I see a ghost out on the water
I swear it has my face
I bend and drink the lonely down, the lonely down
~ Until the Levee, Joy Williams ~
Peter silently judges all of Derek's life choices as he roots through the barren cupboards of the loft. He pulls out a box of saltines and grimaces at the layer of dust on it. "Really, Derek?" he mutters, low enough for only Derek to hear. Well, Derek and Scott if Scott bothered to pay attention. Malia—his daughter, Malia, and that's something he doesn't think he'll ever get used to—is an utterly lost cause. "There's a grocery store two blocks away."
"I've been busy," Derek mutters from the other room where he's gathered the remnants of their pack.
It's a stupid idea, really. Them. As a pack. It won't work and he's got his 'I told you so' face ready. For once, he hopes he won't have to use it. After the death of so many friends—Derek's friends, not his, of course, he doesn't make friends with hormonal teenagers—it would be refreshing to return to some semblance of normalcy.
It won't happen, but it would be nice.
"Get it delivered," he snarks back.
The eggs in Derek's fridge aren't too old. They'll have to do.
"You have soda, condiments, eggs, and pickles. What is your life?"
"Shut up, Peter," Derek shouts back, loud enough for the neighbors to hear them. Peter grins and holds back a laugh. He tosses all of the take-out menus stuck to Derek's fridge into the garbage out of spite.
He finds a frying pan and canola oil easy enough. He cracks two eggs in the pan as Stiles walks in, head down and heading straight for the fridge. Peter eyes the boy. He's not wary of Stiles, not like everyone in the other room. He never faced the nogitsune and he doesn't care what the nogitsune did. He probably would have gotten along with it. It stabbed Scott, so that's bonus points in its favor from the start.
He didn't like it wearing Stiles's face though. It's a pretty face—not that he would admit that out loud to anyone, ever, because teenagers, ew—and Peter prefers its original occupant. Again, not that he will ever, ever admit that.
No, this Stiles is not a threat. He's pale and weak. Not sickly—Peter would smell that, though he hears there was a bit of a hospital scare—but not the picture of health either. Stiles has been drained by his experience with the nogitsune. Peter is somewhat curious if he'll ever recover, but it's only curiosity. He doesn't care. He doesn't care at all.
Stiles hovers in front of the open fridge, caught in the dire decision of what flavor of soda to drink. He keeps darting looks at Peter.
Peter rolls his eyes. "You're as subtle as a brick, Stiles."
Stiles flushes. He grabs an orange soda and leans against the closed fridge door. "I just..." He looks at Peter with a strange expression. It has none of the fear or contempt Peter is accustomed to. "Thank you." The depth of emotion imbued in those two simple words is staggering.
Peter always has a pithy quip ready but he's caught off guard. That's the only excuse he has for saying, "What on Earth for?"
Stiles stares at him. "You saved my life." He speaks slowly, carefully, like Peter's an idiot.
Peter feels a bit like an idiot but he recovers with a callous eyeroll. "You're delusional." He smiles, wide and disarming, and plates his eggs. He's feeling generous enough to fry some for Derek too—all whites, no yolk, heavy on the pepper.
Stiles sets his soda on the counter and crosses his arms. The position emphasizes how thin he's become. "Lydia told me what you did. I'd still be trapped if it weren't for you. Or dead along with the no-" Stiles shudders and looks away, expression haunted. "...with that thing."
The omission is telling. Peter stores that information away for another day's cruel jest. Not today though. Best to let it marinate, build up to the moment of maximum trauma.
"I'm sure she told you my motives," he says in a lazy drawl. "You were a means to an end, Stiles. Nothing more."
"I don't believe that."
Peter snorts. "That's on you." There are three more eggs left in the carton. He eyes the way Stiles's t-shirt hangs loose on his frame. Obviously, Peter does not remember how that exact shirt used to look on Stiles. That's not the kind of thing he pays attention to. "How do you like your eggs?"
"Sunny side up." Stiles cracks his soda and takes a long sip. He eyes Peter, suspicious and not willing to let his stupid line of questioning go. "So you passed up the opportunity to steal Scott's Alpha power while he was vulnerable and made certain Lydia and I wouldn't be hurt in the process just to get Lydia to tell you a secret?" He doesn't smile, but it's close. "Seems a bit much."
Peter ignores the comments. He pulls out a lid and covers the pan to cook the eggs to Stiles's specification. Stiles says nothing after that, content to let their argument rest. He doesn't leave either. Peter isn't used to an audience for his cooking. Not since before the fire. He taught Laura how to cook and Derek would watch, very insistent that he did not care to learn despite being able to name every step of whatever dish Peter was teaching Laura.
He pulls another plate from the cabinet and three forks from a drawer. "Here." He hands Stiles his plate of sunny side up eggs and takes the other two with him into the living room. Derek smells the eggs before he sees them. He looks up in surprise and smiles when Peter drops the plate in his lap.
Whatever. They're just eggs.
Stiles jumps as something taps at his window. "Fuck!" He catches himself with a hand on his desk before he tumbles out of his chair. A chill runs up his spine and he's nearly overwhelmed by the sudden dread that fills him. His hands ball into fists on his desk.
It's stupid. He's being stupid. The nogitsune is gone. There's nothing haunting him. Derek's been on high alert since Argent left and there's been no sign of danger.
He forces himself to turn around and check the window. He hopes it's one of the werewolves acting like an idiot that doesn't know what doors are. He knows he's not that lucky.
There's nothing there. At least nothing at first glance. He closes his eyes and bites his lip to keep from screaming. His life has been a waking nightmare ever since the nogitsune took over. Before the nogitsune too. Since the Alpha Pack and the kanima. Probably since Peter, though that had barely been an appetizer to the living hell his life is now.
He approaches the window. He's trembling. There's no one here to witness his weakness. He's the only one at home and he's not sure if that makes it better or worse if something supernatural has come after him again.
It's dark outside. Not pitch black, thank god. He can see the street and the area near it thanks to the fully-functioning street lamps. Nothing is out of ordinary. He recognizes most of the cars. No one's walking around or lurking by the trees. Nothing appears wrong but he can feel it, like a copper taste on the back of his tongue.
Something's out there.
He reaches for the latch. He can't see much from his current position. He needs to stick his head out and look, though that seems very Summer Camp Massacre 101. What if there's something waiting above his window, ready to cut off his head? What if there's something below ready to snatch him? He doesn't know. He won't know until he looks.
His hand trembles so bad that he misses the latch on the first try. It takes a minute to unlatch the window. His heart pounds against his chest like it's trying to escape whatever horror is waiting outside. He eases the window up a fraction of an inch.
Something black and writhing slams into the window. Stiles falls back with a shout. It's a weak, pathetic sound, but that's what he is now. That's all that's left.
The tapping sounds again and he can see the source now. It's a fucking bird. A raven maybe, or a crow? He doesn't remember the difference. It's scratching at the frame, trying to get in. What harm can a raven do? Probably a lot, this is Beacon Hills.
The Darach had used birds.
The window inches up from the bird's scratching and Stiles dives for it. He slams into the edge of the windowsill as he does, leaving what will likely be a spectacular bruise on his hip. He bruises easy these days. That's a concern for future Stiles. Right now, he shoves the window back down and fumbles the latch closed. The raven taps insistently but Stiles won't let it in. He won't let anything else in ever again.
As soon as the latch clicks shut, the raven stops. It looks at him and tilts its head.
"Nope," Stiles says. He's officially in crazy town. He's talking to a bird. Doesn't matter. He's not going back to Eichen House, no matter how many animals he converses with. "Not today, Satan. And please, God, don't be Satan. I really can't handle that." The bird tips its head the other way. It pecks at the window twice.
"No. You have something to say, come back in the daylight. Even better, don't come back. Ever. Shoo."
The raven stays, staring.
"Fuck it." Stiles grabs his laptop, textbook, and notebook and goes to the living room to finish his homework.
By the time Dad comes home, every light in the house is turned on, the TV is playing the Avengers movie loudly, and Stiles is huddled in the middle of the couch trying his hardest to stay awake. Dad drops his bag by the door and pulls Stiles into a tight hug. He doesn't ask what's wrong. He doesn't ask if Stiles is okay. The answer to those questions are known: everything and no.
Stiles doesn't mention the bird. He feels stupid bringing it up. It's a bird. An odd bird, but nothing supernatural.
Dad packs Stiles's schoolbooks into a neat pile on the corner of the coffee table and shuts down Stiles's laptop. He moves through the house, announcing his progress as he checks every lock and latch. He turns off the extra lights on his way back downstairs to collect Stiles. They head for Dad's room. Stiles's pillow and blankets are waiting on the air mattress between Dad's bed and the far wall.
"Thanks," Stiles croaks, like he does every time he's reduced to sleeping in his Dad's room like a child.
Dad tucks him in. Worry lines are cut deep in Dad's face. He doesn't smile but there's love in the way he says, "Get some sleep, Stiles."
Stiles won't sleep. Not much. But he tries and it's the closest to rest he can manage.
Derek invites the kiddies—and Peter—over a week later. Another Friday night ruined. He supposes this keeps the teens from getting into trouble and doesn't keep them up on a school night. Judging from the dark bags under Stiles's eyes that have yet to go away, Stiles doesn't need help not sleeping.
Peter arrived an hour early with groceries. He is not hiding in the kitchen, but the lack of teenage hormones makes it better than any other option. Tonight's dinner choice is lemon pepper salmon with asparagus and mushroom risotto. He is a benevolent god and makes enough to share. Scott, of course, only heard 'Peter is cooking' and demanded pizza so fuck him.
Stiles walks into the kitchen, giving Peter an eerie sense of deja vu. Stiles grabs a soda—Mountain Dew today—and lingers.
"If you're hoping for another misguided heart-to-heart, you can kindly fuck off."
"Thank you," Stiles says. His scent is a strange mix of emotions.
Peter scoffs. "Are you still on that?"
"I meant for cooking." Stiles gestures toward the oven with his soda. He spills a little on his hand and then slurps up the excess, reducing the can to a safer volume.
Peter's gaze lingers on Stiles's plump lips and the hint of a cherry tongue. He turns back to stirring the risotto before he can do something stupid like hit on a teenager. "Well," he says with mostly false bravado, "some of us like to eat things that aren't from a drive-thru."
Stiles shrugs and leans his back against the counter, a little closer to Peter than he would usually venture. "I appreciate it. Really. I mean, I'm as guilty as everyone else for living off of takeout and shitty boxed meals, but I appreciate it. I don't get home-cooked meals often, especially ones I didn't make, so it's..." Stiles looks down with something Peter almost suspects is a blush, as if that makes any sense. "It's nice, is all."
