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P  R  O  L  O  G  U  E

 

The Hale house reminds Scott of a picture book his mom read to him a long time ago.  It had taken up the whole cover; drawn in heavy dark lines, big and grand in a way he couldn’t quite articulate and sad somehow, the shutters on the windows becoming lowered eyelashes and the door a gaping mouth.  The book had been about two brothers but they had been drawn so ghoulishly that the story, while a happy one, had left him darting his eyes into the shadowy corners of his bedroom, heartbeat rabbiting.

He’d never seen the book again after that night.

His mom shakes his hand in the tightening grip of her own, staring up at the black and white house like she’s feeling an echo of Scott’s trepidation, and says, “It’s only for a little while.  Just while your dad and I figure some things out.  It’s temporary.”

Scott’s face goes resolved, determined.  His mom’s uncertainty makes him want to be braver for her.  He nods once and she smiles weakly down at him.

“It’s just temporary,” she says again.

 

 

It isn’t.

 

F  I  V  E

 

Aunt Talia walks him to his first day of kindergarten five days after they’ve moved to Beacon Hills.  Scott misses Chicago, misses brisk mornings and busy, bustling street noise and the dog that sat on the corner of his apartment block every day and licked his face while his dad bought a newspaper.  Beacon Hills, by comparison, is quiet and boring.

His aunt takes him up to what will be his classroom door for the next school year, crouches down and says in a low voice, “You wanna make a break for it?” 

Scott blinks at her from under the thick, dark hair that nearly all his family possesses. 

“We don’t have to do this today.  Today can be for stealing your mom’s car and going on the lam.  I’ve always wanted to be part of a good car chase,” she says seriously, holding his gaze, a steadying hand on his shoulder. 

It drags a smile out of him and he shakes his head, digs his thumbs under the straps of his backpack and hefts it up higher.  It’s got a few loose sheets of paper, his lunch and a handful of pencils rattling around on the bottom inside it.  “I’m okay.  Maybe tomorrow.”

Her lips twitch in a tight smile and she stands and opens the door, letting him go ahead of her. 

A frazzled woman flinches a little at the creak of the door.  She’s standing at the head of the room, in front of a green chalkboard with a cursive and print banner of the alphabet covering the top foot or so.  Her brunette hair is half-held up with a pen and her dress shirt is wrinkled.  “Oh, you must be the new student.”  She smiles a beatific and warm smile at them both, ending on Scott.  It’s genuine if a little strained and Scott turns around to look up at his aunt, nodding and moving farther away from her than he would’ve dared without that smile.

The teacher offers a bemused look at the silent exchange and then turns her gaze out over the sea of five-year-olds, landing on one in the back.  “Stiles,” she calls, a little sharply. 

A small boy, who had been staring at his lap, snaps his head up with a defiant scowl.  “I’m not doing anything,” he shouts in a tone that’s half-guilty and half-argumentative.

The teacher looks up at the ceiling panels and mutters, “Lord, beer me strength.”  Loud enough to hear classroom-wide, she says, “This is our new student.”  She looks down at Scott.

“Scott,” Scott supplies for her.

The name clearly sparks the memory because now she knows the full thing.  “Scott McCall and I would like you to help him out today, okay?” 

She stares at the boy in the back until he crumbles under the weight of it and agrees, annoyed, “Okay.” 

Scott leaves his aunt to quiet conversation with the teacher, making his way to the back where the boy is sitting with his eyes back on his lap again.  With each step further away from the adults at the front of the room and towards his desk mate, Scott feels a little more wary.

The room is set up in two-top tables and theirs is the farthest back.  When Scott comes around the side of it, the boy shoves something into the hollow front.  Scott sets his backpack down next to the leg of the table and pulls out the plastic chair.  He can’t quite help the way his eyes flick down to the dark cubby, trying to get a look at what the other boy’s hiding.

When the boy notices, he frowns at him and his eyes flash in the fluorescent light as they dart over the rest of the class.  They’re brown but not in a way Scott knew brown could look, lighter than that, like it’s trying to be more than just one color - like yellow and orange and red all swirled together.  He leans in towards Scott and says in a hushed voice, “Are you a tattletale or a criminal?”

“Um.  Neither,” Scott says uncertainly, eyes roaming over the spots on the boy’s face.  They’re like freckles but darker.  It takes a second for Scott to decide that he likes them.

The boy’s eyes narrow and he pulls a handful of something shiny back out of the cubby, the pieces clinking together hollowly.  Scott can’t tell what it is, aside from broken. 

“I took it apart,” the boy says triumphantly, fiddling with the different pieces with enthusiasm.  He lowers his voice conspiratorially.  “It’s the remote for the monster truck.  Or it was, before.”

“Why’d you do that?” Scott asks, a little in awe of him and the wanton destruction he’s caused.

He shrugs his shoulders, exaggerated and emphatic.  “I wanted to see what was inside,” he says simply, “to see what made it work.”

“Can you put it back together?” Scott asks and the look the other boy gives him makes him immediately regret it.

“I don’t know,” he mutters under his breath, no longer looking at Scott, no longer seeming to care for him at all.

Scott doesn’t know how he’s lost the other boy’s acceptance so fast but it’s surprisingly painful to have to sit next to someone that he knows doesn’t like him and have no idea how to fix it.  It isn’t until later, while the teacher’s making her rounds to check their progress on reproducing the letters in the sentence, ‘Dan has a cat,’ and the boy next to him is tinkering with all the pieces of the deconstructed monster truck remote with muted thunking, that Scott does fix it.

Scott sees her coming their way first and nudges the boy with his elbow.  He looks up with narrowed eyes before he follows Scott’s gaze and shoves all the pieces back into the desk, save for one.  It slips out of his fingers, plonks down on the carpet and rolls.  The boy’s eyes widen as their teacher stoops down and gracefully scoops it up.  “What is this?” she asks, eyes on the boy next to Scott, who is doing a poor job of looking innocent.

“It’s mine,” Scott says.  “It fell out of my pocket.”

The boy whips around to face him; his expression a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. 

“And what is it?”  She’s looking between them like she’s just waiting for one of them to slip, when something does.  The stack of books on the counter, which had been lined up neatly, have fallen down with a loud smack that immediately makes the girl closest to them burst into tears and the teacher rushes away, but not before pursing her lips and setting the errant piece down on their table top. 

The boy immediately closes his fingers around it and shoves it back inside the hollow.  He turns to Scott.  “You didn’t hafta do that,” he says with a scowl.

“I know,” Scott agrees.

The boy’s eyes narrow and then unpinch and he holds out his hand.  “I’m Stiles.”

Scott breaks into a grin.  Though the teacher had said his name, Scott was hoping it would be offered to him.  His mom always told him not to use a name that hadn’t been freely given.  “I’m Scott.” 

Stiles beams back at him.  “Cool.  Wanna put it back together with me during recess?”

Scott does.

 

 

 

Over the course of the rest of the day, Scott surmises that Stiles is unlike anyone he’s ever met before.

Scott’d had friends in Chicago, kids who went to preschool with him, kids he would see when their parents’ arranged it, kids who went to the park his dad took him to and kids who lived in the same apartment building he did.  Those were always the ones he’d have the most fun with, running up and down the floors just to see if anyone was outside their door and looking for someone to share their time with.

Sometimes a bunch of them would get together, creating dangerous obstacle courses in the halls with their toys while they played or winding through neighbor’s legs while they chased after each other in a heated game of freeze tag.  You hardly even needed names, if you were a kid and you could run till your lungs burned, you were good with the whole group.

Stiles isn’t like that.  He doesn’t accept people without testing them first.  Scott’s test comes in the sandbox, after he’s spent a half hour constructing a sandcastle only to have Stiles come along and smash it and then pee on it.  Stiles doesn’t even look contrite afterwards, he holds Scott’s devastated gaze like he’s daring him to react. 

Scott does react.  He pushes Stiles over, knocks him flat on his back and says, eyes glistening, “That was mean.” 

Stiles sits up and shrugs, not looking bothered.  “Yeah.  So?”

“So,” Scott repeats, too angry to be baffled, “that’s not what friends do.”

Stiles blinks his large eyes slowly and finds his feet.  He looks down at his shoes and says softly, “Oh.”  He meets Scott’s eyes again.  “Okay.”

Scott has no idea that he’s just made the best friend he’ll ever have in that small exchange.

 

 

Scott’s always made friends easily and by the end of his first week of kindergarten, he knows everyone in his class’ name and has sat with them all during some activity or other. 

Stiles is exactly the opposite.  He’s suspicious of everyone, defensive until he isn’t, and the only person he’s gotten that far with is Scott.  He doesn’t seem to begrudge Scott spending time away from him, accepts it like it’s not the first time it’s happened and goes back to taking things apart that are better left together.

When Scott tries to include him with his other friends, bringing them all along with him to sit on or near Stiles’ mat during story time or nap time or craft time, Stiles will only sit for a moment before picking himself up and moving to the more sparsely populated mats in the back, leaving Scott frowning after him.  That seems to be a fundamental difference between them; Scott likes people and Stiles likes person.

Miss Gwen is standing only a few feet away as the children are picked up by their parents when Scott sits next to Stiles on the curb outside the school, knocks his knee with his own.  “You want to come to my house?” he asks, nervous though he’s not sure why.  He supposes it’s because he wants Stiles to like him and it always seems like he’s on the cusp of losing that.

He has no idea Stiles feels the exact same way about him.

Stiles blinks at him, like he suspects Scott meant to direct the question to someone else.  He shrugs.  “If you want me to.”

Scott nods seriously.  “I do.” 

Stiles beams at him.

 

 

“Icky, head out of the book, you’re turning the hardwood scaly.”

Ichabod glances up from where his nose had been buried in the pages to frown behind him.  He turns sheepishly back towards his mother.  “Sorry, Mom.  I just got to the part with the dragon and—”

“Tell us over dinner,” she interrupts.  “You know Cora’s eager to hear the next part.” 

He nods dutifully and nearly walks right into Scott on his way up the stairs.  He ruffles Scott’s hair even though Scott sticks out his lower lip unhappily.  “How was school, oozey?”

It’s a nickname he’d gotten from Cora on his first day at the Hale house.  Unable to wrap her tongue around, ‘cousin,’ she’d called him, ‘coozey.’

It was almost impressive how quickly that had become, ‘oozey.’

Scott shakes out his hair so it’s no longer covering his eyes.  “Fine,” he looks back up at his mom, who had picked him up today.  “I invited somebody over.”

Everyone freezes, Laura mid-pounce over the back of the couch towards Cora, who had stolen her notebook again and was coloring inexpertly on the pages.  Derek from where he’s reading on the sofa, half-shifted, ears twitching.  Fritz on the floor where he’s been arbitrarily knocking over the blocks that had just been stacked for him.  Ivy, who had been trailing after his dad demanding to know what the smell was coming from the kitchen .  Peter and Olga where they were prying apart their twins, Iggy and Ziggy, who were trying to melt back into each other again.

“Oh,” his aunt Talia flounders for lack of anything else to say.

Scott’s mom winces.  “If it’s going to be an imposition—” 

“No, no, of course not,” his aunt recovers swiftly.  “We’ll just have to make sure,” she glares around at her assembled children, “that everyone minds their Ps and Qs and we’ll keep the younger ones upstairs, of course.”

“‘M staying,” Cora says instantly, four-years-old and completely tyrannical. 

If you can behave,” Talia throws right back at her.  “Everyone knows the rules, no shifting, no growling, no magic, Icky, and no tricks, Peter.”  Scott’s uncle holds up his hands as if to proclaim his innocence.  No one believes that for a second.

His aunt Olga says in heavily accented English, “I will keep him in the line, Talia.  No need for concern.”

“And however will you do that, my dear?” Peter asks her in a low voice, his eyebrows jumping, before they’re interrupted by their twins blowing spit bubbles that levitate into the air and start orbiting around their heads.

 

 

“Scott,” Stiles’ mom repeats, auburn head bowed over the injury to his elbow.  “I don’t think I’ve heard you mention him before.”

Stiles swings his feet against the kitchen chair and doesn’t wince when his mom dabs at the scrape with antiseptic.  “He’s new,” Stiles tells her.  “Can I go or not?”

