“I’m going to need everybody to pair up for this next experiment. Everyone, grab a partner.”
The class erupted into giggles and whispers, friends bee-lining for each other, class politics coming to the front as groups publicly declare their first choice of friend. Stiles sat still. He didn’t bother twisting in his seat to look for Scott, knowing what he would see.
Scott smiling soppily at Allison, or maybe teaming up with Lydia to outscore everyone else in the class. Bombshell beauty Erica leaning close into his personal space, Boyd with a stoic smile at her side, Isaac looking up through his curls beseechingly. Maybe he’d even partner with Jackson, the last bits of animosity dissolving as Jackson slapped his back like he did with his teammates as they came off the field.
As everyone settled down with their partners, the seat next to Stiles remained empty. Stiles felt someone kick the back of his chair.
“Alone again Stilinski? Did your boyfriend dump you?” said Clark, one of Jackson’s old crew. His partner, Ashley, sniggered.
Stiles pulled on a vicious grin and threw back, “Why? Hoping I’m single? Because I’m flattered, but I’m afraid I’m not into bestiality, monkey-brain.”
Clark snarled and Stiles hastily ducked the eraser he chucked at his head. As he turned away from Clark, his grin dropped. As much as he hated to admit it, Clark had touched a nerve.
Growing up, Stiles and Scott had always made fun of the Popular Kid table. It was him and Scott against the world, screw what the rest of the school thought. But apparently that had only been true while the idea of them being popular was a pipe-dream. Now, Scott had the girls fawning over him and the boys’ respect. The only piece that didn’t fit was…
“The fact is, I’m embarrassed to be seen with you!”
Stiles’ pen ripped through the paper where he was pressing it in so hard, shaking him out of the memory. Mr Thompson wandered over and perched on the edge of Stiles’ desk in a clearly practiced attempt to look casual. Mr Thompson wasn’t the worst teacher, but he was determined to seem ‘approachable’ and ‘down with the kids’ in a way that ensured he never would be.
"Hey buddo, I see you don’t have a partner yet, so I guess that makes us a team! Ready to rock some equations?"
The table behind him exploded with poorly concealed giggles. Clark started humming something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, “Lonely… I am so lonely”.
Stiles weakly gave Mr Thompson a thumbs up.
After an agonizing hour, the bell finally rang and the classroom emptied out. Stiles kept his gaze fixed on the worksheet in front of him, ignoring the clip round the ear Clark gave him as he walked by. His efforts were nearly broken as he heard the familiar timbre of Scott’s voice and instinctively went to seek it out. He pulled his attention back to the work just in time. Scott may have broken him, but he’d be damned if he ever let the bastard he used to call his best friend know that.
The sound of Scott’s footsteps stopped. In his periphery, it almost looked like Scott was hesitating by the door. Just as Stiles’ curiosity started to win out over his stubbornness, the shape in the doorway moved on. It probably wasn’t Scott anyway - it wasn’t like Stiles was the one blessed with super hearing.
Stiles had taken to working through his lunch breaks recently. Better than facing the cafeteria and being rejected from any table he tried to sit with. Growing up the ‘weird kid’ with ADHD, Stiles had already had his life supply of public humiliation, thank you very much.
Maybe if he played them off against each other? Sat with the goth kids and told them that the Popular Table didn’t like him very much? They didn’t like him much either, after what he did to Saff Miller in 7th Grade (Stiles still maintained that he couldn’t have possibly known the moth would do that) but maybe their hatred of the Popular Kids would overwhelm that…?
Stiles was so deep in his thoughts, he didn’t notice Mr Thompson approaching him until Stiles felt a hand land on his shoulder. Adrenaline coursed through him at the unexpected touch and suddenly he was back in that basement, feeling Gerard’s hand smack into him. Head ringing. Lip splitting when his ring caught it. The desperate realization that no-one was coming. No-one had even noticed he was gone.
Stiles threw himself away from the hand. His legs got wrapped around the chair and he flailed his way to the floor.
“Oh my, I’m terribly sorry. Are you okay?” Mr Thompson asked.
He forced himself to breathe steadily. As long as he looked to be breathing normally, he could fake his way through an oncoming panic attack.
“Didn’t see you coming,” he said.
Mr Thompson offered his hand to pull Stiles off the floor. Stiles shuffled back and pushed himself up on his own.
“I wanted to talk to you about class today. I can’t help but notice that you’ve been awfully quiet lately.”
A million mile per hour mouth, Scott had once called it affectionately. But it hadn’t been so affectionate, had it?
"For once in your life, could you just. Shut. Up!"
“Ah well, you know, I’m just really engaging in your lessons. Learning from the master, Mr T!”
As Stiles had predicted, Mr Thompson lit up at Stiles giving him a nickname. Preening slightly, he said, “Well I certainly appreciate that Stiles. But you know, I like it when you contribute to the class. You have really good insights... when you’re on topic. I just want you to know that you can always talk to me. I know it seems “uncool” to talk to your teacher, but if there’s anything going on at home then I want to hear about it.”
