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i.

Stiles, for what is probably the first time in his entire life, has actually come to a singular conclusion about something, and that something is a valuable opinion about summer: it sucks. Summer absolutely sucks. The heat starts to bore down on his arms as he fidgets with the sleeves of his flannel, pulling at the buttons and rolling them up past his elbows in a vain attempt at staying cool, ignoring the fiftieth time Lydia has told him to “just take the damn shirt off, already”. It’s a vital part of his look, alright? He needs it. It’s self-explanatory, really.

The pack—Stiles thinks he’ll never get used to saying that—are all crammed onto the same picnic bench out near the lacrosse field, an impossible feat for some, but entirely possible and fairly frequent for the pack; on the opposite side of the bench, Lydia sits snugly between Allison and Kira, pointing a pink highlighter down at one of the three textbooks in front of her and giggling lightly when Kira mumbles something inaudible to her. The sun illuminates her skin and gives a subtle glow to her hair, braided neatly away from her face with only a few loose strands falling down from where Stiles knows she’s been pulling them free in moments of stress. She’s still as stunning as ever— all three of the girls are. They always will be. They share a natural beauty that they obviously recognise in each other, if the soft sweeps of hair behind the ear and the gentle fingers coming up to wipe away stray eyelashes are anything to go by.

They’re cute together.

Scott sits on Stiles’ right, pressed up closer to him than the girls are to each other, but there’s no real reason for this. The girls are close because there’s three of them squashed onto one side of the fairly small bench, and also by choice, while on this side, Scott and Stiles have more than enough room to move over slightly and give themselves a little more space. Scott doesn’t have to sit literally on the edge of the bench, with his entire body aligned against Stiles’ side— not that it bothers him or anything, it definitely doesn’t, they’ve had their fair share of being in close-proximity and getting stuck in cramped spaces, but Stiles is acutely aware of the couple of spare inches on his left.

The couple of spare inches leading up to where Isaac sits at the end of the bench. By himself. Or, well, sure, with the pack, but also not really… with the pack. There’s enough distance between them that Stiles feels cut off, like there’s an invisible wall between himself and Isaac— or not invisible at all, maybe it’s a real wall, a thick brick wall, because Isaac seems completely blind to Stiles’ presence. He leans forward sometimes to point at the book in front of Kira, offers a casual comment or sarcastic word of advice to Allison, and then he sits back in his own personal bubble and just observes; blue eyes flicking across the notes scattered amongst the table, an eyebrow raising ever so slightly sometimes when Scott offers his own information on whatever the girls happen to be researching.

Stiles was sitting here first, is the point that he feels needs to be made. Stiles was sat here first, on his own side of the bench, with enough space at his side for the others to sit comfortably. Isaac ended up walking over next and took a seat by Stiles—which Stiles had sort of expected him to sit opposite him, in all honesty—but that was fine. Scott decided to sit down on Stiles’ other side, where there was hardly any actual bench left, and the gap between him and Isaac only seemed to grow in length with the awkwardness of Scott’s weird decision. It felt like miles between them now. Miles and miles of brick wall that Isaac didn’t seem to mind as much as Stiles did. He’s just sort of uncomfortable.

He suddenly remembers that Scott has explained this to him before, actually— that Isaac likes his personal space and doesn’t do well with others touching him unexpectedly or being too close to him, so maybe it’s not a vendetta against Stiles. Maybe, being the key word, because this is Isaac. Almost everything he does seems to somehow be a personal vendetta against Stiles and only Stiles. They have a gap between them, literally and metaphorically, and Stiles isn’t too sure on what he specifically did to warrant it.

He knows, non-specifically, that he can be a hard person to get along with. There is plenty to unpack in that certain can of worms and Stiles doesn’t feel like letting his mind wander to it right now. Not when he’s already in the middle of his other typical mind-wandering, words tumbling from one subject to another as he “rambles”—he’s been told often that it’s rambling—about nothing in particular, nothing that the girls seem interested in and nothing that anyone ever seems interested in.

“—so, I’m just saying, I think…”

Stiles trails off, faltering slightly, because what was he thinking?

It doesn’t seem to matter. Lydia’s highlighter continues gliding over a passage of text, her tongue stuck out of her mouth slightly as she concentrates, and Allison remains focused on scribbling into her notebook while Kira passes over another textbook to her. Scott is still at his side, the warmth there letting him know that he’s still present, but Stiles doesn’t need to look over to know that Scott’s attention is elsewhere.

He’s used to it, especially when he starts to ramble.

Stiles decides not to continue and instead soaks in the silence, listening intently to the ambient noise around him, laughter from other groups of friends at their own benches and the indistinct chatter from the people walking by. He idly picks at the skin around his fingernails, allowing himself to get lost inside his own head like always—

There’s a sudden and sharp kick to his left ankle.

It’s only when Stiles looks up, eyebrows pinched into what he hopes is an accurately annoyed expression, that the wall next to him finally seems to come tumbling down.

Isaac stares back at him. His face is neutral, mouth drawn into a tight line, but there’s a tiny twitch at the corners when he drags his foot away from where he had brutally attacked Stiles’ ankle.

“Go on,” he prompts, tilting his head slightly to the side and waving a hand, “I’m excited to hear what you’re thinking about. Didn’t know you were capable of using your brain cells, honestly.”

Stiles narrows his eyes.

“Ha ha,” he deadpans, “funny.”

