The taste in his mouth
He looks up and stares at me, a hollow glance in his eyes. Instantly an alarm in my head goes off. Not gentle and soft, but strong, sharp and painstakingly harsh. Something happened when he was outside the vault. I can tell just by glancing at him. Of course, the fact there’s blood all over his face and clothes provides proof of that fact too.
My own head is still pounding, but instantly my brain starts searching for answers as I stare at him, standing in the middle of the vault, hovering with shivering fingers and a gaze that is far off from the usual ones I get. It reminds me of the time he went through Nogitsune-hell. And yet it’s different too.
‘Stiles, what’s wrong?’ I carefully make my way over, lingering between my care for Kira and my care for Stiles.
Even through my own fogginess, I’m deeply concerned as he slides tiredly to the ground, his head leaning against the rack he’s picked out for the occasion. I move towards him and kneel down and he says absolutely nothing to tell me the truth about what went on.
‘Stiles, come on.’
He just raises a hand, shakes his head and closes his eyes for a brief moment, rubbing the smears of blood all over his face with that one gesture.
‘We should get out of here and lock the vault before someone finds this place,’ he says hoarsely, his voice betraying the fact he’s still thinking lucid. And I suddenly smile wearily. Even when we went through hell, even when he’s obviously still very sick of whatever caused this, he’s still thinking straight.
All of a sudden I realize he’s saved our lives. Jesus Christ. Holy shit. Somehow he managed to find out the truth. And I still don’t know what the hell is going on.
‘You’re right,’ I reply just as hoarsely. ‘We have to close this place up. Come on.’
Kira, Stiles and I literally half-crawl, half walk out of the vault and I manage to slide it shut. He sinks down against the same wall he was leaning against earlier, resting his head on the same place. Relieved the three of us just stay there, too tired to do anything but wait for now. We hear noises all over the school, above us. It will be a matter of minutes before anyone will track us down.
‘Your dad is here,’ Stiles mumbles. Shocked I stare at him, waiting for more explanation, but nothing comes.
I place my hand on his forehead. ‘You still have a fever.’
‘It’ll pass,’ he just says. ‘We should go up. My dad’s probably worried shitless.’
I gesture, move up. So does Kira. But he doesn’t. He just sits there, staring at his shaking hands, making that familiar gesture he does a lot when he’s stressed out. He sort of counts his fingers, I can’t call it any other way. He stares at his hands. And so do I, realizing all of a sudden that he has exceptionally long and slender fingers. That thought captures me for a moment. And I smile, because it’s a stupid thing to think about at this very minute.
‘Stiles,’ I say. ‘We have to get out of here. Find Malia.’
He doesn’t reply, probably thinking the exact same thing as I am. She has taken off angrily, upset we’ve lied to her. I make a mental note to talk to her as soon as I can. Stiles’ look was one of devastation. He only wanted to protect her against the truth, against her dad. But instead he had driven her away by accident. I’m just as much to blame as he is, I also didn’t want her to know about Peter. And now she’s gone without knowing what went on before all of this. I know she means a lot to him, I want to explain to her what’s behind his reasoning. We’ll get to that later on, when we’re out of here.
Then I realize that Malia isn’t the reason why he’s like this. There’s something off. The scent of Stiles, is completely off. The scent that lingers about him, is not his. Hang on. The smell of pure fear and panic is his. The rest isn’t. Whatever’s happened out there, involved someone else.
I raise an eyebrow, taking in the blood on his face. Where the hell did that come from? Here, sitting in the light, I get a good look at it. His entire face is covered with it and I can tell he’s been crying. Not a cry because he’s upset. A cry because something happened to him.
I stand up, finding my shivering legs strong enough to hold me. Kira is standing up too, no longer without vision. She’s looking better by the second. In fact, both of us are, I’m sure, because she smiles in relief at me and kisses me gently while embracing me for the second time. We both stand before Stiles, still sitting.
‘Thank you, Stiles,’ she says, at first not realizing something’s wrong with him.
