Chapter 1: Safe and Sound
When Peter Hale offered him The Big Bad Bite, Stiles was tempted. Being him was tough and he thought that maybe, if he became a wolf, it might be a little easier then. But then he realized that he didn't really have a choice. He was stuck the way he was and he could never change that. A seal among wolves. And wasn't it funny, then, that he had helped to kill Peter?
He lay in bed now, only hours after the Final Showdown (as he was calling it), his Dad snoring away down the hall, completely unaware of the danger his son had been in. His eyes slid closed, blocking out the dim light that the moon and stars were filtering into his window. He exhaled slowly, the adrenaline that had been rushing through his system all night (ever since he'd picked up Lydia for the dance) finally quelled. His entire body felt like lead and he couldn't convince himself to get up and change out of his dirty, slightly disgusting suit. He couldn't even open his eyes. His brain didn't stop though—it kept churning out the possibilities of the night, roads that could have been taken, but weren't.
Mostly he worried about Lydia. Sure, Allison's Aunt had been murdered and he should probably care, but he was only reminded of the fact that she was crazy and had murdered practically all of the Hale family, so it almost seemed fitting, the way she had died. Jackson was likely going to get himself killed, trying to become a werewolf. Scott? Scott was doing okay. He had Allison and his Mom... Derek. Derek was an Alpha wolf now. What did that mean for everyone? Was Lydia going to be a werewolf? He didn't want her to be. She was too beautiful—she reminded him of the Selkies from the tales his Mother used to tell him: tempting mortal men away from their wives with her stunning beauty. He figured she would have made a good Selkie. But then again, he was biased.
When he finally fell asleep, he dreamed. He dreamed about the beach and the tide coming up to froth over his toes. He dreamed about running out into the water, diving in and never looking back. He could hear, from beneath the waves, the voice of his Mother calling out to him and though it pulled him back toward the shore, he kept swimming. He kept swimming and swimming, until he came to an outcropping with a family of ribbon seals resting on it.
He'd dreamed this dream before.
He climbed out of the water, but instead of jagged rocks beneath his feet as he expected, there was soft sand and waves lapping at his ankles. His Mom stood there, arms open wide to him and tears streaming down her face, though whether they were happy or sad tears, he couldn't tell. She smiled a watery smile and took him into her arms.
When they parted again they weren't on the beach, but in the house. Stiles was smaller. Either that or everything else was so much larger than it usually was. His feet couldn't touch the floor as he sat in the chair and drank his glass of milk and ate his peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off. His Mom sat down across from him and opened a leather bound journal: the one that Stiles had always asked about when he was little and she'd always answered with the same thing. “They're stories about you, my little prince. You can read them once you're older.”
But then his sandwich grew legs and started wandering off, scuttling off the side of the table and underneath it. Stiles climbed down off of the chair, but it seemed to stretch out forever beneath him. He finally got down and followed his sandwich, now a red crab, into a dreary, dripping cave. After that, things got a little squirrelly.
Over breakfast Stiles jerked his head up (unusual for his morning routine, he normally half-slept through everything until noon rolled around), eyes bright, and asked his Dad about the journal. “Hey Dad, do you remember the journal Mom kept?”
Usually talk of Mom was almost like taboo. Both of the Stilinski men kept well away from it, not wanting to get emotional in front of anyone. Stiles was a little less worried about the whole topic, but he figured it was because he had mixed feelings about everything. He tried not to ever show any of that to his Dad. Stiles ate another spoonful of Kix soaked in milk.
“The leather bound one?” His Dad was having a hard time looking at him. That was normal in this type of conversation. Stiles nodded and figured he might as well fess up.
“I had a dream and Mom was writing in it.”
His Dad coughed, having choked a little on his breakfast. He washed it down with coffee and pounded his chest twice to get through it. Stiles dropped his spoon into his cereal and was launching himself out of his chair to help when his Dad held up one hand, signaling that he was alright. Stiles sunk back into his seat slowly. When his Dad had wiped at his mouth with a handy napkin, he looked up at Stiles and spoke. “I think that's up in the attic.”
Stiles nodded and looked back down at his cereal thoughtfully. His Dad finished up his meal, and then his coffee, and got up, clearing his spot on the table. He paused, though, and leaned back against the counter, speaking softly and not looking at Stiles again. “Does this—does this have anything to do with Lydia?”
Stiles straightened up sharply and his eyes darted over to his Dad. Why would he think that? Was he comparing what had happened to Mom to what happened to Lydia? Because he was pretty sure that a car accident wasn't the same thing as a werewolf attack. He shook his head, no longer able to look at his Dad. He squished some of the Kix against the side of the bowl with his spoon and watched as little fluffy pieces of the cereal floated off into the surrounding milk. “No Dad, nothing to do with it.”
Nothing else was said that morning; no looks given at the same time. His Dad took off for work, as per usual, and Stiles pondered on whether he could return to school and act normal after everything that had happened last night. Scott probably wouldn't be there, neither would Lydia or Allison most likely. Not that he cared, but Jackson might be there, trying to pretend that everything was perfectly fine even though his kind of, kind of not girlfriend was in the hospital and might be a werewolf. So instead of trying to worry about homework and Lydia, Stiles just climbed up into the attic and went through boxes of stuff that were mostly his old things and his Mom's things. He ended up finding the journal, but left it unopened on his nightstand next to a couple of things he'd brought down that were from his childhood.
His Dad didn't mention him not going to school that day, but made sure that he went the day after that. Scott and Allison had apparently been there the day before and welcomed him back with pretty much open arms (not that he really wanted to get that close to the couple when they had just professed their love for one another). It wasn't until Chemistry that he had Scott alone to talk to. Not that he couldn't talk when Allison was there, but this was... this was personal. Even though Allison was a doll and wouldn't be anything but sympathetic about the topic, Stiles really didn't want to bring up his Mom with her.
“Hey dude, have you been to see Lydia yet?” Stiles poked Scott in the back with the eraser end of his pencil and leaned forward on his desk. Scott leaned back and tilted his head to the side to look at him.
“Not yet. Had to go to work yesterday and visiting hours were over by the time I got home.” He paused for a second and turned some more, hands on the edges of his desk to aid him. “Mom said she's the same. Have you gone?”
Stiles shook his head and looked at the door, Mr. Harris had just walked through, but he was a little busy with something in his hands so Stiles looked back at Scott and licked his lips. “Go tonight? You could—you could tell if she's, you know, like you?”
Scott looked concerned, but nodded and opened his mouth to say something, but Mr. Harris was starting class, so he turned back around and sat quietly. Stiles, though, had other plans and slipped a note over Scott's shoulder in what he figured was stealthy, but it really wasn't.
Found my Mom's journal yesterday.
Is that why you weren't here?
Have you read it? Are you going to? Does your Dad know?
Dad told me it was in the attic. Haven't read it yet. Don't know if I'm going to.
Dunno, maybe I'm not ready for that yet.
Scott doesn't send the note back over for the rest of class. Class ends and Scott bumps shoulders with him as they walk out of the classroom. The look they share reminds Stiles of why, exactly, they are best friends. Scott knows a bit about a single parent home, even though his Dad wasn't dead and the 'loss' of him was a bit more recent (try last year), they knew what the other was going through on some level and stuck together.
But then, she had been writing in there so he could read the stories once he was older. He was older now, even if he wasn't a full-fledged adult. Surely she wouldn't be mad if he were to read it now. She would want him to.
After Dad had gone to bed and Stiles should have a long time ago, he picked it up and sat in the lamp light, resting back against his headboard and legs crossed at the ankles in front of him. He was still fully clothed, on top of the covers when he ran his fingers over the outside of the journal. It was buttery-soft leather, but the strings that were tied around it were rough. The color of it was close to caramel, the pages the same shade as eggshells. He opened it hesitantly, like it might be booby trapped. It wasn't. His Mom's slanted, curvy writing was on the first page:
“To My Little Prince”
He sucked in a breath that might or might not have been a gasp and turned the page. He was read three entries before the words stopped him and made him snap the journal closed, tossing it to the foot of his bed and pulling his legs up, hugging them close to him as his face burned hot. He didn't dare look away from the journal, in case it grew legs and hopped out of the window, disappearing into the darkness how Derek usually did. He would never find it then. He would never find his skin.
Oh God his skin—it was out there. She had never burned it, like he thought she had. She'd just hidden it away. The part of him that had felt like it was forever gone, ripped away from him when he was just a pup, it was suddenly there. Right there. All he had to do was find it.
All he had to do was find it.
