“Are you sure this is going to work?” Stiles asked again. Lydia didn’t even try to hide her scoff when she added another layer of runes on Stiles’ body.
“You were the one who designed this,” she answered. He marvelled her patience. It was truly a sight to see. “Shouldn’t you know?”
“Yeah, but you checked the calculations, Miss Fields Medal!”
Lydia took a deep breath and lifted the brush from Stiles’ skin. The tremors of her skeletal hand dissipated little by little.
“I said they looked good enough.” The brush was back in action, dragging across Stiles’ navel. It tickled. “Worth a try at least. Now hold still or you’ll have to do this by yourself!”
Stiles settled down, forcing himself not to move an inch. It was hard, with the ants crawling under his skin and the steady dribbling noise of the rain outside making its way inside the former Whittemore house. Only their footprints had made a dent in the ever-growing layers of dust on the floor, testament to the skill of the builders and the money thrown at them that the house was even standing anymore.
Even if no furniture was left in the house nor a life had touched the walls in years, it was still the safest place anyone could find in Beacon Hills. Or perhaps because of it.
Who wanted to touch something that was left for dead anyway?
The brush made one last swirl before the tickling sensation stopped. “There,” Lydia said. She took the bottle and squinted. “Just in time too.”
“Yes. Don’t move yet, it needs to dry.”
“Okay.” Stiles peered at the ceiling he had become very familiar with the past few hours, acquainted even. He had named the crack one Tim and the crack two Tom, deciding they were cousins fighting over to kill the lone, forgotten lamp in the middle. Their honour had been clearly besmirched. Which one would manage to create the decisive final plunge underneath it? He frowned, his ears straining.
“Lydia, can you hear that?”
Lydia froze, the cleaning of her equipment momentarily forgotten. Her head whipped around as she stared outside the second-story window. If it was possible that she could be any paler, Stiles was sure he could have seen the blood vanish under her skin.
“Stiles, you need to go.”
Stiles scrambled up, carelessly throwing his plaid shirt back on. Lydia was focused on whatever it was outside again—he didn’t know and almost didn’t want to either. He wouldn’t be surprised if the actual devil had come on earth, so much had he seen within this cursed land.
“Now.” Lydia grabbed at him and then they were running to the attic. It was the only room without any age-old dirt or lingering dust bunnies, the only one they had bothered to clean completely. The circle they had painstakingly drawn was still there, just as dark on the wooden floor as the paint on Stiles’ skin. He supposed it was fitting, he thought, as he was meant to be the final piece for the ritual rather than the outsider chanting mumbo jumbo.
He felt Lydia let go of him and turned back, wanting to ask yet another question, begging for any last words—
She pushed him and he stumbled backwards. The last thing he saw was the defiant green stare in the middle of dying colours and ashen face, the victorious grin sending him off as the loud noise got ever-closer and her mouth opened, the lines on her face tightened—
The runes connected and all he could see was darkness.
Stiles knew pain. He knew the pain of claws digging into his skin. He knew the pain of losing the people he loved the most. He knew the pain from seeing the dead walk amongst the living against their will. He knew it as much as he knew every other part of himself.
Yet he was still surprised and couldn’t help the scream that tore out of his throat.
He was being ripped apart from inside, like his soul was separating from his body and leaving him with nothing but an echo of a memory. The runes burned his skin like a brand. He couldn’t even touch them without a flash of endless agony. He didn’t know how long he was stuck in the hell he had created—because no matter who had helped him, it had been his idea, his own, his own fault.
He felt like he was dying.
Stiles thought he could hear another scream with him, with higher pitch but just as terrified. He forced his eyes open, hadn’t even known they were closed, and saw a blob of light waver before him. He himself was encased in what looked like a sun and burned hot thousand-fold. He reached over, tried to touch the other source, but the scream intensified, the terror intensified, and there was not enough space, he was suffocating, decay painting his insides and Stiles—
He ripped himself away.
With one spike of light, the cloak of brightness began to dissolve. It bled from between his fingers, leaving his skin look almost… translucent. He wasn’t colourless as much as muted. He blinked rapidly and saw the final traces of the light swirl around him forlornly and he tried to touch them but his hand only went through. He could feel some of it burn inside him but that was the only thing he did feel. The burn was gone, the pain was gone, but so was the feeling of… sensation.
