Stiles technically sees Allison first.
In the coming years he’ll keep that fact private, because Scott is the sort that goes on at length about love at first sight. In the future it’ll be a constant happy refrain of how he and Allison fell wildly truly passionately the moment they saw each other, even though she was so Pretty and he so Ugly. Stiles will never be able to bring himself to say he and Allison could have had that moment just as easily.
Because the truth is that when Allison storms the building she’s not looking for love. She’s not looking for a boyfriend. She’s looking for an Ugly of any age and gender to help her break into the system and send a propaganda message. She finds them sitting together and approaches from the left, from Scott’s side. It could have just as easily been Stiles.
Probably should have been Danny, in terms of actual helpfulness. The best Scott can do is lead her down the hall, despite Stiles’ protests that if the minder finds out they’re totally screwed, and does Scott really want his Special Circumstances dad coming to talk to them? Rafe is terrifying, Pretty face and body warped to demand submission from every citizen he comes across. But Scott’s practically begging, courtesy of Allison using her looks to her best advantage. Scott’s not the kind of guy that says no easily, even when it’s just to the average Ugly, nevermind the stunning pinnacle of what Prettydom has to offer. And Stiles is a sucker for Scott, always has been. He’s already dreading the three months he’s a Pretty and Scott’s not old enough yet. So he allows it. For Scott, he leads Allison to his room.
“So what exactly do you want to tell the masses?” Stiles asks after a few basic precautions. The door is closed, a blanket is covering the wallscreen. They aren’t the best things he could do, but he’s not sure she’s worth those yet.
She grins, plump lips pulling back perfectly to show gleaming white teeth. “Simple. You don’t have to be bubbly. There are ways to be Pretty without being completely brain-missing. You just have to know the right people to ask for help.”
Scott looks at her, face screwed up with question. “You don’t like being happy?”
Allison laughs. Stiles is a hundred percent sure Scott will later refer to it as ‘twinkling’. “Of course I like being happy. I like it when I’m happy, because something extraordinary makes me happy. I don’t want to always be happy because they’ve made me too stupid to understand I don’t have to be happy.”
“You should recruit Lydia and Jackson. I don’t think they want to be bubbly either.” They both take far too much enjoyment from criticising others to want to be permanently silly and nice. Stiles isn’t positive he wants it either. He doesn’t like the idea that he could change into someone that Scott wouldn’t recognise by the time he got to live in Prettytown. “How do you do it? Be Pretty-faced but Ugly-brained?”
Allison shrugs. “There are lots of ways. My Aunt Kate likes to burn her fingertips. But for me?”
There’s no other warning before she starts to pull her pants down. Scott looks like he’s about to choke on his tongue.
“You okay, buddy?” Stiles asks, mostly out of concern, a little bit because it’ll be fun to slightly embarrass Scott in front of a Pretty girl. He’s not really looking at her himself. If Allison was Alastor he’d be a lot more interested.
“What’s that?” Scott asks, pointing. A sarcastic comment about anatomy is on the tip of Stiles’ tongue, but then he actually looks. There are scars and scabs all over her legs, from thighs to ankles. Not just plain lines, there’s a pattern to it.
“They’re arrows. It’s a primitive pre-oil weapon, but apparently if you’re a ranger as a middle-Pretty sometimes you can use them without Special Circumstances getting mad. When I start acting Pretty I cut another one and it clears my head.”
“How long have you been doing that?” Scott asks, horrified, at the same time that Stiles asks “What happens when you run out of skin?” because Scott is a better person than he is.
But maybe Allison doesn’t like nice, because she answers, “Chris, my dad, is a doctor. When I don’t have any room left he puts me under and when I wake up I have a new canvas without any authorities knowing. Look, I don’t have any more time now. There are other places I have to break in to. But we could meet by the river tomorrow? If you know how?”
They give another set of simultaneous answers, Scott’s “Stiles will figure something out” to his own “We’ll steal hoverboards.”
Stiles smiles at Scott. It’s nice that he has so much faith in him.
“See you tomorrow,” she says, sliding the black leggings back up her legs. Allison kisses him on the cheek and Scott gets one on the lips. Stiles has to deal with the fallout of that for the next hour.
It takes a little bit more tampering than Stiles would have initially guessed to make the hoverboard untraceable, but he gets it eventually. The other option would have been giving up, and that’s not Stiles. All Uglies are tricky, he’s just a bit more so. Maybe it comes from living with Sheriff when he was a Littlie. As soon as he grew up to freedom in the dorms, he decided he’d do whatever he wanted, no matter how worry-making getting caught was.
