Scott had always known there was something… off about Stiles. Something wrong, not with him, but about him. It’s little things that make it up, things which individually could be explained away.
The way he plays up his klutziness could be him trying to come off as cute. And some people are just interested in crime without there being anything sinister about their interest. The fact that he’s what non-nerds think nerds are, unpopular, knows almost every sci-fi show of the last fifty years of by heart, collects comics, plays Magic: the Gathering and D&D and WoW, knows an astonishing about almost every science, straight A grades, well, maybe some nerds really are like that. After all, as Stiles himself has said on numerous occasions, stereotypes have got to come from somewhere. The fact that he’s strong and fast and keeps that hidden might have a perfectly normal explanation as well, even if Scott can’t think of one.
The thing that clinched it though, for Scott at least, was the look on Stiles’ face if you caught him unawares. It takes him a second, only a second but that’s enough, to slide his mask back into place. There’s that moment where the person wearing Stiles’ face isn’t affable and dorky, but cold and blank and eagle eyed. It’s horrible.
Scott ignores it though. He goes out of his way, in fact, to help Stiles keep up the façade, because whatever’s going on, Stiles is his best friend. They’ve been there for each other through thick and thin, never mind that things don’t upset Stiles the way they should. Stiles is his friend and if he wants to keep certain things to himself, well, that’s his business. (It helps Stiles’ cover no end that Scott doesn’t actually want to know the truth).
Scott isn’t the only one to notice. Early on, when he’s only been a wolf for a few days, Derek asks him if his friend is alright. He’s clearly not asking about his health. Scott explains (as best he can without ever saying out loud that there is something off about Stiles) that that’s just how his friend is. Derek seems to accept his explanation but Scott can’t but notice how distrustful he is of Stiles, no matter how many times Stiles saves his life.
Being a wolf adds another item to Scott’s mental list of ‘stuff Stiles is getting wrong’. (Once upon a time it had been his list of ‘stuff that was wrong about Stiles’ but over time it had morphed, because covering for his friend was as much second nature to him as helping to hide Scott’s condition was to Stiles.) Sometimes Stiles smelled of other people’s blood. Not often, and not a lot. Probably Scott would have put it down to Stiles carefully crafted mediocre Lacrosse performance, but it ties in too neatly to another item on the list.
Stiles is a geek. He puts a lot of time and effort into being a geek and also into appearing weak. And yet he isn’t bullied. Has never been bullied. The worst he gets is the odd half-hearted insult or weak shove from Jackson, and that might be Jackson trying to be friendly for all Scott knows. He’s never seen him be actually nice to anyone at least, not even Danny. Stiles should be bullied, that’s the natural order of things, but he isn’t. It worries Scott, in a low level kind of way, especially in combination with the blood.
He was planning on things continuing the way they have been for the last 16 years, on him and Stiles reaching old age without ever having discussed it, still silently covering for one another. Then Peter Hale returns from the dead.
Peter likes making trouble, even as a supposed good guy, he likes stirring things up and sitting back to watch the results. Of course he can’t resist a puzzle like Stiles. Scott’s just glad Peter speaks to him first, because he has some horrible ideas as to what might happen if Peter confronted Stiles, ideas he doesn’t have to think too hard about, so long as none of them come true.
“Is he a killer, do you think?” Peter asks him, when they’re alone one day. Scott had come, reluctantly, to consult his bestiary.
“Who?” Scott asks, though he knows. He can see it in the self-satisfied smirk on Peter’s face.
“Your little human. The one Derek’s so scared of. Is he a killer, or just a small time thug? Whatever it is, it’s happening more and more. Haven’t you noticed the smell of blood?”
Of death too, but Scott won’t admit that, not even in his own mind.
He growls at Peter, warns him to stay away from Stiles, and when he only gets a laugh in response, he does the only thing he can think of. He hits Peter as hard as can, right in the smirk, and takes off, heading to Stiles’ house.
He lets himself in through the window. Normally he makes a point of using the door, not wanting to see the weird blankness of Stiles’ face when he thinks he’s alone, but this time he wants to see it. Needs to see it, to confirm to himself that it’s there. It is, though Stiles is getting quicker at putting on his mask. Scott feels a sort of obscure pride at that, and wonders if he’s got some kind of Stockholm syndrome.
“Peter’s on to you,” he says. Stiles gives him what Scott mentally calls his plausibly deniability face and Scott sighs, running a hand through his hair. “He asked me just now if you were a killer and I don’t know what to do about it. I can’t head him off like I did Derek.”
Stiles face goes blankemptydead and he says, “There’s no evidence, not that a human could find, and I don’t think a werewolf could either, though that’s harder to be sure of. Thank you, for warning me.”
