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“I turned down Jeremy’s request for a pay-rise, and so he’s bailed out on us again for the shoot,” Peter stated simply, twirling his ballpoint pen distractedly between his fingers and staring down at the editorials with his usual impassive half-smile. Derek, who had only just stepped foot into the office with their morning coffees, didn’t tamp down the annoyed groan. Jeremy was going to be their main photo-shoot spread in the next edition, seeing as he always sold more copies, but the man was progressively becoming more of a diva than a part-time magazine model. This would be the third time he piked out on a shoot so close to the deadline.

“We can always change the line-up, though,” Derek offered, slumping into the office chair opposite Peter’s desk and frowning into his coffee. “Nothing’s going to print for another fortnight. We can make the spread a little smaller, bulk up the issue with some of those emergency articles we have lying around somewhere.”

“You think that’ll work?” the older man quirked an eyebrow, leaning back into his office chair. The air in the office was a little stale, probably because the windows were still closed from the prior evening, and Derek could already feel his head starting to throb from irritation and stress. He clenched his jaw stubbornly behind the plastic lid of his cup, wondering why he always got bad news first things on a Thursday. He hated Thursdays with a passion.

“Jeremy sells copies because he does sex,” Derek griped back, willing the thudding in his brain to die down. “He knows he can work the camera, and that the magazines sell because of it. But he’s also becoming a real pain in the ass to work with.” He recalled how, on more than one occasion, Jeremy had stomped out in a tiff halfway through a shoot, refusing any more photos until his requirements had been met. These days, they were getting more and more difficult to do, especially on their meagre budget. “If it were up to me,” he muttered, “I’d be more than happy to never see his face again.”

“Do you have anybody in mind for the spread?” Peter asked, shuffling through articles spread out on his desk. The younger man drained the rest of his coffee and shook his head, rubbing at his temples with his fingertips.

“Carl and Ben are both on holiday, and Michael’s arm is still in a cast.” He glanced around the spacious office, eyes wandering from the paintings on the off-white walls to the bushy Japanese peace lily flowering in the pot in the corner. It must have been thriving to spite him, because he hated that plant with a vengeance. Peter knew it too, and it wouldn’t have surprised him in the slightest if he were to find out that his uncle is fertilizing it and taking extra care with it just to annoy him. “I was thinking about doing something different anyway. I don’t want us to turn into some kind of over-the-top skin mag, and knowing Jeremy, he’d probably try to get his rocks off in front of the camera to gain more notoriety. I’ll see who else we haven’t shot with in a while and get something set up soon.”

“I’m sure you’ll sort something out,” Peter smiled again, though it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “You always do.”

 

. o O o .

 

Their magazine, ‘NECKZ ‘n THROATS’, has been in publication for almost fifty years. Derek’s great uncle, Albert Hale, founded it fresh out of university with a journalism degree under his belt as a werewolf-only digest. At the time, it had been a pretty ballsy thing to do – werewolves were considered by society back then as still something of an enigma. Sure, they were treated the same as regular humans (because, for the most parts, they lived as and amongst them) but, like sex and divorce, it wasn’t talked about much. It was regarded as a private, very nearly taboo subject to broach. In a manner of speaking, Albert Hale had been a pioneer in the field, comparable to Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt, and though Derek sometimes cringes at the comparisons, he can’t deny that the similarities are there.

In the beginning, the magazine had been pretty down-market – printed on cheap, gritty paper with even cheaper ink and black and white photographs, sold at only a few gas stations and newsagencies, wrapped in brown paper like the other smut magazines. It dealt with a variety of lupine issues, ranging from pack integration into regular society all the way to the more mundane matters, with a page on the back cover dedicated to reader’s questions. Five years after its inception, and the monthly magazine branched out into two separate categories. To this day, its sister-magazine, ‘Décolletage’, sold three times in volume, with its glossy front covers featuring windswept werewolf girls in bikinis and barely-there clothes, sitting right alongside ‘Hustler’ and ‘Playboy’ in the newsstands. ‘NECKZ ‘n THROATS’ would always appeal to a smaller crowd, since the focus of it was men – in particular, men of different persuasions, classified by scientists at the time as ‘congenital inverts’.

Nevertheless, it was a ground-breaking editorial, in its own way. Dozens more magazines began life and caught on as werewolf-only periodicals, but ‘NECKZ ‘n THROATS’ would always be the first, the original. As the times changed, so did acceptance and integration of werewolves in human society, until these days it wasn’tt unheard of for the populations in towns to be divided almost half-half in its werewolf/human ratio. Thanks to Albert Hale, and his passion for pushing boundaries, the stories were always new and current with the times. It became the first mainstream journal that included material for both alphas and betas in the same publication, and, riding the crest of the 70’s movements, include photos of humans. To this day, it’s still technically banned in four states.