"Now if only Derek would buy some proper furniture, we could eat at a table like civilized people."
Stiles snorts as Derek shouts from the living room, "I heard that."
"Then you're not deaf. Congratulations," Peter shouts back. Stiles and Malia laugh.
Peter takes a strange sort of pleasure in how happy Stiles looks in that moment. He knows it won't last. It never does, but the fact that it happened at all is progress. Not that Peter has been paying attention. Not at all.
"Do you need a hand with anything?"
Peter frowns. When was the last time someone asked him that? Probably... Probably before the fire. He schools his face into a polite mask and shakes his head. "No." The meal is simple enough, he really doesn't need assistance. The temptation to create an excuse for Stiles to stay is too strong for comfort. "Go back to your friends. That's what you're here for."
Stiles's expression drifts back to somber. He pushes away from the counter—not spilling his drink this time—but lingers in the doorway for a brief moment. "That's not the only thing I'm here for." Then Stiles is gone, leaving confusion in his wake. Peter wants to read into the words but he won't.
Stiles doesn't need any more heartbreak.
The things that I'm seeing
When I close my eyes
The visions aren't leaving
They know where I hide
~ Alone Tonight, Digital Daggers ~
Stiles screams himself awake. He shoves the covers off and falls out of bed—his own bed for a change—in his haste to get away. He brushes his hands over his body. He needs to get the bandages off, needs them gone so he can show everyone that he's himself now.
There's nothing there but he can still feel the rough cloth on his skin and smell the rot and blood of the nogitsune. His body aches as he takes the four steps over to his desk. Everything hurts but at least he's himself? That has to count for something right?
He rubs his thumb over the kanji behind his ear. The lines are faint but comforting.
His laptop screen is too bright when he opens it. He turns away, squinting until the light becomes bearable. What will tonight's distraction be? He grabs a pen and taps it against the desk while he clicks through his open tabs. Tap, tap, tap. No new email, Facebook is boring, and he's not in the mood for Tumblr. Tap, tap, tap. He's a week, minimum, ahead in all his classes. He's read through the rest of the semester in English. Netflix, maybe? Tap, tap, tap. He runs a hand through his hair. Tap, tap, tap.
Wait. Stiles stares down at his hand. He's sure he hadn't made that last set of taps. He puts the pen down and presses his hands flat against the desk.
Tap, tap, tap.
He looks up and there's that stupid bird in his window. Again.
It taps at the glass again and he screams, "What do you want!?"
The bird tilts its head and regards him. Then it disappears in a flutter of wings.
His heart is beating too fast. He wants to beg Dad to come home but they need the extra overnight shifts to pay Stiles's hospital bills. Going to Eichen House was the worst mistake of his life.
He grabs his phone and heads downstairs, turning on lights as he goes. Later he's going to have another freak-out over how much his new nighttime habit is going to increase their energy bill but he doesn't have the energy to right now.
Netflix requires snacks. He detours to the kitchen and opens the cabinets, looking for something to eat. They don't stock chips often and none of the rice crackers or veggie crisps are appealing right now. There's leftover mac and cheese in the fridge. He pulls the dish out but stops with the fridge still open. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices a spot of grey out of place.
Slasher movie music plays in his head as he turns. There's a face in the kitchen window. On the other side of the window. Watching him. It's not a human face. It's got sickly grey skin stretched thin over its skull. Glowing red eyes stare back at him above a mouth with no lips, open to show jagged teeth.
The casserole dish smashes on the floor, the sound drowned out by Stiles's screaming. He jerks backward, smacking into the table and then turning, running. The knob to the kitchen door rattles. It's trying to get it. It's coming after him.
He runs. Not out the front door, because he doesn't trust that it's alone. He trips up the stairs and makes it one step into his bedroom before he sees that damn bird in the window. It stares straight at him with eyes that glow red. His back hits the hall wall. He can't breathe. He's having a panic attack. He's become so intimately familiar with panic attacks. They make his lungs burn as his chest seizes and refuses to take in air.
Stop. He has to stop panicking before whatever it is breaks into the house. What does it want? Is it going to hurt him? Has it come to kill him? Tears run down his face and he hates himself, hates how weak and pathetic he's become. He used to grab his bat and run headlong into a fight. Now, he can barely look at himself in the mirror.
Breathe. Please breathe. He can't. He can't. He can't. Whywhywhy? He'd whimper if he could make a sound.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The window rattles with the force of the bird's pecking. It hits the glass again. The glass cracks.
Stiles dives into the bathroom. He lands in a sprawl of uncoordinated limbs and turns, slamming the door shut behind him. He locks it, though he has no delusions that the flimsy lock will stop anything from coming after him. He wedges into the corner, back pressed against the tub. He can barely keep ahold of his phone, let alone dial. He sobs when the phone finally rings.
"Stiles?" Dad's voice sounds off but Stiles can't worry about that right now.
"Dad? Dad, please, you have to come. You have to come home right now. There's something here. Something's trying to get in and-" Another sob interrupts him. "Call-" Who the fuck can they call? Argent's gone and Scott.... "Call Derek. Please. I'm so scared."
"I'm on my way." That definitely isn't his dad's voice but it doesn't matter because help is coming.
He wraps his arms around his knees and cries. Every sound makes him think the monster is right outside the door but nothing comes in. He's going to die. He's going to die any minute now and his dad's going to find his body. His dad's going to come home to a crime scene. It's Stiles's fault. This is all his fault.
Hungry Like a Wolf blares from his phone and he grabs it off the floor.
"P-Peter?" Why is Peter calling him?
"I'm outside, Stiles. I need you to let me in." How did Peter know? He bites back a sob. Peter's here. Peter will help. He doesn't know how or when but he's come to trust Peter, possibly more than he should.
"But..." He can't leave the bathroom. He can barely even move.
"The mountain ash, Stiles." They'd had Deaton line the house. Dad arms it every night before he leaves for work. It's supposed to help Stiles feel safer in his own home but it doesn't. "I can't get past the mountain ash. You need to let me in."
He shakes his head. Peter can't see it. He whines, low in his throat.
"I don't hear anything inside the house," Peter says. "Just you. You need to get up, darling. Come to the door."
"I can't." God, he's so pathetic. "I can't."
"You can. You definitely can. Come on."
He whimpers. His limbs are locked in place. They refuse to move. "I can't."
Peter's sigh carries over the phone. "Then I'll come to you. Where are you?"
"In... In the bathroom."
"Are there any windows there? I can climb up."
"N-No." The only reason he felt vaguely safe in the bathroom was the lack of windows. The stupid bird couldn't get him here.
"Okay. Let's do this one step at a time. I want you to open the door and look out in the hall."
"What if it's out there?" he whispers, to ashamed to give full voice to his irrational thoughts.
"I don't hear anything. Just you."
"What if-" His fear conjures up a dozen different explanations for why it can't be heard. "What if it's a ghost? What if it doesn't have a heart? It was like... It looked like the Silence. Do you watch Dr. Who? They... You couldn't see them, once you looked away. What if-"
He snaps his mouth shut, hiding his terror-filled ramblings behind closed teeth.
"Stiles, I'm right outside. I need you to look, okay? I need you to come to me."
What if that's what the monster wants? What if he's not talking to Peter? He'd called his dad. That's who he'd dialed so why is Peter here? The monster's trying to get Stiles to let him in.
"Stiles!" Peter's voice carries through the phone. "Stiles, breathe. You're not breathing, honey, and I need you to try, okay? Come on. Breathe with me. In. Breathe in. Stiles?"
He took in a shaky breath. Regardless of whether this was the monster or a hallucination, he wouldn't be able to do anything if he hyperventilated.
"That's good. Now out. All out."
He loses himself in Peter's measured tone. It takes everything in him to keep breathing. It's that or panic.
Someone knocks on the bathroom door. Stiles screams and pushes back against the tub. Someone says his name but all he can think is that the monster's here, the monster's come for him.
The door breaks open. Dad's in front of him, dropping to the floor and pulling Stiles into a tight hug. He grabs Dad's uniform shirt, curls into the embrace, and sobs. His dad is a comforting presence around Stiles. His arms are tight. He holds Stiles like he's never letting go again. He rubs Stiles's back and whispers comforts in his ear.
"Sheriff." They both look up. Peter stands in the doorway.
"Come on, Stiles." Dad pulls him to his feet. They stumble toward Stiles's bedroom. He balks in the doorway. He stares at the window. There's nothing there now. He's afraid to look closer.
Dad leads him downstairs to the couch. The lights are all on. Derek is in the kitchen, cleaning up the spilled mac 'n cheese. Stiles is vaguely aware of his body. He feels like a doll made of sticks, all hard lines and jerky motion. He's trembling. He's still crying. He can't stop. He can't pull himself together.
Peter sits on the coffee table. "Stiles." He snaps his fingers in Stiles's face. It has the desired effect of grabbing his attention. "Stiles, what did you see?"
He stares. His mouth won't work.
"Stiles." Peter's eyes turn a hypnotic blue. Something in his tone catches Stiles with his heart in his throat. "Tell me what you saw."
"There was a monster." He feels like he's six years old again.
Dad stiffens next to him. He squeezes Stiles's arm but he stays silent.
"Where did you see it?"
He turns to the kitchen. Derek leans against the doorframe. "It was outside," Stiles says. "I saw it through the window." Derek shares a look with Peter. Stiles knows far too well what that means. "Did you... Did you not see it? It was there." He's not hallucinating. He can't be. "I... I swear. It was there. I saw... I saw..."
Dad grabs Stiles's face and turns Stiles to look at him. His expression is serious, sincere. "We believe you, Stiles. I believe you."
Those three magic words make Stiles's eyes water. He's cried out but his tears threaten a comeback.
"What did it look like?" Peter asks.
Stiles turns back to Peter. He swallows. He's terrified that they won't believe him. He's scared that they'll think he's crazy and send him back to Eichen House. He's worried they're right.
He wets his lips. "It was grey. Like..." He shudders. "Like a corpse, but an old one? With sharp teeth and red eyes."
Stiles hesitates. They're going to think he's crazy, if they don't already.
Dad pulls Stiles against him in a sideways hug. "You can tell us, Stiles."
"There was a bird." Peter raises an eyebrow. "It's... It was here before. At my window. Trying to get in. Its eyes glowed too."
Peter nods. "There are a number of creatures heralded by birds. Let me guess, a crow?"
"Something like that." Stiles shrugs. "It was black. It only came at night."
"More than once?"
Dad lets out an explosive sigh and runs a hand over his hair. "Okay. Okay." He looks up at Derek first, then Peter. "What do we do? The ash stopped it, right?"