The door banged open behind him and Stiles whipped around, finding frantic eyes staring straight at him. His father was standing right there and, for a brief second in time, Stiles felt like a little kid again. The wild eyes, the fear, they were still there, but the lines were less severe and his hair had only a touch of grey. He was alive, Stiles thought dazedly, and he couldn’t help but reach for the man. He wanted to feel the warmth in his father’s skin, know that he was there, just seeing wasn’t enough, he wanted more—
Noah’s gaze broke from his and, as Stiles’ hand reached for the touch he was promised, he walked right through him.
Stiles froze as the world froze with him. His arm was still raised but he now realised he hadn’t just seemed translucent, he was, in fact, see-through. He could see the floor through his hand, and the blue of his shirt was so pale in comparison to the shade he knew for certain it had been before. Stiles stared at the scene in horror.
What did this mean?
“Stiles!” his dad said, bringing Stiles back to the present, and he turned to see Noah clinging to what looked like Stiles as he used to be years ago. Pale skin, moles the only bright spots, dark circles around the muted eyes. Stiles glanced around and caught a brightly-decorated calendar on the wall that had days crossed up to the date Stiles knew intimately. “What was that scream? Did you see a nightmare? Are you alright?”
“I’m—fine,” little Stiles said. and Stiles couldn’t help but marvel how high his voice was. Had it really been that high at some point? He could detect the little shakes even as little Stiles hugged his da—Noah. As he hugged Noah. Not his dad, not anymore. The thought burned a hole inside Stiles’ chest.
Noah drew back to inspect little Stiles and now Stiles could recognise the signs of tiredness. When Noah breathed in little Stiles’ direction, he winced, and Stiles knew it wasn’t because Noah had forgotten to wash his teeth… even if little Stiles didn’t know it at this stage. Not yet.
Stiles swallowed but only thin air.
“Are you sure?” Noah asked. He brushed little Stiles’ hair from his eyes. “Do you want to sleep with me tonight?”
Which probably meant the couch in the living room because Noah couldn’t enter the main bedroom in the first two months. If their calculations hadn’t gone as off as everything else. Stiles’ mind whirled. Something had happened between Lydia and him working on the ritual and the subsequent activation. Something had gone sideways, but Stiles couldn’t figure out what that something was. He was supposed to be in little Stiles right now, be little Stiles right now, but here he was, transparent and decidedly separate from the other Stiles in the picture.
“I—I think I’m—good,” little Stiles said after a while. Stiles blinked. What? He had never said no to a proposal like that. Noah looked confused as well.
“Are you sure?” he repeated. “I could sleep here with you tonight?” Little Stiles hesitated but nodded. Noah sighed. He pulled little Stiles close, hugging him tight, before letting go again. “All right then. Do you want to talk about it?” A headshake was his only answer. Noah gave him one of his sad little smiles. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me.”
“I love you, kiddo. We’ll talk in the morning, all right?”
“Okay. Love you.”
Stiles stepped out of the way when Noah rose. There was hesitation in his movements, like he wanted to stay but wasn’t sure of his welcome. Stiles couldn’t remember anything from that time that would tell him why that was, but at least Lydia and he hadn’t messed up the timing part of the spell. He was still in the right timeframe if not the right… situation.
Noah walked past him and Stiles’ eyes followed him out unwittingly, couldn’t stop until the door was closed again. The silence crept into the room and it was an uncomfortable one. When he turned back to his younger self, he found him staring straight at him.
However, unlike with Noah, the gaze wasn’t wavering and seeing through him; no, it met his without a drop of hesitation that made Stiles envious of himself.
“Who are you?” little Stiles asked.
“I’m—uh,” Stiles floundered.
“You can do anything you want with me,” little Stiles said. “Just don’t hurt my dad. He’s the only one I have left.”
Stiles jerked with disgust. “I’m not doing anything to either of you!” he said. A little part of him winced with the reminder than he had been ready to rewrite his younger self but, now, seeing him there, there was no way he would be able to do that. He would rather stay a… ghost, if that’s what it took.
That gave him an idea.