He just raises his hand tiredly and mumbles something. Then his eyes stare at me for the second time and I realize that there is something off, for the second time. It’s more than this fever that changes his scent. It’s more than the fear. It’s just off. Like he’s been through hell and back. And for some reason, I have this feeling my dad had something to do with it.
We hear footsteps coming down the stairs. We hear someone call out or names. I recognize the voice. It’s my dad’s. And he’s not alone. Frantically I realize I want to find out what went on out there before my dad finds us.
‘Stiles,’ I say urgently.
The same hollow glance sees right through me.
‘What happened, man?’
He just shakes his head and says nothing. ‘We have to go,’ he just says, trying to get up. And then, as if all strength left his legs, he finds that he can’t. He just sits there, out of breath, waiting for someone to make the decision for him.
I share a questioning look with Kira who doesn’t understand either what is going on, but something in her warns her too that this is not right.
‘Stiles?’ she says, leaning down carefully, her finger touching his skin. ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’
‘Dandy,’ he smiles. ‘Nothing a good night’s sleep and a shower won’t fix. Would you mind helping me up? I’m not feeling that well.’
That alarms me. The moment Stiles tells someone he’s not okay, something is very, very off. We didn’t know about his nightmares until he started sleepwalking, until my mom sedated him to make sure he slept. The Stiles I know will never say he’s sick until he’s on the verge of death.
Yeah, I can tell he’s still sick, he has the same fever as the others, the same rash on his arms. And I suddenly panic. I’m terrified that the mushrooms aren’t helping him, that he’s still infected and will die before our very eyes.
We just crawled out of the confinement of this vault with absolutely no idea of what has been happening out there. I have no idea if anyone is still sick. All I remember vaguely is Stiles leaving us behind to find out a cure. He was determined to find it for us, to get us alive out of the school.
And he did. I recall him shouting out to us from behind that thick vault door, almost screaming his lungs out about mushrooms. I remember hearing him banging against it too, in panic because I wasn’t able to reply. I was so out of it, half on the brink of death, and then he was back.
And then Kira confirmed she had seen the mushrooms on a shelve, giving me the strength to find them. I remember crawling up, knocking the glass container on the ground and then being able to breathe again. Whatever these things were, they were absolutely magic. They saved us.
No, correction. Stiles saved us. If he hadn’t shouted, we wouldn’t have known. If he hadn’t gone out, we wouldn’t have known either. We would have died here, with our cure so near. Stiles never lets me down, he’s always there. Strong. Capable. Smart. He’s the brains, the one that I need to survive. It’s not just about strength in our pack, it’s about the friendship.
They’re here. My dad and Stiles’ dad come rushing around the corner, finding the three of us down here. Two of us standing up, one of us sitting down. Kira’s dad is there too, leading them to us. He must have told them what happened.
‘Scott.’ Dad just grabs me tight and holds me against him, grabbing me so tight I feel his fatherly love all over me. And I realize just there and then that I do love him. I’m so happy to see him again. ‘It worked, didn’t it? Stiles, did it work? Stiles, are you okay?’
I stare from him to Stiles whose dad is kneeling down by him, placing a supportive hand on his shoulder. Stiles’ eyes are staring back at my dad. There’s something new in them. A mixture of fear, gratitude but also pure cruelty.
I see the sheriff talking to my best friend, his voice gentle as he grasps Stiles’ hands and holds them in his. ‘You’re okay,’ he says, ‘oh god, this is the second time McCall saved you. Stiles, I’m so glad you’re okay.’
‘Second time?’ I grasp my dad’s arm so tight he actually gasps. ‘Dad, what the hell is going on?’
Dad stares at me and then at Stiles. ‘Didn’t he tell you?’
‘Tell me what? Something’s off about Stiles, dad. It’s like he isn’t able to talk to me. What’s going on?’
‘Your teacher –‘ Dad swallows and then his eyes gaze at Stiles who frantically tries to stand up and pushes his back against the wall, acting as if he’s okay. But he’s not. There’s something wild in his eyes, something so strange it actually makes me cringe. He was in grave danger. Not just danger. On the verge of death.