She frowns.  “This kind of behavior worries me, Stiles, you know that.”  She indicates his arm.

Stiles glowers.  “I didn’t do anything.  Not really,” he amends at the stern look on her face.

She purses her lips and makes a knowing sound in the back of her throat.  “The Whittemore boy said the branch just snapped off the tree and hit him.”

“I didn’t mean to do it,” Stiles clarifies defensively.  “He wouldn’t leave me alone.  He kept bugging me about—”

“About what?” his mom asks kindly, patiently, blue eyes unwavering as they watch his own.

Stiles shrugs, not wanting to say and kicking his feet harder against the chair.

She frowns thoughtfully and says, “Well what if this Scott says something to upset you, then?  There are only so many times people will mistake something like that happening around you as coincidence.”

“Scott wouldn’t do that,” Stiles says mulishly, deflating, because he has a feeling this isn’t going to end in her approval.

She squeezes his knee and he momentarily stops flinging his leg out to kick at dust.  “What if your dad and I came with you?  We could make it a dinner with Scott and his family and, then, if things go well, the next time you could go over to see him by yourself.  Does that sound fair?”

Stiles thinks on it.  He did lose his temper with Jackson earlier so it’s not like she has no reason to doubt him and while he’s a little annoyed over the fact that his one bit of independence is being trampled on, there’s also a sweeping relief that he doesn’t have to do this alone.  He’s never had a friend to visit before and what if he and Scott just don’t work outside of school or the rest of Scott’s family didn’t like Stiles?  It’s not like he makes good first, second or third impressions.  He looks up at his mom and wonders if this wasn’t her plan all along before he nods his head once, resolute.

 

 

The Hale house is preternaturally white.  Like freshly fallen snow but less disturbed.  The door, shutters and roof are the only splash of contrasting color and even that is a stark midnight black.  Stiles’ mom gathers up his hands in hers and hisses under her breath, “Don’t—touch—anything.”

His dad laughs, but quickly turns it into a cough when his mom’s glare turns on him.  He looks down at Stiles and winks.  “Don’t do the exact opposite of what your mom says either.”

Stiles smirks up at him.

They stand on the porch, his mom’s head tilting from side to side, as though looking for another option besides knocking on the pristine paint job when the door swings open.  Stiles startles a little but feels his heartbeat immediately calm in his chest when he catches sight of the woman standing in the doorway.

She’s dressed in a remarkably white dress, like she’s coordinating her wardrobe to match her house, and it makes her skin look darker and her hair blacker.  She’s got freckles all across the bridge of her nose and sharp cheekbones.  There’s something severe about her face but it’s offset by warm, dark eyes and a small smile.

“You must be the Stilinskis,” she says, her voice deeper than Stiles would’ve expected but welcoming all the same.  She reaches out a hand and it’s Stiles’ mom who takes it.   But, instead of shaking, they both stare wide-eyed at one another like some shock of electricity has passed between them. 

The woman in the doorway turns his mom’s hand over cautiously, left to right and back again and lets out a small, breathless laugh.  “Well that’s a relief,” she says, deflating a little and suddenly the whole meeting feels far less formal and more like a gathering of old friends they haven’t yet met.  “I can’t tell you how—I probably don’t have to, do I?” she says, in a voice full of conspiratorial amusement.  “I’m sure you were the same.”  She waves her hand dismissively and steps aside to let them enter, closing the door behind them.

She leaves them in the foyer with a mutter Stiles doesn’t catch, veering off into a room to their immediate right.  They’re too far back from the opening to see around the corner of it but she returns before long.

Stiles lets out a small scream that ends in more of a frightened gurgle and tries to back up, only to find himself flush against his mom’s legs far too soon and stepping all over her feet in an effort to keep retreating.

“Oh dear,” she says, frowning and eyes glowing a bright crimson, “has he never seen a werewolf before?”

Stiles breath catches in his throat and stays there and suddenly he can’t pull it down, can’t get it into his lungs and he’s starting to feel light-headed, spots dancing in front of his eyes.  His mom kneels down, grabs his chin and he watches her lips thin into a serious line, brow furrowing.  A warm wind bursts in through the cracks in between the door and its frame, swirls together and wraps tightly around Stiles in a comforting cocoon, sealing him and his mom inside, no other sensations but the sound of whooshing air in his ears and his mom’s hands on his elbows to ground him.  It dissipates slowly, brushes of warmth cascading over him even as it leaves.

“Okay?” his mom asks.

Stiles nods his head diligently, not breathing normally yet but definitely breathing.  When he looks back up at the woman with the red eyes, she’s smiling at him around sharp, elongated teeth.

His mom rubs his arm absentmindedly before his dad simply scoops him up and gives Stiles the option to hide his face in his neck, which he takes without the slightest bit of hesitation, peeking out occasionally. 

“I’m so sorry, I just assumed—” the woman starts.

Stiles’ mom interrupts.  “Not at all,” she reassures quickly, shoving the apology right back at her, “we were easing him into it all but only because we didn’t have much other than picture books and our word to explain it to him.  He knows about us, at least.”  

The woman smiles again and Stiles makes an effort to keep his face turned towards hers.  His parents seem to have taken this all in stride and Stiles is determined to as well, though now he’s wondering if his dad picked him up for Stiles’ benefit or his own with how tightly he’s hanging on.  

“Werewolves, Jesus,” his dad says, hefting Stiles up a little higher and letting out a long breath through his nose.  He taps a finger against his jacket, the one that says, ‘Deputy,’ on it in bold yellow lettering.  “This is why I don’t get paid the big bucks, swear I never would’ve guessed it.” 

The woman who is half-wolf apparently wrinkles her nose.  “We do like to think we have some discretion.”  She rolls her phosphorescent, crimson eyes.  “Of course that’s before Derek shifted at school last week and Cora bit a boy in the supermarket.”  She still sounds just like Stiles expects a mom to; amused, indulgent and slightly exasperated except, well.  Except she looks like the monster out of a fairy tale. 

Only Stiles is the only one who seems to be thinking along those lines and now that the new look has been accepted so effortlessly by his parents, Stiles kind of wants to get a closer look, more intrigued than spooked.

His dad barks out a laugh and his mom smiles.  She pats Stiles’ hand on his dad’s shoulder.  “Well and this one’s siccing oak trees on his classmates.”

“Oi,” says a man in an apron who’s walking in from the next room.  He wipes his hands on the front of it, though what he’s removing, no one can tell.  He shakes his mom’s free hand and then his dad’s.  “Kids, what are you gonna do?” he says congenially, his eyes warm and bright.  He’s tall, much taller than Stiles’ dad, and thin.  He’s nondescript-looking truthfully, you could pass him on the street and forget everything about him before you turned the corner. 

Stiles has to keep looking at him just to keep track of his features, forgetting them the instant he looks away. 

“Short of leaving them out in the yard for a few hours, there’s not much to do,” Stiles’ mom says, which Stiles takes great offense to.  And he decides he’s officially more offended than terrified, twisting out of his dad’s hold and dropping to the floor again. 

He’s curious about the room the woman had disappeared into earlier, the one she’d come back from with sideburns and fangs and bright, red eyes.  There’s a great deal of trepidation and anticipation as Stiles comes up on the opening and only once he’s rounded it does the din nearly make him fall back a step.

It’s pure chaos. 

Kids with ears you would find on a wolf are spread out across the living room space, a low and guttural growl is causing the floorboards to quake under Stiles’ feet, a boy with blue hair is making a pencil scrawl across an open notebook completely independent of his hands and two toddlers are sitting on a patch of grass in the middle of the hardwood floor, leaves the size of trashcan lids towering over them.

A boy with dark hair and wide green eyes notices him finally and the growl, directed at a girl across the room who is throwing what looks like checker pieces at him, abruptly drops off.  As soon as it does, everyone else’s heads swing around to look at him, frozen in the open doorway.

There’s not a sound or even a breath of movement until a mop of dark hair peeks around the far end of the couch, curious expression popping up behind it and then Scott is crawling out from behind the arm, flopping his book off to the side and his eyes are lighting up.  “Stiles!” he shouts in pure glee and runs over, all but launching himself at him.

Stiles has never really hugged anyone besides his parents and he has a moment of feeling claustrophobic when Scott’s arms come up around his neck, boxing him in, before he returns the embrace.  Because he’s pretty sure it’s all that’s keeping him from another panic attack.

Mom!” comes a strained screech behind them and Stiles opens his eyes to see it’s the boy from the couch, the one with ice blue hair.

The adults come trundling down the hall, feet falling a little more heavily in their hurry and Scott and Stiles break apart.  The woman who had greeted them at the door is still wearing half a wolf on her face and she looks between the lot of them and opens her mouth when all hell breaks loose. 

“We didn’t do anything—”

You said you’d tell us when—”

“He just waltzed into the room and—”

“S’not fair,” a small girl starts wailing, wolf ears twitching and it turns into a long, loud howl.

The man in the apron grimaces, looking at Stiles’ parents with both embarrassment and apology.  “We might have threatened them with rather, ah, extreme punishments if they weren’t on their best behavior.” 

“I believe we told Stiles we’d ground him until he was eighty-three if anything untoward happened tonight,” Stiles’ mom tells Scott’s uncle in solidarity and his muscles unwind.

Enough,” the woman snarls and the small girl’s howl immediately cuts off, her ears flattening against her hair.  The rest of the kids flinch, shoulders hunching in as well, none of them daring to meet the red in her gaze.  She sighs once the point is made and says, “The situation’s not quite what we expected and none of you have broken any rules.”  Tentatively, a few heads lift at the lack of remonstrance in their mother’s voice.  “This is Deputy Stilinski,” she says his dad’s title pointedly, “Claudia and their son, Stiles.  Stiles and Claudia are Sparks.”

All the kids have perked up by now.

The woman’s eyes are back to their natural dark hazel - or maybe the red is the natural color? - and she smiles down at Stiles with white, square teeth.  “I’m Talia and this is my husband, Ivan,” she says, indicating the man in the apron to her right. 

“The two sitting in the makeshift garden there are my brother Peter’s kids, Ignatius and Zara.”  There’s now a butterfly hovering above them that has captivated their attention equally.  Stiles has no idea if it’s real or not or, like the garden, something they collectively dreamed up out of nothing.  “The howling one with the ears is my daughter, Cora, and next to her is her older sister, Laura, who is most definitely in for it for bothering her brother, Derek, who is sitting on the couch cushions that are littered with checker pieces.”

“Mom, he—” 

Talia cuts her off with no more than a glare and points to where an older boy with dark hair and yellow eyes is holding a toddler upright.  “Those are my sons, Clive and Frederick.”  She frowns thoughtfully and says, “Little Fritz hasn’t shown any… characteristics yet.”

“Might end up like me,” Ivan puts in proudly, “utterly human and the only one with a palate that lends itself to cooking edible meals.”

Talia rolls her eyes.  “He puts so much emphasis on spices and nuances.  These kids would eat pinecones, dear.”  Stiles’ dad smothers a laugh and she grins benignly before finishing, “The one with the blue hair is our son, Ichabod.  He’s the only magic in our direct line so I’m sure he and Stiles will have a lot to talk about,” she puts in warmly.  “Otherwise, my brother got a bit of that in addition to the werewolf gene and his wife’s got some Dryad in her.  Melissa, Scott’s mom and my sister-in-law, is still at the hospital but she’s trying to cut her shift short so she can get back in time to meet you all.”

Stiles’ mom brightens.  “Well, I hope our schedules will end up overlapping.  Really, though?   Dryad?” she says, striving for politely curious but a little too eager to pull it off.  “Will your brother and his wife be joining us for dinner, then?”

Talia nods and Ivan claps his hands together.  “Speaking of, I’d better get back in the kitchen before it becomes a meal only ‘wolves would eat,” he says with an amiable chortle.

Scott, who’s stuck by Stiles’ side since they broke apart, tugs on his hand now and says from the corner of his mouth, “Wanna see my room?”

Stiles agrees instantly, feeling a little more than overwhelmed.

