"So, yeah. Sioux Falls. So much for summer break."
"I can't believe your dad is sending you away." Scott's big puppy eyes were a weapon that Stiles wished his dad was not immune to. Scott crossed the bedroom, slouching down onto the end of Stiles' bed, where his friend was sitting cross-legged, elbows propped on his knees. "Can he even do that?" Scott asked, sounding sincere. "You don't even know this woman. She could be a serial killer or something."
"I'm sure she's perfectly vanilla," Stiles' assured, in a tone of voice that implied being normal was possibly worse than being Hannibal Lecter. "And, no, apparently forcing your son to go on a summer trip isn't actually child endangerment."
He bit down a grin at Scott's groan of frustration.
There was a tiny part of Stiles that was ashamed that he was suddenly happier than he'd felt in weeks at seeing Scott so distressed. Not that Stiles liked to see Scott upset, but there were times over the past year when Scott's devotion seemed to focus solely on one Allison Argent, despite her recent dip into Darth territory. Selfish as it felt, Stiles was glad for the reminder that Scott cared if he was around. It was nice to know someone was going to miss him, because, honestly, he wasn't sure his dad was going to. In fact, he thought his dad might even relish the chance to relax without Stiles around.
Ok. Unfair. Whatever. Sure, he could see it from his dad's perspective, but Stiles couldn't quite bring himself to forgive him entirely, not when his dad was basically giving him an unspoken ultimatum: either spend the better part of the summer in South Dakota or tell me what you've been hiding from me lately.
And there was not a chance in Hell of Stiles doing that, of him telling his dad the truth. He wasn't even going to bring that part of his "choice" up to Scott or, if Hell froze over, Mr. Grumpy-McAlpha, because he didn't need their permission to tell his dad anything...because Sheriff Stilinski was never going to know about the supernatural if Stiles could help it.
It seemed like ever since Stiles had found out what roamed in the dark (and in the high school hallways), he'd been in some sort of danger. He wasn't going to let his dad get involved in that, not when just being part of Stiles' Scooby Gang shenanigans had nearly gotten him killed by Matt. Stiles was going to keep his dad safe. Even if it meant lying. Even if it meant going to South Dakota to live with a strange woman he was supposed to call "Aunt" Jody.
Aunt Jody. He couldn't even remember what his supposed relative looked like. Sure, there were a few old pictures of his dad as a teen, a young girl beside him. And on extremely rare occasion, his dad would tell a story about his childhood, and Jody's name would pop up. But when Stiles tried to ask about her? Most of what he received was an abrupt explanation: "we lost touch."
Stiles had put together enough clues over the years to add what his dad hadn't said: "after your grandmother died" and "after she went to live with your great aunt, and I went to live my life."
Stiles hadn't pried. Which was admittedly a bizarre occurrence, but...well, he'd reached the age when kids wanted to hear their family secrets at about the same time his mom had gotten sick. Any Aunt Jody Mysteries had been put on hold right then, and, for the most part, he'd lost his desire to know more; she was just some lady halfway across the country, and he had a dad to look after at home.
A dad he wouldn't be able to look after for at least two long months.
Stiles felt Scott's hand on his shoulder and realized his breathing had gotten a bit erratic. He closed his eyes, trying to calm it down. This wasn't a panic attack. He could tell the difference. But he could hear a little voice in his head, making a note of the moment, promising to remind him of it again, at exactly the most inopportune time.
"I'll keep an eye on him, Stiles."
Stiles forced a small smile onto his face. "I know that, man."
"Even if I'm mad at him for taking my best friend away," Scott added, then grinned. "I'll inspect his fridge, too. If he thinks he's going to get away with bacon and donuts this summer, he's wrong."
"Oh, I like this new vengeful streak of yours," Stiles said, chuckling. "Thanks..." He sobered slightly. "I mean it. Thanks."
Scott nodded, then chewed on his bottom lip, as if trying to stop himself from saying more. "Your dad isn't who I'm worried about," he confessed. "Who's going to watch your back? You don't know anyone out there."