“Right,” said Stiles, “I’ll definitely take you up on that offer, you know, if anything happens. But I’m fine, really.”
Hastily, Stiles scraped the contents of his desk into his bag and swung it over his shoulder. As he headed for the door, the teacher called out to him.
“I know you and Scott were always close. You always looked out for him.”
Yeah, he had. But now Fido didn’t need looking after anymore. When Scott grew fangs, he outgrew Stiles.
“I don’t see you two spending time together anymore. That’s natural, sometimes friends grow apart. Maybe it’s time to find some new friends. Or use the time to get to know yourself a little better. Find a new hobby.”
Stiles let the door swing closed behind him.
As Stiles was heading home that night, the fuel gauge on his Jeep dropped into the red. He turned off at the next left and pulled into the gas station. As he stepped out, something on the back of his neck prickled. They were well into fall and the sun was setting earlier everyday. Long shadows enveloped the pumps. For a moment, Stiles’ feet felt welded to the floor. The last time he felt that prickle…
Light catching on Gerard’s ring. The sting of his split lip. Electricity crackling. Smell of burning flesh. Helpless. Pathetic.
"We can’t afford a liability like you in a fight."
Stiles locked his knee, stumbling forward. He couldn’t keep letting Gerard win like this. He refused to give into the need to search for the danger, reaching for the gas pump nozzle instead. As he lifted it out of its slot, he felt a low, rumbling snarl thrum through his chest.
It’s just in your head, he reminded himself. That’s the sound of the pumps.
He shoved the nozzle into the Jeep’s filler cap more roughly than was strictly speaking necessary. The price on the station’s monitor ticked up slowly. Had it always taken this long? The digits glowed a dull red - the same color as an Alpha’s eyes, his brain reminded him unhelpfully.
The snarl echoed through the nearly empty filling station once again. Louder this time, with a distinct snap at the end. Some deep, animalistic prey instinct in Stiles recognized the sound, leaving him with no doubt. This was definitely not just in his head.
He spun on his heel. Across from him, a horrible, misshapen humanoid. Arms that dangled too long, with bony elbow joints that bent backwards. Shoulders that slanted to accommodate the bubbling growth on the side of its neck. Sickly grey skin. Burning yellow dots centered in black eyes.
Stiles was frozen to the spot.
The thing took one labored step forward, and suddenly Stiles’ fight response kicked back in. He flailed backwards and threw himself behind the pump.
Moving with surprising speed for such a broken looking creature, the thing scuttled towards him, sticking its long fingers through the gaps between the pumps. Stiles recoiled, but couldn’t get too far before the gas nozzle - still in his hand - ran out of lead.
The gas nozzle!
Stiles judged the distance between him and his beloved Jeep. Ten feet, maybe. He sucked in a deep breath, then went for it.
Out from behind the pump. The thing ripped its freaky arms back through the gap again. Stiles raised the nozzle. Pressed the trigger. Gasoline splashed onto the cement below. Stiles shoved the nozzle forward, stepping into range of those arms. Managed to hit the thing’s eyes. It screamed, a high-pitched inhuman wail.
Stiles took advantage of its distraction to sprint the rest of the way to his Jeep. He fumbled with the door handle, wrenched open the door and threw himself into the driver’s seat. As he started the ignition, he felt something slimy and cold wrap itself around his ankle. He looked down to find fingers encasing his leg, the thing’s head following. It unhinged its jaw, revealing layers of razor sharp teeth.
Stiles reached for the door and slammed it shut around the thing’s head. Over and over again, panic fueling his muscles, he slammed the door into the side of its face, until eventually its grasp relented. Pulling his leg free, he kicked the creature from his car. Putting the Jeep in gear, he shoved the gas to the floor and fled the station.
The thing’s screeches followed him, but even its unearthly speed couldn’t keep up. Stiles watched it disappear from the rear mirror but his heart was still pounding out of his chest. As he reached his home, rushed inside and deadlocked the door, his limbs started to shake with excess adrenaline.
A hiccuping gasp erupted from him, and suddenly he was laughing. Unstoppable, insane giggling that took him to the floor.
“A liability in a fight, eh Derek? You should have seen me wield a petrol pump! I sure showed you.”
The giggling slowly subsided. For no apparent reason, the talk he had with Mr Thompson earlier that day sprang to mind.
“You always looked out for him,” he’d said.
Maybe Stiles still could. That thing was still out there. Maybe Scott would have been better in an outright fight, but he’d always been rubbish at the follow-up. If Stiles could work out what it was, what it wanted, and how to get rid of it… he’d show Derek what a ‘liability’ Stiles Stilinski was.
And maybe Scott will take you back, whispered some treacherous part of his mind.
Mr Thompson had suggested he find a new hobby. This wasn’t what he imagined Mr T had in mind, but it could work.
Stiles Stilinski: Monster Hunter.