Chapter 1: Cover
Chapter 2: Chapter Only
He was eight years old the night that his entire life changed. Stiles Stilinski remembered it clearly throughout the years to follow. His father had been called out due to an emergency. Claudia Stilinski told him to go, that she loved him and would see him later. Stiles sat quietly in the corner, still in a way that almost made him seem asleep. Stiles was eight years old when he sat in his mother's hospital room, listening to the rattling of her breath in her chest. He was alone.
Stiles was alone and eight years old when his mother's room became filled with noise. He was not sure what was louder; the sound of his mother's heart monitor flat-lining or his own screams.
It was raining, and no one could get a hold of Deputy Stilinski as Stiles refused to let go of his mother's still hand. Stiles was alone, and he felt none of the tears that streaked down his cheeks.
It was hours later that the numb deputy walked down the hall, stopping when he spotted his hyper-active, optimistic, and smiley eight-year-old sitting with his head in his hands. Stiles' shoulders shook; he was out of tears. Linden Stilinski slowly made his way to his son, kneeling down in front of the boy. He looked at his father with a mix of despair, betrayal, and relief at the fact the man was there. Neither one said a word, but Linden let out a heavy breath after Stiles surged forward to hug him tightly. “I know, kiddo,” Linden mumbled. “I know.”
Stiles wanted to argue; to scream and shout. His father did not know. Stiles was eight years old, and he was alone.
The morning of Claudia’s funeral dawned bright and sunny. Stiles cursed the light. He reluctantly changed into the clothes that his aunt had bought for him to wear. Linden and Stiles had not spoken since the hospital.
During the service, Stiles stood quietly next to his father, holding the man's shaking hand in his own. If Linden smelt of alcohol, nobody mentioned it, especially not Stiles.
Once she was laid to rest, Stiles continued to stand in front of her grave while everyone else started back to the cars to head to the Stilinski home for soft words and too much food. There would be stories of her life. Stiles did not want to hear. Stiles was eight years old, and he just wanted his mother back.
A year came and went faster than it seemed. Stiles was nine years old, and he was angry. He was angry at his father for not being there, for working too much and sleeping too little. He was angry at the empty alcohol bottles in the trash that he was not supposed to know about. He was angry at everyone at school for treating him like he was going to break. Stiles was angry at himself for worrying so much that the room started to spin and his breath would not catch.
He was angry at the new kid, Scott McCall, who came walking in with his perfect family and perfect perfectness. No one ever told Scott to shut up. Of course, no one had to say that to Stiles anymore, either. Stiles was quieter than normal, and that made him angry, too.
The anniversary of Claudia’s death was cold and rainy. Stiles wanted to scream. He wanted to yank the whiskey from his father's hand and demand that he stop. Melissa McCall did it for him when she stopped by to check in after having learned from Linden, her new friend, what the day meant to the surviving Stilinskis. Stiles ran from the house, knowing that no one would notice. He kicked a large rock when he reached his destination, probably breaking a toe with the odd angle that it landed. He could feel his chest tightening, and his hands were trembling as his breath started coming in gasped pants. The dark, cloudy sky above him seemed to be mocking him, and it was not until the first raindrop fell that Stiles started to regulate his breathing.
Stiles was nine years old, freezing cold and alone. He shook as he stood before his mother's gravestone, both from anger and the cold. He was completely unaware of how much time had passed before he heard someone yelling his name in the near-distance. Stiles did not move. In minutes that could have been hours for all he was aware, arms were suddenly around him as his father nearly picked him up off of the ground in a hug. “Stiles, thank god,” Linden gasped. It took several minutes for the boy to register that tears mixed with the rain on his father's face. “Don't ever run off like that again. I thought I...”
Lost him; Linden had feared that his son would not be found. Stiles heard his father mumble the words, and the boy's chest tightened once again. That time, the panic did not come; only sadness. “I'm sorry,” Stiles replied, choking on a sob that he did not even fully register though it wracked his entire body. Stiles was nine years old, freezing cold, but he was no longer alone.