‘No,’ Stiles says. ‘I’m fine, you don’t have to tell them.’ He grasps his dad’s hand. ‘Can we go home now?’
‘Not like this,’ Stiles’ dad retorts. ‘Stiles, your fever is spiking. You haven’t slept it off, have you? Come on, we’ll take care of you.’ He grasps his son tight against him and Stiles leans back suddenly, gratefully someone else is taking over, giving him strength. I’ve always been jealous of their relationship, but this time it troubles me that I’m kept in the dark. Why won’t they tell us?
‘I’ll get an EMT,’ I hear my dad whisper, his eyes still fixed upon Stiles and I want to tell him he can’t, that no one can know what we are and that we don’t need a doctor. And then I realize he’s not referring to me but to Stiles. Shocked I grasp my dad’s arm.
‘Tell me what’s going on.’
He hesitates. Kira’s hand lets go of me when her dad gently takes her out of the basement and I hear her feet going up gently, her heels clicking against the stone. Up and up they go, leaving the four of us down there.
‘Dad!’ My voice is so sharp my dad finally releases his gaze on Stiles and stares at me. ‘Tell me what the hell is going on!’
‘Not here,’ he just says, realizing Stiles doesn’t need to know what he’s about to say. It’s almost as if he was witness to something I wasn’t. And I want to shout that I need to know what the hell is going on with my friend, but Dad doesn’t get our relationship. He never got it. He always thought of Stiles as being the sheriff’s son, never of him as Stiles, as a person. Even though I know he’s changed his opinion ever since he got him out of the coyote’s den.
‘The EMT,’ he mutters and he leaves us alone, avoiding both my question and Stiles. And again I know that something went down between those two.
I turn my attention to Stiles who is sitting awfully quiet on the ground again, sliding back down when he realized the fatigue in his legs. He’s actually arguing with his dad about the EMT, can you believe that? He’s running a high fever, looks as pale as the blood-soaked T-shirt he’s wearing and basically looks like crap. And still he just wants to go home, because his dad can’t afford another hospital bill.
‘I don’t care about bloody bills,’ the sheriff says sharply. ‘The school will pay for this one, especially seeing the circumstances. They were the ones who hired an assassin, remember?’
An assassin? My mouth literally falls open. What the hell happened?
Not one but two EMT’s come down, carrying their kits. The woman leans down and scans Stiles up and down, asking him questions that he quietly replies to. The other guy places a blanket over his shoulders. I hear their whispers.
‘High fever, probably from stress and the virus combined. No injuries. Shock,’ the woman sums up.
‘Yeah, no surprise there,’ the man replies. ‘How would you feel with a gun placed against your head? He’s only a kid! What the hell was that guy doing to them?’
‘We won’t be able to ask that, now will we?’ she retorts. ‘The asshole’s dead.’
The man returns to Stiles while I try to uncover the mystery. And then I get it, as my dad comes back down too and Stiles’ eyes catch him again. They share a secret. No, not a secret. An event. My dad saved his life. The blood on Stiles’ face is the killer’s.
I stand a little backwards and switch to my werewolf eyes, scanning Stiles’ face. And I see it, the tell-tale sign of a gun’s barrel being pushed against his head. Stiles saved us. He told us what to do. He figured out how we were poisoned. And then he was threatened. Jesus Christ. Fucking hell. It had to be the teacher, that jerk with the huge blue eyes I couldn’t stand. There was no one else there that could have done it, no one in that room except for Lydia’s mother and him. It was all a setup.
‘Stiles,’ I whisper, kneeling down, basically pushing one of the EMT’s away. ‘Did he try to shoot you? Did my dad save you?’
Stiles looks up and smiles weakly, his eyes feverish. I realize that he isn’t just sick from the virus, but from shock, from fright, from nearly being shot to death. It shakes me to my care. I’m so fucking angry I want to rip that guy’s throat out. And then I realize I won’t have to touch him. He’s already dead. Thanks to my dad, who has saved Stiles twice now. Third time’s a charm? No, never again. I swear I won’t let Stiles be harmed like that ever again.