Scott walks ahead of him up two flights of stairs, past open and closed doors on landings, sweet and sour smells, and finally to an open doorway that leads into a red room.  The walls are more of a pale pink but the bedspread is a vibrant spot of crimson and Stiles says as Scott leads him inside, “Is there anything you can do?” 

Scott screws up his face.  “Kind of.  But not like them, not like that.”

Stiles gazes at him, intrigued, and Scott shuffles his shoulders. 

“Sometimes I—know things,” he says.

Stiles’ brow furrows.  “Know things?” he repeats.

Scott nods.  “Like I knew we were gonna move out of my house in Chicago before my mom decided.  And I knew when my dad got hurt at work before anyone ever told me.  My abuela says it’s a gift everybody on that side of the family has, even though my dad doesn’t believe it, but she says that’s why he hunts bad guys.  Because he knows where they are, and what they’re gonna do.  Sometimes,” he amends.

Stiles stares at him, wide-eyed.  “Do you know anything about me?”

Scott shakes his head. 

“That’s still pretty cool,” Stiles says encouragingly.

Scott ducks his head in a grin and sits down on his bed.  He asks, “What can you do?”

Stiles shrugs, sitting down next to him.  “Nothing really on purpose.  My mom says it’s like magic, but not the kind that can create something from nothing.”

“Icky can do that, and Iggy and Ziggy - the twins,” Scott says understandingly.

Stiles nods.  “I mostly do stuff with wind for now.  I think it’s because that’s what my mom’s best at.” 

Scott seems to suddenly be struck by something and he says eagerly, “In class, when you dropped the piece of the remote and the books slammed down and distracted Miss Gwen, was that you?”

Stiles’ cheeks warm and he nods slightly.  “I didn’t mean to, I—I didn’t want you to get in trouble for something I did.”

“Awesome,” Scott breathes, awed, and Stiles pinks up further.

He sets his hands behind him on the comforter, the balls of his shoulders almost up around his ears, embarrassed by Scott’s attention, especially since he’s not particularly good at the thing Scott’s so enthusiastic over.  “You should see my mom,” he murmurs, trying to shift focus away from himself, picking at a loose thread.  “She can do a lot more stuff, and on purpose too.” 

“Dinner’s ready,” a brittle voice interrupts.  “Mom says to come downstairs.” 

Stiles’ head swings over to the doorway.  The boy with the dark hair and green eyes is standing there with his arms making an ‘x’ over his chest, looking cross.  Stiles thinks Mrs. Hale introduced him as Derek.

“Okay,” Scott says, scooting off his bed and walking out past Derek.

Stiles goes to follow him but Derek moves to stand directly in front of him and his expression darkens even further.  He’s about half a head taller than Stiles and is using all the extra inches to his advantage as he stares down at him.  Stiles lifts his chin defiantly.  “Move,” he says plainly.

Derek just stands there, looking down at him with a mean smirk.  Stiles tries to move around him and, again, Derek blocks his way.  After another few seconds, Derek says, “Scott will get bored of you.”

Stiles feels like he pales, blood dropping right out of his cheeks, because this boy has so effortlessly hit on exactly what Stiles is most afraid of.  Scott’s always going off without him at school, able to befriend anyone and everyone while Stiles—Stiles doesn’t have that.  Doesn’t want that, either.  He’s picked his friend and knows from experience that doesn’t mean his friend will pick him back.

He squares his shoulders, anger overtaking the fear, fists clenching at his sides.  It happens almost too quickly to see after that.  Derek goes flying backwards, smashes into the wall across from them and the door slams closed with a noise like a gunshot.  Stiles is panting, huffing out breaths when he hears Scott half-scream, “What did you do?”

The doorknob rattles but doesn’t open.

“Stiles, are you okay?”

He’s too angry to answer and forces himself to take calming breaths.  As soon as the anger goes, reality sets in.  He’s going to be in so much trouble, he’d promised – promised – to be on his best behavior and now—

“Stiles.”  Scott’s voice is scared.  “What happened?  I can’t get the door open.”  The knob twists and turns wildly.

“Move.”  That’s Derek.  The wood bows in the middle with the sound of a grunting crash and then it’s swinging back open.

Scott runs into the room.  “Are you okay?”  He takes Stiles’ elbows in his hands, tugs him forward.  “I couldn’t get the door open and it slammed closed so hard that I thought it might’ve…”  He trails off, clearly not willing to voice what he thought might’ve happened.

Stiles meets Derek’s eyes over Scott’s head.  His fangs are out and he’s cradling his shoulder with clawed fingers, rubbing at it like the muscles are tender.  “Nothing happened,” Stiles says, shaking his head.  “I didn’t mean to do that.”

Scott looks back at Derek too.  “Did he—”

“Let’s go downstairs,” Stiles interrupts, but they’re waylaid before they even reach the door by Scott’s aunt and uncle and Stiles’ mom and dad showing up on the landing, out of breath and wondering what had caused all the ruckus. 

Scott’s door is splintered, there’s a shallow hole in the wall Derek had crashed into and Stiles is still red-faced with his fists clenched.

“Oh, Stiles,” his mom says, disappointed.

Stiles hangs his head, feeling worse with just those two words than he would’ve after a barrage of yelling.

“I wanted to see what he could do,” Derek speaks up suddenly, firmly.  “I asked him to until he finally did it.”

Stiles narrows his eyes, glaring over at him.  Why was he trying to get Stiles out of trouble after he’d helped to put him in it?  It didn’t make any sense.

Talia’s eyes are red as they stare down at her son.  They match Scott’s room.  “Derek, you know better than that.  We’ll talk after dinner.”

“Yes, Mom,” he says under his breath glumly.

Scott’s still looking curiously between them like he knows that’s not the real story but follows the adults down the hall.

Stiles wraps his fingers around Derek’s wrist as he goes to do the same, stopping him in the hallway outside Scott’s room.  “Why did you—”

Derek rounds on him, backs him up against the wall and growls with yellow eyes, “Don’t touch me.” 

Stiles lets him go of him more through shock than obedience.  It’s not fair.  He hasn’t done anything to make Derek dislike him.  He hasn’t earned this and it isn’t fair.  Derek walks away from him, following his parents and Scott, and Stiles narrows his eyes at his back and hates him more fiercely than he’s ever hated anyone, including Jackson.

His bad mood follows him down the two flights of stairs and into the dining room.  The food smells delicious but Stiles doesn’t do more than angrily push it around on his plate with his fork.

Derek’s not sitting anywhere near him, down at the other end of the table near his mother, like she wants to keep an eye on him.  Stiles’ mom is on one side of him and Scott’s on the other.  Scott keeps shooting him frowning looks but Stiles doesn’t look back.

He hadn’t even realized who he was sitting across from him until a little man made of cut up beans is crawling onto his plate.  Stiles blinks at it in pure shock, unable to make sense of it.  The green beans had been sliced into fourths and two of them make up squat legs, another two form short arms and three piled on top of each other have formed its torso.  A bean set vertically on top of the three horizontal ones makes up its head.  There’s a piece of carrot on top that Stiles thinks is supposed to be a hat.

It scrambles up over the edge of his plate, using nearly ineffectual arms to lever itself up and then is flopping onto the ceramic.  Stiles can’t stop staring at it, can’t really wrap his mind around this.  He looks over at Scott and he’s grinning madly.  It slips and slides over to his untouched hamburger - Stiles hadn’t even put the top bun on it - and crawls up it.  It stands on top like it wishes it had a flag to plant in it.  It raises its arms triumphantly and a laugh bubbles out over Stiles’ lips without him even realizing it’s there until it’s actual noise. 

He looks up to find the person who must be Scott’s uncle Peter staring intently at the walking stack of beans, making it stride around in a victory circle along the edge of his bun.

The boy with the ice blue hair laughs and sticks his finger out at it.  The green bean head is given an eye patch and the carrot is shaped into something that resembles more of a pirate hat.  It turns towards the candlestick between Stiles’ plate and his mom’s in the middle of the table and points at it with a stubby arm, that is instantly carrying a small sword. 

The entire table watches as it clambers off Stiles’ plate, flops down onto the table, scuttles up onto its bean legs and tries to shimmy up the candlestick, which is holding an unlit candle.  The candlestick is metal, with different widths all along it and striated in some design Stiles doesn’t get.  Meaning it’s craggy and has fingerholds but the bean has no fingers to grasp them so it keeps trying to wrap inflexible and short arms around its middle to shimmy up.

There’s raucous and uncontrollable laughter watching its attempts, which consist of throwing itself bodily at the candlestick only to bounce off and back down onto the tablecloth.  Getting up woozily and trying it all over again.  Stiles - who is one of the people closest to the bean-person - finally takes pity on it and puts his finger under its torso, just as it’s gotten its arms on either side of the candlestick.  It looks kind of like his finger is a horse and the bean-person is sat astride it.

Stiles zooms his finger up, quickly but carefully, to the platform that has the hole for the candle in it and it crawls off his finger awkwardly, beans cold and slippery against Stiles’ skin, and stands near the candle.  Stiles can tell as soon as it does why it wanted up there.

It’s the crow’s nest.

It bows to him and he salutes it back with his finger to light chuckling while it walks around unevenly and almost always over-balancing in a circle around the candle, surveying the ocean of food beneath it.

It’s the most fun Stiles has ever had at a dinner table.

When he puts his hand back in his lap, Scott catches and squeezes it, eyes brilliant and lit up by a smile that’s at least half due to Stiles’ improved mood.

Stiles squeezes back.

 

S  I  X

 

“What do you think’s in the boxes?” Stiles asks, helping Scott up the ladder.

Scott coughs.  He already doesn’t like it up here.  It’s hot and stuffy and he feels like the air is trying to compress him into a smaller version of himself.  He gets up on his knees and slaps his palms against his dirty elbows.  “Dunno,” he says.  “More dust.”

Stiles’ face darkens.  “Derek was probably lying anyway.”  He says Derek’s name harshly.  He always has.  He and Derek can barely stand to be in the same room and Scott still doesn’t really know why.  He’s not entirely sure that Stiles knows either anymore.  They seem to hate each other for no other reason than that they hated each other yesterday.  It’s circular and stupid, in Scott’s opinion. 

Scott shrugs.  “Maybe,” he admits.  Derek likes to make things up, especially when Stiles is around.  The entirety of his cruelty streak seems to have Stiles Stilinski’s name on it.

“If he isn’t though…” Stiles trails off, moving farther into the attic with the flashlight they’d taken from the kitchen cabinet.

Scott doesn’t have to ask him to finish the thought.  He wants to see a ghost just as much as Stiles does.  “There was a girl, Trini, who lived in my old building, where I lived with my dad,” sometimes he crafts sentences just so he can say ‘dad’ in them - there’s a part of him that’s afraid he’ll forget what it means if he lets it fall out of his vocabulary; Stiles never calls him on it, “and she said she saw a ghost in the boiler room.” 

Stiles doesn’t turn around but he makes sure not to lose the feel of Scott at his back, walking more slowly into the attic than he might’ve otherwise.  “Did you believe her?” Stiles asks.

Scott’s suddenly glad that Stiles isn’t looking at him as his ears go hot.  Stiles holds Scott’s opinion in higher esteem than his own.  It doesn’t matter what people say but it always matters what Scott thinks about what people say.  Scott’s word is the punctuation at the end of a sentence.  It doesn’t go farther than him.  That’s all Stiles needs; his say is definitive and finite.  It makes Scott feel at once like he’s invincible and like he has entirely too much power.  “I don’t know.  She lied a lot, too.” 

Stiles takes a second to consider that.  He cocks his head to the side.  “Do you think there’s a ghost here?” he asks.

“I think there is if we see one.”

Stiles laughs like Scott has said something exceptionally clever, which abruptly makes Scott feel as though he has said something exceptionally clever.  Instead of Stiles’ laughter fading naturally into the heavy air around them, the sound of it cuts off sharply like a restrictive fist has reached up and snatched it right out of the air.  Scott’s shoulders quake and he’s walking so close to Stiles that he nearly steps on his heels multiple times. 

He tries to talk himself out of being scared.  The ghost that’s supposedly haunting them would be his great aunt and, he reasons, she has no motive to hurt them.  At some point, he’s reached out for Stiles’ hand without realizing it as they creep to the far side of the attic.  He wants to turn around and go back to his room but Stiles is pressing forward, as fearless and brave as he always is.

