No one noticed when the young man began silently trudging along the sidewalk, his head bowed and his hands shoved into his pockets. Stiles Stilinski was used to not being noticed by a majority of the population, so the people passing him by and paying no heed meant nothing to him, but today not even his so-called best friend had seen him slip away from the lacrosse field midway through practice and head home alone.
Stiles could not find it in him to blame Scott for being so preoccupied. His best friend was usually absentminded in the best of circumstances, but now the poor guy had to deal with an uneven jawline, a borderline suicidal relationship, and his furry little problem all on top of dealing with their new teammate. Ever since Vernon Boyd had joined the lacrosse team the other night, it was clear to see that he possessed significantly less control of his abilities than Scott did.
Boyd seemed to be getting overwhelmed by his own senses and agility, and therefore it stood to reason that Scott had to keep an eye on him to ensure nothing of consequence happened in public. Boyd had the potential to expose the both of them if Scott didn't concentrate his efforts on keeping the bulldozer of a man focused after all. That was enough to make anyone scatterbrained, but there was also the incident two nights ago, when Gerard Argent had dropped the grandfatherly act and revealed himself as the snake he was.
There had been something off about that man since the beginning, and the feeling of unease that first plagued Stiles at the funeral for Kate Argent had only grown when the old man wormed his way into the ultimate seat of power as Principal of Beacon Hills High. Stiles had not liked being in the same room with him, even if the old man had complimented him on his perfect grades. He'd felt vindicated and suitably upset when Scott confessed that Gerard impaled him with a knife in the parking lot of the hospital and then proceeded to threaten Melissa McCall.
Scott had been diligently guarding his mother all weekend, which meant he had little time for anything else, and Stiles understood that. He really did. He imagined he would have behaved similarly had it been his mother with the threat hanging over her head. Besides that, Melissa was practically family to Stiles anyway; he could forgive his friend for ignoring him in that instance if it meant keeping her safe.
Despite all of the pressure of his friend was under right now, Stiles was still finding it difficult to let go of the fact that Scott had abandoned him the other night before any of this had become an issue. It was true that the thing with Boyd was relevant enough during the game, but the thing with Melissa happened well after Stiles had been treading eight feet of water with Derek Hale of all people. And Scott? Scott had been dining with the enemy and had dismissed the call for help when Stiles had desperately needed him.
Scott might have come through in the end to pull Stiles and Derek out of the water, but then he had taken off to go pick up his mother without even offering Stiles a ride home. Stiles felt entitled to be a bit peeved that Scott had conveniently forgotten that the jeep had been impounded and he had no way of getting home. Had the situation been reversed, Stiles would have dropped everything to help Scott. He always did. He probably always would, even though his best friend was an asshole.
Unfortunately Scott had driven off into the night and Stiles had been forced to walk this same route, dripping small rivulets of pool water and shivering in the cool night air the whole way. His muscles had felt like gelatin after struggling to keep himself and the sourwolf afloat, the same ache making his movements today slow and shaky, and even now his throat felt scratchy and irritated from swallowing so much chlorinated water.
It was disappointing for the most part, that Stiles could be so easily forgotten. He was an afterthought, easily discarded at times, and as much as that feeling hurt, Stiles just felt tired. He was tired of getting caught in the middle of something and feeling helpless, tired of being nothing more than an extra consideration to his closest friend, and he was tired of being forgotten by everyone else.
Stiles sighed deeply and tried to shake off the heavy thoughts as he navigated his way through the quiet streets, wishing he owned another mode of transportation until he could get his baby back. His jeep was indefinitely idled on the Beacon County impound lot as evidence in an ongoing investigation though, so that was a no-go, but maybe he could invest in a bicycle or a scooter? He would have probably had his baby back already had it not been for the fact that paralytic toxins had been discovered during the autopsy of the mechanic, thus leading the authorities to rightly conclude his death had been a murder and not an accident.
It was a bit of a hike from the school to the Stilinski house, but considering Stiles never actually got any field time in lacrosse and his own idea of working out was walking down the stairs to retrieve a handful of peanut butter pretzels and a can of carbonated awesomeness, he figured he could use the exercise. His dad had offered him rides to and from school, but Stiles knew it was out of his way and besides, walking wasn't that big of a deal. It was surprisingly relaxing even, providing that he stopped tripping over thin air every once in a while.
Stiles entered the house tiredly after the long, but peaceful walk.
The cruiser was still parked in the driveway, so he knew his father was home. It was the first afternoon in almost four days that the man was here. He was almost always gone these days, which was starting to become a disappointing though expected occurrence. It was always a pleasant surprise when his father was home… well, except when Stiles was harboring fugitive werewolves in his bedroom, but thankfully that hadn't happened in a couple of weeks since Derek had been officially exonerated.