Stiles watched as life went on for everyone else. Lydia was still in the hospital, still human, and not waking up. Derek had practically disappeared, Jackson had too. Allison and Scott were tense, but holding on to whatever this was that they had in spite of her family and his being a werewolf. His Dad kept going to work and grumbling about the leafy green diet he was having to stick to. Danny kept being polite, but still not answering any of his questions; school stretched on toward the end of the year. The point was that everything kept going on, even though it felt like the world should have stopped spinning at the revelation he'd uncovered in his Mom's journal.
He tried to keep going as normal, but every night he stayed up until he eventually fell asleep without even realizing it. He'd stare at the journal, shut and tossed onto the bed, nestled in the bed covers. He knew his Dad had seen the journal in his room, but he had yet to mention it. Maybe he thought that letting Stiles come to him was the best way to play it, but Stiles couldn't do that. He didn't know; he didn't know any of it.
And how was he supposed to tell him? 'Oh hey Dad! You're not actually my Dad, I'm really a selkie that Mom stole from the sea.' No, he couldn't do that. He had no way to prove it, really. Even the journal didn't cite his skin directly, so his Dad would just ship him off to a mental institution. He'd get no help from his Dad.
It seemed crazy, as he pushed his locker door shut, but Scott might believe him. Out of anyone, Scott would. After all, once you become a werewolf you kind of are obliged to listen to your best friend when he tells you that he's a selkie. But how was he going to get Scott alone to talk to him?
He was still trying to figure out a way to tell Scott when it occurred to him to ask his Dad about Mom hiding anything or acting... strange, back when he was an infant. Maybe she went somewhere a lot, or even once that was just odd or out of character. If anyone would know it would be his Dad. So one night after his Dad had gotten home and was settled down in front of the TV to watch reruns of COPS, Stiles thundered down the stairs and plopped onto the couch beside him.
It took all of thirty seconds for his Dad to turn down the volume and shift to look toward him. Stiles knew he was an open book—when he wanted to talk to someone they couldn't really ignore it, he was just naturally fidgety. “Yes, son?”
A prompt and Stiles still didn't know how he was going to broach the subject. He was pretty sure he looked more like a fish than a seal with his false starts, but his Dad sat patiently through it and didn't comment. Finally, when the commercial break hit and he hadn't said a word, his Dad patted his knee. “How about I go get a drink and come back and that will give you time to find the words.”
He felt dumb, watching his Dad get up and walk away, but as soon as he rounded the corner into the kitchen Stiles knew how he wanted to say it. He hated it when that happened. He fiddled with the remote, put his feet up on the table, shifted and put them back down, heard the fridge close and saw his Dad reappear around the corner. He let his Dad take his seat before he opened his mouth though. Common courtesy and all that.
“Did—did Mom ever?” He stopped and exhaled through his nose, realizing it was a lot harder to say it than it was to think it. His Dad was already looking away, turning the beer bottle around and around on the coaster. This subject was hard enough as it is, why did he need to ask this? But this was better than telling Dad he was a selkie. “Did she ever act... strange... right after I was born?”
“Strange how?” His Dad looked toward him, the question lingering in the lines wrinkling on his brow.
“I don't know. Like—” He ducked his head, refusing to look his Dad in the eye as he finished the sentence, “Secretive or something.”
Something flashed in the Sheriff's eyes, though Stiles hadn't chanced to look up at him yet. His tone was a little more edged than before. “No, nothing like that.”
Just like that he took a drink, set the glass back on the coaster and shook his head, gaining Stiles' attention. “What makes you think that? Something in that journal?”
He wasn't sure how to explain asking this sort of thing; implying that his Mom was anything but faithful, to his Dad. He screwed up his face, scrunching it in what was probably a supremely unattractive way, and started to shake his head. “Of course not, Dad. I just wanted to make sure I was really getting to look forward to eating salads and other ridiculously healthy things in my future.”
Diffusing the serious talk with a joke that his Dad was sure he'd appreciate. His Dad did know when to give up asking about something, though, so he just snorted and twisted his glass around on the coaster a few times. They sat still for a moment before Stiles launched himself to his feet. “Well, good talk Dad.”
So that ended up not being worth it. His Dad trailed odd looks after him for a while after he asked that. He hadn't meant to put a seed of doubt in his Dad's head (or just offend him, you know), so he settled for just acting as normal as possible and forgetting all about the conversation. After a while his Dad would forget about it too.
In the meantime Stiles would have to find a way to corner his best friend. Well, corner him and talk about something other than the whole werewolf thing or the fact that Scott is panicking about Allison's birthday present almost ten months in advance. He wasn't quite sure what to do about that, by the way, other than smack him upside the head.
It took him over a week to have Scott to himself in the comfort of his own home with his Dad not in hearing distance (in case this went awry and Scott felt the need to get loud). On the other hand, maybe he should have had him waiting just outside the door just in case Scott wolfed out on him. He had carted up the popcorn and the cans of soda, the Fellowship of the Ring extended edition started on the TV when he shifted and poked at Scott with his elbow.
Scott gave him a look that was a cross between annoyance and wondering why he'd done that as he reached for the popcorn. Stiles decided to give him the popcorn. You have no idea how cranky Scott gets when he doesn't eat. It was only when everyone had arrived at Rivendell that Stiles spoke up. Well, more like word vomited all over Scott.
“So you know how you're a werewolf and all the claws and teeth and fur and stuff?” Stiles' voice was strained and a bit higher than normal, Scott looked at him like he was crazy but Stiles continued before he could open his mouth and say something stupid. “Well I'm not quite like that—I mean, I have fur and teeth and well I guess you could consider them claws, but I'm not quite as scary as you—”
He stopped abruptly and glanced over at his best friend before letting his eyes go back to staring into the half-eaten bowl of popcorn, “I'm a Selkie.”
Scott shifted after a moment. Normally Stiles would have expected some sort of joke or something about him having taken too much Adderall, but nothing happened. Scott just watched him like Stiles was about to implode or something. Which he might, if someone didn't say something soon.
“And my ax.” Gimli's voice boomed through the speakers and made Stiles glance up. Scott was watching him, not reacting to the movie on the screen at all. Stiles slowly started to eat the popcorn, mindlessly, like he was trying to forget what he'd just said and have everything go back to normal. Scott sniggered. Great, here it comes.
“You can't take it back, you know.” Scott's tone was amused. Amused. Damn it, why did he find this funny? Stiles was trying to be serious here. He turned to look at his best friend, only to find Scott grinning at him. Slowly, the grin melted away and Scott's eyes got wide. “Wait, what? You're serious?”
As he was a kinetic sort of guy (the same as Stiles really, and maybe that has something to do with being an animal? He couldn't remember if Scott had been this tactile before he got bitten.), Scott rolled forward from where he was sitting, looking as if he was on the edge of his seat. Stiles swallowed his mouthful of popcorn at a sedate pace. He was trying not to panic here, because he was pretty sure that Scott was about to panic, and if they both panicked...
“What the hell is a Selkie?” Scratch that, Scott was just excited. Stiles may or may not have gaped for a moment before he answered in a sort of automaton way.
“A seal person.”
Scott continued to look excited, rocked forward as he was and interested, but then he just looked confused—like he was trying to puzzle it out. “Wouldn't you just... flop around and stuff?”
Stiles gave Scott the 'how-could-you-be-so-stupid' look and smacked him on the shoulder. Before he could correct him and get this back on the serious track Scott continued. “What was that, your flipper?”
The tone and the impish smile on his face reminded Stiles of why, exactly, they were friends. Even though it seemed rather impossible—a Selkie and a Werewolf—they were besties. The popcorn bowl was verily tossed away, some of the cargo jumping out and onto the carpet as Stiles tackled Scott, intent on giving him a noogie in retaliation. They wrestled around for a few moments, the movie playing on the screen. Finally Stiles got what he wanted and sat up, a little breathless (wrestling a werewolf was hard work) and pink in the cheeks from the exertion. “You're such an ass.”
Scott grinned and ran a hand through his hair, presumably to straighten it out. Then he reached around for a handful of popcorn and spoke right before tossing it into his mouth, brown eyes on his best friend. “So is that why you smell like the ocean?”
Stiles' head jerked at that and he studied Scott's face. He wasn't picking on him this time, he was serious. “I do? I mean, I smell like that?”
Scott nodded and finished chewing the popcorn, reaching around for another handful as he answered. “Yeah. I thought it was shampoo or cologne or something. It makes a bit more sense now.”