The next year came in went in a blur of activity. Stiles was no longer angry, but he was not happy, not really. He was trying, but there was only so much faking a ten-year-old boy could do. He no longer hated the McCall boy; in fact, they were starting to become friends. Stiles had learned that the boy was not as perfect as he had seemed to start with. Scott struggled with asthma and his father was continually out of town. When the man was home, he and Melissa spent their time fighting. Scott hid at Stiles' house a lot after the other boy had found out what the McCall family was really like. Stiles' grades were returning to normal, and he was talking a little more. Still, he was more quiet than not.
He had sat down at his mother's piano in the den at one point that year. Stiles was ten years old, and he wanted nothing more than to hear his mother play once again. He let his own fingers dance across a few of the keys, playing a melody that he knew by heart. It felt as if the keys burned his skin, and Stiles jumped up to rush away from the piano. He did not touch it again.
Linden still wore his wedding ring, and Stiles still went to bed every night, wishing to wake up and have it all have been a dream. Stiles was ten years old, and he was doing what he could to hide his panic attacks from everyone. They happened at night, when he was alone in his room and the darkness would settle in around him. They happened when his father went off to work and did not return when he was supposed to. They happened when Linden drank just a little too much and started talking about Claudia. They happened when he struggled with homework, or when he was picked on at school. He would hide in the bathroom as his hands shook and he felt like his chest was on fire.
The anniversary of Claudia’s death rose foggy and chilly, but slowly turned warm and sunny as the sun rose into the sky. Stiles sat quietly at the kitchen table that morning as his father got ready to work. The man seemed to be trying his hardest to not think about what the day was. Stiles was ten years old, and all he could think about was seeing his mother lay in her hospital bed, slowly fading away. Linden went to work, the school bus came and went, and Stiles still sat at the table. His father had expected him to go to school, just like any other day; but, Stiles could not make himself go. He would greet Scott with a bright smile the following day at school, act as though nothing was wrong. He was getting better at it.
Stiles rode his bike to the cemetery, the world a blur of colors around him as he pedaled as fast as he could. He was ten years old, and he wondered if they would ever be okay again. Stiles was no longer angry at his mother, his father, the world. No, Stiles' anger had faded, but the grief still remained.
He had no flowers to leave for her; instead, he left a book, one of the ones that she used to read to him about pirates and magic. Somewhere in the distance, Stiles swore he heard a wolf howl. It sounded almost mournful, but Stiles thought that it had to be his imagination. It was not real, not like the wind on his face. Stiles was ten years old, and he was alone. He closed his eyes, letting out a heavy breath as the echo of his mother's voice danced across his memory. She smiled softly at him from her hospital bed. “Live, sweetheart,” Claudia had mumbled, her breath heavy and slow. “Be happy. I love you.”
Stiles laughed softly, brokenly as he opened his eyes once again, looking at the words that were etched into Claudia's headstone. “I miss you, Mom,” Stiles said quietly, the words lost in the wind as he reached up to wipe at his face. Stiles did not look away from the marker in front of him until he heard the sounds of footsteps heading his direction. Stiles looked over to see his father walking toward him.
Linden's eyes held a grief that could not be explained, a tiredness in his gaunt face that made him appear older than he was. There was ash on his face, smeared as though he had attempted to wipe it away without success. Stiles inhaled sharply as he watched how slow that his father moved. Stiles was ten years old, and he decided that it was time that he started to live again; if not for himself, then for his father.
There were kites in the sky throughout the park when Stiles was eleven years old. They danced in the breeze as children ran around. Stiles smiled, but the expression did not quite light his eyes like it used to. He and Scott were wandering through the park, the later of the two talking animatedly about their upcoming school trip. It had been an entire year; a year in which Stiles started to talk during class once again, his homework became jumbled with facts that he discovered online, he smiled and he laughed, and Scott became his best friend just before Scott's father left. The leaves were starting to change, and that year, Stiles actually took notice of the colors.
Stiles was eleven years old, and he had helped his father stop drinking. There was only a single bottle of whiskey in the house, and Stiles checked the unopened seal on it every day. There were no more bottles hidden in the trash. The piano remained still and quiet, but the photos around the house remained untouched by dust. He was eleven years old, and he was trying to be okay. He filled his time with Scott, school, helping his father around the house, and making sure that the newly elected sheriff would eat correctly.