The sheriff gave him an odd look when he entered the kitchen, his eyebrows rising slightly. "Did practice end early today?"
Stiles smiled at him haltingly, probably looking very much like a small child who had just been caught doing something naughty. His father only raised his eyebrows higher, giving him the same look he did when Stiles had forgotten to clear his browser history after researching unspeakable things like body farms or when his dad had signed for and opened the shipment of several different varieties of monkshood he'd ordered a few weeks ago from an occult store.
The look was both questioning and knowing, not to mention uncomfortable, which was a very frightening combination indeed. "… Uh…" Stiles slid his heavy book bag off his shoulder, slouching down into a seat with a sheepish expression. "Yes?" He inwardly winced at the look he got in return, but only shrugged in response. "For me it did. It's not like I'm there for anything except to run water bottles or towels to the rest of the team. Besides, my head is killing me."
"Did you already take something for it?"
Though it had been an excuse, Stiles was actually telling the truth. He really did have a headache, a very bad one that had been plaguing him for days. It was a lot milder today, not quite bordering on the migraine it had been previously, but still a throbbing pressure. He suspected that it was a lingering side effect of the toxic goo he had encountered, considering that there was still some lingering numbness in his hands and arms, which made it very difficult to write notes in earlier class.
What a time not to have super healing powers.
It had taken Derek a little over two hours to completely overcome the paralytic, and that whammy had been introduced directly into his bloodstream via the long claws. Stiles, on the other hand, had only gotten a few drops of it on his hand and had been paralyzed for half an hour, synapses misfiring like bad bottle rockets in his skull that just made his brain hurt, and hardly had any feeling in his extremities for days.
Stiles gave the man a winning smile, though it was somewhat subdued. "Yeah, about an hour ago," he nodded, rubbing at his temples.
"Good," His dad nodded quickly. "Make sure you take more if you're still feeling bad."
"Will do," he agreed readily. "Hey, you still have tonight off, right? I was thinking of making a pan of lasagna and some garlic bread for dinner, and maybe afterwards we could have a marathon of epic proportions, because it's been a while since we've done that." He was about to continue when he caught sight of the hesitant look on his father's face. He knew the answer without having to be told. "And judging from that grimace, it totally won't happen, probably because of work issues, and I should just order a pizza, huh?"
"No worries, pops," Stiles grinned, pushing any disappointment he felt to the back of his mind. "I should probably get started on my homework anyway. A lot of research needs to be done and it won't do itself, so I'll just get to it."
And of course, by research Stiles meant that he would completely avoid his homework since it wasn't do for at least two more days, and instead work on decrypting the top secret bestiary he had downloaded onto his hard drive from his psychotic new principal. Or maybe browse the culinary recipes he had likewise copied, because those were some very interesting recipes for such a creepy old man. He still had no idea what language the bestiary was written in yet to even begin translating it anyway.
Already halfway up the stairs to do just that, Stiles paused when the man called his name to stop him. He bit down on his lip before he turned, his face questioning. "Yeah?"
Instead of answering right away, his father only beckoned him back into the kitchen. He went reluctantly, sitting back down in the chair with his eyebrows raised as he twiddled his thumbs. His leg jiggled nervously as he tapped his foot in waiting.
"Are you okay?"
"Awesome," Stiles nodded. "I'm awesome, totally awesome."
Unfortunately the man didn't seem convinced of his awesomeness. "You seem… different," he added inquisitively, his eyes searching. "You've been quiet for days… weeks even…"
Stiles pulled a face and shrugged. "Some people would consider that a relief."
"Yeah, well some people are stupid," his dad rebutted blithely, and Stiles snorted before he could stop himself, because those words coming from his father's mouth were the funniest thing he'd heard in weeks. "You're never quiet. I don't like it. You need to tell me how to fix it, because I'm kind of lost here, kid."
"Nothing to fix," Stiles told him, earning himself another look for his effort. He exhaled lightly and shook his head. "Honestly, there isn't. I mean, Scott kind of ticked me off the other night, so I guess I've been upset about that, especially since he has once again completely missed the whole point of why I'm mad at him… but it'll work itself out just as it always does. Other than that, nothing new is really going on."
"You've been having trouble sleeping."
Stiles stilled briefly, his breath catching unconsciously. He had been under the impression that with the long hours at work his father hadn't noticed the change in his sleeping habits. He winced a second later, belatedly realizing that his reaction to the observation was probably all the confirmation the man needed to know there was something wrong in that department.
