A Burden Halved
There's a lot of things Stiles remembers about that night when his dad almost got killed and Scott turned into, like, a crazy red-eyed apparently magical alpha werewolf purely by the power of his mind. He remembers a tree coming out of nowhere and thinking shit, this is so a crappy time to die in a car accident. He remembers stumbling through the forest carrying a baseball bat and squinting up at the orange moon, thinking nothing at all because all the pants-shitting terror in his head is leaving no room for anything resembling thought. He doesn't remember what happened in between those two sections of his life, but he finds the Jeep later, wrapped around said tree, and he shrugs and figures that explains the blood on his temple.
He remembers his dad, alive. His dad and Allison's dad and Scott's mom, and Allison and Isaac and later Scott and Derek, everyone, all alive, even though right before the tree came up out of nowhere Stiles remembers thinking about how unlikely it was that any of them were going to live to see another day. And then he mostly remembers hugging. There was a lot of hugging. And relief.
Yeah. So there was terror and anger and the sort of anticipation that makes you sick to your stomach, the sort of anticipation (any time now, any time now I'll find out he's dead) that had sent Stiles spiralling halfway into a mental breakdown a few days before. But if Stiles had to come up with one word to describe what he remembers about that night, it would be relief.
Everybody's alive. Even the mutant Voltron twins. Everybody's alive.
Scott grins at him, and Stiles grins back, and both of them know that the other one can feel something strange and slithering, tucked away inside. Something that came back with them from the echoing white room where they went when they were dead. But mostly, there's just relief, and the slithering thing is no match for that. So they both grin, because this time, they won.
They don't sleep, after it all goes down. They're all way too wired, and Stiles' dad has a million questions. Stiles is light-headed from the adrenaline, and then he's crashing, a headache creeping in behind his left eye. A relief headache. Who knew you could get one of those? Most likely Lydia, but Stiles doesn't ask her because she's not here. His dad is, though, and Scott and Scott's mom and Isaac. They're all answering Dad's questions, which is good, because Stiles really just wants to sit here and look at him and try not to cry.
You all right, son? his Dad asks at one point, and Stiles nods because he is absolutely all right, everyone's alive and his dad believes him and he might actually puke with how all right everything is.
He doesn't puke, in the end. It's a close thing, though.
Everyone's covered in dirt and blood, but it's nothing a hot shower can't fix. Stiles peers at his temple afterwards in the bathroom mirror. He doesn't even know if the blood that was crusted on to the side of his face was his. There was plenty enough to go around, down there in the root cellar. There is a cut there, though - just under the hairline. It stings a bit when Stiles prods it, but he's had worse. Way, way worse. Like, less than twenty four hours ago he was dead worse. So he figures he's doing pretty OK.
The Jeep's not so lucky, though. It takes Stiles most of the morning after the night before to find it, and he's still feeling kind of dizzy, but he figures not having slept since coming back from the dead probably has something to do with that. He's trying to retrace his steps, remember where he was when the tree loomed up in the headlights. His memory's kind of sketchy, though. Not to mention it was storming like a bitch. So it takes him most of the morning to find the Jeep, and when he does, he stands staring at it for a second. He figured he probably ran it off the road avoiding the tree, but it looks like he didn't actually do much avoiding.
Stiles' phone rings. It's Scott, asking where he is. You were supposed to be here, like, an hour ago. Stiles frowns and checks the time. It's late. It's later than Stiles thought. It's almost sunset.
Stiles rubs at side of his head. Another relief headache. Huh. He needs to ask Lydia about that. But right now, he's late (because it's later than he thought). He tells Scott he'll be even later, then calls the garage and leans against the Jeep to wait.
There's blood smeared across the driver's side window. A few drops on the seat, too. Stiles squints through the pain in his head and hopes that it'll come out of the upholstery.
