Maya Harper was twenty five years old when someone broke into her apartment and set her on fire.
Stiles peers at the big sections of charred floor, the long streaks of ash leading up to the husk of what was once a young woman, slumped in front of her front door.
“She couldn’t get out,” says a voice from behind Stiles, and he turns his head to see Danny, his partner, also looking down at the body. “There are fingernail marks on the door,” Danny continues. “Like she was trying to open it but couldn’t.”
Stiles takes a closer look at the door and indeed sees scratches in the paint around the handle. “Well, crap. Poor kid.”
“Kid?” Danny huffs. “She’s not that much younger than you, Stiles.” He lays a hand on Stiles’ shoulder. “C’mon. Let forensics do their job. Time to do ours.”
The facts, as far as Stiles can make out from interviewing neighbours and searching the apartment, are these: Maya was asleep in her bed when an unknown baddie broke into her apartment in the early hours of the morning, dragged her out of bed, drizzled gasoline all over her, and lit her up. Maya’s screams woke up her neighbours, who ran to see what was wrong. By then it was too late—the mysterious baddie was gone without a trace and Maya was a charred, very dead, body.
Pretty straightforward, except it really isn’t. Stiles has a lot of questions and no leads to speak of. Just a dead body, an empty can of gasoline, and a weird ashy substance sprinkled in a straight line just inside the front door.
Stiles does not have a good feeling about this.
Back at the office, Stiles browses through what the police database has on Maya, while Danny checks out her social media accounts. Her record is clean, as far as Stiles can see—no arrests or even a parking ticket. She’d lived in Ohio her whole life, until she got a job at a newspaper here in NYC and moved. By all accounts, a normal, nice woman. So why would someone want to break in and burn her to death?
“Hey, check this out,” Danny says from his desk. “Maya joined a Facebook group a couple of months ago, when she moved to New York.”
“Yeah?” Stiles says, eyes still on his computer.
"The group’s called The Pack,” Danny continues. “And—“ He cuts off abruptly.
Stiles looks up. “What?”
“And they think they’re werewolves,” Danny says, sounding slightly strangled.
Stiles feels his eyebrow shoot up. “Werewolves.”
“I know,” Danny snorts. “Listen to this—“Full moon at Laura’s place this month. Whoever keeps killing squirrels and leaving them on her balcony—STOP.”” He glances up at Stiles. “These people are insane!”
Stiles sighs. “Guess we better bring them in and find out about all this. Maybe they know something.”
The first one they talk to is a guy around Stiles’s age, named Scott. Scott has soft brown hair and a crooked jaw and big brown eyes that he uses to blink up at Stiles earnestly.
“Looking at Maya’s Facebook profile, we found she was part of your Facebook group…The Pack.” Stiles looks at Scott intently. “Why that name?”
“It means family,” Scott says. “A group of werewolves, all bonded together under an Alpha.”
“And you consider yourself a werewolf,” Stiles says.
“Oh, yeah,” Scott says, matter-of-factly.
“So what do—” Stiles pauses, gathers himself, and pushes on, “—werewolves do?”
“It’s awesome,” Scott says. “On full moons, we spend the night out in the middle of nature, like, feeling the rejuvenating force of the moon and, like, connecting with our instincts and stuff.”
“Sounds great,” Stiles says, and for once he has nothing to add.
“It’s a gift,” the next guy says, and Stiles would be totally focused on how freaking good-looking he is if he wasn’t nursing a growing headache.
“A gift,” Stiles repeats.
The man—Derek, according to his file—nods. “Strength. Power. Connection. A gift.”
Why are all the pretty ones weird, Stiles despairs.
“Oh, I’m not a werewolf too,” the next one says. She swishes her long red hair back and fixes him with an imperious look. “I’m a banshee.”
“And what can a banshee do, Ms…”
“Martin,” the woman says. “Lydia Martin. And I can sense death.”
“Really,” Stiles says.
“I can feel it when someone’s about to die,” she says. “I felt a presence once and my dog died the next day.”
Stiles’ headache isn’t getting any better.
“They’re insane,” Danny laughs when Stiles finally gives up and heads into the break room for coffee. “What a bunch of weirdos. Werewolves, banshees…this is incredible.”
“The worst thing is,” Stiles says, staring down at the steam lazily rising from his mug, “they actually believe it. They aren’t joking around or roleplaying or whatever—they actually, genuinely believe they’re werewolves and banshees.”