"Nightmares," he said quickly, owning up to it and hoping he wouldn't have to elaborate much more. "I was watching horror movies the other night and it gave me the willies. You know how that genre always freaks me out, but all of those hot, unattainable women taking on ten foot giant zombies with impossibly large axes all covered in red dye, corn syrup and shredded prosthetics are irresistible to me. I can't help but watch them—it's an unhealthy addiction."
It was a deflection, that's what it was and they both knew it. Most of their conversations seemed to go down that line lately, filled with half-hearted excuses and misdirected discussion topics. Stiles felt horrible for contributing to this wide, gaping chasm between the two of them, feeling each time as if he had somehow driven a wedge in with finality. But there was no other way around this unless he wanted to get his father involved with all of this supernatural shit, which he hoped never happened.
Stiles had to keep him safe, because his father was in danger enough as it was being the sheriff. For years Stiles had carefully monitored all of the dispatch radio chatter, had dedicated hours to memorizing all of the different police codes that abbreviated specific crimes, incidents, or instruction so he knew what it meant when it came over on the scanner. He listened and waited, all the while dreading that someone would contact him with the news that something bad had happened to his father while on a call.
Ignorance was the best protection in this instance. Just look at what happened once Stiles had known the truth about werewolves and hunters and cryptic veterinarians: he had been hunted by revenge seeking monsters, witnessed countless deaths, fearing for the life of everyone around him, and he was haunted by unescapable nightmares. Every day was a new battle. His father was just like him though. He would feel this same need to protect everyone, especially once he knew of Stiles' involvement in it all… and it could get him killed.
"Okay," his father nodded slowly, his gaze unwavering. "… You know you can talk to me about anything, right?"
Stiles swallowed the guilty thickness lodged in his throat and nodded his head slightly. "Yeah, dad," he said. "Of course I do."
"Anything you're going through, you can tell me about it," he added gently, looking strangely earnest. "I won't judge you or love you any less for anything. You can come to me if you're having trouble at school, if you and Scott are fighting, or if you are just having girl trouble… or boy trouble." He quickly held his hand up against the automatic protest that his works provoked. "Or if you want to tell me the truth about what's been going on with you for the past three months."
Stiles averted his eyes and stared down at his hands unsurely. "You're going to be late for work." He heard a heavy sigh as his father stood, a warm hand settling on his shoulder a second later. He heard a quiet farewell and a few moments later the front door opened and shut as his father left, leaving him feeling miserable and alone.
Moments ticked by in silence as Stiles sat there, listening to the sound of the cruiser pulling out of the driveway. He released a long breath and stood reluctantly to make his way up the stairs. He threw himself down onto his bed the moment he was in his room and then buried his face into his pillow.
No pizza or lasagna or anything tonight. His appetite, what little there had been for the first time today, had diminished into nothing. His stomach was a mass of knots now and his insides rolled up and twisted. Stiles hated this. He hated lying, he hated the secrecy, and he was beginning to hate that he had to pretend to be fine when he felt like he was falling apart.
"Trying to suffocate yourself?" a low, female voice that was all too recognizable asked coyly. "No? Too bad?"
Stiles sighed again. It was the same voice that more recently preceded violence in some manner, usually to Stiles in particularly. Erica Reyes just seemed to take an unusual amount of pleasure in his misery unfortunately and now she had apparently taken to breaking into his own home to inflict it. He felt too tired to deal with this right now. He opened his eyes reluctantly, spotting her perched on his desk.
"What do you want, Erica?" he asked sullenly.
"Someone sounds very unhappy to see me," the girl said, a dark smile painted on her red lips as she idly looked through the book on werewolf lore he had forgotten to put away. It was a thick tome, one that focused less on the sensationalized outlook on werewolves and more on the mythology behind them. She seemed highly amused as she read some of it, her golden curls bouncing as she shook her head with a scoff. "Fine literature you have here. Too bad none of it is actually true."
"Some of it is," Stiles countered with a huff, frowning at her as he unwillingly tried to sit upright. His arms were still being uncooperative, but he managed it after a moment, sitting on the bed as he watched her warily. "I only wanted it for the passage on remedies and poisons. I already know the one about using the ashes of Aconitum Noveboracense to reverse any adverse effects from firsthand experience, so it is probably the most accurate book out of the ones I've been able to find."
"Aconitum Nove… what?" Erica wrinkled her nose. "What is that?
