Stiles is four when he stops snot-nosed Jackson Whittemore from bullying tiny Scott McCall.
It's the beginning of Stiles and Scott's friendship.
Stiles is five and a half when he helps pale Erica Reyes during a seizure.
She joins the two boys.
He's six years old when he figures out Isaac Lahey's father is an abusive asshole and gets him put in jail.
Now there's another person added into the mix, and that makes them a family, Stiles says.
He's seven when Vernon Boyd appears and he's the only one to understand why the bigger boy likes to be called Boyd.
And then there were five.
Lydia and Danny befriend him when they're nine because Stiles is the second smartest in their grade and they like that.
Seven. Stiles' family is getting bigger.
Danny drags Jackson into the family when they're almost ten and it takes a while for Stiles and Scott to warm up to him.
They do, and it turns out Jackson is actually kind of nice.
Stiles becomes the centre of their little family. He's the one Scott goes to first when his parents split up. He's the one Erica turns to when she feels a seizure coming on. He's the one Isaac hugs when he's having bad days. He's the one Boyd goes to when he feels left out and alone. He's the one Lydia and Danny talk to about chemistry and calculus far beyond their age group. He's the one Jackson goes to when he finds out he's adopted, and he feels insecure.
Stiles is there, always. They never thought they'd be without them.
Except, when they're all eleven, they are.
Sties is small and skinny and curious as he clutches onto his mother's hand. She's starting to get round with his baby brother or sister and he feels the constant need to touch and protect her. His mum finds it adorable.
The Hales are tall and strong and curious as they peer at the younger Stilinski. Talia and Mark can already taste the sweetness of magic hanging off the boy even though he'd barely begun to mature.
Stiles doesn't understand why they have to have dinner with this family that he doesn't know. He was planning to go out with his friends and play Hide and Seek. Now they'll be having fun without him while he sits with a bunch of people he doesn't know. But he sits next to his mum, eyeing everyone with an intensity you wouldn't think a ten year old child would have. There's Talia and Mark, who seem to be in charge. Talia's brother, Peter, is dressed in fancy clothes that make Stiles feel like he crawled out of a bin. Then there's Laura and Mark Jr. and Daniel and Cora, who belong to Talia. Then there's Cory and James who belong to Peter. Apparently there's another one of Talia's. His name is Derek and he's out with friends.
Stiles doesn't care. He becomes friends with Laura and Cora and Cory. Peter is nice to him and gives him lots of cuddles and pretends he's as tough as Stiles' dad, who was at work and couldn't come tonight. Talia keeps smiling at him and sniffing in his direction, which kind of creeps him out but not much. He's running around with Laura and Cora and Cory when he notices that something is different about the Hales. There's a lot of sniffing him and rubbing against him weird flashes in their eyes. Daniel, Mark Jr. and James don't seem to do any of these things. They also don't have the strength and speed that the rest of their family have.
Stiles sits down next to his mum, who's talking to Talia in quiet voices, and watches.
He has quite the imagination and it only takes him until they're all seated to figure it out.
"You're werewolves." He states matter of factly. He doesn't expect the reaction though. Forks clatter to their plates, his mum gasps and there's a lot of confused noises before there's silence. But he does see the flashes of gold in everyone's eyes except Talia's. Hers flash red.
Talia forces a smile onto her face, "And what gave you that impression?"
She's trying to play it cool, and Stiles is having none of it. There's a reason he's the second smartest, you know.
"It's not that hard to find out. I mean, you keep sniffing me and rubbing me and you has flashy eyes and are stronger than the three boys who don't have flashy eyes. Plus, your reaction also kind of made it true."
His mum is smiling widely at him, her eyes twinkling with pride. This makes him sit up straighter as he stares at Talia. There's a long silence before she nods, and that's it. They're werewolves and Stiles is a genius. Everything is great.
Except it's not.
They're halfway through dessert when Stiles' stomach twists and there's a foul taste in his mouth. He pushes his plate away and notices his mum do the same. The Hales stare at them, slightly offended. But when Talia sees Claudia's face she knows it's not the dessert that's the issue. Claudia clutches her stomach with one hand and grasps Stiles with the other, standing up.
Before anyone can do anything, there's smoke and then flames and then panic.
"This way! There's a way out in the basement!" Talia half-yells, opening a door and ushering everyone down the stairs. Stiles almost loses his mother's grip but she holds on, moving a little slower than she would like.
Stiles here's anguished yells and he comes to a stop at the bottom of the stairs. All the exits have been sealed over and set fire to.