Stiles shudders at the implication. He's afraid to leave the house but he's terrified of staying, knowing that those things are watching him, waiting for their chance to get in.
"Stiles will stay here," Dad says. Stiles goes rigid with fear. "I'll..." Dad hesitates. He can't stay here all the time. He has to work. "Shit."
"Stiles can stay with us." They all turn to stare at Peter. "He'll be safer with us in the loft."
The offer is so uncharacteristic of Peter's usual ways. Stiles frowns. He wants to dig for an ulterior motive, but he can't. Peter saved his life. He's not going to orchestrate Stiles's death now. Not after everything he's done. If he's honest with himself, he wants to go. Peter and Derek are both former Alphas. They're strong and dangerous in their own right.
Stiles thinks of Peter in the kitchen every time he's gone over to visit. No, Peter's not going to hurt him. "Okay." He turns to Dad. "Is that... Is it okay?" He feels like he's asking for a slumber party, not crashing with wolves so they can protect him. Again.
God, what if it comes after him there? What if it shows up at the loft and there's no mountain ash to stop it? It could hurt any of them. It could hurt Derek and Peter to get to him. It could hurt Scott.
"We'll keep him safe," Peter promises. Stiles believes him.
"Okay," Dad says. "Let's go."
Peter veers into the kitchen while Derek gets Stiles settled on the couch. He's taken the opportunity to stock Derek's cabinets with an assortment of tea. It's nothing like what he has at his apartment, but it will do for now. He sets the kettle—another new addition courtesy of Peter—to boil and prepares a mug of chamomile.
While he waits, he fetches two Benadryl from the medicine cabinet. He lets the tea steep five minutes, then takes his bounty out to Stiles.
"...missing persons I've been looking into. Could be related." The Sheriff is in hushed conversation with Derek by the door. It's low enough that Stiles can't hear, but it's obvious that Stiles knows something is up. Stiles is trying not to be obvious in observing them, but this is Stiles. Subtle as a brick.
Derek claps the Sheriff on the shoulder. "We've got him. If you have any leads, call us. Maybe we can track it."
The Sheriff nods. He gives Stiles one last, lingering look. He pauses and shifts, about to head for Stiles, presumably for another drawn-out Stilinski goodbye but the Sheriff meets Stiles's gaze, nods again, and leaves. Stiles wilts when the door is shut.
It must be hard as a human having your last remaining relative gone so much for a high-risk job. Peter has never had to worry about such things. Being a werewolf is high-risk. Best not to form attachments.
"Here." Peter hands Stiles the tea. "Drink that and then," he holds out the pills. Stiles obediently raises his hand to take them. So blindly trusting. Peter will have to correct that. Later. "Swallow these."
Stiles eyes the pills while he sips the tea. "What are they?" At least Stiles has enough wit to ask that.
"Benadryl. Best over-the-counter sleep aid there is." For a human. Werewolves have no such luxury.
Stiles's eyes go wide. His scent carries surprise and a hint of confusion. He stares at Peter. "Is it-"
"Safe with Adderall?" Peter raises an eyebrow. Stiles nods. "It won't interact."
Stiles doesn't question how Peter knows that, which is really for the best. Stiles swallows the pills. Peter leaves Stiles with his tea. Derek had set out a thin blanket and a pillow, in addition to the pillow Stiles brought, but Peter knows how cold Stiles gets. He brings two fleece blankets from the guest room he uses when he stays over. When he returns, Stiles is drooping. Peter takes the mug and gently guides Stiles down. Stiles blinks but says nothing as Peter drapes both blankets over him.
Stiles closes his eyes. Peter waits while Stiles's heartbeat slows to an even rate. He moves to the armchair next to the couch, facing the door. Derek studies him with a raised eyebrow. There's no judgment there, only curiosity. Peter shrugs. Derek leaves without a word. Peter doesn't offer any.
Derek would hear him lie.
Deaton arrives in the morning, right before Derek stumbles in with the Sheriff supporting him on one side. Derek had left sometime after two in the morning to help the Sheriff track a lead. Obviously, they'd found what they'd been tracking. Deaton drops his bag and slips under Derek's other side. Stiles sits up on the couch, blinking away the remains of a full night's sleep. They help Derek into the armchair opposite Peter.
"Where is it?" Deaton asks. The Sheriff pulls back the tattered remains of Derek's sleeve to reveal a bloody, ragged patch of what had been skin before teeth tore through it.
"I'm going to be sick." Stiles runs to the bathroom.
Peter keeps an ear on him—he's fine, just dry-heaving—and approaches. There's a sickly-sweet smell coming off the wound. Peter leans close and inhales. The scent tickles his memory, achingly familiar. Then it hits him and he reels back. "Wendigo," he announces.
Derek looks up with wide, pained eyes. "There haven't been wendigo in Beacon Hills since-"
Since long before the fire, Derek doesn't say. Peter steps back when Deaton pulls out supplies to clean the wound. Wendigo are vicious creatures. Their claws have a paralytic agent, much like kanima venom but thankfully weaker. Their bites are worse. They have an anticoagulant in their saliva that encourages bleeding.
"What's a wendigo?" The Sheriff asks.
"Bad news," Deaton says, ever helpful.
"There was a family of them," Derek says. He arches back into the chair and grits his teeth as Deaton rubs something caustic-smelling over his wound. "They had a freezer full of-" Derek pauses. They both hear Stiles shuffle back into the room. "I found your missing persons."
"God." The Sheriff drops onto the couch. "Do you think that's what Stiles saw?"
Peter grabs one of the books that had migrated over to the coffee table during the night. He flips through until he finds the entry on wendigo. It comes with detailed sketches of a wendigo, close up and in profile. Wendigo are tall, gaunt creatures, always on the verge of starvation. They have fur and claws like a wolf but they wear a stag's skull as a mask when fully transformed. That's a detail Stiles would have definitely noticed.
He holds the book out to Stiles anyway. Best to confirm if they have another creature running around on top of this new wendigo problem. "Is this what you saw?"
Stiles takes the book with trembling hands. He stares at the pages. He flips back a page, then front again, and shakes his head. "No. It didn't have horns. Or a skull face."
"What did it look like?" Deaton asks.
"Ugly," Stiles says. He drops to sit next to his dad on the couch and leans against the Sheriff's shoulder. "It had grey skin but no lips or hair. Like a goblin from the Tolkien movies, kinda."
"May I?" Deaton wipes his hands clean. Stiles passes him the book. Deaton skips back several pages and shows Stiles a different entry. "Is this it?"
Stiles pales and nods.
"It's a Sluagh," Deaton says. Derek's eyes go wide in horror. Deaton puts the book on the table in front of the Sheriff. "They're creatures out of Celtic legend, closely tied to the Wild Hunt. They're feared more than Death. By all accounts, the Sluagh are the darkest, most vile creatures imaginable, at least as far as that region's mythology is concerned."
Stiles swallows loudly. "And one's after me."
It's not a question. Stiles knows why it's here. They all do.
"I'm afraid so."
Stiles voices the one thing they're all thinking. "Because of the nogitsune."
"Its presence, along with the Nemeton, would have attracted them here eventually, but one was already here."
"What?" It's Peter's turn for surprise. He stands, claws out. "And you didn't warn us?"
He knows the answer to that question before it leaves his mouth. Deaton's sect is obsessed with balance, but that's a thin excuse to cover their inaction. Deaton didn't warn them about Argents or the Alpha Pack or any number of dangers to pass through Beacon Hills and this is no different.
Never trust a Druid.
"It was contained."
Was. Peter growls. "Where?"
"Eichen House. The nogitsune let it out."
Fear in itself
Will use you up and break you down
like you were never enough
I used to fall but now I get back up
~ Fear, Blue October ~
Stiles stares at the pile of books in front of him with sick dread. He's read everything they have on Sluagh and Fae and Irish legends a dozen times over. Nothing he reads is good. Nothing tells him how to stop the Sluagh. All the legends say they're unstoppable. Death runs away from them. They have no reason, no loyalty, no mercy. They're heralded by ravens and prey on tormented living souls.
There are two ways to summon a Sluagh, according to the legends. One is by saying its name twice, but Deaton hadn't seemed particularly worried when he'd announced what it was. There would be a whole Voldemort system in place if that were the case.
They are also attracted to people filled with aching sadness, a sadness so deep it reaches into hopelessness. Stiles knows exactly who fit that bill.
He buries his face in his hands. He did this. He brought the creature here. He's responsible for the wendigo.
How many more people are going to die because of him? How many are already dead and his dad won't tell him because he's afraid it'll upset Stiles? He's afraid to check the Sheriff's Department's records. He doesn't think he'll be able to live with himself if he knows.
It's hard enough living with the memory of the nogitsune. He's a straw house at the edge of a hurricane.
Scott's voice raises above the others. Stiles looks up. He'd tuned out their arguing a while ago. Scott is convinced they can find a way to make the Sluagh leave, as if it won't just go somewhere else and hurt more people there. Peter is looking for ways to kill it. Derek's frown and the way he keeps darting sad glances at Stiles speak to the hopelessness of their planning.
That's what this is all about, isn't it? Hopelessness. His hopelessness. It's not getting any better. He's never going to be better. The nogitsune took too much. He can't have a normal life after this. He's afraid of everything. He's terrified of the Sluagh and he's angry, partly of the situation they're in but mostly at himself. The Sluagh isn't going anywhere while Stiles is giving it the perfect buffet.
Meanwhile, his dad has to figure out how to spin a family of cannibals living in Beacon Hills in some way that's mostly believable but won't send the remaining residents of the county fleeing for safer places to live.
Why they haven't left already is beyond him. He'd be out of here in a heartbeat if he could. That'd be one way to solve the Sluagh problem—leave and have it chase after him. It wouldn't help Stiles but it'd help his friends. Really, he'd be setting the Sluagh on whatever unfortunate population he landed near.
The other option is to take away its food source. He's not suicidal, at least not today, which means he has to stop. He has to stop being afraid. He has to stop thinking the horrors of Beacon Hills will never end. It's an insurmountable task but he doesn't see any other way.
What's the best way to conquer a fear? You face it.
He stands. It's an effort, but necessary. He's weak with terror but he pushes through it. It's been a while since he had this kind of determination. It feels hollow. He's not going to be able to hold it for long so if he's going to do this very stupid thing, he needs to do it now, while he can, before the urge to lock himself in a closet and never come out takes over.
Kira notices him move. He mimes drinking. She offers a small smile and turns away. He doesn't go to the kitchen. He heads down the hall instead and out onto the balcony. From there it's easy to slip onto the fire escape and climb down. There are ravens perched on the building around him. They watch him with glowing red eyes. At least he won't have to go looking. It's already here.
