- Sunday, January 9th, 2011 -
Stiles is holed up in his room, sitting on his bed with his legs crossed and his back leaning against the pillows. His computer is on his lap, a crappy B-grade horror movie playing on the screen. It follows a group of high and horny high schoolers as they take a trip up to the mountains and encounter a serial killer. Of course.
He'd been in need of something to while away the remaining hours of the evening and it was the first thing he came across after spending all of two minutes looking. He can't even remember its title. He watches, unenthused, as the boyfriend of one of the main characters is killed mid heavy-petting session and the girl runs out of the snowy cabin in which they had been staying. Her partially unbuttoned shirt is conveniently ripped off when it snags on a tree branch, exposing a bright-red lacy bra which can barely contain her breasts.
Typical. No one keeps their clothes on in these movies.
There has been absolutely no development to endear him to the characters—not that he was really expecting any—so he doesn't feel bad at all when she trips. The masked killer catches up to her a second later and the sound of his machete as it cuts through the air brings about the end of her terrified and badly acted screams.
His attention not really held, Stiles is instantly alert when he hears his dad's bedroom door open and footsteps heading down the stairs. He yanks out his earphones and walks out into the hall to listen.
It's a habit he's yet to break himself out of, much to his dad's annoyance.
"Do we know who it is?"
Stiles almost misses the hushed question, so he steps closer to the top of the stairs to hear better and tries to keep out of sight. He's desperate for something to save him from the dullness that is his everyday life. Being the son of the sheriff isn't without its perks, and one of them is that he's usually the first person besides the victims and the force itself to know if a crime has taken place. Stiles can tell that this one must be bad from the anxiousness in his dad's voice. He listens all the more closely.
"The preserve. Got it. On my way."
Stiles retreats into the shadows just as his dad appears at the bottom of the stairs.
"Stiles!" the sheriff shouts, seemingly oblivious to the eavesdropping.
After taking a couple of seconds to respond, Stiles clears his throat and acts like he's only just come out of his room when he steps back into the dim light that shines up from the foyer. "Yeah, dad?" he answers, rubbing at his eyes to really drive home his deception.
"I've just had a call, so I'm going out. Please go to bed at a reasonable time, okay? It's a school night," the sheriff reminds, knowing very well that his son didn't conk out until at least 3 a.m. the previous night, no matter how quiet the boy had tried to be. There isn't really anything he can do about it but ask because he's usually out for work. It looks like tonight will be no exception. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay, dad, stay safe!" Stiles calls as he watches the man slip on his coat and walk outside to his cruiser. Once the door is shut, Stiles storms back into his bedroom and grabs his phone.
Hey, Scotty, you still awake?
The text is short and sweet. He bites his thumbnail impatiently as he stares down at the small screen, waiting for a reply. After a few minutes he still hasn't received one, but that doesn't really give him an answer. Sure, Scott could actually be in bed already, but the more likely explanation is that the crooked-jawed boy simply forgot to keep his phone charged again or something. It would be just like him.
Sighing, Stiles pockets his phone and peers through the gap in his curtains to make sure his dad is gone. After confirming that he's really alone, he grabs his hoodie, dashes down the stairs and drives to the McCalls'.
He see that Scott's light is on when he arrives and Melissa McCall's car isn't in the driveway, so he goes right up to the front door. It's not locked, so he doesn't bother to knock and just walks right on in and up to Scott's bedroom. The door is ajar. He pushes it open and finds his best friend sitting at his desk, watching something on his computer.
Scott has headphones on and doesn't hear Stiles come in. When Stiles gets closer, he wrinkles his nose at the abundance of naked skin currently bouncing up and down on the computer screen. Luckily, he got there before Scott actually got started doing anything—his jeans are still on and zipped up, thank God—and he decides to interrupt the other boy before that has a chance to change.
Stiles reaches out and taps Scott on the shoulder, grinning widely when the crooked-jawed boy leaps from his chair with a squawk. His headphones are ripped off of his head with the movement. They bang loudly against the wood of Scott's desk on their way to the floor.
"Hey, buddy-boy!" Stiles greets, cackling when his friend stares at him in shock and holds a hand over the front of his jeans. He watches, amused, as Scott's eyes flick back over to his computer screen before he scrabbles to turn it off. Stiles can't resist a little cheek. "This a bad time?" he teases.
"Fucking hell, Stiles!" Scott whines, embarrassed.
"I'll take that as a yes."
