Chapter 1: What Are You Willing To Lose?
It wasn’t the first time that Stiles had experienced an epiphany during a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon. After all it was the shirtless glory of David Boreanez that had enlightened him to the fact that he was both a Buffy and an Angel sex groupie. It was, however, the first time that there was someone other than Scott there to share in his Buffy-induced epiphany. In fact there were six others to share in the experience. It would have been seven if Boyd wasn’t working the night shift at the ice rink again. This was quite an accomplishment for someone like Stiles who had only ever had two or three people in his life at a time.
“Derek is totally our Giles,” Stiles muttered from his spot on Derek’s living room floor. He wasn’t sure if it was being nestled in so many blankets that gave him the confidence to say it. Or maybe Stiles hadn’t meant to say it out loud at all. Maybe if the reconstructed living room wasn’t full of werewolves than no one would have heard it at all. All Stiles can say in his defense is that it was an innocent thought, a humorous comparison meant to entertain.
It was not meant to start a chain reaction that would change Stiles’ entire life.
Of course it would be Lydia who picked up the little comment and turned it into a whole conversation. “He totally is.”
“Why? Because he’s the oldest?” Erica asked, sending a teasing grin in her alpha’s direction.
Derek growled. “I’m not old.”
Lydia scoffed loudly. “It’s not just because he’s old enough to babysit us. He’s the one with all the training and knowledge. That makes him Giles.”
“And he’s the one that’s always telling us what to do,” Scott added in cheerful agreement. “Giles is always giving them instructions and running Slayer training just like Derek does for us.”
“Since when are you such a nerd, Lydia?” Jackson sniped from his spot next to Danny on the big couch, completely ignoring Scott’s comment. “You’ve been spending too much time with Stilinski.”
“Says the Faith of the group,” Isaac muttered throwing a piece of popcorn at him.
Jackson’s eyes flashed to reflect his anger at the suggestion. He snatched the bucket out of his pack mate’s hand and dropped in onto the seat cushion separating him and Danny. “What did you call me?”
Isaac pressed his back further into the front of the couch and therefore against Derek’s legs, subconsciously seeking security from his Alpha. “I said that you’re Faith.”
“He so is,” Allison agreed with a grin.
“Stop saying that! If I’m anybody I’m one of the vampires. A dude vampire.”
Lydia smirked. “I don’t know, Whittemore, Faith was always the one who had to be the best. She was never happy just being a Slayer. She had to be the Slayer.” Her smirk grew to show off her pointiest teeth. Even in human form the look was intimidating. “No matter how many moral codes she broke or dick moves she made. All because Faith was just an insecure child.”
Danny put a comforting hand on his best friend’s arm. “Relax, Jackson. Lydia’s just pissed because she’s obviously Cordelia.”
“Says you,” Lydia replied her smirk quickly turning to a scowl. “Cordelia is stupid. I am not.”
“But you do like to pretend you’re stupid,” Jackson shot back, picking up where Danny had left off. “And vapid. Though I still don’t know if you’re faking that part.”
“And you’re both Queen Bitches,” Erica added, never one to miss out on a session of Lydia bashing.
Stiles decided to intervene before the claws came out – literally. “You realize this makes Scott our Buffy right?”
Isaac laughed. “That means Allison’s his Angel.”
“I don’t want to be a girl,” Scott said, the pout clear in his voice.
Allison snuggled closer to him, which was quite a feat since they were sharing the miniscule love seat to the side of the TV. “It’s a good thing. It means you’re the main character, baby.” She leaned up to plant a chaste kiss on him. “And we’re still a couple too. Star-crossed lovers as always.”
“Oh,” Scott replied a blush and a pleased smile quickly dominating his handsome features. “That’s alright then.”
“This is so stupid,” Jackson interrupted. “I am not jealous of Scott. If anyone’s gonna be Buffy it’s me.”
Danny rolled his eyes. “You should just let that one go, Jacks. Trust me.”
“What about the runts?” Jackson asked pointing to the two newest wolves.
This time it was Allison who spoke with venom. Stiles kept forgetting she was a hunter’s daughter and had the temper to match. He made a mental note to keep staying on her good side. “I think Erica and Spike share some history.”
“It can’t be just because we’re both hot blondes,” Erica added, flirtatiously running a well-manicured hand through her hair. “Though that is true.”
“No I was thinking more along the lines of Spike always trying to steal Buffy away from Angel,” Allison answered, the anger practically dripping off her words.
Even Derek shifted uncomfortably. Everyone knew that one of the main reasons he’d had for giving Erica the Bite was to tempt Scott away from Allison. Just because Derek had finally told Erica to stop trying didn’t mean the girl had given up. Clearly Allison left the majority of the blame on the blonde werewolf’s shoulders.
Sensing the need to switch gears Isaac held up a tentative hand. “I think I’m supposed to be Oz, right?” He smiled hesitantly at the group. “You know cause I’m quiet like him and we are both werewolves.”
“We’re all werewolves, idiot,” Jackson replied hotly, still peeved about being named the Faith in the Pack.
Stiles ignored the caustic jock and smiled reassuringly at Isaac. “I think you make an excellent Oz.” His gaze flickered to Danny. “Even if you’re destined to fall for a witch that turns out to be a lesbian.”
Danny’s eyes widened. “Are you seriously making me Willow because she’s the only gay character? Not cool, dude.”
“You’re the level headed one,” Derek said, backing Stiles up and actually joining in for the first time that night. “Of all the Beta’s you’re the one I have to worry about the least. Willow was always there for the others.”
“I thought that Stiles would be Willow,” Isaac said. “You know since Scott is Buffy and all.”
Jackson scoffed. “Stiles is the useless human.”
“Hey!” Stiles shouted, stung.
“Xander,” Scott supplied the name.
Stiles turned to stare at his supposed best friend, hoping that the betrayal in his eyes would burn a hole through Scott’s head. He was disappointed to see a distinct lack of burning flesh or gaping head wound. “Dude! Way to back me up.”
“Relax, Stiles,” Scott replied soothingly. “Xander’s an awesome character. Remember that one episode where he totally saved the day and no one knew about it?”
“And the million other episodes where he fucks everything up,” Erica added, grinning.
“Traitors,” Stiles announced, pointing around the room at everyone but Isaac. “That’s it. All of you are on my list.”
Lydia chuckled. “Well if Xander’s threatening me than I’m definitely intimidated.”
“Xander is loyal and eccentric, too,” Isaac agreed as if that made it all better.
“Et tu, Isaac?” Stiles asked, pulling a non-existent knife from his back.
“Everyone shut up and watch the show. Now.”
Derek’s low growl paired with his glowing red eyes effectively silenced the room in an instant. The wolves in the room turned towards the TV coincidentally baring their throats in the direction of their Alpha. Even without the supernatural connection Stiles felt the urge to go absolutely still. Though Stiles being Stiles couldn’t let the silence reign for too long.
“I just love these little Pack bonding nights,” he whispered tentatively into the darkness. “So relaxing. Not threatening at all.”
“Shutting up now,” Stiles squeaked, letting his body drop back onto the hard floor with a loud thump. Playing dead was supposed to work with bears so Stiles was banking on it working against irritated Alpha werewolves as well. The fact that it got a smile from more than one of his pack mates made it all the more worth it.
Even if Jackson did have to go and ruin the moment with a snarky, “He is so the useless human.”
“Xander,” Danny corrected him quietly.
Derek growled and flashed crimson eyes at them.
Stiles decided to wrap up in the blankets mummy-style and allow Joss Whedon’s small screen masterpiece lull him to sleep. Only he couldn’t seem to focus on anything that was happening on the TV. This wasn’t exactly a new experience for Stiles but it didn’t feel like the kind of distraction that his ADHD medications could fix.
No, this was the kind of mental discomfort that came from inner turmoil. Which Stiles so did not appreciate. His patented blend of self-delusion and ignoring problems until they went away was failing him. They were a tried and true method of coping that Stiles wasn’t used to being abandoned by.
Instead of marveling about Buffy’s awesome fighting skills or how hot Spike looked while being tortured, Stiles kept coming back to Jackson’s comment. Even before they were pack mates Stiles had developed a thick skin thanks to the scathing insults that Jackson tossed around as if they weren’t emotionally destructive hand grenades. After becoming pack mates Stiles had come to accept that Jackson didn’t always say these things to be hurtful. More often than not Jackson just wanted to deflect attention from his own insecurities.
And it wasn’t like Stiles was ashamed to be the ‘Xander’ of the group. Everyone loves Xander. He’s the good guy; the one whose moral compass always points true. He was the guy that everyone went to when they were in trouble or needed a shoulder to cry on. Stiles could do worse than to be the Xander. So what if he would never be known for being the strongest… or the fastest… or the most handsome… right?
Okay, so maybe Stiles wasn’t as okay with being Xander as he thought.
Stiles’ gaze drifted to the petite love seat where Scott and Allison had fallen asleep, their bodies melded together as if they were meant to. Maybe Stiles wasn’t content to just be happy that his best friend had found someone to spoon with anymore. Maybe seeing the star-crossed lover show that was Scott and Allison every day of his life had started to open a wound Stiles would have preferred not to pick at. Maybe Stiles wanted someone to cuddle with. Hell he’d settle for someone who would publicly admit they found him attractive.
Even Derek didn’t need him anymore. Isaac was practically living with him while the renovations were finishing up. Stiles knew that Derek had even spent a few nights at Erica’s house – not that her parents knew that – if he did need somewhere else to sleep. Looking at the three of them dominating the big sofa just reminded Stiles that – even if he wasn’t the only one on the floor – there wasn’t anyone else snuggling in with him. Had Boyd been in attendance he’d have been snuggled right up against the big couch just like Isaac. Everyone just assumed that Stiles didn’t mind being the odd man out.
Even Stiles apparently.
He shifted slightly to eye Jackson and Danny, watching stealthily from beneath his blankets as the two tried to see who could fit the most amount of popcorn in their mouths without choking. Stiles was reminded that he and Scott used to do stupid things like that. His gut twisted painfully as Stiles realized how long it had been since they’d done anything on their own, without sweet-but-constantly-there Allison making him a third wheel in his own broship.
Stiles knew that even if he did manage to return to his rightful place as Scott’s most important person that it wouldn’t fill the hole he’d felt growing larger with every day that graduation loomed closer. He didn’t want to be the Robin to Scott’s Batman forever – or Xander to Scott’s Buffy as the characters bickering on the screen reminded him. It wasn’t enough to just belong to the Pack anymore.
Just a few months ago Stiles would have gladly accepted his spot as the low man on the totem pole in exchange for having more than Scott and his Dad in his life. After all, it was family he’d been craving ever since his Mother had died. Looking around the room at the half-asleep werewolves Stiles knew that he’d gotten his wish. From insecure Jackson to bitchy Erica, from dopey Scott to sourwolf Derek it was this unexpected combination of people who were his family now. For better or worse Stiles had chosen them and they had chosen him right back.
But for the first time in his life Stiles felt like it wasn’t enough to simply belong. He wanted more out of his life. He needed to find his place in the world the same way that being in the Pack had helped the others find theirs. Because for Stiles being in the Pack had only reinforced those self-doubts, that nagging low self-esteem that maybe all he was good for was helping other people. That maybe the most important role he played in the pack was sacrificing his own happiness and ambitions for the good of the others. Deep down in the dark dungeon of his psyche where Stiles kept all of his troublesome thoughts and feelings buried, he couldn’t help but think that his place might not be as the Xander to his pack. That maybe there was something more out there for him.
As it turned out that feeling didn’t terrify him nearly as much as he thought it would.
Which was just a whole different kind of nightmare.
There are days that Chris Argent hates being a hunter. He’s proud to say that those bad days don’t amount to a big number. His calling has required him to perform some pretty immoral tasks but nothing that any good soldier wouldn’t do for their cause. Chris has never doubted that any of the lives he’s taken were in violation of the code. More nights than most he goes to bed satisfied that he helped make the world a safer place.
Having a member of the Hunter’s Council visit Beacon Hills to deliver a Proclamation in person definitely counts as a bad day. That said member of the Hunter’s Council is an old friend of Chris’ provides little comfort. Hunters only call them Proclamations because they don’t like to think of said messages as what they really are – threats.
“You have to understand, Chris,” Oliver pleads, using his first name to remind him of their previous camaraderie. The worry sounds sincere at least. “Your father wasn’t pleased with how things ended here last year. That you sided with the Hale Pack to evict him from Beacon Hills was a huge blow to him personally and politically.”
Chris’ lips thinned, the corners of his lips twisting to demonstrate his bitterness. “He broke the code. He murdered innocent people – humans.” His glare hardened. “He tried to manipulate my wife and my daughter into helping him.”
Oliver nodded in agreement. “Which is why the Council supported his removal from Beacon Hills.”
“Didn’t stop him from rejoining the Council, though, did it?”
“Your family has always had a seat on the Council,” Oliver reminded him. “Perhaps if your sister were still alive or your daughter of age…”
Chris flexed his fingers in an attempt to keep them from strangling his old friend. “My sister is dead because of the mindless hatred that my father taught her. She would have been just as destructive on the Council as my father is now.”
Oliver removed his glasses and rubbed tiredly at his eyes. “This is the kind of talk that has the Council so concerned, Chris. No one has ever had reason to doubt your commitment to the cause and certainly not the Code.” He paused as he weighed how to phrase his next words. “But your father is using your more strict adherence to the code to plant mistrust among the others. That your daughter so openly flaunts her relationship with one of the Hale Pack Beta’s is only adding weight to his arguments.”
“My father is free to say what he likes.”
“Even when it gives him enough support to send me here with a Proclamation?”
Chris snorted dryly. “More like a punishment.”
Oliver nodded. “Exactly. You should have seen the original Proclamation he submitted to the Council.” The man tugged at the sleeves of his suit. “For all the hatred Gerard holds for the Hale Pack I’m afraid he’s begun to equally blame you for Kate’s death. He means you harm, Chris.”
“What was the original Proclamation?” Chris asked, curious.
“To bring you back for trial,” Oliver answered bluntly. “He wanted several families to arrest the entire Hale Pack as well. He claimed it was to get their statements over what happened the night of Kate’s death but we both know none of them would have left alive.” He paused. “Gerard wanted Allison taken as well, Chris. He wants to be named her permanent guardian – to train her as one of his apprentices.”
Chris couldn’t help the slew of curses that flung from his lips. He knocked over his chair as he stormed out of the dining room. “Over my dead body!”
Oliver followed him into the living room and waited for the man to finish knocking back a shot of amber liquid straight from an unmarked bottle of liquor. “He played his cards too soon. Once I knew what he wanted I was able to negotiate him down to the current Proclamation.”
“As if that’s any better,” Chris muttered angrily.
“Considering the alternative I thought you’d be pleased with my efforts.”
Chris glared. “You want a thank you for doing your job?”
Oliver rolled his eyes, for the first time looking less like a stiff Council member and more like the friend that Chris remembered. “I’m trying to save your ass here, Chris, and all you want is to be pissed off? Fine. I can deal with that. Lord knows I’m used to your temper but don’t you dare confuse who your enemy here is.”
“He’s still my father,” Chris said grudgingly, nursing another sip.
“And a member of the Council,” Oliver added with a grimace.
Chris nodded solemnly. “At least he didn’t have enough juice to pass it.”
“But he was still able to force the Council’s hand on this,” Oliver reminded him, waving the written form of the Proclamation in front of him like a banner. “If you don’t follow through on this than the others might start to believe you’ve gone soft. I know you’re angry with us but don’t give Gerard anymore ammunition to discredit you.”
“So as long as I dance to the Council’s tune they won’t let my father arrest me and try – for the second time, mind you – to slaughter the Hale Pack and any humans who stood against him?” Chris asked, his sing-song voice only emphasizing his distinct lack of enthusiasm. “How generous of you officials elected to protect the rest of us from the rogue members of our community.”
Oliver crumpled up the Proclamation and chucked it at Chris’ head. “All you have to do is take on an Apprentice. Which – let me remind you – was a responsibility you would have had to take on in a few years anyway.” His frustration at his friend’s stubborn streak began to darken his tone. “You have Allison, Chris, who would have been trained in our ways anyway. Just choose her if you won’t look through the files on the other potentials I brought. It’s an easy out.”
Chris chuckled humorlessly. “I’m sure my father would just love that.”
“It is one of the reasons he agreed to the compromise,” Oliver admitted. “Try not to forget the message it sends to the other Council members though. Taking on an Apprentice is meant to remind aging Hunters of how important our role in the world is. It says that your commitment to the cause is so strong that you’re sharing it with another who will one day pass it on.” The gleam in Oliver’s eye held a frightening amount of reverence. “Our Apprentices become our children, remember? Not all of us are so lucky as to have actual children to teach our ways to.”
“You’re right,” Chris said quietly into the silence that just kept stretching. “I just never wanted Allison to have to make that choice. Not after the way Gerard trained Kate and I.”
“So don’t do it the way that he did,” Oliver pleaded. “If you’re so concerned about Allison – if you really want her to be free of our ways – than at least look through the files I brought and pick someone worthy.” He pointed to the thick pile of manila envelopes that were stacked neatly on the dining room table. “You’re an Argent, Chris. There are trained hunters who would gladly give a limb to be your Apprentice – to carry the Argent sigil and name.”
Chris did his best not to snap at his friend. As the oldest family of hunters, the Argents were the most revered. He’d forgotten the level of hero worship that followed his last name. There were actual legends passed down from Hunter to Apprentice about their family exploits through history. Chris couldn’t blame his friend for being swept up in the glory talk any more than he could have avoided it during his own apprenticeship.
“I’ll look over the files,” Chris agreed, purposefully keeping his tone even. “But I’ll not make any promises. Like you said, I have to find someone worthy of becoming a member of this family.”
Oliver sighed but found himself nodding along anyway. “Just try hard, Chris. You’ve only got until the next full moon to announce your choice to the Council. If you refuse this mandate than the Council will have no choice but to side with your father. Gerard will use that kind of political leverage to destroy you, the Hale Pack and possibly The Code as well.”
Chris wished he could call his friend overly dramatic. The problem was he knew his father would do just that. Gerard would single handedly destroy centuries of tradition and peacekeeping in the name of vengeance. It wasn’t like Chris held a soft spot for the werewolf community but he didn’t want to be responsible for genocide either. Chris had already been taken in by Gerard once. It had very nearly cost him his marriage, his daughter and his soul.
If taking on an Apprentice could stay his father for even a day longer than it was a sacrifice he was willing to make. Chris just had to find the right person to select. That and make sure that whoever he chose managed to live long enough to become a full-fledged Hunter.
It was always such a tragedy when an Apprentice was killed before they’d even made it out of training.
There were many undesirable aspects of being Alpha to a pack of teenage werewolves and their human compatriots that Derek had gradually gotten used to. Derek had accepted that pizza would become the food most often waiting for him at pack dinners. He had grudgingly become accustomed to his pack’s ridiculous habit of sharing their petty teenage angst with him. Though he had almost skinned Lydia alive for getting mascara on his leather jacket while she wept over her latest break up with Jackson. Derek had even taken on the role of financier when Stiles had needed his car repaired, or last summer when Scott had complained about a lack of scholarship money to go to a lacrosse camp with Jackson and Danny, or when Erica and Isaac had needed that SAT tutor.
Attending the high school’s annual College & Career Fair was something Derek would never get used to. The brightly colored nylon balloons with graduation caps and inspirational messages were just begging to be popped by a well-placed claw or two. Too many of the parents (single and otherwise) were eyeing Derek as if he were up for auction as a sex slave. The other parents kept steering their children clear of Derek as if he might give them the same treatment he was dying to give to those damned cheerful balloons.
Derek tried not to make his relief too evident when he finally spotted one of his pack mates loitering by the food table. “Boyd!”
The dark-skinned teen jumped at the strength of his Alpha’s call. He worked quickly to get the sugar cookie he’d jammed into his mouth down. “Derek? What are you doing here?” He cast a quick glance around before leaning over the table to whisper conspiratorially. “You do know that Allison’s parents are going to be here right?”
“They’re not going to start anything with all of these witnesses,” Derek grunted dismissively. “What you should be asking is where the hell the rest of your pack is.”
Body shrugged. “Probably looking around like everyone else.”
Derek resisted the instinct to start slamming his Beta into the nearest wall. “I told everyone to go around together. I told you all on movie night that I would be attending as well. How else are we going to figure out what to do after you all graduate if we don’t know what catches their interests?”
“Oh?” Derek asked, not amused at the short response. “That’s all you have to say?”
Boyd shrugged again. “Oh.”
Not for the first time Derek wondered why he’d bothered to turn someone who spoke less often than he did. Which was an impressive accomplishment indeed. Maybe another time Derek would have appreciated the brief responses – lord knows they made up for all of Stiles’ blathering monologues – but being out in public was making the Alpha edgy. He wanted his pack together. He wanted them to figure out a game plan together.
Derek wished he could be the type of Alpha who just demanded his pack mates to give up any sort of life outside of the pack. It would make things so much easier. He’d learned the hard way that being Alpha didn’t mean his Betas would just fall in line at every command. Resentment and rebellion were seeds easily planted in a Pack with a tyrant for an Alpha. Derek knew that they depended on him for survival, for guidance and for leadership. They only ever challenged him when it came to their ridiculous personal lives.
Boyd snorted in amusement as if he could see Derek’s thoughts before snatching another cookie. “I’ll go see if I can find them.”
“Do that,” Derek replied moodily already stalking away from the table. He made his way to the bleachers for a better vantage point. The Alpha had to climb all the way to the top row in order to see over the top of all of the banners and tent covers that decorated each of the booths. His werewolf eyesight came in handy since he was too far away to track his wayward pack by smell in such a large crowd.
He caught sight of Lydia first. She was sitting on the far left side of the auditorium at a small desk with a man Derek doesn’t recognize. There was a red folder sitting unopened between them with the letters “MIT” printed on the front in a dark shade of grey. Derek knew now why the man didn’t have his own booth. There really wasn’t a point in setting one up when there was only one student smart enough in Beacon Hills to be recruited. Derek was overcome with pride that the man had made a countrywide trip just for one of his Betas. The feeling was quickly replaced by a stab of fear. MIT was all the way across the country and Derek hadn’t planned on any of his pack going quite so far. The tortured expression on Lydia’s normally composed features reminded Derek that he’s not the only one facing that dilemma.
Not wanting to worry too much about it Derek scanned the crowd for the rest of them. Scott was predictably trailing behind Allison as the girl went from booth to booth, chatting politely with the representatives and taking information from them all. Her parents keep up with the pair but look torn between smiling supportively at their daughter and scowling in Scott’s direction whenever Allison’s back was turned. It’s not until Scott spotted Dr. Deaton that he broke away from the group and the Argent elders breathed a little easier.
Derek spotted Boyd by the back door trying to get Jackson’s attention. The Alpha let out a low growl when he saw the reason why Jackson was ignoring the other wolf. Congregated at Jackson’s feet like he were some sort of God are a dozen of underclassmen all looking up with rapt attention as Jackson tells some sort of story. Derek concedes that to them Jackson probably is a God. Derek eavesdropped just long enough to hear Jackson brag about all of the lacrosse scouts that had already called his parents and offered him everything under the sun to come play for them. Derek listened a little closer and heared the steady, rhythmic pumping of Jackson’s heart that meant the teen was actually telling the truth… for once.
Danny was at the only booth with computer monitors and televisions that looked as if they’d been made within the last five years. Derek watched the digital posters rotate across the screens. Derek wasn’t exactly surprised that Danny would want to pursue some sort of career in computers. It’s just that he isn’t entirely sure if the government will let Danny near one after his younger hacking days. Not that such a restriction had stopped the tan teen from helping out his pack mates when they needed a tech man. He breathed a little easier when one of the posters lists the college as being in California as one of the “benefits” of attending. Jackson might be ambitious but if Danny was to stay in the state than he’ll choose to as well. Derek just hoped that one of those recruiters Jackson had been bragging about was from a California school.
Derek caught Isaac’s scent and studied the booth’s closest to him. The curly haired boy had moved so close that Derek didn’t even need the help of his supernatural hearing to listen in. Isaac shifted shyly from foot to foot as he quietly asked about scholarships. Judging by the number of community college packets in his muscled arms Derek guessed that the boy was making the rounds and only taking ones close to home that offered heavy amount of financial aid. Derek hadn’t been worried about Isaac going too far. They’d become quite close since he’d turned the boy and knew how attached Isaac was to him in return. The envious glare Isaac shot in Jackson’s direction after the gaggle of underclassman laughed loudly at something the blonde said didn’t go unnoticed by their Alpha. Once again Jackson was being handed a life that Isaac deserved and not appreciating it in the slightest. Derek made a mental note to have them spar at the next training session and break up some of that tension before it turned into something worse.
