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Robber Foxes (Have No Fears)

Chapter Text

After the nogitsune was expelled nothing was the same.

Stiles wasn’t the same.

But then, how could anyone ever expect him to be?

Not after a thousand year old spirit of chaos slunk its way in through the door of his heart and wrapped its shadowy tendrils around his soul.

And even though Stiles came out the other end with a new body under his own control … well that’s the thing about doors isn’t it?

They tend to work both ways.

The nogitsune carved pieces of Stiles away to make room for itself inside of him.

Those pieces had to go somewhere.

And something had to fill the void they left behind.

Something had to give.

And, no matter how much he had screamed and thrashed and fought, that something was always going to be Stiles.

Even after the fox was expelled, even after they were separated, Stiles never got those pieces back.

They were gone.

And Stiles was left … incomplete.

~~~

Magic stains everything it touches.

Like ink left to run on snow white parchment.

Like the spread of an infectious disease.

Like fire ripping through a forest, leaving ash and the promise of new growth in its wake.

Magic leaves a residue on everything it touches.

And werewolves?

They’re magic to the core, moonstruck and lunar-mad as they all are in some way.

Wolves can’t work traditional spells but they practically bleed magic, breathe it, exude it from their very pores by the very nature of their existence.

The perfect blending of something both natural and divine.

Packs are proof of that, the way they’re drawn to one another, pack bonds spiraling out like spiderwebs to draw them all together.  Golden chords tying them together with a promise of care and support and understanding. Family and safety and love.

It sounds fanciful and exaggerated, like something out of the movies or a cliche novel, the idea of pack as werewolves mean it.  

But the thing about pack bonds is that they’re real.

Tangible.

But one thing they don’t tell you when your only source of information is the internet and Derek Hale’s Remedial Werewolf 101 and running for your life, is that humans can feel them too.

Or, at least, Stiles could.

He could feel the wispy golden strands that tangled together in the middle of his chest like spider silk, thin and delicate feeling but with the possibility of becoming so much more.

Stiles had been able to feel those slowly growing pack bonds once.

He’d had them and the whisper of what they could become and he’d cherished every fucking second of it.

Growing up after his mom died, Stiles had spent most of his life mostly alone.  Scott and his dad his only less than stable constants.  He'd spent years feeling as if he was floundering in the dark, set adrift by panic and anxiety and his own rabbiting mind.

So those bonds? Those fledgling little threads tying him to other people?

They had felt like security, like comfort and stability.

They had meant everything to him.

Or at least they had back when there was anything left to feel.

Back before that too was taken from him.

Back before all of his precious bonds had been broken and abandoned and just ...

Gone.

~~~

After the nogitsune Derek had left first, Cora at his side and Peter slinking off sometime not too long afterwards.

Cora he hadn’t known that well even though he’d liked her as he always seems to like Hales.  So he missed her in an absent sort of way but it hadn’t hurt per say to see her go.  There’d been no real bond between the two of them.

And Peter … well Peter had always occupied that gray space in Stiles heart and mind, stuck somewhere undefinable between threat and true connection.  There’d been a whisper of a bond between them, a hint of possibility, but it hadn’t had the time to truly grow before Peter had left again.

But Derek

Derek leaving had hurt Stiles most of all.

Even if Stiles had understood then, still understands now, why he’d had to leave, why Derek hadn't been able to bring himself to stay, it didn’t make it any less painful.

Especially with the way Derek’s hands had framed his face that last night, palms large and warm and shaking just a bit as he’d brushed his thumbs over the sharp slant of Stiles’ cheekbones.

After a long moment Derek had pulled Stiles closer, had pressed him against the wide plane of his chest and buried his nose in his hair like he was trying to memorize Stiles’ scent.

Derek had held him and touched him and breathed him in like he was trying to imprint everything that Stiles was down on his soul.

Stiles had know the embrace for what it was, had been able to feel it like an aching wound.

An apology and a goodbye all in one.

There’d always been something there between the two of them, a tension and a tether of sorts.  Mostly unacknowledged and unspoken but there, waiting and filled with possibilities.

Stiles had felt it, like a cord drawing tighter and tighter before it finally snapped just behind his sternum, the moment Derek made the decision to leave Beacon Hills.

To leave Stiles and all their almosts, all their maybes, and never come back.

It had felt like his heart was breaking, like someone was ripping a piece of him away again.

All he'd been able to do was turn his face against Derek's shoulder and breathe through the pain.

Minutes or hours later, with the pack bond between them fully severed, Derek had pressed a kiss to Stiles’ forehead and an envelope into his hand, and then he’d picked up his bag and he’d left.

So Stiles will always understand by Derek had to leave, why Stiles wasn't enough to make him stay.

He understands.

Maybe one day Stiles might even be able to forgive him for it.

~~~

In the end it seemed like the Hales leaving ended up being the catalyst for all that followed after.

The bond between him and Derek had been the first one Stiles had been forced to suffer through breaking.

It wasn’t the last.

Chris and Isaac had left together and even though Stiles had little use for either of them on a good day it had still been painful to watch them leave like that, faces and shoulders heavy with grief.

Kira had left next, her parents spiriting her away without a warning now that the nogitsune was gone and Kira was aware of her heritage.

Lydia had gone after that, early admittance to college and the safety of the outside world too alluring to ignore.

By the time senior year had come around it had only been Scott and Malia left behind.

Stiles had been half hollowed out from feeling everyone slip away from him one by one, fledgling bonds snapping or withering away one by one.

Scott and Malia had been his last sources of stability, his last tethers.

And after Allison and Eichen there was a distance there with both of them that made Stiles’ sick to even think about.

In the end it was almost no surprise when Scott finally left, off to college out of state on scholarships with Malia trailing along behind him.

By that time Stiles was used to it, that sort of abandonment and pain.

That didn’t mean it didn’t still hurt though, that the snapping of each bond and the emptiness they left behind didn’t ache like a missing limb just like Peter and Derek had told them it would all the way back at the beginning.

Stiles had screamed himself awake the day he knew Scott was gone for good with no intentions of returning to Beacon Hills or Stiles.

The last of his pack bonds had snapped in the dead of night like the worst sort of nightmare possible.

And Stiles had known then that he was alone.

~~~

In the end all Stiles really has left is his dad, a lonely house, the key and deed to the loft, and a chest filled up with emptiness.

A void, yawning right behind his sternum.

That and the laughter of a fox trapped right beneath his skin, echoing in the hollows of his skull, whispering behind his teeth.

Stiles should have known it wasn’t over.

Magic stains everything it touches after all.

The forests of the Preserve seethe with it, the Nemeton a beacon of power even in its disrepair.