Stiles raised a brow. "Dude, I hate to tell you this, but I'm not a werewolf. Or a lizard person. You're the one who needs to be looked after. I mean, sure your mom will probably keep you grounded, for, literally, the entire summer, but who's going to take you out for walks while I'm gone? Or teach you to fetch?"
Stiles was expecting the smack from the pillow. He feigned offense when he recovered from the blow to find Scott still looking doubtful.
"Dude," Stiles sighed. Sometimes, he missed the days when he was the one looking out for Scott, before superpowers were a thing. "Not every place can be as big a supernatural magnet as Beacon Hills, right? I'm going to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Nothing ever happens in Sioux Falls. I'll be fine."
Scott stared at him a long moment, but he finally nodded. "You're right. Of course you're right. Nothing ever happens in Sioux Falls."
"Of course I am." Stiles snorted, dramatically throwing himself back onto his mattress. "I'm going to spend the next few months bored out of my mind."
It was too quiet, and Noah didn't appreciate the silence. Not one bit. But he'd be damned if he broke it just yet, so he went on about his business, helping Stiles fit the cooler onto the floorboard behind the passenger's seat as his son stacked a second duffel bag into the back.
Ever since he'd been a baby, Stiles had been loud. Even when he was sleeping, the kid had a tendency to mutter nonsense. And when they were fighting? Stiles absolutely didn't know how to leave well enough alone. He always had to prove he was right or rattle off a random factoid in his favor...It was only when his kid was truly upset that he quit speaking. Noah would never admit it, but the silent treatment, as it turned out, was oddly effective.
He huffed out a loud breath, pinching the bridge of his nose and wishing the tension he felt was somehow related to spring allergies and not the blow-out he'd had with his son the evening before. When he looked up, Stiles was staring at him, something like regret in his amber eyes, but the tightness at his mouth, his shoulders... Noah could read that body language clearly enough. His son wasn't going to say another word until he said something first.
Noah opened his mouth. Closed it again. He could tell the kid what he needed to hear. For once, he knew exactly what to say to make it better, but he just couldn't...he couldn't manage another lie. Because that's what it would be. He could apologize all day long, but he couldn't say the right thing:
"I do trust you, Stiles."
Mostly he couldn't say it because he'd already confessed the direct opposite last night:
"How about you start with the truth?"
"Come on! I'm not part of a gang. I haven't gotten mixed up in drugs or human trafficking or whatever the hell you've cooked up. God, Dad, can't you just trust me on this?"
"No, Stiles. I can't! I can't trust a word coming out of your mouth, because you lie. I'm not sure if there's a single honest story you've told me over the past six months. If you can't tell me what's really going on in your life, then I have to do this. You chose to lie and now you've got to deal with the consequences, kid."
Noah didn't mean to word it that way, to make it sound like he was sending Stiles away as some sort of punishment. This was supposed to be about protecting his boy, about keeping Stiles out of his investigation. But he'd made it into something else, and he couldn't forget the way his son had just deflated as soon as the words were out in the open. Stiles had walked away from the argument, defeated. A look Noah would never enjoy seeing on his son.
Noah had half-reasoned that he'd be facing another fight by morning, a struggle to get bags packed and his son sent on his way. Instead, Stiles had woken up earlier than him. Had already made himself a stack of sandwiches for the road and was checking over the Jeep before Noah had even managed to wipe the sleep out of his eyes.
They'd barely exchanged ten words.
"Stiles," Noah finally said. He stared his son down for a long minute. "Don't give your aunt a hard time."
Shit. Noah bit the inside of cheek to stop from taking it back. He'd meant to say something else, anything else. Stiles only nodded along.
"I won't," he assured. "Take care of yourself, Dad."
Noah was sure he'd said something about traffic and locking his motel door at night. He was sure he said goodbye. But his kid was already down the road when he remembered to say, "I'll miss you, Stiles."
