The first time an alpha approached Stiles with a courting gift was the day after his mom’s funeral. Apparently the alpha had wanted to wait until after the funeral as a sign of respect for their loss. Stiles’ dad, after having drunk perhaps a little too much whiskey, let the alpha know exactly how respectful he wasn’t and told the guy to get lost. When the alpha insisted on talking to Stiles, Stiles had yelled down from his room, using some of the new words and phrases he’d just learned because his dad had been yelling them.
Afterwards, he and his dad ate ice cream and had a conversation about how phrases like, “insensitive asshat” were not to be used in normal life but only under extreme circumstances.
After that, Stiles’ dad let it be known that Stiles was too young to be making such decisions. He met alphas occasionally in passing and they might make hints about bonding, but most of them were dissuaded by his dad from making any official approaches. The next courting gift came when he was fifteen, just a few weeks shy of his sixteenth birthday. Stiles suspected that most of the alphas were waiting until he was sixteen, so this guy had tried to get in there first and attract Stiles’ attention. Alpha Coley’s gift had been an expensive watch, one worth so much money that Stiles would have been terrified to put it on his wrist in case he bashed it on something while flailing his arms around.
Stiles had gone for coffee with the guy because he’d been immensely persuasive. He’d then spent the first fifteen minutes of their meeting talking about how rich his pack was and how Stiles could have everything he needed and how he could pay for the best resources for Stiles to develop his spark. It seemed like every other word out of the guy’s mouth was about money. He didn’t even bother trying to get to know Stiles at all, clearly seeing him as just another prestige symbol to be purchased.
Stiles politely declined the guy and went home to study for a chemistry test.
He got three courtship gifts on his sixteenth birthday. Alpha Miyani had sent Stiles a new games system and half a dozen games, Alpha Wright had sent him some books on magic, and Alpha Coley had turned up at school with a flashy sports car, despite the fact that Stiles had already rejected him.
“You know I only have my learner’s permit, right?” Stiles asked.
“And now you have something nice to learn in.”
“I already turned you down.”
Alpha Coley smiled, “I thought perhaps you didn’t appreciate the value of my first gift. I wanted to know you what belonging to my pack could mean. Consider the implications of what you could enjoy.”
Stiles smiled back, and saw the triumph on Coley’s face for a moment, then he said, “And you should consider the implications of hanging out at a school offering expensive gifts to underage teenagers who’ve already told you to get lost.”
Stiles didn’t want to bother his dad, but he called Deputy Parrish to give Coley a re-education in the meaning of the word, “No.”
Stiles met with the other two alphas in his home, so his dad could be in the next room ready to throw them out if necessary. Alpha Miyani was nice, but old enough to be Stiles’ mom. She’d baked him cookies and they talked a little about Stiles and about her pack. Stiles was polite and answered her questions, asking a few of his own about life inside her pack, but he couldn’t imagine selling the rest of his life to her.
“Look,” he said, once the meeting had continued for a polite length of time, “you seem really nice, and you make some awesome cookies, but...”
“But you’d prefer someone closer to your own age.”
“No offence,” Stiles said.
Miyani smiled, “None taken. You’re perfectly right. I thought that might be your reaction but available sparks are so few, I thought it was worth a shot.”
They parted on polite terms. He officially declined her courtship. She gave him a motherly hug and wished him luck finding a suitable alpha.
If he’d thought the meeting with Miyani was bad, the meeting with Wright was even worse. She was ancient, well into her nineties at least. Stiles suspected she might have a heart attack if they ever consummated the courtship. But she was polite and to the point, explaining that her pack’s spark had died about a year ago and now her grandson was insisting that the pack couldn’t possibly continue without a spark.
“I realise what this must look like to you,” she said, “but the situation does have its advantages. You would get all the benefits of being bound to a pack, including helping to fund the college of your choice.”
She phrased it like a business arrangement. Stiles could bond with her and join the pack. He would get college paid for and access to the former spark’s resources and references to help his training, and all the privileges that being a spark entitled him to. And the terrifying thought of binding himself to a pack for the rest of his or the alpha’s life was somewhat less terrifying in this case. Alpha Wright acknowledged that much herself.
“When I pass on,” she said, “you will be free to find a more suitable alpha closer to your own age.”
She even promised that aside from the consummation of the bond, nothing would be expected of Stiles sexually. Stiles didn’t think he’d ever been less turned on in his life. He cleared his throat and drank some lemonade just to give himself a moment to collect himself.
“Look,” Stiles said, “I appreciate the offer, and I think it says something that your courtship is by far the most tempting I’ve experienced, but it wouldn’t be right. I’d be taking your pack’s resources and money and then just leaving in a couple of years. I’d be using you.”
Given that his usual fear was of binding himself to an alpha who would use him, this was better, but it still wasn’t great. Plus he really didn’t want to sleep with a woman who was practically a fossil, even if it was only to complete a ritual.
She accepted his refusal, but left her phone number in case he wanted advice. She’d been paired with her spark for five decades, so she had a lot of experience to draw on.
After that, the alphas started coming from further afield. Some were polite. Some were self-entitled asshats who felt they deserved a spark and that Stiles should be on his knees begging to be accepted into their pack. One, when Stiles refused him, ranted for a full ten minutes about how ungrateful Stiles was and how he was stupid to think he’d get a better offer considering that he was a scrawny, ugly runt.
“And you wonder why I don’t want to spent the rest of my life with you,” Stiles said. They were standing on the porch of his house and he took great satisfaction in slamming the door in that guy’s face.
He knew it was only going to get worse. The longer he waited, the more nutjobs would come crawling out of the woodwork. Every alpha who didn’t have a spark would approach him. It would only end when he found one he could stand to bind himself to for the rest of his life, giving himself up to their authority.
When he saw the black Camaro parked outside of school, he knew he was dealing with another one. The guy leaning against the hood was younger than most of the alphas, probably only a few years older than Stiles, and he was smoking hot, but that wasn’t going to get him any points. Stiles had generally found that the hotter alphas were the most full of themselves.
“You Stiles?” the guy asked.
“Yep.” Stiles slowed to a halt at the bottom of the school steps, waiting. The guy threw something at Stiles. He flailed, tried to catch it, fumbled, and scrambled to stop the thing falling to the ground. When he looked up, the guy was smirking.
