There's a house by the rails that I know
In a valley on its own
With trains and bones and birds in the yard
where the wild nettles grow.
Growing over the door
Growing up through the walls
Growing up, growing over
A treasure to be told.
So wave goodbye to living alone
I think we've found our home
Lets paint these walls and pull up the weeds
and cast our fevers in stone.
Growing out of the drugs
Growing up through the night
Growing up, growing old
With treasure to be told...
— Patrick Wolf, "The Railway House"
"We're going," he says to Scott. Every word leaves white plumes in the air, and Stiles pulls his red hoodie closer around him for a moment. Beacon Hills gets more rain than snow in the winter — one of the glories of being in the Pacific Northwest — but he kind of wonders if it's cold enough for some of the water on the roads to have iced over.
Scott rolls his eyes, but there's an amused curl to his lip as they pile into the Jeep. They tune out the engine as they drive, laughing and talking in a half shout, while trying to imagine what it must have been like to stumble upon a girl's legs and nothing else. Outside the Jeep, the city rolls by, gradually changing from the old, spread out, thinly-forested neighborhoods to a small downtown area to highway. The moon hangs low over wooded plains, and more and more trees appear, until at last Stiles parks at one of the far entrances to the Preserve.
"Do we even have a flashlight? How we do know where we're supposed to look?"
"I didn't think of that. We've got our phones, right? We can use those."
"Glad to know you've planned this with your usual attention to detail."
Stiles just huffs out a chuckle, scaling a small hill by crouching and pulling at underbrush. Here's hoping none of it's poison oak. So he's impulsive. He's never gotten himself or Scott into any kind of actual trouble. Just weird shenanigans, and the adults in their lives have always been too bemusedly entertained to really crack down. That's not exactly a bad record, in his opinion.
"You're the one always bitching about how nothing ever happens."
Scott doesn't answer. Instead, they creep sideways along the knoll. Stiles can hear voices in the distance, catch the faint, broken glow of flashlights sweeping through trees. They do a pretty good job of skulking away from the search party —
Until a German Shepherd barks, and Scott goes down in a pile of leaves and failure. Stiles ducks behind a tree, trying to quiet his breathing. Should he intervene?
"No, no, I think I recognize this fine, upstanding young ruffian," his father's voice says, dry and amused. "My son wouldn't happen to be with you, now would he, Scott?"
"N-no, sir," Scott stammers. "He gave me a ride to the Preserve so I could get some distance running in where I wouldn't run into Jackson, but he's gone now."
"Distance running? And what do you mean gone?"
"One last run before lacrosse practice starts again tomorrow. I'm making first line this year," Scott adds, and Stiles can't help the wave of fond exasperation. It's nice that Scott has a dream, at least, even if it's stupidly optimistic and never going to happen. (He tries not to examine his feelings for Lydia in that light.)
"And Stiles isn't joining you? Pretty sure he's attached to the idea of actually playing."
"He said it was really, really, words-I-can't-repeat cold, and not even lacrosse is worth being out in it." There's a pause, and Dad must give him some sort of Son Did You Really Try That? look, because Scott adds, "He said it was ass-fuck a monkey cold, and if I wanted first line that badly, I could freeze my balls off alone."
That startles a laugh out of Dad, and Stiles almost cheers. It's one hundred percent false, because Stiles would never leave Scott to freeze his testicles off alone, but it's a surprisingly good lie from Scott "Uhhhhh It Was Like This When I Found It?" McCall. Usually Scott's a shit liar, so he must have been thinking it up during their walk. It must be nice to be able to look before leaping.
Dad must not completely buy it, because he calls into the woods, "Stiles? You out there?"
Stiles doesn't answer, and after a moment, there's a muffled thud. Dad has clapped Scott on the shoulder, probably. "Alright. Well, since Stiles apparently isn't here, you can wait by my squad car. I'll have one of the rookies drop you home."
"Thanks, Sheriff," Scott says.
And then Stiles is alone in the woods. Well, no point wasting his freedom.
Okay, alone in the scary, cold woods at midnight, and quite possibly about to stumble across half a girl's dead body. Stiles begins to think that making his way back to the Jeep would not have been a waste of opportunity. In fact, it'd have been a fucking glorious idea. Why didn't he do that?
So he turns around. They'd come in on the Rowan Trail, which shouldn't be more than a few dozen yards back west.
Only Stiles goes several dozen yards before hearing the sluggish burbling of Hale Creek. Which is not in the direction of Rowan Trail. He's completely turned around and managed to go northeast instead of due west. How did he do that? He's got a fucking compass on his phone!
Stiles growls his favorite self-directed insults under his breath. He almost cannot believe he did this, but not only is he shrugging his way through moon-silvered bushes, it is one hundred percent believable that he would do something this stupid. Not because he's stupid — he's not; he knows he's not — but he just doesn't fucking think things through. And being out in the cold at midnight with very little idea of how to get back to his car is definitely —
What the hell is that thumping?
Stiles turns around very slowly. And then he flings himself to the ground as what looks like an entire herd of deer (do deer have herds?) all race past him. He covers his head in his arms, hoping like hell he doesn't get caught in some really pissed deer meat grinder stampede.