They're trapped. All of them.
"Mum!" Stiles cries out when he turns and sees her crouching against a wall, clutching her stomach. There's a spreading red patch on her dress and even though he's eleven, he knows that's not good.
The wolves are frantic, throwing themselves at the door but only succeeding in burning themselves and howling.
Stiles doesn't notice them. He's coughing and his eyes are wet and his mum is bleeding. Claudia is pale and her breathing is shallow and Stiles is scared. He's got no one to turn to. Nobody is there for him like he his for everyone else. Claudia smiles at him through her tears and pulls him close. He sobs into her shoulder and he feels her run her hand through his hair.
He hears her start to sing softly in Polish and he quietens his sobs.
"The snow in the air
to sing me a lullaby.
come hither to me.
The dark nights to come
so, kiss me for goodbye
the grace for the godland
is near to you..."
He feels a set of strong arms wrap round him and his mother, and he looks up to see Peter trying to hide them from the worst of the flames. His children cuddle up close to them and soon enough, the entire Hale clan are surrounding him and his mother, who's still singing softly.
He feels flames lick at his skin but he ignores it in favour of looking at the Hales. They're all crying silently, clutching onto each other. Stiles feels himself heave another sob and his mother pulls him closer, mumbling the words weakly into his hair. He turns to her and sees her face, which is too pale and too wet and too smoky. There's blood dripping from her nose and can suddenly feels the blood seeping through her dress.
"Mama? Mama!" He cries out, feeling her last breath on his forehead. He wails and clutches her, feeling the Hales close ranks around him. The flames burn his skin and his clothes and he can hear distant sounds of crashing and groaning as the house falls to bits above them.
The Hales are crumpling on top of them, their eyes closed and breathing shallow. Stiles' own eyes are closing when he hears the sirens.
All he can think of is, sorry daddy, you're too late, sorry.
And then there's only darkness.
He wakes up to the smell that's distinctively hospital and the sound of beeping and people talking. His mind is foggy as he tries to sit up and open his eyes, feeling the twinge of bandages and stitches against the stupid hospital gown. There's a noise of surprise before there are hands everywhere, trying to help him sit up. He opens his eyes and comes face to face with Talia and Laura.
Suddenly everything that happened is rushing into his head and making his heart speed up and his palms go clammy, which hurts. The two woman stare at him with wide eyes and reach for him, but he flinches back, his eyes filling with tears.
"Mum." He whimpers, looking at Talia with pain but also a little hope. She shakes her head with tears in her own eyes and he crumples.
He wails. He screams. He cries. He eventually starts to go into a panic attack before his dad enters the room. He sees Stiles and immediately rushes over, pushing everyone out of the way and letting Stiles wrap his bandaged arms around him.
"C'mon Stiles, you know what to do. Breathe. Listen to my heart, my breathing, my voice. Anything, just...just breathe." John Stilinski says, his eyes watery and his voice cracking as he holds his son in his arms. The Hales are rushed out of the room to give them privacy and John gives them a nod of thanks before they leave the room.
It takes Stiles a couple of minutes to calm down before he pulls away from his dad and looks at him with fear. John's heart breaks. He knows his son well, and he knows his son will blame himself for...for Claudia. He knows his son will think he hates him, and it hurts.
"Oh Stiles, I don't blame you. I don't hate you. I love you with all my heart. You survived and you're here and soon enough you'll be out playing with your friends again."
His attempt at lightening the mood doesn't work. His son's face shatters.
"I survived and she didn't!" He wails, "Mama and the baby didn't survive and we were all protecting her! Why couldn't it have been me?! Mama didn't deserve to..to...to die!"
John pulls his boy close again just as the door opens and Scott McCall rushes in, tears falling down his face and a big chocolate bar in his hand. He climbs up onto the bed and sidles up to Stiles and hugs him. Stiles sniffles and pulls away from his dad, hugging Scott more. Both boys have a cry before splitting the chocolate in half, eating it quietly as they sit close enough that John thinks they might become one person.
The door opens again and this time it's the Lahey kid that climbs up onto the bed, clutching a different chocolate bar. John settles down on a chair and watches as the three boys curl up together on the small bed, munching on sugary foods.
Then Erica comes in, chocolate in hand and snuggles up to the boys.
Then there's Boyd.
Then there's that Danny kid with the unpronounceable last name.
Then the redhead, Lydia, climbs onto the bed.