Hale wolves had always had such strong, potent magic after all.  They had bled it, breathed it, birthed and bitten it into existence in others on the land for generation upon generation.  They’d built lives and families and spilled their blood and magic into the very bedrock of the town and the surrounding forests.

And for generations the land itself had answered the Hale’s calls and had its own answered in turn.

Right up until there was no one left for the land to connect to like that.

No one who knew what lived in the woods and was willing to do anything about or for it.

No one, that is, except for Stiles.

And Stiles was thick and heavy with magic by now, skin slick with the stain of all of it.

Even missing the pieces of himself that the nogitsune had carved away Stiles was still a fertile ground of sorts.  A spark just waiting to be ignited, just waiting to be coaxed into a firestorm.

But he wasn’t a Hale.

Wasn’t a wolf.

Instead he was a half hollowed out spark living in a body made by a nogitsune’s magic with scars the shape of fox paws on his very soul.

An omega in the worst sort of way, caught somewhere between human and other, magic stained and spark influenced by wolves that had all left him in the end and a fox that had tried to consume him from the inside out.

At least the wolves had snapped the bonds cleanly, or as cleanly as this kind of thing can be done.

And as for the fox …

Well.

The thing about foxes is this:

You can never really trust them.

Even the nogitsune said so.

Even it had tried to warn them all.

Unlike the bluntness of most wolves, trickery is in a fox’s nature.

They steal.

They deceive.

They burrow.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, when he lets himself think about it, Stiles realizes that as time passes he’s less upset about Scott abandoning him than he is about Scott abandoning the territory.

Is less upset over the loss a friendship that had spanned over a decade and more furious about how easy it had been for Scott to walk away from the land, from the forests and the town, without a backwards glance.

Scott had found it so very easy to abandon the true responsibilities that came with being a territory’s alpha despite having used it as an excuse and a justification for so long now.

He’d tried to tell Scott, back in senior year when colleges were all anyone could talk about, that leaving the territory unprotected was a bad idea.

Had tried to tell him that the only reason why the town had been even marginally safe during the years between the fire and Peter’s rampage was mainly because of Peter himself.

Even weak and basically pack-less, healing slowly bit by bit but trapped in the scarred shell his body had become, Peter had still been a Hale.

Peter’s presence alone had been a deterrent and a protection of sorts, had kept the territory quiet if not truly stable.

Well Peter and, unbeknownst to all of them at the time, Malia who’d spent almost a decade running wild and vicious in the forests, spilling Hale tinged magic and blood behind her as she went.

So Scott going off to college and taking Malia with him, snatching the last person who could claim even a drop of Hale blood from the territory?  A territory with an active Nemeton and an already fraught sense of stability?

Stiles, already enrolled at Beacon Heights University and intending to stay, had begged Scott not to go.

Begged him.

But then Stiles’ opinions, his wants and needs and words of warning, had stopped ranking high on Scott’s priority list as soon as he had found other options.

Not even appealing to Scott’s morals, not even reminding him of just how many people would suffer if the territory became even more unstable, had been enough to sway him to stay.

But that hadn’t really been so much of a surprise as it had been a bitter sort of reminder, one that had made resignation well up inside of Stiles.

Because Scott’s wants and needs had a way of overriding the rigid black and white morality he always seemed so determined carry and to shove onto other people’s shoulders at every given opportunity.

This, Stiles’ begging and the stability of Beacon Hills, had been no exception.

And Stiles is sure that, somehow, in the end, he’s going to be the one who pays for it.

He always is when it comes to Scott’s mistakes.

~~~

Packless, bondless, bogged down with a double course load, and holding onto what little he has left with a ragged sort of determination, Stiles makes it to just a month shy of nineteen before things go wrong again.

~~~

One afternoon Cassidy Halsworth, a nine year old with a sweet gapped toothed smile, steps out into her back yard and disappears into thin air.

By the time they find what’s left of her a week later, two more kids are missing, and there are no leads to be found.

The entire county is frantic, there’s a mandatory curfew and they’ve once again made national news.

Stiles hasn’t seen his dad at home at all in days and has taken to dropping off clothes and food at the station after his classes.

On one of his rare Friday’s off Stiles goes to the station early and John catches him staring at the investigation board in his office fifteen days into the entire affair.

“Hey,” John snaps his fingers sharply in Stiles’ direction.  “Don’t even think about it.”

“Hmm?”  Stiles has to drag his eyes away from the pictures, those little smiling faces and bright eyes.

“Don’t play dumb kid,” John chastises, exhaustion heavy on his face as he all but collapses into his desk chair.  “I don’t want you anywhere near this, you hear me? You’ve been doing good, been keeping your nose clean now that all of that supernatural shit is done.  Don’t ruin that now. You go to class and don’t worry about this. We’re gonna catch the sick fuck who’s doing this. Promise.”

After a too long second Stiles forces himself to breathe evenly, to smile with just the right amount of sheepishness and to hem and haw just a bit before finally agreeing and letting his dad wave him out of the office.

~~~

It keeps repeating in his head, what his dad had said to him.

‘Now that all of that supernatural shit is done.'

Just thinking about those words makes something bitter well up in Stiles’ stomach, makes it spill upwards and out into his chest and throat until he feels like he’s choking on them.

Because it’s proof that John, that Stiles’ dad, doesn’t understand.  Not really.

Stiles is magic stained now, has fox paw prints and wolf teeth marks carved down into the secret flesh of his soul.

Has claws and fur and flashing eyes imprinted on the most basic parts of him.

He knows what’s in the forests and the rivers, knows the kinds of things that lurk around corners and tuck themselves away in various shadows.

Stiles has had chaos entwined around his very being, has walked hand in hand with the void and come out the other end both less and more than he had been.

This supernatural shit will never be done.

Not for Stiles.

~~~

That night kid number five, Marianna Haddow, goes missing and kid number two, Patrick Bliskp, is found.

Well.

