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We always seem to find each other (because maybe we are meant to)

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Anyone who ever says that having known and loved and lost – clearly has not meet the formidable reckoning that is Lydia Martin because she sure as hell would have eviscerate, multiple times, said person who dares utter those words.

Even in a murmur. As one unwise and almost innocent soul had done so during a day in their junior year in which Stiles had no doubt their fellow classmate would have been disintegrated by the absolute fury of Lydia’s – and the Bunsen burner that Lydia’s hand was inching towards to if Stiles had not helpfully moved it further away.

Therefore, he knows when a particular time of the year comes around to double, triple, quadruple, his cautiousness with the trigger words. In fact, he takes the effort to gag anyone who decides to be a sage on the matters of life and death. Anyone who tries to play God however, that he decidedly rolls his eyes heavenward in full punctuation of a pun, and tells them to ‘please, for the love of God, could He please smite you now and reduce you to a pile of ashes so I can just sweep you away because this is absolute garbage?

Besides, he is in love with Lydia too much to have her incarcerated for promisingly creative homicides.

And also, because a part of him still feels that pang of missing.

It may not be as much as Lydia does, or his best friend does. But it is still there within, gently gnawing at him from the insides as he feels that absence.

Stiles is decidedly braver than both of them combined though. He can say her name without being reduced to a blubbering mess – not that Lydia is ever one, that he needs to clarify – but he can bring himself to buy flowers on the anniversary and to look up at the sky. Or in the first few months, to down at the ground where he thinks she is kicking ass in purgatory.

He is not sure if he believes in purgatory, but if there are werewolves and Nogitsune and all things unbelievable being in his reality – ‘like vampires that sparkle under the sun’, he snorts to himself, then it doesn’t seem unrealistic of him to also imagine that there is a place that all souls go to before heaven.

Stiles knows that she deserves heaven.

He’s not sure if heaven deserves her though.

He buys the flowers, he gets a candle – and he remembers to also obtain a lighter because really, Stiles doesn’t smoke and it’s ridiculous to expect him to have something to light a candle at will.

Though he doesn’t say that out loud; the one time he did had Lydia’s expression slicing his sarcasm with murder in her eyes – it was 30% of evil considering she loves him enough to not unleash her full gift of malevolence on him. And that is why Stiles absolutely adores her.

It’s almost a clockwork routine for him come every eve to the date where he runs the errands and goes over to Lydia’s place with his purchases. At midnight, they light the candle and Lydia stares at the flickering flame while he stays silent and sits beside her, gazing at the candle. The flowers, calla lilies, are laid on a table, or the counter, where the lone lit candle stands. Occasionally, a quiet sniffle may escape Lydia and Stiles would be internally struggling not to give in to the emotions of the moment.

He choked once, right after their senior year because he had found it incredibly unfair that while they were all moving on to a new path of their lives there was one of them who would never have that. The freshman year, the college parties, the graduation, the first interview jitters, the horrors of the first job, and all that comes with having life ahead of one.

“She never got her beyond college years.” Lydia had said, almost inaudibly, resisting the sob rising within.

He knew what Lydia was referring to. It wasn’t just the exaggerated college experience and a thriving career; it was also a relationship that was an almost.

Scott told him about it a few days after the episode – Stiles calls it ‘the episode’ because it helps in dealing with the finality that resounds with death.

They had wanted something beyond high school and beyond college. She saw that much in Scott, and Scott imagined the same and more with her.

Today is a day to the 5th anniversary and Stiles is off to get the flowers, candle and lighter. It is still a wonder to him that the one lighter he purchases each year disappears right after and he never finds out where he places it after he lights the candle. Lydia calls it an act of pollution with all the lighters he is buying for a one-time use, while he calls it an act to ignite the economy of portable flammable liquid – Lydia just shakes her head, desensitized to the logic and pun that is Stiles Stilinski, with a small curl of her lips.

He steps into his sneakers and hurries out the door before Scott could ask him where he is going. His roommate, best friend and brother is not a nosey person but Stiles just prefers not to answer that question today. Stiles hates lying to Scott, and besides, he has already left a note to inform he wouldn’t be back till tomorrow.

Scott never knew, and still doesn’t know, what Stiles and Lydia do each night on this day.

Stiles had never brought it up either. He figures that his best friend, in all likelihood, would have his own way of remembering her in one of those beautiful, sad, tragic manner that Taylor Swift sings about.

The morning air touches his warm skin and Stiles sniffles for a bit. He shrugs it off and quietly closes the door behind him. He walks towards his trusty Jeep and is about to pull the door open when he feels a sudden heavy grip on his shoulder. His head shifts to glance over his shoulder – and he blinks and takes another look in a quick flash of a second.

“Dude!” Stiles gasps aloud and jerks backward, almost stumbling over his own feet. “What is wrong with you? It’s barely 8am!”

Chris Argent takes a few steps back and smirks. “It’s good to see you too.”

Stiles scowls. “Can’t say I feel that same. I’m still trying to pick my heart up from the asphalt.”

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“I figured as much.” Stiles straightens up, tugging his jacket to pull his composure together, figuratively. “Are we expecting you?”

His question has no bite to it, because Stiles is beyond any level of animosity for the Argent patriarch. He would have offered a complicated secret handshake of the pack if he wasn’t so rudely intercepted in his morning errands – not that there is a complicated secret pack handshake. He files a mental note to speak to Scott about it later. He hopes Scott doesn’t suggest adding a howl at the end of it; Stiles is not a howler at all.

“No. At least clearly, you didn’t.” The sardonic smile is still on Chris’ features.

“Are we going to get to the actual topic conversation or are you going to keep up with your sarcasm all morning? Because I really would like to get to the former as I have something to do and somewhere to be and someone to see. So, if you could just–,” he gestures with his hand in a supposed motion to indicate ‘get on with it’.

“How about some coffee while we talk?”

“Uh oh. Sounds big.” Stiles jokes, but he is already waving a hand to the passenger side and reaching for the driver’s door. He even has a destination in mind for an energizing, life-revitalizing cup of elixir.

“How have you been?”

Stiles makes a half smile of amusement. He looks at Chris from the corner of his eye as he starts the ignition.

“Can’t complain much. Being a full-time college student and FBI-wannabe is hard work but it’s a dream to be part of that. Cue the heart eyes, if you will.”

“I heard you’re performing well with your preliminary training.”

It doesn’t surprise him that Chris Argent is familiar with the top brass at the force. Stiles wouldn’t expect anything less of Argent Arms International and its connections.

“My instructors tell you that? What else did they tell you? Did they tell you the scores for the recent cyber security ethics’ exam? Wait no – did they fill you in on my recent operations training where I had the fastest time to disassemble and reassemble the 9mm Glock?” Stiles preens.

“They also tell me you are awfully annoying with your questions.”

His beaming expression falters only a little. “Oh, come on, you can’t expect me to believe they didn’t at least told you that? 6 seconds flat?”

Chris rolls his eyes and Stiles moves his shoulders in what is supposedly a victory dance move of the upper body while one is driving.

“Your dad and Melissa are proud of you.”

Stiles smiles, looks at Chris briefly, and returns his attention to the road. “Thanks.”

“And so am I.”

His smile widens. Chris’s approval may not have mattered much to Stiles before, but over the years as Chris becomes increasingly vital to the pack, he has grown to respect the Hunter like he does with his own father. He thinks of Chris as his substitute, no-nonsense, scary-with-firearms-and-crossbows guardian.

And because she was brought up by him – and she turned out to be an amazing, fearless and trustworthy person of honor. Stiles figures that Chris would be of the same. The apple doesn’t fall far from tree as they say.

So engrossed is Stiles in his thoughts that he almost fails to notice the Stop sign – the Jeep is pulled to a sudden brake with a slight screech from rubber against asphalt. Stiles winces for his tires.

“Obviously I can’t say the same for your driving skills.”

“The sign came out of nowhere.” He protests, albeit half-heartedly.

“We both know the Stop sign doesn’t appear on its own. Someone needs to dig a hole, stick the pole in, and make sure it stands solid against the weather and any volatile circumstances such as drivers like yourself.”

Scratch that, she’s nothing like him. This is malicious.’

“It could have just been placed there a minute before we drove up.” Stiles tries.

Chris scoffs.

“So – what brings you here to our lovely capital that sits our federal government?”

“I suppose you know about tonight?”

“Why, we do the same thing we do every night. Try to take over the world.”

Chris lifts an eyebrow that speaks volumes on his incredulity at Stiles’ words – and lucidity.

Stiles groans. “Pinky and the Brain? The cartoon? Two lab mice plotting to take over the world?” He tries explaining but Chris’ countenance remains unimpressed.

“Okay. Clearly your Sundays weren’t filled with cereals in front of the TV for cartoons.”

“I’m here with a proposal. For you, and Lydia.”

“No Scott?”

He has already seen through where Chris is leading this conversation into, and he is genuinely curious now.

“I don’t want to put him through the pain again. He’s been through enough.”

Stiles looks over at Chris. “You are a good guy, you know that?”

Chris gestures to the front with his index finger. “Eyes on the road, Stiles.”

“Right, sorry. Should we go pick up Lydia as well? She’ll probably want to hear this from you herself.”

“She will be informed. I want to know if you would be alright with this.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

He can’t think of any reason why he doesn’t want her back – for the pack, for Chris, for Lydia, for Scott, for him.

“It involves sacrifice.”

The three words strike straight at his heart. The darkness he carries and feels, the one that he had carefully kept contained in the furthest depths so he isn’t reminded and consumed by it, comes to surface. He swallows hard.

“Stop me now if it’s too much to ask.”

“No. I want to know.” Stiles says with an edge of resolute determination.

Chris looks at him firmly and Stiles meets the older man’s gaze. He recognizes the aspirant glint within those eyes – the same hopefulness he saw in her eyes. ‘There’s always hope’, he remembers.

“This probably comes off crazy but–”

“After everything we’ve been through, ‘crazy’ is a very loose definition by our standards to describe anything humanly shocking.”

“I lied about her funeral. The headstone was marked for an empty grave.”

“You what?” He is all but screeching in disbelief. “I take back what I said about our standards of crazy. This is way beyond acceptable means of compos mentis – this is certifiably insane. Of the highest order.”

“I lied about her funeral.” Chris calmly repeats again, as if Stiles’ right hand isn’t flailing about.

“What was all that visiting to the cemetery that we did? That Lydia wept at? That Scott spent days there talking to what is now apparently, a fancy engraved quartzite chunk and dirt?”

“I suppose anger would be a reaction to expect.”

“The word you’re looking for is furious. What the hell, Argent?” Stiles demands.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. It’s not something I could just tell any of you and I needed to be sure. Deaton and I took years to find out if there is even the possibility.”

“Deaton is in this too? Don’t tell me Melissa and my dad are in the circle as well.”

“Well–” Chris hesitates, drawing in a sharp intake of breath.

Stiles fumes internally for a moment. That hesitation is enough for an affirmative answer. He debates between shouting at Chris or pulling to a stop and kicking the man out. Instead of doing either, he reminds himself the reason of their conversation.

“You said there’s a possibility. Are we talking about–” His voice trails off as if not wanting to be too optimistic. 

“The Oni demon’s blade did get to her and whatever happened did.”

His nostrils flare and he sharply exhales. “Resurrection?” A clipped question. He hopes hard that the next words from Chris would be an affirmative or he would lose his collective patience and composure.

“Yes. I want her to cheat death and return.”

“But Allison’s been dead for almost five years!”

There is it. Her name.

He is capable of saying her name, but he hasn’t said it in a long time.

It fills the stifling air of tension in the Jeep, seeping in and turning it to one of bitterness. Stiles unclenches his jaw that he didn’t realized had been taut with anger. Once he does, he finds the heaviness within rising and filling his throat.

A sudden gasp escapes him. The Jeep turns into one of the parking lots of a diner and Stiles quickly kills the engine as he takes in hurried mouthfuls of air. His fingers grasp for the handle of the door and he stumbles out of the Jeep, almost falling over his own feet for the second time in the morning.

“Deep breaths, Stiles. You’re okay. We’re okay.” Chris’ hand grips Stiles on the shoulder, a firm steady weight to pull him back.

Stiles breathes in and counts to three in his head before exhaling, and repeating the process again twice.

“Tell me five things that you can see.”

“My sneakers, the Jeep, you, the diner, a pupper which just walked past with its owner.”

Chris encouragingly nods. “Four sounds that you can hear.”

Stiles inhales again and focuses his senses. “Your voice, the engine of the car two lots away from us, the clinks of cups and the clicking noise that the diner door makes when it opens.”

“Three things that you can feel.”

His fingers make contact with his jeans first, and then he remembers he needs to put it with the laundry today. Then he feels the softness of his flannel shirt under his jacket before running a hand through his hair and wonders if he needs a haircut.

“My jeans, the flannel fabric, and my hair – I need a haircut.”

“Good. And two things you can smell right now?

He sniffs. “Bacon. I’m hungry, can we get bacon and eggs over coffee?” Chris cracks a smile at his words. “And the smell of your cologne. What is it that you’re using?”

“Hugo Boss. What’s the one thing you can taste?”

“The leftover mint toothpaste at the back of my mouth.”

Chris’ hand releases its hold on Stiles’ shoulder and gives it a pat. “You’re okay, Stiles.”

Stiles grimaces. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for and I shouldn’t have freaked out on you like that.”

“It’s a sore spot. I know.”

“I care about her.” He is aware there is no past tense there.

“Come on, let’s get some food in you. I imagine you’ll need fuel to retain some form of reluctant acceptance to my proposal.”

“You’re paying.” Stiles pointedly says as he follows the Hunter into the diner. “And I’m ordering everything on the menu.”

“If you can finish them all, then be my guest.”

“Challenge accepted, Argent.” Stiles gives a small smirk with a hint of confidence.

“How does Scott put up with you?”

“Like a brother would.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.” Chris shakes his head.

Stiles manages a grin as he slides into one of the chairs with a table by the window, near the quieter end of the diner. He picks up the menu and glances through it quickly. Within seconds, he makes his decision and Chris doesn’t even blink when Stiles tells their server of his order.

“Alright. While we wait for the feast, let’s rewind to before my episodic emotional breakdown.”

Chris stares at Stiles for a moment, as if trying to decide that a continuance wouldn’t result in an aneurysm for the latter. Stiles arches an eyebrow in a wordless gesture to quit delaying the reason to Chris’ presence here in D.C where Scott and he now lives.

Scott joined him at GW to finish his undergraduate studies in biological sciences, and Stiles had been more than positively delighted that his best friend was joining him on the east coast instead of the polar opposite of the country. When Scott picked UC Davis, Stiles was excited for the werewolf but a small part of him was admittedly disheartened at the thought of being at two ends – they had never really been separated for long. Where Stiles is, there Scott will be and vice versa.  

Scott’s move had been a number of reasons that include missing Stiles and Lydia, or mostly Stiles as he likes to believe, the unspoken burden that Scott has been carrying on his shoulders for the past few years that was taking its toll on him, and a break-up. 

Malia is still in the west coast pursuing her degree in UCLA and to what Stiles understands, she and Scott had an amicable separation of their romantic relationship when it got evident that they wanted different things and had different priorities. It is a natural drifting apart logic when two persons are at crossroads of life’s journey. Malia is still part of the pack though, and she always will be. She takes Alec as her surrogate little brother, and is roommates with Liam and Mason in an apartment they share. Stiles adores Malia and bless her – her wicked sarcasm matches his and he hasn’t found anyone else like her and he doesn’t need to.

He is glad that Scott is the nicest, most thoughtful and lovable and kindest person he knows – and he is willing to back that statement with his one and only exclusive vintage Mets baseball card – because Malia’s breakup with Scott did nothing to Stiles’ friendship with Malia. Or her relationship with the pack.

Derek is based in LA as well but visits every now and then when he wants to, and Stiles still refers to him as Sourwolf to earn the same familiar glare of Derek’s each time. Heckling Derek is still one of Stiles’ favorite things to do, especially now that Derek’s glares hold no menace but mostly exasperation. ‘Mostly’ being a keyword. There are occasions he thinks Derek would like to break his fragile human neck if Scott wouldn’t miss Stiles so much if that happens – something he reminded Derek before.

Lydia is thriving at MIT, having completed her degree in applied mathematics and is pursuing her graduate program. Stiles is so proud of her and he never fails to tell her so – that and the heartfelt three words of his deepest affections. Though they are physically apart but his heart is completely attached to Lydia’s like he knows hers is to his. His Jeep has gone through some long hours on the highway to visit her during every alternate weekend, and Lydia spends a majority of her breaks with him and Scott in D.C. They go home for Christmases but spend the other holidays where they are.

The distance between members of the pack isn’t ideal but they are strong and wise enough to defend themselves in the smaller groups that they are now. If any one of them needs the pack – there is no doubt they would immediately drop whatever their doing and be there, even Jackson who has made London his home. They are connected by their pack bond after all.

Stiles also understands that the distance from Beacon Hills, from California, helps Scott to heal on the inside rather than just physical, superficial wounds the eye sees. The deaths of those they lost; he knows Scott still feels sorely responsible for and it feeds to the darkness within the latter. On the occasions he has seen the haunted, broken look in those brown orbs – moments that Scott only reveals to Stiles; they made his own heart ache. He feels it within him too, and he guesses Allison would have as well. 

Scott’s anchor; his first and primary anchor.

Allison is – and Stiles uses the present tense to describe her because this holds true even after all the years that have passed – Scott’s emotional and humanity tether, and voice of reason. Stiles knows Scott still hears her voice; in fact, Scott’s memories of Allison are as fresh as they have been when Allison arrived at Beacon Hills High for her first day during sophomore year.

His thoughts return to the present, where her father is sitting opposite of him right now, today, the eve of her death anniversary. Stiles absently taps his sneakers on the linoleum floor without breaking his gaze.