"Monkshood?" Stiles tried. "Wolfsbane? You know, the little flower that can make even the strongest werewolf spew black poison and smell like death? It can rot your insides within a short span of forty-eight hours. Amputation is one remedy, but only if the poison doesn't reach your heart, because then you're just screwed. The fact that you don't know this makes me question your wolfiness. Hey, do you know if your limbs grow back if severed? I always meant to ask Derek that, but he probably wouldn't have answered me anyway."
Erica stared at him blankly for a long moment of incomprehension; she rolled her eyes then, slamming the book closed loudly before she dropped it back onto his desk. She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward in a move that showed off her admittedly impressive cleavage… which, unfortunately, did nothing for him now that Stiles knew what a monumental bitch she was. He rubbed his hand over his head tiredly.
"Why are you here?" he asked again.
"Derek wants to talk to you," Erica said, standing abruptly. He rose to his feet in an instant as she approached, watching her warily. She came to a stop so close to him that he could feel the soft curves of her breasts pressed against his chest. "Still trying to avoid staring?"
"God, seriously?" Stiles bit out, rolling his eyes. He nudged her out of the way and sidestepped to hive himself some breathing space. "Yes, Erica, you have nice breasts, but frankly, I've seen better, so no, I'm not trying to avoid staring at them, I just don't want to look at them!"
Erica gave him a withering look, the sudden flex of her hand drawing his attention to the long set of claws that had erupted from her nail beds. Shit. He backed away quickly as she drew near, pressing his back against the wall when he ran out of room to move. She crowded him, closing the distance without touching this time, but close enough still that he could practically feel the anger pouring off of her.
"Is that so?" she asked coolly, extending her hand to the side of his neck. The sharp curve of her claws pressed against his skin, her thumb rubbing a circle against the tender, vulnerable flesh in a way that sent a trill of fear down his spine. "Does this have anything to do with the… what was it?" Her expression darkened gleefully; she clearly took way too much enjoyment from this. "Boy trouble you're having?"
Stiles glared at her, his jaw tensing, but he could not think of a witty comeback. Just how long had she been listening?
Erica laughed a cruel laugh at his silence. "Aw, no wonder you smell so disinterested," she cooed. "Can't get it up?" She laughed again before withdrawing, reaching between her aforementioned impressive cleavage. The blond tucked the folded-up piece of paper she retrieved in the waistband of his jeans, letting her claws scratch him just enough to draw blood to the surface without actually breaking the skin. "Go to that address after school tomorrow, and don't be late Stilinski." She grinned over her shoulder as she turned around. "My alpha doesn't like to be kept waiting."
Stiles knew he would probably regret provoking her before the words even left his mouth, but he was tired, cranky, and perhaps a bit disappointed. "It doesn't change anything." She paused by the open window, turning slightly, though obviously conscious enough that it showed just how shapely her figure was in the glow of the evening light. Anyone who had ever said that Lydia Martin was narcissistic and vain had obviously never met Erica post-bite, because she took the cake in his book.
"What are you blathering on about now?"
"All of your new wolfish attributes," he said with a shrug. "It doesn't change anything." She rolled her eyes, her mouth opening, probably to argue with him, but he wasn't quite finished yet. He wanted to see if there was still a person beneath her new exterior. "It might change your physiology, granted. Your senses are heightened, you might be more agile than you ever thought possible, and you can heal from probably most wounds that would leave anyone else crippled."
Erica was completely apathetic, raising her eyebrow. "Wow. Compelling argument," she deadpanned. "I'm going to go now."
Stiles ignored her interruption, continuing on as if she had not spoken at all. "But it doesn't change who you are. You might go a bit crazy during your first full moon, but even then, that is only one night. So this whole persona, this bitchy façade with the skanky shirts and the low-cut tops, the coldhearted wolf who is cruel, seductive, and violent… that isn't who you are."
"Oh really?" Erica asked, her smile now sickly sweet. Her eyes flashed a dangerously, setting off all of the little self-preservation alarm bells in his mind, especially when she began to advance. Her eyes were different now, a golden hue now surrounding her pupil while the rest of the iris stayed dark brown. She stopped once she was in his face again. "How do you know that this isn't who I always was?"
"… I don't."
"Exactly," she hissed, running her extended claws down the side of his arm. "No one knows who I am, because none of you ever bothered to find out before."
Stiles slowly shook his head. "That's not true," he denied quietly. "Or have you completely forgotten every time I tried to befriend you? I invited you to lunch almost every week in middle school. I asked you to hang out or to go bowling with me last year because Scott completely sucked at bowling before he was turned and I knew you rocked at it and could at least give me some decent competition. I tried to find out who you were, but every time I so much as looked at you, you told me to take a hike."