Only when they're gone, he realizes they weren't pissed about anything. They had been terrified. Because the forest has gone completely silent around him now save for one sound: a low, rumbling snarl. Stiles peers around, tries to find the source. Which is when he spots the face and blank eyes of a dead girl.
As he flails back, he finds himself tripping. He rolls gracelessly down a hill he hadn't even realized was behind him, picking up at least five bruises on the way, jeez. He reaches the bottom with a thump that knocks all thought from his head and breath from his lungs for a minute. He takes some time to pull himself together, then fights his way to his feet, looking around for anything else that might send insane fauna his way.
He doesn't look long before seeing a shape in the darkness. It's vaguely dog-like, but it's bigger than any dog Stiles has ever seen. Its eyes are red (is it some sort of albino?) but they also seem to glow, which must be a trick of the moon.
"Uh, nice doggie?' Stiles draws himself up to his full height, but tries to avoid looking it in the eyes again.
He's trying to focus on a plant close to the dog's feet when the dog lunges forward. Stiles flails backwards, but it's on him far, far too quickly to dodge. Something burns in his side, on his rib-cage, spreading and sharp. He hears flesh tear as he staggers away from the animal, puts a hand to the spot and finds it wet.
He's bleeding. The stupid thing bit him and now he's bleeding. And it's not just little oozes, either; he's fucking gushing.
There's another noise off in the distance, twigs snapping, shrubs moving. The dog's head snaps up. It peels its lips back to reveal red-stained teeth, then bounds off in the direction of the new noise.
At least it didn't want him for more than a temporary chew toy. Stiles presses a hand to the bite, applying as much pressure as he can, and stumbles off. He careens through the woods on unsteady legs, bruises twinging with each breath, each step. He reaches the edge of a highway — the same one that will lead to his parking spot — and gasps in relief.
The bite's an on-again, off-again throb in his side. It's a needle-sharp sudden agony, when it throbs, but radiates heat even when it isn't spiking. He's starting to feel feverish. So feverish that he almost wants to slump down to the cold blacktop and rest forever.
He trips and nearly goes sprawling into the path of an oncoming SUV. The car swerves, blares its horn, and he windmills his arms and manages to jerk himself back. He looks around, tilting his head, and then finally trudges in the direction of the Jeep.
Neither his dad's car nor the squad car is in the drive when he gets home, so Stiles lets himself in and heads straight upstairs.
He shucks everything and takes as cold a shower he can stand, making sure to get lots of cold water on the bite. Now that he's something like clean, he can see it really wasn't so bad. The bruises from his trip down the hill are the really pale yellow that means they'll go away soon, and the bite's bleeding has slowed down to a respectable ooze, rather than horror movie gouts of red stuff. So he digs through the first aid kit in his bathroom, slathers on rubbing alcohol and Neosporin, and slaps a big white bandage on it.
He chugs water straight from the tap, pours a glass to sit next to his bed, and is in snooze land just moments after his head hits the pillow.
The following morning is absolute shit. He takes his Adderall the minute he wakes up, then zombie-walks to the shower. He rips his bandage off and tosses it in the trash the moment he's naked, before he even slides the curtain over or turns on the spray. The bite doesn't look as deep as it had last night. He pokes at it, frowning, before peering at it in the mirror. Maybe he'd just been freaking out, and perceived it as worse than it was?
He usually runs his mornings pretty tight, keeps himself on track with a nine-alarm system, but it feels almost impossible to get his head on straight. He snoozes his "get out of the shower" alarm twice before he finally obeys it, then groans when he has to carefully towel off the bite. There are purple and yellow bruises around the impress of each tooth, and the entire area is swollen, though thankfully not red. He swabs on more Neosporin and covers it with another bandage.
And then he realizes he didn't lay out his clothes last night and probably has no idea where his keys are. Okay, jeans, a black tee, a plaid overshirt, a red hoodie. Layers are good. Socks. Tennis shoes. He has to duck back into his room for his phone twice, then snaps his laptop shut and sighs. Is he forgetting something? His backpack is in his jeep already.
He searches his room as well as the entire downstairs for his car keys before he finally finds them in the freezer. By the time he's ready to leave, he's running ten minutes later than he'd like (though not actually late), and only has time to grab a mango Naked out of the fridge rather than eat anything.
Neither the squad car nor Dad's actual car is in the drive, he notices as he locks the door. Has Dad not come home yet, or did Dad get home after him and leave before he woke up?
And why the hell can't he focus on the road? He doesn't even have the post-Adderall clenched-jaw jitters, just regular nervous energy ADHD jitters.
"Maybe it was a wolf," Scott says, later that morning.
They're standing outside the school — no use looking eager — and the sun is warm on the top of Stiles's head. Stiles takes a deep breath in through his mouth, and would swear he can taste the fog the sun has burned away.
Stiles shakes his head. "Nah, can't be."
"I thought I heard a wolf howling when I was waiting by the squad car."
"You didn't. There haven't been wolves in California for like sixty years."
Scott just shrugs and says, "So let me see it."
Stiles lifts his tee and shows Scott the huge white bandage. Scott bends down, peering without trying to touch, and then shakes his head. "You think it was one of the K-9's?"
"I'm kind of betting on Roscoe," Stiles lies. "He's the biggest of the K-9's and he's never liked me."