Danny laughs even harder. “Yeah, as if all that supernatural crap was real. This isn’t Twilight."
“Yeah,” Stiles says, and downs his coffee in a few searing gulps. He sets the now empty mug down with a clink. “I’m going back in.”
“Good luck!” Danny calls after him.
This time, he’s talking to Laura, a tall woman who is, according to her file, Derek’s older sister. Stiles can see the resemblance—they both have really intense eyebrows.
“What do you want,” Laura snaps before Stiles can say anything. She looks pissed off. “You’ve kept me and my friends here for ages. Why?”
Stiles considers his options for a moment. Laura doesn’t look like someone who’ll take any crap, and odds are she’ll spout the same mystical werewolf nonsense the others had. That line of questioning has been exhausted—maybe it’s time for something different.
He sits down across from Laura, putting her file down on the table between them.
“Maya Harper,” Stile says. “She’s your friend?”
Laura frowns. “Yeah. Why?”
“Someone broke into her apartment last night and set her on fire,” Stiles says bluntly, and then leans back to watch Laura’s reaction.
Curiously, it’s a small reaction, contained, but no less genuine for it. Laura’s eyes widen, her mouth falling open a bit. And then her face fills with pain and she shuts her eyes, bowing her head. “Who did it?”
“We don’t know,” Stiles says, not unkindly. “That’s what we’re trying to find out.”
Laura lifts her head. “Is that why you called all of us in? You think we did it?” Her full eyebrows draw down.
“We don’t know,” Stiles repeats. “But what we do know is that Maya moved to New York three months ago and right away joined your Facebook group. A group,” he leans forward, “made up of werewolves, apparently.”
“Yeah,” Laura says, challenging. “So what?”
“Really?” Stiles says, trying not to sound too disbelieving. “Werewolves?”
Laura’s frown is turning into a genuinely pissed-off look. “Listen, asshole. Just because you think it’s weird doesn’t mean you get to knock it, alright? We’re werewolves, get over it.”
Stiles raises his hands, conciliatory, but doesn’t say anything. The room falls into silence for a moment.
“Is she really dead?” Laura says softly.
“And it was a fire?”
Several emotions flit across Laura’s face, too muddled and quick for Stiles to make out.
“Do you know why anyone would do this?” Stiles asks. “Did she have any enemies, people with grudges?”
Laura shakes her head. “I only knew her for a few months. But she was nice. Sweet.”
Stiles watches her for a few more seconds before coming to a decision. “Alright,” he says, standing up. “Thank you for your help.”
Laura stands up. “We can go?”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, leading the way out of the interrogation room. “But we may need to ask you to come in again if there are any more questions.”
Down the hall, Laura’s friends and brother are waiting on a bench. Danny stands over them, his arms crossed.
“Have a great day,” Stiles says as Laura leads the whole bunch of them out, and then mentally kicks himself. “Wow, Stilinksi,” he mutters. “Smooth. Your friend’s dead—have a great day! Incredible.” He runs a hand through his hair and makes his way back to his desk, sitting down with a groan.
Danny perches on the corner of Stiles’ desk. “Stop pouting.”
“Kinda hard,” Stiles complains, “When we have a dead woman and our only lead turned out to be a bunch of weirdo Twilight fans. Innocent weirdo Twilight fans. Innocent being the key word here! Now we have nothing to go on!”
“Buck up,” Danny—who is immune to Stiles’ whining and thus has zero sympathy—says. “Go do your intense research thing while I check up on the coroner.”
Stiles wants to whine more but he lets Danny go without a word, instead turning on his computer and stretching out his fingers.
Time to do, as Danny puts it, his intense research thing.
Stiles spends some time just trying to find someone who could have a motive for murdering Maya—at this point, he’ll take any suspects at all. But he comes up with nothing: both her parents, happily married for thirty years, live in Ohio. Maya was an only child, so no possible sibling rivalries. Stiles checks out her LinkedIn profile and makes a note to visit the newspaper where she worked and ask around—maybe there was tension with colleagues?
Maya doesn’t seem to have any friends here in NYC, apart from The Pack. Stiles scrolls through her interactions on the Facebook group’s page; it’s all the same weirdo werewolf nonsense as the others had posted: questions about the full moon, a request for advice on getting fleas out of her fur. Then Stiles’ eyes fall on the first message she’d posted on the Facebook page, a few weeks before she’d moved to NYC: a request to meet with the Alpha.