Over the course of the movie they only half-watched, Scott asked more questions. It turned out that he believed him, on account of how serious Stiles had seemed. Apparently that's what best friends did. To Stiles it just seemed like something a pod-mate would do. Then again, both wolves and seals ran in groups and if ever there was a group, it was the one Stiles had followed Scott into. The one with their parents (however much they didn't know they were a part of it), Allison, Jackson, Lydia and Derek. Even if Stiles wasn't too sure that the last three wouldn't try to eat him (if Lydia ever woke up). He was still glad to be part of the group, though. Even if he was probably the most vulnerable.
“Yeah. Somewhere.” He reached up and felt around for the leather bound journal, pulling it down to where the two of them sat, Lord of the Rings still playing. They were on the second movie now, though it was really just background noise. He opened it up and went on. “This is my Mom's. She wrote in here about me. You probably would think they're normal entries, but she hid stuff in here.”
He flipped to the page he'd found the clue on and stuck the journal under Scott's nose. “Here. Read it.” He went on, not able to stop himself now that he knew Scott was on his side, “I always thought she'd burned my skin, so I could never go back. But she didn't. It's just hidden. I could find it, Scott. I could go back home.”
Chapter 3: How To Run Yourself Into The Ground
Stiles wasn't really sure where to start with his Mom's friends. So he started out what he figured was natural—the neighbors. And no, his Dad didn't need to know that he was looking for the person who would lead him to his skin and ultimately his home and pod. Of course not, considering his Dad didn't have the slightest inkling of anything abnormal about his so-called son. His son who preferred the smell of salt and seaweed over anything sweet, his son who preferred the ocean's crashing waves to his mother's voice. So no, he was going this alone and with only the journal to kind of guide him.
Now, his neighbors knew about how much his Dad worked to keep Stiles in school, the house under their name and food on the table. They sympathized with him over the loss of his Mom, so when he mentioned her they let him in, sat him down and offered him sweet things. He didn't turn them down, but went about his quest around eating cookies and pie.
The first time he wasn't able to differ much from the script he'd written out for himself and memorized which ended up with odd looks and some huffing and puffing due to some implications he was apparently making. Before he knocked on the second door he revised said script and at least tried to re-memorize it. It did work, but then he wasn't getting anywhere near the answers he needed. It took him four different houses in order to perfect it. Even then he wasn't getting the answers he needed to find his skin.
He felt dead in the water by the time he'd exhausted their block. Sure, these people were probably friends of convenience rather than people she chose to hang out with, but so far the journal had made no mention of anyone other than people in the neighborhood. He should probably assume that whoever it was that his Mom had referenced in there to knowing about his skin probably didn't live in town. The next couple of nights he put off doing a history project in order to read through more of his Mom's journal.
His quest was quickly becoming an obsession, though he didn't realize it. It was much like the werewolf books that were strewn on the floor of his closet, under his bed—it was something he didn't share with anyone. He researched old tales about Selkies at the library in his down time. Apparently they weren't as popular as, say, vampires and werewolves. Whereas he had a stack of books on wolves that he couldn't quite muscle around all at once, he only had a handful about his own kind. He checked on the internet, he even dropped by the Hale place to check Derek's library (half blacked by soot because they were books that had survived the fire, the other half was old and tattered). Derek knew he was there, but he made some excuse about looking for more ideas for Scott's cure. That started the age old fight that ended with him storming back out to his Jeep and leaving without finding anything of any use.
Maybe Stiles didn't know it, but he was pulling away from Scott. And hey, while everyone treated Scott like he was an idiot, he wasn't. He could guess that werewolves and selkies didn't mix well or often—so maybe it was just Stiles' instinct to get as far away from the pack as he could. But that didn't explain the sudden decline in his grades. Sure, neither of them were exactly straight A's, but they didn't get D's either. That one time was a fluke and he blamed it all on getting turned into a fairytale creature against his will. But he was getting off-track. What mattered here was that Stiles was up to something—up to something that he wasn't including Scott in. So of course, being the great best friend he was, he whined and badgered at him until Stiles gave it up.
Stiles' emotions were all heightened from normal, Scott could smell it as his friend rubbed his hands over his buzzed hair and made a sort of high keening noise. Scott wanted to reach out and reassure Stiles, but he was about to get the answer he'd been asking for, so he held off. Stiles tipped his head toward him from the driver's seat of the Jeep they were sitting in at the parking lot of their school. “Okay, okay, Jesus! I just—I've been asking around for my skin.”
“What? Are you fucking crazy? Stiles!” He didn't get much further in his protests because Stiles huffed and flumped back into his seat, hand landing on the steering wheel, most likely out of reflex.
“See? This is why I didn't tell you. It's my skin, Scott, I have every right to it.” Stiles set his jaw and gave him an obstinate look. Scott knew better than to argue right then, so he just pushed his bag toward his feet and shrugged.
“Just be careful. I don't need them throwing you in the looney bin. I need my best friend.” Scott tried to give him what he thought was his puppy dog eyes. Stiles deflated and started the car. Once they were on the road he spoke up.
“Yeah man, I'll be careful.”
They turned to other topics like Allison, Lydia (who was stable, but still in a coma), the pack, Jackson being a douche and grades that were slipping. At that last, Stiles got anxious. “About that... look, you don't really need me at this thing and Jackson goes right by your street on the way home so I'm going to bail. I need to go do that history project that I didn't hand in today.”
He was lying, but he was fidgety and was starting to sweat under the pressure of Scott's studying gaze. So Scott dropped it and offered him a smile. “Yeah, sure man. Thanks for the ride. I'll tell the guys that you miss running your motor mouth at them, but you decided to give them a day of mercy.”
Stiles snorted and relaxed, parking the Jeep. “Thanks.”
After that, Scott was left in front of the burned out Hale house with his bag slung over his shoulder. He sighed and trudged around to the back, where Derek was leaning against his car and Jackson was chatting with him. More like at him. Derek didn't really talk back. However, when he was in sight, Derek stood up straight and looked around, his eyebrows drawn together in what smelled like confusion. “Where's Stiles?”
“Home.” Well, that was a lie, so he dumped his bag on the ground by the rear tire of the Camaro and looked up. “Actually, I have no idea where he's going, but where ever it is it's not good.”
Jackson crossed his arms over his chest. “And why should we care?”
Derek gave him a warning look. “Stiles is part of the pack, Jackson, you should show more concern.”
Scott felt itchy as Jackson rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath. Scott looked to Derek instead. If anyone was going to help him with Stiles, it would be Derek. He owed Stiles his life just as much as any of them did. “Really? 'Cause um, I wasn't sure if he could be.”
He ran his hand through his hair, his nervousness at betraying his best friend's confidence spiking. He had to tell them now. Not that he wasn't going to before, but he'd pretty much sealed the deal before thinking about it—Hah! sealed. He couldn't help but grin at himself. The smile evaporated under the weight of the pack's gaze. Derek was the one to speak. “What do you mean, Scott?”
He swallowed, looked around and slumped his shoulders in defeat. He felt like shit about it, but they needed to know. “He's not—he's not human.”
Jackson was about to say something, probably demeaning and offensive, so Scott tumbled on. “He's a Selkie and now he's trying to find his skin because his Mom's journal said that it was hidden somewhere so it would be safe. See he thought that she had burned it, but apparently it's just fine. But if he finds it then he leaves us and he goes back and we can't let that happen, guys, we can't.”
He ended up talking really fast and out of breath when he stopped himself. Jackson was still and looking to Derek for the answer. Derek looked closed off and maybe more than a little angry, though Scott couldn't really tell what he was angry about.
So today he hung out by Gretta's desk until his Dad returned from the call he was on, acting somewhat mopey and gaining her sympathy as he asked some questions about his Mom. Gretta didn't realize that he was just manipulating her (and he did feel a little bad about that bit, she was such a nice person), but she did point him in the direction of some of his Mom's closer friends. Apparently his Mom often stopped by Gretta's desk too, and talked about her day. So even though his moping about Mom would get back to his Dad, he at least had somewhere else to look for his skin. That was really the important part.
He planned to swing by each one of them after school during the week, interview them and get home before his Dad did so he didn't worry him too much. He made everything seem normal on the outside, like he wasn't taking more Adderall than he was supposed to in order to stay up most of the night trying to get more out of the journal than it was willing to actually provide.
It was Jackson's Mom that pushed him in the right direction. Jackson hadn't been there, fortunately, he'd been out doing... something and so Stiles had been able to talk to his Mom without him being an ass. In any case, Mrs. Whittemore mentioned how his Mom had always gone to this little privately owned used book store and acted real secretive about it. One time she'd followed her friend (and how was it that those two had been friends and then Jackson and he hated each others guts?) to make sure that she wasn't doing anything bad and had seen her meet up with a woman with curly brown hair, who wasn't Melissa McCall. She said she had no clue who the woman was and that his Mom had refused to talk about it other than to say that she wasn't doing anything illegal. That had been that, but Mrs. Whittemore told him where to find the bookstore—Willow Creek Books—so Stiles was definitely going there.
