It wasn’t so bad, being dead, he decided, at least not at first. It certainly wasn’t good. But it didn’t hurt, so that was something.
He didn’t actually feel anything. He didn’t see anything either, though he was pretty sure there was nothing to see, just blackness. Stiles kind of liked the dark, actually. There was nothing to hear, either. He tried to speak, just so that he could hear his own voice, only to realize he didn’t have a mouth to speak with. And without a mouth, he also didn’t have a body. Without a body, he couldn’t feel anything, no skin to touch, no nerve endings to sends signals and no brain to receive them. But he was still thinking, at least he thought he was, and that would definitely be making his head hurt if he had one.
But when he let himself just stop over thinking it, it was kind of nice. After fighting for so long, after so much pain and fear and grief, he was just so tired. He’d spent his whole life fighting, fighting his own body, fighting his grief, fighting for his dad’s love, fighting Scott’s stubbornness, and lately fighting psychotic murderers. There was no fight left in him. He was sorry to leave his life of course; on the whole, it hadn’t been so bad. He didn’t want to leave Scott, or the pack, or most of all his dad - god, his dad - but he didn’t really have a choice. They’d get on without him, Scott would look out for his dad, and Derek would look out for Scott, of course then who would look out for Derek?
It didn’t matter. It wasn’t his job to take care of everyone anymore. His fight was done. So he floated, at ease, letting the quiet and the dark surround him, letting peace fill him.
But it wasn’t regular darkness that surrounded him, not in the strictly absence-of-light sense. There was something heavier to it, as though the darkness was filled with something he couldn’t see, hear, or feel, and all too soon it began to press down on him, thick and suffocating. There was movement too, which should have been impossible in a place distinctly lacking in physics. But he somehow just knew that there was movement, something, a lot of somethings shifting, swirling around him, phantom fingers reaching out for him, grasping at him.
The peace vanished, replaced by a cold emptiness that sort of reminded him of the dementors in Harry Potter. He didn’t like this place anymore, it was heavy, pressing down on him, suffocating him. Somehow, he knew this wasn’t right, this place wasn’t for him. He wasn’t supposed to be here!
“Stop pouting,” Stiles chided without looking away from the road in front of him. He didn’t need to look to know that Scott was, in fact, pouting.
“I’m not pouting,” Scott protested.
“Yes, you are, so quit it. Seriously, what could be bad here?” he added reasonably, “You get to spend a few hours frolicking in the woods with your wolf-y brethren. You’ll hunt some rabbits, pee on a few trees, I don’t know."
Scott wrinkled his nose. “I’m not peeing on any trees,” he deadpanned.
“Whatever. The point is this will be good for you. And if nothing else it means you have a valid excuse not to get started on your English paper yet.”
Scott huffed, resting his forehead against the passenger side window, staring morosely out at the trees as they drove. It was a relatively long trek up the winding, unpaved road that lead to the derelict Hale house, but it was one that by now they both probably knew blindfolded.
They continued in silence for several minutes before Stiles gave in to the urge to fill it. For once, he even had something important to say; he’d wanted to say it for a long while now, but had never figured out how to bring it up. So, on impulse, he blurted, “You should join the pack.”
Scott sat up, frowning at him. “You know I’m not going to do that.”
Stiles sighed, shaking his head in frustration. “I know you think you don’t want to do that,” he corrected, “But really, why not? I mean, yeah, at first there was the whole Allison thing, and the whole not trusting Derek thing, and then the whole Gerard thing left everyone a little sour for a while. But we’re past that now aren’t we?”
Scott just made an unimpressed noise.
“We know Derek’s not a psycho now,” he continued to press, unable to stop, “And you’ve been hanging out some with Isaac and Jackson anyway, and I know you like it. And not just in the sense that, now that Isaac’s stopped being a little scary and Jackson’s less of an ass, they’re kind of fun to hang out with; you’re more relaxed after you spend time with them, less all wound up and... growly.”