"You're childish with him."
"Because Deputy Novak wants to be able to take Roscoe into schools! Dog's got to get used to kid behavior. Method to my madness, man."
It wasn't Roscoe. Not even the Beacon County Sheriff's Office would keep around an overly aggressive K-9 officer, so Roscoe's behavioral issues aren't "frighten deer and bite unidentified humans without direct instruction from his handler" terrible. Not to mention, given Roscoe's size and temperament, Novak pretty much never takes him off the lead during field work. Stiles is actually kind of convinced that Roscoe lives in his crate when he and Novak aren't on duty.
But Stiles says none of that. He just follows Scott into the school. They stop briefly by their lockers, and Stiles fights not to flinch at the way sound bounces off the hallway, reverberating endlessly from metal lockers and along tiled floors. Everything seems like three times louder than usual, but it must be the hypersensitivity fucking with him. Maybe he just got used to quiet over winter break.
But English is no quieter than the halls. He can hear the buzzing of cellphones, the subtle tap-tap-tap of people trying to stealth text. A phone rings, harsh and shrill as if it went off next to his ear, and he jumps in his seat, but nobody pulls it out of their bag. Is he hearing a phone in another room? He tries to filter out the rest of the sounds, but he can't seem to manage it.
And then a girl's voice says, "Mom, three calls on my first day is a little overdoing it."
Stiles can't help startling. His gaze darts around the room, but it's not coming from there. it's... to his left? He turns, and finds himself staring out the window. And now that he's looking at her, he can hear a little better.
"Everything except a pen. Oh my god, how did I forget a pen? Oh, okay, gotta go, love ya." She sounds rushed, and as she approaches the school, he can hear a faint, rhythmic thumping beneath her conversation with the vice principal.
Stiles tilts his head, trying to figure out what it is, but then Mr. Apison stops by his desk. "And what do you think of the symbolism in Kafka's Metamorphosis, Mr. Stilinski?"
"Not much," he says, half-jumping in his seat again. "My impression was that Kafka didn't write for literary critics. He wasn't big into critical reinterpretations of his work, right? He mostly just read his stuff aloud to his friends for the surreal humor."
(The girl is saying "No, but we lived there for more than a year, which is unusual for my family.")
"I can safely say that he never wrote much about that in any extant correspondence," Mr. Apison says, tone dry.
("Well, hopefully Beacon Hills will be your last stop for a while.")
"But he didn't want his manuscripts published after his death, he wanted them destroyed. Sounds like an aversion to critics and the lit wolrd, to me —"
The vice principal interrupts him with a knock on the door, then he opens it and says, "Class, this is our new student, Allison Argent. Please do your best to make her feel welcome."
Stiles finds himself beginning to wonder if the thumping he hears is her…her heartbeat? That doesn't even make sense, but he can hear it thrumming in a slow thud-thud under every word.
Allison Argent takes the seat behind Scott and next to Stiles. So Stiles grabs a spare pen (is she ADHD too? How do you prepare for school and not even have pens?) and offers it to her. He lets his mouth curve, but he doesn't really bother giving her a smile. She's hot, but she's no Lydia Martin.
Scott's the one to turn around with a smile. It's bright, but brittle. He's nervous. And pretty clearly falling hard for her.
She looks at the pen in her hand, then to Stiles (who shrugs), and then she smiles back at Scott.
After class, Scott stares at her in the hallway for the sophomore lockers, and Stiles fights not to roll his eyes. Dana Flynn approaches, startling Scott, but Stiles is pretty sure she's the footsteps and heartbeat he heard coming.
"Either of you have any idea why new girl has been here five minutes and is already in Lydia's clique?"
Stiles looks over at her. He tilts his head, considering (and listening, utterly without shame, to Lydia), and then says, "She's hot. Pretty people herd together."
"If that were true, Veronica would be in her crowd," Dana says, and Scott starts to reply (probably something about Veronica being a freaky, creepy sociopath, because she is), but Stiles is listening to Allison and Lydia. Their words are even more immediate than what Scott and Dana are saying, which is just freaking insane.
I can't, Allison says. It's, uh, Family Night this Friday. Her heart races as she says it, and she sounds just a little tentative. Lying to avoid a party with Lydia and Jackson? Strange. He should mention it to Scott.
He tells Scott the minute Dana goes away. Scott stares at him, his brow crinkling in confusion. "How did you hear that?"
"Maybe I was practicing lip reading," he says, because So I can suddenly hear all sorts of shit and can't tune any of it out, and by the way my Adderall doesn't seem to be working is not going to fly.
Scott just eyes him, a little wary.
They get through the day, but Stiles can't seem to focus on anything, and he's hungry enough to actually eat at lunch. Harris is like a medieval inquisitor, only with some sort of psychic sense for when Stiles's concentration has slipped. He manages to insinuate that Stiles is stupid and/or defective four separate times in forty minutes, and Stiles bites his cheek until he bleeds, though it stops quickly (and must go numb or something, because he can't feel where his teeth dug in). The impulse to stand up, tell Harris where he can shove his unprofessional bullying, and then go report his ass to the guidance office is so strong that he finds his hands clenching into fists. He hooks an ankle around his chair leg to keep himself planted in place.