Stiles frowns. That’s weird, right? Even for a bunch of werewolves, that is. Or maybe it isn’t? He wouldn’t know. He’s not a supernatural creature.
Stiles smirks to himself. Good one, Stilinski. But joking aside, he’d definitely need to follow up on the Pack—there might be something there.
His computer dings with a new email. It’s Danny, with details from the coroner. Stiles scrolls through the reports, his brow furrowing.
There isn’t all that much new information, to Stiles’ frustration. There had been no trace of the murderer left in the apartment—he or she must have been wearing gloves. And had probably done something like this before—committing a crime without leaving any traces is a lot harder than people think, and beginners always screw up.
Stiles scrolls down to the next page, reaching out to grab a pencil and bring it to his mouth.
The lab is still analysing the mysterious ash found by the door, but so far it seems to be ash from wood. Stiles stares at the picture they took in the apartment, taking in the ruler-straight line of dark powder. That was no accident, he thinks, gnawing on his pencil. There was no way it could have come from the fire burning Maya up. The killer must have sprinkled the ash out themself.
Stiles bites down harder on his pencil.
But why? Why sprinkle the ash like that? Why put it in front of the door? Was it supposed to act as a barrier of some sort? Was it symbolic? Did he or she do it before killing Maya or after? So many questions…
The pencil cracks.
Danny finds him still at his desk a few hours later, scowling ferociously at his computer.
“No luck, then?” Danny says sympathetically.
Stiles shakes his head, still glaring at the computer. His eyes are smarting, his back is aching, and he has absolutely nil to show for a day’s work.
“Come on,” Danny sighs. “It’s late, it’s been a long day. Go home.”
Stiles doesn’t want to go home. Home is a depressing reminder of his total lack of love life. But Danny will judge him if he doesn’t get up and he doesn’t want that. So he shuts down his computer, packs up his stuff, and slouches out the door.
“And get some sleep!” Danny calls after him. “You look like a raccoon and I refuse to be seen with you like that!”
Home for Stiles is a small apartment he’s lived in since he moved out of his dad’s house. It’s kind of tiny and really messy, because Stiles is very bad at cleaning up. And he has no one to clean for.
The whole relationship issue is a sore point to Stiles. He’s had a couple, but they always peter out after a few months. Stiles can be…hard to deal with, what with the fidgeting, his rapid-fire brain, and his intense devotion to his job. Stiles loves doing the police thing, but it’s not exactly conducive to long-lasting, healthy relationships. Not a lot of downtime, is the problem.
And if Stiles thinks about it anymore, he’s going to get really depressed. So he forces the topic from his mind, flicks on the overhead light, and heads straight for the bathroom, shedding his clothes and bag on the way.
After a long, hot shower, he settles at his kitchen table with some leftover takeout he’s heated up in the microwave and his laptop.
Thing is, Stiles isn’t really good at the being-alone-with-just-his-thoughts thing. So, shoveling noodles into his mouth, he goes to The Pack’s Facebook page and explores. Reading their posts leads to him checking out their Facebook profiles—all private, but he looks through what he can. Which leads to him staring at Derek’s profile picture because good lord, was that an attractive face. Good shoulders, too.
Which leads to him idly googling Derek and Laura Hale. Which leads to…oh crap.
Stiles grabs the nearest thing he can reach—his fork—and starts chewing on it nervously. Because it turns out, years and years ago, someone broke into the Hale house and set the whole thing on fire. The house burned down completely, taking all who were inside with it. Eleven people dead in total. Which is seriously awful, Jesus.
And now Laura’s reaction to Maya’s death is making a lot more sense. In fact, everything makes a lot more sense: Laura and Derek must have retreated into the whole werewolf thing as a coping mechanism after most of their family was murdered!
Stiles feels bad for laughing at it now. Though it doesn’t explain why Scott and Lydia are also doing the supernatural roleplay thing.
No longer in a researching mood, Stiles turns off his laptop and gets out his Star Wars DVD set. Time for a little science fiction to finish off the day.
Stiles bursts into work the next day, trying not to flail too much for fear of spilling coffee out of the two Starbucks cups he’s holding. He skids to a halt in front of Danny sitting at his desk, who slowly raises his eyes from his laptop to give Stiles a judgmental glare.
“Morning, partner!” Stiles chirps, and thrusts a coffee cup at Danny, who takes it after a second and places it on his desk.