He leaned in, crouching a little to be on little Stiles’ level. “Your mother sent me.”
Now it was time for his counterpart to shiver and his eyes narrowed instantly. “My mom is dead.”
“She is,” Stiles agreed. “But I don’t look alive either, now do I?”
Little Stiles squinted. “You do look funny,” he declared. “And dad walked right through you.”
“That’s because I’m… dead.” That was probably quite accurate in the grand scheme of things. He was, now that his thoughts were clearing, pretty sure Lydia had begun screaming when the ritual activated—but whether for herself or him or those coming after them, he didn’t know. Nonetheless, it was also true that there was little left for him to return to. He would, given the chance, because leaving Lydia and their little group of survivors alone hadn’t been what he wanted even if it was necessary.
Wait. Now he might have a chance for that. He wasn’t fused with the present Stiles. He could—he could use this. He could still succeed and go back, wherever or whenever that was.
He had a chance.
“Your mother came to me when she died. She… there are a group of us with certain gifts that don’t pass on the same way regular people do,” he quickly explained, mind tripping over ideas before dismissing most of them. “She asked me to watch over you for her.”
Little Stiles looked at him suspiciously. “Why isn’t she here then?”
“We… cannot interact with those that knew us when we were alive,” Stiles answered. “It goes against the rules.”
Or if there were any rules, Stiles was sure this would be one of them. No one would move on with their lives if no one ever left. Though he was also quite sure that, even if that was the case, his mother wouldn’t care a single lick and would claw herself from wherever she was to be there for her family.
Yet, she wasn’t here. Stiles was.
“So instead, she sent me.”
Little Stiles was quiet for a moment, before he said, barely above a whisper, “She said I was a monster.”
And she did, so many times that Stiles himself had believed her words for years afterwards. Little Stiles’ staunch plea for his father’s life made so much sense it hurt the few memories Stiles had from that time all the more. He walked over to little Stiles and kneeled next to his bed, holding his gaze.
“Which she is very sorry about,” Stiles said seriously. “But the thing that makes you able to see me made her go mad. It started to alter her reality and her mind cleared only after she arrived to us.”
Little Stiles looked like he was trying not to grab at any and all words that left Stiles’ mouth. Stiles smiled a little, the gentle curve of it softening his face. “She would have wanted to be here, you know. She will, no doubt, welcome you when your time comes. But she sent me here to make sure that what happened to her will not happen to you.”
Stiles had long suspected that his mother didn’t just die from frontotemporal dementia. There had been too many little discrepancies there that the doctors couldn’t explain and which being magic, a spark, could. Stiles suspected his mother never knew she had the gift and, in the end, all that untapped power drove her mad.
If he could prevent the traumatic affair of his own awakening, he would. If it would save a few significant lives at the same time while causing several other less deserving ones to rot in hell…
Well. Stiles had never said he was a saint.
“How do I know that you are even tellin’ the truth?” little Stiles asked. He clearly, desperately, wanted to believe what Stiles was saying, but he was afraid to. Stiles automatically reached for him but hesitated, his hand hovering over little Stiles’. He settled, instead, laying it on top of the blanket nearby.
“She said you would say that, her clever little Mischief.”
Little Stiles winced even as his eyes widened. Tears started to gather in his eyes and he sniffed. “She’s… she’s really in a good place now?”
Stiles nodded, preferring not to seal his lie in words. Little Stiles started to cry in earnest. His sobs were a quiet affair, grief mixed with relief.
“She’s so proud of you.”
He sat there, listening to the cries and sniffles that were just quiet enough not to be heard from downstairs. It took a while—what was time for the dead, anyway?—but his younger counterpart started to slowly calm down. His eyes drooped as he fell against his pillow in exhaustion.
“What’s your name, angel?” little Stiles murmured even as his eyes fell closed, quickly losing his battle against sleep.
Stiles smiled. It was a little sad but also heavy with the knowledge that what he was doing was the right thing—heavy with the knowledge he didn’t deserve the moniker bestowed upon him.
“You can call me Mietek.”