After he died, Albert’s ownership of the magazine transferred to his nephew, Peter Hale, who seemed to be the only one interested in continuing the line of journalism in the family. ‘Décolletage’ had its stocks sold, so while still bringing in some revenue, it was owned in name only – the magazine was technically written and printed on the other side of the country. Peter kept ‘NECKZ ‘n THROATS’ as a side-project for a while, until a terrible family tragedy struck, and almost his entire family was wiped out in a home fire caused by faulty wiring. Survived only by his niece and nephew, he turned to the magazine as a distraction, becoming the main writer and editor of the publication. His niece, Laura, moved to New York, away from the tragedy and loss. His nephew, Derek, finished school and began helping at the office, working his way up from filing and fetching the office workers’ coffees to actually being useful. After a few years, he became the official photographer for ‘NECKZ ‘n THROATS’. Peter was glad for his passion his work, even if it was only to stay close to what little family he had left. Sales were better than ever for a while, with the entire team (a total of twenty strong staff members) organised and churning out one issue better than the next.

Only things hadn’t been going so well lately. A financial slipup a few years prior, a scandal with one of the editorial writers, and the upswing and limitless access of internet porn sites to blame. In a bold move orchestrated by Peter, the magazine started focusing on a shift in its demographic. Not only did it now cater to alphas and betas, but also those who don’t fit in the strict human/werewolf binary that much of society likes to enforce all too enthusiastically.

It’s been two days, and Derek still hasn’t found a model to replace Jeremy for the magazine spread. He’s made the rounds to the rest of the staff, and their articles seem to all be in order, and on time. The only person letting the issue down is the photographer, that is to say, himself. Every issue of ‘NECKZ ‘n THROATS’, ever since the very first issue printed back in great uncle Albert’s day, has had a feature photo spread of a model – he couldn’t face Peter without presenting him with a proper shoot. Peter would probably drive the end of his fancy ballpoint through Derek’s jugular as punishment – served with one of his usual, passive-aggressive smiles as a side dish.

Running a hand exasperatedly over the stubble on his face, Derek leaned his elbows on the surface of his desk, cluttered with papers, and buried his face into his wide hands. He’d gone through his archives – he didn’t even have a backup complete shoot he could pass off as a make-do solution. He’d gone through every contact in his work phone for inspiration, even going so far as to call the models from the past ten issues. Somehow, the fates were against him – every single one of them was unavailable for a session, be it from illness, other commitments or simply because they didn’t want to be in that line of work anymore.

Derek grunted in frustration, glaring at the broken pencils littering his desk that he never bothered to sharpen (which, in turn, multiplied faster than rabbits and never failed to aggravate him when he was in dire need of one that would actually write). Yes, ‘NECKZ ‘n THROATS’ was a more risqué magazine than usual – their last issue had featured an extensive article on alpha/beta sexual compatibility. Regardless, Derek was fiercely protective of it, of his uncle, of their entire team – and most of all, of his work. He wasn’t the best photographer in the business, but he was pretty damn good, and he took pride in each and every photograph that went into the glossy pages. Jeremy might have sold more editions on sex-factor alone, but by far he’d been Derek’s least favourite model to work with. He preferred to catch something different with his lens, unique and unobtrusive, finding perfection and exceptionality in the commonplace. Jeremy had a pretty face and a six-pack, but Derek found his over-the-top, obvious sexuality almost stomach-turning.

Tapping the eraser-end of a broken pencil on the stack of papers, he sighed through his nose and stared out the window, watching the shadows elongate in the late afternoon sunlight. Time was running out on him. He needed to do a shoot, process and edit the photos, and have them ready for print in eleven days, and he still had no model. After exhausting all other possible avenues, Derek finally pulled his cell phone out from beneath the mess of papers on his desk, scrolling through his contact list until he found the name he was looking for. He hoped they’d pick up on a Friday afternoon, right on the heels of closing time – why was he here again, so late on the tail end of the week? Oh yeah, because his models were all either divas or out to ruin his life. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and he was most certainly going to regret this in the near future, but it was a necessary evil. The phone connected on the third ring, a clipped, business-cheerful voice on the other end answering.

