Logically, Stiles had known that life wasn't going to stay the same forever. That’s not the nature of things. You got older, you moved on, and the world kept moving right along with you. And all right…all things being equal, it was probably good that life didn’t stay the same. Things had been a little rough for a while right after Scott got bitten, and by ‘things were a little rough,’ Stiles meant life had sucked like a two dollar hooker in a SoHo alley. Not that Stiles knew what two dollar hookers sucked like. Or regular hookers, for that matter.
The point was, he’d known things wouldn’t stay the same. Knowing it in an abstract Circle of Life kind of way, though, is quite a bit different from watching it actually happen.
It creeps up on him, really. He supposes he can be excused for not noticing it, what with the way his life has pretty much revolved around keeping a pack of wayward werewolves (and one were-lizard, which, what the fuck?) one step ahead of disaster after disaster. Not that any of them really notice or seem to care that Stiles has pretty much turned himself into goddamn Rupert Giles with nothing more than an Amazon.com account and his mad Googling skills.
He spends two days talking in a fake British accent just to see if any of them will pick up the reference, actually. And also, yes, he’s kind of hoping that they’ll start referring to him as their Watcher. He could totally start doing it himself, but cult-icon-inspired nicknames are no fun if you have to brand yourself with them. Scott just looks baffled and Lydia asks if he’s trying out for the school production of My Fair Lady. Then Derek growls at him a little more forcefully than usual when the two groups meet up for their weekly information exchange. As these meetings are already pretty fraught with tension and apparently no one is picking up on his awesome Buffy connection, he drops the accent.
Life goes on.
The Argents and their Hunter buddies circle in close on the trail of Werelizard-Jackson (which, seriously, what the actual fuck?) and Derek and Scott manage to come to some kind of accord that as long as the kanima is no longer killing random people, they can’t let the Hunters just execute Jackson. Stiles will never admit it out loud, but the three weeks or so of sheer, unadulterated terror Gerard Argent rains down on them actually turns out to be good for his best friend and the surly-ass Alpha. It gives them something to focus on besides their differences.
Derek actually manages to stop being such a raging dick to everyone and everything, reminding Stiles more of the guy he’d been before he became the Alpha. Which is to say, he’s just kind of a jerk to everyone and everything. Jerk Derek, Stiles can deal with. Jerk Derek, Stiles is ninety percent sure will not actually follow through on his many threats to rip out Stiles’ throat. In addition to Stiles being mostly sure that this Derek will not do them bodily harm (and will actually go out of his way to stop other people/Hunters/things from doing them harm), this Derek and Scott actually manage to work through most of their issues.
So, it’s not entirely surprising that by the time the situation with the Argents has been resolved--with Chris Argent proving once again that he’s got some kind of honor and understands that a truce is always preferable to all out war with a pack of werewolves (and one were-lizard. Which, seriously, what the actual fuck?)—they’re less two groups thrown together by circumstances, and more…well…a pack.
They all make their peace with one another. Sometimes, when the werewolves (and werelizard) are all collapsed together in a giant ball of exhaustion after one of Derek’s more sadistic drills, and he, Allison, and Lydia are laughing their asses off, Stiles even dares to think that they’re all friends.
Sometimes, if Stiles just happens to turn his head at just the right moment, he catches Derek watching them all with an expression that says maybe Stiles is right when he thinks they’re all more than friends.
Life goes on.
His dad sits him down at the start of senior year and hesitantly asks how Stiles feels about him dating again. Apparently, there’s a woman who works out of the county coroner’s office and she and his dad have really hit it off. And it…it hurts. Oh God, does it hurt. But Stiles is going to be going to college next year, and the thought of his dad all alone in their house hurts worse, so he sucks it up. Susan, as it turns out, is a really awesome woman who shares Stiles’ views on his dad’s diet and knows everything there is to know about Marvel comics.
It also helps that Susan is a widow herself, her first husband having been a victim of a drunk driver ten years ago. When she tells Stiles she doesn’t want to try and replace his mother and just hopes they can come to care for each other in their own right, he believes her. And by the time Christmas rolls around, he can honestly say that they do.
Life goes on.
Senior year passes in a blur of aptitude tests, meetings with the school counselor, college applications, and the slow realization that holy shit, he’s staring down the barrel of the rest of his life and he has no idea what he wants to do with it. His dad starts making noises about college visits and trying to casually leave brochures out on Stiles’ bed. Another pack tries to muscle in on their territory, and Stiles spends a tense few weeks trying once again to keep a bunch of wayward werewolves (and one were-lizard. Which, seriously, what the actual fuck?) one step ahead of disaster. So, he thinks he can be forgiven for not noticing a few things.
