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On his fourth day living in Beacon Hills, Stiles wakes up when his dad raps on his bedroom door. “Stiles! Get out of bed. You’re going to school!”

So that’s where they are in the push-and-pull of their father-son relationship today. His dad has reached the I Am Not Fucking Around stage again. A few more days and he’ll be right back at the I Am Not Going To Push You stage. Which Stiles likes a lot more than the I Can’t Bear To Even Look At You one that’s defined most of the last eight months, actually.

Everything hurts when he levers himself out of bed, but Stiles is used to that. It always takes a while to get moving again after everything’s seized up overnight. He doesn’t bother shower. Just drags some fresh clothes out of one of his unpacked boxes and pulls them on. His red hoodie is last. He pulls the hood up even though he’s still in the house, and thinks that no, no he can’t go to school today.

He heads downstairs.

When was the last time he was in the kitchen? Yesterday? The day before? His dad has made good progress unpacking. It takes Stiles three attempts to figure out where the glasses live now.

He pours himself an orange juice while his dad digs out the cereal.

“I thought I’d drive you to school,” his dad says. “Come to administration with you and get things explained.”

He waves vaguely.

“I can drive myself.” He has a Jeep now. He hasn’t really checked it out, but it was part of his dad’s bribery attempt to move them here to Beacon Hills.

“You’re not driving that thing until I get it checked out properly,” his dad tells him.

It’s just an excuse, and they both know it. If his dad doesn’t literally escort him into the school, there’s no way he’s going.

“Dad,” Stiles says, his voice wavering.

“No.” John Stilinski’s face is set. “You need to do this, Stiles. And the longer you wait, the harder it will get.”

Stiles stares down at his cereal so his dad doesn’t see his tears. “It’s gonna suck, though.”

His dad reaches out and clasps a hand around Stiles’s, making his spoon clatter against the table. “Come on, kid. Have you forgotten how tough you are?”

No, Stiles thinks, but have you forgotten how much of a freak I am?

 

***

 

The woman at the school office smiles too brightly when she sees Stiles, and a fraction too late. Stiles hunches over on the plastic chair and runs his tongue along the inside of his lower lip. There’s a line of scar tissue there that feels as thick as rope. Stiles is introduced to the principal, the vice-principal, and the guidance counselor. They all assure him and his dad of the school’s anti-bullying policy, and of taking into consideration the chunk of time Stiles missed at his last school, and of how BHHS is all about community and inclusiveness and a hundred other things that won’t count for shit once Stiles is in an actual classroom. Or worse, a locker room.

His dad gives him a hug and promises that he can call him if he needs anything.

And Stiles wants to tell him that yeah, he needs to not be here, but instead he nods and watches his dad, somehow unfamiliar to him in that tan uniform instead of dark blue, heading for the exit.

Stiles’s first class is Chemistry.

He sidles into the classroom and hands the teacher his pass for being late.

“Mr…” the teacher says, and frowns at the name. “Mr. Stilinski. Welcome to Beacon Hills. This is a classroom, not a crack house. Take your hood off.”

Stiles’s blood turns to ice.

“Holy shit,” one of the kids says in the silence that follows. “What happened to his face?”

 

***

 

What happened is that Detective John Stilinski was on a case. Some cartel or whatever. Stiles didn’t know the details, however much he badgered his dad. But these guys were scary, okay? Scary enough that everyone working the case, and their families, got a list of security tips. Check your car before you start it. Vary your day-to-day routine. Take a different route home. Make sure nobody is following you. Don’t answer your door unless you know who it is.

Don’t answer your door unless you know who it is.

Don’t—

When the doorbell rang, his dad wasn’t home but Stiles was expecting a parcel delivery.

When it was over, they dragged him onto the balcony of the third floor apartment where he lived and tipped him over the edge.

 

***

 

Stiles leaves the school at a run, tears blurring his vision, and panic threatening to choke him, to smother him. He doesn’t have a car, and he doesn’t even know how to get to the house from here, or to the Sheriff’s Station. He finds himself on a field behind the school, and he just needs to get away, and there are trees. A forest to lose himself in, and that’s what he needs right now. He needs to be alone.

He stumbles toward the trees, his hood pulled forward over his face.

 

***

 

Okay.

Stupid.

