Chapter 1: Will not answer to "Sour Wolf"
That night, Uncle Peter is a few minutes late to dinner. Derek’s been welcome at the adults’ table for all of a week, but it takes only a glance at the twitching corner of Peter’s mouth for him to understand that this is a display of dramatic timing. Uncle Peter is never late unless he means to be, and the look Peter tosses Derek’s way before pulling out a chair and joining the rest of the family means that the joke is going to be on him tonight.
Derek holds back the growl that wants to rumble through his chest. Uncle Peter makes fun of everyone, and if Derek gets angry then all of his family will start ribbing him for losing his sense of humor while he was out running in the woods for the last five years. Peter will offer to organize a search party to scour the forest for it, and Aunts Carly and Alex will undoubtedly volunteer because they always back their baby brother in his amusements, and then half of the little ones--not understanding that it is all a joke--will beg to come along, too. It will be a month, at least, before they hear the end of it, and it will drive Derek spare, because he can’t remember exactly--five years is a long time--but he’s fairly certain he didn’t have much of a sense of humor to start with.
Laura kicks his ankle, and Derek turns his gaze to her. She’s the closest to him, not just seated beside him at the table tonight, but his only sibling in a crowd of cousins and close enough in age to him that they’d spent nearly two years together running as wolves.
“You’re glaring,” she tells him, not bothering to be quiet. There’s no point whispering in the Hale household. For every human who might miss a whisper, there are four werewolves happy to repeat it for them.
He hadn’t been glaring, though now he is. She ought to know the difference between a normal look and a proper glare. He tries to communicate this to her through the power of his stare, and Peter chuckles.
“You are glaring, Derek. In fact... I’d call that expression down right ‘sour.’” Peter’s eyes flash with gold, turning his expression into a definite smirk as he leans forward and picks up a serving platter that is still piled high with beef. He hands the platter to Alexandra and nudges her so that she passes it down the line towards Derek. “Some more roast beef should cheer up our Sour Wolf--”
Derek can’t hold that growl back. His mother shoots a “Manners, young man!” look his way, and Peter laughs.
“Why, Derek, what’s wrong? Isn’t roast beef your favorite? I’m certain I read that somewhere.”
Laura claps her hands, and her laugh peals through the room like an invitation howl on the full moon. “Oh, my god! Oh, my god! How priceless! Uncle Peter, you saw it, too?”
“Saw. What,” Derek says.
“‘Saw it’?” Peter says. “No. I saw them.”
“Oh! There’s more than one? Are they all--?”
“Saw. What,” Derek says again.
The rest of the family makes inquisitive noises, their expressions ranging through the narrow spectrum between amusement and bemusement--all except for Derek’s father, who only has eyes for the platter of beef. Derek really likes his father. You have to have respect for a man, for an Alpha, who knows his priorities and sticks to them. Derek helps himself to another slice--though he most definitely does not need cheering up--and hands the platter to his father.
“I stopped in at Dr. Deaton’s while I was in town today,” Peter tells his audience. “There was a lost dog sign posted in the clinic’s parking lot.”
“That’s not very interesting,” Aunt Carly says. “Dogs get lost all the time.”
“Oh, no,” Peter says. “This was a very special sign... about a very special dog. Isn’t that right, Derek?”
“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t lost a dog.”
“No,” Peter says. “But I think someone’s lost you.” He stands up and pulls several pages of folded paper out of his back pocket. “The first one was so fascinating, I had to sniff around and see if I could find more.”
Derek reaches for the pages. “Give me--”
Peter yanks them out of reach. “No! Bad dog! These are not for you.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Derek’s father says. “Peter. Stop teasing the boy. If those are about him, give them to him.”
“They’re not about me,” Derek says. He knows better than to complain about being called a boy. He’s seventeen and human-shaped again and sitting with the adults. That means he’s mature enough to ignore the epithet, at least when it’s coming from his father.
“I think they might be,” Laura says and grabs the papers from Peter’s hand. “The one I saw... Yes. This one, this is it. Missing: One Husky Dog, possibly a Husky-Wolf mix? Do they mix? I don’t know, but he looks like a wolf and likes to be told that he does. Blue eyes. Black and gray fur. Very soft. Answers to Fang sometimes--”
“Why are you--? Stop,” Derek says. “No one’s lost a dog. Stop reading that.”
“No, no. Listen. It’s adorable. Also answers to Wolf. Will definitely not answer to: Lassie, Snoopy, Sour Wolf, or Yo Quiero Taco Bell even though he will eat Taco Bell and Mexican macaroni and a truly amazing amount of roast beef sandwiches and even some green bean casserole, but only if it’s the kind with potato chips on top and the potato chips have not gone all mushy. If found, please call Stiles. And give him a sandwich if he looks hungry. Thank you for looking! PS: IMPORTANT!!! If found, DO NOT CALL SHERRIFF.”
What. The. Hell.
There are no words. Derek has no words. The world turns red around him and he’s maybe growling around a mouthful of roast because Laura kicks him again, but that’s it. That’s all that can be said.
Uncle Peter grins.
“What’s Mexican macaroni?” Uncle Ed, Aunt Carly’s mate, asks.
“More importantly,” Derek’s mother says, “what is a Stiles?”
“I think the question is, ‘Who is Stiles?’” Peter and Laura both say.
Laura sets the page she was reading down on the table. The haze clears from Derek’s eyes just enough that he sees that it was handwritten. Dammit. Derek knew he should have bitten that boy’s hand clean off the first time he’d met him. Only Stiles had shared that plate of macaroni with him, and it had been really good, and he’d been a natural at scratching gently behind wolf ears... and Derek’s mother had always said not to bite the hand that feeds you.
Damn kid. Why did he have to do this? Why did he have to get attached to some dumb stray dog? ‘Cause Derek sure as hell can’t give him his "dog" back and now he has to figure out how to get rid of every one of those signs. And, dammit, what makes Derek really, really mad is that he knows this is all his own fault. He should have listened all those times his mother told him not to take food from strangers.
Chapter 2: May have a man crush on a fox terrier
Two days earlier
It’s summer break, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s good because, duh, there’s no school with all of its unreasonable expectations about sitting still and being quiet. But it also sucks, because all of that free time is just more time for Stiles to miss the things that he doesn’t want to think about missing.
He misses his mother. He’s never going to not miss her, but it’s worse in the summer because his mom had totally rocked at summers. She’d taught first grade, so they’d always had the summers off together and there’d been like non-stop picnics and camp-outs and trips to the pool and playing in the garden, and basically just Stiles and his mom and Scott, too, turning wild and brown in the sun every year. And then that had ended.
The next summer, he’d been about as emo as a ten-years-old kid could be and things hadn’t gotten any better until he’d secretly maybe half-adopted a dog. Fang was sort of wild and grumpy, and he seemed to think “Fang” was a stupid name even when Stiles tried to explain that it was a classic because of White Fang--and okay, Stiles wasn’t crazy. He knew that Fang didn’t really have opinions on things like Jack London novels, but it was hard not to think that he did when Fang had such a perfect “What, are you stupid?” face. Seriously. There should be macros all over the web of Fang in all of his magnificent, furry disdain for lesser mortals. Stiles would have made the macros himself, but Fang was pretty hard to get a picture of. And now, that totally sucked, too. Fang was gone, and Stiles didn’t even have a decent photo of him for his posters.
Stiles was good with words, though. And while he couldn’t fit a thousand--a picture was worth a thousand, right?--words on a page, he thought he’d done a good enough job describing Fang that a photo wouldn’t be necessary.
While they’re hiding in the bushes around the corner from the Sheriff’s Office, waiting for Stiles’s dad to leave for a call or a doughnut break or something, Stiles shows Scott the signs he’s made. Scott reads the first one, and then he’s quiet for a long moment--probably wishing that he could write half as well as Stiles does--before he says, “But Fang isn’t really your dog.”
“Well, yeah,” Stiles says. “I know that. That's why I'm doing this like he's a missing person. Only you can't file a missing persons report on a dog, so that's why we're here.”
"Here. Where there are cops--"
"They're the same thing."
"No, they're not," Stiles says.
"Do you know what the difference is?"