"Oh please," Erica scoffed harshly, her canines looking a bit sharper than before. She poked him in the chest, the sharp tips of her claws placing enough pressure on him to actually hurt instead of just make his skin crawl. "Every time you approached me, I knew what you were thinking. As if you ever actually wanted to be my friend. You can't lie to me, Stilinski. You just pitied me, the poor little epileptic with no friends. You just wanted to look like a nice guy to everyone else because you're the sheriff's son, and so you could pretend that you aren't as pathetic and mean as they all are."
Stiles sighed. "You're right," he said simply.
Erica seemed taken aback, her eyebrows drawing together as her transformation completely halted and reversed in her shock; her nails smoothed out and her teeth became blunt once more, her eyes now their usual dark brown and shining with a unsatisfactory mixture of hurt and triumph. She drew her hands away, taking a step back, seemingly unable to come up with a response.
"You're right," he repeated, staring her straight in the eyes. "I really can't lie to you. No one can ever lie to you again, in fact, at least without you knowing. It is part of the whole werewolf package, that whole inert polygraph thing. You can hear my heartbeat loud and clear now, so I want you to listen to me, Erica, and tell me if I'm lying to you." Her eyes flickered with uncertainty, but she said nothing in protest. "I never pitied you."
"You're lying!" she snapped immediately, the same hurt and triumph present.
"I never pitied you."
Erica growled at him. "Stop lying."
"Not until now," Stiles finished, and she drew back as if he had physical struck her. He felt a pang of regret as he met her eyes. He gave her just a moment to consider his words before he continued. "I worried for you when you would sit alone. I actually punched Jackson Whittemore in the face back in fifth grade when he made fun of you, which resulted in a lifelong tormentor for me, but I never regretted it. I used to bake cookies and deliver them to your house, with specific instructions to your mother not to tell you who they were from since you sort of hated me."
Erica took another step back even though Stiles did not advance on her as she had him. She had her hands crossed over her chest now, her posture less confident and more timid. He thought he saw a bit of the old Erica shine through the new tough exterior she seemed to have wrapped herself in though. This hadn't been what he was aiming for, but at least it proved that she was still there. This was the same girl who had glowed with delight in second grade when Stiles had given her a Catwoman Valentine, the same girl who defiantly told him off for interfering when someone had teased her about a seizure… the same girl who had given him an embarrassed smile when they were chosen to climb that wall in gym just two weeks ago.
"Scott accused me more than once of having a crush on you," Stiles admitted, which caused her eyes to widen in a way he couldn't understand. "I honestly just wanted to be your friend though… I thought we could have been great friends." He studied her, knowing that while he may have been getting through in the beginning, nothing he could say would sway her. She was now more determined than ever to push him away. He could see it in her eyes, in her gait, the moment she ruthlessly crushed any aspect of her old personality down and fully donned the she-wolf armor.
"You thought wrong," she said coldly, her body almost vibrating with the obvious need to shift. He could almost hear her heartbeat rising with her anger from where he stood. "This is who I am, Stilinski." And as if to emphasize her point, Erica was in front of him in the blink of an eye. She snarled and then drew her balled up fist back, letting it fly roughly into his stomach.
Stiles hit the wall hard from the force of the blow. He winced as his lip caught on his teeth, splitting the flesh open. He had always been squeamish around blood and the metallic tang of it on his tongue was almost enough to make him gag, nausea rolling through his stomach. He saw her hand move out of the corner of his eye and couldn't contain his instinctive flinch away, but she had only been lowering it.
"Then I'm glad," he said softly, pained and tired, and just done. He lifted his head just enough to watch her begin to retreat. She paused again, her head turning slightly in acknowledgement of his words, but not all the way around.
"… That you never accepted my friendship," Stiles exhaled shakily, one hand pressed against the bruise already forming on his side. "Because now I can see that I totally misjudged you from the start. I'm glad that you let me see you for who you really were before I let myself get invested in actually being friends with someone like you."
The words might not have included anything biting or cruel, but they were brutally honest and Stiles had a feeling that they had cut just the same. He swallowed thickly, his throat feeling very constricted as he saw her confidence falter completely. She curled in around herself for a moment and hovered in front of the window before launching herself out. He stood afterwards and approached the window himself, spotting her golden curls in distance.
"And Reyes," Stiles added quietly, using her surname instead of her given. It was the first time he had ever addressed her so formally, so distantly, in all the time he had known her. Her whole body seized in an instant, almost as if she were expecting him to deliver a physical blow despite how far away she was. "Tell Derek and the rest of your little wolf pack that if any of you enter my home unannounced and uninvited again… it will not be a pleasant encounter and you will regret it."
Erica nodded slightly before she disappeared into the woods.