He expects to find the Sluagh at the bottom. There are two wendigo instead. They tower over him but they don't attack him. One stretches an arm toward the entrance of the alley. It's almost gentlemanly, if they weren't leading him to potential death.
The Sluagh is waiting in the street. It's worse that what the books had described. It's worse than what Stiles remembers glimpsing through the window. Two leathery wings wrap around it like a cape. Its skin has an oily sheen that glistens in the light from the streetlamps. It smiles when it sees him, the gaping hole that is its mouth stretching wide to reveal a double row of sharp teeth.
He marches forward, accepting his fate and holding on to the futile hope that he can fight this.
A loud bang makes him flinch. The front door to Derek's building hangs off one hinge as three werewolves charge out. Malia and Kira aren't far behind. Lydia's shouting. She's too far away for Stiles to make out the words. He catches his name and nothing else.
He turns away. The Sluagh stands right in front of him. Stiles flinches. He hadn't seen it move.
"I know what you want," Stiles says. He should be terrified. He was. Not anymore. Now he's numb with determination. He can end this. He will end this. "I know what you're here for."
The wendigo form a line between Stiles and the werewolves. They crash together in a tangle of tooth and claw. Peter roars. It's tempting to look away. Peter—this new, saner Peter—is amazing in a fight. He has a deadly kind of grace that Stiles envies. It would be beautiful if it wasn't gruesome.
"Do you?" The Sluagh's mouth stretches into an inhumanly wide grin. The curious tilt of its head is a mirror of the nogitsune.
Stiles shivers. He won't look away. Not this time. "Yeah. I do." The Sluagh is even more terrifying up close, and it smells. It makes him think of a rotting corpse.
This is stupid. This is going to get him killed. It won't matter as long as he's right and if it does kill him, well that's a different solution to the problem.
"You're just like the fox," Stiles says.
He has to force the words out. It makes his stomach twist in knots as he remembers what the nogitsune had felt like. He imagines Peter saying the words, not him. Peter doesn't care what anyone thinks. Peter is confident, never afraid. He wants to be like Peter in this moment.
"You feed on fear and chaos and destruction. Sorry but been there, done that." He stretches up on his toes to get in its face. He swallows against the urge to gag from the smell of its breath. His steely expression is entirely a front, but hopefully the Sluagh can't sense that.
"I'm not afraid of you."
Recognition sparks in the Sluagh's eyes. The red glow dims and the Sluagh seems to shrink. Stiles doesn't have to stretch to meet it eye-to-eye anymore.
For a second, Stiles thinks they've won. He thinks that, strangely, this is it. This is all he has to do. Then the Sluagh grins. "Then I have no use for you."
He doesn't have time to make a witty comeback. He can't even make a noise besides a startled gasp. The Sluagh moves too fast to see. One second, it's standing in front of him then he's collapsing against it, body slumping like his muscles decided to stop working all at once. He looks down at the Sluagh's hand. Its fingers dig into his chest. Blood seeps out around them at a dangerously fast rate, pouring onto the pavement in a steady stream. He can feel them inside of him, going straight through him and out the back like sickle-shaped claws. He didn't know it could do that.
The Sluagh pulls its hand out, spraying Stiles's blood over the now-frantic crowd around them. Stiles turns to his friends, his pack. He's glad his dad isn't here to see this. His eyes lock with Peter's. He sees actual emotion there and it surprises him. Peter looks how Stiles should feel—absolutely gutted. He didn't realize Peter cared so much. He didn't realize he cared so much for Peter.
Talk about bad timing.
Lydia screams but there's no sound. Stiles can't hear anything. He knows he's falling by the way the world tilts. He doesn't feel it when his body hits the concrete.
He's already gone.
The sound that rips out of Peter makes everyone but the Sluagh take a step back. It's part enraged roar, part grief-stricken howl, part absolute madness. Anger clouds his vision red, not unlike when he'd been a mindless and mad Alpha. He grabs the wendigo in front of him and tears it in half. It's in his way. He charges the Sluagh but it steps out of the way, forcing Peter to take in the full gruesome details of Stiles's corpse. There's so much blood. He's overfull on emotion. Rage is centermost but grief is rapidly catching up. Despair, loss, and guilt fill the remaining cracks.
He falls to his knees next to Stiles. He knows Stiles is dead. He knows it, but that doesn't stop him from pressing against the gaping wounds. Stiles's chest is still under his hand. Stiles's eyes are vacant. He's not breathing. There's no heartbeat. It's too late for an Alpha bite.
Why is he gone? Stupid... stupid kid. Why did he...? Did he really think he could go toe-to-toe with a Sluagh? Was this part of some sick death wish to sacrifice himself for... for what? What does victory mean without Stiles?
Scott slams into him. It's accidental. Scott isn't even looking at Peter. All of Scott's attention is on Stiles. He pulls Stiles to his chest and screams. It's the sound of Peter's own agony. They're defenseless, both of them, but the wendigo don't attack. He looks up to find them gone.
He meets Derek's gaze. There are tears in his nephew's eyes. Peter can smell the hurt coming off of him. They'd known Stiles the longest out of those remaining. Everyone save Scott and the Sheriff and Melissa.
"Fuck!" Peter presses his hands to his face. He's smearing blood on his skin but he doesn't care. "Fuck." Who's going to tell them? How are they... How can they even explain this? He'd told the Sheriff they could protect Stiles. He hadn't meant it as a lie.
Fuck. He's the fucking adult here. It should come from him but he has no idea what to say. He thinks his mouth is physically incapable of forming the words.
Derek squeezes Peter's shoulder. It's been so long since someone touched him in an attempt to comfort. He clasps a hand over Derek's, squeezing once then pushing it away so he can stand. He scans the street with his eyes and his senses. The Sluagh is gone. Two wendigo are down, meaning three left with it. Peter pities whoever is called in to clean this up. It's not going to be him.
He catches a hint of the wendigo's trail and he runs. He's going to make them pay.
Broke my bones, tasted blood
Burned my wings close to the sun
But I'll keep on flying
I'm too young for dying
~ Higher, The Score ~
Stiles wakes to the sound of the ocean. He squints against the bright sunlight. It's a clear day, not a cloud in sight. No people in sight either. As far as he can tell, he's alone on some tropical beach.
He sits up and swings his legs over the side of the hammock. This is... It's not right. It's not where he left off. He'd been in front of Derek's apartment building, dying, but he's whole here. There's no pain. He doesn't feel the slightest twinge as he stands. He lifts his shirt to check. His skin is unblemished.
The sand is warm beneath his feet, but not unpleasantly so. He heads to the right because why not. There's a wooden stand meant for a beach bar, but it's empty. The palm trees give way to a sprawling building made of white stone with a thatched roof.
Where the hell is he?
He freezes. He'd... He'd died. He remembers being injured but the details are hazy. It hadn't hurt like he'd expected. It was nothing he expected.
If this is the afterlife, it's not what Hell is described to be. There's a distinct lack of fire and brimstone. He knows it's not the other place. His hands have killed too many people to get him in there.
There's a woman standing in the building's arched doorway. Her curly brown hair falls like waves past her shoulders. Her smile hurts with its familiarity. She looks healthy and whole, the complete opposite of the last time Stiles saw her.
"Mom?" His voice breaks mid-word.
She holds out her arms and he runs to her. The distance passes in a blink. He crashes into her but she stays steady. Her arms come around him and it's heaven. This is heaven, here with his mom.
Tears come from nowhere, spilling out of him like a flood. He sobs into her shoulder. She holds him tight and whispers soothing words in Polish. She calls him her sunshine, her little bear, and she promises he'll be okay now. She's here. She's got him. He's safe.
"Come inside," she says when his tears start to dwindle. "Come. Let me look at you, my darling boy."
He follows her inside and doesn't look back.
Don't look us right in the face
It's like starin' at a burnin' sun
Got teeth like razor blades
And you know that we're out for blood
~ Wolves, Sam Tinnesz ~
"Peter, you have to stop."
He shoves Derek aside and stalks into the warehouse. It should be abandoned. It is on paper but he smells blood. More blood, technically, but he doesn't count his own. He doesn't care about his wounds. Only the hunt matters.
"Leave," he says. He smells coolant up ahead. Electricity buzzes in the walls. He tastes the cold before he feels it.
"I'm not leaving you," Derek says. The oddity of that statement should have stopped him in his tracks. He's done nothing to deserve Derek's loyalty. It barely registers. He's too focused on ripping the thick metal door from the wall and tossing it aside.
He steps into a freezer. Or, more precisely, a large room converted into a freezer. Ice covers the walls and the floor. It's built into piles in the corners. Giant metal hooks hang from bars set in the ceiling. The first three rows hold parts of cow but beyond that... beyond that are people. Dead people, faces frozen in horror. Most of the bodies aren't whole. Some are barely more than a head and shoulders.
There are a lot of dead bodies. More than a family of five wendigo could ever need.
Derek sticks close to his side. "Peter, this is bad. We don't know how many there are. We could be walking into a trap."
He rolls his head and squares his shoulders. His claws are out and ready. "I know how many there will be."
Zero. There will be zero when he's done. He's down to one of the three that had escaped. He had intended to stop there, but his bloodlust can stretch a little further. He's not ready to be done killing. The rage inside of him is too strong to stop now.
If he stops, he has to face what he's running from. He can't. Not yet. Maybe not ever. It'd be easy to lose himself in mindless killing, to just run from fight to fight until some creature puts him down. Until he has to be put down.
"At least let me call for backup."
"Who?" He snarls. "Those kids? You want them to die too?"
It's an unfair shot and he knows it. He turns to watch Derek flinch. Maybe this will be what sends him away. Derek doesn't leave. He frowns and squares his jaw. He's being stubborn.
Derek opens his mouth to argue but Peter catches movement behind Derek. He shoves Derek aside and grabs the closest frozen body, ripping it down hook and all. The wendigo creeping up on them looks startled for the half second before Peter slams the dead body into it, sending the creature flying. The frozen corpse makes one hell of a bat.
"Peter!" Derek's shout is the only warning he gets before the rest of the wendigo—far more than he's comfortable with—join the fray.
If scars are for the living
Then I could be forgiven
And everything you need
I could give you
~ Taking You There, Broods ~
"They're going to die."
Stiles shoots to his feet and turns. Mom doesn't even blink at the sudden presence in—what is this? Her house? He stares for too long but he can't believe what he's seeing. Who he's seeing. "Allison?"
She smiles. He hasn't seen her smile like that, so wide and open, in a long time. She starts toward him and he flinches, already expecting the blow that's coming. The blow that he deserves. She pulls him into a tight hug instead.