"Mmm..." Stiles thinks about it. "No."
"Yeah," Scott says. "I didn't think so. They’re the same thing."
"I can find out. I'll tell you tomorrow."
"I don't really care."
"Maybe you should. What if someday that one piece of information is the one thing-- the only thing-- that can get you out of a life-or-death situation in one piece? Huh? What would you do then?"
"I won't worry about it," Scott says. "You'll be with me, so I'll be fine."
"Oh," Stiles says. "Really?"
Stiles sorta wants to hug Scott for that. He likes knowing that he’s appreciated, that Scott relies on him and knows they’re stronger as a team. But Scott has taken turning thirteen pretty seriously. They’re in a hug-free zone now... and Stiles doesn’t want to think about that because that only makes him miss his mom and Fang more.
There’s an awkward silence for a minute while Stiles shuffles his feet and Scott starts reading the next sign. Then Scott picks up the conversational thread again.
“So, we’re here, where there are deputies and things, where people would file missing person reports, but we can't file one, because Fang is a dog.”
“He might be a wolf,” Stiles reminds him. “I’m half convinced he's a wolf.”
“Whatever. He's still not a person, and he's still not your pet, and your dad will still probably throw a fit if he knew how often you were out in the woods playing with a wild animal.”
“Yeah... about that...” Stiles says. Stiles’s dad can be reasonable. He probably wouldn’t throw a fit about playing outside with strange dogs, but then there’s that whole secretly kinda half-adopted means secretly lets into the house when Dad isn’t home... or when Dad isn’t awake thing, and that’s a secret best kept just between himself and Fang. “Let’s keep my dad out of this.”
“Yeah, no shit. So why are we here... at your dad’s office?”
Stiles rolls his eyes. That should be obvious. “Where else are we going to get free copies?”
“Oh my god,” Scott says. “Are your plans always this bad--?”
“Hey! My plans--”
“--or am I only just noticing it?”
“Dude. My plans are genius.” And Scott should know that, too. They’d both be grounded for life like three times over if Stiles weren’t so brilliant.
“Whatever,” Scott says. “Do you have a pen?”
“Gimme a pen. I’ve got to fix this.” Scott flaps his handful of signs at him.
“There’s nothing wrong with those!”
“Pen,” Scott says with his voice full of stubborn.
“Fine.” Stiles digs through the pockets of his cargo pants. “Fine. But if you fuck up my signs, I reserve the right to start over... and kick your ass, too.”
Scott snorts. “As if.” He quickly writes something on the bottom of the first sign, all big sloppy letters and--
“Oh my god, dude. What is wrong with you?”
“What?” Scott says.
Stiles points at what Scott has just written, and then points at the big Beacon County Sheriff’s Office sign that’s no more than ten feet away from them.
“How can you misspell ‘sheriff’ when it’s right there in front of you?”
Scott follows the line of Stiles’s pointing finger, and Stiles can almost see the gears slowly turning in his head.
“Oh,” Scott says. Then he looks back down at the paper in his hand. “Oops. Sorry... but one extra ‘R’ is not an ass-kicking offense, okay? Not that I’m scared of you or anything.”
“You should be,” Stiles mutters. He chews on his lip for a moment while he stares down at the DO NOT CALL SHERRIFF and then figures, ah, what the hell. Half of Beacon Hills probably can’t spell it either.
It’s maybe fifteen minutes later when they finally see Stiles’s dad leaving the office along with one of his deputies. Scott breaks off his rather one-sided conversation about the superiority of lacrosse over soccer--as if it matters. They’re still in junior high. Basketball, soccer, and wrestling are their only options, and that’s the same as no options at all as far as Stiles is concerned. Unless the choice is soccer or nothing.
They duck into the building for a visit with Nancy, the office clerk. This gets them access to her candy dish--it’s M&Ms today because finally, the long reign of the unloved and unconsumed Tootsie Rolls is over--and the Xerox machine. Scott gets drawn into a discussion about Nancy’s cats, but he’s really amazingly good with stuff like that, even when it devolves into descriptions of hairballs and litter box habits, which... eww. There’s a reason Stiles has only half-adopted a dog. He doesn’t need to be responsible for anyone else’s bathroom usage. Thank you.
Stiles makes five copies each of his three signs. He’s seen other people plaster every telephone pole in town with lost dog signs, but he’s working more strategically. He’s going for a targeted strike, maximum impact with the least amount of signage. He can’t have his name out there on a hundred signs. There’s no way his dad wouldn’t notice that.
They say good bye to Nancy, and Stiles gives Scott the signs meant for the areas around the library, the comic shop, and the used book store by the indie coffee place. Those locations are pretty spread out from each other, so Stiles will handle the rest.
“Know where you’re going?” he asks Scott as they collect their bikes from the spot behind the bushes.
“Yeah,” Scott says, but he doesn’t really seem to be paying attention. He’s looking at the signs with a weird expression on his face.
“What?” Stiles says.
“Maybe we should take your name off of these?”
“Then people won’t know who’s looking for Fang.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing,” Scott says. “Then people won’t know that you’re crazy.”
“What? There’s nothing crazy about wanting my dog--”
“No, no. Seriously, Stiles. Listen to me. Just. Listen.” Scott reads part of the sign out loud. “He’s a bit wild, but that’s okay ‘cause he’s easily soothed by reading to him. He prefers X-Men comics--he’s all about Wolverine, of course--and going old school with the ‘Adventures of Tintin.’ Not sure if he has a man crush on Snowy or if he’s mistaken Snowy for a nice, tasty lamb. Either way, it’s all good.”
Stiles nods. “It’s true. Snowy is one hell of a--”
“You can’t really say this! In public! People will think you’re insane.”
“It’ll get people talking.”
“Talking about strait jackets!”
“Scott. Calm down.” Geez, the last thing they need is for Scott to have an asthma attack brought on by his overreaction. “Take a deep breath. Are you breathing?”
Scott swats at him, but Stiles dodges easily.
“That’s not deep breathing, buddy!”
“I’m breathing, okay? I’ll still be breathing while the men in white coats cart you away.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Stiles says. “This is all a strategy. We’re personalizing Fang, getting people talking about him, and that’ll make people care about him and word will spread and we’ll find him, and--”
“Wait. This is... is this that stuff from Silence of the Lambs? Humanizing the kidnapping victim?”
“Exactly! See? It’s brilliant.”
“I don’t think anyone has like... abducted Fang...”
“It will still work. I’ll still get Fang back.”
“Maybe,” Scott says. “If Fang will come back after you’ve told the whole town he’s gay.”
“I said a ‘man crush’! A man crush is not gay!”
“Yeah, yeah.” Scott hops onto his bike, and then grins. “Hey, let’s get some lavender paper for the next batch of signs.” He laughs and rides off before Stiles can retaliate.
Whatever. Man crushes are totally legit. Stiles is confident in his masculinity, and Fang is a big wild wolf dog. He can totally pull off a man crush on a fictional fox terrier.
Chapter 3: Enjoys moonlit dinners and long walks in the woods
Derek's first impulse is to snatch the boy's signs up and tear them to pieces, but he bites back against that urge. He knows better. Destroy something in haste and anger, and you may find yourself regretting it for a long time afterward. It's better to calm down and deal with the signs later, in private. He doesn't want to leave himself vulnerable to more teasing from his family.
He also doesn't want to give them reason for concern. He's still feeling a little less than sure-footed with them. It's a big adjustment, trying to remember how normal human and more-than-human interactions go while also learning what it means to be an adult pack member.
He takes a steadying breath, releases it, and takes another. He catches a faint scent of the boy, and he picks up the papers and carefully refolds them. They smell more like Uncle Peter than the boy. He ignores the way his gut twists at that realization and tucks them safely in his pocket.
Laura bumps her foot against his. Once she has his attention, she rather deliberately spears her fork into her steamed green beans and asks, "Do you really like green bean casserole?"
"I could make green bean casserole," his mother says. "It's supposed to be really easy, but... It's always seemed..."
"It's so mushy," Aunt Alex says.
"Yes," his mother agrees.
"I hate mushy," Alex says. "As a texture. It's so... Gah." She shudders. "It's unnatural. Food should have some bite to it. I want... My teeth want something to tear into."