He doesn’t shake Scott’s hand off, which Scott is absurdly grateful for. 

Stiles stops, whispers, “Did you hear—”

A loud smack interrupts him and they both jump.  Stiles hits an uneven floorboard as he lands and trips sideways into a pile of boxes.  Dust rises in thick plumes from them and Stiles scoffs.  “A bird flew into the window,” he says with a high-pitched chuckle, like he’s still trying to convince himself they haven’t been attacked by something.

Scott tries to laugh too at the sheer ridiculousness of it but he can’t get the air in to do it.  His chest feels tight and he tries again but it just makes his lungs burn with all the air he isn’t getting.  It’s like his throat has clamped down on itself and he can’t—he can’t breathe.  He stares at Stiles, wide-eyed with terror, and Stiles is staring back, already aware something’s wrong.

He scrambles upright, drops the flashlight, and holds his hands palm-down an inch away from Scott’s shaking shoulders.  “I don’t know what’s happening.”  He’s trying to keep his voice even but Scott can hear the panic in it.  “What’s wrong—Scott, what?” 

Scott holds his hands at his working, vein-popped throat, scrapes at it.

“Oh my God, Scott, stop,” he wheezes, pulling Scott’s hands away.  Tears are starting to prick his eyes.

Scott can feel his vision going fuzzy and he can’t stop gasping even though it’s not pulling any air in.  Stiles stumbles away from him suddenly and Scott’s not sure if he’s actually seeing what he’s seeing or if he’s been deprived of oxygen so long he’s hallucinating it. 

“He’s obviously having an asthma attack, boy,” says the woman who’d hit Stiles in the back of the head.

The woman scowling at an off-balance Stiles is old and plump and… faded somehow, like a shirt that’s been through the wash too many times.  She’s wearing a frumpy dress that looks pale avocado in color but it’s hard to tell for sure.  She’s nearly monochrome, the color of newsprint until you stare hard enough.  Her voice sounds the same as Scott expects a crow’s would.

Stiles doesn’t question her, just looks back at her with wet eyes.  “Tell me what to do,” he says bleakly.  He doesn’t ask what that means even though Scott’s sure neither of them understood, he just asks how to fix it.

“Well what do you think?” she says harshly, voice entirely lacking compassion.  She sounds like a strict professor in the movies, mean but also like she wants Stiles to succeed.  “He’s not getting any air, is he?” 

Scott’s starting to feel light-headed and it’s as if all the energy in his legs whooshes up to his head so he can stay conscious a little longer while they collapse underneath him.

“Air,” Stiles breathes, his resolved face appearing in Scott’s darkening vision.  “Hey, Scott, I know air, right?” he says shakily, but trying to sound reassuring.  He lifts his hand up and cups it around dust motes, closing it to form a loose fist.  Scott can’t be sure if what he next sees actually happens.  Stiles stares at his fist and it’s like a flare of pure white light moves in a circle around his iris, like it’s caught the flash of a camera in it but all the way around. 

He lowers his hand to Scott’s lips and opens his fist up into a cupped palm.  Scott opens his mouth and air rushes down his constricted throat.  He sucks it in greedily, puffs the air back out into Stiles’ hand where it loses the carbon dioxide from his breath, freshens into that huge gust of clean air again and slams back down inside.

It’s a peculiar sensation.  He should feel claustrophobic, stifled, Stiles’ hand over his mouth, but he’s never breathed so well.

The woman crouches down next to them and Scott looks over and sees wrinkly, fraying socks and matte black slip-on shoes.  She’s watching Stiles with narrowed eyes.  “Magic or Spark,” she says.  It’s supposed to be a question but she doesn’t make it sound like one.  Her white hair is piled on top of her head in disarray.  It’s the only part of her that’s in real color.  White, white, white. 

“Spark,” Stiles says, after he swallows.

She nods thoughtfully.  “It’s the dust,” she says after a quiet moment where the only sound is Scott’s exaggerated breaths and Stiles’ hitching ones.  He still seems like he’s trying not to cry.  She looks down at Scott with something like sad fondness.  “Boy has asthma.  Ever had a bee sting?” she asks Stiles.

He nods but says, “Wasp.”

She hms.  “Makes his throat swell up like that on the inside.” 

Stiles’ eyes widen. 

“You breathe like that for him till you get downstairs, all right?”

Stiles nods seriously, like he’s just accepted his purpose in life.  “I won’t let anything bad happen,” he promises her.  He looks down at Scott and Scott knows he’s promising him too. 

Scott believes him.

 

 

Afterwards, after his mom’s brought an inhaler home from work and shown him how to use it, after she’d hugged the stuffing out of Stiles, after they’d called Stiles’ parents to invite them for dinner, after Deputy Stilinski had clapped Stiles on the shoulder and Claudia had said how proud she was, they all move into the living room.  The adults and Scott and Stiles and all the kids who aren’t at sleepovers (Laura) or in their bedrooms (Clive, Iggy and Ziggy).  It’s a mess of people laying on other people.  Scott falls asleep on his mom’s lap, Stiles’ legs pressed against his as he leans the opposite way on his own mom.

Melissa says, and it’s the first time Scott’s heard her sound scared since she got home, “I just keep thinking—” her voice catches and she squeezes out, “what if Scott had been alone up there?  What if Stiles hadn’t—or if he hadn’t been able to—”

Scott peeks at her through a barely open eye.

Aunt Talia reaches across from her armchair to Melissa’s hand on the couch.  She pats it.  “Mel, luckily for all of us, Scott’s far more likely to have a Stiles on him than not.”  She laughs quietly and a few of the adults around them echo it, including Stiles’ parents.  She says more thoughtfully, “I don’t think it’s coincidence that they met.  A boy with asthma making friends with a boy whose magical gift favors air.”

“They are meant to be,” Olga says in a deep voice from the floor.  “It is very romantic.”

Talia leans closer to Melissa and says goodnaturedly, “And then there’s Olga.”

Olga throws a coaster at Talia.  Scott doesn’t hear any more of the conversation as he succumbs to sleep again, his mom’s hand moving through his hair and Stiles’ knee pressed into the crook of his own.

 

S  E  V  E  N

 

“You’re being boring,” Stiles says.

Scott’s stopped taking comments like this personally.  Mostly.  Stiles doesn’t mean to be hurtful with a lot of the things he says, nor does he understand why Scott might take it that way.  Scott had tried to explain it once, that when he said things like that it was like he wasn’t okay with who Scott was, like he would find someone else to hang around.

Stiles had thrown a rock at him and called him stupid and then hugged him.  He didn’t really know how to do emotions.

Scott had seen in his face that he really didn’t understand what Scott was saying at all.  The thought of not being friends with Scott had so clearly never crossed his mind that Scott no longer feared it nearly as much as he had before that fight. 

“I’m writing a letter to my dad.  I told you that’s what I was going to do.”  Scott had told him that.  Stiles had said he was coming home with him anyway.  He did almost every day. 

Stiles sighs, like Scott’s boring-ness is an attack on him personally.  “I’m going away,” he says.  He flops off Scott’s bed and pauses at the door.  “Is Derek here?” 

Scott screws up his face.  “Yeah, I think so.”  He eyes Stiles sharply and warns, “Don’t fight.”

Stiles holds up his hands, indignant.  “It’s not me, it’s him.” 

It’s both of them.  Scott knows from experience.

Stiles narrows his eyes on Derek’s door.  “Why does he hafta live right across from you?”  He says with real venom, “I hate him so much.”

“Just stay away from him,” Scott says tiredly.  Stiles doesn’t respond and Scott hears him knocking on doors as he strolls down the hallway, trying to find out who’s doing something he wants to be a part of.  Scott smiles to himself.  He does love having a big family now.  There’s always someone doing something.  It’s like the apartment complex with kids on every floor but better. 

He stares down at his letter.  It’s only got two sentences.  Writing to his dad is starting to feel like he’s trying to describe secondhand a grainy photograph full of people his father only distantly knows.  It would be so much easier if he were there in person, if Scott could point to an image and say what it is.  As it is, this all is starting to feel esoteric and pointless.

“What the hell are they doing?” 

Scott’s head shoots up and he leans back in his desk chair to see across the hall.  Derek’s door has slammed open and he’s standing in the middle of the frame and glaring down at the floorboards.  And then Scott can hear what he’s talking about.  Muffled yelling, which means it’s loud if it’s getting through the carpeted landing.  He can’t imagine what it sounds like to Derek. 

Scott grins and tosses down his pen.  Because it’s not yelling, it’s singing.  Loud singing. 

He gets up from his chair and half-jogs down the stairs, Derek right behind him.  Laura joins in from her room on the next landing.  It’s coming from Ichabod’s room and the words are clearer now, shouted as they are:

“The disco hotspots hold no charm for youuuu.”

Scott’s not surprised that Stiles has ended up at Icky’s door.  Even though Icky’s a lot older than them, he and Stiles get along famously because of their complementary gifts.  Icky (along with Stiles’ mom) have been trying to help him to hone his Spark for the last two years.  Scott’s watched a few times.  It mostly ends up with Icky doing something fantastical and Stiles pretending to be Godzilla and knocking it down. 

Laura bursts ahead of Scott and Derek, who’ve paused in surprise, grabs the knob and slides into Icky’s room like a diva making her entrance, in full pose and head thrown back against the door, hair wild and dark around her face.  She sings off-key along to the music and in unison with Stiles and Icky, “You can concern yourself with bigger things.” 

Stiles and Icky are bouncing around the room, stereo turned all the way up and squiggly comic book lines coming from the speaker to indicate noise.  Icky keeps touching things in his room and they turn different neon shades of color.  A touch to his bedspread and it’s bright yellow, his windowsill and it’s cherry red, his desk and it’s hot pink. Stiles is playing air drums with a couple of pencils and though he’s hitting nothing, Icky has made it so those same sound lines appear every time he beats the nonexistent drums. 

Scott joins in on the next line.  “You catch the pearl and ride the dragooon’s wiiiiiingggggs.” 

Even Derek can’t resist when it hits the chorus.  “‘Cause it’s the heeeeeat of the moooooment,” they all sing together, tearing around Icky’s room, jumping from floor to mattress, crashing into each other, banging their heads and thin air, shocky sound lines wavering around all of them.

Clive’s door barrels open across from them and he strides into the room, all exaggerated, faux-elegant movements, one leg thrown out behind him with every step like an ice skater and arms going from his chest and out again like he’s rhapsodizing to a crowd.  Ivy’s voice comes from his diaphragm, loud and depthless when he joins in, “Heeeeat of the moooment, the heeeeat of the moooment showed in your eeeeeeeyes.”

The books on Icky’s bookshelf take flight, their pages beating like wings in the air in time to the bass line and they all dance harder in response.

Scott never finishes the letter to his dad. 

It’s drowned in the chaos of their voices, lost for good to Don’t Stop Believin’ which turns out to be the next song on Icky’s mix.  It’s well-acted by him and Stiles and his cousins. 

Icky obligingly turns his bedroom into a sodden street in some forgotten place, lamplight flickering on their faces, the sound of cars passing them streets away and a mist of rain slicking their cheeks, so they can really get to the grit of it.

 

E  I  G  H  T

 

Cora pokes her head into Scott’s room, evil in the downslope of her eyebrows.  She says darkly, “We’re playing dodgeball,” throws her head back and cackles.  She’s off down the hall to knock on someone else’s door before either of them can react.

Stiles never would’ve thought a seven-year-old could give him chills.  He decides then and there that Aunt Talia’s let her watch 101 Dalmatians way too many times.  Also, what kid identifies with Cruella De Vil instead of the puppies?  “There’s something wrong with that one.”

Scott hms distractedly.

Stiles steps up behind him, plucks the book out of his hands, ignores his indignant, “Hey—” and says, “Oh ho, we are playing, Scotty.”

Scott turns around in his desk chair and frowns.