Parts of him are.

~~~

The next day Stiles finds himself at the local park, ass parked on a bench and elbows on his knees as he stares blankly at the empty swings and slides.

The normally bustling park is a ghost town, an eerily empty oasis in the middle of town.

Everywhere he goes in town there’s an almost palpable air of fear.

Parents clutch their children tight in terror and jump at every shadow or misplaced sound, terrified that they’ll be the next family forced into mourning.

Somewhere in town there are two families already destroyed by what they’ve lost and three more waiting to see if they’ll be added to the list.

It’s been almost a year since Stiles has had to deal with anything supernatural beyond the slowly growing gekkering sound in the back of his mind.  The ever present yowling that hides itself just behind his teeth.

Stiles doesn’t want to do this, wants to clamp his hands to his ears and close his eyes and pretend like he doesn’t know what’s going on here.

Wants to pretend, just like his dad is apparently doing, that he’s managed to get away from all of this and that the phantom sound of a fox’s mocking laughter that slides across the back of his mind isn’t real.

But Cassidy was nine and liked to knit and they found her body in the preserve with one of the colorful friendship bracelets she made herself still attached to one thin blood crusted wrist.

And Patrick was only four and his favorite things in the entire world were oatmeal raisin cookies and his stuffed Minnie Mouse, the same one that they’d found filthy and defiled in the clearing where they’d stumbled upon what little there’d been of him to find.

Somehow Stiles had been lucky enough to get a year to rest.  It had been a year of emptiness and that ever present ache in his chest, but it had also been a year of something that had almost felt like peace.

But there are kids missing, kids dying, and all things must come to an end.

Sitting on that park bench with the sun shining down on him, Stiles knows that he’s out of time.

“Well,” Stiles whispers to himself as he pushes himself up off of the bench and back up onto his feet, resignation and determination crystallizing inside of him, “it was good while it lasted.”

~~~

That night Stiles makes his way to the place where Cassidy was found, a machete dipped in wolfsbane clutched tightly in one hand as a precaution.

He ignores the fact that he doesn’t need a flashlight to see despite the way the forest is deep and dark around him.

There’s a fetid sort of stench lingering over the clearing, cloying and musky enough to make his nose wrinkle.

He forces himself to breathe deeply for a long second before he turns on his heel and walks back towards his jeep.

He has what he’s come for, there’s no reason to linger.

~~~

Head pressed against the steering wheel of his jeep and eyes clamped closed, Stiles takes a long moment to just breathe.

His chest feels hot, like someone shoved a lump of smoldering coal down beneath the skin.  Like there’s a star lodged just past his rib cage, a fire nestled just below his heart.

He’d known the creature responsible for the deaths and disappearances by scent alone, something he should not be able to do.

He’d taken one whiff of that fetid scent and he’d known.

Know with a bone deep certainty that he has no right to have, had been certain in an age old and almost amused sort of way that sends shivers down his spine every time he thinks of it.

So he just ... doesn’t think about it, not now at least.

Instead Stiles forces himself to start the jeep and drive away.

He doesn’t have time to angst and worry over whatever it is that’s obviously happening to him.

Doesn’t have time to deal with the whys or the hows of this new bit of bullshit in his life.

He has a wendigo to find and destroy and a few lost kids to get home to their parents one way or another.

~~~

Stiles makes his way back to his house and packs up the supplies he knows he’ll need and then he sets back out into the preserve.

The scent, the one he shouldn’t be able to pick out so easily but did, is simple enough to track even though it shouldn’t be.

The wendigo, when he finds it, is smaller than he knows remembers had thought it would be.

It’s almost childlike really, even with its fangs and talons and its twisted and emaciated form.

That doesn’t stop Stiles from doing what needs to be done, from taking his machete to the thing with a vicious sort of intent until it’s nothing more than a scattered collection of pieces on the forest floor.

And then he takes the shovel off of his back and starts to dig.

Afterwards, the body reduced to ash in the shallow pit he’d dug, Stiles wipes the blood from his face and turns his attention towards the barely noticeable whimpering in the distance.

~~~

“Sleep,” Stiles tells the kids softly, voice low and intent as he stares at them from the opening of the tiny little cave.  In his chest his spark, more a roaring fire than the ember it had once been, blazes even higher. “You’re gonna be alright and none of this is ever going to hurt you again.”

The three of them blink suddenly heavy eyes and slip quietly into slumber between one breath and the next.

~~~

The kids will wake up on the edge of the preserve at dawn, huddled together and filthy but still gloriously alive, just in time to be found by the search parties.

A handful of hours later the sheriff’s department will make an arrest based on the kids surprisingly thorough and accurate descriptions of the man who took them.

In the end a suspected pedophile his dad used to warn him about, a man with a lot of money and a lawyer good at rooting out technicalities to keep him out of jail, will confess almost instantly.

Two birds with one belief backed stone.

Stiles does his best to ignore the vulpine laughter that echoes inside of his skull.

~~~

John doesn’t say anything about the mud that’s caked on Stiles’ boots by the door or the shovel and machete leaning against the wall of the garage when he gets home.

He doesn’t say anything and, somehow, that silence echoes around Stiles louder than one of Lydia’s screams.

~~~

When he gets back to school Stiles quietly changes his major from criminal justice to mythology and folklore.

He does his best to ignore the resigned look in his dad’s eyes when he finds out.

It lingers there between them though, the unspoken truth of this case and what it means for Stiles’ future.

Because, even with the distance between them, even with the separation that never truly healed, they both know that this one case isn’t going to be the end of it.

They both know that Stiles is going to keep going.

They both know that he has to.

They both know that there’s no one else who can.

~~~

A month later there’s a case file on the kitchen table when Stiles’ gets home from class.

Something’s been terrorizing hikers out by one of the lakes in the preserve.  Two are missing and three more have managed to stumble to the hospital with severe anemia and babbling about trees.

Halfway through the file and the witness descriptions Stiles thinks jubokko with an almost fond sort of amusement even as he wonders what something as rare as a blood letting tree is doing in California.  He hasn’t seen one of those outside of Nippon in centuries.

It takes him a few minutes to realize everything that’s wrong with that thought.

To realize that jubokko isn’t something he should know anything about.  That he hadn’t gotten around to delving into the more obscure Japanese myths and legends yet.  That he’s never seen one in person and doesn’t have even one century under his belt and likely never will.

That he should have absolutely no memory of the things or what they can do or how to handle them.

And yet, he does.

~~~

As if that one slip of a thought is all that it takes, Stiles hears a voice, a terrible and familiar voice, echoing in his dreams that night.

“Everyone has it, Mieczyslaw,” the voice whispers even as Stiles feels the phantom brush of fur against his bare skin of his arms, “and no one can lose it. What am I?”

“You’re not real,” Stiles spits back, desperate and aching, already looking down to count his fingers.  It’s useless though, there’s no light in this darkness, only shadow and void and his body is a thing he can only experience in an absent sort of way.  “You’re gone, trapped.  This is a dream.  You’re not here and you’re not real.”

“Perhaps,” there’s amusement, a fondness of sorts, in the voice then.  “But that does not truly change anything does it, kit? Does not change what we are to one another now.”

“We’re nothing to each other, you fucking parasite,” Stiles sneers.

“Such harsh words,” the nogitsune laughs.  “In time you will learn just how untrue they are.”

“I’ll call Scott,” Stiles threatens.  “Even if, even if we’re not … he’ll give me the bite, even if we’re not pack anymore.  He’ll do it, I know he will. And whatever door you crawled in this time will be shut permanently.  I won’t let you use me again.”

