It starts with Peter Gabriel.
More accurately, it starts with Stiles standing in the Reyes family's backyard at midnight, blasting Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" from the shitty iPod speaker he got off Amazon for twelve bucks. He gets halfway through the song before Erica's window finally opens and a mass of messy blonde hair sticks out.
"What the hell, asshole? I was sleeping."
Stiles pauses the song and grins up at Erica, his expression bordering on manic. "Dude. Dude! You'll never guess what happened?"
Erica groans and slumps against the windowsill, only a few strands of hair showing. "Did the school burn down? No? Then I need to get some sleep before classes start tomorrow, you fucker."
"No!" Stiles jumps in place. He's vibrating with excitement and he needs to do something to work it off. His usual hand flailing will only cause the unfortunate demise of his iPod. "I saw my dad leave like twenty minutes ago. Dispatch called."
"Rhonda, Tara, or Eddie?"
Stiles waves his free hand. "It doesn't matter. Rhonda. But no, listen to this. They're bringing in every officer from the sheriff's department and even the state police."
Erica's face pops back into view. It's too dark to make out her expression but Stiles knows there's a gleam of mischief in her eyes. "Go on."
"Two joggers found a body in the woods."
Erica leans forward. "A dead body?"
"No, a body of water. Yes, dumbass, a dead body." Stiles dodges the baseball that comes flying at him. He immediately picks it up and adds it to the collection of items clutched in his hands.
"Okay. Dead body. Potentially worth waking up for. They thinking murder?"
"That's just it," Stiles says. "No one knows yet. Just that it's a girl, probably in her twenties."
Erica tilts her head. "Well, shit, son. So, if they found the body, what are they looking for? The murderer?"
"That's the best part," Stiles says, though few people besides him and Erica would consider anything having to do with dead bodies 'the best part.' "They only found half."
"We're going," they say in union. Erica adds, "I'll be down in five."
Stiles dumps his iPod, speaker, and the baseball in the back of his Jeep. He has just enough time to put his keys in the ignition before Erica wrenches open the passenger door. Her hair's pulled back in a messy ponytail and she's wearing the Batman sweater he got her for Christmas last year.
"Let's roll, Batman."
The Preserve is pitch black when they pull up to the entrance near where the deputies are supposed to be searching. Stiles pulls his backpack into the front and produces a flashlight. Erica grabs it before he can even think of being the one to use it. He's about to jump out of the Jeep when Erica grabs his arm.
"What if the murderer's still out here?"
"I got it." Stiles runs around to the back and pulls out his baseball bat with a flourish. "I'll whack him. You run one way, I run the other, and whoever gets caught, too bad?"
Erica shuts the passenger door and looks at him with a raised eyebrow. For a moment, Stiles thinks she's going to protest but then she shrugs and says, "I don't have much to live for anyway."
"Hey! You have me!"
Erica rolls her eyes. "Not if we're both caught by the crazy murderer who's chopping people in half."
Stiles pauses. "Fair point."
Erica sighs from the other side of the fence. "You coming?"
The grin on Erica's face once she turns on the flashlight makes the entire outing worth it. He doesn't expect to find half a body, but the opportunity for adventure is so rare in Beacon Hills that he can't pass it up, especially on one of Erica's good days when she's smiling and willing to leave the house.
Dead leaves crunch underfoot as they make their way deeper into the Preserve, following one of the many jogging trails that crisscross the area. The moon is out, at least, offering a little extra light to aid in their search.
"Out of curiosity," Erica says, "which half of the body are we looking for?"
Stiles blinks. "Huh. I didn't think of that." He can practically hear Erica's eyeroll.
"It's comforting to know you planned this out with your usual attention to detail."
"Hush," Stiles says, playfully swiping at Erica's arm. "Where's your sense of adventure? Of living in the moment?"
Erica snorts. "It's not an adventure unless I'm sassing you at the same time."
There's a flash of lights up ahead and Stiles grins, ready to take off but Erica yanks him backward so hard he tumbles down a short hill.
Erica comes sliding down after him and holds a finger to her lips. "Shh. Do you want to get caught?"
