Stiles has been having the dream for months. Ever since he burned the Nogitsune out with his own damn Spark and sent his control and reserves with it. The magic had come back, slowly enough, but with it had come the dreams. It's the same thing every time.
He walks through the Hale preserve, pale mist swirling about his ankles. The trees are leafless and twisted, looking dead . No animals chatter from the branches. In fact, there's no noise at all, except a faint whispering that Stiles can't quite make out. He's walking towards the Nemeton, which is not a stump but a massive tree, easily the size of a redwood, but with spreading branches reminiscent of an oak.
It looks dead, too, branches twisting towards the ground like grasping hands.
The whispers get louder as he enters the clearing, almost audible, one voice layered over another over another. Dream Stiles keeps walking, right up to the trunk, and reaches to press his hand to the rough bark. The fog crowds closer, all but blinding him, and the branches stretch out towards him, reaching for him--
And then he gasps himself awake, panting like he's been running for hours , drenched in cold sweat and shivering with terror.
It can't be a good omen.
He goes to Deaton, who remains sketchy as fuck but is also something of a mentor/one man support group, these days. The Druid does not react in a reassuring manner-- instead, his complexion goes ashy pale. He grips Stiles' shoulders with both hands and very nearly shakes him.
"Are you absolutely certain this is what you saw?"
Stiles nods, swallowing hard.
"So, not good news, then?"
Deaton lets go of him and whips around, as agitated as Stiles has ever seen him, and paces over to his bookshelf.
"I must research. For now, do nothing. Stay out of the Preserve, if you can. Do not go near the Nemeton."
Stiles nods again, fighting past the lump in his throat to ask,
"What does it want? The Nemeton, I mean."
Deaton refuses to look at him.
"You, Stiles. I suspect it wants you."
Stiles curls up by his headboard, that night, a little sachet of vervain and mugwort for dream magic and rosemary for clarity tucked under his pillow.
The forest is dark and dead, and chill mist swirls around him. The whispers draw him onward, and he approaches the Nemeton.
He lays his hand on it, and Stiles questions it,
"What do you want from me? Show me."
The fog rolls in, blinding, and then rolls away, and Stiles turns to look at the revealed scenery. Sunlight streams through the dappled branches, and the Nemeton stretches unscathed towards the sky. Birds are singing, animals chattering, and Stiles can taste the life and magic infusing the air. The forest and surrounding lands are clearly thriving, and the contrast between that and the dead ground he walked here on--and even between the somewhat ravaged, wartorn Preserve as it stands today-- is stark. He can tell the area is happy, protected, and safe , for him and his pack and for all the peaceful magicals who are looking for refuge.
This is what the Nemeton wants. Stiles feels the ache of it in his soul , a bone-deep longing for what could be, and he can't help but want for this paradise as well.
How? I will help, if I can, but how?
The whispers return, and the vision shatters back into the dark, dead forest that seems to be the spiritual state of the Preserve.
A branch reaches for him, and Stiles lets it curl gently around his wrist, for once not wrenching himself awake, focusing more on listening, trying to understand the whispers.
And then he does snatch his hand back with a yelp, looking at the blood seeping from the inside of his wrist.
" You bit me!"
The whispers turn apologetic, and he catches the words "only way" and "sacrifice" out of the murmurs.
No wonder Deaton told him to stay away-- the damn tree wanted to eat him!
He takes a step back, and the Nemeton lets him go, whispering sorrowfully at him. A phrase comes through, perfectly clear for once.
"The gift must be given freely."
And then he's awake again, no longer trembling but suffused with ice-cold certainty.
It takes him a while to be able to put it into words, even to himself, alone in the comforting darkness of his room.
The Preserve is dying. The Nemeton was meant to guard it, until the Nogitsune poisoned it.
It needs a freely given life to restore it.
Stiles wants to ask why him , but he knows the answer already. He's already died once, he's been connected to the thing that poisoned the Nemeton, and it was his magic that destroyed it.