He left and decided that for tonight he'd check up on the bookstore online—see if it had swapped owners or anything before going there after school tomorrow.
The store hadn't changed owners, but there was no guarantee that the owner would be there. He went anyway. This could be the connection he needed in order to find his skin and go home. His heart swelled at the prospect, but he told himself not to get his hopes up. It didn't really work. He pushed the door of the bookstore open and stepped in. It instantly got musty and dark, like if you closed a library for years without taking the books out and then went inside.
Regardless of how musty it smelled, it was actually very clean. He noted, after he passed through a wisp of scent, that what he had been smelling was incense. He didn't really like those. He took a deep breath and looked around. The woman behind the counter was sat in a chair, reading a book and looked to be old enough to be his great-great-great grandmother—at best. She hadn't moved the whole time he'd been in the store and quite frankly he was wondering if she was even alive. He slowly approached the counter like she'd suddenly jump up and yell at him to be gone.
He didn't want to interrupt her reading, although the book sounded awfully dull (Herbs and Natural Remedies), but he cleared his throat and leaned his elbows across the counter. When she looked up it looked so unnatural that he was sure she was a puppet or a robot or something. He stood up straight and hitched his pants up even though he didn't have to.
“Hi, um, my name is Stiles Stilinski,” he meant to go on, but she spoke, her voice sounding more like the creaking of the wooden chair she was sitting on than human-like.
“You're here to ask about your Mother.” Not a question, a statement. She knew. How creepy.
“Oh, did Mrs. Whittemore tell you?” He received an unamused look that could rival Derek's any day. He kept going instead of asking how she knew. He really didn't need to know anyway, “Yeah, I was hoping you could tell me who she was meeting here.”
The old woman slowly rose from her chair. She stayed hunched over, putting her nearly skeletal hand on the counter and leaning over toward him. He wasn't sure if it was because she needed help standing or if she enjoyed scaring the piss out of people. “That would be Maeva Thompson. They were good friends. Don't think she's still around though, haven't seen her since your mother passed.”
If they had been such good friends, how come he'd never heard of her? There were no pictures of her, and his Mom met with her in secret. He wondered, though, if his Dad knew anything about her. He wasn't sure if he dared to ask, since he hated to bring up Mom around him, but maybe he would understand. Maybe.
“No, and that's final.”
“But he can't just leave!”
“He can, actually. It's his right. If he wants to find his skin, let him. If he wants to go back to being a seal, that's his business. Not ours.”
“But you just said that we should be worried, Derek. You said that we should be concerned about pack.”
“He's not pack.”
“But you said—”
“You did say that.” Jackson piped in for the first time since Scott had spilled the beans. He was still standing, arms crossed over his chest with a rather neutral expression on his face. He wasn't being a jackass like Derek was, which was surprising to say the least.
“I said no. We're not getting involved.”
Scott tore his eyes off Jackson and glared at Derek. “So what, he's not good enough to be pack if he's not human?”
Derek moved away from the two beta wolves and took the tarp off of a lumber pile. “We're making a picnic table.”
Not only was he trying to end the conversation, but a picnic table? Really? But it wasn't Scott that said anything, it was Jackson. Jackson who had picked up a piece of wood and was looking at it like he knew exactly what he was going to do with it. “I don't really think that's fair. Kicking him out just for being different?”
His voice was a lot lower than normal, probably because he expected some sort of backlash. There was. Derek nearly ripped Jackson's hand off, taking the wood from him. “Seals don't run with wolves, got it? He's not pack. He can't be.”
They dropped it after that, not wanting to piss off Derek too much. Maybe Scott would bring it up later, when he and Jackson could run away when Derek wolfed out.
Apparently she had gone to a nearby school, but both had attended a summer camp for horseback riding and had become close friends. Pops remembered her well, saying that she was raised a little differently and so she hadn't had many friends. When Stiles pressed for details, Pops went on to say that she wasn't raised Christian, that she was a witch. The only reason his Mom had been allowed to remain friends with the little heathen was because of her stubbornness. Stiles hadn't known that Pops was so discriminating.
So instead of searching for people, he started looking for horse places. He went to several barns (and no, he decided he would never ever get on a horse), but to no avail. He did find a picture that he hadn't previously looked at tucked into one of his Mom's yearbooks that was a picture of everyone at the horse camp she'd gone to. He found Maeva and peered at the grainy black and white picture for a while before he scanned it in and reverse image searched for it. He found the camp—it was still running after all these years. After some scrounging around the depths of the internet he found out that she was going by a different name these days: Ellen Havershem. She owned her own stable, two towns over, closer to the coast. He'd have to go on a weekend.
That weekend he told his Dad that he was headed to the coast—he did this sometimes, now that he had his own mode of transportation. They used to have a small beach house out there, but since Mom died they'd sold it. His Dad looked a little worried, but just clasped his hand on Stiles' shoulder and told him to drive safe. Stiles packed up a bag, intending on sleeping in his car like it was a stakeout his Dad was on, and made sure he had his debit card in his wallet before he left. He didn't even bother to tell Scott, who had been a bit weird as of late.
The whole drive out there he pondered on if this was the missing link. He could be chasing ghosts—maybe Maeva knew absolutely nothing about the supernatural world. Perhaps he'd spent all his time hunting down something for nothing. He just had to hope that it wasn't the case. There would be something here. He knew it in his bones. His little seal bones.
When he arrived the barn was busy. There were a couple of kids getting a lesson, there were others mucking stalls, turning out horses and cleaning tack. He walked down the aisle with his hands in his pockets, breathing in the hay and straw and trying to dodge the horses that had their heads hanging out into the aisle, sniffing at his sleeves with interest. One of the women pointed him in the direction of the lesson and told him that Ellen was teaching but she would be delighted to show him around. He politely declined and said that Ellen was an old family friend and he really wasn't interested in the horses. So he trekked back toward the ring and stood awkwardly outside it, watching the lesson go on. At least he was picking up some lingo. He could toss that around and maybe he would seem more interesting to Lydia.
When she woke up.
The lesson ended and Maeva got up, approaching him with a curious eye and her hands on her hips. “You're the Stilinski boy.”
He might have looked a bit like a deer in the headlights, but he recovered what he thought was quickly and extended a hand to her. “Uh, yeah, how did you know?”
She smiled, reaching up to take her helmet off and let down her hair, shaking it out before taking his hand. “You look like your Dad.”
He wasn't entirely sure if that was a compliment, coming from someone who had apparently never met him. Although he'd never brought the name 'Ellen Havershem' to him, so it was possible they did know one another. He stumbled a bit with his thanks.
“I'm guessing you're not here for horse lessons. You want to know about your Mom, right?” Her voice was more husky than most, he got it in his head that it was because her house was filled with burning incense. He nodded and fell into step with her as she began heading toward the barn. “I have an office where we can talk privately. I'm sure you'd be more comfortable there.”
So they went down into the barn and all Stiles could think was that she was just going to lead them to a stall and sit him down on a hay bale and call it her office. Fortunately he was wrong and she instead led him into the tack room, past bridles hung up in a neat line with names under each one, and opened a door to an office that had a wide panel window that opened out to the pastures. Grazing horses on green grass and wooden poles was all he could see. Suddenly he got the whole horse thing—it was gorgeous. Not that he suddenly wanted to saddle up or anything. He sat in an obviously older leather chair that sat across from her desk, where she pulled out her own chair and sat. He wasn't quite sure where to start now that he was here. He'd been all ready for her to act witchy and suspicious, he had a whole idea of her in his head, but she didn't match up at all. So instead of sticking to the script his mouth came up with the only thing his brain was currently thinking: “You don't really look like an 'Ellen'.”
She laughed and shook her head, bouncing her brown curls. “I suppose not, no. But so many people don't know how to spell my name, so it's easier this way. For horse shows and business and such. To be fair, you don't look like a Genim.”
He wanted to gripe about his name, but he just held her gaze and tried not to sound offended by her saying his first name. Like she was part of the family. “Everyone calls me Stiles.”
“Okay then Stiles.” She had a mischievous sort of smile touching her lips for a second before it vanished. She leaned forward, laying her hand flat against the oak wood of her desk. “What do you want to know?”
She told him about how she had met his Mom, about finding her again after all those years and how his Mom had gone to her about natural fertility help—his Mom had been having trouble conceiving, hence why he didn't have any brothers or sisters—about how he was a miracle because his Mom hadn't had any luck with any treatments. She told the story of a couple of barbeque birthdays that Stiles had no memory of because they were in the first few years and how when his Mom passed, Maeva wasn't sure if she would be welcome anymore.