"Allison?" He's not sure this is really her. Is this some delusion his brain has cooked up to make him feel better?
"It's me," she says, answering his unasked question. She steps back but doesn't let him go. She holds him at arm's length and studies him. "You're not better. The nogitsune's gone. You should be getting better."
She shrugs. "So am I. But you're not staying."
He frowns. Those words do not compute. "What?"
"It's your choice," Mom says. She pats the chair beside her. "Come sit down. I'll explain."
Stiles collapses back into the chair he'd just vacated. Allison circles around to the other side of the table and sits facing him. She's in full resolve-face, that face when she knows what has to be done, right or wrong, no matter how many enemies she's going to make by doing it.
"You're going back," Allison says. Her tone leaves no room for argument. "You're going back and you're going to help them. You're going to save them. Save-" She shuts her mouth with a snap.
Stiles knows what she was going to say. It's the same thing he would say, in her place. Save Scott.
"If you want," Mom says, her tone even and encouraging reason. "You've done enough. You don't have to. No one's going to make you." She looks at Allison as she says that. Allison's face twists like she wants to argue but can't. Won't.
It's weird. It's really weird. His mom and Allison have never met, but here they are acting like old friends. If not friends, then acquaintances at the very least.
"E-Enough what?" he asks. That seems like a good place to start with his millions of questions.
"Fighting. Surviving." Mom smiles at him. She takes his hands in hers and leans close. "You don't have to go back if you don't want to. You can stay. It's your choice. I'm proud of you. I'm so proud of you, Mieczyslaw. You've helped so many people. You've saved lives. I know it was painful. I know it hurt. I don't want to watch you hurt anymore but I'll understand if you want to keep fighting. I'll understand if you don't."
He looks between them, more confused than ever. "What are you talking about?"
A new voice comes from behind him. "We want you to help Derek."
Stiles falls off his chair. He turns and there's Erica and Boyd, sitting together on the couch like they'd been there the whole time. They look so alive. He's going to cry again. He'd barely started to know them before they'd died and the way they were taken hurt. They were going to get out. They were going somewhere safe and if he could go back in time and redo that part of his life, he wouldn't have let them leave the Argents' basement and go off alone. He would have gotten Derek to protect them. Somehow.
"I'm sorry," he says. He's crying again. There shouldn't be this much crying when he's dead.
Erica stands and comes up to him. She's smaller than he remembers. She puts a hand on his shoulder and dips to look him in the eye. "It's not your fault. You had nothing to do with how we died. That was the Alpha Pack. It wasn't you."
"But I could have-"
"No," Erica says. Plain and simple. "You couldn't have. None of us could have stopped them. You would have just added to their body count."
"My death wasn't your fault either," Allison says. "So don't start. I don't blame you. You were separated from the nogitsune by then. It may have looked like you, but it wasn't you. It wasn't your fault."
He presses his palms over his eyes. "Jesus Fucking Christ, is it Make Stiles Feel Things Day? Why wasn't I sent the memo?"
"What'd be the fun in that?" He doesn't recognize the new voice but when he looks up, he nearly faints. He knows that face far too well. It haunted his nightmares for days before he finally saw Peter's enraged Alpha form. He still has nightmares about that beast even if he's finally comfortable with the man trapped inside of it.
She holds out a hand. "Laura Hale."
He takes her hand on reflex. Laura yanks him forward into a hug. "Bear hug trap!" The silliness startles a laugh out of him.
The woman standing behind Laura needs no introduction. "You've been helping my children and my brother. Thank you."
"I- It was..." What is he supposed to say to that?
"It's a lot to ask, I know," Talia says. "But I would be grateful if you could help them a little longer."
"And your father." Mom smiles at him serenely. "He needs someone to take care of him. He's just awful at it. Though I think after all this, he deserves a cheeseburger or two."
He looks at them each in turn and shakes his head. "But how? I'm dead. Just like the rest of you."
"Not quite." Talia is every inch the Alpha Derek could have been. It's impressive, given the lackluster Alpha role-models Stiles has dealt with. "Your circumstances are different."
"The Nemeton," Allison says. "Our sacrifice tied us to it."
He stares at her. "But you're still here."
"My connection was severed long before I died."
"But mine... isn't?"
Talia offers her hand. He takes it and lets her lead him back to the table. "The nogitsune used your connection with the Nemeton to get in. When it did, it made the connection stronger. Permanent."
He shudders. "So I can be possessed by anything now?"
"No," Mom says. "The nogitsune was bound to the Nemeton. It was already there when the connection was made." It's incredibly weird hearing his mom talk about the supernatural with such conviction but also strangely fitting. She would have believed him.
"But any old demon can just tap right in? Bind itself to the Nemeton and waltz into my brain?"
Talia takes the remaining seat at the table. Laura follows and leans against the back of Talia's chair. "Not if you bind it first. The Nemeton will only serve one master."
"Kinda dead already." Stiles taps his chest. "Little too late to go frolicking in the woods."
"I like you," Laura announces suddenly.
Stiles blinks. Laura is so unlike her siblings. She smiles easily and has an air of joy around her. Is this what Derek and Cora were like before the fire? "Thanks?"
"There's a Nemeton here," Allison says. "You can use it to go back."
Mom squeezes his shoulder. "Only if you want. This is your choice."
"They'll die if you don't," Erica says from the couch. Mom shoots her a stern look.
"They'll be fine." Her tone isn't very convincing.
He takes her hand in his and links their fingers together. "You think I should go back too?" She doesn't answer, which is all the answer he needs. He leans back and sighs. "Okay, so I go bind myself to the Nemeton. How's that going to help?"
"It'll act as a doorway," Talia says, "to take your spirit back."
"What about my body? I might need that."
"Bit more complicated," Allison says. "You need the Sluagh for that."
"What!?" He doesn't want to look at that thing again, let alone get near it.
"Sluagh steal souls," Laura says. She sounds so much like Peter when he's lecturing them on the supernatural. "It fed off your soul. You would have become a part of its collection if you we hadn't been able to pull you through the Nemeton."
He blinks. "You did that?"
Mom pats his hand. "We have a stronger connection to you. Dibs."
"We were waiting," Allison says. "We knew it was coming."
He snorts. "A warning would have been nice."
Laura ruffles his hair. He jerks away but she's already got him. "Not how this works, kid."
"Different frequency." Allison smiles. "Trust me. I tried. I tried a lot."
"Okay," he says. He thinks of all the people he left behind. Derek, Peter, Scott. His dad. "Okay. So I'm going back. How does this work?"
Mom smiles at him and he knows he's made the right choice.
I think I might've inhaled you
I could feel you behind my eyes
You've gotten into my bloodstream
I can feel you flowing in me
~ Bloodstream, Stateless ~
Peter is only vaguely aware of his surroundings. His world is a narrow line of blood and carnage and death. He tears through the wendigo while they tear into him. It's neither a healthy nor sustainable approach. He can't stop. Not until they're all gone. Not until Stiles is avenged.
The Sluagh stands in front of him. Peter doesn't see where it comes from. He doesn't care. He's going to kill it or die trying.
Derek screams, his voice muted by the bodies hanging around them. Peter doesn't feel the claws piercing him. He looks down in surprise. He's cold. It doesn't hurt.
The Sluagh grins. It's an ugly, foul thing. Is this what Stiles saw in his last moments? It's fitting that his death should be so similar.
Strong arms grab him around the chest. He's moving, not on his own. It feels like flying.
He's ready to go.
"So," Stiles says. "What now?"
The Nemeton sits in the middle of the beach. He knows it wasn't there before but geography doesn't really make sense here. Talia bends down and reaches into the sand. When she stands, she pulls a familiar cellar door open.
"That makes sense. So I just..." He gestures to the small part of the steps he can see. They lead into darkness. It'd be terrifying if he wasn't already dead. He doesn't have much left to lose. "How am I supposed to bind to it?"
"You trust it," Talia says. "You enter it and let it guide you home. It will see you through."
Mom pulls him into a tight hug. "I love you, honey. Tell your father I love him and that he needs to look for his own happiness. Date again. He should talk to Melissa. Melissa's nice. I wouldn't mind if he dated her. Tell him he hast to take care of himself and eat right. And get his damn head out of that bottle, it's not good to drink like that."
Stiles brushes tears from his eyes. He's not sure he'll be able to put a voice behind any of that, but he'll try.
She kisses his forehead. "Be safe. I don't want to see you again until it really is your time."
He can't hold back his tears anymore. He's not ashamed of crying. He's allowed. He doesn't want to say goodbye. Not again, but there are people waiting for him. People who need him.
Allison is next. She hugs him and says, "Tell my dad I love him. And tell him it's not his fault. It's not Scott's fault either. Or Isaac's. Make sure..." She blinks back tears. "Make sure they take care of themselves. Tell my dad that I don't want to see him here for a long time. Mom agrees. There's still a lot of good he can do. There are a lot of people he's going to help." She smiles. "But he doesn't have to be lonely. I don't..." She gestures toward his mom. "I don't have any suggestions but, um, just let him know it's an option."
He nods. That's going to be an awkward conversation. "I will."
Erica and Boyd clap him on the shoulders. "Tell Derek to stop being such a sourwolf. He was a good Alpha. Not the best, but he was good and he was ours. Tell him we don't regret being his pack."
Talia hugs gentle and loose, giving Stiles room to pull away if he needs. "Tell my children I love them. And tell Peter I'm sorry. For Malia. It was for her protection, but that doesn't excuse what I did. He should have been able to raise his daughter."
Laura hugs like a bear. "Punch Uncle Peter in the face for me," Laura says. "And tell Der-Bear not to be so serious. His face is going to stick that way."
He lingers at the top of the steps and gives them all one final look.
"We'll be waiting for you," Mom says. "When you come back."
"I'll miss you." He chokes back tears. Mom smiles and it's too much. He has to go now, before he loses his will.
He climbs down into the darkness and lets the Nemeton take him home.
Love has brought me down
Like love's been known to do
I try to deny with all my heart
That I'm in love with you
~ Our Hearts Are Wrong, Jessica Lea Mayfield ~
Stiles blinks. He's in the middle of the street somewhere. No, not somewhere. He knows exactly where.
"Ugh. Trigger warning." He carefully avoids looking at the spot where he died. He can feel it resonate in him, calling to him.
Not today. Derek's building is in front of him and that's his best place to find someone who can help him. Well, unless he wants to trek to the other side of town and hope Lydia's home. The elevator doesn't open for him. He sighs and takes the stairs, all the while cursing Derek's choice to live on the top floor. Yeah, the penthouse apartment is nice but it's so far away.