“Thanks,” Danny says dryly. “You’re chipper today.”
“Yup!” Stiles says, plopping down into his desk chair and letting his bag hit the ground.
“And what brought this on?” Danny raises an eyebrow and finally condescends to pick up his coffee and take a sip.
“I dunno,” Stiles shrugs. “New day and all that, I guess.” He slurps up some coffee, and Danny rolls his eyes and goes back to ignoring him.
Which is just fine by Stiles, because he has things to think about.
Last night, when he’d finally dragged himself to bed, he’d lain there for a while and thought. Thought about what they had so far, about what he’d learned that day, about what he needed to do next. Then he’d make a mental list of tasks to do the next day—people to check out, threads to pick up.
That usually helps when he gets like that, when his brain is chugging away at a hundred miles an hour and he can’t get it to stop long enough for him to get some sleep. That’s when he stops, organizes his thoughts, and makes a list of next steps he’ll accomplish, which successfully derails his brain.
This time was no different, and Stiles had fallen asleep within the next ten minutes.
So now he’s pumped full of coffee, with a full night’s sleep, and the whole of the police database at his fingertips. Things don’t seem so hopeless now. Stiles forgets sometimes, so bogged down in paperwork and bodies, that what he really loves is a challenge, a puzzle to pick at until it unravels and answers are revealed.
Yeah. Stiles is going to kick this day’s butt.
“Hey,” Danny says.
Stiles startles and barely manages to avoid sloshing coffee over himself. “What?”
Danny rolls his eyes. “Calm down. Seriously, you’re being twitchier than normal.” He gestures at his computer screen. “I got some new info. And I figured it was time to plan out our strategy.”
“Good idea,” Stiles nods. “What have you got?”
“Forensics sent the results of those tests on the weird ash thing,” Danny says. “Apparently, it’s made from mountain ash.”
Stiles raises an eyebrow.
“It’s a type of tree,” Danny supplies. “Also known as rowan. It’s common to Northern California.” He taps at his computer screen. “I did a bit of googling. There’s a lot of folklore and myths around it, weird stuff. Apparently it’s used as a type of ward against evil.”
Stiles frowns. “You think the killer put it in the apartment?”
Danny nods slowly. “Yeah. I think they’re also into the whole supernatural thing.”
“But why would the killer use something that wards against evil?” Stiles asks. “I mean, they’re doing all the evil in this case! Do they think Maya is the evil? Why?”
Danny groans. “Always more questions, and never any answers. Why do I do this job.”
“For the great pay and opportunities to meet new people,” Stiles says, and dodges Danny’s slap with a laugh. “And for getting to spend time with me, your charming and wonderful partner!”
“Well, O charming and wonderful partner, get a move on and tell me what you’ve found, before I decide to cut my losses and give up for the day,” Danny says.
Stiles sobers up quickly after that, because telling Danny what he’s found means telling him about the Hale fire.
“Damn,” Danny says with a sigh. “That’s…damn.”
“Yup,” Stiles says. “So, I’m thinking we need to visit the Hales again. And check out Maya’s workplace to see if there’s any suspects we can drum up there, so—“
“Stiles,” Danny says, cutting Stiles off mid-ramble. “Why would we visit the Hales?”
“Because—because they had a fire! And Maya was set on fire!” Stile flails around a bit. “The two events are obviously connected! Can’t you see?”
Danny shakes his head. “Stiles, that house fire happened almost two decades ago. And they’ve only known Maya for a couple of months. Why on earth would there be any connection between the two?”
Stiles opens and closes his mouth a couple of times, feeling thrown. It had all seemed so clear to him. He hadn’t been expecting Danny to argue.
“Maybe there is something—which I highly doubt—but it’s not reason enough to call them in and force them to relive that trauma,” Danny says reasonably. “If we don’t find any leads, we’ll investigate this. But for now, we’re shelving it.”
“You’re right,” Stiles says at last. “Sorry. My brain was doing a thing again and I got carried away.”
Danny smiles. “It’s alright. So you were saying about Maya’s workplace?”
The visit to Maya’s workplace is pretty quick—they ask around, spend some time talking to the receptionist, Maya’s boss, her co-workers, even the janitor. And they all say the same thing: Maya was lovely and polite and friendly; everyone got along with her, and no, no one had any idea why anyone would want to hurt her, let alone violently murder her.
Danny and Stiles leave after an hour or so and begin the trip back to the station.