“When Allison was stabbed and I found her with Scott, I brought her back with me.” Chris begins carefully, watching his expression. “We left Beacon Hills immediately for San Francisco where Argent Arms had a warehouse there. I had her preserved with the cryonic preservation technology we were developing for the military. The technology serves to pause her internal cellular metabolism so her organs would not shut down.”

Stiles feels his eyes widening by the second. “Let me get this right. You didn’t just slow down what would have been the process of death, but you halted it? What about hypostasis, or even the lack of oxygen her cells needed while you were driving to San Francisco? That’s almost 200 miles. The cells would have already started asphyxiating before you even got there.”

“Our technology included a portable chemical compound that we could inject into our subjects. It sustains the body for up to 6 hours. I’ve always had one with me.”

“Oh sure, besides all those firearms, you just had to have a super serum to put death on hiatus. You’re not going to tell me that you have the super soldier serum that Dr Erskine used for Steve Rogers, are you?”

“Those are comic books, Stiles. They are not real.”

Stiles snorts in response. “Werewolves, hellhounds and chimeras aren’t supposed to be real either. Need I go on with the list?”

Chris allows a resigned smile to break his façade.

“But how is this possible? I don’t get the biology aspect here. How about ice crystallization from the ultra-low temperature?”

“The coldness is only a supporting role to help provide an ideal environment. The serum, as you so eloquently put it, is the main key to the preservation. There’s no need for ultra-low temperatures.” Chris patiently explains. “On your question of biology – Allison was not brain dead. That helps in the process. Think of it as injecting a very potent anesthesia into her system, putting her into a deep sleep where her consciousness is absent.

“Her cellular metabolism was stopped by a mixture of chemical and microbiological solutions we inoculated into her system – no cells died but none are reproduced either. There is never a chance of decomposition. But that meant her wound from the stabbing, it still existed as it wasn’t going to heal without regenerated cells.”

“You said existed.” Stiles points out, leaning in closer now with his elbows on the table and his fingers curled inwards towards his palms in loose fists as they cross in front of his chin.

“Cell regeneration can now be done outside the human body; medical science advancement has made that possible. That was what we did for the past few years until we were ready to do a surgery to reconstruct and restore the wound.”

“And she’s still in San Francisco?" The question is asked mostly out of curiosity. The other tiny part is asking so he can drag Scott and Lydia with him across the country on the next available flight.

Chris shakes his head in a quick yet smooth gesture. “After I had her in the facility, I had it moved to where no one would think of considering its lack of direct connection to anyone in the pack or to the Argent family. It’s the one place I know I could protect Allison.”

The Hunter stops for a moment and Stiles’ expression is articulate enough to get him to continue.

“We have the upgraded technology and core team in D.C. as here is where the government requires the facility so naturally, there is a need to support them at full capacity. There are, let’s just say business partners and security, who help in ensuring the technology and its chemical compounds constantly feed into her system, and maintain her body and organs as they have been.”

“Allison is here?” The question comes out in a near whisper.

Just as he thinks the most shocking news is an empty grave and they are about to set on resurrecting someone who has been presumably dead for five years, here comes another curveball of a revelation. 

Chris sits back, crossing his arms with a grimace forming on his face. “Imagine my surprise when you decided on your choice university. And when I found out Scott finally moved here as well.”

“I didn’t know that. I never thought–” Stiles pauses as he racks his brain for some obscured memory.

He recalls the moment he retrieved his acceptance letter to George Washington University; he had felt a propensity to move across the country as his thumb traced the postal stamp with the D.C postmark. He hadn’t need to wait and see if Columbia might open up a spot for him. Even his father had been surprised when he declared that the next four years, five actually – considering he had deferred to a later entry after some very interesting events just after graduation, of his life was laid out in perfection.

The serving of their breakfast order breaks him out of his reverie and he watches as their server places the plates of pancakes, bacon and eggs, biscuits, bagel with cream cheese, and of course, curly fries on his side of the table. A plate of pancakes is placed in front of Chris. Stiles raises both eyebrows as if judging the other for a negligible breakfast choice. Chris ignores his look and thanks the server after she places their respective cups of coffee down.

“Sure you’re going to eat all that?” Chris gestures with his fork to the spread in front Stiles.

“I have very high metabolism.”

“So as long as you don’t get a few arteries clogged along the way.”

“Are you sure you want to pour all that syrup onto your pancakes? I heard diabetes isn’t rare among the elderly.”

Chris huffs into his cup, schooling the amusement on his face, and Stiles chuckles.

Stiles chooses the bagel first and finishes it within a few minutes. Wiping his hands and reaching for his knife and fork, he begins slicing his bacon and eggs into small squares. His mind returns to their conversation before they were interrupted by breakfast.

“Before he moved here, Scott always chose to visit.” Stiles slowly says as his mind hurries to piece the connections. He looks at Chris in the eye.

“He said he felt like it was a part of home. I assumed it was because I am here. But it’s not just that, is it? It’s likely the same reason why I felt compelled to choose GW when I got the letter.”

“Deaton reasoned that the surrogate sacrifice left more than just darkness and its emotional scars,” Stiles flinches a little at the memory, “it also established an inherent bond between Allison, Scott and you.”

“If we are drawn to her, why weren’t we when you had her in San Francisco? I don’t think I ever felt a need to go there – wait.” Stiles’ hands stop at their actions with his own word. The knife and fork drop to the plate with a clatter.

“Scott suggested a road trip before our senior year, we spent a whole day there and I remember wishing the day wouldn’t end so we could stay a little longer. Where was Allison then?”

The look on Chris’ face is all that Stiles needs to confirm that Allison had indeed been in the city, it was probably before she was moved to the capital’s facility.

“We always seem to find each other anyway.” He whispers to himself.

The exact same words of his to Lydia during their senior year.

“When I was possessed, Scott said she was determined as hell to believe that I still existed even when I didn’t think I existed.” Stiles quietly recalls. “And after that episode we had with the demons and all, she told Scott she loves him through and through, even though she was with Isaac and she cared for Isaac significantly enough for us to assume she loved him.

“She was drawn to us as we are to her.”

All those times he had felt Allison was still with them in the lingering feeling of her presence – how it influenced their thoughts and emotions, and sometimes even course of action, he now comprehends it hadn’t just been in memory of a beloved’s passing.

It was also from our bond.

His hands shake a little and he thinks he feels a little light-headed, but there is a combination sensation of reassurance and gratification that is settling within him as well. Its existence is warm and bright.

Full realization of the weight of the new reality dawns upon him.

“You need me for the resurrection. I am to be the surrogate sacrifice because of our bond.”

“No, Stiles. I need you to be the one to find Allison in the unconsciousness that she has slipped into. The sacrifice you will make is the bond that you have with her.”

Stiles is at loss for words. He can’t say he is entirely pleased to discover that he won’t be opening himself to another round of haunted nightmares and confusing realities, and potential demonic invasion. Because being asked to relinquish the powerful emotional connection he has just been made aware of minutes ago is proving to be hard for him to assimilate.

There are emotions rising within him, surging through his veins and he knows it’s because of his newfound knowledge – the bond means more than just being drawn to each other.

They are also feeding on each other’s energy, or life force if he puts it philosophically.  

Scott finds his determination to be human because of Allison and fiercely protects because of Stiles. Stiles battles his anxiety and fears with Scott’s presence and he fights with the pack from Allison’s valor. The pack takes on the new Argent code not only because it resonates with them – it is also Allison’s conviction.

Nous protégeons ceux qui ne peuvent pas se protèger eux-měmes.’

To give up the bond is to give up the part he has of Allison and Scott, and them of him. Stiles realizes the irony of the situation though; he is giving her up to have her back.

“You need some time to process, I get it.” Chris offers. The Hunter continues with his pancakes.

Stiles’ hands work on their own accord to continue the mechanical movements of shoving food into his mouth. He chews and swallows without thought. When he is done, his hand reaches out for the plate of pancakes and places it atop the now empty one and starts again – cutting the pancakes into small squares, drizzling them with syrup, before placing them into his mouth and soon he is chewing and swallowing again.

His table companion pushes a glass of water towards him. Stiles accepts it, takes a pause from his eating and drinks half a cup, and continues again. He works on the biscuits together with the curly fries.

His fingers are thrumming with unspoken energy. The memories of Allison, Scott and him keep flashing in his mind, one after another. He also remembers in particular the memories he has of Allison like the time the brunette studied with him and the soft dimpled-smile that lit her face as she teased him about his absurd answer to their Chemistry pop quiz.

She then told him that the combination of his intelligence and sarcasm was a force to be reckoned with, “and the world is currently missing out on the remarkable Stiles Stilinski who is going to be the president of the United States one day.” He had laughed out loud and tried to dismiss the idea but she was adamant.

“Just because Scott leads in our pack, it doesn’t mean you are not a leader. Stiles,” she shot him one of those bright, kind smiles of hers and playfully tapped her pencil on his head once, “you have the foresight, stratagem and tactical knowledge. I for one, can’t wait to see you in ten years, or hey, even in five years.”

‘Five years. That would make it tomorrow. Ohmygod. Is that five years from the time we met or from the moment she said that? Ohmygod.’

Stiles can’t help but to hastily reassess of what he has done and who he is at this current point in time. A constant 4.0 GPA in his undergraduate program for criminal justice, top 5 candidate in his summer training and internships down at Quantico, and he even handles himself perfectly well with the M4 carbine – far from his clumsy handling of a firearm.

No extra co-curricular activities to set him on the path of being the head of state though, unless he counts the one time his team made it to the quarterfinals of the USUDC, code word for the nationals’ debating championship.

And he once attended a talk of President Obama’s on environmental policies – if that made him possibly presidential by association of attendance in the presence of an actual one.

He hopes he is making her proud.

The menu suddenly appears at his left forearm, and Stiles looks up with a questioning gaze.

Chris shrugs. “In case you’d like to have more.”

“Are you trying to make me fat?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it with your high metabolism.”

Stiles appreciates the attempt to lighten the mood. He offers a smile. Chris mirrors it. Stiles waves for server’s attention and he grins when she nods in acknowledgement and walks over with the pot of coffee in hand. Both Chris and he accept the refills, and Stiles places an order for French toast.

“You know, I’d appreciate it better if you brought this up earlier.” He says while wiping his mouth with a napkin. “Cause I’m guessing whatever you’re planning has to be done tonight.”

“It’s the new moon, and it coincides with the day of Allison’s death.”

“Right. New beginnings.” Stiles nods. “And Lydia fits in because of her banshee powers, their association to death.” He says bluntly.

Chris leans forward, his hands crossed as his elbows rest on the table. “That’s right. Lydia has a connection to the otherworld. She will be both your guide and tether.”

“So, what happens?”

“According to Deaton, it’s not impossible for a living person to get into the otherworld through the Druid’s divinity.”

“Well we all know that with the surrogate sacrifice.” Stiles grimaces.

“That was different as you needed to die for the nemeton to reveal itself to you as it desired your life source for its powers. This time, we just need your consciousness.

“Once you fall asleep, your consciousness will be transmuted and you will need to find Allison. If Deaton is right, your bond to her and her to you would allow both of you to find each other. She may not recognize who you are though. It’s easy for one to be absorbed into that realm as time, reason and individuality do not exist – that is where Lydia comes in.”

Stiles nods in understanding. “Lydia will help me navigate through the otherworld just in case I get lost, so to speak, and help me remember who I am so that I can return.”

“Your romantic connection, on top of the strong friendship you both have already established, will serve as a solid tether to pull you back to us. And hopefully, with Allison.” Chris replies.

It doesn’t go unnoticed to Stiles on how Chris’ voice drops a notch lower with his last words, as if bearing too high hopes would transpire greater disappointment if they fail.

“And because Lydia is just as close to Allison, she will be able to bring Allison’s consciousness to return as well. You and Deaton have obviously thought of a back-up.” Stiles finishes with his hands gesticulating of a ‘voila!’ expression.

A small smirk appears. “Call it insurance.”

“I for one am glad of that insurance plan because if there’s anyone else besides Scott that I’d trust with my life, it’s Lydia.” Stiles approvingly says. “But how does this work? We find Allison’s consciousness and just put it back into her body?”

“You can’t just insert someone’s consciousness like you would fit a piece into a jigsaw puzzle.”

“Well, I did watch Casper when I was a kid and that seemed like the way to go. Oh wait, that was the 1995 movie.”

Chris chuckles. “How much cartoons did you watched when you were a kid?”

“Plenty. My favorites were Scooby-Doo, Animaniacs, The Powerpuff Girls, Kim Possible, and oh, The Fairly OddParents.”

“No Batman?”

“Nah,” Stiles grins, “I preferred the comic books, and the movies. Anyway,” he taps his fingers on the table, “returning to the resurrection – how are we going to get Allison back once I found her?”

“Deaton will perform a ritual of return while you find Allison. As her body still exists and remains intact, naturally, her consciousness will seek to return where it belongs. We will have her body in iced water and ashes of the Selaginella lepidophylla for the ritual.”

“Isn’t that–”

“The resurrection plant, the rose of Jericho. Just like the mistletoe once had its Ancient Greek association to death with Aeneas using it to reach the underworld, the rose of Jericho is tied to revival because of its natural properties.”

“Will this work?” Stiles is hopeful, but in the same mixture of fear and nervous anticipation.

The serving of his French toast interrupts Chris from answering. Stiles quickly shoots a smile of gratitude and shifts to look at Chris again with bursting expectation.

“I don’t know.”

What?” Stiles exclaims.

Chatters around them fall to a hush and Stiles looks around with a meek look, “Sorry about that. Just me and my irrepressible excitement.” When everyone seems mollified, he turns back to his breakfast companion again. “After everything you told me, you’re saying that you don’t know if this will work?”

“The new moon should help with the ritual but there are caveats. Your consciousness, Allison’s willingness, Lydia’s tether, even the ritual.”

He ignores the part about himself and chooses to focus on the bigger question, “And if we fail?”

“We will have to wait for the next new moon that coincides with her death.” Chris somberly answers.

“Which will take years.” Stiles replies, his face dropping. He rubs the palms of his hands together and lets out a deep sigh.

“And you may lose that bond you have with them.” Chris adds and Stiles looks up, surprised. “We have the theory that gift may be taken away if it is used in the otherworld. That was given when the three of you died and came back to life, so to use it again in that realm or reality, even if we retrieve you and the only failure is Allison’s willingness, your bond is forever nullified.”

‘Come on, Allison. You have to make this work with us. Chris needs you. Lydia too. And it’s sure as shit that Scott needs you.’

“We should get going soon. You may want to finish that French toast of yours.”

He nods. The worry that the ritual might not succeed and they have to wait what may possibly be ten or even twenty years or more to do this again is creating a figurative knot in his throat and he finds it hard to swallow his French toast.

It takes him fifteen minutes to finish his meal and he finally washes it down with his coffee, and he thinks maybe he needs some fresh air to collect his thoughts. He tells Chris so and the latter suggests for him to step out first while the bill is being paid. Stiles shoots Chris a grateful smile and takes off from his chair – his sneakers light against the flooring as he hurries out.

The morning air eases into his lungs as he deeply inhales. He takes a few breaths and glances at the sky above. It is quarter after ten in the morning and he thinks he needs to call Lydia. She’s expecting him to be at MIT no later than five in the evening. Stiles pulls out his phone from the pocket of his jeans.

“Are you okay there, Stiles?”

He meets Chris’ concerned gaze with a tight smile. “Yeah,” he answers and points to his head, “just the old pal anxiety doing some work up here.”

“I want you to understand that this is not something you should bear if you don’t want to. You don’t need to do this.”

Stiles sharply exhales. “No, Chris. I need to. This is Allison we’re talking about.” Another surge of emotions and a taut pull materialize within him. “She would do this for me if she is in my position. Like Scott would too for both of us.”

“I’m sorry, Stiles.”

“You don’t have to be.” He curls his fingers into his palms loosely as if to contain the energy thrumming within him. “But–” he pauses as his auditory sense had picked up a familiar sound and he confirms it within the next second, “but you are going to explain to Scott everything.”

Perplexity colors Chris’ face, and Stiles waits for a few seconds before a newcomer’s voice from behind him confirms his expectation.

“I thought you’d be here.”

Chris looks to Scott and then to Stiles. “How did you know?”

Stiles gives a casual shrug paired with a sheepish grin. “I’ve gotten good at identifying footfalls. Everyone has a slightly distinctive one and I recognize Scott’s easily.”

“Hey buddy, I thought you’ve left for MIT.” Scott greets Stiles with an enthusiastic pat on the back.

He widens his smile for Scott. “Just about to get to that part.”

His best friend looks to the Hunter with them. “It’s good to see you, Chris. I didn’t know you were coming though. Is everything okay back home? Is mom okay?”

“Melissa is doing fine. I’m here to see Stiles and Lydia, and I guess now it includes you too.”

Stiles watches as Scott knits his eyebrows in confusion. He swings an arm over Scott’s shoulders and looks at Chris expectantly.

Chris looks at Scott. “Before that, how did you know we were here?”

“Was just around the corner for my morning coffee and I picked up your scent with Stiles’ own.” Scott replies, smiling a little.

Chris rolls his eyes. “One with the olfactory and another with the auditory. No wonder you are best friends.”

“I bet the other one of us has the visual acuity.” Stiles chimes in, but his grin fades when Scott turns to look at him in curious interest. He almost forgets that Scott isn’t in the loop of things, yet.

“Come on, I’ll explain on the way.” Chris says, breaking the silent communication between him and Scott, and walks towards the Jeep.

“You’re coming along with me to MIT?” Stiles asks.

“No. We are meeting Lydia and Melissa at the facility.”

“Lydia already knows?”

“What’s mom doing with Lydia?”

Stiles’ and Scott’s questions are posed in unison.

