The first time Stiles saw the Hale house, he'd thought it was a mansion. Granted, he had been five at the time and hadn't seen that many homes for comparison. His mother had taken him along with her while she visited her co-worker, Talia. He remembered staring up at the big house set apart from the rest of the town in the middle of the forest and thinking that it was like something out of a fairy tale. The building was too plain to be a palace, no marble staircases or golden statues. It didn't have the stone walls necessary for a castle, but it could be a mansion with it’s three floors of sprawling rooms. And, there had been so many people living in the house... He'd lost track of how many he was introduced to in a blur of Hales. His mother had excused his quiet staring as shyness, but Stiles had spent the entire time trying to figure out what the Hales were. The stories all said that special people and magical creatures lived deep in the woods and Stiles believed the stories. He just hadn't known which kind of story it was yet.
As he got older, the question stuck with him. There were more visits to the Hale house with his mother and play dates with the kids his own age. In his mind the Hales became a family of witches protecting the forest and healing injured creatures. Except, when he looked around the house there was only a small herb garden and the only ones who used it were Grandma Vera and Peter. Stiles’s mom had a better garden. When she was out among her flowers, Claudia practicality glowed with happiness and the plants mirrored that glow. Talia couldn't even keep the fern in her office alive. And, there weren't any pets, familiars, or even tamed forest creatures hanging around. He wasn't in the same class as Cora at the time, but he'd heard rumors that her class's guinea pig had never been the same after her weekend taking it home. So, he decided that witches were definitely out.
The Hales were too big to be dwarves, too small to be giants. They were tall and attractive enough to be elves, definitely supernaturally attractive, but they lacked the pointed ears and agelessness. He'd seen them out in sunlight, so vampires were ruled out. None of them seemed to be under any kind of curse. There weren't any magical servants, invisible or otherwise. Their tea cups and candlesticks didn't talk. He'd checked. Twice.
But, even if there wasn't anything magical about the Hales that he could prove, he was certain that the forest they lived in was enchanted. When he walked in the woods, the sounds of the town and people just dropped away. His normal unending energy and chatter melted into calm. He could walk in the woods for hours, just listening to the birds and reveling in the peace around him. He'd loved those woods growing up.
Even more than the woods, or because of them, he’d loved the Hales like a second family. Whenever his mom visited Talia, he would beg to come along. Claudia and Talia would hole up in the kitchen with mugs of tea and papers spread over the table and Grandma Vera would take him for a walk in the woods. Sometimes the other kids would come. They'd play tag or hide and seek and the forest would echo with laughter. He remembered the forest as a magical, lively place, full of flickering wisps of light and half-seen creatures that he was sure were there, sharing in their laughter. Sometimes it would just be him and Vera, walking quietly. The forest would be still and silent except for the sounds of nature. They would walk for what felt like hours with only the sound of their heartbeats. The other Hales never believed Vera that he'd been quiet the entire time, but she'd just wink at his mom and smile. It was like a secret between the three of them.
Stiles learned to lie at the age of seven. He'd made the mistake of telling Scott about the creatures he saw in the forest where one of his teachers could hear. Stiles hadn't thought anything about it. His parents and Scott were always amused by his stories. But he'd heard the teacher use words like "hallucinations" and "delusions". There'd been a trip to see a psychologist. Of course he told the doctor that he'd been making the story up just to make Scott laugh. He left the office with a note for his school reassuring them that he was perfectly sane and a shiny new ADHD diagnosis. He never told anyone what he saw in the forest again. He stopped looking for the magic he'd thought was there.
Then his mom had gotten sick and he stopped visiting the Hales. Instead, he read everything he could about her condition. At eight years old he probably knew more about frontotemperal dementia than most medical students. Every day he buried himself in science that told him the odds of his mother living another decade, or even another year. Yet, he'd clutch her hand through endless rounds of treatment and prayed with every ounce of faith he could muster to any deity that he thought might help. While she closed her eyes to rest, he'd clench his eyes shut, concentrate with all he had, and wish. He'd wear himself out until he fell asleep hunched over in his chair. And she would get better, have more energy, smile more. First it was a day, then two, then a week. He almost started to think his wishing was working. Until she stopped letting him touch her. Until the dementia turned on him and convinced Claudia that her son was trying to kill her.
The summer after his ninth birthday, his mom spent more time in the hospital than not. The Hales were there too, keeping his mom company while his dad was at work or when Mrs. McCall made them go home to sleep. Vera and Talia were there most often, but sometimes it was Talia's husband, David, or her brothers, Peter and Mark. He remembered being half asleep in one of the awful plastic chairs as Talia and his mom leaned in close and whispered things they didn't want the nurses to hear, taking advantage of Claudia’s lucid moments when they could. Usually it was about cases his mom had been working on, legal documents spread out on the bed with case files as they spoke about trials Claudia had prepared for but wouldn’t be able to attend. But sometimes it was other things. Things like Mom asking Talia to watch over him, protect him as he grew older, take care of him if anything unusual happened. If Stiles had been more awake, he would have passed it off as his mom’s paranoia. Instead, he had the image of the Hales with capes, posing dramatically on the Gotham City skyline. He remembered his childhood speculation and thought, ‘Not witches, knights’, before falling asleep. They certainly had looked like knights at the funeral in suits and dresses so rigidly pressed they could be armor, forming a solid wall between the remaining Stilinskis and the rest of the crowd.