“I’m not growly,” Scott growled. Stiles looked at him with a pointedly raised eyebrow.
“Wolves are social creatures, Scott,” he pointed out rationally. “They form packs for a reason.”
“I thought they form packs because there’s strength in numbers.” Well hey, Scott got points for listening to at least some of the research Stiles had done for him.
“That too. But also the social thing. I think you need to be around other wolves.” Scott’s shoulders were squared and he was looking determinedly straight ahead; Stiles wasn’t getting through to him. “Derek said that a lot of omegas eventually go crazy. Some of them lose track of their humanity, end up going feral and living in the woods like animals. Of course, that is unless they go psycho and start killing people.”
“I’m not going to lose my humanity. Or go psycho. Besides, what the hell? Are you talking to Derek about me now?” Whoops, Scott was angry.
“No. A little. Dude, I’m worried about you, okay?” They were almost to the house now, he had to find a way to turn this around so that Scott didn’t insist on immediately going back home. “Derek is too. We all are. And really, would it be so bad? You wouldn’t have to spend full moons hiding alone in your room anymore. You’d be stronger, faster, and more relaxed. You’d have a whole group of people guaranteed to care about you and support you.” He sighed and shook his head, ready to give up. “I’d love to have that,” he added in a mutter. He hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but it slipped out before he could stop it, and he knew Scott heard.
Luckily, they pulled up in front of the remains of the Hale house before Scott had the chance to respond, and Isaac came bounding over.
Isaac had changed a lot over the past few months; most of them had. He stared menacingly at people less these days and generally didn't behave as much like a sociopath. He still brooded a lot, and he hadn’t ditched the leather yet, both of which Stiles chose to blame on Derek being a bad influence. But at least around the other wolves he was a lot more like the excited, eager-to-please kid Stiles vaguely remembered from elementary school.
He stopped a few steps away from Scott’s door, waiting for him to get out. His expression was shy, but there was a sort of vibration to his body language that made Stiles imagine an invisible tail wagging furiously. The tension was slight enough that the fact that Stiles had noticed it at all was probably a sign he was spending entirely too much time with werewolves lately. It was nice though, and, just as Stiles had suspected, as soon as Scott saw Isaac, something in his own posture relaxed. As Scott climbed out of the Jeep, his scowl melted into the beginnings of a smile.
The thing that Scott, and really the rest of the werewolves too, tend to forget a lot is that Stiles is smart. He may not be super fast, or strong. He may not be able to rip apart metal with his bare hands or tear people's throats out. But thinking? Observing, deducing, strategizing, that's his thing. All that crap Derek spewed about wolves needing a pack was, according to Stiles' observations, not crap at all. Unfortunately, Scott was stubborn, and Derek was worse, and none of them seemed to have any idea what they were doing. That left it up to Stiles to come up with a plan that not only kept them all alive, but also reasonably happy and not at all homicidal.
Hence the play date. It wasn't Stiles' first attempt at encouraging pack bonding over the past few weeks. Of course, it was one thing to come up with a plan, and another thing entirely to get the werewolves to actually go along with it. Movie night had been such an unmitigated disaster that it had been mutually decided that no one would ever speak of it again, and bowling had nearly resulted in Erica ripping off Jackson's head. Here's hoping the third time would be the charm.
Derek hadn’t followed Isaac over, though he was watching from up by the porch. He’d foregone his usual leather jacket, but his t-shirt was equally black and much tighter than necessary. Derek's arms were crossed, forcing the shirt to work particularly hard to contain his biceps. Stiles was a little disconcerted to realize that he could now recognize Derek's posture as a sulk. While Derek was at least self aware enough to acknowledge that his so-called pack was barely holding it together, after the last two complete failures he hadn't been thrilled about Stiles' proposed third plan; a picnic, of all things. Maybe Stiles was a little self conscious, but he was pretty sure Derek had almost burst into hysterical laughter when he'd proposed the idea, which was a terrifying thought in and of itself. But, though he hadn't actually said it, Stiles knew Derek was still eager to convince Scott to join the pack, and it wasn't like Derek had come up with a better plan.