“I don’t understand,” Stiles pouts, banging his head against the window a few times. “She was an angel, according to everyone who knew her! No enemies to speak of, no possible rivals or people who hated her!”
“It is weird,” Danny agrees, keeping his eyes on the road as he drives steadily. “There doesn’t seem to be any possible motivation.”
“Ugh, I hate this.” Stiles can feel his previous optimism slipping away by the second.
“Y’know,” Danny says, starting to smirk. “I distinctly remember a certain member of the police force going on and on about how much he loves a challenge…”
“I’m too tired to enjoy challenges,” Stiles grumbles.
Danny laughs at him, because Danny is an evil person who enjoys Stiles’ misery. Stiles ignores him the rest of the way back.
They’re just turning into the station parking lot when Stiles’ and Danny’s phones both start ringing at the same time. Stiles picks his up, listens, grunts, and hangs up.
“What is it?” Danny asks. He’d left the car running in the middle of the lot while Stiles talked.
“A body was discovered,” Stiles says.
“Why are they giving it to us?”
“Because the victim was found burned to death in his apartment, with a circle of ash around his body,” Stiles says bluntly.
“Oh,” Danny says, and promptly makes a squealing U-turn and speeds off.
“Oh, it was horrible,” quavers the hunched-over old lady who had introduced herself as Mrs. Brown and lived in the apartment next to Michael, the victim. “I was just coming back from picking up some groceries and as soon as the elevator opened I could smell…” She trails off and lets out a sob.
“Take your time,” Danny soothes, and Stiles nods uselessly next to him.
Mrs. Brown takes a deep breath and gathers herself up again. “I could smell burning. And I went to see what was wrong and saw all the smoke coming out of—the door—“ She takes another gasping breath. “And I opened it—it wasn’t locked—and I saw…” Her hand flies to her mouth and she lets out a wheezing moan.
“And you called 911 right away?” Danny prompts gently.
Mrs. Brown nods jerkily. “Yes, I didn’t know what else to do, and—and Michael wasn’t moving…”
“Thank you,” Danny says. “You did the right thing.”
“No one else was around?” Stiles cuts in. “No one else heard?”
“I was out,” Mrs. Brown says, “And—and the Coopers, who live across from Michael, are away for the week. And Lisa—her apartment is right next to me—she’s at work.”
“Ok,” Danny says, jotting that down in his notebook. “Thank you for your help, Mrs. Brown. We’ll contact you if we need any more information from you. My partner can help you pick up your things.” He flashes her a smile.
Stiles sends a glare in Danny’s direction, but crouches down accordingly and starts gathering up the groceries Mrs. Brown had dropped earlier, when she’d discovered the body.
Danny leaves Stiles to it, heading into Michael’s apartment to consult with forensics.
Stiles bends forward to retrieve a cabbage that had rolled into the corner.
“Such a tragedy,” Mrs. Brown murmurs, her voice thick with tears. “Why would anyone do such a thing?”
Stiles piles a loaf of bread on top of the cabbage in his arms, and stands up. “That’s what we’re here to find out, ma’am.”
“I just don’t understand,” Mrs. Brown continues, unlocking her door and leading Stiles into her kitchen. “Michael was such a sweet man. Always ready to help me around the apartment if I needed it. Always polite. How could someone do this?”
Stiles frowns. “Did he ever have any fights? Arguments? Hostile encounters?”
Mrs. Brown shakes her head. “No, no! He wasn’t like that at all.”
“Huh.” Stiles puts down the groceries on the counter, still frowning. He looks at Mrs. Brown. “Thank you once again for your help.”
“Of course,” Mrs. Brown says.
Stiles heads into Michael’s apartment. The body is lying in the middle of the living room, curled up and blackened beyond all recognition. The scent of soot and burned flesh hangs heavily in the air.
Danny is crouching over the body, brow furrowed.
“What’s up?” Stiles asks, squatting down next to him.
“Look,” Danny says, pointing. “The circle of powder around the body.”
Stiles looks. There is indeed a thin line of dark powder sprinkled in a neat, perfect circle, enclosing the body within its confines. “What about it?”
“Look closer,” Danny says. “What looks weird about it?”
Stiles frowns but tries again. The powder looks like the same used in Maya’s apartment—it must be mountain ash as well. The circle is kind of scarily perfect, and the body is lying in the centre of the circle, a little bit away from the ash, which is weird because—
“The circle!” Stiles says. “It’s completely undisturbed!”