He didn’t bother looking for Erica. She’d already made it abundantly clear that she wasn’t planning on wasting four years of her life studying. Erica wanted to make up for the fun times that she’d lost out on when plagued with her seizures. Derek didn’t necessarily approve but wasn’t going to push her on it. He only hoped that when Erica went to “party college style” with her pack mates that the education bug would grab her. Maybe in a few years she’d feel up to joining Isaac at community college.
Derek let out a derisive snort when he finally spots Stiles chatting with the officers running the booth set up by the Beacon Hills Police Department. It was just like the snarky teen to blow off doing any serious college or job-hunting in order to hang out with his father.
Derek’s eyes narrowed as he leaned forward to watch the booth more closely. The Sheriff wasn’t at the booth and his stuff is gone. Normally Derek would have been able to make out the words being exchanged but the booth was at the far end of the fair and there were simply too many other voices drowning out the noise. Derek could see perfectly though. He watched Stiles take down notes and ask questions. He spotted the nervous pulsing of the deputy’s jugular vein as the woman answered Stiles’ questions. There was only one reason Derek could think of for the woman to be nervous and it made the Alpha seethe in rage and panic. It was the same reason Stiles would have waited for his father’s shift at the table to be over before going over to speak with the deputies.
“No,” Derek growled, springing to his feet.
He didn’t bother walking over to the cement aisle of the bleachers. He gracefully pounded his way down the bleachers themselves – ignoring the impressed faces of the people close enough to witness the departure – before pouncing onto the gymnasium floor. The crowd parted before him and the angry expression on his face. Even the female deputy speaking with Stiles fell silent as he came into view.
Derek grabbed Stiles by the shoulder and spun him around with enough force that the teen nearly fell over. He pushed until Stiles’ back smacked painfully against the front of the booth. The deputy opened her mouth to intervene but shut it with a snap after the warning glare Derek sent her way.
“Derek?” Stiles asked, confusion and pain dominating his scent. His focus drifted over Derek’s shoulder to the watching crowd beyond. “Dude, people are looking.”
“You’re not joining the police force,” Derek said, ignoring the other’s warning. His tone offered no room for argument or negotiation. “Not ever.”
Stiles’ expression slipped into one of pure stubbornness. He’d seen many of Stiles’ expressions over the years – several of them of the stubborn variety – but this was the one Derek dreaded most. It was the one that promised a fight of epic proportions. It was the face that spoke of Stiles digging his feet in and actually standing his ground. It usually meant that the Alpha had to resort to beating some sense back into the kid. Derek was more than up for the challenge when it came to this.
“My dad’s the Sheriff, Derek. I don’t know whether to be more insulted that you didn’t think I might follow in his footsteps or that you think you have a say!”
Derek’s grip on the boney shoulders tightened. “I’m your Alpha. You’ll listen to me.”
“Watch what you say!” Stiles hissed. “Someone could hear you! Which is all the more likely since you’re being a big girl and making a scene in front of the whole town!”
“You think this is a scene?” Derek asked. “I’ll show you a scene.”
Stiles’ eyes widened at the threat. His arms began to windmill as Derek caught him off balance and moved his hands down to grab the teen at the waist. The Alpha hefted him up over his shoulder and began to carry him out. The reaction in the gymnasium seemed split between laughing at the sight or frightened on Stiles’ behalf.
“Put me down!” Stiles demanded as he was carried through the crowd. “This is so not acceptable behavior unless you’re a caveman.” Seeing the lack of response from his captor Stiles tried his hand with the crowd. “Help! This man is not my friend! Bad touch! Bad touch!”
Stiles’ mouth may have obeyed but his limbs did not. His arms and legs began to fly out wildly. Derek grunted as limbs fell heavily against his chest and back. To his credit, Derek refused to give an inch until they were out of the gymnasium and down a vacant hallway lined with lockers. Stiles landed one last kick before Derek tossed him onto the floor. The teen grunted at the impact before glaring up at the older man.
“What the hell, Derek?”
The Alpha leaned down to grab and lift Stiles back up by the throat. Stiles’ eyes widened in fear as he was lifted higher and higher. Derek didn’t stop until the tips of Stiles’ skater sneakers were barely touching the tiled floor. His eyes were a glowing crimson promising only death and destruction. “You will never be a cop. Do you understand?”
Stiles nodded frantically, eyes wide in panic.
Derek lowered him just enough that the front half of the shoe could rest against the floor. “If I so much as catch you with a pamphlet for the academy I will end you.”
Stiles nodded again, sighing in relief as his feet hit the ground fully. He rubbed at his throat where Derek’s tight grip had left a bright red palm print. “Jesus, Derek. You didn’t have to do all of that. Are you going to be like this with everyone?”
“None of them are that stupid,” Derek answered angrily. “They’re thinking about college not getting themselves killed.”
“You’re worried,” Stiles pointed out, shocked at the realization. “You’re worried about me.” All signs of intimidation vanished, quickly replaced by a teasing grin. “That’s so sweet, Derek. I didn’t know you cared.”
Derek let out a low growl of warning. “Everyone should be afraid if someone as clumsy and clueless like you is given a badge and gun.”
Stiles pulled away, stung. “So you’re not worried about me?”
“Of course not,” Derek lied easily, not wanting his embarrassment to show. “I’m concerned for the humans of this town that you’ll probably end up shooting by accident. For all I know some hunters will still blame us for your foolishness.”
“He’s right, Stiles,” Scott said, interrupting whatever nasty retort Stiles had locked and loaded. “Not about the hunters thing but about the whole police thing. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
The pair turned to see that the rest of the pack had joined them. Everyone looked shaken but by Derek’s display or Stiles’ near career choice was a mystery. All except for Scott who was watching his best friend with such a fearful expression that it was impossible not to see his thoughts on the matter.
Stiles glared at his friend. “I just thought that since one of us is always in trouble with the law that we could use someone on the inside. I don’t know what everyone’s getting so upset about.” His eyes roamed over the rest of the pack. “Although it’s so nice that everyone seems to agree I’d be a terrible cop.”
“You don’t have to stay here,” Scott replies quietly. “You haven’t taken the bite. You could go anywhere. I know you have the grades, Stiles. You’re almost as high in the class ranking as Lydia and Danny.”
Derek understood Scott’s feelings on the matter. Every hope Scott had of being normal, of living a standard human existence disappeared the minute his Uncle had bitten him. Besides Allison and Stiles, it was that future that the boy coveted the most. If he couldn’t have it for himself than he wanted it for his best friend. Scott didn’t want his lycanthropy to hold Stiles back like it was holding him back.
The stench of Stiles’ hurt filled the hallway. All of the self-doubt, the crisis of confidence and the low self-esteem that had been building up had finally reached a boiling point. “Because only Pack has to stick around, right? And I’m just the token human. If I was gone you’d all just keeping working like clockwork.” His laughter was hollow and pained Derek to hear. “Maybe even better without me there to mess things up.”
Allison stepped forward and linked hands with her boyfriend in silent support. “That’s not what Scott meant.”
“It’s still true, though, right?” Stiles asked bitterly. “Everyone else is useful in some way. Allison has her hunting skills and even if Danny were still another weak human he could still crack anything with a keypad.”
Derek scowled. “Don’t be stupid.”
“You know what’s the saddest part of all?” Stiles asked, lost in his pain. “Peter actually offered me the Bite.” He took a moment to enjoy the shock on their faces. “Apparently he must have seen something in me that none of you can.”
The red had returned to Derek’s eyes. “He offered it to you? Freely?”
Stiles nodded, mouth crinkling in a small, broken smile. “I turned him down obviously. I didn’t want him as my Alpha. I didn’t want someone who would manhandle me and tell me what I could and couldn’t do with my life. I didn’t want to be in a pack that didn’t support me. I didn’t want a pack that liked to keep me down.” He snapped his fingers to emphasize his sarcasm. “Oh wait. I guess I ended up in one of those anyway.”
“I am not my Uncle,” Derek said lowly, the underlying threat clear in his tone.
“Maybe not,” Stiles conceded. “But I’m also not one of your precious wolves, Derek. Which means you don’t get a say. I’m not pack – not really.”
“You don’t mean that,” Scott rushed to say, his voice pleading. He turned to his Alpha. “He didn’t mean that.”
Stiles held Derek’s gaze. “Yes, I did.”
Derek felt the rage boiling within, hurt and spite fueling it further. “As if we ever needed more proof that my uncle was out of his mind. He was insane if he thought that turning you would be a good idea. I would never make that mistake.”
“That’s what I thought.” Stiles nodded along as if Derek had just confirmed a suspicion of his. “So we’re all good, right? All on the same page?”
The Alpha nodded right back. “If you don’t like your place in the Pack than don’t bother showing up to pack meetings anymore. We’ll get along just fine without you.”
“Fine by me.”
A mix of outraged protests sounded from the watching wolf pack. Derek silenced them all with a crimson glower and a deep, warning growl. Stiles ignored the desperate looks from his former pack mates. Instead he headed for the bright red exit sign without so much as a look over his shoulder. Derek waited until he was sure Stiles was gone before reassuring the others that Stiles was just upset and needed a reminder of how important Pack was.
“He’ll be back,” he said, not entirely sure if he was really trying to comfort his pack mates or himself. Just because no one mentioned the flicker in Derek’s heartbeat didn’t mean they all hadn’t heard it.
They were all so lost in their own thoughts that they failed to spot Chris Argent slipping back into the gymnasium.
Chapter 2: Learn To Be Lonely
Don't blame me for the wait. Blame the word count! It takes a long time to get that much written.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Sheriff gives Stiles a whole week to lick his emotional wounds.
Stiles thinks his father must have the patience of a monk to have put up with his moping for longer than that first weekend. That his father lasted until the following Friday automatically upgraded the Sheriff to Sainthood. Stiles spends 99% of his life cracking jokes and ignoring problems so that his father doesn’t worry about him. He’s learned to do something similar with his abandonment issues when it comes to Scott. He’s been forced to redouble his efforts since Scott developed his furry little problem and started dating Allison.
It’s when Stiles embraces that other 1% that things go dark. Being on the outs with the Pack – even when it’s self imposed – only makes things darker, more depressing. There’s no outlet for his anger. There’s no comfort for his sadness. So he takes it out on himself, his house and his life, usually in messy and destructive ways.
So, yes, Stiles was impressed that it took his dad a full week to finally push him off the couch and onto the floor. Stiles winced at the impact and kept his eyes shut as popcorn, candy wrappers and used tissues rained down on his head from where they’d been steadily building up on the cushions around him. The floorboards jiggled noisily as the Sheriff moved to step in front of him.
“Time to get dressed, son.”
Stiles groaned in response before gesturing at the filthy blanket and the Spiderman boxers his mom got him for Christmas 6 years ago. It would be generous to say they still fit him in the style the manufacturer intended. “You mean this outfit isn’t up to the standards of Beacon Hills’ high society? I don’t know how I’ll ever live down the shame.”
The Sheriff rolled his eyes. “I’m happy to see that in the midst of whatever teenage angst you won’t talk to me about that you haven’t lost your gift for sarcasm. What a shame that would have been.”
“You realize I get it from you right?” Stiles replied. He waved sloppily at where he was pretty sure his father’s voice was coming from. “All that you just said? Yeah. That was sarcasm, daddy-dearest.”
“It’s time to embrace the other gifts you got from me then,” his father said, the teasing tone evident in his voice.
A duffel bag landed next to Stiles’ head with a dull thud from the weight of the contents. The teenager chanced a look at the bag and nearly smiled at the familiar logo of the Beacon Hills Police Department. “We’re going shooting?”
His father shook his head. “Only if you get dressed and comb your hair. Honestly, son, you barely have hair. How could you get it that messed up?” The Sheriff paused as a thought crossed his mind. “And brush your teeth. In fact, do that one first.”
Stiles hopped to his feet and offered his father a mock salute. That the blanket slipped off his shoulders and left him standing there in just his boxers made the gesture appear all the more ridiculous. “Sir, yes, sir!”
“Just go,” the Sheriff replied, rubbing at his eyes in frustration.
Thirty minutes later both Stilinski men were pulling into the police station parking lot. The Sheriff used his keycard to swipe them in the backdoor purposefully leaving Stiles and his distinct lack of brawn to lug in the heavy weapons bag. Several officers and civilian personnel shouted out greetings from their cubicles. More than once Stiles was given a hug and asked about his grades – especially from the secretarial staff. He was used to this treatment since, after his mother passed away, everyone under his father’s employment had been asked to babysit Stiles at least once. It still didn’t make it any more comfortable when his cheeks were pinched and people made jokes about the embarrassing activities he and his oh-so-helpful ADHD got up to when he was younger and not medicated.
It was with a sigh of relief that Stiles tugged open the basement door that led to the police firing range. It wasn’t much to look at – certainly not up to the same standards that most cops dramas depicted. Formerly a bomb shelter during the cold war, the police department had done what they could for the place on their limited budget. Ten wooden booths were spaced evenly next to the only entrance, creating a narrow hallway for the shooters. Metal benches (donated by the high school) sat against the wall. Hooks protruded from the wall above the benches for coats and such.
Stiles smiled as he saw they were alone. “Sweet. We can get our usual lane!”
The Sheriff couldn’t help his own smile as he watched his son stop at the booth with a large number 7 painted in red. It had been a week since Stiles had smiled or looked enthusiastic about anything. “Like anyone was going to take it.”
Stiles froze as he remembered why it was their usual spot. This was where his father had taken him after his mother had died. Learning to shoot had been what brought Stiles back from that precipice of grief and depression. They’d always gone to booth 7. He ran his fingertips over the grooves under the counter where Stiles had carved his mother’s name into the wood. “Yeah.”
“Why don’t you open the bag,” the Sheriff suggested, purposefully pulling his son out of whatever memory he was burrowing in. “It’s been awhile so I figure you should reacquaint yourself with the old standards before trying out some new stuff.”
“New stuff?” Stiles asked, eyes going comically wide at the thought. “Is there a tommy gun in there? You know how I love those old gangster movies.”
His father’s incredulous expression should have been answer enough but Stiles couldn’t help bouncing around in hopeful exuberance. “No, son. I’m sorry to disappoint your truly realistic expectations that I somehow tracked down an outdated machine gun so that I could allow you to illegally fire it… in the very police station of which I am the Sheriff.”
Stiles pointed an accusatory finger at him. “There it is, Dad. That sarcasm is bad news. You should get it checked out by a professional.”
“Will you just open the damn bag already? You’re making me want to shoot something other than paper targets.”
The teen huffed, shoulders slumped in mock defeat, but slid open the zipper anyway. At the sight of the guns all of the humor left his body. The Sheriff was pleased to see that the respect he’d instilled in his son hadn’t completely worn off. Stiles checked the safety on each of the guns before gently removing them from the bag and setting them on the wood racks.
Stiles could feel the tension lifting off of his shoulders with each weapon he cleared. The pair of hefty rifles at the bottom of the bag may have even brought a smile to his face. Not that he let his father in on that fact. Stiles avoided giving his father any additional reasons to act smug about his little plan to cheer him up. Not that Stiles was ungrateful or stupid enough to turn down some quality time with his dad that had been seriously lacking as of late.
It was just that Stiles knew his father. In fact, he had the Sheriff’s parenting moves down so well that he knew there was something else going on. Their after hours family outings to the gun range had tapered off around the same time that Stiles had stopped having his panic attacks. The few times they’d gone after that, Stiles had found himself in the center of particularly emotional conversations – or the interrogations they inevitably into – that made them both uncomfortable.
There was just something about shooting guns that made his father feel masculine enough to hand in his Man Card and get touchy-feely. Unfortunately this meant that Stiles had to go there too. It was at that very shooting range that Stiles had been handed a book on puberty, an article detailing teen pregnancy statistics, and several guides on dealing with venereal diseases. Another trip was prompted after Stiles’ less than stellar report card for his first semester of high school where he was handed an application (already filled out) for military school should his grades not improve drastically. Later that year the Sheriff had taught Stiles how to shoot a proper hunting rifle before feeling his son out about his starting to date again for the first time since his wife’s death.
Thus it was not much of a surprise when the Sheriff interrupted his silent weapons check with a pointed, “So what’s new with you, kiddo?”
Stiles paused as he debated how best to answer that question. Certainly not the truth. He doubted his dad would see the downside to his being kicked out of a werewolf pack – especially one he didn’t know existed right under his nose and was the cause of a good portion of his paperwork. Stiles definitely didn’t want to talk about Derek forbidding him from joining the police force; again, something his father would agree with his asshole of an Alpha on.
“You and Derek are more alike than I thought,” Stiles mused aloud.
“Okay,” his father replied, rounding out the syllables with a sharp popping sound. “Was that supposed to answer my question in some way? Or were you just trying to make me even more uncomfortable about my only child hanging out with a suspected murderer in his free time?”
Stiles shrugged. “I don’t know how much that will be happening anymore.”
The Sheriff looked wistful at the idea before seeing the pained expression on his son’s face. Stiles gave him credit for at least trying to look upset on his behalf. “I’m sorry, son. Did you and your… uh, friend… have a fight? I don’t need to shoot him do I?”
“Wow, Dad. Way to just jump straight to the defending my honor with a shotgun bit,” Stiles pointed out. “You might want to talk to a professional about that too. The voting populace of Beacon Hills might not like you shooting at them for looking at your painfully single son in the wrong way.” He paused at the raised eyebrow that was being aimed at him. “Not that Derek ever looked at me in that way. Or that I’m upset he never looked at me like that. Believe me when I say that I’m used to not being looked at like a sexual object… at all.”
“That’s… good, I suppose.”
Stiles nodded quickly before turning towards the shooting booth. For once he wished that their tradition was to start with the bigger, more modern weapons instead of the small calibers. It was hell on Stiles’ nerves as he tried to load the bullets into the revolver. More than once his shaking fingers dropped a bullet and he had to scramble awkwardly to snatch it before it hit the floor. The pointed stare from his father was not helping.
His Dad had won every round of the silence game since Stiles was five years old. Unfortunately Stiles wasn’t about to starting winning now. “There’s nothing wrong, Dad! I just need a little distance from the pa--- my friends --- and then everything will be ok. So you don’t need to keep up the puppy-dog stare because I’ve seen much more effective ones.”
“All of your friends?” Stiles cringed at his father’s sad tone. “I thought this was just a problem with Hale?”
Stiles nodded his head at the ear protectors on the bench. “You should put those on. No one wants a half-deaf Sheriff when they’re calling the hotline for help. Are there any deaf Sheriff’s? I feel like there should be. Discrimination is an ugly thing.”
Suddenly filled with the desire to not find out how much pity from his father would crack him wide open, Stiles hastily took aim at his target. The Sheriff scrambled for the ugly yellow ear covers, cursing under his breath the whole way. Stiles took his time settling into his proper shooting stance but didn’t feel the need to tell his father that. He waited until he saw the protective buds slipping over the Sheriff’s ears before refocusing on the target.
He breathed in, out, and then fired. He kept squeezing the trigger until all six bullets had been ejected. Stiles relaxed his stance and squinted at the paper target.
“Language.” A firm hand clapped down on his shoulder, kneading the flesh there in comfort. “It’s been a while since we’ve been shooting, son. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it again. You always do.”
It might have been more helpful if Stiles were actually listening. The voices in his head were too loud. Their words of failure and uselessness taunted him. The evidence of Stiles’ poor performance only added to his humiliation. He could hear Derek’s mocking tones. He remembered the eyes of his pack mates staring back at him, their silence a damning agreement of his below average abilities.
He went for the automatic and tried again. And again. And again. It was one of the things Stiles liked most about not having to reload bullet by bullet. He burned through magazines quickly, feeling better with every bullet that ripped through the paper target. The teen would have kept reloading if not for the Sheriff snagging the bag of ammunition from him.
“What the hell, kid?” his father demanded after yanking the ear covers off Stiles’ head with a painful tug. “I taught you better than that.”
The Sheriff glanced from Stiles to the shredded target and back again. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.”
Stiles felt his shoulders sag with guilt. “No, Dad, wait! It’s fine. I’m fine. I just need to take a little breather, I guess.”
“Yeah, son. You do that.”
Stiles sat on the bench and watched him take down the bullet-riddled target. He pushed down a rush of shame as the Sheriff tossed it into the trash so that no one would stumble across it. He spent the next half hour watching his father work his way through the different weapons, twitching the whole time. Stiles made sure to fake a smile whenever his father turned around. He didn’t expect the man to buy it – really he’d been immune to Stiles’ false charm since he was 12 – but it was worth a shot.
Unfortunately the silence provided by the protective hearing wear gave him some time to think through his anger. Stiles didn’t do introspection. He didn’t like to wonder why he pictured Jackson’s face mocking him or Scott’s averted eyes as he shot at the target. He didn’t want to ask himself why he kept hearing Derek’s voice instead of the booming clap of thunder as the gun fired. Stiles definitely didn’t need time to mull over the little voice inside that kept agreeing with them.
Nope. Emotional procrastination was his preferred pastime.
And as many times as he prayed for a worthwhile distraction, Stiles never actually expected the universe to listen. He should have known that it would also screw him at the same time. If Stiles had known the universe would send Chris Argent his way he would have asked for a receipt and then for directions to the return desk.
The only upside was how the hunter seemed just as irritated at seeing Stiles. The over done scowl was almost good enough to cheer Stiles up. Whatever cheer it brought him was quickly squashed as his Dad – the freaking traitor – called the man over to join them. Stiles was sure that if it wouldn’t look so rude he would have turned the offer down and fled back the way he came.
“And you remember Stiles,” the Sheriff said, ripping the earpieces off Stiles’ head. Apparently he’d missed the beginning of the introductions. The tone his father used was both apologetic to Chris and damning Stiles for his rudeness.
Stiles begrudgingly got to his feet and offered the man his hand. “Nice to see you again, Mr. Argent,” he lied.
Chris’ welcoming smile was much more believable. Stiles shivered at how it hid all traces of evil. “How could I forget one of Allison’s little friends?”
“What brings you down here?” the Sheriff asked, willfully ignoring the way Stiles jerked his hand back and Argent’s verbal dig. “I didn’t forget an appointment did I?”
“Not at all,” Chris assured him. He hooked a thumb over his shoulder to point out the rolling suitcases by the door. “Just giving your deputies a preview of some new merchandise.”
The Sheriff laughed. “And how much is that going to eat into my department budget? Those bullet proof vests nearly did us in last year.”
“I always give law enforcement a healthy discount on weapons,” Chris replied, eyes briefly dancing over to Stiles. “We want our police officers to be as prepared as they can be for whatever threats are out there.”
Stiles clenched his fingers into a fist. The urge to swipe that smug look off Allison’s dad’s face was strong. Luckily Stiles had never needed physical prowess to get back at someone. His tongue had always been his most valuable weapon. “Monsters are everywhere,” he agreed with false cheer. “Some can be right in front of you and you’d never even know it.”
To his credit Chris didn’t miss a beat. “All the more reason to support our neighborhood watch group. Anything we can do to help the police catch the real threats to our community.”
“Good in theory but there are always those who take matters into their own hands. That’s why we have the police. You know, people who are elected to up hold the law and not just random gun nuts who think they’re justified in doing whatever the hell they want,” Stiles ranted with a pleasant smile on his face.
“Right,” the Sheriff interrupted, looking between the two of them in confusion. His suspicious look only grew as they both jumped at his voice. Apparently in their verbal sparring they’d forgotten why they were speaking in code. Or rather in Stiles’ case poorly concealed code. “Well I think Stiles and I will duck out and let you get ready for that presentation.”
Chris blocked their escape, his arms clearly shooting out in a more threatening manner than he’d intended. “Why the rush, Sheriff? I don’t mind a few extra bodies in the audience. I’d just love to get a professional’s opinion on these new specs.” He relaxed his arms, an innocent expression plastered on. “It’s not like I can use these babies for hunting.”
Stiles stiffened, looking pleadingly at his dad. “There’s all that homework left to do.”
“Oh, come on. It’s Friday night,” Chris interrupted his excuse making. “Not even my Allison is working on school stuff tonight.”
“I suppose we could stay for a little bit.”