Plus, y'know, the magic in and of itself.
He grimaces and curls a little tighter. He doesn't have to. He doesn't. That's the whole point. But if he wants to ensure the safety of his entire pack, if he wants to save the tree meant to protect everything that's instead drawing all sorts of hostiles, if he wants to fix things , then a sacrifice is necessary. His sacrifice, specifically, and he gets the feeling he won't get an anchor to draw him back this time.
Well, that's why Deaton refused to tell him anything, at least. He knows perfectly well that Stiles is willing to do anything to protect what's his. He's probably busy even now, frantically trying to find some other way around it, some other purification ritual.
The thought brings an unbidden smile to his face. The poor Druid tried so hard to stay out of things, after his last pack had been torn away, and yet after everything his kind heart had dragged him into their little group of misfits regardless.
It's another person who Stiles would die to save.
He stares out the window for a while longer, watching the moon set and dawn come and feeling the decision settle its weight into his chest. He isn't like Scott, given to railing against the whims of fate. He can do this, is the only one who can do this, so he will.
He still has a while until the full moon, though. He has about a week to get things straight.
Stiles goes to Lydia first. She takes one look at him and goes dead white.
"Stiles. What have you done?"
He explains, and she slaps him viciously, and then curls into his chest and cries for almost an hour.
He holds her close and enjoys feeling the warmth seeping into him. He'll miss her, if he's aware enough to. Stiles isn't in love with her, not anymore, but he does love her in a way that he thinks might be too close for romance.
They go see Deaton together. The vet is buried in his books and barely looks up when they enter, muttering a welcome. Stiles wanders over and can't decide whether he wants to laugh or cry when he sees that Deaton is in fact researching purification rituals that can use a small willing sacrifice from each party, rather than requiring a willing death. He and Lydia share a small, twisted smile, plunking down on either side in front of the man.
Deaton sets the book down, movements deliberate. He sits there for a long second before he looks up and meets Stiles' eyes.
"You're going to do it."
It's not a question, but Stiles nods anyway.
"It's the only way. I looked, and there's nothing else that matches the criteria to cleanse it, at this point. Maybe half a century ago, before the Nogitsune really had tainted it. Maybe even fifteen years ago, before Paige and the fire. But not now. And I'm the only thing that's close enough to everything--I was possessed and I burned it out , and that's what the tree needs now, is a combination of my Spark and the power of the sacrifice."
Deaton presses his fingers into his eyes.
"Yes, but Stiles, you don't-- you shouldn't--"
Stiles offers him a sad smile.
"None of us should have had to deal with any of this, right from the start. But here we are anyway, and if I have the chance to burn out the source to give everybody else a chance, I will. If this kept up, none of us would last another year, anyway . You know that."
Deaton gives a long, tired exhale.
"I can't stop you. I don't think I should be stopping you, either, not in the balance of things. But Stiles, if you don't want this, then damn the balance, I'll do anything I can to help."
Stiles… is actually speechless for a solid ten seconds. He swallows hard, twice, and then gives up on finding words and instead shuffles around until he's sitting next to the man, shoulder to shoulder, and drops his head into the crook of Deaton's neck.
So he's been around werewolves for too long, sue him, he likes not being touch starved because of stupid societal gender roles.
After a moment, he feels an arm settle over his shoulders, drawing him into a gentle embrace, and Stiles leans shamelessly into it. That, of course, sets Lydia off, and the next thing he knows, all three of them are cuddling on the floor of the clinic office, a puppy pile with absolutely no wolves.
The thought is enough to make him snicker as he pictures the look on Derek's face.
Stiles isn't sure he wants to tell anyone else. Scott won't understand why it's necessary. His father--will probably handle it just fine. At the very least, though, he has to tell Malia, and probably Peter. They’ve been circling something approaching friendship for far too long by now, and he knows they, at least, will understand.