They go back to school. Attending class. Training sessions. Making plans for what they'll do when every supernatural creature in the neighbourhood heads for Beacon Hills like moths to a flame. The normal kind of stuff. Except now, when Stiles gets home, his dad looks at him with something like respect in his face (along with exasperation and frustration, obviously), and if Stiles feels light-headed, it's probably because of all the empty space in his skull freed up by the evaporation of all that guilt and anxiety. All that lying. Not that Stiles doesn't still lie to his dad sometimes, obviously. Just for old time's sake.
Sometimes, when no-one's around but him and Scott and maybe Allison, they raise their eyebrows at each other. You feel it? Yeah, me too. It's weird, the darkness inside. Impossible to describe. He doesn't have to describe it to Scott and Allison, though. They feel it too. Somehow, that makes it OK. Not OK, exactly, but not un-copable with.
It could have been worse. Could have been so, so much worse.
Stiles has a headache when he gets home. He's run out of pain-killers again, and he's half-seriously considering self-medicating with whiskey - sure, he'll pay the next day, but since when have his plans ever included a consequences clause? - but it turns out his dad's home, and Dad's definitely not into the whole self-medication thing. Not for Stiles, anyway.
His dad's sitting at the kitchen table frowning at a letter. He looks up when Stiles steps in, and Stiles rubs his temple and does his best not to squint.
You OK? his dad asks. Stiles shrugs and sits down. Sure, he's OK. There's been a couple of incidents since the night his dad almost died, monsters in the woods, same old same old, but nothing like the plague they've been bracing themselves for. If anything, there's been less supernatural drama in Stiles' life since Beacon Hills got relit. He'd wonder if Deaton wasn't making shit up if it wasn't for the creeping dark shapes he sometimes sees out of the corner of his eye, if it wasn't for the hollowness lodged underneath his heart that sometimes swells up until it's hard to breathe.
Fine, he says. Why?
His dad passes the paper over. It's a letter from the school. They're worried about Stiles' behaviour. Apparently he seems distracted. More so than usual? Stiles finds that pretty unlikely. And anyway, he's got a lot on his mind.
His dad watches him for a long moment. I can believe that, son, he says.
It costs more than Stiles can really afford to repair the Jeep, but it's his Jeep, so he'll bite the bullet. He tells his dad that he ran it into a ditch in the storm, no biggie, expensive but routine. Just a little lie for old time's sake.
He tells Scott the same thing, and that, he's not so sure about. But no-one was hurt (apart from the Jeep), so it doesn't really make any difference now, right?
The first day he gets it back, he sees something shadowy sitting in shotgun. He turns sharply to look, but there's nothing there. He barely stops in time for the intersection, too busy staring at the empty seat. Wouldn't that be great, Jeep totalled twice in less than a month?
He figures it's just one of the things he brought back with him from the white room. Doesn't really make him feel less creeped out, but at least it's probably not going to hurt him.
Stiles pukes after training. It's humiliating, actually, even though only Scott and Isaac are there to see. He's not even hungover, which at least would've (a) given him an excuse, and (b) meant that at least he'd had some fun to make up for the sucktasticness of retching over and over when there's nothing left in his stomach, blinking away the tears and sweat and trying not to gag even more on the smell of what's already come up.
You all right? Scott asks, when Stiles' stomach finally lets go of its death grip on all his bodily functions and he subsides, gasping, to the bathroom floor. What's wrong with you?
Stiles drags a shaky hand across his eyes, blinking to try and clear the blurriness. Scott's mostly in focus, frowning and concerned. Isaac's still a blur, though, hovering a little way behind. There's an even blurrier shadow behind Isaac, but Stiles carefully doesn't look at that.
Must've been a bad burrito, he says, and reaches up a hand. Scott hauls him to his feet, and Stiles nearly pitches over onto his face. Isaac and Scott both catch him. It's a little overkill, actually.
Really bad burrito, he mumbles.
Scott drives him home. Stiles has a headache, but he figures that's just what happens when your internal organs spend fifteen minutes trying to escape through your throat. Scott keeps shooting him little concerned glances, like he thinks he's going to pass out or something.