‘We have to get him upstairs,’ the male EMT says. ‘He needs medication and care.’ He talks to Stilinski who nods, a worried look on his face. He returns his attention to Stiles.
‘Come on, son,’ Stilinski says gently, placing his arm around his son’s waist. ‘Do you think you can walk up the stairs? We can do it slowly, one step at a time.’
Stiles nods, his eyes focused on the ground. The male EMT grabs him tight too and I want to push him out of the way and tell him that’s my job to do, but I don’t. They take a few steps forward towards the stairs. The next moment I see Stiles glide out of his father’s grip. The EMT holds him tight before he can fall to the ground.
‘Stiles!’ The sheriff’s roar is so loud it actually hurts my ears. He helps lower his son to the floor, staring helplessly at the EMT’s that take care of him. He lies there quietly, so still and so unlike Stiles it makes my heart cringe. His pallor is completely off. The scent of his illness actually stings my eyes. The smell of a dead man’s blood on him, kills me. I want to get him into a shower and wipe it all off, but they won’t let me, I know. They still have to process him too, he’s the living proof of my dad’s heroism. But dad will still have to explain why he took that shot.
Damn it, if dad was a worse shot than he is, if he had been there one moment too late, Stiles would have been dead. I can tell that in Stilinski’s face. The sheriff knows exactly what went down, he knows the seriousness of it. That’s why he’s so concerned right now.
I should have gone with him when he left the vault. I should have protected him. And I realize all of a sudden that he had been protecting us.
‘He’s fine,’ the woman says, pressing her fingers against his throat. Stiles slightly groans, his right hand seeking for a grip. I move forward and take his hand into mine. He’s not in pain, but he’s so out of it, I’m shocked.
The next moment he opens his eyes and gazes into mine. ‘You’re okay,’ he says, almost surprised. ‘You made it.’
‘Yes, we did,’ I remind him. ‘Don’t speak, Stiles. You’re going to be fine.’
‘I taste his blood, dad,’ he replies, lying on that floor, completely forgetting where he is. That shocks me to my very core.
‘What?’ His dad stares at him.
‘I tasted his blood in my mouth. When he was shot. It was all over me, dad. I can’t get rid of the taste.’ His hands move to his mouth, touching his lips and tip of his own tongue. And he rubs it, trying to get the taste of death out of him. Oh dear god.
‘We’ll get you something for that taste,’ the woman says, gently taking his hands away. He only then seems to realize they too are covered in blood. As if everything from his hair to his hands. I hate that smell. Get rid of it, I want to plead but I don’t.
‘He was crazy, dad.’
Stilinski makes his son look at him. ‘He’s gone.’
‘His eyes were –‘
‘I know, son. Don’t think of him.’
‘He poisoned the ink.’
‘You figured it out.’
‘How did Melissa know?’
‘We’ll tell you later.’
‘He wanted Scott.’
‘I know, Stiles. But he didn’t get to him. You stopped him.’
‘I thought it was over.’
‘I know, son.’
‘I thought I would see my life in a flash, dad, but I didn’t. There was just fear. I was afraid. And then I wasn’t. I wasn’t afraid to die.’ Stiles’ eyes open wide and so do mine. The way that he talks about it, is so eerie it shocks me. He states it as a fact. He wasn’t afraid to die. And why wasn’t he? Because he has seen death before, he knows what it’s like. He was ready before and he was ready now. Somehow Stiles learned how to cope with death. How the hell did that happen? What is happening to us? What happened to our youth? Or carelessness? I lower my head shocked. I feel so goddamned helpless.
Here I am, recovered so fast that you would not be able to tell that barely thirty minutes ago I was at death’s dorm myself. It feels to me like nothing has happened, as if I’m absolutely fine. And I am. Somehow, I am more than fine. I’m myself again.
And Stiles is running fevers, still in shock, so withdrawn into himself that I feel utterly guilty for what happened to him. I hate this. I should have been there, not him. I should have seen the teacher, confronted him. He should have put that gun to my face, not Stiles.
