When the first Emissarial candidate left, Derek shrugged it off as common enough. The Cloister did their best, but not every pack found a perfect match on the first try. The second candidate, well. The Hale pack was young, full of high-strung teenagers, and a little... different. It was understandable that the search might take longer.
The third candidate lasted three months. The fourth didn’t last half that, and she left in a literal huff, wind tearing through the house, shattering the glass in all six of the upstairs windows as the door slammed behind her. Dinner that night was a silent affair, his betas staring down at their plates as Derek’s grip on his silverware went slowly white-knuckled.
Derek clenched his jaw against the sick ache in his stomach. A pack without an Emissary was nothing. No Emissary meant no one to ward the borders of their territory, no one to heal injuries or illness. Wolves weren’t impervious, and god, how he knew it. A good Emissary acted as the ambassador for their pact. Treaties signed by an Emissary carried the weight of the entire Cloister behind them.
Without an Emissary, the Hale pack would be fodder for whoever came along.
“We’re sorry, Alpha,” Scott whispered.
“I’m not sorry,” said Lydia, tossing copper hair, bright as a penny, back over her shoulder. “She was terrible. Not right for us at all.”
“I liked her,” said Isaac.
Erica smirked. “Oh, please. You liked her tits.”
And then they laughed, all of them, these ridiculous children who had no clue, who didn’t understand what it was to feel a dozen pack bonds snap, to choke on ash and the thick stench of death, who wouldn’t just shut their mouths and let him keep them safe-
“Christ, all of you, can’t you be quiet for one fucking meal?”
His chair scraped across the floor in total silence as Derek walked away from the shocked faces at the table behind him.
After spending all day in his office, glaring at his phone in between attempts to work, Derek caved; emailing the Emissary’s Cloister was far easier than having the humiliating conversation over the phone. If he were honest, Derek wasn’t entirely sure the Cloister would even take his calls, after four candidates had rejected his pack. And they didn’t have to- it was the Emissary who chose the pack, not the other way around. The Cloister would be well within their rights to ignore his petition entirely.
The fact that the Abbot’s response came within ten minutes did not bode well. Another thirty minutes went by before Derek could bring himself to open it.
I admit, I was surprised by your request. After four unsuccessful candidate trials, I thought perhaps that your pack was simply not ready to take on a Emissary. The Hale pack has been through much; I certainly would not judge you for such a thing.
And yet, after reflection, I believe I have the perfect candidate for you. At twenty, he is not yet a full Emissary, only an Acolyte; however, this may make it easier for him to integrate with the young members of your pack. He is certainly possessed of a... buoyant vitality and an exceptionally quick mind. His curiosity is boundless, which will serve him well in a pack comprised not only of wolves, but also an ex-kanima and a banshee.
I shall be dispatching Acolyte Stilinski to your residence without delay. You may expect his arrival within three days.
Best of luck to you all,
Abbott A. Deacon
The three days before the Acolyte’s arrival passed in resentful silence. Derek’s attempts at conversation were met with icy disdain from Lydia and an angry snap of teeth from Erica. Scott simply left the room whenever Derek walked in; even Boyd wouldn’t talk to him, and he hadn’t so much as seen Isaac.
Fine. Fine. If they wanted to act like sullen children, that was their problem. Derek was the alpha, he knew what he was doing, and the sooner the pack learned that, the better.
At least the quiet made it easier to hear the Acolyte approaching.
“Hey! Get down here!” Derek’s voice echoed through the house, to no response.
Derek was tempted to stomp to the door, but he refused to give a bunch of teenagers the satisfaction. He waited for the Acolyte to knock, then calmly swung it open, like a grown alpha in charge of his pack- and nearly choked on his tongue.
The man standing on the porch was unlike any Emissary Derek had ever seen. He wasn’t wearing the stark, simple robes they favored. He didn’t possess the aura of... stillness they carried, that sense of being at one with the universe. The only reason Derek was remotely convinced the man actually came from the Cloister was the tattoos, crawling up the man’s arms and down his throat. They were dark against pale skin, and they sang of magic to Derek’s senses, practically glowed with power. It was death to be caught wearing them without training from the Cloister.
The man grinned. “Yep, that’s me.”
It was exceptionally difficult not to ask the man if he was sure. Was this a joke from the Abbot, payback for the four Emissaries his pack had sent running?
“Well, uh... come in,” Derek said.
Derek really should’ve seen it coming. They were barely two feet inside the house when a half-shifted wolf hurtled over the second floor balcony and threw itself towards the man who appeared to be their new Acolyte. Derek’s arms were outstretched in an instant, already moving to pull the man out of the way, when he blinked, blinked again, and then flat-out stared.
Erica was just... dangling there, in mid-air, while the Acolyte wagged his finger at her. He hadn’t even stopped grinning.
“Now, now, none of that, huh? I don’t let anyone pounce on me before we’ve been officially introduced,” the Acolyte said, as he lowered her slowly to the ground.
By the time she reached it, the rest of the pack had thundered down the stairs. They stood there, staring, with the same expression of dumb surprise that Derek was sure was plastered all over his own face.
“So you are...” the Acolyte prompted.