Isaac doesn’t flinch at all, or even retort back, only continuing to level Stiles with some kind of unreadable expression. It’s weird, a mix between a glare and something more concerned, a stern look that almost urges Stiles to keep talking— and Stiles, being Stiles, and having absolutely nothing better to do, takes in a deep breath before he picks up where he left off, his thoughts suddenly back on track and his words more confident than before.

He manages to finish his conversation, as one-sided as it is with little-to-no input from Isaac, just the occasional nod or one-word answer to something he says, but at least he listened. He actually listened, and Stiles supplies a vague “thanks” when he reaches the end of his ramblings. Isaac nods, saying nothing, and silently turns back to the books in front of him.

Stiles tries to ignore that the gap between them has shrunk slightly.

 

ii.

Stiles hates school.

Not in the way most teenagers seem to hate school, mind you. Stiles likes learning. In fact, he loves learning. But Stiles likes learning about the things he chooses to learn about, or unwillingly finds himself learning about, like when it’s three in the morning and he’s on his fourth random Wikipedia page of the hour, or when he walks into the library intending to pick out a book he needs for econ and ends up with six books about Greek mythology, or when he’s in the middle of a lecture but he’s too focused on reading over some notes he’d put together for one of his Dad’s current unsolved cases— point is, Stiles loves learning when it’s on his own terms.

(And usually when it’s about something weird.)

School doesn’t exactly fall under his own terms, nor does it cater to his own specific brand of learning. His medication doesn’t exactly make his ADHD go away, it just eases the symptoms. Sometimes. Stiles often still has trouble focusing, the simplest thing to everyone else and something that people keep chastising him on, telling him to just concentrate; to look at the board and to read the notes and to study when he’s supposed to, how hard could it possibly be to at least listen?

It’s hard.

Stiles can’t just listen. It doesn’t work. Stiles can’t just do anything, really, but listening is not one of his fortes. Noises go in one ear and out the other, not even stopping in his brain for a second, and it happens so easily that he doesn’t even notice it happening. He doesn’t hear anything, or take any information in. Not when he’s sat at a desk and expected to remain still and keep quiet and do nothing at all but focus and listen— as if he doesn’t literally have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a thing that disrupts his attention span and fucks with his ability to be still.

He’s still doing well in school, somehow, just not during classes themselves. His grades are good— great, in fact, because Stiles isn’t unintelligent in any way; he’s just different. He learns differently, he applies himself differently, he behaves and acts and talks differently. He’s used to all of that.

He’s not sure he’ll ever get used to pop quizzes. Stiles hates school. He hates Mr. Harris— actually, Mr. Harris hates him, and Stiles just has a slight disdain for him and his class and his incredibly frequent surprise quizzes. Stiles’ way of learning and absorbing information does not prepare him for situations like these.

Lydia sits in front of him, twirling a pen around in between her perfectly manicured fingers as she gazes out of the window, and Scott sits a few rows down, his head clearly turned towards Mr. Harris as he talks about something. Stiles isn’t really listening, which is to be expected from him at this point. He’s staring down at his empty desk instead, ignoring the rustle of paper as Harris waves the quizzes around while he talks, and then he brings his hand towards his mouth almost instinctually, unable to stop the movement because he just needs something to do, literally anything at all to slow these onset feelings.

It’s a “nasty habit”, according to his Dad, but Stiles’ go-to anxiety move seems to be biting his nails, and he’s tried everything he can to stop; his medication doesn’t really help with his own nervous ticks and habits, they’re too ingrained and subconscious to snap out of them with a simple dose of medicine, and he’s even tried painting his nails with that anti-biting polish, thanks to Lydia’s suggestion and also thanks to Lydia’s steady hands for painting his nails for him— none of it works or helps in the slightest. His nails are still short and ugly and currently in his mouth, as always.

He hears the almost silent snap of a nail coming off, and then he’s faced with the moral dilemma of what to do with the remnants of his nails, letting them fall onto his desk and leaving it as a problem for future-Stiles to deal with as he moves on to the next finger.

Or he tries to, because there’s suddenly a weight around his wrist, a warm and strong presence stopping his hand from moving further towards his still-agape mouth, and then he hears the tired sigh coming from the desk next to him.

“Will you stop doing that,” Isaac’s whispering at him, his tone still evidently annoyed despite being so hushed, “I’m sick of hearing the noise. Also, it’s gross.”

It’s not really a question, not with the way Isaac’s hand is still firmly holding Stiles’ wrist in place. It’s a demand— though it’s a shockingly gentle demand, really, the bother in his tone and the forceful request are contrary to his actions; the soft grip around Stiles’ bare skin, not really keeping his hand in place but with just enough pressure that Stiles doesn’t want to move away, and then there’s the way he follows it up with a subtle squeeze before he lets go and pulls away.

It could have been nothing, an involuntary movement or a reflex of some kind, maybe some werewolf thing that Stiles isn’t properly aware of, maybe to do with Stiles’ pulse or something. It could have been nothing, but it wasn’t. It’s not like Isaac had smacked Stiles’ hand from his mouth, had pinned it to the desk or threatened to break his fingers or maybe even just threatened to kill him in general if he makes one more noise; it was strangely casual, an ambivalent gesture lacking any real malice or heat behind it, and it was calming, in its own way.

A quiz paper lands on his desk, face-up and taunting him from where it sits, but Stiles doesn’t feel all that intimidated anymore.