The next day dawned slow and sure as if it was just yet another day. For Stiles, though, it spelled a brand-new start. It wasn’t what he had thought or wanted but he could see the benefits now that the first shock had passed. He couldn’t hold a damn thing in his hands and he had tried. He had attempted to shut the nightlight and grab a pen and his counterpart’s mug of water and he had only managed to stick his hand right through the table. He had even tried to open the door but, rather than the knob turning in a twist of satisfaction, he just… phased through it. Which, in any other situation, would have been cool and worth investigating, but now made him want to throw a tantrum instead.
At least he was glad he had pulled on a shirt before rushing to complete the ritual which they had to have botched somehow despite Lydia’s reassurances. He didn’t like the idea of running shirtless twenty-four-seven all day every day. And even this was a revelation he only found out by looking down because he couldn’t even see himself in a mirror.
Yet, the benefits still managed to win over the… flaws in execution. He did end up in the past right when and where they had intended. The Hales were still alive, the Nemeton was as unfucked as possible, and all. They had a chance, all of them. And with him not merging with this Stiles, there was a possibility he could return to his time and see his pack again. He had faith that it wasn’t her own life Lydia was going to scream for; in fact, he rather suspected it was for him that she did, considering how he ended up.
He never thought he’d see a day he was dead. He thought he would just be, you know, dead. It was a rather… out of body experience, so to speak.
Stiles absently rubbed his shoulder. The memory of Lydia’s response to puns was just as strong as the hit itself was. He couldn’t wait to use it on. He missed her. He had been in the past for less than a day and he was already missing her and the rest of their ragtag pack something crazy.
Feeling the too familiar sense of loss and grief settle in his not-bones, he decided to shove them into a box and tape it shut because he was not going to break apart now. He did it. They did it. He was there and he could fix things.
With a little help.
He leaned over his younger self as he slept. The circles around his eyes were less severe than they had been in the nightlight earlier. The buzzcut really made him look younger. Or it may be the years that he hadn’t gained yet. Geez, had he ever been this young?
The evidence suggests that, his inner Lydia voice said. It had even perfected the dry tone. Shut up, he told it. He rubbed his shoulder again. Damn it. Lydia won the argument even when she wasn’t there.
He really missed her.
He nailed the box containing all the unnecessary-for-now feelings to the floor.
The clock next to his counterpart blared into an obnoxious ring. The kid groaned, curling into himself, before throwing his hand out to whack the annoying little machine. He repeated the move twice before he managed to actually hit the right button.
Talent right there. Someone alert the press.
So this was the source of all his self-loathing. How nice. He really hated himself sometimes. Now with double the trouble! Two with the price of one! That no one wants to pay! Yay.
Little Stiles rolled out of his bed and his feet met the floor with a thump. The yawn was wide and revealed a gap in his teeth Stiles hadn’t seen last night. Christ, this Stiles was such a baby.
Baby Stiles—and he seriously needed something to call him, this was getting tiresome—jumped slightly and whipped around to stare where Stiles was floating. Floating. He was floating. He stared at the inches between his feet and the floor in wonder.
He could float. Could he fly? That would almost make this ghost thing worth it if he could. Now if only he could touch things he could actually use his newfound invisibility and awesome maybe-flying skills and stop what amounted to a disaster of a personal and international kind because, apparently, corrupt and basically murder one Nemeton and they all started to fail after that.
Yggdrasil never was just one tree.
One more lesson far too late learned.
Stiles lifted his hand in an imitation of a wave. He wiggled his fingers.
“Hi,” his younger self echoed after him. He rubbed his eyes and squinted. “It wasn’t a dream.”
“Nope,” Stiles popped his ‘p’ in a manner that always caused white rage around him. He wished he had gum. “I’m still here.”
Baby Stiles—and that’s it, he was christened as Baby S from this moment onwards—kept staring at him. Then he stood up quickly and walked over to Stiles. Stiles blinked in quick succession as he was being, for the lack of a better word, examined like a science project. Baby S circled around him and Stiles tried to keep as still as possible. Being mostly dead didn’t seem to make him any less twitchy. Who knew?
And then he found a hand pierce his stomach and he let out a high-pitched noise he would later deny he ever made.
Baby S stumbled backwards when Stiles rushed forward and fell to the floor as he scrambled away from the offending hand.
“Uh,” Baby S said. “Did that hurt?”
“No!” Stiles said, rubbing his stomach and then clutching around it. “It doesn’t make it any less rude though!”
