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Necrosis

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His mum had white wings.

 

Stiles knows this because he doesn’t think a single day ever went by when Claudia Stilinski was ashamed of their brilliance. She wore them like a crown, like a fucking halo, let them spread out behind her back, large and arched, the marginal coverts slick and shining where they rode up to just halfway up her neck. Her wings were soft, primaries long and elegant, secondary coverts tough but fluffy and scapulars neatly smooth down around the slight protrusion of the humerus bone. Stiles knows they’re always neat, always perfect and in order, because every morning John would stands behind his wife while she applied her make up, running the pads of his fingers through the slight feathers there. Stiles, young and wide-eyed, would watch his parents from the door, would feel at the small rise of bone by the middle of his back and wonder what colours would burst from his skin, whether someone would ever care for his wings like his father did for Claudia’s.

 

She promises him, one morning, that when his wings come through that she’ll groom them into place, sort them carefully and lovingly and that he’ll never have a feather out of line. It’s enough to make him feel warm and a blessedly safe, and he can only watch in awe as she sorts through the pots and pans in the kitchen, utterly unaware of herself. The yellow-gold haze of a setting sun trickles through the window, throwing her into abstract shadow - an outline of an angel, summer dress brushing at her knees and wings touching at her elbows. It’s - breathtaking, in the most innocent of ways. He scribbles the scene onto paper with a green crayon. She pins it on the fridge.

 

The night after she dies, wings withering away to dust on the hospital bed, face rough and sallow, Stiles cries to that memory, and the next morning when he comes down to breakfast, small and swollen and wretched in his tears, his dad is passed out at the dining table and the drawing is gone from the fridge.

 

He doesn’t look for it.

Stiles’s wings crawl their way from his skin when he turns fourteen, a full three years after Claudia had promised him they would. A year after his dad had patted him on the back and said, maybe not, Stiles. Pressure erupts at the center of his back, and his Maths homework crumples where it had been held in his hand, rips between his fingers as he arches forward and hisses in a sharp, breathless sound of surprise. His spine feels hot, like fucking lava, and he fumbles with the buttons of his t-shirt, half ripping the t-shirt from his body in his desperation to get it off. Part of his mind tells him that his dad isn’t in, is working a late shift again, and the other part numbly registers his t-shirt brushing at his low back as he shrugs off. For a moment, the warmth against his fingertips is inexplicable, a mystery, and then the scent of copper fills his nose and his mouth goes dry as he brings his hand away from his skin.

 

Blood.

 

It can’t -

 

The math homework drops to the floor, forgotten as both hands pitch backwards to feel for the new development hanging from his back, the pressure suddenly out of his skin and now sliding down his back, sickly slick and heavy. The stretch of his arms sends pain shooting across his back, pulling at his torn skin, but he doesn’t focus on that, can’t focus on that because in his awkwardly angled hands, desperately cleared of gore and still warm to the touch, is a very distinct, a very unmistakable, feather.

He has wings

 

 

For a long time after his mothers death, Stiles feels like he’s wading through water. His limbs seemed too heavy to function quite the way they should and every movement seemed to take an impossible amount of energy from him; he has days where he lies in bed, staring at the shadows on his ceiling and imagining the spectrum of feelings his mother must have experienced on her deathbed. Pain. Fear. Relief. He wonders - what if? And is quickly met with more imaginings of his father, all alone in the world, falling back to drinking or never getting to do the paperwork for his final, defiant unloading of his gun.

 

But he can’t. And while he lies in bed, weighted down with his own feelings, his ADHD buzzes under his skin like barbed wire, jerking his finger tips and yearning for something to do. He wants to get up and run fifty suicides, start his math homework or just talk - but he is a marble statue where he lies, and the urge to move paired with the solid ball in his stomach telling him to never leave his bed result in an itch at his epidermis that he can’t not scratch. He digs his nails in deep deep deep and he can’t get the buzz out, can’t break the electric circuit. The tang of salt mixes with copper, and he smothers his frustrated sobs into the crook of his arm, ignoring the dull weight of wings resting down on his back - a constant, unwelcome reminder of another thing he has to hide. Another bullet point in the list of things to be ashamed of.

 

The first time it happens, Stiles finds himself up till four am the next day, trawling through diagnostic criteria on government run health websites and Yahoo answers. He finds nothing but a locked article on co morbidity, an unanswered Yahoo question from 2 years ago by GFinacoma (Disturbingly titled - What’s wrong with me?) and some sixty page thread on a pregnancy website which the resolving answer was to a) give birth and b) go back on Adderall. Stiles can’t do either of those things - wombless and Adderall-full as he is, so the internet is a lost cause.

 

He tells his dad he’s ill everytime the big black dog drops down on his chest, and as far as Scott or any other Werewolf is concerned, his illness dissipate too fast for them to scent on him.

 

 

The name for people like him, unofficially, is abomination. Or freak, as preferred by the kids on the playground who are too young to pull off a multi-syllable word but old enough to be filled mindless with hate from the mouths of their parents, from childhood magazines and the headlines of mummies favourite newspaper. The official name, the ones scientists used in their biased case studies and lab experiments was - Homo sapien alatus . A mutation from Homo sapiens idaltu.

 

Mum had always said they were angels.

 

But then, Claudia had said a lot of stuff that wasn’t quite true. She couldn’t hide her wings, big and magnificent as they were, so her only option was to wear them loud and proud, to refuse to back down and to garner whispers and stares at every street in every city in every country she ever set foot in. She told Stiles not to be ashamed, to embrace who he was, that he was beautiful and special and different.

 

Bitterly, Stiles thinks that might have been easy for her to say, given that her wings were the white described in Holy books and painstakingly etched into stain glass windows besides stars and crosses. Her wings spoke of purity, of innocence, of cleanliness and goodness - or that’s what they say, the priests and the pastors and every nobody in a white robe saying the word of God. His mother was called an angel, and the gleam of her wings reflected the flash of her smile, and as being a Homo sapien alatus goes, she had it pretty good. It leaves a bad taste in his mouth to think of his mother like that, but there are moments when he hates her, just a tiny bit. For passing this on to him. For giving him false hope. For doing all of that and then leaving him all alone with all these questions and a broken father.

 

Stiles’s wings are a soft grey, dappled with fine prints of white that had been stained red for the first two weeks since the muscle and bone crammed itself out its slot between his ribs. They are small, fitting without fuss into the dip of his back between his shoulder blades, his primaries brushing at the band of his jeans. He doesn’t know if they will grow with him, if there is some kind of second stage where there is pain and then more - or if they’re like this forever, small and unassuming - easy to hide and easy to forgot.

 

Grey wings signify conventional, dependable, boring and expendable. A red shirt aboard the Enterprise. He was born to be the sidekick, the extra, the adviser at a kings side. He is a shade too dark to be the hero, the protagonist, and despite the speckles of white in his wings he entertains too much shadow to pull a sword from a stone. He’d much rather destroy the stone, anyway, and use the sword to cut down anyone who dare to lay a hand on the people that matter to him.

 

If Scott was a freak, an abomination, Stiles thinks his wings would be as white as snow.

 

But he’s not.

 

He gets bitten, instead.

 

 

Despite werewolves, despite kanimas and banshees and best friends forever, Stiles does not tell anyone about his wings.

 

He can’t.

 

They hang from his back, limp and dull, and they remind him with every shift of feathers of his mothers smile, the feel of her primaries in his small hands and how everything had seemed to big and wonderful and faultless back then. They are reminders, reminders he binds tightly to his ribs with ace bandage and reminders he twists into the dip of his spine. Crushes to his skin. The resulting ache, the cramp of powerful muscle and pull of hollow bones is a remedy, a self medication for his prescribed guilt, his self-assured insecurity and for the darkness that dwells in the apex of his heart. It hurts in a way that tells him he doesn’t deserve to be his mothers son, that, on him, wings will never be anything but reinforcement of his utter lack of anything worthwhile.

 

He is no angel.

 

In his mirror, the painted glass casts him as ordinary. He stares at the dip of his collarbones and the slight curve of his stomach, at the slouch in his shoulders and the bones of his knees. And then - he turns, and they grey of his wings shimmers against the pale of his skin, the white dapples glinting in the slight light of his bedside lamp. He stretches his wings out, and a sweet pain trills down the bandages as they reach out past his arms, the ends turned slightly up. There is no arch to his appendages, no suggestions to angels, his are wings for soaring - the feathers spread apart in larger clumps, less crowded than his mothers and with a thicker layer of marginal coverts.

 

Looking at them, he seems something predatory to the cut of the feathers - the way they are sharp at the their ends, tapering off harsh and blunt, and how the edges are sudden and steep. It’s unsettling, nauseating, the way shadows drape down their edges and lurks in every small dip and shift of his surface plumage. It - it reminds him of Halloween costume stores; the brush of fake cobwebs against the skin of his 10 year old self, the smell of aerosol from the bottles of glitter stacked up in the binary coloured ‘girls’ section, aggressively pink and unnecessarily feminine, and the deep feeling of wrongness that settled uncomfortably in his chest when he looked up at the collection of wings. The backing of the display was black paper, devil horns to one side and halos to the other, and the wings were made of some tacky plastic that felt like something dead and hardened when he pressed a small hand to it, ridges and bumps in the surface a sick mockery of life. The feathers were sharp against the back of his fingers and the quills were far too fluffy to keep water out, or be anywhere near aerodynamic.

 

Lifeless, useless, wrong things.

 

That’s what he sees now with his own wings. Plastic looped over his arms, dead tissue and frail, fake bone hanging down from the midpoint of his back - pulling at his spine and dangling unnaturally. He sees the same tilt in his wings that he spots in that of murderous snapshots plastered over CNN; haughty and half-rotten limbs rising above the heads of killers and rapists like the outline of the grim reaper standing at their shoulders, lack of life resulting in a utter abyss of colour - an abyss which sucked at the light in their eyes, the flesh in their cheeks and the warmth from their sallow, dry skin.

 

He wakes from dreams, again and again, where he is small and vulnerable, where he stumbles down the stairs a little boy, and the picture of his mother is gone from the fridge and his father watches a TV that occupies where she used to sit on at the table. His dad turns, a nameless drink in his shaking hand, and Stiles sees himself on the screen. Bracketed by red and blue headlines, he stares back at his older self, now with eyes dark and something horrible and grey bearing at his shoulders, winding around his chest. Below the picture, the deathly pastiche, reads:

 

BOY KILLS OWN MOTHER.

 

Stiles always wakes up screaming.

 

 

There are flashes - brief moments - where Stiles feels like he belongs to the rag-tag bunch of teenagers and emotionally crippled adults. Sometimes, there’s this warm feeling where Derek grips his arm, or Scott assumes he’s going to Pack meetings (because of course he’s Pack) and Jackson doesn’t take an opportunity to make a disparaging joke about him when it could have been so, so easy. It’s Derek, especially, who instigates the most of these strange, fuzzy moments of bonding.

 

Stiles likes to watch him work. Derek is a good at making these intricate little carvings that somehow looks more real than life-sizes hyper realistic acrylic paintings, and when not otherwise occupied he works almost on automatic, skimming away shavings of wood with fluid ease that stokes that can entrance Stiles for minutes at a time. The wood is beautifully dark and well-aged, creates this honey and gold contrast to the tone of Derek's skin that sends thrills through his body. Stiles struggles to describe it in a way that isn’t anything but that fierce feeling of this is where I need to be that rises up in those peaceful lulls of his life.

 

And then Derek will do something horrendous, like meet his eyes and smile, or ask him to make some coffee in a way Stiles knows is the equivalent of anyone else offering coffee. It makes his heart do funny things, but Stiles is sixteen and his heart always seems to be leading him in the wrong direction.

 

He always smiles back, though, just in case.

 

 

It’s three am, and his eyes feel heavy with sleep he isn’t getting. There’s a bite to his bones that suggests a drop in base body temperature, but he woke up only an hour ago to Scott panting down the phone about a Harpy and getting to the Hale house now because they needed a plan. Stiles had felt useful for the whole rushed twenty minute journey, wearing yesterdays jeans and the DC t-shirt he sleeps in, coffee stains included.

 

As it turns out, Stiles had arrived just as the Pack had been about to leave. Lydia having gotten there first, and already talked through a plan with Peter. At least, that’s what Stiles manages to piece together after entering the house and spotting a still-open laptop and an unmistakably Lydia handbag. They’re in too much or a rush to even give Stiles the time of the day, Scott skipping out on shooting Stiles his patented Sugar-and-Spice-and-all-things-nice ™ look - it aches in a familiar way, sending up lights in the part of his mind that has been telling him he’s not a member of the pack for some while. Intellectually, he knows. He just wishes after some kind of lost courtesy.

