“Beacon Hills will be a new start for us,” is what Tom Stilinski says as he and Stiles roll out of Missoula, Montana, the biggest city ever built in the middle of nowhere. Stiles just kind of nods and stares out the window as they drive, because he doesn’t see how moving back to a city that they had lived in when he was a kid would be a new anything.
But to be honest, he doesn’t care. They’re uprooting their lives, again, and they could have moved anywhere in the northern hemisphere and nothing would have changed. Unless his father finally just decides to become a hermit somewhere in the Yukon, which Stiles would have preferred but knew his father would never go for.
“Look, don’t feel bad,” Tom says, reaching over to squeeze his son’s shoulder. “This isn’t your fault. You know that, right?”
“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says.
They had left Beacon Hills when he was seven, when his mother had first received her diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia. They had moved clear across the country, to Boston, where they were doing a clinical trial of a new medication. He supposed that it had bought her some time, although of course there was no way to know what would have happened without it. All he knew was that her decline had been prolonged and horrible, to the point where he wished she had died a year before she actually had. It was a terrible thing to wish, he thought, but he couldn’t help it.
After Claudia had died, they had no reason to stay in Boston, and Tom didn’t particularly like the East Coast, so they moved again, back west, settling down in Oregon. Tom got a job as a deputy, and nine-year-old Stiles enrolled in elementary school.
It would have been nice to say that everything was okay for a while, but there was no ‘okay’ in the wake of Claudia’s death. Not for either of them. Tom soldiered on as best he could, drank more than he should have, and worked hard. Stiles kept to himself because every playdate with someone from his class inevitably led to questions about his mother.
The loss never went away, but they adapted. It became their new normal.
When Stiles was ten, a man came to his school with a gun and opened fire in the cafeteria. Four children and two adults were killed, while Stiles huddled under a table by himself, with no friends to cluster with, nobody to clutch and cry on. The shooter was brought down by none other than his father, Deputy Stilinski, who earned himself a shoulder wound for his trouble.
“PTSD is different in children than adults,” the counselor had told Tom while Stiles sat in the room with his knees pulled to his chest, staring out the window. He had nightmares every night, more than once a night. He barely talked anymore but never stopped moving. He refused to go back to school and cried if his father tried to make him. He lost interest in virtually anything outside his bedroom.
“First and foremost, he needs to feel safe,” the counselor had said. “He needs your support and your understanding.”
They moved again. Stiles wouldn’t go to school, and Tom couldn’t be a police officer. The department helped him find a desk job in an office that coordinated benefits for retired police, and that brought them to a Denver suburb. Stiles came to work with him every day for a few months but eventually managed to go back to school.
But the nightmares didn’t stop. The tense anxiety never left. He had panic attacks two or three times a week that only his father could soothe.
The dreams were about his mother a lot of the time, or about what had happened in Oregon, but then he started to have different dreams. He dreamed about a horrible fire that raged out of control and left him in agonizing pain. He dreamed about demons, about monsters, about dead bodies.
“He’s generalizing,” the psychologist said. “It’s hard for him to understand what happened, so he invents monsters to take the place of the real life villains.”
Tom clearly thought that was bullshit, because Stiles had had no problem dreaming about the real life villains in full color before. And of course there was always, always the specter of his mother’s illness looming over their heads. He would be one of the youngest people to be diagnosed in its history, but it was still possible. His MRI was normal, which was reassuring. Insurance refused to cover genetic testing.
But he didn’t only see the monsters when he was asleep. He started to see them when he was awake, too. An unfamiliar teacher looked like a rotting corpse. Their neighbor had a demon sitting on the hood of his car. The man in front of them at the grocery store turned to leer at him with a forked tongue.
“Diagnosing psychosis in children can be quite difficult,” the psychiatrist said. “But schizophrenia is more likely to cause visual hallucinations in teenagers than in adults. He does have a lot of the other symptoms – irritability, depressed mood, trouble sleeping – ”
“He’s sitting right here,” Stiles snapped.
They put him on medication. The first medication had terrible side effects, making him shaky and dizzy, giving him horrible headaches and tremors. They took him off of it and he begged his father not to put him on anything else.
“We just want you to be okay, Stiles,” Tom had said. “Try one more. Okay? Just one more. For me.”
Stiles agreed. The second medication didn’t hurt him, but it didn’t make the hallucinations or the nightmares stop. When Stiles told them that, they increased his dose, and he was suddenly tired all the time and never wanted to do anything. They added something else. It was years of an endless parade of different doctors, different diagnoses, different medications, two hospital stays, and pretending that he could handle it. In the end, he couldn’t. He started flushing his medication down the toilet and stopped telling his doctors about the things he saw.
