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a spark

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Laura drops them back home after their visit to Deaton's. Stiles is first. "Gotta swing by the grocery store after I return Scott to his mom," she says, pulling up to the curb in front of his house. "You'll be okay until your dad gets back?"

"Yes, I'm not a baby," Stiles snaps. He fights with the seatbelt until it releases, lets him reach out to the door and push the release so it slides free.

Scott fishes around in the back for Stiles's backpack. "See you tomorrow," he says, handing it over.

"Yeah," Laura says. "Same."

Mom's books are upstairs, on the bookshelf in the guest room where they've been as long as Stiles can remember. She brought some of them with her when she came to the US to teach, but mostly they came in the mail, from her family and friends or from catalogues, every arrival a cause for celebration. "Pavlova," she'd say, tapping her short nails on the spine of one. "A new play," running her fingers across the soft cover of another. They opened the packages together, sitting on the couch, and each book took on a mystic aura, full of glyphs that Stiles couldn't decipher.

He pulls the notebooks off the shelf first, opens one at random. Russian. Another: Russian. The books with cracked spines and dog-eared pages on the lowest shelf: Russian. Stiles doesn't know why he expected otherwise, why he forgot, for the space of an hour, the way his mother's English printing always looked so stilted next to her sloppy, forgetful Cyrillic curves. She didn't even teach him the alphabet, saying, "it's no use to you, Volodya, darling. If you still want, when you're older."

There were stories, of course, about growing up in the cramped apartment with her mother and sister, father absent and unmentioned, and others, too. She read to him, Pushkin and Nekrasov and short stories, told him fairytales, too. Each one she translated as she went, smooth and practiced, just for him.

"It's no wonder you're such a strong anchor for Scott," Deaton said, sitting down across from Stiles in the exam room. "You grew up around magic. You're attuned."

"What are you talking about?" Stiles pushed against the floor with one foot, spun a little on the wheeled stool.

"Your mother, of course," Deaton said. He gazed right at Stiles, even and steady. "She was a powerful practitioner. You're nothing like her, but you have a spark."

If what Deaton says is true, none of this matters, anyway. Mom was magic and not even that could save her.

"There are lots of paths, if you wish to learn, Stiles." Deaton said. "The one around which you were raised will likely be strongest for you. Your mother would have been the best teacher."

"So it's not like Harry Potter," Stiles said flatly.

Deaton shook his head. "There are no wands and there is no power within you. Magic is about manipulating the without. Some of us have more of an innate aptitude than others, but all practice requires knowledge and great force of will."

"I don't know anything," Stiles said.

It's no use to you, Volodya, darling.

Dad doesn't make him talk about it, after the panic attack, which is—good. Right then, Stiles could have said anything, would have told him about Scott, Laura, Mom, whatever his dad wanted. Instead, Dad asks, "Do you want to learn?"

Stiles says, "Yes."