*****THIS IS A REVISED VERSION OF THE ORIGINAL, NOT A NEW CHAPTER*****
It starts with bruising. Stiles is an active teenage boy and he almost always has a few bruises, but then one day he's getting dressed and notices that his skin is almost more purple and blue and yellow-green than it is normal, flesh toned. He shrugs it off at first, thinking that he'll just have to be more careful when he's with the pack. They can get a little rough sometimes. But a few weeks later and he's not any better off, if anything he's got more bruises.
That makes him a little uneasy, because he remembers that it started this way with his mom, too. But he brushes it off, because this summer is going too perfectly for something like this to come in and ruin it all. Besides, he's got a date with Derek in, like, twenty minutes and he's not even dressed. He'd never hear the end of it if he made Derek wait while he got ready.
Then he starts getting nose bleeds all the time. At first, he brushes it off, and then his gums start bleeding once or twice. That's when he starts to worry, especially when he discovers that he's just not hungry most of the time. He's seventeen and male, that's just not normal, even if most of what he eats is healthy stuff because of his dad and that's not the most appetizing stuff in the world. But then he doesn't want to eat curly fries or a burger or anything at all. He spends a few days worrying over whether or not he should tell his dad or just ignore it for a little while longer, see if it gets better.
The pain in his joints forces him into action. He plans it for a Friday night, one of the rare ones when he's not out with Derek. He's actually cleared this whole weekend, claiming he wants to spend it with his dad because he's been spending so much time with the pack this summer and school's starting up again in a couple of weeks. No one in the pack thought it was suspicious, they just told him to 'have fun' and to tell his dad they said hi. That nearly made him break down and tell them about his fears, but he's stronger than that. They don't need to worry for what could be nothing; except Stiles has this horrible feeling it's really not nothing.
"Hey, Dad?" he says and his dad can hear the fear in his voice or something because he puts down his silverware and just focuses in on Stiles. He can feel the tears beginning to form in his eyes. "I, um, think I need to go to the doctor."
His dad kind of goes pale and for a moment Stiles is afraid he'll pass out but then he gathers himself. "What's wrong?" He asks that question as if the answer will kill him, and Stiles isn't sure how he knows that this is serious, but he does and Stiles isn't going to joke about it for once. Not something like this.
"I've been getting a lot of bruises, too many, and then I started getting nose bleeds. I'm never hungry anymore and my bones ache." Stiles doesn't rush to get this out like he does with everything else he says, he's in no hurry for these truths to be out. "I, um, made an appointment with mom's old doctor for tomorrow."
His dad has to take a moment to compose himself before he can answer. "I'll take you. What time is it?"
The thing is, they shouldn't be this afraid. Sure, it's enough that Stiles should probably see a doctor, but not enough for them to be so sure that he's that sick. That he needs to see a cancer specialist. But they watched his mother slowly die of cancer and maybe they're just too sensitive to the disease, because Stiles just knows. He knows exactly what he has. He just doesn't know how bad it is.
The next morning Stiles sits in the passenger side of the cruiser on their way to the hospital, where they end up waiting another thirty minutes for the doctor, even though they were already running a few minutes late. Stiles tries not to watch the other people in the room, but he can't quite help it. He's always had too much curiosity, and in this case it's not a good thing.
He watches as a young girl leaves, wheeled out by her haggard looking mother, both of them looking so relieved and happy. And then an older man comes in and sits down, and Stiles notices that he doesn't have any hair. A young couple are sitting together and quietly trying not to cry. Stiles looks down at his magazine then, unable to stomach anything else.
The doctor's visit is a blur, as are the tests he gets sent to take. In fact, when asked to look back, he can't remember much at all from that week, only a sick feeling of dread as he tries to put off the inevitable. Because he might not have known exactly what he had or how long he had, but he knew it was bad. So he lived in a constant state of dread and anticipation, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When it does, it's actually worse than Stiles had imagined. The words echo through his head and he can't actually take in anything else the doctor says. All he can hear is "acute lymphoblastic leukemia" and "could die within months if untreated" and "chemotherapy" and then white noise even as he watches the doctor's lips move and his dad trying to say something to him.
The next thing Stiles knows he's in his room, standing in the doorway without his shoes on. He's not sure how he got there, but he's willing to bet that it was because of his dad. Stiles wants to cry, but nothing's quite sunk in yet, because he might have been expecting something like this, but he wasn't prepared. You can't prepare for news like this. It just doesn't work that way.
And he wants so badly to just ignore the problem until it goes away, but Stiles knows that in this case, that will just make the problem worse. He'll just die even more quickly. Not that he knows he's going to die, because he does remember hearing about chemotherapy and he knows that they wouldn't talk about treatment if there wasn't any hope.
He's big on hope. He really, really likes hope. Hope's the only thing he's got right now, because he knows his dad is downstairs drinking. He might not remember how he got to his room, but he remembers all too well how his dad deals with his world falling apart, and that's with a nice glass of whiskey. And Stiles is his dad's world and Stiles is dying, just like his mother, of almost the same disease, so Stiles knows that his dad's broken into the whiskey even though it's still the early afternoon. For once, Stiles doesn't begrudge him for that.
But he also knows that he has to pull it together, because he has his first day of school in the morning and a boyfriend who wants to see him after school along with the rest of the pack. Stiles knows then, as he thinks of his fragile pack, that he can't let them know. They wouldn't be able to handle the uncertainty of it all because they would be so helpless.
Stiles remembers all too well that feeling of helplessness and it's bad enough that his dad will have to go through it again, he won't let the pack go through it too. He knows it would destroy Derek, who has only really opened up since he and Stiles got together a few months ago. Derek, who has already lost so many loved ones, shouldn't have to watch his boyfriend slowly wasting away, unsure whether or not he would make it but powerless to change his fate in any case. No, Stiles can't do that to Derek.
He's glad that he's paid attention to Deaton so well, because he knows exactly how to cover the change in his scent that will come with the treatment and the disease. All he'll have to do is start adding a little bit of certain herbs to his body wash and use that every day and they'll never be able to smell it on him. It wouldn't hurt them and his secret would be safe.
He carefully does not think about Gerard Argent and how he hid the scent of his cancer from the wolves he hunted. How he probably did it in a very similar way. This is different. This is about protecting the pack from a painful truth, a truth that would gnaw away at their minds until it left them forever changed. It's not about hiding his weakness from them, it's about keeping them happy and safe from that knowledge for as long as they don't need to know.
Stiles plots and plans how to keep this secret, avoiding the fact that by thinking about how to keep this secret from the pack, in some way he's hiding away from it himself. It's his coping mechanism, just like he once joked about ignoring a problem until it goes away, he feels as though if he doesn't talk about this, then it's not fully real yet. If it's not out in the open, if everyone doesn't know, then he can pretend that he's not sick. Pretend that he's not fucking terrified.
Because he is. He's so, so terrified that he can't process anything besides plans of how to hide it away, away from Derek, from the pack, and mostly from himself.
The first chemo session does not go well. He'd told the pack that he wasn't feeling well and that he'd be hanging around the house with his dad for the weekend. Derek had wanted to stop by and check on him, but Stiles had told him that he'd most likely be asleep most of the weekend and when he was awake he was planning on watching movies with his dad, so there wasn't much of a point. Derek had conceded the point a little reluctantly, but Stiles knew it for the victory that it was.
Before he went to the hospital for that first dose he'd been worried that someone would show up and everything would come out, way before Stiles was ready for it to. Then he'd actually gotten the treatment and he couldn't think of anything besides the pain.
Intellectually, he knew that the chemo was going to hurt and he was going to get sick from it and that it would wreak havoc on his body. He knew that the way chemo worked was that it killed the disease, but in order to do that it actually attacked your normal cells as much as the cancer cells and in a way the treatment was killing you just as much as the disease. But it was their best option the doctor had said and Stiles had done his research once he'd finally been able to deal with his situation.
He'd put his research skills to good use and had looked up as much as he could about acute lymphoblastic leukemia and its treatment. He knew that he was in an atypical age group to have it, because most people who had ALL were either very young or pretty old, but that it wasn't unheard of. He also knew that it was inoperable because of the fact that the actual mutations were in the blood cells and those couldn't exactly be cut out of him, they were too spread out and too small.
He also knew that ALL worked fast and that if he didn't get treatment he could be dead in a matter of weeks. So he'd dealt with his lingering fear of chemotherapy, left over from when the treatment had made his mother almost unrecognizable without her shining hair and the pale skin and skeletal frame that she'd been reduced to.
What he hadn't been able to do was prepare for the pain. He'd spent all of Friday and Saturday either in bed or heaving out an empty stomach. It wasn't until Sunday that he began to feel more like himself again. He'd been afraid that his hair would begin to fall out right away, but it was still intact. He's a little paranoid that it's thinner, but that might just be his overactive imagination.
He couldn't take his Adderall because of the chemo and he might be going through a bit of withdrawal at this point too, but he was able to take it this morning so that's helped. The pack respected his wishes and stayed away all weekend and he won't even have to pretend to look and feel like crap at school tomorrow, because he'll do that naturally.
Lacrosse tryouts are tomorrow too, but he already knows that there's no way he can do it this year. And that kind of makes him the maddest out of everything. This was going to be his year. He'd spent all summer practicing with Scott, Isaac, and Jackson so he would have definitely made first line. But he's too sick now to play lacrosse and he's glad that he'll be too sick for tryouts tomorrow. He won't even have to pretend to be pissed off about that either, because he really is genuinely frustrated by it.
