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all the colors of the rainbow

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You can taste it, can’t you? the fox whispers, teeth glinting in the moonlight, drool trailing down the shell of Stiles’ ear.

“This is a dream,” Stiles mumbles into the dirt, rotting leaves and mud in his mouth. “A dream, just a dream, wake up, wake up!”

The fox laughs, chest against Stiles’ back. Are you? No, no, you’re not, boy of mine. We’re together forever now, and their blood – their blood on our hands. Their blood on our teeth! The fox snaps his fangs, breath gusting against the side of Stiles’ head.

“No,” Stiles mutters. “No, no, no!”

Oh, yes, the fox laughs. We’re awake, Stiles. Can’t you feel me inside you? We, us – together, together!

And suddenly, the fox is gone. Nothing on his back but the tattered remains of his shirt.

He’s awake. No, he can’t be awake. He can’t be awake, sprawled on the ground beside the nemeton, tears in his eyes, blood on his hands.

It’s a dream. It’s a nightmare. (Whose is the face in the mask? Whose is the blood staining the skin? Wake up, Stiles – wake up!)

The fox laughs but Stiles doesn’t react, doesn’t move. He’ll wake up. He will.

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Flames flicker in his memory even though the fire was only smoldering when he got there. He remembers screaming, men holding him back – and he let them. He had felt his pack die. They were dead when he got there. He sat in silence until the sheriff (an old man whose name he still can’t remember) escorted Laura in.

Laura, halfway through her first semester at Stanford and newly an alpha. Neither of them spoke as they wrapped around each other, Laura in sweats and Derek still swaddled by a shock blanket given by a kind deputy who smelled like loss of his own.

“Derek, Derek,” Laura crooned into his hair. “I’ve got you, Derek.”

Derek didn’t make a sound then; while flames flicker in his memory, he still doesn’t. He hasn’t spoken since that day, or whimpered, or cried.

Laura is dead, torn in two by the werewolf that killed her, trying to frame hunters. (If it had been hunters, Derek would be an alpha now.)

There’s a baby beta running around cluelessly, Argents in town, and an alpha without a trace.

Derek stands in front of his old house and sees fire licking up it, reaching for the sky.

His pack is dead. Derek’s omega now because he’ll never follow or trust the werewolf who killed Laura. And he might be able to kill the alpha (he has the will, but not the strength – Laura was always the fighter, and Cora) but it’s more likely he’ll be killed by overeager hunters who preach about their precious code while pissing all over it.

No. There’s nothing in Beacon Hills but ghosts and the stench of fire. So Derek climbs back into his sister’s car and drives and drives and drives until California is in his rearview.

He doesn’t talk, and he tries not to think, and it’s not really living – but it’s what he has. It’s what he has and it’ll do until he decides to do better.

(In Beacon Hills, the Argents kill Peter Hale and Sheriff Stilinski follows an anonymous tip – three guns in Kate Argent’s possession solve half a dozen cold cases. He also catches Chris Argent holding a loaded gun on Scott McCall.

All the way across the country, Derek Hale wakes up with red eyes – then he rolls over and goes back to sleep.

In Beacon Hills, Allison Argent breaks up with Scott, her aunt Kate is extradited to Oregon (four states are fighting over her), and Gerard Argent shows up to throw his weight around.

(Another anonymous tip provides cause for the police to search Gerard Argent’s possessions, and he owns a sword – custom made, so pretty damned unique – that solves another dozen cold cases. Eight states fight over him but Utah wins.

Because of the seriousness of his family’s crimes, Chris Argent is sentenced to the fullest extent possible while Victoria leaves Beacon Hills with her daughter.

Sheriff Stilinski goes home and pokes his head into his son’s room. “Not with Scott tonight?” he asks with a small bit of concern. The boys have been cold to each other lately. He’s pretty sure it’s because the Argent girl blames Stiles for all the arrests, and Scott does, too, in his pining way, sure that Stiles is the reason Allison left.

Stiles shrugs without glancing up from the battered old book he’s pretending to read.

“You know – what is that, Latin? – Latin now, kid?” he asks dubiously, though it really wouldn’t surprise him.

Stiles shrugs again.

Sheriff Stilinski sighs. “Don’t stay up too late. You have school tomorrow.” As he turns to head to his room for a hot shower, he pauses to say, “Thanks for the tips, son. I hope you’ll be able to tell me one day how you knew.”

Stiles still doesn’t talk, but Sheriff Stilinski didn’t expect he would.)