Stiles didn’t like the way his Dad was eyeing the professional gun cases. It was just a little too curious. The last thing he needed was Chris Argent selling his dad and the other cops some ammunition laced with silver or special Hunter-grade weapons. Unfortunately it didn’t look like Stiles was going to have much of a choice. He’d just opened his mouth to bully his father into leaving when the other deputies came in.
Chris chatted them all up with ease. Stiles couldn’t tell if it was all part of being a good salesman or if he was getting to see Allison’s dad being genuine for once. The man was on a first name basis with all the senior deputies and seemed well versed in their personal lives. Stiles had grown up with these men and women – been regularly babysat by half of them through middle school – and even he was impressed by how much Chris knew.
Determined not to help the man with his sales pitch, Stiles took a seat at the corner of the bench. He kept himself busy by stealing the attention of the deputies closest to him with small talk. Like hell he was going to let Chris Argent beat him in the niceties department. Talking was his thing and the Sheriff’s department was his territory.
Great, he mused darkly. Now I’m thinking like a werewolf. Next thing you know I’ll be pissing on the bench to scent the place.
As it turned out Chris was showing them a weapon not even on the market yet. No one but Stiles found it suspicious that it was manufactured by a private company – that no one had heard of – that specialized in military grade munitions. If that didn’t scream secret hunter gun ring then Stiles didn’t know what did. Personally he was a little disappointed that his Dad didn’t bat so much as the proverbial eye when Chris skimmed over the weapons’ origins.
Stiles did have to give the hunter some credit though. For secretive nut jobs they sure did make some nice looking guns. The black metal of the automatic handgun practically sparkled in the fluorescent lighting. A streak of silver dominated the sides in an unconventional barrel. Stiles might even have dared to call it sexy… not that he wanted anything Chris Argent was selling.
He was alone in that. The others watched with rapt attention as Chris fired off a few rounds. He purposefully hadn’t warned them about hearing protections so that he could demonstrate the muffled shots. They were still loud enough pops to make them cringe but nothing that would cause permanent damage. Stiles tried not to be intimidated by the way Argent landed all three of his tests shots at the center mass of the target.
The assault rifles Chris pulled out next were clearly part of the same line. The design was made of the same sleek, cold exterior as the handgun. Stiles could easily see the weapon being featured in one of the online games he and Scott used to play. Chris didn’t need to warn them to put on the ear coverings when it came time to test firing the rifle. Even with them on the heavy booms were overwhelming.
“So who wants to try one?” Chris asked with a genuine grin, clearly enjoying his work even if it was just a cover for his hunting activities.
There was a scramble of volunteers. Stiles was secretly proud of his father for not pushing for a turn like the others. He was much less pleased with the deputies who were acting like they were teenagers at a concert rushing the stage. Eventually Chris had to choose someone at random and everyone backed up to watch. Chris talked the deputy through the process once more.
Stiles snorted as the deputy misjudged the strength of the recoil and ended up on his ass. The target two stations left of the one the deputy had been aiming at was sporting a large hole. While the Sheriff helped his fallen deputy up, Stiles joined the other spectators in some good-natured ribbing at his expense. It was pure coincidence if Stiles happened to include Chris and his shiny weapons as targets in his joking. The sour look on Chris’s face said that he didn’t buy that for a second.
It wasn’t until one of the other deputies joked about Stiles handling the gun better than the downed deputy that Chris had an opportunity to retaliate.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing that,” Chris immediately followed the joke up with a condescending smirk. “If he thinks he can handle it, that is. The boy certainly sounds confident.”
The Sheriff stepped between them before Stiles could say anything. “His mouth works independently of his brain, Mr. Argent. I wouldn’t take anything he says seriously if I were you.” Stiles flinched at the apologetic tone in his father’s voice. He hated that his dad felt he had to be ashamed on his behalf. “I’m sure he didn’t mean any offense.”
Stiles felt a tremor of his earlier anger vibrate through him. He was used to Jackson looking down his nose at him. Stiles could even accept Derek treating him like a walking disaster. But there was no way Stiles was going to sit there and have his own father act that way. Especially not with Chris Argent there to sink that knife of insecurity all the way to the bone.
“I’m game,” Stiles declared confidently, climbing off the bench and walking into Argent’s personal space. He stared up at the hunter in challenge. “If he doesn’t mind me playing with his little toys.”
Chris smirked. “Of course not. Toys are for children after all.”
Stiles ignored the jab and his father’s nervous expression. Instead he let the cheers of the deputies bolster him. His hands were blessedly shake free as he took the weapon from Argent and stepped up to the booth. Stiles thought over every detail of the deputies try at shooting and tried to correct as best he could. He knew the recoil was going to get him but he could at least balance himself out enough to not take a one-way trip to the concrete. Though the thought of the bruise he’d have on his shoulder the next day still made him wince.
He steeled himself, breathed as his father taught him and focused on his target. Stiles paused just long enough for the others to fall silent before firing. He was proud of himself for not flinching in anticipation of the pain. Stiles gritted his teeth so as to not cry out as the butt of the weapon smashed into his shoulder like a sledgehammer.
The deputies behind him were hollering in joy at the large hole he’d put just right of center of the target. Stiles bit back a gasp as someone clapped him on the shoulder in encouragement, inadvertently increasing the pain there. The Sheriff shook his head, bemused, but otherwise looked proud at his son’s display.
Stiles chanced a look at Chris Argent. He expected to see him pissed off or at the very least surprised. Instead the hunter was staring at him with a calculated look that gave Stiles some serious chills. Wanting nothing more then to wipe that expression off the man’s face, Stiles thrust the weapon back into Chris’ arms with enough force to get his message across.
“Beginner’s luck,” Chris replied skeptically much to the displeasure of their audience.
Stiles frowned up at him in confusion. Chris’ words might have sounded like sour grapes to the rest of them but Stiles knew better. He could see Chris’ face and there was no doubt there that Stiles had used skill to make that shot. Stiles might even hazard a guess that the man looked as if he respected the pain he’d silently endured. He didn’t know what it meant that Allison’s father was challenging him like that but it did little to settle Stiles’ confusion or his unease.
“Show him what you got, Stiles!” one of the deputies called out with a laugh.
“Yeah,” another joined in. “Don’t let him get away with that.”
Of course Stiles had never been one to break under peer pressure. If he had then he wouldn’t have been on the bottom of the social ladder for most of his life. Stiles was all prepared to tell them to stuff it and that he’d already earned a battle scar for the evening. Totally prepared to walk out with his head held high and the little boost of confidence that he’d desperately needed lately.
That plan flew right out the non-existent window as soon as the Sheriff pressed through the crowd and smiled at him. “I’m sure Stiles has a few shots left in him, Mr. Argent.” It had been a long time since Stiles had spotted a look of pride on his father’s face; even longer since it had been aimed his way. “So long as it’s with the handgun and not the rifle,” he added in a voice that meant he totally knew about the bruise blossoming on his shoulder.
“No problem.” Chris undid the latch on the gun case and withdrew a second handgun, identical to the first. “Five bullets. Three in the chest, two in the head.”
Stiles hesitantly took the gun. “And what do I get if I make all those shots?”
Chris smirked, surprised. “You want to make a bet?”
“Why not?” Stiles replied, voice lowered so the others couldn’t overhear. “I should get something out of this right? Other than the pleasure of handing you your ass.”
“Don’t get too cocky,” Chris warned, that dangerous glint in his eyes growing as he leaned closer. “A bet implies competition and I don’t see you as one.”
Stiles tried not to let it show how well the man’s intimidation shtick was working. “So you won’t have a problem putting your money where your mouth is?”
The Sheriff coughed pointedly. “Anything I should know about from all that whispering?”
Chris’s perfected fake smiled slid into place instantly as he turned. His arm wrapped around the back Stiles’ shoulders, squeezing the fresh bruise. Stiles bit his lip so as not to grimace too noticeably. “Not at all, Sheriff. Just giving the boy here a few pointers.”
“He even agreed to a bet,” Stiles lied, enjoying the way the hunter tensed next to him. If the man wouldn’t agree to a bet in private then Stiles would just have to ambush him with one in public. And Stiles was going to make him pay for that death grip on his bruise. “Mr. Argent agreed to donate a whole case of these beauties if I win.” Sensing that wasn’t shocking enough to the man next to him, Stiles quickly added, “And he’s going to invite Scott over for dinner with Allison.”
The Sheriff didn’t look like he bought that for a second but nodded along pleasantly anyway. “And if you lose?”
Chris patted him on the back before moving away, the gun aimed precariously in Stiles’ direction. “Stiles will be spending some quality time at my house doing some heavy lifting. Don’t worry, Sheriff, I’m sure he’ll be able to count it as an internship on his college applications.”
Stiles gulped at the tables being turned on him. “Right. So… um… we should get started, yes?”
Everyone backed away and slipped the headsets back on. As soon as Argent knew they were the only ones capable of hearing he leaned close to Stiles and started whispering. “You should have kept it to the guns, boy.”
“You shouldn’t have tried to run my friend over with a car,” Stiles snapped back, equally furious.
“Why do you even care?” Chris asked, that unreadable expression of his back in place. “Last I heard you were on the outs with your precious pack.”
Stiles’ eyebrows shot up in surprise. “How the hell did you know about that?”
Chris smirked cockily. “It’s my job to know.”
“Look – not that it’s any of your business – but my friendship with Scott goes beyond my ties to the pack,” Stiles answered grumpily, checking over the weapon in case Chris had given him one designed to jam. Being in a werewolf pack had taught him to be suspicious. “If I can help him in his relationship with Allison then I will. Just because he’s sometimes oblivious or taking a note from Jackson and being a douche doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon him.” He paused to catch his breath before offering the man a smirk of his own. “Plus I knew it would piss you off.”
He didn’t wait for the man’s reply. Hell, Stiles didn’t even wait for the man to put on his protective gear. The teen took aim with the gun and went through his check points before firing three times. All three shots landed dead center where they were supposed to.
Stiles paused as he adjusted his aim before making two holes in the head right where the eyeballs would have been. Feeling the high of his win, Stiles put the gun’s safety on before blowing the non-existent smoke from the barrel in a poor man’s imitation of a western gunslinger. Another wave of cheers rose up behind them. Stiles grinned as his dad pulled him into a manly hug.
Chris didn’t join in on the celebrations. Nor did he pay any attention to the friendly jeers the deputies sent his way. His attention was focused entirely on the perfectly executed shots in the target.
Stiles ignored the excited crowd around him in favor of tracing his fingers over the sloppily painted #7 that meant so much to him.
Not for the first time in his career Chris Argent found himself cursing the Hunter’s Council. They’d provided him a stack of profiles from which to choose his first apprentice. He’d already worked his way through the first 50 applicants, finding fault with each one. There was an equally thick stack left to sort through and Chris held little hope of actually finding someone he could work with let alone take into his family and trust.
They represented over 100 potential hunters and a dozen or so already established ones that had yet to be apprenticed. Sadly every year the pool got larger as more and more supernatural violence went unchecked leaving behind angry survivors desperate to fight back. Chris knew the responsible choice would be to select one of these poor souls to bring into the fold but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He didn’t want someone who might have already been poisoned against him by Gerard. And it wasn’t against the rules to select someone not suggested by the Hunter’s Council. Allison’s profile wasn’t among the stack – something he’d checked on first – and Chris knew how badly his father and the other council members would want her.
But Chris was nothing if not a man of honor. He’d promised to go through the names and give them an honest consideration. He was keeping his word even if it did leave him with a throbbing ache behind his eyeballs and a glass of bourbon in his hand. Chris wasn’t coming up with bullshit reasons for dismissing the applicants either. Chris was a seasoned hunter who knew what he wanted in an apprentice and, more importantly, what he didn’t.
There was a star athlete in Toledo with a background in martial arts but two DUI’s that said he had control issues. The teenage girl in San Francisco reminded Chris too much of Allison for him to be impartial about her training. He recognized the last name of an applicant who turned out to be the nephew of one of Chris’ old hunting buddies that would certainly have had the proper training. Unfortunately that meant they’d also have their prejudices built in and Chris couldn’t afford to have Gerard use hatred to steal someone else from Chris’ life. There was an older woman from Ohio that Chris had tentatively considered ironically due to her criminal record that demonstrated her resourcefulness but he didn’t want the hassle of dealing with someone already set in their ways. There was a reason most apprentices were trained in their youth.
An alarm sounded, breaking his concentration. Chris checked the monitor on his desk and saw Victoria had tripped the motion sensor outside the study door. He watched her punch in the code on the keypad before entering the room. He offered her an easy smile before leaning up and over the desk for her return kiss.
“Having any luck?” she asked, eyeing the manila folders that he’d oh-so-carefully filed away in the trashcan.
Chris took a long sip from his glass. “What do you think?”
She nodded as if to say she’d expected as much. “I don’t know why you even bothered to put yourself through this charade. You know you won’t find anyone acceptable in that pile.”
“I promised Oliver.”
“Oliver is a fool,” Victoria snapped. “He was idealistic when we met him during training and he’s just gotten worse over the years. And if this is the compromise he worked out with the Council then he’s not remotely competent.”
Chris smirked at her over his glass. “You would have handed them their balls.”
“I still might.” Victoria took a folder off the top of the pile and started flipping through it. She had barely finished the first page before tossing it into the trash with the others. “You know there’s an easier way, Chris. You’re just being too emotional to accept it.”
“Allison is not an option. We agreed on this.”
Victoria arched a perfectly groomed eyebrow. “No, you said that and just assumed that I would agree with you.”
Chris slammed his glass down on the table sending the contents spilling over the rim and over his fingers. “Sometimes I envy your ability to put everything aside in the face of hard choices,” Chris replied evenly. “This isn’t one of them. She’s our daughter. We have to think about her as more than just another soldier.”
“You’re correct that she’s not some regular soldier,” Victoria returned. “She’s going to be a commander of soldiers. You’re the one who keeps forgetting that.”
“I never forget it,” Chris corrected her in a quiet voice. “You and I both know there’s blood bath coming. Don’t you want to protect her from that?”
Victoria shook her head. “If she’s not part of the battle then no one will care what she has to say after.”
Chris frowned down at the cloth he was using to wipe off his wet hands. “Not necessarily. She could be the savior. Allison could be the one to pick up the pieces after all is said and done.”
“They’ll label her a coward. And if Gerard wins they’ll hunt her down for being a traitor.” A nasty grimace erupted from her lips. “Especially if she’s still dating that McCall wolf.”
“It’s still not going to be her, Victoria,” Chris said. “Even if I thought she could survive I wouldn’t want her around my father. Gerard wants her for a reason and I refuse to give that man anything he desires.”
Victoria sighed. “You know why he wants her. She’s to be his next Kate.”
“Not if I can help it.”
“If not Allison then who?” Victoria asked irritably. “We both know your choices are limited if you refuse to accept anyone the Council suggested.”
“Which is likely,” Chris griped, throwing a withering glare at the remaining profiles. “None of them have what I’m looking for.”
“Which is?” she prompted expectantly.
Chris shrugged. “I’ll know it when I see it… and I haven’t seen it yet.”
“Well have you thought about what you do want in an apprentice? A tangible list to judge against?” Victoria asked, head tilted to the side with the same expression she uses when there’s a crossword clue that she just can’t figure out. “And be honest, Chris, because we both know you aren’t looking for just another piece of muscle with a gun.”
“You’re right about that.” Chris sighed, leaning back in his desk chair. His eyes remained closed even after he’d finished rubbing the sleep out of them. “Loyalty is paramount. Especially with my father trying to turn the others against me.”
“Us,” Victoria corrected, voice sharp like a whip in the stillness of the room. “Turning them against us.”
Chris nodded but didn’t push the thought further. His mind drifted back to the blood and turmoil of the previous year. He remembered every moment of blindly following Gerard into a war without the protection of the code. “I want someone who has seen both sides,” he admitted quietly. “Someone who isn’t in this to just kill non-humans because of a vendetta or blind hatred. They have to know that not all animals are threats and not all hunters are heroes.”
His wife pursed her lips in displeasure. Chris had known how poorly that suggestion would sit with her. Victoria had never met a creature she deemed more valuable or moral than a hunter. “Good luck finding someone like that.” She pointed one of her blood-red nails at the stack of applicants. “You and I both know that most people who learn about the existence of supernatural threats are because they were victims or someone they knew was a victim. It’s not a breeding ground for trust and acceptance with the mongrels.”
“I know that,” Chris said, acknowledging the truth of her statement. It was one of the reasons Gerard was gaining so many blind followers. “But it still doesn’t make it any less important that my apprentice have a balance.”
“Anyone in that pile fit the bill?” Victoria asked, skeptically. Her smirk only grew as he shook his head. “At the very least you can teach someone a balance… probably. If it’s so important to you.”
Chris ignored the mild dig in favor of thinking up a trait that couldn’t be trained. “They’ll have to be smart – smart and resourceful.” Visions of a boy throwing a Molotov cocktail flashed through his mind. “Someone who can think up a plan beforehand and then adapt when something goes wrong.”
Victoria shrugged. “Obviously.”
“Maybe I need someone that others would underestimate,” Chris continued his musing aloud as if his wife hadn’t spoken. He thought of flailing limbs in a distinct red hoodie and an irritating mouth. “Someone my father and his sycophants wouldn’t see as a threat; a seemingly easy target to get to betray my trust but would really be working for me.”
“Could be good for infiltration in packs,” Victoria added in a tone that suggested she thought Chris really had made a good point. “Not a lot of our newbies look innocent enough to be trusted. Too many scars, too quick to anger to fit in with any targets.”
Chris nodded even as he recalled shoving a gangly teenager against a door in a burning rage of anger and intimidation. He also remembered the boy pushing him right back even though he was scared but still defiant enough to burn Chris with scathing reminders of Kate’s suspected misdeeds. “I need someone who won’t let the Argent name go to their head. I need a man who says the truth no matter the consequences.”
Victoria frowned. “Surely you don’t want someone lacking respect? That is no way to earn any political allies with the hunting families, Chris.”
“That’s exactly who I want,” Chris argued back. “I’m not my father. I don’t need a fool to lick my boots clean of blood.” He fixed his wife with a pointed look. “I’ve always been drawn to those who aren’t afraid to challenge me. How else can you expect to find an equal?”
A rare blush graced Victoria’s cheeks at the subtle reminder of what had drawn them together. Their personal philosophies and styles had never been complimentary but they’d still always managed to forge a middle ground of respect and trust. “For a man complaining about a lack of any potential apprentices you seem fairly sure of what you want. Why do I have a feeling you aren’t just being picky? Because it certainly sounds like you already have a worthy candidate in mind.”
Chris smirked at his wife. “I think I do, too.”
“So what’s the problem?” Victoria asked, eyebrows arched in genuine confusion. “Are you afraid that the Council won’t ratify your choice?”
Victoria leveled her husband with a glare. “So you think I won’t approve?”
Chris crossed his arms defensively. “You were pushing rather hard for it to be Allison.”
“Is it so wrong to want greatness for our daughter?” Victoria snapped angrily. “She fits most of your criteria, doesn’t she? You won’t find many who care more about the mutts than she does. She’s got the inborn instincts that make her a survivor. Allison’s been living with the glory of your last name her whole life so it’s not as if she’d be drunk on the power that comes with it. Lord knows she’s rebelled against you enough that she’d tell you to your face if you were out of line.”
“You’re right,” Chris replied, successfully shocking his wife with his ready agreement. “She’s almost perfect… except for two rather big issues. She won’t be underestimated. Gerard won’t make that mistake again – not after how critical she was in getting rid of him last year. My father might try to get her on his side but he’ll never lower his guard around her.”
A spark of anger flashed through Victoria’s eyes. “And you think your mystery candidate will get that close? You honestly believe they’ll be able to get inside Gerard’s circle more easily than the man’s only granddaughter?”
Chris shrugged. “Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. That’s not my main concern with my father.”
“So what is?” Victoria asked. “What’s more important that slipping a spy into his ranks?”
“Pissing him the fuck off,” Chris replied with a wry grin.
Victoria’s lips were pinched, unimpressed. “How very mature of you.”
“Giving him Allison will make him think he’s manipulated events in his favor. Oliver said Gerard only agreed to the compromise because Allison would be my most obvious choice. My father wants to break Allison and make her into his next Kate.” Chris broke off to share a raw look of pain with Victoria. “I won’t let that happen. Allison’s compassion will save our family from the war my father’s hatred is brewing. We can’t afford to have two Argents pushing for genocide. At least I was there to balance out Kate.”
Not wanting to bring up Kate again – a sore spot for the both of them – Victoria thought back to her husband’s earlier words. “And you think that Gerard will be enraged that you chose someone other than Allison?”
Chris smiled. “Especially the boy I have in mind.”
“And you won’t tell me who it is?” Victoria questioned.
“Not yet,” Chris answered, sounding properly chastised. “Not until I know for sure if they’ll consent to training. I have a feeling I’ll be working just as hard on convincing him as I will getting the Council to approve.”
Victoria stilled as a thought struck her. Her own lips twisted as she hatched a plan that would give them both what they wanted. “I may have a solution for that particular problem, you know?”
“I don’t think I can scare the kid into saying yes.”
“Not the boy,” Victoria replied with a slight roll of her eyes. “I meant there’s a simple way to get the Council on board.”
Chris opened his arms in a sweeping gesture. “I’m all ears, my love.”
Victoria smirked. “Offer them a Hunter’s Pair, my love.”
“There hasn’t been a Hunter’s Pair since… well since – ”
“ – Since your father trained you and your sister as one,” Victoria finished for her husband, tone slightly teasing. “I know. That’s what makes it the perfect tactic. It’s so traditional that there’s no way your father can turn it against you – no matter how upsetting your choice of protégée turns out to be. It sends a signal that you’re not just taking their mandate seriously but that you’re trying to do it better than your father did.”
Chris raised his eyebrows at Victoria. The idea had merit. The Council would be singing his praises if he were to present a real Hunter’s Pair. The concept of training a man and a woman together – having two apprentices – had nearly died out entirely from practicality concerns. The best hunters – the ones of legend – had always been partners in a Hunter’s Pair. They became more than just blood to their mentor but siblings to one another under the code. It was just as strong as an arranged marriage and with the intended life-long bond that came with it.
Gerard had waited to train Chris until Kate was of age simply so that he could try to revive the tradition. It wasn’t until Chris was much older that he realized the stunt was also the move that had given Gerard membership with the Council. Despite the political motivations, Gerard had taken the job of cultivating a Hunter’s Pair seriously. It wasn’t just because of their actual kinship that Chris had seen Kate as a sister. Their training had strengthened that bond to the point that Chris had turned a blind eye to the monster his father had turned Kate into.
It was that same experience that allowed Chris to see his wife’s true motivations for suggesting a Hunter’s Pair. “I suppose you’d want Allison as the female apprentice?”
Victoria shrugged. “It’s her destiny, Chris. It’s in her damn blood. If you’re going to give her spot away then the least you can do is let her share in it.” Her clenched fingers being the only physical indication of how vehemently she meant what she was saying. “Have you even asked her if she wants to pursue her birth right?”
“Have you?” Chris shot back, equally intense.
The room turned thick with tension. It was not the first time they’d fought over Allison’s thoughts, feelings and future without asking their daughter her thoughts. They’d moved her across country for years without a thought to her feelings on the matter. But in this decision both parents were convinced they knew what was best; what Allison would want.
“You do realize that – even if she did agree – we’d be essentially giving her a brother that she never asked for,” Chris reminded his wife, breaking the irritable silence. “You don’t even know if she’ll get along with this boy.”
“She’ll learn to like him,” Victoria snapped. “Besides it will be a great honor for your precious apprentice. When Allison says yes, and when she completes her training, she’ll be head of the family. That makes this boy of yours her second in command; her first line of defense; the confidant she’ll trust more than anyone else in the world.”
Chris grimaced. “That’s exactly my point, dear. You’re so desperate to have her take up the responsibility that you’ll pair her with anyone. What if he can’t protect her? What if she needs him and he isn’t there?”
Victoria jumped out of her chair and slammed her palms down flat on the desk. His glass rattled across the wooden top from the force of the impact. “It’s your job to make sure that doesn’t happen! It’s your job to train him, to make him the kind of protector that will keep her alive!” Her breathing turned as harsh as her words. “Because we both know what kind of liberal leader she’ll be. You’ve been too soft with her, too lenient of her relationship with that wolf, and all it’s done is breed rebellion. And they’ll kill her for it, Chris! The traditionalists like your father will string her up and cut her in half for threatening their ways! And the only one that will be there to keep her in one piece will be her hunting brother.” She snatched a fistful of Chris’ shirt and tugged. “So you’ll damn well make sure he’s capable of keeping my daughter alive.”