Malia screams at him for a solid ten minutes and then turns her back on him. Peter rubs his shoulder and tells him that she’ll come to terms with it. Stiles spends most of that evening carving every protective rune the Nogitsune left him with knowledge of into their foundation, lintel, doorpost, everything that can hold a ward. He marks them with blood and tears and the sorrow flooding his heart, but he knows by the end of the evening that their apartment would survive the goddamn nuclear apocalypse.
If he does the same to the train station and Chris’ house and the old Hale ruins and the loft, the next day, who could blame him? He won’t be there to personally ensure their safety.
The next few days—the last of his days—Stiles spends surrounded by his pack in as many ways as he can. He pokes fun at Derek and teases Kira and Scott and generally spends as much time with them and the puppies as he can. His nights are spent nearly smothered beneath Malia and Peter and Lydia, all differences among them forgotten in favor of imprinting as much of themselves on each other as they can manage. Sleep is a thing of the past, mostly, and they all stay up late talking and trading stupid stories and laughing quietly, and if tears mix into the laughter sometimes, no one says anything.
Stiles talks about why they catch him counting his fingers sometimes, and how having a thousand years of memories in his head can get very disorienting. Peter mentions once, very quietly, that he doesn’t really remember killing Laura. Lydia gives Peter a shit-eating grin and tells him that she doesn’t actually hate him--but if he fucked with her again, she’d kill him herself. Malia, who doesn’t really understand the point of secrets, laughs at all of them, but then when it’s just her and Stiles awake, later, she tells him that she doesn’t actually like him like that.
He laughs hard enough to wake the other two up, leaving her sulking for a while, but Stiles does appreciate the effort.
He thinks that maybe Lydia and Peter are trying to find a way to bring him back, afterwards, but Stiles thinks, privately, that there won’t be much of him left after he gets his soul eaten.
The morning of the full moon dawns, and it’s like the universe is paying attention, because it’s one of the most beautiful sunrises any of them have ever seen, and the sky is clear and crisp with oncoming autumn, and Stiles cooks everyone a breakfast spread and drops by the station to bring his father some--and let him know that he’s got frozen dinners in the freezer and thus has no excuse for a cheeseburger for dinner, although he doesn’t mention that he’s made enough to last for several months after he’s gone--and indulge with a last, long hug.
His father is used to his kid doing weird shit by now, and just pats him awkwardly on the back and lets him go.
Peter picks him up outside the station. Lydia and Malia are already there, and there’s a brief squabble over who gets to sit with Stiles, which ends with everyone except Peter piled on top of each other in the back seat.
Deaton is waiting for them, looking as solemn as Stiles has ever seen him, but his head is held high regardless. They walk, all of them at once, into the Preserve, talking quietly and--at Stiles’ request--doing their best to keep things light. If he’s distracted and keeps drifting from the conversation, no one mentions it. They come across a stream, in the early afternoon, and the sun is warm enough that no one minds overmuch when they end up tumbling into a splashfight. Lydia’s hair has come undone, and her head is tipped back, laughing. Malia sneaks up on Deaton and tackles him straight into the water, drenching both of them and all bystanders. Peter waves them off, acting disinterested, but Stiles catches him flicking water at where he and Malia have teamed up against Lydia and Deaton, trying to break their alliance. Stiles grins, flicking his fingers, and half the stream rises to crash down on the older werewolf in spite of his attempts to dodge.
They wear themselves out, eventually, and curl up in a puddle of sunlight to dry out, more or less. Deaton runs back to the car to grab something, which turns out to be an enormous basket of food, sandwiches and egg salad and soda and generally a picnic spread worthy of every cliche. Stiles gorges himself unabashedly, and then basks in more sunlight as he watches the others bicker over pointless leftovers that they can hardly manage to eat anyway.
God, he loves these people.
They stop playing and look over, and he realizes he’d said it out loud. He blinks, and then shrugs. Yeah, he does. He’s not ashamed of it, or them, and he says as much.
Malia tackles him, and then there’s another puppy pile, and Stiles manages,
“If this were--if things were different, I think I could be happy spending the rest of forever with you guys. Even you, creeperwolf, don’t think I haven’t seen you stalking me lately.”