Isaac’s smile dimmed a little when Stiles too climbed out of the Jeep, picnic basket in hand. “What are you doing here?” He scowled. “This is a pack outing.”
Stiles glowered at him. He knew Isaac was a generally good guy, he could see it in the way he acted around Scott and the other wolves, but that didn’t mean the two of them particularly got along. It might have had something to do with Isaac’s recent attempts to worm his way into the position of Scott’s bestest friend. It also might have had something to do with the fact that Isaac was still having some difficulty playing nice with the humans.
“I was invited,” he retorted, childish though it was.
At the same time Scott chided, “Be nice,” and Derek began to head toward him, that little, ever so familiar scowl between his eyebrows.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” Derek greeted cautiously, eyes on Scott.
Scott shrugged noncommittally. “I didn’t really have much choice.” That made Derek glance over at Stiles, who did his best to look as sweetly innocent as possible; there may have been a little threatening, bribing, and conniving. But now the trick would be getting Scott to stay.
“Where’s everyone else?” Scott deflected.
“Jackson got roped into family time, Erica got grounded and is trying not to further piss off her parents, and Boyd said he has too much homework,” Isaac supplied helpfully, “So it’s just us."
That was a somewhat disappointing hitch in the plan. But getting Derek and Scott to at least tolerate each other better was definitely an important step. Five hormonal, super powered werewolves were a lot to deal with all at once; maybe this would be easier with just Derek and Isaac, who Scott already liked anyway.
Scott eyed Derek unenthusiastically. “Great.”
“Play nice,” Stiles teased, coming around the side of the Jeep to join them. “After all the trouble I went through making werewolf-sized lunches, someone had better eat them.” He tried not to stop and think too hard about the fact that he was basically giving up his Saturday to chaperone a werewolf play date. It was for the greater good and future peace in Beacon Hills, so Stiles was going to suck it up.
They stood around in awkward silence for a few minutes, and Stiles was just about to say something inappropriate - he wasn’t exactly sure what it would be yet, but it would be inappropriate, it always was - when Derek saved them by simply saying, “Let’s go.” And so they set off trekking through the woods. Derek led the way, walking purposefully, though as far as Stiles couldn’t tell they weren’t going anywhere in particular.
Stiles was not a big fan of wandering around in the woods. Especially not carrying a heavy picnic basket. Especially not with werewolves who never seem to get tired, or out of breath, or sweaty, or bored. He considered making one of the wolves carry the basket - to be fair it was only so heavy because werewolves have ridiculously high metabolisms and eat a ridiculous amount to keep up with it - but he didn’t. It was bad enough being the only human in superhuman company, and Isaac at least already looked down on him; he refused to let them think he couldn’t keep up. His only consolation was that Derek was walking right in front of him, and the seat of Derek's pants were straining just as much as the sleeves of his shirt had been earlier. It was definitely more entertaining to look at than trees.
They walked mostly in silence. It was sort of eerie actually, since Derek made almost no noise as they trampled through underbrush. Scott not so much, but he was certainly quieter than Stiles was used to. At least Isaac was making noise, but only because he'd wandered off the path to whack at bushes with a stick. Stiles, of course, sounded like a herd of uncoordinated elephants.
Despite the cool autumn air, Stiles was starting to get hot and sweaty in his hoodie. He was just about to ask, as cliché-ly and annoyingly as possible, if they were there yet, when a scream rent the air. Stiles tensed, heart rate picking up automatically as he recognized Isaac's voice. He could just barely see Isaac's upper half around a thick tree trunk, where he was writhing on the ground. The other wolves were racing to his side faster than Stiles could blink, and he was left to jog awkwardly after them, basket banging against his side.