 

Feeling decidedly rejected, he slumps into the sofa chair in front of the coffee table and immediately winches away from the twinge of pain. The rush had meant he’d only had time to stuff his wings into a cheap binder he’d bought off amazon - one that he had bought via his dads credit card before his growth spurt, and as a result his wings were strung up against his back in an awkward position. Feathers decidedly ruffled, he worms his hands up the sides of his t-shirt and pulls his binder down to the thinner areas of his waist, using one hand to keep the material still and the other to gently tug his wings out from under it, mindful of the already twinging limbs. Bathing in the relief and novelty of having his wings free, he lazily looks up to Peter’s laptop as it flicks onto a screensaver (a bland stock picture of Los Angeles) and catches a glimpse of a sketched winged figure.

 

Quick as a flash, he darts forward to touch the pads of his fingers to the computers mouse board and the image flicks up again. It’s a crude hand-drawn humanoid figure, crouched to the ground with scaly, skeletal wings protruding from its back. Besides it, are the instructions to rip off its wings to make it unable to fly away (scribbled in the margin is 'very fast fliers’ with a small arrow pointing to the text) and that, apart from it’s unusually thicker skin, talon-like nails and sharp teeth, it can be killed by 'standard methods’. The book also notes some can let out a high-pitch screech that can disable creatures with more sensitive hearing, but is fine for humans.

 

Stiles touches a hand to his own wings as he reads, his skin feeling tight at the notion of ripping off someones wings. Christ. He briefly wonders what Harpies could even do to deserve that kind of fate, before his mind latches onto the concept that - that he could be in here. Heart feeling too real against his ribcage, he presses forward a few pages, skipping over more information on the Harpy and shorted entries on Hellhounds, Hippogriffs and Hobgoblins.

Homo sapien alatus turns out to be an entry only a page long, no picture and very sloppy, loopy writing.

 

'Not prone to aggression or killing, live well with humans. No outward mutations that are advantageous in a fight. Wings can be troublesome in a hunting scenario. Shoot on sight only if it is otherwise armed.’

 

It.

 

He sits back again, this time letting his wings spread out from his spine so they’re not trapped between him and the chair, and stares emptily at the dimly lit screen.

 

A beast. In the bestiary.

 

Would Allison consider him one, if she knew? Chris? Hell - Peter might see him as one, Derek too. He’s never really - asked any of them about their stances on his kind. If they want him strung up on a cross or allowed to live normally. It seems too suggestive to even bring up the topic with them, that they could ask if he’s one. Though given his mother, he doubts they would be outwardly disapproving of it if he did ask. Just sort of… distant. He shuts his eyes and rubs his knuckles against the lids harshly, registering flashes of dull colour in his sight line but feeling too abruptly overwhelmed to pay them much mind.

 

All this time he has been worried about how Scott would react if he ever found out - if he would stay his friend, his brother; when really it’s the others he should have stayed up worrying about, should have made contingency plans for. Would Peter kill him? Would Derek hunt him down? Would Chris string him up with wires and hold a knife to his throat, or worse, out him and his hideous discoloured appendages to the town? He can imagine his dads face if he were to ever find out that way - disappointment, a hint of sorrow at what Claudia’s legacy had become and a trace of guilt because he’d think something unbelievable like Stiles not trusting him enough to tell him or-

 

He cuts off his train off thought, lowering his hands to his lap and staring unseeingly at the contrast between pallid skin and woven cotton.

 

Ten minutes later, he drives home.

 

He doesn’t tell his dad.

 

The Nogitsune, when it finds this memory, laughs and laughs and laughs, the sound echoing back off the cold walls towards him as he curls up in the only scrap of himself that he has been allowed.

 

They’ll never accept you.

 

It loves these shards, these hints of inner chaos that makes it representation in his mind burn all the brighter, blinding him where he watches out of the locker slits. It taunts him, throws his caged self into scenarios where Scott discovers, his face twisting into something unfamiliar and cold. Times where his dad kicks him out, turns to the bottle, all the while reality eating at the edges of these false realities - Scott, crying out and pinned to a table at the clinic in a TV screen, Lydia’s panicked breathing playing out over a song on the radio.

 

Stiles doesn’t know which one is worse.

 

Then -

 

He murders Allison.

Chapter Text

He goes home.

 

It all feels too easy.

 

His room feels cold, strange. The bed covers are made, tucked gently into the sides of the mattress in a way that Stiles never does himself. His All Time Low poster has detached from the wall at its right corner, and it droops down on the side, casting shadows across the faces of the band members on stage in harsh lines of black. He stares for a moment, noting numbly that everything is too clean and how his things have been tidied into straight lines and right angles that scream for him to tip them over, to make a mess and make it him.

 

Instead, he shrugs out of his plaid shirt and pulls his undershirt over his head, meeting his eyes in the mirror as he emerges from the fabric. A dead gaze watches back, more dark than it is hazel, and the copper bruises hanging at his waterline are thicker than the blood creeping its way down from the base of his wings. Slow and warm, and the ache where they meld into his skin is so utterly familiar by now it scares him, but only a little, only in the parts of him where he can still keep his head above the water. His reflection shows to him a salient ribcage, bones surfing up from underneath and creating chasms and abysses where his collarbones lie and in the hollows of his hips. Gone is the curve of his stomach, and Stiles feels a strange dizziness at the idea that all his organs are supposed to be fit into such a small space. He pressed one cold palm to it, and feels himself sway almost drunkenly.

 

Let me in, Stiles.

 

His caricature turns in the glass before him, back slouched and eyes dark shadows in the lighting from his window. He is hallow, piano ribs, and a starved, black beast crawls from his back - feathers wet with blood stick to his spine, bruises spilling out from their tips in sewer yellows and greens. It had once been hatching from under his skin, sucking the nutrients from between his shriveling organs and reaching out to the skies, but now it lies aborted.

Bleeding and sickly and Stiles feels the dizziness increase tenfold, a pressing spike behind his eyes. Hesitantly, he lifts a trembling hand and grazes it over the rotten flesh lying exposed on the barren expanse of his back. It feels - cold. And like - like the plastic wings in that Halloween display case all those years ago. His feathers are a parody of real life, now, bent in the wrong direction and stained a slimy black that Stiles gets the feeling will never quite wash off, the remaining quills a malted patchwork of shades of grey.

 

There are no white specks. Not anymore.

 

He breathes out heavily, feeling the movement tug at the carcasses sown into his back, and bites back a wretched sob.

 

Are they saying that Stiles is dying?

 

He is, you know.

He's back in the locker again.

 

Through the gaps, the silted metal, he sees pale hands, eerily long fingered and too soft compared to the way they're driving a sword right into Allison's chest. There's a wet, cracking noise and Stiles can fucking feel a rib break under the pressure, but he keeps pushing pushing pushing and he's watching himself doing it, recognizes those hands, but simultaneously feels cool metal beneath his fingernails, the vague echo of a scream bouncing back at his ears from the too-close walls. Blood wells up from Allison's lips, and she's whispering his name, pale lips forming words miraculously clearly.

 

"Stiles. Stiles. You'll be okay. It's alright,"

 

"Stiles. Stiles! Come on son, you're safe now, it's okay - hush, hush." The locker crushes in around him, caressing him against its heat and the sound of screaming fades away into a harsh static, panic ebbing away in a slow wave as the pumping of blood through his veins thumps at his eardrums. He hears himself take in one shuddering breathe as everything goes abruptly quiet, and he's staring at the open door of his bedroom (Stiles, don't open the door, come back to bed)

 

Sound crashes back.

 

"... There we go, it's alright. I got you."

 

He blinks groggily, the voice of the Sheriff washing over him gently, soothing him as he instinctively worms his way deeper into the older mans hold, seeking comfort. He's shaking, and he only notices because John isn't, steady and sturdy beneath his palms, chest vibrating with every word and arms tight around him. He smells like home, not like whiskey or gunpowder, and Stiles lets him have it for a moment, lets himself curl up like the scared child he embodies inside and feel protected for once in a world where the monsters under the bed aren't afraid of nightlights or duvet covers anymore.

 

He bathes in that security for what seems like an age, warm and loose, the shake in his marrow settling to the usual itch to move. His sense start to click online once more, less focused on his father, and he becomes aware of the hand stroking gently down his back, smoothing down his feathers. He jolts in his dads grip, half pulling away from his chest and staring up into his face, searching for some kind of cue of what he's feeling; his eyes are aged, crinkled at the edges and his mouth is carefully set in resting line.The hand stops on his back, rests on his scapulars. The older Stilinksi doesn't say anything, but the silence lays like a heavy fog against the back of Stiles's throat, suffocating and thick. He swallows, becoming hyper aware of how his trachea appears finely grated and desert-dry, the slight taste of iron lingering at the back of his teeth, lining his gums.

 

"Dad - I," his fingers tap a little too fast in a brief moment against his thigh, his body still awkwardly angled half in John's lap, "I'm sorry I didn't - I just. After mom-" His voice cracks at the word, and he feels tears sting at his pupils though he can't quite place why. His mouth tugs uncontrollably downwards, and he wants nothing more than to bury himself into his cold sheets and rot away with the dull decay of his wings. His fingers are jolting more than they're tapping, haphazardly screwing the material of his boxers into sweaty fists.

 

"Stiles. Stiles - look at me," A hand gently bumps against his jaw, and Stiles obligingly looks up into his fathers eyes, unable to determine anything from the slight light that reflects there. "I'm not angry. I don't care if you have wings or not - you know I don't. I just want to know why you didn't tell me sooner."

 

"They're... they're so wrong, dad. They're - I didn't know what to do. They were too dark and not like mom's at all and then they never grew too big and - you were running for the Sheriff and I didn't want to ruin your chances by coming out as... what I am," His dad looks like he's going to interrupt then, but he cuts across him quickly, "I know you wouldn't care, but, dad, you know better than I do that some people still do, and I didn't want to ruin that for you. After - after mum, you were... I didn't want to take that away from you." the 'too' wasn't said out loud, but it lay between them in the following moment of silence.

 

"Oh, Stiles."

 

His wings feel so, so dirty under the forgiving hands of his father.

Before he killed people, he had started a thing with Derek.

 

His neck held the imprint of a heat his body is far too cold and used to accept now.

They don't get better.

 

It's a background buzz as he pulls his body through sleepless nights and empty days. At his edges, the seams are fraying, wearing down at the pattern of his heart, slowly undoing row after row of progress since his mothers death, each plucked stitch a panic attack waiting to happen. Or - constantly happening. He can't seem to tell anymore if it's tiredness gripping and squeezing his vision down into tiny circles in front of him, or if he's in the midst of an eternal panic attack that claws at his vision, tinges everything in a light-less palette. Every time he glances at his hands, his fingers twitch back at him, pale and if he doesn't blink blood stains the digits, spreads down his wrist and pools in the niche where his veins lie.

 

But it's always just ink, or shadow, and Scott won't give him a concerned look if Stiles doesn't talk all lunch because Scott doesn't notice. Because Stiles murdered Allison, because Stiles almost killed Lydia, because now Kira is here and she is bright and wonderful and no-one flinches away from her when she gets too close, moves too fast. Stiles feels slaughter crawl under his skin, cold spike down his capillaries when Lydia refuses to sit next to him at pack meetings.

Peter smiles at him like 'welcome to my life, welcome to my world - this is it now,' and his wings aren't getting any fucking better, the flesh rotting slowly and surely, feathers coming off when he peels bandages off the bloody, wrecked limbs. He awakens every morning to black goo pressing against his back, to blue sheets stained in this choking, drowning darkness he knows leaks from his heart now, too.

 

(The Nogitsune, it rifled in his head and played with his memories, twisted things until killing Scott seemed right, until Lydia deserved to be scared and crying, until the lives of the people he loved the most were nothing in the face of his rage;

 

He is a monster.)

 

He thinks that they can all smell the decay coming off him in waves. That they can smell how utterly wrong he is now.

 

How he is no longer pack, but something less.

His mothers lasagna tuns to a fine, grey ash in his mouth, sticking to the contours of his gums and wedging itself into the fine lines of his teeth. It slicks up the side of his tongue, gooey and reminiscent of the black, deathly blood that leaches slowly from his wings, from where he is perverted. He stares at the remaining cheese hanging down from his fork - still light and cooked, yellow and untainted where it touched only metal and air.

 

He lets it fall onto the plate below his hand.

 

There are a sparse few memories remaining left of Claudia Stilinksi; on the surface there were face down family pictures and a never-to-be completed blanket hanging down the back of his fathers chair in the living room. Her jewelry box sits pride of place on the vanity table in the Sheriffs bedroom, and a singular magnet boasting of 'rights for flights' took up the most left corner of the fridge. Stiles, however, collected many tiny pieces of her; memories of ice cream trucks and candy floss at carnival, all idealised and clouded with the vague white of large wings and cotton summer dresses. Her cooking exists only in flashes of smiles and warm hands scuffing his hair, of the feel of grain on his palms and butter smeared across his cheek. They're incomplete, fractured, and as he cooks he strings them together with his own motions; grain from a cake mix, butter on his cheek for when Claudia accidentally knocked him with a mixing spoon while reaching for a cupboard above his head.

