It started with a slap of his foot against the pavement.
Stiles stared at the offending limb with a frown. What the hell? Carefully, he flexed his ankle to lift his toes in the air. The movement was sluggish, hesitant, and the strange sensation made his skin crawl.
He shuddered inwardly, drawing deliberate breaths even as he narrowed his eyes in concentration. Slowly, he raised his foot and took another step forward, trying to gently lower his toes to the ground.
His foot slammed into the pavement with a resounding snap.
Stiles inhaled sharply, his heart pounding frantically against his chest.
He couldn’t control the movement. And the realisation filled him with dread.
I’m not a hero, Dad.
He went to Deaton first, but that was a dead end. For all his experience, the emissary-turned-veterinarian had never heard of anything that could cause his symptoms. Of course, chimeras and Dread Doctors had been a surprise to Deaton as well, so despite the man’s aura of omniscience Stiles was starting to have some serious reservations about his breadth of knowledge.
Melissa, on the other hand, was much more helpful.
“It’s a foot drop,” she explained, lips quirking into a small smile.
“What the hell is a foot drop?” Stiles’ voice shook, betraying his anxiety. Not that he was really trying to hide it – given Scott’s werewolf abilities, it didn’t really seem worth the effort these days. His friend had been giving him concerned glances from the moment he arrived on the McCall’s doorstep, so he had no doubt that Scott was well aware of his rapidly-mounting panic.
“It’s a nerve palsy,” Melissa elaborated. Her voice was soothing but somehow it made Stiles feel more frustrated than calm. “If I had to guess, I’d say that you’ve slept in a strange position and compressed one of the nerves in your leg. It’s gone to sleep, which is why you’re suddenly weak.”
Stiles’ stomach turned, his heart skipping a beat at the words. “Okay, great, that’s totally reassuring. Nerves going to sleep, why not? It’s not like they’re essential for, I don't know, everything.”
Scott reached out with a comforting hand, at odds with the hint of warning in his eyes.
“I think you’re missing the point, dude,” Scott said, not unsympathetically. “If the nerve’s asleep, it’ll eventually wake up. Mum’s saying that it's temporary.”
Oh. Well, didn’t that make Stiles feel like shit.
A wave of guilt crashed over him, twisting Stiles’ gut and making him shift uncomfortably. He sent an apologetic glance in Melissa’s direction, hoping she wasn’t too offended by his abrupt tone.
“So, it’ll go away?” he asked, hesitantly.
Melissa offered an encouraging smile, a slight nod conveying more forgiveness than words ever could.
“It’ll go away,” she said, confidently.
Everything that’s happened, everything that’s going to happen. It’s on us.
It didn't go away.
Strangely enough, Stiles didn't even realise at first. He adapted his gait almost automatically to avoid slapping his foot onto the pavement, and before long his new stride was as much a part of him as his nervous tics.
He’d pushed the matter so completely out of his mind that it took him by surprise when it suddenly reared his head.
Afterward, everyone asked him what happened. The coach, the school nurse, the ambulance officers, and finally the doctors at the hospital. And each time, he gave the same answer.
“My legs just gave way.”
The doctor’s lips tightened with annoyance at the words and Stiles just managed to stop himself from rolling his eyes. Fear was wrapping icy fingers around his heart and his breaths were coming sharp and fast, but the doctor seemed to think that Stiles was being deliberately obtuse.
“Look, I don’t know what to tell you, okay?” Stiles snapped in response. “One minute, I was running across the field, and the next thing my knees just folded beneath me.”
“And you didn’t notice anything unusual when you were running?”
The question caught Stiles off-guard, and he paused, taking a moment to consider the last few days. Now that he thought about it, his legs had been a little weak lately. He said as much, before adding, “I just put it down to being tired. But I did have to stop for a rest during lacrosse yesterday because I felt shaky on my legs.”
The doctor’s brow furrowed at his response, eyes clouded with concern. “Okay, and have you noticed anything else? Any pins and needles, sharp pains down your legs?”
Stiles frowned, heart skipping a beat as he studied the older man. He was angling toward something and if Stiles wasn’t nervous before, he definitely was now.
And screw that. He could put up with a lot of things, but beating about the bush was not one of them. “Why?” Stiles asked, abruptly. “What are you worried about?”
The doctor hesitated, and that pushed Stiles’ nerves into the region of outright panic. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his breaths became loud and ragged, almost drowning out the blood pounding through his veins.
The doctor’s eyes widened with concern. “Woah, it’s okay,” he said quickly, taking a step forward and resting a hand on Stiles’ shoulder. “I don’t know anything for certain yet. But whenever someone has weakness in their legs, there’s a few things that we have to exclude.”
“Like what?” Stiles demanded, eyes boring into the doctor’s.
The older man’s face softened with sympathy. “We need to make sure there’s nothing compressing your spinal cord.”
I want to help, you know? But I can’t do the things that you can do.
They told him he needed an urgent MRI of his brain and spine. Stiles told them to go to hell.
“For the love of god, Stiles, you need to have the scan!”
Stiles paused in his movement. He had spent the last five minutes trying to put on his jeans and had managed to drag them to the level of his knees. It was an uphill battle that he was winning through sheer determination, but he broke his concentration to glance over at his dad.
What he saw made his chest ache. The Sheriff seemed to have aged a decade in the last day, his blue eyes faded and dull within deep lines on his face. Goddamnit. He worked so hard to protect his father and now he was the source of his distress.
“Dad, we can't afford it,” Stiles responded. He was proud of the steady note of his voice and even managed a small smile before turning back to his clothes. “And you know as well as I do that it won't show anything. This is supernatural, not natural.”
He couldn’t lift his thighs enough to pull on his jeans and Stiles frowned, tilting his head as he considered his options. One leg at a time, then, okay. He reached over with his left hand, sliding it beneath his right thigh and pulling upward. He could only raise it a few inches off the bed, but it was enough for him to drag his jeans to mid-thigh.
“You’re probably right,” the Sheriff conceded in a determined tone that didn’t match his words. “But what if you’re wrong? The doctor said it’s time-sensitive – the longer we wait, the more we risk you having permanent disability. Let’s just get the scan first, then look at other options.”
Stiles turned his attention to his left leg and repeated the manoeuvre without too much difficulty. Okay, now for the tricky part.
Carefully, he placed his hands onto the mattress beside him. His heart fluttered nervously in his chest and he swallowed against a sudden lump in his throat. This was it, the moment of truth. Do or do not, there is no try.
It was cheesy, yet somehow taunting himself with his inner Yoda gave Stiles the courage he needed. In one smooth movement, he pushed down onto the mattress and levered himself onto his feet.
For a moment, Stiles wobbled uncertainly. He clenched his jaw, drawing on his well of determination and pushing against the floor as hard as he could until, finally, he was steady.
He was standing, legs firm and solid beneath him.
Stiles let out an excited whoop, breaking out into a broad grin as he relished the feeling of holding his own weight. Take that, he thought triumphantly, a wave of happiness crashing over him. I can do this.