Alex's husband had been a human, and he'd never been turned. She'd lived with him in Portland for ten years and she never referred to him as her mate. She rarely referred to him at all. Derek thought that he'd been killed, gunshot maybe, but he wasn't certain. Alex had returned to the family while he was a wolf, so he'd missed the full story. Mostly it seemed that she'd come away from her marriage with nothing more than her three children and a deep aversion to her mother-in-law's cooking.
"It's okay," Derek tells his mother. "It's not... That sign is misleading. It's not a favorite of mine. I like your cooking better."
His mother smiles at that, and Derek feels another strange twist in his gut. There's something so good, something that makes him feel so strong and right, when his mother smiles--when he makes his mother smile--even when it's a simple, ordinary, everyday smile. And that's something Derek has that the boy will never have again, that he's never had the entire time Derek has known him. It's... Derek doesn't need this twisty feeling.
He's not that boy's dog. He's never been that boy's dog, and there's no room in Derek's life for a motherless human boy. Which doesn't really explain why words keep spilling out of Derek's mouth, more than he's ever meant to share about his time with the boy.
"It's not that I particularly like to eat it. There was just an awful lot of it to eat. Human women are weird--"
Aunt Alex and Uncle Ed both nod in agreement.
"--and they make a lot of casseroles. I think it's a mating instinct, but it's... broken? Some of the women bringing those casseroles were well past mating age."
Derek's father laughs and says something incomprehensible to Ed about cougars.
Uncle Peter frowns. "How old is Stiles? If lots of women are bringing him courting gifts--"
The hairs on the back of Derek's neck rise at the very thought. "They're not," he says. "They're bringing them to his father."
"Ah," Peter says.
"He's a widower?" Laura asks.
"How--?" Peter starts to say, but Uncle Ed interrupts with, "Is the Mexican macaroni a courting gift, too?"
Ah, bless Uncle Ed and his love affair with food. Ed is a bitten werewolf. If he hadn't been turned, he'd probably be as big as a house by now. Derek is happy to steer the conversation towards Ed's interests and away from whatever questions Laura and Peter have brewing. It's not like wolves pay much heed to things like recipes, especially since most of their food is fresh and raw, but Derek does the best that he can. He knows there were lots of tomatoes and sour cream and ground pork sausage in it. Ed has a great deal to say about the merits of different ground meats--beef, pork, turkey, bison, elk, you name it, though Derek really has to wonder how Ed came across preprocessed elk meat.
It's a relief when dinner is finally over and they're all excused from the table. It isn't Derek's turn to help with clean up, so he quickly escapes to the relative privacy of the room he shares with Laura. Yes, he shares a bedroom with his sister. It's a big house, but it's not that big.
His family is unusual, living as they do as one big pack. It's more normal for families to break into smaller, neighboring packs, each headed by a mated couple. Living like that leads to safety through anonymity. It's easier to stay hidden that way. But there's also safety to be found in numbers. It's all a delicate balance, and Derek's father is a very strong Alpha. His father's strength is probably what has tipped them towards this arrangement. Uncle Ed is a good guy, but he can't compare. Aunt Alex's husband obviously wasn't suitable, and Uncle Peter is... different. He hasn't shown any urge to find a mate and move on. Derek thinks Peter enjoys being the adored baby of his generation too much to give it up. And Laura's really strong, but she's still young by most human standards. She'll have a better chance of finding a comparably strong mate if she waits a while longer.
So, the house is full. No one bunks alone, and Derek doubts that anyone wants to... except for himself, maybe. He doesn't really want to be alone. He's pretty sure of that. He's just... unsettled still.
Once he's alone in their room, Derek takes Stiles's signs out and examines them. There are two like the one Laura read. One carries a much stronger scent of the boy than the other does. He sniffs that page and touches it, noting the weight and texture of the paper and ignoring everything else. The words and the scent try to distract him and draw him into memory, but he won't go there. He needs to focus on how he's going to stop the boy from posting more of these things.
The page with less of Stiles's scent is smoother and, though it's been folded and refolded several times, crisper. It must be a photocopy. The last page feels the same. It's obvious that Stiles handled the pages, but only the first one has enough of his scent to prove that he lingered over it, probably sitting with one hand resting on the page as he alternately chewed on his lip and then on his pen as he figured out what to say.
Derek shakes that image away and looks down at the last page, and then... What. It doesn't make sense. What is wrong with that boy?
MISSING: Black & Gray Husky Dog. Pretty big, for a dog. Blue eyes. Have you seen him? A guy like this is hard to miss! Short, dark and fursome, he enjoys moonlit dinners and long walks in the woods. And he's a good listener, too. If you find him, please don't keep him to yourself! I know you'll want to. He's a real gentleman--four feet means he can't get handsy. :) Call Stiles at--
"You look confused," Laura says. She's standing in the doorway of their room like she doesn't want to come in before he's ready for her. That surprises him. She's usually more pushy.
"I don't-- It's just..." Derek hates being at a loss for words. "This is not a lost dog poster," he finally says. "I don't know what this is."
"May I see it?"
"Didn't you see it earlier?"
"At the time, I was more interested in the one I had already seen." She enters the room, closing the door behind her. "Can I--?"
He hands the page to her. Her eyes flicker and she laughs a little while she reads it.
"He's pretty funny," she says, and then she sniffs the page and her brows crinkle briefly with doubt or confusion or something similar. "How old is he? He's not... He doesn't smell like I expected."
Derek briefly wonders if he wants to know what she was expecting and then realizes that that's a stupid question. He really doesn't want to know. Women are strange, even the non-human ones.
"He's a kid. Just a school kid."
"You're just a school kid, too," Laura says.
"No, I'm not."
"Well, maybe you're not. Dad and Mom haven't decided yet whether you're going to continue being 'home-schooled' or if they'll send you back for a little more human socialization."
Derek scowls at that, and she punches his shoulder.
"Aw, look at the pout on you!"
"That was not a pout," Derek says.
"Sure was. A cute, little-boy pout because my cute little brother--"
Derek leaps at her, and they wrestle. Laura laughs the whole time.
"My cute little brother--ha, ha, ha, ow! Hey! My little brother doesn't want to be a high-school senior. No, no, he's too good for that. No, no--ha, ha, ha, no. I got it. He's too cool for school!"
She laughs so hard that he actually comes out on top for once.
"Shut up," he says.
"Never." She grins and shows all of her teeth.
Derek backs off. He isn't intimidated, but the children are probably asleep. A proper fight would wake them, so he's backing off, because he's considerate like that.
"So, your boy," Laura says.
"He's not my boy."
"Yeah, yeah. Keep telling yourself that. Your boy seems pretty clever for his age. Or at least, unusually witty."
"Why do you say that?"
"He wrote that poster like a personal ad. Like a very deliberate parody of a personal ad. I bet--"
"What's a personal ad?"
"Oh, Derek." She reaches out and ruffles his hair. He growls, but that doesn't stop her. "You really need to go to high school. You're missing so much."
"What's a personal ad?"
"It's a way that some humans try to find mates."
"With weird signs?"
"Well, not usually. But sometimes, especially if they don't like--or they're not doing well--with the potential mates in their immediate territory. They try to attract strangers that way."
"Don't knock it. I mean... if you think about it as trying to catch a stranger, then it's sort of creepy. But you have to meet new people. That's how you find mates and friends."
"We don't need friends. That's what family is for."
"Uh, huh. Right. And that's why you ended up with a nice kid who fed you and misses you enough to make cute posters about you."
"They're not cute."
"Cute and clever, good qualities in a friend. You should ask Uncle Peter where he found that last one. I bet it was somewhere where mostly women go. Hey! Maybe he's killing two birds with one stone. That would be really smart. Getting people to look for you and trying to pick up girls."
"He needs to stop!"
"Yeah," Laura says again. "Keep telling yourself that."
He doesn't know why she keeps saying that. It's the truth. He doesn't need to keep telling himself the truth to know it's true.