Chris made no move to dislodge his wife’s death grip. He stared her down instead. Victoria had always suffered impulse control. One couldn’t have that much rage stored up within and not let it out every now and then. Besides, it wasn’t like she was lying. Everything she said made sense and it chilled Chris to the bone.
“I’ll make sure of it,” Chris pledged as soon as Victoria had released him.
“This boy – the one that will upset Gerard – he’s really worth the risk?” Victoria asked quietly as she righted her appearance to the deceptively calm vision the world was used to. “Worth Allison’s safety?”
Chris thought back to the conversation he’d overheard at the college fair. From what he understood, Stiles had been offered the bite and turned it down. He’d protected Derek – someone Chris had accused of murder but who turned out to be innocent – even when pushed to betray him. Yet Stiles had also actively helped take down the feral alpha, Peter Hale, to the point of endangering his own life several times. He’d stupidly trained his newly turned friend, Scott McCall, in spite of the inherent dangers of doing so because of their deep friendship. The fact that Stiles had been successful in teaching Scott to control his instincts and abilities spoke volumes about his intelligence and his craftiness.
No one would ever suspect a boy with ADHD, a motor mouth that was fueled with pop culture references and sarcasm, and had the clumsiest appendages Chris had ever seen of being a hunter. His father wouldn’t see him as a threat but as another example of Chris’ supposed weakness and romantic notion of hunting. Just thinking back to earlier that night when Chris himself had misjudged the boy reaffirmed his suspicions. He’d thought him weak but Stiles had bested him. Chris knew that Stiles was on the outs with his pack mates but he still made a bet that benefitted his friend. His loyalty was unquestionable and, loathe as Chris’ ego was to admit it, so was the teenager’s cleverness and resourcefulness.
If Chris could harness those traits and give them to Allison in the form of a hunting partner then his daughter would have nothing to be worried about. He’d never doubt Stiles’ loyalty to himself or his daughter. He could trust Stiles to research whatever threat his daughter would be hunting down. Chris would provide Stiles with the tools necessary to keep both of them alive. Despite how bizarre it seemed – even to the hunter – Chris could no longer imagine a better candidate than Stiles Stilinski.
“He will be,” Chris answered finally.
Dusk had just started to settle over Beacon Hills when Derek heard the first car enter the driveway. He could feel his wolf push restlessly against his skin, ready for the full moon to arc in the night sky. It was the first time in weeks that Derek had felt the buzz that came with being a werewolf. Usually every smell and touch was a new rush of sensations. Usually his wolf would hum with the connection it shared with the others in his pack. Usually this particular full moon brought a night of excitement and bonding among the pack members.
None of that had been true since Stiles had walked away from the Pack. From him.
For two weeks Derek had been on edge, his rage a boiling constant within. Scott had started looking at Derek like he was a bond villain again – a mistrusting gaze that Derek hadn’t been subjected to since the two packs had merged last year. With Scott keeping his distance, Allison definitely hadn’t been dropping by. Even Boyd was making himself scarce. Lydia kept looking at Derek with those defiant eyes of hers as if she could see right through him. Jackson tried to act like his normal uncaring self but the stench of guilt that wafted around his person betrayed him. The tension in the house had Isaac acting jumpy again which just sent Erica spiraling into an over protective mode. Danny was driving himself to the point of exhaustion trying to put out all of the little fires before they sparked into something far more devastating.
Derek needed this full moon to go well. His wolf needed it. He couldn’t take another day of tension. The supernatural force that connected Derek to his pack had been full of white noise instead of the steady thrum of power he usually felt. It wasn’t natural. With the help of the full moon Derek was confident that he could repair the damage.
Isaac was barely through the door before Derek had him wrapped in an awkward shoulder hold. Touch may have been an important part of the bonding process but Derek didn’t do hugs. Even with the slight contact Derek could already feel some of the tension leaving his body. Luckily Isaac was used to his patented blend of tactile bonding. “Happy full moon, Derek.”
The rest of the pack filed in through the door. Derek tried not to growl as they all tried to dodge his inept affections. He wasn’t the Alpha for nothing though. One by one they were each given some kind of welcoming touch – even if Jackson had to be dragged out of his hiding place in the hall closet by the scruff of his neck – before being allowed into the den.
“You feeling ok?” Erica asked, eyes wide in a mixture of fear and concern.
“Of course,” Derek replied sharply. “Why?”
Scott couldn’t stop staring at him. “You’re smiling… with a lot of teeth.”
“So?” Derek barked.
“It’s just more pearly whites than we’re used to,” Allison added diplomatically. That she inched closer to Scott and away from Derek did not make him feel any better.
Lydia rolled her eyes. “Clearly our dear Alpha is trying to make up for Stiles’ absence – though why he thinks creepy touching is a substitute for annoying ramblings is beyond me – and failing at it.” She only flinched slightly at his answering growl. “So let’s just push forward, shall we? What movie are we watching?”
“What one did you bring?” Derek replied hotly. He was an Alpha not a damn cruise director. Silence fell once more in the room as everyone glanced at each other.
Derek took a breath and tried to calm himself down before he made even more permanent cuts to his pack. “Is that silence your way of telling me that no one rented a movie?”
“Stiles usually picks out the movie,” Isaac whispered into the tense silence.
“Oh god,” Boyd groaned, eyes wide as a terrifying thought occurred to him. “Stiles usually brought the food, too. Please tell me someone took that up. I’ve been waiting all day for the barbeque.”
Once more the room was dominated by silence and accusing stares.
Derek’s eyes flashed red. He pushed down his own disappointment at the lack of planning on his pack and himself. He’d needed this to go well, needed them to survive without the spastic human and so far they were failing on all counts. “We’re werewolves. We don’t need a movie for entertainment when we have the woods and the moonlight. We don’t need a barbeque when we can hunt our own meal and share in a kill.”
“But we always watch a movie when we get back,” Jackson whined.
Danny nodded along. “It’s tradition.”
“So we’ll start a new tradition!” Derek growled. “Now everyone stop whining and start having some fun before I start ripping out throats with my teeth!”
The living room quickly emptied. The Alpha inside him resisted the urge to follow through on his threat after seeing their rebellious looks. This wasn’t how Derek had wanted the night to go. He didn’t want them to feel the same gaping hole left by Stiles’ absence that he did. He was their Alpha and it was his job to make sure that they continued on after Stiles inevitably left them.
And there was no doubt in his mind that one day he would leave them for something better, safer and, most of all, blissfully human.
At least he would if Derek had anything to say about it. Because despite his angry words at the high school, Derek knew full well what Stiles was capable of. The teenager might piss him off 99% of the time but that didn’t mean he wasn’t helpful. That didn’t mean Derek didn’t think of him as one of his pack. It didn’t mean he didn’t care.
“I wish Stiles was here,” Scott muttered from the back yard. He could hear the murmurs of agreement from the others as they finished stripping down for the transformation.
“We’re fine without him!” Derek shouted, the growling timber of voice cutting through the walls and out to the woods where they were assembled. To their sensitive ears the noise was deafening.
But the stutter in Derek’s heartbeat was louder.
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Chapter 3: House Of Wolves
This is going to feel very Scott heavy.
Also, apologies, if it seems OOC with all the emotional sharing because that's definitely not what they're like on the show. Unfortunately I don't have time to craft scenarios in which a TV show rips out our still beating hearts and crushes them with emotional feels like Jeff Davis does every week.
Werewolves, Stiles had quickly learned, were notoriously cuddly so he had adjusted to accidentally being whacked in the middle of the night by flailing limbs or being woken by someone else’s nightmares. Thanks to Derek’s choices in Beta’s with disturbed back-stories there were plenty of nightmares to go around. Stiles had even gotten used to the embarrassing amount of morning wood that popped up in puppy piles. So it takes Stiles a few minutes to properly freak out when the morning after the full moon he feels someone spooning him from behind. It’s not the first time that Stiles has gone to bed alone and woken up with someone else sharing his bed.
But it was the first time since his fight with the pack.
Stiles opens his eyes just enough to cast a few stealthy looks around him. He’s happy to see that he’s still in the same room he fell asleep in. It wouldn’t have been the first time needy werewolves (aka Isaac and Erica) had taken advantage of Stiles’ heavy sleeping and moved him – sometimes mattress and all – to the Hale House for some cuddle time. As far as Stiles can tell there’s only one wolf in his room this time.
“Scott?” Stiles half-guesses, half-grunts as he gets a better look at the very familiar pair of tan arms wrapped around his waist.
His best friend’s warm breath tickles the little hairs on Stiles’ neck as he answers, “Just a few more minutes.”
Normally Stiles would be only too happy to comply. Hell there’s a big part of him that wants nothing more than to lean further into Scott’s embrace and soak up the comfort he’d been depriving himself of for almost three weeks. But there’s a bigger piece of Stiles that can’t stop being mad.
Scott whimpers at the cold tone. “Can we at least talk a little?”
Stiles tugs at Scott’s arms. “You made yourself pretty damn clear at the college fair. I don’t think there’s much left to say.” He grunts with the continued efforts to break free of the embrace until it’s clear that Scott won’t be letting go until he wants to. “This isn’t fair, Scott. You can’t just do whatever you want because you’re stronger than me.”
“I’m not,” Scott protested. “But you won’t listen to me any other way.”
“No,” Stiles corrected through gritted teeth. “You aren’t listening to me. I’m mad at you – at all of you freaking fur balls – for thinking you can do whatever you want, interfere in my life however you want, just because you think you’re better than I am.”
Scott’s grip loosened slightly as he started to question his tactics. “That not why we do it. I mean – that’s not – we don’t – ” His face morphed into a frustrated expression that Stiles recognized as the same pinched look he wore during pop quizzes. “You’re not seeing it right.”
Instead of pushing against the arms, Stiles rolls in them so that he can talk face to face with Scott. “So I’m misreading things now, am I? So you didn’t back Derek up when he tried to tell me what I can and cannot do with my life? You didn’t break into my room last night and snuggle with me despite my very clear signals that your best friend privileges had been revoked? You aren’t holding me right this freaking minute against my will until I agree with you?” He paused to catch his breath and look challengingly at his friend. “What part of that am I not seeing right?”
“You’re really mad,” Scott mutters in a shocked voice. His eyes trail over Stiles’ face as if trying to find evidence against it. The arms around Stiles release in a flash before retracting back against Scott’s chest, hands shaking slightly.
“What gave it away?”
Impossibly, Scott deflates further into himself at the vehemence in his friend’s voice. “No, I knew you were when you avoided me at school and all but…”
Stiles frowns. “But what?”
“We always forgive each other,” Scott finishes quietly, eyes looking anywhere but in Stiles’ direction. “You’ve never stayed mad at me this long before.”
Stiles hesitates before rolling his eyes. The sickly look on Scott’s face has his inner alarm bells ringing. “Of course I’m mad. My best friend thinks I’m a loser.”
Scott pouts. “I never said that. I would never say that.”
“As good as,” Stiles mutters, laying down on his back and suddenly finding the ceiling very interesting. His fingers pulled and twisted at the edge of the bed sheet as he worked through his thoughts. “I’m used to hearing it from other people. I expect it even.” Stiles swallowed around the odd little lump that had formed in his throat. “I never thought you would agree with them.”
Scott mirrors his positioning so that their arms are flush against each other. It’s a familiar position, one they’ve perfected over the years from numerous sleepovers and study sessions. The comfort it provides helps to drain the tension from them both.
“You deserve better.” Even Scott seems surprised at how raw his voice sounds at the admission. “That’s what I was trying to say at the gym. You’re not stuck here like the rest of us. You could go and live a real life where people aren’t trying to kill you all the time and you don’t have to lie to your dad about it.”
“Because I’m not pack right?” Stiles felt the tears prickling behind his eyes and the sting of bitter thoughts he’d been avoiding since Scott was first bitten.
Scott growled. “You are Pack, Stiles. You just aren’t a wolf.” His eyes closed as he focused on his breathing like Derek had taught him. “Pretend for a second that I actually had grades as good as you or Lydia. I could go to college on another continent and I’d still feel the pull to come back here, to the pack… to Derek.”
“Is that so terrible?” Stiles asked quietly. “To be linked liked that? You’d always have friends, family… a place to call home. People who care about you.” He glanced at his best friend out of the corner of his eye. “No one would grow up, or apart, and leave you behind. You’d never be alone.”
“You think that’s what going to happen to us?” Scott asked, surprised.
“Maybe.” Stiles shrugged. “You don’t exactly seem eager to have me stick around Beacon Hills.”
Scott abandoned his comfortable position. In a flash he was climbing on top of Stiles and holding the slimmer teen down with his arms and legs. Stiles let out a startled shriek and fought against the hold until he saw the change in his Scott’s appearance. His eyes were flashing to reflect his unchecked emotions and teeth were starting to protrude from his lips.
Stiles would have thought his friend was angry if Scott hadn’t look so terrified.
“You are the biggest idiot in the history of the world!” Scott shouted down at him as soon as his control returned enough for his teeth to retract. He barely batted an eye as Stiles shouted something up at him about pots, kettles, and blackness. “Do you think I actually want you to leave? Everything in me – even my wolf – is screaming at me to hold you down and never let you go.” His voice broke as a sob tore out of him. “You’re my best friend. I just want you to be safe. That’s why I didn’t want you to be a cop.”
Scott collapsed on him, his head falling into the crook of Stiles’ neck. The werewolf took a long sniff before letting the rest of his limbs relax. “I’m a bad friend, Stiles. A selfish friend. If I were better I’d make you leave.”
“It’s not up to you,” Stiles replied, voice tight with his own emotion. On instinct he reached up and carded his fingers through Scott’s longer hair.
Scott nodded. “I know.”
Stiles tugged on the hair a little, pulling Scott further against him. His free arm wrapped around Scott’s back to make the awkward hug complete. “Thanks for being a bad friend.”
Scott laughed. “Asshole.”
“Hey, you’re the one getting the dog slobber all over me,” Stiles pointed out through an identical watery grin.
“Does that mean you forgive me?”
Stiles shook his head. “It’s not going to be that easy. Things have to change.”
“Yeah I know,” Scott agreed quietly. “But will you stop avoiding me at least? Like probationary buds or something?”
Stiles hummed in thought, pretending to think about it. “On one condition.”
“What condition?” Scott asked with a flinch.
“I’ll forgive you if you stop crushing my body,” Stiles answered, smiling. “I get that you werewolves are super cuddly – and apparently just big balls of emotional turmoil waiting to come undone – but this whole climbing on top of me thing is hell on the limbs.”
Scott rolled off and, after a retaliatory punch to the arm, settled back into his original position. The two boys stared up at the ceiling and simply enjoyed the brief return to normal, happy to relax in the comfortable silence that only the best of friends can provide.
“Dude,” Scott said, breaking the nice moment just as Stiles was about to drift back to sleep. “You’re never going to guess what Allison told me. Her father wants me to come over for dinner tonight!” A comically large grin spread across his lips. “She said he was polite about it and everything. I think he’s finally coming around to Allison and me. Can you believe it?”
Stiles started fidgeting with the sheets again. “Um, yeah… about that…”
The Argent home is warm and inviting. Considerably more so than the occupants of said residence anyway. It’s a carefully crafted façade that is necessary when you have a hidden backroom with weapons and ammunition designed for hunting creatures believed to be nothing more than myth and legend. It was necessary for the same reason that families hunted together; it was more unassuming. When being a Hunter meant the occasional visit from law enforcement after your vehicle was found around too many crime scenes or a civilian points an accusing finger in your direction it paid to not have the house decked out in the same decorative styling that say a serial killer would.
And sometimes it’s that same warm atmosphere that acts as a trap for unsuspecting prey who are invited over for dinner.
Chris makes sure he’s the one closest to the door so that when Scott rings the doorbell, his is the first face the formerly-human teenager sees. “Hello, Scott.”
“Mr. Argent,” Scott returns with a polite tilt of his head. “Thank you for having me for dinner.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Chris replies, smoothing his lips out so that he’s not even close to smiling. “We’d never have you for dinner. Victoria hunted something up for us at the supermarket instead.”
Scott gulped. “Uh… right.”
Chris stared down the younger man and tried to fight off a wave of déjà vu. Judging by the distressed look on Scott’s face he too was remembering the last time the Argents had hosted him for dinner. Chris wondered briefly if he’d follow in his father’s footsteps one last time and end up stabbing Scott in the gut before the night was over. Some sign of his thought process must have shown on his face because Scott was taking a step backwards and further out into the night.
Chris turned around at the sound of Allison’s reprimanding tone. He offered her his most innocent smile before moving out of the entryway. “Your friend is here.”
Allison rolled her eyes. “I thought you were going to stop terrorizing my boyfriend. How many times does he have to prove that he’s both a werewolf and a good guy?”
“I’m not ‘terrorizing’ him because he’s a werewolf,” Chris replied sounding slightly offended at the accusation. “I do it because he’s a boy trying to date my daughter.”
Victoria appeared behind Allison. “He’s right, darling. I’m the one that wants him as a rug.”
Scott took another step back. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.”
Allison ignored them all. She snagged Scott’s hand with a reassuring grip before tugging him along after her. Chris barely waited for Scott to finish crossing the threshold before slamming the door behind him. He smiled as Scott’s feet scurry along after Allison’s and into the next room.
“Tell me again why you wanted this?” Victoria asked after the lovebirds had disappeared.
“I lost a bet,” Chris answered with a frown.
One perfectly groomed eyebrow arced into a severe right angle. “A bet?”
Chris shook his head, conscious of the fact that Scott could easily hear every word they were saying. No doubt he was already repeating the conversation to Allison. “Believe me when I say that you don’t want to know.”
“Fine but if I snap and kill the boy you’re the one who has to bury the body.”
“And here I thought you had your heart set on a new rug?” Chris teased offering her his elbow.
She slipped her arm through his and placed a chaste kiss to his chin. Victoria smiled weakly at him, wiping away the blood red imprint of her mouth left by her lipstick. “Let’s just get this over with, shall we?”
They separated once they’d crossed into the kitchen. As expected, from the pass-through, Chris could see Scott and Allison leaning across the table to whisper to one another. He tried to settle for the fact that they’d at least sat at opposite sides of the table instead of right next to each other. Though there was little doubt in his mind that their legs were stretched out beneath the table and touching.
Chris grabbed the silverware and carried them into the dining room. The teenagers sprung apart and Scott avoided his eyes. Allison went the opposite route and ended up glaring at him as he set the table. He waited to give Scott his silverware last and ‘accidentally’ dropped the knife into the placemat. If the tip of the blade was aimed at Scott’s heart than that was purely coincidence. Or not.
“Thanks, Dad,” Allison griped moodily from the other side of the table.
“No problem, sweetheart.”
Victoria made her entrance fairly quickly after. Chris smothered a grin when he spotted the gigantic turkey she’d made for the meal. He knew for a fact that his wife had only chosen such a complicated meal so that she could use her carving knife kit. Unfortunately Scott’s reaction made it impossible not to laugh. The instant Victoria had pulled out the large knife, the whites of Scott’s eyes nearly doubled in size. Even Allison had some trouble stifling a laugh.
Victoria donned her most innocent expression, knife raised to a precarious height. “What is so funny?”
Scott’s eyes tracked the movement of the knife. “Nothing. Literally nothing is funny.”
Allison blushed guiltily before eagerly attempting to make up for it. “Mom. The knife. Really?”
“What would you prefer I carve this perfectly cooked meat with?” Victoria asked.
“Scott could always whip out a claw,” Chris suggested with a straight face. “Though I don’t suppose he’s had a lot of practice with cooked meat.”
Victoria laughed. “At least we know this one isn’t a vegetarian like that boy in Rhode Island. Scott’s definitely a meat eater.”
Allison slammed her hands down on the table hard enough for the dishes to rattle. “Enough.”
“Allison!” Victoria chastised.
“No, mom,” she snapped back. The skin of her knuckles had turned white from gripping the tabletop so hard. “Enough is enough. For what little you think of Scott he’s been verbally abused by the two of you since he walked through the door. And what has he done about it?” Allison waited until both of her parents turned their gaze to check on her boyfriend’s reaction. “Yes, that’s right. The werewolf has been more civilized than the humans.”
Scott flushed under their combined gazes but the look he offered Allison was soft and grateful. Chris honestly felt conflicted about how annoyed to be over that look. A part of him felt properly chastised by his daughter. He’d expected to see some sign of tension in the young werewolf. Usually the younger ones – or newly turned ones, as in Scott’s case – were prone to losing control of themselves when provoked.
Their pointed digs at the young boy should have at least brought out some sign of the wolf inside of him. But as Allison had taken such great pains to point out there was no hint of Scott’s inner beast. No yellow eyes, no fingers extending into sharp claws, no fangs bursting out of snarling lips. Just a boy.
Well… if he wasn’t going to torture Scott then there were other ways to make the evening profitable.
“My daughter’s right,” Chris admitted. He offered Scott an apologetic head nod. To be more accurate it was a very, very discreet nod. Barely a tilt of the head really. It wasn’t his fault if Scott didn’t get the apology.
“She’s what?” Victoria asked, looking utterly betrayed.
“I’m what?” Allison asked at the same time as her mother before quickly covering up her surprise with a determined, “I mean that’s right I am.”
Chris purposefully started digging into his meal. “Scott is our guest.”
It wasn’t clear who won the prize for most shocked. Allison at least looked pleased at the turn of events. It was the happiest she’d been around him in a long time. His wife… was less pleased. Her mask was in place but years of living together had taught Chris to see the cracks in her expressions. From the little giveaways like the way her lips were curved just a little too far upwards to the larger evidence of her rage like the tight grip she kept on her silverware. Scott came in a close second to Victoria if only for the gob smacked expression – and really Chris had never seen a better real life example of the term – the boy was sporting.
“So, Scott, what colleges are you applying to?” Chris asked once everyone else had taken his lead and started eating.
Scott blushed. “I’m probably going to defer for a year.”
Victoria hummed her displeasure. “Back packing across Europe?”
“Actually Dr. Deaton has offered Scott full-time employment,” Allison bragged with a proud smile. “He thinks Scott will make an excellent veterinarian.”
“That’s admirable,” Chris complimented. “I’m sure your… Pack… will appreciate that you want to stay close to home.”
For the first time that evening Scott didn’t look like a teenager about to wet himself. If anything Scott looked like a man. It was the first time Chris actually felt some sort of respect for Scott that evening. “I’m not discussing Pack business.”
Chris nodded. “Of course. I just meant that most wolves your age have a hard time adjusting to life away from their Pack. Derek especially as a new Alpha will be more in control with you all sticking around.”
“Derek’s not making us stay,” Scott said defensively. “He’s stronger than you give him credit for.”
Allison nodded in agreement. “It’s not just Stiles and I who are applying for out of state schools either. Some of the Betas are too.”
“I’m surprised the Sheriff’s boy isn’t staying,” Chris pointed out. He hoped that not referencing Stiles by name would help to sell his attempt to sound nonchalant. “You and he always seem glued together.”
“We’re best friends.” Scott grinned like a moron. He sounded oddly proud of the title. The little smile on Allison’s face was just more evidence that there was more going on with that particular story than Chris was privy to.
He pressed on with his plans regardless. “I don’t suppose he’ll be interning with Dr. Deaton as well?”
Scott shrugged. “I don’t know what Stiles is going to do.”
Eager to keep the conversation going, Allison quickly jumped in. “Stiles is really smart. He can pretty much get in wherever he wants.”
“If it weren’t for the ADHD he’d have better scores than Lydia,” Scott added, that goofy little smile making an encore appearance.
“It didn’t seem to hurt his concentration on the gun range any,” Chris muttered low enough so that only Scott would hear him. He hoped he got the bitter sound correct.
Based on the boy’s chuckle he’d hit the mark. “He’s the Sheriff’s son. You really should have known better.” Scott froze as he realized how informal that had sounded. “Uh… sir.”
Chris waved away the concern. “Don’t worry about it. You’re right. I should have figured he’d be good with a gun.”
“Who had a gun?” Victoria asked, finally finding an aspect of the conversation that might actually sustain her interest.
“Stiles,” Allison answered, apparently having been filled in on how Scott’s dinner invitation had come about. “He showed Dad up at the shooting range.”
Victoria frowned. Chris could practically see the puzzle pieces fitting together in her mind. Her brow furrowed in anger as soon as she realized what they were talking about. “That’s the bet you lost?”