The next morning when he shows up Lydia and Allison make some cooing noises and kind of pet him and that's how he knows he really does look like crap. He really hopes that the first time is really the worst and that he'll recover more quickly for the rest of the chemo sessions, because otherwise he's going to be sick so often that the others are sure to catch on a lot more quickly than he wants them to.
But it's not today. Today he's treated as completely normal, even if they give him some mild consideration for feeling like crap. But they don't treat him like he's dying or he's suddenly made of glass and that's the most soothing thing ever right now, exactly what he needed.
He cheers the others on at tryouts and is pleasantly surprised when Coach Finstock actually asks why he's not trying out. However, he's not surprised when the coach doesn't offer any way to do make up tryouts; he's never been that nice. Instead, Stiles sits in the stands with Lydia and Allison and cheers on the others, laughing as they take apart their opponents. There was never any doubt that the three of them wouldn't make first string.
After tryouts they go over to the Hale house and Derek is waiting for them on the front porch when they get there. He's wearing one of those tank tops that show off every inch of his torso and Stiles is ridiculously pleased. He's still feeling too crappy to get much more than a kiss from his incredibly hot boyfriend, might as well get to enjoy the view.
"How are you feeling?" Derek asks when Stiles joins him on the porch. They don't touch or hold hands or anything, they're really not into PDA, even when it's just the pack here. "You don't look too good."
Stiles gives him a smile, glad that Derek's to the point that he can actually verbalize his concern. "I'm already feeling better."
He's been super careful with how he's answered any inquiries about his health. He's never said that he'll be all better soon or given any indication that he'll be healthy soon. He dodges around that question by saying he feels better than before and that he went to the doctor. The others assume he had some kind of stomach flu when he talks about throwing up all day on Friday and let it go at that, they're too grossed out at the imagery to notice that Stiles never confirms that assumption, he just doesn't address it.
There are days when Derek isn't fully sure he's not dreaming. Everything in his life seems to be going so well that he feels like he should be on constant guard for trouble to come knocking on his door. But he's lived for so long sleeping with one eye open and always sitting with his back to a wall, that he can't quite bring himself to do so anymore.
He'll never not be at least a little cautious, but he's no longer paranoid. He has a feeling that all of this is Stiles' fault, really. Stiles had wormed his way into Derek's life until somehow Derek can't imagine his life without Stiles anymore. Sometimes he just tries to think about how it got to this point, to where he's actually dating this hyperactive teenage boy who's one of the most beautiful people Derek's ever met, and he almost can't understand it.
He treasures every moment that he spends with Stiles, even the ordinary ones, even the ones which include the Sheriff threatening Derek with wolfsbane bullets if he ever hurt Stiles. And everything is perfect in a way, but he can't help this strange suspicion that whispers from the back of his head, when he's alone and not doing anything. The suspicion that everything isn't as perfect as it seems, that something is happening right now and he can't do anything about it.
When that happens he likes to call Stiles or just visit him, to just bask in the scent of him and the calm that always comes over Derek when he's with Stiles. This doesn't happen very often, but when it does Derek's favorite place in the world is by Stiles' side.
The pack, of course, is his second option, for when Stiles is unavailable, and they work almost as well. He works out his restless energy by training with them or just running side by side through the forest with his betas. He's never quite able to shake the nagging feeling that something's wrong though, but he does what he can not to think about it. He doesn't want to shatter this peace, not yet.
After the first chemo session Stiles masters the song and dance of keeping his pack in the dark about his health. They've noticed that he seems to be getting sick a lot more than usual this year, but he just claims that his immune system must be run down. It's true, in a way. His immune system isn't the best, but that's because chemotherapy kind of destroys immune systems. But it's a way to get around stupid walking lie-detector werewolf powers.
By mid-September he's lost most of his hair and his only saving grace is the fact that he'd shaved it all off a week or so before, in preparation for this moment. Then he complains that his head is getting cold. The others laugh at him, saying that there isn't much difference in the amount of hair he had before and now, and he's actually able to find the humor in that because it means they don't notice.
Lydia shows up at the next pack meeting with a red, woolen beanie that looked handmade. "I got bored with archaic Latin," she offers as an explanation before tugging the hat onto Stiles' head. "Now shut up with the cold."
The others laugh, and Stiles does too, but he's also grateful. He'd been slowly working up to wearing a hat all the time, but this is perfect. This is a handmade by Lydia Martin hat, of course he's going to wear it all the time. Besides, his head really has been getting cold, but that might be because he's almost always cold now.
He's lost some weight, not enough to be noticeable with the clothes he wears, but enough that he's noticed the lack. He wears an extra layer most of the time anyway; to deal with the cold and to make sure no one else notices the lack. His dad's noticed too, and that's what hurts Stiles the most. His dad's drinking a lot more than he has this past year, when everything was finally getting good again. Now all that progress is down the toilet.
The rest of September passes in a blur of lies, half-truths, and chemo sessions. He doesn't get to see Derek as often as he wants to, but Derek always seems pretty understanding. Stiles misses the summer, before any of this began, before he got sick, back when everything was simple and happy.
October heralds the beginning of the end. The chemo sessions aren't getting any easier, if anything, Stiles just seems to be getting sicker. He's almost constantly got a low-grade fever nowadays and his bones have this deep-set ache that never goes away. He's lost enough weight that he has to be really careful with the pack or they'll notice. Lydia's probably already noticed, but she's Lydia so it's not like Stiles could really hide it from her. Derek's noticed too, but he doesn't say anything. He's still not very good with the whole communicating verbally thing, but that's okay because Stiles understands him. He knows what Derek's doing when he pushes an extra helping of food onto Stiles' plate and then glares at Stiles until he eats it.
And Stiles does eat it, just to make him feel better, even though he knows he'll just throw it up later that evening, once Derek's gone. Stiles is so tired, all the time. Occasionally he'll have a good day and it'll be like before he got sick, but those days are few and far between. He doesn't remember it being like this when his mom was sick, not at first.
At first she was healthy for most of the time and the cancer even went into remission for a while before it got really bad. Stiles doesn't think it's going to be like that for him. But he's glad that it's not going to be dragged out over years like his mom, he doesn't want to die slowly. He watched it happen once; he won't make anyone else watch it.
By the middle of October he's just about done. He can't take much more, and he knows that he can take a lot. It's hurting his dad more than it's hurting him and he knows the pack is starting to catch on that something's not right with him. He won't have that escape soon anymore, because they'll need to know. Now that Stiles knows that he's not just sick, he's actually dying, it's time to tell them. The uncertainty has been dealt with, so now it's time to give himself and them time to say goodbye, time to spend with each other with what little there is left.
Scott's noticed that Stiles hasn't been at school a lot this year, especially considering they hadn't had any werewolf emergencies. It makes him worry, because he might have ended up joining Derek's pack, but he'll always feel like Stiles is his responsibility, no matter how many times he walks in on Stiles and Derek kissing. So one Friday in October he goes to see Stiles after he called in "sick" again. The fact that Stiles was actually sick was not what he was expecting. Not at all.
"Hello?" he calls out when he reaches the Stilinski house and no one answers the door. Not that unusual, so he just goes in because that's what he's always done. For the Sheriff's house, the door is surprisingly unlocked most of the time. He can hear sound upstairs thanks to his werewolf hearing. There's shuffling feet, a door opening, and then the sound of vomiting.
The wet sound of puke splashing into water engages his gag reflex, because there are some things in the world that do that no matter how many times you've seen a dead body. At least now he has confirmation that Stiles really is sick this time. He's still not sure about those other times, but Scott's always glad when there's some confirmation that Stiles hasn't been lying to him.
He can hear the Sheriff murmuring some words of comfort to Stiles so Scott heads up the stairs, knowing they'll be in the bathroom across the hall from Stiles' room. He expects to find Stiles in sweats and looking like a mess, leaning over the porcelain god while his dad sits on the edge of the tub, within touching distance but not too close. He sees some of that and so much more.
Stiles isn't wearing that hat he's had ever since the middle of September and Scott sees for the first time that his hair is gone. It's always been buzzed short, but now it's actually all gone and why didn't he notice before? And Stiles does look like a mess, but not in the way that Scott expected. Not like he has the flu and will get over it by Monday and be back at school, as cheerful as ever. No, Stiles looks like a walking corpse.
His skin is paler than Scott's ever seen it, for all his jokes about it. He's shaking, just a little, just enough for Scott to notice, and when he turns to look at Scott, Scott wants to cry. Because this person doesn't look like Stiles, doesn't look like his best friend. His lips are chapped and bloodless and his hands are trembling so much they can hardly grip the edge of the toilet to keep him upright. His cheekbones are sticking out, and how did Scott never notice that Stiles has been losing weight? How can he not notice so much about his best friend?
But it's his eyes that are the worst. They've always been big, the first thing that you're drawn to with Stiles, but now they're huge. So big they almost seem to take over the rest of his face. So big, and so sad, and so very tired. And, for some reason, they're so old, as if they've seen centuries rather than seventeen years.
"Stiles?" Scott manages, a ragged whisper, and then his throat closes up with tears, because now he can smell what Stiles must have been hiding for months. The disease that's ravaging Stiles' body doesn't change his scent, but the drugs do, the drugs that are killing Stiles just as much as they're killing the disease. Scott recognizes this smell, from working with Deaton and the poor animals with cancer.