The greater problem is of course Scott, who, upon realising that Allison didn’t actually tell them when to meet, wanted to head down at noon. They compromise for going when Stiles damn well says, otherwise Stiles isn’t going with.
There are four people close enough to qualify for ‘at the river’, if a lot more South than Stiles was expecting. The only problem is none are Allison. There is one girl in the lot. She’s good looking, could be Pretty if it wasn’t for the utter mess of hair on her head. Still, it’s worth asking. Two of the men with the woman are definitely Pretty. They could be friends.
Stiles pulls Scott along with him as he stumbles over to the group, hoverboard a lot heavier in his hand now than it seemed when he was tricking it. He ignores the three men to talk directly to Frizzmop. “Are you Kate? Allison’s aunt?”
The white Pretty snarls. “Kate Argent?”
“Yes?” Scott says, raising voice turning it into a question. They don’t actually know that’s who they want, but really, what are the chances of it being someone else?
“No, she’s not, and you’re better off.” He turns to his group. “We’re not ready if she’s coming. Lets go.”
Stiles is not okay leaving it like that. He needs information if he’s going to leave Scott in a safe position when he abandons him for three months. If Allison and Kate are bad, he has to know so he can beat it into Scott’s brain hard enough that it sticks even when he’s gone.
Certain that he can wheedle information out of them, Stiles jogs after the group. He can hear the high grass rustle behind him, and Scott wheezing with the effort of following. It happens when Scott exerts himself, sometimes. The doctors have given him a gas to inhale when it does, but the actual cure, the lung scrubbing, will have to wait until he has his Pretty surgery.
Stiles is momentarily torn between making sure Scott’s okay and catching up to the two Pretties and their Ugly friends. That alone is rare enough to be interesting, never mind what the white Pretty is concealing. He’d like to get tips on how to manage that with Scott. When everyone is Ugly everyone sort of blends in, it doesn’t really matter that his bestie has a crooked jaw or that he’s covered in dark blemishes. Like, really doesn’t matter. Stiles can’t even remember the last time he used Scott’s Lopsided nickname, or Scott called him Marks. Once you’re Pretty though, and living your every whim in Prettytown, it’s impossible to see anyone Ugly without cringing. Stiles doesn’t want to wince when he visits Uglytown. Graduates always promise they’ll come back, and they never do, but Stiles will, damn it. Scott’s health is important to him, but so is making their friendship everlasting, and keeping him safe when he’s alone, and he can’t guarantee either of those if he dawdles.
“Wait! Why are we better off?”
The man that spoke before, the man that’s clearly in charge, whirls around to look at him. “I’m not talking about that here.”
“Then we’ll follow you!” Stiles could have said something more persuasive. Probably should have tried. But frankly, the way the man’s cheekbones are framed by dark stubble is just mesmerizing. Stiles was lucky to get words out at all.
“Do what you want. You seem like the type anyway. But we’re not stopping if you can’t keep up.”
The man storms to the head of the pack. The girl falls back, beside him. The other Ugly, the blond boy, falls even further back to walk with Scott. Deciding that the boy probably won’t hurt his bestie, Stiles lets himself focus on the girl. When she sees she has his attention, she starts talking. “That’s not true. He’d stop. It wouldn’t be safe to leave you halfway to base, screaming for adult help.”
“Well, as long as he doesn’t care for our benefit or anything,” Stiles replies, sarcasm soothing his irritation.
She laughs. “Of course not. You haven’t earned it.”
“So when do you turn sixteen?” It’s the usual opening question for meeting another Ugly, placed between the hello and the what side of your face do you like better. Something that anyone can answer without awkwardness.
“If you’re asking because you’re wondering when I’m getting the Pretty surgery, I’m not.”
Stiles whips his head towards her. As far as he can tell, she’s not lying. “But your hair!”
Frizzmop punches him in the arm. “My hair is great. And since I know the dorms have conditioned you to make a mean nickname out of someone’s worst feature, I’m saying stop it now or I’ll hit you harder. My name is Erica, not whatever bogus thing is in your head. Anyway, it’s not that I don’t want to be beautiful. I’d love red lipstick and big boobs and a new outfit every day. But that’s not better than dead.”
“Dead?” That doesn’t make sense. “Being Pretty doesn’t kill you anymore. It was back before the petroleum virus when some people were too pretty that they died from those eating disorders.”