Isaac had managed to sit up by the time Stiles arrived, his face clenched in pain as he clutched his leg, which was caught in the iron jaws of a massive bear trap. Blood was soaking through the leg of his jeans and his breath was coming in sharp, low hisses. Derek knelt next to the trap, attempting to find a way to pull it off of Isaac without hurting him further. He touched the jaws of the trap, but pulled his hands away quickly with a grunt.
“Wolfsbane,” he informed them, frowning. “But mild. This trap is meant to slow down, not kill.”
“Well get it off him,” Scott urged from where he knelt on the other side of Isaac, helping to support his weight. His hand was on Isaac's neck, fingers slipped beneath the collar of his t-shirt and Stiles could see the thick, black veins running up Scott's wrist. Stiles had almost done back flips when Scott first showed him that particular trick. It was pretty freaking awesome. Except the werewolves didn't usually use it on each other; they usually didn't need to. Which meant Isaac was hurt bad, really bad.
Derek gave Scott an exasperated look, but reached out toward the trap again.
“Wait,” Stiles interjected with a flash of inspiration. Setting the basket down, he dug around and pulled out the blanket he’d brought for them to sit on. “Will this help?”
Derek took it, wrapping it around his hands before he began gently prying the trap off of Isaac’s leg. Isaac growled, claws popping out to dig into the soft soil he sat on, teeth bared in pain. Scott placed his spare hand on Isaac's knee, helping to steady him and keep him from thrashing, while Stiles continued to hover helplessly.
“I thought you and the Argents had some sort of truce,” Stiles muttered to Derek, though of course they all heard him.
“We do,” Derek answered shortly, voice clipped as though he was talking through his teeth.
“Get him out of here,” Derek cut him off. The trap’s jaw snapped shut again as soon as he released them, though they were now safely empty. Scott helped lever Isaac to his feet. Isaac’s hands, now tipped with completely human fingernails again, curled tightly into Scott’s shirt for support. “Go!” Obediently, Scott half supported, half carried Isaac back in the direction they’d come.
Derek, however, had turned his attention in the opposite direction. He stood stock-still, staring out into the trees with furrowed eyebrows and tense shoulders. A strange feeling began to creep up Stiles’ spine, something static-y and buzzing, like the atmosphere just before a massive lightning strike. It raised the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck and tickled his nose until he sneezed. “What is that?” he wheezed, knowing Derek felt it too.
Derek apparently hadn’t realized Stiles was still beside him until he spoke, and his first instinct was to reach out and push Stiles back in the direction the others had gone. “Get out of here,” he growled.
Stiles shook his head; he wasn’t refusing to leave, he couldn’t leave. The air around them was crackling and Stiles felt bizarrely detached from his body, as though the static from the atmosphere had infiltrated his brain and short circuited it, destroying his ability to think. “What’s happening?” he asked, though his tongue felt thick and clumsy.
The alpha’s eyes shifted sideways toward him, glowing that eerie red that always sent thrills down Stiles’ spine. “Magic,” he said, voice tight as though speaking took effort for him too.
Stiles’ lips mimicked the word, eyes widening as his mind fought against the numbing effect making it slow. Magic? He loved magic. Had he spent a significant amount of his middle school days waiting for his Hogwarts acceptance letter? Yes. Had he secretly tried to make his pencil levitate with his mind a few times? Definitely. But he had a sneaking suspicion that this wasn’t quite that type of magic, and if the weird static in his brain was anything to go off of this was not going to be the fun he’d always imagined.
Suddenly, there was a crashing through the underbrush, followed by the shape of a guy; a panting, sweaty guy with pretty severe acne and a haircut that looked like he’d gotten it in his mother’s kitchen. He wasn’t exactly overweight, but he definitely wasn’t fit either. His Star Wars t-shirt had to strain just a little more than necessary to cover his gut, and he clearly wasn’t used to doing much running.