Can ghosts get tired? He's about to find out.
The loft door is closed. He tries the handle. His hand goes right through it. Again and again. He bites his lip to hold in a frustrated scream. Fucking ghost shit. Why can he use stairs and not the door? He punches the door, or at least tries to, but his hand goes through that as well.
Stiles frowns. "I'm an idiot," he says and walks through the door.
The scene inside would make his heart stop if he had one. There's blood all over the living room. Derek's hurt pretty bad but Peter is worse. He's laid out on the coffee table while Deaton tries to stop him from bleeding out. What the fuck did he do? Did they... Did he go after the Sluagh alone?
His heart lurches painfully and, wait, that's not right. He's dead. He doesn't have a heart. He shouldn't hurt this much when he's dead. A scream tears out of him. He clutches his chest and looks up at the others. None of them hear him, they're too focused on Peter as he arches off the table. Stiles nearly doubles over in pain. He feels like he's going to die again, right along with Peter.
"Oh, shit, no." Stiles scrambles out a crouch and stumbles to Peter's side. There's room between the table and the couch. Peter's wounds are even worse up close. Stiles doesn't need to sympathize. He can feel it, every aching wound and broken bone. How the hell is Peter still alive?
It doesn't seem like Peter's going to last much longer and that will not do. Stiles kneels next to Peter. He takes Peter's face in his hands and turns Peter to look at him. It works, somehow. He can't open a door but he can move Peter.
"Listen to me, you asshole," he says. "You are not going to die on me, got it?"
Peter's gaze sharpens and his eyes go wide. "Stiles?"
Deaton's head snaps up. He looks around but his gaze goes right through Stiles.
"Yeah," Stiles says. "Yeah, I'm back. I'm coming back and you're going to stay right here. You're going to wait for me, okay? You had your turn at dying so you wait. It's my turn. Not yours."
Peter nods. He relaxes then, eyes drifting closed as he falls unconscious. Derek starts. His hands press frantically at the wounds on Peter's chest. The sound he makes is raw with agony. Stiles wants to hug him, to offer any kind of comfort and let him know that Peter's going to be okay, but his arms go through Derek, making Derek shiver.
"He's alive," Deaton says.
Derek sits back on his heels. He's covered in blood. His wounds are minor in comparison, but they still look bad.
"You should rest."
"I want to stay."
Deaton nods. "Take the couch then. I'll wake you when I'm ready to move him."
Stiles moves out of the way as Derek crawls onto the couch. He's out in seconds but the scowl never leaves his face.
"It really will stick that way." It's a shame no one can hear his joke.
When the night falls on you
You don't know what to do
Nothing you confess
Could make me love you less
~ I'll Stand By You, The Pretenders ~
Peter wakes in pain. He groans and throws an arm over his face to block out the sunlight. The movement causes even more pain. He doesn't scream but it's close. He's wide awake now and he has to piss. The trip from the guest bed to the bathroom is short but torturous. The return seems nigh impossible. He leans against the bathroom door and contemplates lying down right there.
He blinks. He's hearing things, obviously. Because that voice? That voice belongs to a dead man.
"Can you... Can you hear me?"
Peter turns. Stiles stands by the staircase. He shifts on his feet. "Stiles?"
Stiles smiles and hurries forward. He hesitates in front of Peter, but only for a second. Stiles's arms wrap around him and he can feel the weight of his touch. Barely. He inhales deeply. Stiles's scent is gone. The only heartbeat he can hear is his own.
Stiles steps back. His smile is rueful and apologetic. "Yeah. Sorry."
Anger coils like a snake in his gut. "You idiot!" He's glad Derek isn't here. His sanity is in question often enough without him yelling at a hallucination. "You absolute idiot!" He knows Stiles isn't really there. He can't be, but this is as close as Peter will ever get to some form of resolution. "What the hell were you thinking?"
Stiles looks Peter up and down. "You should probably lie down."
"What?" Stiles throws up his arms. "I thought I could stop it. It works off fear, right? Just like the nogitsune."
"It's a creature of death," Peter hisses. His legs choose that moment to stop working. He slides down the wall to land in a vaguely graceful heap. "It kills people, Stiles. That's what it does. It kills people and takes their souls."
Stiles drops down next to him. "I know that now. Didn't get my soul though. I got a save on that."
Peter snorts. "Sure you did."
Stiles leans forward and turns to stare at him. "What do you mean?"
"You're dead." Peter gestures between them. "This isn't real. I'm... How do you kids put it? Cuckoo for cocoa puffs?"
Stiles snorts and covers his mouth to hold back a laugh. "Really? I'd avoid getting hip with this generation's lingo, old man."
"Maybe later." Peter chokes on air. Stiles's grin is manic. "What, you think you're the only one who can come back from the dead?" Peter freezes. He hadn't considered that. "I mean, I'm not all the way there yet. I need Lydia and the Sluagh. You remember the trick? Banshee and the thing that killed you?"
Peter blinks. "You mean you're really...?"
"Haunting you? Yeah. I'm kind of..." Stiles shrugs. "Stuck, I guess? I tried going to see my dad but I can't get more than a block away."
Stiles leans back against the wall. He stares up at the ceiling. "Isn't it obvious?"
"It's really not."
Stiles leans against Peter and rests his head on Peter's shoulder. "Yeah, I guess it's not. I mean, I never said anything, but you said... I mean, you called me 'baby' and 'darling.'" Stiles shrugs. "I was hoping you felt the same."
Peter turns his head and stares down at Stiles. "You can't possibly mean..." This is absurd. "You have... feelings?"
"Yeah. I mean if you don't want to get all mushy about it."
"And if I were to get 'mushy'?"
Stiles tilts his head and looks up at Peter with wide eyes and a smile. "Like you said, feelings."
Peter grins. He shouldn't encourage this. Stiles is dead after all. It'll never work. "Any specific ones?"
"I'm not going to say I love you."
"Of course not. We haven't even kissed."
Stiles settles more firmly against Peter's side. "I will admit to a very strong like."
"I suppose that will do for now."
You've been running far and wide
Doing what you hope is right
Chasing what you feel inside
I will take your path as mine
~ Heart Beat Here, Dashboard Confessional ~
Lydia walks in and freezes in the midst of setting down her purse. "Tell me you see that," she says, voice full of desperation and despair.
"What?" Derek asks. He looks around trying to pinpoint what Lydia is referencing but Peter knows. He's counting on it. Lydia is looking at Stiles.
"I do," Peter says. He'd hoped that one of the others would, but so far, nothing. Lydia's eyes snap to him. She marches over, grabs his arm, and drags him out into the hall and down a few floors so they're out of easy werewolf hearing range. Stiles follows with an amused grin. He's practically skipping.
"Would you stop enjoying this so much," Peter hisses.
"Noooope," Stiles sing-songs.
"You heard that too, right?" Lydia turns on him, eyes wide. "You can see," she waves her hand in a circle in front of Stiles, "this?"
"Unfortunately." Peter does his best to sound put-upon. He plays the unaffected werewolf, burdened by Stiles's ghostly presence.
Stiles hooks his chin on Peter's shoulder and whispers in Peter's ear. "Liar." From Lydia's expression, she doesn't buy his pretense either.
Lydia looks between Peter and Stiles and back again. "How...? When...?"
Peter sighs and leans against the stairwell railing. "Not long. While I was healing."
"Can anyone else...?"
Peter shakes his head.
Lydia turns on Stiles, suddenly furious and in his face. "Why him?" Stiles's blush—as much as a ghost can blush, it's only a faint reddening of his translucent cheeks—and sheepish expression are all the answer Lydia needs. "Oh, for the love of God." She glares absolute murder at Peter and then shoots a much nicer glare at Stiles. "Really? Really?"
Peter hadn't planned to tell anyone about his feelings. At least not until Stiles is alive again. It seems presumptuous now. He shrugs.
Lydia's lips twist into a frown. Her narrowed gaze lingers on Stiles, studying. "You need me." It's not a question. Lydia always was the smartest of the bunch.
"Yep," Stiles says. "You remember your birthday party?"
You call yourselves an army
You try to hold us back
But when the battle's over
You're gonna see
You're gonna see
All the power that we have
~ New Kings, Sleeping Wolf ~
They return to the loft to find an unwelcome surprise.
The man in question turns to glare at Peter. It's not undeserved, but still. Rude. "Hale." He looks past Peter and nods. "Lydia." He doesn't see Stiles either.
Scott, Kira, Malia, and Deaton are gathered around the table with Derek. Deaton's got some weathered scroll unraveled on the table. Normally the hint of new knowledge would draw Peter close but he halts when he sees the knife.
"What's that?" Lydia pauses next to him and tilts her head. Her wide eyes focus on it and only it. Whatever the weapon is, she can sense it.
"Cold iron," Argent says. "The only thing that can kill the Fae."
Peter arches an eyebrow. "You realize not any old iron will do? It has to be-"
"Forged without fire. I know."
Lydia wets her lips. "You're going to kill it."
The others stare. "That was the point," Argent says. Even Scott, weak and spineless would never kill a fly Scott, seems onboard with this plan.
"You can't." They stare at him like he's crazy. He can't say he's not. "We need it." He reaches for the knife but Scott pulls it away. "You can't kill it yet."
"Why?" Deaton asks, before Scott can start flinging wild accusations.
Stiles grips Peter's shirt and looks up at him. "Just tell them. They'll understand."
Peter bites back a growl. He can't even respond because the whole point of not telling them is so they don't think he's a crazy person. Talking to people who aren't there—at least as far as the others know—makes him seem like a crazy person.
He groans and runs a hand over his face. Lydia meets his eyes then looks at Stiles. "Are you sure about this?" To the others, it seems like she's asking him.
Stiles nods. "Absolutely."
"Can you just trust me?" Peter asks. "Just this one time?"
"No." Scott's answer is immediate.
Peter frowns. That hurts. He deserves it, but it still hurts. Derek seems somewhat swayed but he doesn't say anything. He deserves that too.
"Look," Peter tries. He takes a step toward Scott, hands raised, no claws. "We need a little more time. That's all. Just until the full moon. What difference does it make if we wait a few days?" He doesn't look at Stiles but he can see vague movement out of the corner of his eye that he assumes is Stiles nodding along. "All I'm asking is that we wait."
Deaton is curious. Peter's going to field a dozen uncomfortable questions in the near future.
"You're planning something," Scott accuses. "If we wait, people die, and you want to what, give it more time to kill people?" Scott's eyes narrow.
"Oh for fuck's sake," Peter breathes, right as Scott makes his wildest accusation of all.
"You're working with it!" Scott shifts and lunges.