“We decided that I’ll be the one to talk to you and Melissa will speak to Lydia. It’s faster that way.” Chris explains for Stiles’ benefit before turning to Scott. “And I’ll fill you in – it’s a long story.”

“A very, very long one.” Stiles adds under his breath.

He lets go of Scott to send a quick text to Lydia. Scott is going to need his full attention and care after this; there’s no doubt within him that Scott may go through various stages of raging emotions quicker than a hormonal pregnant lady would once Chris explains their plan – and the truth.

As soon as Stiles is done, he slips his phone back into his pocket and reaches for his car keys, in which he realizes he doesn’t have them.

“Here.” Chris knowingly offers as he tosses the set of keys to Stiles. “I pulled them out of the ignition for you.”

“Thanks.” He moves to driver’s seat and gets in, expecting Scott to ride shotgun with him. But instead, Scott stands outside the Jeep, looking baffled as he tries to piece together what is going on.

“Trust me on this, buddy. You are going to want to join us.” Stiles reassuringly says and he leans over to pop the door open for the werewolf.

Chris pats Scott on the back and gets into the Jeep. Scott shakes his head and joins them without another word. Stiles starts the engine and begins pulling out of the parking lot. He is not planning on the doing the talking for now – he figures Chris can do that while he watches for his best friend’s reaction, mostly to make sure Scott doesn’t wolf-out.

Stiles feels a tap on his right shoulder and he turns a little to see Chris holding up his phone with Google Maps opened for directions to some place 22 minutes from where they are. Taking the offered phone, he places it near his dashboard; he thinks he may recall the location from brief memory of having passed by it.

On their drive there, Chris methodically explains to Scott on what the former has told Stiles. And as Stiles had guessed; disbelief, anger, hurt, disappointment, confusion, and hurt again color Scott’s features.

Scott listens in silence the entire time, which Stiles is amazed at because he had so many questions when he first found out. The one time that Scott says anything is when Chris reaches on the whereabouts of Allison – Scott’s retort of ‘what’ is accompanied with a distinctly vexed growl and Stiles places a hand on Scott’s shoulder in hopes to reign the latter in. 

Besides that, Scott remains quiet but his best friend’s hands are tightly clenched.  

When Chris explains about their unexpected bond, Scott turns to Stiles with a wounded look that Stiles almost pulls over just to give him a hug. He could imagine the impact the reveal is making on Scott’s heart, but like Stiles, Scott seems to be suddenly more aware of the linked life force that exists within him. Stiles watches as Scott puts his face into his hands for a few seconds and takes quiet deep breaths in.

He holds a hand up to stop Chris’ monologue, actually pulls over to the side of the road, and waits.

A few minutes pass in silence until Stiles finally speaks up. “Hey buddy, Scott, you okay?” He gently asks, placing a hand on Scott’s exposed wrist.

The warmth of Scott’s seeps into his skin and Stiles almost quivers. Scott looks up at him at the very same instance. Without a second thought, just with the exchange of a look – Stiles pulls Scott into an embrace.

“I’m here, and she’s with us still.” He reassures, his voice slightly muffled by Scott’s shoulder.

Stiles feels Scott suddenly pulling back and he meets the other’s look of profound realization.

“Senior Scribe.” Stiles confirms. He knows his expression mirrors his best friend’s.

“That electric sensation that enfolded inside and there was this – spark or something but it felt like I was going to be okay. It was comforting and calming. Like I knew I am never truly alone. That feeling, it was bright and warm.” Scott says, almost tentatively and searching. “You felt it too back then?”

Stiles nods. Scott had just described the exact emotion of what was then and what he is also feeling right now. One could imagine it to be a cardiac arrest but instead, his mind tells him the sensation is perfectly normal and there’s nothing physically wrong with him.

A wistful yet affectionate smile crosses Scott’s features. “She’s with us.” Scott repeats.

“Always has been, buddy. Like Lydia says.”

Stiles gives Scott another hug before pulling back completely and resumes his drive. He looks at Chris, who has been silent through their exchange, from the rearview mirror. The studious countenance of the Hunter doesn’t go unnoticed.

“Um, you okay back there?”

“What both of you have with Allison – it’s a recondite subject for an outsider.” Chris answers.

“Are you envious of us?” Stiles asks with a tone of dubiousness.

“Maybe.” Chris shrugs a little, but doesn’t elaborate and chooses to continue his explanation for Scott’s benefit.

Stiles doesn’t prod either and focuses upfront instead. He reminds himself that he will be seeing Lydia later and she’d very much likely prefer to see him in whole and alive so he’d better keep his eyes on the road and safely get them to their destination.

By the time Chris finishes, the final emotion that sits with Scott is distraught. They had arrived a few minutes ago but are still sitting inside the Jeep. Scott finally gets out, with an indignant huff, and Stiles hurries out after him.

“Come on, Scott.” He tries.

Scott whirls around so quickly that he almost flinches but he doesn’t because it’s Scott and he trusts his best friend will never ever hurt him.

“Are you out of your mind, Stiles?”

“You know this is what I have to do.”

“Didn’t you hear him? One of the possible things that could go wrong is that your consciousness gets lost in the otherworld and Lydia’s tether fails.”

“We have Deaton as a failsafe. And you can’t tell me you don’t trust Deaton. That’s the same guy that brought you back to life for the surrogate sacrifice. The same guy that made sure the ritual worked perfectly so Allison and I would come back too. He didn’t fail us then, so he’s not going to fail us now.” Stiles is aware that his hands are flailing about with his explanation, but all he cares about is reassuring Scott so they can go through with the plan.

“Exactly!” Scott snaps. “The surrogate sacrifice ritual. We all knew there were consequences but Stiles – you got the worst of the ramifications. I saw what it did to you and you were going out of your mind. It almost drove you to your own death!

“I hate what it’s done to you. You can’t go through that – I am never going to let you lose yourself like that ever again.”

Stiles swallows hard. Clearly, he does not expect that would be the reason to Scott’s objection of this ritual.

“I almost lost you back then, and I almost lose you again three years ago when you were erased from our memories. Don’t you get it, Stiles?” Scott fumes.

“You never asked to be part of any this but you stuck by me and the pack all through everything even if you end up getting the shittiest short end of the stick! I’m not going to risk you over and over again!”

‘Don’t raise your voice, don’t get defensive. He’s scared, he’s concerned and these are all very valid reasons. It’s what brothers do.’

Stiles closes his eyes and takes a deep breath to find his composure. He is heartened by Scott’s words but he also knows that he needs to convince Scott that they have to do this. Chris has stepped out of the Jeep and is now standing aside, watching them both.

“Let me do it.”

Stills whips his head around. “What? No. No, Scott.” Panic suddenly fills him.

This is not what he had in mind. There are a number of reasons he can immediately think of as to why Scott cannot be the ritual’s subject. Scott’s safety, Melissa’s worry, the vulnerability of Scott’s emotions when it comes to Allison, the pack’s possible loss of their alpha, or – the likelihood of Scott staying there with Allison instead.

“I can do it.”

He recognizes the stubbornness in the other’s voice. “Well I’m not letting you. Lydia’s a stronger tether for me than she is with you.”

“I’m the true alpha.” Scott appears to wince at how condescending that sounds but he soldiers on, “She’s in my pack. Her connection to me should be as close as it can be to yours with her. It would be in the strength of loyalty, pack dynamics and camaraderie.”

Stiles turns to Chris as if for confirmation.

“Deaton did mention it’s a possibility when we were considering the options.”

He throws his hands up at the unhelpful answer and glowers at Chris.

“See, Stiles? I can be the one to do this.”

“No, you do not get to come in here and pull ranks within the pack.” Stiles takes a few steps forward. “Listen to me, Scott. We’ve both been through the same weird-ass supernatural extravaganza and I’m not going to start comparing whose is worst or bigger, and I know you love me – and I do too – but if we fail, you will lose that bond you share with me and with Allison.”

He looks at Scott earnestly.

“Please, buddy, think about your mom and the pack. What if something happens to you?”

“We have Malia and Derek. And mom’s got Chris.”

“She can’t replace her strapping handsome son with an old man.” At that, Stiles quickly glances over at Chris, “No offense.”

“None taken.”

He returns his gaze to Scott again. “What if you can’t find Allison?”

Scott raises his eyebrows that speak volumes on the logic of said question and Stiles decides it is definitely a stupid question to pose. Compared to him, Scott has the higher odds of locating Allison in the otherworld, reinforced from their romantic relationship that would have been inscribed in stone for forever and always.

“What if – what if you chose to stay?”

“Stiles,” Scott’s gaze softens. “I won’t do that to you and my mom. You are a reason for me to live for too.” Scott admits, his brown eyes yield honesty and love.

Stiles takes a deep breath in. He is aware that his vision is turning blurry and he can feel the possible waterworks being turned on.

He decides to draw out his last reasoning card. The one he had kept aside and was hoping he wouldn’t have to use it.

“Scott, Allison died because of me.”

Scott’s eyes widen and the werewolf begins to shake his head as if to refute Stiles’ words and convince otherwise, but Stiles plows on.

“No, Scott. You know I’ve always been carrying this with me. Allison would have been here if I wasn’t so damn weak and had my mind opened to the Nogitsune. Then Kira’s mom wouldn’t have to summon the Oni, and Allison wouldn’t have to fight them and–” His voice breaks.

“Stiles.”

Tears are clearly forming in his eyes and a single one rolls down to his cheekbone. He wipes it away swiftly, not wanting to be deemed weak again.

“Chris wouldn’t have to lose his only child. The pack wouldn’t lose its lethal and most loyal Hunter. Lydia would still have her best friend. I would be hanging out and joking around with one of the most loyal and amazing friends I’ve ever had.”

“And you–” Harsh and hard breaths escape as he fights through his bitterness, “Scott, you would still have the love of your life.”

After everything that has happened, and despite enjoying Kira and Malia’s presences with the pack both as a friend and Scott’s girlfriend – Stiles identifies that it’s different with them and with Allison. In a snow globe of merriment for two figures, or in the ending of an epic tale’s many chapters. Scott had been so sure they would always find their way back to each other. Allison was positive that their ‘us’ existed beyond the tussles of education, peer pressure and parental wishes. She had continually stood beside Scott even after they broke up, always taking on his side, and Scott constantly found her and sought her out no matter who they were already with.

For Stiles, Scott and Allison were, or are, meant to be.

Scott’s composure crumbles and so does Stiles. Closing his eyes forcefully, he bites down hard on his lower lip to keep his anguish at bay. He knows Scott is feeling the devastation of his broken dam of bitter emotions. Stiles lets himself drop to the ground, his head between his knees.

“I’m sorry, Scott.” He offers, a broken whisper.

“Stiles.” Scott’s voice is accompanied by a cast of a shadow over him. He feels Scott dropping to his knees. In the next second, Stiles finds his arms being pulled away from his head and knees and in the next, they are wrapped around Scott’s shoulder and upper back.

“Don’t be sorry. I’ve never blamed you – not for one moment. You are not responsible for Allison’s death. You have never been.”

Stiles embraces his best friend and brother tightly. Scott’s hold on him is secure and sure. Stiles’ heartbeats begin to steady themselves and gradually, they find a matching pace against Scott’s.

“Let me do this for Allison and you.” Stiles murmurs.

“Don’t do this out of guilt because you have nothing to feel repentant for.” Scott draws himself back but his hands remain on Stiles’ shoulder. “And you know Allison would say the same if she’s here right now. She chose to be there that night. Allison chose to fight with us and to save Lydia – and you. You mean just as much to her. You have to know that.”

Stiles slowly nods. The heavy feeling of culpability isn’t entire gone but it does feel lighter with Scott’s reassuring smile. Scott holds out his hand to pull him up and Stiles takes it. He imagines Allison’s hand with theirs – a touch that is comforting yet firm. An incandescent confidence settles within him and he recognizes it be her courage.

Scott’s countenance takes on a contented daze but he seems to snap out of it quickly as he exchanges a knowing gaze with Stiles. Stiles nods, managing a smile from his lips.

He is going to miss this bond when he gives it up with the new moon.

Stiles turns to Chris and back to Scott again. “Scott, I get it that you are worried about me and all, but you’re going to have to let me do this.”

“Stiles–”

“Allison would kick our ass if we keep arguing about this.” Stiles points out.

His response manages a chuckle out of Scott. “She would.” Scott finally relents, “And she would tell me to let you do it. Not because she wants you to but because she trusts you. Like I do.”

The words are a surprise to Stiles and it takes him a moment to react with a budding smile of acceptance. He looks down for a moment, feeling a wave of bashfulness, but shifts his gaze in the next second to meet Scott’s firmly. His smile widens.

“Let’s do this.”

“Is it safe to assume I don’t have to continue to find something to break up a fistfight?” Chris’ voice brings Stiles’ and Scott’s attention to the man.

Stiles laughs. A wholehearted one and he feels his lungs rushing with breaths of mirth. Scott follows after.

“Are you kidding me? You probably need a muzzle and chains for this one.” Stiles jokes, giving a sloppy punch to Scott’s forearm.

Scott looks down at the spot on his arm and back at Stiles, smirking, “That’s pretty weak.”

“I wasn’t even putting in 10% of an effort.”

“Yeah? What’s a 10% like? Because that feels like a 0.1%”

“Oh, shut up, wolfie.” Stiles retorts but without heat. Scott grins. “I’m going to punch you in your sleep tonight so when you wake up tomorrow, you’ll find this huge bruise of a baseball-sized on your eye.”

“I’d like to see that happening.”

“The challenge is on, my friend. It is on.”

“Alright, come on.” Chris prompts, walking towards a redbrick building. “Deaton is waiting. Can’t wait to tell him I have just personally witnessed the supposed epic bonding moment of Scott and Stiles.”

“Hey, no need for the sarcasm.” Scott comments, following Chris’ lead and Stiles falls in step next to Scott. “I already get my daily dose of it just by being friends with Stiles.”

“The freebie that comes with your personal annual subscription of the Stiles Stilinski friendship.”

“Have you ever thought of cancelling that?” Chris asks Scott and Stiles balks.

Scott bursts out laughing. “No, not really.” He answers in between laughter.

“Don’t give him ideas, Argent.” Stiles says with mock outrage. He looks to Scott. “And don’t you dare. You have an auto-subscription that renews every year, there’s no unsubscribe option. It’s a lifetime subscription.”

“Lucky me.” Scott gives a genuine grin with his answer.

“Up top.” He lifts his hand up high. Without a blink, Scott’s hand meets his with an enthusiastic slap before they cross down in their own ‘bro high-five’.

And this is why Stiles thinks Scott is the best person to ever walk on this planet. Next to Lydia Martin that is.

Lydia’s the best and most beautiful person to have graced planet Earth.

His thought about Lydia comes to an abrupt halt as he steps into the building with Scott.

The interior is a vast difference from the unassuming exterior that looks like any other warehouse structure. Inside of the building, beyond panels of what looks suspiciously like bullet-proof glass to line the hallway, white walls and marble floor go from one end to another while sleek silver and black finishing are the only colors to complement the stark white. There is a lady dressed in all black behind the glass panel who looks up when they walk in and she nods to Chris before pressing a button by the counter desk.

Two men step up with portable metal detectors as a third, armed with what Stiles recognizes as a M9, the standard issuance for those of the armed forces, appears. He tugs on Scott’s sleeve to get his best friend’s attention and that is also when he notices the lady who let them through has a semi-auto of her own tucked into a black holster.

“Argent.” She greets.

“Is that how people say hello here?” Scott whispers to Stiles. “With firearms?”

“Kyle.” Chris nods. “These two young men are with me. Scott McCall and Stiles Stilinski.”

“The scan says the other one is Mieczysław Stilinski.” The lady named Kyle says, securitizing Stiles.

“Thank you for not butchering my first name.” He says with utmost appreciation. He tips his head in the direction of the glass hallway. “That’s an individual retina identification and face recognition scanner back there?”

“Yes, that’s his full name. He also goes by Stiles Stilinski.” Chris interrupts Stiles with a ‘not now’ look.

“IDs.” She holds out a device in her hand.

Scott and Stiles oblige by the request and hand their IDs over as they are scanned by the metal detectors.

“Checks out.”

The man with the M9 pistol lowers his anticipative hand from his firearm and their ID cards are returned.

“May I suggest that the team may want to consider taking a class in hospitality – ow! Ow, ow!” Chris’ hand is already at Stiles’ left ear, pulling him to the other end of the building where the elevators are.

Scott quietly chuckles. Stiles aims him a glare. “Do something about this manhandling.”

“Let him go, Chris. He’s just being Stiles.”

“He’s going to get us kicked out by being Stiles.”

“Hey, I resent that. Stiles is awesome.”

Scott rapidly nods at his proclamation and he hears Chris sighing and the fingers at his ear loosening their grip.

“Just try to be quiet until we get to Deaton.”

Stiles gives a two-finger salute and Chris rolls his eyes before nodding at two individuals, also in all-black attire, standing guard by the metal detectors that are located primely before the elevators. They get through without fuss and Chris scans a white access card by the elevator button. The button lights up in blue and Chris presses on it. Stiles finds himself thoroughly impressed when one of the many elevators’ doors immediately opens. The Hunter scans his card again and punches in what appears to be an 8-number combination before the doors close to bring them up to level 3.

“Airtight security.” He off-handedly comments. Scott smiles. Chris shakes his head. He shrugs.

They get off at the 3rd floor and Chris leads them to a room at the end of the white-painted hallway. A metal door stands between them and their destination.

Stiles freezes and he turns to look at Scott. Scott exhales and cautiously nods.

“She’s in there.” He quietly says. It’s not a question to anyone. It comes out like a statement because he feels it; as if there is an indiscernible beckoning for him to enter the room.