Stiles's first concrete evidence that the Hales were unusual came during a sleepover when he was ten. Dad was working another long night shift to avoid the empty house. Scott and his mom were staying with Melissa's parents for a while, coping with the divorce. So, Stiles had been invited over to stay with the many Hale children. He remembered staring at the ceiling, not able to sleep with a feeling of dread clenching around his heart and trying to fend off a panic attack. Then, Peter was there shaking Albert awake and saying something about a fire. Stiles hadn't even smelled the smoke.
Before he could give in to the panic, Peter was carrying them downstairs, moving with more speed and ease than should have been humanly possible while carrying a child under each arm. Peter had thrust his son at Stiles, pushed them towards the door, and turned back inside as if the growing flames couldn't hurt him. Cora was already there, her younger sister and cousin each holding a hand as they all ran for the door. Stiles remembered several things about that night vividly. He remembered stumbling at the threshold, Albert's immovable grip being the only thing that kept him standing, the look of horror on the other boy's face as he just froze in the doorway, a sudden dizziness followed by a release of pressure in Stiles's head, tugging at Albert's hand and getting them all moving again, and the look of relief on Cora's face as she stumbled out with her family behind her. Time slowed to a stop as they waited for more Hales to come out. Talia's brother Mark carried his pregnant wife out without seeming to notice the weight. Nor did Derek seem the least hindered by carrying Grandma Vera. Oddest of all were the huge trunks Talia and Peter carried out with them. Despite being the last two to leave, they didn't have a single burn when he hugged them later.
He remembered his father yelling at them for risking their lives for some old books, even as he thanked them for keeping Stiles safe. By then the adrenaline had worn off and Stiles had been slumped over, huddled against Vera and more asleep than awake. He'd been unable to raise the energy to point out that they'd made sure the kids were all safe first. Or that he would need a new copy of the book he'd lent to Albert.
After that, he remembered his dad bringing the full fury of the law down on the arson suspects. He may not have been Sheriff yet, but there had been nowhere for Kate Argent and her allies to hide after almost killing a deputy's kid. She led the force on a chase through the twisting country roads before it was over. No one ever commented on how it was ironic that the arsonist died in a fiery crash, but he was sure they thought it.
Two things happened after that. The remaining Argents had some kind of falling out that led to most of them leaving town and Stiles insisted that all future sleepovers took place at either his house or Scott's.
He didn't seen much of the Hales after that. They couldn't have anyone over while their house was being rebuilt and Stiles was spending most of his free time trying to keep Scott's mind off of his father’s absence, usually with endless rounds of video game violence. He didn't need a babysitter anymore and without Claudia there wasn't any excuse to just stop by. He saw the younger Hales at school, but he wasn't close to any of them. Cora was in his grade, but not in any of his classes and Veronica and Albert were two years below them. Then, high school happened and it was just Cora and her older brother Nicolas. Stiles had classes with Cora occasionally. She was still nice to him, would ask how he and his father were, but it quickly became clear that she'd been chosen by their classmates as one of the popular elites. He and Scott had not been.
His freshman year, he talked to Nicholas more than Cora. Scott had convinced him to join the lacrosse team, which Nicholas co-captained. The older Hale always took the time to give the new players pointers after practice. Nicholas even took time to give them tips about their classes and which teachers to avoid. His presence kept bullies like Jackson on short leashes. But, he had his own friends. They didn't hang out outside of school.
Not that the Hales completely cut them out of their lives. There were enough Hales that it was impossible to leave the house without running into one of them. And his Dad and Talia still tried to stay friends, probably as a way of remembering his mom. There were cases tried together and the occasional work function. The Stilinski's were invited to Laura's high school graduation party, then Derek's, then Nicholas'. They spent less time at each party. There were too many people there, too much of a contrast to their quiet house, too many reminders of Claudia and how things had been. Dad wouldn't even let him slip off for a walk in the woods with Grandma Hale so he could wallow in the horror that would be high school without Nicholas's protection.
By the time he was a sophomore year, Stiles had given up on the idea that he would be popular. He didn't try to talk with Cora lest he bring down her popularity by association. He was the spastic kid who read comic books and science journals with equal interest. His only close friend was Scott, who while adorable as a puppy was also a bit socially awkward. Neither of them were good at sports. They barely made second string on the lacrosse team. His crush on Lydia Martin was public knowledge thanks to Jackson, though his crush on Danny stayed thankfully private. Stiles didn't get invited to parties. He had his Jeep, but it had clearly seen better days and was not a ridiculously expensive douchemobile like Jackson drove. In short, he was resigned to a life of utter mediocrity (minus a highlight of being Valedictorian at graduation, unless Lydia decided she wanted it), until he turned 16. Then, his story changed.