“There is a werewolf at my dinner table because you lost a bet to a high school student with ADHD?”
Chris ignored the rage dancing in her eyes. “I’ll admit to underestimating the boy. Perhaps you won’t repeat my mistake?”
She accepted the dig well. “Yes, dear. Thank you for preparing me for the dangers posed by a teenage boy.”
“You’d be surprised by him,” Chris said in defense of his chosen apprentice. He realized too late that he’d done so in front of Scott and Allison. The looks they were giving him only reinforced just how much he’d messed up.
“When did you ever run into Stiles?” Allison asked in surprise.
Chris decided to try and mask his evasion with an emotional response. “We may have exchanged a few words about your Aunt.”
If the terse silence after Allison’s earlier outburst had been thunderous than the one that reigned down after his admission was deafening.
“He was the one who convinced you about Kate.” There was no question in it. Once again Victoria had put the pieces together before the others and with even less information than they had.
Allison finally unfroze from her shock. She’d long since stopped agonizing over her muddled feelings about her aunt. That didn’t mean Allison didn’t react poorly when blindsided by the reference. “Stiles did what?”
Chris studied his food for a long beat. The others would mistake it for emotional pain similar to Allison’s display but really he needed the extra time to dominate his heartbeat. It wouldn’t be worth telling the lies if Scott could hear them in his pulse. He wondered briefly how long it would take to train Stiles that kind of control.
“I’d heard the rumors before, of course. About Kate, I mean,” he said with a tight voice. “But after my father moved us out of Beacon Hills it was easier to believe that she hadn’t been responsible for the demise of the Hale Pack. Let’s just say that sometimes it takes a stranger to make you see through those kind of lies.” He gave Allison a bitter smile. “Your new friend has quite a way with words.”
She smiled back, lips pulled tight. “He’s good like that.”
Scott leaned back against his chair. It didn’t take a genius to see that underneath the table his legs were stretched out to meet Allison’s in a gesture of comfort. It almost made Chris smile at how much the boy cared for his daughter. Almost.
It wasn’t until his gaze swept over his wife that Chris realized he’d failed to convince one person of his true interest in the boy. Victoria’s mask wasn’t in place any longer. It had been a long time since he’d seen his wife so overcome with emotion that she’d let the façade slip. Which made him all the more nervous that said emotion was anger and that it was being aimed in his direction. She’d figured out what Stiles was to Chris now.
And just like that Scott was no longer the person most likely to be stabbed by Victoria before the dessert course.
“The Stilinski boy must have really made an impression,” she bit out through clenched teeth.
Chris braced himself for the now inevitable fight. “More than some other people his age.”
Victoria needed little help deciphering that he meant the apprentice applications they’d sorted through the other night. “Yes but so many other youngsters these days are much better suited for dealing with these type of situations.” She half-smiled, half-grimaced in Scott’s direction. “I’m sure you’d agree he’d be safer away from all of this.”
Scott gulped. “Well… I, um…”
“I think Stiles has handled it rather well actually,” Allison said, coming to the defense of her boyfriend and her friend. “Honestly Stiles adjusted to it all better than I have.”
“You see, darling?” Chris pointed out with a smug look. “Allison agrees.”
Victoria began to seethe at the implication that her daughter would actually accept Stiles as the other half of her Hunting Pair. “So he manages not to get eaten by wolves and suddenly he’s invincible? The boy joined a pack of werewolves. How reliable can someone like that be?”
“Hey!” Allison cried out, stung. “Stiles isn’t the only one who joined that Pack. He’s done more research on the whole supernatural thing than I have.” She gestured wildly at Scott to emphasis her point. “And Stiles is the one who taught Scott how to control his wolf! Sometimes I swear he’s better with training the others than Derek is.”
Scott cleared his throat pointedly. “Why are we talking about Scott again?”
Chris and Victoria stared at each other in uncomfortable silence.
“We’re not really discussing Stiles,” Allison answered, glaring at her parents.
“We’re not?” Scott frowned, confused.
Allison shook her head. “Nope. They’re just using that as a cover for what we’re really talking about.”
Chris and his wife both threw their daughter a startled look.
“Think I didn’t figure it out? Well I did.” Allison taunted, smugly. “And I don’t care what you say, I am perfectly capable of handling myself in the Pack. You won’t convince me that I can’t hold my own there. And you won’t separate me from them.”
“If that’s how you feel,” Chris said, quickly jumping on any excuse that kept Allison away from the truth. If she wanted to think they were talking about her instead of taking Stiles on as an apprentice than that was fine with him. One fire to put out at a time.
Victoria huffed in disbelief. “Your father and I need to discuss a few things in private, Allison. Why don’t you and Scott go up to your room?”
Scott started choking on his food.
Allison looked equally startled by the early reprieve. “Seriously? The two of us? Alone? In my room?” Her head whipped back and forth between her parents as if trying to catch them about to pull a prank on her. “You’re okay with that?”
Victoria offered her a thin smile. “Unless you’d rather I just send him home?”
“No, no, no.” Allison quickly took the better deal and was out of her chair in an instant. She rounded the table and forcibly took Scott by the elbow.
“Thanks for dinner!” Scott called out sheepishly as his girlfriend dragged him out of the dining room and up the stairs.
Yet another heated silence filled the dining room. Chris wondered if it was a record. It felt a bit excessive for one evening. Even for their family.
“Study?” Chris suggested calmly.
Victoria nodded. “Study.”
With Scott in the house the only safe place to talk was their study. Every home they’d ever occupied had at least one room fortified against the supernatural. Even Scott’s super-sensitive hearing wouldn’t be able to penetrate the thickened walls of the Argent sanctuary. Neither of them were remotely prepared for Allison to be pulled into the Apprenticeship discussion. That Scott might also be dragged into it by eavesdropping was an even worse outcome considering his attachment to both Allison and the other candidate in question; Stiles.
She was on him as soon as the door was shut and sealed behind them. Chris had barely turned around, argument ready on his lips, when Victoria sucker punched him. The force of the strike sent him stumbling into the desk. He tried not to think of how the universe was mocking him as his face landed on the stack of candidate profiles.
“Stilinski?” Victoria roared in angry disbelief. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
Chris’ fingers gently probed at his now sensitive jaw. “No I am not ‘fucking kidding’ you. I wouldn’t joke about something this important.”
She shook her head, strands of hair spilling out of her normally tight bun. “It certainly sounds like a joke to me.”
“He’s perfect,” Chris argued.
“He’s not doing it,” She shot back, closing in on him. “This is our daughter’s life. I thought I made that clear.”
Chris merely smirked at her anger. “And I believe our daughter was very clear tonight on her thoughts concerning Mr. Stilinski’s competence.”
Victoria’s fingers latched onto his shirt with enough force that her nails punctured the fabric like claws. “She doesn’t know what we were really discussing. If she knew…”
“She’d what, Victoria? Turn him away? Send him home to cower under his bed?” He scoffed at her. “Every time Allison goes off to spend time with that Pack she’s taking her life in her hands. She trusts Stiles to have her back there and when they deal with any of the numerous creatures that have tried to turn Beacon Hills into their personal buffet.”
“Maybe so,” Victoria conceded, taking a step back and a deep breath. “He’s soft, Chris. The boy is too close to the monsters to be able to put one down let alone survive training.”
He settled himself against the desk, hands splayed out on either side of him in a relaxed position. “He lit Peter Hale on fire with a Molotov cocktail. He’s survived training an idiot like Scott, the Kanima, my father, the resurrection of Peter Hale and the dozen of monsters that came after.”
Victoria sighed, her resolve weakening. “The boy had help with all of that. This he’ll have to do alone. No pack.”
“I’ll make sure he understands what he’s undertaking,” Chris reassured her. “We don’t even know if he’ll say yes yet. He’s ridiculously loyal to Derek’s group. There’s a good chance he won’t go for it.”
Chris’ eyebrows rose in surprise. “Now you sound certain?”
She nodded. “Because I know you, Chris. You’re unbelievably stubborn when you find something worth fighting for.”
“Can’t deny that,” Chris replied. His fingers purposefully ran the length of her wedding ring in subtle reminder of just how doggedly he could pursue a worthy prize.
“Don’t expect me to coddle him,” Victoria warned. She found her fingers wrapped around his wedding band as well in a mirror image. “If he wants me to call him son then he’ll have to earn it.”
Chris smiled. “I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
He watched Stiles flip the lights on and not flinch when he spotted Derek in front of his bedroom window. He wondered when Stiles stopped reacting to his unannounced visits. Derek is surprised by how much Stiles’ lack of screaming and flailing limbs upsets him. Not his inner Alpha who demands respect and submission but him. It’s an unsettling feeling.
“Two werewolves in one day?” Stiles questioned, dropping his book bag on the bed. He emphasized his false cheer by wiggling a finger in the air and doing an uninspired little jig. “What have I done to earn this grand prize? Was the tank of mutant piranhas already taken? How about the log cabin weekend with a starving Wendigo?”
Derek ignored his pissy ramblings. He was just as immune to Stiles’ humor as the boy had apparently become to his stealth skills. “I thought I smelled Scott’s scent a little heavier than usual. He shouldn’t have shown up here. I told him to stay away until you were ready to come back on your own.”
Stiles gaped at him. “Seriously? You realize that you’re here before I ‘came back on my own’. That’s not at all hypocritical sounding to you?”
“I’m the Alpha,” Derek replied smoothly as if that explained it all. He smirked a little as he realizes what Stiles had said. “So you admit you were coming back.”
“No I most decidedly do not.” Stiles planted himself at the desk and swung his legs up to rest on the edge of his bed. “What are you doing here, Derek?”
Out of instinct he let some of his Alpha in on his voice. “Tell me what happened with Peter.”
Stiles glared at him. “No.”
“No,” he replied again. “You’d be surprised how many languages I can say that in.”
Derek growled with irritation before lunging across the room. He scooped up Stiles with one claw and shoved the teen against the nearest wall. He could see the red of his eyes reflected in Stiles’. “You don’t say no to me.”
Stiles didn’t panic or flail. He simply glared back at the wolf and leaned closer to the being threatening him. “No.”
“Stop being a child,” Derek commanded, irritation increasing with each passing moment that Stiles continued his defiance.
“Stop being a bully,” Stiles replied with an even voice.
Derek pulled back as if he were burned. He watched, detached, as Stiles slid down the wall after being so suddenly released. It wasn’t the first time Stiles had called him that. The memory of Stiles’ anger when he found out how Derek chose to punish his wolves – especially Isaac with his history of abuse – had been quite the scene. That Stiles had chosen to remind him of that day spoke volumes about how angry Derek had made him.
“Why did you turn him down?” Derek asked once his emotions were back under his control.
“That’s not what you want to know,” Stiles pointed out, knowingly.
Derek growled in warning. “Just tell me.”
Stiles shook his head. “Ask me what you really want to ask me and I’ll tell you.”
The Alpha listened for any sign of deception before realizing that there was no other way Stiles would answer his question. He had started nodding before he realized his head was moving. “Ok.”
“You want to know how many languages I can say it in?” Derek quipped.
A small smile tugged at Stiles’ lips before it disappeared in a flash. Derek waited for him to break. Once again Stiles surprised him by staying silent. His eyes were challenging him, waiting for him to speak first and finally ask what he really wanted to ask.
Derek turned to the side so that he wouldn’t have to look Stiles in the eye as he spoke. “Why don’t you want me to bite you?”
Stiles nodded at the expected question. “Peter asked me if I wanted it. He gave me the full sales pitch and when I turned him down he told me I was lying.” He paused as he tried to reign in his scattered thoughts. “And I was lying, I guess. I’m not Scott. I don’t think the Bite is a curse but I’m also not you, Derek. I don’t think it’s all gift either.”
“So when he asked me if I wanted the Bite, I told him that I didn’t want to be like him,” Stiles continued. “That part was true. The Peter that was there that night – the one who woke up from that coma – was a monster. I didn’t want to be like him.”
Derek’s brow furrowed. “You’re not answering my question.”
Stiles sighed. “I didn’t want to be like you either, Derek.”
“Didn’t?” Derek asked, fighting back the world of pain such a simple statement brought down on him.
“This past year has been so great,” Stiles said breathily. The smile stretching wide and brilliant across his face echoed the joy in his voice. “It made me want to be part of the Pack because I didn’t want to lose my connection to it. I was terrified of going off to school and everyone leaving me behind.”
“So what changed?” Derek pressed, voice quiet in anticipation of more hurt.
Stiles didn’t disappoint him. “I grew up and realized that I didn’t want to be another lap dog of yours.” He waved a hand in a placating motion at Derek’s warning growl. “I know you love them all like family, Derek, but there isn’t room for anyone else to move up. Everyone has a place there but me.”
Derek’s growl intensified. “You belong with us.”
“Yeah but as what?” Stiles asked, something beyond exhaustion finally starting to creep into his voice. “I’m always going to be the third wheel. Even if I did take the Bite, I’d always be the clumsiest. I’d stay the brains behind the whole operation.” He let out a dark, bitter chuckle. “Always Robin and never Batman.”
“Is that so terrible?” Derek asked gruffly.
“You’ve clearly never been Robin.”
Chapter 4: Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want
Sorry for the wait! Hope the length makes up for it :)
“You think I’ve never been someone’s Robin before?”
Stiles went absolutely still before dragging his gaze over every inch of Derek. He took in the grumpy silhouette he made on the windowsill, outlined by shadow cast in the light from the streetlamps. Stiles took in the muscles clearly bulging against the tight grey t-shirt. He noted the way that Derek made his leather jacket and greased up hair work for him instead of making him look like a douche bag; a sad outcome for many of Stiles’ fellow classmates who had experimented with the same look.
“Yeah…” Stiles trailed off to really let the sarcasm sink in. “I don’t think you’re the Robin type. There’s a distinct Batman vibe going on here. Hell you could even convert me to the Aquaman fan base. That’s how non-Robin you are.”
“You keep forgetting that I was born a beta. Laura was always going to be the Alpha. Not me.” Derek’s voice was softer than Stiles had ever heard it. “I was happy to play Robin to her Batman.”
Derek arched an eyebrow at him. “Is it?”
Stiles nodded. “You were born that way. Can you honestly say that if Laura hadn’t… if you hadn’t inherited the Alpha position under those circumstances would you be so unhappy with the power? Aren’t all Beta wolves eager to become Alpha wolves?” He chuckled humorlessly. “Or in my case Omega wolves.”
“That’s how real wolves act,” Derek corrects quickly, purposefully avoiding the real meat of Stiles’ proposition. “Omega werewolves – ”
“ – don’t have a Pack,” Stiles finished easily. “I know, Derek. That wasn’t the point.”
“Not all of us think that way,” Derek muttered, more of a low murmur than a growl.
Stiles took a careful breath before deciding to push his luck. His fingers drew a familiar pattern against his bedding. “Your tattoo says differently: Alpha, Beta, Omega. Working together, yes, but also constantly changing positions. They grow and evolve within the Pack, Derek.” At Derek’s bizarrely angry and curious look he added, “Boyd may have let slip what it means to you.”
Derek snarled his response before apparently realizing that Stiles didn’t speak pissed-off-wolfese. “Boyd should keep his mouth shut.”
“He usually does,” Stiles half-jokes, half-defends his friend. “Also, still not the point.”
“You’re Pack,” Derek replied earnestly. “Why not take the Bite and ‘move up’ that way? You did a lot to teach Scott control of his wolf and now he’s the head Beta. Do you really think you wouldn’t have enough control to take it from him?” He snorted in derision. “Knowing Scott he’ll just step aside and let you take the position.”
Stiles rolled his eyes despite knowing that was exactly how things would go. Even as a werewolf Scott was far too sweet for his own good. “First off, we just established that I don’t want the bite. Secondly, I shouldn’t need the bite to be able to move up the ranks. Are you really going to sit there and say that Lydia or Allison would need the bite to do that?” He took in Derek’s slumped form as agreement. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
“Which is my point exactly,” he continued his rant when it looked like Derek wasn’t going to add anything valuable to the conversation, “I’m at the bottom because you all see me as weak or something. I’m just as smart as Lydia but no one ever talks down to her because she could get mad, leave for college and never come back. Allison’s had more bad blood between her and our whole Pack but everyone treats her like glass because of Scott and her crazy family.” Stiles made sure to offer Derek his most bitter smile, the one he’d been wearing more and more lately. “I’m the one who bends over backwards to help everyone else. And what special treatment do I get? I get saved last. I get ignored. I get sidelined.”
“Is that really how you see it?”
Stiles sighed. “I know you guys care about me, okay? I know I’m Pack. It’s just… sometimes I feel like I’m not as much Pack as the others. And I don’t mean to whine – really I don’t – but it’s not fair because I do twice as much as everyone else and get treated half as well. And it’s because the rest of you have options. But me? I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Derek’s shoulders slumped at the same time that Stiles finally felt some of the weight lift off of his. He’d finally gotten the words out. He’d actually lodged a protest against his treatment.
“Then why are you pulling away?” Derek asked after the silence stretched on too long. “If you really don’t have anywhere else to go, I mean.”
Stiles shrugged again. “Because there’s a limit to just how pathetic I’m willing to be, I guess.”
“You’re not pathetic,” Derek grumbled immediately.
“I’m the guy who harbored a doomed crush on Lydia Martin for years and then made friends with her boyfriend.” Stiles started ticking off the points on his fingers. “I’m the guy who lets Scott treat him like shit because he’s got a girlfriend with an ass that the sun shines out of. I’m the guy who let Isaac take over as Scott’s best friend because I’m just that insecure. I’m the guy who – ”
Derek interrupted with an angry wave of his hand clawed fingers. “Enough.”
“I don’t know what else to say,” Stiles admitted.
“That would be a first.” The corner of Derek’s lip curled in as close to a semblance of a smile as he could manage after suffering through Stiles’ rampage of self-hatred. He thought it only fitting he turn to humor, Stiles’ first line of deflection, in order to change topics.
Stiles smiled knowingly as if he knew what Derek was doing and kindly allowing him to get away with it. He chucked a stray candy wrapper at the wolf. “Shut up. We were having a perfectly good bonding moment and you ruined it.”
“I’ve been assured that is a natural gift of mine.”
“Two jokes in one night? Clearly that wall-slam earlier must have knocked me out and now I’m in a coma somewhere dreaming all of this up,” Stiles snarked before realizing he’d as good as admitted to dreaming about the werewolf. “Not that I’d – you know – with you there – and all of that – ”
Derek’s eyebrow lifted. “You’ve gone back to not making sense so I’m going to leave.”
Stiles nodded solemnly. “That’s probably for the best.”
“You are going to come back now right?” Derek asked, paused halfway out of the window. The red eyes and slight fang action made it seem more like an order than an inquest. “Right?”
“We’ll see, Derek.”
Derek’s eyebrows did that furrowed stretching somersault thing that Stiles had learned to interpret as irritated confusion. “But I told you about being a Beta.”
Stiles wanted to laugh at Derek’s habit of giving a simple statement and expecting it to replace a whole discussion or explanation. His mind flashbacked to right after Isaac first turned and tried to eat him. The words ‘I’m the Alpha’ echoed loudly through his memories.
But, of course, actually laughing at the Alpha after he’d offered up some vulnerability would only lead to repeated wall slamming and eventual skull fractures. Stiles had had enough of that treatment.
“And I appreciate the new perspective,” Stiles settled on, trying to sound airy and not evasive. “But that still doesn’t magically fix everything. It’s not just about you and your Pack, Derek.” He sighed. “I have to figure things out on my end too.”
“‘It’s not you, it’s me.’ That’s what you’re going with?”
Stiles frowned at the anger being directed his way. “It’s not like I was dating your Pack or anything.”
Derek’s crimson eyes glowed even brighter. “They’re your Pack, too.”
“I said it before and apparently I have to say it again,” Stiles replied firmly, standing up to signal the end of the conversation. “We’ll. See.”
“Yeah, you will.”
As Stiles watched Derek fling himself out of the window he felt his need for mediation vanish. The familiar mixture of anger and resentment was bubbling back to the surface. He felt it rage against the simple truths offered by Derek as he got ready for bed that night. It made him short with his father as the man wished him goodnight before heading out for a late shift. The conversation replayed itself in his mind on an endless loop as his insecurities did battle with the admittedly limited olive branch Derek had offered.
And Stiles most definitely blamed the distraction for not noticing sooner that the kitchen door was unlocked as he got his late night snack.
It was a poorly kept secret in the Stilinski Household that Stiles couldn’t sleep properly unless he’d consumed at least two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before bed. He was putting away the grape jelly when he spotted the unbolted deadbolt out of the corner of his eye. He froze for just a second before quickly dropping the jelly container back into the right shelf. Stiles felt his heart pounding in his chest as he tried not to act as if anything was wrong. His fingers shook as they reached for the milk container.
The Stilinski’s had always kept the back door locked. Always.
All of the werewolves he knew were heathens and used windows.
Stiles took a few chugs of milk directly from the carton. It wasn’t as if he didn’t normally drink straight from the source but that night it was about covering his nervous breathing. If there was someone in his house than Stiles didn’t want to let them know he was onto them.
He wondered if the unlocked door meant that the intruder (or, heaven forbid, intruders) was inside then he could use it to escape. Of course there was no way Stiles could know if there wasn’t someone waiting out there just in case he tried. Stiles tried to look through the blinds for signs of movement but with the kitchen light on he couldn’t make anything out.
He couldn’t quite stop himself and ended up humming the tune to “Somebody’s Watching Me” from those pesky insurance commercials. Stupid brain with a bad sense of humor.
Stiles put the milk back and tried to act nonchalant as he made his way to the drawer where they kept the silverware. He let his eyes subtly drift to the open doorways as he moved. Nothing stirred in the hallway leading to the front door. The lights in the often-ignored dining room were off. There were no shoes poking over the sides of the stairway railing.
It still didn’t stop Stiles from taking a steak knife out of the drawer. His knuckles were glowing white from the strength of his grip on the handle. He moved slowly back to his plate, letting the knife flash around him. If there really was someone out there, watching him, Stiles was hoping that the sudden appearance of a knife would either startle them out of hiding or discourage them completely.
The house stayed still and silent.
Stiles used the steak knife to cut his sandwiches in two. He feigned being forgetful and left the knife on the plate as he left the kitchen and headed for the stairs. His shoulders tensed as he passed through the doorway. One too many late night horror movies with Scott had taught him that was when the psycho with the chainsaw literally started his engines.
Stiles made it to the staircase before his breathing started to hitch. He could feel the panic attack building in his chest. He used his free hand to grip the railing and half hoist himself up the stairs. Every snap and crack of the aged wood under Stiles’ bare feet had him cringing.
By the time he had reached the top step without incident Stiles had halfway convinced himself that he was overreacting. It wouldn’t have been the first time that he had gotten worked up over nothing. Stiles had once called Scott for an emergency rescue after leaving his keys in a grocery store. He’d been convinced that someone was waiting to jump him in the parking lot and that stealing his keys was their way of cutting off his escape. Stiles had been monumentally ashamed and embarrassed after the assistant manager had found his keys in the cereal aisle right after the entire pack had shown up, fangs out and ready to rumble. Even Jackson had looked embarrassed for him.
His sessions with Ms. Morell had helped him come to terms with his new super-vigilant character. Apparently having a werewolf for a best friend and your life constantly in danger will do that to a person. It didn’t help matters that Stiles was already prone to panic attacks and was crippled by even the thought of losing more people in his life.
What Stiles wouldn’t give for this to be a false alarm.
The attack came from his father’s room. Later Stiles would wonder if they’d chosen that spot because subconsciously he’d never have suspected a threat from there. On purpose or not, it was a tactic that worked. After stepping off the stairs Stiles had looked for danger in every open doorway and shadowy hallway corner. The sudden attack from the master bedroom was the last one on his list.
A masked figure moved through the doorway. It wasn’t quite a lunge so much as a coordinated surge of aggression. Stiles felt his body hesitate for a second of panic before finally reacting to the threat. The first blow knocked Stiles’ sandwich, plate and knife out of his hand. A second one directly to his chest had Stiles falling backwards onto the hallway carpet runner. His head knocked painfully against the floor.
Stiles forced his eyes open and fought against the sudden onslaught of blurry vision. A mass of darkness was looming ever closer. Stiles lashed out with the heel of his hand at what he assumed was a head. When a strong grip caught his wrist and blocked the attack, Stiles readjusted and aimed an elbow there instead. There was a grunt of pain but the hand holding his wrist remained.