Stiles ignores him.
Actually, Stiles thinks maybe the school was right about him being more distracted. It's not like he's ever been the most organised and focused of students, even before his entire life turned into a freakshow, but sometimes these days he finds himself sitting down in class and then looking up to find class is over. The good news is, he's not drawing weird shit or having visions or chanting medieval cookie recipes or whatever during his periods of lost time. The bad news is, he's losing time.
It wouldn't really matter that much - hell, anything to reduce the amount of time he's actually aware of spending in math class - except that as it turns out, the amount of attention you pay in class does actually have some relationship to how good your grades are. And Stiles is paying literally no attention at all. Stiles might as well not be there.
He figures it's something to do with the darkness. Ever since the night his dad almost died - ever since he came back from the white room - he's felt like the connections he has to reality are fraying, like he's drifting somewhere a half-step sideways from where everybody else exists. At first it wasn't too bad, the disconnected feeling, half-drowned out by the euphoria of no-one being dead, for once. Hell, at first Stiles had concluded that the disconnection was because of the euphoria.
That intense relief has faded now, though, and the disconnection's just getting worse.
He brings it up with Scott. Hey, you know those shadow things? You see them too, right?
Scott raises an eyebrow at him. What? he says, and that's when Stiles realises that he's been wrong this whole time. Scott and Allison have the darkness, sure, wedged in their chests just like Stiles. But no-one else sees the shadows skittering in the corners. No-one else blinks and finds twenty minutes have gone by. If Stiles brought all this back with him from the white room, he's the only one who did.
Scott asks him if he's OK. You've been acting kinda weird lately.
Stiles is fine. Really, he is. He's just a little distracted, is all.
Something dark scuds across the edge of Stiles' vision. He ignores it.
He's surprised by how lonely he feels, once he figures it out. Seeing shadows and losing time definitely sucks, but when he thought it was something that bound him to Scott and Allison, when he thought it was just the price he paid for his dad being alive, it felt OK. Not good, but bearable. Now, though. Now it's something else that sets him apart from his friends. Scott and Isaac and Derek are werewolves, Lydia's a banshee, Allison's a hunter, and Stiles - Stiles hallucinates, but like, not in a useful way or anything.
Stiles is being ridiculous. He knows that, but since he's ridiculous a lot of the time, it's good to stop and take stock of the specifics every now and then. He sits on the edge of his bed and tries to recapture the feeling he had a few weeks ago, when no-one was dead and everything was kind of OK and it just felt so awesome. Everything's still kind of OK, and no-one's died since then - which is actually pretty good going, for them - but no matter how much Stiles gropes after that feeling, it keeps slipping through his fingers. He concentrates so hard that a headache starts to bloom behind his left eye. That's just great. Stiles gives up, rolling his eyes (which hurts, fantastic) and stands up.
A second later, he opens his eyes. He's on the floor by his bed. No injuries, head still pounding. He checks the bedside clock, but it really is just a second later, no lost time, just, just-
Just passed out. Because that's completely awesome and not in the slightest pathetic.
Stiles sighs and sits up, rubbing his head. He thinks about calling Scott, but what's he going to say? Hey, man, I think I might have brought back something extra from the white room. Something that gives me the mighty power of fainting for no apparent reason. Scott and Allison, they understand the darkness, they feel that too. But this? This is just Stiles, and it's just one more thing that makes him weaker than them.
He doesn't call.
Derek and Cora come back five weeks after the night Stiles' dad almost died. They don't tell anyone they're coming - obviously, that would suggest they, like, gave a shit about the rest of them or something - but Stiles shows up to pick up Scott and they're just there, sitting on the stoop out front of Scott's house. Stiles raises his eyebrows at them and Derek jerks his chin back and that's it, they're back, no questions asked.
Well, not entirely no questions. Later on, when they're all gathered at the loft that Derek's apparently moved back into without telling anyone, Derek wrinkles his nose in Stiles' direction. What's wrong with you? he asks. You look like crap.