Stiles blinks, then blinks again. His eyes are caught on something just outside of the cone of light from the flashlight. "Hey, Erica," he begins as he scrambles to his feet. "Point the light a little left."
The light trails over forest debris before halting on the lifeless eyes of a naked woman. They scream in unison, jerking away from the dead body. Erica drops the flashlight. A dog barks nearby, signaling the approach of the sheriff's department. Before they can even think about running, the woods fill with a loud rumbling.
Stiles and Erica share a look. Curiosity turns to fear a second later as a herd of deer come rushing at them. They both scream again and Stiles dives for Erica, covering her body with his. Surprisingly, the deer dart around them, though a few hooves come far too close for Stiles's comfort. They stay huddled long after the last of the deer have run off.
Stiles jolts upright as something howls nearby. "What the-"
His question is cut off as Erica screams, first in surprise as she's pulled away from him and then in pain.
"Fuck! It bit me!"
"What?" Stiles stands on shaking legs, his baseball bat clenched in both hands. All he can see is darkness until the thing—the creature?—lifts its head to stare at him with glowing red eyes.
Stiles doesn't even think. He shouts as he swings, the bat missing the thing by a mile but it moves away from Erica to slowly circle Stiles. Stiles swallows hard and squares his shoulders. If this is how he goes out, at least he's going to die protecting his best friend. "Erica, run."
"What?" Erica climbs to her feet, steadying herself with a hand on Stiles's shoulder. "I'm not leaving you."
"That was the plan!" The creature growls and hunkers lower to the ground. Stiles knows it's about to launch at him and he's ready. "I'll keep it distracted while you escape."
Erica snatches the flashlight off the ground and squares off next to him. "Like hell, asshole."
"Love you too, fuckwad."
"You better, dipshit."
The thing growls again and Stiles thinks this is it. This is how he dies.
Instead of death, he's suddenly blinded by a whole lot of light shining in his face, followed by a very familiar voice shouting, "Stiles!"
He stumbles backward and raises a hand to block the light. The thing, whatever it was, is gone.
"What do you think you're doing?" Sheriff John Stilinski says, tone implying that Stiles is about to be grounded for a very long time. Erica shifts at his side, but John points a stern finger at her. "Don't think I don't see you too, Miss Reyes."
"We were, um," Stiles tries and fails to think of a way to make their excursion sound better than it is. "Looking for a dead body?"
John sighs and rubs a hand over his face. "Do you listen in on all my phone calls?"
Stiles shifts on his feet. "Not the boring ones. But look, we found the body." Stiles grabs the flashlight out of Erica's hand and points it at the half-corpse. Deputy Norton startles. He was a foot away from stepping on her.
John grabs the flashlight out of Stiles hand. "And it didn't occur to you that you're contaminating a crime scene?"
Stiles's mouth hangs open a second before he admits, "No, not really." He tugs on his dad's sleeve. "But listen, there was this huge thing. It attacked us and it bit Erica."
John's eyebrows shoot up. "Erica, are you injured?"
"A little." She pulls up the side of the sweater to reveal a huge bite mark.
John curses under his breath. "Fields and Norton, start marking off the area. Graham, take Miss Reyes to the hospital and notify her parents." Stiles's protest is cut off as John grabs his arm and tugs him away from the crime scene. "I've got to escort this little delinquent back to his car and have a conversation about something called invasion of privacy."
Erica isn't in school the next day, which is kind of expected after a late-night trip to the hospital. He can only imagine how pissed her parents are, though likely more at him than her. It's probably going to be days before they let her out of the house without adult supervision. Stiles can recite more about the warning signs and triggers for seizures than most doctors but they still wouldn't trust Erica alone with him.
Stiles sighs and takes out his phone in first period.
To Catwoman: What's the damage?
Surprisingly, he gets a response in seconds.
Catwoman: I've got the plague.
Stiles: Ha ha.
Stiles: No, seriously? Did you have to get stitches?
Catwoman: It wasn't that bad. They said it looked like a dog bite.
Catwoman: Mom's freaking out and won't let me leave the house.
Catwoman: She wanted to have me admitted but Nurse McCall assured her there was no need.
Stiles: That was no dog! It was the size of a bear!
Catwoman: I'm pretty sure it was a wolf.