Stiles looked at the thing in his hand. It was a keychain with a little plastic Yoda on it.
“What’s this?” Stiles asked.
The guy rolled his eyes, “It’s a courtship gift.”
“Your idea of a courtship gift is a two dollar keychain?”
“It was one dollar. Well, let’s get this over with.”
“Tell me to get lost already so we can both get on with our day,” the alpha said. Stiles didn’t know whether to be amused or offended.
“I don’t think you’ve got how this courtship thing is supposed to work,” Stiles said. “You’re supposed to be wooing me with flashy gifts and explaining how your pack is the awesomest pack ever.”
The alpha rolled his eyes again, “You turned down the guy that bought you a car; I’m not going to waste my money on getting rejected. Though I’m thinking I should have bought you a dictionary.”
“Awesomest?” the guy quoted.
“I have a unique and progressive grasp of the English language.”
The alpha snorted. Then he said, “Well, get on and reject me already so we can get this courtship bullshit over with, at least for now.”
Stiles wasn’t sure why he did what he did next. This guy clearly wasn’t interested in having him as his spark, or he would have actually tried with his courtship approach. Maybe it was just because this was so different from all the other alphas that had come sniffing around him trying to buy him. Or maybe it was because the alpha had referred to the courtship process as bullshit, the only person Stiles had heard to say it out loud other than himself.
Stiles pulled his car keys out of his pocket and made a point of attaching the Yoda to them. This didn’t mean anything officially. He wasn’t accepting the courtship by keeping the gift, but there was a big difference between just keeping a gift and choosing to keep the gift close to him. The alpha lowered his eyebrows into a frown as he watched.
“I like Star Wars,” Stiles said. He turned and walked towards his jeep.
“Wait,” the alpha said, “you haven’t rejected me yet. You need to actually say you reject me.”
“You think I don’t know how this works? I’ve been telling asshole alphas to get lost since I was ten.”
“Ten?” The alpha looked suitably disgusted by that.
“It was the day after we buried my mom,” Stiles elaborated.
The disgust turned to anger, “Holy crap.”
“So, yeah, you may think this process is bullshit, but you have no idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end.”
Stiles climbed into his jeep, and put the keys, with the little Yoda and all, into the ignition.
“You still haven’t rejected me!” the alpha complained, as Stiles started the engine.
On Saturday, Stiles was playing games online when his dad came to his room. Stiles knew that expression; there was another alpha here to see him. Stiles paused his game and went downstairs. He was a little surprised to see the guy from the school, since the guy had clearly only been approaching Stiles as a formality. He shoved something into Stiles’ hands; a cheaply printed pocket dictionary.
“You don’t have to wait for me to reject you, you know,” Stiles said. “You are allowed to walk away and decide I’m not worth courting.”
“You really think the system works that way? You’re clearly not as smart as you think you are.”
Sparks were rare compared to werewolves. Less than half the packs had a spark bound to them. For a werewolf to just decide not to approach an unbound spark would be unusual to say the least. It was expected that alphas would try to woo sparks for the benefit of their pack. Not doing so would be seen as not caring enough about their packs. So this guy was here courting Stiles, so that he could show he tried. He was going through the motions because it was expected, and somehow that made him seem like a kindred spirit of sorts.
Stiles stepped to one side and gestured for the alpha to come in. The alpha glared at him, but came into the house.
“I didn’t catch your name,” Stiles said.
The name caught Stiles off guard. The Hales were a local pack, an old family but now down to a handful of members due to attacks by anti-werewolf fanatics. The pack had lost all its strength and power. Stiles would have expected Derek to be enthusiastically pursuing a spark to try and get some of his pack’s status back, but here he was making this half-assed gestured. Because he expected the worst.
That thought hit Stiles out of nowhere. Derek wasn’t even trying because he expected Stiles to reject him no matter what. For all his strength and the way he was exuding leather-wrapped sex appeal, he expected defeat because that was what he was used to. That made sensations of sympathy stir up inside Stiles.
“Do you want something to drink?” Stiles asked.
“I want to get this over with,” Derek replied. “Why are you stringing this along? You think I’ll start breaking out the diamonds if you drag this out?”
“Is that what you think of me? You think I’m some shallow gold-digger?”
“Why else would you be stringing me along like this?”
“Because you’re the only person other than my dad who hates this courtship stuff nearly as much as I do.”
Stiles put the dictionary down on the counter and started up the coffee machine, because Derek hadn’t actually said no to a drink. Stiles got mugs out because it gave him something to do other than stand in awkward silence.
“Look,” Stiles said, as coffee dripped through the machine, “maybe this could work to our advantage.”
“What do you mean?”
“If it gets out that I’m taking your courtship seriously, people might be, ‘Oh, hey, look, the Hale pack must be pretty awesome and impressive to attract the attention of a spark,’ and maybe the other assholes will back off for a while if they think I’m taken.”
“Or it will make them worse than ever.”
“In that case, I get lots of free stuff out of it.”
“I thought you said you weren’t a gold digger,” Derek said.
Stiles shrugged, “I make the best with the hand I’ve been given.”
They stood in silence for a little bit. Stiles watched the slow drip-drip-drip of coffee into the pot. This thing took forever.
After a minute, Derek asked, “Did you just call me an asshole?”
“You said ‘all the other assholes’, which seems to imply you think I’m an asshole.”
Stiles tapped the dictionary on the counter, “You’re telling me this wasn’t an asshole move?”
Derek glared at him. Stiles thought he’d won that point. He went back to staring at the coffee machine, tapping his fingers against the counter as he waited.
“It would be a really asshole move if I told you I didn’t particularly like coffee,” Derek said. Stiles turned and glared at him.
“And it didn’t occur to you to say something sooner?”
“I’ll drink it,” Derek shrugged, “but it’s not what I’d choose to drink. It’s too bitter.”
“I would have thought bitter would suit you just fine.”
Stiles probably ought to offer Derek something else to drink, but he’d had plenty of opportunity to ask for something different, so screw that. Stiles poured two mugs of coffee. He handed one over to Derek with a vicious smile.
“Do you have any sugar?” Derek asked.
Stiles got some out of a cupboard. He watched Derek heap spoon after spoon of sugar into his coffee.
“Freaking werewolf metabolism,” Stiles muttered. “If I tried that, I’d be the size of a house.”
