"What's that sound?" Scott asks as Stiles's Jeep rumbles up the dirt road towards the Hale house.
"Oh, it's my transmission, dude, I give it like another week before it craps out -- "
"Not that," Scott says, cutting Stiles off. "There's like... music, or something. I hear music."
Stiles peers out the windshield at the forest in front of them and then glances around at his mirrors curiously.
"Wait, do you hear hear it, or do you werewolf hear it? Because I don't hear anything."
"I don't know, man, I can't tell the difference."
"Well, what does it sound like?" Stiles persists.
"It sounds like -- like music!"
"Oh my god, Scott -- what kind of music?"
Scott furrows his eyebrows.
"Like, a violin, I guess?"
"A violin. Huh. Okay. Maybe there's a rogue string quartet wandering the forests of Beacon Hills."
"Why would a string quartet be playing music in the woods?"
Stiles doesn't bother responding to that, partly because he can't bear the idea of trying to explain 'hyperbole' to Scott again, and partly because he catches a hint of what definitely does sound like violin music.
"It's coming from Derek's house!" Scott exclaims.
The Jeep rounds the last bend in the driveway and the house comes into view. Stiles slows the car to a crawl, straining to hear the music as they pull closer. He doesn't need super senses to be able to tell that the music is definitely coming from inside the house (as much of an inside as there can be to the burnt down husk of a building).
"What do you think it means?" Scott whispers, eyes wide.
"Either Derek got himself a CD player and some really bitchin' speakers, or he has company," Stiles says as he parks and shuts off the engine.
They sit in the car silently as the delicate music fills the air around them.
"Should we... wait?" Scott asks hesitantly.
Stiles chews on his lip.
"He knows you're coming, right?"
"Yeah, he told me to be here."
"Okay, well, here we are. It's wolf time. Maybe the music is a test or something." Stiles can't really imagine what classical music could have to do with being a better werewolf, but hey, he's not the expert. That would be Derek.
They get out of the car, and when Stiles slams his door closed, the music stops abruptly. Scott looks at Stiles in confusion, but before either of them can say anything, the front door to the Hale house creaks open.
"Oh -- he says we can come in," Scott says, tilting his head to one side with a face of concentrated listening.
"That's so creepy. Why do you guys do that? I hate it when you do that," Stiles mutters. He follows Scott, stomping through the dead leaves in the yard, then up the dilapidated porch steps, and into the charred remains of Derek's family home.
"He'll be down in a minute," Scott assures Stiles as they loiter in the front room.
When Derek appears a moment later, he's all business, and neither Stiles nor Scott get the chance to ask about the music.
It turns out that training to be a better werewolf is a lot like training to be a better lacrosse player. During the regularly scheduled practice sessions, Derek takes what Stiles thinks is a kind of sadistic pleasure in devising various obstacle courses and practice runs for Scott, many of which involve the potential for grievous bodily harm. Stiles would object, except Scott seems to kind of like the training -- he almost always comes back to the house looking sweaty and self-satisfied, and when Stiles asks, Scott just says it makes him feel like he's in control of his life.
So whatever -- Derek and Scott can go mess around in the woods all they want. Stiles is happy to sit on the porch (which is the only marginally not-creepy place on the Hale property, as far as he's concerned) and do his homework.
Today he can't get the lingering strains of music out of his head and it's making it impossible to concentrate. Where had the music come from? Stiles is no expert, but it hadn't sounded like a recording -- so that means there was someone here who knows how to play the violin. And it only stands to reason that where there's a violin player there will be a violin.
He's sneaking back into the house before he can stop himself, abandoning his backpack and textbooks on the porch.
It's not that Derek has ever expressly forbade Stiles from exploring the house. Mostly Derek just growls and looks scary, and that gets the message across. But Stiles has always firmly believed that it's easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. If he gets caught, he'll just say he was looking for the bathroom.
From what Stiles has read in the reports about the fire, he knows that the first floor sustained the most damage. The fire started in the basement, but since the foundations were made of stone, it spread upward pretty quickly. The only reason the house is still standing is because it was built around the solid structure of the central hearth, and since the fire worked its way from the outside in, it never reached the core. Legally, the house should probably have been condemned, but for some reason that didn't seem to be high on the Beacon Hills Housing Department's list of priorities.