And now her memories are rotting onto his taste buds with every mechanical jerk of his jaw.

 

He spits it out onto his plate, desperate and gagging on her ashes clogging his throat,

 

Stiles didn't kill her, but her memory loses life every day he holds it between his thinning fingers.

He drops five pounds in a week, and the cold bites at his wrists in a stinging, biting way he's never experienced before.

 

There is something terribly, horribly wrong with him. He knows because the ache in his bones grows sharper everyday, and he can feel the marrow ooze from them with every painful, forced push of deteriorating muscle at the fragile hardness. When he thinks about it in bed, death rotting at him from the inside, his lungs don't expand quite the way they should, heavy with the weight of the rib cage pushing back at them, backed by a relentless, slow panic squeezing and squeezing. He's going to die, he's going to die - I'm going to die.

 

And he cries into his pillow, digs his nails into his hips and tries to pretend his dad's asleep enough not to hear.

 

In the mornings, sand collects on his lips and he throws his toast out the car window. Nightmares filled his collarbones with sweat, ripe with the smell of fear and panic. Everything is too hot or too cold when he touches it, burning and freezing at him, pulling him back and forth. His jeans are too big and the edges of his jackets hang far from his torso, extra fabric collecting in wrinkles. Paper cuts at his translucent skin, stains his chemistry homework, but Harris doesn't say a word about it, even when he struggles into the classroom late and without the energy to utter a sorry.

 

He sits in the empty seat next to Kira, and the world falls away from him as Harris launches into a lecture on some kind of bond. He is curiously departed from his reality, seeing and feeling the desk beneath but being utterly disconnected from the sensations that reach him. They are not slow, or different - but not his own. Like he is watching the movement of a strangers hand from just behind their shoulder, a voyeur to himself.

“...iles...Stiles?” Kira is staring at him. Her hand reaches out to touch his arm but hesitates, remembers.

Stiles is not real. He stares back down at his hands.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 1, 2, 3 -

“What are you counting? Stiles?” She sound unsure, “Stiles - it’s not - you’re not?”

Not again.

Isaac is staring at him.

Stiles blinks slowly, deliberately, focusing on his face. His features feel tired, and he automatically brings a hand up to rub at his eyes, interrupted immediately by the ripple of agony that cuts across his back. He groans, caught off guard, and lets his arm drop back down to his side. Onto the bed.

Whose bed is this? Where is he?

Does it matter?

He looks back over to Isaac, who still hasn’t moved. He’s likely at Derek’s apartment, then, if he gets a wolfy watch of his own. He can’t bring himself to care too much, and he vaguely wonders how he got here. If they felt his wings when they carried him. It would explain the pain. He just - he feels so utterly exhausted he can’t bring himself to put the effort into figuring it out all that much. He’s probably safe here, his dad is working late and his only plans for tonight had been to try and clean the tar-like decay clinging to his blackened feathers.

He does want to sit up, though.

This time, he moves carefully, prepared for the twinges that stagger down his back which he now recognises as being the result of his bindings twisting awkwardly and pulling his wings at a painful angle, causing a stretch at the small wounds the nogitsune had gorged into the tissue - wounds that never seem to heal. He hauls himself until the vertebrae of his back dig into the wooden headboard behind him, his breaths coming hard and wings alike to cement blocks dragging down on his shoulder blades.

“Deaton will be here soon.” Stiles’s heart hurts a little bit, dips into his diaphragm and he wonders if they've all read the page in the beastiary by now. He remembers leaving the classroom, remembers a car journey and a grey sky, but nothing more. Nothing less. No disgust, anger, dismay. Just a journey.

His wings throb, and he tips his back back against the wall. He just needs to-

Breathe.

Deaton arrives after what feels like an eternity, Derek at his side, looming and dark, an unreadable expression carefully structured over his features. It makes him look angry, in a tragic sort of way. Stiles supposes he must always the guilt for the fire and the smoke. He’d be angry, too. If he were him.

But he’s not.

He just feels empty, instead.

“Stiles.” Deaton looks tired, the beginnings of a dark smudge under his eyes and the imprint of a pillows edge still pressed into the side of his neck. It must be late. Stiles has never asked, but he thinks they’re might be someone at home waiting for Deaton. Someone special.

“Derek’s told me you lost some form of consciousness in class earlier. And you were counting your fingers. Have you... experienced any unusual dreams lately? Any events you thought were real but turned out not to be?”

“No, no - I mean. Yes. But it’s not - not again. It’s just... “ The tendons in his hands flex slowly, digging his nails into dry palms, “Allison and... nightmares. Not it.” He doesn't think, at least. The dreams aren’t the same. He always knows where he is. Just - not his emotions.

“Any hallucinations, events that didn’t take place?”

“No,” Derek takes half a step forward at that, and Stiles is suddenly very aware how vulnerable he is. How small. How much he doesn’t care if Derek does just tear his fucking throat out. It’s so different to before, the feel of his lips against his - warm, real, alive. He pulls his legs up against the pain, protecting the hallow space that bites at the inside of his skin. He can see the bedsheet in the gap between, can’t quite pull them together enough to touch. He wraps spindly fingers around the space, instead, as Deaton continues.

“Stiles?”

“It’s not back. I’m fine. I want to go home, okay? There’s nothing wrong. You have nothing to worry about. Just let me go.” He hugs his legs closer and Derek’s eyes dart towards them, a frown pulling at his face. He stays silent.

Deaton sighs, “You’re sure? Your mind was left-”

“Positive.” Deaton looks him up and down, quirking a brow like he doesn’t quite believe him. Stiles knows he doesn’t look -- sane. In the mirror each morning he tries not to see the echoes of the void festering in the dips of his cheekbones, tried not to feel the hunger gnawing at his ribs and the way it takes more effort everyday to get up, to resist giving in to black spots that creep at his vision whenever he stands up, moves too fast. He looks like the version of him that stuck Scott like a pig on the end of a blade.

He’s rotting, decaying, fading to tombstone dust like the memory of his mother and her sweet summer dress. The nogitsune was only the catalyst, the pioneer species that was sown into the empty carcass of his heart, that filled the space left behind when his body was ripped into two different beings, tendrils of each being breaking off at every chiasmata. These dark shards run deep. Pierce deeper.

“Derek, Isaac, if you could leave the room for a moment. I’d like to have a word with Stiles.” Deaton breaks the silence, fixing Stiles with an unreadable look, lips pursed in a pensive manner. Flies crawl under his skin.

Isaac is off the wall in half a second, “What if it attacks?” He glances over to Stiles, gaze unforgiving. Derek growls lowly, and Stiles can’t tell if it’s in an agreement or as a warning to shut up. It. He remembers the beastiary lit up on Peter’s laptop and says nothing. Different monsters.

“The nogitsune,” Deaton states coldly, “Is gone. But if it were somehow still here, there’d be nothing you could do. Now; I want to talk to Stiles alone.” Stiles stares back down to his legs as more conversation follows, trying to focus on the interlocking denim threads of his jeans but being masked by a harsh, invasive buzz that blankets his vision with a greyish quality. On the edges of himself, there is still these strange un-anchored sections where he doesn’t quite connect to who he is, where he feels shoved into a locker again - a spectator.

“Stiles,” He’s heard it so much, it might as well mean nothing. It might, anyway. Deaton is all of a sudden seated next to him on the bed, and Stiles watches the indent on the mattress, trying to figure out when he got there. His fingers flex against his thighs.

“Derek smelled blood on you when Kira brought you here, blood and something else. It’s staining your back now, I can see it. It’s very dark. “ His voice is careful, gentle as someone like Deaton can get, “I need to know if it’s serious. Can I see?”

His hands are pale and sickly. When he moves the digits the tendons glide against bone and veins press up at the shifting pressure. Deaton -- he can’t see. Can’t know. He’d tell Derek, or Scott - and then he’d - He’d -

Stiles starts badly when a warm hand touches against his arm, its grip firm. He drags his eyes from his hands to Deaton’s face.

“I treated your mother. Claudia was a wonderful woman and I’m glad to have counted her among my friends. I’m aware certain... differences may have been passed down.” Wings. He knows he has wings. Stiles flinches away from his touch, feeling abruptly dirty. It’s hard to consider the rancid flesh strung up along his back is in anyway related to Claudia.

“They’re not - like hers.” The words crack in his throat, leak away into the silence that surrounds him. He clears his throat, finding it suddenly too narrow, “I think they might be... rotting.”

The word hangs heavy.

Deaton straightens up from his comforting slouch.

“Since the nogitsune?” Stiles nods, “Did it do anything to them while it was in your body?”

“It cut them, the skin around it but it never - not directly. I don’t think. It’s hard to see and they’re always so-” He cuts off, squeezing his eyes shut. There’s a waxy coat of something that builds up on his tongue whenever he thinks about the slow setting sickness infecting his limbs, one that mirrors the tar membrane which coats them.

“If you let me look at them, there might be something I can do,” Deaton touches his arm again, this time exerting slight pressure to move him forwards, “Come on, that’s it.” Stiles shifts away from the head of the bed with the guiding hand, bending into his legs.

“Can you take off your shirt?” He automatically goes to move, but the pain from before surges up to greet him and he stops immediately, biting down hard on his upper lip and pressing his face to his knees instead. The fabric scrapes against his forehead and he breathes in heavily, evenly. There’s something about his wings - the scapulars in particular - which makes them hypersensitive to touch.

Recently, they’d began to dull, and sometimes he can’t feel his fingers gliding through his feathers when he cleans them. But Stiles tries not to think about that, in the same desperate way he tries not to think about most things these days.

“What hurts?”

“The binder. It keeps them down. You know, more compact, so people don’t -” He breathes out a little, warmness spilling over the contours of his knee “-yeah. It’s twisted. There’s hooks, you can...?” Deaton steadies one hand against his hip, and with the other skims his hand up the inside of Stiles’s t-shirt, brushing against a protruding rib before meeting with the uneven fabric bundled underneath.

“It’s not healthy to keep wings like this. They can cut off the blood flow, it may be contributing to the trouble you’re experiencing,” There’s the sound of a small crash somewhere in the apartment, but he can’t bring himself to focus on it. Stiles can feel Deaton’s hand work against his skin, pulling the fabric straight, tugging at his feathers strangely and releasing the hooks from each other, increments of pressure being lifted from his chest with each free hanging hook.

It’s a strange sensation, the skin of another against his own, and it brings to painful light the absolute lack of touch present since Allison died. Isolation suits him ill, but there’s something even more nauseating about the idea of people touching this body. This form of Stiles is almost certain isn’t the same one as before. This one is tainted, infected. Ugly. Born from chaos and ruin.

Material falls down around the indent of his stomach and his wings slouch like dead weights, no longer held high up on his back.

“Does it still hurt?” Deaton asks, pulling the binder out from under his shirt and examining the decay staining deep into the material. Stiles feels oddly ashamed at it, watching the black drip in heavy drops onto the bedspread. It’ll stain the mattress, he knows. It stains everything. Shaking his head to himself, he leans back and this time when he moves his arms he isn’t met by a wave of pain, merely a familiar ache, strengthened but no where near as overwhelming. He pulls the thin t-shirt over his head.

For the first time, he wonders where his jacket and plaid shirt went.

He hides his face back into the hard edges of his knees, digs his ragged nails into his shins and lets his mind drift away from the clinical lift and pull against his feathers.

Early morning light spills through the uncovered windows, spilling white light into the apartment, lighting up dark panels of the floor and illuminating tiny dust particular which spiral in slight waves this way and that. Stiles watches them with bruised eyes, pushing the plain of his coffee cup up against his chin and resting the rim against his lips. The scorching sensation grounds him, slightly, makes him feel less like he’s in a dream.

Deaton left a few hours ago, though not many, taking Stiless’ binder with him and promising to return. No one else was in at that moment, by his estimate around three am, so he took advantage of the time to find his jacket and stain-free t-shirt (on the coffee table in the main space) and languish in a shower to finally rinse death from his back.

It had been a strange experience, smelling of Derek’s mint body wash and wishing he could tear out every single wretched feather clinging to his sinking husk of a body.

His shirt fit oddly without his wings being bound and he was hyperaware of the way they splayed outwards slightly and tented his shirt upward, pulling the material tight across his collarbones and emphasizing their dark dips. There’s no hiding it now - his wings.

Everyone is going to know.

He wishes he could still be detached, but the numbness had began to chip away with the warm sleuths of water, and now it’s hold is slight and tenuous around his emotions. Anxiety winds tight, simultaneously a harsh buzz and very physical weight around him. He’s exposed, utterly now, and he’s lost in what he can do. He - he never did plan for this eventuality. He doesn’t know what Deaton’s going to do, his words were neutral, borderline kind even, but Deaton is nothing if layered, and his intentions behind every action go deep.

