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Strut on a Line, its Discord and Rhyme

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Sometimes Stiles Stilinski forgets how strange his life is. Usually this happens in the mornings, when he’s just woken up and is trying to remember how feet work and if the t-shirt on his lamp is clean or dirty. Then he stumbles downstairs and there’s a werewolf singing Shakira in his kitchen, and, yeah, that’s about when he remembers.

On this particular morning, the werewolf in question is wearing a pink apron over his jeans, no shirt, using a spatula as a microphone.

“Morning!” said werewolf exclaims brightly.

“Scott,” Stiles says. “What are you doing?”

“Making breakfast!” his brother answers, as if this is a completely sensible answer.  Scott gestures toward the frying pan in front of him with the spatula, looking pleased with himself. “It’s almost ready.”

Stiles leans against the cook top, considering the mess of partially burned eggs in the skillet, and wrinkles his nose.

“No thanks. And since when do we have anything other than cereal for breakfast?”

Scott turns off the stove eye, giving the action far more concentration than it deserves.

“Mom always cooked for our first days at school,” he says.

They both go uncomfortably quiet and Stiles moves to open the refrigerator.

“I don’t have time to eat anyway,” he says. “The bus will be here in like two minutes.”

Scott crosses his arms, giving him a swift appraisal. “Please tell me that’s not what you’re wearing.”

Stiles tugs at the hem of his plaid shirt, considering the torn jeans underneath it.

“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

Scott glares at Stiles’ neon green track shoes as if they have personally offended him.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you kind of look like a pubescent hobo.”

“Perfect, that’s what I was going for. Why is there nothing but eggs in the refrigerator?” Stiles pulls open a few cabinets at random.“Oh my god, Scott, did you forget to buy groceries again? What am I supposed to bring for lunch?” 

“What? No. Look.” Scott pushes a paper bag into his hands. “I already packed your lunch.”

Stiles unrolls the top and peers inside. “A mountain dew and a roll of ritz crackers?”

“Alright. I forgot to buy groceries again, but I promise I’ll do it tonight and—hey, I remembered to write you a note! So I get like, half credit, right? ‘A’ for effort?”

“Your note says ‘don’t screw up or I’ll kill you.’”

“But I put a smiley face on it,” he says, pointing over Stiles’ shoulder. “See?”

“Uh-huh. Give me some cash, I’ll buy something from the cafeteria.”

Scott sighs and digs a few bills from his pocket. “Okay. Cool. Just make sure it’s, um. Healthy?”

Stiles looks at the crackers and soda in his bag, then raises an eyebrow. “You’re really bad at this.”

Scott sags against the counter like a puppet with its strings cut. He rubs the heel of one hand against his forehead, eyes closed. “I know. God. I know. I’m sorry. I’m trying.”

“Hey, no—I didn’t. You’re doing fine. It’s fine.” 

They stare at each other awkwardly for a moment before Scott moves forward, dragging his palms down the sides of Stiles neck; pressing his cheek to the top of his head.

“Love you,” he mutters.

“Love you too. I’ll see you tonight. Try to get your furry ass to the grocery store by then.”

“Try to keep your puny human one out of trouble.”

“No guarantees.”

Stiles pushes away from his brother, grabbing his backpack and heading for the stairs.

“Make wise choices!” Scott shouts after him.

***

Stiles does not make wise choices. 

Well, he does, sort of. It’s not like he has any regrets. But considering it’s third period on the first day of school and he’s sitting outside the principals office with an icepack against his jaw and blood drying on his chin, he gets the feeling Scott is not going to be very pleased.

He glances sideways at the boy two chairs down who has been studiously ignoring him for the last several minutes. He’s kind of the definition of awkward, all skinny limbs and big ears and eyebrows he hasn’t grown into yet. He’s got tan skin and black hair and his too-big hands, rubbing anxiously at the knees of his jeans, occasionally pause to push the nose of his glasses back into place. Stiles moves the ice pack so he can speak.

“Hey. Are you okay?”

The other boy looks at him like he’s a crazy person. “I’m fine.” And then, as an afterthought. “You’re bleeding.”

Stiles shrugs, probing the split in his lip with his tongue. “No big. I’m Stiles, by the way.”

The boy says nothing.