They moved to Missoula when he was fourteen, because his father had gotten a better job, and by that point Stiles literally couldn’t have cared less. Maybe in Missoula the doctors would be smarter. Or maybe they wouldn’t be.
The new job had better insurance, and Stiles got the genetic testing for frontotemporal dementia. It was negative. He didn’t care much about that, either. He had figured out a long time ago that whatever was wrong with him, it had nothing to do with his mother’s illness. But his father was relieved, and that made him happy. He was working in the field again, and Stiles was handling it, and they were getting to some new normal where Stiles only had panic attacks once or twice a month and nightmares once or twice a week. He made a couple friends and tried out for lacrosse. His father started dating a woman he met through a work colleague.
Not long after that, he started having recurring nightmares about a blond woman with a wicked smile. He couldn’t even say why they were nightmares, since nothing terrible happened in them. But he knew that she was a monster, even with her pretty face. Abruptly, the dreams about her stopped, and somehow that was even more frightening than having them.
Two months before his seventeenth birthday, he had gotten a detention for being late to class and had to serve it in the library, where he dozed off. He had a new dream, about being locked away in a tiny room, and a man with a third eye who showed him horrible things, and he woke up screaming.
The panic attack was so severe that he wound up being taken to the emergency room even though his father was on the way. He spent a week in the psych ward there, and they realized he hadn’t been taking his medication for months. They put him on IVs and pumped him full of it until he was nauseous and dizzy and cried all the time.
Things stabilized and he was discharged on something reasonable that his father made him promise to take. But he couldn’t undo what had been done at school. Half a dozen kids had witnessed his meltdown, and the story was all over the school. His classmates were cruel in the way that only teenagers could be. Taunts and giggles followed him everywhere. People sent him ‘screamer’ videos or dressed in black robes and jumped out at him.
It got so bad that one night he found himself sitting in the bathtub, playing with a razor blade, and the idea of killing himself suddenly seemed wonderfully appealing. Because he was never going to get better. There was never going to be anything else. Just an endless parade of doctors and medications and cruelty. He didn’t want any part of it.
But then he thought about his father, about all the times after Claudia had died that Tom had said, “I don’t know what I’d do without you” or “no matter what happens, we’ll always be together” or “you’re always my number one priority”. He went downstairs bleeding and crying and apologizing, and his father went white underneath his tan and took him to the hospital.
Another week long mandatory stay, this time with a huge number of cards and flowers from teenagers who said they hadn’t really meant to drive a classmate to suicide. And Tom started making preparations to move again. An old friend in Beacon Hills said they were looking for a new deputy after they had lost one the previous year to some sort of animal attack. Their old house was on the market. It seemed like kismet.
By the time Stiles got out of the hospital, his father had signed on for the new job, signed off on the house, and packed most of their belongings.
“Beacon Hills will be a new start for us,” his father says, and Stiles nods and looks out the window and clutches at his scarred arms. “Look, don’t feel bad. This isn’t your fault. You know that, right?”
“I know,” Stiles says, like he says every time. It’s something they discuss often. The fact that this isn’t his fault, that nobody’s angry with him. The fact that he’s sick, and people can’t help getting sick sometimes.
“It’s pretty zen, you know,” Tom says. “Going back to Beacon Hills. You know, like coming full circle. Back to before . . . everything. Very zen.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I feel very zen.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says. He looks over at his father and says, “Thanks, Dad. For, you know, being willing to drop everything and move for my sake. You know. Again.”
Tom waves this aside. “We’ll find a place where we can both lead a good life,” he says. “I have a good feeling about Beacon Hills, Stiles. I think things are going to be a lot better there.”
“Well, not if you jinx us,” Stiles says.
Tom laughs. “I don’t believe in jinxes.”
“Me neither,” Stiles says, but to be honest, he has no idea what he believes.
~ ~ ~ ~
In all honesty, Stiles would have rather not moved back into the house where he had spent his early childhood years. He knows that the fact that it was on the market made it seem like fate, but he thought it was morbid. Like his father was trying to go back in time, trying to get back to the time when Claudia was alive and Stiles was okay. They can’t get back there. Things will never be ‘right’ again; he will never be ‘right’ again.
But his father seemed so enthusiastic about the idea when he had brought it up that Stiles hadn’t had the heart to say something. Which is why he’s a little surprised when his father pulls into an apartment complex and makes a right turn into a parking lot. “Is the house not ready?” he asks, looking over at his father.
“No house,” Tom says, pulling into a spot next to an L-shaped building. When he sees that Stiles is just blinking at him in surprise, he says, “You didn’t seem to like the idea. Besides, we don’t need all that space anyway.”
Stiles lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. “Thanks,” he says.
“Thought you could fool your old man, huh?” Tom says. “I know you too well for that. C’mon, let’s go check it out.”