Chapter 4: May have been "disappeared" as part of a secret government plot
Two days later
It's Ms. McCall's day off, so Scott is home, probably being watched like a hawk to make sure that he finally does his chores. Stiles is much more conscientious about helping out around the house. In part, that's because his dad needs a whole lot more looking after than Scott's mom does. Don't be fooled; nurses and moms are way tougher than your average law enforcement officer. Not that his dad is average. His dad is an awesome sheriff, but... he could like learn karate and smash through brick walls with his bare hands every day, and he still wouldn't be that tough.
It's also partly because Stiles doesn't really mind housework so much. No one gets upset if you're a little extra fidgety while dusting, and no one complains if you're a bit of a spazz while vacuuming. It's actually sort of calming. And his dad swears that when Stiles was a baby and he wouldn't sleep, they'd take his bassinet into the laundry room and he'd konk right out to the sweet, sweet lullaby of a load of clothes tumbling in the dryer. So... it's quite possible that Stiles was brainwashed into domesticity from infancy. He can't help but approve of evilly clever plans like that, even if he's not entirely down with the evilly clever plan happening to him.
Mostly, though, Stiles keeps up with the chores because there's nothing like sneaking a large dog into the house to make you start noticing the state of the carpeting. He's so good at it now, he's certain that if all else fails, he has a bright future awaiting him in the field of crime scene investigation. And wouldn't that make his dad proud?
But he hasn't seen hide or hair of Fang in over a week, so there isn't much cleaning to do. He checks the fridge and throws out a few things that were going fuzzy, and then he takes out the trash. And then, it's only 9:45 and the whole day still lies before him, empty and quiet. Days like this are what his computer and the Xbox and the PlayStations are for.
Ugh. He can't even stomach the thought of a video game right now.
Just a couple weeks ago, he'd found a used copy of Okami at the GameStop for cheap. All the way home, he'd ignored Scott's commentary on how it was a girls' game, because really, what did Scott know? It was highly acclaimed by all sorts of game critics, most of whom were--GASP--dudes. And the playable character was some sort of goddess reincarnated in the form of a white wolf. How perfect was that? It was a game made for Fang.
The next day, he'd snuck Fang in, fired up the old PS2, and they'd had a great couple of hours. Okay. It was mostly Fang sprawled on the couch, giving Stiles major "Are you kidding me?" face.
Stiles hadn't read the game booklet prior to starting to game, because who does that? Nobody but lame gamers, that's who. So he'd spent the first hour of the game exploring the pretty new world and dying repeatedly because both Stiles and the game wolf were apparently too stupid to live. But really, what sort of wolf can't doggy-paddle for more than five seconds? And this wasn't like trying to stay afloat for five seconds in a death-trap whirlpool of doom. It was five seconds in a large, calm puddle. Honestly. Fang was laughing his furry face off by the end of it, in that totally Fang way that most people would have mistaken for plain old doggy panting.
So, yeah, Stiles doesn't want to play video games. He wants his four-footed buddy back, calling him stupid with the power of his stare and leaving tufts of fur on the couch.
He goes out to some of Fang's favorite haunts and calls for him. He calls for "Fang" and "Wolf," and for "Lassie" and "Fluffy," too. Because maybe Fang will get mad and come to complain if Stiles calls him "Fluffy" enough.
He doesn't keep at it long, though. The woods aren't the same without Scott or Fang at his side. It's not that he thinks it's dangerous to be alone out there, but it doesn't feel right. It feels like... maybe something's watching him.
It's probably just his imagination. It's probably just his heightened sense of everything that's already missing--Mom, Fang, and Scott--that is making him feel like he might go missing, too.
So maybe he's being a skittish little pussy cat, but he can handle that. Maybe cats have nine lives because they know when to get the hell out of danger. Except... they're also killed by curiosity, so... Stiles isn't sure what he's supposed to make of that, but getting back to town feels like the smart thing to do.
The veterinary clinic is on the outskirts of town. Stiles has to stop and blink as he passes it. Where is--? Oh, come on. Where is his sign? He doesn't really know Dr. Deaton, but he doesn't seem like the sort of man who would take down a sign about a missing pet without knowing that the animal had been found first. What sort of jerk would do that?
Stiles is angry and a little wound up, so it only makes sense to swing by the grocery store and check on his signs there. And what the fuck? Seriously? Seriously? Where are his goddamn signs? You don't mess with a Stilinski, dammit.
He's got his bike. It won't take him that long to go through town and check on all of his signs.
An hour later, he's outside of the indie coffee place, staring at the last of his signs. He's run the gamut from angered to bewildered to he doesn't have a goddamn clue what think. Out of his eighteen signs, only five were where they were supposed to be. And all five of those were signs that Scott had placed, five of the six about Fang's man crush. What did that mean?
Stiles is pretty sure that Scott doesn't have any special powers. He's not Super Duct-Tape Man. His signs weren't taped up any differently than how Stiles did his, and both rolls of tape came from the same package that Stiles had bought at the hardware store.
Maybe his dad saw the signs and got mad. But his dad has better things to do than to prowl the town hunting down Stiles's signs. If he'd been really mad, he would have called Stiles and given him a stern talking to. And then taking down all of the signs would have been part of Stiles's punishment.
This is just freakishly weird. It's like the X-Files or like Fang has been disappeared as part of a fiendish government plot. But that's plain crazy, so Stiles is left not knowing what to think, and his anger is still there simmering on the back burner like something that's going to boil over the moment he takes his eyes off of--
And then he feels it, like he did in the forest. Something is watching him. He spins around--this isn't the woods, this is Beacon Hills, this is his territory, dammit, and he's not going to be afraid here.
But he doesn't see anything.
Maybe he's just too keyed up.
But, no, he still feels it.
There's no one to hear him, but he says, "Stop it. I'm not scared of--"
And then he jumps and his heart leaps half out of his chest, because--fuck--he's such a moron. A lady walked out of the coffee shop and the bell on the shop's door jingled, and he'd nearly pissed himself.
He laughs at himself and smooths his hair back with one hand and starts to turn towards the shop. A sugary coffee beverage topped with whipped cream is just what he needs to help him calm down--no, really, it's true. And then he sees a guy. There's a guy looking at him. There's a tall, dark-haired guy--maybe high-school age, maybe a little older?--looking at him, and Stiles has never seen the guy before.
The guy is across the street and up a ways, but the distance is negligible because the dude is like larger than life. He looks like he's just stepped off of a freakin' billboard, one of the ones reminding you to drink milk to build strong teeth and bones, and oh, let's not forget your muscles! Milk has protein, too, for building big, strong muscles, and the guy has muscles like he could wrestle a steer and win. Okay. That was an exaggeration. Maybe. The guy could probably rope a calf, though, and then bench press it. Geez. And he's staring at Stiles, and well... really, Stiles can't blame him. He's probably thinking, Oh my god, look at that poor, scrawny child who's obviously never had a glass of milk in his life.
"Dude," Stiles says, quietly enough that the guy isn't going to hear him. "Don't worry, I'm going in there right now and I'm going to ask for an extra-tall glass of milk. Good job on the PSA, though. Very civic-minded of you."
That's a lie. He's not a kindergartner, and he doesn't order milk in coffee shops. But whipped cream must have some calcium in it, right? So he and Muscles are good.
And thanks to Muscles and a tall, icy glass of caffeine-rich bliss, Stiles spends the next twenty minutes in a haze where everything is good in the world. His worries are swept away by a series of convoluted, but compelling, daydreams where either he's touching Muscles and thrilling to the flex of his biceps--in a totally manly way, of course--or he's built like Muscles and Lydia Martin is staring at him like he's the last pair of designer shoes at the Labor Day sale and she wants him and she's going to have him even if she has to beat every other woman in the store bloody to make him hers.
Mmm... Fierce girls are hot, and so are curving planes of muscle, and... Whoa. His drink is gone already?
He idly contemplates getting another, but he realizes that would be sort of ridiculous, so he waves good bye to the girl behind the counter--she’s got some seriously fierce facial piercings, but they’re not at all hot--and heads outside feeling pretty good.
He’s going to text Scott, and then he’s going to find some lavender paper just so he can watch Scott twitch. They’ll make some more signs, and then he’ll put Scott’s possibly-latent magical adhesive powers to work, and--
What. The. Fuck.