Scott is staring down at his own desk, Lydia is in the midst of pulling her long hair back into a messy ponytail, and Isaac is looking pointedly at the board at the front of the classroom, his eyes trained on nothing as he obviously avoids looking at anyone, including Stiles; his long eyelashes flutter gently with each blink, and there’s a barely-there clench in his jaw every few seconds, like he’s trying not to move his mouth at all— whether it’s to form an expression, probably a frown, or to speak up and tell Stiles to stop staring at him, because he’s not exactly being subtle, he’s not too sure.

Isaac straightens up when a quiz is dropped onto his own desk, previous situation seemingly forgotten as he picks his pen up, and Stiles resists the urge to roll his eyes when he turns back to his own desk.

He doesn’t bite his nails for the rest of the day.

 

iii.

Despite rarely biting his nails anymore, rarely, because he still does sometimes, Stiles still has plenty of other nervous habits that he wonders if he’s ever going to shake or maybe grow out of. As if he can just grow out of his ADHD. What a funny concept.

He doesn’t mind about himself having these habits, they don’t really bother him considering most of them are subconscious and he doesn’t even realise he’s doing it until someone else points it out to him— which is the precise point here: other people are the problem. Or, no, Stiles is the problem, his ticks and behaviours in specific are the problem, but they bother everyone else around him more than they bother him. He knows that it’s annoying to hear the tapping, or to watch him fidgeting, or to be distracted by the way he moves his hands around as he talks and rambles and the way his voice gets gradually louder and faster the more excited he gets about a subject— he knows.

He tries not to, he really does. He just can’t help it.

Stiles is forgetful, a lot of the time, and he carries around several pens and pencils for this very reason. He doesn’t forget to bring them with him to classes, he just forgets where he puts them. He loses things in an instance and everyone is always confused as to how he does it. Stiles is just as confused too, putting a pencil down on his desk and turning back a few moments later to find it mysteriously gone, vanished into the void and never to be found again. Then again, it is Beacon Hills, and Stiles isn’t too sure on where his ADHD ends and where the mysterious nature of this town begins. Perhaps there’s an overlap in the middle, or something.

So he brings several pieces of stationary with him wherever he goes now, a pencil in his hand, a pen held between his teeth, and another pencil resting snugly behind his ear; Kira had asked him about it once, baffled as to why he needed three writing utensils all at once, and Scott simply said “keep an eye on him, you’ll see”. She did, of course, figure it out almost instantaneously: Stiles had used the pencil in his hand to point at something in his textbook, dropping it down for only a second and then losing it as he flipped open his notebook; he pulled the pen from his mouth to scribble down a few lines of text in his messy handwriting and then he put that pen down too, leaning over to grab his backpack and pulling his homework out; when he sat back up at his desk, the pen was nowhere to be seen, and he casually pulled the final pencil from behind his ear and kept it in his hand for the rest of the duration of class.

He never did find the other pencil and that pen. Kira and Scott couldn’t find them either— mark that down as another point for “Beacon Hills is just a fucking weird place”. The evidence is quickly piling up.

Most of the pack are in the library today. That is, most of the pack that happen to share the same free period right now, but Stiles is also sure that Lydia doesn’t have this free and is just here for the sake of it. Scott and Allison are in class still and it’s probably Allison’s influence that keeps Scott from skipping, which leaves Kira and Isaac also sitting at their table, not as cramped as it usually is with the full pack and when they try to sit at the tiny picnic benches meant for four at most.

(Ethan and Aiden are definitely nearby, lurking in the stacks and trying to discretely keep an eye on the group by peeking through gaps in the books and talking way louder than Stiles thinks they’re aware. It’s moronic, but slightly commendable, in a way. They’re still trying to be accepted into the pack. It’s a good effort.)

Kira is reading something, a thick book open on the table in front of her and her dark hair falling gently from where it fails to stay tucked behind her ear, and Lydia makes quick work of pulling a hair grip from seemingly nowhere—seriously, it materialized into thin air, Stiles doesn’t understand—and clipping back the side of her hair to keep it from her face. They smile at each other, soft and sweet, and Stiles averts his eyes because he feels intrusive and weird.

Isaac is sitting to his left, notebook laid flat as he copies some highlighted passage from a nearby textbook, and he’s still and focused and Stiles doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand, because he’s sat here with the end of a pencil resting in his mouth as he chews on it distractedly, only able to actually take in information when he’s doing something with his hands or keeping himself busy and moving; Isaac is perfectly comfortable to sit still, in silence, his eyes skimming across the pages of his book and his lips set in a straight line as his hand continues to write. It’s effortless, so easy for everyone else, and Stiles just can’t do it.

Blue eyes flick up at him through thick lashes and then an eyebrow lowers, a questioning glance, and Stiles quickly looks away. Obviously. Blatantly. He knows how ridiculous he looks right now, it’s not like he’s not allowed to look at someone. There’s a small huff to his left, either a sigh or a short laugh, but Stiles ignores it and keeps his gaze locked on the blank homework in front of him. It’s horrible to look at, a considerably worse sight than if he was to be looking at Isaac— just an example, of course.

Stiles starts to tap his pen against the desk, a fast and rhythmic beat similar to a drumroll, and the steady noise is something that keeps Stiles grounded, a background noise to help him stay focused on the task at hand and to keep his thoughts from wandering literally anywhere else besides this work that he needs to get done. Like, seriously needs to get done. He lets out a tense breath, pushing the homework sheet aside and flicking open a book for a different class.