Catwoman: I heard a wolf howl right after those deer charged us.
Stiles: California doesn't have wolves. Not in like 60 years.
Catwoman: I know what I heard.
Catwoman: You saw it too.
Catwoman: Tell me that wasn't some rabid wolf-bear hybrid.
Stiles: Wolves and bears can't mate...
Stiles: ...no matter how much you want them to.
Stiles: I don't know what I saw, but it definitely wasn't a wolf.
The teacher chooses that moment to walk in, already addressing the body in the woods. Stiles shoots off a quick "g2g" and stashes his phone before the teacher can confiscate it. Then there's a new girl who could probably give Lydia Martin a run in the looks department. Stiles makes sure to take more thorough notes than he normally would as the teacher drones on about Kafka's Metamorphosis. He'll drop a copy off with Erica later, plus whatever he can get from the rest of her classes.
Lunch is boring without Erica and Stiles tries not to be too jealous of the tables filled with people. He almost considers sitting with Boyd just for the company but Erica will give him the third degree if she thinks there was a remote chance he talked to her crush. New girl is indeed pulled in by Lydia's clique, and judging by the longing glances from several of the boys, she won't be wanting for a date soon.
By the time school lets out, his phone has exploded with a barrage of messages from Erica.
Catwoman: Answer your damn phone!
Catwoman: This is serious!
Catwoman: You need to see this!
Catwoman: Get your ass over here as soon as school lets out.
Catwoman: If you so much as stop to pee, I will know and my wrath will be fierce.
He makes it out of the parking lot in decent time since half the student body is staying behind to watch lacrosse try-outs. He'd considered going, but his position as benchwarmer is secure even if he doesn't show up. His fellow benchwarmer and local asthmatic, Scott McCall, will just have to hold down the bench without him.
"Hi, Mrs. Reyes!"
Erica's mom glares as he bounds through the Reyes house with a wave, not stopping until he's at Erica's room. He doesn't even have a chance to touch the door before it swings open. Erica grabs him by the front of his shirt and yanks him inside with enough force to send him reeling into her bed.
"What the hell?"
"It's the bite," Erica says. She yanks up her t-shirt high enough to show a smooth expanse of stomach and a bit of bra. "It's healed."
Stiles frowns and leans forward, fingers hesitating centimeters from her bare skin. "What? That's impossible." Despite his words, the proof's right in front of his eyes. "You sure it bit you? Not just, like, a scrape or something?"
Erica shakes her head. "It was real. I had to toss my sweatshirt because of the holes in it. But that's not the only thing. I feel incredible. It's like... I don't know, like I'm high or something." She drops her shirt and grins at him. "I'm not tired. I have energy and my head's clear and I can hear things I shouldn't be able to hear and smell things I shouldn't be able to smell."
Stiles raises an eyebrow. "Smell... things? Like what? Teen spirit?"
"Funny." Erica smirks. "Like the mint mojito gum in your pocket."
Stiles rolls his eyes and shoves his hand in his pocket. "I don't even have any mint..." His fingers brush against a smooth packet of gum and he pulls it out with a frown. "...mojito... How did you...? So, this all started with the magically healing bite?"
Erica nods and drops to sit cross-legged in front of him. "I don't know if it's some weird infection producing adrenaline to boost my immune system or what, but I'd let that monster wolf bite me every day if this is what happens."
Stiles snorts. "You know, I've heard of an infection like this."
Erica's eyes go wide. "Really?"
"Yeah. I think it's called... lycanthropy."
Erica's eyes practically pop out of her skull. "Yes!" She smacks Stiles's leg hard enough to make him wince. "Yes! That's totally it!"
Stiles's eyes widen and he waves his hands in the air, as if the motion could take back his crazy idea. "Woah, woah. I was joking. Lycanthropy isn't real."
Erica leans forward on her knees and grabs Stiles by the shoulders. "But it fits! We heard a wolf howl and then that thing bit me. What if it was a werewolf? A real, live werewolf! And now I'm a werewolf too."
"Werewolves aren't real!"
"But they could be."
"But they aren't!"
"But they could be!"
Erica's eyes flash gold for a second and Stiles jerks back, smacking into the bedframe yet again. "Woah!"