This can’t be real. His sign is gone. His sign, which was on that utility pole just twenty minutes ago, is fucking gone.
He looks around. Nothing seems out of place--except for the gaping, empty space where his sign was supposed to be. He doesn’t see anything suspicious. He doesn’t see anyone suspic--
His mind flits back to Muscles Guy... But, no. Things don’t work like that. Teen idols and hunks don’t get work as thugs in twisted, top-secret government plots. They’re too memorable. But then... who the hell involves a boy and his dog in top-secret government plots?
Well, there’s Danny, that boy in his class whose hacking could be worthy of a government plot or two. But Stiles is so not in Danny’s league, and it’s not like he’s been hacking with Fang. Fang is brilliant, but he can’t exactly type. And no one would use a half-wild wolf dog as a mule, would they?
But he could have been chipped. Oh my god! Who knows what sort of data an animal could carry that way! It was sort of stupid to use an animal that could bite your hand off or run away and hide in the woods for years, holding your top-secret military plans or whatever hostage because it didn’t like the ALPO you fed it or you didn’t take it out for walkies enough. But top-secret plots didn’t have to be brilliant. They just had to be devious, and possibly insidious.
Oh. Em. Fucking. Gee.
This can’t be real. Right? This is just the sugar and caffeine talking. It has to be. Right?
But Stiles doesn’t like how plausible it all seems now. He hurries home, texting Scott along the way.
Are you free yet?
Need to talk!
It’s a conspiracy!
Give your mom an excuse
But Scott’s not answering. Either he’s being a dick or he’s put his phone through the washing machine again.
He’s almost at his house, and he sees him: a big black-and-gray dog sitting on his porch!
“Oh my god! Fang!” Stiles jumps off his bike, and lets it crash to the sidewalk as he runs the last little bit up to his house. “Oh my god. I was so worried about--”
Several things happen at once.
The dog turns its head his way, and Stiles gets creepy chills all along his spine. That is not Fang. So not Fang. Its eyes are all wrong.
And a man steps out from the shadowed side of the porch, a man with brown hair and light eyes who just totally oozes the sort of pleasant innocuousness that makes all of the hair on Stiles’s body stand up on end. This, this is the sort of guy who makes his living disappearing people.
The man smiles.
“Hello. You must be Stiles.”
Chapter 5: Has a manly, yet strangely soothing, growl
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Werewolf senses are pretty amazing, but Derek's still only a werewolf, not a werebloodhound. His sense of smell has its limits. With a cold scent trail and lots of ground to cover, his poster hunt was one long night of tedium, and Derek had quickly learned that running around town on two legs is not as much fun as running around on four was.
It's mid-morning before he's certain that he's found all of Stiles's posters--and it would have taken even longer, if it hadn't been for a chance encounter with the boy. Derek should feel happy or at least relieved that the task is over and he can now focus on more important things, but instead he's... well... he's... You know, emotions are much more straightforward when you're a wolf.
He feels heavy as he walks home. He feels like a big, heavy knot of conflicting emotions and if he hadn't been up all night hunting for posters, he'd go running--or ask Laura and Peter to spar with him--until the bothersome feelings went away.
He's tired, more from boredom than exhaustion. He's lonely--no, he isn't!--from a night spent working alone--there's nothing wrong with being alone! He's confused/hurt because if Stiles had really wanted to find him--not that he cares--wouldn't he have put up more signs? He's murderously angry because what if his family had seen that sign about his man crush on Snowy? He would have had to kill the boy for that, and then Hunters would have come after him and it would be a huge mess. But he's also amused because the boy's right; Snowy looks like a walking, talking lamb-chop dinner.
And then... Derek has no clue what words go with the feeling of seeing/hearing/scenting the boy while in this form. It was different, and it shouldn't have been different. Derek's senses haven't changed, so his feelings shouldn't have changed either.
All Derek wants, when he gets home, is to grab a steak from the fridge and then find somewhere to hide for a nap. Maybe he'll go to his favorite spot under the porch, though... will he still fit under there? His shoulders are a lot broader than they used to--
What is all that noise?
A baby crying. Rock music blaring, and pop music trying to compete with it. Screeching children, slamming doors, and Uncle Ed shout-- Shit. Uncle Ed shouting? That awful cacophony is his family?
Derek stops and eyes the woods around their property. He doesn't really need to be here to get a steak and a nap. He could just head back to town and--
"There you are!" Laura says, appearing at his side and shoving a baby into his arms.
He's too startled to do more than clutch at the baby--it's Lottie, their youngest cousin, and dropping her wouldn't go over well since she's tiny, human, and fragile--and feel a twinge of envious admiration for his sister. Seriously. How did she sneak up on him while carrying a crying baby? He hopes that she'll teach him how to be that stealthy, but he's almost afraid of what she'll demand as payment for the lessons.
"Where have you been?" Laura says.
Derek hitches the baby up higher on his shoulder and pats her back. "Hush, hush," he tells her, and then asks Laura, "Why does our house sound like a war zone?"
"It sounds normal."
"That is not normal."
Laura snorts. "Okay, you may have not noticed this, since two of the little monsters were born while you were off being furry, but there are eight children under the age of fifteen in our house. What you're hearing is perfectly normal."
Derek isn't petty enough to remind her that two kids were born while she was off being a wolf, too.
"I know that," he says, "but my ears haven't been bleeding all week. What's wrong with them? And what's wrong with Lottie?"
The baby is sort of half-crying and half-gumming the hell out of Derek's shoulder. It's only been a minute, but his T-shirt is soaked through with snot and spit, and it's pretty gross.
"She's teething," Laura says. "Just let her keep chewing on you. She'll be fine."
They all do their part, but Uncle Ed is the primary care-giver for the little ones, as he's also the father of most of them. "Why isn't Ed--?"
"Ed's breaking up a fight between Mariah and Carrie. I know, I know. You're thinking that a fight between two twelve-years-old girls can't be worse than a screaming baby, but you'd be wrong. This close to the full moon? Ugh. Teenagers and little werewolves. Makes me start thinking about getting spayed."
Derek cringes away from her. He hasn't done anything to deserve hearing about Laura's female parts or her future lack thereof. Though... she'll never be an Alpha if she...
"Speaking of which," Laura says. "Where have you been? Out all night, and I don't smell any girls on you."
"What. It was nothing like--"
Laura leans closer to him.
"Don't smell any boys on you, either."
Derek lunges at her, but he can't do much while holding his cousin. For maybe half a second, he thinks How much trouble could a baby possibly get into on the forest floor? but he knows that he could never live with the guilt if anything happened to her, and she could choke on a pine cone while he wasn't looking.
Laura dodges easily and laughs. "Whoa! Touchy, aren't you? Maybe I shouldn't tease you so close to your first full moon. I bet you're wound up worse than all the rest of our angsty preteens and bitty werewolves, aren't you?"
Derek growls, and the baby hiccups and stops crying. Derek and Laura both stop and stare at her. She's still gnawing on his shoulder, but she's being quiet about it now.
"Huh," Laura says. "Growl again."
"I'm... not in the mood now," Derek says.
"Huh. Maybe she thinks you sound like her mother when you growl."
"I do not sound like Aunt Carly!"
"Don't be insulted. She's got a really... butch growl. She sounds very manly, and so do you."
The baby makes a very wet and undignified raspberry sound against his shoulder, and Derek promises himself that he will never ever admit that he thinks it's sort of cute. His reputation has taken a big enough hit from Stiles's posters.
"Well, whatever," Laura says. "I don't know why she likes you, but since she does, do us all a favor and watch her for a while. The others might calm down a little if they don't have to listen to her crying. Stay out here, and I'll go fetch a bottle for her."
"Bring me a steak, too."
Laura scoffs. "Yeah, right. Go catch a squirrel."
"Can't," Derek says. "Baby. No hunting."
"Make a baby sling out of your T-shirt."
"Tear up your shirt and use it to strap her to your chest. It would be all manly and au naturel. Chicks will dig it."
"Go away," Derek says.
"I'm sure some boys would dig it, too."