Stiles had assumed once those who surrounded him found out, they’d ditch him fast and hard. It’s not that they’re not good people - and Stiles certainly isn’t naive enough to think they’re the best - but high school is shallow and fickle. His relationships with Scott is a sunken shipwreck, holes in its helm consisting of flinches, busy evenings with anyone but each other and the stains that run red behind their eyes. It’s not his fault, Stiles doesn’t blame him. Scott wasn’t the one to let it in. Stiles was the one weak enough to actually open the fucking door, like every instinct in his body wasn’t telling him not to.

The panic evolves to an alien, bitter anger swarming inside him chest, and he digs the ragged edge of his nails into the underside of his wrist where the blue veins run saliently.

No, Stiles had found a plan. One he too weak to ever properly go through with. But it was there. A safety net - one that made him sick to his marrow.

A gentle click roused him from his thoughts, and he glanced up from his contemplation to meet the considering eyes of Derek as he paused in the doorway, one hand holding the twisted handle and the other looped around an unbranded white plastic bag, the green foliage of some kind of vegetable pushing out the top and swaying with his abrupt halt.

“Deaton’s gone.” He said after a pause, finally pushing into the apartment and letting the door fall behind him.

“Uh - yeah...” Stiles trailed off, still feeling submerged in his own mind, he placed his coffee onto a slate place-mat on the coffee table and pushed his hair damp hair back from his face, watching Derek brings his bag to a counter “He told me to - be around here. If that’s okay?” Cold air hit his face in the absence of his hair and the skin of his forehead tightened negligibly as it began to dry out.

It was always so parched these days, no matter how much he drank.

Derek didn’t reply, sorting the vegetables into particular groups on the kitchen surface, the ruffle of plastic and roll of produce against one and other filling the space instead. Stiles took this as an agreement and reached for his coffee again, cradling it in his hands and looking down at his angled reflection in the dark liquid.

“Do you... know? What Deaton is -” He grits his teeth. In the coffee cup, his face is distorted by small waves caused by his shaking grip on the cup. “I need to know if you know about... What I have,” He ends, delicately. He’s managed to make it sound like he has some kind of disease. Which... could be true.

“Deaton didn’t say anything to me.” He didn’t stop in his movements, picking three peppers up in one hand and opening the fridge with another, pulling out a frosted plastic shelf and depositing them inside. “But I did hear.”

Stiles sinks deeper into the sofa, wings fanning out with the movement of his shoulder blades and straining against the sides of his clothes. Beneath sin, his heart sinks steadily, and the tremor of pale hands picks up. It’s a moment of cold sweat and a growing realisation of the intensifying panic before the dam crumples and abruptly, his world narrows to a fine slit of light he can’t quite grasp the meaning of. There’s a burning against his legs but it’s fleeting compared to the way his lungs shrink until he’s gasping heavily, heaving and shaking and the pain in his chest is so tight, so intense he’s sure he’s going to die.

This is what a heart attack feels like, he thinks, and he would check if his arm was numb but they seem to be stuck to his legs, pulling them in tighter and tighter, closer and closer til he’s as small as possible. He knows, logically, that he needs to brace himself and count to ten. Slowly, and with each breath. But his logic is a bit fucking askew right now and god, that’s really not fucking helping. He bites down on his lip, imagines ten bottles on a wall and methodically counts them off, tipping them off to the wall to the faux cheery memory from his childhood breathing out with every slow motion fall and break of the bottle against a cement floor.

He learned the hard way that counting fingers doesn’t quite work the same when sometimes, not so frequently now, there’s not always only ten to account for.

It feels like an age that it takes him to calm down, but with it comes the slow seep of awareness that informs him the knees he’s holding to his torso are soaked and smell strongly of black coffee, and that there is warm arm resting against his shoulders, another weight wrapped loosely around his ankle.

“Just breathe. Come on. I got you - you’re safe here. Deaton will be back soon, we’ll...” Derek continued on a calm voice, his thumb rubbing at the nape of Stiles’s neck and, as he comes back to himself a little more, he notices that the edge of his concealed wing is resting against the side of Derek’s ribs, blatant and challenging.

Christ.

“You back with me?” Derek asks softly, pausing in his movements and trying to catch his eye, leaning down slightly.

“Y-yeah.” His reply grates out brokenly, but it’s something at least. He feels -- embarrassed, his cheeks flushing even as his heart beat begins to slow as panic fades away. Derek pulls away with it, smooth and gradual, and it incites a bitter remembrance of everything that could of happened, but emphatically didn’t.

There is a split second of nothing, and then the hyper-projected rustle of Derek’s clothes as he stands from the sofa next to Stiles. His ears burn lightly at the tips and he ducks his head, only to bump his nose on one boney knee and inhale the poignant scent of coffee - right.

He must have spilt it.

Before he can look around for the offending cup, Derek picks it up from some space besides him and glares at it calculatingly, as if it tipped itself over.

“Sorry about that, I usually... have some warning.” Stiles admits, flush burning hotter with the added influx of guilt. Next to him, dark stains have formed on the brown leather, little pools collecting in the wrinkles and running out to the edge of the sofa pillows.

“I’ve spilled worse on there,” Derek returns flippantly, taking the cup to the kitchen and depositing in the sink. He stays there, hands braced on the kitchen side; sun illuminates one side of his face, lighting up his profile and casting his eyes in a strange reflective green hue.

“You know no one cares.” He states, leaning into his arms, “Wings are - they don’t change anything, not really. Not like us.” Stiles gets the insinuation, that having wings doesn’t change who he is (but it has, already - he’s who he is because of his wings. They are a part of him, more than he would like to admit, but not enough that his mum would have been proud) and that being part wolf, a werewolf, is a bigger, more significant alteration. Stiles knows these things - wings shouldn’t change anything.

Shouldn’t is such a hopeful word.

And these wings - they’re aren’t just wings anymore. They’re the remains of something poisonous, aflame with the dark rattle of death and it’s common interests - disease, decay, despair. This is what these torrid parts of his anatomy stand for, what they’ll fall for, too. It’s -- he makes it sound so simple. and it’s anything but, in reality. Everything feels twisted and in disarray, a lump of knots and confusion lost to a sandstorm. Stiles wouldn’t know where to start unpicking it all, even if he wanted it to.

He just wants it all to go away.

Deaton does come back eventually, by which time Derek had offered Stiless’ a change of clothes and then promptly locked himself into his room. It’s the room Stiles had emerged from, and his guilt had only increased when he realised that it was Derek’s bed that his infected blood had leaked into, marked the mattress of. He’s taken a lot from Derek in the past twenty four hours - ruins everything he touches, it seems. The phrase is of no comfort.

The druid doesn’t sit, rather stands on the other side of the coffee table, bandages and small bottle of clear liquid and a bigger one of something syrupy and rustic on the surface between them. Derek emerges before an explanation can begin, and settles himself on the edge of the sofa furthest from Stiles, sans leather jacket.

If Deaton notices his approach, he gives no sign.

“There are records of a change in a person, particularity magic persons, after being under the Nogitsune’s control, understandably these changes become more obvious in those under for a greater time.” Deaton touches his hand against the side his wrist, maintaining eye contact with Stiles, “Another note of interest is that winged humans have long been implicated with magic, documented in ceremonies and as magical practitioners long before others were immortalised. Specifically, different wing colours were thought to indicate the type of magic an individual could be a conduit of. White, the purer magics, auburn for destructive and so on.”

He releases his wrist.

“I believe the change in colour is due to the Nogitsune creating a greater potential for darker magic, or dark energy, that it itself uses. Your own capacity for magic has made the change more pronounced, as well the splitting of your body. The nogitsune is gone, but your magic will now have an affinity to these magics, as well your previous affinity.”

Stiles frowns, clenching down on any relief that may be budding in the echoes of his chest, “What about the black stuff?” And the way I feel like there’s a hole in my heart the size of Jupiter, but he doesn’t that out loud. This weight is his own.

Deaton nudges the bottles, smiling slightly in a not unkind manner, “An infection. Magically initiated, but healed by any other means. I have anticipated it being difficult to treat with it being this far along, but specialised disinfectant,” He taps the top of the small vial, “And this salve to promote healing should be an effective treatment. The dark blood and its stickiness is due to your body rejecting incompatible elements no doubt introduced by the nogitsune. Treating the infection with both these solutions should cleanse the area. Though - there may be a faster method yet, what were the colours of your wings originally?”

“Grey,” Stiles answered numbly, automatically glancing down to stare at his fingers. One, two, three, four... all ten accounted for. He clenched them into a fist, watching the skin give under the pressure, a dull pain ebbing under his skin. This wasn’t a dream. It was a fucking everyday infection all this time?

“Grey signifies an aptitude for protective magics. White may have allowed you self healing. The long way it will be, then, but the good news is with some training you may be able to shield yourself from similar intrusions.”

Goosebumps break out across his skin, and he blinks quickly as tears prick at his eyes at the realisation of all that had just been said. Quickly, he moves to push his palms into his blinking eyelashes, his vision exploding in blues and deep reds at the action. It’s not that he hadn’t noticed the constant, low pull of dread and quiet, sweet despair forever gnawing at the underside of his skin and fortifying again and again the follow conviction that he was going to die, this was going to kill him; and now that it was gone, dissipating into the sudden space cleared in his lungs, the void it has left behind feels jarringly deep - it’s overwhelming, this freedom, and suppressed emotions swell quickly to the surface in a bout of light headiness.

He wants nothing more than to cry, but what if’s still linger at the edges of mind and he can’t bring himself to express that kind of emotion after so long feeling an absence of anything good - not when it can be so easily ripped away from him. After a night of no sleep preceded by nothing but nightmares and forced unconsciousness, he acutely feels the exhaustion that has been clinging to his heels since before he opened that door, and now it is razor sharp in its insistence, cutting through the strings holding everything together.

For the second time that day, he feels a familiar arm come to hold him. This time, he reaches back.

Stiles has touched his wings a million times before, has cradled them and stroked them, yanked them and twisted them, tried to pull them from black ooze and desperately tried to re-attach them - yet his touch has never felt like this. Nor had Deaton’s cold and detached manner felt anything but formal and medical.

Derek’s hands are surprisingly soft, a dulled part of Stiles’s mind suggesting it to be the work of his accelerated healing, and he is careful with each individual feather he smooths over. It aches terribly, in both the physical and mental, as Derek moves the quills this way and that; first pressing on the area with a cloth to remove the tar like ooze, and then apply the stinging antiseptic, and finally to coat the bitter smelling healing salve and sort the disturbed feathers back into neat tandem. It feels abnormally good, and something settles happily just behind his ribcage. It makes him feel... comforted, in a warm summer way his mother had so often incited, and memories of his fathers careful grooming spring to mind in shadowed hues.

“Have you been eating?” Derek voices into the silence, running his fingers into the edge of his left primaries. His hand slides from the edge of the wing and touches at his ribs briefly. He runs a few degrees hotter, and though Stiles doesn’t feel the cold currently, he knows he is. His skin has pulled tight on his warm where he has braced them against his knees, baring his back to Derek.

“Not so much,” He answers vaguely. He’s been trying to ignore the evidence of his emaciation, in some drawn out moments around early dawns where he hadn’t slept a wink he could even loop a hand around his thigh and convince himself it was a good thing. That he was going to go in a way he had some control over. A bitter lie, because each day he would sit with his meal and every last bite would turn to sickness in his mouth. Not control, not in the slightest.

“Sleeping?”

“Nightmares.” His answer is short, clipped. He’s still worn to the bone, drained of anything of substance, but now death is not so crushingly imminent he’s beginning to experience twinges of something hurtful. Something that wants him to ask why it took all of this for someone to finally notice something was wrong, that he was dying and starving and dragging himself through every fucking day -- that Derek could smell this decay on him, the blackened blood, but Scott never gave it any mind. Never gave anything any mind.

But why should he? Stiles murdered Allison. Scott doesn’t owe him anything.

Stiles slumps slightly, bringing a hand up to rub at his brow. He just wants to sleep, healing be damned, but Derek had been strangely insistent he start it straight away once Deaton had left - had even taken up the job himself after witnessing Stiles’s attempts at reaching around when he could barely keep his eyes open. It’s not completely at odds that Derek is acting caring; Stiles has always known he had that capacity; had witnessed softer moments with Cora, and then later on his own as they were drawn together through the others reluctance to buckle the fuck up and get everyone on the same page, leaving Stiles to bridge the gap.

“After Kate, I had a lot of nightmares. Always about her, not - not just the fire, but the moments when we were together. The things she said to me, how she talked round me in circles. I was wrapped around her little finger and she knew it and - I.” He makes a choked noise, jolting the feathers he’s stopped on, “I’d always wake up talking, screaming, and Laura would run to my room to check if I was okay and I’d just be lying there... There were some where I lit the match, flicked the lighter; did it myself. I spent a long time blaming myself. Still do sometimes,” His speech halts, and Stiles can hear a slight hitch in his breathing. He half turns in the bath, climbing water sending a chill down his back and the sides screeching against his skin, and moves his wings from Derek’s hands, replacing them with his own and holding tightly.

