When Stiles was eight he found a lucky penny. He’s not sure what made it lucky. Maybe it was the way the sunlight had caught on it as Stiles had kicked his way along the gravel at the shoulder of the road, and it had gleamed for a second, just for him, before the dust had settled over it again. Stiles had dug it out of the dirt with his fingers, and spat on it to clean it.
A lucky penny, although he wasn't sure why. Maybe it was the way he found it, or maybe it was just because he was desperate for something to pour all his faith into. Some solid thing that he could squeeze in his palm and know that it was real.
He kept the penny for a few days, then took it to the hospital one afternoon and slid it into his mom’s hand. Her fingers were cold, and her grip was weak. Stiles didn’t mind because here he was, the hero of the story, with the magic talisman to break the curse.
Except, of course, it didn’t.
She got colder, and weaker, and the penny didn’t save her.
When Stiles finds out, half a lifetime later, that magic is real, his first feeling isn’t one of wonder, it’s one of betrayal.
When he tries to make the circle of mountain ash, when he runs out with fifty feet still to go, when he knows he has to believe to make it work, for a second all Stiles can hear is the beep-beep-beep of his mom’s heart monitor, and feel her cold fingers curled around his own. For a second the only thing he believes is how futile this is, how empty he is, and how there’s not a part of him that hasn't been scoured free of any sort of faith.
He’s going to fail.
He’s going to fail, because he takes a breath and looks deep inside himself and finds nothing but a void looking back. It sucks the breath right out of his lungs and threatens to smother him.
In the end, he’s not sure how he manages to finish the circle.
He’s not sure if he was able to find some tiny spark of faith inside him still, and coax it into a flame, or if it was because he thought of Scott and the others, and knew he couldn’t be the one who let down the entire plan.
Not faith, exactly, not belief, but something that flared as sharply and brightly as anger, and was gone again before he could even process it.
Stiles isn’t going to be the one who lets his friends down.
They deserve better than that.
Deaton says that he’s a spark, that he has an affinity for magic.
Stiles doesn’t want to know.
He’ll research, and he’ll help out, and he’ll turn up to a fight with nothing but his baseball bat, but no. No magic.
He doesn’t want to look at the void again.
It scares him.
The nogitsune lives in the void, feeds on the void, and turns Stiles inside out so that he becomes the void.
Stiles wants to die too.
When it’s over, nothing will ever be the same.
The nogitsune might be gone, but Stiles can still feel it.
He plasters on his goofy grin, and leaps back into whatever the newest fight is, but he can still feel the darkness at his back.
Nothing is the same.
The old patterns shift.
Things don’t mean what they used to mean.
In Mexico, Stiles says, “Scott, it’s me.” And Scott flings him aside like he’s nothing. It’s Liam who matters now. It’s Liam who grounds him, who reminds him who he is, who pulls him back from the edge.
And Stiles chokes in the dust.
Derek leaves with Braeden.
Over the summer, Malia outgrows him.
Stiles knew it would happen. Knew that she’d reach a point where she didn’t need him anymore. Didn’t need a boyfriend, or at least not one like him. Not one whose job it is to remind her to use cutlery when she eats, or to wear pants, or to not growl at people. Stiles loves her, but it was always kind of fucked up, because she needed someone to teach her how to be human, and he just needed someone to need him.
Scott doesn’t need him anymore.
Lydia never did, not really.
Kira is sweet, but Stiles feels like he doesn’t know her.
He doesn’t know Liam either. And now Brett’s hanging around too, and so is Mason, and sometimes Stiles looks around at pack meetings and wonders who the hell these people are.
And wonders where he even fits in anymore.
The answer is, he doesn’t.
He finds the lucky penny in the Batman pencil case at the top of his closet.
He sits on his bed for hours, turning it over and over in his palm.
The afternoon light softens into dusk, and then into night.
Stiles doesn’t bother get up and turn a light on.
Stiles sleeps a lot.
It becomes an effort to get out of bed, to plaster on his fake grin and his false bravado and pretend that he can feel anything at all except the void growing inside him.
So he sleeps.
His dad grumbles at him for being awake half the night, obviously, and what the hell trouble is the town facing now? Stiles lies about staying up late to research and using his days to catch up on sleep, and assures his dad there’s no new supernatural threat that he’s aware of.
It’s easier than admitting the truth: he just can’t be bothered get out of bed.