When he fell, it wasn’t graceful.
His knees folded, and an instant later Stiles was rushing toward the floor. His back crashed into the metal bedrail, shoving him forward as his spine screamed in protest. His legs ached, twisting awkwardly beneath him, and Stiles’ head slammed into the linoleum floor where he lay, stunned.
“Stiles!” The Sheriff’s worried voice reached him, and Stiles screwed his eyes shut in reply. He took a deep breath, focussing on holding back the misery swelling in his chest.
“Stiles.” His dad shifted, lowering himself to sit beside him. His voice was soft, gentle in a way he never used to be. Gentle in a way he had to be these days, because Stiles was so often on the brink of falling apart.
Stiles bit the inside of his cheeks rather than replying, inhaling deeply through his nose and blowing out the air in a shaky breath. It was too much. He had been broken and put back together so many times that he wasn’t even sure there was anything left to fix. Duct tape and thread, that’s all he was.
There was a warm pressure on his shoulder - his father’s hand holding him together like he had so many times before. He choked on a sob and his father wrapped his arms around him, pulling him close against his chest.
“It’ll be okay.” His dad dragged Stiles half onto his lap as he hugged him, and for a moment Stiles was eleven years old again and staring at his mother’s grave. “Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out.”
A familiar pain stabbed Stiles’ chest, and he let out a laugh that sounded more like a sob. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” he muttered half-heartedly.
His father’s arms tightened in response. “I don’t. You know that.”
There was a brutal honesty to the words that cut through to Stiles’ core, lifting the darkness by a fraction. Maybe he was broken, but his dad would never give up on him. He didn’t believe in much, but he could believe in that.
What if it just gets worse? What if it’s agony now, and then…then it’s just hell later on?
“So is the ice cream here as good as Dad claims, or is he just trying to make me jealous?”
Stiles rolled his eyes at Liam and had opened his mouth to reply when a thought struck him. “Wait a minute, isn’t it Friday today?”
A chorus of ‘yes’s reached his ears, and Stiles raised a disapproving eyebrow to the group at large. “You guys better have a good reason for not being in school,” he scolded, only half-sarcastically.
Lydia, of course, didn’t even hesitate before replying. “I’m only taking one class this year,” she reminded him. “You know that.”
“Fair enough. You can stay.” Lydia smiled softly and Stiles took a moment to respond in kind before turning his attention to Scott and hardening his gaze into a glare. “You, on the other hand, have AP Biology today. You can’t miss that. And you,” he continued, nodding at Malia, “have a pre-calc exam coming up. Don’t even get me started on you, Liam."
Liam sighed heavily with annoyance and Scott grinned sheepishly, but Malia didn’t look remotely amused. “Stiles, knock it off,” she growled. “I don’t give a crap about school when you’re wasting away in here.”
And just like that, Stiles’ mood collapsed.
Positivity was a struggle for Stiles at the best of times, and despite his brave front he had never felt so vulnerable. He had cried himself out on his father’s shoulder less than twenty-four hours ago, and now he was filled with a strange mix of bone-deep exhaustion and jangling nerves.
There were four pairs of eyes watching him closely and Stiles shifted, trying to work out the kinks in his tense shoulders as he considered his reply.
He should probably break the news gently. But fuck it, he never had won any prizes in sensitivity.
“The MRI was normal,” he said abruptly. Scott was watching him carefully, so Stiles lowered his gaze and fiddled with his bedsheet as he continued. “The doctors want to transfer me to LA for a specialist opinion. Dad’s putting up a fight, but I overheard some of the nurses talking about involving Child Safety if he keeps being obstructive.”
“We won’t let that happen,” Liam vowed. Stiles huffed a little, warming at his tone. It was a nice sentiment, but everyone in the room knew that it was meaningless. No one would risk landing the Sheriff in legal trouble.
“Let’s think about this logically,” Lydia cut in, always the voice of reason. “If the MRI was normal then this was probably caused by some new supernatural monster. It’s only a matter of time until it reveals itself.”
Malia had been glaring at her feet, but when Lydia spoke she jerked upright. “I’ll find it before it gets the chance,” she snarled. Her eyes burned with anger, hands clenching into fists, and Stiles couldn’t help a wry smile at the sight. It was nice to know she still cared.
That being said, he couldn’t very well let Malia run around Beacon Hills terrorising innocent strangers, so he shook his head slightly in her direction. Fortunately, she seemed to understand the wordless message, her shoulders slumping in defeat.
“I’m okay,” Stiles assured her, reaching over to grab her hand and slipping his fingers comfortably between hers. She squeezed softly in reply, and he returned his gaze to the group at large.
There was one thing he hadn’t told them yet, and for a moment Stiles considered keeping it to himself. But he discarded the option almost immediately – they deserved to know and, besides, it was only matter of time until they would find out.
“There’s just one problem,” he said. Internally, he marvelled at the steadiness of his voice, at complete odds with his inner turmoil. “We’re may not have that much time.”
Everyone stiffened with surprise and Stiles licked his lips, gathering his courage to continue. “At first it was just my foot,” he finally explained. “Then my legs. It’s not slowing down.”
Scott and Liam were staring at him in confusion, but Malia’s eyes widened with realisation and she glanced down at their joined hands.
“Stiles, squeeze my hand,” she ordered in a shaky voice.
Stiles hesitated, and this time when Malia looked at him her gaze was filled with fear. Ah, to hell with it. He’d come this far.
Clenching his jaw, Stiles gripped Malia’s hand and squeezed with as much force as he could muster.
His fingers curled lightly around her hand, then released.
Malia blinked, biting her lip as a teary film covered her eyes. “That’s it?” she whispered in a hoarse voice.
Stiles nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
“Shit.” Liam’s voice was almost unrecognisable, a harsh choked sound.
Stiles huffed a miserable laugh. “Yeah,” he repeated.
“We’ll figure it out,” Scott swore, but even the alpha couldn’t hide the terror in his voice.
Lydia didn’t speak. Instead, she closed the distance between them and enveloped Stiles in a warm hug. Her arms were trembling and Stiles instinctively wrapped his free arm around her comfortingly, burying his head into her shoulder as Malia tightened her grip on his other hand.
They would figure it out. They had to.
What, like if he dies, then do I die? I don’t care.
Lydia dumped a book onto Stiles’ table and he groaned when he saw the size of it.
“Seriously?” he whined.
She glared at him briefly, but otherwise ignored him. Typical.
“I’ve been thinking,” she began, and Stiles couldn’t help a small smile at the words. Of course she had. “There’s no other signs of supernatural activity happening around town at the moment, as far as I can tell. So maybe this has something to do with what’s happened in the past.”
Stiles’ arms shook as he pushed himself further up his bed. “Okay,” he conceded, slowly. “Anything specific come to mind?”
Lydia’s eyes flicked back to his face from where she had been watching his arms and his heart thumped an erratic beat in his chest. Please don’t comment. Stiles was more than aware of how rapidly the weakness was spreading, he didn’t need to be reminded.
