- Monday, March 5th, 2018 -
Stiles stands in his kitchen dressed in a pair of pale-blue boxer-briefs and one of his dad's old red T-shirts. He watches the tiny flame of a birthday candle flicker in the breeze from the open window above the sink. He feels nothing, the tiny cupcake he'd made himself for the occasion failing to inspire any sort of emotion in him, positive or otherwise. He'd take anything at this point, anything to reinvigorate him, but experience has taught him that he'll feel this way for the rest of the day, just like he has every single year since his dad was killed in the line of duty.
At 23-years-old, Stiles Stilinski has no friends. He has no relatives. He is completely alone, as he should be.
"Happy birthday to me," he sings halfheartedly, blowing out the candle.
Things hadn't always been this way. He was an incredibly happy child with friends he would have died for and parents he loved more than anyone. But then his mother was lost to her illness, which was the beginning of the decline. He could have bounced back, he thinks, if it weren't for what his dad had simply called nightmares.
They were both so naïve then, but how could they have known what was coming? How could they have known that each and every nightmare Stiles had was an augury of what was to come? It would have been beyond the realm of possibility in any stretch of the imagination. These things didn't happen in real life, just in fiction, so how could either of them have prepared for the hell that would be unleashed upon Stiles fifteen years ago to the day?
Premonitions. That's what he calls the nightmares now. It's the only thing he can call them, really, because that's clearly what they are.
Stiles still remembers the first time it happened. He could never forget.
He'd been tucked into bed by his dad as usual, but he had trouble sleeping. They'd been to visit his mother in the hospital that afternoon, and Stiles couldn't rid his mind of how different she looked, how thin and frail and so unlike the vibrant woman he used to know. When he eventually fell asleep, Stiles dreamed he was her, lying in her hospital bed and trying to smile and pretend she wasn't hurting for the sake of her son and husband. He watched himself play along through her eyes and knew that he didn't want to add to her pain by letting her see how much he was hurting, too. His dad was the same.
They were wearing little red party hats and eating slices of store-bought birthday cake. Stiles thought it looked dry, but as he was his mother in the dream, he wasn't allowed to eat any. Once the cake was gone, he grew tired very quickly and needed to rest. He was still awake but his eyes were closed, which is when things took a turn for the worst.
He suddenly couldn't breathe, his body—his mother's body—seizing in the hospital bed as the beeping of the ECG machine connected to him grew wild. He heard the other him screaming and then panicked voices as medical staff burst into the room to try to stabilise him, but they couldn't do anything to help. He still couldn't breathe and knew that he was going to die. The last thing he heard before everything went black was the ECG machine flatlining.
Stiles woke up in tears and wouldn't tell his dad what was wrong when the man rushed in to comfort him.
Neither of them went back to sleep that night, but when the sun rose the next morning, things carried on as normal. Every single week, Stiles and his dad went to the hospital to sit in his mother's room. He tried to forget about the dream, and eventually he did. It wasn't until a month later, when they visited his mother again so she could see him on his birthday, that he remembered it.
He was uneasy the entire time because everything felt so familiar. He had the ridiculous red party hat perched atop his head, the thin string cutting into his jaw. His parents said the same things to each other as they had in his dream, and the cake was just as dry as it had looked. There was a sense of foreboding hanging in the air that only Stiles seemed to be aware of, but again he didn't tell anyone about his nightmare because it was too farfetched to be true.
It was just a coincidence, he told himself. Everything would be fine.
Things devolved swiftly, exactly as they had in Stiles' dream. Only this time he was watching through his own eyes as his mother died.
Stiles didn't know what to think when it was all over. After her funeral, he finally told his dad about the dream he'd had the month before, but the sheriff was too drunk to really comprehend what he was being told and just ordered his son to go to bed. Stiles didn't bring it up again, not even when he had another nightmare a few months later.
This one was different. It didn't revolve around his family or anyone he knew. It started in the spotless white bathroom of a huge house in the middle of the woods. Stiles didn't recognise where it was because there were no identifying characteristics in the surroundings, just a seemingly endless expanse of trees visible through the window. He looked at himself in the mirror and saw that he was in the body of a woman around the same age as his dad, with tanned skin, brown eyes, long dark hair and a face bare of makeup. She was beautiful, as was her husband, who appeared in the open doorway to tell her that dinner was ready. The man was tall and muscular, with short black hair, kind eyes and a neatly trimmed beard framing his strong jaw.