The void grows and grows inside him. It’s like a dark sea. The push and the pull of the waves. The drag of the tide. It’s vast. It’s eternal. It’s inescapable.
When he was eight, Stiles thought magic was real. His mom’s death shattered his faith into fragments smaller than dust motes.
When he was fifteen, Stiles discovered magic was real, and that he was a spark.
When he was eighteen, the hollow places inside him carved out by magic, by the supernatural, by the nogitsune, grew so big that he lost himself in them.
Sometimes, he thinks about Peter Hale locked inside Eichen House. He tries to hate him, but hate is an emotion that he’s too weary to feel. It requires too much energy to sustain. So Stiles thinks of Peter almost vaguely. If anything, he’s a little envious of him. Not of ending up in Eichen House, but because Peter should have been destroyed by his history and he never was. Peter was always one step ahead of the game, one step ahead of the grave even, and Stiles can’t even begin to imagine the sort of single-minded ambition that sustained him.
He thinks he had it, once.
He remembers that he stepped into fights with nothing but his baseball bat and his attitude, because fuck anyone who thought they could hurt his friends.
He thinks that if that Stiles could see him now, tired and quiet and just so fucking over it, he wouldn’t know what the hell had happened.
Stiles misses the next pack meeting.
Scott texts him.
He doesn’t reply.
It’s Derek, he realizes eventually.
It’s that look he shared with Derek back in Mexico. The one that said, without words, that Derek was leaving. That he was done with Beacon Hills, done with the last four years, and that, just like everyone, he was done with Stiles.
That was the point when Stiles stopped fighting the void.
That was the point he knew he’d lost.
There’s still a spark inside him.
Stiles doesn’t even know it’s there until he’s walking into his dad’s bedroom in the middle of the night. He’s numb, nauseated, and he’s scared. It’s been weeks since he felt enough to be scared, but now...
“Dad?” His voice wavers.
His dad snorts as he pushes his comforter back. He reaches out his hand to flick his bedside lamp on. His face is creased with sleep and confusion.
“Stiles? What...” He yawns. “What time is it?”
“I don’t know.”
His dad pushes himself up, awake now. “What’s going on?”
“I did something.”
His dad’s voice sharpens. “What’d you do?”
Stiles shows him the empty pill bottle. His hand is shaking. “I took these. I’m sorry.”
He starts crying when he sees the look of horror on his dad’s face.
Getting his stomach pumped isn’t the worst thing.
Seeing the hospital psychiatrist isn’t the worst thing.
The worst thing is the way his dad looks at him when he visits, like he’s never seen Stiles before, like he’s a puzzle that suddenly he doesn’t understand how to put together.
“You want to talk about this?” his dad asks him, sinking into the chair beside the bed.
Stiles blinks his stinging eyes.
His dad puts a hand over his. His hand is warm. Stiles’s is cold. “Kid, we’re going to talk about this.”
“I don’t know,” Stiles tells him. “I don’t know why. It was stupid, okay? I know it was stupid.”
“Yeah, it was stupid,” his dad agrees, his voice soft. “But I’m pretty sure you didn’t think so when you did it. What was going on in your head then?”
“I don’t know.” Stiles closes his eyes.
He keeps his eyes closed. “I’m tired, always.”
His dad squeezes his hand.
“Allison,” Stiles says, his voice cracking on her name. “Derek. A-and everything. Everything changed, and everything fell apart, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
The vehemence in his dad’s voice makes him open his eyes again.
“Don’t,” his dad tells him. “Take a step back. It doesn’t have to be your fight.”
“It’s been my fight for four years!”
“Four years is a long time,” his dad says. He reaches out with his free hand and smoothes Stiles’s hair back from his forehead. “I think you’ve earned a break.”
“It’s not that simple, Dad,” Stiles murmurs.
“It is,” his dad says. “It can be.”
Stiles almost believes him.
He and his dad take two weeks and go on vacation. His dad had suggested camping initially, but Stiles has had enough stumbling around in the dark woods to last a lifetime. Instead they go to Mendocino, and stay in a budget hotel, and hang around the beach a lot.
The sunlight and the saltwater make Stiles tired, but it’s a different sort of tiredness than he’s been dealing with for so long. It’s a clean sort of tiredness, the sort that comes with aching muscles and sunburn. It’s the sort of tiredness that empties his mind instead of burrowing in and crowding it with thoughts of death and darkness.
