Stiles can still remember his first panic attack in vivid detail. He had been ten years old at the time, old enough to understand death, after watching his mother die. He remembers the way his heartbeat thundered in his chest, the way he had been convinced it was going to explode, that he was actually dying, the way his throat had closed to a pinhole through which air couldn’t travel.
He remembers his father, the smell of his aftershave and the feel of his warm, callused hands on the sides of Stiles’ face, the sound of his voice as he said, “Breathe with me, son. That’s it . . . that’s it . . .” until gradually the panic had dissipated and Stiles had thrown himself, sobbing, into his father’s embrace. He remembers the feel of tears on his father’s cheek.
The funny thing about panic attacks, he found as he grew older, is that even when he intellectually understood what was happening, it still did absolutely nothing to stem his certainty that he was going to die. It just shifted the way he looked at it. He went from ‘I’m having a heart attack and I’m gonna die’ to ‘the panic is going to kill me’. Because surely the human heart wasn’t made to tolerate such things.
He thinks about all this as he stands there, staring at the broken window through which the darach had disappeared with his father.
He can’t breathe. He tries, he really does, but each whining gasp only closes his throat a little more. He knows he has to pull himself together. Everyone’s counting on him. His father is counting on him. But the more he tries, the more he just falls apart. Because everyone is counting on him, and he doesn’t know what to do. He can’t save anyone, hasn’t been able to save anyone, and now his father is going to die and his last words to the man were, “Mom would’ve believed me,” and he makes a choking noise that doesn’t even sound like it came from a human throat. His hands and arms are starting to go tingly, numb, from the lack of oxygen. Before long it will reach his legs, and then he’ll be paralyzed, helpless –
“Stiles, God damn it – ” someone says, and then there’s a shock of cold water in his face. He sucks in a startled gasp, and the air, surprisingly, comes through. He looks around wildly to see Scott standing there, blood on his chin and a pained expression on his face. “Stiles, dude, can you – can you hear me?”
“I hear you,” Stiles says, and his voice is distant, like it’s coming from a thousand miles away.
“Sorry that – I had to – but you looked like you were going to pass out or something,” Scott says, wincing.
“Uh huh,” Stiles says, not sure why Scott is telling him this like it matters, like anything matters when his father, who fits at least three separate sacrifice categories, has just been stabbed and abducted by a psychotic magical murderer.
Lydia is crying but trying to pull herself together, telling them what had happened, what Ms. Blake had said to her about sacrifices, about how this was necessary, about how they just didn’t understand, and Stiles is half-listening but mostly just staring at the broken glass.
“Stiles?” Lydia approaches him cautiously. “Stiles, I’m so – your father, he saved my life, he – ” She wraps her arms around him, holds him, gradually sinks to the floor with him like she just can’t stay standing any longer. He lets her pull him down, because to be honest his legs are feeling pretty weak, and rubs water out of his eyes.
Isaac and Allison rush in then, with Chris in their wake, and things get chaotic. Scott is trying to explain what happened, and people are asking questions, and Stiles just sits there with that thousand-yard-stare and wonders if he’s finally lost his mind. He knows that if his father dies, he won’t be able to handle it. He’ll go on a revenge-crazed killing spree that will make Peter Hale’s look mild by comparison. He wants to find Jennifer Blake and dig his fingers into her throat, squeeze the life out of her. He reaches out and picks up his father’s sheriff’s badge, folded nearly in half. Near it lies Sheriff Stilinski’s gun. Stiles picks that up as well, tucking it into his belt.
“Stiles, we need to – ” Scott is saying, and then he and Isaac are lifting Stiles to his feet. Allison takes charge of Lydia, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. Ethan’s there, and why the fuck is Ethan there, whatever, Stiles doesn’t even care right now.
“Can you – can you follow them?” he asks Scott, scraping the shreds of his self-control back together, drawing them around himself like some sort of flimsy cloak.
Scott shakes his head. “I should be able to, to smell him, the blood, but – she’s done something. Some sort of magic that masks their trail. But we, we can figure out where they went, Stiles. We need to go see Derek. He – he knew Ms. Blake better than anyone, he must have some idea.”
“Okay,” Stiles says, because at least that’s a plan, which is better than nothing. He foresees that it’s a plan that’s going to fail miserably, because of all the things he wants to do right now, telling Derek that he was dating a murderous psychopath isn’t really one of them. Jesus, hasn’t the poor guy been through enough? Then he shakes his head. “Wait, what, no, we don’t have time for that – she could be killing him, she could be killing him right now – ”
“Stiles,” Scott protests painfully, “it’s not like we have a lot of options, let’s at least go, go see what Derek knows – ”
“No, we can’t, we have to find him, Scott,” Stiles chokes out the words, “Scott, help me, you have to help me find him – ”
“Stiles!” Scott takes him by the shoulders and gives him a rough shake. “We’re going to find him, okay? We just – we can’t go running around without a plan. Let’s go talk to Derek. Okay?”