And then he knows, and he can never not know again. But God, he wishes he could. He wishes he never came over, never decided to check up on Stiles, because then he could have continued to live in his happy little world where everything was great and his best friend was healthy and just wasn't dying. But he can't.
He takes a few steps forward, tears already forming, running down his face, and sinks to his knees right in front of Stiles. "No, no, no. Not you, not now, not ever!" he rages and Stiles begins to cry too, reaching out to hold Scott's hand. They end up clutching each other, both sobbing, neither of them needing to speak to know what's happening.
Scott only distantly notices that Mr. Stilinski gets up and leaves them alone, gives them the privacy to mourn the fact that everything's different now, that there's no pretending anymore now that Scott knows. He's pretty sure that the older man is going to get something alcoholic, because that's how he dealt with his wife's cancer, why would he change when it's his son?
Finally, when they've both gotten themselves under control again, Stiles pulls away and just gives Scott this look that's like a punch in the gut. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before, but I couldn't."
"It's alright. I know now." Normally Scott would call bullshit on this, but he understands this time. He wishes he didn't, but he does. He can't even get the words out that Stiles is dying, how could Stiles? Of course, it's still not alright, it'll never be alright until Stiles gets better.
"It's not always like this, it's just I just had chemo and that shit really messes with you. Can't even eat curly fries," and Scott laughs, because Scott always laughs with Stiles, even when his jokes aren't even funny. "I'll be fine for school on Monday."
Stiles is trying to reassure Scott, really, and Scott appreciates it, but all Scott wants to do is take his pain away. "Are you done in here? Want to move to your room?" Scott says instead, and carefully helps Stiles to stand when he nods.
They walk together across the hall and Scott nearly starts crying again, because Stiles leans on him the entire way, leans on him as if he's too weak to manage even this short distance. And Stiles has always been skinny, but now Scott can feel his ribs and knows that he's lost a lot of weight, too much weight. Scott helps Stiles back into bed and then lies down next to him, gripping his hand.
He begins to draw out the pain slowly, so slowly that Stiles doesn't even seem to notice, his eyes just drift closed without a word. Scott takes as much pain as he can, but he knows that it's not enough. He can already feel new pain swelling, ready to take over again. It's enough for now, though, because Stiles has fallen asleep and his face has eased just a little, his pain lessened for a little while.
"He asleep?" the Sheriff whispers from the doorway and Scott nods, easing off the bed to pad over to the door. "Come on, I've got some food going." They leave the door open behind them, even though Scott could hear Stiles from downstairs even with it closed.
"When?" Scott asks as they sit down to spaghetti, because it's the question that's been haunting him ever since he saw Stiles. "How long does he have?"
The second question makes the Sheriff close his eyes for a long moment, to hold back the tears that are glistening there. "We've known since August, right before school started."
Three months. His best friend had been dying for three months and he hadn't known. He'd been too caught up in lacrosse and getting back together with Allison to notice. Scott wants to throw up. Instead, he pushes the pasta around on his plate.
"The doctors said the chemo was his best shot, you can't operate on this kind of leukemia." It kills Scott that his best friend's dad's voice is cracking and filled with held back tears. "Today was his last round before they check again. We find out next week if it's working," his voice breaks here and the tears come at last.
And Scott knows then, why Stiles chose not tell them. Because he didn't want them to struggle with the uncertainty, he knew that uncertainty too well to want them to have to deal with it. But Scott can already tell, now that Stiles' scent isn't being masked by something. He smells like death, as he'd once joked about Derek. Scott knows that Stiles isn't going to live much longer, he's just not sure how much longer it'll be.
So he spends the rest of the weekend there, with Stiles. He calls his mom to tell her, only to find out that she knew, and she's all too understanding of why he doesn't want to go. They play video games and talk and watch movies and Stiles helps Scott with his homework, even though Stiles is the one who's been missing so much school this year.
It's wonderful and terrible all at once, especially because Stiles does seem to get better after that first day. By Sunday he's almost himself again, but Scott can still smell the disease, can still sense his pain that he tries so hard to hide. But he can't hide it anymore, because Scott knows now, and he can never not know again.
When he finally leaves on Sunday night, he hugs Stiles for a long time, as if they'll never see each other again. Stiles just grins at him and waves him off, saying that he'll be at school tomorrow and Scott had better not be this sappy then. Scott goes then, worried that it's hurting Stiles to pretend to be fine, but grateful all the same for this small moment of normalcy. It steadies him for the long night ahead, the first night he's been away from Stiles since he found out. He spends the night curled up with his mom in her bed, both of them more than a little teary.
It's actually kind of a relief that Scott knows now. He has someone he can rely on, because he knows his dad isn't up to the task. The next week is like a reaffirmation of their brohood, they spend almost every waking moment together and Stiles is kind of loving it. They haven't done this since before Scott got bitten and it makes Stiles happy that they get to do it at least once more before he dies.
He spends that week in a state of living almost entirely in the present. He makes out with Derek without worrying, for once, and then hangs out with the pack without even trying to keep himself separate, trying to keep the secret. Scott knows now, it's only a matter of time before the rest of them find out. And he can finally admit that he's ready for them to know. Ready to give up his safe place and deal with his impending death.
Not that he does it right away. He waits until after he's gone to the doctor with his dad once again, until they've gotten the test results back. Stiles knows exactly what they'll say though, he can feel it. So he's not surprised when the doctor calls them in to talk to them and he looks incredibly somber, not that he hadn't always looked somewhat somber. It's just, he used to greet them with a smile, as if he was trying to ease them into the office. It had never worked, if that's what he had been going for.
His dad's already on the brink of tears, but Stiles is the calmest he's been in months. He's ready for this now, ready to begin letting go and step back and just make peace with the world in the time he's got left. Sure, he's still a little angry, but he's always been a little too practical, a little too willing to shove his own feelings to the side when things need to get done.
So when the doctor says that the chemo hasn't done anything, that Stiles has actually gotten worse, he takes it without flinching and tries not to cry as his dad just shuts down. Shuts down like Stiles had the first time they got test results back. "There are some experimental trials that we can try still, but the chemo isn't working and keeping it going is just going to put Stiles through hell for no reason."
His dad kind of regains something when the doctor mentions the experimental trials. "But there's still something we can do? These trials, they'll work, right?"
The doctor opens his mouth to answer but Stiles cuts this conversation off before it can even begin. "No. How long do I have without these trials?" His dad's kind of looking at him like he's gone crazy, but the doctor's got this understanding look on his face. He knows that Stiles has made up his mind.
"Not very long. Maybe six months, seven at most. It depends on how fast the cancer progresses once you stop taking the chemo. You can choose to continue the chemotherapy, it might give you more time, and it might even start working. Normally, for this kind of leukemia, you undergo chemotherapy for a few years, not months."
"I know," Stiles replies, trying not to look at his dad, who had lost all of his color when the doctor told him that his son would be dead in less than a year. "I want to stop all treatment. I want to live as well as I can for these last months, I don't want to be sick and hospitalized and in agonizing pain."
His dad and the doctor try to argue that he's young, he's still got his whole life ahead of him, he should try at least one of the trials, but he shoots them down with cool logic. He'd already made his decision and they weren't going to change his mind. He didn't want to linger for years in pain like his mom, it was bad enough that he'd linger for months, but he knew he'd be glad for that time later. When he has to start saying goodbye. He's a minor still, his dad could make him take the treatment, he has the legal power to do so, but Stiles knows he won't. His dad will respect his decision, hating it all the same.
The car is silent as they drive home and upon arrival Stiles goes upstairs to lie down, he's too exhausted for anything else and his dad goes to get the bottle of scotch. Stiles can't even muster the energy to be worried about that.
Stiles was more nervous for this big reveal than he'd been about getting the test results. He knew they were going to be angry, he knew they were going to be hurt. He also knew they needed to know and would understand, eventually, why he'd kept this from them at first. He just doesn't expect them to like it.
They're all gathered in the living room when he finally gets ready to go down from his room, having removed everything that he'd been using to disguise the cancer and the treatment. He'd even stopped burning the incense that had been covering the smell of sickness permeating the house two days ago. The werewolves would have already smelled that something was wrong and would be restless. He couldn't leave Scott down there to stall them for any longer.
With trembling fingers he removed the hat he's worn in their presence for more than a month, letting his bald head be shown. He'd been lucky that the hat had even distracted from the fact that he didn't have much eyebrows to speak of anymore, but he really doesn't know how they hadn't noticed that. Maybe they had, they'd just chosen not to say anything.
He's wearing a t-shirt and pajama pants, what he wore when he went to the hospital for chemo treatments. They do nothing to hide the damage that the cancer has done to his body. He feels a little naked like this, he's tried so hard to hide this for so long that it feels unnatural to just remove his disguises and bare everything. And he feels awful that he's going to shock them so badly, but this is the only way he knows how to do this.
He navigates the stairs carefully, he's been so tired lately that he's extra clumsy and needs to watch where he's going, especially on the stairs. He doesn't look up until he reaches the bottom and when he does he looks up to meet the eyes of the pack, all staring at him with various degrees of realization.