Stiles sticks his finger in the crinkled line that’s appeared between his eyebrows and the frown disappears when he crosses his eyes and looks up curiously at it.  “You need to go outside.  I think you’re getting all weird.”  Stiles waves a hand in the direction of his face.  He knows Scott is still off-kilter from seeing the principal’s car accident two weeks before it happened.  He’s been nose-diving back and forth between morose and guilty for ages now.

“I’m not weird.” 

“You are weird,” Stiles counters.  He shoves the book back into Scott’s chest so he can put it up where he won’t lose it.  Stiles would do it but he has a talent for losing things.  “You’re lucky I love you anyway.”

Scott sticks his tongue out at him.

Stiles doesn’t bother paying any more attention to him.  He’s decided he’s going to do this, which means so will Scott.  It’s unfailing; Stiles leads and Scott follows.  Sometimes it makes him feel like he could take on the whole world because he knows Scott will be there if he does and sometimes—he swallows—sometimes it leads to things like the attic and he wishes Scott wouldn’t follow him at all. 

He’s heading out Scott’s door when Derek’s opens and they end up staring right at each other.  Stiles’ good mood instantly drops to dark depths and he glowers.  “Don’t tell me you’re participating, Dick?”

Derek’s hands clench into fists at his sides and his cheeks go scruffy with fur.  “It’s Der-ek,” he says forcefully.

Stiles smirks at him, pops one shoulder nonchalantly.  “Whatever.”

Scott slaps him on the shoulder from behind, steers Stiles out into the hall so it’s he and Derek who are looking at each other.  He seems to realize that he isn’t going to be able to stop the imminent fight and does the only thing he can in that scenario: issues a challenge.  “Last one downstairs has to eat the whole box of Olga’s Bran cereal.”

Stiles takes off.  Derek’s right behind him and Scott’s bringing up the rear.

They both catch up on the second flight of stairs, when Talia stops them at the bottom, glaring, and they come to an air-bruising standstill only a handful of steps away from the hall.  “What are you doing?” she demands.  “You sound like a herd of wildebeest.”

“Nothing,” they all chorus, with differing levels of sincerity.

Talia’s eyes flash red and they all flinch.

Stiles glances down.  The finish line is right there.  He can taste it.  He covertly tugs on the bottom of Scott’s shirt and looks towards the floor.  Scott stares back at him, eyes scrunching and then widening again.  That’s agreement.  Stiles grins and jumps at the same time as Scott down the last four stairs. 

They both land well, turn back around and Stiles points at Derek, taunting, “Hah, you lose!”

Derek looks furious and Scott and Stiles run out the back door before he can retaliate or Talia can realize what just happened.  Laura, Icky, Ivy, Cora and - unsurprisingly - Peter are already waiting for them.

The Hales’ backyard is really acres of land, bordered by woods on one side and a fence with a field stretching as far as the eye can see on the other.  It’s inconsistently grassy, as much dirt as clumps of green. 

All the Hale kids, and their uncle, are holding red rubber balls.  Scott and Stiles squat to get their own out of the box by the side of the house and come back armed with their weapons.

Laura’s looking particularly diabolical today and Stiles decides they’re definitely on her side.  He and Scott drift over to stand by Icky and Laura.  Derek joins Ivy, Cora and Peter on the other side after he too gets his ball, still huffing dramatically.

Stiles bumps fists with Icky and bows to Laura, who accepts it with a pleased sniff. 

“Play fair, family,” Peter says, smile sharp like he knows they’re all hearing the opposite and he means it to be taken that way.

Icky puts up a barrier as they throw the first volley.  Derek’s expected it and has scooped up his ball so fast and whipped it at Stiles, who dodges it.  Peter hadn’t thrown his, only pretended to, and guns his at Laura, who uses her own ball to block it. 

That’s the last time Stiles gets to take stock of anyone besides Derek as his entire goal in life becomes bruising him with a red rubber ball, even if it’ll fade before he gets a chance to see it.  Derek seems to share a similar mission. 

Stiles rockets his ball towards Derek, who avoids it easily.  He steals Scott’s, sneaking behind the line of his compatriots, and Derek scoops up one that’s rolling along the ground.  He tosses his first and it ricochets off Stiles’ ball, which he whips at Derek’s feet.  It misses, but barely. 

Derek gets a ball before Stiles can and it’s coming right for him.  He holds up his hands and a pocket of air forms in front of them and the ball bounces off course before it comes anywhere near his skin.  Stiles laughs brilliantly and Derek glares at him, yellow-eyed and raging.  “Cheat,” he hisses, which is when Stiles realizes how near to the line they’ve both gotten. 

“And using werewolf speed isn’t?”  He scoffs.

He picks up a ball and tosses but Derek ducks it just in time.  There are balls out of bounds but Stiles doesn’t see any that are free on his side.  Derek, on the other hand, has plenty.  Shit. 

Stiles worries his lower lip and decides to break more rules, running to get the ones that have bounced off into the woods behind them.  He doesn’t realize Derek’s followed him until a ball smacks into the tree next to his head.  Stiles finds one, whirls around, sees Derek’s dark silhouette rushing through the trees and throws it as hard as he can.

“You’re off your side,” Stiles calls over to him, panting as he runs.

He hears Derek’s laugh and then he calls back, “So are you.” 

Stiles stops running, trying to pinpoint what direction his voice had come from.  “You know what that means, guerilla warfare.”  His dad had just taught him that.  Stiles is still kind of disappointed it didn’t mean wartime tactics involving gorillas.

Apparently Derek does know that because he crashes into Stiles from the opposite direction to the way he’s looking and they land on the forest floor. Roots and rocks and branches dig into his back and hip and neck as he tries to squirm out from under Derek until he realizes that Derek has a dodgeball in one hand.

Stiles scrunches up his face, jerking his head back into his neck and slamming his eyes closed, afraid Derek is going to bean him with it in the face.

He feels it touch the tip of his nose and opens his eyes to nothing but red rubber and dirt.  Derek pulls it back and then Stiles is staring right up into his face, into his green eyes and he says, voice slightly rough with exertion, “Got you.”  He looks breathless and younger than Stiles thinks of him.  He’s only two years older but he always ends up some kind of ageless tyrant in Stiles’ head.

Stiles doesn’t know what they’re doing anymore.  Derek won.  He should be getting up but he isn’t.  He’s staring at Stiles like a thief, like he’s hoarding moments or features of Stiles’ face, like he’s doing something he knows he shouldn’t be.  Stiles doesn’t really understand any of what’s happening on Derek’s face.

After almost a minute of this, after Stiles has almost found his voice again, Derek scrambles away like he’s been caught and then Cora’s voice follows a short time later: “I can’t hear them anymore.” 

Laura scoffs at her sister.  “That’s because you have baby ears.  They’re right up here, breathing like freight trains.”  Laura catches them barely a minute later.  She takes in their positions with a sweep of her eyes but the only question she asks is, “Who won?”

Stiles gets up angrily, reminded all over again of the defeat.  “Derek,” he spits.

Derek’s regained his composure and sneers at him.

“He cheated more than you did, I bet,” says Scott from behind Laura and Cora.  “Yours is the moral victory.” 

Stiles beams at him and Derek throws the ball he won with farther out into the woods.  They all listen to it crash down eons away.

 

N  I  N  E

 

“He’s my best friend,” Scott says again, voice choked.

“I know,” Talia says blankly.  Her eyes are unfocused. 

Scott stares down at his hands.  He’d picked at his thumbnail until it bled last night, after—after—There’s still a line of crusted red all along the side of it.

“You should tell him,” his mom says miserably.

Scott shakes his head.  “I can’t.  I can’t.”  He almost loses his voice on the word.  “He’ll hate me.  He’ll hate me and he’ll be right to.”

“No, he won’t be.”  His mom takes his hand.  “He won’t be.” 

Olga pours more gin into everyone’s glasses.  She hasn’t said much.  Scott doesn’t think she’s going to.  “I don’t want this,” he croaks.  “Can’t we—isn’t there something—?  Maybe Icky could—”

Talia calmly shakes her head, covering Scott’s fist with her open palm.  “This is how it is,” she says flatly. 

Scott hates her a little bit.

 

 

Scott tells Stiles his mom is going to die on the jungle gym after school.  The rain’s a mist in the air around them and the bars are slick and Stiles’ hood is up, guarding him and blinding him with the same function.  Stiles’ head snaps up at him and he slides off the metal contraption, turns around and spits, “That’s not funny.”

Scott gets down too and says miserably, “No, it isn’t.”

Stiles takes a few steps back as soon as Scott’s in the sand with him.  He hisses, “Take it back.”  Like it’s only the words that made it true and, as soon as they’re undone, his mom’s sentence will be too.

“Stiles, it doesn’t—you know it doesn’t work like that.” 

Stiles swallows, eyes darting all around like there’s an escape he’s just not seeing.  “What—Can’t it be stopped?” he says, jaw jutting out defiantly but there’s a sheen of standing water over his eyes that belies his true feelings.

Scott sniffs hard.  “It’s something—something in her head.  Something they can’t fix.”

Stiles lets out something like a screaming moan and Scott rushes forward.  Stiles jerks away from him.  Water’s falling from his eyes and he says, shaking all over, “I hate you.  I hate you.  I hate everything about you,” and runs as fast as he can in the opposite direction. 

Scott falls to his knees and cries until all his tears dry up. 

 

 

Stiles doesn’t come over the next day and he won’t talk to Scott in school.  And then Stiles stops coming to school altogether. 

There’s a knock on his door nine days after he’s told Stiles his mom is going to die.  Scott sits up in his bed and Talia’s standing in the frame.  She’s frowning, her eyes are red and under the stretch of her arm on the knob is a beleaguered looking Stiles.  His chin’s against his chest and his shoulders are slumped and he looks defeated.

Scott’s never seen anything so sad in his whole entire life and he lets out a soundless breath of shock at the sight of him. 

He takes a few steps into Scott’s room and Talia says with a great amount of care, “Stiles, are you going to be okay?”

Stiles shrugs his shoulders, but says flatly, “I’m fine.” 

Talia’s eyes find Scott’s and they both share a look of pain before she closes the door.

“Stiles, I—” Scott starts, not sure what he wants to say but Stiles doesn’t seem to care.  He scrambles into Scott’s bed and he’s wet and dirty, probably from walking there, and his arms wrap around Scott fiercely and Scott’s wind just as fiercely back around him.

“I wanted you to be wrong,” he says savagely into Scott’s shoulder.

“Me too,” Scott says back. 

 “I don’t hate you.  I don’t.”  He slides his head down, hiding his eyes in the same shoulder he’d breathed hot breath into and Scott knows he doesn’t want an audience to what his face is doing right now. 

“I know that,” Scott tells him truthfully.  He’d been so crushed that day because he didn’t think that part mattered.  Stiles didn’t have to hate him to never speak to him again.

 

 

When he wakes up, it’s clear that Stiles has been awake for a while.  He’s sitting cross-legged on the bed next to Scott and his eyes are an unflattering combination of red from crying and gray underneath from not sleeping enough.  “I’m gonna go home,” he says.

Scott nods.

Stiles looks away and Scott’s surprised to see tears spring up in his eyes.  He closes them and they’re gone when he opens them again.  “You’re the best thing I’ve ever done with my life,” he says in a stuffy voice.  “Sometimes I might not act like it, but I always know it.”  He unfolds his legs, descends from Scott’s bed like a spider coming down from its web and slips out Scott’s door before he can respond.

 

 

In the coming months, Stiles doesn’t come around the Hale house as much, stays home with his mom as much as he can.  The newly appointed sheriff gets him and Scott walkie-talkies after a month.  At first it’s just them recounting what’s happened to them since school’s been over and then Derek overhears them.

He strides into Scott’s room without knocking on a Sunday night, plucks the walkie from his hands and brings it downstairs, slamming it on the kitchen counter and the next words Stiles says are to almost all the Hales.

It becomes a tradition after that.  Every Sunday, Stiles and Claudia and the sheriff take turns talking to every single one of the Hales.