He cried out as his body was twisted and bent with ease. Stiles froze as his neck was forced into the crux of his attacker’s elbow. The intruder had no intentions of slowing down his assault. Rough flesh pushed against Stiles’ windpipe, the pressure making it impossible to inhale or swallow. His already blurred vision was swimming in black shadows. His lungs began to burn.
The image of Matt drowning in a pool flashed through his mind. It was a sight made familiar from the many, many, many cameo appearances it had made in his darkest of nightmares.
The pressure continued to build in his throat.
Ms. Morell’s voice echoed in his skull. Her tranquil voice quotes Winston Churchill to him. She reminded him to hold on and wait for rescue.
Stiles’ grip on the arm suffocating him to death turned lax and his fingers fell to his sides.
He recalled the clinical tone to his voice as he explained the autonomic reflex for air to her.
As if on cue his will to fight died.
And Stiles’ consciousness went with it.
He wakes up tied to a chair.
Sadly it’s not the first time.
He tries not to do anything too obvious to show that he’s awake. The more time Stiles can have to figure out where he is, who took him or better yet why they even bothered, the more likely he is to survive. He twists his wrists – only a slight tensing of his arm muscles really – just enough to feel the harsh texture of the thick ropes press against his skin.
Despite the rope burn, Stiles breathes a sigh of relief. Rope is good. Rope can be cut. Rope can be burned. Rope can be untied. Rope is hope.
With his head slumped low against his chest Stiles can only see his pajama bottoms, socks and a concrete floor. He can’t risk raising his head any higher but even with such a limited view Stiles can figure a few things out. Concrete means he’s either in someone’s basement or one of the abandoned warehouses downtown. Stiles makes a mental note to tell his Dad (if he somehow escapes) that the Beacon Hills Police Department needs to sweep through the warehouses more often. Too many bad guys keep setting up shop there.
There’s no noise so Stiles is leaning towards a basement. The last time he’d been abducted and held in an abandoned warehouse Stiles could hear traffic through the poorly maintained walls. The lack of debris on the floor also hints at a basement. If it’s not a villain of the week living in a warehouse than the teens are usually throwing raves in them and leaving a major mess behind. No mess, means no techno sex parties.
Basement is not as good for Stiles’ odds of survival. Basements don’t have big windows to break out of. Basements are insulated against the screams of teenager’s being tortured or chopped up into itty-bitty pieces before being melted in plastic bins. Stiles made a second mental note to stop marathoning Breaking Bad. It was giving him too many ideas to panic over.
“I know you’re awake, Mr. Stilinski.”
The voice came from behind him. It was also clearly manipulated. The words were said in too deep a voice to be natural. The electronic hiss that accompanied the message ruled out a supernaturally deep voice as well. No, whoever was speaking wanted their voice to be disguised.
Which meant that it was probably someone Stiles had met before… or it was an intimidation tactic. But Stiles was hoping for the former rather than the latter option. It would mean that they didn’t want Stiles to recognize them in the future. The implication being, of course, that Stiles had a future.
Trying not to show how well the intimidation tactics were working Stiles slowly raised his head. He grimaced as he felt all of the kinks in his neck from being slouched over for so long. A quick peek at his surroundings confirmed he was in a basement of some kind. The room was more narrow than usual but nearly as long as the underground cells Derek had renovated beneath the Hale House. Tracks of fluorescent bulbs had been mounted on the walls instead of the ceiling. As far as Stiles could tell the chair he was in and ancient looking wood chest were the only objects inhabiting the impressive space.
“Nothing to say, Mr. Stilinski?” the voice managed to sound fairly amused for an impersonal distortion. “That doesn’t match up with the stories I’ve heard about you.”
“Maybe you should get a better fact checker,” Stiles muttered.
“Perhaps you’d be interested in the position?”
Stiles shook his head, using the opportunity to mask his attempts to turn in each direction and try to get a better view of whomever he was talking with but the angle was always wrong. “No offense but you’re not really what I’m looking for in a future employer. I tend to look more for benefits of the health care and dental variety rather than kidnapping or torture.”
“Funny, I didn’t realize that being a human pet to a pack werewolves provided for your cavities,” the abductor replied easily.
“Ah,” Stiles replied knowingly. “So you’re a hunter then.”
The voice distorter remained on but the only noise was some even breathing. Stiles gave himself a point for making the hunter pause. The next time the hunter spoke the voice sounded much closer. Close enough for Stiles to feel anxious tingles moving up and down his back. “And what makes you think I’m a hunter?”
“Why does it matter?”
“I’m curious to hear your reasoning.”
“Try the Discovery Channel then. I’m not your dancing monkey here to amuse you,” Stiles snarked, trying to appear more confident in his demeanor than he felt.
The hunter moved close enough for their breath to tickle the hairs on the back of Stiles’ neck. “Survival 101, Mr. Stilinski. The longer you keep your abductor talking, the less time he spends cutting you open and seeing what your insides look like.”
Stiles cringed at the mental picture. “Good point.”
“I thought you might see it my way,” the hunter replied, voice further away now.
“Werewolves and other creatures of the night wouldn’t distort their voices to play bad cop,” Stiles explained hoarsely. “In my experience they like to show off their claws and red eyes to intimidate their prey. Humans have to be more creative.”
A non-committal noise echoed through the distortion speakers. “Is that your only reasoning?”
Stiles shook his head. “You called me a human pet. Hunters may hate on the werewolves but they’ve never passed up an opportunity to demean the humans who run with them.” Against his better judgment he pushed forward. “Just like the KKK and the white people who helped the slaves escape from the south.”
“That’s how you see hunters?”
“If the lynch mob fits…”
The hunter tutted in disappointment. “And here I thought someone with your experience wouldn’t paint a whole group with the same brush, Mr. Stilinski.”
Stiles frowned. Usually after running his mouth for that long someone would have put a gag on him. “Are you not a hunter?”
“Oh, no, I am. Proud to be one, in fact.”
“So you’re after my Pack then?” Stiles asked, feeling that little spark of hope dim.
The hunter’s responding sigh sounded harsh through the distorter. “Should I be? As far as I can tell the only real prize in the Hale Pack is you.”
Stiles laughed. “Me? You really should fire your researcher.”
“You have a bad habit of undervaluing yourself, Mr. Stilinski, and over-valuing the rest of your Pack.” There was no sense of amusement over the electronic device. “I have a feeling that without your guiding presence the Hale Pack would have gone extinct some time ago.”
It was hard for Stiles to refute something he’d not only thought but mentioned aloud to his packmates several times over the past years. Usually when they were hell bent on ignoring his warnings. Or after they’d come back from getting their asses handed to them because they didn’t listen to him.
That didn’t mean he was going to say it to a hunter though. “They’re not so bad.”
The hunter made a sound clearly meant to convey how much he disagreed with that sentiment. “They’re not completely hopeless but they’re hardly functional. Even your friend McCall only joined Hale out of a need for survival.”
“I thought you brought me here to talk about me and my epic scale of awesome,” Stiles replied quickly, eager to keep the hunter’s focus off of his Pack.
“I can understand how you would rather not look at the short comings in your friends,” the sexless voice replied evenly. “But let’s not overlook what you bring to the table, Mr. Stilinski.”
“Sarcasm and a closet full of plaid?”
The hunter paused. “Is that really how you see yourself?”
Stiles shrugged, pressure building behind his eyes. He didn’t like talking about himself. It always ended in Stiles questioning where he fit in places or how he was somehow lesser than the people in his life. It meant wondering when the others would figure it out and leave him; makes him wonder what kind of lonely life he’ll have after his Dad either passes or kicks him out for lying to him.
“You’re the only reason your friend Scott is alive,” the Hunter informed him plainly, taking Stiles’ silence as confirmation. “He was clueless as to what bit him was he not? As soon as McCall attacked or killed someone, a hunter like me would have come to town and put him out of his misery.”
“I think he would have figured it out after his first full moon,” Stiles argued irritably. “Scott can be dense but even he would have figured it out after growing claws and a needing a ridiculous amount of Nair.”
The hunter snorted. “And would he have learned how to control the shift? Would he have discovered the calming effect of his anchor? Do you really believe he would have realized how to temper his heartbeat so effectively? No. You did all of that. Not your friend or any of your packmates.” The electronic voice was suddenly at the teenager’s neck again. “You don’t think those achievements are of note?”
Stiles jerked his head back, hoping to break the hunter’s nose but only hit air. A deep chuckle echoed through the cement basement.
“And there’s that spirit,” the hunter offered in compliment. “Miss Reyes and Mr. Boyd were much tamer when they were captured.”
“I changed my mind,” Stiles grunted, straining against the ropes binding his arms. “Let’s just skip to the torture. I don’t know how much more of this weird Dr. Phil session I can take.”
“I don’t want to torture you, Stiles.”
The sudden shift from Stiles’ last name to his first gave him pause. “Then what do you want?”
A hand landed on Stiles’ shoulder, patting him there in an almost comforting manner. A chunk of black plastic with buttons on it landed in his lap. Stiles looked down at the device and realized that the mesh speaker on the front meant that it was the voice distorter. The teen kept his eyes locked on the equipment even as a figure walked around his right side.
“I want to offer you a job.”
Stiles’ eyes widened as he recognized the voice. His neck cracked at the speed with which his head shot up to confirm his suspicion. Sure enough Chris Argent had perched himself on top of the wooden crate. Allison’s father had his arms crossed over his chest and his legs stretched out in front of him. The man looked outrageously comfortable considering the situation they were in.
The whole thing was utterly ridiculous to Stiles.
“And kidnapping was the tactic you chose?” Stiles asked, tone thick with incredulity. “You and the werewolves have more in common than you like to think.” His whole body froze as a strange thought entered his head. “Is that a thing? Is there something about knowing the supernatural exists that makes people insane? Because if there is then I feel like it should have been clearly marked in the brochure. Like under a really big warning label.”
The faintly amused look Mr. Argent was sporting did little to disprove his theory on insanity and the supernatural. “Not as far as I know... the results of the clinical studies were never conclusive on that one.”
Stiles gaped at the man. “Hunter jokes? Really?”
“No one ever told me hunting dangerous creatures and having a sense of humor were mutually exclusive.”
“In my experience only the really crazy ones did both.” After realizing that he rather liked all of his limbs attached Stiles decided not to list the very obvious examples of crazy ass hunters he’d met. Then, upon further introspection, Stiles figured he was probably going to die anyway and went for it. “Like your pedophile sister and your child-killing father.”
Stiles felt a thrilling mix of fear and pleasure at the way Argent’s whole body tensed at the mention of his family’s epic sins. It gave Stiles the courage to keep pushing his luck. “Any of those ‘clinical studies’ ever figure out what went wrong with the Argent clan? I mean, seriously, Gerard drowns kids and your sister fucks them.” He gave the older man a pointedly evaluative look, eyebrow arched and everything. “Is that why you took me? Wanted to prove you’re just as fucked up as the rest of your family? Going to show me what you do to kids?”
The talkative teenager expected to be hit. Hell if anyone had ever said those things to him Stiles would have done more than offered a beating in retaliation. But Chris had never been the predictable member of the Argent clan. It was one of the reasons that made Stiles more wary of him than any of the others. Kate’s hatred was a quality he could measure even if he couldn’t understand it. Gerard’s master plan – once revealed – was easy to comprehend. But Chris had never revealed a hidden agenda or an all-encompassing bias. The closest motivation Stiles could link to the man was his precious hunter’s code… which they still had no idea what details that consisted of.
Which is probably why the reaction Stiles got from the hunter was the one he was least expecting. The man laughed.
“You’re baiting me,” Chris accused with a wide smile on his face. Stiles would even go so far as to say that the man actually sounded proud. “You’re absolutely terrified of me and yet… you’re pushing my buttons. Unbelievable. That’s the fighting spirit I was talking about.”
“And you’re not killing me,” Stiles responded, perplexed.
Chris shook his head. “That’s the exact opposite of what I intend to do with you.”
Stiles couldn’t stop himself. He blamed the relief from not being beaten to death by an angry hunter. “So you want to make me live forever? You’re not secretly a vampire are you?”
Argent was not impressed with his nervous joking. “Vampires aren’t real.”
“Okay, that’s it! You and Derek both say that as if it’s some ridiculously obvious fact,” Stiles ranted, trying (and failing) to strike an annoyed pose inside the tight bounds of his rope restraints. He settled for crossing his legs in a cocky pose. “Because everyone knows that werewolves are real and vampires just can’t possibly exist.”
“We’re going to have to work on your sarcasm,” Chris noted absently.
Stiles stopped his verbal tirade in favor of watching Allison’ father rummage through the wooden chest he’d previously been using as a seat. “What are you doing?”
Argent’s head disappeared into the chest. His voice was muffled as it echoed off the wooden sides and lid. “Just a little show and tell.”
The bound teen relaxed minutely in his seat. For a brief moment he’d thought that he’d misjudged Allison’s father. He remembered what Gerard had done to Erica and Boyd in a similar situation. Stiles really didn’t feel like getting electrocuted. Then again Stiles couldn’t be too sure that Hunters didn’t have ways of getting their way when it came to humans. Either way Stiles wasn’t planning on sticking around long enough to find out.
With Argent’s head quite literally out of sight, Stiles wasted no time in putting more pressure on the ropes holding him to the chair. It felt like minutes passed before the tips of Stiles’ fingers found the edge of a hard knot. In reality it was only a few panicked seconds of sloppy groping made all the more pathetic by the nervous sweat of his palms slicking his fingers. He bit his tongue while he wiped his hands on the bits of pajama pants he could reach before taking a better hold of the twisted section of rope and starting to vigorously work on undoing them.
“Everything in here used to belong to my sister,” Chris said, lifting a crossbow from the depths of the chest. Using his foot, Argent nudged the wooden piece around so that the opening was facing Stiles. “I passed on a few things to Allison but the rest…”
Stiles had frozen his movements at Chris’ words began to slowly refocus his efforts. That didn’t mean he couldn’t also participate in a little game of show and tell. “Yeah I saw that silver necklace in Allison’s bedroom. I always wondered if she had anything else.”
Chris nodded, his expression solemn. “Have you read the inscription on the back?”
“Nous chassons ceux quis nous chassent,” Stiles quoted without even struggling to think about it.
Chris didn’t look surprised so much as impressed. “And you know what it means?”
Stiles nodded. “We hunt those who hunt us.” He couldn’t quite help tacking on, “Not as good as say ‘to protect and serve’, you know, the motto of people actually trained and sanctioned to protect the public from the bad guys.” He offered a quick turn of the lips to really land the snarky look to match his next words. “Which, for those of us playing the home game, has been Hunter more often than Monster the past few years.”
“There are moments when I forget what Kate was,” Chris confessed, eyes locked at something inside the trunk. “When all I can think of is that one summer we ate ice cream every day or the first time she held Allison in her arms. It makes it hard to reconcile that Kate-my-baby-sister and Kate-the-killer are the same person.” He kicked out at the wooden edge of the trunk hard enough for it to spin and face Stiles. “Then I see something like this and the truth about her becomes painfully clear.”
The trunk had clearly been a gift. Stiles could see it in the way that the Argent motto had been beautifully carved into the inside of the trunk lid. There was something about seeing it in the original French version that really made the craftsmanship stand out. But Stiles could see what had Chris Argent so disturbed.
All the words after “Nous chassons” had lines violently cut through them.
It wasn’t hard to picture Kate with a large knife slashing at the words in a rage. For such a simple piece of vandalism it painted a vivid image of just how disturbed the blonde huntress had been. Stiles could see the pain in Chris’ face that he too was imagining a similar situation where Kate had set out to destroy the part of her family motto that didn’t fit with her agenda.
“Why are you showing me all this?” Stiles questioned.
“Because I need you to understand that Kate is not – was not – a typical hunter.”
Stiles shot him a disbelieving look. “And Gerard? Isn’t he some big honcho in the hunter circles?”
Chris dropped the offending lid so that he could use it as a seat once again. His whole body seemed to fall in on itself as his head fell forward into his hands. “My father sits on the Hunter’s Council, yes. His actions last year haven’t made him very popular with them though.”
“Let’s just step around how the whole ‘Hunter’s Council’ is basically the douchiest thing I’ve ever heard and move straight to your ass hat of a father being in charge of it,” Stiles said, eyes wide with incredulity. He ignored Chris’ half-hearted attempt to explain how Gerard wasn’t in charge so much as a voting member. “How is any of this supposed to convince me that becoming an asshole hunter should be my career of choice? Because I’ve got to say that with my grades I could pretty much be whatever I wanted to be.”
Chris smirked. “I think we both know that whatever potential you had went out the window as soon as your friend Scott was bitten. There’s no way you’re going on to live a normal life after all this.” He waited patiently for Stiles’ shrug of admittance before continuing. “Hunting gives you the opportunity to make a difference that your own Pack won’t allow you to because they think you’re too weak, too fragile to participate in.”
The teenager glared at him. “Like you don’t think the same damn thing?”
“Oh I know you are. The difference is that I’m willing to fix that for you,” Chris quipped, flashing him a smile full of teeth. “And you there won’t even be a Bite involved.”
Stiles couldn’t help the short chuckle that bubbled out of his throat. “I’m still not seeing why you’d want me. Do I give off some psych-killer vibe I’m unaware of?”
Chris shook his head. “You were pragmatic enough to consider killing Jackson when he was still a Kanima but that’s just clear thinking. No, what makes you a good candidate is that you’re nothing like Kate or my father. You’ve seen both sides of this world and you know that there’s zero about it that’s black or white.”
“This whole bondage scene feels pretty black to me.”
“You know what’s out there, Stiles,” Chris continued, ignoring Stiles’ incessant sarcasm. He was beginning to see that the kid wasn’t being a pain in the ass on purpose but rather that he had minimal control over his mouth to begin with. “That means you have a responsibility to protect the innocent from that which they are ignorant of.”
“Vigilante thugs,” Stiles muttered. “Delusional vigilante thugs.”
Again Chris ignored him. “You think your father is prepared to face down an Alpha werewolf on his own? A Kanima? You think Derek would have given two shits about protecting your father before you two got all buddy-buddy?” Chris shook his head. “I don’t think so. Humans have to take care of their own.”
“Wouldn’t that mean killing all the monsters?” Stiles asked, voice sickly sweet to show just how fake he was acting. The dig about his father had been a good point but irritated him beyond belief. “After all that’s the only way to ensure the safety of all those poor, innocent humans who are completely without sin.”
Chris merely rolled his eyes at the display. “It means we protect ourselves from the supernatural threats out there, yes, but it also means that we can’t allow our own people to endanger anyone who hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Stiles stared at the hunter for a minute. His mouth opened and closed a few times as words seemed to fail him at the sight of an Argent speaking sense. There was something off about the world when a member of that family didn’t immediately opt for the most bloodthirsty and homicidal approach to peacekeeping.
Apparently that exact thought must have been obvious on his face because it had Chris chuckling. “I keep telling you that you’ve got the wrong idea about us.”
“So what all the other hunters in the world are like you? Stick to the code like you?” Stiles asked.
“No but imagine what we’d be like with more people like you in our ranks,” Chris shot back. “Tragedies like what happened to the Hale Family wouldn’t happen. Hunters like my father and Kate wouldn’t be leading our people. Together we can make a difference.”
Stiles ducked his head. “Even if I believed what you were saying there’s no way I could do it to the Pack. They wouldn’t forgive me.”
“And Allison?” Chris reminded him. “You think they won’t forgive her?”
“That’s different,” Stiles argued. “She was born to be a hunter. They accepted her knowing that.”
Chris shook his head in disappointment. “So were you. That’s what I keep trying to tell you, Stiles. You have no idea the potential you have.”
“Deaton said the same thing,” Stiles muttered.
“I’m not surprised he sensed it in you,” Chris agreed. At Stiles’ questioning look he added, “If you say yes you’ll discover a few secrets about that man. How he knows so much about this world is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Stiles snorted. “If I say yes.”
“Look, don’t do it because you believe that there are threats out there that only Hunters are destined to fend against,” Chris suggested, shrugging off the weight of the Code as if it weren’t the keystone of his life. “Do it because you can’t depend on your Pack to save you every time. Do it because you’re the son of a cop who knows what it means to dedicate your life to protecting the innocent. Do it because if there were more Hunters like you then the term innocent would include people in your Pack as well.”
Stiles snorted. “Oh, please. Like you care about Derek Hale and his furry friends.”
Argent’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “No I don’t think Hale and I will ever see eye to eye. Maybe before… before…” The man shook his head to clear away his already complicated thoughts about his sister. “The point is that you care about them. They don’t need your research skills with Miss Martin running around. Scott doesn’t need you to talk to about his werewolf problems when there are others – Mr. Lahey, perhaps? – who might understand his predicament better.” He paused, watching the weight of his words crush Stiles with his greatest insecurities about his role in the Pack. “But this is a way you could help them. A real manner by which you can defend them.”
Chris knelt down in front of him and put an understanding hand on Stiles’ knee. “Aren’t you tired of always needing them to defend you?”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to play good hunter/bad hunter with just one hunter,” Stiles muttered. There was something so earnest in Chris’ voice and expression that made Stiles want to trust him. “Look, if you want to convince me then you need to stop playing the used car salesman and trying to sell the hunter lifestyle to me.”
“And do what?” Chris asked, arms spread wide in invitation. “Bribe you? Beat you?”
“Just tell me the truth, dude,” Stiles said plainly. “You want me to actually consider this madness? Then tell me your angle and stop trying to find mine.”
Chris gave him a long look over before nodding. “I suppose that’s fair.”
“Good,” Stiles said, settling back into his chair. He lifted a leg and waved it around. “Go on. Get to the truth telling.”
“Allison will be a hunter. Her mother will see to it one way or another no matter what the rest of us want.” Chris ran a hand over his hair and face with a frustrated sigh. “My father will use her more liberal-minded ideas to wage a war of ideals among the hunters. The two of them will split the rest of us until it’s an all out civil war and the one with the most bodies left above ground will be the winner.” He waited for Stiles to meet his gaze. “And believe me when I say that if Gerard wins we will all die. My family, your Pack and anyone else who ever so much as looked at my father the wrong way.”
Stiles tried to think of a reaction that matched the news that had just been laid at his feet. Jumping out a window seemed appropriate. Or running out of the basement screaming. He settled for a near silent, “shit.”
Chris nodded. “My thoughts exactly.”
“And I’m supposed to play what role in your grand plan to take down gramps-mc-crazy?” Stiles asked.
“The Council has ordered me to choose an Apprentice. Obviously my wife would like me to take Allison on but I had a different idea.” Chris actually started wringing his hands as if the act of laying all his cards on the table was nerve wracking. Stiles was starting to feel like the popular girl getting asked out by a nerdy kid in some teen comedy… or like Lydia being asked out by himself. “There’s what we call a Hunter’s Pair; a male and female apprenticeship that are trained together. It’s old-fashioned but revered in our community. It would give me – and Allison by default – some support from the conservative hunters that might give us an edge over my father.”
Stiles nodded. “Hitting Gerard where it hurts the most; his conservative base of supporters.” He shifted slightly in his seat. “And I’m guessing you wanted me to be the other half of Allison’s Hunter’s Pair?”
Chris smiled. “I needed someone trustworthy and capable. At the very least someone who cared about Allison’s safety more than sucking up to Gerard. If it’s you then the Hale Pack can’t abandon her because they need you more than her. They won’t cast you out.”
“What did I say about the sales pitch?”
“It’s not,” Chris denied quickly and honestly. “Everything I said was the truth. You have the makings of a good hunter, Stiles, but with Allison at your side and my training you could be a great one.” The hunter got off the trunk in silence that followed. “Have you figured out how to get out of the chair yet?”
The question pulled Stiles away from his inner musings. “What?”
Chris smiled, seeing that his last remarks actually had Stiles thinking it over. “This is an old initiation rite for potential apprentices. We kidnap them, tie them to a chair and lay everything out for them.” He nodded at the ropes binding him. “Then we leave them to find a way out of their bindings. The faster an initiate figures frees themselves, the more honor they bring to their future mentors.”
“The chair is made of cheap wood,” Stiles answered. “Concrete floor should be hard enough to break it. Find a sharp enough edge and start sawing through the rope.”
“I told you that you were born for this.” Chris patted his shoulder as he walked around him and into the dark abyss of the basement behind Stiles. There was the sound of boots hitting wood as the man climbed the stairs to freedom. “The record is just under an hour,” he yelled down to the restrained teenager. “Come find me when you figure out your answer.”