Everyone turns to stare at Stiles, and Stiles hunches up a little bit, willing himself not to flush. Yeah, thanks, he says. I missed you, too.
That's the end of it, or so Stiles thinks. Derek's not really one for showing too much concern over someone else's well-being, and they've got more important things to worry about right now anyway. So that's the end of it.
Or so Stiles thinks.
The more important things are two honest-to-God Sasquatches which are apparently now hanging out in Beacon Hills' collective backyard. Seriously. Like, seriously seriously. Stiles takes some convincing, even after everything, but it turns out that Sasquatches are real, and mostly not dangerous because they like to hang around as far away from humans as possible. Unfortunately, the giant neon sign that Stiles and the others flipped on when they went for their little Dip of Death (as Stiles has taken to calling it) overrides that general survival instinct. And Sasquatches are mostly shy and non-hostile, except if you piss them off.
As it turns out, trying to gently persuade them to move back out to the boonies really pisses them off.
That's how Stiles finds himself sprinting through the woods on a school night, ignoring the pain in his head that's pounding in time with his footsteps and telling himself that actually, this counts as getting back to normal, so it can't be that bad, right? And honestly, it isn't that bad - running's healthy, after all, people do it for fun - until everything lurches around him and Stiles knows, in just the split second before it happens he knows he's about to pass out.
Oh, come on, seriously? he thinks, because this is pretty much the worst possible timing, not counting that one time he smashed his Jeep into a tree when he was supposed to be saving his dad's life.
Yes, as it turns out. Seriously.
-at me, come on, wake up, says Scott from somewhere above Stiles, really high up, and Stiles pauses for a moment to try and remember how to open his eyes. He's pretty sure he used to know how to do it, but everything he tries just hurts like a bitch. Actually, everything hurts like a bitch. He wonders if he's literally the only human being alive who knows what it feels like to get run over by a Sasquatch.
He is alive, though, he's pretty sure about that. If being dead hurt this much, that would be totally unfair.
There. He winches his eyelids to half mast and feels pretty damn good about that victory. Scott's face is actually really pretty close to him, and Stiles wonders vaguely about how he manages to make his voice sound so far away. Scott says his name, maybe a couple of times, and then Derek's hovering over him, too, frowning like - well, like Derek pretty much always does.
What the fuck happened? says Derek, sounding like he thinks all this is Stiles' fault, which - well, OK, maybe it is. Kinda.
Sasquatch, mumbles Stiles, because really, that is what happened, right? Then he rolls on his side (Jesus, that hurts) and proceeds to throw up.
Somewhere really high up above him, Derek says something that includes the word hospital. Stiles will probably never admit it, but for once, he thinks the guy might be right.
Scott's mom comes to find him once the doctor's finished poking and prodding and declared that Stiles is pretty banged up but mostly OK. Scott's hovering in the doorway, and Scott's mom raises her eyebrows at him but he gives her a pleading look and she rolls her eyes and says he can stay as long as Stiles doesn't mind. Stiles is OK with it. It's not like she can tell him anything Scott doesn't already know.
She mostly just repeats what the doctor said, but she squeezes his hand while she does it, which is nice, Stiles thinks. Her grip feels like a warm thread, like maybe he can follow it back to the same reality everyone else inhabits. There are still shadows flickering in the corners of the room, though, and Stiles loses track of what Scott's mom's saying until she waves a hand in front of his eyes, and then he realises she's repeating his name and he doesn't know how long that's been going on for.
Sorry, he says. Spaced out for a moment. What was that?
Scott's mom frowns - and actually, Scott's frowning too, standing in the doorway, family resemblance, huh - and then says something about concussion and how he might start experiencing headaches and maybe nausea and dizzy spells and if he does he should go to the doctor. Stiles almost laughs out loud, and then realises he must have actually laughed out loud because both Scott and Scott's mom are staring at him.