He starts to drum the pen against his head for a few minutes as he reads, skimming the lines and glancing over the words as if they actually meant something to him. He turns the tapping back to the desk, a much more preferable noise to the plastic hitting against his head, and a few more seconds pass before something is slid in front of him on the table.

It’s a small plastic cube, white with little blue buttons and dials, and Stiles is confused.

“What’s this?” He asks, turning towards Isaac as he picks the cube up, and Isaac shrugs one shoulder casually.

“It’s a fidget cube,” he supplies, aimlessly pulling at the awful scarf around his neck as he talks, “’s supposed to help with the fidgeting, obviously.”

Stiles turns it over in his hand, sliding a finger across the different shaped dials and cogs, flicking the switch on one side and pressing in a button on the other. One of the buttons makes a satisfying click, the plastic pushing in and quickly bouncing back against his thumb, and he smiles to himself, pleased.

“Right.” He hums, and then not for the first time, finds himself saying something that still surprises him every time it leaves his mouth. “Thanks, Isaac.”

Isaac blinks at him, his eyes going wide for a brief second and then he’s fidgeting himself, running one of his hands through the pretty blonde curls resting just shy of the nape of his neck. He uses the same hand to offer a dismissive wave, expression settling back into something more like his usual smug grin and less… bewildered. Stiles doesn’t really mind that deer-in-the-headlights sorta look, though.

“Sure. As long as it stops that incessant tapping.”

Stiles flips him off and then goes back to reading, the fidget cube resting snugly in between the fingers of his other hand as he pushes at the buttons and feels the words finally sink into his brain.

If the “incessant tapping” was such a problem, Isaac apparently doesn’t seem to mind the nonstop clicking of the plastic.

 

iv.

When he’s not constantly rambling, or fidgeting, or displaying other blatant signs of his nerves and anxiety, Stiles is dealing with yet another annoying problem: what his doctor has so eloquently described to him as Restless Leg Syndrome, which translates roughly as “the endless jiggling of your leg, and subsequently the tapping of your foot on the floor, that makes everyone hate you”.

He stresses again that he can’t help it.

Scott is used to it, just like he’s used to every stupid little ADHD thing that plagues Stiles’ existence, and Scott also seems to understand that it’s involuntary and that as much as he knows it’s annoying, Stiles really can’t stop himself from waving his hands around or tapping his foot or shaking his leg; Allison is understanding of it, Kira seems to get it, and even Lydia, while she certainly makes her fair share of complaints towards Stiles’ yelling and excited hand gestures, at least knows it’s not his fault. Isaac has gotten strangely acquainted with Stiles’ habits too— which is more than a little odd, really.

It’s not uncomfortable, though, to have Isaac trying to help him with his ticks. Because as much as he could deny it—if Stiles ever felt the need to watch his life flash before his eyes and bring it up with Isaac—he knows that he’s trying to help. In fact, with it being not uncomfortable, it’s quite the opposite, and Stiles feels content in admitting that Isaac’s concerned, lingering glances and his subtle nudges whenever Stiles fidgets— they’re comforting. It does help.

Things feel different lately, in more ways than one, and it unsettles Stiles as much as the other stuff grounds him. Beacon Hills is a literal beacon for the supernatural, for the strange and bizarre, and the horrible darkness sweeping through the air and settling deep inside Stiles’ lungs is only slightly weirder than the things he usually experiences. He’s not even sure if this is something unnatural, or if his anxiety is just finding a new way to manifest itself and kick his ass for the hundredth time.

Mr. Harris drones on as he makes his way around the classroom, a pen in his hand and his steps careful and precise as he walks between the desks. At least in this mess of a town, where everything else is shifting and constantly changing, the usual boring chemistry class and boring Harris are still the same as always. Unfortunately.

Scott is sitting at the desk in front of Stiles, scrawling away and taking notes as Harris keeps talking, and Lydia sits to his right, one leg crossed over the other as she taps a pencil against her lips in a faux-focused gesture, knowing that she doesn’t need to listen to this lecture because she’s already substantially smarter than anyone else in the room— Stiles included, probably. It’s a close call.

Isaac, as is the deal with being lab partners, is sat next to Stiles. He’s looking down at his notebook, dragging a highlighter across the page as he concentrates on his work, and Stiles thinks that maybe the anxiety creeping into his gut isn’t real, that his leg isn’t jostling endlessly under the desk and against the footrest of the stool he’s sitting on, because Isaac doesn’t seem to notice despite being right next to him; his pen suddenly stops moving, hand coming to a complete stop, and his eyebrows pinch together when he frowns and shifts his gaze to the side, catching Stiles’ eyes.

Stiles,” he warns, tone sharp in a way that Stiles is accustomed to by now, “you better stop with the leg. I can hardly think straight, let alone write in a straight line.”

“Are you sure that’s my fault? Maybe you’re just not s—”

Stiles abruptly silences himself when Isaac’s eyes flicker gold for a brief second, just long enough for it to be considered a threat but not too long that someone else could look over and notice; it’s aimed at Stiles and Stiles alone. There’s something kinda appealing about that.

It’s not like he can stop it by choice though. He tries, he seriously does. He doesn’t want Isaac to go full-wolf and tear him apart just because he knocked the desk one too many times— he at least wants it to be for a good reason, something appreciable, like telling a joke that was so funny, Isaac had no choice but to kill him, lest the secret of “Isaac Lahey laughs sometimes” gets out to the world. A boy can dream, right?