Stiles doesn’t agree, he can’t agree, but he can’t find the words to disagree because he’s falling apart again. Scott takes his silence as acquiescence. He gets an arm around Stiles’ shoulders and is pulling him out of the classroom, away from the last place where he saw his father alive.
~ ~ ~ ~
Somehow, and later Stiles is never really sure how, he winds up at the Beacon Hills hospital, sitting in a hallway by himself. Chris had said something about pursuing a lead and taken Allison with him. Scott and Isaac had exchanged some sort of significant bro glance – what’s up with that, Stiles would wonder on a better day – and Isaac went with them.
Derek is at the hospital with Cora, so that’s where they go. But the idea of having to explain things to Derek gives Stiles another panic attack, so Scott goes in by himself. Lydia’s left waiting with Stiles in the hallway, but the exhaustion of the past hour gets the better of her and she slumps over a chair and falls asleep. Stiles is left alone, pacing, with his non-supernatural-hearing only catching the occasional snatch of the conversation taking place in Cora’s room.
“ – not trying to hurt you, I just – ”
“ – Jesus, you’re not even – ”
“ – don’t see why you won’t – ”
It’s every bit as useless as Stiles figured it would be, but he tries to keep control of himself, he tries, truly, and then Derek yells, “I don’t know, okay? Apparently I didn’t know her at all, how the fuck am I supposed to know where she would take her next human sacrifice?”
It’s too much, and Stiles just breaks. He lurches up and out of his chair because he has to do something, he can’t just sit there any longer. He carefully reaches into Lydia’s jacket and checks the pocket for car keys. They’re there. The Jeep is still at the school; nobody had trusted him behind the wheel of the car.
His mind is racing at a hundred miles an hour, and by the time he gets down to the parking lot, he has a plan. It’s at least a place to start.
He heads for Dr. Deaton’s office.
The veterinarian is there, of course, because he somehow always manages to be there when someone needs to find him there. Stiles pounds on the door for about ten full seconds before Deaton opens it up and stands back to let him in. Stiles gets right to the point. “The darach has my father,” he says, “and you’re going to help me find me.”
There’s some surprise, although not a lot, and then Deaton says, “Stiles, I’m not sure – ”
“Don’t,” Stiles says. “I know that you know way more than you ever tell us. I know enough at this point to know that, that there must be some kind of magic that can lead us to him. I will do whatever it takes to get him back, do you hear me? I will do anything.”
“It’s possible,” Deaton allows, “since you’re his son, we could use your blood to do a tracking spell – but it will only work if the darach hasn’t blocked that sort of magic.”
“Let’s give it a whirl,” Stiles says.
Deaton is still looking at him with that solemn expression. “Stiles, this sort of magic is dangerous. It’s a Pandora’s box that you can’t always close once you’ve opened it.”
“Do I fucking look like that matters to me right now?” Stiles grits out.
“My point is that you’re not thinking clearly, and it’s my responsibility to make sure you don’t do something you’ll regret later – ”
Stiles pulls his father’s gun out of his belt. “I swear to God,” he says, “that if the next words out of your mouth aren’t ‘okay, we’ll do the spell now’, I will shoot you in the God damned face. Because if you’re not going to help me, I don’t have time for this.”
Deaton lifts his hands in surrender and gives Stiles a complex look that’s more sorrow than anything else. “Okay,” he says, and gestures for Stiles to follow him into the back. Stiles does. Deaton cuts his palm and draws symbols with his blood, and says things that Stiles doesn’t understand even though they’re in English.
Then he feels the spell take hold in him. A strange tugging sensation, like he’s a fish on a hook and he’s slowly being reeled in.
“It worked?” Deaton asks, seeing the look on his face.
Stiles is already out of his chair. “Gotta go.”
“Stiles, you should call – ” Deaton shouts after him, but Stiles is already gone. He runs out to the car and gets behind the wheel. The spell has rendered him almost incapable of resisting. He knows that Deaton is right. He should call Scott, or Derek, or anybody, really, but there’s no time. If the spell worked differently, if he could see it on a map, tell them where to go, that would be one thing. But he’s not going to wait around for them to come join him so they can come along for the ride.