Things like Scott finally coming into his own as a functional member of society (not that Stiles ever thought there was anything wrong with Scott, per se, just…dude needed to grow up a little) and Derek’s de facto second-in-command. Things like his phone ringing less and less for pack business unless it's a major, lives-on-the-line emergency. Things like Derek getting surlier and surlier with him at the pack meetings he does attend.
It’s not until he hears Scott and Jackson talking about which schools they’ve applied to off of “Derek’s list” though, that Stiles finds himself catching a clue-by-four. Right in the face.
Because as it turns out, all the pack members who will be graduating this year got a list from Derek. A list of schools within an acceptable radius of Beacon Hills that the pack had all gotten together and decided on a couple months ago. Even Allison and Lydia got one, and everyone knows Lydia is going to Harvard, or Yale, or MIT or something. They’re human, so it’s not like they need to stay close…but they still got the list.
That. That hurts.
It hurts a lot.
Scott’s guilty flush, and the way none of the werewolves (not even Boyd, and he’s gotten closer to Boyd than anyone except Scott) will meet his eyes when he asks what’s going on just make it hurt worse.
And okay…he always knew Derek didn’t think of him as part of the pack the way Scott, Jackson, Isaac and the others are. Hell, he knew he didn’t even rate as high as Allison and Lydia. But he had honestly thought he rated somewhere. He’s their Watcher! He’s totally their Giles, just younger and less British.
Apparently he isn’t, though.
Life goes on.
He stops going to the pack meetings altogether. Scott, Isaac, and Boyd (and, more surprisingly, Jackson and Erica) make some halfhearted protests, but they still won’t really look him in the eye when they do it. He’ll never admit it, but it kind of guts him to get that kind of behavior from Scott. Allison and Lydia are more sincere in their protests, but it’s not like they have any say in how Derek runs the pack. Lydia rolls her eyes when he points that out, and mutters something savage-sounding about Derek under her breath. She’s always muttering savage-sounding things, though, so he doesn’t really pay it any mind.
He starts looking at all the brochures his dad has left scattered around the house, and for the first time he seriously considers not only leaving Beacon Hills, but leaving the state entirely. Most of his mother’s life insurance went to pay off hospital bills and some of the loan on the house, but his dad put part of it aside for Stiles to use for school. Added to the scholarships he’s eligible for as the child of a law enforcement officer, out-of-state schooling is a real possibility. It’s an option, for a lot of reasons…and yes, part of it is the idea of a clean break from the pack.
He gets it. He does. They don’t need him anymore, if they ever did. That’s fine. Stiles can deal with it. There’s no crying in baseball and all that jazz. That doesn’t necessarily mean the idea of putting a few hundred (or thousand) miles of distance between him and the people he’d thought were family isn’t appealing. He applies to colleges all over the United States. He gets in to most of them.
At least some people appreciate his mad Watcher skills…they’ve certainly had a good effect on his GPA.
The look of stunned pride and happiness on his dad’s face when he shoves the acceptance letter from Duke University across the dining room table and says he thinks that’s where he wants to go is almost worth the hurt behind the reasons he even applied. Almost.
Life goes on.
He tells Scott he’s going to school in North Carolina. The expression on his oldest friend’s face is…weird. For a moment, Scott looks like he’s got something really, really important to say. The moment passes, though, and Scott claps him on the shoulder (only somewhat awkwardly) and tells him he’s happy for him. Lydia mutters something even more savage sounding than usual under her breath, and he swears he hears Derek’s name, but then she and Allison are getting a little teary and hugging him tightly, and he lets it go in favor of enjoying having two gorgeous girls plastered against him. Hey, they’re his friends and he totally respects them—and the fact that they could both wipe the floor with him without breaking a sweat—but he’s still a guy.
Finals and graduation and summer seem to fly by, and before he knows it he’s dividing his earthly possessions into boxes to be stored, donated to charity, or taken with him. His dad rents a small UHaul, and the night before they start off on their long-ass drive across the country, he and Susan surprise Stiles with a going away party. He suspects it’s more Allison and Lydia’s doing than anyone else’s, but it’s still a nice gesture. Scott and his mom show up, of course, as well as a few guys from the Lacrosse team, and some of the officers from the station (who have basically gotten roped into being honorary aunts and uncles over the years).