Stiles has serious doubts about the structural integrity of the staircase, but he can't think of another way to get from the first floor to the second, so the stairs will have to do. It's times like these that he does kind of wish he had werewolf superpowers. Or at least a ladder.
The stairs hold (despite some ominous creaking) and Stiles peers curiously around the second floor. There's still evidence of the fire -- the walls are streaked with black and some of the floorboards are warped -- but most of the damage looks like it comes from age and disuse.
It's pretty obvious which parts of the upstairs are being occupied. There's a thick coat of dust over everything that doesn't lead to the front left side of the house, so that's where Stiles goes. It isn't until he's got his hand on the doorknob that he realizes his heart is pounding and his palms are sweating.
There's nothing to be scared of, he tells himself firmly. Except there is absolutely stuff to be scared of. For instance, werewolves.
This is a huge invasion of privacy, says the rational voice in Stiles's head. Derek is going to be so pissed if you open that door and --
Stiles opens the door. He's never been very good at listening to that voice.
He pokes his head inside, and is relieved when nothing immediately jumps out to claw off his face. The room is relatively clean and dust-free. The grey-white paint is cracked and peeling in places, but all the walls and floors are intact. There's a small mattress in the far corner, with a single pillow and a rumpled nest of blankets.
Other than that, there's no furniture -- just a couple cardboard boxes and a battered duffel bag that Stiles has seen Derek hauling to and from the laundromat. But what catches Stiles's attention is the black, violin-shaped, instrument case that's resting on top of the boxes.
He can't help making a small, self-congratulatory noise. Mystery solved!
Except for how this apparently means that Derek plays the violin and has been hiding it all this time. Why would Derek hide that? Okay, maybe the violin isn't quite as cool as the guitar or the drums or whatever, but it's pretty interesting, and Derek is obviously talented at it -- Stiles might not be a classical music expert but he knows that the piece he and Scott heard Derek playing was above the skills of a beginner. So Derek has been playing for a long time, and he must be passionate about it, because why else would he keep at it, or bother to bring his violin with him when he clearly hadn't brought regular people stuff like books or electronics or kitchen implements?
Stiles realizes that as he's been mulling this over he's wandered through the doorway and is now running his hands over the bumpy leather surface of the violin case. It's old and worn, but it looks pretty sturdy. He fingers the metal clasps and he's just about to unlatch them when he hears a creak behind him.
Before he has a chance to move, much less think about hiding, Derek is hauling Stiles up by the hood of his sweatshirt and dragging him to his feet.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Derek growls in Stiles's ear.
"I was just -- looking around -- " Stiles chokes. His hoodie is pulled so tight around his throat that he can barely breathe.
"Did I say you were allowed up here?" Derek continues, pulling the hood impossibly tighter.
Stiles shakes his head vigorously.
"I don't come into your house and put my hands all over your personal possessions, do I?" Derek seethes.
"Actually," Stiles gasps, "you kind of do --"
"Shut up." Derek gives Stiles a shake and then releases him.
Stiles sucks in a grateful gasp, his head spinning from the sudden influx of oxygen to his brain.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry," Stiles says as he massages his throat. "I didn't mean to invade your privacy or whatever -- it's a bad habit, just ask my dad, he'll tell you." He looks around. "Where's Scott?"
"In the creek," Derek says shortly.
"In the -- okay." Stiles doesn't want to know. He's sure he'll have to hear Scott complain about it later anyway. He changes tracks. "How come you never told me you play the violin?"
The question appears to catch Derek off guard.
"Why would I tell you?" he counters after a second, his ever-present scowl deepening into a frown.
"I don't know, man, because we're -- " Stiles gestures between them, trying to encompass whatever it is that their relationship is: not really friends, but not exactly enemies either, and something more than just acquaintances.
"You never asked," Derek says.
"That's -- okay, true," Stiles concedes. "But you don't exactly leave yourself open for personal questions, you know. If I had to pick a word to describe you, 'forthcoming' would not be one of them."
"Not all of us go around broadcasting our every thought to everyone who'll listen," Derek says.
"Yeah, well." Stiles shrugs. He can't really be insulted by something that's pretty much true.
Derek crosses his arms and glares at Stiles.
"You should leave now," he says.
"Aww, come on, things were just getting fun," Stiles whines. He's not sure what happened to his self-preservation instinct, but it seems to have taken an extended vacation. Besides, maybe Derek has already met his quota for inflicting pain today.