Stiles followed the man downstairs and joined the rest of the family in the dining room. Or most of the family—their only son and eldest daughter were both absent, but Stiles wasn't going to go out and search for them then. He would punish them for missing dinner when they got home.
For a while, things progressed without incident. Stiles shared fond jabs with his younger brother, a man named Peter, and observed with a smile as his husband gently teased their youngest daughter about a crush she had on one of the boys in her grade. When dinner was over, they moved into the living room and played board games.
That's when things turned sour.
When Stiles looks back on the nightmare now, he can't remember how the events all played out. All he remembers is that one moment everyone was happy, laughing, and then the next, they were all screaming and there was fire everywhere. He remembers trying to get out of the house but being unable to do so because some sort of silvery powder was preventing it. He remembers Peter urging them all down to the basement because there was another way out down there, but that too was a dead end and all they'd done was trap themselves.
Stiles remembers the indescribable pain of burning alive, how his skin blistered and melted away, only to regenerate over and over again. But the regeneration wasn't fast enough to keep him alive.
Stiles woke up screaming and scratching at his bare arms. He was so traumatised by the nightmare that he shook for the rest of the day and found himself unable to speak for longer still. It got so bad that his dad took him to a child psychologist, who Stiles eventually managed to open up to. The dream was ruled as a very strange outlet for his grief over his mother's death and never spoken of again. Stiles was just beginning to get over it when a house burned down in the preserve and most of the Hale family died.
His dad looked at him strangely after that, as if there was something wrong with him. Stiles could tell that his dad was trying to act as if everything was fine, but it was obvious that he was scared. Stiles was scared, too.
Fortunately, he didn't dream again for years, not until he was eighteen. This third dream was the worst one yet. It was about his dad being killed in a robbery gone wrong at a grocery store.
Stiles begged the sheriff not to go to work every day after that, terrified that this dream would come true like the first two. And like the first two, exactly one month after Stiles had it, it did. By this point Stiles had given up on asking his dad not to do his job—that hadn't got him anywhere. Instead, on the day he died, Stiles warned his dad to look out for a man in his early twenties wearing a dark-green hoodie and a red baseball cap. He hoped it would be enough, that the dream he'd had about the Hale fire would have been enough to make his dad take his warning seriously, but it wasn't. That afternoon, Stiles was called out of class and told he was now an orphan.
After that, the dreams just kept on coming more and more frequently, with seemingly no rhyme or reason:
A suicidal man who threw himself off of the tallest building in Beacon Hills.
A construction worker who badly injured himself at work and bled out before the ambulance could get there.
A little girl whose dad drowned her in the bathtub.
Stiles didn't think he could handle any more pain. Sure, some deaths were less painful than others, but they were all awful, all still left him reeling for days, sometimes even months afterward. The last one Stiles experienced was up there with his dad and the Hale fire. He was a young woman who worked at the grocery store, running through a dark alley from a shadowed figure. But then her heel broke and she was caught, violently raped on the dirty ground and then strangled to death with the strap of her own purse. When Stiles woke up, he was still able to feel the man deep inside of him, in a place he didn't have on his own body.
It was the strangest, most awful feeling.
The only positive thing that could be said about the alarming frequency of the dreams was that it allowed Stiles to finally discern a pattern. Everyone he dreamed of dying, he came into contact with—physically touched—the month before the event itself.
He visited his mother in hospital a month before she died.
The youngest Hale, Cora, was in his grade, so he must have touched her a month before the Hale fire.
The raped woman was working one of the registers at the grocery store when Stiles did some shopping, also exactly a month before she was murdered.
He touched them all at some point the day he dreamt of their deaths. He now had rhyme and reason—and a way to stop himself from having any more dreams.
All of that leads him to where he is now, standing alone in the kitchen of his parents' old house, which is now in his name. He's so incredibly lonely, but that's the way it has to be. He doesn't want to dream again, doesn't want to live out other people's deaths as if he is the one dying.
The small circle of friends he'd had—Scott McCall, Erica Reyes, Isaac Lahey and Vernon Boyd—he cut off contact with, didn't respond to any of their text messages or phone calls for weeks. None of them were in still Beacon Hills by that point because they'd all left for colleges in other places across the country, which worked out in Stiles' favour. They couldn't come to the house and demand an explanation for his radio silence, couldn't shower him in well-meaning concern that Stiles would have to throw back in their faces.
Eventually, one by one, they stopped attempting to get in touch with him.