Derek insults Stiles, Ivy talks about bodybuilding - “God, no, I’m not doing it.  I meant as a concept,” Laura makes Stiles pick her next nail polish color, Cora talks - theoretically - about how one could get their hands on nitrate - theoretically (the sheriff says he’s leaving the room, he doesn’t want to know), Icky tells Stiles how the last book he’d been regaling them all with finished, Olga talks about pomegranates with Claudia, Ivan talks football with the sheriff, Talia trades recipes for protection spells with Claudia, Peter tries to convince the sheriff that any season is hunting season, Fritz asks if Stiles has played the new Zelda, Iggy and Ziggy - not really understanding the purpose of this - ask, in unison, for a “glitter-speckled, rhinestone-footed stuffed purple unicorn,” Melissa offers her assistance any way she knows how.

Scott waits.  Because every night that isn’t Sunday night still belongs exclusively to him and Stiles.

 

T  E  N

 

“It’s only a weekend but it’s, given everything that’s going on, it’s important to spend time with—”

“I get it,” Scott says, staring out the window and watching the scenery blur past.  He leans his head against the window; it rattles his brain around.  He does get it.  Stiles’ mom is dying and Scott’s mom knows his dad’s job is dangerous and he could die too and Scott wouldn’t have talked to him in two years. 

All it does is remind Scott that Stiles’ mom is dying though.  And Stiles doesn’t deserve it.  The sheriff doesn’t deserve it.  Claudia doesn’t deserve it.  He wishes he hadn’t seen it because there’s a part of him that feels like he made her diagnosis happen by seeing it.  There’s a part of him that remembers the Stiles from a year ago saying, ‘I hate you, I hate everything about you,’ and thinks: good, you should. 

“Your dad’s got the whole time off and I heard he’s thinking about a Cubs game.” 

Scott sighs.  Great.  Looks like his mom was going to spend the whole drive to the airport talking, out of some sense of guilt Scott doesn’t even understand.

Fifteen minutes away, her phone rings and Talia says, “Melissa,” and Scott just knows.

“We’re turning around,” he says ferociously.  “We’re turning around right now.”  If she doesn’t, he’ll fling himself out of the car and run home.  He’s beyond all reason. 

It’s a moot point though, Melissa’s turning the car around before he’s even gotten through the first sentence.

 

 

Stiles stares at his dad, feeling chaotic inside and filled to the brim with broken, jagged pieces of himself and he’s jittery, unable to stand still.  “I have to go,” he says, and his mouth wraps around it so oddly, like it’s trying to catch the words he’s releasing, yank them back inside with all the other sharp bits.  “Scott,” he barks out.  It’s all he needs. 

His dad nods with unseeing eyes and Stiles doesn’t know what to do.  The life had seemed to snuff out of both him and Claudia Stilinski today and he doesn’t know how to shove it back into either one of them.  He swipes at his eyes, under his nose with the back of his wrist and purses his lips.

He runs full-sprint to the Hale house because it’s easier than trying to figure it out.

He remembers three-quarters of the way there that Scott is on his way to the airport to see his dad.  That he’ll be gone for three days.  Stiles can’t stop crying.  He doesn’t go to the front door, he runs around to the back and just keeps going. 

He gains a shadow after a while and he spins around and sees Derek running after him.

“Leave me alone,” he shouts back at him, furious and red-faced and wanting to hurt him as bad as he hurts inside.

“Stiles,” is all Derek says and it’s not sad, like Stiles would’ve expected, it’s a command.

It’s so much like their old dynamic that Stiles can’t help but stop, can’t help but want to argue back completely breathless and physically unable to.

Derek stops right in front of him.  “Stiles,” he says again and his hand reaches out and cups his elbow and now it’s more wondering.  Not wondering like curious but wondering like awe.  He’s not curious, he already knows.  “Come back to the house,” he says, looking away, furtive.

They’ve gotten far away from it and pick up a leisurely pace on the walk back. 

Stiles picks up rocks and throws them as hard as he can at the ground, hard enough that it hurts his arm. 

Derek doesn’t say anything.

Stiles stops a few feet from the Hale’s porch and says, “My mom is dead.”  The words release a dam inside of him so big and so wide that he feels like he’ll never stop feeling it.

Derek’s arms wrap around his shaking shoulders and Stiles only halfheartedly tries to squirm away from him.  He lowers them both down onto the top step and pulls Stiles closer to him. He clings on tight, like if he can just shelter enough of Stiles with his own body, he’ll be able to keep him safe from the evils of the world. 

It’s pointless though.  Stiles is here because he’s just seen the evils of the world right up close.

He leans into Derek’s chest and blubbers, gets snot and wet onto his shirt and Derek doesn’t say anything.  He holds Stiles while he cries and doesn’t say anything.  He doesn’t feed him lies or platitudes, he just lets him cry himself into a headache and sore muscles.

His head starts to pound, pulsing in time with his sobs, and he sets it up against Derek’s neck and closes his eyes and tries hard to stop crying because it’s starting to make his whole body feel like it’s drying out.  Tears are still leaking out though and soaking Derek’s collar and Derek’s chin is on his shoulder and Stiles lets his body slump into Derek’s, dozing unevenly and restlessly.

He only fully wakes when Derek starts growling, threatening, like there’s something he wants to disembowel on the other side of it.  Stiles doesn’t care.  He doesn’t turn his head.  If something’s out there looking to get them then maybe today is the day all the Stilinskis die.  Two down, one to go.  He closes his eyes again, shivers when he feels something touch his back.  It’s a hand - and he doesn’t know how he knows that it’s Scott’s hand. 

He whimpers in relief, in sadness, in happiness, in something that’s so big it houses far more than one emotion.

Scott’s hand moves away from his back but the weight of him sitting next to Stiles on the step doesn’t leave.  Derek’s arm tightens around his shoulders proprietarily, an out of place gesture.  Stiles doesn’t care about that either.  Derek and Scott stay with him until the sun comes up.  He sleeps fitfully if at all. 

He doesn’t think either one of them get a wink.

 

E  L  E  V  E  N

 

Stiles is different after his mom dies.  Which is such a stupid thing to even think.  Of course he’s different, his mom is dead.

The Hale pack sticks closer to him than ever and they’ve all noted with frowns, with chewed nails, with angry eyebrows, how much harder it is to coax a smile or a laugh out of him.  Scott hears Talia say to Ivan in the kitchen, “I just want to grab them both, drag them here and never let either of them out of my sight again.”

Ivan pulls Scott aside and says, “Putting your energy into creating something, sometimes—sometimes that can make the world seem less bleak.  At least for a little while.  You should tell him that.”  

Scott hears Laura say, eighteen and balancing on the cusp of becoming someone very wise and staying someone very combative, “People die, they do that, they’re fragile.  It’s worse when it happens to the ones that don’t seem fragile.”

His mom says, “It tears holes in people in different ways.  Holes you can’t fill.  That’s not what you’re trying to do.  You’re not trying to fill it.  You’re trying to help them live with it.”

“It’s harder because he can’t fight the thing responsible.  Getting your hands around something,” Peter holds out his own, palms up, “it helps.  Not a lot, but it helps.”

Olga says, “I will miss her.  She understood the earth like I do.  Like Stiles someday might.”

The only people Scott doesn’t talk about it with are his dad, and Stiles.  He’s not used to that.  He and Stiles, they talk about everything but this feels strangely off limits.

Stiles comes over as much as he used to.  Before.  But now he just sits on Scott’s bed and stares at the wall or throws and catches a ball over and over or reads quietly without ever turning a page.  There’re no dance parties or dodgeball games or even sneaking up to the attic.  He doesn’t seem to want to do anything.

“What do you want to do?” Scott asks. 

Stiles looks over at him from the book he’s not reading.  His eyes are blank but they slowly start to fill with anguish.  Finally, he says, “I want to run until I can’t run anymore.”

“Okay,” Scott says.  They walk downstairs, hop the fence onto the side that stretches with a field that seems to fill the whole horizon and they run. 

They run until they can’t see the house, they run until the sun’s moved far across the sky, they run until their legs turn to jelly.  They run until they can’t run anymore.

Scott flops down into the grass and Stiles jogs back to him and flops down next to him. 

“You’re fast,” Scott pants out.  It becomes two different sentences based on how much breath he needs between the words.  “Maybe track?” he suggests. 

Stiles makes a thoughtful sound.

Scott stares up at the almost cloudless sky.  Watches swallows swoop and weave.  He doesn’t know how many minutes or hours it’s been when he says, “Does it hurt?”

Stiles nods in his periphery, against the grass.  “All the time.”

He rolls over onto his elbow and looks at him, thinks about how the werewolves in his family can suck away physical hurts and says, “I wish I could take this kind of pain away.”

Stiles blinks at him, brow furrowed.  “But you do,” he says.

 

T  W  E  L  V  E

 

“You have to get limber,” Clive says, doing his own exaggerated lunges.  He looks like the star of a ridiculous late-night infomercial and Stiles can’t help but laugh at him.

Ivy’s the weirdest sixteen-year-old Stiles has ever met.  He acts like he’s in his sixties, wears sweatervests, smokes a pipe and dyes his hair gray but also is as close to physical perfection as any of the Hales are.  His abdomen is actually doing ridged things Stiles doesn’t even understand and his biceps are as big as Ziggy’s head when they’re flexed.  He doesn’t seem to care what any other sixteen-year-old might think of him but he has a bridge club that he takes Very Seriously.  The youngest member of it after him is sixty-seven. 

“Do I have to look like that to do it?” Stiles asks.  He’s not sure it’s worth it if he does. 

Laura pulls a face.  She’s sitting in the first row of the bleachers and squinting at him.  “Please don’t.”

“Run with me, Loh,” he says, using her initials as a nickname.  She pretends to hate it but Stiles knows she doesn’t.

“I have to study.”  She holds up the huge textbook in her lap.  Laura’s twenty.  She’s at community college and Stiles is convinced she’s the coolest person he’ll ever meet.  She’s got a sports car and bracelets that jangle and a wallet made out of duct tape.  He has a pretty massive crush on her that only Scott knows about.  Her hair’s choppy and short and bubblegum pink this week and she uses all kinds of gel to spike it up that smells like mangoes.  Derek tells her to shower every time he sees her, nose scrunching.

Icky stands up next to her.  “I’ll do it.” 

Stiles wrinkles up his nose.  “You’ll cheat.”

“Yes,” Icky says, walking down to the fence and entering the track.  He’s nineteen now and Stiles still has no idea what he really does.  He thinks Icky has a job but he’s not totally sure of that.  He is almost certain that Icky doesn’t go to school, nor does he have any plans to. 

Ivy’s still stretching like a total dufus.  He looks pointedly at Scott where he’s sitting cross-legged on the ground.  “We went over how to use the stopwatch?” he confirms. 

Scott rolls his eyes.  “You mean where the ‘start’ and ‘stop’ buttons are?  Yeah.”  He catches Stiles’ eye and they both do their best to look superior and annoyed. 

Stiles would’ve just done this with him except Scott has asthma and he’s already made him run for his life once in recent memory because he wasn’t thinking.  Once he mentioned his track plans to Clive, all the older Hales decided they wanted to take part in training him.  Except Derek. 

Stiles doesn’t know what’s going on with him anymore.  They don’t seem to hate each other now, not after that night two years ago. but Stiles doesn’t think they’re friends either.  He always seems to be trying to prove how busy and important he is these days, especially in comparison to Stiles and Scott.

Stiles takes his mark at the line the way Ivy showed him.  Icky stands there, looking bored.  His hair is bleached white now and his skin almost matches it for paleness.  He’s wearing small wire glasses, a dress shirt, designer jeans and shiny black shoes.  He doesn’t look like he’s running anywhere.

Ivy says, “Mark.”  Stiles is on it.  He says, “Set.”  Stiles does.  He says, “Go.”  Stiles puts on a burst of speed and slices through the air with hands and feet, breathing rhythmically and deeply and willing himself onward.

Icky’s waiting for him at the finish line.  He brushes lint off his shoulder and says with a slight frown, “You took a very long way round.”

Stiles glares at him.  “I took the way that doesn’t defy physics.” 

“Oh.”  Icky’s frown deepens.  “How boring.”

 

T  H  I  R  T  E  E  N

 

“You can run faster than that,” Derek taunts, running circles around Stiles.

“You have supernatural speed, asshead,” Stiles throws back at him, bent over and dragging air into his lungs.