“Exactly,” Danny nods. “The killer must have put that circle there before they killed Michael, because they were gone by the time Mrs. Brown found him—”
“—And Michael was burning to death,” Stiles says excitedly. “He would have been thrashing around. He should have messed up the powder circle—”
“—But he didn’t,” Danny finishes. “So what does that tell us?”
They fall into silence, staring down at the body. Danny shifts over to let someone from forensics pass by.
“Nothing,” Stiles says at last. “It tells us nothing.”
“Yeah,” Danny sighs, after a moment. “Dammit.”
“Come on, partner,” Stiles says, putting an arm around Danny’s shoulder. “Let’s go fulfill all the stereotypes about cops and get a donut.”
Two donuts later, Stiles and Danny are back in the office and slumped at their computers, Stiles checking out Michael on the police database, and Danny scrolling through his social media.
“Lived in New York his entire life,” Stiles calls to Danny.
“No Twitter, but he’s got Facebook,” Danny returns.
“Got a charge for public indecency once,” Stiles say. “Was found wandering completely naked in Central Park early one morning.”
“A lot of friends on Facebook,” Danny shoots back, “But—whoa.”
“What is it?”
When Danny doesn’t reply, Stiles pops his head out from behind his computer screen. “Seriously, what is it?”
Danny is staring at his computer screen, frowning slightly. “He’s part of a Facebook group called ‘Supernaturals of New York’.”
“The group is locked,” Danny continues. “But he made a reference to the full moon on his timeline, so…I assume we have another werewolf on our hands. And…” He looks pained. “He’s friends with the Hales, Scott McCall, and Lydia Martin.”
Stiles takes a moment to process it. Then he lets out a laugh. “No connection, Stiles!” he says, mimicking Danny’s tone. “No need to check this lead out! HA!”
“This might just be a coincidence,” Danny says, his tone disgruntled.
“Uh-huh,” Stiles says, “and my grandmother is a fish. Come on, Danny! Two people burned to death, with weird mystical ash sprinkled everywhere, and both of them think they’re supernatural beings. Doesn’t sound like a coincidence to me!”
“Well, it’s not like we have any other leads,” Danny shrugs. “Looks like we’re going to visit the Hales after all.”
Derek and Laura live in an apartment on the fourth floor of a building near the edge of downtown. Danny and Stiles don’t talk until they’re in the rickety elevator, traveling very slowly up.
“How are we going to play this?” Stiles asks at last, as the elevator creaks past the second floor.
“I have no idea,” Danny replies, “but I figured, just let me do the talking.”
Stiles would protest, but he and Danny both know that Stiles is very good at rambling, and not so good at tact. Or politeness. So he nods and follows Danny out once the doors slide open on the fourth floor.
It’s Laura who answers the door, looking taken aback once she sees who it is. “Is something wrong?”
“We have some questions to ask you,” Danny says, his tone brisk. “May we come in?”
Laura hesitates, and for a second Stiles doesn’t think she’ll let them in, but she glances at Stiles’ police badge and finally stands aside.
The inside of the apartment is bright, with comfortable-looking furniture, bookshelves lining the walls, and lots of open space. Laura gestures to a squashy sofa and sits down herself on a massive armchair.
“What is it?” she asks as Stiles and Danny perch on the sofa.
“Do you kn—“ Stiles starts, and stops when Danny shoots him a look.
“There’s been a development in the case, Ms. Hale” Danny says.
“Laura,” Laura corrects. “And what do you mean, a development?”
“Earlier today,” Danny starts, “There was—”
“Laura?” comes a voice from the hallway, and Stiles glances up to see Derek Hale in all his gorgeous glory, his eyebrows scrunched down in a look of confusion. “What are they doing here?”
“Ah, Mr. Hale,” Danny says smoothly. “Sit down. You should hear this too.”
Derek glances at his sister, who shrugs minutely. After a moment, he walks over and slowly sits on the arm of Laura’s chair.
“As I was saying,” Danny says. “Earlier today, someone else was found murdered in the same fashion as Maya.”
“What?” Laura gasps, her normally confident voice shaken. Next to her, Derek presses his lips together.
“The reason why we’re—“ Danny continues, but is cut off by Laura.
“Who was it?” she demands.
Stiles and Danny exchange a look. “Michael Cooper,” Stiles says at last.
Laura’s eyes go wide and Derek reaches out to her, settling a hand on her shoulder.
