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When the World Is Much Brighter

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In hindsight it was completely to be expected. Stiles had gone—what was it—weeks—months?—of spotty rest. Out of the number of times he actually forced himself to lie down and close his eyes more often than not he woke screaming an hour or so later. That, combined with the crippling anxiety and constant state of stress he found himself in made for crazy nights. And that wasn't even including the mental and emotional havoc the nogistune wreaked on his subconscious.

So really, it was completely understandable that when he got the chance he collapsed and didn't wake up for days.

He felt that particular side effect of being possessed by an evil Japanese fox spirit had been pretty tame, all things considering. He didn't understand why everyone's reaction had been so severe. In all honesty they should have seen it coming. If something as traumatic as an evil fox takeover (He still doesn't like the word "possessed." He's trying to work it out) didn't warrant an unintentional coma, he didn't know what did.

He barely remembers how it happened. How he fell asleep. One minute, he was standing next to Lydia, the nogistune's remains blowing away in a breeze that shouldn't have been possible in a school hallway, next minute there was a sensation of a bone-crushing weight suddenly falling from his shoulders. The relief was so sudden, so intense, he felt his soul slipping with it, stealing all the breath from his lungs as an added bonus. He remembers a welcoming void, rising from the ground and swallowing him whole.

It wasn't that bad.

What he doesn't remember is Scott's name ghosting past his lips in a final exhale. Or the way his body crumpled in on itself, falling to the ground with a soft thump. He doesn't remember the way his head tipped back, or the blood trickling out of his nose, or how limp and still his body looked on the cement floor.

He definitely doesn't remember Scott's, Lydia's, and Kira's unanimous shouts. Or the sound Scott's knees made when they hit the ground beside his body, or Lydia's strangled scream, or the tears that fell freely from Kira's shocked face.

He doesn't remember any of that—mainly because he was dead. That is an important factor.

He also doesn't remember the desperate compressions on his chest, or the way his ribs groan and creak and eventually crack under the mistreatment. He doesn't remember Scott desperately breathing life back into him. He thinks he remembers a painful grip on his hand, but the memory is so faint and distant he shrugs it off as nothing. But he does recall a painful awakening, a breath like sandpaper on asphalt, and what he thinks are cries of joy but he had drifted away again before he could fully decide.

When it's over, Stiles sleeps for a week.

When he finally wakes up, it's to a dark room and soft beeping. The pillows under his head are soft and fluffy, much more so than the ones in his room. He wonders if this is what it's like to sleep on marshmallows. They feel so poofy. They mold to his neck and head perfectly, cushioning him in heaven stuffed with goose feathers, or styrofoam peanuts or whatever it is that they stuff pillows with. He wonders why he doesn't sleep with pillows like these more often. His other pillows are basically empty pillowcases. They can't even call themselves pillows. Half the time they end up on the floor and he wakes up to the springs of the mattress digging into his cheek. But these…these are perfection.

Stiles shifts slightly, his head sinking lower into the mass of fluffy. And keeps sinking. Stiles tries to shake his head, but the pillow is suffocating him. The pillowcase rubs against his cheek as his face settles lower, wrapping around his head in a binding hold. The beeping from earlier speeds up with his breath as more and more ribbons wind around his head and body. He struggles against them but his limbs won't obey and he is already trapped. The more he fights the more his bonds tighten, constricting him in every way possible. He's aware of his own breathing, loud and panicked against a garbled voice. He can't make out what it's saying. He isn't sure if he wants to. It's just the nogitsune, speaking in riddles and promises of death. This is all the nogitsune, he decides. It's all in his head. It isn't real.

But that doesn't make it any less terrifying.

The voice gets louder as his struggling gets wilder. The bonds are so tight now. His hands and feet are slowly tingling out of existence, his chest is tight and he literally cannot breathe.

He thinks he hears "…hyperventilating…you need to—" but whatever it is, it's gone before he can decide.

He thinks he screams, but he can't breathe anyway so it's not like it matters. The pillows are still attacking him, the nogistune is still here, and he's still dying.