Fortunately, Lydia seemed to agree. She gave herself a shake, then opened the book’s heavy cover and started flicking through the pages. “The nogitsune is the obvious answer but I don’t think it’s the right one,” she finally replied, eyes focussed on the writing before her. “Even if it somehow found its way back here, and that’s a big ‘if’, why paralyse you? It’s never done anything like that before.”
Paralyse. Stiles flinched internally at the word, turning it over in his mind. He’d never thought of his weakness in that term, but he supposed it was accurate. Ascending paralysis, starting in his toes and working its way up to his head.
Speaking of which…
“What about the kanima?”
Lydia pressed her lips together, shaking her head. “I thought about that,” she said doubtfully. “But there’s no mention of anything like this in the Beastiary and besides, plenty of people were attacked by the kanima. If it caused this, the hospital would be full of people like you.”
She had a point. Stiles hummed his agreement, but there was something nagging at him. Frowning, he turned the idea over in his head, trying to look at it from a different angle.
Lydia had returned to her book, but she paused when she saw his expression.
“Stiles?” she prompted. There was a small edge of hope in her voice, and Stiles licked his lips uncertainly. He wasn’t sure, but maybe…
“I’m just wondering,” he replied, thoughtfully. “How many times has Scott been paralysed with kanima venom?”
For a moment, Lydia didn’t respond. Stiles could see the exact moment that she caught on, realisation washing over her features. “Once?” she replied, more of a question than an answer. “Maybe twice. And Malia only once as far as I know.”
There was definitely more than a hint of hope in her voice, and Stiles’ veins crackled with excitement as he reflected it back to her. “What if it has a cumulative effect?”
“How many times have you been hit?”
Stiles exhaled through pursed lips, considering. “I don’t know. Jackson got me for the first time at the mechanic’s, then again at the Sheriff’s station.” Lydia started counting off on her fingers as he continued. “Then Deaton poured it down my throat when the nogitsune was in control. After that…probably Tracey? At the animal clinic? Then again when Scott and I were tracking down the Beast while you were still in Eichen.”
“That’s it?” Lydia prompted. When Stiles nodded, she shook her head in disbelief. “That’s five different occasions where you’ve been paralysed. No one else even comes close to that – no wonder there’s nothing in the Beastiary.”
For a moment, they grinned at each other triumphantly, then the reality of the words sank in and Stiles frowned. “So, say that we’re right. Does that mean that it’s temporary?” A sinking feeling crawled over him, and his skin prickled at the thought. “Or am I going to be paralysed from the neck down forever more? Because if it’s the second option, I might just kill myself while I have the chance.”
Stiles regretted saying it the minute he spoke, but it was too late. The words hung between them, filling the room until Lydia cut through them with a pointed glare.
“Don’t talk like that,” she reprimanded.
There was an apology ready on Stiles’ tongue but something about her tone sparked his instinct to push back, so he glared at her instead.
“Why not?” he argued. “Lydia, I’m not playing Devil’s Advocate. I’ll go crazy if I can’t move, you have to know that.”
Lydia’s mouth pinched, lips blanching white as she scanned his face for any hint of bravado. “Can you at least give us a chance to fix this before you go signing your own death warrant?” she bit out, voice tight.
“I won’t be able to sign anything much longer, that’s the point,” Stiles snapped.
“Stiles!” Lydia’s voice was a strange cross between frustration and fear. Somehow, it did the trick, and Stiles winced against a flare of guilt as he met her eyes. “Stiles, come on,” she pleaded, visibly distressed. “I need you, okay? Just hold on a little longer. That’s all I’m asking.”
Her eyes were bright with unshed tears and her voice shook with sincerity, and it made Stiles’ heart ache.
A fist clenched tight around Stiles’ chest and he nodded. He couldn’t do it for himself, but he would do it for her. He would always do it for her.
What if it saves you? What if it saves all of you?
Despite all the time that Stiles had spent in hospital over the years, he had forgotten just how mind-numbingly boring it could be.
He had to hand it to the Pack, though. They had arranged a roster to skip out of school to keep him company, so it was rare that he had to spend more than few hours by himself. Even that morning, Malia had dropped by and they had spent a pleasant few hours helping her study for her exam, without a single mention of hospitals or paralysis.
It had been incredibly refreshing. But she was on the verge of failing three classes due to truancy, so Stiles had forced her out the door at eight o’clock despite her vocal protests. She had worked too hard to be kicked out of school now; Stiles wasn’t about to let it happen on his watch.
So instead of spending the morning in her company, Stiles had instead whiled away three hours counting the tiles in the ceiling and reciting as many Simpsons quotes as he could remember. There were worse ways to spend a day, he supposed.
A knock at the door drew his attention and Stiles broke out in a relieved smile when he saw who it was. “Scott, thank god,” he exclaimed. “Do you know what episode the salad song is from?”
Scott snorted with amusement as he settled himself in his usual seat by Stiles’ bed. “That bad, huh?”
“Oh, you have no idea.” Stiles shifted his shoulders against his pillows so that he could see Scott comfortably. “I know it’s only been a week, but it feels like I’ve been trapped here for a year. What’s happening in your world, dude?”
Scott’s smile turned grim and he gave a half-nod, half-shake of his head before replying. “About your condition? Lydia and Deaton are knee-deep in lore books trying to find a cure for kanima venom, but they haven’t had any luck so far.”
Stiles narrowed his eyes as he studied his friend. There was something about Scott’s guarded tone that made his heart flutter nervously – the werewolf was hiding something.
“Out with it, Scotty,” Stiles sighed. His good humour was draining away, leaving only a jangle of anxiety in its wake. “What are you up to?”
Scott made a noise of protest, plastering an innocent expression on his face. Stiles countered with a withering eyebrow, and Scott held out for all of twenty seconds before capitulating.
His friend sighed and started to speak, but then slammed his mouth shut as something clattered in the hallway.
Two pairs of eyes flew to the door, but it was just an orderly bearing Stiles’ lunch. For once, it wasn’t someone that he knew, so he forwent polite conversation in favour of tight smile.
“Thanks,” he muttered. The orderly gave him a curt nod before dumping the tray on his table and quickly leaving the room.
Scott made a show of sniffing the air, eyes alight with interest. “The food around here’s improved,” he commented. “What is that, roast?”
Man, did Scott really think he was getting off that easy? Stiles huffed with amusement, smiling wryly when Scott turned to look at him in surprise.
“C’mon Scott, no distractions,” Stiles redirected gently. “Your plans suck; you need me. Tell me what you have in mind.”
If Stiles didn’t know better, he’d almost think that Scott was nervous. The other boy was certainly hesitating in a way that he hadn’t since he embraced his werewolf side, and that in itself was putting Stiles on edge. Whatever Scott was planning couldn’t be good.
“I’m trying to find Theo,” Scott finally confessed, and – what the hell? Seriously?
