Natalia Stilinski is a happy woman, she just isn't sure why.
A kinda sorta companion fic to my story This is How it Was.
She was walking through her favorite childhood park earlier, and now she is in Paris, where she went on her h... something. With someone. She liked him, but right now he's just a fuzzy warmth accompanying her as she circumnavigates the Louvre so she can reach the meadow filled with her favorite clouds.
Life is good, if that's what it is.
"Natalia!" her mother calls, and Natalia is six again, curling up in her mother's lap.
"Have you been having a nice time?"
"Of course Mama. I was just in Paris."
"Will you read me a story, Mama?" Natalia asks, wiggling underneath the covers of her bed. It's her favorite pink quilt. She thinks she might have lost it once, but that doesn't matter now.
"Of course darling," says Mama, cracking open the book of fairy tales.
It's an old book, with yellow pages that smell like the back shelves of a library, and colors that have been skewed with time and exposure, but it still tells of Snow White and her dwarves, of Sleeping Beauty, of Little Red Riding Hood.
Natalia breathes in the cornucopia of smells in the air and lies back to listen. Her Mama has a way with stories, like they're a dog she's trained to jump and sit and lie down. She twists the words and sentences into paintings, then turns the paintings into miles-long murals, like some sort of avante garde modern art project.
Later, Natalia sees a man all in black wandering through her front yard. He's romance novel cover handsome, and he looks lost.
"There was... a fire," he says haltingly, "eleven people. Do you know where I can find them?"
Natalia has seen these lost ones wander through before, so she points him in the right direction. She's never met the people he speaks of, but here, you can always give correct directions.
A faint smile crosses his stubbled face and he walks the way she directed. Natalia goes to find some chocolate. There's always chocolate around, the nice kind that she loves, milky and smooth and decadent.
Sometimes she thinks there are people missing, but the worry subsides into the back of her head. Longing has no place here. What she needs will come in time. Everything comes in time.
There are places here that are more populated, where people wander past, smiles on their faces, greeting people they had known before. Natalia finds herself there sometimes, and she'll come across old friends of her parents, or a neighbor from long ago, but never more than that.
She sees a pack of twelve beautiful black haired people wander past once and nods to herself in satisfaction. She knew he would find them.
Reunions, it seems, are inevitable here. If life in the time before was defined by inevitable loss, it is the opposite here. Everything runs backwards. Natalia is sitting on her front porch, the golden afternoon light seeping across the page of her book in honeyed rivulets, when a man appears in her front yard.
He is brand new, she can tell, still stumbling from whatever blow felled him. The man is almost middle-aged, but his legs are still coltish, and his arms flail outwards as he tries to catch his balance.
"Whaaat..." he says to himself, do a slow spin on the spot, looking around. Natalia remembers doing that herself once.
The man's light brown eyes fall on her, and they widen as the face around them shrinks into that of a twelve year old, pale but for his moles, hair in a perfunctory buzz cut.
His voice is so shaky, so cautious, that there's nothing for Natalia to do other than open her arms wide and let Stiles fall into them, shaking. This. She's been missing this, the weight of her boy in her arms, rapid fire heartbeat and fingers twitching against her back.
"Hey sweetie," she whispers into the bristle of his hair. "It's so good to see you."
"Right back atcha, mom."
"Ahh," she frantically brushes at his cheeks, "don't cry, you know how terrible I am at tears."
"Yeah," Stiles sniffles around gasps and disbelieving giggles, "you totally suck at it."
"Hey now," she shoves him playfully. "I have feelings. Feelings that you are bruising up and stuff right now."
"Oh my god mom just let me hug you."
If Natalia Stilinski was a happy woman before, she's a happier one now. She introduces Stiles to her Mama, and he puts his foot in his mouth a few times, but of course Mama loves him anyway and so does Papa.
"Dad's pushing seventy," Stiles tells her one evening as they watch the glorious riot of colors exploding outwards from the sun. "He'll come around soon enough, I guess."
"Hmm," Natalia hums, finishing the row on her knitting. No dropped stitches, not ever. "I guess he would be."
Stiles doesn't talk about why his father outlives him, why Stiles left so young. It must be a sad story, one that lines up with the scars that spangle Stiles' body, but sad stories don't belong here, where dwelling on pain has no place.
Stiles raises an eyebrow, skipping a stone across a lake. It sends out ripples that warp the reflection of the sunset into an indistinguishable rainbow of orange and gold and pink. "Don't you miss him?"