“Foolish little kit, to think the bite would save you from me this time.”  The nogitsune still sounds amused but ice slithers its way down Stiles’ spine.  “There is no antidote, no poultice, with which you can draw me out this time, treasure.”

“What do you mean?”  He can’t help but ask, sure for some reason that the fox won’t lie to him, not about this.

Foxes, especially this fox in particular, lie.  Stiles knows that of course. But he also knows that sometimes the best chaos comes from the truth.

“You’re too far along, little one, to ever become anything but what you are already becoming.  Even if you were to be bitten the outcome is already guaranteed. Still, taunting you with what cannot be is not why I have come,” the nogitsune tells him, something almost reassuring in its voice.

“What do you want then?”  Stiles demands weakly, too tired and wrung out to summon the fire and strength of will that’s gotten him through so much so far.

“I changed you then, when we first met.” there’s a brush of whiskers against Stiles’ cheek and warm, moist breath against the lobe of his ear.  “I split you open and crawled inside the cracks and then I made you do horrible, wonderful, things.  And you were so good at them, my jewel, so quick and clever and strong willed with the way you fought me.  Your body was such a perfect fit for me once I had burrowed deep enough inside of you. I knew then, what you could become if we had enough time together.  So of course I was always going to find my way back to you. Of course I took steps to make it so.”

“What did you do to me?”  Stiles can hear the desperation in his own voice.  “What have you done?”

“What I must, what would have always happened, one way or another,” the nogitsune tells him gently, a raspy tongue dragging almost affectionately across his hairline.  “After all, foxes are jealous creatures. We keep what is ours and we do not let treasures such as you go so easily.”

Stiles isn’t sure if that’s meant to be a reassurance or a threat.

He thinks it might be both.

“You are going to be so beautiful,” the nogitsune whispers to him as it curls itself around him even more, its weight settling against his chest.  “And neither of us will ever be alone again.”

~~~

Three days later the jubokko is gone and the Nemeton is pleased with the blood soaked wood Stiles had gifted it with.

Alone at home a few hours later Stiles curls himself into a ball on the floor of his shower, buries his face in his blood covered hands, and sobs as if his heart is breaking.

He feels the phantom brush of tails wrapping around his body, fur sliding against skin as a vulpine muzzle tucks itself into the crook of his neck.

He knows that if he opens his eyes nothing will be there.

He knows that doesn’t make it any less real.

And yet, as touch starved and comfort hungry as he is, Stiles can’t help but lean into the touch.

He hates himself just a little bit more for doing it.

But that doesn’t stop him.

~~~

Sometimes Stiles thinks that the worst part of everything that happened is the fact that, in the end, he knows that none of what the nogitsune had made him do was really his fault.

The nogitsune wore him like a sock puppet.

He was both sword and shield for the kitsune.

Both tool and armor.

The things it did, the things it made his body do, if they’d been Stiles’ fault, his true choice, then everything would have been different.  He wouldn’t have fought it so hard from the beginning.

There wouldn’t have been nightmares and screaming and months of losing time.

So Stiles knows that, in reality, what the nogitsune did wasn’t his fault, even if it was his darkness and his spark that drew it in.

Even if they’d played so well off of each other, fit so well together that the fox had been loath to give him up.

Even if the fox had liked him enough to put some kind of fail-safe in place to insure it could come back to him.

That doesn’t make any of it Stiles’ fault.

On his worst days Stiles even thinks that, maybe, all of it wasn’t the nogitsune’s fault either.

At least, not entirely.

That it, like Peter, had been driven mad in the worst and coldest sort of way.

If Noshiko Yukimura had not summoned and then trapped a creature of chaos for almost a century maybe things would have been different.

If she hadn’t locked away a thing meant for fields and forests and the dark spaces between stars then maybe none of it would have happened.

If Alan Deaton had done his job, had protected the Hale pack and the Nemeton both, then maybe Stiles would have never been worn like a well fitting suit and forced to play a part in the nogitsune’s rampage.

Maybe there wouldn’t have been a fox so ready and eager to crawl inside of him and rip chunks of him away until Stiles had no choice but to become something else.

But, those maybe’s aside, Stiles still knows that what happened wasn’t his choice, not really.

He knows all of that, understands it.

The worst part is this:

All Stiles ever really wanted in the aftermath, in the blood soaked and guilt ridden moments that had come at the end, was for someone else to say they understood that as well.

For someone, anyone, to tell him it wasn’t his fault.

For someone else’s voice to speak up against the thoughts that rattle around in his head, for someone else to try to help him carry the guilt and anguish that still tries to press down against his shoulders.

He hadn’t wanted forgiveness for the choices he never got to make so much as he’d wanted understanding.

He’d wanted just one person to choose him over their guilt and their grief and their anger.

But then Stiles never really gets what he wants, does he?

He’s used it by now.

~~~

Maybe, Stiles can’t help but think months later, maybe if he’d had that understanding, if someone had stepped forward to give him that one thing …

Well, maybe things would have turned out differently.

Maybe then the nogitsune’s words wouldn’t have hit him so hard, struck him so deep and true.

Or maybe not.

Maybe this was always going to happen.

Maybe this was always the way things were meant to be.

Maybe everything that Stiles has been through was always leading up to this.

Chapter Text

Months pass by and Stiles adjusts, or maybe readjusts, to the changes he’s now faced with like he’s adjusted to most reality shifts he’s encountered in his life, more than a bit bitterly and then all at once with a single minded sort of focus.

Adaptation has always been one of Stiles’ more effective survival skills.

But, Stiles has to admit, at least this time the reality shift is familiar, is almost comfortable in some ways.

A slide back into a role he’s already familiar with.

A step back into a well known sort of war.

At least, Stiles muses on rare nights when all is quiet and his hands are clean, this time he has a goal in mind, has a predetermined list of things he needs to accomplish to guide him.

Now, unlike the first time, Stiles has three simple, clear cut goals when it comes to diving head first back into the supernatural deep end that he never actually managed to escape in the first place.

Protect Dad. Protect the territory. Try not to die.

That’s it.

That’s his entire list of priorities in the exact order of importance.

That’s all he has to do this time.

There’s no pack, no Scott, no Derek or Peter or various almost friends to keep an eye on and protect.  No other players or pieces on the board to keep track of. No alpha to ignore his plans. No screaming and arguing, no one there to slam him into doors or walls or to leave him floundering in the dark.

Now there’s only Stiles.

Stiles and his three guiding principles.

Stiles and his determination to keep going no matter what new sort of hell he might encounter.

Stiles and his files and his bedroom turned war room and his bone deep, sharp toothed determination to protect.

Stiles and the almost ghost of the fox that once split him open like a ripe fruit and gorged itself on the wet, lush flesh of his soul.

It’s lonelier than it has the right to be.

But then, Stiles got used to lonely at eight.  Became intimately familiar with it after night after night sitting at the bedside of a mother who forgot him in bits and pieces.

A mother who died terrified and hating the son she couldn’t remember.

This is, at least, a better brand of lonely than that had been.