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Stiles is pretty sure there’s never been a day he wasn’t afraid of something. As a kid, it was the monster in the corner (not the closet ‘cause that was his secret fortress, and not under the bed ‘cause that was his tunnel to the center of the earth; no, his monsters always lived in the shadowy corners where no light went) and then his constant, ever-present fear that he’d do something to make his mom worse.

Mom began getting confused and forgetting things when Stiles was still Allie, her little Allandros. He can’t remember her any other way. But it got really bad not long after his seventh birthday, and Daddy put her in the hospital just before Allie turned eight. Mama couldn’t be trusted to take care of herself or Allie anymore, and some days she didn’t even know Allie was her son. Some days, she thought she was dreaming and would hurt herself to wake up. (Stiles had a panic attack during Inception and Dad stayed with him for the rest of the night.)

After Mama died, Allie became Stiles and constantly feared his dad would die or forget him or go away and never come back. So Stiles spent every second he could with his dad, going straight from school to the station.

The Hale fire happened half a year after Mama died. Dad was called into work and Stiles spent the next two days with Miss Hallie from across the street, absolutely sure he’d never see Dad again. That’s when he had his first panic attack.

Fear has been Stiles’ constant companion. He can’t remember when he wasn’t afraid. Fear was faceless, nameless, the shadow in the corner. And then it had a face (snarling, red eyed) and a name (alpha, Peter) and it was physical – it had a body he lit on fire. And then the kanima and Gerard, and then the alphas and the darach. Fear never left but he could fight it. He fought it and he won. He won.

But the shadow’s in him now. The shadow is him. It’s his body and his mind, and there’s nothing to fight, no way to win. Lying still for the MRI is the scaredest he’s ever felt in his life. He’s been losing time, never knows if he’s awake, forgets things. He’s deadweight and useless.

The monster in the corner is in his mind and asking him riddles like it’s Gollum and he’s Bilbo, but Bilbo knew all the answers and Stiles has nothing in his pocket.

The shadow has his face, and it smiles and smiles, mouth opening wide to swallow him whole.

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Allison gasped as her eyes opened to a bright blue sky. Her hands went to her belly and found nothing – no wound, no blood, no cloth. “Scott?” she called, sitting up. “Dad? Lydia?” No one was in sight, she was completely naked, without her bow or a knife, and she didn’t recognize anything she could see.

She scanned the ground for anything suitable as a weapon, but there was only grass. Comfortable enough to sit or lie on, but useless without more tools. There were trees, though, a little ways off, so she got to her feet. Nothing hurt, not an even an ache.

“Dad!” she shouted. “Scott! Lydia!” She waited, silent and still. Then she shouted again, “Dad! Isaac! Scott! Lydia, Stiles! DAD!” She waited for a few more minutes and when no answer came, set off for the trees at a light jog. She kept her gaze between her surroundings and obstacles on the ground, her hearing focused, and her mind clear. (Thoughts of “The Most Dangerous Game” and The Hunger Games kept trying to intrude, but she refused to let them.)

The first step was to find water, then fashion a weapon, and find food. Except – she noticed that she wasn’t hungry. Or thirsty. She hadn’t eaten anything but a granola bar while she made her arrowheads, and then grabbed an apple on the way to Oak Creek. She should be famished. And while some water might be nice, it didn’t feel like she needed it.

“Am I awake?” she asked the empty air, glancing up at the trees. “Dad!” she shouted again out of shear frustration. If this was someone’s idea of a sick game –

“Peace, daughter,” a soft voice said. She spun to face the speaker as the woman continued, “and welcome.”

The woman was tall, taller than Isaac, with dark hair, tan skin, and silver eyes. (Allison blinked, looked again, and decided to accept it because the woman’s eyes were still silver.) She wore a tan tunic that fell to her mid-thigh with a knife belt across her waist, a quiver on her back, and a bow in her hand. A silent pack of hounds, half a dozen kinds, ranged around her, though none came in reach of Allison.

“Who are you?” Allison demanded, standing to her full height. “Where am I?”

The woman smiled. “This is where decisions are made, huntress,” she said. She gestured with the bow. “Through those trees is eternal peace, sunlight, and music. You’ll never want, never hunger, never tire, never miss anything again. With me, there is hunting, always a battle – one day, a war.” She shrugged elegantly. “We do have days of rest, luxurious baths, laughter. You’ll not be alone.”