“Being Pretty could kill me. You know they give you brain surgery alongside all the body surgery to be a Pretty, right? They give you lesions. That’s how they’re so bubbly all the time. Well, I have epilepsy. My brain’s already fucked up. They could maybe cure it, if they did the surgery. They could also kill me. One of the doctors actually said ‘at least you won’t die ugly’. Like that’s the most important thing, slick hair and perfect legs.”
Stiles did not know they added lesions. Because he’s a boy he’s thought about the bone snapping and fat sucking gross-out aspects of the day long surgery more than some of the girls in the dorm, but he’s never found anything in the most revealing textbooks about brain surgery. He’s not sure if they’d do that to him. There’s a reason why to people other than Scott his Ugly nickname is Prettybrain. Stiles might not be as happy, but he’s scattered and impulsive like the Pretties. People in the dorm have always been as jealous of him being Pretty-brained as they are for Lydia and Jackson being almost Pretty-faced, only height and cleft chin marring them. So maybe he’s close enough that the team of doctors won’t have to do anything.
But what if he’s not? What if they try to prettify his brain and the wrong places are already damaged and it breaks him? He could be like Erica. He could die.
“What about the other three? Are they not Pretties either? I mean, Pointy Face isn’t, obviously, and I guess the black man has a wide forehead, but the one who was yelling at me is stunning. I don’t understand?”
Erica shrugs. “Isaac is the boy with your friend, and his face isn’t all that pointy. More importantly, I’d like to remind you of the nicknames earn punches rule, and state that it goes double for Isaac. He might leave some day to get the surgery. I hope not, but maybe. Right now he’s just terrified of Pretties. His dad is a teacher and he got special permission to home school Isaac. And then he spent the whole time playing with him, a game called Lets Make You Not Ugly. So he’d hit him with a plank to get his ass flatter. Or lock him in a freezer to get his legs to stop growing Ugly-long.”
“That’s totally illegal! We’re all Ugly until we’re sixteen, you can’t just stop it.”
“Well, Derek found out before any authority did.”
Stiles isn’t sure he wants to know what exactly Derek did to get Isaac away from a man like that. If he knew he’d have to tell Sheriff. “Is Derek Wide Forehead or the one that could be a Pretty?”
Unsurprisingly, Erica wallops him for the moniker. Stiles is going to bruise, no question about it.
“Look, I’m sorry, but I gotta know. It’s important for the rescue scene I’m imagining!”
“Boyd is the black man, Derek is the one who was yelling at you. They both have their reasons for shunning the surgery. I don’t know Boyd’s, and you have to ask Derek yourself.”
Stiles does just that. He has to wait until Isaac tells Derek they need a break -Stiles is pretty sure Isaac’s actually covering for Scott, which would make him jealous if he wasn’t grateful- and they’re all sitting down in the middle of the Rusty Ruins, but eventually he gets to ask the first thing on his long list of questions.
“Who’s Kate Argent and why are we better off not knowing her, and why was your group not ready for her?”
“Kate and I both hated the system. My family has lived in the wild for generations. I met Kate when she ran away from Uglytown. She made a home with us, we all lived together happily for a long time. When she ran away again no one was sure why, so me and my sister Laura followed her. When we finally found her... she let us find her, really. She said she was gonna get the Pretty surgery, but stay mad and destroy the system from the inside. That all the Hales should. We left her to get her bones ground and her skin sliced.”
It sounds so different when Derek says it. Not a string of interesting gross-out facts, but something wrong. Not inevitable, but dire.
“But when we got back we found out that she’d tried to force our hand. She’d ratted us out, and they’d taken everyone. Except no one worked from the inside.” There’s a depth of scorn Stiles has never heard before. It’s chilling. “Every member of my family died. Was executed, thanks to Kate Argent. Except my uncle Peter, but that was worse. They turned him Special Circumstances. They sewed bile onto his brain and made him cruel. Six months ago he killed Laura himself.”
Scott winces. He knows better than most how bad Special Circumstances makes you.
“So you’ve never had the Pretty surgery?” Stiles asks. Logically the answer must be no, but with how beautiful Derek is, he wants to check. Plus it doesn’t hurt to distract Scott from thoughts of Rafe, and it should be captivating news since he didn’t talk to Erica, unless Isaac told him.
“And desecrate my parents like that? No.” For the second time Derek’s gruff voice turns downright disgusted.
Derek storms off, leaving Stiles to think. No wonder Rusties had adequacy issues, when some people naturally look like Derek and some people naturally look like Greenberg. But he doesn’t look all that bad, if he says so himself. Neither does Scott, really. Or anyone sitting around him. And given the choice between having this face forever, being permanently Ugly, but staying himself and his bond with Scott not dissolving into bubbly nothingness, or Pretty but... shit. They’re sort of pathetic, really. Aren’t they? Stiles never let himself think about it; why insult something when you’re destined to become it? But now that there’s a choice he’s allowed to see things differently. And what he sees is gorgeous, boring, stupid people.