Scott took the most time to accept the end of their friendship, lasting months more than the other three. Stiles thinks that Scott had some inkling of what was going on with him because they'd known each other the longest. Stiles had confided in him just once about how he feared for his dad. In the same conversation, he'd also told him about the dreams he'd had about his mother and the Hales, and Scott had got this look on his face, half like he wanted to believe Stiles, and half like he wanted to take him to the nearest insane asylum and have him committed.
Stiles never mentioned it again, but after his dad died, Scott suddenly looked at him a whole lot less sceptically. The last contact Stiles had with Scott was a message left in his voicemail. The other boy told him he understood, wished him well, and that was it.
Stiles can't remember the last time he'd had significant human contact. He never leaves the house if he can avoid it. It's just safer that way. He works from home and whatever he can have delivered, he does, and whenever that isn't an option, he makes sure to cover as much of his skin as possible before venturing outside. He wears coats if the weather allows him to get away with it—just a long-sleeved T-shirt if it doesn't—jeans or chinos or some other full-length trouser, and he always completes the outfits with a pair of smart leather gloves. The only bits of him that are exposed are his face and neck, which are unlikely to be touched by anyone but him.
It's worked thus far. For three years he has been dream-free, and that's the way he likes it. Well, 'likes' may be pushing it, but this curse is his lot in life and he accepted it a long time ago. He can't change it.
With a sigh, Stiles plucks the birthday candle out of the cupcake, tosses it carelessly onto the countertop and peels the cupcake case back on one side. He takes a bite and closes his eyes as the taste of the peanut butter frosting bursts across his tongue.
Food is one of the very few bright spots in his life, even if he doesn't have that much of an appetite anymore, so he savours everything, delighting in how the salty tang of the frosting complements the sweet chocolate of the cupcake itself. This has always been one of his favourite flavour combinations, peanut butter and chocolate.
Stiles takes another bite and gets frosting on the tip of his nose, but he doesn't wipe it off until he has chewed and swallowed the last of it. Then he stares disappointedly at the few dark-brown crumbs that are stuck to the inside of the case. Now that it's gone, he is thrust back into the despondency he lives in 24/7.
He screws up the case and throws it and the birthday candle into the dustbin before leaving the kitchen.
He needs a distraction.
* * *
Three short minutes later, Stiles is frustrated. He is now in the living room, the curtains closed as always, the TV switched on to the home screen of his PS4 Pro, but he can't do anything because the controller has stopped working. He shakes it, tries to plug it in to charge in case the battery had somehow gone flat overnight, but nothing he tries affords him success.
Stiles sighs, drops it on the cushion next to him and glares at it briefly, unable to think of anything else to try.
He looks up at where the TV is mounted onto the cream-painted wall above the stone fireplace opposite and the sight of the single user profile on screen seems to mock him, reminding him that he is alone. There is no user picture attached because Stiles has never set one, so the picture is a blank grey silhouette, a nothing, a nobody…just like him. Everything seems to remind him these days, makes his depression worse. The only thing he can do to get rid of it is to distract himself, like he'd tried to do by playing the latest game he'd bought, Monster Hunter: World.
He can't go to a doctor for antidepressants because that would mean extended human interaction and therefore heightened risk of his skin coming into contact with someone else's. He'd also probably have to explain why he feels the way he does, which would work out one of two ways. Either he'd be thrown in a loony bin for the rest of his life for having fantastical and dangerous hallucinations, much like Scott had thought about doing to him before his dad was killed. Or he'd have to come up with a convincing lie, which he doesn't think he could pull off. And even then, if by some miracle he managed to achieve the second outcome, he'd also be told that the way he lives his life isn't conductive to overcoming his depression, which is something he already knows.
Stiles takes a deep breath before standing up and switching off his PS4 and the TV. He could order a new controller online and attempt something else in the meantime, try to get sucked into a book or maybe a few movies, but neither of those methods are as effective. Neither require as much of his concentration as a good video game, and he can tell that today, his birthday, is a day he is going to need no room at all to think about the state of his life.
There's only one thing for it then, as loath as Stiles is to even think it. He'll have to go outside, go into town and buy a new PS4 controller in person.
* * *
When he has changed into his usual outdoor attire, Stiles grabs his wallet and keys from the small table next to the front door. As he reaches for the door handle with a gloved hand, he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror that hangs next to the coat hooks on the left wall. His skin is milky-white, paler than it has ever been because he hardly sees the sun anymore. He looks like a ghost, which he supposes is apt for how he feels on the inside.