Lydia's crying, with her hands covering her mouth and she's shaking her head. Jackson is holding onto her shoulders, looking confused, but realization is dawning for him too. Scott's holding Allison while she cries into his chest but he meets Stiles' eyes and gives a little nod of support. Peter, the creeper, is standing in the corner and looks more angry than anything else. But then, Stiles always thinks he looks a bit angry. Isaac looks even more like a kicked puppy than usual and really, he's got to stop looking like that because it just makes Stiles' heart hurt. But Derek, Derek's the worst.
He's standing in front of the fireplace, just staring at Stiles, with this look of complete disbelief and betrayal on his face. He looks like he's either going to cry, or he's going to hit something very, very hard. Stiles hates the fact that he put that look on Derek's face. Hates the fact that he's probably going to hurt Derek even further in the next few minutes.
"Um, hi," he says and actually enters the room, going to sit on the recliner that had been left open. "So, this is why I called you all here."
He's not really sure what to say. He knows that the werewolves have some idea of what's happening because they can smell the disease and the lingering scent of chemo, but he doesn't know how specific of an idea they have. He's not sure if the humans have any clue at all of anything beyond the fact that he's so obviously ill.
"Stiles," Lydia cries before clenching her hands even closer to her mouth. Stiles feels the tears welling up but he swallows them back.
"I'm sick," he offers up and Derek flinches, like Stiles hit him. "It's, it's not good. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia."
The second he says leukemia they're all on the same page. Jackson's confusion is cleared up, but instead he just looks wrecked. Isaac actually lets out a little whine. "I've, um, known for a few months now. I was waiting to tell you until I knew for sure."
He pauses, meeting each of their eyes for a moment before coming to rest on Derek's. "Knew what for sure? Stiles! Knew what!" Jackson demands and Stiles tears his eyes from Derek's.
"If I was going to survive, how long I had left," he simply states, as if it's some piece of inconsequential research that he thought they would find interesting.
"And how long is that?" It's Allison who asks that. Stiles isn't surprised, she's always been strong.
"Seven months at most, maybe less. I won't make it to graduation."
"Can't you get the bite?" Isaac demands, an edge of desperation in his voice. "It saved Erica, didn't it?"
Stiles looks down at his hands. He already knows the answer, he'd looked into this option when he first found out. He knows the answer, but he can't bring himself to say it. Peter's the one who finally has to do it. "It doesn't work that way. Cancer's, cancer's the body attacking itself. The accelerated healing of a werewolf would only speed the process up. Would only kill him faster."
"Gerard certainly didn't think that was the case," Isaac snaps out, looking a little surprised at himself for how hateful that sounded. It doesn't stop anyone from looking hopeful at that reminder.
Peter kind of closes his eyes, as if shutting off his sight would shut off everything else. "He was wrong."
No one knows what to say after that and silence falls around them. It's too heavy and full of unfulfilled promises and grief. Derek storms out after a few minutes, unable to take it. Peter and Isaac follow not too long after. Lydia, Allison, and Jackson don't leave for a long time, but still don't say much. Scott's the only one who stays the night.
Allison goes home from Stiles' and pulls out her bow. Her dad watches as she angrily stuffs a quiver full of arrows and grabs the bow that's not worn in yet, the one that takes more effort to use. He doesn't say anything when she goes into the backyard to set up the targets, all of them in the hardest to hit places, all of it designed to make her muscles sing in pain when she's through.
She spends hours shooting, stalking over to the targets to rip arrows out of them whenever she runs out. It's almost like she enters a state of zen calm, where nothing can touch her. It's just her and her trusty bow, something that has never failed her before and isn't likely to leave her any time in the future. She doesn't want to think, doesn't want to feel, so she just keeps shooting, because she knows if she stops then that means she has to face the real world. Allison isn't sure if she can do that right now, not sure if she will ever be ready to say goodbye to someone else she loves.
Her mother's been dead almost two years now, and Aunt Kate's been dead just a little bit longer but both of them still hurt. Her mom more than Kate, because she's come to terms with who her aunt was and knows that it ended better than most could have hoped for. But her mom, that loss will always hurt, even if she knows the full story now, knows what her mom did to Scott. Stiles is the one who knows just how much that loss hurts, the one who will never judge her for missing her mom, because he kind of knows how she feels, because he doesn't have a mom anymore either.
But both of those deaths are different from this, so very different. Her mom killed herself and Allison was left with an enemy to rail against, to focus all of her anger and grief onto. Aunt Kate was murdered by a beast and Allison got to help put that beast down. Allison can't fight a disease, can't do anything to make Stiles better, and she can't avenge him, because there's nothing and no one to direct all of this anger towards.
Eventually she gets so angry that when she starts ripping arrows out of the target she manages to break one and it's the last straw. She flings both pieces of the broken arrow onto the ground before dissolving into tears. She sinks to her knees and picks up the two pieces of arrow again, clutching them to her chest as she sobs at the injustice of it all.
In hind sight, he could have handled the big reveal better, but he's just glad that he got it over with. The next week is awful, everyone's either avoiding him or crying over him. It gets so bad that retreats to his room and will only admit Scott or his dad. Unless it's Derek, because he's willing to talk to Derek whenever he's ready, because this whole avoidance deal is breaking his heart, which, is actually totally fair because Stiles is pretty sure that he ripped Derek's heart apart with his whole, you know, dying thing.
Still, he really, really wants to talk to his boyfriend. If they're still together that is, because Stiles isn't really sure whether they are. He thinks so, but then the dying thing kind of puts a damper on the whole situation. So when Derek shows up in his room like a total creeper one night a week after he learned the truth, Stiles is relieved.
"I thought you'd never show up."
"I had to think," Derek says and actually comes to stand over the bed where Stiles laying, all tucked in and ready to sleep. He moves to get up but Derek just gently pushes him back down. "No, don't get up. You need your rest."
Stiles gives this disbelieving snort in response. "I'm not that bad, not yet. You don't need to treat me like glass."
"Stiles, I've always treated you like glass." At that Stiles gives him this completely incredulous look because he distinctively remembers the time that Derek slammed his head into his steering wheel and Derek actually returns the look with a small smile. "Well, ever since I realized how much I care about you." Stiles is much more willing to let that one slide by.
"I'm sorry that I just disappeared, but I couldn't handle it, still can't really handle this, but I need to be here. Need to spend as much time as I can with you." Derek sits at the edge of the bed then and Stiles sits up, leaning back into his pillows when Derek gives him a look. "It's just, I've lost everyone once already, lost my entire future, and I just started thinking that I'd gotten it back, that I had a future again, with you."
Stiles knows how difficult this is for Derek to say, knows how much this hurts. He just opens up his arms and pulls Derek into his embrace. For a long moment the older man stays stiff and then he just relaxes against Stiles, arranging himself so that he fits perfectly into Stiles' arms. "I'm here right now," Stiles whispers as he runs his fingers through Derek's hair. "For now, I can stay by your side."
It's not much, it's not enough, but it's all he has. He won't offer up false hopes because in the end that will just make it worse. Derek has to come to terms with the fact that he can't do anything, he can't save Stiles, and that Stiles will die in a few short months. Those are the facts. Nothing's going to change them.
For now those words work and the dam breaks. Derek cries into his shoulder and Stiles just holds him. He might let go of a few tears himself, but mainly he just holds Derek as his world crashes down around him. Because Stiles is his anchor, and he has to anchor him until such time as he has to leave.
The next morning when his dad comes in to check on Stiles he finds the two of them curled up in Stiles' bed, tear tracks still visible on their faces. He doesn't wake them, just quietly shuts the door again and goes downstairs to make breakfast for three. He has a feeling that the house will be holding a lot more people than just him and Stiles for the next few months, until the number of occupants is reduced to one.
Over the next month Stiles seems to get a little better. He regains a little bit of the weight he lost from the chemo and his hair kind of grows back in. He still wears the hat from Lydia. It makes the others feel better that he's looking better, gives them a little hope that maybe he'll make it at least to graduation. But that hope is false and they know it.
Now that he's stopped hiding the scent the wolves can smell the disease in him, can sense his pain. Every now and then, when they notice it's starting to get too much for him, they draw it off. But they don't do it too often because Stiles doesn't like it. He knows that they heal almost right away, but he hates seeing them in pain, especially when it's his pain they're feeling.
Every day he starts to fade just a little bit more. He doesn't have the energy for things that he used to love. He doesn't talk nearly as much as he used to. The change is gradual and they wouldn't even notice if it weren't for the fact that they're all actively on the alert for any changes in him. Sometimes it makes him feel like he's got eight mother hens watching his every move, because his dad's definitely keeping a super close eye on him.
But he also kind of loves it. He used to have to fight for their attention, now he has it all the time. It makes him feel good to know that they love him that much. Especially because he can remember thinking at one point in his life that no one would miss him if he just disappeared. Turns out he was wrong.
Not just because of the pack, but also the people at school when they find out. Danny actually hugs him and tells him that yes, he is attractive to gay guys. It makes him laugh. Everyone at school seems to either want to give him a hug or avoids him. He's a little glad he doesn't have to deal with that because he's always surrounded by pack and Lydia's intimidating. At all times. Even when she's not physically present.
The only time that he waves them off is when Boyd and Erica come up to him one day at the end of November, right before Thanksgiving. They pull him aside and apologize, apologize for everything that's gone wrong over the past two years. They tell him they might not be a part of his pack anymore, might have once actually fought against his pack, but they would never wish for anything like this to happen, not to anyone in the Hale Pack, but especially not to Stiles. Stiles is still wary of them, still a little hurt, not because they chose to leave but because they chose to fight against them, but he tells them that he forgives them. He tells them to live their lives well.