Chris taps the access card on the reader and the metal door slides open. Cold air rushes out and Stiles feels an involuntary shiver down his spine. Inside, Deaton glances up from an opened book placed on a white table next to what look like two large bathtubs in the middle of an otherwise vast empty space.

Stiles takes a deep breath and steps in. He offers a slightly shaky smile to Deaton in greeting, and turns to his left in a perceptive notion. Behind the ceiling-to-floor glass panels, the sight that greets him is a cryonic preservation chamber and the person inside has him almost gasping out loud.

Beside him, Scott is already at the glass panel with trembling fingers reaching out uncertainly as if in disbelief of what his eyes are seeing.

“It’s her.” Scott whispers.

“That’s her.” Chris confirms as he rounds the table to Deaton’s side.

Fair skin, dark hair, all 5’7” of her intact and void of a bleeding stab wound and in a plain white hospital gown; Stiles finds it both shocking and exhilarating. His heart is pounding within him and Stiles can imagine what is running through Scott’s mind. He reaches out for Scott, his hand tightly grasping the latter’s shoulder.

“Can we–” Scott clears his throat, “can we see her up close?”

“We thought both of you might want to spend some time with Allison.” Deaton answers. “Go ahead. Chris and I will be outside if you need us.”

“Thanks, Deaton.” He automatically replies.

Scott steps up to the glass door and he follows his best friend’s lead. With a soft whirl, the door slides open and they both step in together. Stiles is aware that their footsteps are particularly cautious as if they are afraid to make a sound.

The chamber facility looks eerily close to a glass coffin but one with rounded edges. Stiles swallows hard as he goes around the other side. Scott places his hands on the cool glass and releases a wistful sigh.

“Hey Allison.” Scott murmurs, with such gentleness of endearment that Stiles almost feels like he is invading on the privacy of the moment. “It’s us.”

Stiles smiles as Scott’s chosen words. The inclusion speaks volumes on how much Stiles belongs here with them. He lifts his right hand and places it on the chamber as he smiles down at what appears to be a serenely sleeping Allison Argent.

“Hey you. We’ve missed you.”

“Wished we had known much earlier that you are here. We would have come sooner if we did. I’m sorry that we left you alone for so long.” Scott says.

“She probably enjoyed the peace and quiet.” He jokes.

“From you?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “From your incessant need to get into trouble.”

“I don’t always get into trouble on my own.” Scott aims a meaningful look his way.

“Well, what are best friends for, Scott?”

“For moments like this.”

Scott’s answer catches him off-guard but Stiles smiles all the same, appreciating the sentiment.

“You’re such a Hallmark card.” He replies and it’s Scott’s turn with an eye-roll. Stiles looks at Allison again. “It looks like she’s just sleeping and everything is okay, like nothing changed.”

“She’s always perfect.”

“Like Lydia.”

“Well, yeah. I suppose.”

“Of course, she is.” Both of Stiles’ hands go up as if in protest and question to Scott’s reply. “She’s Lydia Martin. MIT graduate, IQ of 170, 5’ 3”, green eyes, fair-skinned, strawberry blonde hair, rosy lips, and has various levels of evil to her personality.”

Scott raises an eyebrow. “You define her by malevolence level?”

“Is that the only thing that you comprehended from what I just said?”

His best friend chuckles. “Lydia’s great, I already know that.” Scott averts his gaze back to Allison, smiling. “She’s going to be excited to see you.” Scott says to their unconscious Huntress.

“Probably a combination of livid excitement.”

“I hope this works.”

“Hey,” Stiles says, getting Scott to look at him, “we are going to believe in this, okay?”

“Yeah. I know. I just – I just don’t want to get my hopes up too high.”

“She’s here and we’re here. We’ve just got to make sure she’s actually here so that we can all be truly existential in the same moment and same living realm.”

“It feels surreal that we are doing this whole life-death ritual again. Things hasn’t been normal for us since that night at the forest, has it?”

“Nope.” He answers, popping the “p” with emphasis. “You and me are beyond the limits of a mental institution’s acceptance of normalcy. And with this whole resurrection thing, it’s like we are playing gods, which is a travesty of the highest offense in the books of the old man up there.”

“I think calling God an old man is a mockery on its own.”

“Well according to Dante, I’m going to the seventh circle of hell for that.”

“At least you won’t be there alone.”

“Because you’ll be with me?” Stiles hopefully asks.

Scott chuckles. “I think it’s time we think about spending some time apart, buddy.”

“You can’t tell me to spend eternity in hell on my own.”

“You won’t be on your own. There will be others as well.”

Stiles narrows his gaze. “Are you saying that you won’t be going to hell?”

“I’m saying that this is starting to sound ridiculous.” Scott shakes his head, grinning. “And you know I’ll be where you’ll be.”

Stiles lights up, beaming.

“Just this time,” Scott turns to Allison again, and his voices falls a few notches but Stiles hears him anyway, “I hope it will be 50 years or more down the road when I get to leave with her too.”

His grin changes to an empathetic smile. “We’ll get there together.”

Poignant silence descends on them. He can tell there is something else that Scott needs to say but is just bidding his time.

When he finally looks to Scott again, he notices the veil of tears beginning to form in the latter’s eyes.

“I can’t believe that she’s physically right here with us now.” Scott breathes out. “I remember holding her, and all I did was watch as Allison laid there in my arms and I couldn’t take away all that pain from her.”

Stiles says nothing. He knows when words aren’t needed. Scott’s broken heart is being exposed; the hidden hairline cracks from all these years had surmounted to destruct the whole.

“I was useless. I left Allison and I had let her down, and I gave up on her.” A sniffle escapes. “I didn’t even say it back.”

“Say what back?” Stiles asks in a whisper.

“I didn’t tell her I love her too when she said it to me. Over and over again.” At that, Scott breaks and the floodgates open.

Stiles squeezes his eyes shut as he feels the torrent of heartbreaking melancholy – his own, and for his best friends. He may have told Scott about his own guilt towards Allison, but he has never asked his best friend for his. And now that he knows, the silent guiltiness that has haunted Scott for so long, he feels even worse inside.

They hardly spoke about Allison’s death. Stiles wasn’t there when it happened and after it did, he was consumed by his own culpability and loss of Allison. There wasn’t much to say either.

“I held back. I was so selfish.”

Stiles opens his eyes and sees his best friend from all these years with red-rimmed eyes of tormented pain.

“But I did – I do. I have loved her then; I still love her now and I always will.”

“She knows.” He reassures, his own voice betraying his emotions.

“It hurts, Stiles. It really does.” Scott looks at him, almost pleading.

“Like an open wound.”

“I can’t breathe sometimes. All I want to do is just to be drowned in her world of thoughts, listen to her heartbeats to get me through the day, and to be constantly amazed by her fiery passion.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to. You had enough as it is.”

“Scott, we’ve already established that you’re selfish. You’re still going to hog all that?” He demands, blinking back the tears. “I’m your best friend, your brother. Your amigo. I’m your Stiles, you idiot.”

Scott manages a dry chuckle despite the waterworks and Stiles cracks a broken smile of his own. He walks over to Scott’s side.

“I’m pretty sure she knows that you still love her, even before you said it aloud. It’s Allison – she’s more perceptive than either of us combined, especially you.”

Scott snorts at the verbal jab and Stiles lightly chuckles through the single tear that had fallen. He brushes it away and deeply inhales, “You didn’t let her down, Scott. You lived out your days like she would have wanted you to without stopping your life to wait for her. You’ll be okay, buddy.”

“We’ll be okay.”

Scott holds out his hand and he clasps it with a resounding muffled smack of their palms. When they let go, Stiles looks to the glass chamber and taps his fingers on the glass.

“That includes you, Legolas-Hawkeye.”

Scott emits a soft chuckle at the nickname and before Stiles can say anything else, he hears footsteps entering the main room. He turns around and sees Deaton on the other side of the glass panels.

“Are you both okay?” Deaton asks when they exit.

“Yeah.” Scott answers, not quite looking at his mentor-figure. Stiles guesses that it’s to hide the traces of the tell-tale grief.

He knows that he’s not looking the best either with probable red nose. It’s only slightly after noon and he has cried twice, more than he has in half a year. His last cry was while watching Captain America: Civil War – the divergence of alliance between Cap and Stark was heartrending for his Marvel fandom heart. He made Scott promise that they would never ever come to that. Scott’s response had merely been, “Who’s Iron Man between us?”

“Where’s Chris?”

“He’s gone to pick up Melissa and Lydia from the airport. They will grab our lunch on the way.”

Stiles nods and he suddenly remembers his phone. He digs it out quickly and sees two text messages from Lydia. One being her response to his initial message to tell him that she knows – Melissa has informed her, and the other being that she has arrived at Dulles.

“So, what do we do now?” Scott prompts as Stiles types a response to Lydia and clicks send.

“Well, we’ll have lunch and then we’ll go through the ritual.” Deaton says, pointing to the book on the table. “The new moon will appear after midnight, approximately 33 minutes after, and that is when the ritual will take place.”

Stiles glances at his watch.

Exactly 12 hours from now. Yippee-ki-yay.

“There’s a room we could use while we wait. I’ll bring you both there.”

“Actually–” Scott hesitates and he knows what his best friend wants to do so Stiles duly claps Deaton on the back.

“Come on, you can bring me over and I’ll come back and get Scott when lunch is here.” He tells Deaton.

Scott gives him a grateful look and Stiles returns it with a thumbs-up. Deaton doesn’t protest and nods instead, offering a small understanding smile to Scott.

“See you later, buddy.” Stiles gives a lazy wave as they leave the room.

The metal door slides behind them and Stiles gives it one last look before making his way down the hallway with Deaton.

Deaton asks of his schoolwork and internship programs, and Stiles gladly fills him in. Their conversation is light and casual, and he guesses that veterinarian intends to keep away the pressures of the ritual tonight. He feels the expectations and knows it’s not going to be easy. He is however, glad that Scott is here with him. If he could have anyone in the world with him in a strange obscure island with piranhas guarding the waters or some insane option that will likely never happen, he will always choose Scott.

He is accompanied by Deaton until it’s almost half past one when the door of the waiting room they are in finally opens again. The conversation stills and Stiles looks up.

The green eyes that greet his vision gets him to stand up and in quick strides, he has Lydia in a hug.

“Hey, you okay?” He gently nudges. He had noticed the slightly puffy eyes and still red nose that are evident signs to Lydia’s distress.

She draws back from his arms and to his surprise, reaches up and smacks him in the side of his head.

“Ow!”

Behind them, Chris and Melissa share a chuckle but they school their demeanors to a neutral one when Stiles scowls at the pair.

“You’ve obviously decided to go ahead without consulting me on the probable dangers of this ritual.”

“I – well, Lydia, you are going to be my tether. By all accounts, I should feel safer knowing that I have you to pull me back like you did in our junior year.”

“That is not a good excuse for you to throw yourself into a place where various spirits and consciousnesses reside. A valid one yes, but not a good enough one.”

“Wait, spirits?” He looks at Chris and then back at Deaton before turning to Lydia again.

She makes a frustrated sound and a deep frown sets on her features. “They didn’t tell you everything yet.” Lydia turns around to glare at Chris. “It is your responsibility as one of the guardians of the pack to actually guard your charge.”

“There is plenty to explain. We could work it out after lunch.” Chris imperturbably says, and walks past them to place the takeaways on one of the tables.

Lydia’s icy stare remains on the Hunter and when he looks at her again, Lydia has an arched eyebrow.

Chris sighs. “Alright. We will discuss it now.”

Stiles couldn’t help the grin crossing at his lips. Practically everyone cowers at the commanding presence of Lydia.

“I’ll go get Scott.” Deaton offers.

“Still with Allison?” Melissa guesses, a small perceptive smile gracing her features.

“If he starts kicking and screaming about leaving, call me.” Stiles says, leading Lydia with him to the couch.

“He’s a grown young man and is past those temperaments. I’m sure it will be fine.” Melissa replies.

“The last time I took the last slice of pizza, he whined about it for an hour. And that was only yesterday.”

Chris snorts and Lydia smirks. Stiles innocently grins.

“Maybe I’ll come along,” Melissa proposes to Deaton, “just in case.”

“So, while we wait – lunch?” Stiles offers, starting to dig through the takeaway bags. “Lydia, what did you get for yourself?” He asks, looking through the available options.

“The citrus chicken. I got you the teriyaki. Scott has the sweet & sour without chives.”

Digging up the according food packs, he proceeds to hand Lydia hers with a pair of disposable wooden chopsticks. A spoon accompanies Scott’s, knowing his buddy is slightly helpless in eating with two sticks.

With his own in his hand, Stiles gladly leans back to join Lydia’s warmth at his side. He meets her gaze with a happy smile when their knees bump into each other and she looks at him. Lydia rolls her eyes but her lips curve upwards anyway.

“When did you find out?” He conversationally begins.

“At approximately 8 in the morning when Melissa knocked on my front door. I knew it couldn’t be you because you are never that early in your life. She handed me a flight ticket to D.C and told me to pack an overnight bag.” Lydia shrugs. “I was filled in the rest during the hour and forty minutes flight here, and I guessed – that with the bond, our friendship, the pack and your guilt on the line, you’d say yes.”

“I’m sorry, I know I should have discussed it with you.”

“But you didn’t,” Lydia interjects, a half smirk at her lips, “because you knew I would have said yes in the end.”

Stiles breathes in relief. “Have I told you how much I love you today?”

“I already know. Don’t change the subject.” Lydia places her food aside. “Stiles, I get what Allison means to you and the pack. But I also want you to comprehend the possible repercussions to this.”

He winces. “Will there be another Nogitsune or similar waiting to possessed me at the end of this?”

“No,” Lydia brushes a lock of hair from her face with a slight vexation, “but I can’t tell exactly what will be there in the otherworld. There are spirits of all kinds, boggarts and fairies, lampades and nixes, that would try to entice humans into their realm. Humans that they know are not due for death’s door yet.”

A sliver of fear strikes at his heart but Stiles wills himself to keep calm.

“What will happen if I’m – charmed by one of them?”

“Your consciousness will choose to stay in the illusion that there is where you belong. If a human who enters does not have a strong reason to return or is easily swayed in resolve,” Lydia’s hands twist themselves together and release again, “it’s really not the best place for that person to be in.

Orbis alius is not just a metaphysical and mythological concept, it is the realm of the supernatural. It’s where she finds herself lost in, but it may also be where you lose yourself as well.”

“And you think that I may have been weakened by what happened in our junior year.” Stiles says, carefully avoiding Lydia’ eyes. He knows his tone is edged with hostility.

“Honestly, yes.” His girlfriend duly answers him. There is no sugar-coating when it comes Lydia.

“You are vulnerable to them because they would recognize the scent of a past possession. That is why I am furious that you weren’t getting the full picture before you said yes to this.”

At that, he notices Lydia shifting towards Chris and her gaze on the Hunter is almost condemnatory.

“It’s not Argent’s fault.”

Deaton’s sudden voice brings everyone’s attention to the door. Stiles sees Scott and Melissa filling in behind Deaton into the room. Deaton moves to the other couch opposite them and sits down, looking at Stiles and then to Lydia.

“I was the one who suggested that he spared the fine details. We needed both of you to be here and we couldn’t risk your immediate refusal.”

“But you think that risking Stiles’ life is worth it?” Scott sharply asks, already catching on to the tension in the room. Stiles guesses that he had caught the tail end of Lydia’s words.

“None of us thinks that risking Stiles is worth it.” Melissa steps in. “But if there is a chance in bringing Allison back, we would like to try to do that – if all parties are okay with it that is.”

“It won’t be as easy as going in, grabbing Allison, and coming back out.” Deaton calmly explains. “There will be challenges, and Stiles will face situations where he will question his sense of belonging. And all the more so with the void he had and the darkness within him – they both linger in him still. I believe Lydia may have shared about the spirits like the fairies?”

“She has.” Chris affirms. “But the other part of Stiles exists. The part of him as a pack, as a son, best friend and lover. Those are the reasons of his logic to return.”

“You have to be firm with your identity.” Melissa says to Stiles. “Remember the parts that make you Stiles.”

“You may have lost your sense of self with the Nogitsune, but you weren’t prepared for it then. This time, your advantage is knowing beforehand. You need to heightened your awareness of those emotions and experiences that you had or have here. Mindfulness is key.” Deaton emphasizes with taps of his index finger on his forehead.

Stiles nods. “Remember who you are.”

“Like Mufasa said.”

Stiles immediately breaks into a grin at Scott’s reminder on one of their favorite Disney classics as young boys.

“Mufasa?”

Melissa releases an exasperated sigh. “Don’t get them started, Lydia. It’s their childhood love for The Lion King.”

Despite Melissa’s response, Stiles catches the mirth in her eyes.

Lydia turns to Scott and then Stiles. “Disney animations. Really?”

He shrugs with a sheepish smile. “It’s relevant here with that quote. And we have to watch it together over Christmas break. Next to The Emperor's New Groove and Tangled, it’s one of my absolute favorite animations.”

“Tangled?” Scott looks appalled. “I thought it was Mulan?”

“You only liked Mulan recently because it reminds you of Allison.”

“You said it was a great movie about courage and loyalty.”

“I did. But I didn’t say it was a favorite.” Stiles counters. “And besides, didn’t we agree that for each decade of Disney’s animations, we’d pick one favorite together? 1990s being The Lion King, the 2000s with The Emperor's New Groove, and our 2010s with, well, Tangled. So, Mulan is nulled. It’s from 1998. You can’t have that and The Lion King.”

Lydia’s hands shoot up into the air, in the universally understandable gesture to get people to stop talking. She narrows her gaze as if daring to be challenged.

“Alright you two. Disney can wait, we’re digressing far from the topic here. Mulan was wonderful,” she looks to Scott as if to mollify him, “and it’s too soon for you to decide the current decade’s favorite when we’re barely a few years in,” she tells Stiles, “but yes, we will watch The Lion King at Christmas break if you come back to us in one piece as you are.”