Stiles didn’t realise he’d voiced his thoughts out loud until Scott responded. “Look, I know it sounds crazy,” Scott said, and that’s when Stiles found his voice.
“Oh no, this isn’t crazy. This is so far beyond crazy, Scott!”
Scott didn’t respond, instead making frantic shushing motions as his eyes darted between Stiles and the door. Stiles ignored him, nerves burning with a new brand of dread and frustration that drowned out any concerns of being overheard.
“Man, when I said that your plans suck, I didn’t realise it would be this bad. Theo tried to kill you, and Mason. Don’t even get me started on what he did to Lydia. What the hell are you thinking?”
“I’m hoping he can cure you!” Scott bellowed, effectively ending Stiles’ rant.
Stiles stared at his friend, for once wordless with surprise. Scott’s face was strained, desperation carving deep lines around his mouth that were far beyond his years. His dark eyes were filled with pain as they met Stiles’, pleading with him to understand.
Stiles inhaled deeply, then blew the air out through his cheeks. It was a technique he had once learned to help with anxiety but he found it worked wonders with frustration, too.
“Alright,” Stiles finally said, softly. Scott’s brow creased, eyes scanning Stiles’ face for any hint of a lie.
Stiles swallowed against the harsh pain in his throat before continuing. “I trust you.” He might as well start with the universal truths before heading into uncharted territory. “But why do you think Theo will be able to help?”
Scott still seemed a little unsure, and when he spoke his voice was tentative. “It’s a long shot,” he admitted, “but if the Dread Doctors made Tracey, then maybe they made a way to defend themselves against her. If anyone’s going to have an antidote, it’s them.”
It made sense. There were still some glaring holes in his plan, though.
“So let’s say that, one: the Dread Doctors have an antidote, and two: Theo knows what it is. That still leaves problem number three – how are you going to convince Theo to help you?”
Scott grimaced, and Stiles’ heart sank. “You’re not going to like it.”
Stiles sighed in response. “Tell me,” he said, wearily.
Scott eyed him carefully, and Stiles held his gaze for a long moment before breaking away. “You’re right, I don’t like it,” he muttered. Jealousy turned his stomach and he stamped down on it firmly. He didn’t have the right be jealous, not anymore.
The silence stretched between them for a long moment, and it was Scott who eventually broke it. “She’s been worrying herself sick, you know,” he offered in a hesitant voice. “She’s only doing this in the hope that it’ll save you.”
Stiles nodded half-heartedly. He waited another moment to make sure his voice was steady before replying. “It doesn’t matter,” he admitted. His voice was lifeless, and Scott raised a disbelieving eyebrow in response.
Scott didn’t know, Stiles suddenly realised. Stiles and Malia had broken up in the midst of Theo’s manipulations; Scott had to have assumed that they were a part of it.
The thought was uncomfortable, and Stiles frowned. “We didn’t break up because of Theo, you know,” he probed. Scott blinked in surprise, confirming his suspicion.
Stiles wasn’t sure why it was so imperative that Scott knew the truth, but it was, so he kept talking. “We broke up because we’re too different. When it comes to the big questions of life or death, we’re never going to be on the same page. That’s not something that either of us was willing to accept.”
Scott’s eyebrows climbed, his mouth dropping open. Stiles shrugged at his expression, turning his gaze down toward his hands before speaking again. “Malia can do what she likes,” he said, softly, ignoring the pain stabbing his chest. “We’re over.”
Scott’s breaths were heavy in the silence of the room, then there was a rustling sound as he shifted to sit beside Stiles on the bed. He nudged Stiles with his shoulder, and Stiles glanced up to see his friend watching him with sympathy.
“It still hurts, though,” Scott said. It wasn’t a question; Stiles knew he was thinking of his own ghosts.
Stiles didn’t reply, turning his gaze to the opposite wall and pressing his shoulder back against Scott’s. Something about Scott’s presence calmed the whirling mess of emotion within him and for a moment he let himself drift, closing his eyes and just listening to Scott breathe.
Eventually, though, Scott leaned forward to lift the lid off Stiles’ lunch.
“It is roast,” he murmured, breaking the silence. “You should eat it before it gets cold.”
“Yeah,” Stiles agreed. The roast really did smell good and as if on cue his stomach growled with hunger.
He didn’t move, though, and he could feel Scott’s confused stare burning into his cheek. “Stiles?” Scott prompted, uncertain.
Stiles swallowed nervously, glancing at Scott and then lowering his gaze meaningfully toward his hands.
He didn’t say a word. He didn’t need to.
“How...how much can you move them?” Scott asked, voice barely above a whisper.
Stiles inhaled, bracing himself. He scrunched his forehead as he focussed, pouring all his energy into lifting his right hand from the bed.
Two of his fingers twitched. The rest of his arm lay limp against the bedsheet.
There was sharp intake of air from beside him, and Stiles raised his gaze to study his friend. He caught a glimpse of unbridled horror before the other boy saw him looking and carefully composed his features into calm concern.
“Okay,” Scott breathed, wheels clearly spinning as he struggled to absorb the new information. His eyes landed on Stiles’ lunch, and Stiles saw him hesitate before he dragged the table closer to them.
He loaded up the fork with a mouthful of potato, then paused as he turned toward Stiles. “Is this okay?” Scott asked, clearly uncertain.
Stiles licked his lips, cheeks flushing with embarrassment. “No,” he muttered, then kicked himself as Scott’s face fell.
“No, it’s fine,” Stiles corrected himself. “I mean, it’s not fine, but if anyone’s going to do this, I’d rather it be you.”
It wasn’t much, but it was the best Stiles could do right now. It seemed to be enough for Scott, too, who nodded grimly before offering the fork once more.
It took them nearly an hour to finish his plate and by the time they were done, Stiles had the beginnings of a plan.
It’s like it’s a panic attack, you know, like I can’t even breathe.
Like you’re drowning?
Evenings were always the worst.
Stiles had watched his fair share of movies, so he had thought that mornings would be his lowest point. That he would wake up and have to remember all over again that he couldn’t move.
As it turned out, waking up wasn’t so much of a problem when he barely slept to start with.
Evenings, though. Evenings were hell.
There was something about the faint moonlight filtering through the hospital blinds and the unnatural stillness of the air that lent itself to thinking. And Stiles had always had trouble thinking, in that he had never quite figured out how to stop.
His thoughts started as they always did. He stared at his useless hands and focussed, clenching his jaw and scrunching his eyes with effort as he tried to move a finger. Come on, come on. Just a twitch, please.
Nothing happened. He inhaled sharply, rage building within him, and glared at his useless hands. “Fuck!”
His strangled voice echoed off the hospital walls and down the corridor.
His hands still didn’t move.
Stiles let his eyes fall shut, counting his breaths and listening with half an ear for any response to his shout. After thirty seconds of hollow silence he gave up, heaving a shaky breath and letting his head fall back onto the pillow behind him.