"What if I don't?"
"I will remove you."
"Ooh, scary," Stiles says, making jazz hands to properly express his terror. "Come on, you're not even going to play for me?"
"After you invited yourself into my personal space just so you could get ammunition on me? No. I'm not adding fuel to that fire."
"Wait -- what? Is that what you think I'm -- dude, no, that's not it at all!"
Derek raises one eyebrow and waits as Stiles sputters and flails in an attempt to explain.
"I'm not trying to get ammunition, I was just curious. I'm not going to make fun of you or mock you or anything. I won't even tell anyone if you don't want me to -- I can keep a secret, I swear -- I keep lots of secrets -- you wouldn't believe what Scott used to -- " Stiles cuts himself off quickly, because right, yes, secrets. "I just... I was surprised, that's all, and I'd like to see you play, because I think it's cool, and I'd... I'd like it. That's all."
Derek's face has remained stony and immobile through Stiles's stammering, but after a moment the corner of his mouth softens and he sighs quietly.
"Fine," he says. "Move."
He nudges Stiles out of the way with his shoulder and bends down to unlatch the violin case.
Stiles leans forward eagerly as Derek opens the case and picks up the violin inside.
It's smaller than Stiles expected, and it looks like better cared-for than any of Derek's other stuff. The chestnut-colored body gleams even in the falling afternoon light. Derek holds it gently, almost reverently, and tucks it under his chin with the confidence of someone who's done these same movements many times before.
He's got the bow in his other hand, and he hesitates for a second, hovering over the strings, before he begins to play.
From the first note, Stiles can tell that Derek is ridiculously talented. He makes it look completely natural, even though Stiles knows he'd never be able to contort his own fingers into the positions that Derek does.
Stiles can't hear a tune in the music -- not anything he could hum, anyway -- but it does have a kind of meandering direction to it. It's melancholy, slow, and deceptively simple. It makes something in Stiles's chest ache, like some part of him that he's tried to ignore is quietly pleading for attention. As Derek plays, Stiles starts to lose himself in the sounds, the way the music washes over him and through him, the way each note curls through his lungs.
When Derek stops, Stiles open his eyes -- he hadn't even remembered closing them -- and is surprised to realize that it's almost dark out.
They're both quiet for a long moment. The silence feels heavy in the room. For once, Stiles doesn't want to end it.
"Satisfied?" Derek asks eventually.
Stiles nods. He's not sure what to say. He doesn't really want to say anything.
He watches as Derek returns the violin the its case, fingers stroking gently over the wood one last time before he closes the lid.
"That was..." Stiles is at a loss for adjectives. 'Awesome' doesn't really cover it. 'Beautiful' isn't right either. He's not sure how to say "You made me feels things" without sounding like a bad romance novel.
"Thanks," he says eventually. He shrugs and grins, hoping that Derek will understand what he means anyway.
"You're welcome," Derek replies.
They stare at each other for a minute. The calming effect of the music begins to wear off, and Stiles feels his brain start to catch up with him again. What does he do now? Should he go in for a hug, or would that make it weird? That would probably make it weird.
"You should leave now," Derek says, sparing Stiles from having to make any decisions.
"Right, yes, okay. Leaving. Good." Stiles moves towards the door, acutely aware of Derek trailing behind him.
They descend to the first floor silently, and Stiles pauses at the front door.
"I wonder if Scott's dried out yet," Stiles muses. "I really ought to remember to put some towels in my car for days like these. I'm sure it's fun, pushing him into mud puddles and stuff -- I've done my fair share of it myself, I'll admit, and it's awfully satisfying -- but you're not the one who has to give him a ride home and then drive to school the next day in a car that smells like wet dog."
If the 'wet dog' comment bothers Derek he doesn't show it. In fact, there's an expression on his face that might almost be a smile.
"Get a truck and make him ride in the bed," he suggests.
Stiles laughs, partly at the mental image of Scott dripping forlornly in the bed of a truck as it winds through the forest, and partly because Derek just made a joke, and that's a behavior that Stiles wants to encourage.
"He might even do it if you told him to," Stiles agrees.
And that, right there, that's definitely a smile on Derek's face. Tiny, but still a smile.
"Go away now," Derek says, opening the front door unambiguously.
"Okay," Stiles agrees. He's content to leave now. He's pretty sure anymore social interaction today would be overkill. After all, it's best to take these things slowly.