~ ~ ~ ~
He’s somehow incredibly unsurprised to find himself again in the Beacon Hills’ downtown district, and wonders exactly what all these abandoned warehouses are doing here. Maybe this one isn’t even abandoned. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t care. He’s out of time and he can feel that, somehow. The spell is growing weaker and he thinks that’s because his father is weakening, and there’s just no time. So he pushes the door open to the warehouse and walks in.
There’s a circle drawn on the floor and ritual symbols on the walls. He doesn’t know what any of them mean, and it’s hard to see them in the dim light. Near the back, he can see Ms. Blake moving around. She looks completely normal. It’s more than a little terrifying.
Then he sees his father, bloody and bruised, half-slumped out of a chair, mostly held up by the duct tape around his wrists. Blood has soaked the front of his shirt, and the damned knife is still sticking out of it, which is probably the only reason he hasn’t bled out yet. Stiles makes an involuntary noise and Ms. Blake’s head whips up. “You,” she hisses, in a voice that’s not at all human.
Stiles wants to make some sarcastic crack, some hilarious comment, but there’s just nothing. There’s nothing there. “Please let him go,” he chokes out. “Please. Please.”
This seems to surprise her. She was expecting an attack, maybe, or an attempt at bargaining, some grand speech, but all that comes out is Stiles’ strangled pleas. Sheriff Stilinski looks up blearily, and he seems to regain some coherence when he sees his son. “Stiles,” he says, his voice rusty and pained.
“It’s okay, Dad,” Stiles says. He approaches with his hands held up. “I’m going to get you out of here, okay?”
“You . . . you shouldn’t be here,” his father mumbles, shaking his head, trying to clear it.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. He reaches down and slowly takes the gun out of his belt. But he doesn’t brandish it. He holds it up by the barrel, hands still in that position of surrender, and then lowers it to the ground. Then he puts his foot on it and slides it over to Ms. Blake.
“What are you up to, Stiles?” Blake asks him, her tone both wary and amused.
“Nothing,” Stiles says. “I’ve got no, no plan here, I just – I’m just asking you. I know I can’t hurt you, can’t stop you, can’t do anything, but please. He’s my father, he’s the only family I have. I don’t, don’t think you’re a bad person.” The words are just pouring from his mouth. “I know what you said to Lydia, about this being necessary, about how we don’t understand what a sacrifice is. I do understand. I want to get rid of the alpha pack. I do. I won’t stop you. I won’t, just, just please, not my father.”
“That’s very touching,” Blake says, and she honestly does sound just a little touched. “But he’s the sacrifice I need, so . . .”
“Then sacrifice me instead,” Stiles blurts out. Her eyes go wide. “I should qualify, right, I mean, all the traits that make my father a good sacrifice, I’ve pretty much got them too. And, and a willing sacrifice is probably more powerful, right? Magically, I mean. Because that, that’s what a sacrifice is.”
“Stiles, no,” his father says, struggling against his bonds. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“I do,” Stiles says, and he just can’t stop. “I just, I’m so tired, Dad, I’ve been carrying this all on my shoulders and it’s crushing me, and if, if I’m going to die anyway and it so looks like I will before the year is out, at least let it mean something. At least let me save you.”
“He’s dying anyway,” the darach points out.
“Then heal him, I know you can, you absorbed the power from the healers you sacrificed. He can survive. I’ll take his place.” Stiles looks back at the darach. “Please, Ms. Blake. Please. I won’t fight. I won’t run. I promise. I promise. I promise.”
“A promise spoken three times,” she murmurs, and there’s hunger in her eyes now. “Very well. I accept.”
Stiles chokes out a sob that’s more relief than anything else. He watches as Blake lays one hand on his father’s shoulder and uses the other to yank out the knife. Sheriff Stilinski makes a strangled noise of pain, but the gout of blood Stiles expects never comes. There’s a pale glow around the wound, and then he gasps, slumping forward. Ms. Blake cuts the duct tape around his wrists and shoves him out of the chair, onto the hard concrete floor.
He lands with a heavy thud and a grunt, and Stiles runs forward, kneeling at his side. His father is still pale, and there’s a nasty gash just above his temple. She’s healed him enough that he won’t die, but he won’t be strong enough to interfere, either. He gives a little groan as Stiles puts a hand on the side of his face. “Just, just breathe with me, Dad,” he says, as his father struggles to catch his breath. “It’s going to be okay.”
Sheriff Stilinski grabs his hand. “No,” he grates out.
Stiles reaches into his pocket and pulls out the sheriff’s pin. “Here, I brought this for you,” he says, sliding it in between their hands. “Go . . . go find Scott, okay? Tell him what happened.”
“Stiles, no,” his father says.
Ms. Blake clears her throat. “We don’t have all night, Stiles,” she says.