Laura isn't nearly so stealthy when she's giggling while disappearing into the trees. Derek ignores the sound of her laughter, until it occurs to him that maybe she did see the man-crush signs. That would explain why her taunts have gone all bisexual lately. He growls a bit, thinking of her seeing those signs, and Lottie burbles happily.
"You're a strange little thing," he tells her.
He walks with her until he finds a sheltered spot where a large tree limb is wedged against an even bigger rock, and then he settles down into the little hideout with her. For the moment, she is calm and he thinks, This is nice. He knows that soon she'll start crying again or she'll soil her diaper, and he'll totally change his mind, but for now he's good. All those tangled emotions are falling away from him.
For the first time since he's shed his fur, he thinks it's okay. Here is something worthwhile that he couldn't do as a wolf.
But no, a niggling part of his brain says. Don't you remember? The mixed scent of drying tears and crushed leaves? A warm weight settled against your chest? A heartbeat and the sleepy, snuffling sounds of a young human? Don't they remind you of--?
That niggling part of his brain is pretty stupid. This is nothing like a sad, ten-years-old boy curling up with his dog. Nothing like it at all.
And Derek growls his cousin to sleep while absolutely not wondering at all about why Stiles didn't make more signs.
I really struggled with this chapter. I think that's because I was trying to write about Derek's emotions. But Derek and Denial are BFFs. And that big tome he reads when he's "Miguel"? Now I'm hoping that was an emotional dictionary...
Chapter 6: May have attended the Kool-Aid Man School for the Performing Arts
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Stiles wasn’t born yesterday. He knows better than to give top-secret government agents a free pass to the Disappear Stiles Express. But he doesn’t have a lot of options. Running is completely out of the question. His chances of out-running Not!Fang are a big, fat Not!Happening.
Not!Fang looks a lot like Fang. They could be brothers, but Not!Fang looks bigger and older-- and that’s not in an old-and-decrepit way. Oh, no. He’s bigger and older in a way that makes Stiles certain that Not!Fang--and Fang, too, for that matter--could make all of the county’s K9 units whimper in fear and, quite possibly, extreme doggy envy. The Fang Bros are all that and a bag of chips. For real.
Stiles’s only weapon is his wits. Well, his quick wits and his charming smile because, hey, he’s just a kid, right? A cute kid. Who--aside from his dad, Ms. McCall, and most of the employees of the Beacon Hills School District--wouldn’t trust a kid with a face like his?
“What?” he says. “‘Stiles’? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Ah,” the man says, and his super-creepy pleasant smile just gets more creepily pleasant. “Well. I can understand the confusion, seeing as how this is the Stilinski residence and there is a Stiles somewhere in town who is looking for a dog named ‘Fang.’”
“Oh? Is there? You must work for the paper because that’s news to me.”
Creepy Secret Agent Man chuckles.
“Yes. By all accounts, this ‘Fang’ is a large, possible wolf-hybrid with coloring similar to that of my--”
Not!Fang bumps his muzzle against Creepy Secret Agent Man’s hand, and Stiles considers giving the man an acronym instead of a name. CSAM. It’s sort of catchy.
CSAM glances down at Not!Fang before continuing. “To that of my companion here."
"Wow. Imagine that. What a coincidence."
"Yes, indeed, young Mr. Stilinski. An incredible coincidence made even more incredible by the fact that you called my companion 'Fang' when you first saw him."
Oh... damn. Stiles feels queasy, and an image of his future tombstone forms in his mind. As an epitaph, Stiles - 0, Creepy Man with a Big Ass Dog - 1 is unconventional and yet... really, not all that surprising.
"I don't need to give you the dictionary definition of 'incredible,' do I?"
"Um, no," Stiles says. "Not really. I'm pretty good with dictionaries, actually. Been known to read them. Sometimes. When I'm bored."
Not!Fang presses his nose against Stiles's leg, right at the hem of his shorts. Actually, it's a bit farther up, inside the leg of his shorts. Stiles manages to squeak out, "No! Bad touch! Bad touch from a big dog. Oh my god!" as he stumbles back off of the porch.
Oh, how he regrets so many of his life decisions. Baggy shorts are at the very top of his regret list, followed directly by: Not opening this encounter by offering the big dog a nice plate of something far tastier than boy to eat. God. He knows better. His relationship with Fang began with a plate of noodles, and Fang hasn't killed him yet.
"I think there's been some sort of misunderstanding here," CSAM says. "I apologize. Shall we begin again?" He comes down the steps and holds his hand out towards Stiles. When Stiles shies away from his hand, CSAM's smile twists into a frowny half-thing. "Oh dear. Well. Maybe we can shake hands after we've become friends."
Yeah, right. Not!Happening.
"Hello, I'm Peter Hale. I saw your signs. I'd like to help you find Fang."
Translation: Hi, I'm not the agent who disappeared your dog. I work for the Other Top-Secret Agency and I'm here for that microchip, too.
Or maybe not. Maybe Stiles has watched too much television. Maybe this is legit. Maybe "Pete" here is simply suffering from an overactive creeper gland. Stranger things have happened. Maybe.
"You saw my signs?" Stiles asks.
"And you brought him?" Stiles gestures toward Not!Fang.
"He accompanied me, yes."
"'Accompanied.' Wow. Aren't we fancy? He's not Fang, though, but thanks for--"
"I'm aware of that, but I saw several of your signs, and I--"
There's an odd gleam in CSAM-Pete's eyes when he mentions Stiles's signs, and Stiles still smells a conspiracy.
"Did you steal my signs?"
"What? Why would I?"
Oh, Creepy Pete has definitely got weird, shifty liar eyes. Stiles knows playing dumb. As the saying goes, you can't kid a kidder.
"My signs. Someone took all of my signs. Did you do that? Did you honestly think that you had Fang? Did you think that Fake!Fa-- No. Wait... You said you were aware that he wasn't Fang. You took my signs and purposely brought Counterfeit!Fang--"
"You have a very suspicious mind."
"Damn right, I do. That's what happens when you grow up in Sheriff Stilinski's School for Suspicious... Suspicious... Stuff." Stiles winces internally. Okay. That ended lamely, but the sibilance sort of demanded it. He should remember it for later, though. With a little work, it could be a great line.
"Perhaps if you'd let me get a word in?"
"Go ahead, Pete."
"Peter. Peter Hale. I did not steal all of your signs. I saw a few of them and thought your 'Fang' might be one of his." Pete rests his hand on Not!Fang's head. "I thought perhaps we could assist you in locating him."
"One of his? One of his what? His posse?"
"One of his... offspring."
"Oh." Not!Fang is Papa Fang? But that would mean... "You're saying that your dog sired my dog... so doesn't that mean that my dog is really your dog?"
"Why are you letting him run around like that? I've been like time-sharing one of your dogs for the last three years! Dude. You should take better care of your pets. They could get hurt! Fang could get hurt! Fang might be hurt right now!"
"They're not my pets. And they're not dogs, either. They’re wolves.”
“Really? I was right? Fang’s a wolf?” Fang was already The Man, but that was another ten thousand man points right there.
“Yes.” Not!Fang woofs at that, and Pete looks over at him thoughtfully. “Well... mostly wolf. There’s something else mixed in with their bloodline, obviously.”
“Huh? ‘Obviously'? What’s obvious?”
“You don’t know? I’m surprised. You seem like the type who would know.”
“Their coloration. Zoological evidence suggests that black fur does not occur in genetically pure wolves. They believe it was introduced by crossbreeding with a dog population.”
Pete laughs, and Stiles has no idea why he thinks that was funny. It must have been a special Creepers-Only joke. He hopes it wasn’t at the thought of canine sexual antics, because, eww, he’s way too old to be thinking about sex of any kind while standing next to Stiles.
“But who is to say?" Pete continues. "That was hundreds, if not thousands of years ago.”
“So... he’s still mostly a wolf.”
“Yes, and as I’m sure you’re aware, it is very, very difficult to keep a wolf against its will. They are not pets, unless they deign to act as pets. They are very strong, much stronger than comparably-sized dogs, and they are very smart--”
Stiles scoffs. “I know. You’re preaching to the choir, Pete.”
“Hmm. Do you...” While Pete is talking, Not!Fang leaves his side and circles around Stiles.