And finally, the snotty Jackson comes in. Tears in his eyes, chocolate in his hand and snuggling on the agenda.
The hospital bed is far too small to fit eight growing eleven year olds but they manage to make it work, and John refuses to complain. He just watches as they make his son calm down a little. He watches as they take his mind off of the fire as much as possible. He's still there when all eight of them fall asleep with their hands together and he smiles even though his heart is breaking.
Nurses come in and don't complain about the amount of children in the one bed. They smile sadly at John and check Stiles' vitals before leaving.
He steps out for a minute for a breather and finds himself walking into Talia Hale. She's crying and there's bandages on her arms but John knows those are for show. He had...Claudia...for a wife, he knows more than the average human. He doesn't let on and instead hugs her. They're both offering condolences and trying to comfort the other.
It's the funerals the next week.
Mark Jr. Hale.
They're held on the same day, at the same time, with the same minister.
Many people turned up. Some because of Claudia, and how lovely a person she was. She was always helping the elderly, or the children, and she often volunteered to do some gardening for those who either couldn't, or had no idea how. She was loved by everyone and it was heartbreaking to see the white coffin sink into the ground.
There were also many there for the Hales. A lot of family and long lost friends. Alphas and their packs turned up to comfort Talia and the rest of her family. Mark's work friends showed up, his allies in other packs showed up and heck, the fucking Winchesters showed up! And if that doesn't say how much the Hales were loved, what would?
Stiles' friends and family showed up, surrounding the boy and his father like a shield. It had become an unspoken law amongst the other parents that they would do whatever it took to help the Stilinski men.
After all, Stiles was the one who was there for their children.
Stiles and his father curled up together in the spare room of the McCall house. They hadn't been at their own house since the fire. Neither of them could stand the sight of Claudia's smile plastered on their walls. Not yet at least. Not yet.
Stiles was staring up at the dark ceiling, listening to his dad's soft snores. His dad had been quiet and aggressive with grief, not sure how to handle himself now that he doesn't have his wife to call out to when he walks through the door. Now that there's no one to nag at him for his health, which he secretly loved. His dad had looked lost ever since that night. Stiles had mourned for two days before pushing his feelings out of the way so he could take care of his dad. He knew it wasn't normal, an eleven year old boy not crying about his dead mother. But he was trying to keep his dad alive. It was him and his dad left in this world, no one else. His mum would want him to look after her husband, and he would damn well do it.
Stiles hadn't slept much. He just couldn't. Every time he closed his eyes he saw his mum dying. His imagination clearly wasn't content with replaying how she actually died, no. His imagination was coming up other versions. Scarier versions.
So he didn't sleep. Which was fine by him.
Talia Hale sat in the forest behind the Stilinski house. Her heart pounded in her chest and she felt fit to burst. She was trying so hard to hold back tears as she stared at the dark, empty building. Neither of the Stilinskis had entered the house since the fire. She was concerned. Claudia had an entire chest of things that Stiles will find useful when he matures, and they had planned to give it to him on his sixteenth birthday.
And now they couldn't.
She stood up straight, drawing her shoulders back and holding her head high. She needed to do this. The task was simple.
Get the chest, grab a picture, get out.
Really, as an Alpha werewolf she should've been able to do it no problem.
However, the second she stepped into the house she was overwhelmed by the scent of her dead best friend. They'd kept their friendship as secret as they could while Stiles was a child. But Claudia was, and will always, be her best friend.
She broke down right there in the hallway. Tears streaming down her cheeks and eyes flashing dangerously between red and their usual green.
"Claudia, I'm so sorry! I'm sorry you died. I'm sorry your baby died. I'm so sorry we couldn't save you! We're fucking werewolves" she spits the word, almost in disgust, "and we couldn't save you! I couldn't even save my own family. I'm a failure of an Alpha."
She's whispering by the end of her rant, her head in her hands. She's been holding this in since that night. Guilty and heartbroken. She couldn't save her husband or her children or her niece or her nephew. She wasn't strong enough to bust through a wall. It's been weighing her down, depressing her. She sees the way her remaining family cling to each other. Sees the way Derek has burrowed deep into himself, blaming himself for not being there. Talia knew something else was bothering him but she couldn't bring herself to ask. Not now.
She's whimpering quietly when she feels a soft breeze caress her cheek. And that's all she needs to get back on her feet.
She has to be stronger now.
Stronger for everyone.
The Stilinskis leave three nights later without telling the Hales. The McCalls know, but they know not to tell the Hales.
And then they're just gone.