“I’m gonna break things,
I’m gonna cross the line,
And make you wake up,
‘Cause you won’t…”
~ Same Old Same Old, The Civil Wars
Fire is hot.
The sun is bright.
Trees are green.
Unless they are dead.
Dead trees are brown.
The ground is unforgiving if impacted at the correct velocity.
Not as unforgiving as steel; a close second.
Burning humanoid flesh smells like pork barbeque.
Decay rots more than just organic matter.
Everything is ashes in the end.
Spin, spin, spin; the world spins on. It doesn’t care about decay, or velocity or whether the trees are green or not. It doesn’t care about fire or the sun. The world just, is. This is what makes it cruel. It is what makes survival difficult.
Oh, and ice. Ice burns too.
His heart is pounding. He can hear it. Thud. Thud. Thudthudthudthud.
Shhhh, heart. I can’t hear anything over your pounding.
Thud. Thudthud. Thud.
He is alive, for all that he burned. Flesh stretched taught over grilled muscle. Bones stretched and brittle after baking. He is blackened with tar; flakes of charcoal that drift downward, forgetful of where they came from. All they know is freedom on the breeze.
Crickets chirping. Somewhere close. Near, but also far away. The air smells of petrichor and ozone. He was not struck by lightning. It will rain soon. Cicadas buzz away in the trees, mindful only of their song.
He has burned; but he lives.
Everything is pain. Unbearable, yet he must bear it. There is no one else. No one.
Alone is all we are in the end.
Solitary. Confined to single heartbeats and breaths and moments.
Death is final. Absolute. It is not a group adventure. Each much walk its path alone. Stand on the moonlit roads of the shadow realm and follow the great shadow beyond the material and into the unknown. What is past the shadows? What awaits the lonely traveler?
He could sweep the curtain back, take the steps beyond.
If only he could move.
What is that sound?
Wheezing, perhaps? Or whistling. Faint. Nearby.
Oh. Oh, yes. That’s him. He’s breathing. Chest constricted by the tightness of burned flesh and muscle and bone. He isn’t bleeding, even for all the copper tang on the air. It sits heavy in his lungs, the taste of iron.
He has been abandoned. Of course he has. He has never been one that others remain with. Before. Before the burning he could never understand why people left him. Why he was expendable and others were not. He could never understand why. After the burning he understood more. It was never about him.
He wasn’t one of hers, so he was a good shield. Flesh and muscle and bone bred to protect the pack.
The pack she stole from him, made her own and then ostracized him from.
He was a threat to her. A threat to all of it, because he could have been stronger than all of them if they had chosen to love him rather than revile him.
So he became what they wanted him to be.
Monsters run with shadows. They hunger and they hunt and they feast on pain.
He was a monster once.
But then he burned a second time and there was nothing. Nothing at all. He walked the moonpaths and watched the living and became the thing in the shadows that made people wary even if they couldn’t see him.
Then there was a blood moon.
Then there was a girl.
Then he was better.
Heartbeats. Count them. They are easier and more numerous than breaths. Breath can be stolen. Count heartbeats, they are more reliable.
He was better than before the second burning. He let go of his hate and his anger. In its place came acceptance. To all he was monster, bogeyman; always at fault and yet never truly responsible. A figure, ignored until needed, to show others ‘See. See what happens when you seek revenge? See what you become.’
It is amusing. Until it is not.
Then it becomes exhausting.
He has always been a survivor.
Forgiveness is a cruel curse. Right up there with ‘may you live in interesting times.’ It curdles the blood slowly, so slowly that you don’t even know you’ve been poisoned. He has never sought forgiveness from anyone undeserving. Forgiveness leads to caring, which leads to pain and betrayal. Forgiveness is a curse.
Ha. He is cursed. Cursed from birth to always be looked upon as somehow less.
He isn’t less; he’s more.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Breathe. Easy. One, two, three, four.
Crunching. Feet on grass and brittle autumn leaves. Footsteps sound like heartbeats if you listen long enough. Thud thud. Thud thud. Right left. Right left.
Scritch, scrape, swish.
Weft cotton fibers scraping together.
Squeak, shift, right left.
Rubber soles. Not small, not large.
Hummingbird’s wings. Beautiful creatures. Full of contradictions and energy. Movement and beauty and grace wrapped up in deceptive size. Flutter, flutter, flutter. Fastest heartbeat in the world. He knows the sound a hummingbird’s wings make when trapped inside the chest.
He is tired. Weary. Sad.
Pain is like a well into the abyss. It is called hurt and sad and angry and melancholy and many other things. It is unbearable, yet all must bear it. It is blank minds, screaming silently and tears. Pain is burning. Burning, burning, burning.
Has he ever stopped burning?
He doesn’t know anymore.
Crickets. Where did the crickets go? They were singing a moment ago.
Soft. Feather touches. Hard enough to evoke sensation; yet light enough not to hurt.
All of him hurts.
Why did he do this? None of those brats was worth this.
… Well, none save one.
The one with a hummingbird in his chest and the moonpaths in his eyes.