“That’s usually the part where you tell me your name,” Stiles prompts.

“Derek,” he responds, looking confused. “Derek Hale.”

Derek has dimples and seriously endearing bunny teeth.

“So where are you from, Derek?”

Derek pulls at a tear in the knee of his jeans, looking uncertain. “Colorado.”

 “Cool.”

Derek stares at Stiles for a moment, eyebrows furrowed, and takes a breath, as if preparing himself to speak. He doesn’t get a chance, however, as that is the moment Scott comes jogging around the corner.

Stiles winces as he watches Scott’s nose flare, as his eyes move between him and Derek.

“Of course,” his brother groans. “Of course you pick a fight with a werewolf on your first day of school. Holy shit, child protective services is going to take you faster than—“

“What? Scott—no, I didn’t—“

“I swear to god, I’m grounding you for a month. I don't know how to enforce that, exactly, but it's happening."

“Scott would you listen—“

“Pardon me?”

They both turn their attention to the massive red-headed man approaching from the opposite side of the hallway.  He looks like the definition of Irish. His skin is choked with freckles, he’s wearing more plaid than the Brawny man, and his expression is somewhat harried.

“Hey. Hi,” Scott moves forward, extending a hand to shake. “Are you the father? Look, I’m really sorry. I’m Stiles’ uh—well I’m his brother, but I’m also sort of his parent now—guardian? Guardian, I guess. Scott. My name is Scott. Stilinski.”

“Padraig Hale,” the other man responds, accepting Scott’s hand. Their eyes meet and for single tense moment, Stiles is worried. Scott drops his gaze nearly immediately though, and the two separate without incident. 

“Nice to meet you,” Padraig continues, “I wasn’t aware there were any other wolves at the high school.” His words are lightly accented and oddly formal.

“Oh. There’s not. I graduated last year, so. And Stiles isn’t a—obviously, but—“

The older man quirks an amused eyebrow. “Do you know what happened?”

“No. No I do not. But I’m assuming it’s Stiles’ fault since your kid looks—“

Pathetic, is the word that immediately springs to Stiles’ mind. Derek’s dad sighs like he’s all too aware of it.

“Anyway,” Scott mutters, “Sorry my kid picked a fight with your kid.”

“He didn’t,” Derek says softly.

“What?”

They all look expectantly at the boy but he doesn’t seem interested in providing any additional information.

  “I didn’t get in a fight with Derek,” Stiles offers, “It was Mark.”

“Mark?” Scott says, “Who’s Mark?”

“A grade-A asshole,” he mutters as the principal’s door opens.

They all turn their attention to the man immediately inside the office, who is clearly in the middle of rant.

“Letting that little freak beat my kid up—“ the man is shouting. He basically looks like an older version of Mark, and he’s got his hand of Mark’s shoulder so Stiles guesses he’s the boy’s father. 

He and Derek both stand as the principal, looking particularly vexed, gestures them forward. Stiles is gratified to see that one of Mark’s eyes is already swollen shut and his nose is definitely crooked. 

“I expect there to be serious consequences,” Mark’s dad is saying as the group from the hall files inside. “Look what that goddamn animal did to my son’s face!”

“Uh, yeah, no,” Stiles says. “That wasn’t Derek. That was me.”

The man’s tirade is somewhat derailed by that information. “I—what?” 

“I’m the one that broke Mark’s nose,” Stiles repeats. “Derek wasn’t involved. Like, at all. And douchecanoe over there started it,” he says, gesturing to Mark. “So.”

Scott makes a choking noise.

Derek’s dad is looking at Stiles with raised eyebrows.

Derek mouths, “douchecanoe?” 

“You’re telling me this little boy did all of that to you?” Mark’s father says, looking aghast at his son.

“Whoa now,” Stiles says. “I’m actually like, average height for my age-group, alright? And I know the shaved head thing makes me look younger than I am but that wasn’t exactly by choice. There was a fire, okay? A spaghetti fire. Scott’s fault. Not mine.”

“Oh my god,” Scott says, “are you trying to get CPS called on me?”

Derek’s dad coughs into his hand.

Derek mouths “spaghetti fire?”

“Mr. Stilinski,” the principal says, looking more exasperated by the second, “Are you saying the altercation that took place was strictly between you and Mark?”