Stiles cursed before throwing all his weight into the side of the chair and knocking it onto the cement floor. It took him another five minutes to break a piece off large to cut through the ropes.
45 minutes later his hands may have been bleeding but the ropes lay in a tattered mass at his feet.
Allison is waiting for him when he gets home. She’s sitting on the stairs and staring at the front door with a contemplative look on her face. That it takes her a few beats to realize that Chris has actually opened said door and is staring back at her speaks volumes about how lost in her own thoughts Allison is.
A sense of foreboding settles in the pit of his stomach.
For one panic filled moment Chris thinks that Stiles ratted him out. Then he remembers that Stiles will most likely be tied to that chair for at least another half hour before he finishes cutting through the thick sailing ropes. Besides Chris would like to think that he did reach Stiles enough that the teenager would take his offer into consideration and not just tattle on him.
“There you are, dear,” Victoria coos from the top of the stairs. Her fingernails tap across the wooden banister in a falsely relaxed manner. But really it’s the false concern on her face that gives it away. Chris knows now that what lies behind that façade is a gloating woman who has backed her prey into a corner.
The prey, of course, being Chris.
As the hunter looks back down at the determined look on his daughter’s face Chris gets his wife’s message loud and clear. Victoria knows that he’s just coming back from the first contact with Stiles. She waited for that night to plant the idea of apprenticing as a hunter in Allison’s mind. She wanted him to know that if he plans on sticking with Stiles Stilinski as his choice than Victoria will sure as hell be getting hers too.
“Everything go alright?” Victoria asks once she sure he’s gotten the message.
Chris nods stiffly, resisting the urge to glare at his wife. His patience had already been tested enough with Stiles. He really wasn’t looking forward to having this particular conversation with his daughter and a confrontation with his wife directly after.
His stance softened as he turned towards his daughter once more. “You look like you’ve got something important to talk about.”
Allison gave him half a smile. “That obvious?”
“I always know when the women in my life are plotting,” he half-jokes, smiling for Allison at the same time as his eyes drift up the stairs to meet Victoria’s. His wife wasn’t the only one who could send messages without direct confrontation.
Victoria merely grinned down at him in response. “I’ll leave you two to talk things through.” She was already out of sight before she called down the stairs, “See you both in the morning!”
“Night, mom,” Allison called back with a note of gratitude.
Chris didn’t bother responding. Alarm bells were already going off in his mind at the warmth being displayed from Allison towards her mother. Clearly Victoria had been working overtime at getting her hooks into her. Last he’d heard Allison was still fuming at them over the disastrous family dinner with Scott. He wondered how his wife had gotten off the hook and if he could do the same.
“Let’s talk in the office.”
Allison rolled her eyes. “Scott’s not listening in. We don’t need the sound proofing.”
Chris raised an unimpressed eyebrow at her. “I should hope that your boyfriend wasn’t upstairs at all let alone listening in on our private conversations.” He couldn’t stop himself from looking up the stairs at the light peeking out from under his daughter’s bedroom door. “But there are rules to these things. One of them is not letting your guard down even when at home. Scratch that, especially at home. We only discuss family business in the office.”
“Fine,” Allison snapped, jumping off the stairs and brushing passed him with more force than necessary. “Then let’s talk business in the office.”
Chris let out a small groan. Allison clearly got her temper from her mother. Unfortunately Stiles had a similar disposition when pushed on an emotional level. He could only imagine what training the pair of them would be like. Especially after running them for miles, quizzing their knowledge of the bestiary, and teaching them hand-to-hand combat.
As soon as the office door slammed behind her Allison was on him. “I want to know why you haven’t offered to train me as your Apprentice.”
“You want to know or your mother does?” Chris asked, settling down behind his desk.
“Me,” she answered immediately. Though the faraway look in her eyes a second had Chris smirking in victory. He knew that his daughter would spend the night replaying whatever conversation she’d had earlier with Victoria and wonder at what point she’d been manipulated.
Chris waved his hand at one of the two open seats facing the desk. “I was under the impression that you were distancing yourself from hunting activities. Something about not wanting to slip into old habits? Or was it to appease your boyfriend and his Pack?”
Allison squirmed in her seat. “It’s my Pack, too, not just Scott’s. And I never said that I didn’t want to continue my training. I just don’t want to do anything to hurt the Pack... not like last time.”
“So you’re willing to listen to me?” He pressed. “You’re not going to let the female-empowering traditions of our family go to your head again?”
“It depends on the lessons, I suppose.”
Chris shook his head. He wasn’t about to go down that road again. “This isn’t a negotiation, Allison. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased that you’re not letting your birthright slip through your fingers but the idea of putting you straight into a leadership role is out of the question.” He held up a hand to stave off her sure to be frustrated reply. “I am willing to take you on but as an Apprentice. You’ve had your shot at head of the family… at least until you’ve finished your training.”
Allison looked properly chastised but not ready to settle. “Mom said you might train me with someone else.”
“And?” Chris asked when Allison simply continued to look questioningly at him.
“And who is it? Shouldn’t I get a say in who I’m working with?”
“Whomever I choose as my Apprentice is entirely my business,” Chris informed her, tone sharp. “I could choose Scott McCall and not even the Hunter’s Council themselves could make me change my mind.”
Allison’s brow furrowed giving her such a striking resemblance to her mother that it had Chris leaning a little further back in his chair. “But he’d be my partner!”
“Your brother,” Chris corrected her.
Allison froze. “What?”
Chris smirked. Apparently Victoria hadn’t had time to give her all the little details. “There’s a lot about the Apprenticeship traditions that you don’t know, Allison. You shouldn’t get worked up until you’ve had time to review the facts.” Knowing that he’d eventually have to face this conversation, Chris had prepared some information for his daughter. He took the packet of carefully edited lore out of the bottom drawer and slid it across the desk to her. “I’ll make you a deal. You read through this material and then you can interrogate me. I will tell you anything you want to know.”
“Even the identities of the other candidates?” Allison asked, already leafing through the thick file folder.
“There’s only one candidate I’m pursuing,” Chris answered truthfully. “And, no, I won’t tell you until we begin training.”
Allison smiled at him. “I could always ask Mom.”
Chris smiled right back. “If your mother was willing to give you the boy’s name then she would have. You’ll find there are some rules even your mother won’t cross.”
“What happens if your super secret candidate turns you down?”
“Then we’re all screwed,” Chris replied sadly. He watched Allison’s face as she went from thinking he was joking to realizing he was being deadly serious. “Obviously there’s a lot more about this situation your mother has left out.”
“Yeah,” Allison agreed, a disappointed note to the word. “I’m beginning to see that she does that a lot.”
Chris started playing with the knife that doubled as his letter opener. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ll be having a long talk with her about that very subject as soon as we finish up here.”
It’s three days after Derek and Stiles’ late night heart-to-heart and the Alpha can’t stop replaying the conversation in his mind.
He hears Stiles’ voice in his head asking him why none of the power shifts within the pack. That his Beta’s don’t need to ask what Derek wants them to focus on during training taunts him further. Erica and Jackson focus on combat by sparring with Scott. Allison practices with her bow with Isaac and Boyd as live target practice. Lydia sits on the porch pouring over the research that Stiles hunted down for them.
It’s the same as it ever was. Only now Stiles isn’t there.
And yet the boy was as right as ever.
Derek growls in frustration, startling the others out of their various practice sessions. Only Lydia and Allison don’t react, both too human and too used to random werewolf grunts and growls during practice to hear when an Alpha is royally pissed. Isaac bares his neck instinctively; unaware that Derek isn’t angry with any of them.
It’s only himself that Derek is disappointed in.
All he’s ever wanted was the kind of pack his family had before the fire. Of course Derek had ruined that when he met Kate. Then Laura had started them back on the right path in New York before she’d gone back to Beacon Hills to find out what was going on with the animal attacks. If only Derek had gone with her they might have fended Peter off without losing Laura in the process.
This unlikely pack of teenagers was his last shot at redemption. If he ruined this –
destroyed them like he’d destroyed everyone else he’d ever called family – then it would be his third strike. Already Derek could feel that seed of hope begin to wilt before it even had time to bloom.
Stiles was the key. Stiles was the awkward piece that held the warped puzzle pieces of his new pack together in the bizarre jigsaw puzzle they called a Pack.
And Derek kept pushing aside his advice out of fear of being wrong. Stiles who was nothing like Kate. He wasn’t poking his head into pack business in order to learn their secrets and harm them. If anything Stiles pushed everyone’s buttons in an effort to fix them. His mindless chatter filled in the pained silences that the rest of them hid inside like scared children. It was his fragile body that took the brutal brunt of their overreactions. It was Stiles’ loyalty that made him run toward the danger they posed instead of letting himself be pushed away by flashes of fang and claws.
But even Stiles had his limit and Derek could sense that they were reaching it. He needed a way to fix things; to acknowledge his efforts if not outright reward them. For once it couldn’t be Stiles making the first move. No, this time it had to be the Pack making the effort.
It had to be Derek, their Alpha, leading them towards that goal.
Any alternative was disaster. Derek could feel it in his gut that whatever misstep he could make that would dissolve the Pack was nothing compared to losing Stiles. No matter how much the others might tease or complain about Stiles’ antics there was no doubt that they’d come to depend on him just as much as Derek had. Without Stiles they’d already be lost. Derek just had to figure out the best way to prove that to him.
Before it was too late.
“Uh, Derek?” Scott asked, interrupting his Alpha’s dark musing.
Derek looked up and watched the Beta wolves all take a step back. Now everyone was baring their necks and not just Isaac. Frowning, Derek glanced down and realized that he’d accidentally shifted forms. He shook out his limbs until his claws retracted and his eyes lost their red tint.
“We need to get Stiles back.”
Scott’s answering smile was even more irritation than his normal one. Erica perked up at the declaration. Allison and Isaac both looked hopefully at him. Boyd didn’t look as moved as the others but he could feel his pleasure through the Pack bond all the same. Lydia muttered something along the lines of it being about time he his head out of his ass that Derek steadfastly ignored. Jackson was the only one that looked pained by the decision but he kept his mouth shut about it which Derek had learned was practically approval from him.
Derek cleared his throat. “So how do we do that?”
The Pack all stared back at him with wide eyes.
“What?” He practically growled at them.
“You just never ask us for suggestions,” Erica explains, arms spread wide in deference. “We’re not used to it.”
“Yeah, man,” Scott agrees immediately. “You’re more of a ‘go do this and try not to die’ kind of Alpha, you know?”
Derek’s shoulders tensed despite his bumbling attempts to look distressed by the comment. “Things change. Most of you aren’t idiots. Suggest things.”
Scott turned to Isaac. “What does he mean most of us?”
Allison giggled at the desperate look that Isaac sends her over Scott’s head.
“You could always go seduce him,” Lydia suggested, turning back to her studies with a disinterested roll of her shoulders. “I find that Stiles responds well to that.”
Scott makes a gagging sound. “Oh god. Please don’t do that, Derek.”
“Afraid he’ll steal your boy-toy, McCall?” Jackson taunts.
“Are there any serious suggestions?” Derek asks, breaking into the latest round of growling between his two most unruly Beta’s. The last thing he needed was another fight breaking out during training.
Isaac bit as his lip in thought. “My dad always bought me stuff to say he was sorry for roughing me up… in the beginning anyway.”
“We could do something as a Pack that Stiles specifically would enjoy,” Allison suggested quickly, trying to move past the awkward silence that always fell whenever Isaac spoke so plainly about his mistreatment. “Buy tickets to Comic Con or something?”
“You could just let him apply to the Police Academy,” Boyd said quietly.
“No!” Both Scott and Derek responded completely in unison.
“No,” Derek continued. “Stiles may be more capable than I implied but it’s still too dangerous.”
Scott nodded. “He never used to want to be a cop. He’s just doing that because of us.”
“Is that so bad?” Erica questioned. “We all make sacrifices for the good of the Pack. Why should he be any different?”
“Because we’re not human anymore,” Scott explained. “We don’t get a choice. But the humans could all leave us behind anytime they wanted. What happens if in twenty years Stiles decides he made a mistake? We’d have let him ruin his life out of some attempt at proving himself to the Pack.”
Derek glared at him. “The wolves in the Pack have choices, too, Scott. I hope no one is hear because they think they have to be.”
Jackson perked up at that bit of news. “Does that mean I can take off early? Cause as much as I love beating the shit out of the rest of you losers I really don’t want to waste my afternoon trying to get Stilinski to talk about his feelings.”
“No you cannot take off early,” Derek snarled. “In fact we’re staying here until we have a solid plan for making sure that Stiles not only comes back to us but never questions his place here again.”
“But that could take forever,” Jackson whined.
Derek ignored the prissy Beta in favor of listening to the much more helpful voices of the others. They might not actually figure out the best game plan in one night but it was a start.
Derek wasn’t letting this chance at Pack pass him by. Not again.
Stiles waits another two weeks before giving Chris his answer.
It’s not because he wants to make the hunter sweat over his decision. It’s not because he needs the extra time to make up his mind. In fact Stiles knew what he was going to say by the time he’d finished cutting himself free of his rope bindings.
No, he only waited so long because that’s how difficult it was to get all of his supplies together. That it was the week of Halloween when his plan went into effect was just an added bonus.
Stiles had “accidentally” spilled some tomato sauce on his father’s uniform during their weekly spaghetti dinner. He’d made sure to tell the Sheriff the dry cleaners were backed up because of Halloween and that it wouldn’t be ready until the following week. In reality he’d spent his gas money on a rushed job and stashed the uniform in the protective bag that normally housed his one and only black suit.
He’d signed out some video cameras from the A/V department, claiming that the coach wanted to record their practices leading up to the state lacrosse semi-finals. If anyone bothered to check with Finstock they’d probably get an ear-full about nosing into his coaching instead of a straight answer about it. Even if Finstock miraculously pulled himself together enough to investigate he’d find the fake name (Greenberg) Stiles had used. For once the teenager was happy to be just another anonymous loser that wasn’t worth learning his name.
It took a few days of pestering Scott about his dating schedule with Allison to figure out when Chris and Veronica would be home or not. It was almost worth the hours he spent listening to Scott wax poetic about the prodigal huntress. Almost. Once Stiles knew when the Argent home was vacated, he simply skipped a few classes to set up the cameras in the trees directly across from the Argent property. Stiles still didn’t know what Chris had been thinking by buying a house opposite a heavily wooded area.
Stiles knew Chris was skilled enough to catch him watching the house in person (a coma patient could catch him with the how clumsy Stiles is – especially in shrubbery) so he’d had to get creative. It’d cost him a fortune to pay for all of the memory cards but the digital cameras were much harder for Chris to find. Especially since most Hunters really did think of their prey as simple animals incapable of pairing instinct and technology against them.
Stealing the animal tranquilizers from Deaton’s clinic was probably the most time difficult task on his list. He’d made a habit of driving Scott to work after school every day and hanging around for an hour or so. Once Deaton adjusted to his hyper-active presence Stiles just had to wait for the right opportunity to make his move. The following Wednesday the perfect distraction appeared in the form of a panicked owner and their pregnant St. Bernard rushing through the vet doors. Scott and Dr. Deaton were so engrossed in the whelping process that neither noticed Stiles slipping into the backroom. He’d been too nervous to try for one of the dart guns Deaton kept on hand for wild animals. Thankfully the mysterious veterinarian had a massive supply – one might even go so far as to say suspicious amount – of knock out drugs that Stiles doubted he’d notice the theft anytime soon.
Probably. Maybe. Hopefully.
Well… he’d prayed on it at any rate.
So three days before Halloween Stiles found himself parked behind a billboard on the double lane Route that led out of the valley. After viewing the recordings from the Argent house cameras Stiles knew that Chris traveled to Los Angeles every Wednesday morning. The man would have to take said road in order to reach the highway. Normally it would be risky confronting Mr. Argent in such a public location but there was barely any traffic so early in the morning. Never before had he been so happy that Los Angeles was so far away and road trips there had to be started by sunrise at least.
He’d “borrowed” the keys to one of the decommissioned cruisers the Beacon Hills Preserve Rangers used to drive before their budget had been downsized. Judging by the fine layer of dust he’d washed off the vehicle no one had checked on them in a long, long time. Stiles was betting that the flashing lights, sirens and official looking logo on the side doors would sell the cruiser as a regular police vehicle for any passing drivers. At the very least Chris Argent would be convinced when he looked through his rear view mirror.
The sun had just arced over the tree line when Stiles spotted the infamous black SUV driving in the left hand lane. Stiles smirked at how Chris was clearly speeding. He’d spent enough time in a patrol car when his Dad was a deputy to eyeball car speeds and Mr. Argent was doing at least 15mph over the legal limit. Apparently Stiles wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the lack of early morning motorists.
His grin was wide as he turned on the cruiser and pulled onto the road. Stiles trailed behind the SUV long enough to make sure they were alone before flipping the lights and the siren on. He flinched as the first few high-pitched cries came out warped through the aged speaker system before finally coming out in their regular, ear splitting tones.
The SUV slowed before eventually moving over to the stretch of dirt that rural communities like Beacon Hills used as a shoulder.
Stiles fiddled with the A/C so that Argent would believe he was a real cop talking to someone on the radio. It was police procedure to call in the license plate of any cars they pulled over so that they could get information on the registered drivers. Just in case there was a warrant out on them or they might be violent. It also helped find the driver in case harm befalls the police officer that was on duty. That it probably made Argent nervous about the concealed weapons, presumably not all legal, that he doubtlessly had stashed somewhere in the SUV was just a bonus.
Before he got out of the car Stiles made sure to put the wide-brimmed hat on that his father always complained messed up his hair. It wasn’t really bright enough for the hat to be necessary but it would help conceal Stiles’ age and identity. People always forgot how tall Stiles was. One look at his face made them think he was younger looking than he really was. With the hat concealing his face, though, the height alone would sell him as a proper adult. Just in case, Stiles kept his eyes on the ticket book in his hand as he walked up to the SUV. He only looked up when he heard the electronic whirring of the automatic window opening.
“Good morning, Officer,” Chris greeted in his most cheerful voice. Stiles almost snorted at how fake it was compared to his usual, intimidating one. “Did I do something wrong?”
Stiles nodded as he tapped at the rear taillight with his pen. He didn’t want to move any closer to Argent until he was properly distracted. He only hoped his deep voice didn’t sound too fake. “Speeding. Think your brake light might be out too.”
Argent waited a beat before clearing his throat. “I swear it was working this morning. I always check them before leaving the house.”
“I’m sure,” Stiles replied as he pretended to write down the license plate number. He was surprised by how clear his skepticism came through in his fake voice. “License and registration, sir.”
“Of course.” Chris’ voice dimmed slightly as he ducked across the seats to reach the glove box. “You know it’s funny. I do a lot of work with the B.H.P.D. but I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”
Stiles crept up to the open driver’s window. On his way he tried to look through the tinted windows to see if Chris was actually getting his paperwork or going for a weapon. Him questioning a uniformed patrolman about working with the police was not a good sign.
“I’m with the Preserve,” Stiles lied. “But I get paid to cover some of the traffic gigs if someone else calls in sick. Been doing a lot more of it ever since those deputies got killed…”
He spotted Chris’ grimace in the rear view mirror. Stiles wondered briefly how much guilt the man felt over the deaths at the stations during Matt’s reign as the Kanima’s Master. The uncomfortable expression was quickly replaced by a false smile as Chris started to turn back to the window. Thankfully he had his papers in hand and not a weapon like Stiles had feared.
“I really do do a lot of business with your friends in the Sheriff’s Department,” Chris said in a friendly voice. “Perhaps you’ve heard of me? I’m Chris Argent.”
Stiles lifted his head so that Chris could see who he really was as soon as he turned around. “Yeah, I’ve heard of you.”
Chris had just enough time to widen his eyes in surprise before Stiles jammed the needle into his neck. He grinned triumphantly as the tranquilizer spread quickly thanks to the major artery it had been injected into. Argent made a valiant effort to fight back. The papers he’d been holding were dropped onto the road in favor of grabbing Stiles by the throat. Too bad he’d started loosing consciousness so quickly. His fingers loosened from Stiles’ throat before they could even leave a proper mark.
“Haven’t you heard, Mr. Argent?” Stiles asked, mimicking the man’s earlier fake cheer. “Turnabout is fair play.”
The hunter’s eyebrow twitched angrily before the eye beneath it rolled back into his head.
It wasn’t the first time that Chris had woken up bound in chains.
It was, however, the first time he’d woken up bound in chains and hanging upside down.
His head was pounding from all of the blood rushing there. Chris felt as if his eyeballs were trying to bulge out of his head through force alone. The sound of metal clanging echoed through the empty warehouse as Chris tested the strength of the chains restraining his hands behind his back.
Chris’ abs strained as he tried to hoist himself up to get a better view of his surroundings. Unfortunately for all the strength in the chains, the manner in which they had been tied to the ceiling allowed the lower lengths to sway wildly. Every time the hunter put any serious effort into lifting himself up he started to swing hard. After a few more failed attempts to climb upright, Chris changed tactics and took to swinging towards the filthy industrial walls.
“You won’t reach,” Stiles’ smug voice called from somewhere above him.
Or from behind.
Or right in front of him.
He’d spun and swung so much in the last few minutes that Chris had lost all sense of directionality. Clearly that had been what Stiles had been waiting for before making his entrance. Chris would be impressed if it weren’t so damn annoying. Even with the pounding headache the man was still feeling more pleased by his choice in apprentice than worried for his safety.
Still, Chris had to be sure before acting defensively. “Is this your way of turning down my offer?”
“If I were turning you down, it wouldn’t be just you and me hanging around,” Stiles answered. Chris caught a flash of a toothy-grin before his chains twirled him in another direction. “If my answer was no then Derek would be here bleeding you dry and burning the body after.”
“Aren’t you the one that claimed they didn’t value you enough to fight over?” Chris goaded, panting with the effort to speak loud enough to be heard over the creaking chains. “My what confidence you’ve gained.”
Stiles circled him, which, of course, only added to his dizziness. Maybe the kid really was out to kill him. “Oh, you know how it is. One minute you’re feeling down in the dumps and the next some Hunter-of-the-Damned type is giving you a pep talk and recruiting you harder than all the Ivy League schools are Lydia Martin.” The teenager waggled his eyes in a truly inappropriate manner. “It does wonders for your ego.”
Chris only wished he had enough energy to roll his eyes without them popping out of his head. “Glad I could help.”
“Don’t take all the credit now,” Stiles warned him, sounding positively chipper. “You must have been right about me having the hunter genes or something because getting one over on you has really cheered me up.”
“While we’re on the subject is there an explanation coming about why I’m chained up like this?” Chris asked, failing to keep the growing tension out of his voice. “Preferably before I lose consciousness.”
Stiles’ laughter bounced off the walls. “Isn’t this the tradition? Fostering mentor-apprentice bonds through kidnapping and lengthy monologues?” He reached out and stopped the chains from their incessant rotating by grabbing the older man’s ankles.
“Did you know that Scott and I became blood brothers when we were in third grade? I had just fallen from off the rope swing during recess – shocking, I know – when I realized I’d cut my hand open. And you know what Scott did?”
Chris finally finished blinking his vision clear of black dots when a pale palm was dropped in front of his face. Long lines of broken flesh only just starting to heal over stood out in stark contrast to the smooth skin surrounding them. It took Chris a few minutes to realize that Stiles was waiting for his answer. He shook his head and watched as the hand disappeared from his view.
“Scott couldn’t take me crying. He didn’t know how to make me stop using his words like a normal person. So the stupid idiot cut his own palm open in solidarity.” Despite the negative description, Chris could hear the fondness in Stiles’ voice. “I think I only stopped crying long enough to call him an idiot before he was shoving our wounds together. The teacher had a fit – not to mention Mrs. McCall’s medical tirade when she found out – but Scott never apologized. He kept gloating about how we were blood brothers. He bragged about it so much that Jackson started bugging Danny about becoming blood brothers, too.”
Stiles bent over and twisted so that his face appeared inches away from Chris’. “So I want you to understand something, Chris. When you left me tied up in that basement you entered into a similar pact with me.” The teenager’s amber eyes swept up and down Chris’ restrained form. “What happens to Scott, happens to me. And from now on what happens to me will also happen to you… so nothing had better happen to Scott thanks to this little arrangement or it won’t end well for anyone else.”