Stiles holds very, very still until the wolf settles down again. Unfortunately, Not!Fang--as evidenced by where he stuck his nose earlier--isn't big on respecting other people's personal space. He lies down on Stiles’s feet. He's big and heavy, and Stiles feet are pinned to the ground. But Stiles can live with that; being pinned is fine as long as the devouring of flesh is not imminent.
He realizes that Pete’s been saying something and he hasn’t heard a word of it. He risks looking away from his new foot-warmer to say, “Sorry. Want to start that again? I'm sure it was riveting whatever it was.”
Pete's face twists into a moue of disappointment, and he's so fake, Stiles can't understand it. How can this guy be a secret agent? Why would anyone buy his lies? Except there's something about it, like he's so sincerely fake or he's so invested in his own creepitude that maybe people find him charming. People are stupid.
"I was expounding upon the superiority of wolves’ observational skills," Pete says. "But never mind. We need not speak on it as it is so clearly self-evident.”
Was that a dig? Who died and made Creepy Pete the King of Beacon Hills who can just stroll onto people's property and terrorize them with his giant wolf dog before insulting their intelligence? There is nothing wrong with Stiles's observation skills!
"Look," Stiles says, "as much fun as this has been, standing around being all lupine-fanboy with you, I'm sure you're a busy man. Top-secret military plans to steal, governments to overthrow--"
"Stiles, I understand the importance of this. I am more than willing to make time for this. Consider me at your service."
"I don't-- Dude. I'm-- Are you trying to find Fang for you or for me? If you want him back, we can work separately. No hard feelings. Promise to look after him better, and if I get any leads, I'll pass them on to..." Oh, no. Not a good idea. He's not going to become phone-pals with this guy. "No. I could just put your name on some new signs."
Not that that would do any good while there were sign-thieves lurking out there. Unless the secret agents stealing them recognized Pete's name and got scared off?
Pete's face falls like he's actually upset by Stiles's words, which is just plain backwards. Stiles is offering to give him back his wolf. Doesn't he appreciate the magnitude of the gesture, how much Stiles would be giving up?
"Stiles. It sounds like you're giving up on Fang."
Yeah, Pete, point out the obvious and make it feel even worse, why don't you?
"There's no reason to," Pete says. "If we've successfully 'time-shared' your Fang for three years, why should we change that? I'm not here to take Fang away. I'm here to help you. We're here to help you."
"How can you help?"
"You could show us where you usually met Fang, and we could try tracking him, finding a trail."
"Yeah. No. I'm not Little Red Riding Hood and I'm not taking the Big Bad Wolf--" Stiles looks pointedly at Pete. "--and his furry companion into the woods with me."
"Oh, Stiles. I'm the Big Bad Wolf in that scenario? I'm flattered."
"Dude. You know that's as creepy as all get out, yeah?"
Pete laughs. "But it's so much fun, and one has to keep oneself amused. Laughter keeps us sane."
Uh... yeah... Right. We'll just ask the Joker and the Riddler and, hell, pretty much every comic-book and video-game villain who ever uttered a 'Mwahaha' about that, shall we?
But Stiles keeps that thought to himself. He doesn't want to give Pete any ideas.
"I understand if you don't want to go into the woods alone with me. But... I have a lot of nieces and nephews--"
Oh, lucky them. Stiles bets they're just thrilled to have a Creepy Uncle Pete.
"--and several of them are about your age. Would you feel safer if some of them joined us?"
"Uh. No. I've seen those episodes of Criminal Minds. Serial killers aren't any safer just because they have a kid along. Not that I think you're a serial killer. I'm sure... I'm sure you and your government have... uh... good reasons for whatever it is that you do."
"Our government... I must admit, I'm at a bit of a loss here. Your wild imaginings are quite beyond me, but you do bring up a good point. I could wait here until your father comes home? Or return at another time when he will be here? We can discuss this together. He is, as you keep pointing out, a representative of our government. That should allay your Stranger Danger fears."
"Oh, no, no, no, no," Stiles says. His dad may have been okay with him playing with strange dogs, but he's bound to feel quite differently about Stiles running around with strange wolves. "No. That's not-- You know, I'm feeling pretty... allevied? Allayed? I'm feeling that. Already. There's no reason to bother my dad with this. He's so busy, you know. Keeping the peace. Breaking up disputes... Dunking doughnuts."
"Well. If you're certain."
"Oh, I'm certain. You can... you can help me by-- I'll make more signs and you can post them? That would be a great help."
"Ah, your signs. Your fascinating little signs. I do wonder what happened to them."
Stiles doesn't have any paper on him, or a pen for that matter. And he certainly isn't going to go inside for some. Pete's so not welcome in his house, and Stiles knows that he can't possibly unlock the door, duck inside, and lock it up behind him again fast enough to keep Pete from pushing his way inside too, if he's determined to.
"Um... look. Can we go to the library or something? Some place public? With pens and paper?"
Pete sighs and looks down at Not!Fang, and they have some sort of mental communication or something.
"Fine," Pete says. "There's that cafe over on Fourth. The one that's really just a diner with delusions of being classy enough to be a street cafe. They won't get upset if Alpha joins us, and you can write on the back of their place mats."
"Alpha? You named your wolf 'Alpha'? Do you call him Alphie for short? Or how about Alf?"
Not!Fang-- er... maybe Stiles better start calling him Alphie--growls at that.
"No," Pete says. "You'll find we're rather particular about nicknames."
"I didn't think-- What's Fang's real name?"
"If he answers to 'Fang' then isn't that his real name?"
"No, really, what do you call him?"
Alphie leaps up just then and starts barking so loudly, Stiles's ears throb with each bark. He grabs his head, trying to protect his ears, but almost as soon as he gets his hands clamped over them, Alphie stops.
"Whoa! What the hell, Alf?"
"There must have been a squirrel," Pete says.
"Oh. Good job then. Just what Beacon Hills really needs, a whole slew of permanently deafened squirrels."
"We call him Darryl."
"Darryl the Deaf Squirrel?"
"No. Fang. We call him--"
"'Darryl'?" Oh my god, how does Fang stand it? "No offense, but that name sucks. You're robbing him of man points every time you say it."
"It was going to be a thing. There's another wolf named... Larry. So we were working on having Larry, Darryl and Darryl."
Stiles stares at him, speechless.
"You're too young to understand the reference," Pete says. "It's a Newhart joke."
"Oh, no. I've got grandparents, I got the reference. I just didn't know how to respond to something so lame."
"Really? Somehow I find it hard to believe that Sheriff Stilinski's School for Suspicious Suspicious Stuff didn't prepare you for near-infinite amounts of, what would you call it? Lame-osity?"
Aw, fuck. Stiles laughs, honest-to-god laughs. Pete's still as creepy as hell, and Stiles doesn't trust him. But he's okay.
"Okay, Pete. Let's do this. Daylight's wasting. Let's make some signs--but I'm not going to write with those crayons they give the little kiddies."
"I am sure someone will give us a pen. I can be very persuasive."
There's a joke in there somewhere, something about how many top-secret agents does it take to steal a pen, but Stiles can't quite come up with the punchline. That's probably because he doesn't really want to consider that the question should really be more like: How many people does a top-secret agent threaten to kill/actually kill in the process of stealing one pen?
They walk the several blocks down to the cafe. Stiles wasn't going to get into Pete's car, and Pete wasn't about to let him hop on his bike and ride to freedom. It's difficult staying just enough ahead of Pete that he can stealth-text Scott, but Stiles does his best.
4th st cafe
be there asap!!!
bring back up
im not joking
He wonders if they'll do any good, and wishes that he had someone else to turn to. Having one super best friend is great, but having a little more backup wouldn't hurt.
They get to the cafe and sit at one of the dinky little outside tables. Pete orders a meatball sandwich with two sides of extra meatballs. It must be Alphie's lucky day. Stiles wants to get an order of fries, but then he thinks about how easy it would be for Pete to sprinkle something on his food or slip something into his drink, and orders a chocolate milkshake in a to-go cup instead. Muscles Guy would be proud if he knew how much calcium Stiles was getting today, and the lid and straw ought to cut down on the potential drugging attempts.