~~~

“You are so stubborn, my jewel,” the nogitsune whispers into the dark that surrounds them both.  “I admire that about you even if you are railing against the inevitable. We were always meant to be together, kit.  All you have to do is say yes and then we can truly begin.”

Stiles just rolls over and buries his face in fur he can feel but can’t see.

Around him the nogitsune just hums and goes back to leisurely grooming Stiles’ hair.

~~~

Stiles fights the nogitsune and most of what it offers to him not precisely because he wants to but more because he can.

Stubbornness or pride or fear, Stiles isn’t sure where on that spectrum his resistance falls but he clings to it with ragged nails and too sharp teeth.

It’s one of the only things that seems familiar these days as more and more of him changes into something other as the weeks and months slip by.

His three guiding principles and his stubborn refusal of the fox.

~~~

Something tears through the preserve leaving animal carcasses behind it as it goes.

Stiles pins a map to the wall of his bedroom and marks each reported animal death with bright blue pins.

It only takes a moment's glance to see that whatever it is it’s getting closer and closer to town.

Closer and closer to the center of the territory that Stiles has claimed as his to protect, the territory he’s shed blood, sweat, and tears to stabilize bit by bit since he was sixteen.

Territory that he’d died on and almost died for even back before it was his to protect.

And that?

That just won’t do.

~~~

The moon is bright and full above the trees and the scent of wolf is easy enough to find when Stiles steps out into the preserve that night.

It's a thick cloying musk that sits heavy on the back of his tongue complete with an undertone of madness that Stiles can practically taste.

For a moment Stiles just stands there, eyes closed and face tilted up towards the dark canopy above him, as around him the forest’s shadows seem to flex and sway.

Fur brushes against his arms and his shoulders then, tails coming up to twine around his waist and throat like an embrace.  Stiles doesn't flinch, doesn't bother to.

As always Stiles cannot escape the feel of the massive phantom fox that is never far from his side these days.

It's one part haunting and one part companionship.

And, no matter how much it grates, no matter how often Stiles denies the nogitsune what it seems to yearn for, it’s one of the few things he has left.

~~~

“Alpha,” Stiles murmurs as he stares down at the body curled up at his feet.  “You're trespassing.”

“The Hales are gone, McCall too.  Territory’s free,” rage filled red eyes glare up at Stiles from within the net of wolfsbane twined ropes that covers the were.

Yeah,” Stiles drawls the word out as he crouches down beside the man, “about that.  Territory’s claimed buddy.”

Stiles sees it the moment the alpha catches his scent.

Fox,” the alpha hisses before confusion flits across his face, “but not. What the fuck are you?”

“Tired mostly,” Stiles shoots back, hand flexing at his side.

A vulpine snicker sounds in the back of his head even as a warm, rasping tongue begins to fuss at the underside of his jaw.

“You know,” Stiles can't help but muse, head tilted absently to the side, “Peter would probably appreciate this moment.  Derek … maybe, but Peter? He’d love it.”

“Wha-” the alpha’s question cuts off in a wet gurgle as Stiles claws cut through his throat.

The wolfsbane net melts away like it was never there.

Mainly because it wasn't.  A gift of sorts from his personal demon.

And Stiles means that pretty literally.

“I'm the alpha now,” Stiles announces.

The forest around him is silent and still.

“Eh,” Stiles grimaces after a few seconds. “Just isn't the same I guess.”

With a shrug Stiles reaches over to grab one of the alpha's limp arms in one hand and then straightens back up.

He turns a bit to the left and starts to walk, body dragging along behind him.

“At least the Nemeton's always hungry,” Stiles mutters as he moves silently through the brush, “and it’s a short walk.”

~~~

His dad just watches as Stiles scrubs the blood and the dirt from his hands yet again.

He doesn't touch him.

There's no hugs, no shoulder clasps.

Just silence.

Always silence, thick and heavy and still as loud as a scream.

Stiles can’t remember the last time anyone but the nogitsune touched him.

He can’t even remember when he stopped being bitter about it.

~~~

Sometimes Stiles wishes his dad would just scream at him again.

At least then he would know the truth.

At least then Stiles would know how his dad feels about him and what he's slowly but surely becoming.

At least then the silence wouldn't be so suffocating.