“Right.” Stiles swallows, squeezes his father’s hand one last time, and then gets up and sits in the chair. His father’s hand grasps the cuff of his jeans, and it’s almost too much to take. But before the thought of breaking his promise can even cross his mind, there’s a loud noise and stunning pain in his left temple. He reels in the chair, nearly falling.
That’s one, he thinks.
“Don’t,” Sheriff Stilinski says, trying to heave himself back up to his feet, but collapsing back to the floor.
Stiles looks over his shoulder at Ms. Blake as she takes out a leather cord. “Please don’t let him watch,” he says.
The darach studies him for a moment, then nods. She takes a few steps over and nudges the sheriff with one foot, rolling him several feet away, so he’s facing the wall. Then she walks back over and pulls the cord taut around Stiles’ throat.
That’s two, he thinks, and his hands dig into the arms of the chair as he forces himself not to fight back. He will at the end, he knows; human biology will triumph over everything else, and the desperation to live will conquer his conscious mind. But by then it will be too late.
“You’re right, you know,” Blake says, and Stiles sees the knife out of the corner of his eye. “A willing sacrifice is so much more powerful. Thank you, Stiles. I mean that. Thank you.”
She starts chanting, and Stiles wants to close his eyes but doesn’t. He leaves them open, leaves them trained on the huddled form of his father on the floor, because he wants that to be the last thing he sees.
Instead, what he sees is a dark shadowy figure, and then a sudden burst of light as one of Allison’s flare arrows hits the ground right by his feet.
Ms. Blake jerks backwards instinctively, and Stiles feels a hot, sharp pain in his neck. That’s three, Stiles thinks. But a few moments later, he’s still alive, and everything’s devolving into chaos. The bright flares have left him partially blinded, but his hearing is just fine, and he can hear Derek: an agonized howl of grief and bitter despair.
Since he doesn’t seem to be dead, he lifts his hand to his throat to find a cut about two inches long on the side of his neck. It’s shallow, and it doesn’t seem to have hit any major arteries, although it’s still bleeding quite a bit. The darach has retreated several steps, and Stiles figures his promise is pretty well broken at this point, so he just throws himself forward, on top of his father, to shield him from the fight.
It’s a good thing he does, because things start to get messy. Debris falls on them twice, and at one point a werewolf – Isaac, he thinks? – goes flying into them. He just hunkers down and waits for it to be over. He smells something familiar at one point, and then feels a rush of heat. Lydia’s Molotov cocktails.
From the little he sees, the others have decided to forego a three-fold death for the darach and are heading for somewhere in the neighborhood of an eighteen-fold death. By the time it’s over, the darach is little more than broken bones, ash, and a smear on the ground.
“You idiot,” someone is shouting at Stiles, and Stiles doesn’t care, he really doesn’t. He presses his face into his father’s jacket and just breathes for the first time in hours.
Finally, he pulls himself together enough to sit up, which makes the world do some funny looping things, and pull his father upright with him. “Are you okay?” he demands.
“Am I okay?” his father asks incredulously. “Shit, you – here, look at me, follow my finger – ”
He tries, he really does, but his gaze keeps sliding off to one side and it’s hard to focus. He’s starting to feel a little sick.
“What’s going on?” a sharp, anxious, feminine voice says.
“We need to get him to the hospital – ” Sheriff Stilinski says, and then he’s on his feet, dragging Stiles with him. Stiles stumbles into Lydia and then leans over and throws up all over the floor.
“Oh, gross,” Lydia says.
“What the hell were you thinking?” It’s Derek who asks, his voice demanding, furious, and apparently he reaches out to grab Stiles and shake him because then Stiles hears his father snap, “Back off!” Things are getting blurry fast, and he doesn’t want them to fight over him, but he can’t remember how words work, and someone is on his other side, supporting him now.
“We’ll take him in my car,” Chris says. “The windows are tinted, people won’t be able to see – ”
Someone’s lifting him up because apparently he can’t walk. He thinks it’s Scott, but he supposes it could be Isaac or even Derek. As soon as his father leaves his blurry vision, he lets out a weak noise of protest and tries to reach for him, nearly overbalancing them. “Hey, I’m here,” Sheriff Stilinski says, reaching out and grabbing for his hand. “Don’t worry, I’m here,” he repeats, and Stiles checks out for a while.
~ ~ ~ ~
He surfaces in the emergency room, where Melissa McCall is saying something about a loading dose of anti-convulsants and then something about skull fractures. She asks him to count backwards from ten, so he does, and he thinks he does it right but apparently doesn’t, if the expression of worry on her face is anything to go by. She asks him to do it ‘just one more time, honey’, so he tries again, but this time he can’t remember what comes after five and he starts to get freaked out.