"You got this," he whispers to his reflection before turning the handle and stepping outside.
His reliable old Jeep is right where he'd left it in the driveway the last time he had to leave his house a few weeks ago. The blue paint is slowly wearing away, but he has never found the time nor the will to get it repainted.
As he walks toward the vehicle, Stiles observes that one of his neighbours is doing something to one of the many flowerbeds in her front yard, the top of her sunhat just visible above the white fence that separates their properties. She must hear his footsteps because her curious face appears just as he reaches his Jeep. She brushes a lock of greying ginger hair off of her freckled forehead and squints her green eyes at him disbelievingly, something that Stiles has long got used to.
Because he so rarely leaves his house, he sees that expression every time they cross paths, like the woman is double-checking that he is real. She has lived next to Stiles for around two years now, but he has never bothered to learn her name. As he climbs into his Jeep, he doesn't wave at her and she doesn't wave at him, just continues to stare unnervingly. Stiles shakes his head and ignores her, focusing on sticking his key in the ignition and getting this outing over and done with as quickly as he can.
He drives into town and finds a place to park near Main Street, where the local GameStop is. Walking briskly, Stiles weaves in between all the other people on the sidewalk, holding is arms tight to his sides to make himself as small as possible, his movements practised.
Once he reaches the GameStop, he enters and scans the displays until he finds what he is there for: a brand-new PS4 controller. He grabs one and gets in line to pay, his armpits prickling as he begins to sweat and his breathing becomes laboured. He feels claustrophobic all of a sudden, like the walls are closing in on him and the people standing around him are too close. Once Stiles reaches the front of the line, the blond man behind the counter looks at him worriedly when he hands over the money, but Stiles just grabs the bag which has his receipt and purchase in it and hightails it out of there before the man can ask him if everything is okay.
It isn't, not when he feels like he can't breathe until he gets back outside and can fill his lungs with fresh air.
He keeps walking, not giving as much attention to the people around him as he had previously. This is an egregious mistake because, halfway back to his Jeep, he bumps into someone. He stumbles hard and isn't able to right himself before he falls over, scraping his elbow on the sidewalk. Given how sturdy they'd felt, when the person he'd bumped into helps him back to his feet, Stiles expects them to be a lot bigger than they turn out to be.
The woman is a few inches shorter than him, nearly as slender and somewhere in her mid-thirties. The mid-morning breeze blows her long, dark-brown hair around her pretty face, and her white tank top shows off a surprising amount of muscle definition in her arms.
"Are you alright?" she asks him, her voice friendly.
Stiles nods, even though his elbow stings beneath where the woman still holds it, her touch warm. "Y-yeah, I'm fine," he replies, offering a rictus smile. "Sorry."
Before she can speak again, Stiles hurries on, just wanting to get back home and lock himself inside, where he is safe. When he reaches his Jeep, he tosses his bag onto the passenger seat and peels out of his parking space, right in front of a car coming up the street. He barely even notices when they slam on their brakes and angrily honk their horn at him.
* * *
Stiles stands in the middle of what used to be a large living room. He can tell that it was probably homey once upon a time, but those days are long gone, along with any sense of familiarity. Now the room feels cold, ugly and oppressive, with ash covering the floorboards and the blackened remains of a few pieces of furniture pushed against the scorched walls. Stiles scans his eyes raptly over all of it in search of clues. His arms are crossed beneath his chest and his hip is cocked to the right, his long hair pulled into a ponytail at the back of his head.
Moments later, he hears a noise behind him and turns around to find a man in his early thirties entering the room. Several inches taller, he has short black hair, a neatly trimmed beard with hints of grey in it and large muscles beneath his long-sleeved maroon henley. Chest hair peeks out of the V-neck. He asks Stiles how much longer he will be.
"Just a couple more minutes, Derek," Stiles responds, turning away again.
"I don't know what you expect to find," the man called Derek murmurs, moving to stand next to him. "We already went over this place years ago."
"Laura, seriously…why are we really here?"
"I already told you," Stiles says in Laura's voice. "I'm not going to repeat myself again."
Derek's jaw tightens. "I know you haven't told me everything."
"And I don't have to, little brother."
"You do if you're going to drag me back across the country like this."
Stiles glares and feels something happen to his eyes. "Don't pin this on me. I didn't make you come here. You followed me, remember?"
Suddenly looking cowed, Derek averts his gaze. "Whatever…"
Stiles feels guilty for getting mad and bumps shoulders with Derek, offering him a faint smile. "I know this place holds bad memories, but I need to figure out what happened here. And with the new lead I got—"
Derek's head snaps up. "What new lead?!" he demands.