Derek shrugs.  “You have the wind at your back.”  He touches his fingertips to Stiles’ spine as he says it. 

Stiles whips around on him, hating the ticklish feel of it.  “I thought you weren’t gonna be around tonight,” Stiles finally says.

Derek’s expression darkens and he throws back, “I thought you were going out with Scott.”

“The concert got canceled,” Stiles tells him sourly.  “We got a refund at least.”  They’d been looking forward to going though.  Ivy had agreed to drive them and everything, then the lead singer had checked into rehab again.  When he’d seen Derek was home, he’d coaxed him out to help him train as Stiles usually did when they were both around and Stiles wasn’t doing something with Scott and Derek wasn’t pretending he had a million other things he’d rather be doing. 

Derek makes a face at him.  “Sorry your date got canceled,” he says as obnoxiously as possible.

Stiles flips him off and they both start running again, their sneering looks slowly becoming grins the farther away from the house they run.

 

 

“Hey, I got you something.”

Scott looks up at his doorway.  Stiles is standing in it with his hand in the pocket of his hoodie, clenched like it’s holding something.  It’s ten o’clock, later than he usually comes over.

Stiles hadn’t come home with him after school today, though.  Scott knew he’d wanted to check on his dad and hadn’t made him talk about it.  The sheriff had been coming over more recently with Stiles though and everyone had settled in ways that made it very clear they hadn’t realized they’d ever been unsettled.

Scott squints at him.  He can’t even guess.  “What is it?”

Stiles bites his lip, looking uneasy like—like he’s trying to talk Scott out of disliking it before he’s even been given a chance to form an opinion.  “I don’t know if—I know there’s stuff where you’re supposed to pick them out yourself but I thought—I saw them and I thought they looked—” he huffs, annoyed with himself, “I thought they looked like yours.”  He withdraws his hand from his pocket and thrusts what’s between his fingers out at Scott.

It’s a deck of Tarot cards. 

Scott takes them gingerly.  The back of them are different shades of silver, shiny and matte, making looping and swirling patterns that never touch the edges of the cards, that twist and fall back into each other.  The pictures are all stark, red lines on the other side and he laughs when he sees them.  They match Scott’s comforter perfectly and he spreads each one out on it. 

He almost forgets about Stiles completely in his excitement over the cards.  He looks up at him after longer than is polite and says, “Do you want me to read you?” 

Stiles shakes his head.  “I just wanted to—They were yours and I thought you should have them.”

Scott feels that too.  They are his.  He doesn’t miss the significance of Stiles being the one to give them to him either.  Stiles, the person who made him want to stop having visions altogether, is giving him a tool to hone them.  ‘Thanks’ feels remarkably inadequate but it’s really all he’s got.  “Thank you.” 

Stiles nods, half-smiles and thumbs over his shoulder.  “I gotta go.  I’m glad you like them,” he adds before he leaves.

 

F  O  U  R  T  E  E  N

 

“Scott, no readings at the table.”  Scott reluctantly stacks up his cards and Talia waits until they’re cleared from in front of him to set down his plate.  She glances at the sheriff.  “John, drink?”

He looks up, away from Stiles, who’s sitting across from Scott tonight.  “Whatever you’ve got,” he says agreeably, pulling Stiles’ attention bodily away – his large hand over Stiles’ eyes – from Icky, who is discreetly and without demonstration trying to teach him how to make the flowers in the centerpiece grow.

Stiles pushes his dad off with a snorting laugh.  The sheriff grabs him around the neck as soon as he’s free and pulls him into a loose headlock.  Stiles can’t stop grinning. 

“Make that two,” Ivan tacks on from the head of the table, catching Talia’s arm as she passes and pressing a scruffy kiss to the crook of her elbow.  She smiles and rolls her eyes then slips away from him.

“Paige, is there anything we can get for you?” Talia asks before she disappears into the kitchen.

The dark-haired girl next to Derek raises her head, shoulders hunched, spooking a little at being addressed directly, and says politely, “No, thank you, Mrs. Hale.  Water’s fine, really.”  It’s the second time she’s said it.  She’s got a mole next to her eye.  It makes Scott think of Stiles’ moles.  He wonders if it makes Derek think of them too.  That would certainly explain why his gaze has been darting between them all night. 

Stiles hasn’t noticed yet.  Scott’s not sure he will.  He’s wrapped up in his dad.  It’s an awesome thing. 

Paige probably thinks she’s Derek’s girlfriend.  Scott’s pretty sure the vein in Derek’s head, the one that pulses when he yells at Scott and Stiles, would outright explode if he knew that.  Scott tries to catch Stiles’ eye over it, wondering what he’s thinking about it, but he’s still in the headlock, eating and talking to Icky like there’s nothing strange about his position.

They get through dinner without anyone doing any magic or shifting or saying anything odd.  Well.  Aside from Iggy and Ziggy but that’s status quo for them.

Derek offers to get the dessert from the kitchen and Scott thinks it might be to escape Paige’s searching gaze.

“Do you think Stiles is going to cause a scene or something, distract her from you?” he asks, following Derek curiously.  It’s not exactly an unreasonable thought.  Stiles is all distraction and spectacle when he wants to be. 

Derek jumps, clearly not having heard Scott come in behind him and glares.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he mutters into the fridge, dragging out the carrot cake and turning around.

Scott rolls his eyes.  “You keep looking at him,” he plays along, acting like this could possibly be new information despite the fact that Derek’s been at it all night. 

Derek pales and then his eyebrows drop low.  “I am not looking at him,” he snarls, expression threatening. 

Scott backs away from him as he passes, not sure what’s made Derek so furious but not wanting to inadvertently anger him further.  He feels worse about it by the minute, watching Derek stab at his sliver of cake, no longer looking at either Paige or Stiles.  When Derek gets up to take his and Paige’s plate into the kitchen, Scott follows, meaning to apologize.

Talia, Laura and Olga are already there doing the clean up.  Ostensibly.  Their backs are turned to the dining room and Talia glances at the clock on the wall.  “You’ve only got two years,” she says to Laura, adding, “tick, tock,” under her breath. 

Laura pshaws.  “They are totally the eloping kind.  All they need is a driver’s license between them, you’ll see.  Scott is the textbook definition of romantic.”  Scott freezes at the sound of his name and then dissolves into total confusion.  What the hell are they talking about?

Olga waves her hand at both of them.  “They are reasonable boys,” she says.  “I still say twenty-two.”

Talia laughs.  “Which one proposes?”

Olga says, “Stiles,” at the same time that Laura and Talia say, “Scott.”

Scott gapes at their backs.  They think he and Stiles are going to get married?

Derek’s white as a sheet next to him and he slams his plate into the sink so hard that it breaks.

 

F  I  F  T  E  E  N

 

Stiles settles on the other side of Scott’s bed, careful not to disrupt the cards he’s laid out.  “Well?” he says finally, after trying – and failing – to divine something from them himself. 

Scott grins up at him, touching a few of the card’s edges like a nervous gesture.  “I’m going to meet her next year.”  He licks his lips, heartbeat fluttering in his chest.

“Allison,” Stiles breathes, as reverently as Scott ever has.  He waves his hands over the cards without dropping his fingers to them, even though he’s the only one Scott will allow to, and Scott obediently scrapes them up.  “What about me, Scotty?  Future-Stiles, come on, don’t you care about him at all?”

Scott bites the inside of his cheek.  “I told you, I can’t read you as well.”  He shuffles the cards, fingers shaky.  “You’re too close to me.”

Stiles turns around and dramatically flops down with his head in Scott’s lap as soon as he’s moved the cards aside.  He scowls up at him.  “What is the point of being friends with you again?”  He shoves his finger into the underside of Scott’s chin, pointing up at him.

Scott bats it away and rubs his hand over Stiles’ buzzed hair.  Stiles hums appreciatively, closing his eyes, and Scott feels awful about lying to him.  His gaze darts to Derek’s closed door across the hall before he can stop it.

 

S  I  X  T  E  E  N

 

“We got you something,” Iggy and Ziggy chorus together.

Stiles sits up in Scott’s bed, kicking his feet off the headboard, and says, “Nope.  No.  Your last gift had me speaking in limericks for a week.”  Scott’s at Allison’s and Stiles’ dad is working a thirty-six hour shift so Stiles sees no reason not to temporarily live in Scott’s bedroom.

Ziggy peers at him from under her long, purple fringe and blinks.  “That was funny,” she declares.

“For us,” Iggy appends.

Stiles scowls at them both.  “Not so much for me,” he says darkly.

“This is nicer,” Ziggy says.

“For everyone,” Iggy clarifies. 

Stiles sighs, rolling his eyes.  He might as well take whatever it is; the twins will just stare at him with those bottomless black eyes until he does.  He likes the twins but he can’t deny that they are sometimes magnificently creepy.  “It’s a mirror.”

Iggy and Ziggy’s smiles stretch across their faces in unison, growing impressively wide.  “Put it on the bed.”

Stiles was staring down at his own reflection in the mirror and doesn’t know which of the twins instructed him.  It’s a smooth, lightweight glass about the size of his torso and somehow Stiles feels like he could fall right through it.  He sets it on Scott’s comforter and instantly the reflection of his own confused face is whisked away and replaced by Scott making out with Allison in what must be her bedroom.

Stiles rears away from it.  “Ew,” he turns to the twins, “why?”  He loves Scott, he really does, but he does not want to ever see his kissing technique up close and personal.

Iggy and Ziggy shrug together.  “So you’d know where he was, and that he was okay.”

Ziggy adds, “It’ll work with your dad, too.  It just has to be touching something that belongs to whomever you want to look in on.”

Stiles picks up the mirror and the image of Scott and Allison disappears, replaced by his own reflection once again.  He looks at the twins, waiting for the other shoe to drop but they seem perfectly transparent.  “Well.  Cool,” he says.  “Thanks.”

Ziggy nods and turns on her heel.  Iggy waves each individual finger before following her, throwing over his shoulder, “Sorry about Scott.”

Stiles has no idea what he’s talking about.  Which is pretty much par for the course when it comes to the twins.

 

 

Dude, what did you do to literally every single one of your cousins?” Stiles hisses under his breath.  All of them have been giving Scott the cold shoulder for weeks now.  Either pretending not to hear him or closing the door in his face as they all pile out of the house, claiming not to have seen him or shooting him dark looks every time he glances away.

“I have no idea,” he says glumly.

It’s hard to decide who’s the worst but Stiles thinks it might be Derek, though he’s in close competition with Fritz, who had convinced Icky to put all of Scott’s furniture on his ceiling.  Derek, by comparison, flat out seems to hate Scott, slamming him into walls when they’re walking next to each other, locking him out of their bathroom, refusing to pick him up from school and leaving him to walk home.  Stiles is just glad the freeze out doesn’t seem to extend to him.

“Whatever it was, it must’ve been bad,” Stiles notes.

“I know,” Scott says in that same morose tone.

“Did you ask?” Stiles wonders aloud.

Scott nods.  “No one will tell me, but I think they don’t like Allison.”

Stiles is offended on both Allison’s and Scott’s behalf.  “But Allison’s great!” Stiles says stoutly.

Scott smiles beatifically at him.  “I know, but that’s around the time all of this,” he waves a hand above his head, “started happening.  I don’t know what to do.” 

“We’ll figure it out, Scotty,” Stiles says, clasping his shoulder.  He knows from experience that all of the Hales can be difficult when they feel like it but it’s rarely an organized attack like this.  He’s honestly surprised all the cousins could get along long enough to put it into motion.

 

 

Stiles sets his knife and fork down, glancing at the droop of Scott’s shoulders to confirm he should take action, and slices through the noise at the table with a simple, “You all need to cut it out.”

Scott starts hissing at him to stop but Stiles ignores him.  He glares around the table at the assembled Hales and his dad.  The adults don’t really deserve it as far as Stiles can tell, oblivious to the ‘gang up on Scott’ atmosphere that’s unfolded, but Stiles is in protector-mode now and everyone’s guilty.  “Whatever it is that Scott did, he’s sorry for it, okay?  And if this is about Allison,” he sits up straighter, “well, she’s amazing and Scott is crazy about her and, even better, she’s crazy about him so you should all just butt out.”