Pete talks the waitress out of a pen and a short stack of the paper place mats. Stiles tries not to listen because he doesn't want his milkshake to curdle in his stomach or anything, and Pete's lines could totally do that. When Pete hands him the writing materials, Stiles rolls his eyes at the top place mat before crushing it into a ball and shoving it in his pocket. The waitress had written her phone number on it, and Stiles has to save her from her own stupidity.
Pete watches him knowingly, like he knows why Stiles balled up the paper and he's amused by it. Stiles makes a face at him, and Pete leans forward.
"Don't worry, Stiles. She's not my type."
Stiles hunches protectively over his milkshake and stares down at the next sheet of paper. He's just got to soldier through this.
He'd put a lot of thought into his first three signs. He'd sat down before he picked up a pen or anything and thought about his target audience. He knew there were people who might see a dog matching Fang's description every day who would still never respond to a lost dog sign, because some people are lazy and some people are assholes. He needed to reach the people who were most likely to respond. Who were they?
He'd come up with three different types of people, and that was why he'd made three different signs. He'd identified the groups, considered the places in town those people would frequent, and wrote his signs accordingly. It really sucked that someone had stolen them. It also sucked that there wasn't any way to get school credit for them. He knew they were awesome enough that they should have been worth some.
The first group had been family types: the grocery-buying, errand-running, care-giving sorts who would respond to the idea of missing family members, children needing help, and poor hungry dogs. The second group had been women, particularly young, single women. Everyone said that chicks liked pets, and according to the magazines that Stiles sometimes read while he and Scott were hanging out at the hospital waiting for Ms. McCall's shift to end, women thought men with dogs were hotter and more trustworthy than men without dogs. Though... he bet the women taking those surveys hadn't met Creepy Pete. Then they would've known better.
The third group had been people like himself: nerds and geeks--and also all the lonely souls passing hours and hours away at the library--who would respond because they understood loss and loneliness and the desire for the companionship of like-minded individuals, even if those individuals were furry.
He couldn't really compose a new sign on the fly, but he also didn't want Pete around here any longer than necessarily. Pete wouldn't leave until Stiles convinced him that he was helping. He could try to recreate the original signs, but he was having a hard time remembering exactly what he'd said on them. Pete was making him too nervous. Stiles could feel him watching him even when he kept his own eyes on the paper in front of him. This was too hard.
Fang, he thinks. I have to do this for Fang.
Stiles takes a deep, fortifying breath, then exhales slowly. Okay. He can do this.
Fang is awesome. Fang's the Man. Fang is fun. Yes. How can he capture the fun that is Fang? The fun that Stiles is currently missing. The fun that others can have by living vicariously through... The Adventures of Fang. Yes!
Stiles writes, starting with the standard identifiers and expanding as he goes.
Fang’s hobbies include: Camping, hunting, rock-climbing, off-road biking (without the bike, of course), and acting. Yes. He’s an aspiring actor, and particularly good at dramatic entrances and exits, so he’s pretty much the Kool-Aid Man, only shorter, furrier, and with a scowly little fang face instead of the goofy grin. ... And dogs don’t drink Kool-Aid, so he’s probably filled with spring water and mud puddles.
When he runs out of place mat, he stops and reads over what he has written.
Well. Huh. That's... He could see that speaking to two different audiences: the weekend warrior types and guys in their late twenties who think they're still as cool as they were in school, but in reality, they just sit around drinking beers and scratching themselves while watching Family Guy reruns. That's less than ideal. The weekend warriors might spot Fang out and about somewhere, but unless Fang is now hanging out at the liquor store or randomly visiting the alleys behind bars to accost Coors Light drinkers... Well. Who knows? At least he has something to give Pete now. He can make better signs later with Scott.
"I can't help but notice that you're referring to Fang as a dog there. You said he was possibly a wolf-mix in your first sign, but now that you know what he is--"
"It's all about WOMM."
"Excuse me? Are you saying that he has worms?"
"What? No. He's healthy, right? Cold nose, clear eyes. I mean, you've seen his eyes, right? Can't have bright eyes like that if you're not--"
"Yes, then. What were you saying? Worm?"
"WOMM. Word-of-Mouth Marketing. Though, in this case, it's really more like WOMMF, Word-of-Mouth Mutt Finding. Not--" Stiles turns to Alphie. "Not that he's a mutt. He isn't. He's a super awesome wolf--"
Alphie woofs and Stiles can't help but smile.
"He's really smart, isn't he?" Stiles says to Pete. "Just like his kid. So. What we're doing is creating a buzz, because like who really cares if Rover has wandered away from home again? No one. But like... make him the next Rin Tin Tin, except less with the silent movies and more with the social networking, and then BAM! People care. Oh my god, I should get him a Twitter feed. I should totally-- Okay, well, maybe a missing dog wouldn't get many followers, but once we find him, he should totally get one. He's awesome, people will--"
"A Twitter feed--"
"Oh, man, don't tell me you don't know what tweets are. A good secret agent has to--"
"I know what Twitter is. I am in marketing myself, after a fashion."
"Sure," Stiles says. "I'm sure you could call recruitment for shadow organizations a 'marketing position.'"
"I hate to disappoint you, but I'm a plain old pharmaceuticals rep. Well... not so much with the plain or the old."
Pete smiles and winks in a way that Stiles finds fairly alarming, and Alphie must agree because he lets loose with several staccato barks. Strangely, none of the cafe staff come out to complain about the noise. Maybe the waitress doesn't want to hurt her chances of getting a call from Pete by telling him to shush his wolf.
"I'm just questioning the need for a Twitter account for an animal," Pete says.
Stiles rolls his eyes. This guy is so not in any sort of sales position. He's totally a secret agent.
"Hello," Stiles says. "The internet is for porn and pictures of cats--not that I know anything about porn 'cause I'm the sheriff's son, okay? Pure as driven snow. So of course, pets tweet and have their own Facebook pages--"
"And you're avoiding my question."
"Um... What question?"
"Why are you calling Fang a dog when you know better?"
"Because I don't want people to be afraid of him. I know that wolves are cool and that Fang is awesome, but they don't know him like I do. They won't want to help if they think he's something scary. It was one thing to say he might be a wolf-mix in a sign that was obviously written by a child. That comes across as cute. 'Oh, that kid wants to think his dog is extra special. Isn't that cute?' And that helps create our buzz. But it's different now that I know. I don't want the buzz to be 'OMG, he might be dangerous.'"
Alphie makes a sound a bit like a whine, but less plaintive, and rests his muzzle on Stiles's knee. Stiles jumps just a little at that, but only because it was a surprise. He's certain that Alphie's had enough meatballs now that he won't be after a taste of Stiles for dessert.
Stiles tentatively reaches out and scratches behind Alphie's left ear. Alphie sighs and closes his strange red-brown eyes. With his eyes closed, Alphie looks so much like Fang that Stiles can feel tears building up in his throat and behind his own eyes. He hopes Fang comes back. He hopes they find Fang really soon.
"Hmm..." Pete says quietly.
Stiles looks up and freezes. Pete's expression is thoughtful and honest, like seriously honest. He's almost like another man entirely without his all his fake-up on, and Stiles doesn't know what to make of that. He doesn't even know if Pete is less or more scary without his mask of pleasantness.
"I think we're almost done here," Pete says. "Do you want to write out a few more copies of that while you tell me where you want them posted for maximum impact? Or should I do it? I've always had excellent penmanship."
"Um..." Stiles says. "I guess... You can do it?"
Pete reaches across the table for the pen and place mats, and Stiles seriously wonders What the fuck?
It's been a super-freaky, X-Files and Criminal Minds sort of day, but somehow it's only just now that he feels like he's entered the Twilight Zone.
1) Whew. Long chapter is long. Somewhere in the hidden reaches of my brain, Stiles and Peter must be the most talkative pair of BFFs ever.
2) Rewatching the Peter flashback scenes the other night, I noticed that Peter was wearing a wedding band in one of the flashes. Oops. I'm more AU than I thought.
3) Not!Fang/Alphie/Papa Hale's presence in this chapter was inspired by a comment from mal35m. Thank you!