“Now who’s the bitter one,” Derek smiled. He sipped his ridiculously sweetened coffee. This could turn out to be a huge mistake. They’d probably end up killing each other at this rate.
“So,” said Stiles, “what do you think? Want to try courting me in public?”
“Just don’t expect any flashy gifts.”
“But with the gift of your charming personality, what more could I possibly need?”
Derek tilted his head a little and gave him a cold look. He looked like he wanted to slap Stiles round the head of something. Stiles sipped his coffee and leaned back against the kitchen counter.
“So how do you want to play this?” Derek asked.
“Dinner? We can discuss all the stuff we’re supposed to discuss like what your pack’s like and get to know each other.”
Derek nodded, “Tomorrow evening? I can pick you up at six?”
“Sure. Let me give you my number so you can let me know dress code or text me if you’re running late or whatever.”
“The dress code will be: wear pants,” Derek said. But he handed over his phone anyway. Stiles’ entered his number. Derek downed about half a mug of coffee and then Stiles showed him to the door.
His dad emerged from deeper in the house.
“Well, you didn’t ask me to show this one out with a shotgun,” he commented.
“No,” Stiles agreed, “No shotgun required. At least so far. You’re working tomorrow night, right?”
“Just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t need to make dinner arrangements for you. I have a date.”
His dad raised an eyebrow, “A date? You’ve actually agreed to a second meeting with one of these guys?”
“Technically third, he showed up at school the other day, so today was meeting number two.”
“You actually like this one?”
“I don’t hate his guts on principle, so it’s a start. We’ll see how I feel after sharing a meal with him.”
Stiles took Derek’s comments about wearing pants as a sign that he wasn’t going to be taken to some exclusive restaurant, and just wore jeans and an old Batman t-shirt. Derek showed up right on time, dressed casually as well. He led the way out to the sleek Camaro. He even held the door open for Stiles.
“I know sparks are supposed to be all meek and helpless next to alphas,” Stiles said, “but I can manage to open a car door.”
“I don’t think anyone’s going to think you’re meek.”
“I’ve been told at least a dozen times that I’ll be much happier when I learn to submit to my superiors.”
“Superiors? Someone actually said that to you?” Derek sounded appropriately horrified.
“More than once. The rest just imply it.”
“No wonder you hate being courted.” The seemed to remind Derek of something. He fished in a pocket and tossed a packet of mints at Stiles. “Here: today’s courtship gift.”
Stiles looked at the mints for a minute, then asked, “Is this a hint or something? Do I need to visit the dentist more often?”
“I stopped off at the gas station on the way to pick you up. That was the cheapest thing on sale.”
Stiles laughed a little. He ought to be offended that Derek was being a cheapskate about this courting, but it was such a nice change from people trying to buy him with flashy gifts.
Derek drove in silence for a little while. They didn’t have far to go and Stiles gave a little snort of amusement when Derek pulled into the parking lot for Jenny’s Diner. He shot Derek a questioning look.
“In a choice between overpriced, posh food or the best curly fries in town,” Derek said, “there can only be one winner.”
“I can’t remember the last time I ate here,” Stiles said. “I can’t come here with my dad because this stuff is so bad for his cholesterol.”
He was not complaining at all about Derek’s choice of restaurant. They headed inside and were shown to a booth. The waitress smiled at them and handed them laminated menus, even though Stiles knew exactly what he wanted here. There was no point coming to Jenny’s and not having the house burger with curly fries.
“I suppose I should have gone for somewhere more public,” Derek said, “if the point is to show off to the other alphas that we’re doing this.”
“It’ll get out quickly enough,” Stiles said. There was a click from across the diner. Derek turned to look sharply. Stiles glanced round as well, unsurprised to see the phone pointing at them. Someone had taken a photo. Their date would be up on social media sites in minutes. People paid attention when Stiles went out and about. He was only a minor spark but he was an unbound spark and that made people interested in him. If someone saw him on a date and recognised Derek as an alpha, that was definitely going to be interesting to people. Even if they didn’t recognise Derek, a spark out on a date was interesting enough on its own because sparks weren’t really allowed to date anyone but a courting alpha. There wasn’t a law against it or anything, but it just wasn’t done.
The waitress returned to take their orders. Stiles ordered his house burger, while Derek went for the double meat supreme. Both ordered curly fries.
“So,” said Stiles, “tell me about your pack.”
“It’s small. Myself, my younger sister, Cora, and three other betas: Isaac, Erica, and Boyd.”
Most packs were between ten and fifteen people. A pack of five was indeed small. It would be difficult for Derek to convince others of his pack’s relevance to werewolf politics. No wonder he’d agreed to Stiles’ crazy scheme.
“Born or bitten?” Stiles asked.
“Cora was born. Obviously. The other three, I bit.”
So the entirety of the pack had just been him and his sister when he’d become an alpha. That must have been a difficult situation, both politically and emotionally. Werewolves didn’t do well without a pack.
“Are you looking for others to bite?” Stiles asked.
“I’m not rushing anymore. I need to make sure the fit’s right. The more people are in the pack, the harder that gets.”
It was an important consideration. Disagreements could tear a pack apart. The more people there were, the greater the chances of a clash of personalities. Derek had needed to get the pack up from a vulnerably tiny size to one which could survive, but now he would take this carefully. But of course he hadn’t denied looking to grow his pack.
“What about you?” Derek asked. “You inherited your spark?”
“From my mother.”
“You had any training?”
“Not really. My mom taught me a couple of simple tricks and I’ve studied from books and resources I’ve found online. I haven’t had any formal training.”
Derek nodded. The education of the pack’s spark was usually arranged by the alpha in accordance with the pack’s needs.
“I wish there were more books out there,” Stiles continued. “That ones that are around seem to be locked away like treasures by the packs.”
“Information is power,” Derek said. “No alpha wants to give rival packs access to magic that could be used against them.”
“But keeping it all secret is inherently problematic. If all this information was out there and free, it would be better for everyone. All the sparks would have more knowledge and be able to use it to help the packs and everyone else. There are spells of healing, of strength, magic to help plants grow and water to emerge from the ground, all that stuff, which could be used to help people, instead the packs miser away all this magic and keep it to themselves.”