“He was found in his apartment by his neighbour. By that time, it was too late,” Stiles says.
“Burned?” Derek’s face has turned sickly white underneath his stubble.
“Yes,” Danny says simply.
Laura lets out a quiet, shuddering breath then draws in another, reaching up to cover Derek’s hand on her shoulder with her own hand. “So why are you telling us?”
“Because Maya thought she was a supernatural creature, and she was burned to death. And because Michael thought he was a supernatural creature and was burned to death,” Stiles says. “The only thing they have in common apart from that? They were both connected to you guys online.”
Laura is very still.
“You must know something,” Danny says. “We’re trying to figure this out, and you’re the only link between both of them.”
Laura’s face is still set, but her eyes flick down for just a second, and Stiles knows they’ve caught her.
“And…” Stiles says, leaning forward. “I can’t help but wonder if this could possibly have any connection with that fire all those years ago? You never did find who did it, right?”
And just like that, Laura completely closes off.
Stiles can feel Danny’s glare burning into the side of his head, can almost hear Danny’s voice yelling at him about tact and timing. But he ignores it and focuses his gaze straight at Laura.
“That has nothing to do with this,” Laura states, her voice flat.
“Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t,” Stiles says. “But I know you’re hiding something. And I’m going to find out what it is.”
“There’s nothing to hide,” Laura says, enunciating each word. “We’re werewolves. That’s all.”
“Come on!” Stiles says exasperatedly. “We all know werewolves aren’t really real. So give up the act already, and tell us the truth.”
Laura’s eyes are stone, her back ramrod straight. “We may not be able to transform or have superpowers,” she says. “But we are werewolves, inside.”
Stiles stares coolly back.
“So you have nothing that can help us?” Danny says at last.
“No,” Laura and Derek say at the same time.
“Alright,” Danny says, standing up. “Thank you for your time. If you do think of anything, you know where to find us.”
Stiles remains seated, still staring down Laura.
“Stiles,” Danny says, warning in his tone.
“Really good work in there,” Danny says once they’re down the hall and waiting for the elevator to creak its way up to their floor. “Seriously, great job with the tact thing and keeping your cool and—“
“Shut up,” Stiles says, but it’s without any heat. He stabs at the down button for the elevator.
“They’re just your ordinary wack jobs,” Danny says. “I told you there was nothing.”
“I don’t believe it,” Stiles says, as the elevator finally arrives with a ding. “They’re hiding something. I know it.”
He ignores Danny’s extravagant sigh and remains silent all the way back to the station.
It’s almost 10 that night when Stiles, all alone in his apartment after Danny told him to go home and chill out a bit, decides he will not, in fact, chill out a bit.
He’s had this weird little niggle at the back of his head, ever since they visited the Hales. A part of his brain waving a little flag and yelling, “This is important! Don’t forget this!” Because the thing is, Stiles knows he’s right about the Hales, knows they’re hiding something. He knows it down to his bones. All his instincts are yelling at him that whatever it is, it’s really important and he should get on it immediately.
So he gives in, throws on a hoodie, and gets into his car.
He’s going to see someone else from the Pack. Not the Hales—that ship has sailed and they’re obviously not going to give anything up. Stiles is going to see Scott McCall—nice, friendly Scott McCall, with that great smile and soft demeanour. Scott will tell him things, Stiles is sure.
Stiles is also sure that Danny is going to kill him, for investigating on his own and not telling anyone and a thousand other things that Danny will inevitably lecture him about. But Stiles doesn’t care right now, because he has a fake werewolf to interview and a mystery to figure out.
Scott’s house, when Stiles arrives, is pitch black and the curtains are all drawn. Stiles knocks several times on the door, and waits. Nothing. He knocks again. Still nothing. He frowns and presses his ear against the door, listening as hard as he can.
There’s no sound from inside, no footsteps approaching the door. Stiles is about to give up, when he hears a muffled noise. He freezes and holds his breath.
A dull thud.
Stiles contemplates what to do for a split second. Then he reaches for his gun and very quietly tries the doorknob.
It’s locked. Stiles hisses out a curse and moves around the side of the house, scanning the walls. There—his eye catches on a window that’s not quite fully closed. Stiles puts his gun away and slowly raises the window. He hoists himself in but leaves the window open, in case he needs a getaway.
Oh God. Danny’s going to kill him.