They talked until evening feed, when everyone else had left and it was just the smells of the barn and the snorting and stomping of the horses in their stalls. Then Maeva, with some sort of look in her eye, mentioned that his Mom had used to go trail riding with her, when she could, and the horse she had ridden was older now, but still here and did he want to meet him? Stiles had been about to shake his head, but Maeva had leaned forward again, like she was sharing some sort of secret, and told him that it wasn't just people that could be friends with his Mom. It had somehow sold him and he ended up standing in the stall, letting the horse whuff hot breath on his hands and face and petting the silky neck of the old gelding. It wasn't so bad, he decided. Maybe one day.
He returned to his Jeep and sat there in the twilight, wondering if he should sleep and head home in the morning or just drive there now. He was bumping up the driveway when something made him skid his car to a stop in the gravel and sit there, engine rumbling all around him. He had been about to leave, having heard nothing about her having hidden the skin or any such secrets between Maeva and his Mom, but she had known. She knew and didn't know, all at the same time.
When they had first met she said that he looked like his Dad—everyone always said he looked so much like his Mom; yet she had known about Mom not being able to get pregnant. No one else knew about that. Mom had hidden it so well that there had been almost no evidence of fertility doctors. His Dad didn't even know how long she had been trying to get pregnant. Stiles, of course, knew the real story. The story of how she had carried a stillborn to term, but had taken Stiles from the ocean only days before the birth, sequestering him away until he was slipped in, unnoticed, as the baby she had given birth to. No one else knew anything was wrong about the pregnancy she had endured, no one knew of her trouble with conceiving. So why did Maeva think he was a miracle?
He scrolled to Scott's name and pushed send before he really even thought it through. His friend picked up, a worried tone in his voice. “Scott I found her. I found the person that knows where my skin is. I'm going to follow her until I find it.”
He got there, bright headlights flooding the area around him as Jackson pulled in only seconds after him. Jackson didn't even bother turning off the car before he was hopping out, eyes looking a bit frantic. “What's going on?”
So the pack connection was working, his panic over Stiles feeding into Jackson. Derek was out on the porch, hands balled up in his leather jacket's pockets. “Scott, what's wrong? Did you shift? Did your Mom find out?”
He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head, “No! No, of course not. I just—Stiles! Guys, he's stalking someone. He thinks that she's going to lead him to his skin! We have to stop him.”
Immediately Derek turned half away, acting as if he was going to head back into the house, a growl in his voice. “I thought I told you to leave that be.”
Jackson was somehow beside him then, face set in hard lines. Scott could tell before he opened his mouth that he was steeling himself for going against his Alpha. Scott remembered wearing that look before, when Peter had been trying to get him to join his pack. He was wearing it again now, even if he didn't necessarily recognize it. Scott spoke first, interrupting Jackson before he could say anything stupid. “No Derek, you said he was pack and now he's in trouble. We have to help him—we have to make him stop and see reason.”
It was just like that, how he ended up being tossed like a ragdoll against a tree. Derek was half-shifted, eyes blood red and growling constantly, obviously trying to rein himself back in. Jackson stood, wide-eyed and unsure now, but steady enough to wait it out until Derek backed off and was speaking human words. “Go ahead. Go 'help' him. He won't want it, though, so go. Just don't expect my help.”
Jackson helped him up, the most solid thing he'd ever done for Scott ever and kept his eyes on Derek as he retreated back into the burned husk of a house. Scott glanced to the side of the house where Derek had put the picnic table they'd built under the branches of a tree before glancing over at Jackson. “My car's faster.”
Scott nodded mutely and let Jackson lead him over to the passenger side of the still-idling Porsche. He wondered if Derek was right as Jackson got into the car and started back out of the forest. “Where is he, anyway?”
Scott sighed and finally looked away from the window. “Just get on the highway, we're headed toward the coast.”
They drove for a while in silence before Jackson turned the radio on and Scott turned to texting Stiles, finding out where to meet him. He told his best friend that he was coming to help him, so he assumed that Stiles thought that they would be teaming up on some sort of stakeout like how they used to pretend to be cops like Stiles' Dad was when they were younger and after imaginary bad guys. He started looking around at his feet and in the tiny back seat when Jackson seemed to catch on that he was looking for something.
“Do you have any ropes?”
“I have some bungee cords.”
There were only three bungee cords in Jackson's back seat, so Scott had to come up with some way to have Stiles under control by the time they whipped those out—Stiles was a few inches taller than both he and Jackson and besides, Stiles had this whole flailing fight style that managed to get the best of him every time. He was quiet for the drive, excepting telling Jackson where to go. They didn't bother with the radio, Jackson focused on driving and Scott watched out of the passenger side window. When they finally pulled up, Scott jumped out first to find Stiles leaning against the driver's side door of his Jeep. Jackson got out of his side as Stiles looked up.
“Oh... hey, Jackson.” Stiles looked between Scott and Jackson for a moment, puzzled as to why the other boy was there. Scott crossed the distance between them and Stiles reached out to grab his arm, looking solely at Jackson now. “It's okay dude, I got him now. Did you want gas money, 'cause I don't really have—”
Scott had banked on this and with a deep breath and a guilty look on his face, he cocked back his arm and struck his best friend in the head. Stiles went down like a sack of rocks, Scott catching him before he hit the ground. He looked over at Jackson, already producing the bungee cords as he came around the side of the Porsche, while Stiles was sagged against him.
After that it didn't take long to wrap the cords around Stiles' ankles, wrists and just above his knees. With a little team work they loaded Stiles in the back seat of Jackson's car, strapping him in with all the seatbelts back there as he laid on his side. Once it was done, Scott checked the Jeep, found nothing and climbed back in just as Jackson turned the key in the ignition. Scott peered back at Stiles, still out cold, and then over at Jackson. Now that they had him what were they going to do with him?
They started back toward Beacon Hills, not saying anything until the headlights hit the sign for the exit on the highway. Then, and only then, did Jackson turn to him. “Where the hell are we bringing him?”
Scott let out a breath and tried to think, Jackson piping up again before he could figure anything out. “How about we bring him home. His Dad will know what to do with him, right?”
“No!” His response was a little more violent than he'd intended it to be, and he checked to make sure he hadn't woken up Stiles. He lowered his voice, “No, we can't bring him home. He told his Dad that he was going to be gone all weekend. Besides, his Dad doesn't know about any of this.”
They were quiet for a moment, and then Jackson came up with another suggestion. “What about your house?”
Scott almost thought it was a good idea, but then he looked at the time and groaned, letting his head thump back onto the headrest. “We can't, my Mom's home by now.”
He looked out the window and tried to think of a better place, a place they could control. He thought of the Vet's, but that was too risky. How exactly would he explain that to his boss? He rolled his head over to look at Jackson, who kept glancing back at him questioningly between watching the road. “Derek's. It's got those cages in the basement.”
“He's going to be pissed.”
Scott gave a half-shrug, knowing full well that both he and Jackson were afraid of what was going to happen when they showed up with Stiles, but it was the only place they could go. “He'll have to suck it up.”
Scott had to knock out Stiles again when they were about ten minutes out from the Hale house. He was pretty sure that Stiles would hate him forever for this.
When Stiles first starts to wake up he groans and smacks his tongue against the roof of his mouth, one eye slitting open. He feels tightness around his legs and wrists and he thinks he's being kidnapped, hearing the sound of tires on pavement. There are two people talking, someone sounds panicked as they say he's waking up. Someone else—is that Jackson?—tells them something but his head is swimming too much for him to figure it out. Something hard connects with his skull for a second time that night and he falls away into darkness.
The second time he wakes up it's to loud voices and thumping and the rattling of chains. He realizes, after a moment of taking stock of the situation, that it's his chains that are rattling. Well this can't be good. Don't suppose these kidnappers would listen if he said his Dad was the Sheriff. His head hurts like hell and he wonders if he has a concussion—what hit him anyway? He looks around, trying to see something, anything, that would pinpoint where he'd been taken to. He sits himself up as he listens to indistinct voices being raised and thumps coming from up the stairs. He drags in a deep breath and just like that the whole damn place goes silent.
He's about to call out, see about some water, when a door opens at the top of a set of stairs and the silhouette of someone comes down the stairs. Stiles opens his mouth to say something, but the silhouette talks first.
“I had no part in this.”