“Sharing only works if everyone agrees to share. If one pack gives up their secrets, they lose their advantages. Even if most of the packs agreed to share their secrets, a few wouldn’t, and then they’d have access to secret magics no one else does and that would give them a serious advantage. If you went to every pack in the world and explained your altruistic plan to save humanity with magic, they’d all assume it was a trick to make them expose their secrets.”
“So what you’re saying is that the world’s doomed to suffering, because the alphas don’t trust each other.”
The waitress came over to their table with their food. Stiles offered her a smile and a thanks, Derek just leaned back from the table so she could get access more easily. Stiles paused his conversation to pick up the burger. He bit into it, letting the juice of the meat and the melted cheese dribble over his tongue. He moaned aloud as he chewed.
“You keep that up and people will think I’m giving you a hand job under the table,” Derek said. Stiles nearly choked on his mouthful of burger.
“Asshole,” Stiles muttered, once he’d regained the ability to breathe. Derek smirked and appeared to be struggling to figure out how to eat his skyscraper of a meal with its chicken breast and beef burger stacked with onion rings and salad inside the bun. He settled for demolishing the tower and attacking it a piece at a time.
“If you had access to all that magic,” Derek said, “is that really what you’d use it for?”
“What do you mean?”
“Healing people, growing crops, all that.”
“Yeah. I mean, if I had that power, I’d want to use it to help people. Not that it will matter what I want.”
“When I’m bonded, the alpha will decide how my magic should be used. I’ll just be a tool.”
“That’s not true,” Derek said. “The spark is a part of the pack, a special and honoured part.”
Stiles gave a dismissive snort. Derek looked angry. Stiles thought it was because he was implying Derek would try to use him, but then he said, “My father was my mother’s spark.”
“Oh,” said Stiles. “I didn’t...”
“You didn’t think. My father was my mother’s spark. He was her partner, her advisor, her right-hand. Yes, he followed her because she was the alpha but he wasn’t a tool; he was a person with his own opinions and he wasn’t shy about sharing those opinions when they clashed with hers. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
“That doesn’t seem to be how most alphas see it,” Stiles said. “At least the ones who’ve come to talk to me.”
“Maybe that’s why they haven’t found a spark willing to bond with them.”
That was actually a valid point. The alphas who treated bonding as a partnership would be more likely to find a spark and therefore not need to come sniffing around Stiles. That meant that a larger percentage of the unbonded alphas would be assholes. Stiles remember Alpha Wright and her promises to help him with his education in exchange for his temporary attachment to her pack. She’d actually been nice about it, and she’d been the one he’d met who’d had a spark before.
“If this doesn’t work out between us,” Stiles said, “maybe you could help me meet with some unbonded alphas who aren’t complete and utter jerks?”
The answer came back with surprising speed, but Stiles realised this was in Derek’s interest too. If Derek helped another alpha find a spark, that pack would be in his debt.
Stiles ate more of his burger, their conversation taking a pause while they devoured the food.
“Well,” Derek said after a while, “what do you do for fun?”
So Stiles started talking. He ended up rambling on about lacrosse and Scott, then got onto school and his attempts to learn magic, his research online, his favourite video games, the movies he loved. Derek contributed occasionally, but most of the time Stiles just talked. He was probably boring Derek to tears. Stiles talked through his burger and fries, then through the ice cream sundae that came later. Afterwards, Derek paid the bill, since he was the courting alpha.
He took Stiles out to the car and drove them back towards Stiles’ house.
“Do you want to continue this?” Derek asked.
“Yeah,” Stiles answered. “I had fun tonight.”
“Me too.” He sounded surprised about that.
It took almost no time for the backlash of his date with Derek. On Tuesday, Stiles came out of school and found Alpha Coley waiting for him.
“Didn’t I already reject you?” Stiles asked. “Twice?”
“I thought you might want to change your mind, now that you’ve seen the quality of some of the other alphas out there.”
“How about no?”
“Hale can never give you half of what I could offer,” Coley said.
“In terms of disgust and revulsion, I’m sure you’re right,” Stiles smiled. Coley snarled.
“I can give you a position of safety in a powerful pack. All that runt can offer you is a cluster of misfits too small to be a real pack.”
“Has no one told you that it’s not the size that counts but what you do with it?”
“You think you’re so important, you little brat. One day a real alpha will teach you your place.”
“Well it won’t be you,” Stiles said. “I will choose the alpha I bond with and it won’t be you. It will never be you. So get the hell out of here before I report you for stalking.”
He was already in a bad mood when he got home and found two other alphas waiting for him, each clutching packages. One also had a bunch of roses. Stiles looked between the two of them as they both hurried to introduce themselves over the top of each other before he’d even climbed out of his jeep. Stiles held up a hand and they fell silent.
“Who arrived here first?” Stiles asked.
The two alphas looked at each other, then one of them, a tall, muscular man with a blond crew cut, said, “I did.” He extended a hand, “Alpha Paul Everett.”
Stiles shook the hand, then turned to the other, a slender, dark-skinned woman, “Do you mind waiting outside while I talk to Alpha Everett?”
“Of course,” she said.
Stiles showed Everett into the living room and sat down in an armchair. He’d learned not to sit on the couch because alphas tended to take that as an invitation to try and snuggle up next to him. Everett placed his gift down on the coffee table in front of Stiles. Stiles picked it up with a little trepidation and lifted the lid of the box. Inside was a sculpture, made of silver, set with coloured stones in places. It was an abstract form, so Stiles couldn’t actually tell what it was meant to be, unless it was meant to look like a misshapen mass of silver studded with jewels. It was quite pretty, and probably ridiculously expensive, but Stiles had no idea what he was supposed to do with it other than use it as a paperweight.
He made a vague but hopefully appreciative-sounding noise, then set the statue down on the coffee table. He wondered if it would be a lethal insult to stick the thing up on eBay as soon as the interview was over.
“I understand you have entered into courtship with Derek Hale,” Everett said.
“We’ve had a couple of meetings,” Stiles said. That was confirmation without commitment. Everett nodded.
“I’m not sure how much you know about his pack. They have an ancient and distinguished name, but the pack is not what it once was. Only two of them are born wolves.”
Stiles had intended to be polite but the way this guy said the last part implied superiority of the born wolves over the bitten. Stiles had seen this a few times in his meetings with other alphas and the ones who tended to see born werewolves as superior to bitten ones also tended to see werewolves as superior to humans. Stiles didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but warning flags were flying.