He tries to stop, giving Isaac a sheepish grin when he forces his leg to stop bouncing and keeps it still for a minute, but that’s all it is. A minute. It’s a single minute of bliss before it unknowingly starts again, and Stiles doesn’t realise it’s even happening until he suddenly feels something; a warm pressure against his knee, just firm enough that it keeps it from moving, but not too hard that it feels forced or painful. Stiles doesn’t need to look under the desk to know that Isaac has shuffled a little closer and his arm is leading not-so-subtly beneath the table.

“You’re lucky I’m right-handed,” he says, as casual as ever, like his left hand isn’t splayed across Stiles’ knee right now. In public. In the middle of class.

It doesn’t seem to bother him as much as it’s bothering stiles, going straight back to his notes now that the desk is apparently still, and maybe there’s a slight little twitch of the side of his mouth, a smirk about to break through— Stiles isn’t paying too much attention. He’s distracted. Bothered. Not in an annoyed way, no, because Isaac would know that, he’d be able to tell and he’d move his hand instantly; but in a flustered way, like his face is burning and his heart is racing a— and oh. Right. Isaac can tell that too.

Stiles bites back a laugh, full of nerves more than anything, and then instinctually rolls his eyes at the ridiculousness of this situation.

“What’s got you so nervous?” Isaac asks, a barely-there mumble amongst the quiet chatter of the classroom.

Stiles doesn’t know if Isaac is poking fun at him, at the inevitable skipping of his heartbeat or the spike in his pulse, or if he’s genuinely wondering why he’s so restless in the first place; it’s something that Stiles usually doesn’t have an answer for, a response of nothing more than “I don’t know” or “it’s just how I am”, but this time he knows that it’s something more, a vague sense of unease shaking his bones to the very core.

The leaves on the trees outside blow softly with the autumn breeze, falling to the ground every so often with a particularly strong gust and forming a pile that’ll soon be destroyed and trampled under the feet of unaware and uncaring high schoolers. The colours had changed gradually, a swapping of green for red and brown, sometimes purple and black. This, this churning in his stomach, feels like a more sudden change.

“Something bad is coming,” Stiles answers honestly.

He hopes Isaac picks up on the regular beat of his heart, the lack of skips or stutters like when someone lies, and he apparently does, doing nothing more than looking up at Stiles with a singular raised eyebrow, a vague expression of confusion washing over his face only to quickly be replaced with acceptance. He nods a second later.

“Alright. We’ll figure it out.”

And that’s it. His voice is unwavering, strong and certain, and the conversation ends just as quickly as it had begun.

Stiles feels himself settle easily into his stool, a new feeling—reassurance—settling in. He doesn’t make any attempt to shuffle or move away, doesn’t try to shake Isaac’s hand off of him or snap at him or even do anything to respond negatively in the slightest. Isaac knows that he’s fine, and it’s why Stiles doesn’t mind at all when his hand shifts from his knee and moves a few centimetres up, settling on his lower thigh and resting there a lot more comfortably than the previous stretch to his knee. It’s still a light pressure, no push or force to it at all, and Stiles’ leg remains still not from the weight of a hand holding it down, but just because it is. Because as always, Isaac has found yet another new way to comfort Stiles, and as always, Stiles has allowed himself to be completely grounded and brought back to Earth by no one other than Isaac Lahey.

He thinks he’ll have to take this mystery off of the “solve later” pile and try to figure it out as soon as he can.

(He thinks he already knows the answer, the reason he’s so comfortable around this good-looking boy with the doe eyes and the devilish smirk. He’s just not sure what to do about it, or if he ever actually will do something about it.)

 

v.

Stiles was right.

He’s not sure how often he gets to say that in his life, not anymore anyways, not with all the werewolves and the— the Kanima, and the Darach, and— God, who even knows what else. Stiles has lost track. All that he knows is that for once, he was right.

Not like it felt good to be right about something so horrible. He was right, about something bad coming. But it wasn’t just bad. It was worse— the worst, maybe, so far. Stiles is sure of it— or maybe he’s saying he’s sure of it to reassure himself, to make sure he can reassure himself about something, anything, because Stiles doesn’t know what he’s sure of anymore, doesn’t know what he’s feeling about anything at all, doesn’t even know if he is Stiles.

Nothing is the same anymore. Nothing is right. Nothing feels right, he doesn’t feel like himself, and he doesn’t even know what being himself is supposed to feel like. He’s chasing after a feeling that he can’t remember, something so close yet so far and something so unbelievably unattainable and out of reach for him, like he feels right on the verge of piecing it together but it all falls apart right in front of him and he can’t do anything to stop it.

The Nogitsune took everything Stiles knew and threw it away, though not before severely maiming and almost tearing apart everything he knew— except that was never really the Nogitsune, was it? When it was these hands—Stiles looks down at them now, at his pale hands, nails bitten down to stumps after weeks of growing them out, his thin fingers shaking with the cold he feels enveloping his entire body—these hands are his hands and these hands were what nearly killed his friends, his family.

He doesn’t recognise himself when he looks in a mirror anymore. The way his hair sticks up at stupid gravity-defying angles, never staying down even when he gels it in place, much easier to manage back when it was shaved; the dark rings around his eyes telling him he needs to get more sleep, as if it’s even an option when every time he blinks he’s faced with blood and tears and the screams of his friends as they try their best to save him— should they have? When this is what returns?

