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The Apprenticeship

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“Son, are you absolutely sure about this?” his father asked, the tone of his voice lost to bad reception. Stiles’ apartment had the uncanny ability of jamming all signals - wi-fi and otherwise.

God, he hated his apartment.

“It’s cool, dad, it’s only a casting, I’m pretty sure they won’t be choosing me anyway,” Stiles told him as he tried to pick out something even remotely professional to wear. Something that was also easy to get out of - just in case.

“I’m just saying,” his father sighed, “Last time didn’t go too well. If you’re not ready, you don’t have to do it. In fact, you don’t have to do it at all. Ever.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. His dad wasn’t exactly conservative, but he was also… his dad. It was understandable he wasn’t very fond of the idea of his son getting up into all kinds of weird sex-magic stuff.

That’s how most people saw the Emissary apprenticeship; a lot of weird sex-magic stuff, and while his dad was better informed than the general populace, it was his right to worry about his kid. It was sort of sweet, actually.

“Dad, I’m ready. Last time didn’t work out because the guy just wasn’t right, okay? Sure, I shouldn’t have let it go that far when I knew it wasn’t a good match, but… This is an opportunity I can’t pass up.”

Well, okay, he could pass it up. Being a regular Spark wasn’t a bad thing. He could get all kinds of specialized, high-demand jobs… He actually had his eyes on an internship at a supernatural PI firm, but well. Being an Emissary would take his abilities to the next level. If he managed to find the right pack. And more importantly, the right Alpha .

Someone he wouldn’t mind doing all the sex-magic and bonding with.

Okay, yeah, he’d tried once before. Castings for Emissary positions were few and far between and since about seven percent of the human population was a Spark, there was no shortage of volunteers. Last time he got through all the preliminary rounds and eliminations. He got far enough to actually meet the Alpha and he almost - almost - made the terrible mistake of signing on. But. He backed out in the last second, leaving Deucalion and his pack hanging. It wasn’t something he was proud of, but deep down he knew he did the right thing.

“What do you even know of this pack?” his dad asked, sounding resigned. Stiles was happy he didn’t try to change his mind. It wouldn’t have worked anyway.

“You know they don’t disclose much information before casting, dad. I know they are California based. I know they have a current Emissary who wants to retire but is willing to supervise the apprenticeship. That’s about it.”

And of course, he knew the perks. Being an Emissary was something regular humans - and even the vast majority of Sparks - could only dream of. They were the highest ranking members of packs, right below the Alpha of course. Werewolves were… okay, maybe not celebrities, but pretty much the pillars of the community wherever they were. Their territories were huge, they were the holders of traditions and the keepers of the law in the supernatural world.

And yeah, most packs were filthy rich. If Stiles wanted to be honest, that didn’t hurt either.

Have he mentioned how much he hated his apartment?

“Well, at least you would move back closer to home,” his dad said, sounding a bit warmed up to the idea. Stiles knew he didn’t like it that he lived so far away, but New York offered a lot more opportunities than small town California. In Beacon Hills he maybe could have opened a charm shop, or taken over the herb store after Mr. Jennings retired, but yeah. Not much else.

“Sure. But I won’t be chosen anyway… Do you have any idea how many Sparks are in New York? I’m just trying to wet my feet, network a bit, maybe.”

His dad hummed.

“Alright then. If you want to do it, I won't try to stop you. Just… listen to your gut, kid, okay? If it doesn’t feel right, don’t force it.”

Stiles smiled.

“Okay, I promise. I will have to go now, though… love’ya!”

“Love you too, Stiles.”

***

The truth was, Stiles applied for this position three months ago, and had been going through the elimination rounds for weeks on end now. It was a big casting. Whoever this pack was, they cast a wide net to fish up the perfect person for the job.

When he applied to Deucalion’s pack there were only two rounds of tests and then personal meetings. Nothing fancy. This was in a whole other ballpark.

There had been… Six rounds of tests, and as far as he knew, it was pretty much a nation-wide thing. Heck, Stiles got invited . He wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that everyone who graduated with any sort of magical degree got an invitation to this damned thing.

