He was cold.
Standing in the middle of a… Wait, where was he standing?
It was… some sort of garden, a Japanese garden with a high stone wall that circled round him and gnarled black trees reaching sharp, bare sticks upward toward an iron sky. There were small fountains and statuettes casting dull shadows all around that seemed to flicker in the waning moonlight, a little bridge that crossed no river though he could hear the trickle of water coming from somewhere. The grass under his feet crunched with frost, and as he stood in the center of the patio snow began to fall silently around him; thick, fat flakes that stuck and immediately began to blanket everything around him with a heavy layer of white. Shapes began to appear that he hadn't noticed before - the wrap-around desk chairs that he still remembered from high school – and it was strange because he was sure somehow that they didn't belong here.
His breath was fogging in the air and he ducked his head, shrugging his collar up around his neck in an attempt to ward against the sudden shiver that ran down his spine. The creak of leather was loud in his ears, and when he looked down he found that his red jacket had mysteriously appeared on his shoulders, but it did nothing to cut the bite of the wintery air. Rubbing his hands together to warm his fingers, he breathed into the cup of his palms before reaching beneath the edge of the jacket, searching for the comforting weight of his pistol hanging alongside his ribs.
It wasn't there.
Stiles cursed quietly, his voice echoing eerily within the basin of the garden formed by the stone walls. Turning in a slow circle, he jerked sharply when he came back round and found the fox waiting silently a few yards away, sitting at the top of three stone steps. It didn't move other than to flick its thick red tail around its paws, pointed ears twisting back and forth as it followed sounds that Stiles couldn't hear. He could see sharp, needle-thin teeth in its mouth, its tongue lolling in a mocking sort of grin as it stared at him steadily with amber-colored eyes, eyes almost as dark as his own. Its small, pointed nose quivered as it scented the chill air and Stiles was certain that it was tasting him.
Fear furled out from the pit of his stomach, licking its way up his veins like a flame of ice, wrapping around his bones and sending goosebumps cascading down over his forearms. Anger too flickered along his skin, nipping and biting at him, anger, that he was afraid at all.
Stile felt his lips curl back to show sharp, white teeth of his own, a vicious snarl bubbling out of his chest but the fox only barked a laugh, rising gracefully to its feet and trotting lightly down the stone steps, leaving no mark on the snow. The cold seemed to invade him with each step the animal took, shoving itself farther and farther down his throat until it crackled in his lungs, the fear growing greater and greater, uncontrollable, until his breath began to come in gasps, his whole body tightening with the familiar pains of a panic attack…
Desperately, Stiles tried to summon up a flame in his palm, anything to stop the smooth, predatory stalk of the fox towards him, anything to halt the cold consuming him, but to his horror he couldn't even find a spark inside himself, the heat of his power utterly drowned by the terrible aloneness that the cold had brought him. Here, in this terrible garden as the snow fell silently, his spark meant nothing because he was alone.
Panic grabbed him by the throat and sent him stumbling backward, away from the little beast that followed after, until his back collided solidly with the frigid stone of the wall. His nails scrabbled at the rough surface, as he tried desperately to force Pheelan's name from his mouth but he couldn't make a sound, his words meaningless like his magic until he heard Lydia's voice ring in his ears.
How does a wolf call its pack?
Stiles woke with a choked gasp, watery, late-morning sunlight spilling through the French doors behind the couch and stinging at his eyes. Blinking groggily, he looked down to find himself plastered against Phee's chest, sandwiched between the wolf's massive body and the back of the couch cushions. His arm was slung casually over Stiles' waist, his face tucked into the hollow of the smaller man's neck, breath tickling at Stiles' collarbones.
'Weird,' he thought as he swallowed back the call for pack that was still lodged in his throat, waited for his heartbeat to steady.
Phee was grimacing in his sleep, his hand tight on Stiles' hip, no doubt attuned to the erratic rhythm, the citrus smell of fear. Still, it wasn't like him to curl close like this – Stiles was the octopus. Levering himself up a bit from where he was wedged into the cushions, he braced himself and peered over the wolf's shoulder.
That explained it.
The entire Hale pack was sprawled out over the floor, a handful of throw pillows tossed here and there, but mostly asleep against each other's bodies or the hardwood. Scott and Allison, Erica and Boyd, Isaac and the flower twins… even Peter was there, strangely enough curled protectively around Lydia's sleeping form, her head pillowed on his stomach. It shocked him to see them all there but none more so than Derek, who was propped up against the near wall, his feet stretched out towards his pack from a position of observance. It was their house, sure, his house, but they were sleeping on the damned floor, all of them bunched around the couch as close as they could be…
And that explained Phee's rolling on him, shielding him in his sleep.