Allison listened to her own breath for a moment. The woman just waited, her free hand stroking the ears of the giant wolfhound sitting placidly at her side. “Will I see my family again?” she asked. “Or my friends?”

“Your mother is with me,” the woman answered. “Your father will be offered the same choice. One of my sisters will meet your banshee on her day, and the trickster’s son will greet your wolves. As to the shadow-touched…” the woman shrugged again. “The trickster himself may come for that one. And I’m not as familiar with the fox’s pantheon; they do so like to keep apart, however small the world grows.”

Allison wasn’t sure what to say, so she just stared at the dogs. Finally, the woman told her, “You have until dawn.” The dogs took off, back into the field. “Allison Argent,” the woman said as she turned to go, pausing to meet Allison’s eyes. “I promise you, there is no wrong choice. You deserve your rest; you deserve peace. But I think that you’d tired of it, one day.”

Allison lifted her chin. “And if I choose the hunt? What will we be hunting?”

The woman laughed, as clear as a bell and just as loud. “Nothing we hunt has not earned it. Your conscience would always be eased.” She smiled once more. “Be sure in your choice, daughter. At first light, it must be made.” She whistled, high and sharp, as she strode from the trees.

Allison watched her go. After a moment, she moved a little further into the woods, searching for somewhere just a little comfortable to bed down. She had to think, had so many pros and cons to weigh, so much to consider.

She didn’t plan to fall asleep, but she woke with a fluffy dog curled up beside her. She laughed, patting the dog’s shoulder. “I guess you know my decision, then.” She rolled to her feet, watching the dog. “Can you take me to Artemis?”

The dog bounded off through the trees. Allison followed, feeling awake and young and alive.

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He dreams in shades of blue, in the after. He remembers it from his mother’s death; all the shades, he’s seen before. At first, he’s glad because if he’s seeing blue, he knows it’s a dream. And he can sleep again because of that.

At first, it’s a relief. But then he hears the laughter, and his waking world has a blue tint. And then, and then --

“Are you so sure, little fox, that you ever woke?”

His eyes open to Scott’s panicked face, to his dad, and he knows he’s awake. He knows it. Because if he’s not – he grips Scott tightly enough to hurt, and he’s awake, he is, he has to be.

The fox laughs, but he ignores it because he’s awake.

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Claudia Stilinski could’ve been somebody extraordinary, someone remembered by more people than her childhood friends, her husband, and her son. She could’ve gone anywhere and done anything, could’ve left her mark on the world.

Instead, she chose to take a break from being a journalist when she got too pregnant to move around easily, and she took longer than her maternity leave to stay with her son.

She could’ve been famous the world over, a household name, in any field she chose. Her mother made a deal to insure she lived and prospered – Claudia Abigail May had been stillborn. Anaka wanted her daughter to flourish and be happy, and her gift took her life when Claudia was barely ten years old. Her father, Oniofrio, remarried soon after, to a woman Claudia did eventually come to love. She grew up driven and passionate, determined to prove to herself and the world that she was worth the price of her life.

She forgot, as had her mother, that there is always a punchline to the trick.

Anaka had a decade with the girl who should not have been. Claudia didn’t even get that. Her last month was spent half in her head as she tried to warn her little boy – and she told him, clutching him close and waiting for Alex, trying to hold on just long enough, she told her little Frio, “Remember tricksters always have something hidden, don’t ever trust what you see, and never tell them your true name, your mother-given name, promise me, baby, remember, I love you so much.” She cried, pulling him as close as she could. “Remember, be as clever as a fox,” she mumbled, feeling the last of her strength fade away.

“Mama?” her son asked, leaning back to look at her. “Mama, wait!” His eyes were so wide, his face so pale, and she tried to smile –

Oniofrio Aleksander Stilinski died with his mother. He remembered with perfect clarity every single word his mother had said and so he stopped using the name his mother had given him. He even stopped thinking it. And he learned everything he could so that nothing would be hidden from him.

Claudia Abigail May was stillborn, the only child of Oniofrio and Anaka May. She married Alex Stilinski on the coldest day of her twenty-fourth year and gave birth to her son, Oniofrio Aleksander Stilinski, ten months later. She died three weeks before her son’s eighth birthday.

When he sacrifices himself for his father, a door in Stiles’ mind opens just a crack. Nothing would’ve slipped through (nothing could’ve slipped through) if he hadn’t taken the first step while his own subconscious told him to leave it alone.

But Stiles went through the door and left it open behind him. A crafty old fox was presented with the choice of a hunter, a wolf, or a boy who should never have been. What else could any self-respecting trickster do?