“Derek?” Stiles' eyebrows draw together and he remembers, in vivid detail, about Jackson driving Scott out to meet him and something about not having gas money and then a sharp pain in his head. Jackson had been in front of him, a Porsche between them and he'd had Scott's arm—the Jeep had been behind him, so there hadn't been a fourth party. His hand had reached up, prodding gently at the egg on his head. He cringed slightly and watched Derek as he moved to turn over some kind of container and sit on it, leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.
“Scott came up with the whole idea. If it had been up to me, I would have let you do what you wanted to do.”
“Good to know.” Stiles pretty much grumbled that, sweeping his hand over his head to feel around for the second place he was hit. He found it quickly and reminded himself that Scott was a werewolf and had all that superhuman strength. Normally he'd have thought it was pretty cool, but being on the receiving end of it was not so cool. Derek didn't say anything else, just sat there being all broody and watching him for the next few minutes before Scott's shadow darkened the doorway. Then Derek was up and gone like he'd never been down here to begin with. For a moment Stiles thought maybe he'd hallucinated that whole visit, but he figured that he wouldn't have hallucinated Derek if he had the choice.
Scott, meanwhile, exudes guilt from every pore—or Stiles can imagine he is. Scott silently sits where Derek had just been. It takes a while, because Stiles doesn't really want to talk to the guy who just knocked him out (twice) and was currently holding him hostage. He was starting to think that this was divine retribution for the time he'd handcuffed Scott to the radiator in his room, but at the time he'd thought that was karma for all the shit he'd put him through earlier that day. Finally, Scott talks.
“Stiles, you can't, ok? You can't just—” Stiles narrows his eyes as Scott continues, “—leave me. Not now. I still need you to help me with this.”
He probably would have kept on, but Stiles thumped his head back against the concrete wall (and ow, don't do that again). Scott stopped talking abruptly and Stiles was pretty sure that he could smell the pain he was in as his vision swam. When he had recovered enough, he swallowed and blinked hard, and then spoke. “Really? You're going to lecture me?”
Was he really ready to open this can of worms? It seems he was, because his mouth just kept forming words. “So you were bitten and turned into a werewolf. Well guess what, Scott, you have a pack now. You have a family that won't fucking leave your side. Me? My so-called 'family'? They stole me when I was little. I basically have Stockholm Syndrome here. I want to go home. I want to be with my real family.”
He gulped back the emotions that were threatening to overcome him. Just where did they come from anyway? He buttoned down the hatch and swallowed thickly, regaining his composure before he said anything, “I don't belong here, Scott, and I never will.”
“What about me? What about your Dad?” Scott's voice was small when he spoke. “What about Lydia? What if she wakes up and asks about you? What should I tell her?”
He pauses, whether it's for effect or he's getting all emotional over this, Stiles doesn't know because Scott's still just a silhouette down here. “What do I tell your Dad, huh? Jesus, Stiles, have you thought any of this through?”
Stiles looked away, planning on just ignoring Scott out of principle, even if that seemed to be just a touch indignant. It was then that his eyes caught just a hint of moonlight and trees through some bars. It was around the corner from where he was stuck in his cage, but it was there. He'd apparently been dismissive enough that Scott had gotten up. He was just starting up the stairs when Stiles called after him. “Dude, I'm starving. Can I at least get some food?”
Scott stopped with one foot up on the step and turned toward him, “It's the middle of the night, Stiles.”
“There's the twenty-four hour Chinese place.” For a long moment, Stiles wasn't sure his newest plan was going to work. But then Scott sighed and took out his phone.
“What do you want?”
Stiles made sure to get something that would come with chopsticks. He'd be needing them.
First of all: Scott was stupid enough to give him the chopsticks. So Stiles now knew that if there was ever the chance that he and Scott kidnapped someone, he was going to be in charge and Scott would be supervised. He didn't know the first thing about keeping a prisoner. Secondly, he learned that chopsticks don't make good tools for picking locks. The wood was harder to split than he'd thought it would be, which ended up giving him splinters when he finally did manage to get it into pieces. And then, when he thought he had a piece the right size, (give him a break, this was difficult, he was addled and he had never tried to actually pick a lock before) it broke off and he had to dig it out of the lock. Needless to say, he gave up.
Scott came down not long after, took one look at the mangled chopsticks and threw them away, sighing and stomping up the stairs. Stiles figured that Scott might have realized his mistake and there was no way he was getting out now—not until they let him out and that was seeming unlikely—when Scott came trudging back down the stairs and handed him a plastic fork. Just where he'd gotten the fork, Stiles wasn't exactly sure, but he took it with wide eyes anyway. Wide because hey, Scott was a lot dumber than Stiles originally gave him credit for. He didn't say anything, though, just clamped his teeth down on the inside of his cheek and accepted the new utensil.
Scott left again and Stiles could hear Derek enter the house, steal a container from Jackson and start eating. While the wolves were preoccupied...
Two broken tongs and he had a lock pick. It took him a little longer than the video online had suggested it would, but he had himself out of the shackles. He had downed half the pork fried rice container already and had left it where he'd been sitting, picking the lock on the door to the cell. Again, it took some time and there were a couple of times when he held his breath and waited for talking or footsteps to resume, but he finally won his freedom, the cell door swinging open.
Stiles looked once toward the door that led up the stairs to the werewolves and then slipped out of the cell, leaving the plastic fork lock pick behind and moving as silently as he could toward the bars and moonlight. The door there was creaky, but not locked, so he moved it extra slowly, pausing a few times to listen for the sounds of the trio not hearing his escape.
Once he was outside and looking around, he realized he didn't have a clue what to do. His Jeep obviously wasn't there, but Jackson's Porsche and the Camaro were. He walked toward them, thinking that maybe Jackson was dumb too and maybe just dumb enough to leave his keys in the car. He snuck around in the shadows to peer in the window and see that no, no keys. Plus it was locked. So either he had to somehow pick the lock (that couldn't be as easy as in the basement), or he would have to break the window. Breaking the window would achieve nothing, so he ventured a peek into the Camaro—which was blissfully unlocked. The keys weren't in sight, though, so he had to think back to that tutorial he'd seen on how to hot wire a car. It couldn't be that hard... right?
He didn't realize how early in the morning it was. Fog rolled in and made him turn the headlights on, he rubbed at his tired face and yawned. He knew he wasn't going to be able to keep going at this rate. So he got off at an exit and pulled in to a Burger King's parking lot. He still had his phone in his pocket, but he knew better than to turn it on so he just hoped that he slept lightly.
It ended up that he did, because the drive through was annoyingly busy. So three hours later he bought a coffee with the change that Derek had in the car (hey, if he was going to get killed for this, then he was damn well going to get some coffee for his trouble), and he was back on the road, trying to shrug off the start of a headache. It was odd, Stiles thought, that they hadn't found him yet. But maybe, just maybe, tracking didn't work the same way when you were in cars. He suspected that had to do with the fact that a lot of cars use the same gas and gas was a pretty overpowering smell. He just thanked the heavens and kept going.
When he caught up with Maeva she was at the stable and turning horses out. He sat across the road, knowing that the Camaro was anything but inconspicuous (not that she knew that he was in it, but still). It was about the time that his stomach started grumbling again and he was about to backtrack and find something to fill it that she went out to her car. Now, he hadn't been watching her long enough to know her routine, but she sure looked like she was doing something she didn't normally do. She cast furtive looks around as she got in and pulled out of the parking lot. So he got the Camaro going again and followed a respectful distance behind (he hadn't accompanied his Dad on some stakeouts for nothing). They passed by his Jeep, and Maeva slowed way down before speeding up and zooming across town.
Stiles didn't think that it would be this quick, but as soon as she'd seen his Jeep sitting there she'd taken off, leading him directly to where the skin was hidden. So here he is, sitting hunched in the bushes, blowing this one stubborn leaf out of his face repeatedly as he watches her digging beneath one very large oak tree.
She'd stopped at a hardware store (Stiles had to park across the parking lot in order to not be too close and have her notice) and bought a shovel before taking off again, which seemed odd to Stiles as she'd just come from a stable that was bound to be filled with them. She then went directly out to the edges of town and parked at a well-known hiking trail. Stiles had to do some quick thinking and instead of following her into the parking lot, had driven right by and ended up parking the Camaro by the side of the road. He was pretty sure it was illegal to do that. Then, as she went at break-neck speed down the path, Stiles had to give her room enough so she didn't see him and yet keep up with her. When she'd gone off-trail it had been a lot harder, but he had been able to keep out of sight.