He didn't remember much from the afternoon before, only coming through the circle and then the violent nausea, the harsh light and sound pounding away at him. Knowing he was in the Hale House and still being angry, wanting, begging to be out. The smooth, warm calmness that blurred out the rest of his memories told him without a doubt that he'd fallen asleep in a mess of glow, Pheelan's low voice lulling him into unconsciousness on a song and a promise…
They'd seen him glow.
Stiles felt his stomach turn, angry that they'd seen something so private, witnessed the intimacy that came with his light, much more so than he cared about them being there when he'd been so vulnerable. Phee'd promised he wouldn't leave and he hadn't, even though Stiles knew how much being in a den surrounded by pack grated on the Omega. No, he'd been well protected; it was only the false closeness that was making him ache, gnawing at his insides…
That and hunger.
Stiles' stomach gurgled loudly, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since that spectacular paella in Costa de la Luz. He wanted pancakes. Pancakes and bacon, with strawberries and syrup and OJ. Unfortunately he found himself viciously torn, because he could still feel the cold and the eyes of the fox on his skin, so much so that the tips of his fingers were bone white, and he was rather inclined to burrow back down into the small space between the couch and his wolf and soak up the warmth radiating from the big blonde's body.
A compromise then, perhaps.
Without a second thought, Stiles looped his arms around Phee's waist and shoved his icy cold hands down his jeans, giving his ass a good, hard squeeze.
Jerking awake with a shrill yelp, Phee flailed so wildly he went rolling over the edge of the couch and landed on top of the pack pile, immediately raising a cacophony of yips, shrieks, and snarls, loud enough to stifle the belly laugh that had taken hold of Stiles and refused to let him go. Slapping his hands over his mouth, he met Phee's glare with innocent eyes, watching as he shoved and jostled arms and legs out from beneath his huge frame.
"That wasn't funny," he snapped, shoving Scott's elbow away from his ribs with a flash of fang as the floppy brunette beta blinked and stared around stupidly, still half asleep.
"Dude, it was kind of funny," Stiles snickered, curling himself upright to sit cross-legged on the couch and offering a hand down to him.
"Good to know you're feeling better," the omega grumbled, rolling his eyes, but Stiles could hear the sincerity beneath the sarcasm. Reaching up, he grasped Stiles' hand and pulled himself to his knees, concern immediately washing over his face.
"Stiles, Jesus!" he hissed, pulling the Touchstone's hands into his own and chafing them roughly. "You're freezing."
"I'm fine," he replied, but his words were heavily muffled as Pheelan had already pulled his sweatshirt up over his head and was stuffing Stiles into it. Pushing the hood back from his face, he cupped his jaw in his hands, running his thumbs over his cheekbones as he peered into his eyes. "Phee! I'm fine."
Pheelan frowned, huffed through his nose in a way that reminded him of Derek, reminded him that he was surrounded by a pack that wasn't his and that that pack was now awake and alert and staring.
"Are you?" Phee asked him in Gaelic, his tone practically pleading for the truth. "Are you Stiles? Christ, I've never seen you come through so…"
"My fault," he assured him in English. "I went too far, too fast. I was stupid, I should've…"
"Leave it," Phee answered, his eyes flicking to the left where Peter and Lydia were watching with intent curiosity. "Just… next time aim for something closer, yeah?"
"Shit, right?" Stiles scoffed, settling back against the couch.
"But you do feel better?"
"Yeah," he replied, pulling up the cuffs of the hoodie to trace the circles tattooed on his wrists, still a little red and raw. "Just…"
Another gurgle echoed out from Stiles' midsection, loud in a roomful of ears, and he smirked in an effort to counter the blush that splashed across his cheeks.
"Starving," Phee grinned. "Right. You wanna go get something to eat? I'll call ahead, alert the chef of your arrival."
"Shut up," Stiles muttered, sticking out a foot to push at Phee's shoulders and set him wobbling on his heels.
"Hey!" Scott piped up suddenly, jumping to his feet and pulling Allison up after him. His face was split with a smile so wide it looked painful and Stiles could practically feel the excitement coming off of him. "There's tons of food here! We can make breakfast, you can stay and eat with us!"
Stiles felt himself shrink back a bit, pull in on himself, but Scott's eagerness was infectious and the others had all begun to climb to their feet, all smiles and agreement. Only Derek, Peter, and Lydia watched him carefully, more aware of his hesitance than the others as they bounced around him like puppies, yipping for a treat.
"Please Stiles!" Erica begged with huge, fluttering eyelashes and a pouty lip. "Boyd will make you his stuffed French toast!"
"Yeah, and Isaac makes perfect bacon!" Scott added. "Derek does the best scrambled eggs though."
Stiles' gaze flicked in the direction of the aforementioned alpha, but the man himself sat quietly, watching him with undisguised, cautious hope.
"Come on guys," Lydia commanded suddenly, her quiet, lyrical tone brooking no argument as she got to her feet and brushed invisible lint from her sweats. "Let's get everything started."