Erica let her wolf-form melt away, leaving her naked as a jaybird as she grinned saucily up at him. Jesus. They’d be luckily if this one stayed a whole day.
“That was some badass pouncing you’ve got going there, Erica, but you’re going to have to work on your sneaking if you want to get the jump on someone with some magical training.” He leaned forward conspiratorially, a matching grin on his face. “Don’t worry, we’ll practice.”
He turned towards the rest of the pack, sharing that damn grin with them, including them in the joke as easy as breathing, getting them to fucking smile. Derek had never seen them all smile like that for anyone, not even him.
Maybe especially not him.
The man was making a game of it now, trying to guess who was who, although Derek was sure the Cloister’s dossier included their photographs. Jackson pretended to be aloof, of course, and Boyd was always quiet, but Derek could smell the sudden burst of happiness, a scent he didn’t even associate with his pack anymore.
And it was this damn Acolyte, with his skinny jeans and his stupid hair and his magic tricks that did it.
“I hate to interrupt,” Derek said through gritted teeth, “but Erica, you know the rules- clothes on while humans are in the house. Go get dressed.” She flashed her fangs and her middle finger at him, but went, grumbling. “Acolyte Stilinski, Scott can show you to your room. I’m going for a run.”
Derek was out the door in three strides, letting himself run and run and run, trying to forget about the house full of problems that would still be there when he was done.
Dinner that night was anything but quiet. The other candidates had taken their time (what time they stayed, at any rate) integrating into the pack. They unfolded slowly, letting the wolves get used to their presence, incorporating their scent into the Hale household.
Not Acolyte Stilinski.
The Acolyte had dropped himself into the seat at the far end of the table, facing Derek, and promptly insisted that everyone call him Stiles. Not Acolyte, or even Acolyte Stiles. Just- Stiles.
Which was ridiculous. Derek was absolutely not going to allow anyone from the Cloister, much less their own Emissarial candidate, to be treated with so little respect. He’d said so, firmly, and the Acolyte had made a face. Boyd had laughed. Boyd.
And now all six of them were chattering away at the Acolyte, asking about his training at the Cloister (Lydia), his favorite video games (Scott), if he had a girlfriend or a boyfriend (Erica, of course, who apparently needed another lesson on what it was okay to ask strangers they were trying to impress).
Derek chewed his spaghetti calmly. Very calmly.
Isaac asked about Stilinski’s favorite book, at which Jackson sneered like an asshole, but Stilinski just let the snark melt off him and kept answering questions.
Then he looked at Derek, eyebrow quirked as if asking permission, and coughed. “What I’d really like to talk about is what you guys need from your Emissary. It’s not the same from pack to pack, and I’d like- this will go better if we’re all on the same page from the beginning.”
Derek froze, fork still in his mouth. Was the Acolyte really asking that? What did anyone want from an Emissary? “Safety for the pack.”
The Acolyte nodded. “Alright, that’s understandable, especially as the Alpha. Let’s go down the table. Isaac?”
“Uh.... for Derek to stop yelling about safety all the time?”
Derek’s fork hit his plate with a clink, but before he could say- or snarl- anything, the Acolyte was already speaking.
“Okay, look. I can already tell that your alpha takes the well-being of this pack seriously, and that’s important. I’ve seen other packs that weren’t like that, and trust me, you don’t want to be in one of them.” He shook his head, hard, gaze dropping to his plate for a moment before he bestowed yet another absurd grin on them all.
Acolyte Stilinski turned to Lydia. Derek saw the look on her face and knew what was coming. She’d demanded it of each candidate in turn- he suspected it had driven at least one of them away.
“I want to learn necromantic magic,” she said, before the Acolyte had a chance to ask. “I’m a banshee, I have every right to learn, but I need a sponsor.”
The Acolyte blinked. Necromantic magic- death magic- was highly controversial, even in this day and age, even amongst the supernatural community. In the wrong hands, a practitioner could not only commune with the dead, she could raise and command them- or take a step too far across the veil and go mad. Only banshees and other beings whose powers were rooted in death were allowed to study it; even then, an Emissary had to recommend such a student to the Cloister.
“Um-” the Acolyte glanced at Derek, floundering. Thought he’d just waltz in and have it easy, hmm? As if all it would take was a few charming smiles? Derek knew he was being unfair, but found it difficult to care as he watched the Acolyte stutter. This was the thing, the one thing Lydia wanted that Derek had no way to give her himself- if Acolyte Stilinski couldn’t handle the idea, he didn’t belong with the Hale pack.
“Lydia, I’m just an Acolyte, I can’t act as a sponsor-”
A glass shattered in someone’s hand. “Then what damn good are you,” Jackson shouted. “All of you Emissaries, you come in here acting like you’re going to do something, like you’re going to help us, and it’s all bullshit! Nobody gives a damn about this stupid, fucked-up, piece of shit pack!”
Jackson’s chair hit the floor as he shot up from the table and stormed away, Lydia two steps behind him. Scott followed after them, always the big brother, Isaac trailed after Scott, and where he went, so did Erica and Boyd. In seconds the table was empty, leaving the Acolyte sitting, shell-shocked, while Derek ever-so-calmly kept eating his spaghetti.
“Welcome to the Hale pack, Acolyte Stilinski,” Derek said.