When Scott doesn’t move, have fear half worry rooting him to the spot, Stiles snarls at him, “Anything else?”
He’s scared, Scott realises, which comes as something of a surprise. He wasn’t even sure Stiles felt fear, for all that he’s heard his heart race and smelled his adrenaline levels spike. His emotions always seem that one step removed from normal, more muted and so much more complex.
“I’ve always known,” Scott says, because he hates that Stiles is scared of him. “You’re good, but you’re not perfect. I’ve been trying to help you for years, though I don’t know if it did any good. I’m not going to run away just because you growl at me.”
Stiles laughs then, and it’s the laugh he knows, loud and uncontrolled and infectious, and most of all a relief, because it means something of the Stiles he knows was real.
“How are you even real?” Stiles asks him, and since he has no answer Scott keeps silent. “I really thought I had you fooled, but no. Turns out you’ve been covering for me all along. And now you’re standing here talking to me, instead of running like any sane person.”
“What are you?”
“There isn’t a neat answer to that. Psychopath’s as good a label as any, though not strictly accurate.”
“And the Stiles I know, the one you pretend to be, he’s what… Just a mask?”
Stiles blushes and ducked his head. “An ideal, more like. He’s the person I want to be, the person I try to be. Decent, kind, bit of a clown but he always comes through for his friends. He’s also something of a work in progress.”
“He’s a masterpiece,” Scott tells him, because he honestly couldn’t wish for a better friend than pretend Stiles.
Stiles grins, and he’s not pretending now, Scott can tell, but the smile is close enough to the one he knows to be reassuring. “Oh Scott, if I were gay and you were gay and you weren’t in love with someone else, I would kiss you right now. Although I may be gay; not really sure about that one, I’ll have to get back to you.”
Scott sits on the bed because there’s so much he wants to ask. He doesn’t though, he just says, “tell me.”
Stiles scrubs his hands through his hair, the way he does when he’s really stressed or worried, and says, “I’m not a killer.”
“That’s good,” Scott says, because it is, because he’d been almost sure Stiles was and for once it’s nice to be wrong.
“I’ve come close sometimes, thought about it, but I’ve never taken that step. Sometimes though… I need an outlet. It’s getting easier, being Stiles. I think, I hope, that one day I’ll be able to do it full time. But for now, it leaves the… darkness, all bottled up inside with nowhere to go. So sometimes I go somewhere, a town over or maybe two, and wait for trouble to find me.” He quirks his lips in a sardonic smile. “It generally does.”
Scott doesn’t like the thought of his friend in some back alley brawl, and he knows too that it’s wrong, sick, that that’s the first thing he thinks of, Stiles’ safety. But for so long Stiles and his mom have been all he’d had, and the fact that he’s got Allison now, that doesn’t change things.
“You can be yourself, around me,” he says, rather than deal with his complex whirl of emotions. “You don’t have to pretend all the time, not if you don’t want to.”
“Thank you. That… it means a lot.”
There’s a moment’s silence, not as awkward as Scott thinks it ought to be, and then he says, “Peter say’s Derek’s scared of you.”
“Terrified,” Stiles agrees, and that the smile Scott knows but this time it’s got more… teeth. “He thinks I’m like Kate. Which I suppose I sort of am, although I like to think I’m a lot less rapey. I’m not going to hurt him, not so long as he doesn’t hurt us, but it’s hardly surprising the guys got a complex about blondes with secrets.”
“You’re not blond.”
Stiles waves a hand, dismissing such unimportant details. “I’m an honorary blond,” he says firmly. “I’m way too klutzy to be a brunette.”
“Except for the bit where you’re not, you just don’t want people to know how fast your reactions are,” Scott points out.
“True. Also I’m pretty sure that counts as being sexist. Derek clearly thinks of me as another pretty blond with secrets though, which I’m totally okay with.”
“You’re not going to hurt him are you?” Scott asks, because he’s almost certain who would win a fight between Derek and Stiles, but there’s that blank merciless look in Stiles’ eyes when no one’s looking that niggles at that 1%.
“Not unless he attacks our pack,” Stiles says firmly, and it warms something inside Scott to hear Stiles refer to them like that.
It had thrown him, in a way he’d tried to hide, when he’d refused to be part of Derek’s pack, because his inner wolf was sure that pack was what it needed. It had taken a lot of work to convince himself, convince his inner instincts that he didn’t need the Alpha. He had Allison, who he loved despite her being a walking bag of neurosis and he had Stiles who was the best friend he would hope for, even if he wasn’t quite real. He had a pack of his own, and even if it was only the three of them, it meant everything to him.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “People who attack our pack, you can fuck them up as much as you like.”
Stiles’ smile was wide and merciless, lit by the flickering blue of his computer screen.