The anniversary came and went, quiet and filled with hushed tears at night. Father and son visited the grave separately, though each knew the other had been there by the time they sat down for a dinner of Stiles' failed attempts at making his mother's favorite meal. Stiles was eleven years old, and he thought that maybe he was going to be okay.
Stiles was twelve years old, and his father spent more time at work than at home. That did not mean that Linden did not rush to the school when Stiles broke his arm in gym or when his son had a panic attack after a presentation on the very illness that had taken Claudia from them. That did not mean that the sheriff did not have his son's great report card pinned up on the wall of his office next to the pre-teen's elementary graduation “diploma” from his sixth grade teacher that all had been given before they headed to the junior high school and the photo of his son with Scott at their house.
He was twelve years old, and on the day of the anniversary, Stiles was anything but alone. Melissa and Scott were at the Stilinski house for dinner that evening, which was filled with talking and laughter, stories of the year so far. They did not talk about Claudia, but every now and then, Linden's eyes would dim. They all knew his wife never strayed too far from his thoughts. “Remember that blue kite Mom had?” Stiles questioned quietly as he and his father did the dishes after their guests had returned home.
Linden did not answer; he did not need to. They both knew that he remembered. They both remembered a summer spent out in the sun, at the beach or the park with the big blue kite fluttering in the wind as Claudia talked about the wind and life. That was before she had gotten sick. Stiles wanted that back, but Stiles was twelve years old, and that year, he did not cry.
The thirteenth year of Stiles' life passed in a blur of attempts at gaining popularity between playing video games with Scott and searching through Wikipedia when he could not sleep at night. A year sober for Linden was celebrated with a big dinner from Melissa. Stiles and Scott spent the year pulling pranks and making each other smile when things around them made them want to cry. Scott's father tried to call him, and Stiles held his shaking friend as Scott mumbled how much he hated the man. Stiles was thirteen years old, and there was not a day in which he did not miss his mother. She would have known what to say to Scott, but all Stiles could do was sit there.
With Claudia’s death came the autumn, the changing of the leaves and the crispness in the air that colored Stiles' nose red as he stood before her grave late at night. It hurt, Stiles hurt; he did not think he would ever really be okay again, but it was easier. He could breathe easier. Stiles was thirteen years old, and he was alone.
Leaves changed early the next year, the air cooling dramatically. Stiles was fourteen years old, and he had a year of laughter and honest smiles under his belt. Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe he would be okay. He was fourteen years old, and Scott stood with him as he brought his mother another book, a story of wolves.
Lacrosse. It was his and Scott's new thing. They were freshmen at Beacon Hills High, and both had made the team, technically. Bench-warmers were still a part of the roster. Stiles was fifteen years old, and he smiled as he sat on the cool ground in front of his mother's grave marker. He smiled as he told her about his amazing essay at school, about Lydia Martin and her perfect strawberry-blonde hair, about Scott's asthma getting a little better, about how he had some of the best grades in the class. He smiled, even as he told her about Jackson Whittemore and his terrible attitude, about the quiet kid Boyd, and about the blonde girl Erica Reyes. He told her about all his classmates, even the ones he was not particularly close to. He knew that she would know; Scott was his best friend, the one who came to sit next to him with a small box of cookies and his own stories to share with Claudia Stilinski.
Stiles was fifteen years old, and he smiled as Scott told her about how Stiles had planned a masterful prank against Mr. Harris, about how he had almost broken a leg in lacrosse, and how he had stood up to a bully who had been picking on Scott. He was fifteen years old, and he no longer felt alone.
A year always seemed to go by much faster than Stiles thought it should. Before he even knew it, Stiles was sixteen years old, and surrounded by werewolves. His best friend was a werewolf. There was a crazy alpha on the loose, and Derek Hale was just creepy. Stiles was not afraid of him (okay, so maybe he was). That was the year that the lies started. Stiles was sixteen years old, and almost every word to his father became a lie.