Natalia thinks about it. "No. I know he'll come eventually, but in the mean time, it's hard to be sad around eternal bliss. Ask anybody, they're all fine with waiting as long as it takes for their loved ones to join them."
Watching the sunset, face inscrutable, Stiles murmurs, "I wonder what's wrong with me then." At Natalia's questioning look, he says, "I miss people. Or, person, at least."
She recognizes that look on his face. He's about twenty at the moment, and his eyes look like they hold so much in them, so many memories brimming over, so much longing.
"You waiting for a lady friend?" She teases.
"Uhh, man friend, actually," Stiles says sheepishly, scrubbing a hand through his hair.
Clapping her hands gleefully, Natalia crows, "called it!"
Stiles rolls his eyes. "Mom."
"I did! So, what, was he Mr. Stilinski?"
"They didn't legalize it yet? Here I was thinking that it was inevitable, but-"
"No," Stiles cuts her off, "he, we... he's around here somewhere." He waves an arm at the splendor around them, the unknown places beyond. "I just don't know where. I can't find him."
Stiles is frowning, and nobody that has made it this far should have to frown.
Natalia climbs to her feet, and holds her hand out to her son. "Well, come on."
"Don't play dumb with me, mister, we're going to go find your future Mr. Stilinski."
Stiles gestures widely at the vast, ever-changing landscape. "How exactly?"
She winks. What can she say, she gets a kick out of being mysterious. "You'll find that here, you always know the right direction to go."
Taking her hand, Stiles looks around, then starts walking into the lake. They are submerged beneath the cool waters that cradle their bodies as they sink downwards, then fall into the bustling main street of Beacon Hills, free of blemishes and graffiti.
Following Stiles, rather than the other way around, Natalia is taken to multitudes of new places known to Stiles, but not her. Dozens of classrooms, identical in the manner of public schools, then an old warehouse, and the strewn wreckage of a once grand house pass by them.
Stiles pauses at the house, taking in the groaning beams, the charred floorboards, the encroach of green across the deadened material. He chuckles to himself, head falling to his chest.
"There were happy memories here?" Natalia asks dubiously, looking at the horror house.
"Oh yeah," Stiles says. "Bad ones too, but." He shrugs.
Natalia gets it. One of these days she'll pull the full story from him, it's a mother's prerogative, but for now, she'll let him silently lead her through a smashed window and into a treehouse.
They meet a girl with a smirk and blonde hair sitting inside it with a slingshot. Stiles, a teenager now, whoops in delight and spins her in a circle. Natalia doesn't know this one, but Stiles is happy to see her, which is good enough.
They shake hands.
Stiles and Erica exchange stories for the equivalent of an afternoon while sitting in a treehouse, then they leave, but not before Erica punches Stiles' shoulder, hard, and says "go get him, Tiger."
Natalia comments, "she reminds me of a young me," and Stiles gapes.
They run into a tiny city apartment. It reminds Natalia of the place she had after college: mismatched, beanbag-based furniture choices, dishes piled high, tiny rooms. She runs a finger over the dust on one of the books scattered across the folding table in a corner.
"Prime living arrangements you had here, sweetie," she notes.
"It's not mine."
Stiles is wandering around the room, brows furrowed. "I think we're somewhere else now. This isn't one of my places."
"Are we closer?"
He glances up from a picture frame hanging next to the ratty old couch. His smile is blinding, brimming with I-just-found-something-slimy-and-cool-in-the-backy ard-come-look-mom excitement. "Yeah. Yeah we're getting closer."
The places merge into each other after a while, as they carry on into the breach. Natalia catches glimpses of things she isn't sure are real, and the ground beneath their feet tends to morph and shift, depositing them elsewhere from where they started without announcing itself first. Natalia wonders about the man in black she directed who knows how long ago. Had he gone through so much trouble to find his own family?
Natalia and her son emerge from a heavy blue fog into a teenage girl's bedroom. She wonders for a second if they're back to Erica when a tall girl with a feral grin enters the room, falters, then says, rapidfire and matter-of-factly, "Hello. Moles, brown hair, pale, is that plaid? Yes. Okay. All evidence concludes that this is a Stiles."
Tilting his head to the side, Stiles looks at the girl and mimics her manner of speech, "uh, black hair, sharp jaw, cocky, all, uh, evidence concludes that this is a... well, okay, a Hale, I'm not sure which one."
She holds out a broad hand. "Laura. Pleasure."
"Dude," Stiles marvels, shaking it, "I'm fangirling right now so hard. It's really cool to meet you in person."