“I, uh. Sorry?”
Stiles gave him his best glare. It only seemed to make his younger self look sheepish than actually regretful. He swore he had never been as rude as a child. He had been an angel, no matter what people might have claimed. They were just… biased. That was it. Only that. Yes.
They stared at each other until a loud car rushed past the house. Baby S blinked first—ha—and glanced at his clock. He blanched.
“I’m late!” he squeaked and rushed to grab his things. “Where’s my maths book? Do you see it anywhere?”
Stiles looked down from his vantage point.
“Nope,” he said, seeing it lie next to the pile his counterpart kept browsing. Baby S let out an annoyed little noise that filled Stiles with unnatural glee.
“You’re useless!” Baby S declared, throwing a bunch of books into his backpack—his maths book was one of them—and took off, his stomping loud in Stiles’ ears. He snickered, walking after him.
He found Baby S in the kitchen, shoving spoonful after spoonful of cereal into his mouth and somehow managing to drink milk from his glass at the same time. Baby S noticed him looking and a defensive look bounced on his face.
“They stay crunchier this way!” he said. Stiles blinked.
“The… cereal,” Baby S said. His eyes narrowed. “You are not making fun of me, are you?”
“Of what? Not putting milk on your cereal?” Stiles asked. “No. Why would I? Soggy cereal are the worst.”
A disbelieving grin made its way onto Baby S’ face.
“You are alright. I can see why mom would send you down here.”
Now it was Stiles’ turn to squint at Baby S but he offered no explanation. Baby S finished his cereal in silence and carried the dirty dishes into the sink. He grabbed his bag and rushed past Stiles again, the bag swinging rudely through Stiles’ arm.
He watched as his counterpart hastily put on his shoes, retying his laces when he messed up them the first time.
“Are you going to school like that?” Stiles asked, leaning against the wall. Baby S looked down, still decked in faded pyjama pants and a t-shirt too large for his thin frame.
Stiles followed his younger self to school. He hadn’t seen a sign of Noah in the morning but that wasn’t surprising; he had been home the previous evening so it was likely he had a morning shift today. He hadn’t gone out to check. Rather, he tagged along the ride, half-running, half-floating, attempting to catch the bus that quickly disappeared from view. Thankfully he knew where it was headed so he still made it to the school just as the bus let out the kids.
Another positive side of being dead: he wasn’t winded at all.
He looked around the school and could make out the people who had once taught him as well. The music teacher he had hated and the P.E. teacher he had loved—a weird trend that kept repeating but Mr. Ralph was awesome and his twists on dodgeball were legendary. Right next door was the junior high school, but he didn’t go to take a peek at the halls; the replacement they had hired to take his mother’s place still hurt after all these years.
He concentrated on his feet and felt the air change around him. Or perhaps it wasn’t really a change, but he almost felt it so there it was. The ‘it’ being something. Like the air. It took him a while—until the final bell—but he found himself finally floating up to the second floor to see the kid versions of his friends and enemies and everything in between rush out of the door in their hurry to get home.
Jackson was the first one out, his leather backpack the only thing Stiles managed to see of him. Lydia was meticulously packing her own bag, making sure she didn’t hurt any of the books. Isaac—Christ, they’d been on the same class too, hadn’t they?—was actually looking happy at the prospect of going home. Matt didn’t look awful either, chatting with two other kids Stiles didn’t remember the names of. He paused, seeing a girl walk out with long brown hair that he almost recognised. But then Baby S gathered his attention, making his way out alone. It reminded Stiles that Scott hadn’t fully transferred to Beacon Hills yet; Melissa was already here but Scott was to finish elementary school with his dad.
No wonder he was quick to accept the weirdest things, such as Stiles, and Scott the asthmatic loner. They were both lonely.
…and wasn’t that what Stiles had banked on when he came to the past?
Something ugly squeezed his insides. A girl stuck up a conversation with Baby S but it dried off when another joined in. Baby S wasn’t alone, per se; he had always been outgoing which brought in brownie points. But he was also in the midst of his self-made isolation that, on its own, wouldn’t end until Scott happened. Because everyone knew the nice lady from next door, the English teacher who always came down to read for them once a week and then stopped coming altogether.