“It wasn’t you, Derek. You - she -”

“Then it wasn’t you either,” Derek cuts in, silencing his protest, “You were possessed Stiles, none of that was you. I was just a naive kid stupid enough to believe Kate really liked me. If I’m not to blame, then how can you be? You had less agency than me.” He slips back into a soft voice only marginally tainted with bitterness, squeezing Stiles’s hand and lowering his head to catch his eyes. Stiles keeps his darker iris’s firmly locked down on the side of the bathtub, where the water collects along the hydrophobic surface in novel shapes.

Derek shakes off his hand, and Stiles tries to grab for it back, fearing his lack of response has passed as a rejection, but Derek is only lifting it to thumb at his cheek, tipping his head up and examining his face. Stiles dreads to know what he looks like by now, can only guess at the weights pulling under his waterline and the hollows drilling out shadows under his cheekbones. He doesn’t suppose it’s a worthy sight.

“I’ll finish your wings, and then you can sleep. It’s safe here, you just need to listen to me for a bit. Okay, Stiles?” He was being talked to slowly, like a child. It was patronizing in a way that stung at his pride, but he could only forcibly remind himself that he was for all intents and purposes, currently as useless and able-bodied as a child - and Derek meant well. Which was the only reason he allowed himself to be maneuvered back into a exposed position, limbs limp and dragging with fatigue.

Derek murmured the sweetest things to him as he slowly picked up on the methodical cleansing off his appendages, just as tranquil as his mother had always promised him it would, even if she was no longer here to do it herself.

Chapter Text

He opens his blinds.

The string is tough and stiff between his parched fingers, and skin tears away slightly with the pulling pressure, red marks welling up like bloody hand prints. A crystalline light floods in, seeps into the details of the floor and throws open closed shadows, revealing sprinkles of dust and dried shadows swamping the corners of his stagnant room. For a moment, his room is still, black stains on the covers glinting as if still fresh and clothes piled next to his mirror curled in a disturbing imitation of a body.

His tomb now appears as merely a room.

He lowers himself down onto the bed covers, stares hard at the sheets picturing nights spent here fingering at his bones, feeling that ache in his eye sockets that called to him something of lost sleep. It doesn’t feel good, like a relief – not anymore. It appears as wasted opportunities, frustration, a waking moment from a long dream.

When he raises his hands to his face, appendages alight with the bright morning blaze and the slight smell of Derek’s shower gel gently emanating from his skin, he doesn’t count his fingers.

Instead, Stiles rubs the sleep from his eyes.

Time is available to him now in amounts he cannot fill.

Everything once foggy and heavy is strangely clear, no longer can he be lost in the feel of ribs and the acrid smoke of the bonfire site to the side of his spaced out neighbourhood. He watches from fatigued eyes, sees a horrible clarity to a situation he had previously acknowledged but was content to leave. He doesn’t know where to start fixing this, feeling the fragments of his life splintered off and sunk deep in his flesh.

It could be too late.

Scott’s number is alike to a brick in his pocket. Its mere existence is a constant presence in his mind, fingers twitching at half composed texts floating in his mind that he will never send – “I’m sorry.” “I know it was my fault,” “I can never replace her. I want to take it all back.”

(I’m better off dead, you didn’t deserve this, I need you right now, buddy)

He sends nothing. By now, Scott will know about his wings. About the imperfections that haunted him from the beginning, the lies Stiles has been shielding away under layers and layers of cotton and polyester. It must seem an awful lot like betrayal. Selfishness would be to hound him further about it, to dig the sword entwined in his guts deeper still.

Scott doesn’t deserve that. None of them deserve the reminder. He knows now by shadowing them as he did, trailing along like the mockery of Allison’s ghost did nothing but prolong their grief, their pain. Drag it out into an endless tedium.

Without the threat of death, the steady knowledge of his decaying being, a knowledge he now recognizes as something of a past comfort, it seems he is oddly adrift, a boat without a anchor. He pulls his sheets from his bed, screws them up and fantasies of tearing them, burning them, throwing their scattered remains out to a foreign ocean; but finds that instead he lies on the stripped naked mattress and listens to the small sounds of his father below.

Beneath his hands the mattress is scratchy, and this is a sensation he concentrates on as he mulls over the twisted strings of his relationship with his father - Dad - and how far away yet impossibly easier it appeared to cry in his arms, covered in disease ridden blood. There was a simpleness to dying that he missed, to knowing that it didn’t particular matter what his actions were as he was unlikely to see the consequences, or that any consequences would possibly be minor in the face of no longer being alive.

Below, Stiles heard the rustle of a plastic bag.

The sky outside is a peculiar gold, the aged kind staining old photos of young boys with bowlcuts on unicycles; it is the colour of sentiment, uselessness, nostalgia. Trees reach towards it, twisted arms branching as if to embrace it and falling short, mourning in fallen leaves and broken branches. It is at odd with the boyish twist of the curtains that frame this window-bound scene, a binary blue thats furiously male neutral and uncharacteristic. It isn’t the perfect moment. The discord is painfully dull.

He presses his face further into the covers, closes his eyes to the mounting hindsight and dusty sheen to the air. His back prickles with a slight chill incited by the thorough spread of paste over the struggling expanse of his wings. They are limp and sodden, oozing a trickle of antiseptic into the dips of his back as it drips from the downturn of remaining fatigued feathers. He should pull them out – promote growth, clasp his hands together in mock prayer, fingernails digging harshly into his skin, and hope they grow back in boring greys.

Bland. Conventional.

Fading.

A door slams, his father clears his throat and dust filters into his breathing air.

It’s not a thing people talk about a lot.

He’d noticed. The focus kept its glassy gaze locked down on The Event, the reason for this chain of emotions and events. All the brochures and websites and quaint little get togethers say they promote healing, moving forward, looking to the future – but the inbetween?

There is a disconnect between now and the future, a bridge laden with broken boards and frayed ropes, one that stretches out over something dark and cold and steep. Stiles leans over the edge again and again, each aborted text a hand upon the bridges shaky sides, but as the chasm gapes out in front of him the gaps between each step seem wider and wider.

Stiles doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be mourning, now. Things were clearer when he was younger, but there are unreadable emotions which manifest themselves in ways he must second guess, interpret as if they are not his to own. To feel. It makes his hands curl into tight fists, symbols of anger, if it were not for the nails that gorge small pools of blood into wrinkled life lines, cutting them short in mocking imitations of an action he cannot bring himself to.

He fears existing. Fears going downstairs and greeting his dad, making food, eating food, sleeping, doing work, having friends and responsibilities – leaving behind questions, responsibilities, promises. Concreting where he is now, though that is all the he can think to do.

So, he gets out of bed. The wardrobe is closed, still mockingly clean, and the clothes lined up inside appear alien. Bright shirts with comic book print, hoodies sporting Hoard symbols and crumpled formal wear; Stiles cannot imagine buying another comic, logging onto WoW or some other game and making up excuses of where he’s been, raiding with his guild and laughing over TeamSpeak. They wouldn’t have to know the truth. It would be easy.

It all seems trivial in the face of the sheer amount of everything that has happened since he last sat down and did something he enjoyed. Something fun to pass the time. He can’t bring himself to care if his guild might have kicked him for inactivity when he’s died, murdered and almost killed himself in the time inbetween. It doesn’t matter he hasn’t caught up with any comics for months, he can’t bring himself to feel excited the book he’s been waiting on for three years has finally come back and it just fills him with an empty, grappling despair to consider going to the cinema alone to see the new Marvel movie.

Stiles finds he just wants to lie down. Just for a moment - but there never seems to be one long enough.

All it means it that he’s tired. All the time. Too tired to overthink wardrobe choices. He sighs to himself, and tangles his hand into the hanger of a blessedly plain t-shirt. Automatically, he pulls it on over and blindly grabs at a pair of trousers. They’re an off-grey while the polo is black, and where both were once well fitting they hang hauntingly from his body. He tries not to look in the mirror as he lifts a plaid t-shirt from over the cupboard doors top, ignores the flash of bone white arms and straining tendons as he slides his arms into the garment. It reaches mid-thigh, loose, and he wonders blithely where all of him went.

When he’s coming back.

His dad isn’t home, and Stiles moves slowly, joints pushing against water rather than air. His bones are condensed matter, impossible to shift and digging into his internal organs, puncturing his lungs and filling them with coppery blood as he tries to breathe, ravaging his muscles and scraping at the inside of pale epidermis. He stops at the bottom of the stairs, and he’s not out of breath but he’s horribly worn out in a way that can’t be fixed by sleep or rest. When he tries to recall the journey down the stairs, his mind comes up with nothing and he pushes away the sickening dread as he reaches for the door.

Just tired. Just tired. Just tired. Just -

Derek is standing at his doorstep, hand extended. The Alpha looks just as surprised to see Stiles as Stiles as to see him, despite intuition informing him that Derek should have been able to at least hear him approach. He’s dressed as usual - jeans, a shirt that doesn’t seem to quite fit right and the same leather jacket as always. If he looked closer, which he doesn’t, he would notice the wrinkles in the shirt, the tail end of the belt hanging just short of a loop and what appears to be a receipt trapped in the zipper of one of the jackets many pockets. Indicators of tiredness, disorganization.

He does not look.

Stiles eyes flick back up to Derek's face, and his hand falls from the space where the door once was. Derek's own eyes are still discretely not at Stiles’s eye level, and if Stiles weren’t so utterly disconnected from the whole situation he might have been embarrassed. Or surprised. He’s vaguely aware he should say something stupid like a joke or a one-liner to greet Derek, scold him for being a creeper or over dramatize being shocked by Derek’s appearance; but he’s still floating like he’s in his own little self contained world where everything hurts and external stimulus is nothing but a passing current.

“I came to see-” Derek breaks off, pauses, “Check on you. Deaton said he hadn’t heard back...” More silence. There wasn’t a question, so there isn’t an answer. It all seems to take more effort than it should.

“Stiles?” His eyes refocus on a concerned looking Derek, reading worry in slight lines and down turned lips, “Where were you going just now?”

He stares back.

Where was he going?

“... Out.” His voice cracks over the word, accumulated dust in his throat breaking up and choking his words. He coughs once. Twice. Razor blades slide up the ridges of his throat, and tears that are not emotion prickle at his eyes. He was going out, and he can’t remember why, but he needed to leave. He pictures himself, sitting on that bed, the one he lies in so often - he’s sitting there, and he waves at a camera in the corner. Someone is laughing, laughing, it’s far away and it isn’t him.

“I could - give you a lift?” The offer is unusually timid, and Derek is fidgeting with his key in one hand, but his face determinedly still face Stiles, his eyes meeting his when he raises them. It’s

“I-”

“Let’s go eat somewhere.” Derek interrupts him, doesn’t touch him, but the ghost of a warm hand presses against his arm. It would usually be there, urging him, but now Derek just turns around and starts towards his car. It feels like a loss, a cold current, but Stiles finds he is relieved. As if physical contact is another hurdle to be scaled.

He follows, because he was going to go out, and his dad has the keys to his jeep and his bike has long since rusted into the backporch. He wasn’t going anywhere, not really, and that may have been the point.

On his own, he cannot make progress.

Stiles sits down on the spongy car seat, feeling the cool leather where his hand brush against it to adjust his seatbelt. He stares down at his legs, fabric falling to the sides of their outline to reveal the true proportions of his legs. It’s sickly, haunting, and his skeletal hands stretch out on and on in bumpy bones and marked skin. He pulls down the sleeves of his shirt, covers his hands, and it’s here he remembers he has done nothing to disguise his wings.

They lurk behind him, unbound and weighty, pressing into the material of the car seat. He presses the hands he cannot bear to witness to his face, feels feathers shift against skin, and breathes in so deep the air scorches his lungs. There’s a shift deep in his chest; the arrangement of something vital, no unraveling, no biting realizations. There’s less room for his lungs to expand, and his mind fills with solutions, problems.

He could leave the car, go inside (oh god, he forgot to lock the door) and put on his binder, then come back out. He doesn’t want to talk to Derek, explain this, and what if he follows him and catches him undressing? Sees his wings? What if he’s forgotten and Stiles leaving, turning his back to him, will remind him? And if he does put on his binder, his wings could get bad again. Black liquid could cause his clothes to stick to him. If he stays -

Someone is counting down from ten softly, slowly, but firmly.

This time, it doesn’t take as long to emerge from the panic attack. This time, there is no warm, heavy weight to remind him of his physicality; only the slight cold of the cars AC and the methodical count down from ten. His cheeks are flushed, and as the hammer stops knocking on his heart a creeping sense of reality drags itself up his spine in cold, laboring sweat.