Stiles is pretty sure he’s lost. It’s only been a few hours, so his dad won’t be missing him yet, unless the school has called, but there aren’t any missed calls on his phone, and he still has a signal, so he’s not totally lost, right? His phone has GPS. Stiles would just rather find his own way out of the woods than have his dad have to organize a retrieval. Like today is enough of a disaster already, without adding a search and rescue to it.

He’s not going back to school.

He sits down on a moss-covered log, and shivers in the cool. He fiddles with his phone, catching glimpses of his face in the silver cover as he turns it over in his hands. He hasn’t really looked that much at his face since it happened. Just a quick glimpse every now and then. It shocks him, every time, how horrible it is. Not that he was ever a fucking supermodel or anything—ha!—but now he looks like he’s the origin story of a supervillian or something.

And every time he sees the scars, he feels it all over again. Every cut. Skin and muscle forced to split. The blade punching through his cheek. The strength behind it.

His heart starts beating faster, and he drops his phone onto the ground before he’s tempted to look.

He leans over, taking deep breaths and trying to remember to hold them.

It’s quiet here. Peaceful.

He doesn’t want to go back. He wants to stay here, and just…just stop. Just cease. Just close his eyes and never have to open them again.

Stiles has spent the last eight months in therapy. He knows what passive suicidal ideation is. He’s just never been brave enough to ask his therapists why they think it’s such a bad idea. Like, what would it matter if he just stopped? If everything just stopped? And then he thinks of the guilt that’s slowly been crushing his dad for the last eight months, and knows he could never leave his dad. Not like that.

He takes another deep breath and holds it.

Feels his building panic recede at last.

Okay.

Okay, so he needs to call his dad, probably.

He reaches down for his phone, except it’s not there. It’s not there. He drops to his hands and knees and scrabbles through the leaf litter looking for it. He dropped it, he didn’t throw it, but it’s not fucking there.

No. He’s not going to panic about this. He just needs to calm down, and take another look, because—

A twig breaks behind him, as sharp and dry as the snapping of a bone. Stiles spins around, landing on his ass on the damp ground.

The wolf steps forward.

 

***

 

“No,” Stiles tells the universe. “No, because I just fucking decided that I wasn’t going to kill myself, so you don’t get to do this!”

The wolf growls at him, thin lips lifting to reveal massive fangs.

Fuck.

 

***

 

You don’t run from wolves. Or is that bears? Stiles wishes he could remember. He also wishes he wasn’t on his ass, so he could climb a tree or something. But he’s pretty sure that any sudden movement will result in his immediate painful death.

He draws his legs up very slowly, and curls his arms around them. Buries his face in his knees, and squeezes his eyes shut.

Maybe if he gives it a few minutes, the wolf will get bored and go away?

A huff of hot breath against his shaking hands.

Shit.

It’s right there.

 

***

 

“We’re sending your dad a message, kid,” one of the guys said when Stiles begged them to stop.

It’s not the message they intended to send, he guesses. He wasn’t supposed to survive the drop to the ground. But it was still a message. Stiles sees it every single time his dad looks at him.

So much fucking guilt.

It’s unbearable, for both of them. Sometimes, at night, Stiles pretends to be asleep when his dad comes into his room and sits on his bed and strokes his hair like he’s a little kid. He listens to his dad’s breath hitch, and it takes everything he has not to cry as well.

Sometimes he wakes screaming from his nightmares, and his dad has to hold him down, his voice breaking every time he promises over and over again that he’s safe now. He’s safe. It’s over.

But it’s never really over, is it? Not when Stiles still has to shower with a towel over the bathroom mirror.

Not when every single day someone looks at him twice, or inhales sharply, or says, right in the middle of Chemistry, “Holy shit. What happened to his face?”

 

***

 

When the wolf clamps its jaws firmly around Stiles’s wrist, tugging his arm free, Stiles is pretty sure it’s some sort of prelude to attack. Except all that happens is the wolf tugs gently, and growls softly when Stiles doesn’t move.

“What?” Stiles asks it, voice shaky with tears. “You want me to get up?”

The wolf tugs his wrist again.

Stiles climbs awkwardly to his feet.

The wolf doesn’t release its grip. Just tugs again, and pulls Stiles into a stumbling walk.

 

***

 

“You’re not going to eat me, are you?” Stiles asks some time later.

The wolf makes a chuffing sound, and releases his wrist at last. Wolf drool. Stiles wipes it on his hoodie.