Or so lonely.

~~~

Stiles turns twenty-one in the middle of the preserve, a hand pressed to his bleeding side and yet another steaming corpse in a long line of steaming corpses at his feet.

He hurts.

It’s been two years now.

Two long, viciously bitter, blood filled years.

Stiles doesn’t have the physical scars to show for it, not with the way he heals now, but his soul is a writhing mass of hurt and magic and other and he is so tired.

Stiles is thankful on one hand, for the changes he’s been through.  He can do things now that he once only dreamed of. He has claws and fangs and can see in the dark.  He heals quicker than any wolf he’s ever seen, he’s stronger and faster than he’s ever been. His spark is a firestorm in his chest and magic has begun to come to him as easy as breathing.

He is leaps and bound ahead of who and what he’d been even two years ago and especially compared to how he’d been at sixteen.

Without all of this Stiles is realistic enough to know that he would have never been able to hold the territory for as long as he has.  Even with his spark to back him up he didn’t have the training or the knowledge to do what’s been necessary so far.

Maybe if there’d been more time, maybe if Deaton had agreed to train him or at least point him in the right direction, maybe then he’d have stood a chance.

But since none of that would have likely ever happened then Stiles would have been dead sometime within that first year.  With no time between attacks and incursions for a human body to heal Stiles probably would have bled out in the preserve at the claws of one monster or another no matter his determination and budding skills.

So he’s thankful in a lot of ways for what’s been happening to him and yet …

Well.

He’s a handful of months from finishing an accelerated course for his degree with the option of continuing on that he may or may not take but despite all this time in BHU he has no friends.  Stiles has no social life beyond the steadily growing circle of contacts he’s been managing online in his precious bits of free time.

And even that’s more a business than pleasure kind of situation given the fact that he’s taken to selling his advice and small bits of spell work and talisman crafting.

So most of his days are spent studying the arcane and obscure either for class or for himself and the territory and the small business he managed to accidentally start.

He’s overstretched and overworked, hovering on the edge of exhaustion and mania even with his healing, and his dad hasn’t been able to look him in the eye ever since he found Stiles elbow deep inside a witch’s corpse.

Stiles hadn’t seen a problem with harvesting ingredients from the witch that his patchwork of memories from the nogitsune and his various readings had told him were rare and valuable.  Two literally magically words in his experience. Magic stains everything it touches after all and a witch’s body was no exception. As distasteful as it might have been having things like a witch’s heart could be the difference between life and death one day.

Stiles is, and always has been, all about stacking the deck in his favor in any way possible, including rare ingredients for potions and talismans and spell-work he may or may not ever use.  He was just going to feed the corpse to the Nemeton like he has all the others since that first wendigo so he’d seen no problem with taking a few bits and pieces for his rapidly expanding supply chest first.

But something about seeing Stiles like that, covered in blood and viscera, elbow deep in a humanoid body and humming as he worked, had unsettled his dad in a way Stiles hasn’t been able to push past yet.

He’s not sure if he ever will.

And what’s worse is the fact that Stiles is no longer sure if he should even try.

His dad is getting older and he still talks to Melissa a couple of times a week even though she’d moved out of state to be with Scott just the year before.  Stiles had been informed, over a too tense and too silent dinner, that Scott’s managing a small little corner of territory a handful of states away and everything seems happy and peaceful for them.

Stiles, living with a territory and an active Nemeton that was never supposed to be his, dealing with the blood and the death and the nightmares that go hand in hand with all of that, is pretty sure that a part of him might just hate Scott for that.

The point is that his dad has the option of leaving, of getting out of Beacon Hills and being with a woman he might just love and the boy who’d been a son to him in ways Stiles never quite seemed to manage.

And as much as it hurts him, as much as watching his dad walk away from him would absolutely gut Stiles, he can’t help but think it might be a good idea too.

Or maybe that’s just what he’s been telling himself in order to try and soften the blow of the inevitable.

Because his dad had stopped locking his study door when he realized Stiles was in this for life and the thick manila envelope from the sheriff’s department of the town Stiles knows Scott has settled in had been easy to find.

Especially since his dad didn’t even bother to try and hide it.

In this, as in so many other things, it seems as if Stiles isn’t going to get a choice.

It seems, as with so many other times before, that Stiles is going to be left behind.

He should be used to it by now, really he should.  He should have expected it, even with his dad.

Other people always leave.

But Stiles?

Stiles’ fate, his curse of sorts, is that he always stays.

Chapter Text

Sometimes Stiles wonders if it’s possible to die from loneliness.

He already knows it can drive a person insane.

Loneliness had been, after all, one of the many things that had twisted Peter so badly the first time around.

Abandonment, and all that it entailed for werewolves especially, had made an abomination out of Peter.  Had chewed him up and spit out something fractured and scared in his place.

Stiles wonders what sort of monster it will make of him in the end.

He wonders who’ll come along to clean up the mess he knows he’ll leave in his wake.

Sometimes, Stiles wonders if he shouldn’t just save them the trouble.  Shouldn’t just nip this entire disaster in the bud. Diffuse the ticking bomb he’s sure he has become.

The rest of the time he knows that he can’t.

Stiles doesn’t have the luxury of bowing out after all.

He’s in this until the very bitter end.

~~~

“You are not alone, treasure,” the nogitsune whispers in Stiles’ ear just as it has every night for the past two years.  “Neither of us will ever be alone again. Remember the first time I told you this? It was a promise, kit.  You are mine now, and I am yours.  Intertwined at the very base.”

Stiles doesn’t answer of course, hasn’t answered the nogitsune’s whispers since that first night.

Can’t.

Stiles knows, intimately, how easily the nogitsune can twist words so he won’t allow himself to be that weak.

Won’t allow himself to acknowledge the kitsune with words more than he already has.

Won’t give the nogitsune the response he knows it wants from him.

Won’t give it yet another possible weapon to use against him or anything he cares about.

But that doesn’t stop Stiles’ fingers from hungrily tangling in the phantom fur of the fox he cannot see but can feel standing at his side.

Doesn’t stop the way his body automatically shifts to accommodate the nogitsune’s own whenever they’re close to one another.

His resolve doesn’t change the fact that, with the nogitsune so close to him, Stiles feel seen, feels known, in a way he’d never thought possible.

Stiles might not speak to the fox but, much to his shame, his body and his heart, with their instinctive cravings for comfort and touch, seam to be speaking for him.

And yet not even the shame that always follows is enough to stop the way he goes to sleep each night bundled up and held securely by nine long, luxurious tails, the nogitsune curled on and around him, muzzle pressed against the vulnerable skin of his throat.

Or the way it’s the safest he’s felt since the night he and Scott walked into the preserve.

~~~

That’s a lie.

Or, well, it’s not the entire truth.

Stiles hasn’t felt safe in a very long time.

Longer than a trek into the preserve and the night that monsters and myths alike had crept into the corners of his life.

Stiles hasn’t felt safe since he was eight years old and he realized that his mom wasn’t the only one they lowered into the ground that day.

A piece of himself had died with her and not all of his dad had left the graveyard with Stiles on the day they buried her.

His dad, as much as he loves him, had never been the same.

And Stiles?

Most days Stiles feels as if he’s been teetering on the edge of one long, continuous panic attack since then.

It’s the cruelest kind of irony that this, alone and lonely with only the demon that once wore him like a suit but now refuses to leave him alone, is as close to feeling safe as he’s managed to find in the years since then.

~~~

The nogitsune knows the truth.

Of course it does.

There’s no secrets between the two of them, haven’t been since the moment it crawled inside of Stiles that handful of years ago.

It knows Stiles and, in turn, Stiles knows so much of its past, flickers and flashes of centuries gone by becoming clearer and clearer to him with every day that passes.

The nogitsune has seen all of the ugly and beautiful pieces of him that Stiles has ever tried to protect or hide.

And in return Stiles has seen a world that history has all but forgotten, has seen truths that no book will ever accurately record.

For all that Stiles refuses to admit it out loud they really are entwined at the base.

Still the fox lets Stiles keep his small illusion of independence.  Has let him pretend ignorance and indifference for two years and counting.

The nogitsune has let him have this petty kind of rebellion and, for all of its coaxing, it has never really forced the issue.

For now the fox seems content to be patient.

Stiles can’t really call it kindness, the nogitsune’s willingness to wait.  Not when he’s sure the nogitsune keeps its peace because they both know his resistance, his denial, won’t last forever.

It can’t.

Beyond the fact that Stiles can feel himself fracturing more and more everyday, there is also the fact that it’s not in either of their natures to let this kind of stalemate continue on indefinitely.