The rest of the pack shows up, as well.
Jackson, Boyd, Isaac, Erica…they all show up.
There’s food, and music, and presents (really, really awesome presents), but the whole time, the pack’s just looking at him. Sticking as close as they possibly can to him and just watching him with expressions he can’t really put a name to. There’s something almost sad and desperate about them, like they can’t believe he’s actually leaving…but that can’t be right. Werewolves (and werelizards. Which, SERIOUSLY, what the actual FUCK?). Fuck if he’ll ever understand them.
He and his dad pile into their rented truck, with a few boxes of Stiles’ things in the back and his baby on a trailer behind them. They stretch the trip out over six days, taking their time and some of the more scenic routes. Stiles suspects that it’s finally really hitting his dad that Stiles is going to be on the other side of the country, and he’s trying to put it off as long as he can. It’s finally hitting Stiles that he’s going to be on the other side of the country, though, so he doesn’t call his dad on it.
He even suggests a couple of more scenic routes that stretch the trip out another day.
They get there, though. They take a tour of the campus, and get Stiles’ room assignment. They haul his things up to his dorm and meet his roommate—a quiet-looking boy with brown hair and glasses who introduces himself as AJ Reese. AJ offers to help them get the last of Stiles’ boxes, but he’s moving a little stiffly, and when he rolls off the bed, Stiles notices a strip of gauze peeking out from under the hem of his t-shirt. Stiles declines politely, and AJ looks both apologetic and relieved as he flops back down on his mattress.
Stiles supposes he can be forgiven for not immediately jumping to the correct conclusion. His dad starts crying in the parking lot, for God’s sake, and by the time he extricates himself from the man’s embrace, he’s pretty wrecked, too. AJ smiles understandingly when he makes his way back to their room, eyes red and puffy, and makes up for not being able to help them haul boxes by knowing every single takeout joint that delivers to the campus. They decide to order pizza for lunch and get to know each other a little better…and within a couple of hours, Stiles knows they’re going to be friends.
AJ is smart, and hilarious, and doesn’t even blink when Stiles’ trains of thought jump tracks and he starts yammering about a new topic. There’s something about him that kind of reminds Stiles of Scott—he’s got that same kind of sweet, boy-next-door vibe that Scott always managed to pull off.
Stiles is forced to revise his opinion later that night, with the light of the full moon peeking in through the blinds on the windows. There’s something about AJ that reminds him of Scott, all right…but it’s definitely not the boy-next-door vibe.
He’s actually kind of proud of how little his hands are shaking as he hits Derek’s number on his speed dial, staring in horror as his roommate writhes and spasms on the floor, crying out in terror and confusion. Shit. Shit, shit, shit, AJ had said he got mauled by a neighborhood dog last week, and why the hell hadn’t that thrown up about a hundred red flags for Stiles? His heart is pounding a mile a minute as the call connects and starts ringing, praying to anyone who might be listening that Derek picks up. He’s not exactly sure what he’s expecting Derek to be able to do, but he knows Derek’s his best chance of this not ending in bloodshed.
His bloodshed, more specifically.
He’s just met AJ. He’s nothing to AJ…there’s no connection, no lifelong bond of friendship like there was with Scott. Hell, there was a lifelong bond of friendship with Scott and Scott still tried to kill him. There’s wolfsbane in a little pouch under his mattress—he’s not stupid, after all—but he doesn’t want to kill AJ. Not unless there’s no other choice.
The call goes to voicemail.
Stiles stares at his phone incredulously as the bland voice asks him to leave a message at the tone. What, does Derek think he’d be calling just to chat?
“You asshole!” he shouts into the phone, just as AJ wrenches himself to his knees and snarls. “You couldn’t fucking tell me there are fucking werewolves in North Carolina?! I swear to God, Derek, if I get eaten I am haunting your ass!”
He hits the end call button and hurls his phone across the room with an angry shout. All the times Derek has harped on them to keep their damn phones on, to always be in touch, and the one time, the one time Stiles needs to talk to him…
AJ crouches low on the floor, glowing amber eyes trained right on Stiles as his lips curl back from his fangs.
Oh. Oh, yeah.
He swallows heavily, trying to remember everything that ever even remotely worked with Scott in those first few days, everything Derek taught him, Allison, and Lydia about not antagonizing an out-of-control wolf. AJ snarls again, muscles bunching as though he’s about to leap.
“Oh, fuck my life,” Stiles sighs.