“Better?” Derek asks, softly.

If there wasn’t a low, harsh buzz right behind his eardrums, Stiles might wonder how Derek could sound so sweet.

He nods, instead, and the bees in his brain shake around a little. He takes a deep breath, fixes his eyes on the buttons on the dashboard and lazily tracks the endless text on the radio screen. 07 CHEERS DARLIN - DAMIEN RICE 07 CHEERS DARLIN - DAMIEN RICE 07 CHEERS DARLIN -

Derek places his keys in the emission, Stiles clicks in his seatbelt, the music begins to play and Stiles can’t hear himself think.

On the outskirts of town, there’s a diner Stiles can’t remember the name of. It’s connected to a petrol station, and the decoration isn’t charmingly old fashioned nor does the server have an inexplicable sweet southern slang like all waitresses at petrol stations do in the movies, regardless of origin state. He’s a teenager with acne and looks unbelievably nervous to be taking their order - it’s intrusive, note worthy. If Stiles had come here any other time in his life with any other person, they’d be joking about how the menu side sign is broken and only spells ‘me’, or about the cheap art on the walls of strange, feathered homunculi.

But he’s here, and it’s now.

The gnarled face of one of the creatures fixes him with a long dead glare from where it hangs on the wall across from him. It’s painted in greens and blacks, is pictured curled into itself in a twisted imitation of a leap with its mutated wing-like limbs almost dripping their dark feathers down in front of unsheathed claws, copper shades suggestively reflecting off the surface. A phantom prickle skims down his covered spine, the heavy weight of a secret pressing down on his expanding ribs as he watches the caricature of himself lie still in the frame.

Derek slides into the other side of the booth, cutting off the monsters glare.

“Cold?” He asks, pushing the salt and pepper pots to the side of the booth. They squeak across the plastic surface, and the coffee menu propped up against them drops on its side. A smiling pack of fries grins manically at him from its fallen position, announcing a recent price reduction in a spritzy font.

He tears his gaze away, looks down, and says - “No.” Stiles feels like he’s been here a hundred times before in books and films, has been sat here at this booth everyday of his life waiting for the side character, the love interest, the bestfriend to say something that will make it all better. Something people can doddle on their pencil cases and write in their blog titles, a quotable phrase that summarizes what he’s feeling and simultaneously insinuates an opportunity to move forward, to progress.

But it’s not a film, as detached as he feels, and he doesn’t owe Derek an explanation for a single thing. The moment slides on, a truck parks outside and a deep voice calls something out in the kitchen.

By the time their food arrives Stiles can’t clearly recall anything since they arrived. Derek has a wrinkle between his eyes but Stiles doesn’t say anything, watches the cheese cool over his curly fries and drip down onto the container. There is quietness between them as neither of them eat, food acting as barrier of causality before them. Stiles wants to go home, craves the silent non-judgement of his bed sheets.

“Stiles, I... “ He’s floaty, in his placement - and is it just him, or is the cook looking at him from the kitchen? Whispering? Does he know?

“... said they should be better. But, are you?”

He flexes his hands and stares down at his order again.

“The w- ... they’re better. They don’t, uh,” pause, breathe, “They don’t fall out so much anymore.” He glances over to the counter. The chef is gone. His skin crawls.

That’s - that’s not exactly what Derek asked. And both of them know it. Derek finally bites into his burger, and Stiles tries to focus on the sound of the lettuce crunching between his teeth, and not pay attention to how his heart is horribly weighted in every pounding beat against his chest. He fights the urge to turn around, to look again. The werewolf opposite him fixes him with dark eyes.

“They miss you, you should know that.”

Stiles open his mouth, and nothing comes out. Instead he blinks heavily, shivering inexplicably as a strange heat climbs and spreads across his pale forearms. He doesn’t know why he’s here, why he silently agreed to come out - not when he hasn’t in a week, not when he can barely stomach soup let alone curly fries. His wings are unbound, his vision is blurry and he hears a gasp he belatedly might be his own.

wake up wake up wake UP -

“Does this happen a lot?” Cars pass by the open carpark, segments of music drifting from their ajar windows in a strange, disjointed harmony that crashes against Stiles’s ears like the cold air on his tear stricken face. He doesn’t always cry when this happens; at least, he thinks so.

“Yeah - it,” he coughs, throat blessedly wet for once but plagued by mucous, “I mean - just, uh. Yeah.” Not so much anymore. It’s not a cloying fear of death these days, it’s passed from the certainty of rotting into the ground to the paranoia of what the unknown could bring.

Stepping off that rickety bridge, believing (wishing) there to be a stone one beneath you.

“We made a mistake,” Derek is leaning full bodily on the open car door on Stiles’s side, looking out at the traffic like the tragic love story he is, “Leaving you as long as we did. We knew something was up, but Scott -” he pauses, left foot swinging back and forth where it props against his right calf, “... He’ll tell you that. It’s - you smelled like, like after the fire. All that sadness and,”

Stiles doesn’t know what to do with his legs as Derek suddenly shifts downwards onto the balls of his feet, resting his warm palms on the knobbly angles of the younger boys knees.

“I’m sorry, Stiles. I know sorry will never make it right. I know saying it doesn’t change what happened, doesn’t change that we weren’t there. But you deserve to hear it.” He takes a deep breath, like he’d had it all rehearsed in his head, and leans his forehead against where his hands lay.

In this position, his neck is unmistakably vulnerable.

His hot breath fans out against his leg, distinct despite the material barrier, and Stiles watches the neon lights reflect in the dark shine of the hair below him. The moment feels charged, meaningful in ways that escape him still.

“How many times did you repeat that in the mirror this morning?”

Derek’s head shoots up, mildly disbelieving in yet another emotional show he never thought he was capable of, and Stiles cracks a grin he doesn’t quite mean.

Not yet.

The drive back is comforting. The seat is warm beneath his thighs, the darkness outside pressed against the windows like the fur of a giant black beast, an illusion of privacy fracturing only at its furthest edges where headlights skim across slight cat eyes and over reaching trees. That harsh freshness from the roadside stays with him as he leans against the side of the car door, head resting on a crooked arm - in this snapshot, this pause, he holds himself still and drinks in his sense. Saves this memory.

feel the guilt of a sinner,

feel the cold of a winter,

it was all surface

but no feeling

 

For this recipe, he doesn’t need a book. Most of the ingredients are frozen - they never keep anything in the fridge anymore, John always eats out and Stiles never eats - and he makes quick work of the preparation, only making the white sauce from scratch. This isn’t therapeutic. He hasn’t got the time.

His hands still ache from the cold night as he slips the deep set tray into the oven. It’s miles away, that car park. It’s miles away and it’s so fresh, so distant. A wake up call. A lullaby.

Stiles goes upstairs, and he changes his shirt, the mirror covered by a bed sheet haphazardly ripped from the mattress. A black stain distorts across the material. It’s these bits of himself, the things he leaves behind, dry skin and diseased blood, salty tears and bitten nails. Shards of himself torn away, discarded, and their presence is more tolerable than a peaked reflection watching him. Someone who should be him. Someone who doesn’t always feel that way.

A timer beeps downstairs, a car pulls up outside.

He doesn’t pull the sheet from the mirror, stares at the black stain that seems to spread across his vision and unconsciously touches at the angle of his wings, abrupt like a broken bone.

These are parts of him, also. Parts of his mother - parts that are not yet lost, and parts that can still be revived.

He starts with his father.


They sit down at the table in Stiles’s nightmare. In his mothers space is nothing but air. Stiles splits the lasagna into six careful servings, feeling every second tic by in the blinks of his fathers eyes, visible in his periphery. He lays the slices onto chipped ceramic plates, tacky blue pattern blooming across like burst veins. Claudia would have produced an array of vegetable dishes to compliment the heavy meal.

Stiles stares at the singular square on his plate. He used to do better than this.

He shifts his cutlery, wincing at the sharp reverberation. Slowly, trying to keep the metal from grinding against the plate, he cuts the edge off and pulls it away. In his head, he had created the perfect meal - his mothers to the dot, a testament to something inside himself that whispered to him that he is nothing like his mother. That everything she was died with her.

But, he’s here because he’s not in his head. Not anymore.

“Son,”

“I-”

They both halt, interrupting each other. Stiles skins prickles again with warmth in the silence, he has to -

“What the hell is going on, Stiles? I knew it was hard after, after -” He breathes out, “After Allison, but I thought things would get better. But nightmares? Never leaving the house? Where’s Scott, Lydia?” He runs his hand through his hair, had reaching for a bottle that isn’t there, “I have been worried sick, thinking you would sort through this on your own, but it’s like stepping on egg shells. You never talk, you’re losing weight, avoiding -”

“Dad, dad!” Stiles cuts through, more force than he thought he had left in his body entering his voice, “Dad it’s okay. Please, please just. Eat. I’ll... I’ll explain.” Under the table, his thighs are shaking and he feels in his diaphragm an urge to flee, to end this situation here and watch everything waste away from the safety of his room. He grips his knife and fork tightly.

Dad doesn’t eat.

“The Nogitsune, uh, he- it - left something in my...” Stiles gulps, forcing himself to continue “My wings. They were rotting, and for a long time I thought it mean that, you know, it meant I was gunna die.” He stares hard at the plate, watching his dads miniature movements in front of him.

“And I think that I was okay with that.” He doesn’t let the pause continue, “I thought Allison's death was my fault. And everyone couldn’t - didn’t - I don’t know... things weren’t the same. I thought it would be better I just...” tears collected at the edges of his eyes and the tremble of his lips made its self known in his voice, straining and warping it. “Just wasn’t. It seems like an over-reaction I know but -”

“Stiles,”

“But - it’s okay now. I mean, it’s not okay but I talked to Deaton - he was mum’s friend, you know? - and, and he knew and gave me this medicine and they started to clean up but I still...” his voice breaks, cracking in his dry throat and withering away.

John comes run round the side of the table in an instant, grasping Stiles’ shoulder tightly, “Son,” Stiles tears up further at the word, can’t quite see through the watery blur but too unsure if he has permission to touch back to act. Social nuances seem so utterly overwhelming to read, he doesn’t know what this means, what is trying to be said. It is quickly cleared for him as is he pulled up into an embrace, comforting and desperate all at once, the sheriff murmuring into his shoulder small comforts, how if he had known he would have helped, how it wasn’t his fault, there’s nothing wrong with him; things he hadn’t heard from another for months and months.

Hours later, or maybe minutes, when they sit down to eat dinner, the cold lasagna doesn’t turn to a sandy ash in his mouth.


None of this is a world-changing shift.

The next morning, John is at work and Stiles can’t get out of bed. His gaze bores into the ceiling, and he is so very tired of watching it. Waiting. His eyes feel as if they are about to disconnect from his skull to escape the tiredness, to leave behind the bloody imprints of his vision. He knows he has to get up, clean his wings and change his bed and - and nothing else. But he has to clean his wings, or they won’t get better.

So what?

Stiles rubs at his forehead with the side of his hand, the skin rough and dry against his face. A hopeless breed of frustration is rooted deeply at the back of his mind, sinking his skull deeper into his pillow; this moment felt alike to an eternity compared to yesterday. The phoenixes, the blooming stems rising from his half-existence had faltered, shriveled back from whence they had come, sheltered beneath inactivity and a deep lethargy. Safe.

Whatever energy had filled him, cleared the fuzziness from his head was now nothing more than a daydream. He couldn’t comprehend hosting such wakefulness, motivation when he was once again weighed down to his bed, ready to fade out into yet another day underlined by the dazing buzz of nothing.

At his bed side, his phone beeps. It was supposed to run out of charge days ago.

He doesn’t reach for it.

“Hey son,”

John sits at the edge of his bed. He has takeaway - a milkshake and curly fries - as an extension of goodwill. Or as a hopeful attempt at lifting Stiles’ mood. He talks normally, going over his day while taking off his boots, and Stiles hates himself for unable to smile back, engage. He glassily takes in the small details, the irrelevant details - coffee stains on a t-shirt, mud on boots and the receipt sticking from his shirt pocket that tells Stiles of a burger downstairs (he wants to joke with his dad, wants to tell him off for eating red meat when he knows it’s not good for him; but it’s been so long. Too long. Stiles has lost his right to comment on that the moment he disconnected from reality. The moment he endangered everyone. It’s not his line to say. He’s been off script for a while now. ).

“...that it could help, kid. Only if you want to. It would help me sleep a lot easier, but I don’t think that’s the problem, hmm?”

He phases back in, sensitive to the question hanging in the air. Once again, he finds his eyes have come to rest gazing at his hands.

He can’t stop checking.

“Sorry? I...uh.” John’s face breaks out into a gentle smile, wrinkles slotting into place around his features. He drops his shoes to the bedroom floor, the fall soft on the carpet, and lays a warm hand onto the stark cold of Stiles’ arm.