What? says Scott, and Stiles shakes his head and then stops because it makes him feel woozy. He tries to say nothing, but it comes out kind of weird and garbled, and he's not sure Scott's listening to him, anyway.
Mom, Scott says, headaches? Stiles blinks at him, because honestly, he loves the guy, but Scott is usually Captain Oblivious, and yet Stiles is pretty sure he sees a light flipping on behind Scott's eyes. You puked after practice, Scott says, slowly, like he's talking about a revelation rather than just the half-digested contents of Stiles' stomach making a disgusting reappearance.
Scott's mom turns to look at him, and Stiles doesn't even have the energy to deny it. What's the point? It's not like they can fix it. Scott and Allison came back from the white room darkened, but Stiles came back broken, and that's just all there is to it. And if they know about it, well, he guesses that means they won't let him come out on Sasquatch-hunting trips any more, and right now that actually sounds like a great idea.
Sure, he says. I puked. It feels like drawing a line, giving up on the warmth of Scott's mom's hand and cutting those last cords that tie him to the real world. The shadows twist and writhe in the corners of the room, and Stiles doesn't even bother to try and ignore them. He hurts, and there's nothing anyone can do.
Then Scott's mom sits next to him on the bed, folding her other hand around his so that now his fingers are completely encased in warmth. Well, she says. Let's see if we can't do something about that.
What else happened that night? Scott's mom asks, and Stiles raises his eyebrows at her. They're all sitting around in Stiles' hospital room like it's an intervention: Scott's mom and Scott and Allison and Isaac and Derek and Lydia and even Cora. His dad's not there - Stiles sent him to get some coffee, promised him he was honestly fine and they could definitely go home soon. Stiles' dad knows about the werewolves now, but it still feels weird to keep drawing him into this world.
Uh, says Stiles, because he's not sure whether Scott's told his mom about the white room and the fact that they were dead, even for a moment (actually for sixteen hours). He didn't even want to tell her that that's when the headaches started, but Allison told her instead because apparently somehow she knows. Apparently everyone pretty much knew there was something wrong with him, and Stiles isn't sure whether he's annoyed that he's not as good at hiding things as he thought he was or weirdly touched that they noticed.
Did you get hit in the head? Scott's mom asks. Maybe in the root cellar?
Stiles nods, relieved, because he definitely didn't get hit in the head in the white room, which means he doesn't have to tell her about that. Yeah, sure, he says, and then Isaac gives him a weird look and he says Not in the root cellar. I, uh, wrapped my Jeep around a tree.
Everyone stares at him. You said you ran it off the road, says Scott.
Stiles shrugs. Technically, the tree was off the road. There's a variety of eye-rolling (Cora), guilty looks (Scott), and complete lack of expression change (Derek), and then Scott's mom puts her hand on his arm, that warm touch that Stiles leans into without meaning to.
Have you ever heard of post-concussional syndrome? she asks.
You're an asshole, says Scott. Stiles thinks that's kind of unfair. After all, he's sick - actually sick, with an honest-to-God normal physical (mostly) disease, because apparently there can be consequences to being hit on the head, like, fifty times in the last year. And it's not like he knew he was sick and just didn't tell anyone. He thought it was - he thought it was-
Hey, says Allison from his other side. She's sitting next to him on the bed, close enough that Stiles can feel the warmth radiating from her. Why didn't you tell us?
Stiles half-shrugs, but Lydia speaks instead. He thought it was part of it, she says. The darkness. All three of them stare at her, and she shrugs. You've all changed, she says. I thought maybe it was, too.
Apparently, no-one really knows that much about the thing that Stiles has. It mostly goes away by itself after a while, and in the meantime there's painkillers and therapy and being careful, for God's sake, Stiles, you need to be more careful with yourself, that's what Scott's mom said. After she said it, she looked around the rest of them and said you all need to be more careful, and they'd all promised they would, but Stiles didn't know whether they meant with themselves or with Stiles.
Is it in here? Scott asks, pointing to Stiles' ribcage, where the darkness lives, flexing and pulsing under his heart like a living thing.