Scott stops him as they head out of their last class, on the way to the lacrosse locker rooms. His heart is rabbity and his eyes are wide. It's panic.
"Stiles, I can't find my inhaler. I must have dropped it in the woods last night."
Shit. Stiles doesn't want to go back into those woods. There are big fucking dogs there. Not to mention he's like 90% sure his Adderall still hasn't kicked in yet and he'll probably roll the Jeep on the drive.
But inhalers are like eighty bucks, and it's Stiles's fault he was out in the woods anyway. So Stiles digs in the pockets of his jacket until he finds the spare inhaler he carries. "Here, take this and head to practice. I'll go check the woods. From where the squad cars were to where we got separated sound good?"
Scott reaches out for it. His fingers feel cold as he curls them around the inhaler in Stiles's open hand.
"Could have dropped it when we were climbing that hill," Scott admits. After a moment, he does some simple math in his head and says, "You can't skip the first practice back! You'll lose your shot at first line."
"Dude. I don't actually have a shot at first line. What planet have you been living on? I promise, it'll be okay. I'll call you when I get to the Preserve."
"We could wait until after practice and go together," Scott says.
"Yeah, let's search the entire woods in, like, half-light with our cell phones. That'll end really well for us." Stiles rolls his eyes.
Scott watches him go with a puppy's guilty expression. Stiles almost feels like an asshole, but he's long accepted that he's just not actually good enough for first line. Lacrosse matters to Stiles because it's fun and because Scott likes it. The whole team idea is just sort of gratuitous, really.
He only breaks three traffic laws on his way to the Preserve, cringing at how loud his Jeep's engine is the whole drive there. He uses the back road entrance, pulling into the distant parking lot he'd used last night. He stumbles when he opens the door. It's like running full speed into a wall of scent and sound: he can smell dirt and moss and fur, and he hears small animals rustle through the dry leaves, and somewhere in the distance water burbles over stone.
He puts his head in his hands. Tries to focus on looking at his feet, on breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth, but there's no shutting up a world determined to be loud, no shutting out a world determined to break in.
Even the feeble, forest-choked sunlight seems to want to stab his eyes.
He breathes calming breaths. Keeps them long and slow, pulling the air deep into his chest and counting off seconds. It's just hypersensitivity. It's just the ADHD, messing with him. He doesn't have to panic; he knows exactly what's wrong, and he knows how to fix it.
And slowly, bit by bit, the world recedes again. He sets off into the woods, pulls out his phone and calls Scott, but gets no answer. Practice must have started already, so he leaves a voicemail.
He works his way to the hill they climbed in the dark. He spends a good five minutes on that hill, just kind of crab walking to see if he can at least feel the inhaler. But it's not there, so he heads up to where he and Scott had separated. Searching that area takes twenty minutes of fruitless fumbling and impotent cursing, while the wind blows new scents in on the breeze.
He heads onto Ash Trail. It leads back to the main lot, where the squad cars would have parked. The forest flirts with his senses; new smells waft around, new noises tease the edge of his hearing.
He catches the scent of… someone else. It's an earthy, grassy scent, overlaid in leather, with a touch of musk — and, more interesting, a scent Stiles could only describe as "wild". It's not quite fur, but there's something in it that smells like not-quite-human skin and white bone.
Stiles looks up and into the gray-green eyes of a man whose jawline could cut diamonds.
"What are you doing here? This is private property," the other man tells him.
"Uh, we're in the Preserve. That's county property by definition, dude."
The guy's eyelids flicker, and Stiles looks at him, tilting his head. He's almost sure he recognizes — nope, no, he definitely recognizes this dude. Since when did Derek Hale look like this? Hell, since when is Derek Hale back in Beacon Hills? Stiles recalls his older sister dragging him off to, like, New York or somewhere after the fire.
Derek folds his arms over his chest. He's got, like, tree trunk biceps. Stiles is duly impressed, but that doesn't seem to gratify Derek, if the flat, unwelcoming tone to his words is any indication. "Why are you here?"
"A friend and I I were messing around in the woods last night, stupid stuff, he dropped his inhaler. Those actually cost money, so..."
Derek takes a step closer. The wind changes, blows from behind Stiles toward Derek, and then Derek's nostrils flare. His pupils blow wide for a second, before Derek gives him a look that is two parts disbelief and one part disappointment in how thoroughly the world has failed him. Even his eyebrows look let down.
"When were you bitten?" The words are harsh, demanding, and Stiles blinks.
"Uh, last night. How did you know I was bitten?"
"I can smell the wolf in you." Derek looks away, and now his eyebrows are grumpy. Stiles isn't sure if the mighty biceps make the almost petulant cast to Derek's face cute or just moderately less terrifying.
Stiles doesn't bother trying to hide the flat incredulity he feels. "Smell the wolf in me."
He is not remotely prepared for Derek to suddenly be standing toe-to-toe with him (how did that even happen? It actually took a literal eyeblink!). Nor is he prepared for Derek to lean in even closer, sniff him, and then yank his shirt up. Derek's gaze scorches along Stiles's abs for a bare second before he hooks his fingers in the white bandage, now spotted with blood, and rips it away.
Stiles shrieks and flails, tries to shove Derek away, but the older man simply grabs both his wrists in one hand and points. "Is that where you were bitten?"