“Okay.” Stiles gets out of the Jeep and grabs his backpack, following his father up the short walk. They’ve got the apartment on the first floor in the long side of the L. It’s surprisingly spacious, although he supposes that it’ll seem a lot less so once it’s full of their furniture. The kitchen is to their left as they enter, with a bar overlooking the living room. A hallway comes off that room which leads to a bathroom and two small bedrooms. One of them has another bathroom off of it, so that one has to be the master bedroom. He doesn’t mind having a small room.
“Now, the movers will be here with everything in the morning,” Tom says. “I’ll handle all of that because you’ll be in school by then.”
“Lucky me,” Stiles says.
His father gives him a sympathetic shoulder squeeze. “Anyway, I just wanted you to see it. Obviously we can’t sleep here. We’ve got a hotel room reserved. What do you say we go see if Rosati’s Pizza is still as good as it used to be?”
“Sure,” Stiles says. His father shouldn’t have pizza, but he’s feeling too intensely grateful after seeing the apartment to bring that up, which was surely his father’s plan.
~ ~ ~ ~
He dreams of the fire that night, for the first time in a long time. Dreams of standing in a room while the world crashes in on him, while his very skin is burned off and everything is pain.
He’s had worse nightmares, and if they hadn’t been in a hotel room, he probably would have shaken it off by himself. As it is, his tossing and turning wakes his father, who rouses him. Tom asks if he wants to talk about it, and Stiles says no. His father says okay, kisses the crown of his head, and goes back to bed.
Stiles lies awake for a little while, not thinking, but gradually dozes off.
He finds himself standing in a long corridor with doors on every side. Doors represent choice, he knows, although he thinks that a lot of dream analysis is bullshit. The hallway is dim, with a few fluorescent lights that flicker overhead. The floor is gray linoleum, and the walls are tile. Hospital walls. He knows the type.
There’s a loud bang to his right, and he jumps. The door shudders in its frame as someone inside wails on it. He can hear unearthly shrieks and hisses coming from behind it. It’s not the kind of door you would find at a hospital. It has steel bars, and there’s a creature inside that’s definitely not human; it has a skull for a face and an enormous frame.
He keeps walking. From inside the next room, he can hear a jumble of moans and wails. He resolutely ignores them, not looking into the cell. Something is drawing him down to the end of the hallway, something magnetic, compulsive, that he can’t deny.
The room at the end is different. Instead of the bars, there’s a wall made entirely of glass. And inside is the most monstrous monster that Stiles has seen.
It has to be over eight feet tall, and is only barely human shaped. It has two arms and two legs, but that’s where the resemblance ends. The jointed legs are hugely muscular, and the shoulders at least a foot broader than the usual human ratio would make them, hunched and curved inward. Hair covers the entire body, and the face isn’t human at all, but more like a wolf, with a protruding snout and a mouth full of teeth and ears that come forward. The creature’s eyes are glowing crimson, and a low snarl is coming from its mouth.
It’s a terrifying creature, but Stiles doesn’t feel afraid at all. He watches it pace back and forth in its cell, prowling around restlessly. There’s so much power packed into its body, and to confine it like this seems like a terrible crime.
He lifts his hand and rests it against the glass.
The reaction from the creature is immediate and violent. Its body twists around and its lips peel back to reveal teeth as a snarl bubbles up.
“Hi,” Stiles breathes out, and it’s such a stupid, useless thing to say. But it’s all he can think of. The creature regards him warily. It takes a shuffling, sideways step closer, then back, circling, but getting closer to the glass each time. Stiles stays where he is, letting it approach at its own pace. Him, Stiles thinks. It’s a him, not an it. The nakedness has made it fairly apparent now that the creature has straightened up somewhat.
He’s struck by this sudden urge to touch the creature, the feeling that being able to do so will help. He presses his hand against the glass, and it parts underneath his fingertips. The creature stops moving, staring up at him. The crimson glow fades from the eyes and they become human, a grayish blue, and in a voice that’s both human and not, the monster says, “Stiles.”
Stiles wakes up with a start. He looks over at his father, but Tom is sound asleep. He can’t have been moving or making that much noise. His heart is beating rapidly in his chest and he’s soaked with sweat and he’s even got a partial erection. Every teenager with a penis is accustomed to morning wood, but he doesn’t usually have it when he wakes up from his dreams.
Slowly, he lies back down. There’s some dim light leaking around the curtains now. It’s nearly dawn.
He expects to lie there the rest of the night, because he hardly ever falls back asleep after his nightmares when they hit this late, but much to his surprise, his eyelids sag almost immediately. He rolls onto his side and slides back into sleep, thinking about the creature knowing his name, saying it out loud in a way that was like an embrace. For the first time in years, he doesn’t dream at all.
~ ~ ~ ~