“A therapist, councilor - anyone for you to talk to. Hell, may even be some supernatural ones around. We’ll find them if we need them. I just want - need - you to be okay,” The grip on his arm doesn’t change at all, neutral, careful, measured. Stepping on eggs. Stiles wonders what it looks like to other people. What he looks like to other people.

Sad? Sick? Attention seeking? His chest tinges a little at the thought, something small and bitter curling up close to his arteries. He was always desperate for attention, as a kid; that Stilinksi who broke the crayons, threw a fit in class, kept pinning his pictures up on the teachers board and the kid who shouted ‘look at me, look at me!’ in the playground. Look at me has to be a little more subtle, when you get older, look at me has to be loud jokes and getting into trouble. Sneaking out and laughing hard, desperately clinging onto the people around you in the most non-invasive way possible. If you’re fun to be around, people won’t leave, right?

Until you murder someone close to them.

A deep hollowness echoes at the hole in his chest with the mere thought of continuing. Recovering.

“Yeah, yeah... sure.”

He’s so tired.

Orbs clump together on the window pane, transparent and horribly miserably, devoid of any colour but a deafening storm grey framing them from the sky above. Droplets tap heavily and persistently against the roof and window sill, only hitting the window when gushes of cold wind direct them so. From his computer desk, Stiles watches the scene blankly as his hands hovers over his charging phone, USB wire trailing perilously close to his feet.

He’s seen this moment too. In movies.

Along his bare back his wings lie, heavy with water and slimy along his the receding ridges of his spine. Sticky and suffocating, the remains of his infected being leak from the follicles of his feathers, seeping plasma and red red red as tiny, healthy pieces of him are torn away with it to run down around his toes in the shower. Infected and bedraggled feathers malt and clog the drain each time, and he gets to his reddened knees, water running cold, and scoops up these precious corpses to saviour away.

Bleed out the infection. Bleed out what’s left.

Stiles can look at himself in the mirror, and count to three, and smile. He can murmur jokes to himself as he strips his bed clean, he can imagine responses to conversations he cannot fathom even beginning. But there’s suddenly nothing left - he doesn't know what filled this space before the Nogitsune ripped it into existence, but it’s long gone and it’s remaining traces, if any, are far too subtle to pick up on.

Who is he without this?

Pale fingers clench down on his phone, and he drags his gaze from the spiralling train of thought in his head to the glowing lock screen of his phone. 1:23pm. 1 missed call(s). SCOTT: Text message. DEREK: Text Message (2).

Derek’s texts date from a few days ago, and Stiles cautiously swipes over them and types in his passcode. The messenger interface instantly springs up, a few lines of grey popping up on the right hand side.

YOU NEED TO GET OUT MORE

SCOTT WANTS TO TALK WITH YOU

Stiles’ brow scrunches up at the text, something deep settling down on his diaphragm. He tries not to consider the words too deeply and brings up Scott’s chat, pushing back the mounting emotional response to get away from the little lit up screen and cling to his bed sheets.

CAN I COME OVER?

He looks up at his computer display, eyes tracing over the words of an article on anti-wing campaigns rising in the west of the state. Business’s owned by wing folk being boycotted by locals, vicious hate campaigns launched against some missing musician with alleged wings being revived to apply to others and the growing pressure on officials to acknowledge “those abominations” as sub-human beings; genetically differential enough for human law and morality to exempt them.

Him.

SURE

Chapter Text

Fluoxetine, 20mg.

Prescribed before therapy was even suggested. The next time he unwraps himself from his covers to the soft voice of his dad, on the right side of noon and time enough for a separate breakfast and lunch, even, he types it in on google. Buries himself under walls of text of those previously prescribed it. He rubs his forehead with a dry hand, feeling vaguely frustrated. He was supposed to feel better, making things better with his dad. Having emotions, confiding, giving himself some support, though he felt he didn’t entirely deserve or need it. The notions were something that felt automatic, selfish. And he didn’t feel better, different; the fresh hope from last night has dissipated with the moon. 

Everything feels like square one again. Why get better? Why treat his wings? Why try and make things okay between him and his dad, Derek and others when he doesn’t have the motivation to act on anything they say? Instigating, engaging… all signs he’s trying. But he’s not.

He holds the side effects in his hands. Thin paper, folded too many times to slot in next to two foil trays. He started feeling sick, can’t eat if he wanted to - and that’s normal. It says right there, under common symptoms. He trails a finger down the more extreme, hesitates over brain bleeds and muscle seizures, narrows in on the point between them.

Suicidal thoughts.

Stiles doesn’t think he has the energy to carry anything elaborate out. He’s vaguely disappointed when google informs him he cannot, in fact, overdose on SSRIs. That might have been nice, slow, sleepy. Or maybe painful.

The screen is still open when his dad pushes open the door, plate in hand, cup in the other. He doesn’t see it straight away, sets them down on the desk, asks how Stiles is feeling, says he’s glad to see him out of bed.

(Stiles, why are you looking at that?

You can’t -)

Derek is sitting at his kitchen table.

He lost time, or maybe he didn’t. His head hurts, and he remembers his fathers hands on his shoulder, a shaking from somewhere outside of himself. Cologne, a cupboard locking. Wanting to cry but being too wrung out to do so, trying to explain something no parent should have to hear -

“She helped me, after Kate. A normal person…” he hesitates, “You’d have to lie a lot. That’s not what it’s about.”

Stiles stares dully at his hands.

“It’s - hard. People will say that a lot. They don’t understand, they-” His voice breaks. Stiles tucks that away somewhere, pushes back empathy that edges at his eyes; it’s different. 

“… She helped me. When your dad called I thought -,” A sharp intake of breath, Derek doesn’t have any fidgets, any tells. He doesn’t make eye contact, “She can help you, too. Maybe. I gave her card to your dad. I’d like… I want you to go -”

“It’s okay, Derek. You don’t have to,”

1, 2, 3, 4-

“Stiles-”

“Don’t,” he requests, softly. He doesn’t want to hear more. Can’t fit it all together, right now, slot it into a timeline of events.

“I feel like I have too.” It’s painful. His headache spikes, and he thinks of his bed sheets - unmade, as they have been for months. Thinks of pixels forming into words, a buzzing anxiety that peaks at the thought of his father, his hands - on his shoulder, against his arm, holding. Careful. He breathes, and;

I can’t lose you, too.

“Okay. But don’t.”

Derek drinks his coffee. There’s no steam, and Stiles thinks it must be cold.

 

 

He meets with Deaton, and the check on his wings is perfunctory, mindless. The thin membrane doesn't ache with every touch now, rather feels blunted, a fake version of his own skin where Deaton’s fingers brush past bald patches and natural furrows between feathers. Plastic. Store-bought, he remembers it well.

“You’re still binding them?”

“I haven’t been going out much.”

Deaton is behind him, and so Stiles cannot see his face, though he can imagine it all too well. He possesses a very distinct expression of exasperation Stiles has been witness to many times, courtesy of Scott.

“It will stunt the recovery. Kill the tissue,” Good, “There are patches missing, do you know why?”

“Yeah.”

“Do I need to be concerned?”

“No. The healing is fine.” I’m not goes unsaid. People, Stiles has learnt recently, are very good at reading between the lines, and even better at pretending they can’t when posed with an emotional confrontation. Inconvenience. Stiles doesn’t blame them.

“She’s very good.”

His hands freeze in his lap where he has woven them together to warm the backs of his hands.The books, courtesy of Deaton, feel tacky against his skin.

“She helped Derek. I know her personally.”

“Of course you do. Why wouldn’t you know every magically inclined being in the local area.”

“She’ll listen to what you have to say. She won’t judge.” He assures, flipping up his lowest reaching feathers to observe the skin where the second-hand rot took hold the hardest, downstream from all the rest.

“Her job, then.” Stiles comments dryly, prying his hand from one of the covers to observe it’s title.

Magyk III: Basics in Accordance to Nature

A pause, Deaton softly repeats;

“She’s very good, Stiles.”

 

 

His wings begin to grown new feathers. It’s itchy, and irritating, and he longs for nothing more than tear away at the flesh there, to rip them out before they elongate, to pinch the flower in the bud. But.

But.

He doesn’t.

Recovering is not a feeling. It is an effort. A conscious decision. He cannot wait for the fog to rise, he must lift it himself. Not all at once, but a bit at a time. A different bit at each time, even. Practice laps in self tolerance. Today, he is not pulling darkened feather from his skin. Tomorrow, he’ll eat something more than take-outs his father brings him. He’ll remedy his parched lips. He’ll put a small, shredded piece of him back where it once lay. It is the strength of the stitch, not of the material, that makes the garment. It is easier said than done, and the books Deaton lent are dry and long-winded in their explanations. His focus drifts from their pages regularly and his eyes strain from an inexplicable blurriness that no distance can remedy. Magic, or Magyk, has no outer physical manifestation to conjure and observe. It is, rather, sensations within. A selfish thing. Limited by their human scope, one book explains.

The irony of his apparent affinity being defense is not lost on him. The only one weak enough to allow the nogitsune in. But - never again. If the books weren’t so frustratingly vague. There is talk of acceptance, unity, wholeness, a channeling and linking between wing and body. Wry notes on rejection and human society begs the question of the writer origin and confirm fully the longitude of humans own discrimination against difference.

A smaller volume on tinctures and herbs is far more engaging. Real, physical plants he can identify and prepare. Although, their effectiveness as magical conduits stops once more at this strange doorway of performing Magyk. Belief and intention. Inner connections. Headache inducing.

He thinks - if all it took was intention and belief, things would have turned out differently. Allison would be alive. Scott and Lydia, unscathed. It’s almost insulting.

He does not finish them.

 

 

The first two times Scott invites him to see the Pack, he declines.

The third time, too.

The fourth, Derek asks him to come. Or - Derek tells him there’s a cat who wandered onto the property. They’ve been feeding it milk and bacon. Stiles thinks the old him would have cared more, so he texts back that he’ll come over.

Pretending fills in the holes where he isn’t. He feels emptier, better (worse), a few weeks on fluoxetine. Like he’s back seat driving a car crash. Or something. He’d been told, by a carefully interested doctor, that his symptoms would worsen before presumably improving. It’s been weeks he can forget in an lazy blink, slow and uneventful. He’s not hungry, or interested, or much of anything. A low nausea at best, nightmares at worse. They’re more frequent, and his dad likes to joke they’re flushing out the bad things.

Stiles think he’ll be having those nightmares for years, but he usually laughs along.

Derek picks him up after ten minutes staring at the gravel lining his front porch. It’s not really a cold day, but the hood of his jumper brushing at the sides of his face makes him feel safer, somehow. More secure as he buckles himself into a now-familiar seat. The radio blanks as the car starts up;

013 BACK FROM THE DEAD - BABYSHAMBLES

It’s soft, and is almost enough to distract. Stiles is a mix of nothing and nausea. He recognizes it duly as some kind of mutated anxiety, a sickness he cannot come to the source of. One which he doesn’t want to discover - he practices a precise blindness, an convenient denial. He is going to give this cat water, and tell Derek off for feeding it milk, and he’ll write down a cat food brand he googled last night between crying and staring, and there is nothing else to consider. Nothing to prepare for.

Just a cat.

He zones out (not) thinking about it.

The forest curling at the edges of Derek’s property appears never-changing. Consistent, ancient, stagnant yet brimming with new growth. Nature held at bay with gravel edgings and the wearing of soles. There is a certain dread that settles comfortably over the nausea as they pull into the driveway - cold, easily recognizable. He has been here so many times. Hurt here just as many. If he blinks slow enough, small fragments of moments play out at the edges of his vision.

Walking alone. Laughing. Pants of pain, stolen moments where he rested his face to the walls of the old house. There is no privacy among wolves. It had been stifling, sometimes. Comforting, at others. Sickening, if he follows that thought process for so long.

Rot -- it is so easily ignored. Smell decaying flesh for long enough, and it becomes normal. Axe, sweat, and fester. How long did it take to adjust to it, he wonders. How many signs do you have to ignore?

The engine stops abruptly, and Stiles flits his eyes to Dereks’. It’s almost too much. Almost. There is nothing special to read, windows to the soul seemingly shuttered, but the hand he reaches out - it’s empty.

Open.

He let’s Derek have it, lets the moment exist. His stomach twists, and he wishes he’d read enough young adult novels to understand it. Their shared skin is warm. Stiles feels it through a strange veil, one where gripping tighter only further empathizes the difference, the disconnect. Wax on his fingers, sloughing skin, connective tissue falling short of the surface. Horrible, white-washed imagery of necrosis.

Derek’s eyes are pulled from his, and the crunch of gravel, loud enough for even his human ears, is all the tip-off he needs.

He clears his throat.

“Where’s the cat?” 

It’s Scott. He knows its Scott. But what’s worse, is he knows the rest of them are there. That they can hear his unsteady breathes, smell his anxiety, his nothing, the medicinal tinge to him. There are not enough second hand sentiments in the world to alleviate the fear of the unknown.