He calls Erica Catwoman again and bumps fists with Boyd before returning to the pack, who had watched the entire thing so closely that Stiles wouldn't be surprised if they knew everything that had been said. None of them talk about it again, no one acknowledges what has passed, but the pack do sometimes nod their heads in acknowledgement when they see Erica or Boyd in the hallway at school after that.
It's all awesome until he remembers that the reason for all this love is the fact that he's dying, not that he ever really forgets. The knowledge's always there, at the back of his mind. Sometimes he wishes he could forget, but he can't. The others might think he's a little better, but he knows the truth.
The side effects of the chemo have been replaced by the symptoms of the disease itself and those aren't any better. He's tired all the time. He actually has to take at least one nap every day or he'll just collapse from exhaustion. He hates that more than anything. He doesn't want to spend what little time he has left asleep. That's just a waste.
By Christmas break he knows he won't be going back to school. He doesn't say anything, because the others still think he's feeling better. He knows the truth. The disease has been spreading faster than the doctor originally thought. The initial seven months had been downgraded to six, meaning he's due to expire in April. Stiles knows he won't make it even that long.
On his last day of school Stiles acts as normally as he possibly can. He pays attention, he takes notes, he answers questions just as he's always done. He clings to the ordinariness of the day, refuses to acknowledge the fact that his efforts right now are useless. He doesn't need to know calculus because he's not going to college next year, there's no point in him learning any more Spanish. He won't be able to use it anyway.
What's worse is that none of his teachers expect him to be paying attention. If he's not paying attention and they see him passing notes to Scott they just give him that sad look he's become so accustomed to seeing in the eyes of adults. The one that says 'poor boy, so young for this' and make him feel more ashamed than anything else. Not that he should be ashamed, he has nothing to be ashamed for, but the idea that they pity him because he'll die young is just shameful to him. He's trying to experience and cherish every moment he has left and all they can see is all the time he'll never have.
Stiles is just glad that Harris has never given him that look, that the only indication Harris has given of knowing about Stiles being sick is that he no longer seeks out ways to make Stiles' life difficult. Coach Finstock is the best though. He literally does not treat Stiles any differently, even though Stiles knows that he knows. Finstock just keeps calling him 'Bolinski' and yelling at Greenberg. For some reason this is one of the highlights of Stiles' day, most likely because of the sheer normality of the event.
At the end of the day he clears out his locker. There's not actually much in there, because Stiles has slowly been clearing it out a little at a time since Thanksgiving. All that's really left are his textbooks and some pens. The textbooks he brings to the library to return. The librarian almost tears up as she takes them and he hightails it out of there to the parking lot, where Scott is waiting in Stiles' jeep. He tucks the pens into Scott's backpack when his friend isn't looking, knowing that Scott will need some when school starts again and Stiles isn't there to lend him one.
He does his best to make Christmas the best day ever. It's his last one and he made everyone promise not to buy him presents, because he had no use for them. He knows they listened because he did it while he had tears in his eyes and that's the biggest guilt trip ever, when the dying guy asks you to do something while crying.
They all sleep over on Christmas Eve, making excuses to their understanding families. Stiles is the first one awake and wakes them all up with more energy than he's displayed in weeks. It makes them smile at the ungodly hour of the morning.
He insists that they all open presents, which he sorts and hands out himself. No one else is allowed to touch a present while they remain under the tree. It's like he's a little kid again and it makes his dad have to excuse himself in order to keep from crying. No one mentions his red and puffy eyes when the Sheriff rejoins them for breakfast.
After breakfast Stiles makes them go out and have a snowball fight because, miracle of miracles, Beacon Hills actually has a white Christmas for once. Stiles is pretty sure it's because someone wants to make up for the fact that this is his last Christmas. After the snowball fight and the snowman building contest they all troop inside and Allison makes the best hot chocolate ever.
He has to take a nap after lunch, but that's okay because he's awake and alert for Christmas Dinner, which is surprisingly good despite the fact that the majority of the people in the house have no idea how to cook. Stiles falls asleep that night curled up on the sofa with Derek and everyone else lounging around the den (and when did the living room become the den?) watching Christmas movies. When he wakes up the next morning he's in his own bed and for a moment he's so sad that Christmas is over. So sad that he'll never have that again that he can't get up. Then he remembers that he still has New Year's to look forward to and finds the energy to start the day.
School starts up again a week into January, but just as Stiles predicted he's not there. Every day the pack comes over directly from school and all of them look a little relieved when they find Stiles there, still alive. This reaction never quite goes away even as January drags on, but they get better at hiding it.
He starts saying his goodbyes at the end of the month. He knows that the doctors are hopeful that he'll make it until the end of March, maybe April, but he can feel the end coming. Can feel it in the way his bones don't stop hurting and every day he spends more time asleep. Even when he's awake he's so tired and it's all he can do to keep talking sometimes.
And that's really what tells him that it's time. He remembers all those years ago, when his mom had said goodbye to him and now he understands her a little better. It wasn't that she was giving up, giving in to the disease, it was that she'd accepted the inevitable and chosen to go gracefully, to die without any regrets. Stiles wants to follow her example and that means he has to say goodbye to everyone he loves, everyone who he's leaving behind. He's a little surprised that the list is so long, but it gives him a little energy to realize that while he might be going, he won't be alone when the time comes.
His dad would have been first, but Stiles can't face that quite yet so he pushes that off. It's the same with Derek and Scott. The three most important men in his life, he can't mess up their goodbyes, so he needs to say goodbye to the others first, so that he'll know what to say when it's time. So he decides on Jackson first, because he and Jackson might be bros now, but they're also the least close of the whole pack. Besides, Jackson is, like, allergic to emotions. He'll be the easiest, Stiles hopes.
He and Jackson are sitting in the kitchen together, alone except for the Sheriff upstairs in his office. It's not rare that Jackson and Stiles are alone together, it's just rare that none of the other werewolves are within hearing distance, but Stiles is grateful for this opportunity. He wants to take advantage of it.
"Jackson, I know we weren't always friends," he begins and Jackson's eyes focus on him with such intensity that he's a little surprised they haven't begun to glow. "I mean, remember that restraining order?" He tries for a joke, but it falls flat.
"Are you trying to say goodbye?" Jackson asks, sounding terrified and angry, and Stiles wants to know how everyone can read him so well. "Because you can't, not yet. You've still got months." He's got his old demanding tone and that makes Stiles want to smile, but he doesn't. With Jackson, this goodbye will be serious. He can't joke here.
"I'm tired, Jackson. I'm so very tired," he says and Jackson lets one tear fall. "I need to make sure that I get to say goodbye to all of you before I go. It's important to me."
"But why now? Why can't you wait just a little longer? Why are you giving up hope?"
Stiles sighs, because he remembers asking those questions all those years ago. "I can feel it. I'm dying and I need to accept that. And all of you do too. I'm not giving up hope of a miracle, I'm just preparing for the worst."
He allows that lie to slip through, even though he'd promised himself he'd be honest. But he remembers what he yelled at Lydia so long ago, that death happens to everyone around you, not to you. So he gives Jackson what he needs to hear, hoping that it'll make it a little easier in the end.
"And I don't want to leave the possibility open that I might go without saying goodbye, because I think that's about the only thing I'd regret."
"Okay," Jackson manages, rubbing at his eyes but not succeeding in stopping the tears. "If this is your goodbye, then I want you to know that I might have made fun of you before, but you're my pack now, my brother." The last part is left unspoken, but Stiles knows that Jackson loves him, even if he still can't say it out loud.
"I love you too," Stiles says and Jackson relaxes a little, as if relieved that Stiles had heard what had been hanging in the air. "And I want to tell you that when you graduate and go off to school, you have to remember that your pack will still be here for you, that we'll always be here, even if some of us are there only in spirit."
Stiles worries that being on his own will undo all the work Jackson has put into getting where he is now. He also worries that his death will set Jackson back too. "And I want you to know that me dying has nothing to do with you. It's not your fault, there's nothing you could have done, and it's just a part of life."
Jackson lets out a little sob then and Stiles grips his hand as hard as he can, wishing he had the strength to clutch it harder. "I want you to live your life the best you can and don't worry about those who are gone, because you've still got the rest of the pack and they'll always be your family. I'll always be your family, even when I'm gone."
Jackson is really sobbing now, and Stiles knows it's because this is the first time that Jackson has really been confronted with the fact that Stiles is dying. That Stiles will be gone in a few short months and that another member of his family will have left him behind. And Stiles wants him to accept that now, while Stiles can still watch over him and comfort him.
They end up on the floor together, leaning against the cabinets with Jackson's head in Stiles' lap. They're crying together until they don't have any more tears left. Then they sit quietly together for a while, until the rest of the pack shows up to take Jackson from Stiles and to care for him while Stiles goes to lie down. Neither of them says anything about that goodbye, both intuitively knowing that the words don't need to be spoken aloud again, and that they've made their peace with the circumstances and with each other and nothing more needs to be said.
Peter's the next one that Stiles says goodbye to, because if anyone can deal with death, it's Peter. And Stiles really does need an easy goodbye, because judging from the way Jackson reacted and how emotionally exhausting it was, even if it was cathartic too, he's going to need a lot more energy to deal with the rest of the goodbyes. So he talks with Peter next.