His t-shirt hangs loosely from his chest, even without his binder underneath. He’s trying—and failing—to put the weight back on that the Nogitsune stole from him. There’s a rapid rising and falling of his chest, the fabric of his shirt swaying with the motion, and the clawing in his lungs suddenly scratches up towards his throat, like he’s feeling hands slowly wrap around him and tighten ever so slightly with each passing second— he can’t breathe. He’s having a panic attack.

The mirrored reflection of himself warps, twisting and turning and Stiles knows it’s just the room spinning, the dizziness from the panic and the lack of oxygen in his brain, but it still feels purposeful, like a trick, like the Nogitsune is gonna walk by in the background of the reflection any second now and give him another riddle, something to solve or else someone he loves will die— his legs go weak with the thought, the memory, and Stiles feels the carpet underneath his fingers before he feels the pain of his knees hitting the ground.

Usually he can handle a panic attack by himself. He’s had to, after all, since Mom died, but there sometimes comes situations where his Dad will be with him, getting him to count his breaths and slowly come down from it with breathing exercises; or Scott, who never knows exactly what to do but will sit with Stiles and comfort him until he’s okay again, offering gentle phrases of reassurance and the promise that things will be okay. There was even one time with Lydia, where she took him somewhere quiet and safe and found a place for him to rest, talking him through it as she kept watch and made sure he was getting the peace he needed.

But by himself, he just sits, or he falls, lying down on the floor and staring at the carpet as the ground seems to give way beneath him, each breath catching in his throat and never fully reaching the outside world. He feels hot and cold all at the same time, knows that he’s sweating but also that he’s shaking, and the confusion doesn’t help with the situation itself, the reasoning for all of this happening: the fact that Stiles can’t tell if he is actually Stiles, or if he’s still Him. It. That thing.

While nothing else feels real, this panic attack certainly does, and Stiles knows how these feel—he’s really too used to them, it’s sort of sad—but this one seriously feels like he’s dying. He thinks he might die here, alone, curled up on the floor of his messy bedroom, an existential crisis underway at the same time as the worst panic attack of his life, vision blurry and mind hazy and his entire focus completely out of this plane of existence— there’s a sudden voice in his head, foggy and distant, calling out to him with a gentle whisper of his name, and it’s only after a few minutes does Stiles find the energy to open his mouth.

“Scott?” He mumbles, thinks he slurs it a little with the way he’s struggling to even breathe, but he knows some sort of noise had come out of his mouth.

He hears a laugh in response, it reverberates around his head like an echo; a sweet laugh, soft and genuine, and it’s a laugh that Stiles doesn’t recognize. It’s not Scott’s.

“Sorry,” the voice replies back, “not Scott. Isaac, actually. My bad.”

Isaac.

Stiles blinks, once, twice, clears his eyes and opens them wide enough to finally see past the blur and oh shit, yeah, it’s Isaac, Isaac’s pretty blue eyes staring back at him from only a foot away— he’s crouched nearby, head tilted with a look of concern and worry, eyebrows knitted together despite the laughter only moments ago, and his hand hovers aimlessly in the air where it seems almost hesitant, waiting for confirmation or some kind of approval to move forward or even back.

Isaac follows Stiles’ gaze, looks down at his own hand, and then frowns when they catch eyes again.

“Can I help you up?”

Stiles would answer verbally if he could breathe, but he still can’t, his lungs feeling tighter by the second now that he’s focusing all his energy on using his eyes and also trying not to think about the mortifying embarrassment of having someone see him like this, someone who has never seen him like this before; weak, fragile and damaged and falling apart at the seams, struggling to even remember to blink as he just lies on the floor and awaits death.

Would it be bad, he thinks, if I was to accept that? Ready to just give in and let all of this go?

He tries not to think about that, or the Nogitsune, or the reason he’s in this mess in the first place, and as he lists off the problems he realises he’s thinking about it and he’s making himself worse and he just stops, stops this line of thought right here, and empties his brain. Thinks of nothing, listens to nothing, says nothing, and only looks at the sharp line of Isaac’s jaw, the gentle tug of his mouth as he worriedly bites at his lower lip.

God, he’s attractive.

Stiles feels a small laugh bubble out at that, at his absolutely inappropriate thought given the situation, but it seems to earn a smile from Isaac, and he can work with that.

He nods, remembering the question he was asked an eternity ago, and shakily pushes himself up onto his elbows as he tries to ignore Isaac’s strong and warm grip pulling at his bicep to help him get up. When he’s sitting properly, manoeuvred somewhere more comfortable, his back resting against the frame of his bed and his legs outstretched lazily in front of him, he notices Isaac unzipping his hoodie and pulling it off of his arms.

He really shouldn’t, because Stiles’ thoughts are wandering, and then he notes that his breathing is coming back to him in gradual bursts, so maybe it’s not all that bad.

“Here,” Isaac kneels down at his side, holding the hoodie open with both hands, “you’re freezing cold, Stiles. Put this on before you die. For real this time.”

Stiles levels him with a disapproving stare, and Isaac rolls his eyes with a slight smirk. It’s… weirdly enough, reassuring, to hear him be as snarky as usual, even in a moment like this. He’s still holding the jacket out and Stiles is just panicked, not stupid. He leans forward, sliding one arm through the nearest hole and letting Isaac pull the other side on for him, and then he instantly wraps up in it, tugging the zip up and letting the bagginess of the sweatshirt overtake everything else. It’s warm, comfy, way too big because Isaac is a giant, and it smells like what Stiles is now realising is Isaac himself— dirt, petrichor and other earthy tones, and the distinct vague scent of cigarettes.