"Well, tough," Stiles smirks, sitting down on the foot of Scott's bed. He winks when the other boy stays standing awkwardly. "I know how we can have a little fun before school starts back up tomorrow," he singsongs.
Scott looks apprehensive. "Do I even want to know?" he asks, flopping back down in his desk chair with a tired sigh. "It's going to get us in trouble, isn't it? I don't want to get grounded again, Stiles!"
"I'm not gonna lie to you, Scotty—that's a possibility, but only if we're not careful," Stiles concedes, already trying to put a positive spin on his plan so that Scott is more amenable to joining him. "My dad got a call like, twenty minutes ago, about someone finding half a dead girl in the woods. We should totally go check it out. It'd be stupid cool, don't you think?" He grins, leaning back on his arms.
"Not really..." Scott mumbles as he turns back to his computer.
Rolling his eyes, Stiles gets up from the bed and spins the chair back around so that Scott is facing him again. "C'mon, one more adventure before the monotony of school consumes all our time again!" he pleads, gesticulating wildly and almost giving himself a black eye. Scott is close to giving in, Stiles can tell, but he needs one last thing to push him over the edge. Stiles knows just what to say to give his best friend that.
"Please? It'll be like the good ol' days," he needles. "Scott and Stiles, causing mischief again, only this time we can be more cautious if that makes you feel better. Now, are you gonna be cool and come with me or are you gonna make me go to the preserve all by myself, at night, while you stay here and be boring?"
* * *
Ten minutes later and Scott is sitting in the passenger seat of Stiles' Jeep, looking like he'd rather be anywhere else. The radio is on, playing quietly in the background as Stiles taps along to the current song with his fingers on the steering wheel. His excitement is palpable but not contagious.
"Don't look so miserable, Scotty, my boy!" Stiles cheers, grinning.
Scott rolls his eyes and continues pouting.
Stiles turns the music up louder and makes a show of really getting into it, mouthing along to the lyrics and acting like a fool in an attempt to raise his friend's spirits. It goes on for a couple of minutes before he gives up. When he sees that they're approaching the preserve, he turns the music off so that neither his dad nor any deputy will hear it should they be in the area. It looks clear, but appearances can be deceiving, Stiles knows. Someone from the force could have parked a distance away and walked to where he and Scott sit in his Jeep.
He turns off the engine and opens the glovebox. "Here."
Tearing his eyes away from where he'd been staring out the window, Scott looks to his left and takes one of the torches that Stiles has in his hand. "I can't believe you talked me into this..."
"Yeah, well, it's too late to back out now, so keep your voice down so we don't get caught and let's get this show on the road!" Stiles responds enthusiastically. He shoves his door open and climbs out. Dead leaves crunch under his shoes as he walks and holds his torch at the ready. The moon provides just enough light for him to see for the moment, but he knows that as soon as they walk between the trees that this will no longer be the case.
The two teenage boys walk in silence for half an hour, neither one of them really knowing where to go. Scott is shivering by the time Stiles is close to admitting that coming to the preserve in the dead of night wasn't such a good idea, especially when he didn't overhear where the bisected dead woman actually is.
Scott finally puts his foot down when Stiles still suggests they keep looking. "No!" he refuses, throwing his arms in the air. "I'm done!"
"What?" Stiles whispers hoarsely, pointing his torch at Scott's retreating back.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Stiles."
"But I'm your ride, you doofus!"
A few seconds later and Scott is out of sight.
Stiles is left standing on his own. He gapes like an imbecile for a while before snapping his mouth shut and turning back in the direction in which he'd been about to venture. The darkness seems more oppressive without company, so he pulls his bright-red hoodie closer to his skinny torso and speeds up his gait. He points his torch at the ground to preclude himself from stumbling; it wouldn't be good to come out of this with a broken nose.
The preserve is quiet. His theory that there might be others in the area, deputies still looking for the body, are proven wrong when all that he hears are his own heavy footsteps and laboured breathing.
"Fuck, it's cold..." Stiles mumbles, whiteness puffing out from his open mouth. He pauses in his tracks and sticks his torch between his thighs so that he can rub his palms together, but it does little to improve his predicament. He still feels the cold keenly and his stubbornness that this was a good idea is wearing thin.
A twig snaps loudly a short distance away.
Stiles whips his head around and stares into the blackness, trying to see what caused it. He doesn't hear anything else, no matter how long he stands there, still as a statue. Eventually he shakes his mounting fright off as much as he is able to, takes his touch back in hand and carries on.