His fury fractured and fell under a wave of grief, and Stiles didn’t bother to hold back his tears as he swallowed past a ball of hurt in his throat.
You know, you could just stop trying. Stiles bit the inside of his cheek, weighing the words. The thought had been hovering in the edges of his consciousness for the last three nights. At first, he had tried to ignore it. Now, though, his throat was burning and his chest felt as though it had split open, and above all he was utterly drained.
Stiles had been exhausted before. When the dust had settled after the nogitsune’s defeat, he had slept for the better part of a week, only leaving his bedroom to eat and piss. After arriving home from Mexico for the second time, the adrenaline had faded and Stiles’ limbs had trembled, weak from fatigue and barely able to hold his weight.
This was different, though. He had burned through all his reserves and felt empty in a way that he’d never been before. He had slowly given himself away piece by piece – one to Malia, another to Lydia, and of course Scott had his own from so many years ago – and then Donovan had come along and stolen most of what was left.
Now, the paralysis had sucked him dry, and he had nothing left to give.
“It might be temporary,” he whispered to himself. It was an empty mantra, and the words rang false into the quiet of the night.
It wasn’t temporary. He wasn’t sure how he knew that, but he was certain. It was a twist of his gut, an ache in his bones. He knew it in the same way that he knew that Theo was a murderer and that something was off about Matt.
What about Dad? Guilt hovered at the edges of his mind but he fought it back firmly. His father didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve to watch his son waste away in a hospital bed, didn’t deserve to watch history repeat itself in the worst possible way.
Stiles had seen the look in his eyes when he had visited just a few short hours ago. The Sheriff was surprisingly quiet, grief written in every line of his face. They hadn’t talked about it, but Stiles knew exactly where his father’s thoughts were. His were there too.
It would be a mercy. When all was said and done, surely his father would be able to see that.
Stiles licked his lips, tears drying on his face as he considered his plan, and for once there was no lingering doubt in his mind. He was ready.
Look, just kill me! I don’t care anymore!
“You want me to what?”
Liam’s voice rose high enough to crack on the last word, and Stiles drew on all his will to not roll his eyes. The younger boy could be surprisingly innocent sometimes. Stiles still couldn’t decide whether or not that was a good thing.
“Relax, Liam, it’s just the administration office. No one’s going to arrest you if you get caught.”
“No, but they might kick me out of school and I’ve already been through that once,” Liam countered. His eyes were wide with fear, and Stiles felt a twinge of guilt for putting him in this position.
He stamped down on it before it could develop into anything more. If he let guilt get the better of him now, he would never be able to go through with it at all. And that wasn’t something he was willing to accept.
Stiles schooled his expression into something vaguely sympathetic and chose his words carefully. “Liam, trust me on this. I’ve broken into that office a dozen times without being caught and I don’t have super-hearing to warn me when someone’s coming. It’s a quick in-and-out, you’ll be fine.”
Liam swallowed uncertainly, glancing down at the paper where he had jotted down a name on Stiles’ instructions. “I don’t know, Stiles,” he worried. “Why aren’t you asking Scott to do this?”
His hesitation was rapidly transforming Stiles’ guilt into frustration, and he clenched his jaw to calm himself before replying.
“Because Scott’s hunting down Theo,” he said, voice clipped. “Malia’s helping him, and Lydia’s working the book angle with Deaton. I’d ask Kira, but she’s stuck out in the middle of the desert and I can’t hold a phone.”
Liam shifted uncomfortably, and Stiles caught a hint of guilt in his eyes as he stared down at his feet.
Ugh. For some reason, guilt-tripping Liam just made Stiles feel like he’d kicked himself in the chest. The kid could give Scott a run for his money when it came to puppy-dog eyes.
Stiles sighed, looking away from Liam to stare at his hands. An unbearable urge to fidget tugged at him and he grunted in annoyance.
Goddamnit. He was never getting out of this hellhole.
“Okay, I’ll do it.” Liam’s voice startled Stiles as it cut through the silence, and Stiles froze, not willing to believe his luck.
He slowly raised his gaze to the werewolf, who was watching him with determination, jaw set.
Liam nodded in confirmation. He fiddled again with the paper in his hands, before asking, “So once I have her number, do you want to call her?”
Stiles shook his head without hesitation. ”No,” he said. “I don’t want to risk anyone walking in while she’s on speaker. Just tell her what’s happening and tell her…tell her that I’ve come around on her offer."
“Because that doesn’t sound ominous at all.” Liam’s voice was distinctly unhappy. Stiles almost smiled at the sound. Liam had come a long way from the angry kid he had first met, and Stiles took an odd sort of pride in that. Take that, all those people who accused him of being a bad influence.
The kid was going to bite through his lip if he kept worrying at it, though. Stiles sighed, searching for an explanation that Liam would accept and eventually settling for a version of the truth.
“Look, she used to be the school guidance counsellor, and she knows about this stuff,” he said. “They made us talk to her back in the days when a dead classmate was a big deal, and she had some good advice.” He paused, choosing his last few words carefully. “She helped me through some stuff back then. I think she can help me now.”
Liam’s expression softened and he nodded, tightening his grip on the paper in his hand.
Stiles couldn’t move, and that was the only reason he didn’t collapse back onto his pillows with relief.
“Thankyou,” he whispered.
It matters to me.
Visiting hours had ended, Stiles had suffered through a sponge-bath by a male nurse (and if he ever got the use of his arms back, he was definitely writing a letter to Hollywood about creating false expectations) and he was just starting to doze off when there was a commotion in the corridor.
It wasn’t a loud noise, but it was unusual. It was the kind of banging and scraping that people make when they’re trying and failing to be subtle. It was the kind of noise that made Stiles both perk up with curiosity and cringe with trepidation.
Not that it made much difference, these days. It wasn’t like he could hide or fight anyway.
The noises drew closer, and Stiles watched his door warily in the low evening light. Sure enough, the soft step of footfalls paused at his door before it slowly cracked open.
A head peered into the soft lighting and Stiles instinctively relaxed. He would know that silhouette anywhere.
“Scott?” he whispered cautiously. “What are you doing here?”
Scott didn’t reply, instead swinging the door open further and gesturing to a shadow behind him.
The figure stumbled into the moonlight, and Stiles snarled when he saw who it was. Theo looked worse for wear, his shirt muddied and torn and a healing slash across his face. He was standing awkwardly, gripped from behind by Malia. Her eyes glowed blue and she held one clawed hand threateningly across Theo’s throat.
Stiles swallowed, not bothering to smother the rage burning in his chest. He kept his eyes on the chimera even as he directed his words toward Scott.
“I take it Plan A didn’t go well, then?” he asked sardonically.
Scott glanced his way but didn’t reply, instead turning his full attention to Theo.
“You wanted to see him for yourself, you’ve seen him,” he growled. Apparently Stiles wasn’t the only one unhappy with this situation. “Now it’s your turn. Where’s the antidote?”