“Where are we going?” Stiles asks, peering around the woods. It looks exactly the same as the last mile did, but Stiles is a city kid. Not enough of a city kid to think that what’s happening here is in any way normal, but hey, he’ll take it. The wolf doesn’t want to tear his throat out, and that’s fine with Stiles.

The wolf trots forward a few feet, and then stops and turns to look at Stiles. It tilts it head on an angle.

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles tells it, a smile spreading over his face despite himself. “I’m coming.”

 

***

 

They come at last to a chain link fence, and walk along it until they reach a gate. There’s a faded sign on the gate that says HALE WOLF SANCTUARY.

“You brought me to a wolf sanctuary?” Stiles asks the wolf. “Seriously, dude?”

The wolf growls at him, then lifts it head and howls.

The sound sends shivers down Stiles’s spine. It’s so loud. It feels like it echoes, even though there’s nothing for the sound to really bounce off. Just trees. But it’s incredible, and more than a little terrifying.

Moments later, there’s a woman running toward them from the other side of the fence. She’s dark-haired, maybe in her twenties, and she’s wearing a khaki shirt with the same logo as the sign.

“You got out again?” she demands, unchaining the gate, and Stiles realizes that she’s talking to the wolf. “Mom is going to be pissed!”

The wolf huffs.

The girl flushes as she notices Stiles, like she suddenly remembers how weird it is to be talking to a wolf. Like Stiles is in any position to judge. Her gaze travels over his face, but there’s no sudden start of pity or revulsion.

“Hi,” she says, pushing the gate open. “I’m Laura. Laura Hale.”

“Stiles Stilinski,” he says. “I, um, got lost in the woods, and I think your wolf rescued me?”

Laura knocks the wolf with her knee as it sidles past her. “Yeah, he does that.”

The wolf growls and nips the air beside her.

“Troublemaker,” Laura tells it, and then smiles at Stiles. “You want to come up to the house? Make a phone call?”

Stiles toys with the strings on his hoodie nervously. “Yeah. Please.”

The wolf walks with them all the way to the house.

 

***

 

His dad is not happy that Stiles ran away from school.

“I said if you needed me, you call me.”

He’s also not happy about the cost of replacing Stiles’s lost phone, but promises they’ll go and get a new one on the weekend. Stiles doesn’t complain. Who has he got to call anyway?

He is happy to meet Talia Hale though, Laura’s mom, especially when she tells him they’re looking for volunteers to help out at the sanctuary. Stiles finds himself volunteered almost immediately, but he doesn’t mind that much. Wolves are cool, right? And he’d kind of like to see his wolf again. And Laura tells him that next time he comes over he can meet the rest of the family. Some of them are at work in town now, and some are at school, and her Uncle Peter and her brother Derek are, vaguely, around. Stiles figures that means they’re doing whatever it is that needs doing in a wolf sanctuary every day.

Stiles isn’t that great with meeting new people, but Laura and Talia seem nice, and it will be cool to come out here all the time and learn more about wolves and stuff. So yeah, he figures he can handle meeting the rest of the Hales.

He promises to come back the next afternoon for a proper tour of the place.

He and his dad drive back into town. Stiles waits in the car while his dad picks up pizza for an early dinner, and tugs his hood forward. It feels too warm and almost restrictive after his hours in the woods, feeling the breeze tickle the back of his neck.

Maybe he won’t wear it all the time. Like, just around the house and stuff.

“So a wolf saved you?” his dad asks later when they’re finishing the pizza.

Stiles shoves a piece of pepperoni in his mouth. “That’s weird, right? I guess they’re like domesticated or something? Can you even domesticate a wolf?”

“Hell if I know,” his dad says, smiling, and Stiles realizes this might be the first conversation they’ve had in months that isn’t about his injuries or his recovery or his future.

“Did we unpack the DVDs yet?” he asks.

“No, but I think I know what box they’re in,” his dad says.

“Cool. We should watch something tonight.”

His dad’s smile grows, and Stiles thinks he might be blinking back tears. “Sounds great, kiddo.”

***

 

The next morning when Stiles opens the front door he sees his phone lying on the porch. The case is slightly indented where fangs have gripped it a little too tightly, and the screen is covered in slobber, but it works.

Stiles laughs, because that’s just crazy.

Turns out he could use a little crazy in his life.