It's a little strange, because Peter's never really left alone with anyone, but Stiles had spent a week engineering it so that Peter has to pick him up from a doctor's appointment since everyone else is busy. (None of them figure it out until much later that they're all busy because Stiles made sure that they were.)
"Does it hurt?" Stiles asks, knowing that Peter will understand what he's talking about. "Is it like in Harry Potter? 'Faster and easier than falling asleep'?"
Peter doesn't say anything for a long moment. By the time he does speak Stiles has almost given up on an answer. "Not in any way that I can talk about, but all your physical pain does stop. You'll at least be healthy again." Not exactly what Stiles was going before, but still something. Stiles can't quite remember what it was not to hurt anymore.
"But it was different for me, because I wasn't quite dead. Not like how it'll be for you," Peter continues, and Stiles is grateful for that matter of fact tone. The pack doesn't like to come out and talk about the fact that Stiles is going to die soon and he finds it refreshing that Peter is willing to. "I think that when you go, it'll be to a peaceful rest, to someplace better than this, where you can see your mother again and wait for the rest of the pack to join you."
"You'll watch out for them after I leave, won't you? Make sure they don't do anything too stupid without me there to stop them?" That was something Stiles had worried about, because he loved the pack more than anything but none of them had much common sense, or even much of a sense of self preservation. And Peter might have a checkered past, but he's better now, Stiles can see how much Peter cares about the pack, even if he hides it carefully under a layer of sass and disdain.
They're pulling into the driveway and Peter has turned the car off, getting out and walking around to Stiles' side to help him, all without a word. He opens the door and Stiles leans heavily on him to get out, always so weak after an appointment. "I promise you, Stiles, I will do everything in my power to take care of them for you," Peter promises while they're standing in the doorway, before anyone else has noticed they've arrived.
"Thank you, but make sure you let them take care of you, too," Stiles says, feeling as if a weight has been lifted from his chest. "I'm trusting you with them, and them with you. Take care of each other."
Peter looks a little teary at that but is quick to hide it when Lydia comes into the room and lights up when she sees Stiles is home. Stiles and Peter share one last look, knowing that everything that needs to be said has been said and that's the end. They've reached an understanding.
"Don't break Scott's heart." That's how Stiles begins his goodbye to Allison, because they might be closer than they were, but she will always be first and foremost Scott's girl. It's really the only reason she joined the pack, and while she might be fully integrated into the pack and an important part in her own right now, originally it all came back to her and Scott. Their forbidden love that's not so forbidden anymore.
And Allison has hurt Scott before, a lot more than Scott's ever hurt her. She once tried to kill all of them and it took a lot to forgive her and to trust her again after that. So Stiles isn't worried that Scott will hurt her, but that one day she'll figure out that maybe this isn't what she wants from life and she'll hurt Scott irreparably on her way out.
She just gives him a startled and slightly hurt look right now though, as if she can't even imagine doing something like that. "I would never do anything to hurt Scott," she argues, and he's pretty sure she'd sound a lot more pissed if it wasn't him who had said it and if he wasn't sick. He doesn't care.
"Right now you wouldn't, but Allison, you're being pulled in two different directions and right now you've got the balancing act down, but you won't always. Eventually you'll have to make a decision." She looks like she wants to argue but he just gives her a look and keeps talking. "You're pack, a part of you will always be pack, but that doesn't mean that someday down the road you might decide that your family needs you and that you want to be a Hunter.
"And even if you do decide to be a hunter, I know you'll follow the code to the letter, so I don't need to worry if you decide on that. I just want to make sure that you know that I can forgive anything that you choose to do with your life as long as you don't break Scott's heart."
Allison doesn't say anything for a long time as she begins to cry and takes Stiles' hand into hers. They're standing outside the house after having gone for a walk because Stiles insisted he wanted the fresh air. It hadn't been far, just around the block because any further and it was just too much, but now Stiles has stopped and is saying goodbye.
He's saying goodbye out in the open air, where Allison's always felt more free. And she appreciates that, because in a way, by having this conversation outside, he's really showing her that he will always support her no matter what decision she makes in the future. She's so, so grateful for that. She'd worried that in the future she'd be haunted by the fact that Stiles' disapproval would hang over her, like a ghost, because she might have to choose one day to leave the pack, when Stiles is being forced to leave.
"Thank you," she whispers and he pulls her into a hug, holding her while she cries. This goodbye was easier, because he doesn't need to ask anything of her, he just needs to let her know that she's free to make her own decisions. He doesn't want to be the ghost that haunts her, he wants to be a dear memory, one that will give her strength when it comes time to make that decision.
Lydia knows what Stiles is doing. Three people down on his list, but she's known ever since he said his goodbye to Jackson. She'd been the one to hold Jackson later that night, when he'd broken down in tears once again. Lydia had cried with him, too, even though she hadn't been forced to say goodbye yet. She knows her turn's coming, though. Knows it won't be too long.
Her parents don't know how to handle this. They know that one of her friends is dying of cancer, the whole town knows that the Sheriff's son is dying, but they don't know how to deal with it. Her father buys her more things than ever, and while she might accept it sometimes, it's making her physically sick to her stomach now. She hasn't even opened the bags he'd left in her room, just shoved them to the back of the closet. It was wrong before when he was trying to buy her affection, now it's sick.
She wants to tell Stiles about it, but she knows that she can't. So she talks to Allison, because Allison is her best friend, and Allison understands. Lydia's not sure who holds whom the night after Stiles said goodbye to Allison, because they're both crying. Lydia's still not sure what she'll do when it comes time for her turn.
It's another week before he says goodbye to Isaac. This one's not as hard, surprisingly, but Stiles thinks it's because he and Isaac have never had any real issues with each other, except for that brief passive-aggressive competition over Scott. But that was resolved long ago and now everything would be smooth sailing if Stiles wasn't dying. And it always comes back to that, doesn't it?
Stiles can't do anything anymore without a reminder of the fact that yes, he's dying. Every day he gets closer and closer to the end and he can feel it like the hangman's noose tightening around his neck, making it harder to breath. Sometimes he worries that he'll have panic attacks over the fact that he's dying, but lately he's starting to feel better. Every time he says goodbye to someone, every time he makes peace with the fact that he's leaving someone behind, that noose gets a little less claustrophobic.
So he continues his goodbyes, no matter how difficult it is to begin each of them. Though somehow he always manages it. With Isaac he goes back to Scott, the thing that they have the most in common. And it's a good way to say goodbye, because he gets to make peace with Isaac and find a way to take care of Scott even when he's not going to be physically there anymore.
Isaac doesn't see it the same way, at first. "I can't take your place. You're his best friend, always have been, and I, I can't just replace you because you've died. I can't do that, Stiles. It's not fair to you, or to him, or even to me. I can't be you, no one can be you, your shoes are just too big to fill."
Stiles grins at that, he'd never thought that anyone would ever describe him as having shoes too big to fill, but he sobers up pretty quickly when he realizes just how upset Isaac is. "No, no I didn't mean it like that. I don't want you to replace me, I know that that's a stupid idea," Stiles blurts out, and god, does he know that that's a stupid idea, even if he has thought about it. "I just want you to know that when I'm gone, that means Scott's going to go to you for everything and you're going to have to be ready for that.
"I'm not telling you to be me, I'm telling you that I trust you to take care of Scott after I'm gone. And that Scott will take care of you and I don't want you to ever think that I wouldn't want that. I want you guys to move on and make new friends and just live. Live the rest of your life as best you can, for yourself and for me. Can you do that?"
Isaac nods, crying quietly to himself. This entire conversation has been held in hushed tones in Stiles' bedroom because there are werewolves with super hearing just downstairs. It's been a bad day for Stiles and he couldn't get out of bed today, his fever having spiked during the night. So someone's been sitting with him all day and he chose to take advantage of that fact when Isaac had taken over from Lydia.
"Good, because you've got too many years ahead of you to ever waste feeling guilty over the fact that you're alive and I'm not. It's just the way things worked out and if I can accept that, then you have to too, because no matter what you might think, you do deserve to be healthy, to live, to be Scott's best friend."
"Thank you. I love you. Goodbye," Isaac says and Stiles starts to cry too, because that's when he knows that Isaac has really understood everything he's been trying to say. Everything that Stiles has left unsaid too, because even now the words don't come easily.
They're quiet for the rest of the time that Isaac sits with him and a little before Derek comes in to replace Isaac, Stiles falls into a peaceful sleep. It's more peaceful than he'd managed for a few days and when he wakes up his fever has broken. Derek is relieved, but Stiles knows that it's just another sign that he's right to be saying his goodbyes. Because each time it brings a little more healing, not to his body, but to his soul.
"I'm dying," Stiles says to Lydia one day about a week after he'd said his goodbye to Isaac. It's now February and the days are slowly starting to warm up while Stiles just gets weaker and weaker. "I'm dying," he repeats when she just looks at him with wide eyes that are filling with tears. "I'm seventeen years old and I'm dying."
"I know," she whispers, one perfect tear escaping. And yeah, he's still allowed to think she's perfect, even if now he thinks it in the manner of an older brother. "I know, Stiles."
"Good," he tells her, because if there's one person in the world he can be brutally honest with, it's Lydia Martin. "Because it's going to be soon and you need to be prepared."
Lydia is crying more than the time when they thought Jackson was dead, before he woke up a werewolf. "Please, Stiles," her voice is cracking and her perfect mascara is ruined. "You've still got time."