Stiles looks down.
His skin is smooth and winter-pale. No sign of toothmarks, no sign of the bruising. It's as if last night never happened. He pokes himself, but the skin feels normal under the pads of his fingers. No sudden sharp pains. What the hell? Does he have some sort of Deadpool healing factor?
Okay, the werewolf thing is gaining a little credence. It would explain the red-eyed thing that bit him and the senses at least. But what (who?) was the red-eyed bitey thing?
"It…it wasn't you, was it?" He says slowly. "You didn't bite me, or you'd have known exactly where the bite was, right?"
"No," Derek says. "I didn't bite you. Even if I bit you, I couldn't turn you. Only alphas can do that."
"Pack leaders?" Stiles asks. The word alpha has a weird pull to it, a weight that reminds him a little of his father.
Derek gives him a sharp nod. "Pack leaders, and the strongest and most dangerous of our kind. You and I are betas."
"So, wait, bitten by a werewolf, turning into a werewolf, is that why I can't concentrate? Why I have crazy strong senses? And, hey, how old were you when you were bitten?"
"I was born a werewolf. Your senses should be heightened, but I've never heard of the transformation affecting ability to concentrate."
"I'm ADHD, dude, and my Adderall hasn't worked all day. Is that this crazy Deadpool healing factor? Can werewolves even take medicine, or do we hyper-metabolize it?"
"We don't need medication," Derek says. "We don't get sick. Our injuries heal before they can develop infections. We don't need corrective lenses. The wolf heals everything wrong with you."
"Then apparently," Stiles snaps, "my wolf thinks that ADHD is just fine and dandy business as usual for the brain."
"Is it really that bad?" Derek cocks his head, considering and confused, and Stiles kind of wants to scream.
Instead, he says, "No. No, it's totally not that bad. I'm just going out of my freaking mind. But hey, no big deal, I'll get used to it."
That gets Derek's attention. "Out of your mind… how?"
Derek totally thinks he's going to crack and become an axe murderer. Possibly a pickaxe murderer. Considering that Stiles has spent the day wanting to drive ice picks into his ears, that's probably not a far off assumption.
"Okay, imagine that you wake up one day and you can hear more than ever, can smell more than ever, and you can't turn any of it off, and the thing that lets you turn it off doesn't work. That kind of out of my mind. I'm sure it's cool and all, but it's wildly incompatible with staying sane."
"It makes you hypervigilant," Derek says. And, softer, he adds, "That's an advantage on the hunt."
"Yeah, total advantage, except for how I am not a hunter, and also very likely to get distracted into forgetting I'm on a hunt. I once lost a baseball game because I was looking for clover in the outfield. And let's not even talk about how you have so totally missed my freaking point, man."
"I heard your point," Derek grumps. "But the advantage in a hunt is why the change left the ADHD alone."
Okay, that makes a certain element of sense. Stiles nods, then locks the pad of his thumb between his teeth and thinks about three different things at once. "Look. You're, uh, in the loop. I'm obviously really, really not. Are you going to… help me?"
"That should be your alpha's job," Derek says.
"Well, obviously I have a shitty alpha if he hasn't, like, found me and given me the 'so you've got a brand new fur problem' talk. Oh my god does PETA know about werewolves? Do they have Opinions?"
Stiles is suddenly imagining PETA protesters with, like, signs saying things like 'free the wolf inside you.' 'Let the wolf run free!' Crap like that.
"PETA doesn't believe in domesticating animals, so they euthanize thousands of pets per year. What do you think they know?"
Derek's jawline softens for a moment.
"See? I don't even know if PETA knows anything. Shitty, terrible, no-good alpha. Please say you'll help me. I can't live with all these senses dialed up to eleven all the time."
"Fine," Derek says. "But we're not starting today. Think you can last twenty-four hours?"
Yes! Success! Victory at sea! His life might actually not suck forever, now! That is a lot of mental exclamation points. But still: success. Derek Hale (secret werewolf, what the hell — or should that be what the Hale, nah, guy's probably heard that joke ten thousand times) will tutor him in the ways of the wolf.
"Yeah, I can last a day," he says. "Guess I'd better start looking for that inhaler."
With that, he turns around, trying to remember where he'd been looking, where he'd been going. Something small and hard whistles through the air, and though he turns in time, he still gets smacked in the chest by a plastic thing. The plastic thing bounces off his chest and skitters onto the ground.
Stiles looks down at Scott's inhaler, but when he looks back up, Derek is gone.
He stops by the clinic to drop Scott's inhaler off. He thinks about telling Scott about the whole werewolf thing. He can't imagine himself keeping it from Scott, can't imagine keeping anything important from Scott. But would Scott believe him? Apart from his new-found senses, he doesn't have much in the way of proof. He could cut himself, maybe, but that seems drastic. Maybe if he turns into a wolf or whatever, Scott will believe him.
Okay, so he'll tell Scott, just not right now.
Scott passes him back the spare inhaler.
Stiles drops by the library, grabbing pretty much every book on mythical creatures and a few books on actual wolves before he drives back to his neighborhood. He'll tell his father, too, as soon as he can prove it and not get sent to a little white room. He has to.
