Stiles laughs, relief bleeding from him like lifeblood.
(Red. Everything is red.)