“Hello, Lydia? It’s Derek. Yes, Derek Hale, from ‘NECKZ ‘n THROATS’ magazine. Listen – I need a favour.”

 

. o O o .

 

“I’m not really sure about this,” Stiles mumbled, bouncing his knee up and down without really noticing, making soft swish swish swish sounds as the denim of his jeans rustled. Lydia Martin, his long-time friend (and sometimes employer at Martin’s, a modelling agency that she operated single-handedly and doubled as an employment agency when other businesses were in need of a model), took another sip of her chai latte and rolled her eyes heavenwards, as if asking whichever deity was listening for strength. Impatiently, she threw her arm over the café table, slapping her hand on Stiles’ knee with a little more force than necessary, halting that god-awful rustling sound.

“Never mind that I’m doing you a huge, huge, huge favour here, Stiles,” she countered, putting her glass down on the table daintily, her lips pursed in her usual ‘I’m right, so you’d better listen to me or there’ll be trouble’ face. “You need something to bring in extra income, and this’d be perfect for someone with your…” She stalled for half a moment, then smiled dazzlingly, “… qualifications.”

“You mean lack of qualifications,” Stiles muttered back darkly, now drumming his fingers on his knee in his usual, jittery manner. “Also known as ‘complete lack of useful skills’, as your jackass boyfriend keeps reminding me.” It wasn’t his fault that he got nervous easily, especially when it came to job interviews. Stiles Stilinski had a very severe case of ‘Foot-In-Mouth’ disease, where he’d blurt out something completely inappropriate, horrifically timed, or downright unintelligible. And sometimes, if he was having a very unlucky day, all of those things would happen at once. Not exactly the best face to show a prospective employer.

“Don’t mind Jackson,” the redhead flapped her hand dismissively, “Look, this is a great opportunity. You’ve done modelling work a couple of times before already. It’s easy money – just sit there and get your photos snapped. It’s a cash-in-hand job too, so there’s no messing about with paperwork and you get your pay straight away.” She sipped her coffee and soldiered on. “It beats dropping platefuls of spaghetti on customers’ laps, anyway.”

“Okay, for your information, that was only once,” Stiles shot back guiltily (he didn’t elaborate to say that it was all that it had taken that first night to get him kicked out of the job), “And the only modelling job I really did was for that one time when they were shooting for men’s watches. I didn’t even have to do anything; they only took photos of my wrists!”

“Which is why the pay will be higher this time around.”

“I just – look, Lyds, I don’t – this is a completely different thing, okay?” he countered, sitting up straighter in the chair and jabbing a finger on the table. Lydia raised an eyebrow at him, and only belatedly he realised how loud his protestations must have been. Meekly, he hunkered down a little lower in the wicker seat, ignoring the curious looks from the other tables around them. “It’s – it’s weird, okay? It’s a – a… gay werewolf magazine.” His voice dropped to a hissed whisper, eyes widened almost comically. “I can’t get my pants off for a shoot like that, even if the money is – wait, how much did they offer?”

Lydia jotted the figure down on her napkin and slid it across the laminate surface of the table. She felt an accomplished mixture of victory and disgust when Stiles picked up the napkin and choked on his iced chocolate, dribbling it down his chin. She punctuated the action with an unimpressed ‘Ew’, and then went in for the kill.

“You don’t even have to take your clothes off, Stiles,” she nodded sagely, throwing the mess of flailing arms a handful of napkins. “It’s more of an arty shoot than anything. I know the guys who run the magazine, and the photographer – it’s totally kosher. A couple of hours’ work, no nudity, and you get cash in hand. What more could you want from a job?” And that was the final nail in the coffin. Suppressing a triumphant smile, she leaned back in her chair and watched as the gears in her friend’s head whirred dizzyingly, weighing the pros and cons of the situation.

She looked away for a moment, and almost felt a little bad for bringing the subject up (but then again, she was Lydia Freaking Martin, and she’d do whatever it takes to make sure things went her way). “You know how expensive those college books are,” her voice was sweet and very nearly kind, patting the back of Stiles’ hand as though she actually gave a shit, “and usually final years have the most expensive ones. You don’t want to burden your dad with the responsibility of forking out more cash, do you?” The withering look Stiles gave her might have almost worked, if it wasn’t for the fact that, moments later, the scowl dropped into a frown of resignation. She wasn’t at all surprised when he scrunched the soggy napkins into a ball with a frustrated exhale.

“So what time is this shoot then?” he sighed, his knee bouncing again.

Lydia tried not to look too smug. She failed spectacularly.