It should be unattractive—Stiles didn’t even know Isaac smoked, and the earth scents are obviously literal rather than fleeting metaphors, what with the werewolf thing—but it’s not, actually. Stiles is more focused on the fact that he can smell, that he can intake the breath needed for that. That he can breathe. Slowly, and shallowly, but it’s coming back to him, a more regular rhythm as he sinks into Isaac’s hoodie and feels the other boy pressed lightly up against his side, thigh to thigh and arm to arm and a comforting heavy weight. Grounding.

The room eventually stops spinning.

After a few minutes, Stiles lets out a sigh, wiping his eyes with the back of a still-shaky hand and lets his head loll back against his bed. He turns to Isaac, finding him already looking at him, and offers a weak grimace.

“Sorry,” he looks down at the floor, “and thanks, by the way.”

Isaac bumps his shoulder gently against Stiles’.

“I told you we’d figure this out, didn’t I?”

“Yeah,” Stiles glances up, smiling softly at the patience evident on Isaac’s face, “you sure did.”

 

vi.

It’s been a couple of months since the entire Nogitsune ordeal, and Stiles talks so lightly of it because he’s trying to hide the fact that he still feels weird sometimes— like, he’s weird anyways, he knows that, but he still feels that deep-rooted unease that flares up worse some days than others, a recurring nagging thought that he is not who he thinks he is and he’s not right and nothing is right, that lingering voice in his head telling him that he deserved it and his friends shouldn’t have ever forgave him for almost killing them.

Sometimes he still thinks it’s true.

So he can’t really be alone very much anymore, the panic creeping up on him the second the lights go out, his nightmares happening almost every night now and leaving him to wake up in a cold sweat and with a silent scream struggling to make its way past his lips. He could be alone, if he wanted, because some days he really can’t be around people—the people who almost died at his hands—but he also knows that they’re only trying to help, and most of the time he likes it when they stick around.

It was Scott’s idea at first, surprisingly, not his Dad’s; Scott had found out how bad Stiles was feeling and he insisted on being in his presence almost every single day, if only to do nothing more than sit there and watch him, telling him “I don’t want to leave you alone” and ignoring Stiles’ whines of “I’ll be fine, Scotty, gimme a break already”— he’s secretly thankful Scott had dismissed that, because sometimes Stiles isn’t fine, and everyone around him knows it. That’s mortifying enough on its own, he doesn’t want them to pity him, but he supposes he can deal with it.

Lydia usually climbs in through the window, for some bizarre reason, claiming it’s quicker that way than it is to just let herself in with the spare key that Stiles knows she has, because they all seem to have a spare key to his house nowadays, and most the time she drags either Allison or Kira along with her; sometimes it’s both, and sometimes it’s just her on her own, but the activities they partake in are always the same, and Stiles has grew to like the pampering he receives from the girls. Allison will paint his nails since he’s growing them out again, Kira will flick through Netflix until finding the “perfect” romcom to watch, and Lydia will sit next to him and berate him about his fashion choices and how his hair is getting long again and he should really let her take him out one day, to go shopping and get his hair cut properly and not done in the bathroom of his house with Scott’s shitty scissors.

It’s nice, because they don’t act differently around him. Allison even forces him to do his homework sometimes. It sucks, but it’s normal, it’s what he should be doing, not thinking about death and dying and the pain of everything he can’t quite shake yet; filling that void with econ and chemistry seems only appropriate for a high schooler.

Today, he doesn’t have Scott at his side, or his Dad bugging him from the kitchen, or the girls rummaging through the mess in his room to try and find some of the missing pens that Kira is sure have to be somewhere. He has Isaac, his legs splayed casually wide as he slouches on the couch, another one of those stupid fucking scarves resting over his shoulders like he’s not even wearing it properly. Stiles wants to pull the dumb thing from around his neck and throw it into the trash, or set it on fire— he could probably sidestep the blame too, place it all on not feeling like himself, a saccharine smile as he apologises and watches the fabric burn up.

Isaac’s getting soft on him. It’s entertaining, just how much he can get away with now.

(And confusing.)

Stiles idly tugs at the sleeves on his hoodie— Isaac’s hoodie, it’s Isaac’s hoodie, the same one from that night that they haven’t exactly talked about, and it’s still too big and still the most comfortable thing Stiles owns. He’ll admit that it’s also become something important to him, something that he eventually found out was referred to as a “comfort object”, and that’s exactly what it does for Stiles: whenever he feels that vague sense of anxiety slowly beginning to rumble in his gut, he shakily steps over to his closet, pulling the dark sweater down from the hanger and quickly tugging it on. The peace it brings him is instantaneous. He’s not reliant on it, like he is with having his own specific pillow that he physically cannot sleep without, but it’s nice to have.

He pulls the sleeves down over his hands as he presses a button on the TV remote, flicking the channel over to something else until he settles on a terrible horror movie that he knows Isaac has seen before, it’s something that they fight over literally all the time; it’s perfect for the time too, not that late in the evening but the sky dark outside because of the upcoming winter. It’s a good time for food, Stiles thinks. He’s never sure how long his friends will stay with him when they come over, but Scott and Isaac usually always stay the night, and Isaac had instantly dropped his duffel bag near the bottom of the stairs when Stiles had let him in earlier.

“Hey,” he waves his phone at Isaac, snapping his attention away from the television, “do you wanna order pizza, or something? I know you always order the worst toppings and I argue with you every single time because I don’t want to share a pizza with pineapple but—”

“Stiles,” Isaac grins knowingly at him. He was rambling again. “Just order the food.”