Stilinski’s quiet, calm voice sooths his son. I want to help, but I don’t know how. I don’t know what to say to Stiles. It’s killing me.
More people head down the stairs, checking up on us. I step backwards and allow them to do their work. Together they get a very confused Stiles to stand up, leaning against the people who are there to help him. I see Lydia rushing down the stairs, notified by someone about what’s going on. She runs to me and holds onto me, her eyes fixed on Stiles who barely notices her there. He’s still lingering between shock and reality and I’m glad that he doesn’t know how many people care for him. He would have been so embarrassed.
An EMT grabs him tight on one side, his dad on the other and they half-carry, half drag him upstairs. The female EMT has gone upstairs first, where more medics wait to help. Stiles panics again when he sees the gurney waiting for him, reassuring his dad frantically over and over again he’s fine. But the sheriff won’t hear of it and refuses to allow his son to dictate what’s going to happen.
So Stiles is moved onto the gurney, shivering of fever and shock, three blankets placed gently on top of him. He closes his eyes as soon as they start moving and allows them to take care of him at long last. He’s completely out of it by the time they reach the FBI-agents who are counting all the kids and stare at his bloodied face. Someone places an oxygen mask on his face that he tries to push away. But his dad is there, holding his flailing hand, telling him he’s fine.
One of them places a hand on my dad’s shoulder. ‘You saved a kid, well done, McCall.’
I see my dad stretch his shoulders and lift his head up, as if suddenly realizing that this is exactly what he has done. I catch his gaze and he catches mine. I walk over to him with big steps and hug him tight for the second time that day. He’s surprised by my move.
‘Thank you,’ I whisper. ‘Thank you for saving him.’
Dad relaxes and returns the hug. ‘He’d rather have died than to tell that bastard where you were. He’s the best friend one can have. He’s brave.’
‘Yeah, he is,’ I confirm.
And that’s exactly what I’ll tell him when I see him again.
Hours later, after a quick shower and some food, I sink down in the chair in the waiting room of Beacon Hills Memorial and wait, with Kira and Lydia by my side. Malia doesn’t pick up the phone. I know she’ll come back when she’s ready.
My mom brings us some hot chocolate, the FBI is there to ask us questions and we all tell them the exact same story. Stilinski knows the whole truth and paces the room. He knows Stiles will be fine physically. But how will he cope mentally? How can we all cope with the fact he nearly died for us? It makes me so angry!
The answer comes when mom comes towards us and tells us that he’s awake, vivid and very angry for being brought here. It sounds just like him, I realize relieved. He’s back. He’s fine. He’s alive. He’s okay. I hope he smells like himself again.
We walk into his room and he stares at us. Then he smiles so broadly I feel my mood lift. ‘I’m starving,’ he says with a clear and strong voice. ‘You guys wouldn’t happen to have picked up anything from the vending machine, would you?’
I scan his face, rid of the blood and brain matter and god knows what else was on it and catch his scent. He’s been scrubbed clean, his clothes gone into an evidence bag. There is still a faint smell of his attacker upon him, but his own scent is stronger and wins. Out of my pocket I deliver a Twix. His eyes grow so big it actually makes me smile. Eagerly he grabs it, tearing off the wrapper and biting in one bar, sucking on it with loud sounds.
I know he does it to get rid of that foul taste in his mouth, but Kira and Lydia don’t know that. I do. He winks at me while munching on the second bar, just as his dad comes in and reprimands him with a big grin on his face about the sucking sounds.
‘Good thing it’s only that I’m sucking on, hey dad?’ he mutters in between two bites, causing his dad to lift his eyes to the ceiling.
Oh yeah, Stiles is back.
When I sit down, I grab his wrist, if only to find out if he’s in pain. He’s not. The fever’s broken, the rash is gone and the shock has worn off. He is back to who he was before. Or is he? He knows that I know that he’s still coping with it.
‘You know we still need to talk about this,’ I whisper.
And he nods. ‘We will,’ he promises.
And we did.