And it had been too much for him to be reminded those Wednesday afternoons were never coming again.
He floated back to the house and welcomed his younger self home. The surprised look broke something in Stiles’ chest. He was suddenly reminded how there hadn’t been someone there in a while and wouldn’t be either. Noah was too busy trying to make the ends meet with his deputy’s salary and it wouldn’t get better until he made Sheriff and could make his own hours. They were rarely home at the same time. Last night had been a miracle on its own.
“Hey,” he said. His breakthrough on ‘how to ghost’ felt lame and weak under the realisation that what had been the best-case scenario for him was the worst for his counterpart. “How was school?”
“I…” Baby S blinked at him. “It was… all right.”
“Oh.” They stared at each other again, similar to the looks exchanged hours earlier. Stiles shifted, stepping on air unconsciously. “You should come in.”
Baby S broke from his reverie. “Yeah,” he said slowly. He did, closing the door behind him and shaking off his shoes. “Other people can’t see you, can they?”
“I don’t think so,” Stiles said. “I think your dad might have said something about it if he had.”
The awkward silence resumed. Stiles licked his lips. “Do you have homework?”
“Maths,” Baby S answered. “I’m eating first.” And then he moved past Stiles to the kitchen. Out of a habit he followed him. His counterpart took out a bottle that looked like orange juice and bread from the pantry. The only topping he put on was butter.
“You know,” he said, words muffled from food. “I was thinking.”
Stiles floated to sit on the kitchen counter. “Yes?”
Baby S opened and closed his mouth several times before he made a noise out of frustration and dug his hand into his backpack. It had a Spider-Man on it. Stiles remembered only giving it up when even Heather made fun of it. He took out a crumbled piece of paper.
Baby S smoothed it out and Stiles could see it was some sort of a list. “I have some questions,” Baby S announced. The only sign of his nervousness was the tapping against his glass.
Stiles took a more comfortable position and leaned back. He hoped he didn’t melt into the cupboard behind him.
“How was mom? Be honest.”
And they were off to a good start. Stiles sighed. “As good as she could be.”
“That doesn’t tell me anything,” Baby S said, annoyed. Stiles gave him a look.
“She died,” he said bluntly. “And she’s not allowed to come back. She’s dealing with it.”
His younger self looked down at the table. Stiles hunched forward.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not technically supposed to be here either. It took time for me to get here and the only reason I am is because I’m not technically dead like her.”
Baby S lifted his head in a flash. “You are not? But you said—!”
“Technically,” Stiles repeated. “In all purposes I am. I don’t have a body and I am stuck here for now. You could think of me as a… spirit. A ghost. I am but a soul whose body is gone. So, dead. Real dead don’t come back, Stiles. Not ever, which is why necromancy is a perversion of magic. You can only bring back bodies, not the souls once they’ve parted.”
“Magic?” Baby S glanced at his list and then crumbled it again. His eyes got a steely look in them. “You told me you’re here to stop whatever happened to her.”
“Yes.” Stiles floated down and leaned on his forearms at the table. “You are a spark. Essentially that means a magic user of a sort. There are different kinds of magic—witches, necromancers, druids—who draw from all kinds of sources. A spark’s magic drives from belief, the strongest and weakest of them all.”
Baby S frowned. “How can it be both at the same time?”
“Think of it this way: if you don’t believe, nothing will happen. Having a pure resolve is the hardest thing to achieve. Your mom had that, didn’t she? Conviction.” His younger self nodded. “It wasn’t enough. She never awakened her spark and it rotted her inside. I’m here to help you draw it out.”
“Why you? Other than that you can be here.”
Stiles grinned. “I am a spark too.”
“Is that why…?”
“Yeah, that’s why I can come and go. I was awakened and then I did something and… now I’m here.”
“Will you leave?” Baby S asked plainly. That gave Stiles a pause. Of course he was leaving. He had to get back to Lydia at some point, to Kira and Liam and—yeah, he had to get back. They were banking on him. Lydia might have screamed but he firmly believed his body was still there, waiting for him to return to it. The ritual was ever meant only to send back a soul and they just messed up with the delivery address. But he wasn’t here to stay. The mistake meant he wasn’t stuck here; he had to believe that.