His stubbornness and determination have always had an expiration date when paralleled against the patience and will of the nogitsune.

Stiles doesn’t know which of them he should hate more for all of this.

The nogitsune for indulging him and not forcing the issue, for treating him with fondness and amusement like he’s the kit it always named him, a babe tugging at its tails.

Or himself for not being strong enough to bear the loneliness and to reject the kitsune’s comfort and companionship outright.  For not taking the steps he probably should to stop it from gaining anymore of a foothold on his soul than it already has.

Most days Stiles knows the true answer.

Both.

And neither.

~~~

“All you have to do is let me in, little one,” the nogitsune croons to Stiles in the dark of his room every night.  “All you have to do is trust.”

Foxes lie,’ Stiles thinks but doesn’t say, just as he always does.

And yet, somehow, the nogitsune seems to hear him anyways.

“Yes,” the nogitsune agrees just as it always does, “we do lie, treasure.  Lies are our weapons and our playthings, our teeth and fangs and fur when necessary.  But what we are to one another goes beyond truth and lies, kit. All you have to do is open yourself to it.  To me, to us.  Open yourself to what you are already becoming.  Let me in, Mieczyslaw.”

Those words, let me in, they still haunt Stiles sometimes.  He remembers what happened the last time those words were whispered into his dreams.

And yet Stiles knows this isn’t like the last time.

That what the kitsune is asking for isn’t the same.

There are no doors here for Stiles to open.  There are no barriers between the two of them.

The nogitsune is already inside of Stiles, twined around his very soul just like it had said.

What it’s asking for this time is something else, something more complicated and complex.

A different sort of admittance.

A deeper sort of welcoming.

Only Stiles’ stubbornness and lingering mistrust is separating them this time from the kind of union the nogitsune is proposing.

The relationship it is offering.

The becoming of sorts that they both know is inevitable between them.

Because, eventually, something is going to have to give.

And, just like the first time, they both know that that something is going to be Stiles.

It was always a matter of when instead of if.

~~~

Stiles catches the stench of fetid old blood on the outskirts of town during a patrol.

It takes all of his willpower not to slam his head against the steering wheel.

Wendigo.

Again.

At this rate Stiles might as well set up a monster specific award system.

Something along the lines of a ‘slaughter ten wendigos and Stiles gets a free day to sleep in while someone else picks up the slack’ reward system.

Stiles could make punch cards, something colorful and gaudy.  It’d be fun.

It’s also unrealistic of course because the entire point of his situation is that there is no one else to take up the slack in the first place.

That doesn’t make the idea any less appealing though.

~~~

This time turns out to be a three for one deal.

Those punch cards are looking better and better.

~~~

That night, bloody and exhausted, Stiles feels dread well up inside of him when he steps into the house.

“Son,” John’s face set in serious lines and his mouth is drawn down into a severe frown where he’s sitting at the kitchen table.  There’s a familiar envelope on the table in front of him. “We need to talk.”

Something a lot like love and guilt and relief fight their way across John’s expression.

Stiles just closes his eyes and breathes.

~~~

They argue.

Of course they do.

John loves Stiles, that was never in doubt.

Not even for a second has Stiles ever doubted his father’s love for him.

But his patience?  His understanding? His acceptance?  His trust?

All of that has been suspect for years now.

John still argues with him, still asks and then demands that Stiles goes with him.

“Melissa said it’s safe there Stiles,” John tells him roughly, arms crossed stubbornly in front of his chest.  “You don’t … you could stop all of this again. Could go back to how it was. No more fighting, no more killing.”

“The territory,” Stiles grits out from between too sharp teeth, eyes clamped closed and hand braced on the table in front of him, shoulders slumped but feet spread evenly and stance solid.

“Isn’t your responsibility,” John sounds pained but determined.  “Stiles, son, it’s not your job to keep doing all of this.”

“I’m doing what I have to do,” Stiles squeezes his eyes closed tighter, ignores the displeased huff that sounds in the back of his mind, the feel of tails whipping through the air beside him.  “Do you know what would happen if there was no one here to keep the territory? Do you have any idea the goddamn mess that’d be left behind?  Dad, you can’t ask me to do this.  You can’t.”

He thought they’d been over this before.  Had thought that, even if he didn’t fully accept it, John at least understood why Stiles has been doing the things he has.

“I can and I am,” John counter sharply.  “I let this go on too long Stiles. Let you take all of this on by yourself.  I can’t keep sitting back and watching you run yourself ragged like this. Coming home bruised and cut up and covered in blood.”

“So you think the answer is to just leave?  Abandon the territory, our home, and just go?”  Stiles can hear the note of disbelief in his own voice.  “You, of all people, are going to say that shit to me?”

“We can get out of here, son, me and you,” there’s a almost begging lilt to John’s voice then.  “Scott and Melissa would take us in, I’ve even got an offer from the department there. We, you’ve, got a choice now.  Scott even promised that he’d keep you out of everything, let you live your life.”

Oh fuck Scott,” Stiles spits out then, rage flashing through him like a cold bolt of lightning.  “Fuck him and fuck his so called territory and his promises to keep me out of shit.  That was half the problem in the first place, him never telling me anything even when I needed him to.”

“Stiles,” John says, irritation and pleading warring in his tone, “you were both younger then.  Melissa said he’s grown up a lot, matured. Says he’s handling the territory just fine, that they’re safe.  We’d be safe with them there, both of us.”

“And what happens the first time it’s not, huh?”  Stiles sneers viciously, a old and aching kind of bitterness welling up inside of him.  “Say we leave, say we go up there together, leave this territory behind and start over, what’ll Scott do the first time some big bad rears its head, huh?  Work with it? Give it a second chance? Wait for it to kill someone close to him before he makes the hard decisions? Or will he wait for me to pick up the slack again before more people get killed?  How long before it all slips back into what it used to be? How long before Scott moves on and I end up with yet another territory to manage on my own?”

“That won’t happen,” John tells him doggedly.  “And if it did … if it did then we … we’d just leave again, kid.  We’d pack up and we’d find somewhere else to go, just the two of us.  Somewhere you can get away from all of this again.”

“Why can’t you understand that I can’t?” Stiles asks him raggedly, something desperate and sharp splintering in his chest, clawing at the back of his throat.  “I have a responsibility.  To the town, to my territory.  I can’t just leav-”  

It’s not your territory, goddamnit Stiles you’re human,” John bellows then, face red as he slams his hands down on the table, chair hitting the floor with a loud band as he surges to his feet.

No I’m fucking not,” Stiles roars back, teeth sharp in his mouth, claws digging furrows into the wooden table top.

John goes abruptly silent, face pale and expression stricken as he stares at Stiles.

And Stiles knows exactly what he looks like in this moment, has had months on end to come to terms with the changes that have crept up on him.  Has spent hours staring at himself in the mirror and trying not to cry.

So he knows exactly what his dad is seeing when he stares at him.

Fangs and claws and bristling hair, eyes gone a burnished shade of orange with slit, vulpine pupils.

A fox staring back out at him from the familiar planes of Stiles’ face.

Stiles?” there’s something almost young and helpless in the warbling tone of his dad’s voice then.

Stiles just clenches his eyes closed, forces himself to calm down, and turns his face into the soft press of fur against his shoulder.