Stiles beams. “I adore you, Lydia Martin.”

“Shut up and focus.”

“Well, if we are getting back to the conversation at hand,” Deaton amusedly says from the exchange, “the strongest reason would be the relationship that exists between the two of you.” He looks at Lydia, “Your love for Stiles amalgamated with the friendship that you’ve both had before the romantic connotations, and your powers as a banshee, it will draw him tight to you like an invisible cord that pulls taut. Heart, soul and mind. Only you have that link with Stiles.”

Without even looking, Stiles’ hand reaches for Lydia’s. She meets him halfway and allows their fingers to intertwine. She squeezes his hand once.

“This is why we eliminated Scott from the ritual.” Deaton’s gaze shifts onto Scott. “Besides wanting to keep you away from the heartache at knowing Allison is not completely dead, and to relieve you from the responsibility-complex that you seem to have.”

Stiles couldn’t help but nod at the last sentence and Scott shoots him a wounded look. “Aww, come on. You know it’s true. You need to start taking care of yourself.” He says.

“I agree.” Melissa gives a sharp look at the person of crime.

“Exhibit one to support the testimony, your honor.” Stiles gestures with his free hand to the maternal-figure in his life since his biological mother’s death.

“Will it be enough for Stiles?” Lydia speaks up, interrupting the diversion of subject, again. She gives him an eloquent look that questions his attention span, and he gives a small chuckle at being caught red-handed.

“The connection. The one between the three of us,” Stiles says, looking at Scott and the latter smiles at him, “his confidence and her courage, they will make sure I’m safe.”

“That’s right.” Chris agrees. “He feels them as much as they do with him. We highly doubt either one of them would leave him on his own, even in the otherworld.”

“They will support your tether.” Deaton tells Lydia. “And their bond protects Stiles from the darkness, like he does for them. He doesn’t feel the immensity and weakness as much as he would have on his own.”

“But he may lose it when he returns to us – with Allison.”

Stiles doesn’t fail to notice the slight tremble in his girlfriend’s voice at the mention of Allison. His thumb begins to make gentle soothing motions of circles on the back of her hand.

“That is what we presume would happen. It was given as a gift, for lack of better word to describe and explain its existence, but clearly the nemeton had decided that the unified sacrifice that you chose to make together was worthy as proof of tangible fidelity and unity. To willingly go into a different plane of existence using that, it allows a revocation considering that it’s being made by one and not three. If it was given as one, it should be used in the same purpose as one.”

“It’s as if we broke the loyalty between us?” Scott says with confusion.

“Presumably.” Chris answers. “We think that if one of you dies, the bond may cease with the death as well.”

“That’s why you knew Allison is not in the underworld, but rather, her consciousness is simply in the otherworld.” Stiles says in realization. “Because Scott and I are still drawn to Allison, and you see her in us so to speak.”

Deaton nods. “If she was truly dead, even cryonic preservation technology would not be able to help with the resurrection. Science has not gone into the levels of fully understanding ontology yet.”

“Wait, the otherworld and the underworld?” Scott asks.

“Two usually conflated terms. The otherworld is a realm of the supernatural. The underworld is the world of the dead, known as Hell or in Greek mythology, the Asphodel Meadows.” Lydia explains.

“And that is why we don’t need Parrish here for this.” Chris adds.

“Wait, if Allison isn’t truly dead, then what was it that I felt at Oak Creek, and with the premonition before it happened?”

Deaton shakes his head. “I don’t know.” He admits. “The only possibility I could think of is that it alluded to Allison’s death and it was supposed to happen but circumstances after prevented it.”

“I felt it.” Lydia softly says. “I felt it when she took her last breath.”

Stiles recognizes the agony in her voice. He releases their intertwined fingers and pulls Lydia by the shoulder to him, wrapping her in an embrace.

“It was as if something was violently ripped out of me. Something so essential and important that I thought I was dying too.”

Everyone in the room remains quiet. Stiles places his chin on her head and pulls her even closer.

“I was hyperaware of the emotions and thoughts that were coursing through her. But when they stopped, I couldn’t feel her anymore and I lost her.” Lydia’s voice broke. “I lost Allison.”

Stiles feels a sudden dampness on his shirt.

He knows how deeply Lydia has been affected by Allison, someone who saw through her guarded façade and loved every version of her.

Lydia lost her person – what Scott means to Stiles, that is what Allison meant to her. Stiles can never bear the thought of losing Scott in his life and he would give up his own for Scott’s – Lydia was the same for Allison, except he held her back from giving up for Allison. Fear still strikes at him to know that if Scott and he aren’t around, Lydia Martin would cease from the world.

“The people she is grateful to have in her life. Isaac, the pack, Chris, Stiles, Scott – and me. Her ambition to study political science. To find others out there who are like us but afraid. I felt all of it.”

“Those were Allison’s reasons of logic to stay here.” Melissa carefully says, appearing deep in thought.

“Lydia, what was her very last thought?” Deaton suddenly asks.

“Scott.” Lydia sniffles.

Lydia shifts and Stiles loosens his hold around her so she can take a better look at the Druid. He watches as Deaton looks at Chris and Melissa and the three appear to be have a silent conversation.

“What is it?” Scott voices out, having apparently noticed the exchange between the adults in the room.

“Scott, Allison’s your anchor.” Stiles states with his voice rising a little in excitement of the comprehension dawning on him. “But we never knew, you are actually hers as well!”

His best friend turns to him with bewilderment coloring the former’s features at the very same moment Lydia completely pulls out of his embrace to look at him.

“You’re saying that Scott keeps Allison’s consciousness of her own identity intact?” Lydia asks.

He quickly nods. “Like how she kept him grounded to keep his human self whenever the wolf part of him tried to take over. Scott,” he looks to the werewolf in question, “what did Allison say to you exactly?”

Scott takes a deep breath and for a moment, he feels guilty for dragging up the innermost sentimental moment of his best friend’s.

“That it’s perfect. She’s in the arms of her first love – the first person she has loved, the one she will always love,” Scott pauses and Melissa goes over to him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, “and that she loves me. And that I had to tell Chris, to tell him hi – and to just, tell him.”

“To tell him that you are her anchor.” Lydia points out.

“What?”

“Allison realized it before all of us. She wanted him to tell Chris what Scott meant to her, she was hoping Chris would understand the gravity of her words.” Deaton says. “She was slipping away but not to death, instead, she was being pulled into the otherworld.”

“The Oni’s sword. One supernatural to another.” Lydia asserts, hurriedly brushing the tears from her eyes.

That, was what changed the course of her death which Lydia had a premonition of.”

“And if there was something, or rather someone, who could help her remember who she is when she is lost, that would be Scott.” Stiles adds.

“All of this also means we’ll need to make sure that Allison’s consciousness discovers Scott as well.” Chris suggests. “Stiles will find her, but Scott will give weight to her reason of returning.”

“She needs her anchor.” Melissa agrees, and looks to Scott. “You have to be connected to Stiles while he goes under.”

“How?” Stiles questions.

“An object of personal meaning to the both of them.” Lydia rationally points out, her gaze perceptive in deep thoughts. “It’s the same as the sacrifice ritual.”

All eyes fall onto Scott.

“I – I don’t have anything that belongs to us on me.”

“Come on, Scott. Surely you have something we can use.” Stiles urges. “Anything at all.”

Scott frowns, his eyebrows knitting together as he searches his memory. Stiles bites his lower lip in expectation. He can feel Lydia leaning forward beside him.

“Think, Scott.” Lydia urges.

“I used to write notes to her.” Scott begins. He sneaks a self-conscious look at Chris for a brief second before shifting his attention back to Stiles and Lydia. “Those notes were between us. And they always held the same four words we’d always exchange.”

Stiles widens his eyes. “Because I love you!” He exclaims.

“Excuse me?” Chris asks, baffled at the sudden declaration of his.

Melissa shakes her head at Chris as if to imply not to ask further. “It’s a Scott-Stiles thing.”

“No, no, no – I mean yes, we have a Scott-Stiles thing but that’s not the point. The point is that those are their words, from her to him, him to her.” He rapidly gestures. “Because I love you – that’s them. I was their verbal messenger. That’s the common exchange between their messages.”

Melissa’s eyes soften and Scott smiles almost embarrassedly at the evidence of his wholehearted feelings for Allison in front of his mom.

“I remember when you told me that there was only her.” She says, fondly smiling at Scott.

“It still is.” Scott confesses.

Stiles grins. He can’t deny how pleased he is because really, Stiles has always been a staunch supporter of Scott and Allison; because as remarkably tumultuous as it had been, their relationship had also brought out the better sides of one another while complementing the other. Besides, he lived vicariously through both of them – they made him still believe in the existence of true love after his mother’s death and his father’s despair, and Scott’s parents’ ugly divorce.

He looks at Lydia and she matches his expression. Warm affection washes over him and so he tugs Lydia close to him and presses a kiss to her forehead.

“Well, that settles it.” Deaton says, smiling. “We now have a higher chance of making this work.”

Stiles looks at Chris and he nods in reassurance. “We’ll bring her back.”

Chris returns his nod with a small smile of gratitude.

Melissa lets go of Scott and clasping her hands together, she asks, “Shall we have lunch now?”

“I’m famished.” Stiles announces.

“You’ve had pancakes, biscuits, French toast, bagel, bacon and eggs, and curly fries for breakfast.” Chris deadpans.

“Stiles!” Melissa disapprovingly shakes her head. “You know all that is unhealthy without a fruit or vegetable in your intake.”

Scott picks up the salad and hands it to him, and dutifully takes away the teriyaki chicken with noodles.

“Hey–” He stops midway in his protest to concede that any objection is futile. He manages a wry smile however at the event that transpired; he is back with the pack after all and this, this is normalcy.

Lydia smirks at him as she pops open the lid of her lunch. Scott finally joins him on the couch and they eat their lunch together with exchanges of what happened at school and their respective classes. The adults sit on the other side, in their own world of a conversation about the restoration project Chris and Melissa are planning for the Argent ancestral home in Yvelines – apparently the Argents moved north from Lozère, formerly known as the province Gévaudan, during the French Revolution. 

Stiles decidedly chooses to take a nap after lunch and it is with unspoken unison that Scott and Lydia agree with – Lydia makes herself comfortable with her head on the armrest while her legs are tucked above his lap in which Scott makes himself comfortable with as a makeshift pillow as the latter’s long limbs fall on the other side of the couch. Stiles sprawls out like a starfish with his legs on the coffee table but his right arm is on Lydia’s legs and his head nods off to the left where Scott is. He wakes up two hours later to a blanket over him.

Blearily opening his eyes, Stiles sees Melissa reading a book on the couch opposite him while Deaton and Chris are nowhere in sight. Cautiously shifting himself, he sees Lydia still asleep and Scott blinking to consciousness from sleep.

“Hey buddy.” He greets in a whisper.

“What time is it?” Scott asks, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Slightly past six.” Melissa answers as she places a bookmark between the pages of her book. “I thought the three of you would continue sleeping like the logs that you were being.”

Stiles lets out a soft chuckle. He looks down at Lydia. “She must have stayed up studying till late.”

“We don’t have to wake her till dinner.” Melissa kindly offers.

He looks to Scott. “Fancy a walk?”

“Maybe a run.” Scott replies, standing up to stretch. “We could freshen up later in the facilities they have in here.”

Stiles makes a face. “You know I hate running.”

“All the more reason to do it.” Scott teases. “Come on, you need some exercise in you.”

“If I puke, you’re going to be held responsible.” Despite his words, Stiles carefully extracts himself from Lydia anyway but makes sure that she is secure with the soft blankets.

“You know we can’t run in this attire, right?” He says to Scott, gesturing to his jeans.

“We can.” Scott replies with a grin. “Just not as comfortable.”

“I loathe you.” Stiles retorts while taking off his flannel shirt to leave him in his long-sleeved tee and jeans. He briefly wonders if the temperature has dropped too low for one to go out in such an attire. Scott has already removed his leather jacket and hoodie to reveal the short-sleeved t-shirt underneath.

It is surprisingly much easier for them to exit than it had been for them to enter the building. Stiles waves at the lady they had seen earlier in the day and she gives him a pokerfaced expression in return.

“You do know we don’t have any access card to flash the security with later?” Stiles says as soon as they step out of the building.

Scott shrugs. “They’ll probably recognize our faces, and besides, I’m sure their scanner in there would have stored our identities and affiliation to Chris in the system.”

“Good thinking.”

“Now stop talking and just run, Stiles.”

He rolls his eyes and Scott laughs, playfully smacking him in the chest before taking off. Stiles huffs but he lets his feet break into a jog to catch up with his best friend. The wind fills up his lungs with cool air, and the anandamide works through his system. Running side-by-side with Scott, he exchanges grins with the latter as they knowingly pick up the pace together.

Undeniably, Scott is a swift runner thanks to his werewolf self, but Stiles is able to keep up anyway with his physical trainings. Scott doesn’t even have to slow down for him – at least not that much.

But I still hate running.

They run towards a park nearby, and make two laps around it before heading out to the next neighborhood. Stiles guesses that Scott is working out the anxiety gnawing within and he is grateful for that excuse – because he is just as nervous about tonight and running helps to release that foreboding notion and jittery state of mind of his own.

Sweat drips from his forehead and around his neck. The tee of his is already damp in selected spots and patches. Still, he pushes on and keeps running. Words from Chris, Melissa and Deaton keep crossing his mind – and he is cognizant of his memories.

From his mother’s smile on his first day of kindergarten to his dad’s laughter as they share a meal of burger and curly fries, to the multitude of detentions he earned with Scott and the sarcasm he exchanged with the pack whenever they were about to do something incredibly stupid. The safe feeling of Lydia’s hand in his and the dimpled-smiles of Allison’s, and the voice of Scott’s that he has been accustomed to.

‘Stiles Stilinski. Mieczysław Stilinski. Stiles.’

Flashes of memories appear one after another. Reading with his mom during one Christmas as his dad makes them hot chocolate. Sneaking around his dad’s office with Scott to find that Star Wars Lego set he knew his dad had been hiding for his eleventh birthday. Practicing lacrosse with the team. Hurling water balloons on a summer’s morning with Scott and hitting a passing patrol car with one and getting into trouble after. Seeing Lydia for the first time and thinking she’s the most beautiful person in the world. Falling asleep in his freshman year’s English midterms. Exchanging exasperated looks with Isaac when Derek flatly declined an idea of Stiles’ when they were going against the Alpha Pack. Sneaking bites of a large bar of chocolate with Allison in Chemistry. Baking with Melissa and Scott and terrifically burning two batches of double chocolate chip cookies. Kissing Lydia at her graduation.

“You need a break?” Scott’s voice breaks his reverie.

“Yeah. Maybe after the corner ahead.” Stiles breathes out.

They slow their run at the mentioned point and Scott, having noticed a convenience store nearby, signals with his head towards said store. They stop in front of it and Stiles begins to catch his breath, inhaling and exhaling deeply. It takes him almost a minute before he goes into the store with Scott. They make a beeline for the drinks’ section and make a quick purchase before stepping out again.

Without a second thought, Stiles chugs down his Gatorade. When the bottle is three-fourths gone, he pulls it away from his lips to catch his breath again.

“You okay there?” Scott is looking at him with concern.

“Exceptional.” Stiles replies. He is still feeling the transient state of euphoria from the run. Taking another swig, he finishes the last of his drink.

“Stiles, I’ll be with you.”

He averts his gaze to his best friend and wonders how transparent he is being with his apprehension. Then again, it’s Scott; the one person who reads him better than most ever could in a lifetime, and the one most fluent in Stiles-speak, or Stiles-look in this instance.

“I know. I’m just – I’m just trying to remind myself who I am.”

“Remember what Deaton told us back when we were trying to get Jackson and the Kanima at the rave party?”

“All I needed to do is to believe. The willpower is stronger than we think.”

“So, you need to believe that you’ll get there and back safe. Project yourself into that instance. And I’m not going to let you lose yourself either. Like you’ve said, you’re my Stiles.”

A grin cracks at his lips. “That’s your way of saying you love me?”

“Always. We’re stuck in this for life. Lifetime subscription, remember?”

“Lifetime subscription.” Stiles confirms as Scott pulls him into a one-arm hug. The feeling of sweaty fabric against each other makes Stiles grimace in revulsion of their lack of hygiene. “We really stink.”

“Yeah.” Scott says, his nose crinkling as if something offensive had assaulted his olfactory sense. “You mostly.”

Laughing, Stiles nudges his best friend in the shoulder and earns a shove back. They make a run back to the facility where Chris collects them from the entrance with a highly unimpressed look before turning them to the staff showers. The Hunter drops off a new pair of sweats and t-shirt for each for them to change into and Stiles is grateful to be in freshly-laundered clothes.

Lydia is already awake when they return, sitting cross-legged with a thick hardcover book in her lap. Dropping a kiss on the crown of her head, Stiles sits down on the armrest to get a better look at the reading material. He recognizes them as runes, and ones he definitely does not understand.

“They are for the ritual later.” Lydia explains without looking up from the pages.

“We’re inscribing them somewhere?”

“Yes, on you.”

“With a ballpoint pen?” He hopefully asks.

Lydia finally looks up, green eyes with a hint of glee. “A Sharpie pen.”

“That thing is practically permanent.” He whines. “We’ll need acetone later.”

She shrugs. “Or you can just keep it. They will wash off eventually.”

“Just how much runes are we talking about?”

“Probably half a page.” Lydia gives a painfully sweet smile.

Stiles groans and Scott pats him on the back for some sort of consolation.

“Scott,” Lydia looks to the werewolf, “we’ll need you to write the note for Allison with those four words.” She slips out a piece of paper and hands a pen to Scott.