"Lydia," he says, and he makes the rebuke in his voice as gentle as possible, because he doesn't actually want to hurt her. "I'm dying. This isn't something we can just put off indefinitely."
"Just a little while longer?" Lydia pleads, lying down next to Stiles on the bed, curling up into his side and resting her head on his shoulder. Her tears are already making his shirt wet. "I'm not ready to let you go yet, please, not yet."
Stiles doesn't say anything for a long moment, just letting Lydia cry and deal with her emotions for a little bit. It gives Stiles time to gather his thoughts, because he knew this one was going to be the hardest yet, but he still wasn't ready. But then, he's never been ready for anything when it comes to Lydia Martin.
"That's why we need to talk now, because when the time does come, the pack is going to need you more than ever. Peter promised he'd make sure the pack doesn't do anything too stupid, but you know he'll still let them get away with too much. You have to be there to take care of them too," Stiles says.
He knows this is a lot to ask, he knows that he's basically telling her that she needs to mourn him while he's still alive so that she can be the pack's anchor when he does die, but he also knows that she can do it. Lydia's so much stronger than even she gives herself credit for. Besides, she's the only one that he can trust to do the job and to do it well. The others might try, but it would all devolve into chaos if Stiles doesn't make sure that Lydia's on the job.
"And with me gone, all the researching will fall to you. I know you can handle that, especially with the system we've made, but you need to let Allison know if you need help. She'll be a much bigger help than anyone else."
"This isn't fair."
It's the first time the words have been said out loud since that first melt down that Stiles had, way back in September when all of this really hit him. Now the words just make him tired rather than enraged. He's so tired of everything all the time, he's even tired of being tired. Of course, he's not really sure whether she's referring to the fact that Stiles is dying that's unfair, or if his expectations of her aren't fair. Either one works.
"Life isn't fair. In fact, sometimes it really sucks, but we need to move on and do the best we can anyway," he tells her, stroking her hair. "And in this case, it's not fair of me to expect you to take care of the pack, but I'm going to do it anyway. Because it's what all of you need."
They're silent for a long while, Stiles lets out a few tears but he mainly just strokes Lydia's hair while she sobs. When she gets herself under control she's not pretty. Her mascara's in trails down her cheeks and her hair is a mess and there's even some snot, but she's in control again. She's herself, and that's what makes her so beautiful to Stiles.
"You're the most beautiful and smartest person I've ever met and if anyone can make sure that the pack gets through this, it's you. Because remember what I told you once? That death happens to everyone around you, not to you?" Lydia winces at the painful reminder of that conversation, and the painful truth of it she's only just discovering. "Well, now it's really happening to the pack and I need you to stay strong, to take care of them once I can't anymore."
"I promise. I'll do my best to get them through this," Lydia's voice is strong now, and she's no longer whispering. He looks at her for a long moment, gauging how she is and then nods and closes her eyes.
"Thank you. I love you, Lydia, I always have and I'm glad that you'll be here."
They don't say anything more after that, just take comfort in each other's presence. At some point they both fall asleep and when Allison finds them she knows that Stiles' has said goodbye to one more person by the tear and mascara marks on Lydia's face. She takes a picture of the two of them curled up on Stiles' bed, because she knows that one day Lydia will want it.
Scott's the one he doesn't have to be strong for, the one he doesn't have to ask things of. He and Scott have always understood each other, always known exactly what the other wanted of them. So Stiles gets to use this goodbye as a way of letting go himself. They're spending the day before Valentine's Day together, plotting how to surprise their significant others.
This is Stiles' first Valentine's Day he's had a significant other and it's also his last so he's not going to waste it. He's got shit planned. Derek has no idea, Stiles is pretty sure Derek doesn't even realize that February 14th is anything more special than a Thursday. But first he's going to spend the day with Scott.
"I'm angry," Stiles says, out of the blue, after they've finished a game. "I'm really, really angry that this is all so unfair. I'm only seventeen, I should not be dying."
Scott puts down his controller and turns to face Stiles, face sober. "I know."
"All the time. Sometimes I lay awake at night and just think about how unfair all of this is. But I can't say it out loud, because I can't do that to everyone else. I can't let them know how angry I am."
"I know now. And I'm angry too," Scott says and that does make Stiles feel better. Scott's not always the brightest crayon in the box, but he gets Stiles. He understands what Stiles needs to hear, just as Stiles understands that Scott needs to know how Stiles really feels about this. Because on some level Scott's always known how angry Stiles is, but he needs the verbal confirmation.
Stiles dashes away the tears that are threatening to fall. "I'm scared, too. I don't want to die. I want to graduate and go to college and marry Derek and adopt little werewolf babies. I had my whole life ahead of me and it just got snatched away and I'm scared. I'm scared of dying."
Scott doesn't know how to respond to that, so he does the only thing he can. He reaches across the couch and pulls Stiles into a hug. They cry together, as they haven't since Scott first found out. Scott and Stiles have been saying their goodbyes for months now, in little ways. Ever since that weekend in October. So Stiles doesn't have to say anything else, just that acknowledgement of the fact that he's not totally at peace is everything they both needed.
Because their actions have always spoken so much louder than their words to each other and that means Stiles doesn't need to actually say goodbye to Scott. Scott already knows everything he would say anyway. They just need to share this moment of acknowledgement that this whole situation royally sucks and after their tears dry they'll go back to video games and plotting, because that's who they are and that's what they do.
This goodbye comes a week after Scott's, when his dad came in to check on him before going to bed himself. Stiles stopped him from leaving by catching his sleeve, like he had when he was little and had wanted just one more story. "Dad?" he asked, just as he had when he was six years old.
"Yes, Stiles?" his dad asks, voice heavy with dread as he sits down on the edge of the bed. The one light in the room is behind him, casting his face into shadow. Stiles wants to stop, wants to back out of this, it's not too late, but he can't. He needs to do this, he can feel the days slipping away like sand through his fingers. He knows he doesn't have much time left.
"I love you. I love you so much and I don't want to leave you, I don't," he says, all in one breath, just like he always used to. It makes his dad crack a smile through the tears that have begun to fall. "If I could, I'd stay here, with you, for forever, but it doesn't work like that."
His dad's crying now, those big gulping tears that kind of shake your entire body. He's kind of making choked sounds as well, as if he wants to be screaming but he can't let it out. He can't let them be free because if he does then he won't be able to stop. It's an abortive measure, one that's ripping Stiles' heart into even more pieces than it was already in.
"I know, son. I love you so much, and I wish more than anything that I could save you," he manages to say through the tears, pausing every now and then for a gasping breath to stifle the sobs that still threaten. "That I could just put you somewhere safe and you could stay there, happy and healthy, for years, until you were old and grey."
"Dad, when I die, I want you to keep going. You can't just shut down, you have to keep living. Stay in contact with the pack, help take care of them. They need an adult to look after them," Stiles says, a little desperately. He's more worried about the effect that Stiles' death will have on his dad than the actual act of dying, no matter what he confessed to Scott about his fear. He wants desperately to protect his dad from being alone, and knows that he can in some way.
He's got a pack who looks up to him who will need a steady, guiding hand when he's gone. And he's got a father who will be all alone when he dies, a father who needs someone to look after in order to keep him sane. Stiles can be the bigger person and give them to each other, even if a part of him is like some little kid and wants to cling to both of them, keeping them separate and jealously guarding them.
"Stiles…" his dad chokes out, but he doesn't say anything else, he doesn't have the words.
Stiles does though, he's been thinking about this for a while. "Please, Dad. You need each other, and I'll be with Mom. You won't have to worry about me anymore, but they'll be getting into all sorts of trouble. You know they will."
His dad's kind of got himself more under control now, but only enough that he's not really gasping for breath around sobs. The tears are just coming now, without the special effects. It's almost worse because Stiles knows he can't stop the tears, can't get himself under control and his dad is all about control over himself.
"Stiles. You're my son. I held you when you were just minutes old, already screaming at the world to notice you. I've loved you since before," his voice breaks here and he lets out another sob before he can continue. "Since before you even drew your first breath. I can't, I can't just replace you. No matter how much they might need someone or how much I care about them, you will always be my kid, my son. And I can't let go of that. I'll never be able to let go of you."
This is exactly why Stiles needs to do this, needs to have this closure. Because if he doesn't his dad will spend the rest of his life drowning in a bottle and living in the past, with his wife and son. "Dad. I know. I know that you love me. I know that I'm your son, that we'll always have a special bond. But just because I have to go doesn't mean that you can stop living your life.
"And I know you. You need someone to take care of. The pack can give you that, they need you just as much as you need them. And it'll be a connection to me, on both sides. So please, Dad, please."
Stiles hates this, hates guilting his dad into this, but he knows that in the end this will be for his own good. They're silent for a long moment before his dad lets out this long, shuddering sigh and leans over to press a kiss onto Stiles' forehead. "I'll try, for you. I'll try and move on and take care of them."
"That's all I ask. I love you Dad, I always will, no matter what." His dad doesn't leave until after Stiles has fallen asleep, instead he just sits on the edge of the bed, stroking Stiles' short hair until he's lulled into sleep, the same way he was when he was a baby. Then the sheriff gets up and goes to his own room, carefully shutting Stiles' door behind him to make sure he doesn't wake up his son.