~~~

In the end, after all of the screaming and the silences, after all of the begging and demanding, after all of the hurt, none of it matters.

Stilinski stubbornness at its best, is Stiles’ best, less bitter, guess.

Because they both knew what the outcome would be even before the argument started.  Stiles has been trying to brace himself for it for months now.

He’s sure John has too in his own way.

Because, even if John hadn’t wanted to admit it, he’d known what Stiles was going to say before the entire thing ever started.

Even with the distance between them, they both knew what his answer was going to be long before John broached the topic of leaving.  Just like they both knew what John’s would be in turn.

And now, with these new truths fluttering in the air between them like sharp winged butterflies or blinding balls of fox fire, there’s no going back.

For either of them.

John can’t bring himself to stay in this town any longer, can’t keep living in this place that killed his wife and then turned around and took his son from him too.

Stiles can’t bring himself to leave.

So this?

This is just the way things were always going to be.

~~~

A month later Stiles drives him to the airport, the silence between them thick and fraught.

John leaves the house and everything in it, including the full liquor cabinet, to Stiles.

All he takes with him is his clothes and a handful of photos packed away in a single duffel bag.

There is, apparently, a place ready and waiting for him at the other end of the road and not much else from the life he’s leaving behind that he wants to take.

Standing at one of the huge windows, the heat of his dad’s hug and his whispered promises to call and maybe come visit for a holiday or two still lingering in his ear, Stiles watches the plane leave.

Watches his dad leave him behind.

Scott wins once again it seems, the alpha almost son winning out over the manic, blood and magic stained, wolf scarred and fox tainted thing that Stiles has been for years now.

Stiles wonders, yet again, why he’s never been enough for anyone to want to stay for.

But then, that’s just what other people do.

They leave.

And Stiles?

Well.

~~~

In the end all Stiles really has left is a territory to protect, a lonely house, the key and deed to the loft, and a chest filled up with emptiness.

Well, that and the fox.

~~~

Stiles has two guiding principles now

Protect the territory.  Try not to die.

On bad days one feels more fluid than the other.

The rest of the time …

The rest of the time they’re just there.

~~~

The liquor cabinet doesn’t stay full for long and two bottles in Stiles comes to the realization that getting drunk is a thing of the past for him.

The fox has made it so.

That doesn’t stop him from emptying the cabinet though, one bottle at a time.

Stilinski coping habits rearing their ugly heads apparently.

But, unlike John, unlike Stiles’ dad who could never quiet look him in the eye again after that night in the kitchen, once the cabinet is empty?

Stiles doesn’t fill it back up again.

~~~

John calls once every other day for the first few weeks.

Every time he picks up the phone Stiles hears familiar, hated, voices in the background.

It doesn’t take long for the calls to trickle down.

Every other day becomes once a week, becomes once every other week.

Becomes once a month.

Stiles knows it works both ways, knows he could call his dad first but he can’t bring himself to take that step, to reach out.

Because what if he does and there’s no one there reaching back?

Stiles is used to that but he doesn’t want to experience it again, not right now, not with his dad.

So the first time a month goes by and John doesn’t call, Stiles doesn’t pick up the phone either.

A month becomes two and Stiles, worn thinner than ever before, grits his teeth and just …

Keeps going.

~~~

There’s a kelpie in one of the lakes.

Exhausted, starving in more ways than one, and off of his game, Stiles simultaneously half drowns and half bleeds to death in the process of killing it.

Afterwards he makes his way back to an empty house and doesn’t even bother to climb into the shower.

Instead he trudges into the master bedroom and drops down onto the mattress that still smells faintly like his dad, like gun oil and whiskey and burnt black coffee.

Wet and still sluggishly bleeding Stiles curls himself into a ball and falls into an exhausted sleep.

~~~

“You are killing yourself, kit,” there’s an anger in the nogitsune that Stiles has never heard before.  “This should have never happened. You are so beautiful and precious and yet still this has come to pass.  I have been patient, kit, but no longer. I will not let you waste away here, not like this.”

There’s a heavy, seething sort of pause.

I would never leave you, treasure.” The nogitsune whispers to him then, something almost desperate and aching in its voice.  “I would stay with you, through the blood, through the peace and the chaos, through the joy and the pain that is sure to come.  And there is so much I could teach you in the meantime.  We could keep each other and this territory safe, together.  Do you not want that? Do you not want to learn? To know and become what you were always meant to be?”

Stiles had been asked something similar once, years ago now, and he’d lied.

Peter’s teeth at his pulse point, breathless and wanting and so afraid but determined not to be, Stiles had lied even as he’d told the truth.

Because he’d wanted it, so much, even if he hadn’t wanted the baggage that had come attached to it.  Hadn’t wanted Peter’s madness to drown him too, just like he’d known it would inevitably drown Peter.

That level of vicious rage could only be a weight to drag someone down and it had been enough to push Stiles to deny what he’d really wanted.

Peter had known it, had recognized the lie Stiles had given him even as he respected Stiles enough not to do more than call him out on it.

Peter had let him go and later on that night Peter had died, burned and broken and choking on his own blood.

Just like some part of Stiles had known he would.

But in this moment, with the weight of everything pressing down on him and his own blood staining his hands once again, this time Stiles can’t bring himself to lie.

Because, unlike Peter, the nogitsune has asked the right questions, had made the right offers.

Peter had asked “don’t you want to be like me?” and he had offered power and the promise of a madness most brutal and divine.

But the nogitsune?

“Accept this, Mieczyslaw,” the nogitsune whispers then, “and I would have us be as family to one another.”

It offers him belonging.

Offers him as close to pack as he’s likely to ever get again.

Offers him togetherness and companionship and support on this path that they both know he’ll never be able to step off of.

And Stiles, may the gods help him, Stiles is alone in so many of the ways that matter now and so lonely that it hurts.

Worn down to a nub as he is now after so long denying the nogitsune, denying himself, there was only ever going to be one answer to those particular questions.

Please.”  Stiles sobs the agreement out, words pouring out of his mouth with a rasp like the breaking of chains.  “I’m so tired of being alone.”