“I’m aware of that,” he said, do his best to keep his tone relaxed and polite.
“I just wanted to make sure in case you thought you were getting an in with one of the powerful packs.”
“Meaning that your pack has more power?” Stiles asked.
That prompt was all that was needed. Everett launched into a description of his pack. Twenty seven members, not counting the two bitten omegas who were attached to the pack for protection. Stiles wasn’t sure whether the dismissive tone in Everett’s voice was because they were omegas or because they were bitten. Probably both. Most likely, they’d approached as omegas and Everett hadn’t inducted them as full betas precisely because they hadn’t been born werewolves. It was quickly clear that there was a social hierarchy in Everett’s mind and that he was at the top of the stack.
He talked at length about the benefits of such a powerful pack, including the money to help Stiles get whatever resources he needed as a spark. He promised to meet Stiles’ physical needs. He gave Stiles a critical look and made a comment about how he could improve Stiles’ dietary and fitness situation. Stiles bristled. He said nothing, but Everett must have caught his reaction anyway.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “you’re not bad, but you’ve not had anyone to properly look after you before now. You need a firm hand to keep you disciplined.”
All this was said without Stiles saying more than half a dozen words about himself. Clearly Everett thought he knew all he needed to about Stiles.
Stiles stood up, “Thank you, Alpha Everett, for your interest and your gift, but I’m afraid I’ll have to decline your courtship.”
All pretence at politeness vanished.
“What? Because I pointed out you need to do some exercise, you skinny runt?”
“I don’t need to explain my reasons, but insulting me isn’t going to help your case.”
“You think pretty boy Hale can give you a better life than I can?”
“This is not about Alpha Hale’s courtship. This is between you and me, and what’s between you and me is over. Please leave my property.”
Everett glared and then stormed out, muttering something about Stiles being an ungrateful bitch as he passed the other alpha. She looked amused, then she turned and offered Stiles her hand to shake.
“Alpha Rasha Ali,” she said. They shook, and Stiles showed her into the living room as before. Everett’s gift was still on the coffee table. Stiles moved it, sticking the statue back in the box and putting the box on the floor. Ali handed Stiles the roses and then set her package down where Everett’s had been. Stiles took a minute to find a vase for the flowers and then returned to her, sitting down and unfastening her package, which had been wrapped in silvery paper.
He expected something shiny and useless, like the statue. What the box contained was shiny alright, but useless was not the word. He pulled out a sleek laptop. He wanted to boot it up and check whether the specs were as shiny as the case, but he figured that would be rude. So he set the laptop back down on the table and thanked Ali. From her smile, she clearly knew that she had given him a gift he would actually want.
“So,” said Stiles, “tell me about your pack.”
Ali didn’t start with size and pedigree, but instead talked about their living arrangements. Apparently she owned an apartment building and the top three floors were used by the pack so that they could each have their own space but be close. She talked about how even in close pack everyone had different personalities and sometimes needed time apart. She promised that should Stiles bond with her, he would get his own apartment as well as a regular allowance to spend, though most meals tended to be shared so grocery costs would be minimal.
“So I’d have freedom and autonomy?” Stiles asked.
“Except in terms of your use of magic,” she said. “I would expect you to consult with me before using your talent, and only to perform spells that affect other packs or people when I give you permission. The rest of the time, you would be a member of the pack with the same freedoms and restrictions as one of my betas.”
That was a reasonable position to take, and one Stiles wished more of the alphas who spoke to him would take. Ali talked a bit more about her pack, describing the members and explaining that if the courtship were to continue, she would want Stiles to spend time with all of her pack before bonding. After all, the bonding would result in a permanent relationship and she wouldn’t want that to cause any problems with existing pack members.
They talked a while longer, with Ali asking about his family and friends, asking whether it would be a problem for Stiles to move to her pack. Her questions appeared to involve actual interest and her responses were all friendly.
That left Stiles with a challenge at the end of the meeting, because everything about Alpha Ali seemed perfectly reasonable. If Stiles had to pick someone to spend the rest of his life with, he could do a lot worse. At least she seemed to care about treating him as a person. But a decision like this shouldn’t be made because someone was simply acceptable. When they were jerks, at least he could feel good about telling them to get lost.
“Alpha Ali,” Stiles said, “you may be aware that I’m currently being courted by Alpha Hale.”
“I had heard a rumour,” she said.
“You seem like a very nice person, but I wouldn’t want to string you along while he and I...” Stiles gestured vaguely.
“Is this an official rejection of my courtship?” she asked.
“That depends on how you reaction to an unofficial one.”
She smiled. Stiles knew a lot of alphas would take this as an opportunity to bombard him with gifts and requests for meetings, seeing this as an opening to exploit. If she reacted like that, Stiles would not be at all hesitant to tell her officially to get lost.
Instead, she handed him a business card and told him to get in touch if things didn’t work out with Derek. She would be happy to try this again. It was a perfectly polite response that took into account Stiles’ feelings. Once again, he was left with the impression that he could do a lot worse. But did he really want to settle for spending his life with someone just because they treated him like a person?
Stiles showed her to the door and opened it up just as Derek climbed out of the Camaro at the bottom of the drive. Stiles wasn’t sure if Derek had only just arrived, or if he’d been waiting for this meeting to end.
“Alpha Hale,” Ali said, nodding her head in greeting.
“Alpha Ali,” Derek returned the gesture.
“I wish you the best of luck.” She said goodbye to Stiles again and then headed to her car. Derek waited until she’d gone before drawing close to Stiles and handing over a paper bag. Stiles showed him inside before looking into the bag and seeing the book.
“Is this an actual present?” Stiles asked. He pulled out a second hand book containing the scripts for the original Star Wars movies. A closer look showed that the book also contained detailed notes about the story development, early draft ideas, and how the final scripts had come to be the way they were.
“Holy crap, this is awesome!” Stiles said.
Derek shrugged and said, “You said you liked Star Wars.”
Stiles tried not to think about the implications of Derek actually putting thought into a courtship gift. Maybe he’d planned to just grab a random book from a second hand stall and saw this one in a bargain pile. The book was battered and the pages all crinkled and misshapen in a way that suggested it had been dropped in a bath at some point. It probably hadn’t cost him much, but it was still up there as an appreciated gift.