Scott nods before taking the paper to write on it. Deaton walks in with dinner and soon everyone is helping themselves to the sandwiches and snacks, and the atmosphere is light as if they aren’t preparing for a resurrection in a few hours.

As the hands of the clock tick closer to midnight however, conversations dim and actions become solemn. Stiles is huddled next to Scott as they watch a replay of an old baseball game on the latter’s phone. Lydia is discussing in low tones with Deaton and Chris, while Melissa is on the phone with Stiles’ dad. Stiles had spoken to the Sheriff before Melissa took over and to his relief, his dad had been nothing but supportive and trusting of his decision.

“You’re coming home for Christmas, you hear me?” His dad said with a stern voice but Stiles heard his smile across the lines.

“Yeah, dad. You’ll see me – us. I promise.” He had replied. “Oh, and we’re having a Disney marathon this year; Lydia needs an education into the centuries of wholesome animation.” Lydia had rolled her eyes at the comment and Sheriff Stilinski groaned.

At 11pm, Chris, Melissa and Deaton leave the room in what Stiles assumes to get Allison prepared for the ritual. Deaton is the only one who returns at 20 minutes to midnight and he asks for Lydia’s wrist – amongst the runes that mark her wrist, one that sits closest to the edge of her palm is a familiar Celtic Oval Knot. He identifies the symbolism when Deaton inscribes the same mark with exact dimensions and line weight on his own right wrist.

Glancing up at Lydia, he sees her lips curving into a reassuring smile and she leans close to place a kiss to his forehead. “I love you.” She whispers.

There are long flowing lines of small runes on his right forearm that he doesn’t understand but he feels the weight of them all the same. When Deaton is done, he runs his fingers gingerly across them. Within his veins, there is a stirring impression that makes him blink a few times in surprise of the surge of sensations.

Scott hands Stiles the folded note. Lydia gathers a few things. Deaton picks up the tome that Lydia had been reading earlier in the evening. He takes in a deep breath and follows them to the cryonic room.

Submerged in the bathtub filled with ice water and ashes of the rose of Jericho is Allison. Scott stops at the foot of the bathtub as if wanting to say something but to Stiles’ surprise, the former says nothing but goes to Stiles instead. Scott pulls him a tight embrace and he is more than glad to return the gesture.

It’s 12:24.

Lydia has him seated in the other empty bathtub while Deaton scatters what looks to Stiles like another one of the Deaton’s magic glitter, though he doesn’t say it aloud. Deaton shoots him a look that tells Stiles his unspoken thoughts are known anyway and Stiles offers a meek smile of apology.

“Are you sure about this?” Melissa asks, dropping to his height and placing her hand on his forearm.

“Yeah. It will be okay.” Stiles answers, hoping he sounds confident.

Chris drops a firm hand on his shoulder, giving it a quick squeeze, and he nods. Stiles looks over at the other bathtub besides his and pulls his lips into a firm line of determination. Lydia takes both his hands in hers and he lifts their interweaved hands to press his lips onto her left knuckles.

“Hey, I’ll see you in a bit alright? You’re going to be right there with me.”

“Listen to my voice, no matter what.” Lydia firmly commands.

“The runes keep you connected to Lydia.” Deaton continues. “The first thing you do when your consciousness awakens in the otherworld is to will them to be your connection, believe in them. Then let your bond take over, you will be drawn to Allison. And no matter what, always remember that your home is here, with us.”

“I hope this resurrection and all our theories with it work.” Melissa softly says.

“It has to. If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Lydia simply snorts as everyone looks to Stiles with clear confusion written all over their expressions.

“It’s from Spock.” Stiles explains and lifts up his fingers in the Vulcan salutation. “Star Trek?”

Dubious, Scott questions, “I thought you are into Star Wars.”

“The quote’s actually from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We can discuss this later.” Lydia interjects as she wraps her hand around Stiles’ wrist.

12:31

Stiles leans his head back on the edge of the tub and meets Scott’s gaze. He has no words to express himself but Scott seems to understand all the same. They exchange a smile, and Scott’s is impossibly wide as if in silent reassurance for Stiles’ suddenly thundering heart. It works, and he feels his heartbeats thump in steady paces as if following the heartbeats of Scott’s.

12:32

Deaton lays his hand on Stiles’ forehead and applies a slight pressure. Stiles closes his eyes and the last thing he sees is Scott’s unwavering smile. He reminds himself that his dad, Scott, Lydia, Melissa, Chris, Deaton, the pack, and his future ahead, will be waiting for him.

12:33

When he opens his eyes, he is in a vast green open space. There’s nothing but grass for miles. It is bright but there is no sun above him and there are no clouds either.

He looks down at his forearm and sees the runes. Clenching his hand into a fist and closing his eyes, he concentrates hard.

‘I belong to Noah Stilinski, Scott McCall, Lydia Martin, and the pack. Mieczysław Stilinski. Stiles – that is who I am and who I always will be. From where I came from, there I will return. So be it.’

His fingers run across the runes that appear to protrude like a tattoo on his skin.

Stiles opens his eyes again and looks around him. He puts his right hand onto his chest and the familiar steady pace is soothing to his senses; he smiles and feels himself relaxing a little.

‘Stiles, the scene before you will change as you go on so be cautious. Follow where your instinct takes you to, but don’t break our connection – let me help you.’

“Lydia.” He murmurs.

‘Why, were you expecting someone else? Now stop wasting time and get going.’

He almost laughs aloud at the dictatorial voice of hers, but he is glad that even in a different realm – nothing has changed between them.

Stiles takes a deep breath. “Well, here goes.”

He takes a few steps forward, letting his feet guide him as they seem to know where he needs to be. The view before him doesn’t change, all he sees is a vast space without slopes or downhills. He keeps a steady pace of his feet but feels a slight uneasiness at the peace.

A sudden low humming sound reaches his ears. He stills and the sound continues. His gaze scans the plains in front of him and he turns back to see nothing but green.

Mystified, Stiles turns again to continue but the view before him is now unexpectedly covered in silvery fog. Feeling the dampness of his feet, he sees his ankles are submerged in water. He trudges forward anyway, curious of the sudden change.

The waters don’t rise and it makes it easier for Stiles to manage within the fog. He is half-expecting to see something or someone, but when he reaches the end of the fog to be led to a clearing of a narrow path of wet earth that leads to a forest, he still encounters nothing. He follows the pathway while observing his surroundings. The trees are vastly tall and spread out, they are not thick and heavy thus allowing light to get through – and the scent in the air is strangely one he is accustomed to.

Stiles realizes he is in what appears to be Beacon Hills Preserve.

‘Stiles, you’re not home in Beacon Hills.’

“Are you looking for someone?” A voice interrupts and Stiles whirls to his left where the voice came from.

A man of average height with pale oily skin, dull eyes of grey and matted olive hair stuck to his forehead meets his visage.

Stiles swallows hard. “Yes.”

“Who is she or he that you seek for?”

‘He doesn’t need the whole answer.’

“A person.”

“And who is this person to you?”

“A person who is a person to me.”

The man’s gray eyes stare at him hard. He takes a step forward and Stiles instinctively takes a step back.

“Allow me to help you. You seek the truth, don’t you?”

“The truth?” He repeats.

“Yes, you want to know what happened and how it happened to that person of yours.”

‘You know what happened to Allison. Don’t let him get to you.’

“What you think you know is based on what you’ve been told. We are people seeking the veracity of all accounts, and we deserve it. Don’t you want to know why your person is here?”

“Thanks, but I really don’t need to know. I just,” Stiles rambles and gestures to the forest, “need to be on my way and get to my person. So, you have a good day and um, maybe take a shower or something when you feel like it later.”

“Did your person choose to leave your world to be here? Did your person perhaps done something to be here?”

Curiosity rises within him.

“Did your person not want to return to your world and that is why you were brought here instead? It could be a lure to get you here.”

Stiles swiftly shakes his head. “No. I don’t want to know.” He starts to turn around.

“Wait, Stiles.”

He freezes at the sound of his name. The man reaches out a hand. “I am here to help you, Stiles. The truth has never hurt anyone. You will find your person with the truth.”

‘Leave. Now.’

“I might, but I’m more of a loner and I work best on my own.” Stiles fabricates his answer and takes a sidestep.

The hand reaches out to him again and Stiles grimaces at the feel of something wet and pasty on his left wrist. He looks down to see mud from where the hand is tightening on his wrist.  

Stiles immediately recalls the waters he had been in and the soil of the path into the Preserve. Remembering something he had read from the folklores; he swiftly reaches up with his free hand to the man’s forehead and sweeps back the matted bangs. Hebrew alphabets are revealed on the pale skin.

Three alphabets, אמת, come into his line of sight.

Stiles, it’s a golem!

“The truth will help you.” The man insists and Stiles finds that he is unable to move his feet. They feel sticky with soil compact between his toes and mud that appears to be holding him to the ground below.

‘Remove the aleph to incapacitate it. The word truth in Hebrew without the aleph would then mean dead.’

“Which one is that again?” He asks aloud.

‘The last alphabet of the three.’

“Do not resist the truth.”

The golem’s other hand reaches for Stiles’ throat but his practical training has his reflexes sharpen and he ducks and forcefully pushes it away. Stiles struggles to release his feet but seeing as the attempt is almost futile, he quickly glances around for something on the ground as an offensive weapon. He wishes he was allowed to at least bring with him a penknife.

The golem comes at him again just as Stiles reaches onto a branch. He swings his fist at its face and to his disgust and horror, the face squashes into the shape of his fist but soon begins to reconstruct itself again.

Stiles snaps the branch into two and takes the one with the most pointed end and without a second thought, he grabs the golem by the neck and stabs the branch onto its forehead where the aleph is inscribed.

Cries escape the golem and its hands find their way to Stiles’ throat.  Pools of thick mud gathers at his neck. Stiles wheezes, finding difficulty to breathe.

‘Erase the damn aleph, Stilinski!’

He struggles a little to find his hold but manages to drive the branch into the golem’s forehead before pulling it downwards in a move to expunge the alphabet. The branch draws in deep and unforgiving, and the golem screams in the torture.

The mud around his neck begins to loosen and Stiles pulls out the branch and stabs at the golem’s forehead again through the same gash and pulls it upwards this time, effectively erasing the alphabet.

The golem lets out another scream before falling backwards. The sound of the golem hitting the ground echoes through the forest. Mud begins to dissipate from its eyes, mouth and nose, and Stiles makes a face.

“That is pretty disgusting.” He shakes off the mud from him but they appear to dry quickly to stick to his skin. He hurriedly brushes the traces of it from his right forearm where the runes are.

‘Are you alright?’

“Yeah. I just need a shower again when I get back.”

He hears the faint laughter of Lydia’s.

Stiles decides he needs a weapon of some sort if he is going to encounter some disturbing creature like the golem who seemed obsessed with him. Taking another glance around him, Stiles finds another branch – this time slightly thicker than the one before, and he breaks it into two smaller ones and sharpens the edges of both with a rock, or at least the best he possibly can because rock and tree branches don’t work as well as rock and blades would.

He heads deeper into the mass of trees, following an impulse of direction. The forest is too close to comfort in its absolute likeness to the actual one that Stiles almost lets down his guard – but he keeps his equanimity and soldiers on.

Aware that time may not be on his side for long, Stiles begins to move faster.

The humming sound returns and Stiles stop for a moment, straining to hear as if wanting to make sure that it isn’t his imagination.

Stiles?

“Hi.”

He whips around in near shock at the voice beside his ear.

A young lady, looking about his age and dressed in a simple summer dress and Converse sneakers, offers him a reticent smile. Blue-green eyes with long eyelashes that are almost alluring meet his gaze.

“Can you help me?” She asks. Her voice is soft and melodic, almost like a musical note tuned to perfect bars.

He nods, not trusting himself to speak.

Something’s not right about her. I don’t like her at all.

“I think I’m lost. I got here somehow and I don’t know – where I am or what am I doing here.” She clasps her hands in front of her like a prayer, appearing honestly lost and vulnerable.

“Where are you from?”

“Manhattan.”

“How did you – get here?” His gaze is searching as he quickly takes her in, noting how normal and decent she seems, except that no one in their right mind would wear a short dress in the midst of a frigid winter in the East Coast.

“I was walking down the street when something grabbed me,” her eyes begin to fill with tears, “and–”

“Wait, you were out in Manhattan just like that?”

She sniffles, glances down at her dress and back to him. “Yes, why, what’s wrong with this dress?”

Stiles snorts. “Okay, it’s practically 40 degrees in New York right now and if you are a warm-blooded human, this is just the most impractical thing for one to wear and I’m surprised hypothermia hasn’t set in.”

Her features appear offended and she breathes in deeply. She wraps her hands around her arms, giving them quick rubs. For a moment she seems genuinely in cold and he would have offered her a jacket or hoodie if he has one on himself. 

“Won’t you help me?  Please? I can’t tell you everything right now but I am harmless. I promise.”

Nope, I don’t trust her at all. She’s likely a nymph or close to one.

The huff in Lydia’s voice is accompanied by pure annoyance.

“If you can’t tell me who you are for real, then I can’t help you. In fact, I won’t help you.” Stiles says.

She looks up at him again, blue-green orbs peeking from underneath those eyelashes to give her a forlorn and miserable expression.

Stiles almost feels sympathy for her but his mind keeps flashing warning signals. That, and the fact Lydia’s voice is flat out filled with derision.

She is trying to lure you with her charms. I’m sure as hell she is not lost.

She reaches out a hand but Stiles takes a quick step back as if he was singed by a flame. He does however observe that her every movement is graceful; lithe and precise in nature.

“How could you be so cold? I need help and I am all alone here – why are you being so hostile?”

Tears fall onto her cheeks and he can’t help but to feel a pang of guilt.

“I’m scared and I’m lost. I thought you could help me because you don’t look like you belong here either. You are from where I came from, aren’t you?”

Stiles shrugs, “I don’t know you. It’s kind of hard to trust anyone here and if you are from where I am, you’ll know what I mean.”

“Riley.” She offers. “That’s my name. Riley Cornelia Van der Haalt.”

“So, you have Dutch ancestry.” Stiles states with an attempt at small talk to find out more about the girl before him.

Riley nods. “My great grandfather. But I never knew him. I wasn’t close to the paternal side of my family. Things aren’t so good with them, family fortune enmity and all that.” She tucks a lock of beautiful brunette curls behind her ear.

“The usual wealthy family saga. Can’t say I have been through that but I’ve watched a few episodes of soap teenage drama.”

“It’s nothing like Gossip Girl.” She reassures him, and Stiles almost balks at the reference. “That’s an exaggerated depiction of us Upper East Siders. I don’t go to private school with my own version of the school uniform – we would be suspended for that.” She offers him a grin and he notices how her teeth are impeccably well-aligned and white, and he thinks she must have had a really good orthodontist.

“You look like you’ve been out of high school for some time.”

“I am. I’m at Yale. Legacy really, my grades aren’t that good enough. But enough about me. You still haven’t told me your name and you already know mine and at least a good bit of my history. I don’t know anything about you.”

“I’m–” he pauses for a moment, “Scott.”

“That’s it? No last name?”

“McCall.” Stiles hopes that Scott doesn’t mind him playing pretend for a while. He hears a snort from Lydia.

She sniffles and brushes at her cheek before holding out her hand, “Hi Scott McCall. I’m Riley.”

Stiles looks down at her hand for a moment and notices it being smooth and unblemished with manicured nails, just like the rest of her. He shifts his gaze back to Riley with more scrutiny now.

“You are almost too flawless.” He points out. “It’s unsettling.”

She lets out a soft giggle, placing her hand over her lips with a coy look, “What’s wrong with being perfect, Scott?”

“There’s only one perfection that I know who walks on earth and she isn’t you.’

Riley’s face immediately turns murderous at the words that leaves Stiles. “I am not perfect enough for you?”

“Well…” he drags the word out, feeling as if he had just stepped into a claw trap of disaster, “you are just a little too put-together for someone who has just been from an ambushed kidnapping attempt.”

Stiles wonders whatever happened to the saying that honesty is the best policy – utter bullshit really.

“Are you despising me for not being immaculately perfect?”

He notices her obsessing over the word ‘perfect’ and sure enough, it raises enough doubt in him to even consider she’s completely human like him.

“Am I not perfect for you, Scott McCall?”

Her voice turns into a hiss and she looks menacing enough now that Stiles thinks if looks could kill, he is pretty sure she had hammered the final nail on the coffin and have him buried twenty feet under. The blue-green orbs flicker with wrath.

You’ve officially damaged her pride. This is your cue to run, Stilinski. Nymphs are immortal, you can’t destroy her like you did with the golem.

“Okay, let’s not get too reckless here. I mean, you are really nice to look at.”

“I’m just nice to look at?” The nymph, snarls.

You’re not good at complimenting the ladies, are you?

“I was being honest.” Stiles yelps.

“Honest to say that I am not the epitome of perfection, Scott McCall?”

“Okay, you need to stop calling out the name in full, just Scott will do. Scott. See, it’s one syllable and makes it so much easier to say. And I can speak for my buddy to say that Scott’s definition of your obsessed noun of sublimity is pretty much sealed the moment his walking epitome of the word breathed into life like some fairytale of Disney’s when she stepped into our class.”

She stops in her advance and appears lost with his rambling.

“What are you–”

“And I definitely have seen perfection since third grade and no one comes close to that for me ever since then. So Riley Cornelia Van der Haalt, since we are full name basis and I don’t even know if that’s even your real name, I think you are a very nice young lady but I’m very attached to my girlfriend – my own Disney princess like Ariel or maybe even Merida or a cross between both because she’ll skewer my insides if I ever think of her to be as docile and naïve as the former.”

Riley dangerously narrows her gaze of fury upon him. “You think someone else is more perfect than me?”

Stiles, I love you but shut up and run.