It was rainy when Stiles went to her grave that year. He cried as he told her about werewolves, about Peter and his offer, about Derek, about the hunters, about Scott and Allison. He cried as he shook on the ground in front of the marker. He told her about how his father looked at him differently, about how he was ruining the trust they had. “It's only going to get worse,” Stiles mumbled into his knees, hugging them close to his chest. He was unaware of anyone else being in the cemetery, oblivious to the fact that his conversation was overheard by Derek. “I don't know what to do, Mom. I’m sorry.” Stiles was sixteen years old, and he was scared.
Kanimas, psycho humans, hunters with vendettas, alpha packs, Peter Hale's resurrection; all of it was so much to happen in a year. Stiles was seventeen years old, and there was a darkness around his heart that had not been there before. It was permanent, etched into him like a tattoo. Linden knew the truth, the darach was gone; but, Stiles, Stiles would never be the same. “I almost lost Dad,” Stiles said quietly, the words strangled in his chest. “I thought I lost Derek, too.” Stiles laughed almost bitterly at the last statement, running his fingers through his hair, which he had only started to grow out that year. He told her about the motel, Scott's suicide attempt, Jennifer, the alphas. There was so much, and he felt a weight off of his chest as he spoke. Stiles closed his eyes. He was seventeen years old, and he was alone.
Live, sweetheart. Be happy. I love you. Stiles stood in the kitchen, his eyes closed as he took a deep breath. Pale, morning light filtered in through the window above the sink there in the Stilinski house. There was a radio playing some soft and slow song in the living room. Stiles was not sure what the song was, but he had not turned on the radio in the first place. He was eighteen years old, and he knew well how much things could change in the span of a year.
He was a senior. He did not play lacrosse that year, giving his spot to someone who may actually receive a scholarship for it. The piano in the den was dusted off, and he played at least once a week. Scott was going to get into a veterinary school. Lydia would go to CalTech. Cora was going to go to a community college with Isaac, the two of them living with Derek in an apartment downtown. Ethan and Aiden stayed in town, the newest members of the Hale-McCall pack. Danny knew about werewolves, and was still strong in his relationship with Ethan.
With another heavy breath, Stiles opened his eyes to see the light filtering into the room, specks of dust floating in the sun's beam. The sound of someone at the doorway of the kitchen caused Stiles to look over, seeing Derek Hale standing there. Stiles was eighteen years old, and he smiled at his sort-of boyfriend. There were still kinks for them to work out, but Stiles, Stiles was willing to take the time to figure it out.
School was a blur on the day of the anniversary. Scott gave Stiles a nearly crushing hug as soon as he got to the school, being the only one of his school friends to really know what the day meant. Linden was still sober, and his developing relationship with Melissa made Scott smile. Stiles had been against it at first; Melissa was not his mother. After seeing how she made the sheriff smile, though, Stiles changed his mind. Claudia wanted them both to be happy, after all. If Claudia could not be there, at least the man had someone who cared.
Derek picked Stiles up after school that day, something that never ceased to bring stares in their direction. The young man simply pulled the teen into a tight hug when Stiles reached him, instead of the typical stare-inducing make out session they usually initiated because it made Stiles smirk and comment on how easily it was to make others jealous with Derek’s help. He was eighteen years old, and Derek’s arms around him was the only thing that kept Stiles from growing upset.
Together, they went to the cemetery, and together they walked hand-in-hand to where Claudia Stilinski rested. Stiles closed his eyes as the crisp breeze ruffled his hair. Echos of his own laughter as he ran through the park with his mother chasing after him shifted their way through his mind's eye. Derek’s arm was around his waist, and Stiles smiled as he opened his eyes, though tears burned his vision. He told his mother about Derek, how they were together and how Stiles was falling for him, blinking through the tears that formed until he could see again. Stiles listened as Derek promised to do what he could to make sure that Stiles was safe. Stiles was eighteen years old, and he was not alone.
He smiled as they took turns speaking to Claudia while the sun slowly started to go down. The wind blew loose leaves around as they walked hand-in-hand back toward Derek’s car. He was eighteen years old, and as he closed his eyes, Stiles swore he could hear his mother's voice in the wind. Live, sweetheart. Be happy. I love you.