Peter blinks at him without an ounce of guile and nuzzles further into Stiles’ neck. Which, honestly, feels very good and in no way fits the current mood. Peter lets it go quickly enough, though, seeming to understand that now wasn’t the time to tease.
They spend the rest of the afternoon there, curled up all together, silent in the way that happens when there isn’t really anything more to say. Eventually, though, the sky is painted red, and Stiles stirs.
“You guys should head out, about now. I don’t know what exactly the backlash is going to be, so— you should at least maybe stay out of the Preserve for the night. Keep the pups out, too, if you can. I should- I need to do this myself.”
He hugs Deaton one last time, and the man bows his head to murmur in Stiles’ ear,
“No matter what, Stiles, I have been blessed to be your mentor, and I cannot express how very proud I am of you.”
He draws away, and Stiles can see the tears glistening in the Druid’s eyes.
He presses his cheek to Malia’s and tells her to keep an eye on her dad and the rest of them, because--Stiles included, apparently--they’ve got less survival instinct than a pack of lemmings.
Lydia buries her head in his chest, and he can hear her sniffling, which of course sets Stiles right off, sympathetic crier that he is, and it takes them a good twenty minutes to gather themselves again. They’ve already said everything they need to, really, but—
“Take care of my dad for me, will you? Just make sure he eats, okay? And maybe have Melissa drop by once in a while.”
She nods hurriedly and musters herself, giving him a watery smile through the new flood of tears. Stiles gives her a lopsided grin of his own and a kiss on the cheek and then he’s moving on.
Peter meets his gaze squarely, one of the few people able to match him, able to keep up with him, and Stiles had been taking his time, allowing them to dance slowly closer, unhurried and anticipatory and inevitable , as if the outcome were a foregone conclusion if only they made it out the other side.
They move forward simultaneously, more or less, and it’s not anything so much as a farewell to what-could-have-been, short and sweet and with more emotions than Stiles had honestly expected. He brushes his lips against the other’s, once, twice, and again, and then he’s pulling away because if he doesn’t stop now he never will.
Peter’s eyes are solid, glowing blue, as intense as they’ve ever been, and Stiles fixes the image in his mind as he turns away for the final time.
They don’t follow, as he steps deeper into the Preserve.
He arrives at the clearing just as dusk gives way to true night, the rising moon bathing everything in ghostly light. The stump sits innocuously before him, nothing like the vast tree in his memories, but Stiles knows better. He’s been hearing the whispers all day, urging him onwards, and they’re louder than ever now. His steps move almost automatically towards the cellar, slipping down among the roots, toward the central trunk that remained underground after the tree above had been cut.
He doesn’t want to think about what he’s doing, but he owes it to everyone to go over it once more, to be certain of his choice.
Stiles is terrified, yes, but he’s also never been more certain of anything in his life. It’s in his bones, in the part of him that knows the magic around him, in the part that was the Nogitsune, in the part that is the magic around him. He really is going to do this.
He steps forward and presses his palm to the trunk.
(the roots come alive around him, curling about his wrists and ankles and throat and winding their way further around him, and he does not scream as he can feel the tree begin to drink . instead, he closes his eyes and thinks again of lydia deaton malia peterpeterpeter-)
They’re watching, from the Clinic, the way the sky lights up gold and a ripple of pure energy rushes through them all, a breath of fresh air after a lightning storm, the warmth of the sun and the cool clear ripple of a stream, the first growth in spring and the triumph of a hatchling and the wonder of a pup venturing from the den for the first time.
Lydia screams , on and on and on, and Malia and Peter throw their heads back and howl their sorrow to the moon, and Deaton closes his eyes, and none of them can remember how to breathe for a long, long moment.
Consciousness comes slowly. Soft grass beneath, sun overhead. Bird whistles and gentle wind, and further away the babble of a brook. Everywhere, energy flows in lines and circles and patterns . The entire universe in a mote of dust, and the entire universe a mote of dust itself.