“What did you think of Rasha?” Derek asked.
“She seemed nice.”
Derek nodded, “I was going to suggest her as one of the alphas who aren’t complete jerks.”
“Yeah.” Stiles went into the living room, Derek following him. He flopped down onto the couch. He realised his mistake a moment too late, but Derek went over to an armchair and sat down, a polite distance between them.
“I hate this,” Stiles muttered.
“I shouldn’t be thinking about whether to spend the rest of my life with someone simply because they treat me with a basic amount of respect. That should be a baseline requirement, not the winning criteria.”
Derek didn’t say anything. Stiles was probably making a mistake in ranting about this to Derek. After all, Derek was one of the people he was complaining about, albeit in the category of treating him with a minimal quantity of respect. Sort of. The dictionary hadn’t been all that respectful, but the Derek had listened about his interests and given him a courtship gift he actually gave a damn about.
Stiles sat up straighter and said, “I’m not being a very good host. Do you want something to drink?”
This is the chapter the warning in the tags applies to. Trigger warning for non-con groping.
It just got worse. Alphas turned up at his house. They approached him before and after school. Alphas who couldn’t physically come to see him sent him expensive gifts by courier along with letters saying that they hoped he would still consider their courtship. One emailed him to arrange a Skype session. Stiles was having a hard time keeping on top of his school work while dealing with these interviews. When he’d tried to make that point to some of the alphas as he cut meetings short, a great many seemed to think that his school education wasn’t that important. As long as he was properly educated in magic, they didn’t care if he got a high school diploma. When Stiles mentioned intentions to go to college, more than one alpha just asked him why. It wasn’t like he’d need a real job, they insisted. All these conversations just made Stiles feel worse about his position.
He got back from school one afternoon to find Derek and two other alphas standing in front of his house. Stiles had a chemistry test tomorrow and really didn’t want to deal with this, but he’d made it a general rule to be polite to the alphas that came courting at least until they did something utterly obnoxious.
“Who arrived first?” Stiles asked.
“Me,” snarled one of the alphas Stiles didn’t recognise.
Derek quickly said, “Alpha Manders arrived here first today, but I’m hoping you will do me the honour of receiving my gift first.”
That earned a low growl from Alpha Manders. Stiles wasn’t sure if this was just Derek posturing, but he was looking intently at Stiles, as though trying to communicate telepathically. He seemed to think this was important and Stiles couldn’t ignore the fact he’d phrased it so formally.
“Sure,” Stiles said. “If you guys will wait out here?”
“You’ll let this runt get in first?” Manders asked. That was enough for Stiles to hate him.
“Looks like,” Stiles said. He smiled sweetly and let Derek into the house. He shut the door firmly behind him. Derek raised a finger to his lips as soon as there was a solid door between them and the other alphas. Stiles nodded his understanding. Werewolves had excellent hearing and Manders was exactly the type to eavesdrop on his competition.
“Stiles,” Derek said, more formally than anything he’d ever said to Stiles before, “I hope you will honour me by accepting this token. It may be of use to you.”
He handed over a small box, not wrapped or anything. Stiles looked at the label. It apparently contained pepper spray, a special werewolf formula. Stiles looked at the text on the back of the box. Apparently the spray was infused with small amounts of wolfsbane, mountain ash and mistletoe for maximum protection. Stiles opened up the box and pulled out the little plastic canister within. It was small enough for him to hold it easily in one hand, with a button on the top that he could activate with a quick jab of a thumb.
Stiles hoped he would never have to use it, but he’d seen enough creeps to be grateful for it. The fact that Derek had insisted on giving it to him right away said something worrying as well. Stiles put it into his pocket, but checked to make sure he could get at it easily.
“Thank you,” Stiles said, aware of the werewolves waiting outside. “It’s only right that I speak to Alpha Manders, since he arrived before you, but you’re welcome to wait here until I have time.”
He tried to sound calm and not like he expected to be assaulted by the next person through the door, but he was immensely grateful when Derek said he would wait. Stiles left Derek standing in the kitchen and then he went back to his front door and opened it. Manders was lurking right outside, the other alpha standing a bit more discretely off to one side.
“If you’d come in,” Stiles said. “I’m sorry you had to wait.”
“That upstart runt shouldn’t have pushed in front of a real alpha,” Manders said. “I was here first.”
Stiles thought this guy might beat Coley in terms of speed to rejection. He didn’t even invite the guy to sit, but he forced a smile, “You might have been first today, but Derek started courting me first, so really he was at the front of the queue.”
“He shouldn’t even be an alpha.” Manders pushed a flat, rectangular box into Stiles’ hands. Stiles opened it, seeing inside a leather collar and leash. For about a second, Stiles wondered if the guy had bought him a pet dog, but then he realised who the collar was supposed to be for.
“Holy crap,” he muttered. One day he was going to find out who was responsible for the stereotype of sparks being meek and submissive to alphas and he would teach them a lesson. Preferably with a baseball bat.
“I’ll show you what a real alpha is,” Manders said. He put a hand on Stiles shoulder and shoved him back suddenly. Stiles gave a yelp of surprise as his back impacted the wall. Manders’ other hand started groping towards Stiles’ crotch. “You’ll see how much happier you are when a real alpha puts you in your proper place. It’s in your nature.”
He leaned in close, sniffing at Stiles, then he smiled.
“See,” he said. “You’re enjoying this already.”
His hand was brushing against something hard in the front of Stiles’ pants.
“I’ve got news for you,” Stiles said. “That’s not my dick.”
He grabbed the pepper spray out from his pocket, aimed it at Manders’ face, and pressed the button. Manders screamed in pain, backing off a step and scratching at his face like he was trying to claw his own eyes out. In that moment, now that he had space to move again, Stiles swung his leg up in a kick that made firm contact with Manders’ balls. Manders gave a snarl of rage and pain. He started back towards Stiles, eyes blazing a furious red.
Derek leapt into the room, shifted into his beta form. He tackled Manders to the ground. The front door flung open and the other alpha ran in. He saw what was happening and helped Derek grab Manders.
Stiles could only stand there and watch while the two of them hauled Manders to the door and physically flung him out of it. Manders yelled about upstarts who shouldn’t dare touch him. Stiles forced himself away from the wall and over to the door.
“Lay one finger on me again,” he said, “and I’ll have you arrested for assault.”