Lydia jumps back with a shout. Peter tries but Scott gets him around the middle and they both go flying back into then over an armchair. It hurts, not so much from Scott's claws in him, but he's still healing from taking on the Sluagh and wendigo.
"Scott!" Lydia reaches for him, actually willing to help him for a change. Derek gets there first.
Scott goes flying, crashing into the kitchen wall.
"What the hell?" Isaac sticks his head out of the hole in the wall that leads to his room. His presence is a much more welcome surprise. They could use another werewolf that vaguely knows what he's doing.
"Stand down," Derek growls. Maybe he is willing to sick his neck out for Peter. That or he doesn't want to have to clean blood off his floor again.
Scott, of course, doesn't listen. He rises to his feet and squares his shoulders, preparing to launch again. Peter holds up his hands, palms out, placating. "Would it help if I said it was Stiles's idea?"
No, that did not help. Scott roars in primal fury. This is going to hurt. Peter prepares to take Scott's charge and shoves Lydia out of the way.
The book that hits Scott in the face takes them all by surprise. Everyone turns to the table stacked with books but only Peter and Lydia can see Stiles pump a fist in the air as part of a strange victory dance.
"Did you see that?" Stiles crows. "Oh yeah. Ghostly manipulation is my bitch now. Look out."
Peter doesn't hide his laugh very well.
Scott growls. "Who threw that?" Everyone near the table takes a large step back. Scott scowls at Peter. "What did you do?"
"That wasn't-" he starts, only to be interrupted by Stiles chucking another book at Scott. A book that very clearly levitates on its own for the people who can't see Stiles.
"Tell him to stop being an ass and listen," Stiles says.
Peter glares. "I'm not saying that."
"I will." Lydia smirks. "Scott, Stiles wants you to stop being an ass and listen. We have a plan." She points to herself, Peter, and Stiles. "You are not going to mess this up."
Stiles grins. "Aww, Lyds, I didn't know you cared."
Deaton stares at Stiles with a curious tilt to his head. "Huh."
"Why are they taking like crazy people?" Malia asks.
Derek holds up a hand for silence. He moves to the spot where Stiles is, eyes searching. He doesn't see Stiles at first. Then his eyes widen and his jaw drops. "Stiles?"
Stiles grins and spreads his arms. "In the flesh. Only, you know, not. Cause I'm dead." Derek flinches and Stiles winces. "Too soon?"
"You think?" Lydia snaps.
"What are you staring at?" Scott's voice cracks, breaks. "Why can't... Why can't I see?"
Stiles's smile turns sad. He walks toward Scott. "Hey, buddy. I'm right here."
Scott doesn't see him. He doesn't react until Stiles stands next to him and pulls him into a hug. A real, sort of solid hug. Scott deflates, falling into Stiles with a sob.
Peter looks away. He moves back to the table and picks up the knife. "We need the Sluagh alive until the full moon."
"Then what?" Isaac asks.
Peter grins, wide and full of teeth like the wolf he is. "Then we bring Stiles back."
I will march down an empty street like a ship into the storm
No surrender, no retreat
I will tear down every wall
Just to keep you warm
Just to bring you home
~ Start a Riot, Banners ~
In the history of awful conversations, this is the worst. Peter stands on the doorstep to the Stilinski house. He can't make himself move an inch further. The mountain ash isn't active. He'd feel it. No, something stronger keeps him back.
Stiles waits beside him, stalled by his own trepidation. They stare at the closed door. Peter's hands clench and unclench. He almost hopes that the Sheriff will say no. He wants the Sheriff to yell at him, to rage and threaten to shoot him. Peter would probably let him. He deserves it.
He can hear the Sheriff inside, in the kitchen. The Sheriff isn't moving around. The clink of glass on glass is unmistakable. He doesn't sound well. Peter understands that. He hasn't been well either but where he'd taken his pain and anger out of rended flesh, the Sheriff had turned to a bottle.
"It's going to be bad, isn't it?" Stiles says.
"Yeah." His voice is a whisper. He doesn't want the Sheriff to hear him.
Stiles's hands ball into fits. He closes his eyes. Lets out a breath he doesn't need. Knocks.
It's unfair that Stiles can do that. Unfair because Peter is not ready to face the haggard and grief-stricken expression on the Sheriff's face. To have the man look at him and know he'd trusted Peter with his son and Peter had failed him. Spectacularly. Horribly.
There is nothing he can say to convey how deeply sorry he is. The Sheriff does not need his words.
The Sheriff barely looks at him. "Come on in." He nods toward the kitchen and heads that way, leaving the door hanging open for Peter to step through or not.
The house is dark save for a dim yellow light hanging over the kitchen table. It feels like a different house from the last time Peter was here. There's no life left. No hope. This house is haunted by the living, not the dead.
The Sheriff pulls a tumbler out of the cabinet over the fridge. It thumps against the table next to a matching glass and a mostly empty bottle of vodka. "You want some?" He downs his drink without waiting for an answer.
Peter pours two fingers in solidarity. It does nothing for him. He's a born wolf. He doesn't know what being drunk feels like but he's a good enough actor to play along, even if cheap vodka is one of the vilest substances on Earth.
"Oh, God, Dad. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Stiles collapses next to the Sheriff's chair. He presses his face against the Sheriff's leg. Peter doesn't think the Sheriff feels it. He certainly doesn't hear Stiles sobbing. No, that dubious pleasure is Peter's alone
The Sheriff speaks between refills. From the smell, he's been at it a while and has no intention to stop. Peter vaguely remembers the rumors after the Sheriff's wife had died, how he'd almost lost his brand-new position to grief-fueled alcoholism. Has anyone been by to check on him? Peter inhales briefly and closes his eyes to hide his miniscule relief. He smells Melissa's perfume.
He's reminded again that he was the remaining adult among the pack. This was his responsibility. He'd failed the Sheriff again.
"Please don't die," Stiles whispers the words like a prayer into the Sheriff's leg. "Please. Don't leave me. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm coming back, I promise. Please don't leave."
"This business or pleasure?"
Peter's gaze snaps up to the Sheriff. He'd been staring at Stiles. He shouldn't but he can't stop, not when Stiles looks up at Peter with an expression as broken as Peter feels. There are no tears on Stiles's face but Peter imagines there would be if he were corporeal. "You have to tell him. Please. Tell him I'm here."
How the fuck is he supposed to tell this man his son is a ghost? The Sheriff is still skeptical of werewolves and he's seen them. He's drinking bad vodka with one.
"Business," Peter chokes out. He doesn't look at Stiles. He can't. Not if he has to have this conversation. This awful, awful conversation.
He'd rather be on fire.
The Sheriff slams back another round of vodka. "Lay it on me."
Stiles stands and rests a freezing hand on Peter's shoulder. "Tell him. Peter, please." He shakes Peter's shoulder and Peter has to lock his muscles to keep from jolting in his chair for no obvious reason. The point is to get the Sheriff to trust him, not to make him think Peter's crazy or possessed.
Peter closes his eyes. He can't do this. He's a coward. He's such a fucking coward.
"I'm not going to like this, am I?"
"You really won't."
The Sheriff sighs. "Just... Just tell me. Is this about..." He doesn't say it but the pain in his voice makes it plain.
"Peter," Stiles hisses. Peter will give in if he looks. He'd give Stiles the sun and the moon and his own still-beating heart on a silver platter. Anything to make this right.
No. That's not true. It's more than guilt. The guilt just sharpens the emotions that were already there, brewing. Their paths would have converged given time. They were too alike not too. It would have taken a few years, not until Stiles was older and through college but Peter thinks then, after Stiles had time to explore his options, if Stiles had still wanted Peter then, they would have gotten together.
He likes to think there would have been romance. He likes to think he would have done it right, with dinner at fancy restaurants and flowers and presents. He would have taken his time.
The one thing they don't have now is time.
"What do you need?" The Sheriff sounds resigned. Peter can sympathize. He knows what it's like to have no one left. To be abandoned after a tragic loss with nothing tethering him to this mortal coil. He knows that hopelessness and despair far too clearly.
This household must be a feast for the Sluagh yet there's no sign of the creature lurking. Wouldn't that make his life easy? They wouldn't have to lure the Sluagh, just bring Stiles here.
Life is never that easy. Nothing about any of this has been easy, he doesn't expect his luck to change now.
He opens his eyes and meets the Sheriff's gaze. Then, he says the worst possible thing imaginable.
"We need his body."
The Sheriff's grip on his glass tightens and Peter hears the imperceptible fractures weakening the glass. The Sheriff is human. He doesn't have the strength to shatter the glass, particularly the kind of glass that's built to withstand drunken accidents, but it's close. "What?"
There's that hatred Peter expects. Finally. Part of the tension curled in his belly loosens. He's familiar with the role of the villain. He wasn't born to it, but the tendency was there before the fire ignited it.
"His body," Peter repeats slowly, carefully, leaving no room for misinterpretation. "We need to take it."
"Haven't you taken enough?" Vodka splashes across Peter's face but the glass shatters against the wall behind him. Small mercies.
"Dad, stop." Stiles's hands hover in front of his father's shoulders. He doesn't try to touch. Peter understands. Stiles is afraid that he'll pass through his father. He's afraid he won't.
The Sheriff looms but does not advance.
"We have," Peter says, voice even and far calmer than he feels. "I have. I could offer you platitudes and apologies but that won't change my failure. You son is-" His throat closes on the word. He shakes his head to clear it loose. "Stiles is dead. I said I would protect him and I didn't."
Stiles turns. His eyes are wide. "Peter, no. It's not your fault."
"And you think I would... That I'd trust you with what's left?" The Sheriff's face is flushed red with alcohol and fury. He braces a hand on the table and points in Peter's face, leaning close to rail at him.
Peter lets it wash over him. He hears every word of it, takes it all in like a bouquet of knives thrown at his feet. But his attention is on Stiles as he drops to his knees next to Peter's chair and takes Peter's left hand in his.
"Peter, I don't blame you." Stiles's eyes are like pale moons, their previous warmth drained and left in faded memory of what Stiles once was. Alive. There is no mistaking him for anything but a fragment of death. "I don't blame anyone. It's my fault. I did this. I was stupid and reckless and I thought-" Stiles breaks off into a sob. He presses his forehead against the back of Peter's hand. "I didn't think. I didn't realize what it would do to any of you. I just... I just wanted it to stop."
"You have some fucking nerve, Hale," the Sheriff continues.
"I know," Peter says, answering both Stilinskis. "I know."
The Sheriff deflates and falls back in his chair. His hands cover his face. His entire body heaves as he lets out a sob. It's so much like his son, but his grief hits Peter in a way Stiles's can't. Peter can smell this. He can taste it, the saline-vodka-unbrushed teeth scents overpowered by the flood of chemosignals that make him think of flooding and rotting buildings and abandoned homes.