And to his surprise he passed each and every one of them. By now half of his drive was to a) find out who these guys were with enough wealth and influence to pull this off and b) see if he could live up to the challenge and get to the end of it.

And apparently, he did. He got the last invite, in a creme colored envelope, informing him of the time and place of the interview round a week ago, and well… That’s when he told his dad that he was doing it. There was no sense in worrying the old man, right?

Now he was at a bit of a loss. Usually the interview round would mean meeting the Alpha, seeing if they had chemistry, if they… fit. But with this casting? He wasn’t so sure. Maybe there were multiple rounds of interviews, though Stiles couldn’t fathom what they would be about, considering that the last written test he had to do was about as hard as getting his degree in Applied Magic had been.

Well, whatever it was, he would find out soon.

***

The interview was held in a huge, impersonal office building downtown. Flashy, but not how Stiles would have liked this going. His magic was always going every-which-way when there were too many people around or when his senses were overloaded. He would have preferred something much more subdued.

But he would make do. Now that he was here, he planned to do his best - after a casting like this just being in the top few percent would look good on his resume.

He took the elevator to the twenty third floor and was greeted by an organizer - she had an actual badge and everything - who checked his name on a list and and then graciously allowed him to sit in one of the chairs lining the hallway. Most of the people there, about twenty of them, were dressed in sharp suits and pencil skirts. Stiles felt a bit out of place in his green blazer - it was one of the nicest piece of clothing he owned, and it helpfully covered up the stain on the sleeve of the checkered shirt under it.

Then they waited. Occasionally someone would come out from the office they appeared to be waiting for, calling the name of the next person. Nobody talked to each-other. It was kind of getting on his nerves.

The organizer lady looked like she would have preferred to be anywhere else, and while Stiles was slowly starting to agree with the sentiment, the way she kept checking her watch only made him twitchier.

“Stilinski!” the guy stepping out of the interview room said. He looked a bit pale. Everyone coming out did and it wasn’t exactly confidence inducing.

Stiles swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. This was it.

He smoothed out his blazer and walked in.

***

There were two people waiting for him inside, and just from a glance, he knew neither of them were the Alpha. Oh, the guy was definitely a werewolf, but he didn’t ooze the usual charm and charisma Alphas did - there was something… defensive about him, though Stiles couldn’t put his finger on what.

The woman was a whole different matter. She was something that’s for sure, but not any kind of supernatural he’d ever met. Something exotic maybe? He had no idea.

“Hi,” he said lamely after closing the door behind himself.

There was something uncomfortably familiar about them… But what caught Stiles attention was the desk in front of them; there was an unlit candle, a glass of water, a closed mason jar with a bit of dirt at the bottom and a pot filled with soil.

Elemental magic. Fantastic.

“Something wrong?” the woman asked, probably catching the grimace he wasn’t quick enough to hide. She was gloriously ginger and radiated superiority despite being about Stiles’ age.

“Ugh.” Stiles groaned, very eloquently, if he said so himself. The werewolf lifted a thick eyebrow in question. “I’m more of a reactional magic kind of guy,” he admitted.

He understood - intellectually - why they would make elemental magic their test; it required training, talent and concentration. It also required a technique that was called ‘Quieting of the Mind’. Stiles was… not very good at that.

She huffed out a breath.

“Well, in any case, Mr. Stilinski... I’m Lydia Martin, and this is Derek,” she said. It didn’t skip Stiles’ attention that she left out the guy’s last name. Something of a ‘brand’ then. “Would you like to give it a go, or spare us all the time?”

The way she said it, like she already expected it to fail rubbed him the wrong way. It was the sort of haughty tone that usually sent Stiles spiralling into unfortunate crushes, but not this time. He worked too damned hard to get this far just to be blown off without being given a chance.

“I have ADHD, okay? So it’s a bit harder for me to concentrate, I never said I couldn’t to it,” he bit out, strolling up to the table and taking the empty chair in front. To his surprise, Ms. Martin smirked, and it took him a second to realize that she probably just wanted to rile him up.

The werewolf - Derek - wasn’t saying a word, he just crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. Stiles had the suspicion that he wasn’t very fond of magic.