Theo didn’t reply, instead studying Stiles with an odd look on his face. It was a mixture of hunger and scorn that made Stiles’ skin crawl.
“I want a moment alone with him,” Theo declared instead.
Malia’s eyes flashed in time with Scott’s growl and her fingers flexed, claws digging into Theo’s neck hard enough to draw blood.
“That’s not going to happen,” Scott snarled.
“Forget it, Theo,” Siles grumbled, unable to muster any heat into his voice. “Whatever threats you want to make, you can make in front of them. And if you're just here to play mind games then you might as well fuck off right now.”
Theo’s eyes scanned Stiles’ carefully. Whatever he saw seemed to satisfy him, his lip curling into a mockery of a smile.
“Fine by me,” he replied. “Your friends dragged me into this, not the other way around.”
His smug voice faded into a slight yelp as Malia cut deeper, leaning over Theo’s shoulder to hiss directly into his ear. “Don’t even think about it. You tell us what we want to know or you leave here in a body bag. There’s no other options.”
Scott took a menacing step toward Theo, eyes burning into the other boy’s. “If you think I’m going to be able to stop her, Theo, think again. She’s fast, she’s strong, and I’m desperate. So I’m going to ask again. Where is the antidote?”
Theo stared back in defiance. For nearly ten seconds, he met the alpha’s gaze head-on.
Then he crumpled. Stiles’ eyes widened in surprise as Theo’s expression cracked, the confidence melting from his face as his shoulders slumped in defeat.
“It’s gone,” he confessed.
Malia twitched in surprise and Theo cried out as rivulets of blood tracked their way down his neck. “I’m telling the truth!” The chimera’s words came thick and fast, his voice trembling with fear. “It was a vial of blood, okay? They injected it into themselves and for some reason it stopped the venom from taking effect. But I don’t know where it is, and they never told me where it came from.”
This time, Malia’s claws dug deeper with careful deliberation, the rivulets increasing to a steady stream of crimson.
“That’s all I know, I swear,” Theo begged, voice cracking with desperation. “Scott!”
Stiles traced his eyes over the chimera, taking in his faded eyes, his trembling limbs, the tell-tale signs of exhaustion creasing the corners of his mouth, and he didn’t need werewolf senses to know that he was telling the truth.
“Malia, let him go,” Stiles sighed, suddenly hollow. He hadn’t realised that he had been holding onto a slight flicker of hope until it died out completely.
Malia didn’t move.
Stiles stared at her in surprise. Gone was the warm-hearted girl who had held him through so many long nights; in her place was an animalistic creature, driven in equal parts by grief and rage.
Her eyes pulsed blue as her hand wavered over Theo’s pulse. The tension was palpable in the room, the silence broken only by the rush of blood in Stiles’ head as the moment stretched on.
Finally, Scott took a half-step forward. “Malia,” he said softly. She turned her gaze toward him, and his eyes gleamed red. “Let him go.”
For a moment, she wavered. Her lips trembled, eyes flickering between blue and brown. Then she turned away, arms falling to her side, head bowed and shoulders shaking.
Stiles let his eyes fall closed, not willing to watch as something inside her broke.
It was over.
You know, when you’re drowning, you don’t actually inhale until right before you black out. It’s called voluntary apnoea. It’s like no matter how much you’re freaking out, the instinct to not let any water in is so strong that you won’t open your mouth until you feel like your head’s exploding.
Then when you finally do let it in, that’s when it stops hurting.
It’s not scary anymore.
It’s actually kind of peaceful.
They were moving him.
Stiles had a full-blown panic attack when he heard the news. The doctors tried to calm him down, but his chest tore open and his ears rang and he couldn’t hear their words. Finally, they gave in to his father’s angry shouts and let the Sheriff enter the room to placate him.
He succeeded, eventually. But it didn’t change their minds.
When the panic died down, Stiles found himself filled with rage. Maybe the doctors didn’t have all the facts, maybe they thought that the Sheriff was preventing him from accessing the health care he needed, but the truth still stood that they were tearing him away from the people he needed most.
The worst part was that they wouldn’t let the Sheriff see him after that – despite Stiles’ pleas, they were too worried that he would try to spirit Stiles away. Scott suggested doing that very thing when he heard the news, but Lydia pointed out the obvious problem – if Stiles disappeared, everyone would blame the Sheriff.
The rage followed him through to the evening, when it finally burned itself out. His throat stung from crying, his muscles ached from disuse, and his head throbbed in time with his heart. He was so exhausted that he didn’t even realise she was there until she cleared her throat.
His eyes flew open and darted to the doorway. She blended in with the shadows, but there was just enough moonlight to make out her features.
“I got your message,” she said softly.
Stiles licked his dry lips. “Are you going to help me?” His voice shook on the question, but he ignored it and hoped she hadn’t noticed. A tilt of her head let him know that she had.
Ms Morrell took a few steps into the room before answering, and now Stiles could see that she was watching him closely, her dark eyes examining his features. “I haven’t decided yet,” she admitted.
It was an unexpected response. His heart fluttered in his chest and his mouth opened and closed as he fumbled for a reply. The implications weren’t lost on him; one wrong word, and his chance was gone.
There were a thousand responses whirling through his mind. He could explain about Theo, about his last chance being taken away from him. He could tell her about Scott, about how he couldn’t bear to watch his friends leave him behind. He could talk about his father, about how he never smiled anymore and how his eyes were always distant, lost in memories from so long ago.
He could say so many things. Instead, he said just a single word. “Please.”
His voice was strained, thick with too many emotions. Grief, loss, pain, fear – it was all contained in a single syllable, and Stiles held back tears as he watched her eyes warm with understanding.
She didn’t speak as she walked, almost ghost-like with her light tread. It took her four steps to reach his side, and only one movement to retrieve the needle from her coat. There was a plastic cap on the end, and she hesitated as she pressed one finger to the edge, ready to flick it off.
“One last chance, Stiles,” she murmured. “Then there’s no going back.”
Stiles swallowed, but didn’t hesitate.
“Do it,” he said, and this time his voice was steady as a rock.
Her lips thinned in acknowledgement. Then she clicked the cap off the end of the needle and reached for his arm.
The moonlight glinted off the slim metal and Stiles couldn’t tear his eyes away. His whole world narrowed to that little device, his end and his salvation all in one. Another minute, and it would finally be over.
That was when his little world shattered to pieces.
A thunderous roar shook the room, sending Stiles’ heart racing as Ms Morrell jerked in surprise.
“Get the fuck away from him!”
Stiles’ jaw hung open with shock as the room flooded with light. Scott stood just inside the doorway, fully transformed and flanked by Liam and Malia. His crimson gaze fixed on Ms Morrell and his stance radiated anger in a way that made Stiles want to sink into his cushions.
Malia growled, then leaped across the room in one smooth movement, grabbing Ms Morrell by her wrist and twisting. The sickening crack made Stiles flinch.