Chaos, strife, pain – these are trickster tools and trickster weapons. And everyone is so busy with those Winchester boys, with Heaven and Hell and Purgatory… a little nothing town with a mostly-dead nemeton goes unnoticed.

But there’s always a punchline to the trick.

And when the fox has Stiles’ friends and family battle the oni, he senses the newcomer a moment too late.

“Be a dear, little fox,” the King of Hell says, “and get out of my investment, yeah?”

Your investment?” the fox demands while fucking Crowley dissipates the oni with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“I made the deal with his grandmother,” Crowley says. “I collected both her and her daughter’s souls.” He spreads his hands and grins. “That boy is mine, bought and paid for, so be quick about it and leave. I’ve places to be and things to do.”

The boy is stone silent and still in the back of his own mind but the fox can feel the burn of their shared fury rising. Outside, a multitude of voices start shouting – most everyone the boy cares about is present.

He wants to use you up and spit you out, the fox says.

And you don’t? the demands, hard and cold at his core. This is why you chose me, isn’t it? What he said about, about Mama and her mom?

Yes, the fox admits. There’s a fire in you, Stiles. A spark. It wouldn’t have been half as much fun in the hunter or the wolf.

“Tick tock, fox,” Crowley calls, throwing one of the wolves into the wall. “Get out of the boy or I’ll tear you out.”

A huff and a puff, the boy laughs nervously.

He made the deal with Anaka May decades ago, the fox says. I’ll make a deal with you today.

One of the wolves roars; everyone is shouting. Stiles is still and silent, body crouched down, eyes closed, at the center of the storm.

There’s always a punchline to the trick, the fox says. He’ll burn you and carve you out, use you till there’s nothing left but grief and fear. But me – I like you, Stiles. I like you like you’re a part of me, and I’m offering you a trade.

What? the boy asks.

Howling and shouting, brimstone and flame, and no one notices when the eyes blink open, when the lips turn upwards in a smirk.

The fox says, A name for a name.

And then? the boy asks softly. Chaos and strife and pain?

The fox hesitates, using the boy’s eyes to watch the fight. Your father, Stiles, he murmurs, your wolves. Your banshee and your hunter – you think the King of Hell, Lord of the Crossroads cares anything for them? His game is a bit more bloody than mine. I’ll leave them all alive.

The boy watches his father fall, watches Scott try to catch him, watches Crowley laugh and glare; it’s obvious the demon is playing with them. He’s cold, the boy, so cold, so deep inside. My mother-given name, he says, for yours. What happens then?

The fox laughs. There’s fire in you, boy who shouldn’t be. I’ll light the spark.

Okay, the boy says. Let’s do it.

The world is so quiet, in the center of a soul, when two names are whispered in tandem, and two spirits become one.

Outside, the King of Hell shouts, “What?” whirling to watch the boy’s body rise. “Fox!” Crowley snarls. “I’ve prior claim – that soul is mine, that destiny is MINE to write as I will!”

The sheriff isn’t moving, Scott crouched in front of him, teeth bared at Crowley, while Allison checks him over. Argent and Derek pace on Crowley’s other side, and only Crowley is looking at the boy.

“The son of a woman who should never have grown to have a child,” the boy’s body says. “What tricks could such a man play once grown himself?” He laughs, eyes never leaving Crowley. “Your investment is null, little dealmaker, all agreements rendered invalid.”

Crowley shakes his head, sputtering, “You have no authority! I am – ”

“King of Hell, yes, we know,” the boy says, rolling his eyes. “And we don’t care. Don’t you have important duties you should be attending to, Your Low Unholiness?” He laughs again. “We’re just a little bit of chaos, a touch of strife, a slice of pain.” He smiles and his teeth are too sharp, too bright. “This city is our territory and we’ll burn anything that dares intrude.”

“Stiles?” Scott whispers.

No one answers. Crowley huffs but vanishes as suddenly as he’d appeared. The boy (the fox) laughs, clapping his hands together. “Well now,” he says, “time for some fun.”

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Purple is the color of royalty, he thinks inanely, face against his son’s shoulder. He buried his wife in purple. Bruises turn purple. Flames can be purple. Claudia had loved it – she wore lavender at their wedding, painted their bedroom walls it. Their son’s baby blanket was deep purple.

He sobs into his son’s shoulder, ignoring the roars and shouts around him. He’s going to bury their son in purple, and forever after, he’ll taste bile any time he sees it.