“Alright, so I’m guessing; light the candle, get the water to do something, make the air move in the jar and... grow some shit.”

“Grow some shit,” Derek said, deadpan, making Stiles flap with his hands noncommittally.

“Yup. Okay, let’s see how this goes.”

***

It went as well - or as badly - as he expected. It took him ten minutes to light the candle, and then another few to make the most pathetic ripples in the water he ever saw.

The wind one was easy, at least. For some reason he always did better with that element… He still had to concentrate, but almost immediately the dirt at the bottom of the jar swirled into a litto tornado. He hoped that would save his performance, because let’s be honest, he wasn’t doing very impressively so far.

The last one was the pot.

Stiles glared at it. Earth magic - or green magic - was the hardest. Fire was difficult; it needed a lot of energy to start, but once you managed that, you were good. Water was the easiest to most people, because it mostly needed calmness. Air was a tricky little bitch, but Earth? Earth needed life .

Stiles took a deep breath and concentrated on the pot, doing his best to open his mind and search out the seeds hidden under it, looking for something to grasp and push his Spark into.

He couldn’t sense anything. It didn’t help that he could feel a gigantic headache looming in his near future from all the focusing he was doing. Now that he thought back, he’d been laid up with a migraine for a day after his Elemental Magic exam. Great…

His thoughts kept fluttering away, making it impossible to concentrate, and he could feel his time slowly ticking away. At what point did an attempt turn pathetic? He wasn’t sure, but he knew that the sweat on his forehead probably wasn’t making the impression on his interviewers that he wanted to make.

He didn’t know how long it took him to realize it, but by then he could actually feel his migraine coming on, making spots dance on the edge of his vision.

“Oh, fuck you , lady,” he said, folding in on himself and bumping his head against the edge of the table. “There’s nothing in there!”

Ms. Martin made an appreciative little sound. It wasn’t nearly as apologetic as Stiles thought it should be.

“Correct. You’re only the third person to figure it out,” she said almost cheerfully.

Okay, yeah, this woman was clearly a sadist. They let everyone come in here and try until they popped a blood vessel…

“Rude,” Stiles told her, having even less of a filter when he was exhausted and in pain.

He jerked a little when Derek spoke up - shit, he almost forgot the guy was even there.

“You okay, Mr. Stilinski? You don’t look so good.”

Stiles snorted, finally straightening out. God, his head hurt.

“Peachy,” he said, standing up slowly. He still had to take hold of the back of the chair to stop himself from toppling over.

“Well,” Ms. Martin said, “You passed the test, and that means you will advance to the next level and meet with our Alpha,” she explained, jotting down something. “I mean, your time wasn’t the best, but you passed.”

Stiles rolled his eyes.

“Thanks.”

He still felt pretty wobbly, even as he made his way towards the door. He was aware that he should make some small talk, chat a bit, try to get in their good graces, but yeah. No. Too much pain.

To his surprise, Derek got  up and hovered by his elbow, like he was afraid he would fall flat on his face. Okay, maybe it wasn’t completely out of the question.

The werewolf opened the door for him, glaring at the dozen people still waiting for their turn when the gaped at them.

And then things started happening incredibly fast.

The elevator at the end of the hall dinged. Stiles didn’t even know why he looked up, he just did, and when the doors opened, there were two men in it, dressed in black suits and ski masks. The organizer lady dropped her clipboard and stepped in, grinning in a way that somehow made her… ugly.

And then one of the men threw a grenade at them.

Time jerked, and Stiles watched in slow motion as the grenade rolled towards them. Nobody was moving, and then Derek lurched into motion, snarling and wolfed out, and instead of doing the sensible thing of getting down, he was trying to jump towards the grenade.

Stiles couldn’t believe that the guy would actually try to pull some Steve Rogers bullshit.

There was no way for a human to hold a werewolf back, so Stiles took the easier road, and simply kicked out and tripped him. Derek landed with a very unheroic ‘umph’ but he didn’t have time to laugh, because he barely had a second left to throw up a shield around them before the explosion rocked the building.