He goes downstairs and just falls bonelessly onto the couch. He cries then, as he hasn't let himself. Really, truly sobs. In frustration, in anger, in desperation, and most of all, in grief. Just lets out everything he's been keeping bottled up since before Stiles got sick, probably even since his wife died. It's even worse than the tears in Stiles' room because this time he doesn't try to stifle the sobs. He just lets them out, until it feels like his lungs are burning from lack of air and his head is pounding. Eventually though, the tears stop.
He's a little surprised that they do, because he feels as if he's never finished crying over his wife, and now he'll never have dry eyes again. He looks longingly towards the kitchen, where he keeps the whiskey before he realizes what he's doing. The realization that he wants a drink so badly, to dull this pain, to dull the memories of his family, makes him feel disgusting.
He gets up, filled with determination and a new sense of purpose, and goes to the kitchen. He goes through all his hiding places, all the little nooks and crannies, gathering all of alcohol. He dumps all of it down the sink, refusing to use his crutch anymore. He doesn't want it to steal what little time he has left with his son, or to keep him from fulfilling what Stiles has asked of him.
It's almost the end of February before Stiles can work up the courage to say his last goodbye. He's not sure if this is the most important one, not when he's had to say goodbye to both Scott and his dad, but it's pretty damn important. Because if he doesn't give Derek this closure then he's pretty sure that his stupid sourwolf will go back to the creeper who couldn't handle emotions that he was when they first met. Maybe even worse.
And Stiles really, really doesn't want that to happen. Not just because it would be his fault, but also because he wants Derek to be happy. More than anything he wants Derek to be happy, even if he has to be happy without Stiles by his side. So he has to say goodbye, he has to let Derek go.
He does it when they're sitting out in back, wrapped up together in blankets and just watching the stars. The others protested when Stiles said he wanted to stargaze, but Stiles can be pretty stubborn when he wants to be. Besides, Derek was there to make sure he stayed warm, and it wasn't like Stiles could get much sicker. They might not have realized it, but Stiles' clock isn't operating in terms of weeks anymore. It's ticking down the days, and pretty soon it'll transfer to hours.
"I love you, Derek," he says, leaning his head back against the other man's chest and watching his breath dissipate. "I hope you know that."
"I do," Derek says. "I love you too." That makes Stiles smile, because he knew it, but he didn't think that Derek would manage to say the words while he was still alive. It makes him feel all warm and fuzzy that he did.
"I know," Stiles says. "I want you to move on after I'm gone, find someone else who you love, who makes you happy, who will help you lead the pack."
Derek freezes, his entire body stiffening. "What?" he almost chokes out, as if Stiles has suggested something completely ludicrous.
"Derek. You're young, you've got your whole life ahead of you. You've got to move on, realize that the living need you much more than the dead do. That yes, you've lost so many people, too many people, but that there are others out there who want the chance to love you."
He doesn't respond and Stiles is pretty sure that he's trying not to cry based on the way that he's clutching Stiles to himself. "You can't blame yourself for this. I got sick, it wasn't your fault. It had nothing to do with you, these things happen sometimes. And yeah, it's fucking tragic and unfair, but it happens. And you just have to deal with it and move on with your life.
"So promise me you'll move on, Derek. Promise me that you won't go back to what you were before, packless and lost. Because even when I'm gone you won't be alone, you'll still have your pack. So just promise me you'll keep going."
"I promise." The words sound forced, but Stiles isn't going to argue with them. He knows just how much it's costing Derek right now to say those words. Knows how much more difficult it will be for him to actually go through with that promise when the time comes.
"I'll hold you to that promise."
They sit together in silence for a long time, enjoying each other's company and the spectacular view of the sky. Finally Allison comes to get them because they'd only agreed Stiles could go out for an hour and it's been two. Time to go. And Stiles does without argument, he's said what he needed to.
When Stiles wakes up that day he knows it's the end. He can feel it. That knowledge somehow makes it easier for him to get up and greet the day, to see his loved ones. It's the first truly warm and nice day that they've had yet this year. The first day of false Spring, and Stiles loves it.
Spring was always his favorite season, with all of its new beginnings, and he's glad that he'll get one last taste of it before he goes. He eats more at breakfast than usual that day and that makes his dad smile and eases the tension a little that's settled into Derek's shoulders. Stiles smiles as much as he can and talks a lot, because he likes to do it and because he knows it makes them feel better. He wants them to remember him like this, happy and babbling and energetic, wants them to remember his last day as having been a really good day.
After breakfast the rest of the pack shows up, as they always do. They spend most of the morning just hanging out in the den, playing video games, reading books, and talking. Always talking. Stiles finds as the day wears on that he still has so much to say and not nearly enough time to say it in. He's glad that he got his goodbyes out of the way, so that he can enjoy this though.
He's said the really important stuff, the rest doesn't matter as much. During lunch he actually makes Derek laugh twice and he thinks that today could possibly be the best day ever and he's glad that time gets to stop here for him, glad that he'll be able to stay in this moment forever.
The others have finally noticed how tired he is, and he's been trying to hide it a little because he just knows that next time he goes to sleep he won't wake up. He just knows it. But after lunch he gives in, he knows that this is where he belongs and it's time for him to go to sleep.
He lays down on the couch, stretched out with his head pillowed in Derek's lap and his feet in his dad's. Scott sits on the floor right in front of him, leaning back against the couch and Allison rests her head on his shoulder. Lydia and Jackson are curled up in the recliner while Isaac has taken over the entirety of the loveseat. Peter's sitting in the corner, keeping an eye out on all of them and he gives Stiles a little nod when he notices him looking at him.
There's some movie playing on the TV but no one's really paying attention. "I love you all," Stiles mumbles, just loud enough that the humans can hear him too. They kind of laugh and Derek runs his hand through Stiles' hair and it feels so nice that Stiles just kind of slips slowly into sleep.
The rest of them continue talking in soft voices, still not paying attention to the movie. Stiles' heart beat continues at a slow pace, the sound which the werewolves have centered their lives around. And then, about twenty minutes after Stiles' had fallen asleep, it just stops. The absence of it makes it seem like silence has fallen everywhere and all of the werewolves stiffen and jerk their heads towards Stiles.
That clues the humans into the fact that something's wrong, and then the tears tell them exactly what that something is. Stiles' body is all that's left of him, with his hands still curled up next to his cheek and a small smile on his face.
He looks peaceful, so much more peaceful than he's looked in months, but they're all sobbing. Derek gathers Stiles into his arms and holds him while he rocks back and forth. The Sheriff's face has lost all its color and his hands are fisted so tightly that his knuckles are white. Allison is petting Scott's hair and crying quietly while he sobs into her chest. Jackson is sobbing while Lydia holds him and Isaac can't quite take it all in yet. Peter sits in the corner and watches them, hiding away the gaping hole that opened with Stiles' death.
The funeral is held just a few days later, all exactly to Stiles' instructions. There's a lot more people than they think Stiles would have expected, but then Stiles never really knew the effect that he could have on people. It seems to drag on for hours until finally the casket is lowered into the ground and the first few shovels of dirt are tossed over it.
The headstone is black granite and minimalist. There's just his name with Stiles in quotations in the center of his first and last name and the dates of his birth and death. Underneath is a carving of a wolf, because it's something that Stiles had wanted, had actually requested, and they hadn't known about until they'd seen the finished product.
None of them can really look at the headstone or the freshly covered grave, with brown dirt visible even through the multitudes of flowers that had been placed on top of it. Eventually the pack are the only ones left standing at the grave, even Sheriff Stilinski has gone, having been escorted home by Melissa McCall. They'll all meet up at the Stilinski house later, but right now the thought of going back to the house that's still full of Stiles' scent is too painful.
So they stand together at his grave, as if a small piece of him is still with him. Only after the sun sets do they leave, as a group, and go back to the last place that felt like home, the last place where Stiles had filled the room with his presence.
Over the next few weeks not a day goes by without someone from the pack visiting Stiles. Then as the weeks draw into months the occasional day or two happen when no one visits. These days aren't noticed, they're just days when the pack is finally slipping back into everyday life and routine. As months slip into years Stiles' grave becomes a gathering place for special occasions.
Weddings, births, holidays all necessitate a visit to Stiles. Not all of the pack is at every one of those visits, but twice a year, they're all there. Once on Stiles' birthday, even though he never liked to make a fuss. Then again on the anniversary of his death, a much more somber affair where they tell all the stories that take years of healing before they can come out.
Stories about the boy who ran with wolves.
A/N: So this story has just had the most amazing response and I would like to thank all of you so much for reading, reviewing, and/or favoriting it. And I'd especially like to thank all those who have shared their own stories with me. It's for all of you that I decided I needed to go back and revise this, to make it at least little worthy of the response it's gotten. So here you are, Slipping Away 2.0 and below are the two frequently asked questions that I feel I need to address.
Also, I've chosen to add in Erica and Boyd because so many people asked me about them. I chose not to include them in the first version because I set this after all the drama of the Alpha Pack and I just have a feeling that they won't go back to the pack when there's another choice, with most likely a stronger and more stable pack, so I chose not to include them. I really, really hope I'm wrong, but it was a strong enough feeling that I consciously made the decision not to include them in Slipping Away. However, in this version I felt like I should include them in at least some small way just for all the people who were so angry I chose not to.
In addition, for those who asked if Derek ever moves on my answer to you is that it's for you to decide. I have my own thoughts on the matter, but really it's for you to decide. Maybe he does and maybe he doesn't.
If you have any other questions you can always leave a review, send me a private message, or find me on tumblr at .com