Thud. Thudthud. Thudthudthud.
Stiles goes back for Peter. Scott doesn’t understand why; and they fight about it. Peter is a monster. All of this is Peter’s fault. If only he had never bitten Scott, then none of this would have happened. Stiles believes all of this would have happened anyway; just not in the same way.
He doesn’t believe in coincidence.
So he goes back for Peter.
Because Peter saved him. Peter, who has pyrophobia, stepped between Stiles and fire without a second thought. And he burned up for it. Stiles is alive because Peter burned, and Stiles isn’t going to let his body rot away in the woods. No matter what Scott or anyone else says.
The trees around the clearing are green with new growth. The tree in the clearing, a black walnut tree, is decidedly not green with new growth. It’s branches shelter the ground now with spindley fingers ever reaching and black from flame. Turned to charcoal and ash.
Under the tree is a large stone, scorched from the fire. The air smells of ozone and petrichor. It will rain soon. He needs to move fast.
Peter lays on the ground surrounded by burned grass. He is black and red all over. Burned all over. Somehow he is still alive. Stiles can see his chest rising and falling. It takes a long time to rise. Stiles steps toward him, takes a knee and runs his fingers gently through what is left of Peter’s hair.
Then he wishes.
Deaton had called him a Spark at one time. Told him if he just believed he could make things happen.
Stiles doesn’t believe in faeries – at least, not the nice kind that make children fly. The only kind he believes are real are the fae kind. The trickster kind and the monster kind. The kind with razors for teeth and evil intentions.
He’s learned not to have high expectations when it comes to things like magic and the supernatural.
But Stiles saw the mountain ash circle he made just by believing he could. He held out against the Nogitsune by believing that he could. He’s fought and held his own against Berserkers because he believed he could.
The power of belief is truly powerful.
So Stiles sets his hands on Peter’s chest directly over his heart and he believes.
Crickets begin to play their orchestra as silence envelops the clearing. Magic sparks in the air like embers stirred from a campfire. Red and purple and orangey-yellow-greenish. Beings peep through the trees as unadulterated possibility spontaneously pops into existence. Otherworldly beings who live in the woods on other planes. Beings that live on this plane.
Curiosity ignited, caution used, observance of true magic begins.
Stiles’ hands never waver. His eyes remain on the burned form in front of him. His joints ache, his knees most of all.
Magical embers settle gently on Peter and Stiles, then slowly wink out.
Peter’s flesh begins to knit itself together. Slowly, inexorably, steadily.
The burning fades.
He opens his eyes just a fraction. Just enough to see. Pale hands, arms clad in blue flannel. The upturned nose and constellation of moles across the jaw.
Eyes the color of sunlight through bourbon meet his gaze. The younger man doesn’t look away.
He hasn’t been abandoned.
Each heartbeat says ‘not alone.’
He feels the lessening of his pain. The flesh knitting, the burns fading. Muscles reform, knit together. Fingers twitch. He lifts them to Stiles’ thigh. Holds on with a little too much strength. He never looks away from those eyes, even as magic settles in dark hair like twinkle lights before winking out of existence.
He is captivated. Every atom of his being focused on the Spark willing him back into existence. Believing in a Peter whole and healthy. Invisible strings hook into the wolf and the spark. He can feel the bond settling into place, solid like the earth, but forgiving like and fluttering like hummingbirds’ wings.
And nothing changes.
They are tied tighter and tighter together.
Peter latches onto the threads linking them together and braids them into a strong cord. Stiles feeds it magic, believing strength and power into it until it glows white-gold like the sun.
The wounds in his soul begin to heal over from the excess power.
He is not alone. Not forgotten. Not unwanted.
He is tied. Bound. Chained.
Willingly. All willingly.
He will never be alone again. He will not walk the moonpaths forever. Stiles will be there with him.
In a clearing in the Beacon Hills Preserve, two souls knit so thoroughly together that every being watching feels blessed by the event. They watch two hearts and souls entwine until Thudflutterthud becomes a synchronized tattoo against two ribcages.
The wolf changes, grows, becomes powerful. A being unlike any that has walked this plane in over a thousand years.
The spark changes. Grows from a spark to a fire to a blaze. Controlled but shining like a lighthouse beacon on a moonless night.
The beings, fae and faerie and other shift and speculate. Lesser ones swear fealty. Evil things that lurk in the woods flee from the light, as far and as fast as they can go.
The black walnut tree sprouts new growth and buds all across its surface as it drinks in the life pouring from the Spark. Its spirit is awakened, a tiny dryad all green and black blinks open sunlight eyes full of wonder. The young being begins a dance to bless those under her branches.
The consequences of this moment will reach farther than either participant can fathom.
There are always consequences.
In a different clearing, the Nemeton awakes. It drinks in the power it can feel. The festering wound in its roots heals and the stump grows into a great oak once more. The only sign that it had ever been cut down is a faint ring of lighter bark around its base.
It is an ancient tree. It knows the land. It knows the creatures that walk through its forest. It knows its enemies and its protectors.
It knows who woke it, who healed it.
It knows why.