“My room,” Answers Derek, releasing his hand, “We didn’t want her out. The full moon is close.”

Stiles had really, really hoped she would have been outside.

He steps out from the car, counts in his head the seconds it takes to shut the door, pauses just a moment too long staring at the handle. He doesn’t have to do this. If he climbed back into the car right now, he knows Derek would drive him home without a word. He knows Scott would let it go. He could go home, he could crawl into bed, he could count the minutes til his father came home. Continue the comfortable lull his life had fallen into it.

It’d be so easy.

“What did you call her?” He asks, instead, turning around on the spot. Scott is halfway across the drive, hands in his pockets. He can’t look at his face yet, but instead eyes the ugly necklace that had, unaccountably, yet to perish at the hand of many fights. A gimmicky shark-tooth necklace collected from an Aquarium field-trip many years prior, the very one Stiles had tried his hardest to talk Scott out of.

He’d always been stubborn.

“Esmeralda.” 

“Es-” Stiles coughs, suddenly, hand dry against his face, blinks, “Esmeralda?”

“It is not Esmeralda,” Derek says with the utmost disdain, pulling up at Stiles side with a jingle of keys, “Her name is Luna.”

“Esmeralda,” Scott insists, and Stiles can catch the bottom of a smile looming at his jawline.

He almost wants to laugh, too. It feels a little unreal, a quiet juxtaposition to the ditch his thoughts had sunken to seconds prior. There are comments biting at the tip of tongue he longs to make, would make, if he were not so tired, so unsure, so unstable on the very ground beneath him. The trembling remains of a personality he thought dead, if not thoroughly suppressed.

Abruptly, he longs for Derek to take his hand again, just to soothe the dizzying mountain of disbelief. Of control.

“Not everything is about the moon, Derek.” A soft, unmistakable voice chastises from behind Scott.  Stiles longs for every new presence to feel less like a heart-attack. When his head will settle on his shoulders, click down on his spine, he does not know. He’s dizzy, glad of the numbing distance of the fluoxetine. Everything is too fast, too sudden, a diver plunged to the bottom of the ocean. No rest for the wicked, for he guilty, and he has to. Must.

He looks up.

Lydia -

She’d almost died.

He remembers, fingers curled around a knife. Tears in her eyes. The bleak, bleached corridor, filled with feeble sunlight. It leaked between bars and crumbling bricks, between the edges of the locker Stiles strained against. The illumination caught at the straining bones in her hands, wrapped around the doorway. The desperate curve to her mouth.

He had felt it, beneath the metal surface. The hunger. The welling, bleeding satisfaction as her fear oozed to the surface, as every step forward invoked a horrible primal rush through his blood. The nogitsune had loved it. Stiles recalls bloody scrapes against his fists.The nogitsune closing in, her skin against his, not like this not like this not like this -

Warmth against his palm.

There are no tears in Lydias’ eyes, now. The clouded sky is bright, suddenly, as her gaze bores into his. Digs beneath his sclera. He doesn’t know what she finds there - but she smiles. Hesitantly. He feels distinctly unclean.

“Right, Stiles?”

Stiles thinks he agrees, but he’s not sure. Derek’s hand tightens around his, and they follow the retreating figures of Scott and Lydia. His throat is sore. He must have said something. He can’t help but notice that Lydias’ hair is just as blonde as it was before, undiminished by the grey day, by the darkness of Derek’s house. It aches.

He had done little to it in the time Stiles has floated in between. A perfect balance of livable and incomplete. The wallpaper has been re-done, but old hallway tables miss legs and painting separate from their canvas trappings. Functional, the bare minimum - evidence of Derek’s constant, painful, self-sacrifice. A moment of selfish mistreatment, of pity. A bone for the guilty, ravenous beast inside.

Livable, functional, but never homely.

Not again.

(Not since Kate).

Scott and Lydia disappear into the living room, but Derek continues past, pulling gently at his hand. Stiles adamantly does not linger at the doorway, doesn't dare to look to see who is here to witness the excavation of his grave. He's glad of Derek’s guiding strength, of the excuse he provides for avoidance. Stiles can not bring himself to understand this connection they have forged to one another, but it is not the one that lays severed at his younger selves feet. He is irreconcilably changed.

He feels, horribly, aged.

Facing it all - It’s more than he expected, or - exactly as he expected. If Scott is a bitter taste, then Lydia is sour. Persistent. He cannot consider that alleyway, that narrow corridor. There is too much revulsion. He cannot find it in himself to delve within it. To shovel at the dregs, to unearth the horror they had both felt. Allison had happened so fast. Had been so absolute. For Lydia, it had dragged and dragged. Had picked at memories between them. Feelings between them. Had twisted them into ugly wants, desires Stiles dare not re-imagine. Things he will never again feel.

He thought he’d do worse than kill her. He’d given up on controlling anything, by then.

“Stiles,” Derek prompts, softly.

He comes back to his body in small increments. It is often that he finds his mind in one place and his body another. As if it is familiar for them to be so separated. This body, he knows, came from the nogitsune. The stubs of new, dark growths are confirmation enough. He would attribute this strange numbness to that, if he did not know better.

“Sorry.” He offers. It’s meager. It encompasses nothing.

Derek says nothing. Stiles prefers that, he thinks. It is less pained than the Derek who poured his self out into a car park, a kitchen. Glimpses of emotions Stiles cannot yet navigate.

The upper house is warmer, offers something more personal. There are no carpets, but a small rug runs the length of the hall, and it squishes beneath his feet as he treads towards the door he recognizes as being Dereks’ room. He’d never been inside, before, when they were a Pack. Only ever bleeding out. It is not nearly as exciting as he’d ever imagined at the time. Though - he supposes - his imagination then had been filled with stereotyped, radicalised furniture and ridiculous shrines to mother moon. He’s not sure what he expected now, but it was not so dramatic, nor was it so boring as to the reality - there is a very ordinary double bed, a plain dresser (with an empty bowl and plate laid out), a chair, and an empty shoe rack. Despite having lain in that very bed, it is hard to recognise the room. Isaac had been unpleasantly overbearing, his own pain a convenient shutter.

Stiles tries not to think of that, focuses instead on the a lump of grey, mottled fur curled in the center of the bed.

“They must have tired her out.” Muses Derek, loosening his hand and closing the door behind them. “She usually says hi.”

She’s bigger than expected for an apparent stray, and as Stiles draws near, he can make out specks of black freckled across her face and lining the drawn out lines of her ears. There’s a smudge of milk pushed against her muzzle that reminds him why he’s here, after all.

“Please tell you’ve fed her something other than milk and bacon.”

Derek, for his part, looks only mildly guilty.

“I’ve never really been a cat person...”

She jerks awake as Stiles sits down next to her on the bed, and she’s on her feet quicker than a raindrop, although her ears are perked rather than slanted.

“Does it take a cat person to realise animals require water and varied diets?” Stiles asks, stretching his hand out to the cat, keeping it low and slow to give her a chance to smell him. She boops her nose against his fingers in an attempt to smell, which Stiles notes is wet, a good sign of her health, and then smashes her face against the narrow edge of his hand with the beginnings of a purr.

Well, he supposes she had better be friendly to survive in this house of wolves.

Derek had yet to answer, and as the moment drags on he glances over to witness Derek staring at where his fingertips are now buried into the cats furry nape.

“You hadn’t?”

“No - I had - I just... you sound like yourself.” He pauses in his petting, looks down at his empty hand. It is un-clenched, free, yet he feels no different. Not lifted nor happier. When he searches for it, anxiety is at the pauses in his words, numbness still gnaws at the edges of his lips and trickles to coat his epidermis.

It is, perhaps, easier not to feel when one is busy.

“I shouldn’t have - well. I. Uhh...” Derek trips over his words, something Stiles would previously has believed impossible. It is almost sweet for him to try so hard to ignore the obvious, “...her eyes. Did you notice?”

Stiles hadn’t - they are grey. Like the moon.

It’s a stretch.

“Luna, huh? Lydia might be right.”

Derek snorts, “She’d love to hear you say that again.”

It seems, there is no topic that is free of pitfalls. Stiles almost berates himself for the sudden drop he feels inside his chest at the mention of her - as if he had not just experienced the exact same. He is so bruised, so sensitive. Thicker skin, tighter stitches. When one is burnt, the initial pain is nothing compared to what is to come. He must change his bandages again and again, bother the same wound, worry at it in each interaction which strays from his safe, lonely bedroom.

To prevent infection. To avoid being swallowed whole.

Derek pushes himself off from the wall, and comes to sit besides Stiles. He reaches out, and Stiles feel that strange disconnect envelop him as Dereks’ arm comes to rest around his shoulders. They sit for a time, small muscles giving way to gravity as he begins to slump into the embrace.

To be close to another after so long is docking at a foreign port. He knows not where to rest his hands, how to angle his head or measure the length of time that had stretched between them - instead, he remains still. Desperate, greedy, taking in what he can from beneath the choke-hold binding him to his nothingness. Scared any movement could take it from him

The cat digs her claws into his lap as she pads over him.

“They’re still here, if you want to see them.” Derek tells him. He feels his breath against his hair at the words. The heat from his body worms through to his skin, permeates to bone. Comfort, the tiniest vial, trickles down his spine.

“In a moment.” He murmurs into Derek's collarbone.

Rain begins to tap at the window.

 

 

It is sometime later, when soreness works its way into the tilt of his spine, that they part. Derek murmurs something of food, and they descend into the kitchen, the cat on their heels. He slumps on a bar-stool after providing a bowl of water for the cat, as Derek busies himself with a cutting board.

Deprivation is an ugly thing. He can still feel the strong arm laid against him. An impossible imprint. The warmth appears to slowly dissipate, uncoil to nothing, gives it self to the surrounding air. A more deserving host. He tries his best to preserve that feeling, what little shreds of warmth remain.To hold it still in a single memory. It is too often these days that meaningful actions slip away from him, only to better preserve horrors. 

But not this. Ever since this began, his healing, his struggling, Derek has become closer. Has closed wounds. Has wiped rot from his wings, taken him from his festering cocoon, showed him kindness, understanding - care. Feelings he has been unable to return. Gestures he has ignored, snubbed; unable to appreciate in his own, personal, rainstorm.

There is a gentleness to him, now, in his actions towards Stiles. One that cushions his fall the barest of amounts. But still an amount. Alongside his father, he has kept Stiles adrift. When Stiles has let him -  has let either of them. He hugs to the brief clarity. Bleak with the knowledge that this too shall fade into his next episode.

(It must be exhausting to help someone who will just as easily backtrack, forget. Stiles does not think he’d ever have had the patience to do that for someone else.)

But - with this, with Derek, with his father - he feels the faintest traces of hope. Of something more than he can grasp. Every moment has felt extended, has been dipping in and out of waves of a fog he cannot control. A decay that refused to knock its hold, that he bought into, decorated himself with. Trinkets he fears he will always carry.

That bridge he had once imagined stretching out before him - it is more traversable than before. There are a few steps beneath his feet, yet more to come, but the chasm beckons below him, no longer in front, and all he must do is bear it’s yawning promise and continue forwards, and backwards, but never down.

He has no desire to descend again. No longer craves a penance he may not fully be deserving of. 

Something, a small, minute, something, loosens deep in his chest.

When Derek finished cooking - a basic steak and vegetables but an apparent feast of it - he begins to set out cutlery at the table. The tinkling sounds draw out Scott, who enters the room with more enthusiasm than Stiles has been able to muster in what feels like an age.

“Finally! I thought you’d let us starve.” He remarks, setting himself down in front of Stiles, “Lydia is just getting her jacket.”

“You can cook, too.” Mumbles Derek, the mask of a grumpy wolf slipping back down over his face. Scott laughs, and there’s something fond in the set of Derek’s eyes as he turns away to the stove.

It’s warm.

Stiles misses the Pack. Being part of something. Before things went bitter, sour, it had been like a second family. Or a first, when John was particularly busy. The shared meals, laughter, games, general silliness and companionship were irreplaceable. When that sharing has included Stiles. When everyone was there to enjoy it - Erica, Boyle, Allison. It all feels so distant, now.

But it is, perhaps, something he can have again. When scars have smoothed over into silvery dust. There is little left of their rag-tag group, and a tiredness that pervades them all. A forced maturity. Something which may give way for forgiveness. In time. With work. He had seen it in Scott, in Lydia, in himself. There are multitudes they can feel, mistakes they have made, and guilt they all carry.

One day, they might even fix it.

For now, Stiles does not have to dissect it. He does not have to overthink, to measure his burden against others. To worry.

Scott leans over, smile broad across his face, he asks,

“So - what do you think of Esmeralda?”

A smile, weak but present, pulls at the barest corners of Stiles’ mouth.

“I think it’s a stupid name.”