“Right.” Stiles’ eyes dart to the left and right, and something inclines him to make a break for his left.

“It was, um, nice knowing you, Riley.” He hastily offers when she suddenly launches herself at him as if to rip his head off but Stiles’ reflexes are quick enough that he manages to duck at the oncoming assault.

The nymph falls to the ground, shrieking at the dirt and getting an idea, Stiles swiftly grabs fistfuls of the ground and hurls it at her as if he is in a snowball fight of his life.

“Stop! Stop!” She screeches but Stiles continues his dirt assault.

It is incredibly childish but seeing as the nymph is harmless, except for her alluring charm tactics and he doesn’t really want to hurt anything more than he already did with the golem back there, the dirtballs are a great option to keep her distracted and in torment considering her narcissism.

“Stop it!” She shrieks again, trying to brush the grimy soil from her eyes.

Recognizing that she is temporarily visually-inept, Stiles flings one last pile of packed dirt, mud and grass with a direct hit in the face and flees the scene.

“I’m sorry!” He shouts back and runs as fast as he can to get away from the clearing. He heads straight into the trees, skirting around stray branches and leaping over dead or broken stumps.

That was a horrible thing to do to a girl, but good thinking there.

“It’s not like I had other options.” He grumbles under his breath. “And I have dirt and possibly worms under my nails now. I probably stink too from all that mud earlier. Ugh. I’m becoming a heathen.”

We’ll have the shower running for you with bars of lavender soap and bottles of shampoo when you get back.

Lydia’s sarcastic response draws a smile to his lips.

The forest eventually thins out in the direction that he is going and Stiles slows down, picking up the humming sound as he did before.

Within seconds, he hears the footsteps of someone approaching from the front and Stiles braces himself.

‘I think it’s a Leshy. His only purpose is to lead you astray and try to confuse you – that’s what he does to people who wanders in his forest. Listen to me carefully. I am only in your head. You cannot hear me beyond that. Remember it.’

“Stiles?”

“Scott?” The name leaves his lips in utter disbelief as the silhouette from behind the trees carries the voice of the person he least expects.

‘Stiles, Scott is not there. That is not him.’

“Are you okay?” Scott’s voice asks.

“Yeah–” he stops short, “–no.” He quickly corrects himself. “You’re not Scott. Show your true self, whoever you are.”

A laugh, one that sounds very much like Allison’s, floats to his ears and Stiles’ eyes widens.

“Stiles, are you seriously doubting me?”

The air in his lungs feels like they are being knocked out from his being.

His throat tightens and the edges of his eyes prickle. It sounds so much like her, like Allison, and Stiles really wants to believe it is.

He unknowingly takes a few steps forward but before he can reach the tree where the voice came from, a tug within gets him to stop. A foreboding sense kicks in. He tries to find Lydia’s voice in the haze of his sudden confusion.

“Stiles, I think we found her.”

Lydia’s voice rings clear from behind the tree. He sees a shadow that looks like hers on the floor of the forest.

He squeezes his eyes shut, remembering that it wasn’t too long ago that Lydia told him that he could only hear her in his head and nowhere else. Opening his eyes again, he sees an old man stepping around the tree. Wrinkled and bearded, almost blue in skin color, the old man meets his unwavering gaze.

“Hello, Stiles.” The old man says, smiling.

“Hey.” He greets despite his wariness, unable to be impolite because that’s just not the way Sheriff Stilinski brought up his only son. “You’re not any of my friends.”

Scott’s in D.C with Chris, Melissa and Deaton, Lydia is safely with his best friend, and Allison is somewhere around and he needs to find her – the words lock themselves into his mind.

“And you seem lost, my child.”

“I’m not lost.”

“Look around you.”

Stiles does so and to his shock, instead of the shroud of tall trees, he is now surrounded by unfamiliar boulders covered with mosses and there is suddenly no light except for the stray sliver of light from a moon in the sky.

“Are you lost, my child?”

Stiles knows that he might be now but refuses to acknowledge it aloud. He maintains an unaffected expression; at least that’s what he hopes since there’s no mirror for him to check. The worst part is that he can’t seem to hear Lydia over the old man’s, or Leshy’s, voice.

“Where would you like to go, perhaps I can lead you.”

“Forward.”

“And where do you come from?”

“Backward.”

The old man smiles again. “I see you are prepared for this.”

“From one trickster to another.” Stiles calmly replies.

“Do you know who you are?”

“Yes. Do you know who I am?”

“You’re a son of the forest. You have ties to this place, don’t you not?” The Leshy gestures around. “You’ve ran with the wolves here.”

Stiles shrugs. “Maybe. But it’s not in this forest.”

“This is your forest, is it not?”

The view around Stiles changes, and suddenly he is in the preserve on that one cold January night with Scott when they were finding for the other half of the body from the Hale homicide case. The name Hale seems a little foggy in his mind though – he can’t seem to recall whose family name it belongs to.

“Perhaps you remember the night you were here. And the nights and days after as well? It’s your forest, your home.”

“This is not my home. I don’t live here.”

“Then where do you live?”

Stiles finds himself unable to respond. The answer seems to be beyond his grasp. Above him, a full moon appears and its light basks them in a glow. A wolf appears by the side of the old man.

“You’re not a wolf. You don’t belong to a pack. This wolf doesn’t recognize you.”

He looks at the copper-amber eyes of the wolf. “I don’t belong to his pack.”

“Whose pack don’t you belong to, my child?”

Stiles knits his eyebrows. His thoughts are in a jumbled mess. He knows he belongs to a pack – there is a pack that he calls family. He just can’t figure out what did he meant when he said he didn’t belong to ‘his pack’. He shakes his head as if to sort his thoughts.

“Perhaps you belong here?”

The scene around him changes to a lacrosse field, he sees the sticks, gloves and padding on the benches. The maroon and white jersey that sits on the bench however – appear familiar but he isn’t sure where he has seen it before.

“Great memories and then some, wouldn’t you say so?”

“Where is this place?”

The old man laughs. “I was hoping you would tell me. Perhaps maybe this place would help you instead.”

The sweeping gesture of his arm brings Stiles to a room with a double bed, a desk with a laptop and papers and books strewn across it, and posters on the wall with a messy wardrobe revealed by an opened door. Stiles crinkles his eyebrows; he thinks he knows the scent and sight but they feel foreign to him as well.

“You’ve never truly felt you belonged. An outsider always looking in.”

“No, I’m not from here – at least not this one here. I am from somewhere and I’m somebody. I just can’t–”

“It is alright, my child. You can remain here. If you are lost, I’ll do something.”

The last three words go straight into his system and Stiles reels.

Those words were said to him during the most vulnerable point of his life and he will always remember them.

“Scott.” He suddenly says. “I belong to Scott’s pack. I am with Scott.”

The recollection of Scott’s laughter and playful punch at their lacrosse game return to him. He remembers Allison and the bold glint in her eyes as she draws her bow and arrow. Lydia’s deadpanned countenance when he turned up to her seventeenth birthday party with a present that was too huge to get through her front door.

“There is no–”

“No.” Stiles quickly interjects. “You don’t get to tell me who I am. You don’t define me either. You can stop your Jedi mind tricks on me.” He stands a little straighter as he feels the audacity in his veins. “This is never my home. It’s nice of you to try to show me the way but I don’t need your help. So just return me to my path and I’ll be on my way.”

“The forest is not yours to take.”

He recalls the branches in his pocket and he draws them out. “I’m sorry, they were meant for self-defense. And they were – well, being recycled if I can say so. I am putting them into a second use beyond just being the forest ground to be stepped on.”

The Leshy appears to regard him for a moment. That is when Stiles decides to turn the tables.

“What do you truly seek, my child?”

“To find my friend and to return. I mean no harm to anyone – well, except that Golem back there but he started it. I was just there minding my business, walking in the forest and he came out of nowhere to give me a scare. And then there was all that mud, can you believe he tried to strangle me with mud out of everything else he could possibly use?”

“My child, you are–”

“No, I’m definitely not your child. My dad is going to kill me if he finds out I went ahead to acknowledge another parental figure that isn’t him. He doesn’t need the stress at his age, and I think we’ve gotten past the point where I raise his blood pressure for the stuff I do. Or stuff that Scott and I do. Or the stuff that Scott does and he pulls me into it. Or the stuff that I do and I pull Scott into it so he gets into the deeper stuff and drags me along.”

The Leshy looks genuinely disoriented now and the scene around Stiles begins to change back to its original.

“I think we are good with where we are. You know me, and I know you knowing me, and me knowing you knowing me knowing you, we could be buddies but I think the whole different realm thing is going to be a bit of a hindrance, so let’s just call it a day and go on our way, shall we?”

The Leshy says nothing, looking utterly confused by the second, and Stiles takes the opportunity to bail. He runs as fast as he can from the Leshy, not stopping until he gets to another clearing that comes to a flowing river.

He is half-wondering if Scott had been expecting him to be running away for the most of his visit here hence the evening run they had as a precursor to his night – he wouldn’t put past it Scott to be that sneaky. After all, Scott’s mentor had been the one and only master of schemes, Stiles Stilinski.

‘Stiles? Can you hear me? Are you okay?’

“Oh my god.” Relief unties the knot in his gut at the sound of Lydia’s voice. “Where were you? Are you okay?”

‘I couldn’t get through you. Your mind was a thick fog while you were with the Leshy. I could only hear you.’

Stiles exhales and catches his breath, eyeing the river. “I’m okay. You’re okay – and that’s all that matters.”

He dips his hands in the water, intending to wash off the leftover mud on him but the moment he does so, the humming sound starts again and suddenly, the water runs extremely cold and he recoils at the sight of thousands of ice cubes crowding the water.

The ice cubes move around and reveal a glimmer of reflection in the water; one that is deathlike pale with kohl-lined eyes that are filled with cold malice and abhorrence.

Stiles falls backwards and the palms of his hands meet cold white flooring and he swiftly looks around him, bewildered.

Bright white lights greet his vision.

‘Something’s controlling this, it’s a nightmare being drawn to life.’

Fear cuts through his senses and he trashes back even more so at the sight of a horrifyingly familiar metal tub before him.

“No.” He whispers.

Chaotic alphabets that made no sense, his inability to differentiate dream and reality which turned into living nightmares, the helplessness that consumed every fiber of his being, and the anxiety that he constantly felt in his veins.

Memories of the aftereffects from the surrogate sacrifice ritual flood his mind with vengeance. He feels the unsteady ground beneath him, or rather, he is shaking with fear.

‘Stiles, come back to me. Listen to me, you are stronger than that. You are not who you were back then. This is an Alp’s doing.’

“Get out of my head!”

‘Stiles, please – it’s me, it’s Lydia.’

His hands wretchedly clutch at his head and he cries out, “No! No, I’m not crazy. I’m not hearing things in my head. This is not real. I’m awake, I’m awake.”

The hatred and vindictiveness that he had felt within him – the pain he wanted to inflict, the blood he wanted to spill, and the death he wanted to sentence upon – everything comes rushing into his consciousness.

He screams.

He pulls at his hair, desperately clawing at his scalp. “This is not real. I’m not in a dream, and I’m wide awake. Wake up, Stiles! WAKE UP!”

The voice has stopped but Stiles is still where he is. He whips his head all around, taking in his environment and yet still seeing the white room and the metal tub in front of him.

And he is all alone.

Terror overtakes his body and his breathing turns shallow. His chest tightens as if someone is crushing him and the pain strikes him hard in the heart. His right hand clenches his t-shirt and he falls forward. He begins thrashing about.

“Help.” He excruciatingly croaks.

His head is throbbing in maddening agony.

Stiles is reminded of the people he had tried to hurt – or rather, that he had hurt. And the one death he feels ultimately responsible for.

Allison’s.

Stiles screams again. It’s as if someone or something had stabbed him in the chest and is winding the blade tightly into the depths of his soul.

An arrow suddenly slices through the air, right in front of Stiles, and it ends with the sound of piercing flesh.

“That is enough.” A voice says with a hostile tone.

He hears the sounds of footsteps from a pair of boots coming closer. The devastating pain in his chest begins to loosen its hold on him and Stiles gasps for air.

“Leave him.” The voice says again. He picks up the sound of a composite fiber string under tight tension, as if it is being pulled back.

His heart is still beating at a tremendous rate but his breathing is gradually returning to normalcy. A warm and dulcet sensation of benevolence, oddly comforting to tame his heightened fear, begins inching into his nerves and filling his being.

There is a scurrying sound and suddenly, all is quiet.

Stiles ineptly pulls himself up, almost stumbling over his own feet.

The tremendous pain in his head begins to subside and he finds some resemblance of composure. His hands are shaking and he sees his fingers still trembling. He takes in measured deep breaths, releasing them at pace of a few seconds in between each as his left thumb subconsciously finds the Celtic Oval Knot marked on his right wrist.

Placing his right hand close to the left side of his chest, Stiles wills himself to find that rhythm regularity from Scott – the perfect tandem from their years together, a seamless synchronization without ever needing words.

A minute passes before finally, Stiles feels sane enough and he dares himself to turn to look at the newcomer.

Said newcomer arches an elegant eyebrow of question as she stares at him in a mixture of dubious wonder.

“Are you okay?”

‘Stiles?’

Lydia’s voice trembles with trepidation.

“I’m – I’m okay.” He says in answer to both. He recognizes the warm yet bold feeling that had overtaken his terror and anxiety, and there’s only one person he can attribute that to. He takes another deep breath.

The one person being her – Allison Argent.

‘It’s her.’

“Hi.” He says, suddenly unable to come up with anything else to say.

Stiles thinks the likelihood of him needing a therapist after this are high odds of a yes. Between the revelations from the day, to the insane living hell that was dragged up from his past to haunt him minutes ago, and now finally seeing the very one person he has dearly missed and shouldered a guilt for; hyperventilating and passing out seemed to be a very logical next course of action.

‘Don’t you dare pass out now.’

Allison, or the person who appears to be Allison, takes a step back and he notices her hand tightening its grip on the bow. Her guard is up and her eyes take on a discerning glint.

“I – do you remember me?” Stiles asks, his open hands slowly lifting themselves in a gesture of harmlessness and deference.

“I feel like I should know you.”

Partial relief washes over him, while the other half internally groans. It is exactly as they had assumed it would be.

‘Thread carefully. She’s still the Huntress that we know her to be, and she’s wary of you right now.’

“You’re not one of the supernatural beings who belong here. Who are you? And why was I drawn to you?”

His gaze snaps back to her. Hope leaps in his chest. “You were drawn to me?”

She nods. “I could tell that you were here.”

“Do you remember who you are?”

An uncertain expression crosses her features. Stiles guesses the answer to his question. Before he can say anything else however, the sounds of clattering hooves catch his hearing. Stiles turns around at very same time Allison whips out an arrow from the quiver across her back.

From afar, the sight of a black stallion greets his line of vision but his jaw drops when he realizes that there isn’t quite a rider. Or rather, he notices in disbelief, there is a body with no head that’s riding the stallion at rapid pace.

Abruptly, the lights suddenly go off and Stiles finds himself in darkness. The sounds of the stallion’s hooves continue and they appear to be hurtling in their direction.  

It’s the Dullahan!

“And what is a Dullahan?” He asks aloud.

“A headless rider who collects souls.”

‘The Grim Reaper on a horse.

The answers come in unison from Allison and Lydia.

She’s definitely her.’ Stiles can distinguish the pride in Lydia’s voice. ‘The Dullahan calls out the name of the person for imminent and immediate death so don’t let him open his mouth. If you die, I’ll literally go out of my freaking mind.

Despite the incoming threat, he couldn’t help but to smile at the familiar phrasing – the same one he had once ranted at her with to express how much she means to him.

“I love you too, Lydia.” He whispers.

This is not the time for that. Arm yourself with something! Weaponize yourself!

Stiles looks to where he assumes Allison is, his eyes straining to see in the darkness.

“Hey, do you have something I could borrow?”

A rustling sound of fabric answers him before he feels something metal being placed in his hands. He also feels a constant presence at his side and he guesses that she had chosen to stay close to him. His fingers clasp around the object – a tactical dagger, and he braces himself.

The clattering sounds get louder and he realizes too late that there is more than one rider.

You are going to have to run. Grab her and go!

A stallion’s neigh resounds across and Stiles hears an arrow being nocked. A sharp sound of tension follows and the arrow’s swift release in high velocity causes the stallion’s neigh to abruptly rise notches higher in distinct pain.

“We have to run.” Urgency laces her voice.

“You don’t say.” Stiles mutters, squinting his eyes in the darkness to decipher a route. “Come on!” He grabs her by the arm, his other free hand holding tightly onto the dagger, and makes a run to what he assumes are pillars of concrete they could dodge between.

Even as they run, the stallions appear to gain on them anyway and within seconds, he feels the flaring and snorting breath of a wild horse just right beside him. He almost yelps in shock but the pungent scent of rotting flesh has him slapping a hand over his mouth and nose instead.

Nearby, he hears Allison releasing one arrow after another in rapid firing.

Stiles winds his hand around and stabs hard at what he assumes to be the source of the putrid flesh of the dead. He pulls it up with an instantaneous drag to draw a deep gash, before fervently impaling at the flesh again with all intent to cause a carnage. His movements are agile and dexterous, what with his muscle memory from his training being put to full use.

Something sharp whips him in the neck and Stiles growls at the contact. He whirls around and retaliates by reaching for a stallion and aiming right at its fine onyx eyes that remain bright in the darkness.

The stallion calls out in full agony and its forelimbs furiously kick out, one of it getting Stiles hard in the stomach. He bowls over and almost gets knocked in the head by another galloping stallion. Stiles makes a forward roll, going under and his dagger strikes up – gutting the stallion without mercy. Blood splatters onto him but he keeps going, drawing his dagger deep and tight.