He slammed the door. Blue sparks danced across his fingertips and into the wood, just a tiny surge of power that came almost by instinct. Then he yelled through the door, “And a kick to the groin is an official rejection, by the way!”
A fist slammed against the door, making Stiles jump, but then Manders yelled as if he’d been stung. Stiles’ mom had built protection spells around the house as soon as she’d realised Stiles had the spark. Manders wasn’t going to get in here now Stiles had activated the spell. Stiles was safe.
Only then did he realise he was still holding the pepper spray. Only then did he realise his hands were shaking.
“Stiles?” Derek was there in front of him, taking Stiles’ hands in his own. “Stiles, are you OK?”
“What the hell do you think?” Stiles asked. He knew he shouldn’t snap at Derek, but still he was mad and Derek was right there in front of him. Derek guided him back to the living room and helped him to sit.
The other alpha hovered nervously.
“I apologise,” he said. “I entered your home without your permission.”
“Given the circumstances, I don’t give a damn about that,” Stiles said. The other alpha gave a low growl. Stiles saw him looking at the collar and leash.
“He offered that as a courtship gift?” he asked.
“As gifts go, I think I preferred the pepper spray.” Stiles gave Derek a smile, “Thanks. Most useful gift I ever got.”
“I’ve heard rumours about Manders,” Derek said. “His pack is old, wealthy, and powerful. He’s known for having a sense of entitlement the size of his ego. When I heard he was coming to court you, I thought it was better to be safe. I didn’t think he’d actually attack you.”
The other alpha went to the window and looked out. “He’s leaving anyway.”
Derek was crouched in front of Stiles, hands covering his, “Do you want anything? Do you want something to drink?”
Stiles shook his head, “No. No, I’m fine.”
The other alpha was watching them closely. He took out a small box and set it down on the coffee table, giving a sad smile.
“It seems I came here too late,” he said. “I wish you both the best of luck.” He saw himself out. Stiles just sat there, watching him leave.
Stiles sat there for a moment, then said, “I never actually caught his name.”
“And he backed off before you officially rejected him,” Derek said. “Smart. That means he can come back if things don’t work out between us.”
“Smarter than trying to molest me with two other alphas within earshot.”
“I’m ashamed on behalf of werewolves everywhere.”
“For the molesting or the stupidity?”
“Both,” Derek said. Stiles managed a little smile. He was feeling a bit better now. He hadn’t been in any real danger and Derek’s courtship gift was definitely helpful. Stiles gave Derek a suspicious look. Derek was still hovering about him like Stiles was some fragile thing that might break. Stiles wanted to be mad at him for that, wanted to yell that he wasn’t like the stereotypes. He didn’t need some big, powerful alpha to take charge of him for his own good. But the words stuck in his throat at the reality of today’s events.
“You came to protect me,” Stiles said. “You heard rumours about someone you didn’t trust and you showed up on my doorstep with a weapon as a present.”
“If you keep this up, I might start thinking you care about me.”
“You’re an idiot,” Derek said. Stiles wasn’t sure if Derek was calling him an idiot for thinking he might care or implying that he didn’t. He decided not to worry about it for now. He looked at the collar and leash, lying where they’d fallen.
“I should do something with that,” Stiles said. “Does leather burn? Or maybe I should sell it. If I auctioned it off online, he might get the hint that I’m not interested.” Those words brought an idea rushing in after them. Stiles sat up sharply.
“What’s wrong?” Derek asked.
Stiles grinned, “I have an idea that a lot of people are going to hate.”
“Is this an idea that’s going to make people want to attack you?”
“Probably,” Stiles said, but he didn’t stop grinning.
Almost every alpha who was courting Stiles accepted the invitation, as did a number of alphas Derek knew, invited so that there would be a buffer of non-jerks. The first group probably saw this as an opportunity to show off to the spark, while the latter group probably realised there was a scheme afoot. Stiles also invited a bunch of prominent human citizens of Beacon Hills, in the hope that the alphas present were less likely to murder him if there were lawyers and politicians and businessmen in the audience. His dad was there as well, out of uniform but still armed, just in case.
Stiles had rented a large hall, most of which was filled with small tables, each with a collection of chairs. The rest of the hall was taken up with the small stage with a podium and a projector so Stiles could display photos of the items. He stayed out of sight in a back room while the guests filed in. Scott and Derek turned up occasionally to tell him what was going on and how many people had arrived. Stiles tried not to have a panic attack over how insanely stupid this idea was. Derek had agreed with him that this was a ridiculous idea that was going to make a lot of people very angry, but then he’d helped with booking the hall anyway.
When the time came, Stiles walked out into a room full of people, mostly alpha werewolves, and climbed up on the stage. He stood behind the podium, fixed his eyes on Derek to remind himself that some of the people in this room were on his side, and cleared his throat.
“I want to thank you all for coming to this charity auction. Once I’ve covered the cost of the hall, all proceeds will be donated to a domestic violence charity. I think it’s important to help people who feel trapped in relationships they don’t want, where they feel powerless or unable to leave.” He spoke for a couple of minutes more about the importance of supporting these victims, whether the abuse was physical, sexual or emotional. When he finished, there was polite applause. He didn’t think anyone had understood yet.
He pulled up the slideshow and projected the first photograph.
“The first lot up for auction tonight is this watch, with a genuine silver band and with diamonds set into the face. Shall we start the bidding at five hundred dollars?”
Hands were raised from around the room, different alphas trying to prove that they had the money to throw around, and that they cared about a charity Stiles cared about. Only one alpha was staring at Stiles with anger, but that would change as more people recognised the lots that came up for bidding. Stiles awarded the item to the highest bidder and then switched to the next photo.
“The second lot is this silver and jewelled statue of... I don’t know what.” Stiles started the bidding, and the bids went back and forth a while before he sold the item for a few hundred dollars. He moved on. He ran through a few expensive items, generating a bit of bidding from his audience. Then he got to an interesting lot.
“Next up, we have this leather collar and leash, courtesy of Alpha Manders, because nothing says ‘I will respect you as a person’ like threatening to put someone on a leash. Any bids?”
The alphas were exchanging looks now. Whispers flowed through the room. Just about everyone had realised now that Stiles was selling his courtship gifts. Most of them were looking at Stiles with fury, but there were a few amused smirks, mostly from alphas who hadn’t been trying to buy him.