"Your eyes did this," he gestures vaguely at his face, "glowing thing."
Erica falls backward with a squeal of delight and kicks her feet against the floor. "I'm a fucking werewolf!"
"Woah, shhh." Stiles flaps at the air in front of her. "Even if... If it's true you can't just go around saying that. What if people think you're crazy? I think you're crazy."
"I'll bite 'em." Erica's grin as she says that is not entirely human. Stiles can't tell if it's any different that her grin pre-werewolf.
"No! No biting! I need..." He grips his head as his brain spins off connections back to all the folklore and mythology he's read, both in book form and from the internet. "I need to research this. Find out what's going to happen, what your powers are, your limitations."
"This is so cool," Erica squeals.
"Your mom is going to kill me. Seriously kill me when she finds out." Erica snorts. Of course she finds it funny, her mom likes her. An idea comes to Stiles. It's a little crazy, but it might be the only answer. "We need to go back to the Preserve."
"Where the dead body was?"
"Yes! But no. Not the body, the wolf. You werewolf, it werewolf. Maybe we can find it again and it can take you under its wolfy wing and explain a few things."
"That's not the worst idea you've ever had."
"Or it could try to kill us again." Stiles makes a face. "But I don't have a better idea, so let's go."
Erica pulls on her shoes and follows Stiles out the door with a quick "Hi, mom, I'm going out with Stiles, bye." They're outside before her mom can even start her protest.
Stiles drives them back to the same place in the Preserve. They don't need a flashlight this time, but the sunlight doesn't help them. It's hard to tell one tree from another and they don't come across any crime tape.
"Where the hell is that place?" Erica says.
"It has to be around here somewhere."
"What are you doing here?" They both turn as a new voice startles them. "This is private property."
Erica grins and elbows Stiles in the side as they stare at the outrageously attractive guy standing a short distance away. Erica leans in and whispers, "Ooo, daddy alert."
Stiles blushes and swats her away. "Erica, please!" The guy arches an eyebrow. Stiles really hopes for both of their sakes that the guy didn't hear them because he has a definite case of murder face and they have no clue where they are. "Uh, sorry, man, we didn't know."
Erica squeezes Stiles's hand and smiles at the guy. "Yep. Totally lost. I don't suppose you want to be our hero and help us back to the Preserve?"
Stiles shakes his head and tugs Erica back the way they came. "No, you don't need to do that. We're cool. No harm, no foul, right? We'll just be going."
"Stiles!" Erica hisses once they're out of easy listening distance. "What the hell? I could have tapped that."
"Don't you think you have bigger things to worry about right now?"
"Fine." Erica rolls her eyes. "You could have tapped that. Whatever. I'd share."
Stiles glances back to make sure the leather-clad Adonis with really intimidating eyebrows is out of sight. "Dude, that was Derek Hale! You remember, right? He's only a few years older than us."
Erica's eyes go wide. "Shit. Seriously? Didn't his whole family die in a fire?"
"Yeah. Like ten years ago. He was supposed to have moved away with his sister."
Erica frowns slightly. "I wonder what he's doing back." Her frown swiftly morphs into a grin and she elbows Stiles again. "And if he's single."
"What? No! Don't you get it?" Stiles shakes her sleeve. "What's a guy like that doing out in the woods? He could be the murderer!"
Erica rolls her eyes. "Or he just moved back and was checking out the property. His family lived right near here."
"Yeah, whatever," Stiles grumbles. "Just no hooking up with strange men until we know if they're a murderer or not."
Erica snorts. "Yeah. Totally. You and I are just beating them off with a stick. Better get those qualifications in to narrow it down some."
Stiles has to smile at that. Their epic failures in the dating world have been a running joke for ages. Hell, they even dated each other for a whole week before that ended in tears and a black eye. Admittedly, they'd been in fourth grade at the time, but they both know they make better friends than lovers.
He bumps his shoulder against Erica's and they both laugh. It doesn't take them long to find a familiar hiking trail. They head back to Erica's house sans werewolf Yoda. They can try something else tomorrow.
Stiles calls Erica three times before she picks up.