Realising his slip-up, Stiles sighs defeatedly and acquiesces. "Okay, I'll tell you."
But he doesn't get the chance.
In the next second, there comes a sound from right outside, some otherworldly barking that makes the hairs on the back of Stiles' neck stand on end. He whirls around to face the direction it came from and places himself protectively between whatever it is and Derek. The barking continues, louder now, and then it's in the house and he hears claws on hardwood flooring. He can't fathom what happens next. All he knows is that Derek screams his name and he is bowled over by something huge and on fire. It lands heavily atop him, forcing the air from his lungs, and then—
* * *
- Tuesday, March 6th, 2018 -
Stiles wakes up shaking all over and stares with wide, wet eyes at the ceiling of his childhood bedroom. He is overcome by the phantom sensation of burning alive, something he had hoped to never experience again as long as he lived. He comes back to himself gradually, the shaking of his body getting less severe. He throws back his green sheets which sweat makes stick to his bare torso, swings his legs over the side of the mattress and sits on the edge with his hands pressed tightly over his eyes, making colourful stars dance behind his eyelids.
At least the death was quicker this time.
When he has stopped shaking altogether, Stiles lowers his hands and stares down at the floor, wondering how it was he dreamed again. He has been so careful.
The woman he was…there was only one person he touched the day before: the woman he'd bumped into on the street outside GameStop. Laura. He replays the dream in his head, from whatever she was hoping to find in the burned-out house, to the appearance of her brother, to whatever the creature was that killed her; presumably Derek, too.
What the hell was it? Stiles has never come across anything like it before. It looked almost doglike, but it wasn't like any dog Stiles has seen before. It belonged in a high-budget horror film, not in real life. And in spite of being terrified before she died, Laura's fear wasn't from seeing something she hadn't believed could be real. No, she hadn't felt too surprised, which to Stiles means that she—and likely Derek as well—are aware of whatever world the flaming creature came from.
The question comes back to him: Why the fuck did he dream all of that?
It bugs him. He'd been wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt and gloves like always, and as best he can remember, Laura only touched him on the elbow he'd grazed on the ground when he fell over, not his neck or face. Stiles looks at the scrape with his brow furrowed and then gets up from his bed. He walks across the hall to the bathroom, switches on the light and storms over to the laundry hamper that is in the corner of the room, near the shower stall.
The clothes he had worn for his outing the previous day are still there, underneath the large towel he'd used after taking a shower to wash off his panic. He had arrived home and stripped quickly, not bothering to check the sleeve of the T-shirt to see if there was any damage done when he scraped it against the concrete.
He checks now.
Dropping the towel to the floor, Stiles snaps up the T-shirt and inspects the left sleeve. Sure enough, right at the elbow, there is now a hole.
"Fuck!" Stiles screams, throwing the garment as hard as he can at the wall.
He falls back on the closed toilet lid and stares at the ball of fabric on the floor, his rage deserting him as quickly as it had come. He attempts to lock this new dream away with all the others in a box in the back of his mind—he doesn't want to relive it again—but as much as he tries to make himself stop thinking about it, he can't. It keeps returning, intrusively reminding him of all the unanswered questions he now has.
Who are Derek and Laura?
What was Laura looking for in the house?
What was that creature and why did it target them?
Why does Derek's anguished scream of his sister's name stick out to him so much?
He can't stop thinking about him. There was something about Derek that intrigues Stiles now, and not just his unparalleled beauty. No, it's something else, some strange force pulling Stiles to him.
In the past, Stiles has tried to find out information on the people he dreams of. It never worked out well. Every single time he either couldn't find what he needed or he was too late to stop their deaths, no matter how much sleep he lost trying to do just that. Or, on a couple of occasions, Stiles almost died in that person's place. He knows that he shouldn't bother trying to stop Derek and Laura from being killed by whatever that creature is. Each death feels fated, and trying to stop them is like trying to overcome The Powers That Be. It's an impossible feat.
But then again, why would he have this gift—this curse, as he has thought of it for years—were he not meant to use it to do good?
"God help me…" Stiles whispers, his mind made up.
He can't just sit back and let Derek and Laura die—especially Derek. The thought is anathema to him. And so, just as the sun is beginning to rise through the bathroom window, Stiles gets to his feet with new determination and begins to get ready for what will no doubt be a very, very long month.
He has work to do.