“No takers for this fine object?” Stiles asked. “I mean, just because I think it’s incredibly insulting, and enough to earn Alpha Manders the number one spot on my list of alphas I’ll never in a million years bond with – sorry, Alpha Coley, you’ve been knocked down to number two – doesn’t mean someone else won’t have a use for it.”
A hand was raised at the back and voice said, “One dollar.”
Stiles slammed down his gavel, “Sold for one dollar to the guy in the back with the sunglasses.”
Stiles moved on, having fun now, despite the terror at what some of these people probably wished they could do to him. He was pretty certain they’d got the hint now that he wasn’t going to be bought with flashy gifts. Now most of the bidding was done by the people who hadn’t been courting him, and the amounts weren’t getting nearly so high. These people were probably getting bargains, but Stiles pressed on, smiling slightly giddily as he ploughed through the items. Was it possible to get high on adrenaline? He wasn’t auctioning every item he’d ever been given, but he was getting rid of the vast majority of them.
Whenever he was made nervous by someone’s glare, he glanced back at Derek, who looked more amused than Stiles had ever seen him. He wrapped up the bidding on a set of unused golf clubs and then grinned round at his furious audience, “That’s all, folks. I’d like to thank you all for your generous bids and for your generous donations. This wouldn’t have been possible without you.”
He jumped down from the stage, planning on making a quick exit, before he got lynched.
“Upstart brat,” someone muttered, but another alpha stood up and got between them. This was an elderly Japanese lady, unfamiliar to Stiles, who approached him with a smile. A dark-haired girl stood at her side.
“I wanted to thank you,” the lady said. “That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.” She offered a hand, “Satomi.” When Stiles shook, she gestured at the girl beside her, “This is my spark, Kira.”
Stiles shook with Kira as well. They must have been among Derek’s invitees.
“Someone really offered you a collar and leash as a courtship gift?” Kira asked.
“Wow. That’s... I thought the sack of potatoes was a weird one.”
Stiles gave her a confused look. She just shrugged, presumably implying that she had no clue either.
Another alpha stormed up, glowering at Stiles, “You think you’re so funny, but no decent alpha will want to deal with you after this humiliation.”
“Well, very few of the ones who approached me were decent,” Stiles said. “So long as the assholes stay away too, I’m happy.”
Satomi smiled a little at that.
Alpha Wright approached Stiles before he could make it to the exit. She was smiling a little too.
“I noticed,” she said, “that my gift was not up for auction.”
“No, I liked your gift,” Stiles said. “You actually gave me something I might want, which is surprisingly rare.”
“So it would appear.” It wasn’t Alpha Wright that said that, but Alpha Ali, coming up from behind Stiles. Stiles greeted her with a smile and a nod.
“A very interesting event,” she said.
“I’m glad some people appreciate my sense of humour. Now, if you excuse me, I should get out of here before someone decides to tear me limb from limb.”
“Good job I got you this then,” said a voice from behind him. Stiles jumped and turned to glare.
“Jeez, Derek, you’re going to give me a heart attack,” Stiles complained. Derek smirked and handed over a bag. “Did you seriously bring a courtship gift to the event where I was auctioning off courtship gifts?” He reached into the bag and pulled out a taser. “Awesome!”
“The voltage is designed for use on werewolves,” Derek said. “Don’t try and use it on a human or you might cause permanent damage.”
“You’ll just have to get me another one for dealing with human assholes then.”
“Or I could take you home and make sure no one bothers you.”
“That works too.”
They left together, but not before Kira could give Stiles her number in case he wanted to talk about bonding or magic or even just weird gifts they’d been given during courtship. Stiles took it with a grin. He glanced round for his dad, and saw that he was doing fine. He was smirking with obvious enjoyment at a pair of angry alphas who were ranting at him, probably going on about how Stiles was too rebellious to even win a place in a decent pack. Stiles left him to it and let Derek lead him out to the Camaro.
“That was amazing!” Stiles said, once he was away from the hall of furious alphas and less likely to get torn to pieces and stomped on.
“One of these days you’re going to annoy the wrong person.”
“Yeah, but in the meantime I think they all got the hint.”
“Yeah, I think you’re going to get a break from courtship gifts for a while,” Derek agreed. “Or if they do come, there might be a bit more thought behind them.”
Derek adjusted his grip on the steering wheel and drove on towards Stiles’ house. He seemed tense. Maybe all those alphas being in the same room as him and angry had been an issue for his instincts. Stiles decided it was politer not to say anything, so they drove on in silence.
When they reached the house, Derek pulled the car to a stop but made no move to get out.
“Well,” said Stiles, undoing the seatbelt, “goodnight.”
“I guess this is goodbye,” said Derek.
“Huh? I mean, for now, I guess.”
“You said you wanted help getting the other alphas to leave you alone. I think they’ll leave you alone now. So there’s no need to keep up the pretence.”
Derek wasn’t looking at Stiles. His hands hadn’t left the steering wheel. He was just staring out at the road. Stiles hadn’t thought about this. He hadn’t considered that Derek might not keep stopping by after the auction. Now that he thought about it, he realised how much he’d miss Derek if that happened.
“I like you, Derek,” Stiles said. “You’re an asshole, but you’re also a nice guy. I’ve enjoyed spending time with you and you’ve cared about my safety and you’ve never acted like I don’t have a right to be a person.”
Derek turned to look at him now, shock on his face and maybe something close to fear.
“Are you accepting me?” Derek asked.
“I... no. I don’t know. I barely know you. I mean, I like what I know of you so far, but I can’t just bond with you based on the fact you seem like a decent person and you have the body of a swimwear model. And I haven’t even met your pack. What if I hate them all? If I bond with you, I’ll be stuck with them as much as you. I’m sixteen! I’m not ready to swear my life away to one person. If I was a sixteen year old getting married people would think it was stupid and way too young, but that’s basically what people are asking of me. I’m not ready.”
“So don’t decide,” Derek said. “There’s no time limit on courtship. We could just... date.”
That answer was so obvious Stiles wondered how it was he hadn’t seen it before. No one was holding a gun to his head and saying he had to pick someone right away. And if the other alphas backed off, then the pressure to choose someone would be somewhat diminished.
“I’d like that,” Stiles said. “I’d like that a lot.”