Noah shook his head and walked back into his too-quiet house, deciding right then he'd get this over with as quickly as possible. He'd find out the truth, get to the bottom of whatever was happening in his town, and then he'd get his kid back home, where he belonged.
If anyone asked, it was an accident. It truly was. He absolutely did not mean to find out, but come on, there were only so many different ways to spend an evening at a disgustingly cheap motel without bleeding his already limited funds (and using the free wi-fi to watch videos grew stale on day one of his "Great American Roadtrip").
Which, that part, the one where he had way too much time on his hands and hours upon hours of driving to over-think every decision he'd made in his life, that part was his fault, because he'd practically begged his dad to let him take Roscoe instead of getting a plane ticket. And his persuasion via power point presentation had included the fact that the price wouldn't be much different, the reminder that he wouldn't have to rely upon Jody to get from one place to another, and the final slide had noted that it would be a wonderful experience for someone his age. (He did not include this top two reasons: shaving days off his time in Sioux Falls by dragging ass and having a ready escape vehicle if/when it became too unbearable.) His dad had folded surprisingly quickly with a few comments about road safety and following the speed limit. Stiles had seen the guilt on his face and not felt the least bit bad about exploiting it.
Maybe his dad did care that he was sending him to God-Knows-Where. Or, Stiles bitterly thought, maybe it was just easier not to argue so long as Stiles Stilinski was out of Beacon Hills.
But that was beside the point. Because he knew he'd be up to his neck in looks of disappointment if his dad found out what he'd stayed up to four in the morning researching while he was supposed to be getting a good night's rest before another day of driving. Not that he could imagine his father being any more disappointed than he was during that oh-so-lovely send-off fight they'd gotten in to. The one that Stiles was purposely pushing to the very back of his mind...
T'was boredom had led Stiles to a distraction in the form of Google. One Google search, of course, had led to another. Only natural, right? To Google the almost-a-stranger relative? To want to know a little about his new, temporary home? That was Stiles' argument and he was sticking to it, and also possibly lying through omission, since he was editing out the part where it took him several hours of digging through events on social media and blogs from locals to piece together the truly bizarre events surrounding the death of his uncle, Sean Mills.
Stiles was jittery, despite taking his meds, and his fingers drummed the steering wheel with nervous anticipation. Without thinking, he slowed slightly as he passed the sign that announced he was entering Sioux Falls county and considered pulling over and turning back. He could fake a flat, claim it took an extra day to get there. Easy enough to believe.
Instead, he kept driving. And he hated the fact that the reason he kept driving had little to do with meeting Aunt Jody and far more to do with wanting an answer to the questions suddenly plaguing him. Not that he could come out and ask. Not that he could just say, "Hey, Aunt Jody? So nice to meet you! So, this is where I'm sleeping? Is this the same room where Uncle Sean was ripped apart in an apparent home invasion that was later determined to be a freak animal attack?"
Yeah. He probably shouldn't lead with that. And he definitely shouldn't lead with his follow-up: "Was that, by chance, any way related to all those bodies disappearing from the cemetery in a grave yard heist that was seemingly covered-up by local officials, yourself included?"
Yeah. Not that one either.
He took a deep breath, trying to push down his curiosity. Failing, but trying was worth something, right? He groaned in frustration.
He'd been told, on several occasions actually, how extremely annoying (and sometimes extremely inconsiderate by most social standards) his tendency to fixate on subjects could be. Occasionally, the habit was useful (see "werewolves" for example) but more often than not, it got him into trouble.
He was completely aware that he needed to let this go. At least for now. But that wasn't happening. What he could do, what he had to do, was keep it to himself. Keep his current "investigation" private.
Easier said than done.
When she'd last seen him, he'd been a child, skinny and energetic, a big smile plastered on his face, and his amber eyes shining brightly. Jody had been told that picture was taken by Claudia. It was the last one Noah had sent her, the last one before his wife passed. She knew there were other ways to find out what Stiles looked like these days, other ways to get to know him. For starters, she could have asked Noah. They'd started talking again; it would have been a fair request. But she'd held her tongue. And she hadn't gone the obvious route, scouring the internet. Just from his dad's comments, she knew he was the type of teenager to keep a web presence. And if that had failed, using her job to get an image would have been beyond easy.