She kept looking up and around whenever any noise was made, including the time that Stiles finally had it with that damn leaf and ripped it off. In turn it made Stiles jumpy, looking around as if he'd been followed (which was impossible, right? Derek wouldn't have caught up with him yet... right?). So it took he a while, but with some frantic digging she managed to unearth a large wood and metal box. It looked sort of like one of those old style chests, but caked in dirt. Obviously it had been in the ground for a while. Stiles would be guessing around sixteen years, but hey, he was pretty sure this was the box that held his skin. He rocked forward onto the balls of his feet, squatting in the underbrush and peering at the box like it held the meaning of life.
He had to make sure, though. He had to know it was his skin and not go stealing something completely different. So he waited until she had dusted the soil off of the latches and undone them, peeling back the lid. It was stuck, so she had to put her whole weight into it, heaving it and letting it fall back, the hinges creaking in protest. Stiles couldn't see. He couldn't see if it was his skin. The adrenaline was coursing through him by now, making him breathe a little faster and harsher than normal. Then Maeva was reaching into the chest and hoisting something over her shoulder.
He stared—it was his skin, in all of it's glory. He gasped quietly, not loud enough for her to have heard him, but loud enough that it brought him crashing back down to planet Earth. She had his skin. He had to get it from her. His feet moved, pushing him toward her, the remaining branches between them scratching at his torso and catching his shirt in their grasp. It was like the land wanted to keep him. He wouldn't let it.
She hadn't been in any hurry, but she'd thought she would check up on the boy at home. Make sure he wasn't doing anything foolish like trying to find out the secrets that surrounded him. But then she had passed his car as she drove and it had sent her into a panic. She bought a shovel and went directly out to move the skin. She knew exactly where she'd put it: a place where he'd never want to go. She'd hide it away in his family's mausoleum. She knew where it stood, having visited her best friend's final resting place often back when it had first happened.
It took a while, but she finally got it dug up. She rested, leaning on the shovel for support and letting the light breeze dry some of the sweat off of her. She hauled the chest up and dusted off the latches, prying the lid open before she got the duffel bag ready. She couldn't go carrying around a seal skin in the middle of the day, so this would be what she transported it in. Better than a heavy old chest anyway. She had just barely hauled it over her shoulder, preparing to put it into the bag and then start back down to her car when the sounds of snapping twigs made her look up sharply, alarmed.
She wasn't sure what about their talk had tipped him off, how he had known, but he was here now and barreling toward her like a charging bull. He was at least a head taller than her and besides, he was a man on a mission—she wouldn't stand a chance in a physical confrontation. She tossed the skin at the bag, her entire focus going on the defense. Her hand outstretched, palm toward him and a shimmering blue shield curved around her and the seal skin.
It wasn't a gift that most practicing witches had, but her mother had always blamed that on 'diluted blood'. She told Ellen, Maeva then, that she was special. She was different because her bloodline was pure. It was only later that she had learned she was from one of the few families that had managed to survive the witch hunts back in the day. They had conformed to Christianity, pretended to be what they weren't, only to divert later to their true beliefs. This shield? It was one of the only remnants of her bloodline. It was the only thing that Ellen could do on command, that took no spells or setting up. And apparently it worked rather effectively.
The boy hit the shield and got the full brunt of it—knocked flat on his ass and probably more than a little out of it. As far as she knew, it was like running into a wall. With her one hand still outstretched, holding up the shield, she bent to push the skin into the bag and zip it. She had the strap over her shoulder as he righted himself, chest heaving and looking at her with earnest brown eyes and his mouth open.
“Sorry kid, it's not going to happen.” She said, already trying to edge around him to get back toward the trail. He followed after her a few steps, but then he stopped and just watched. She knew it wasn't going to be that easy, so she backed up a little ways, putting more room between them before she let the shield down and took off at a run, bag over her shoulder and the shovel in her hand as her only weapon. She could hear him take off after her, the breaking twigs as loud as cracking whips in her mind.
She thought that maybe, just maybe, she could make it. If she sprinted the whole way down and managed to get in the car and take off, but he was starting to catch up to her. That's when they arrived. She thought, for a moment, that she would be able to use them to fend him off—innocent by-standers who would offer to call the cops or something—but as soon as she saw one of them snarl she knew they weren't on her side.
They'd gone straight to where they had left the Jeep, only to find no trace of Stiles. They went into town, maybe to catch a whiff of him and sat there for a good long time. Derek refused to sleep in case he missed anything, Scott gave Jackson money to go get food and they sat there, irritable and snapping at one another until late morning. It was the car pulling into the parking lot at break-neck speed that got their attention. They were going to dismiss it as a woman got out and ran into the hardware store, but then the Camaro entered the parking lot. Derek watched as it parked and then got out, slamming the driver's side door closed and stalking toward it. Either Stiles noticed or it was the woman peeling out of the parking lot, but the Camaro was gone before Derek could approach. Derek was back in the Porsche in the blink of an eye, following his car as they headed out of town.
Later, Scott would consider it lucky that they'd been there when Stiles had stopped there—the fact that this woman needed a shovel probably saved the day—but for now he was just worried about staying upright as Derek took the turns at high speeds. They pulled up in front of the Camaro, but Stiles wasn't anywhere around. Derek cursed loudly as he pulled open the door and found the hole in his dashboard from the hammer. Where Stiles had learned to hot wire a car, Scott would love to know. Then Derek turned on him, practically stabbing him in the chest with his index finger.
“This is your fault, Scott. I told you to leave him alone, but you just couldn't, could you?”
Jackson had walked back along the road, sniffing. He looked back over his shoulder and motioned to the both of them. “I found the trail, come on.”
“I'm going to kill him when we find him.” Derek growled and went after Jackson. Scott took one last look at the inside of the Camaro, shook his head and followed after them.
It took some time, following the scent, especially when it went off-trail. They had just barely found the turn off when she burst through the trees, holding a bag and wielding a shovel. For a moment she looked hopeful, but with Stiles crashing after her, Derek reacted without thinking. He snarled, letting his eyes go red even though there was a human between him and Stiles. Stiles who didn't even blink. Stiles, who was just reaching for the bag. Stiles who just got whacked in the face with the handle of the shovel the woman was carrying.
Then the woman had the strap of the bag in one hand and spun around to hurl the bag way off into the forest. She completed the spin with a fancy move like one that Allison might do, bringing the shovel into both hands like it was a weapon. Scott called out for Stiles, who had stumbled back from the blow, his hand to his face. Jackson was looking to Derek for direction and Derek was looking conflicted. Once Stiles was back upright and recovered with a large red mark over the bridge of his nose that was sure to bruise, he took off in the direction she'd thrown the bag.
He was only part way to it (not that he knew exactly where it was) when Scott's hand landed on his arm and propelled him around so Scott was in front of him. Scott had a hard look on his face, like he was trying to look stern or stubborn. Stiles didn't really take that in. He stumbled forward again, getting tripped up in the undergrowth, chest colliding with Scott's. They didn't fall, but fell back into a tree trunk after a couple of steps. He felt the breath whoosh out of Scott, but before he knew how to use it to his advantage he was spun around again and Scott's hands were on his shoulders, effectively pinning him to the tree.
“Let go of me!” His voice came out a hoarse yell—sounding nothing like his voice. He blamed the fact that he just got hit in the face with a shovel. Really though, it was thick with emotion, rough with pain and lack of sleep.
“No! Stiles you need to stop. Think, damn it!” Scott yelled back at him, into his face like that might make him understand better or something. Stiles doesn't know it, but he sets his jaw and suddenly pushes with all the strength he can muster. Compared to Scott's werewolf strength it's pitiful, but somehow he takes Scott off guard, or maybe Scott just doesn't know how and when to use his supernatural gifts effectively. Regardless, Scott's pushed back a few steps and he's no longer keeping Stiles there. Stiles ducks around the side of the tree, the rough bark scratching at his skin under his shirt.
Stiles gets tackled from behind, knocking him to the ground as Scott yells at him to stop. Scott's hands are grabbing at his legs as he snatches plants and the ground—he's holding on to anything he can—and pulling himself along as best he can. He connects some sort of pushing kick to what he thinks is Scott's shoulder which makes his best friend curse, but then he's yanked back. What little ground he gained is lost again as he sees the tree trunk off to the side. He's grabbing at anything and everything around him, hurling it over his shoulder at Scott, trying to break his hold. He thinks he's yelling back sometimes, but he's not sure.
A rock he threw bounces off his calf muscle and must have hit Scott too because there's more swearing, but then instead of throwing ineffectual plants and dirt he gets a hand on a thick branch. He has to pull at it with both hands, getting pulled back across the ground in the process and feeling the dirt and stones scrape against his belly and legs as his clothes are pulled up. He torques himself around, clobbering at Scott with the branch without any hesitation. He needs to get his skin, you see?