His father isn't home yet when Stiles parks the Jeep in the drive. He sighs, pulls on the parking brake, and heads into the house. Keys go into the bowl by the door. He heads into his room, puts his phone on the charger, and debates. Homework or wolf research?
Ugh, homework comes first. So he sits at his laptop and does his reading. He has a few occupational therapy tricks he learned from Dr. Williams. He plays some music at a low volume — just enough to help him think — then reads for fifteen minutes, does a few jumping jacks, then goes back to reading. He does a lot of switching, trying to keep his mind occupied with entirely school-related thoughts.
It takes three hours to get through work that should have taken him an hour and a half. But once he's done, it's time for the fun stuff: werewolf research. He switches his playlist from the near-classical to his favorite punk bands and settles in to read about wolves, of the were and natural variety.
Somewhere in there, he loses the thrumming hum and nasal shout-singing of the punk music, mind absorbed in words and notes.
He doesn't even look up until Dad barges into his room. "Stiles! What are you doing still awake?"
Stiles looks up from his laptop. "Uh, research?"
"On wolves! Did you know that the pop culture perception of the highly structured wolf pack — you know, alpha pair, betas, gammas, omegas, constantly fighting for dominance, all that crap — is actually the result of putting a bunch of wolves who didn't know each other into a cage? It's sort of like mistaking prison culture, or high school culture, which is apparently really similar, for standard human social behavior."
Dad exhales an exasperated sigh. "Why are you researching... no, never mind. There's never much of a 'why' with you. You have to leave for school in three and a half hours."
"I'm not keeping you up, am I?" He feels vaguely panicky and completely guilty at the thought.
"No," Dad says, shaking his head. "I just got home. It's four in the morning, Stiles."
He smells of forest: of dirt and leaves and cold air, of mud, of greasy donuts. Stiles narrows his eyes.
"Have you been eating donuts? Those don't metabolize well while you sleep."
"Stiles. Four in the morning."
"Too late to sleep now," Stiles says with a shrug. "I'll turn the music off and just finish up the research. But have you been eating donuts?"
"Hours ago," his father sighs. "I can never get the junk food past you, can I?"
"And I'm only going to get better at sniffing it out," he says, and Dad gives him a rueful grin. Somebody doesn't realize how honest he's being.
Dad just heaves a sigh and heads out to his room. Stiles keeps on reading. Eventually, his alarm goes off, and he rolls out of bed, lets the timed beeps herd him through his morning. It's a little easier than yesterday, but not by much.
He manages to make it to school without rolling the Jeep. (Rolling the Jeep is actually kind of a big concern for him.) And when he carefully slides his way into homeroom and takes his seat by Scott, Scott turns to him with a triumphant grin.
"Dude! You're never going to believe this!"
"I can believe in a lot of things. Try me. What am I never going to believe?"
"I'm going to Lydia's party with Allison!"
Stiles exaggerates a double-take, lets his shoulders jerk and his eyebrows fly up. The jaw drop is genuine, though. "Okay, nope. Not sure I believe that one. Are you serious? You're going to one of Lydia Martin's parties with the hot new girl?"
"Allison, yeah. She came to the clinic last night and..."
Scott tells him a long story involving animal cruelty and tiny snapping teeth and saying he would cry. Stiles never really thought that would impress girls, but Scott probably has the charm to pull it off. Or maybe Allison's just weird. Maybe both are true.
" grats on the ding, buddy," Stiles says. "So is it going to be, like, a date?"
"Maybe? I hope? If everything goes okay?"
"Good luck," Stiles tells him, and wonders just what he's going to be doing on Friday night. He's pretty sure it'll be werewolf school.
School is like a new circle of hell. Though Stiles isn't sure if it's as bad as it was yesterday. Once again, he has trouble focusing in class, and once again, Harris makes Chemistry miserable. He even eats at lunch again. At least there's no lacrosse practice today, so he heads straight from class up to the Preserve.
He realizes, once he's in the Preserve, that he has no real way to find Derek.
Whatever. They'll exchange phone numbers or something today. Maybe Derek'll show him his campsite, or wherever he's been staying while he's been here. Maybe he'll even tell Stiles why he came back.
He hasn't taken more than a few steps onto the path — smelling of dirt and moss and stone and dry wood — when he hears a heartbeat, slow and steady, and smells once again the grass-leather-bone scent of Derek Hale. He turns in the direction of the heartbeat.
Derek nods once. His eyebrows look approving, if grudgingly. "Are you ready?"
"Sure. Where do we start?"
"Checking your physical condition," Derek says. "Your endurance and muscle strength will have improved. Pain tolerance usually increases. How's your temper been?"
"Uh, the same? I haven't been, like, angrier than usual or anything. Why?"
Derek frowns. His eyebrows frown with him. "Have you felt on edge at all?"
"I can't freaking concentrate anymore. If this focus crap keeps up, I'll have to stop driving. So you could say I live on the edge."
"Bitten wolves… usually have anger issues for the first month," Derek finally offers. "Goes in hand with the strength increase."
"Nope, none of that." Stiles pauses. "Wait, a strength increase? You mean I'm going to get, like, super-strength?"
"Should already have it. Sometimes it develops a while after the senses. We need to see."