“Yeah. I mean, Derek was involved at first but he wasn’t a part of the fighting.”

The principal turns his attention to the boys. “Derek, did you ever physically touch Mark?”

“No,” he says, sounding both furious and ashamed. “I just stood there.”

“Probably because he knew that if he so much as sneezed on Mark the police could haul him off to juvie or force him into reservation detention,” Stiles says, crossing his arms. “I mean. You realize that the Human Protection Act basically means that he can’t defend himself like, at all, right?”

“Mr. Stilinski,” the principal says in a way that means “shut up.”

Stiles falls silent with a scowl.

“Thank you.” 

The woman studies the two boys for a moment. “Mark, did Derek at any point physically involve himself in the altercation?”

Mark looks somewhat torn for a moment.

“Don’t even think about lying,” Stiles mutters, “there were over thirty witnesses. You got your ass handed to you. Own it.”

Derek’s dad unsuccessfully suppresses a laugh.

“No.” Mark says finally. “Stiles was the only one that hit me.”

All of the adults shift their attention to Derek, as the principal is clearly debating whether or not this is true. It helps that Derek is doing a pretty excellent impression of a kicked puppy. Which, Stiles doesn’t know if that’s a politically correct comparison to make, all things considered, but it’s accurate anyway.

“Alright, perhaps you could tell me what prompted the incident in the hallway?” The principal asks, her eyes once more on Stiles.

“Well, Mark was talking all kinds of crap to Derek and Derek couldn’t do anything about it because, hey, unfair legislation, but I could do something about it. So I did.”

“Are you saying you threw the first punch, Mr. Stilinski?”

“Yup.” He pops the “p,” which causes the split in his lip to start bleeding again.

“Mark,” the principal says, “were you antagonizing Derek?”

“No!” His voice hitches in an unattractive whine. “I was just standing there.”

“Hey,” Stiles says, “witnesses, assface, I have them.”

Derek’s father moves forward slightly as he addresses, not the principal, but Stiles.

“May I ask the nature of the young man’s antagonism?” 

“It was, oh, it was such crap. Like, he called him a freak and an animal and said he should have been euthanized at birth and then he was like, offering to kill Derek himself to ‘fix the mistake’ or whatever, and it’s not like Derek could fight back either because of that stupid HPA shit.  It’s totally unfair.”

“Language,” Scott mutters, as if he wasn’t the one that taught Stiles to swear when he was ten.

“Look. I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing. Mark had him up against the lockers and was just—god, it was terrible the stuff he was saying.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Padraig says, addressing the principal now, “but it is my understanding that hate speech against a minority human-identifying species is an offense punishable by expulsion within the public school system.”

“So is hitting another student,” Mark’s father says sharply.

Padraig gives the man a look that makes Stiles shiver. “Considering neither of these children would benefit from such an upheaval, perhaps a few days suspension would be suffice punishment for both of them.” 

The principal is nodding but Mark’s father is clearly not interested in compromising.

“I’m sorry,” he says to Padraig, not sounding the least bit apologetic, “but I don’t think I got your name, sir.” The emphasis is mocking and Stiles fights the impulse to kick the leering man in the shin. It’s clear Mark’s prejudices are learned behavior.

Derek’s father smiles and it’s just a shade too sharp to be human. “Padraig Hale, second son of Eoin Walsh, Alpha of Ireland.” He does not offer Mark’s father a handshake.

“Holy crap,” Stiles says. “You’re like royalty.”

 He turns his attention to Derek, “Which makes you like a prince right? Oh my god.” He spins back to face Mark gleefully. “You threatened to kill Werewolf royalty. You are so dead.”

Mark and his father have both paled considerably. Neither of them seems to have anything more to add to the conversation.

“I believe three days suspension for each student would be appropriate,” The principal says quickly. “Is that amenable to everyone?”

Apparently it is.

A few minutes later Stiles finds himself in the hallway with three werewolves and a grin on his aching face.

“That,” he says to Padraig, using the back of his hand to wipe the fresh welling of blood from his lip, “was so cool. You were totally badass.”

Derek’s father tugs a handkerchief from his pocket, because of course, of course he has a handkerchief, and tips Stiles face to the light.