He has to thump him a couple of times before Scott collapses, face first into the ground and his hold on Stiles' legs loosens. For a moment Stiles sits there dumbly, clutching at the branch and eying his best friend, not moving. Then he kicks at Scott to get him off, drops the branch to the forest floor and scrambles up and away. He's a little disoriented, but somehow he finds the bag—blue and standing out against all the greens and browns—like it was fate or something. Then he's got the strap in his hands and he's running down the trail, leaving Scott and Maeva and Derek and Jackson who were keeping her busy. He's got to get to the car.
Derek saw Stiles first, and even though he knew there was a woman between them, he growled. That kid had ruined his car—he'd dragged Derek into something he didn't want to be a part of—and he's ruined his car. When he got a hold of him, he was going to make him pay.
But the look the woman gave as she smacked Stiles in the face with the handle of the shovel snapped Derek out of it. Just who was this woman, thinking that she had any right to lay a hand on his pack mate? Especially when Derek should get that honor himself. He felt torn, wanting to both go after Stiles and yet protect him at the same time. When Stiles recovered and took off after the fishy-smelling bag (that must be his seal skin), Scott charged after him and decided it for Derek. Jackson stuck by his side and the two of them circled the woman wielding the shovel.
While they didn't hurt her, they had to both dodge attacks from the shovel and try to dance within range and try to take it from her. It wasn't as easy as it might seem—the woman was smart and had great reflexes. What did strike him as odd, though, was every once in a while she would take one hand off the handle and put it palm facing out, stretched between them like it was going to stop them. Nothing happened though, and she soon aborted the posture in favor of having both hands on the shovel.
Then Stiles went barreling by them, a bag strapped over his shoulder. Derek glanced back, confused. Jackson did at the same time, wondering where Scott had gone when the woman made a dash for it and chased after Stiles on the trail. Jackson, who was closer to where Scott had been, at least, closed the distance and started hoisting up the third werewolf. While they tugged Scott along between them down the trail, Derek wondered how Stiles had gotten the drop on him and vowed that he would have to train the kid more so he didn't show weakness, even in the face of his best friend.
When they finally got into the Porsche, Scott was hauled into the backseat and Jackson climbed into the passenger seat. He wasn't sure where he was going, but the second Jackson mentioned the coast, Derek knew he had to be right. So Derek started driving, but Stiles was miles ahead.
When Stiles gets to the car he yanks the door open and tosses the bag into the passenger seat, slamming the door closed behind him and locking it as he reaches for the wires. He isn't sure how he does it, his hands being as clumsy as they are now, but he gets it started and spins the steering wheel around so he U-turns directly into the lane leading away. He breaks every road law known to man and Derek is going to kill him with all the fines he's going to get slapped with, but this is an emergency.
He's speeding down the highway when he gets a good look at himself in the mirror. He kind of looks like a renegade on the run, what with his surely broken nose, dark rings under his eyes and dirt everywhere. He takes a moment—just one moment—to consider himself and ask: is what I'm doing right?
He forgets about it as he finishes passing another car and presses down on the gas peddle even further. He has to get there. He has to get home.
Then he's following a road that's a cliffside above the beach, watching the afternoon sun spread yellow-gold light over the waves. He doesn't know how to get down there, so he keeps driving and driving. Finally he gives up and slams onto the brakes. He'll just climb down there then. He doesn't even care that he's leaving the Camaro in the middle of the road, driver's door open. He has the bag hung over one shoulder as he straddles the guard rail and looks down. The cliffside here isn't much of a cliff, it slopes a little more and there's crags that can act as little steps, as long as he's careful. Now that he's got his precious cargo, he has to be. He has to go slower. It doesn't matter because no one's around.
It's when he starts to slow down, being all deliberate about placing his feet right, about keeping his balance, that his brain catches up with him and his thoughts are about more than just 'home', 'have to get there', 'my skin' and 'freedom'. His brain catches up and it's like a wave crashes over him. Everything he's read and freaking absorbed about Selkies comes back to him. About how if he does this, he doesn't get to come back to land for another seven years. About how he's supposed to be Scott's best friend but he just knocked him out with a tree. About how his Dad would be left all alone and he wouldn't even know what happened.
And all that? It tripped him up.
He thought of how his Dad and Scott were really the only family he had, the only people he truly knew and he realized just how daunting it would be, out there all alone in the cold, dark waters. He stood again and finished climbing down to the sand, kicking off his shoes and stopping to peel off his shirt.
He could be strong, right? He could make it out there on his own. He could and he would, because that's what was right for him—being in the ocean, in his real skin, that was. He unzipped the bag and looked at it for a long time.
It was brownish-black fur, stripes of white banded to frame the fins. It was soft when he touched it, but the fur wasn't magnificent, glossy and the like. It wasn't shabby, by any means, but it wasn't like it appeared to be the beacon of hope that it really was for Stiles. He supposed, if anyone else were to look at it, that they'd see an old seal skin and not wonder at who it had been. He took it from the bag, holding it in front of him like a shirt he was considering wearing.
That was just it, wasn't it? He wasn't used to permanence. He'd always lived his life thinking he didn't have a choice, that he was stuck here on land, floundering like a fish. He tried his best to fit in and did badly, his awkward limbs making it difficult to get his bearings, but in the sea it would be the opposite problem. Physically he'd feel like he fit right in, but he'd grown up here. Land was all he'd known. The people... they were his people, they were the ones who mattered, not the other Selkies out there. The idea of not coming back for a minimum of seven years? His Dad's health could take a turn for the worse. Scott could get killed by the hunters. Hell, Derek and Jackson could get killed and he hadn't even had time to properly get to know them yet. Lydia could slip into death just as easily as she had the coma. Allison, that lovely girl, she was probably safe but that didn't mean that he wouldn't miss her. Danny would probably turn from griping about Stiles not doing his half of the project for school to griping about his husband working late. He didn't want to miss all that.
His hands lowered and he was letting the tail of it drag in the sand, his eyes turning to look out at the sea. He wasn't sure how long he'd stood there, but the sun was now giving off a peachy-pink glow and was a lot closer to the horizon. He lost himself in looking at the waves, sitting down in the sand, laying his skin beside him. The sunset was more of a blood red, thinking about going purple when the screech of tires made him glance over his shoulder.
Jackson, Derek and Scott piled out in respective order, Scott vaulting the guard rail as the other two followed. Scott didn't stop running until he reached Stiles, tumbling into the sand in front of him and holding a hand outstretched between them. His eyes were a little wild and maybe he got some sand in his eyes, but Scott looked into his eyes and glanced at the skin and basically tackle hugged him.
Scott babbled in his ear loudly, drowning out the sounds of his other two pod mates approaching at a slower pace. They kept their distance as Stiles returned the hug with a fierceness he didn't realize he had in him, drained as he was feeling. Stiles was finally able to figure out just what Scott was saying when he leaned back slightly. “I thought you might already be gone. I thought—I thought I'd never see you again that you'd just left.”
Scott hiccuped and Stiles watched the tears form droplets on the edge of his jaw, falling into the sand and disappearing. His throat was raw and made his voice coarse when he apologized. “I'm sorry.”
He glanced over his shoulder at Jackson, meeting his eyes for a moment and realizing that hey, he'd just spent the last two days helping Scott keep him around. How weird was that? When he met Derek's gaze, the alpha's eyes weren't any less intense than normal, but perhaps they were a bit softer around the edges. He apologized again, to him, because he just caused all sorts of trouble and the pod only consisted of four damn people. “I'm sorry.”
Jackson huffed and kicked at a bit of sand with no real force behind it and Derek gave him a nod before breaking the look. Stiles turned back to Scott and rocked forward, wrapping his arms around his best friend again. He wasn't quite sure how long they stayed that way—his sense of time was going by the sun and since it had disappeared behind the water he only knew that it was getting dark. Scott had stopped crying and the other two had sat down nearby, acting as silent support on their sides. Stiles reached over and gathered up his skin, making his pod mates tense. He stared at it for a moment and then shoved it toward Scott.
“You take it.” This demand seemed to make Scott confused, but he let Stiles deposit it in his arms anyway. Stiles looked away. “I don't think I'm the best judge of when, or even if, I should leave.”
Scott didn't say anything, didn't move for a long while. The stars were coming out now, twinkling high above them. Stiles took a breath of the salty air and flopped back, laying down and gazing up at them. The waves were crashing to the shore and his pod mates slowly came to lay down with him, Scott having put his skin back in the bag for safe keeping. He turned his head to the side to look at his best friend. “You were right, you know.”
He breathed out slowly and took his time, “This is home.”