How does Derek Hale jog ten miles in a leather jacket? Stiles can keep up speed-wise for short bursts, but from the looks Derek is giving him, he hasn't received the full super-abilities package yet. By mile five, Stiles is too exhausted to care. At mile ten, he flops down to the ground — something furry has been there recently, could be rabbit or squirrel — and groans.
"I'm going to have the worst leg cramps tomorrow."
"You won't," Derek says easily. He crouches near Stiles, cocks his head. The light makes his eyes look more gray than green. They're still stunning. "But we won't do this again until your strength develops."
"Blessings on you, blessings on your family, blessings on your cow," Stiles says, limply pointing at nothing to indicate the family and cow Derek doesn't have.
Derek's expression freezes for a second, his entire body stiffening.
"Sorry," Stiles says.
Derek wrinkles his nose. "No, it's… it is what it is." He sounds completely dejected. Then, after a moment, he adds, "Since you can't control your mouth, probably good you don't have enhanced strength."
"Yeah, when my strength starts adjusting, I'd better go on some kind of mountain retreat." Stiles pauses, then says, very softly, "Hey, with this new strength and temper stuff… am I going to be a risk to my dad?"
Derek looks at him, considering. "Probably."
"How about people at school?"
"I could... I could really hurt someone, couldn't I? Without meaning to?"
Stiles sighs. It's an explosive, chest-heaving sigh, and as he moves, he feels the faint burn of his muscles knitting into something warm. His body is already trying to adjust? That's completely freaky.
"I don't want to hurt people."
"I know." A pause, and then Derek stands. "Up. Another run, and you might be calm enough to learn to manage your senses."
"Yeah, that actually sounds kind of good right now. Turning into a werewolf has clearly made me crazy."
"You were probably already crazy," Derek snaps, but he seems pleased when Stiles keeps up a little better. They go twelve miles this time, and this time, Stiles collapses only to his knees rather than to the ground.
Derek pushes at his shoulders, shoving him down on the ground, then crouches near him.
What follows is simultaneously boring and entertaining. Derek quizzes him about what he hears, helping him to identify some of the noises, but then tells him to stretch, or to narrow his focus. It's rough going, and there are moments he's reminded of around the time he'd been diagnosed. His father and the babysitter had always been telling him: focus, Stiles, think before you act, think before you speak, try and concentrate. But those were all things that Stiles couldn't do. Didn't even know what they looked like.
His mother had understood. And after a while, Derek begins to understand that the words "focus" and "concentrate" mean nothing to Stiles, or are at least completely useless instructions.
But he doesn't figure that out before smacking Stiles upside the head and saying, "Are you even trying? Block out the wind. Just listen to the squirrel."
"Are you fucking kidding me? What part of ADHD are you not getting?"
Derek stares at him.
"I am neurochemically incapable of focusing on my own, asshole! You fucking telling me I'm not trying isn't going to help!"
Derek frowns and goes silent for long enough that Stiles starts to fidget, searching the forest floor for twigs and snapping them. But when he starts talking again, he starts asking questions like: "Alright. What have you been hearing?"
When Stiles answers, Derek asks, "And when did you first hear it?"
"When I was hearing the wind over that way," Stiles says, and points.
"How close is it?" That one makes Stiles listen harder for the elusive sound.
Stiles scrunches up his face.
"How loud is it?"
He waves a hand, then cocks his head. "Louder than that bird, but I don't think it's close."
And so he has to pay attention to the sound, has to describe it, and that makes focusing easier, and he realizes that he hasn't heard the rest of the forest. At his surprised look, Derek's mouth twitches.
So Stiles starts listening to the rustle of dry tree branches. If he tries, he can tell which way the wind is blowing. And maybe, if he knew this forest well enough, he could tell which trees were which. He gets lost in the sound, hearing only that one thing, not even smelling anything.
He doesn't come back to himself until Derek smacks him upside the head again. He halfway jumps, heart racing.
Derek's eyebrows frown at him. His mouth frowns, too, but the eyebrows are actually the less pleased party. "What the hell was that?"
"That was a hyperfocus," Stiles says. "I haven't had one like that in months."
"Side effect of the bite," Derek grunts. "Alright. Enough. Go home."
"Sure thing," Stiles says, easily. "Just one question: why did you come back to Beacon Hills?"
"Okay. So. Talk to me about full moons? Other basic stuff? I'm flying with just, like, pop culture and Pantheon-dot-org mythology here, which is worse than flying blind."
Derek sighs. "Give me your phone."
He hands it over. Derek adds his number, and then says, "Text me your questions once you're home."
Stiles just barely manages to keep the evil grin off his face. Derek is going to regret that instruction. He's going to regret it for the rest of his life.
The cruiser is in the drive when Stiles gets home. Stiles lets himself in to see that his father has ensconced himself in the dining room with a few case files.
"Hey," he says.
"Hey." His father looks up with the usual mix of pride, wariness, and humor glinting subtly in his eyes.
"Will you be home long enough to eat? Have you eaten yet?"
"Yes and no," Dad says, and goes back to reading the case file. Stiles drifts just close enough to see that it isn't anything of particular interest to him, has nothing to do with the body in the woods or any other murder.