The stranger froze when he saw them, eyes going wide with surprise. Whatever he’d been expecting, Derek and Stiles weren’t it. Derek didn’t seem to care, though; he launched himself at the man without a second thought. As far as lunging went, it wasn't Derek's finest. Derek’s movements were unusually slow and uncoordinated, and the stranger recovered himself quickly. He fumbled at his pockets, managing to retrieve a glass vial in time to toss it at Derek. The vial shattered and Derek froze mid-step, face locked in a fang-y snarl.
Stiles just gaped at them, still trapped under the effects of the first spell. He didn’t know what was going on but his mind was screaming at him to do something, to run away, to shout for help, to rush to Derek’s aid, something.
Derek growled, muscles visibly straining. But when a minute passed and he hadn’t moved, the witch seemed to relax. He fumbled with his pocket again, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper and began to read haltingly in what Stiles could only guess was Latin.
He couldn’t say what exactly sparked his reaction, but, before Stiles could fully process what was even happening, instinct screamed in his mind, cutting through the static-y lethargy like a knife. Power was filling the air once more, but it was a different sort of power; while the first spell had been like a slow, creeping mist rolling through the air and wrapping them in immobility, this was violence and rage and possession building and sucking up all the oxygen like the rush of a fire.
There was nothing to guide him, nothing to see, no colorful lights or even silly hand gestures like in the movies, just feeling, just instinct, just one word shrieking through his mind: “No!”
His legs were moving of their own accord, sneakers digging into the soft ground as he flung himself forward. Stiles felt simultaneously as though he was racing at the speed of light and not moving at all. He wasn’t going to make it. His hand stretched out, fingers grasping at air. Until they weren’t, until they met soft cotton and hard muscle and it was like slamming into a brick wall, but Derek barely even moved. His whole body was locked stiff as though he’d been turned into stone and for an impossibly long, horrifying moment, Stiles was certain even the force of his whole body hadn’t been enough to budge Derek from being rooted in place. But then slowly, ever so slowly it seemed, Derek began to tilt and it was Stiles locked in place, watching as though through a long tunnel as Derek tilted away from him, crashing in slow motion to the ground.
He could still feel the faintest whisper of worn cotton against his fingertips and his mind was sending up a mental cheer when it hit. The only warning he got was an odd rushing in his ears, like all the air around him had been abruptly sucked away by a vacuum. Then it slammed into him with physical force, though there was nothing truly physical about it. His back arched and someone was screaming as the back of his head collided with the damp loam. It was him, he was screaming, he figured out eventually, but for a while he knew little else but pain.
It hurt, god it hurt. It was fire, first in his stomach, his chest, spreading out through his veins, burning him from the inside out, trying to force him out of his own body. He was writhing, with no control over his own muscles. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t blink, the obscenely blue sky spun above him; until everything whited out.
He lost track of reality, lost track of the woods and the sky and even the sound of his own screams. There was only the fire, the pain filling him, and in the wake of the fire came rage, rage and helplessness and self-loathing, but it wasn’t his. He knew that even as he felt it, spiraling not from the pit of his stomach like the emotions he knew all too well, but from higher in his chest, in his ribs, his lungs, his throat, filling him, choking him.
And with those feelings came thoughts, thoughts that weren’t him, experiences that weren’t his. A shrill voice ringing in his head. ‘Fat. Idiot. Waste of space.’ He was angry, so angry he wanted to lash out, to fight, to hurt back but he couldn’t.
He was in a dark room, hunched over a single candle with a heavy book balanced in his lap. He squinted at the words before him, tongue thick and clumsy as he stumbled through them. He was trying, trying so hard to make something, anything happen. After what felt like hours, the candle went out.
Stiles fought, mind and body rebelling against the invasion. He tried to set up a barrier between him and not him, tried to surround himself in the sound of his dad’s laugh and the smell of his mom’s perfume.
They circled around him, painted in black and silver, garish, posers. They laughed, lashing out and shoving him without ever lifting a finger. He stumbled, trying to put up barriers against them, but they tore through his efforts like paper. ‘We’ll show you real power,’ they jeered.