"It was just a squirrel or something, Stiles. Don't freak over nothing," he whispers, trying to reassure himself that he's still alone and that no one is going to suddenly jump out and gut him.
What a way to go, he thinks, freezing again when the twig and the dead body connect in his head—what if there is a killer out there somewhere?
He doesn't want to be their second victim. He couldn't do that to his dad, no matter how stilted things are between them now. Resolving to forget about the dead woman, return to his Jeep and go back to the safety of his home, Stiles turns and finds that he can't remember which way he came from. Everything looks the same. He spins in place, looking for anything familiar.
Nothing stands out. There aren't even any discernible footprints to follow.
I'm so fucked. God damn it.
Picking a direction and walking in it, Stiles hopes for the best and thinks disparaging thoughts about Scott's intelligence to shift the blame for his current predicament off of himself. It doesn't really work and he just ends up making himself feel worse.
He trudges along, the muscles of his legs protesting the many inclines he tackles seemingly nonstop. His phone is no help—even if he could get a signal to try to find his location, the bar at the top of the screen flashes red and tells him that he has just four percent of his battery life left. Sure enough, a few seconds after unlocking it, his phone beeps once before going dead. He sighs and returns it to his back pocket before pointing his torch ahead again. He thanks his past self for at least having the good sense to put some fresh batteries in this device before he left the house earlier.
The best case scenario is that he has picked the right direction and he finds his Jeep again in a few minutes. The worst is that he runs into his dad and gets found outside after curfew. He shudders at the thought of the telling off he'd get if that came to pass. Or there's the possibility that he comes out the other side of the preserve and has to follow the road back around to his Jeep. He doesn't think his legs could take that much walking so late.
Sooner than Stiles was expecting, the trees break to reveal a fourth option he hadn't thought of.
The old Hale house looms before him, large and intimidating in its size, like a great black mass that threatens to suck him up. Stiles remembers that night, the night of the fire. He remembers how frantic his dad had been when he got the call and how, later on at the hospital, he'd seen what little was left of the Hales when it was all over.
The Hale family were respected—revered, even—so it came as a shock to everyone in town and in the next few towns over that most of them were wiped out in the course of a couple of hours. Stiles wasn't supposed to be there, but Melissa was working and he was too young to be left home alone, so his dad had been forced to bring him along. The stricken and pale faces of Laura and Derek Hale had come as no surprise to him when he'd glimpsed them being treated for shock. After that night, Stiles never saw the siblings again.
They were always just acquaintances, really, familiar faces around town and nothing more. He recalls Laura being incredibly sassy and generally friendly, while Derek was usually standoffish and surly. One incident in particular comes back to him:
One day, when Scott was sick and he was by himself, Stiles was minding his own business outside school, waiting for his dad to come pick him up, when he was suddenly shoved from behind and sent sprawling to the ground. He went down hard, resulting in a bloody nose and his books sliding a great distance away. While he was always loud-mouthed, he never really had the strength to back it up and this resulted in him getting on the wrong side of a bully named Jackson Whittemore.
As Stiles was busy trying to scramble to his feet, all the while clutching his nose to stop more blood from spilling onto his T-shirt, he was saved from further torment by someone he never saw coming: Derek Hale. The older boy appeared from nowhere and hissed something at Jackson that had his eyes widening in fear. The bully ran away screaming.
Stiles was at a loss. Derek had reached down to help him up from his knees, dusted him off and handed him a tissue for his nose. He retrieved Stiles' books from down the sidewalk and waited with him until he was picked up. Derek did all of this without uttering a single word. Only when the sheriff arrived did he break his silence; he was quick to explain what happened to Stiles' dad, brushing off any thanks he was given with a wave of his hand before walking away like nothing happened.
Stiles had stared at Derek's back until the older boy was out of sight.
On that day, Stiles' opinion of Derek changed for the better. They still never interacted again, but where Stiles had once been unsure, he was now certain that Derek had a good heart to match his sister's. Plus, Jackson didn't pick on him for quite a while afterward, not until the last two Hales left town a year later.
Stiles wonders what happened to the siblings. All he knows for sure is that they were gone a week after the fire. It was probably too difficult to keep living in the place their family died so horrifically, something Stiles empathises with.
As much as he understands, it doesn't stop him from wanting to know more. He had almost forgotten that the remains of the house are still standing. The find wipes from his mind all thoughts of finding his way back to his Jeep and back home. His curiosity grows and he steps slowly closer to the blackened and partially caved-in building for a better look. The harsh beam of light from his torch highlights the destruction more than the moon ever could.