Stiles wakes up every morning with an appetite.
They talk a little about Beacon Hills, and about the past four years, and about the overdose, and it’s easier, somehow, to broach those subjects here. The rules are different. His dad isn’t just his dad. He shares his own fears with Stiles, and if Stiles sees some cracks appear, it’s okay. Neither of them are undamaged, and they don’t need to pretend any different now.
As the vacation draws to an end, Stiles worries about going home.
He worries that he’ll too easily slip back into that place where he was that night, when he just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. It terrifies him how easy it was, and it terrifies him to know what it would have done to his dad if he hadn’t woken him up for help. But he also feels stronger than he has in a long time, more in control. He knows that he can talk to his dad about this, about anything, and that there’s nothing he has to keep to himself.
For the first time in a long time he doesn’t feel like the void is winning.
When he gets back home, he finds the lucky penny under his bed.
The next day, he goes to visit Deaton.
He asks him to teach him how to use his spark.
The pack has changed.
Stiles can’t stop the ache in his chest he sometimes gets when he looks around at them, but it doesn’t have to feel like rejection. Scott is still his bro and will always be his bro. He’s also the Alpha, and sometimes that makes demands on his time. Stiles can learn to be okay with that. He can.
“Are you okay?” Lydia asks one night.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Why?”
“You’ve been really quiet, that’s all,” she says. Her gaze is shrewd. “This whole summer, you’ve been really quiet.”
“I’m okay,” Stiles says, and thinks that it might even be the truth.
Stiles has a weekly appointment with a psychologist. He argues about the cost of it with his dad.
“The cost?” his dad says, incredulous. “The cost?”
Stiles doesn’t need him to finish that thought.
The cost was almost his kid’s life.
Magic is hard.
It’s also, at times, incredibly mundane.
But Stiles is learning. He’s always liked to learn.
“Good,” Deaton says when he finally manages to get the wording right for a warding spell. “That’s good. You’ll make a fine emissary one day.”
Stiles is a little startled at that, and then he wonders why.
The pack has changed.
Stiles has changed. He’s not the same kid he was four years ago, armed with only a baseball bat and his Google-fu.
He could be their emissary.
The void shrinks like shadows from sunlight.
There’s still a piece of it there, in the secret heart of him. There always will be, Stiles guesses. But he’s not afraid to look at it now. He’s not afraid it will consume him. He’s stronger than it is.
Stiles senses it before any of the wolves in the pack, and isn’t that just hilarious? He gets in the Jeep and heads out to the Preserve. He heads down that old, familiar road. When he gets to the place where the Hale house once stood, his headlights illuminate a figure standing in the clearing.
Stiles gets out of the Jeep and slams the door shut. “Hey.”
Derek nods. “Hey.”
Stiles steps close enough that he could reach out and touch. He jams his hands in his pockets. “Are you back for good?”
“I don’t know.”
Derek’s as inscrutable and unhelpful as always. Stiles bites back a grin. He’s missed this.
“Well, sourwolf, I should probably tell you that you’re trespassing on McCall pack land.”
“Really?” Derek’s eyebrows shoot up. “This is Hale land.”
“Guess you and Scott will have to fight it out,” Stiles tells him.
Derek rolls his eyes. “How was your summer?”
“Up and down,” Stiles says. “Mostly down. Yours?”
Derek grimaces. “Same.”
Stiles nods at the Jeep. “Do you want a lift into town?”
Derek actually cracks a smile. That seems new. “That’d be good.”
“Excellent,” Stiles says. “Want to grab a pizza before we see Scott? There’s a new place on Fifth that does awesome mozzarella sticks.”
“A new place?”
“Yeah.” Stiles jingles his car keys. “I guess some things change in Beacon Hills after all, right?”
Derek holds his gaze, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I guess they do.”
Stiles can’t quite explain his blush.
Months later, he presses the coin into Derek’s hand, and Derek closes his warm fingers around it.
“This is my lucky penny,” Stiles says. “You can have it.”
“Are you sure?”
Stiles nods. “Fair warning, it’s not exactly reliable.”
“Noted,” Derek says, but tucks it into the pocket of his jeans anyway.
Liam shoots them a narrow look. “Are you guys ready?”
Stiles adjusts his grip on his baseball bat, and takes a deep breath. “Fuck, yeah. This is our town.”
The pack bursts into the warehouse as one.