There’s another thud somewhere inside the house, louder this time. Stiles pushes aside all panicking about Danny and moves out of the dark room he’s in and into the hall, as sneakily as he knows how.
There’s nothing in the hall and nothing in the first two rooms Stiles peeks into. Then he walks into the living room.
It takes Stiles just a second to take in the scene: Scott McCall on the floor, lying in the centre of a ring of powder; the dark liquid staining his clothes and the empty gasoline bottle lying nearby; the figure leaning over Scott. Stiles catches a glimpse of long, shapely legs and carefully curled long hair, and then he’s moving forward, gun out, barking at the figure to turn around with her hands up—
And the figure’s back stiffens and she grabs the gasoline bottle and runs away and Stiles moves to chase after her, but Scott lets out a moan through the rag stuffed into his mouth and Stiles stops. Because there was one detail he missed about the scene. A pretty important detail as it turns out.
Scott’s eyes are glowing. And when Stiles hurries over and removes the gag, Scott’s mouth is full of fangs. The shape of his face is distorted, hair growing thickly out of the sides. He looks animalistic....monstrous.
“So I guess werewolves really are real, huh,” Stiles says weakly.
Scott squeezes his eyes shut, breathes deeply, and ever so slowly the hair and bulging forehead melt away, leaving the open, human face Stiles remembers. When Scott opens his eyes, they’re plain brown again, not the glowing gold of before.
“Thanks,” Scott says finally, his voice rough.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. He sits back on his haunches, vaguely noticing that he’s messed up the ash circle, whole sections of it completely dusted away.
A tinny ringtone breaks the silence. Stiles startles, looking around for the source.
“Over—over there,” Scott says, still catching his breath. He jerks his head over to a couch by the wall.
Stiles snags the cellphone. “It’s Laura. You want me to answer?”
Scott nods weakly, lying back on the floor with a groan.
As soon as Stiles picks up, Laura starts talking, words tumbling over each other. “Oh, thank God, I was worried Kate had gotten to you, I was just checking up—“
“Laura,” Stiles interrupts.
Laura immediately falls silent.
“It’s Stiles? The detective?” Stiles says awkwardly. “Listen…maybe you should get over here? Um, something happened and—”
There’s an immediate click and a dial tone starts. Stiles looks at the phone in disgust. “She hung up on me!”
“She does that,” Scott rasps from the floor. “She’s just worried.”
When Laura arrives, she heads straight for Scott, completely ignoring Stiles. She settles down next to Scott, who’s moved to the sofa, and starts to smooth his hair away from his face, talking too quietly for Stiles to hear.
Derek is right behind her, but he instead moves over to where Stiles is leaning against the wall.
“Hey,” Derek says. His face looks more nonthreatening than Stiles remembers.
Stiles doesn’t say anything.
“Thanks,” Derek says at last. “You saved his life.”
“It was an accident,” Stiles says. “I wasn’t supposed to come here.”
“Lucky for him you did,” Derek says.
For some reason, Stiles can’t deal with the softness in Derek’s voice, the fear and gratitude in the lines by his eyes. So he looks away and searches wildly for something else to say. “So…werewolves are real. You were lying.”
“Well, technically, we didn’t,” Derek says, and Stiles can just make out what might be a tinge of humour in his voice.
“So you’re a werewolf,” Stiles says, ignoring that. “And Scott’s a werewolf. And Laura. And that girl, Lydia…she’s really a banshee?”
“Yes,” Derek says. He’s looking over at his sister and Scott, now hugging tightly.
“This is insane,” Stiles observes. He lets out a slightly hysterical-sounding laugh.
“You alright?” Derek is looking at him again. “You’re shaking.”
“Am I?” Stiles says vaguely.
Laura and Scott are done hugging now, and they’re both heading over to where Stiles and Derek are standing. Laura has an intent look on her face that isn’t making Stiles feel any better.
“Stiles,” she says. “Thank you.”
“Right,” Stiles says.
“And I’m sorry we had to lie to you,” she goes on. “It was necessary. We didn’t know if we could trust you. But the truth has come out and I suppose you have questions. I’m willing to answer them now.”
Stiles does have questions, lots of them. It’s just hard to think of them through the thrumming in his ears.
“I have to go,” he says, and his voice sounds higher-pitched than normal.
“Stiles?” Laura looks confused.
“I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” Stiles says, all in a rush, and he dashes to the front door. The last thing he hears before he shuts the door is Derek’s voice calling, “Stiles, wait—“