The most he'd seen of it in its current state came from newspaper articles. Standing in front of it now makes what happened to it seem more real somehow. If he tries, he can almost put himself at the scene, like he was inside during the fire. Having an active imagination isn't always all it's cracked up to be, and he shudders as he walks up the steps. After pushing gently on the front door, he watches it swing open and points his torch inside, running it over everything that's still there. The stairs are the first thing he sees. Even he isn't stupid enough to try going up them when they look like they'll collapse under the smallest weight.
His bravery growing, Stiles walks into the foyer. The air is still, heavy, oppressive. It's like he can taste the memories of that night.
"Weird..." he breathes.
Of course, this doesn't stop him from exploring some more. He turns right and enters what he guesses was the dining room, the table that somehow still stands in the middle giving it away. There's what looks like a china cabinet standing by the far wall, though it is empty. Perhaps the glass was enough to protect whatever was inside, keeping it all intact, and either Laura or Derek took it with them. Storage seems like the most likely option, though.
Venturing further into the house, Stiles runs his hands over some of surfaces and rubs his thumb and index finger together, peering intently at the dust and ash on his skin as if it will yield answers to the questions that are forming in his head. He feels so very curious. He wants to know exactly what happened in explicit detail, all the events that lead up to such devastation. An accident, they said, some problem with the wiring, an electrical fire—he remembers reading that much from the papers when his dad wasn't looking.
It makes him sad.
He's about to turn back and explore the other side of the house when a noise stops him. A low growl, loud and definitely menacing. It bounces off the walls and makes all the hairs on his arms stand on end. A dog? A wolf? But there aren't any wolves in California, he's sure. A dog, then, and an angry one at that.
Time to leave, he thinks frantically, backing away from the source of the sound and tripping on a loose floorboard.
Falling flat on his ass, Stiles cries out as the impact sends a painful jolt up his spine. He groans and hisses, "Son of a bitch!" before he hears the growling again. It comes from the other direction this time, from the living room. It's no less frightening. It's more so, in fact.
Finding his feet, Stiles practically runs for the front door, but he has to sneak a glance.
He sees a duffel bag, unzipped.
A flash of electric blue, two pinpricks of light in a dark corner.
The growl turns into a roar, and he can't get out of there fast enough. He throws caution to the wind and dashes outside, across the clearing that probably served as the Hales' front garden and into the trees, heedless of how much noise he's making. Running from what might be a wild and wound-up animal isn't the best thing to do, but he can't help it; his fight-or-flight instinct has kicked in and he doesn't think logically as he runs, the pounding of his feet on the ground, his rapid heartbeat and the labour of his breathing seeming to deafen him.
Stiles is so caught up in just trying to get away from whatever roared back in the Hale house that he doesn't see someone in his path until it's too late to stop. He crashes into them and sends them both to the ground.
"God damn it, Stiles!"
Stiles knows that voice. Sure enough, when he raises his torch he sees his dad staring back at him, a deep frown on his face, his lips thin as he tries to control his anger.
"What the hell are you doing out here?!" the sheriff demands. He gets to his feet and fists a hand in the back of his son's shirt, pulling him up as well. He shouts something to his deputies, who are still searching a short distance away, before dragging Stiles in the direction of the closest road. "You're supposed to be in bed! You were listening, weren't you, before I left? I swear, I don't know what to do with you sometimes..."
Stiles lets himself be pulled along until the trees break. He doesn't even ask how his dad knew just where he'd parked his Jeep; he just gets in when the man yanks open the driver's door, flinching when he is settled behind the wheel and the door is slammed shut again.
Faintly, over the blood still rushing in his ears, he hears his dad tell him to go home and go to sleep, that they'll be talking about this in more detail in the morning. Not wanting to do anything to make his future punishment worse, Stiles obeys his dad without question. He revs up the engine and drives off in the direction of home, wondering whether or not Scott also got caught before deciding he shouldn't worry about it. He'll find out tomorrow.
Still feeling keyed up, like he has too much energy that needs to expended, Stiles takes the long way home, through the quiet of town. There are a few people still out even though the hour is so late. Stiles watches them as he idles at a red light, tapping his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. Then something reaches his ears, something just as out of place as the growling and roaring had seemed. He looks around in confusion. It's a sad, almost mournful sound, one that makes him shiver.
The howling of a wolf.