 “I could say the same of you, little one.” He responds solemnly, hands gentle as they clean his mangled mouth. “Thank you for protecting my son when he could not protect himself.”

Padraig meets Stiles’ eyes, and then purposely drops his gaze.

Scott breathes out sharply at the blatant act of submission.

“Uh. Thanks? I mean, it’s not a big deal I just—I know Scott had to deal with stuff like that and I wish someone had stuck up for him, you know?”

Derek’s father steps back, returning the bloodied cloth to his pocket. “Indeed. If you don’t mind I would like to speak with your brother for a moment. Derek, see if you can’t find another ice pack for Stiles’ face.”

Stiles glances at Derek, pushing at his glasses, looking more rabbit than wolf, and waves off the request.

“I’m fine. You guys talk. We’ll sit.”

He slumps down against the nearest locker and pats the spot of linoleum beside his with an encouraging smile.

Derek joins his with obvious misgiving and they watch as Scott and Padraig move further down the hall.

“So you and your dad are here alone? Where’s your mom?” Stiles asks after a bit of uncomfortable silence.

“Gone,” Derek says in a way that makes Stiles’ chest hurt.

 Stiles nods to the adults with a conspiratorial elbow-nudge. “I figured. I think they’re bonding over the whole single parent thing. Possibly also the werewolf thing. We don’t know any other wolves living off-reservation.”

“You’re not,” Derek says and Stiles makes a face.

“What?”

“You’re not a wolf.”

“Uh. Yeah. I know?”

“I mean. Your brother is.”

 “I’m also aware of that, yes.”

“Would you stop—How? How are you human? Lycanthropy is dominant. It’s—science. The gene should have passed to you if your parents were—“

“Uh, pretty sure it’s magic, dude, not science. And Scott isn’t my biological brother. I was adopted.”

Derek’s eyebrows make a valiant attempt at touching his hairline. “Your pack adopted a human child?”

“Yup.”

“Why?”

“Beats me. I’d say ask them but, hey, they’re dead, so.”

Derek looks suddenly and intensely uncomfortable. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…“

“S’okay. Forget it.” Stiles licks a new line of blood forming on his lip and sighs. 

“So if you guys  are like, Irish royalty or whatever, what the hell are you doing in Beacon Hills, California?”

“My father married into my mother’s pack in Colorado. But we’ve—the reservation has had difficulties with the fae recently.”

“So?”

“I was kidnapped and held hostage for nearly a month by a Mage who had allied himself with a group of lesser demons. It was…unpleasant.”

Stiles lets out a low whistle. “Well that sucks. Still doesn’t answer my question though.”

Derek worries the freyed edge of the hole over his knee. Stiles notices with academic interest that his fingernails are torn down to the quick.

“I was…damaged…by the experience,” Derek says finally. “My father suggested we leave the state for a while to work through my post traumatic issues. There’s a nature preserve here owned by extended family. I’d never spent any real amount of time around humans and thought it might be educational.” He lets out a short bark of self-deprecating laughter. “I’m finding I might prefer demonic company.”

Stiles snorts. “Yeah? Demons you can handle but jerk-face teenagers you’re afraid of?”

He expects Derek to smile but he doesn’t.

“Demons are easy. They’re hateful and malicious and don’t make any secret about their intentions. You know they’re monsters from the start. Humans are harder.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because, sometimes they pretend to be your friend first.”

Stiles studies Derek’s hunched form, the way the knobs of his spine press hard against the skin of his bowed neck in the vulnerable space between his tshirt and the buzzed fringe of his hair. His glasses are sliding down his nose again and Stiles thinks that, for a werewolf, Derek looks awfully fragile.

“That’s deep, dude. But, hey, all humans don’t suck. I’m pretty cool, right?”

“Yes,” he agrees solemnly, and then despite it’s heavily belated arrival: “Thank you.”

“Right. So, I’m starving.” Stiles nods toward the adults, still talking further down the hall. “You wanna see if they’ll move their blossoming bromance to the Hamburger Hut across the street?”

Derek nudges his glasses with the knuckles of one hand, looking somewhat perturbed as he considers both Stiles and the question he has posed. “Okay,” Derek says finally. “I like hamburgers.”