"I was eating dinner. What's got your panties in a twist, freakshow?"
Stiles ignores the insult because what he's found is amazing. He's got papers spread all across his desk. Some are printouts of articles he found online and the rest are handwritten notes he'd compiled of all the different things he's found. The wealth of information is amazing, though he's not sure what's real and what's myth but he's going to find out. "Listen to me. I've been doing some research-"
"And exactly how much Adderall have you had today?"
A stack of papers slide to the floor as he stands. He needs to move, to pace, though the floor is a bit of a minefield littered with open books and a lot more paper. "A lot. Doesn't matter. Just listen. Do you know why a wolf howls?"
Erica sighs. This is not the first time he's called her during a research binge. At least this time it's something relevant. "No, but I'm sure I'll appreciate the information more on a full stomach."
Stiles can not wait. "It's a signal, okay? When a wolf's alone, it howls to signal its location to the rest of the pack. So, when we heard that wolf howl—that werewolf howl—that means there could have been more wolves nearby. Like, a whole pack of them."
Erica sucks in a breath. The line's quiet for a long minute. "You mean a pack of werewolves? More than just the one that bit me?"
"Yeah. Yes. Exactly."
"Then we should go find them! Let's go back to the Preserve. I can howl my heart out. Maybe we'll run into Cutey McHotPants."
"Yes, but not tonight."
"Why not tonight? Got something better to do?" Erica huffs. "Like crashing Lydia's party?"
A few days ago, Stiles would have dropped everything for a chance to see Lydia Martin. This, though, this takes precedence. Lydia's cold shoulder is nothing compared to dealing with real supernatural activity. This is what his whole nerdy life has been preparing him for.
"No. Not this time." Stiles grabs a stack of print-outs. The top page has a full lunar calendar for the year. He's got extra copies for Erica and to put in their lockers and on the fridge. "Tonight's the full moon."
Erica pauses. "Shouldn't that make it easier to find the pack, then? Werewolves come out on the full moon, supposedly."
Stiles bounces as he drops onto his bed. "Yes, but that's not everything. Yes, the moon makes them change but it's also when your bloodlust will be at its peak. It's not safe to be out tonight. You could lose control, hurt someone."
"Bloodlust? I don't like the sound of that." He can hear Erica moving. "What's going to happen? Am I going to attack people like the crazy thing that bit me? I can't stay here. I can't hurt my parents."
"Look, I'll come get you." He's already out of his chair and grabbing his keys. "We'll go somewhere. Somewhere safe."
"What about the woods?"
Stiles shakes his head even though Erica can't see. "No, it'll be crawling with deputies tonight. The lab came back on the body. There were wolf hairs on it, so now everyone thinks there's a rabid animal loose in the Preserve. They even brought in some local hunters to try and catch it."
"I know. Look, I'll make sure you won't hurt anyone. I promise. I've got an idea. But, for now, you need to stay calm. It says the change can be caused by anger or anything that raises your pulse."
Erica laughs, but it comes out bitter. "Nothing raises my pulse like potential death and dismemberment."
"No! No death, no dismemberment. We're going to get through this together."
Erica laughs again. It's softer this time, her voice fond. "We always do."
As far as plans go, this is not Stiles's best.
"Really, Stiles? This is it?" Erica shakes the manacles around her wrists. "Where did you even get these?"
"Army supply store." He tugs at both ends of the chain and checks the support beam they're wrapped to make sure they don't budge. "This should work."
"Your grand plan is to lock me in your basement?"
Stiles frowns. "I don't see you coming up with a better one. Look, my dad's going to be gone all night. He says the full moon always brings out the crazies, and in this case, it's literal. The cops are going to be everywhere and if they hear strange noises coming from any abandoned properties, they're gonna get suspicious. We can just say we were watching a movie. Dad's not going to be back until morning. We should have your furry problem under control by then."
"How do we even know I'm going to change? It's been days and the only thing either of us saw was the glowy eye trick." Erica asks. "Like, am I gonna sprout claws and fangs and a substantial amount of body hair? What if I turn into a gigantic wolf like the one we saw in the woods? What's going to happen then?"
Stiles walks over to where he's set up a station on the stairs with his bat, some snacks, and his Nintendo DS. "Then I'm gonna run like a motherfucker."