Natalia feels a bit like she's watching an elaborate inside joke play out in front of her, or the climactic scene of a movie she hasn't watched all the way through. But Stiles is starting to bounce up and down on his toes, glancing around, shaking with anticipation.
Laura hooks her thumb at the door. It has an N*Sync poster on it. "He should be through there. He always is."
"Okay," Stiles breathes out a whoosh of air and faces the door. He claps his hands together decisively. He shifts his weight from his right foot, to his left, to his right. His hand raises towards the doorknob, then lowers, then raises, and lowers again.
Natalia lays a hand on his shoulder. "It will be like no time has passed," she assures him. "Besides, if he doesn't want you, then I'll be having harsh words with him."
Like a dam breaking, Stiles lets out a rush of laughter. That's her boy.
"Come with me?" he asks. "At least for a little bit?"
"I'd be making fun of you so hard right now if I didn't totally get it," Laura announces from her beanbag. She already has a copy of Seventeenin her hand.
Rolling her eyes, Natalia reaches for the doorknob. Its brass sheen is brighter in the center from the touches of so many palms. "Shall we?"
The door opens on a place that is soft and warm and colored like a watercolor painting. It looks like the sun is just about to rise and replace the massive moon that currently hangs in the star salted sky.
Stiles steps out into it, like an astronaut on a wide open lunar landscape. His neck twists, and he looks from side to side, then his face cracks in two as a massive smile spreads across it.
He's looking at a massive black wolf silhouetted against the horizon, and Natalia really doesn't understand until the wolf stands up and turns into a man and it all makes sense.
Clothing quickly covers the man's -muscled, holy crap- form, and it's all black fabric and leather.
"Oh," Natalia breathes.
"Yeah," Stiles says around his smile as the man rushes towards them. "He's a catch."
"No, I recognize him," Natalia murmurs faintly, and any questions Stiles has are muffled when his face is suddenly pressed against the leather jacket covered shoulder of the man in black.
Stiles' hands clutch at the back of the jacket, and the two boys almost merge into each other, they hang on so tight.
Natalia backs away, wandering into the distance to give them some privacy. Stiles doesn't need his mom being a moment killer.
Of course, since Natalia is still incredibly curious about what they're saying to each other, and all wishes are granted here, their words still come to her ears crystal clear.
"What did I tell you," Stiles is saying, "what did I tell you, I said I'd catch up."
"God," comes the choked reply, and Natalia was not expecting such a high voice from that behemoth of a man. He pulls it off though.
"Yeah," Stiles says back.
There's a pause, and then the man in black asks, "how, how did... no, that's morbid to ask."
"Feral wolf pack out of Saskatchewan," Stiles says. "Got me at 38."
The man in blacks huffs, and Natalia knows exactly what he's feeling. Not her boy. Not like that.
"Too young, Stiles."
"Yeah, well, I never could settle down and become an accountant."
"Not because of-"
The man in black probably makes some gesture towards himself, because Stiles says, "yeah, after you... died. But there was other stuff that happened too, and next thing I know, I'm wandering around the country hunting monsters and shit."
"But not anymore," the man says like it's a lifeline.
"Not anymore," Stiles agrees. "And there's, you know, you. So. I'm feeling pretty good right now."
Somebody sniffles, and Natalia would bet her jeep that it's the man in black. Stiles saying things like that could reduce even the hardiest of leather wearing men to tears.
"I, me, me too." A rush of wet laughter. "So we... from where we left off?"
Stiles replies cheerfully, "I sure hope so! I mean, if not I don't know what the point was in coming h- mmmph. Mmm."
And that's when Natalia stops listening, because gross. She contents herself with examining the stitch work of the pile of quilts she's reclining in. It's perfect, all of the angles come together without any overlap.
Above her, the over-starred sky spins, and she makes out a few constellations. There are a few that wouldn't normally appear in the sky at the same time, and she's willing to bet that those are the man in black's favorites.
Dialogue resumes again from the soap opera taking place a few hundred yards off to the side.
"You're going to meet my whole family, they'll love you."
"They better," Stiles chuckles. "Hey, you wanna meet my mom?"
That's her cue. She comes to stand next to Stiles, but immediately thinks better of it and gives the other man a hug around the shoulders.
"I recognize you," he says, taking her in.
"I gave you a little direction is all."
His blue-green eyes flick between her and her son. "It runs in the family."
Natalia smiles. Yes, this one will do nicely.
"Uh, confusingly vague statements aside," Stiles says slowly. "This is my mom Natalia."
The man in black nods at her, smiling. It doesn't look like he's used to doing it.
"And mom, this," Stiles gestures at the man, "is Derek Hale."