He can see everything , and the temptation to reach out and touch is overwhelming.
So he does. Carefully, he uses his own energy to give a precise twist to that flowing in the clearing, and in the next instant he’s surrounded by violets, an endless carpet of purple that ripples out from him across the clearing. He laughs, delighted, and watches the sound move through the air.
Behind him, the massive wellspring of energy stirs, and he turns to greet it in kind, threading a tendril of his own magic through it and allowing it to wind a tentative hold into his own, personal energy. It sends him a rush of gratitude and affection, and he hums back at it, his own pleased noise at the unveiling of his senses--the remaking of his body--the oneness with this particular nexus--that it had offered in return.
He stands on careful legs, noting the lack of clothing with absent amusement, but more focused on trying to understand why his hindbrain is niggling at him, an insistent sense of urgency that he’s forgetting something, something important. He sifts through his memories, trying to find the most recent out of the millennia he’s got stored away now, and like a gear clicking into its setting, everything—
Stiles bolts for his pack, each of them a brilliant flare in the back of his mind, all clustered together as if they’re waiting for him, and he barely notices when his stride covers more ground than it should, or when the trees shift just slightly out of his way.
His pack . His pack, who he thought he would never see again, who he hurt , cut deeply with something that was necessary, but he wants to fix it anyway, wants to smooth over those injuries and swear to never leave them again, and that’s a promise he can make now.
He can feel their bonds thrumming, wary curiosity turning to even warier hope turning to outright joy as he flings back yes i’m here i’m alive i’m coming .
They collide, not ten feet into the edge of the Preserve, Peter first and then Malia, Lydia and Deaton racing after, and they all tumble together head over heels over someone else’s head, and Stiles is crying openly but that’s okay because so is everyone else, even Peter who Stiles never would have thought would dare show something so vulnerable.
He drops kisses over their faces, all of them, over and over, scenting and cuddling and petting whatever he can reach, his magic pouring over all of them in ridiculous happy waves, making everything seem almost underwater, even though they can all breathe just fine.
Finally Deaton lifts his head, eyes wide with wonder, and asks,
Stiles actually has an answer for this one.
“Okay, turns out that if a sacrifice is made willingly, and everything is cleansed, and it rights something that was really really wrong beforehand, sometimes in very rare instances the earth itself gets to step in directly. And so when I let the Nemeton have my blood and magic, and burned out the sickness from… everything, it fixed a lot of stuff, more than I have time to explain right now. Anyway, long story short, the tree and I sort of became one entity? And then it built me a new body, and separated the “me” bits back out and put me in it, and now I’m Stiles but I’m also sort of the Nemeton? It’s just kind of there in the background. I probably get some pretty cool perks out of it, though.”
Deaton shakes his head, and Peter barks a laugh.
“Only you, Stiles, only you.”
Stiles grins at him, utterly unfazed, and Peter startles him by dropping a kiss at the corner of his mouth. Clearly, this cannot go unpunished, and then at some point after that Malia starts throwing things and tells them to get a room.
It certainly doesn’t sound like a bad idea, after all. He quirks an eyebrow at Peter, who nods gamely, mischief glinting in his eyes, so Stiles reaches out and tugs , and then they’re both toppling onto the giant bed Peter keeps in his apartment, breathless with laughter and giddy with relief.
Peter is looking at him like he isn’t quite sure he’s real, or that he’s allowed to touch, but Stiles is more than enthusiastic enough for the both of them, and the ‘wolf certainly gets with the picture quickly enough.
It’s exactly as perfect as Stiles would have imagined, although they do have to pause incredulously at one point when Stiles’ overly enthusiastic magic sets the lube hovering in front of their faces. He gets the feeling it’s going to be doing things like that for a while, too excited about their newly unlimited existence to settle tamely into quiescence. He doesn’t really mind. Stiles has the rest of forever to get it sorted out, after all.