“Right, sure,” Stiles pauses with the number half-dialled in, “and you still want pineapple?”

The glare Isaac sends him is just a few seconds shy of flickering into wolf-territory, his eyes glowing dangerously close to gold, and Stiles isn’t as threatened by it anymore as he used to be. He waves a hand and turns back to his phone, mumbling a small “alright, just asking,” under his breath and then immediately being hit with a pillow as Isaac responds with a casual “you know I heard that”.

Waiting for the pizza is always an excruciatingly long task, Stiles specifically orders from one of the places on the further side of Beacon Hills, and it’d be fine on any other day but there’s something nagging at Stiles, something that isn’t his own personal nervousness for once. Instead, it’s Isaac’s, and Stiles has been dealing with enough anxiety over the last few months—years, even—to be able to instantly recognise it on someone else.

The tells are different in everyone, in Allison it’s red-rimmed eyes and an inability to focus, in Kira it’s shaky hands and being unable to speak, for Lydia it’s putting on more make-up than usual in attempt to literally hide herself; Scott gets impulsive, making every decision ever and diving into everything headfirst as he hurries to solve his problems, and for Isaac, it’s similar to Stiles’ habits. It’s fidgeting, his eyes vacant as he doesn’t really look at anything, his words rushed and awkward and sometimes he stutters over the entire sentence— he’s doing one of his usual nervous habits now, running his hand through his hair and ever-so-slightly tugging on the curls.

He’s been increasingly more anxious as the days go by, as the night draws on, and Stiles is getting tired of it, if only because he’s uncomfortable. He’s not used to it and it’s sort of freaking him out to see Isaac Lahey revert back to his shaky former self, before turning. The memories tied to that version of Isaac aren’t that great either.

So he opts to help, in whatever way he can, because Isaac has spent months and months helping Stiles and he wants to be able to at least repay the favour.

Stiles sits himself down on the couch right next to Isaac, not close enough to touch him but enough that it was an obviously purposeful decision, and he considers it a victory when Isaac’s eyes shift subtly to the side so he can look at Stiles without actually turning to him. His hoodie—Isaac’s hoodie, he reminds himself again—pools over his thighs when he sits, and Stiles puts his hands into the pockets to just do something with them. His elbow brushes up against Isaac’s when he moves, and he doesn’t miss the way that Isaac quickly glances down at the contact.

“Lahey,” Stiles sighs, dramatically sinking further into the couch, “what’s going on with you? Come on, I’m the one who almost died.”

Isaac narrows his gaze at him then, a look of contemplation quickly washing over his features, and it takes a second before he looks away with an almost apologetic frown.

“Yeah. You’re right.”

He doesn’t snap back, or add some witty remark about how he hates to point out that Stiles is right, he just leaves it at that, sad and solemn, and then he drops a hand to lie in between the space where his and Stiles’ thighs rest on the couch. His pinky finger stretches out, brushing against the denim of Stiles’ jeans stretched snug around his thigh, and the silent begging for permission is almost too much. Stiles slowly lets one of his hands come loose from his pockets and places it down comfortably on top of Isaac’s; he hopes he’s not reading this wrong or else he really will accept death this time around.

It’s silent for a few seconds, but Isaac doesn’t rip his hand away or even move at all. Stiles listens to his slightly uneven breathing and watches his mouth slowly open.

“I’m glad you didn’t.”

When Stiles blinks dumbly at him, confused, Isaac coughs awkwardly and clarifies.

“Die. I’m glad you didn’t die.”

And, really, despite how sweet and genuine that’s supposed to be, it’s also the funniest thing Stiles has ever heard in his life. That Isaac Lahey thinks telling someone “I’m glad you didn’t die when you were possessed by a Japanese fox spirit that tried to murder you and everyone you knew, including me” is a normal and appropriate way to try and hit on someone. He really is more of a disaster than Stiles usually mocks him for— the scarves are one thing, as is the constant useless advice, but this? This is ridiculous. And endearing.

Isaac is glaring at him as he stifles a laugh, and Stiles quickly shakes his head.

“Thanks,” he says, “I’m pretty glad you didn’t die either.”

That seems to be an appropriate response to whatever this mess of a conversation is, because Isaac lights up, his usual confidence starting to seep back into him as his mouth turns from a frown to a smirk, one of his eyebrows twitching slightly with interest.

Yeah? Do you want to maybe go out sometime, then?”

He knows the answer before it even leaves Stiles’ lips. It’s evident from the way Stiles is smiling, he can feel the dumb pull at the corners of his mouth, and even if he couldn’t, he knows his heart is beating uncontrollably right now. Isaac’s hand turns over underneath his, aligning their palms together and interlocking their fingers in a bold move as he awaits the response he knows is coming.

Stiles, being Stiles, feels the desire to lie and say “no” just to knock Isaac out of his brief sense of smug superiority, but he doesn’t forget the days and weeks of slowly built-up nerves, the stolen glances when he thought Stiles wasn’t looking and the lingering touches to him that weren’t necessary at all, and he doesn’t miss the slight uncertainty shining behind his wide eyes now.

“Sure.”

With that, Isaac breaks into a real grin, a small huff of laughter escaping his lips, and Stiles thinks he’s never looked so happy—and so genuinely relieved—in the entire time that Stiles has known him.

He’s as beautiful as ever.