Chris nodded his understanding. Stiles wasn’t just saying yes. Sure the boy was being overly dramatic about it (not that Chris was in any position to judge after how he’d made his offer) but he was also giving Chris a warning. The hunter didn’t blame him. So far everyone in his family had befriended and then used a member of the Hale Pack to bring death and destruction down on their heads. Kate had used Derek. Gerard had used Allison and, by extension, Scott. Stiles was smart not to go into their arrangement blind.
“Is that all?” Chris asked eventually. His headache had officially reached migraine level.
“Of course not,” Stiles replied. His voice faded out at the end as he moved off to the side of the warehouse. Chris heard the sound of metal snapping before his body was dropping through the air. He hit the concrete floor in a harsh impact. “I have a few other conditions, of course, but I’d like you conscious to hear them.”
Chris groaned as he maneuvered himself into an upright position. He pushed down the urge to puke as the blood fled his head. “I’m starting to regret teaching you that kidnapping is an appropriate form of communication.”
Stiles chuckled as he unlocked the cuffs on Chris’ wrists. “You didn’t do that.” Chris shot a questioning look over his shoulder at Stiles. “My dad may be the Sheriff but he has a vengeful streak a mile wide. We Stilinski’s are not to be messed with.”
“So I’ve seen,” Chris replied dryly. A bottle of pain reliever landed in his lap. Chris snatched it up and swallowed two pills without the aid of the water bottle Stiles rolled across the dirtied floor to him. He raised an eyebrow at the proffered beverage. “You don’t seriously expect me to drink something from your supplies after you knocked me out earlier, do you?”
“Maybe not but you did take those pain pills pretty quick, Sherlock,” Stiles teased as he settled on the floor across from him. He crossed his legs into an Indian style position with all the enthusiasm of a kindergartner settling in for show-and-tell. Chris had a feeling he was going to be seeing a lot more of these personality quick changes the longer he hung around Stiles Stilinski. “So I have a few ground rules before I officially say yes.”
Chris was not impressed. “You already said yes.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“You wouldn’t have let me down if you were going to turn me down.”
Stiles shrugged. “I could always change my mind…”
Chris narrowed his eyes at him. “You went through a lot of trouble just to go back now. Stealing a police car – ”
“ – I prefer misappropriated really – ”
“ – Misappropriated those tranquilizers – ”
“ – Deaton had way too many and I was almost positive that they’d work on humans, too – ”
“ – You must have been stalking me for a long time to know when to grab me – ”
“ – Maybe I just have a thing for old men – ”
“ – Old?! I was barely old enough to drink when Victoria got pregnant – ”
“ – Gross, dude. I do not want to hear about how Allison came to be. Though I’m sure Scott might enjoy hearing – ”
“ – Oh for God’s sake just get to your damn ground rules!” Chris shouted, finally interrupting their friendly little back and forth. He really needed to get over that damn headache before Stiles ran the whole conversation. Chris was supposed to be the one in charge after all.
Stiles smiled as if he could read Chris’ very thoughts on the situation. If anything the glint in his eye promised that Chris would be fighting tooth and nail for control. For a brief moment Chris wondered if the hyperactive teenager would be so skilled at aggravating his way into a position of control when faced with Victoria. A nasty smirk crossed his lips as he realized that he really wanted front row seats to that particular meeting.
“Rule #1,” Stiles started in a clear, steady voice that indicated he’d not only memorized his rules but spent a great deal of time thinking them over. Chris was starting to suspect that Stiles hadn’t struggled with his offer for very long at all. “I’m not your spy. I won’t give you any information on the Hale Pack. If you even look like you’re going to ask about them then I’ll quit on the spot.”
Chris inclined his head in agreement despite doubting very much that Stiles would be able to keep the Pack and his life as a Hunter so separate. “Go on.”
“Rule #2 is that I’m not killing anyone.”
Stiles let that announcement settle. He must have known Chris would object to it since he waited to go on to the next one until the hunter had a chance to speak.
“Killing isn’t everything a Hunter does,” Chris started his explanation in a careful tone. “But it’s part of it. This isn’t going to work if you don’t have the constitution for it.”
“Constitution?” Stiles echoed in disbelief. “I helped kill Peter… the first time around anyway. It’s not that I can’t do it. It’s that I don’t want to become some hunter executioner that just goes and offs anyone you people don’t like.”
Chris laughed. “Is that what you think happens?”
Stiles shrugged. “I’ve yet to meet a Hunter who stopped by the Hale House without homicidal intentions or at the very least try to goad Derek into attacking so that they could kill him with full permission of their precious Code.”
“I’ll admit that you haven’t seen our good side,” Chris conceded. “But that’s not the way it usually works. A hunter died at the hands of the Hale Pack, and even if Kate had it coming I’m sure it doesn’t sit well with the community. Especially since Gerard is probably twisting the facts as much as he can to cover Kate’s ass and throw the blame on Derek.”
Stiles face twisted into a sour expression. “Remind me again why I’d like to join these people?”
Chris sighed. “Those are lackeys, Stiles. Gerard’s lackeys to be more accurate. They don’t represent the rest of us.”
“And yet you’re basically saying I’d still have to kill?”
“No innocents; human or otherwise,” Chris vowed. “And only if you’re sure they meet the standards of the Code. We require proof or imminent threat to innocents before taking lethal action.”
Stiles snorted. “Sounds like the Dexter version of hunting.”
Chris shrugged. “Close enough. Though I’d appreciate it if you’d stop comparing me and mine to serial killers and the KKK.”
“Rule #3,” Stiles continued, clearly evading making any such promise. “Is that my involvement stays secret. My Pack can’t ever know about this particular extracurricular… not after their history with hunters.”
Derek, Chris mentally adds what Stiles couldn’t bring himself to say. Derek’s history with hunters; with Kate.
“Is that it?” Chris asks, tentative. He doesn’t feel guilty about fudging the truth about the third rule. He doesn’t consider Allison as part of the Hale Pack so her finding out doesn’t make him feel like he’s lying. She’d have to know eventually or else all of Chris’ long term planning wouldn’t work. Somewhere deep down Stiles must understand that or else he wouldn’t have worded the rule so vaguely.
Stiles gives him a hard stare before nodding. “Yeah. It is for now anyway.”
Chris smiles the smile of a man with a winning lottery ticket.
“Then welcome to the fold, Stiles.”
It was Erica who came up with the winning idea.
She’d taken to gloating about it whenever Scott was in hearing range. Derek had to admit it was pretty amusing to see the bitter, pinched expression on his most frustrating Beta’s face. Scott was embarrassed that he hadn’t figured out the best way to get Stiles back. Erica just really liked rubbing it in.
If only the bragging girl knew the hurt that was coming her way the next time Derek did some one-on-one training with her. The idea was brilliant in that it required all of them to humiliate themselves. But that was also the flaw. Derek was the Alpha. He wasn’t supposed to humiliate himself to gain favor with the other pack members. Especially not for a gangly, geeky, irritating human like Stiles. That was supposed to be their job.
Derek hadn’t been the only one to resist the idea initially. There wasn’t much that could make Derek shy – especially not in front of his Pack. After all, they spent three nights a month practically naked and on top of one another. But there was something about being measured for, and eventually wearing, skintight leather costumes in public (no matter how good everyone looked in it) that made even the big bad wolf blush.
And yet Derek found himself outside the Stilinski residence on Halloween night doing his best to ignore the looks of the trick-or-treating neighbors.
The children at least were eyeing the Pack’s themed costumes with nothing short of awe. Scott had been approached at least twice for an autograph. The teenagers were the worst. For snot-nosed little shits out asking for candy about three years later than acceptable they sure were mocking the shit out of them. Derek wondered if they’d be talking so much trash if he showed them his wolf. Their parents weren’t much better judging by the appreciative looks and fogs of lust as the adults got a good look at the Pack in their mix of leather, spandex and molded-rubber costumes.
“This better work,” Derek warned through bared teeth after yet another babysitter out with her charges tried flirting with him.
“Of course it will work,” Scott assured him as he absently tugged on the single strand of hair not slicked back on his head with the liberal use of hair wax. “Stiles goes crazy for this kind of stuff. I’m pretty sure the only time he ever wanted more friends when we were younger was for Halloween so that we could do group costumes.”
Erica practically preened at the news. Her chest even puffed up so much that her breasts squeaked against the latex that was barely managing to hold them in. “That’s exactly why I suggested it.”
Boyd let out a deep chuckle at Scott’s predicable pout.
“It doesn’t matter who suggested it,” Isaac said, quick to ease the tension. He pointedly ignored Erica vehemently muttering her disagreement. “The point is that superhero’s are cool, Stiles thinks they’re cool, and we look even cooler dressed as them.”
“Nerds,” Jackson said, rolling his eyes.
Danny barely looked up long enough from his cell phone to shove his best friend. “Lest you forget I like comic books, too, Jackson. And in case you think that I forgot about that stash of comics under your bed in fifth grade – ”
Jackson was quick to cut off the rest of Danny’s sentence by shoving his hand over the other boy’s mouth. “Never mind,” he croaked, face flushed with embarrassment.
Derek let out a growl that brought their attention back to the task at hand. He made a sharp gesture towards the house. “We’re here so someone ring the damn doorbell before I have to – ”
“ – rip our throats out with your teeth,” the others finished his sentence for him in an impressive chorus.
The Alpha’s eyebrows pushed together as he frowned at the blasé manner in which they’d spoken. “I’m sensing a distinct lack of fear and awe towards my Alpha status.”
Lydia performed the most dignified version of a snort he’d ever heard. “I don’t think anyone is taking you seriously dressed like that.”
“Seriously, dude, of all the comic book characters to choose from…” Jackson added, trailing off at the spark of red that flooded Derek’s eyes.
Jackson scrambled to comply. The bow and arrow he’d borrowed from Allison smacked against his muscled back as he sprinted towards the door. Lydia looked like she couldn’t decide whether to be irritated with Derek for using his Alpha-voice on her boyfriend or pleased at the sight of Jackson’s firm ass being hugged tight by the emerald leather pants.
By the time the Sheriff had opened the door the rest of the Pack had made their way up the driveway to join Jackson.
“TRICK OR TREAT!”
The Sheriff nearly dropped the bowl of candy as he realized who was at his door. Then his eyebrows rose as he took in what they were wearing. Finally the man started laughing at them. The few members of the Pack that weren’t shifting nervously were blushing in embarrassment. Scott had even taken to hiding behind Allison’s overly tousled hair.
“I’m sorry,” the Sheriff apologized between sucking in gasps of air to fuel his laughter. “The costumes look terrific.”
“Thank you,” Lydia replied with a huff. Derek understood her resentment that someone might find fault with them. After all the girls and Boyd (who had apparently aced his Home Ec class) had spent weeks constructing them. “Might we speak to Stiles? This is for his benefit and not ours… as you seem to have realized.”
The Sheriff sobered quickly after that. He nodded solemnly. “Of course. Don’t tell him I told you but he’s been moping about for weeks.” He offered them a genuine smile that was finally not at their expense. “I don’t know what happened between you all but this is a nice gesture. He’s really going to like it.”
“Who’s really going to like what?”
Everyone froze as Stiles’ sloppy footsteps brought him closer to the front door. Derek couldn’t help but smirk at how the teenager only barely managed not to run into the doorway. Stiles mouth fell open, displaying the piece (or pieces more likely judging by the volume) of Halloween candy he’d been munching on, as his eyes swept over the group.
His face went through a range of subtle displays of emotion that Derek had taken to cataloguing over the years. The quick lift of his lips as he spotted Scott in his Superman costume first. The Beta had wanted to be someone called ‘Deadpool’ but the girls had quickly shot that idea down. Apparently Scott was the only one with dark hair and the length to pull off Clark Kent’s alter ego. Lydia suggested that Scott was the only one who could fill out the chest part of the suit properly which had led to Jackson growling for the rest of the day. Erica had just quipped that Scott was the only goody-two-shoes in the group that wouldn’t make wearing the costume seem ironic.
Allison was dressed as Wonder Woman, which, judging by Stiles’ growing smile was spot on. Derek had thought she’d want to follow in the vein of one of the Archer characters but Allison had once again surprised him. She’d blown out her hair so that it practically floated over her shoulders. The rest of the get-up, from the spandex underwear to the long gold cuffs, was just as overboard but it only added to the comical nature of the whole thing.
Stiles actually burst out laughing at Jackson dressed as the Green Arrow. Jackson lifted up one of his leather gloves and flipped him off. Derek had been subjected to a long explanation of why Jackson matched the vigilante archer but had mostly tuned out after the whole spoiled rich kid comparison.
“I didn’t know who this person was before, Stilinski,” Lydia informed Stiles after watching him go speechless at the sight of her dressed as Jean Grey, “but I can guess why Superman over there thought you’d like me in this outfit.” She dropped the indignant tone and smiled seductively at him instead. She did a runway walk up and down the sidewalk before returning to Jackson’s side. “So I hope you enjoy it because this is the last time I dress in latex again.”
Stiles nodded numbly and only stopped ogling her breasts when Isaac stepped in the way. Or more accurately, Jackson shoved his packmate in front of Lydia in order to break Stiles out of whatever fantasy he’d been trapped in. Derek had never been so happy about Jackson’s jealous streak. Seeing Stiles drooling – literally – at the sight of Lydia in a tight jumpsuit was making his hackles rise.
Isaac waved nervously at him. Of all their outfits, Isaac’s was the one that disguised his identity the most. To Stiles’ credit he wasn’t stumped as to the boy’s identity in the slightest. He finally moved off the front step and hugged the slim figure dressed head to toe in a bright red suit with a bolt of yellow lightning sewn into the front.
“Hey, I didn’t get a hug,” Scott protested half-heartedly.
“That’s cause you didn’t show up as The Flash, man,” Stiles replied with a teasing smile. Isaac nodded along, grinning widely as Stiles wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “The Flash rules.”
Scott made a show of thinking it over before fist bumping Stiles and Isaac. “Yeah, I guess The Flash is pretty cool.”
Next Stiles found Danny who was only too happy to show off his Iron Man costume. Danny smiled proudly at all of Stiles’ compliments. Eventually Danny sent a glare over the other human’s head to the others in the group. “They wanted me to be Aquaman.”
“Aquaman?” Stiles echoed with equal disapproval. “Lame.”
Danny nodded, his expression deadly serious. “Apparently because I’m Hawaiian it makes me really connected with the sea or some shit like that.”
Stiles shook his head as if legitimately saddened to hear the news. “Not cool, guys. You’ve got to learn to see past all of those stereotypes and revel in the technical genius of this man’s mad hacker skills.”
The Sheriff cleared his throat pointedly. Stiles and Danny exchanged panicked looks.
“Not that I touch computers outside of school as ordered by the judge,” Danny was quick to reassure the lawman.
Mr. Stilinski gave them all a skeptical look before taking his bucket of candy back inside and closing the door behind him. “Happy Halloween, kids,” he shouted from the other side.
“At least you didn’t have to choose between all of the three black guys in the comic book world,” Boyd grunted.
Erica smirked. “I told you to just go as Storm.”
Boyd shrugged. “Blade was better. This way I get to carry weapons.”
“Still not as cool as mine,” Erica replied, stepping out from behind her boyfriend’s extra large trench coat to show it off. She tried to look alluring and serious but was soon jumping up and down right along with Stiles.
“CATWOMAN?” Stiles cried out in joy. Derek could even smell a hint of saltiness that indicated the human teen was actually tearing up from the sight. “You. Are. Awesome.”
Erica waved off the compliment. “You ain’t seen nothing yet. Look at these…”
Stiles jumped back as Erica’s very real claws broke through the tips of her leather gloves. “With claws like those at least one of you should have gone as Wolverine.” He stopped suddenly and started looking through the small crowd. Derek shrunk even further towards the back of the Pack. “Please tell me Derek is Wolverine.”
Jackson scoffed. “You thought Aquaman was lame? Just wait until you see Derek’s costume.”
“Is it bad?” Stiles asked even as he pushed his way through the Pack to find him. He even went so far as to clap and rub his hands together like a villain in a Saturday morning cartoon. “Come on, Alpha, don’t be shy. I promise I won’t say anything bad about your…”
Derek arched an eyebrow as Stiles trailed off after finally spotting him. The Alpha fought the urge to cross his arms defensively. Derek knew what the others were thinking; that Stiles was either checking him out or judging him. Or both.
But Derek knew better.
He may not be the most well versed member of the Pack when it came to comic books but he’d known enough to choose his costume. It wouldn’t be his first choice in any other situation but this wasn’t a normal situation. This was about getting Stiles back. This was supposed to send a message that Stiles was wanted and appreciated. He just hadn’t expected it to work so well.
Stiles had to clear the emotion out of his throat. Twice.
“Robin?” Stiles asked, finally meeting his eyes. “You dressed up as Robin.”
It was only with his enhanced hearing that Derek heard Stiles mutter, “Eat your heart out, Tim Drake.” Stiles shook his head and blushed as he realized that the comment had escaped his lips. His embarrassment was quickly replaced by a contemplative look. “Is this because of…”
Stiles had trailed off yet again. He sent a nervous look at the others who were watching their interaction with rapt attention. Derek knew that Stiles was referencing their intimate conversation from when he’d first tried to get Stiles to come back. He appreciated Stiles wanting to keep the details of that interaction between them.
Derek nodded. “That’s also why we chose your costume.”
“I get a costume, too?” Stiles was failing to keep the smile off his face. “Really?”
“You’re Pack,” Derek said in simple explanation. For once Stiles looked as if he understood what a simple two-word answer was meant to convey. Derek was surprised at how thick his own voice was. “If you still want it…”
Erica shuffled forward with a clear dry cleaning bag draped over her arm. The all black rubber suit didn’t give away the costume’s identity until she flipped it over at the last second. The yellow bat painted onto the defined chest brought a smile to everyone’s faces.
“It’s not a true superhero outing without Batman there,” Isaac explained in a quiet voice.
Stiles ran his fingers over the bat emblem with a near reverent expression. “It’s perfect.”
“Now it is,” Derek corrected with a small smile. The teenager’s answering grin was blinding as he finally took the costume from the blonde girl.
It was a start.
Chris could see why Gerard had chosen to move to the small, suburban street in Nebraska. Halloween had been over for a week ago and still the houses were dressed up with spooky decorations and an overabundance of fake spider webs. It was quaint. Picturesque. Innocent.
Like a wolf among sheep, it was the perfect hiding place for a man like his father.
After making one last sweep of the neighborhood Chris made his way to the more rundown one a few miles away. People in the suburbs always noticed strange cars parked on their streets. Chris wanted to bring as little notice to himself as possible. He stripped down to his undershirt before changing into the navy blue tracksuit he used for surveillance. To any nosy neighbors he was just another middle-aged guy trying to stay in shape with a light jog. Sometimes it paid to be an attractive white man in America.
The jog was a bitch but necessary for his cover. He’d gone a little soft around the middle but Chris took a bit of pride in how he was only slightly flushed by the time he neared the right house. Of course Gerard had chosen a Victorian at the center of the cul-de-sac which. It offered the man the best vantage point to watch the street. Fortunately Chris had planned ahead. He knew to cut through the hedges two doors down, duck behind the tool shed one house over, and to use the small greenhouse that housed Gerard’s herbs for cooking between him and the camera above the backdoor.
Breaking in was much less work. His father should have known better than to use the date of Kate’s death as the code to his home security system.
Two hours later Gerard’s oversized truck pulled in the driveway.
Chris had the hunting knife in his hand as soon as Gerard had closed the front door behind him. His father made an aborted movement for the umbrella stand next to the door. Too bad for him that Chris had already found the handgun hidden there. Even worse for Gerard, the grab for the gun had cost him precious time to react. Chris smashed his nose in with the handle of the knife. Gerard fell backward onto the marble floor of the entranceway.
To his credit the man didn’t cry out or look all that wounded. He didn’t even try to stop the flow of blood that was trickling out of his nose. Instead Gerard glared up at him with a hybrid look of resignation and irritation. “Nice of you to visit, son.”
“Father,” Chris grunted, jerking his head down at him in one sharp nod of greeting.
“Have you finally found the balls to take me out?” Gerard asked. He looked defeated in his slumped position but Chris maintained his distance anyway. If his father was trying to appear weak than it was for a tactical advantage. Chris had learned a long time ago never to underestimate him.
Chris smirked at the way Gerard’s eyes tracked the large knife in his hand. Not for the first time he wished he were a better man; one that wouldn’t take so much pleasure at getting one over on his father. But Chris had also accepted that he’d inherited some of his father’s pettiness and competitive nature. He’d learned to take solace in the knowledge that at least he hadn’t inherited the man’s hatred and self-righteousness like Kate had.
In the end he didn’t feel too guilty about playing with the knife a bit and watching Gerard’s usual mask of confidence slip as the tense silence dragged on. That Chris had brought along one of Kate’s favorite knives was a nice touch. That it had been a gift from their father was even better.
“I got your message,” Chris said finally. His voice sounded rough and raucous as it ended the quiet that dominated the room. “You may have used the Council as a messenger but I decided to deliver mine in person.”
“Oh? And which of the bright young things in this years batch of tragic cases will I be welcoming into the family?”
Some of the rage Chris felt at being manipulated last year seeped into his voice. “I believe you already call her ‘granddaughter.’”
Gerard smirked triumphantly through the stream of blood that split the lower half of his face in two. “Your predictability is a weakness, Christopher. One of many.”
“As that arrogance is one of yours,” Chris replied with a matching smile. “What was that Oscar Wilde quote you were always touting? ‘The only thing worse than not getting what you want is getting what you want.’ Well congratulations, your wish came true: Allison is going to join the family business… but she won’t be the only one.”
Gerard’s fingers clenched into twin fists when Chris dipped his free hand into the inner pocket of his hunting vest. He smirked at the flash of fear before withdrawing the thick packet of paper from the breast pocket. Chris swung hard and a second later the apprenticeship paperwork was being held to the front door by the hunting knife.
A black and white surveillance photograph was clipped to the front. Stiles’ smirking face looked down at both men. Gerard stared at the photo for several beats before his confusion melted into bitter understanding.
“The Council won’t approve the Stilinski boy.”
“They already have.” He smirked at the older man’s building rage. “You didn’t think you were my first stop, did you? Since I was delivering my choice – my Hunter’s Pair – to you in person I figured I should extend the same courtesy to the other members of the Council. They were so very excited to hear I was revitalizing such an ancient custom.”
Gerard surged to his feet with the limberness of a man closer to his son’s age. Having baited the man Chris wasn’t surprised by the move. He casually removed the gun he’d borrowed from the umbrella stand. Before Gerard could move more than a few feet into the living room Chris had the Beretta trained on him. Gerard cursed as he was forced to freeze mid-run at the sound of the gun being cocked.
“It be so much easier to just kill you right now,” Chris confessed. He blamed the cold metal in his palm for the temptation. Stabbing him would have taken time (not to mention the mess) but the notion of just pulling a trigger and having all his problems resolved was a rather pleasing one. It would save lives in the end – probably his own if Chris was being honest with himself – but there was no way of knowing where that road would lead. Gerard was sly and vengeful. Chris didn’t put it past him to have a plan in place in case of his untimely demise.
“So why don’t you?”
Chris shook his head. “And turn you into a martyr? I don’t think so.”
Gerard relaxed his stance. He used the sleeve of his nice button down to wipe up the blood coagulating under his flared nostrils. “Then, as usual, I don’t have anything to worry about from the likes of you.”
“Well… I wouldn’t say that…”
Chris lowered the gun just enough so that it wasn’t trained on anything vital. He didn’t want to kill him. Or rather he couldn’t afford to. Gerard had sent the warning shot in their little war by starting Allison on the road to apprenticeship. By messing with that plan and adding Stiles to the mix, Chris had matched the maneuver.
His father had taught him that second place in a war was unacceptable. There were the victors and there were the dead. Warning shots were behind them. It was up to Chris to make an opening strike. The first gambit in his offense.
Chris took careful aim.
End of Part 1
I can't believe it's over!
Part 2 of the series, titled "Somewhere A Clock Is Ticking", will start posting in a few months. I apologize for the wait but I really need to finish up some of my other stories before I return full time to this one.
The next installment will follow Stiles and Allison as they go through the training dealt out by Chris and Victoria. Despite the rigorous training, Stiles and Allison will find that the most challenging part of being Apprentices is having to hide it from their friends and - in Stiles' case - family.
Thanks for reading!
PLEASE leave a review letting me know how you enjoyed the final chapter of "You're Gonna Need Someone On Your Side" :)