Suddenly he hears his name.


The tone is harsh, commanding, irresistible, and he can't help but freeze. He still can't breathe, or at least it feels like he's sucking air through one of those shitty coffee shop stirring straws, but he listens.

"Stiles, you need to calm down, okay? Just breathe with me…"
The voice sounds suspiciously like Scott, but Stiles doesn't know what he would be doing here in Stiles' head, just chilling with an fox demon and a messed up kid who can't handle needles, but okay. He can deal.

"Everything's gonna be okay, I swear. You're okay. Just breathe. Please?"

Oh, that's Scott. That is really Scott.

"Just like when we were kids, okay? I'm gonna count to three and you breathe with me. One, two, three…"

Stiles involuntarily shudders, but he tries. He tries so hard to suck in a breath with Ghost Scott that he starts crying when his lungs stutter and flop to a standstill.

"That's great, buddy, just keep going. Lets try again, okay? One, two, three—"

This time Stiles messes up and inhales (or tries to) on two but Scott doesn't scold him. Nothing comes out and bites his leg or anything so Stiles figures it must be okay.

"And again. One, two, three…"

He hiccups his way through that one, but the straw in his throat widens from coffee-shop skinny to Mcdonald's Extra Large, and he gulps down the extra air greedily.

"Not too fast, you'll hyperventilate again. Keep it slow, alright? One, two, three."

It's a halting and laborious process. It's one of the longer times Scott has had to talk Stiles down from a panic attack, but Stiles knows it probably won't be the last. Even if Scott is actually Ghost Scott, but Stiles will take what he gets.

Stiles finally takes a suitable breath—it's not deep or long but it's kind of normal and that counts—what feels like years later. "Scott?" The word hurts as it slips out and he winces.

"Yeah, I'm here."

Something grabs his hand and he flinches, but whatever it is just squeezes gently and hangs on. Dang, this hallucinating thing is weird today. "Scott?" He tries again. "I can't see you."

He can practically hear the grin splitting across Ghost Scott's face. "That's cause your eyes are closed, you idiot."

"They are?" Stiles didn't know that. Really? He tries opening them, but nothing budges. He tries again, and his eyelids flutter, but they feel like someone's stuck glue around the edges.

"You almost got it." Scott encourages. "Come on, you can do it."

It's a lot harder than Stiles thought it would be and he's a lot more tired than he should be but he finally cranks them open to see a blurry white…something. He blinks slowly and—wow, he didn't think they would open again that time—slowly the white comes into focus.

It's a ceiling. A hospital ceiling to be exact. Scott's hushed whisper bring Stiles' away from an interesting stain.

Just as Stiles' suspected, Scott is smiling softly He looks tired and his face has a weird stubble around his chin that looks like he never bothered to shave. Or take a shower. Or anything hygienic.

Stiles tries to comment on this but it comes out more garbled than he meant it to. God, he sounds pathetic.

Scott huffs out a chuckle, but it sounds wet and thick. Stiles blinks again and he can see the tears chilling just behind his eyelashes. "What's wrong?"

Scott shakes his head. "Nothing, dude. Nothing anymore."

Stiles doesn't believe him at all, and he says so. Scott stares at him for a second before dropping his eyes down to his lap. His one hand is clenched nervously in his lap. "I'm just glad I didn't lose you too." Scott whispers.

Lydia's scream hits Stiles like a freight train, followed closely by the memory of bloodied lips, a gloved hand falling to the ground, and a limp body cradled in his best friend's arms. The images snatch the breath out of him and stab a thousand knives into his chest.

I did that, is the only thing he thinks for the next thirty seconds. He doesn't know if he says it out loud or not. The room around him blurs into un-recognition.

"Hey, Stiles." Scott doesn't need to use his freaky alpha-command-powers to catch his attention this time. Stiles meets his gaze and he's shocked to see Scott's eyes are clear and angry. "You did not kill Allison."

