Stiles was only looking for this week’s hiding place the sheriff chose to conceal his spare set of keys to the police station and it’s various locked components. After the whole “kidnapping” of Jackson via the police van incident, he confiscated Stiles’ illegally duplicated set and started hiding his spares.
What he found instead of the keys he needed for this week’s wolf business wounded him more than access to any gun cage at the station ever could.
Behind a stack of old John Clancy novels and the three formal ties his dad owned in his closet, way at the back, was a photo album. One of the big leather bound ones that almost every family has tucked on a shelf somewhere despite the ever growing popularity of digital photo frames and virtual galleries.
Every family that is, except the Stilinskis.
Or so Stiles had always thought until now.
Sure they had a couple of pictures around, afterall the house might look a bit odd with none gracing a random table or ledge.
There’s the one of him and his dad at the Father-Son Fishing tournament they tried out one summer. Taken of course, before Stiles hooked his finger instead of his bait and had to leave to get a tetanus shot…
The one of him and Scott in their lacrosse uniforms the day they both made the team. Bittersweet since they ended up riding the bench for over a year, but still a nice Kodak moment.
And of course the one of his parents on their wedding day. The one that has spent more time lying face-down in recent years than displayed properly, but after a while it just made the days when it was up for the world to see seem extra special.
So a few are scattered about the house, but not many. Stiles once questioned his dad on this very subject a couple years ago when he needed younger pictures of himself for a school project. The sherrif’s response was,
"Sorry son, but we were always just terrible at remembering to get the photos developed, and then we’d lose the disposables, and well, you know how it is."
When Stiles finally picks up the album and instantly feels it’s heft, however, he knows his dad was not being truthful. And his lie did end up costing Stiles partial credit on his project, so he assumes there must be a good reason. Like either the person behind the camera did a really shit job and the photos didn’t turn out right, or they’re all just incredibly embarrassing and he was trying to spare his son some grief at school.
After opening to the first page however, Stiles immediately feels the rising annoyance of being lied to and not getting the grade he deserved fall away as it’s replaced with a multitude of other emotions all fighting for dominance.
Shock. Fascination. Affection. Incredulity. Sorrow. Bitterness. Joy.
Because the reason the sheriff said they didn’t have any photos wasn’t because they were poorly taken, it was because his mother was all over them. And not only her image gracing many of the candids, but her handwriting as well, accompanying nearly every photograph with, what Stiles comes to discover, are messages for him.
His mom penned the thoughts, feelings, and stories associated with every one of the overwhelming amount of family pictures in her album, and the sight of it all after her passing must simply have been too much for the sheriff to bear. So he stuck it in his closet and after a while probably forgot it even existed.
But it’s real, and it’s all her, so the emotion that ends up winning the current war raging within Stiles?
The feeling of longing and absolute aching to be close to her again. To hear her call him her “little monkey”, to have her poke each of the moles on his face in turn before finishing with a bop on his nose, just to see her smile at him in that way she was able to that made it seem like she was lighting up from the inside out, the need to sit with his mom and tell her all about his life and how things have gotten so unreal-but to reassure her he still finds time to make sure dad eats some vegetables now and then. These unattainable yet desperately wanted moments are so vivid and tangible he almost can’t stand it.
Which is why any minute now Stiles is sure the wave will wash over him. The start of another panic attack.
Yet as he continues to look over the myriad of candid shots of not only him, (though they are numerous) but also of his parents and other memories that warranted a lasting physical reminder…the attack never comes.
Stiles is not taken over by the wildly unpleasant siege on his mind and body he;s grown used to battling in recent years, and is surprisingly worse off without it. He knows how to respond to a panic attack at this point. The sudden light-headedness, the feeling that an elephant sat on his chest and squashed all the air permanently from his lungs, the shaking and accelerated heartbeats. He has tips and tricks learned through brutal trial and error for all that.
This onslaught of love and affection directed towards him from his mother that he never expected to experience again is not something he has a strategy for.
He doesn’t know how to read her words and not run his fingers over the impressions left from the pen. He doesn’t know how to stop imagining that he smells her perfume all of a sudden, when he knows from some of the bits of paper tucked inside that she was in the hospital while working on this, and therefore definitely not putting on her daily spritz of vanilla and sandalwood. He doesn’t know how to make his insides stop fluttering as if hummingbirds are trying to burst free each time he sees a new picture of him and his mother together. He doesn’t know how to stop the guilt that pops up every time a tear falls and smears a bit of ink. But most of all he has no idea how to stop missing her.
There just aren’t tips for that.
On the last page Stiles is met with more pictures, handwritten notes, and silly little doodles, but also a brief letter scrawled on the back of a folded and torn scrap of what looks like hospital paperwork. He thinks about not untucking it from behind the pictures holding it in place, about not unfolding it and reading the final message in his mom’s book to him. Because if he reads it, then he’s reached the end. And part of him thinks it might be better to just stay in this moment and always have that last piece, just something unknown, like a secret between the two of them that only he knows exists…
But Stiles is a prime example of what would happen to the cat if that curiosity thing was true, so after a few minutes he does remove it from the book and read it, savoring each word.
Then as gently as he can manage with the hands that have betrayed him after all and started to shake slightly, places it back in it’s original spot amidst the rest of the album’s contents.
Stile’s is so gripped by the hug of his mother’s messages to him and the visual reminders that even though the Stilinskis don’t have a ton of framed photos on dislay doesn’t mean his family never had worth-while moments to capture, that he doesn’t even hear the the front door open and close. Doesn’t register or respond to his father’s usual,"Stiles, you home? What are we gonna do for dinner?"
Doesn’t react at all in fact, until his dad has reached the doorway of the room he once shared with the love of his life and the mother of his child, silently watching his son sit in a heap on the floor, an open photo album in his lap.
At which point Stiles finally glances up and says,
"I was only looking for keys…"