Sure, Stiles says, and he thinks about leaving it at that, but everyone's staring at him, waiting for more, even Derek for Christ's sake, and Stiles takes a breath. He owes them all his life, a hundred times over. He owes them something.
I feel... disconnected, he says, and looks for the flicker of recognition in Scott's eyes. He doesn't see it, though; Scott feels the darkness, but he doesn't feel this.
They're all quiet for a moment or two, and Stiles wonders if they want him to say something else, but he doesn't really have anything else to say. Headaches, nausea, dizzy spells, whatever. None of that's really the problem, even if it is what could have got him killed. He closes his eyes, feeling himself drift a little way further from what's real.
Then there's a warmth on his knee, and he opens his eyes to see Lydia's hand, squeezing gently. Well, she says, we'll just have to reconnect you. He stares at her, and it's like when she kissed him to stop him from breathing, he's never resented that, only been grateful. And this - her touch, like Scott's mom but stronger, clearer, tethering him back to the world he remembers living in once - this is just like that.
A hand slips through his, and he glances over at Allison. She's smiling at him. I guess we will, she says. On his other side, Scott shuffles closer until he's jostled right up against Stiles, his warmth pressed all the way from Stiles' ankles to his shoulder.
Isaac puts a hand on his shoulder and even Cora gives him a grouchy punch in the arm, and then everyone's looking at Derek. Derek just frowns at them like he's got no idea what they want from him, and then he takes two steps over and folds his arm, staring down at Stiles.
I feel disconnected, too, he says.
Stiles gets to go home from the hospital pretty much straight away, laden with pills and instructions and worried glances. Scott promises he'll be over first thing in the morning to check how Stiles is, and from the way they're looking at him, Stiles figures Allison and Lydia will be with him, if not the whole gang. He's not even in that much pain, at least right now while he's on the good pain-killers, but he doesn't tell them that. He's pretty sure it wouldn't stop them coming over, but he doesn't want to risk it. Now that they know - now that he knows, knows that it's not part of the darkness coiled in his chest, knows that he can maybe be fixed and that his friends care enough to do it - Stiles feels something that he can't identify for a few minutes, even though it's familiar and giddy and kind of awesome. It's not until his dad shows up in his room to take him home that he remembers what it is.
Scott's mom tell his dad what's wrong with him - not just the bruises from the Sasquatch, but the other stuff, and then Stiles tells him about the Jeep crash because he's too tired to come up with some lie about hitting his head that night and because he's mostly tired of lying to his dad, period. And his dad's kind of angry and kind of tearful and he hugs Stiles, and Stiles clings on to him because he kind of wishes someone could be hugging him all the time. Maybe that's what his dad wishes, too, because neither of them lets go for really way too long, but Stiles is past being embarrassed. He wants to feel again, something other than dullness and darkness. He wants his mom, and he wants his dad, and he can only have one of those things so he holds on twice as hard.
Stiles' dad maybe figures some of that out, even though Stiles doesn't tell him, because he keeps hold of Stiles' shoulder even after he's (finally) done hugging him. Even in the car on the way home, he keeps one hand on Stiles' arm most of the time. It feels good, warm. It feels like maybe Stiles can be better one day.
When they pull up outside Stiles' house, his dad makes to get out of the car, but Stiles stops him. He's tired of lying, really, and he's tired of trying to protect people only to make things worse. He doesn't want to tell his dad about the darkness - definitely doesn't want to tell him how it got there in the first place - but he thinks maybe his dad deserves to know. Maybe keeping it from him isn't really protecting Dad, just Stiles. So he puts his hand on his dad's arm and tightens his grip, and Dad looks back at him like he knows that something's coming and even before he says anything, Stiles feels a sense of relief. Something you want to tell me, son? Dad asks, and Stiles nods, feeling the darkness twist under his skin and fade, just a little, as he opens his mouth.
"Yeah," he says. "There is."