It’s Talia who speaks first after clearing her throat.  “You’re right, of course, Stiles.”  She shoots him a look that almost seems sympathetic.  Stiles stares at her confusion.  She follows with a red-eyed glare at her kids before she turns her gaze on Scott.  “Scott, we apologize for being less than accepting of your relationship with Miss Argent.”

Scott ducks his head, mumbles a curt, ‘thanks,’ finds Stiles’ knee under the table and squeezes it.

Problem solved, then.

 

 

Peter finds him in the den after dinner’s over, leans his head close to Stiles’ and says covertly, “Blink twice if you want us to continue making his life a living hell.”

Stiles gapes at him.  “No!” he says loudly, “Why would I want you to do that?”

Peter squints at him.  “Three times if you want an accident to befall Miss Argent.”

“Oh my God, what is wrong with you?” Stiles says, raising his eyes heavenward.  He pushes Peter away by the shoulder and shields his eyes.  “There is no blinking here, I am not blinking.  Olga!  Your husband’s being dangerous and creepy again.” 

Olga pops around the corner after a second.  She points a spatula at Peter, who gives her a cringe of a smile that’s trying for charming.  “Again?  I must keep my eye on you always.” 

“Nonsense,” Peter quips.  “Sometimes I’m asleep.”

 

S  E  V  E  N  T  E  E  N

 

“I wouldn’t have expected you to still hang around as much.”

Stiles looks up from the book he’s reading to find Derek standing behind him on the porch and frowning.  Stiles keeps his thumb in between the pages to hold his place and snorts.  “Pfft, please, you all love me more than Scott anyway.”  Honestly, it had never even occurred to him that it might be strange to show up at the Hale house knowing Scott wouldn’t be there.  It hadn’t seemed to occur to anyone else either, luckily.

Derek taps his fingers against one of the porch supports, staring up at the top of it, eyebrows doing a complicated… thing.  “He’ll figure it out eventually, you know?”  His lips twitch up at the roof.  “No one can resist you for long, Stilinski.” 

Stiles sets his book aside.  Derek is officially being weird and that clearly needs his full attention.  “I have the creeping suspicion that you’re being nice to me, but I also have no idea what you’re talking about so I could be wrong.”

Derek rolls his eyes and glares down at him.  “Scott,” he says, glowering.  Then, seeming to remember that he’s trying to be nice for whatever reason, he softens his tone.  “This, with Allison, it’s temporary, you know that, right?”

Stiles shakes his head.  “I don’t think so, dude.  Scott saw her in the cards.  I think she’s pretty permanent.” 

Derek looks stricken for a half-second and then with a sickeningly genuine frown, says, “I’m sorry.”

Stiles is fairly certain they are having two different conversations and he has no idea what Derek’s might be about.  “For what?” he asks, confused and somewhat curious.  Maybe Derek’s conversation is better.

Derek exaggeratedly rolls his eyes this time, getting his shoulders in on it too.  “Scott, Stiles.  God, are you being obtuse on purpose?”  He keeps forgetting he’s supposed to be being nice and half-shouting at him.  Which legitimately makes more sense, given who they are.

“Nope,” Stiles pops the ‘p’ and stands up, holding up his hands, “totally accidental over here.  I seriously have no clue what you’re talking about.  Allison’s great for him.”

Derek looks at him sadly.  “And what about you?”

They’re having different conversations again.  Or still.  Whatever.  Stiles shrugs.  “What about me?  I think their dates would be a little less romantic if I went along too.”

“We all know you love him, Stiles,” Derek finally bursts out, rather bitterly. 

“Who?  Scott?”  Is that what this is all about?  No.  That still doesn’t make this make sense.  Derek’s conversation is a total mess; he should start having Stiles’.  “Like a brother, yeah,” he clarifies and Derek looks away.  Stiles’ eyes widen.  “You do mean like a brother, right?”

“You’re in love with Scott,” Derek says, voice flat.  “Everyone knows and that’s—it’s fine.  Why do you think we were all so hard on him when he started bringing Allison around?  It was a cruel thing to do to you.”

“But I’m not in love with Scott,” Stiles says dumbly.  Because that’s… obvious.  Scott is his brother.  This conversation they are now both having is officially gross.  Stiles would like to go back to his conversation.  He’s pretty sure at no point in time was that one bordering on incest.

“Yes,” Derek lets out a gusty sigh, as though he’s tired of fighting it himself, “you are.” 

Okay, well, no.  “Derek,” Stiles says firmly, “listen to me,” Derek isn’t even looking at him and Stiles grabs for his wrist and flattens Derek’s palm against his chest, right over his heartbeat, and insists, “really listen: I am not in love with Scott.” 

Derek blinks at him, palm pressing almost painfully into Stiles’ sternum.  He blinks some more, eyes wide, and starts talking before he has a clear idea of what he wants to say.  “How is that—but you—you’ve always been—”  He gives up entirely, surges forward and slams his mouth into Stiles’. 

Stiles’ eyes pop open in pure shock, and kind of pain.  There had been a lot of force behind that before it eases up.  One of Derek’s hands is around his waist, pressing into the small of his back, the fingers of his other are clenched in Stiles’ shirt over his heart, there’s faint stubble rasping against Stiles’ chin, a nose pressed into his cheek and Derek’s tongue is slipping into his mouth. He can barely breathe Derek’s holding onto him so tightly.  Stiles can’t tell if Derek’s trying to drag him under or cling to him to stay afloat and it’s a long time before he can get his hands to work to push Derek away. 

Derek stumbles backwards when Stiles does, breathing hard, and Stiles feels like he’s about to burst when he forces out, “What was that?”  Derek’s just staring at him, eyes unfocused, and Stiles says in a rough voice, trying to snap him out of it, “Derek?”

Derek blinks, dazed.  His gaze roams over Stiles’ flushed features, settling on his already swelling lips and he says blankly, “I love you.” 

Stiles doesn’t have a response to that.  It’s so unexpected that it forces out the noise, “Hungh?”  Which Stiles thinks is supposed to mean: what the fucking fuck.

Derek seems to get it because he shakes his head like he’s trying to clear it and says, “I’ve loved you for a long time.”  He takes a miniscule step forward, regaining some of the closeness he’d lost when Stiles had pushed him away.  “I thought—everyone thought… you and Scott.” 

“You could’ve asked, you know?” Stiles says stupidly.  He’s not sure what that has to do with anything.  He’s not sure his brain is firing on all cylinders.  Or that it ever will again.  Derek just kissed him.  Derek.

Stiles,” he says with undisguised emotion and it’s too much.  Stiles has barely accepted the idea that they’re friends, let alone… whatever this is. 

“I—” he starts and stops.  Derek’s watching him, eyes wide and vulnerable and Stiles doesn’t want to hurt him.  Even when he didn’t like Derek, he still wanted to impress him, he still cared what Derek thought of him.  Stiles is pretty sure that means something.  Maybe it doesn’t mean love, but it might.  Someday.  He derails from what he was going to say and asks instead, “Give me a chance to catch up?”

Derek swallows once and bites his lip.  It takes nearly a full minute for the smile to stretch across his mouth, but when it does it’s genuine.

 

 

Stiles rubs his thumb over Derek’s knuckle.  His skin’s warm and soft and their palms are lined with sweat, sticky where they’re pressed together.  Neither one of them has pulled away.  Stiles doesn’t think they’re going to either.  The back of his hand is resting heavily on Derek’s knee, their fingers slotted together comfortably.  Stiles had made the bold move minutes ago but his heart is still lodged in his throat over it. 

All he’s doing is holding Derek’s hand.  It probably shouldn’t make him feel like he’s circling a serious cardiac event.

If this is at all lame to Derek, happily he’s doing a swell job of pretending otherwise.  His mouth is buried in his free hand, propped up on his other knee but Stiles can tell he’s smiling into it from the crinkle of his eyebrows.  Stiles bites his lower lip to keep from smiling too and casts his gaze out over the field to where Ivy is teaching Cora how to do walking handstands.

He’s not sure how long they’ve been sitting like that when the vine starts creeping up his leg.  It’s his own fault, his magic overflowing and trying to reach out and touch everything around it, including the weeds at the bottom of the porch steps.

Derek says, voice flat and unamused, “I take it all back.”

Stiles looks over at him to see that a vine has wound its way around the beam Derek’s leaning against, threaded through the rafters above him and is hanging down to sway ticklishly against his earlobe.  Stiles laughs brilliantly, squeezes Derek’s hand and snarks, “You wish, Sour Wolf.”

 

 

Stiles doesn’t think about it until a lot later.  Until he remembers the first time Scott had scooped up all the cards before Stiles could get a look at them, face pale and eyes wide, putting him off with assurances that he was unreadable, unknowable, a mystery beyond unsolvable. 

Stiles corners Scott in his bedroom, sits down next to him where he’s doing his homework on the mattress and knocks their shoulders together.  “You saw him, didn’t you?  In my cards?”  He flushes, splotchy and uneven, as he says it.  He and Derek have only been… whatever it is they are, for two weeks but Stiles feels pretty sure he would show up if someone looked into Stiles’ future.  Pretty significantly, too.

Scott cringes, like he’s expecting an attack.  “Yeah.”

Stiles leans back against the wall of Scott’s bedroom, closes his eyes and says seriously, “Thanks for not ruining the surprise.”

 

E  I  G  H  T  E  E  N

 

Scott paces the length of their tiny dorm room, trying to come up with a brilliant two-year anniversary gift and also trying not to take it personally that Stiles is not helping.  At all.  “What if I asked Allison to move in with me?”

Stiles’ raises an eyebrow without looking up from his textbook.  “Tell me you don’t mean into our dorm room?”

“No, yeah, you’re right,” he runs a hand through his hair, it’s starting to get damp with how much nervous sweating he’s doing, “it’s too soon.” 

Stiles rolls his eyes.  “Glad you came to that realization on your own, Rambo.  I’ve got studying to do and trying to Clockwork Orange you into rationality would’ve taken the whole night for sure.”  He screws up his face and adds, “I don’t even know where they sell projectors anymore.”

“Hey,” Scott can’t help but fire back, “Derek told you he loved you before you even had your first date!”

Stiles snorts, and actually does look up at him this time, both brows perked.  “And you want to look at him as a benchmark for success?”

“It worked, didn’t it?” Scott says obstinately.

Stiles shrugs and goes back to his book.  “I have low standards, what can I say?”

Derek flicks him in the nose.  “Thanks for that.”

Stiles shoves the book more firmly into Derek’s chest, using his torso as a desk as they both recline on Stiles’ mattress.  Derek on his back and Stiles on his stomach, half on top of him and half between his legs.  “You love my low standards,” Stiles points out.  He lifts the textbook so he can see Derek’s face and exaggeratedly bat his eyelashes at him.  “After all, they’ve worked out very much in your favor, you humungous, gross, Sappy Sapperstein.”

Derek pulls the book away from him entirely, slips a forefinger under Stiles’ chin and lifts it enough that he can kiss him properly.

The plant next to Stiles’ bed that’d had nothing but buds on it suddenly bursts into bloom. 

Derek smirks over at it and says smugly, “Who’s the sappy one again?” 

Stiles frowns figuring out what he’s looking at and bluffs, “That was purposeful, I’ll have you know.  I’m… making you a daisy chain.” 

Stiles does, in fact, painstakingly make Derek a daisy chain that’s lush and green and smells better than Scott thought flowers could smell, all while they lazily shoot down every idea he has for Allison’s anniversary gift.  Stiles drops the completed circlet on Derek’s head a half hour later.

Derek’s still wearing it when he drops a kiss on Stiles’ lips and bounds down the stairs to the parking lot to make the two hour drive back to his own campus.  Scott knows he’s going to press one of the flowers flat and keep it as a bookmark.  He’s already seen Derek do it, back when he and Stiles were thirteen and Scott had first read for Stiles.  Just like he knows Allison’s eyes are going to light up so bright it almost makes his heart stop when he gives her whatever gift he comes up with for tomorrow. 

He hasn’t tried to glimpse the scene again since he first saw it two years ago; he’d much rather live it.