But she hadn't. She hadn't looked. She hadn't tried. And she knew how that would sound, if she said it aloud, but she'd swear on her life, it had nothing to do with not caring. God, did she ever care...
But she didn't deserve to know what he looked like. That was the story she'd fed herself when the temptation rose to the surface. A decade ago, she would have still blamed Noah for the distance between them, but these days? These days she had a lot of time to reflect. Too much time. And she knew she was just as fault for what happened between them.
Now, she suddenly wished she knew what Stiles, the teenager, looked like. As if that would somehow make things less awkward, to be able to pretend this face was familiar.
Jody gripped the door of her patrol car a bit too tightly before finally shutting it. She'd been sitting in the car for the last ten minutes, staring up at her house, aware that it wouldn't be quite so empty tonight, and awaiting another update from Stiles. The kid had been sending her a text message at least twice a day, impersonal updates on his location that she was certain his dad had insisted on. The last message put him in the county, and she'd rushed home, parked, and sat since then, not wanting it to look like she was loitering in her own yard, waiting for him to arrive and hoping to pretend as if she'd just gotten home from work as he was pulling in.
"Come on, Jody. He's just a teenager."
A teenager. The most terrifying being known to mankind. And he was going to be living with her for the summer. Because it was too dangerous for him to stay at home...When Noah had filled her in on what was going on, she'd been full of questions. She felt the part of her that thrived on being a sheriff show up to the conversation, but she'd held her tongue, tried not to ask for information Noah wasn't ready to give her. But she knew enough. She knew her nephew had a tendency to get involved with criminals, had managed to get hit with a restraining order, had lied about getting hurt.
"What the hell did I even agree to?" she muttered, stepping around her car and taking a deep breath. She forced herself to loosen up, smile, even if there was no one to see it. Hopefully she wouldn't look as nervous as she felt.
The timing wasn't far off. Noah had told her about the old Jeep the kid was driving. She saw the powder blue of its boxy frame as it rounded the turn-off to her neighborhood. She lifted a hand, stiffly waving in its direction. He must have seen her because a second later he was slowing down in front of her driveway, easing his vehicle into a spot next to hers. She froze when she heard the creak of his door opening.
The kid was taller than her, still somewhat skinny and still bright-eyed as he was in his photograph. She was almost surprised she could recognize him, could see her brother in his low brow, in the cut of his jaw. She imagined that face covered in bruises, as Noah had described, and felt an unwelcome tightness in her stomach. He didn't look like a troubled boy or a troublemaker. What he did look like was an overgrown kid. Owen would have been a couple years younger than him, and it occurred to her for the first time that this was going to be harder than she'd planned, seeing a boy in her house every day and remembering it wasn't the right one. Jody swallowed hard, unsure of what to say.
"Hi?" Stiles said, and made it sound like a question. "Um. So...I'm Stiles." From the way he glanced over his shoulder, back at his Jeep, Jody worried he might hop back inside it and take off.
"I hope you like meat," she said, quickly. She blinked, trying to stop herself from continuing and failing. "And dairy. I mean, I hope you aren't lactose intolerant because that would be...I made lasagna. Yesterday, so it's leftover. That's what I meant to say: 'Hope you like lasagna.' Which has meat and cheese in it, and I completely forgot to ask your dad if you had any food allergies or if you were a vegetarian." Her cheeks hurt, thanks to her forced smile. She was absolutely not telling Noah about this introduction. "Oh, and hi! I'm your aunt. Sheriff Mills. I mean Jody. I'm your aunt Jody."
Stiles' lip twitched, like he was fighting a grin. He let out a slow sigh, and she could almost see the tension bleeding out of him. "Yeah," he chirped, maybe a touch of sarcasm in his tone, but Jody didn't take offense. "I can definitely tell. Also, lasagna would be great."