“Scott, we need to talk. Like right now.”
Scott gets up from his spot beside Isaac. Stiles leads him away from the circle of friends, but also in the opposite direction of Derek. Bad enough that the four of them are staring, he’ll be damned if he’s overheard before he and Scott shake this out.
“I think we should stay.”
“Here. Or not here here, it’s not like I’m in love with the Ruins. I want to stay with them. Derek Hale, pretty man who isn’t Pretty, and his Ugly, smart friends.”
“You do? Really?”
Scott doesn’t sound horrified, or vehemently opposed. Just confused. Maybe if Stiles can explain himself better... “If we go back we have three months and then they take me away to strip my spotted skin off my body, and rip half my brain out, and then I’ll be Pretty and bubbly and awful, because we know they’re awful, we do. Don’t tell me we don’t, because we do. And I’ll be just like every other older best friend, not bothering to visit, even though we’ve spent all day together for four years straight, and it should kill me to be separate.”
He’s grabbing Scott by the shirt now. Stiles doesn’t remember actually making the move, but he’s holding onto Scott like he’s not sure how the world might explode if he lets go. He can’t let go. He just can’t, but he will if they go home. He will, and he won’t even care.
“Stiles, you realise what we’d be committing to, right? We don’t have to stay here to not turn into someone else. Remember? Allison said we could live Pretty but stay flat.”
“Opposite of bubbly. Can we go back today? Before anyone notices? Please?”
Stiles wants to say no. Wants to explain what Erica taught him, wants to tell Scott he’ll never call him Lopsided again, wants to say that the next time Danny calls him Prettybrain he might puke because he knows now what that really means. Instead he nods. “Just gimme a second.”
He jogs across the uneven, concrete strewn ground until he’s by Derek’s side. “Do you and yours come by here often? If we came here would you find us before we starved to death?”
“There are green fireworks hidden under the rock pile by that building,” Derek points. It’s less of a building and more of a semi-collapsed structure, which doesn’t bode well for future living arrangements, but Stiles will learn to deal. “Light one and one of us will know to come.”
“You say that like you doubt it’ll happen.”
Derek looks away. “Every Ugly has a moment of doubt. No one ever really follows through.”
Stiles snorts. “There are three people to your left that prove you wrong. And me and Scott will too. Once I explain the lesion thing, once I find proof of it, not just hearsay, he’ll get it. And before you mock again, I am easily the best researcher in the dorms. I’ll find something, somewhere.”
“Will he care enough to overpower his other issues? The surgery isn’t just about looks, as much as I hate giving them credit. He was wheezing the whole hike. They could fix that.”
“Sure he’ll be pissed he’ll be stuck with permanently bad lungs, but better that than drilling holes into his brain.” Besides, Stiles has months to figure out how to hurt Scott badly enough that they need to do emergency surgery without actually killing him dead. That’ll take even more stealthy research, but it’ll be worth it.
“So if you’re so confident that he wants this, why don’t you just stay?” The question is a challenge, Stiles can hear it in Derek’s tone.
“Scott needs to not do this yet. I’ve still got three months to get him used to it.”
“Or maybe he’ll talk you to the Argents’ side.”
That’s not going to happen. Stiles is willing to entertain a notion where he helps Scott kidnap Allison the next time she drops into their dorm and smuggles her to the Hale property, wherever it might be. He’s not willing to follow her to her home in Prettytown. But why bother saying that to Derek when he’s so obviously scoffing at every word Stiles says? Why not go a more fun route, for now?
“He loves Allison. I’m very... intrigued by you. You should kiss me the way she kissed him.”
To his surprise, Derek does. It’s a way more intimate kiss than Scott got. Stiles has been kissed before. He’s an Ugly, but he’s not a virgin. He’s not that ugly, not like Greenberg, who really needs work before anyone will even look at him. He’s been kissed before, but not like this. Not like it matters. But of course Derek kisses differently. He isn’t going to have every pre-Pretty touch fall away as his skin is cut away, grafted, and fixed. They won’t be memories that his Pretty brain won’t care about anymore. Derek’s touches are permanent. Of coure he wants them to be as good as they can be.
“Wuh, wow. That was great,” Stiles manages to stammer out, falling in a whole new sort of love with the man in front of him. Ugly, beautiful, troubled...how could he not?
“Come back,” Derek says, before looking away.