He just had to figure out how.
“Only when you are ready,” he promised.
Baby S looked at him and then averted his eyes. “What if I won’t ever be ready?”
“You will,” Stiles said firmly. That drew him a glance from his counterpart. “What did I just tell you about belief?”
Stiles dropped his chin to his hands, brows raised. Baby S’ eyes widened.
“Really?” he asked, voice climbing high. “That’s just… bullshit.”
“Language,” Stiles said. He then amended, “It doesn’t of course always work like that. But it can.”
“Then why did mom have to die?” The pain in Baby S’ voice was raw and sudden. He hid it well for a kid whose mother died less than three months ago according to the date on the newspaper lying on the kitchen counter.
“Because life isn’t fair.” The words sounded hollow even to Stiles’ own ears. He felt the years weight on his shoulders. “It takes and it takes and it takes until there’s nothing left to take.” If he could he would tear up as well. Now his younger self had to cry for the both of them which he seemed ready to do. Stiles’ tone gentled.
“But it can also give. If you stay kind, you’ll see the good sides as well. The friends we make, the laughs we hear, the beauty we see. It doesn’t always feel like it’d even up, but humans are strong. We make do even in the darkest of times.”
“You sound like you’ve gone through…” Baby S’ voice trailed off.
Stiles was certain his weariness was reflected on his face. He found himself floating towards the ceiling and Baby S had to crane his neck to keep up with him. “Before this I did experience a lot of shit,” he said bluntly. Baby S let out a startled hiccup of a laugh. His eyes still looked wetter than they should. “That much is true. But if I can make it easier for you, I will. I promise.”
Baby S stared at him. He nodded then, once and sharp.
“Where do we start?” he asked. Stiles tilted his head. He floated down again so he was on the same level as his younger self. He reached over and his hand hovered above Baby S’ heart.
Baby S lifted his hand and clutched at the shirt there. Stiles smiled but there was no humour in it. Only grief only someone who had lost their world could understand.
“Let it all out,” he merely said.
When Noah returned home late that evening, he found Baby S asleep at the kitchen table, tear tracks on his cheeks and maths homework undone. Stiles watched as he gathered Baby S up in his arms like he was something easily breakable and precious and carried him upstairs. He stayed with him, fingers combing his short-shorn hair in silence, until the moon rose and the window let its gentle light in. It enhanced the deepening lines on Noah’s face and the tired look that wouldn’t disappear for years to come.
Stiles sat and watched, his mouth a narrow line.
Not again, he swore. He wouldn’t let the past mistakes repeat themselves.
Stiles floated somewhere above the elementary school, frowning at the cloudless sky. He had been in the past for a few days and hadn’t made a headway into preventing the things to come. He wasn’t even sure how to start. He had to teach his counterpart how to use his spark, that was a no-brainer, but how to move from there? He didn’t know exactly where the Hale land’s borders went and if they went too near the Hale house the Hales would know. It wasn’t a problem per se but it could hinder things. Baby S was a kid and Stiles was dependent on him. If something happened…
No, it was better the Hale pack didn’t know what they were up to right now. It would only draw unnecessary attention to them. But they still needed information; information Stiles didn’t have. There had been no one left to give him what he needed. The only Hale he had known to be alive had been Cora, and even then they hadn’t heard from her for two months prior to the ritual. Like the rest of them, she had been too young to be in the know.
Yesterday he had attempted to go and snoop around the Hale house himself, only to be yanked back like there was a chain attached to his neck. After a few tries—each one making him move further and further away from the direction of the preserve—he realised he was being tugged towards where kid Stiles and Noah were going back home from the diner.
Stiles cursed. He had been bound to his younger self somehow, somewhere. Probably at the mess when he arrived. He still didn’t know what happened there, what went wrong in the end. Whatever it was, it had to be why this was a thing as well.
It wasn’t the first time he thought it should have been Lydia who came back. She would probably have plans after plans made up by now. Well, it wasn’t that Stiles didn’t have either but…
It was hard, being here. Separated from everything he knew, thrown into this weird being of not-being. He had tested his limits, finding out he wouldn’t fall through objects if he focused on it. He still couldn’t grab things but at least he didn’t have to worry about rolling in the air and ending up in the bathroom of a wrinkly old grandpa. There were things he didn’t want to see, ever.
