“I need a cure,” Scott repeated, throwing himself onto Stiles’s bed in a fit of morose melodrama. His backpack thumped on the floor next to his feet.
“Tough day in summer school?” Stiles asked dryly. He spun around in his desk chair to face his best friend, abandoning in mid-gunfight the game he’d been losing on his computer for the better part of the morning.
Scott growled, burying his head in the crook of his arm. “The worst,” he said, his words muffled. “Do you know what we were studying today? Wolfsbane. Harris brought in freaking wolfsbane.”
Stiles scrubbed his hands over his face and bit his lips. The urge to laugh was too strong and entirely inappropriate. He almost regretted missing that lesson, except for the part where it meant he also would have to be repeating classes, and he had much better things to be doing with his summer vacation, starting with a long list of computerized bad guys to kill.
“On the plus side, we’re going to be able to write hella interesting ‘What I Did on My Summer Vacation,’ essays when we get back,” Stiles commented, in regards to the two high schoolers’ quest to find a cure for Scott’s lycanthropy that had had them chasing one false lead after another around the country. Though, they would have to leave off the part about why they had been digging through dusty archives, tracking down reclusives who had very good reasons to be hiding in the middle of nowhere, and practicing the fine art of forging paperwork and documents to get into mental hospitals and high security prisons. His collection of false IDs and cover stories had grown impressively large.
Scott groaned. “I don’t need a good essay.”
“Starting off the year with some solid grades wouldn’t exactly hurt you, dude.”
“Aren’t you going to ask why I need a cure?”
Stiles shook his head. “Wasn’t planning on it. I figure, at this point, it’s obvious. Being a werewolf sucks. You know, except for all the good parts.”
“Yeah,” Scott replied. “Remind of that on the next full moon when I’m screaming in agony.”
Stiles blanched and twisted his seat first one way, then the other. There was no arguing that point. A faint metallic squeaking accompanied his movement, which he curtailed when Scott pulled his arm down long enough to glare at him. “Sooo … any new ideas about where to look?” Stiles asked. “We’ve got—“ he glanced at his watch, then out the window at the gorgeous, sunny, California day that shouldn’t be wasted staying inside, “—twenty hours or so, assuming you want to get back in time for school tomorrow and that you don’t mind pulling another all-nighter.”
They lapsed into silence with that, both boys racking their brains to think of anything they had missed. So far, all they discovered in their quest for a cure was that a lot of people with loaded shotguns really meant their “No Trespassing” signs. Scott swung his legs helplessly. One foot connected with his backpack, knocking it over. The top flap fell open, spilling out the books and papers within.
“I’ve got nothing,” Stiles finally said, emphasizing his defeat with an exaggerated shrug.
“There’s got to be a cure out there,” Scott replied. His friend’s optimism would be a lot cuter, Stiles thought, if it weren’t hinged on desperate denial.
As if blown by a stray breeze, one of papers floated up into the air, scrolling itself into a tube. Then it began to sing: “If there’s a place you’ve gotta go, I’m the one you need to know. I’m the map…”
Stiles’s eyes grew wider than he’d ever felt them grow before. “Scott,” he choked out, giving himself a solid pinch on the leg just in case he had somehow managed to fall asleep. He’d joked that he and Scott had had the “I need a cure” conversation so often that he could do it in his sleep, but that didn’t mean he wanted to try. “You hear that, right? Please say you hear that.”
Slowly, no doubt terrified at what he was going to see, Scott lowered his arm and leveraged himself into a sitting position. His eyes changed from dark brown to glowing amber and the corner of his lip lifted in a soundless snarl. The self-identified map was still hanging in the air in front of them, singing about what it was and what it could do.
“OK, so you hear that,” Stiles confirmed, correctly reading the changes to Scott’s expression. He could barely get the words out, his voice was so strained.
“To find a cure,” the map piped up, “You need to go through the magic portal, past the lake of molten silver, and to the mists of health.”
Both the boys stared at the floating scroll in stunned disbelief. How were they supposed to respond to a singing and dancing piece of paper, especially when it started throwing around words like magic.
“And, uh, where might those places be?” Stiles asked. He cringed as he spoke, certain the someone--probably Jackson--was going to burst through the window and start pointing and cackling at Stiles’s gullibility.
“Why, Mercury, of course,” the map replied in a sing-song voice. It sounded so chipper, like a kid about to open the biggest box at Christmas.
“Of course,” Stiles repeated. He shut his eyes and tried to concentrate on his breathing, because at least that was predictable. “You do know that besides being millions of miles away, Mercury is freakin’ hot.”
“Stiles,” Scott responded, speaking the way one might when trying to determine the exact right moment to run away from the T-Rex bearing down on them, “You know that you’re arguing with a singing map, right?” He swallowed audibly. “A singing cartoon map.”
“Wolf has a smart mouth,” Stiles shot back. He started to say more, then he trailed off, licked his lips. “I see your point. So, we’re going to Mercury.”
“Through a magic portal,” Scott replied.
“Because I’m the MAP!” the map sang out.
Stiles slid out of his chair, somehow managing to coordinate his limbs well enough to crawl onto the bed next to Scott. He had nothing to be embarrassed by. Scott grabbed his arm, gripping him. His claws dug in. Stiles didn’t flinch. If he had claws, he’d have done much worse with them by now, probably starting with some serious paper shredding.
In the same flat, stunned tone, Scott continued, “Where do we find a magic portal? Did I just say those words?” His claws dug a little deeper into Stiles’s arm. There were definitely going to be marks, and in the strangeness of the moment, Stiles wasn’t sure which thing was going to be most difficult to explain to his father: that he had blown his curfew because he’d had to run off to Mercury, that the hand-shaped gouge on his arm was nothing to be worried about, or that he had a long-sleeved shirt on in the middle of August.
“Pay attention, Stiles. Magic portal,” Scott hissed at him.
Stiles nodded robotically.
The map floated in the air next to the bed for a moment, blinking its big cartoon eyes at them, then unrolled. And kept unrolling. What had started as, presumably, a simple piece of notebook paper, expanded and expanded until it made a large beige colored rectangle. The shape drifted slightly in the breeze from the air conditioning vent blowing into the room.
While the boys watched, as they grew increasingly more huddled together, the beige darkened to a deep red. Then it went white and sparkly, as if a curtain of glass beads glittering in the sunlight had fallen across the space.
From an indeterminate place around them, the map once more spoke up. Its voice had picked up an echo-y quality as it repeated, “To find the cure, you need to go through the magic portal, past the lake of molten silver, and to the mists of health.”
Stiles freed his arm long enough to drag his fingers over his close-cropped hair. “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked. He eyed the portal, still certain that this was a joke because seriously!?
Scott started to shake his head, then switched in mid-movement to a nod. He hesitated a second longer, then crawled off the bed. He stood in front of the portal with his arms dangling heavily at his sides. His tanned, muscled arms contrasted with his white sleeveless t-shirt. While Scott looked like the kind of person who shouldn’t be afraid of anything, the fact that he wasn’t taking that last step forward told Stiles that no matter what, the friends were still in this together. And if Scott was going to go to Mercury, no way was Stiles going to let him go alone. He had gotten Scott into this whole werewolf nonsense, and he was going to help get him out of it.
Taking a deep, fortifying breath--and trying not to allow himself to remember that they were about to follow the directions of a talking map--he joined his friend. Together, they stepped through the magic portal to Mercury, following their last, best lead to finding a cure yet. This time, he knew they would succeed.