The whip aims at him again, slicing deep into the skin of his arm and Stiles grits his teeth hard to keep from howling in pain. His dagger swings forward and it makes contact with one of the heads. He grimaces at the smell but continues concentrating on stabbing into its eyes – he almost gets to the second eye when a whip slashes him on the back and this time, Stiles yells out.

Faintly, amidst the chaos, he thinks he also hears Lydia’s shriek.

Stiles feels the tearing of his skin and the wetness of blood seeping into his t-shirt. His knees buckle forwards.

Are you okay? Stiles – answer me!’

“You felt it?” He rasps, struggling to get up. Beside him, he feels a hand latching onto one of his arms to pull him to quickly stand.

You’re bleeding. The you here – your back is bleeding and I can see a huge gash where the whip got you.’

The Banshee’s voice is evidently distressed and pained.

Stiles stumbles, wincing, as his new companion tries to hold him up.

“How do we defeat the Dullahan?”

They are terrified of gold but I highly doubt either one of you have anything remotely gold on you. You need to figure out an escape route – you can get killed!

He turns to ask Allison, and finally sees a flash of what look like a bloodied human spine twisted into a whip. To his horror, it rises up to strike and just as his instinctive reaction kicks in – Allison is already flinging herself onto him to take the hit.

“NO!”

The crack of the whip meets flesh. Allison’s scream fills the air amongst the galloping and whipping sounds.

“No, no, no.” He swiftly grabs hold of Allison as she crumples in pain.

Gravity pulls hard and he loses his balance between the wound on his own back and Allison’s weight. Ungainly in his anxiousness, he tries to adjust his hold of the Huntress so he could check on her and his hands immediately feel the unmistakable copious sticky blood on them.

“You – you need to get out of here while you can.” Her voice is commanding and desperate.

“No, I’m not leaving you here.” Stiles insists. Panic begins to infuse with the blood in his veins.

Stiles, I’m going to need you to do something for me. Let me take over and just trust me with it.

“I trust you with my life.”

Focus on me.

He does exactly as Lydia instructs even in the midst of an incoming onslaught and the stallion that is dashing towards them. Closing his eyes and holding Allison tight, Stiles concentrates hard on Lydia.

Strength and determination suddenly surge to fill his every sense.

A ravenous spark, and then something cavernous and bloodcurdling rises to his throat– his hands seem to automatically move to cover Allison’s ears – when he opens his eyes again, an ear-splitting keening shatter the air all around them.

A conduit to Lydia’s Banshee’s powers.

One by one, the Dullahans’ heads fall to the ground. The stallions screech and wail as if being caught in an indiscernible torture while its riders struggle to find balance but failing as the bodies crumble underneath the relentless piercing scream.

Heads are trodden on by the misguided and chaotic horses, and they are smashed and grinded to ghastly black pools.

Bit by bit, light begins to return.

When Stiles is finally cognizant of his own being, he sees the remnants of what used to be the Dullahans.

“Thank you.” He heavily breathes out.  

I wasn’t sure it would work but I was just terrified that I was going to lose both of you that I had to do something.

Gratefulness and absolute affection and admiration fill Stiles, and he knows the moment he returns; he is going to reach for his girlfriend and tell her in person how incredible she is, and how damn lucky he is at the lottery of life to have her in his days.

For now, he just settles with, “You’re my heart.”

And I’ll keep it beating so as long you stay alive for me.

“Who are you – talking to?”

Allison’s weak and breathless voice brings him back to the moment and Stiles remembers that she had been bleeding, or still is. He winces, removes his bloodied hands from her ears and tries to hold her in a manner that lets him examine the extent of her injuries.

Metallic in scent and warm in touch; her blood leads him to believe that she is still very much alive in their own world.

“Lydia. She’s your best friend. Do you remember her?” He distractedly asks as he makes a quick examination of Allison’s form.

A bruise is forming at the edge of her jaw, an abrasion on her cheek, and the laceration from her left neck down to her back shoulder – the whip of human spinal cord had sliced through the fabric enough to have blood soaking through her clothes. However, it isn’t her clothes that he is concerned about, rather, he realizes in near nausea that the laceration at her neck is deep enough to cut into the anterior jugular vein.

Alarmed, Stiles reaches for her pulse and notices it significantly weaker than a normal one would be.

“Stay with me, okay? Don’t close your eyes. I’m going to get you home – you are going home. Just keep your eyes on me.”

She will go into a hypovolemic shock if she keeps losing blood. Stiles, you need to bring her back to us. Scott is going out of his flipping mind at the sight of the blood on both of you, and Melissa and Chris are still trying to stop the bleeding.

He tugs at one end of his already torn t-shirt and rips a part of it to press the fabric to her neck. His hand applies as much pressure as he possibly can.

“Can you hear me? You are going to be okay. I promise you will be. Nothing is going to harm you anymore and I am going to keep you with me – we all will. I just need to get you back with me. Come on – work with me, Allison.”

The moment the name leaves his lips, it is as if a trigger point shatters within him. Convulsions wreck through his body.

Stiles! What’s going on?’

He hears Lydia through the searing hot pain in his chest, but he is unable to categorize or explain the sudden throbbing discomfort that is beginning from his heart and coursing through his veins. He wonders for a moment if he is having a cardiac arrest.

Her name! Saying Allison’s name aloud is the catalyst to breaking the bond you had. You found her with it, and it’s now being taken away from you.’

Stiles soldiers through knowing that time is running out.

“That’s who you are – you are Allison Argent. You’re–” he gasps, “the daughter of Chris and Victoria Argent. You are a Huntress, and you started the new code of the Argent Family. Nous protégeons ceux qui ne peuvent pas se protèger eux-měmes. That was all you. You protect, and you fight for those who can’t.”

He grips hard at Allison’s shoulder, almost doubling over from the explosive sharpness within him. The warmth he used to feel is now scorching raw paroxysm of agony.

“You are stronger than this, you are more than this consciousness in this fleeting otherworld. Come back to us, to me, to Chris–” Stiles sharply exhales and wills himself to continue, “to Lydia, and to Scott. Please, Allison, you have to.”

“I don’t – I don’t remember.” She whispers, looking into his eyes and he sees the fear that is in him reflecting in her brown orbs.

“No, you have to try to find it in you. Please.”

Tears fill his eyes in a combination between the excruciating pain as he crumples forward and his fear of losing Allison again.

Scott is trying to reach for your pain but it’s not working, he can’t feel you with the different worlds. Stiles, you need to come back. We don’t know what will happen if the bond breaks while you’re there.’

“No.” He shakes his head almost violently. “I’m not leaving without her.”

Stiles returns his focus to Allison, cancelling out Lydia’s protest.

“We are part of a pack and we deal with all things supernatural like we are in some crazy-ass MTV drama. You are one of us. You go to Beacon Hills High. You are one of the best students of our year, and you beat Lydia’s grades at English. You watch us play lacrosse but – but you actually enjoy baseball. You are a Mets fan, like me.”

“Lydia?”

Chest heaving with laborious breaths, Stiles reminds himself he needs to endure. Grasping at whatever determination he has; he tells himself that it’s going to be okay. They will get home, and he will see Lydia, she will have her best friend again while Scott will burst into those large goofy grins of happiness, and Chris will have his daughter back all safe and sound.

“Lydia Martin. Strawberry blonde, fiery and amazing and beautiful. You met her on your first day at Beacon Hill High. She liked the jacket you wore and that’s how you became friends.” He manages out, wincing as he rambles on. “You are both practically sisters, she loves you that much.

“And Scott. Scotty, my buddy. You are each other’s first love and he loves you – he still does throughout everything.”

At that, Stiles finally remembers the note he has on him. His hand scrambles to pull out the note in his pocket. The once folded note comes up heavily crumpled but a slight bit of hope rises with it as Stiles flips the small piece of paper open for Allison and holds it to her eye-level.

“Because I love you.” Allison softly reads out.

“With every wolfie part and human side of him. All his heart and through these five years, and trust me, even till his last breath. You can’t make this into a freaking Romeo and Juliet story, that is just too cliché and you hate clichés.” He shakily says. “And I am not going to lose you and Scott.”

“Because I love you.” She repeats it again.

“Come on, you have to remember him, what you both had – or still have. Even if you don’t believe in me, trust him. Trust in Scott and his unending love and wholehearted freaking wish for you to be okay, to be happy, just to be alive damn it.”

“I–” Allison pauses as if searching for something even if her facial features are contorted in distress from the loss of blood. Stiles notices that she looks paler now, and his heart rate spikes. “Because I – trust him more than anyone else.”

The optimism that comes with the written note spurs on. Aside from his harsh breathing and pulsing veins that result into sweat breaking out on his forehead, Stiles falls quiet though his trembling hands are still holding tightly onto Allison. He is already starting to feel faint.

“The first person I loved, and will always love.” Allison recites almost fondly as she appears to recall her memories. “Scott McCall.” She breathes out.

Relief gushes into his lungs.

“And I was drawn to you because I know you.”

He nods, unable to speak in fear of breaking the chain of memories that are returning to Allison. His vision turns blur and he tells himself to hold it together.

“You are Scott’s best friend – and brother.” Her hand reaches out for him and Stiles leans in to ease her movement. Trembling cold fingers make contact with the equally cold, clammy skin of his jaw. “Stiles. I’m bonded to both of you.”

Hollow laughter of relief, delight and triumph fill the air as tears crash down onto cheeks. Stiles looks at Allison and he gives her one of his most genuine smiles ever – “It’s me. It’s me, Allison.”

The pain he is feeling unexpectedly begins to ebb away and breathing doesn’t seem to be a throbbing act in dire need to survive. Allison’s hand moves downwards towards his chest and it stays there – Stiles realizes she has her hand over his heart and startlingly, the jackhammering muscular organ begins to calm its pace.

“I missed you.” A dimpled smile of hers mirrors his emotions.

 Stiles reciprocates Allison’s admission with a soft press of his lips on her forehead.

Come home – both of you.’

His right arm frees itself from Allison.

“You’re coming home with us.” He states. “Everyone’s waiting for you.” He puts his right wrist close to the Huntress’ side and notices her gaze shifting to follow his movement.

Her other hand reaches out for his wrist and clasps around it, weakly but willingly. She meets his gaze and nods.

“Lydia.” Stiles calls out. He tucks his head close to Allison’s and feels her labored breaths against his cold skin. “Close your eyes, Allison – just hold on to me, and think of your dad and Scott.”

His own eyes pulled themselves tightly closed and he wills it wholeheartedly so that he would be back in that cold room, in the bathtub, with Lydia’s hand around his wrist and Scott waiting for him and Allison. And Allison would be back, right next to him.

“Stiles!”

He opens his eyes with a tight, loud gasp escaping him, as if he had been jerked awake from a sudden asphyxiation.

Lydia’s green orbs are the first that meet his line of vision and Stiles almost sobs in joy. She dives in to him, hugging him almost protectively and Stiles feels like a breath of fresh air had just filled his lungs.

“You are the most extraordinary and beautiful woman ever, and I love you, Lydia Martin.” He murmurs into her hair as he feels her pressing her face onto his neck.

He makes to hug her back but realizes one of his hands is tugging at something, or rather, someone, on his left.

Lydia quickly pulls back, tears mixed with a bright smile, as she knowingly looks to the Stiles’ left.

Stiles quickly turns to see Allison – all 5’7” of her with those pale rosy cheeks flushed against skin that is pulsing with blood – sitting up and breathing hard in hiccupped gasps from both the cold and experience. His left hand is interlocked with her right, and she looks to him at that very moment.

A smile crosses his lips.

“Welcome back.” He says, almost in a whisper.

She gives him a smile of her own, her cheeks creasing in those familiar dimples and with life.

Melissa rushes to help her out of the tub and Chris wraps her with a thick wool blanket. Allison’s face immediately crumbles into tears at the touch of her father and the latter is equally overcome by emotions as he pulls her in a tight embrace.

Deaton is holding out a blanket for Stiles, considering his torn t-shirt, and Lydia sets about to wrap him up in it. He winces at the contact of the wool, his skin still raw from the injury but apparently, ceased in bleeding.

Scott meets his gaze from the other side and Stiles manages a lopsided grin. “Are you going to hug me or what?”

The werewolf didn’t need to be told twice as he instantly tackles Stiles, almost toppling them both over, but they are laughing and practically crying so it doesn’t really matter.

“You almost gave me a cardiac arrest!” Scott exclaims.

“It’s what I do to you every week anyway. You’d think you’d be used to it by now.” Stiles jokes.

“Thank you for coming back.”

The poignant words of Scott’s get Stiles to pull back a little and he manages a reassuring upwards curve of his lips beneath his tears. “I’ll always be around.” He promises. “Hey, what we’ve said about lifetime subscription?"

A chuckle escapes Scott. “You and I. Stiles and Scott.”

Off to the side, Lydia is grinning and shaking her head in exasperated fondness on the evident bromance – as Stiles would proudly and aptly call it – and Stiles holds out his hand for her to take. Their fingers intertwined and he pulls her into their hug. Scott laughs as they squeeze a mock indignant Lydia between them.

From the corner of his eye, Stiles sees Allison stepping up to them, looking uncertain. His grin widens and he disentangles himself to grab onto her wrist.

“You belong here, with us.” He announces with absolute confidence and surety lacing his voice.

“Like it always has been.” Lydia adds as she wraps her arm around Allison’s waist, not even the least bit affected that Allison is still dripping with icy cold water as she tugs the brunette tightly to her side as if Lydia is afraid to lose the latter – in which Stiles recognizes that she does. Lydia’s eyes are all wet and glassy, her lips are trembling in tell-tale signs of her overwhelmed feelings of gratitude and delight to have her best friend back.

They huddle close into a tight group hug. Lydia’s arm still firmly wrapped around Allison’s waist as another pulls Scott by the shoulders, his around Allison and Scott and holding onto them for dear life, while Allison’s arms wind themselves protectively close around Lydia and him, and he also feels Scott’s hand finding Allison’s behind his back.

They are all crying together and he knows it’s a ridiculous sight and sound for the adults in the room, but no one seems to care anyway.

It is as if everything now feels less shitty, less horrible, less upsetting, lesser of all things cruel and unkind.

Stiles knows that this is perfection, at least for him.

A gentle spark lights up from within, somewhere near his chest, and it fills his veins with a pleasant indulgence and honest warmth of euphoria. It’s brighter and more evident than ever.

Surprised by the sensation, he looks up and meets Scott’s shaken gaze.

“It’s still here. We still have it.” Scott states, half in disbelief.

Stiles brushes at his eyes with the back of his hand and looks to Deaton who is watching them with a smile on his face.

“What does it mean? Why do I still feel the bond between us and why does it–” His voice falters a little. “I thought I lost that. It sure as hell felt like I was going to combust from the inside when I finally said Allison’s name back there.”

“But instead it kept you two together.” Lydia speaks up, her gaze falling onto Allison and then Stiles. “When you found Allison, the you here actually reached out for her hand as hers did for yours. It was almost instinctive.”

The Druid shrugs. “It was a supposition that either you’d lose the bond in the sacrifice or it would come back with you but stronger. Willpower, remember? It’s all in the power of your minds.”

“I didn’t want us to lose this.” Allison admits, biting her lower lip. “It was my connection to home, and to all of you where I finally felt like I belong.”

“I thought it was significant to the sacrifice we made and the almost loss we shared, and how we trusted each other – knowing that we’d go and return together.” Scott confesses.

“And I knew we would miss this and never feel anything like it again once it is taken away.” Stiles finishes, gradually understanding the underlying reason to their bond being intact despite having likely disintegrating when they used it to find Allison.

“The three of you had similar convictions when it comes to the bond.” Deaton smiles. “It’s likely that it remained, or renewed itself, with that determination from all of you. It values that sacred alliance.”

Stiles looks between Scott and Allison.

“Sacred alliance, huh? So, like we are in a secret elite gang.”

Lydia rolls her eyes as Scott grins and Allison lets out an amused giggle.

Scott finally looks to Allison and Stiles knows he should turn away to give the pair some time but just like Lydia, who is now intently gazing at them, he really wants to know what’s next for both his best friends.

Allison gives a bashful smile and it appears to be all Scott needs to finally say, “I’ve seen the world without you in it and I highly doubt it’s where I should be.

“And if you would – just be in this world this time,” Scott pauses, his voice cracking, “I am going to be okay to breathe again. Because I love you, and I always will.”

Beside Stiles, Lydia sniffles and he brings her close to his side.

Tears roll down Allison’s cheeks and her face scrunches as if she would be the one to combust now from the emotions that are running through every fiber of her being. She launches herself at Scott and clutches onto him with shaking shoulders and the latter embraces her firmly in all fear that if he lets go, it might have been just a dream. Scott is crying again into Allison’s neck and Stiles has to finally look away because he is tearing up too.

‘And this ladies and gentlemen, is the happy ending that cheesy rom-com movies make big bucks for.’

Lydia softly cries into his chest and he makes a tender smile as he kisses the crown of her head.

Melissa, Chris and Deaton are in all misty-eyed smiles of their own as well, and Stiles nods to them.

We are okay – more than okay.

Allison’s home; where she belongs with them.

Stiles doesn’t have to buy the flowers, the candle and the lighter. He doesn’t have to think of that night in Oak Creek where he lost a best friend or three if he counts the parts of Scott and Lydia that were lost that night as well.

“I guess this means an extra setting at the table for Christmas.” Stiles says aloud.

Melissa laughs and nods. Chris looks more than pleased at the thought.

“Oh, and Allison, we are having a Disney marathon this year. I saved you a spot on the couch with Lydia and me. Scott can just sit his ass on the floor.”

Allison grins, nodding through her tears and Scott makes a small whining sound of protest. Lydia looks up at him, fondness written all over her face and he kisses her nose.

It’s definitely better to have known, loved and lost – and rediscover.’ Stiles decides.