He heard the bell and watched as kids poured onto the playground. He floated down enough to see the time. It was just recess. He groaned and let his body fall down in a dive. He wished he could feel the air currents against his face. As it was, not a strand of his hair was out of place when he stopped his fall a few feet above ground. He lied there, head thrown back and limbs akimbo.
A flash of blue caught his eye and he saw a man walking by with hunched shoulders and air around them that screamed heavy even to Stiles. He was walking from the direction Stiles knew the high school stood and the look he threw at the elementary school was full on anguish. A girl looked in the man’s direction, the same one from Baby S’ classroom, and tried to go to him but was pulled back by the bell and rush of other kids. Stiles had to do a doubletake when he could now place her.
Cora. Which meant the guy was—
Stiles zoomed in on him and it only took a few odd seconds before he was floating next to him. The blue glare was unmistakeable.
Stiles didn’t know when he had last seen the man. It was somewhere between the end of high school and the second year of college he had to cut short. One day Cora had arrived back and asked if they had found Peter’s body yet. None of them had even known he had died; the only person he kept any kind of contact with was Stiles and even with him he liked to go radio silent every once in a while.
It pained him to know he hadn’t even realised he was gone until it was too late.
He flew with him, listening to the silent fury that held him captive, and then Peter took a turn towards the park away from the eyes and slumped down on the lonely swing there, built on a strong branch. Stiles felt relief. He could feel his leash tighten its hold on him and it wouldn’t be long until it had reached its limit. Even now he didn’t know when he would be pulled away but, for now—for now—he was there.
Peter grit his teeth and he let out a whine Stiles knew was a replacement for a howl. There was no place for such within the city limits and he couldn’t help but wonder why Peter made this the place for an apparent… breakdown.
Stiles blinked. Peter, having a breakdown? That wasn’t… Peter. Not the Peter he knew. What is this Peter? Did he… mistake him for another Hale? He settled in front of the man and gave him a once-over but, no, he knew those eyes. None of the Hales he knew had that exact shade of ice. Though the ice was breaking and leaking, melting, right in front of him.
“I told him to go to Talia,” he whispered, staring straight into Stiles’ chest, the gaze empty if not for the pain. “I told him—he should have known. None of them were new to the supernatural when they joined our pack. He knew. I never—she died and he knew.
“Derek, you idiot.”
Stiles stared as tears started flowing freely down Peter’s cheeks, his arms heavy on his knees. Stiles had never seen him fall apart like he did now. Nothing had ever broken him down like this. He had suffered burning three times, being wounded and killed and kept in the fringes of the pack for as long as Stiles knew, even if he—there was—how? Peter had always seemed invincible, especially when he came back from the land of the dead. There was no place, no spot, in Peter to go down like this. He was—
Peter’s breath hitched and Stiles’ very soul stuttered with it.
“That blasted idiot knew and I told him to go the alpha—the alpha, not an alpha, and now I’m—all my work—” There was a hiccup that broke Stiles’ heart and he tried, he tried so hard to touch him but all his efforts were in vain as, while he might be able to touch him, Peter didn’t even react. He didn’t know he was there. He could touch but he couldn’t touch.
He couldn’t wipe his tears away. He couldn’t stench the flood, he couldn’t—he couldn’t.
“She hates me,” Peter whispered and Stiles wrapped himself around the man but he never even knew. “They hate me, they all hate me, and I told him, but they don’t—they never believe me. None of them, they never—”
Stiles felt a tug on his navel and slowly, surely, he was being pulled away. His arms phased through Peter although he tried his hardest to keep his hold on him and he watched the broken man suffer alone—now, maybe all this time—until he could no longer see him.
He blinked his eyes and wished he could cry with him, bleed with him, but he couldn’t. He cursed his predicament into the deepest of hells and let out a frustrated bellow that didn’t echo and no one heard.
Stiles narrowed his eyes, determination setting into his very being, and turned his back on the scene he could no longer see. He flew towards where he knew his younger self was returning home, eager to start his studies as a spark as Stiles had promised he would the coming weekend.
He had work to do.
And now he knew where to start.