At the words "kill Allison," Stiles flinches like he's been shot but Scott powers through, leaning closer and leveling his eyes to Stiles'. The intensity and conviction of his words is startling, but deep down Stiles knows this is Scott McCall, not True Alpha Leader-of-the-Most-Fearsome-Pack-In-California McCall, but one hundred percent Scott Stiles-Stilinski's-Best-Friend-Who-Will-Stop-At-Nothing-to-Protect-Those-He-Cares-About McCall. It's unnerving and comforting at the same time. Stiles wonders briefly how those two can coincide but doesn't question it.

"You didn't kill Allison." Scott repeats. "That was an Oni. Which was commanded by the Nogistune. Which had nothing to do. With. You."

Stiles scoffs, hoping that will hide the tears threatening to spill. "But some dumb idiot had to let themselves be possessed for it to happen. Guess who was that dumb idiot?" He tries to point to himself, but he forgot that Scott had attached his hand to Stiles', so while Stiles' hand twitched fruitlessly, Scott rolled his eyes.

"And which dumb idiot insisted we all drown ourselves to wake the Nematon and bring the Nogistune to Beacon Hills in the first place? This one." Scott mimics Stiles with a shitty ironic smile that is in no way a happy smile and points to himself. "So we're both at fault, okay? Are you happy now?"

Stiles splutters. "What? No!"

Scott drops Stiles' hands and throws his up in frustration. "Well neither am I, but at least we get to be miserable together all right?" Stiles watches as everything seems to fall out of his best friend at once. Scott collapses back into the chair and looks at the floor.

They both sit in silence. Well, only Scott sits. Stiles just lies there, watching his hand as it picks at the blanket.

Finally Scott breaks the quiet. His voice is wet and it cracks a little, but other than that it's surprisingly steady. "You almost died, Stiles. No, you did die. You collapsed and your heart wasn't beating and Lydia screamed, Stiles. You weren't just dead. You were dead dead." He sniffs and wipes his nose with the back of a sleeve.

Stiles almost wants to make him stop talking completely, but for once in his life he's speechless.

"Just think, I just lost Allison the day before and then you?" Scott continues, looking up. His cheeks are damp and his eyes heavy. "Stiles…I know I'm not good with words." He sniffs. "But I would rather you murdered everyone else I care about and still be alive than what happened that night, okay? I can't lose you too."

Stiles finds himself crying, even though he isn't making a sound. He shakes his head vigorously. "You don't understand," he chokes out. "Scott, I killed so many people. All those officers, and the hospital…I stabbed you. I hurt Isaac and-and kidnapped Lydia and everywhere I go I hurt people." He squeezes his eyes shut and bites back a sob, halfway successfully. "I don't deserve to live right now."

He doesn't see Scott's face fall even further. He doesn't see the tears well up and threaten to spill. He feels a pressure on the bed and then suddenly Scott's arms are wrapping awkwardly around him. It's as much of a hug as possible with Stiles lying in bed with aching ribs, but it works. He buries his head in Scott's shoulder and returns the embrace.

Scott's voice is right by his ear when he says, "I don't know what the Nogitsune said or did to make you think like that, but I promise you, Stiles, I am going to do everything I can to fix it."

There is no fixing me, Stiles thinks. But he considers the thought for a while. It's a strange feeling, entertaining hope when deep down he knows there is none. But lets himself believe the illusion, if only for a little while.

A few minutes later, Melissa softly swings the door open, peeking her head inside. The golden light from the hallway sweeps inside the room, illuminating two figures, side-by-side, tangled up in the covers like toddlers during a sleepover.

Melissa doesn't stop the small smile from forming. She gently runs her hand through Scott's hair, then lays a hand on Stiles' shoulder. Scott's hand clasps Stiles' arm and Stiles snores into Scott's shoulder, a puddle of drool on his sweater. Both boys have dark shadows under their eyes and both are gaunt and worn, although Stiles is much more so than Scott, but both are sleeping peacefully. Melissa bends and presses her lips to first Scott's, then to Stiles' forehead.

She checks the monitors, adjusts Stiles' IV, then moves to leave. In the doorway she steals one last glance, then turns and silently closes the door behind her.

Her boys sleep on.