It makes him think of ash and charred wood and faces he'll never see again.
"Peter." He turns to look at Stiles. He doesn't know what to do here. This isn't in his wheelhouse. Stiles squeezes Peter's hand. The cold feels good, solid in a way Stiles is not. "Peter, can you tell him something for me?"
"Yeah." The Sheriff's gaze narrows but Peter doesn't care. Maybe crazy is the correct way to play this.
Stiles runs his tongue over his lips. It's a habit that has no use here, not when Stiles has no dry flesh that needs wetting. "Tell him that I'm here. Tell him I'm sorry I was an idiot but I thought it would help. It didn't but I knew it was feeding off of me. It was drawn there by me."
Peter shakes his head. "None of that helps."
"What are you playing at?" The Sheriff asks, accusing. "What are you doing?"
Peter pulls his hand from Stiles's ghostly grasp. He sits up and clasps his hands in front of him on the table. "I know you won't believe me. I know you have no reason to think I'm telling you the truth and every reason to want to find a wolfsbane bullet to put through my skull. I would even let you, but there's something very, very important that I have to do first. And to do that thing, I need Stiles's body because if I do, if this works, you'll have your son back."
The Sheriff jerks backward, nearly tipping over his chair. Stiles grabs it before the Sheriff can fall and guides the chair back onto all for legs. "You're crazy."
"Yeah," Peter says. "I know I'm crazy because I stupidly think this will actually work but I'm following the instructions of a very reliable source. Stiles told you about when I was Alpha? About what happened with Kate Argent?"
The Sheriff stares at him.
Peter presses his hands flat against the wood. "You know what happened?"
The Sheriff nods. He finds his voice a moment later. "You killed her. Because of what she did to your family."
"Yes, but that's not the important part. Did he tell you what happened after?"
The Sheriff frowns. "Yeah, but that didn't make any sense. He said..."
"He said I died. I died. It happened. Your son and his friends used a Molotov cocktail to set me on fire and my nephew tore his claws through my throat. He became the Alpha after I died. After he killed me. Then he buried me under the floorboards of the house where the rest of our family died."
The Sheriff wets his lips. It's so much like Stiles it hurts worse than any physical damage the Sheriff could dream of doing. "That's impossible."
"It happened. I swear to you, it's true. You can ask any of them and they'll tell you it's true. Well, except Malia and Kira. And Isaac. They came along after. But I'm not dead. I came back."
"Get to the point. What does this have to do with my son?"
He does not point out how obvious the connection is. He does not insult the Sheriff's intelligence. That would be counterproductive and Peter does not have the time to waste on pithy insults.
"I'm saying there's a way back. A ritual. It's very specific and certain factors have to be in place." He ticks off the points on his fingers. "Your soul has to remain intact. You need a strong connection to someone living and a reason to come back. A true will to live again. You need a Banshee and you need the blood of the thing that killed you."
He lets his words hang in the air, gives the Sheriff a long time to process them. He cleans up the spilled alcohol and shattered glass. He pours the rest of the vodka down the sink and sniffs out the three other bottles hidden in the kitchen. Those go down the drain as well. He hand-washes the glass he'd used. Once it's set aside to dry, he turns back to the Sheriff.
It's obvious the Sheriff doesn't believe him but he wants to. He desperately wants to. The Sheriff looks at him. "And you think..." The Sheriff hesitates. It takes him a minute to find the right words. "You think Stiles's soul is... You think he has a reason to come back."
"How... How could you possibly know? How could you believe-"
"Because he's already here."
The Sheriff pales. He doesn't look around. He doesn't search for the ghosts of his son. Instead, he crumples, curling into the table and letting out a harsh, wet sob. "Stiles...."
"I'm here, Dad." Stiles's hand presses against his father's shoulder. Stiles touches his father and his hand does not pass through. "I'm right here."
Peter doesn't hear if the Sheriff responds. He walks out the back door and into the yard. He stares up at the clear night sky and the scant stars that make it through the light pollution of the city.
He thinks maybe, just maybe, fate's giving them a break, just this one time.
I'm crankin' up on the throttle
Victory is mine
Show you the harder the battle
The harder I fight
~ Legends Are Made, Sam Tinnesz ~
"This had better work," Lydia says. She stands off to the side on the decaying remains of what had once been the beautiful wrap-around porch his mother was so proud of.
Peter does not look at the still face of the boy in front of him. He doesn't look at Stiles's ghostly presence either. Instead, he concentrates on the dirt and the way it feels between his fingers, cold but with the promise of new life.
Derek, Isaac, and Malia help. Scott stands apart, his face tucked in Kira's shoulder so he doesn't have to look. Stiles stares with sick, morbid fascination. It's not every day you get to watch yourself being buried.
When the last of the mound is in place, Peter stands. He aches in a way that can't be blamed on physical labor. The full moon has never felt so ominous.
"Are we ready?" Derek asks.
"As we'll ever be."
Lydia swallows her nerves and moves to Peter's side. "I hope this works."
Peter releases his claws. "It will."
Lydia nods. She looks out into the dark forest around them as if expecting an attack. That is, after all, what they're here for but Peter assumes they'll have to wait.
"Sluagh," Lydia says, nerves making her voice weak and thready.
"Sluagh," she repeats, more confident this time.
"Sluagh," she screams, her wail carrying into the night and beyond.
They wait. There isn't even a breeze to stir the trees.
"Well, this is anticlimactic," Stiles says, followed immediately by, "Oh, shit, look out."
Peter grabs Lydia and hauls her to safety. He passes her off to Argent on the porch and turns. His growl makes the wendigo on his heels flinch back.
It should have run while it had the chance.
The Sluagh approaches from the woods. Its sickening smile is confident. It knows someone is about to die. Argent fires at it but it shrugs the bullets off like mosquitos, more annoyance than harm.
They have a rough plan of attack. Malia and Kira focus on keeping the wendigo at bay. Argent stays by the house to protect Lydia. Peter, Derek, Scott, and Isaac have the brunt of the work.
He lopes down the lawn and around behind the Sluagh, herding it forward. They know they can't damage it, so they tease, darting in for a swipe and then away, making it chase.
They're a distraction.
Stiles hides inside the house. If the Sluagh sees him, their game is up.
Scott screams. He was too slow dodging and the Sluagh leaves a nasty row of claw marks down his back. Peter pulls him back and roars in the Sluagh's face.
It's an awkward dance to herd it where they need. Peter and Derek spend more time keeping the bitten wolves from being hurt. A few wendigo try to cut in, but they're viciously cut down. Peter may be carrying a bit of a grudge still.
Finally, finally it gets close to Stiles's grave. Derek looks at him and nods. This part is going to hurt. Now the Sluagh is dodging them, chuckling as it steps out of the way of their claws. They aren't nearly as lucky. To get to it, they have to get in close. To make it bleed, they have to bleed.
Scott and Isaac can't get close. Scott's too wild and sloppy. His brazen attacks are easy to read and the Sluagh tosses him away like a toy. Isaac is too skittish, more afraid of being hurt than invested in hurting it. Derek gets closer. His claws pass an inch from its skin, but it's Derek's blood that sprays around them as the Sluagh cuts into him.
Derek falls. For a terrifying second, he's afraid Derek's dead, that he's traded one valued life in the pursuit of another. Then Derek groans and rolls out of the way of an opportunistic wendigo.
There's only one way in and Peter's been there before.
He charges. His roar breaks out of him. It shakes his bones with its power and he feels like an Alpha again. A real Alpha. One with a pack he will die to protect.
The Sluagh meets him head on, claws waiting. Peter doesn't slow. He doesn't stop, instead driving forward onto those piercing claws. They go straight through him. Again. The Sluagh is a one trick pony but Peter is counting on it. He howls with rage and fury and pushes forward to snarl in its face.
He doesn't feel the pain.
The Sluagh grins. "Pitiful," it says. "So soon to join your friend?"
"Not yet." Peter sees red. He shoves his fingers deep into the Sluagh's gut and pulls. Hot blood washes over him and it feels glorious.
The Sluagh screeches, loud like a bat, and flings Peter aside. He hits the ground hard and rolls. He lands facing the creature. He smiles. The Sluagh screams in rage. He's pissed it off. Lovely.
It takes a step toward him. It's already healing, leathery skin knitting back to whole faster than a werewolf heals. He knows it's going to kill him this time. It probably already has. He's just a ghost rattling around in broken bones, too dumb to realize he's dead.
He laughs. The sound is muffled and choked off by the blood pouring from his throat.
At least if it's focused on him, the others can get away. He did his part. He tried but Stiles is still dead, still gone.
Maybe Peter will see him after. Probably not. He doubts they're going to the same place.
A hand pushes up from the dirt and closes around the Sluagh's ankle. The Sluagh stops and stares down at the offending limb. A second hand appears, flat against the dirt and then Stiles is rising out of the makeshift grave like a pissed off zombie.
"Oh, no you don't." Stiles keeps climbing, wrapping himself around the Sluagh from behind and clinging like a monkey. It tries to open its wings and throw Stiles off but it underestimates Stiles's persistence. It tries to claw at Stiles's arms but it does no damage.
"Will you hurry up already?" Stiles shouts.
Kira darts in, quick like the fox she is growing into. She stabs it straight in the heart. The Sluagh shatters like sunlight breaking through opaque glass. It fractures, falls apart, and then it's gone, dumping Stiles back on the ground with an "Oomph."
Stiles doesn't have a chance to sit up before Scott tackles him back to the ground. Scott is crying and he sets Stiles off crying. Peter tunes out of their second tearful reunion. It's worse than the first. He rolls onto his back with a hearty moan. He doesn't feel nearly as dead as he should.
Derek drops down next to Peter's head. "Still alive?"
Tears are traded for laughter as Stiles hugs the girls. Lydia first, then Malia and Kira. Argent tries for a handshake but is pulled into a hug before he excuses himself to call the Sheriff. Isaac tries to avoid a hug and is unsuccessful.
Stiles grins as he flops to the ground on Peter's other side. "We did it."
There's a manic, mischievous look on Stiles face. Peter doesn't have to guess why. Stiles leans down slowly, giving Peter time to pull away, as if that would ever happen. Stiles's closed lips press against his softly. It's a hesitant kiss but all the sweeter for it.
"Thank you," Stiles says, face hovering an inch above Peter. "For saving me."
Stiles laughs, full of life and joy and new beginnings.
Let these bones be the giver
Let this soul be your whisper
You can take it all, you can take it all
Let my heart be your shelter
~ Shelter, machineheart ~