“Malia, wait!” Stiles finally found his voice, shouting to be heard over Ms Morrell’s cry of pain. He might as well not have bothered; Malia ignored him, attention completely captured by the object falling from Ms Morrell’s limp grip.
The syringe hit the linoleum with a soft tap, and the room plunged into silence.
Stiles couldn’t breathe, his eyes burning with desperation as they locked onto his last chance at escape. He could almost see the moment dwindling before him, and his heart sank at the sound of footsteps approaching the bed.
The footsteps belonged to Deaton, who was crossing the room with an uninterpretable expression in his face. Behind him, Stiles could see Lydia step softly into the room, lips tightened with suppressed emotion as she wordlessly took her place next to Liam. She locked her gaze with Stiles’, eyes burning with a combination of anger and grief, and Stiles’ breath caught in his chest.
A small, rational voice at the back of his mind informed Stiles that he should feel guilty, but…goddamnit, he was so close. If Lydia had felt something, he must have been so close.
Lydia shook her head minutely, and Stiles tore his gaze away to focus on Deaton instead. The vet was on his knees, picking up the syringe and examining it closely, before turning his head to talk to Ms Morrell.
“What is this?” Deaton asked, voice deliberately steady.
Ms Morrell’s face remained smooth, her voice carefully devoid of emotion as she replied. “Pancuronium bromide.”
There was a sharp inhale from across the room, and Stiles dared a glance to see that Scott’s face had drained of blood, leaving him pale beneath his olive complexion.
“Scott? What is that stuff?” Malia asked, confused.
“It’s a muscle relaxant.” Scott’s voice was oddly flat, and he kept his gaze on Stiles as he spoke. “We use it in the animal clinic, sometimes, for animals that can’t be saved.”
Liam tensed in horror, and from his right Stiles heard a gasp of pain as Malia tightened her grip on Ms Morrell. He didn’t turn to look, instead watching Scott out of the corner of his eye as his friend took a step closer to the bed.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Scott’s voice was so small. It was the same voice he had used when they were five, when Stiles had been so mad at Scott for breaking his G.I Joe that he hadn’t spoken to him for a week. It was the exact same voice, and for the first time that evening, Stiles’ gut twisted with guilt.
Scott was waiting for answer, and for a moment Stiles considered lying, but he discarded the option immediately. Scott would see right through him, after all.
Still, he couldn’t exactly tell his friend the truth. So he instead asked the first question that came to mind. “Why are you here?”
There was a pause as Scott’s expression tightened. Apparently, Stiles’ avoidance wasn’t a subtle as he had hoped. “Because we think we’ve found a cure.”
Wait, what? The words cut deep, wrapping icy fingers around Stiles’ heart. Holy… He stared at Scott with surprise. “How?” he gasped.
It was Lydia who replied. “It was Theo,” she explained. “What he said about the Dread Doctors using blood make us wonder. It sounds almost like a primitive vaccine or antibody transfer.”
The words echoed through Stiles’ head, the pieces struggling to fit into place.
Then it clicked.
“You’re immune,” Stiles breathed, staring at Lydia with wide-eyed wonder. “You should have antibodies.”
The banshee nodded grimly in reply. “That’s the idea,” she confirmed.
Stiles released a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding. Could it really be that simple?
A thought struck him, and the relief lessened somewhat. “But we can’t just inject your blood into mine without cross-matching it. What if we’re not compatible?”
Deaton cleared his throat. “We had thought of that,” the older man explained. “Unfortunately, it’s not something we can avoid without top-level technology. I’ve brought a vial of adrenaline with me if need be."
“Oh, great, that’s reassuring,” Stiles muttered under his breath.
Someone cuffed him over the head and he cussed reflexively as he glared at Malia. “What?"
She glared right back. “You don’t get to complain after what you just pulled,” she bit out, furious. Stiles winced at her tone, that familiar twist of his gut returning, but she wasn’t done. “The worst part is, you’re not even sorry. Are you?”
Stiles swallowed, and didn’t reply. Malia made a choking noise and looked away.
Scott was the first to break the silence, steering the conversation back to the matter at hand. “Stiles, come on,” he sighed. His voice was weary, quiet, a sharp contrast to Malia’s hot rage. “I know it’s not perfect, but this is the best chance we have at saving you and we’re running out of time. Are you in?”
Are you in? The words struck a chord, warming Stiles despite the situation. That phrase had been thrown back and forth between them countless times, leading them to their favourite places in the preserve, to the creation of their Halloween pranking tradition, to a particularly memorable summer in which they attempted to Parent Trap Melissa and the Sheriff. That phrase had led them into and out of trouble their entire lives.
There was only ever one thing that Stiles could say to that phrase.
“Yeah,” he replied. “’I’m in.”
I feel like I lost something. I feel like I can’t get it back.
It took fifteen minutes to set up the IV lines between Lydia and Stiles, during which time Malia frog-marched Ms Morrell to the emergency department to fix her fractured wrist. Lydia settled into a chair beside Stiles, arm stretched out before her, and Stiles waited with bated breath as he watched her deep red blood slowly trickle out of her arm and into his.
The tension in the room was palpable. Stiles could feel Deaton watching him closely, fingers dancing across his vial of adrenaline.
Five minutes passed, then ten. Then twenty, and finally Deaton relaxed back into his chair.
Stiles heaved a sigh of relief, and the Pack visibly uncoiled. For the next half hour, they whiled away the time with an enthusiastic discussion about the upcoming lacrosse season, studiously ignoring any talk of paralysis or injections or kanimas.
Liam was halfway through an energetic description of his favourite play when it happened. He suddenly froze mid-sentence, straightening in his chair and staring at Stiles in wonder.
“You nodded,” Liam pointed out, and the room fell into silence.
Stiles stared, then experimentally bent his neck. It followed his command without hesitation, so he tried again and stretched backward to look at the ceiling.
“It’s working,” he whispered, a grin breaking out on his face. A ray of hope pierced the darkness, and Stiles laughed. “It’s working!” he crowed again, delighted.
His friends grinned in return, faces shining with excitement. It took only another five minutes for Stiles to be able to shrug his shoulders, and ten minutes after that he was moving his fingers, making experimental rude gestures and completely ignoring Deaton’s disapproving look.
Two weeks, three days and twelve hours after it started, the paralysis disappeared.
Are you okay?
No, dude, I’m not.
Stiles hadn’t put too much thought into what would happen afterward. Mostly, he hadn’t thought that there would be an áfterward’, not for him. Vaguely, though, he supposed that he had hoped that everything would go back to normal.
In some ways, his hopes paid off. When his father was finally allowed in to see him, the Sheriff had let out a relieved laugh and gathered Stiles into a firm hug that knocked the breath from his chest. The following days had seen his father regain the humorous spark in his blue eyes and the spring in his step, and even the lines seemed to fade just a little. Stiles couldn’t help but smile as he noticed each little detail.
Returning to school was another welcome return to reality, although he found himself fielding a surprising number of questions about his health from concerned students. He would have been flattered that so many people cared if he weren’t too busy being bewildered by the attention. Fortunately, the strange situation proved a helpful distraction from his strained relationships with the Pack.