Erica rolls her eyes. "That's hardly reassuring. What if I have to pee?"
"I got a bucket." Stiles produces said bucket with a flourish and slides it over.
The look Erica gives him is nine hundred percent done. "Really, Stiles? A bucket?"
"I'm sorry. They don't make little portable werewolf potties."
"Ugh." Erica flops on the floor and leans against the pillar. "Did you at least make some food? Mom's lasagna is not cutting it tonight."
Stiles tries to smile reassuringly. "I got some steaks."
Erica sees right through him. "Are they cooked?" Her voice is flat.
"They can be?"
She sighs and bangs her head against the pillar. After a few minutes of staring at the exposed ceiling, she says, "You know what's great about this whole bite thing?"
"I haven't had a single seizure since I got bit. I know it's only been a few days, but I haven't even had any of the symptoms. No headaches, no tremors. It's like I've turned into a normal, healthy person."
Stiles smiles. "Just one that turns a little hairy once a month."
Erica shrugs but she's smiling too. "I could live with that."
"Yeah, me too. As long as you don't try to eat me."
Erica snorts. "You're too scrawny. Hardly worth eating at all."
They grin at each other across the room and Stiles thinks maybe this whole werewolf thing might work out.
Nothing happens until after midnight. Stiles stays on the stairs except to pass Erica some of the actual snacks he'd brought down and some soda. He even goes upstairs for a bit and cooks one of the steaks. Then he cooks two more because the full moon apparently makes Erica ravenous. He's kind of having fun. Erica never eats this much and he's really, really hoping that werewolf thing is all positives, no negatives for Erica.
He looks up from his game and he can tell something's wrong but he can't pinpoint what. Not until Erica turns to face him with some wicked facial hair and a mouth full of fangs.
"Holy Jesus!" Stiles throws himself back against the stairs.
"Something's wrong, Stiles." Erica turns her hands over, revealing sharp claws.
Stiles forces himself back down onto one of the lower stairs. "It's going to be okay. You've got this, Erica. You can control it. You're stronger than you think."
She rolls her head. The sound of cracking joints is loud in the otherwise quiet basement. The chains rattle as Erica tugs on them. "Let me out, Stiles. I need out."
He shakes his head. "I can't do that, Erica. You don't want me to do that, remember? We're going to stay here and we're going to get through this without hurting anyone."
She lunges at him with a roar. Dust and dirt rain around them as the whole house shakes. "Erica..."
Loud, insistent knocking interrupts Stiles.
"Wait," he says, holding both hands up, palms out. He throws a bag of potato chips at her. "Snack on this and wait right there." He scrambles up the stairs and automatically starts toward the front door. The knocking sounds again and Stiles freezes as he realizes it's coming from the back door.
Stiles approaches the door slowly. He's tempted to reach for one of the knives in the block by the stove, but what if it's just a neighbor? A neighbor who forgot about front doors. His hand shakes as he reaches for the porch light switch. He flicks it on and then jerks back with a shout because Derek Hale is standing there, practically pressed against the window. His scowl is terrifying.
"Open the door." Derek's voice is slightly muffled by the glass but still intimidating.
"Fuck!" Stiles says, his mind racing with theories that grow more outlandish by the second. "You are the murderer, aren't you? You're here to kill us because we're witnesses!"
Derek rolls his eyes. "I will kill you if you don't open the door."
"But..." Another roar from the basement makes Stiles jump. He turns to see if Derek's noticed, only to come face-to-face with a twisted, hairy face and glowing blue eyes.
"Open the door!"
Stiles screams and falls backward. His head hits the floor hard enough to make him blackout, just for a second, but it's long enough for Derek to break through the door. Stiles blinks up at Derek, confused how Derek is suddenly kneeling next to him instead of on the other side of a locked door. He swears he feels a gentle touch on the back of his head.
"You'll be fine." Derek disappears into the basement. Erica roars once more, only to be cut off by a louder roar. The sound reverberates through Stiles's bones, telling his lizard brain to relent, submit.
Stiles lets his head rest on the tile and stares up at the ceiling.
How is he going to explain this to his dad?