“Here, we’re taking him to get the CT,” someone says, and then he’s on a gurney and someone is pressing gauze against the cut in his neck, and he starts to cry. He’s not even sure why; it’s just suddenly too much and he’s hurt and frightened and upset.
“Hey, hey,” his father says, leaning over him, still pale but obviously recovering him. “You’re going to be okay, Stiles. Just breathe. Breathe with me.”
“Don’t leave me,” he says, and he has a sneaking suspicion he’s going to be embarrassed by that later.
“Not for a second,” his father replies, squeezing his hand. Which gets a little awkward when they actually get into the room for the CT scan. They manage to get everything sorted out, however, and he gets his imaging and then they put an IV in him and there must be painkillers in it because the world starts to get fuzzy.
He catches bits and pieces of the conversation his father has with the doctor. “Cerebral contusion . . . different from a concussion . . . but the swelling isn’t too bad . . . surgery isn’t . . . a few days of observation . . . long-term prognosis is good but it’s difficult to say at this point . . . traumatic brain injuries can be tricky that way . . .”
The gist of it, he gathers, is that he’s probably not going to die, so he lets the painkillers wash him out for a while.
When he comes out of it again, Cora’s glaring at him from her own bed, weak and feverish but still clearly annoyed at him. Derek’s sitting next to her, holding her hand, but he’s nodded off to sleep. He looks terrible, blue-purple marks under his eyes, lines creasing his face even in his sleep.
Cora’s glare has nothing on Sheriff Stilinski’s, but his face relaxes instantly when he sees Stiles looking around. “Hey, you,” he says, leaning over his son. “Coming around?”
“Yeah,” Stiles croaks, clears his throat, and tries again. “Jesus. I feel like something died in my mouth.”
His father gets him a cup of water and holds it up to his mouth with hands that tremble. “Stiles . . .”
“Don’t, okay?” Stiles says. “Just . . . don’t. I lied to you for over a year. And you believed me when it counted. You saved Lydia, you were able to save Lydia, because you believed me.”
Sheriff Stilinski sighs and shifts uncomfortably. “Lydia is angry with you,” he says, “for stealing her car and getting puke on her Jimmy Choos.”
“Her own fault,” Stiles says. “She insists on wearing ridiculous shoes even when people are trying to kill us. Jesus. How’d they even find us?”
“Apparently Chris Argent has been working on tracking down the darach for months.” Sheriff Stilinski gives a little shrug. “Knowing the identity she was using was the last piece he needed to find her. Or so I’ve been told.”
They sit in silence for a minute, and Stiles’ head aches, and he wonders if they’re actually going to do this, if they’re somehow going to avoid talking about what just happened like they avoid talking about everything.
“God, I love you,” his father says, in a rush, and Stiles starts to cry again. His father leans over and holds his hands, smoothes down his hair, runs careful fingers over the bandages on Stiles’ throat. “It would kill me if I lost you. You know that, right? Tell me you know that.”
Stiles nods and manages to choke out, “I know. But I . . . it’s the same for me. I can’t. I couldn’t. I’m sorry. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Sheriff Stilinski sighs, head sagging down a little, resting on the palm of his hand. “I know. And I would do the same for you, without even thinking about how much it would hurt you . . . to have to live afterwards. But Stiles . . . those things you said. About being tired. About the weight on your shoulders.” His gaze flicks up to Stiles. “Do I need to be worried about you?”
It takes Stiles several tries to find enough air to squeeze out his answer. “No. I just need you to help me carry it.”
His father leans over and kisses him on the forehead. “Okay,” he says. “From now on we’re in this together. Which means you’ll come to me for help when things go wrong instead of embarking on half-cocked crazy suicidal plans. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Stiles says.
“Promise, promise, promise,” Stiles says, because a promise spoken three times is the most he can give.
“Okay,” his father says. “And Stiles . . . that was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.” He squeezes his hand. “I know things aren’t always easy, but I couldn’t ask for a better son.”
Stiles’ imaginary responses vacillate between snarky and sappy for a few moments before he just gives up and says nothing at all, leaning his face against where his father’s fingers are intertwined with his. “I’m really sorry about . . . about everything, Dad.”
“Me too, kid,” his father replies. “Me too.”
As he drifts off to sleep, he starts thinking about why Cora’s sick, and what they can do about it, and whether or not they’ll be able to get Ethan to help them, and what Deucalion really wants. Because it’s not over yet. But for the first time in months, he’s starting to think that it will be soon.
~ ~ ~ ~