Malia had been actively avoiding Stiles since he was discharged from hospital, unless he counted her attempts to burn holes in his skull with her glares. Lydia wasn’t much better – she was speaking to him, sure, but somehow she managed to slip comments about breaking trust into every conversation. It would have been impressive if Stiles wasn’t the one on the receiving end.
And then there was Liam. The kid had realised after-the-fact that Stiles had used him in his attempt to orchestrate his own end. His large blue eyes radiated hurt whenever he looked in Stiles’ direction, and Stiles had to bite down to his tongue to prevent himself from pouring out apologies. If Malia and Lydia’s actions created a wave of guilt, Liam’s brought on a flood.
Thank god for Scott. For some reason, the alpha had decided to ignore the situation altogether, instead acting as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He didn’t get angry and he didn’t look hurt, so Stiles clung to his side in refuge from the others.
Of course, nothing could last forever.
It was three weeks before Scott finally decided it was time. The werewolf had a rare free afternoon from work and homework, and was celebrating with an impulsive Mario Kart war with Stiles. They had demolished two pizzas and were halfway through a third when Scott suddenly spoke.
“Did you ever stop to think about what it would do to us?”
Stiles blinked at the non-sequitur, confused. Then the words sunk in and he paused mid-chew, happiness evaporating instantly. His veins were filled with nervous energy as he hit the pause button automatically.
Okay, so this was happening. He could do this.
The silence was growing heavy. Stiles shifted awkwardly, swallowing his mouthful of food before answering in a voice that was barely more than a whisper. “Of course I did.”
“Because.” It wasn’t an answer, but it gave him a precious second to catch his racing thoughts, assembling them into some semblance of an order. “I didn’t think it would get better.”
“I got that.” Scott’s voice was oddly flat, devoid of his usual understanding. “But that’s not what I asked.”
Stiles swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. How could he possibly put into words the bone-deep certainty that he had experienced on that day?
Scott wasn’t watching him, instead staring at his hands. Stiles followed his gaze, raising his eyebrows in surprise when he saw that they were trembling. Scott, the ever-in-control True Alpha, was visibly shaken.
The notion shook him to the core, and before he realised what he was doing Stiles opened his mouth and started talking.
“I’m not you, Scott,” he confessed. He couldn’t look at his friend, instead speaking to Scott’s lap. “I’m not the guy who inspires people, who makes friends at every turn. I’m not even Derek, the guy who none of us really understand but we all rely on just the same. I’m just the weak human with too much blood on his hands.”
“Stiles –” Scott’s voice was horrified, but Stiles ignored him. Now that he had started speaking, he felt compelled to finish, but he knew that if he paused he the moment would be gone forever.
“I’ve lost too much, Scott. I used to be the guy with the plan, but now… now I don’t even know what I am. I barely feel like a person, sometimes. And I’ve been trying to patch myself back together, but I keep losing parts over and over and now it’s all just a mess of duct tape and thread.
“And the worst part is that I know I’m holding you guys back.”
The words were pouring out now, running together with a frantic energy that burned Stiles’ veins and tore at his throat. “Being stuck in that bed just made it a thousand times worse. It made it inevitable that eventually something would happen – Theo, college, whatever – and you guys would leave me behind.”
Stiles faltered and this time, Scott didn’t speak, letting the pause fill the room while Stiles tried to find the words to describe the darkness that had been seeping through the cracks for far too long.
“I guess I just didn’t want to give you the chance.”
Stiles fell silent, heart surprisingly steady in his chest. The knives in his throat eased off, and his limbs trembled with an odd sort of relief that came from finally saying the words out loud. His usual nervousness faded into the background, because as much as he couldn’t predict Scott’s reaction, he couldn’t bring himself to regret the words.
Scott didn’t speak. The uncomfortable silence prickled Stiles’ skin, forcing him to glance at Scott’s expression for a clue as to what was going on in his head.
What he saw made him freeze. Scott’s jaw was clenched, whole body trembling as he stared straight ahead. His dark eyes shone with tears and he was swallowing frantically, clearly trying to stop himself from crying.
He’d seen that expression once before, in the wake of Oni and silver arrows and death. He’d hoped never to see it again.
“Scott?” Stiles probed tentatively. Anything to change that expression on Scott’s face.
Those dark eyes flicked over to him, and Scott shook his head. Stiles watched as his friend heaved one deep breath, then another, before finally opening his mouth to speak.
“You have no idea,” he said. The werewolf’s voice was rough, barely holding itself together. “You have no idea how much we care about you, do you?”
Stiles blinked, taken aback. The words made no sense, so he shook his head in confusion.
Scott wasn’t done. “You know, I thought you were being selfish. I thought you just wanted out, and to hell with what it did to the rest of us. But I was wrong. You weren’t worried about us because you didn’t think we’d be hurt, is that right?”
The words were blunt, but that had always been Scott’s way. Bless him, but subtlety was never one of his strengths.
He seemed to be waiting on an answer, but Stiles couldn’t bring himself to speak. It didn’t matter; Scott took his silence as confirmation.
“Stiles, look at me.”
The words weren’t a command, but something about Scott’s voice tugged at Stiles, at a primal animal instinct to obey.
He raised his head to watch his alpha as he spoke.
“You told me once that I’m your brother,” Scott said, meeting Stiles’ gaze squarely. His voice was firm, brooking no argument. “I never said it back, and I should have. I know things were really screwed up this year and we both lost sight of that, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the truth.”
Stiles could almost feel the ghostly heat of the flare, the scent of kerosene, the palpable tension of the moment. Scott had never spoken about that night, so Stiles had assumed that he’d forgotten. He figured that, to Scott, it had all just been some wolfsbane-soaked nightmare that faded the moment he woke.
Scott’s next words took him by surprise.
“Stiles, you’re my best friend, and I need you. You’re my brother.”
Stiles’ throat burned, Scott’s face blurring at the edges. It didn’t matter, though; Scott’s voice was shaking with tears of his own.
“And if you ever think of doing something like that again, you come to me first, because I will always help hold you together but I can’t lose you, Stiles. Not again.”
Scott fell silent, waiting for a reply, and Stiles hesitated. He had made a lot of promises over the years, and had broken almost as many without a thought.
Because if Stiles was being honest, he couldn’t promise not to do it again. The future was too murky, too full of twists and turns and horrors and demons to make that guarantee. There were shadows around his heart, his mind, thoughts that plagued his dreams and whispered in his ear, and sometimes they overwhelmed him completely.
But Scott was instead asking Stiles to turn to him when the thread wore too thin. To rely on him when he couldn’t rely on himself.
Duct tape and thread and Scott.
Somehow, Stiles knew it would be enough.
You saved their lives. Mason, Malia, half the population of Beacon Hills. It ought to feel pretty good.
It did. For a while.
Is that something you want to feel again?
Yeah, I think so.