So Stiles leaves well enough alone, for now. He heads to the kitchen and searches through the Thug Kitchen cookbook for something to make and fails to find anything he has the ingredients for and interest in. He hits up What The Fuck Am I Making For Dinner on his phone, just for ideas, but strikes out there, too.
In the end, he just throws together a whole wheat lasagna with low-fat ricotta, spinach, and ground turkey. It's easyish, it contains a form of meat his father recognizes, and it's heart-healthy. Now, if he could just find a way to make carob appetizing...
It's actually nice to see Dad home for dinner. Stiles puts the food on the dining table, since Dad is already there, and they actually eat the meal together, and neither of them turns his head to look at the couch in the dining room and the afghan on the corner.
"So how was lacrosse practice?"
"I didn't go," he confesses. "I'm… thinking about quitting the team."
"Dr. Williams says you need an outlet," Dad says, pointing at him with a fork.
"I know. I'm just not sure it's lacrosse. I mean, it's not like I ever even play."
Dad looks long and hard at him. "Is there something going on we need to talk about?"
There is no hiding the guilty squirm. Dad's eyes sharpen on him, glinting like mica in his face, and Stiles sighs. "Okay, okay. There is something we need to talk about. But it can wait a few days, okay? It's not, like, super urgent." And he doesn't have any proof. "I guess I'm still kind of processing."
Dad nods. "I'll give you a week. If you haven't come clean in a week, I'll track you down and we'll have an awkward feelings talk."
"Sounds fair," Stiles agrees.
He has a week to find a way to prove to his father he's a werewolf. Well, if all else fails, he can grab a kitchen knife.
He's exhausted enough from all the running that he can almost focus on school work. He does end up trading texts with Derek. Some of the questions are deliberately awkward, just to needle at him. He's never had a brother, but he thinks it could be like that between them, if they let it.
He trades texts with Scott, too, just fucking around. They play some co-op on ME3; Stiles plays his human vanguard and Scott runs around as a human sentinel. Stiles Charge-Novas and Scott abuses the Tech Armor detonation, and they get yelled at a lot by an infiltrator.
Eventually, as the hours tick near to midnight, Stiles signs out of XBox Live and puts his phone on the charger. He could swear he smells leaves as he falls asleep.
He wakes barefoot on gravel, with a twig digging into his foot and his hand gripping a tree. His legs and lungs burn. Someone with glowing blue eyes stares down at him; Stiles takes a deep breath and relaxes when he smells grass-leather-musk-bone.
"I told you to go home," Derek snarls.
"I was home." Stiles sweeps a hand down to indicate his pajamas and bare feet. "Went to bed around midnight. Now I'm here. Is sleep-walking a thing for new wolves? Did you follow all the pretty smells or whatever when you were a toddler?"
"No." Derek frowns at him, then looks down at his feet. "Do you even live near here? You've been bleeding."
"I'm a fifteen minute drive from the preserve. Maybe nine, ten miles?" Jesus, what is with him running for miles at a time today?
Stiles doesn't need much light anymore, it seems. Because he can watch as Derek's eyebrows register their murderous displeasure with… Stiles? This state of affairs? The world in general? Either way, Derek and his eyebrows are murderously displeased. Stiles can't help the sharp spike of worry.
Derek kind of looks like a serial killer and doesn't seem to like Stiles much. And for all that he's the best resource Stiles has, and Stiles wants to trust him, he can't be sure Derek isn't about to take out some of that frustration on him. He might not even think of it as wrong; after all, Stiles will heal.
But Derek must be angry at the situation, not at Stiles, because he says, "Your alpha is calling you. He… probably wants you to hunt with him."
"What, he expects me to run down a deer?"
"Right now? He probably expects you to stake out a vole. I wouldn't trust you to kill a rabbit."
Stiles squints at Derek. "Is this some sort of werewolf bonding ritual? Ugh, of course he can't he take me out for bowling or the trivia game at Tres Hermanos. Just my luck to get stuck with a shitty, sad-sack alpha."
"He's gone rogue. No sane wolf gives a human the bite without preparing them. Biting a random teenager in the woods?" Derek's frown actually gets frownier. The frowning intensifies. It's like frownception over there. "He's about to start something ugly."
Stiles is tempted to open his mouth and ask if maybe they can leave him to it, if maybe Derek can just teach Stiles how to be a properly domesticated werewolf and then Stiles can persuade his dad to move away from Beacon Hills. He wants adventure, but his stomach churns and his chest tightens at the thought of getting tangled up in this.
And what if Dad won't go? What if the ugly thing the alpha starts up somehow sucks him in? And the idea of leaving Beacon Hills, the idea of just letting some crazy gorilla wolf monster run around his town, his mother's town, his father's town makes him feel even worse. Anger burns so bright and clear and hot that it leaves him lightheaded and a little nauseated.
So he says, instead, "We have to stop him." He feels his hands clench into fists at his sides. "We can't just let him run around here. I mean... I can't. Beacon Hills..."
He can't finish that sentence. What he means is too nebulous, too primal, to put into words that aren't Beacon Hills is mine, and sure, it makes him feel a little like Batman, but the feeling is too real, too immediate, too much of a lump in his throat and a knot in his belly to cheapen by turning it into trite, comic book character words.
Derek gives him a look that's kind of like pride, or maybe approval. "No," he agrees. "We can't."