Scott sprawled out on the couch next to him while they watched crappy horror movies. That time his dad took him to a baseball game and let him have so many hot dogs, he almost puked. The crowd roaring as he scored a goal in lacrosse.
He lay in bed at night, staring up at the dark ceiling above him. He knew what was out there, he could feel it, the power just beyond his reach. He needed it. He would have it. All he needed was an anchor.
The strawberry scent of Lydia's hair, the sharp bite of her wit. The strength in Derek’s arms as he shoved Stiles’ against the wall. The menace in Derek’s growl, and the fondness underneath.
No more stupid. No more ugly. No more helpless.
The sharp scent of Derek’s after shave, the hot puff of his breath.
He would make them pay. Everyone that had made him feel worthless. They’d feel his power. Feel his wrath.
His dad... his mom... Scott...
And then there was nothing. As suddenly as it had come, the fire was gone, leaving him hollowed out and empty. A cold began to seep into its place, sharp and bone deep. Like the creep of frozen, bony fingers and the glide of blind, slimy things that scurry away as soon as you shine the light on them. The cold spread through him, reversing the path of the fire as it started in his fingers and toes, crawling up his arms, his legs, into his chest, into his lungs, until finally it reached his head, numbing his mind. He could hear his heart like a drum in his ears, pounding away, struggling desperately against the cold that was sucking him down. It was losing, fading. He was falling.
A pulse of pain shot through him, making his body jerk and temporarily shoving back the cold. He blinked and blurry tree branches above him wavered dizzily. He might have been crying, but he couldn’t tell for sure.
Power. Strength. Mine.
It didn’t last long and he was quickly falling again, the cold persistent, latching onto him. There was a battle going on inside of him, a battle between two forces that he couldn't control, that he could just barely scrape the edges of understanding. One was magic, he knew that; the spell that had hit him, the magic that was trying to consume him, burn him out of his own body. The other, the other was coldness, darkness, creeping through him more softly but pulling him away from his body all the same. He tried to fight, he tried so hard, though he hardly knew how, or which direction to turn. He fought against the fire, against the pain, against the cold. The forces were battling each other, with him caught in the crosshairs. He struggled, searching for something to ground him.
Derek... Derek was here, so close; he couldn’t feel him or see him, but he knew Derek was there just out of reach. He wondered vaguely if Derek still couldn’t move, as another wave of pain briefly pushed back the numbness. He was reminded of laying on the floor of the police station, of listening to Derek’s breathing beside him, waiting helplessly with strained ears for the sound of gunfire, waiting to find out which of the people he cared about wouldn’t make it through the night. But it was different this time, different because now he knew he was the one who wouldn’t be making it. He was fighting it, through the pain and numbness, but he knew he wouldn’t win. It was like being pulled in two different directions, the numbness lulling him into a quiet haze of white while the pain hit sharp and dark, thrusting him closer and closer toward the precipice leading to a black void. He didn’t know which side would win out, but somehow he knew that either way when the battle was over he wouldn’t be there anymore.
The pain was becoming sharper, the pulses coming faster and stronger. Blackness grew and rose around him, behind his eyelids, and terror knotted in his chest. The blackness was going to suffocate him, he was going to drown in it, so he fought to push it back, to keep his eyes open though the glare of the sun hurt his eyes and everything was blurry and he wasn’t really aware anymore. It was a relief when something blocked out the sun, something hovering over his face, a far distant sound that wasn’t his own scream struggling to reach his ears. He strained toward it, reach desperately; but it was too late, the next wave of pain shut down everything, his nerve endings fried, his brain short circuited, and he was launched over the edge into the void that reached up to him with sticky fingers to pull him down, sucking him in.
The ba-bump ba-bump in his ears became fainter, as though he’d left his heart at the top of the cliff. It slowed, ba... bump ba...bump ba... ba... bump, until it stopped.