Shooting him delighted grins the pack bounded from the room, all but Derek, who didn't even move, and Peter, who lingered with an odd look on his face.
"You too!" Lydia ordered, grabbing the blue-eyed beta by the back of his collar and dragging him towards the kitchen. "There's oranges need squeezing."
Peter rumbled lazily, but to Stiles' surprise, ducked his head slightly in a movement only he recognized before slipping past her and heading towards the clatter of pots and happy, busy voices. The Banshee followed without a backwards glance, leaving him alone with Pheelan and the silent, brooding alpha who hadn't reacted any more than to get to his feet, preparing to follow. He was still watching Stiles with an intent gaze, on that was hot and dark and unfathomable, one he didn't understand at all.
"We should go," Stiles muttered to Pheelan, scrubbing his hand down over his face. Silence fell in the next room, all cheery chatter cutting off hard as his words were easily caught by wolves' ears. Derek made a sound like a tea kettle, a high-pitched, keening whine that he broke off sharply with a look like he was choking.
Stiles cocked an eyebrow, unwilling to let him off the hook when his careless words still rang in his ears. "Look dude, you clearly don't want us here…"
"I never said…" Derek cursed under his breath, looked at the floor as he crossed his arms over his chest. "You're welcome here Stiles," he murmured, apparently unable to raise his eyes. "You're always welcome here."
He had no answer for that, no way to respond without causing more pain to himself and the wolves around him.
"They…" Derek tried again, clearly still not one for communicating with words. Looking off towards the kitchen where the sounds of breakfast making had slowly picked up again, he frowned before facing Stiles head on. "They're happy you're back Stiles. I can't… I can't tell you what it means to them. But if you'd stay… you'll see, I promise."
The pronoun didn't escape his notice, and it bit at him more than it should.
He'd loved Derek Hale for a long time - at least, he thought he'd loved him. But he'd been over him for a long time too. It just… it hurt, whether he'd ever loved him or not, whether he'd stopped or not. It didn't matter. It felt like rejection, and it cut. Phee knew it, and had made an abortive move to reach for him before thinking better of it, and Derek too must had seen something in his face, because his eyebrows came down and he took a step back from the couch, re-folded his arms in an almost nervous manner.
"If you want," he murmured, almost apologetically. "If you want, Stiles. It's your call, but they'd… we'd like it, if you stayed."
And with that last, confusing change of statement, he left, heading in the opposite direction of the pack and trotting quickly up the heavy staircase just out of sight through the arch of the doorway. Stiles stared unseeing at the place where he had been, the empty air that no longer held his form and listened as he moved around on the floor above, opening and closing drawers, pacing the length of the floor once before coming back down the stairs and skirting round to the kitchen without passing back through. Stiles let his eyes fall closed as he exhaled a great breath, tried to tune out the now half-hearted chatter and clatter emanating from the rest of the house but it wasn't as easy as he hoped it would be.
Climbing off the couch, it was some consolation to find that his feet were steady beneath him, carried him easily across the floor to the stare out the French doors at the wide lawn ringed by the trees of the Preserve, the sun falling warmly down, dappling the grass.
He could still feel the cold.
"You going to let them back in again."
It wasn't quite a question, softly spoken in Phee's mother tongue, less for privacy than for pain. The words were like a fist around his heart, squeezing tight, and the letters that cut the wolf's name into Stiles' chest tingled as though drawn on with a sparkler – and that was rare. Rare, for the wards mixed in with the ink and blood almost never acted up. Phee was too calm for that, too even keeled, and he knew then just how important it was to reassure the man.
"I'm going to let them feed me," he replied flatly.
Turning away from the windows, he moved back across the floor towards the blonde, carding his fingers roughly through his curls as he passed, heading for his backpack the lay discarded in a corner.
Pheelan snorted. "You forget how you an' me first got on?"
"That's so different," Stiles scoffed. "We were in the middle of god knows where, you had a chocolate SnackPack… your last one. That's like, elementary school pre-love right there dude."
Shivering visibly, Stiles tugged his sleeves lower down around his wrists, pulled the hood of his sweater up around his ears, and he could feel Pheelan's eyes on his back as he bent to pick up his bag.
"You had another nightmare," he observed.
Unzipping his bag, Stiles pulled out his red hoodie and gave it a shake, stuffed himself into it before zipping it up and searching his pockets, frowning when he came up without a smoke. He didn't want it; was a glow he really needed, but that was not happening here. Not again. Slipping his ball bat from its sling, he held it in his palms as though offering it to some God, his mind suddenly consumed with the memory of predator's eyes, deep like darkened amber…
Twisting the bat so hard his knuckles turned white, Stiles felt his own eyes blacken.
"What's the Irish word for fox?" he asked through clenched teeth, his voice cold and sharp like chips of ice.
"Sionnach," he repeated quietly.
He was going to kill that little bastard.