Stiles winced as the Jeep hit a particularly vicious pothole. He loved his Jeep, no doubt about it, but it was not designed for comfort. Normally that was fine, since it allowed him to do things like race over barely-there woodland tracks at top speed or burst through warehouse doors and slam into scary lizard monsters without killing either himself or his car. Sure, the gas mileage was crap, the windshield leaked whenever it rained, and the engine was too loud to hear the radio -- which had been fried by the leaking rain anyway -- but he still loved the old girl.
Unfortunately, that love was dimmed by the bruised ribs he was currently sporting. Every dip in the road made agony arc across his chest and his breath stutter. He had to force himself to take deep breaths, the doctor’s dire predictions of pneumonia echoing in his head.
The ribs were also his dad’s reason for this little road trip. Stiles had tried to pass off the injury as the result of a pick-up lacrosse game, but the sheriff had not bought it. Which led to Stiles getting shipped south for the summer, like some sort of reverse snow bird, to a cousin he barely even remembered. One who had apparently went through “a bit of a rough patch” in his teen years but was now on the straight and narrow. The elder Stilinski obviously hoped that said cousin would have a good influence on the younger one.
Stiles may or may not have taken a peek at the man’s police record. The Sunnydale Police Department was not very proactive about sealing juvenile records and he’d gotten a glimpse of Alexander Lavelle Harris’s life pre-clean living. He’d never been arrested, but had been brought in for questioning several times. Two of those times were for suspicious circumstance deaths and once when his high school had blown up. The SPD had dismissed the former instances as accidental -- seriously, who in the world fell onto barbecue forks and pierced their carotid artery -- and the later as a gas main rupture. He was also listed as a suspect in gang activity.
In his head, Stiles pictured Xander as a burly man with visible gang tattoos, carrying a Bible and a hammer. He was probably going to make Stiles read The Good Book every day before dragging him to whatever construction site he was currently working at, and that Stiles was being forced to work at, before dragging him to AA meeting after AA meeting.
The summer was going to be pure misery and Stiles once again cursed Jackson for not having enough control during the full moon and Derek for being two seconds too late to prevent the tackle that had bruised his ribs.
Stiles pulled into the parking lot of Xander’s apartment complex and sat with the Jeep idling as he contemplated just turning around and running. His dad’s disappointed face, even if it was only in his imagination, prompted him to turn off the engine and grab his cell phone from the console. He sent a quick text to his dad, telling him that he had arrived safely, and a longer one to Scott, bitching about the forced separation, before pulling his backpack from the passenger seat and carefully climbing out. He didn’t bother locking the door behind him. If someone really wanted to steal his luggage, a locked door would not stop them. His laptop, iPod, and wallet were in the backpack, as well as a couple of books of lore that he’d managed to smuggle out. Those were the important items.
He took a deep breath as he shouldered his bag and made his way towards the apartment. It was in a nice complex, new enough to still be polished, but old enough that the landscaping looked established. A good place for people who have moved past milk crate decor but have not started a family yet.
Xander’s apartment was on the second floor, and of course there was no elevator. By the time Stiles made it to his cousin’s door, he could feel his vision greying around the edges. He all but collapsed against the wall, trying to catch his breath.
He was still recovering when the door opened and a feminine voice rang out.
“Xander! There’s a guy about to pass out in your hallway!”
“I’m not going to pass out,” Stiles muttered, opening his eyes to see a girl with long brown hair staring at him worriedly. Even as he spoke, another head appeared above hers, male with short dark hair. Stiles vaguely recognized his cousin from their last family get together, which had to have been ten years ago.
“Stiles? Crap. Why didn’t you call when you got here? I would have helped you up the stairs. Dawnie, get his bag.”
Xander put his arm around him and supported him without putting too much pressure on his ribs. They twinged, but did not scream in protest like they had when Scott had tried to do the same thing.
He was lowered onto a soft couch and his head forced -- gently -- between his knees.
“Take deep, slow breaths. Uncle John said that your ribs were bruised. They are only bruised, right? Not broken?”
“According to x-rays,” Stiles managed. The position they’d put him in was not helping his breathing at all, so he slowly levered up until he was resting against the back of the couch. It was not the most comfortable of transitions, but the pressure on his chest eased.
He took a minute to observe Xander and his friend. Xander was not at all what he expected. No tattoos were visible, for one thing, and he was wearing clothing very similar to Stiles’ own. A grey t-shirt with a purple button up shirt on top, jeans and sneakers. It made him wonder if fashion choice was genetic.
His friend, Dawnie, was maybe a year younger than Stiles. She was willowy, he supposed the word was, still growing into her looks. He could already tell that she would be a knockout when she grew up.
He wondered why a kid was hanging out with his adult cousin. It was a little hinky, in his opinion. Of course, he had to remind himself that he and his friends were regularly in the company of adults, so he really should not throw stones. Not when his own glass house was so fragile.
“Did they give you any pain meds?” Xander turned towards Dawnie, who was still clutching Stiles’ backpack like a lifeline. Stiles made an aborted move to sit up straight, to protest when he saw his cousin reach towards the bag.
“I haven’t taken any yet,” he said, managing to snag the strap of the bag that was trailing. He jerked it out of Dawnie’s hand, hissing when the motion tweaked his ribs. He could see Xander and Dawnie exchange glances, no doubt assuming that he had something illegal in his bag, but he did not care. He had no explanation handy for the obviously antique books that were in the bottom of his bag.
He unzipped the small front pocket and pulled out his prescription of Lortab. “It’s one of those that cause confusion and drowsiness.” He shook the bottle to illustrate his point. “Not a good idea before driving more than four hours.”
“I’ll get some water,” Dawnie offered, but he shook his head in response.
“Don’t bother.” He palmed two of the pills, his prescribed dose, and dry swallowed them. Both Xander and Dawnie winced. “When you’ve been on daily medications for as long as I have, water becomes more of a hassle than it’s worth.”
He pulled out his bottle of Adderall to show them that as well. An inhaler fell out when he did so, and Dawnie picked it up before he could.
“Uncle John didn’t mention asthma.”
“My best friend,” he explained with a tired shake of his head. “He’s all but grown out of it now, but his asthma used to be really bad. Sometimes, if an attack was bad enough, he wouldn’t be able to even get his inhaler out of his bag. I started carrying one for him, just in case.” He supposed he didn’t have to do that now, but some habits were hard to break.
“You left the rest of your stuff in your car?” Xander asked after a few moments of silence. Stiles nodded. “If you give me your keys, I’ll get it for you.”
“It’s an old Jeep,” Stiles explained. The trip and his injury were starting to catch up with him and he could feel his eyes try to slide closed. “A CJ-5. There’s no point in locking it.”
Xander nodded and bounded out the door, leaving him with Dawnie, who was watching him suspiciously. Stiles wondered what in the hell his dad had told Xander and, in turn, what he had told the kid in front of him.
“How exactly are you related to Xander?”
“Our moms were sisters.”
“Mine died.” He willed his voice not to crack. “A couple of years ago.”
“Oh.” Dawnie’s voice had gotten very quiet, the earlier suspicion that colored it gone. “I’m sorry. Mine did too, just last year.” She looked like she was going to say something else, then changed her mind.
“Are you hungry? Xander doesn’t really cook, but he has decent taste in microwavable meals and a truly epic collection of takeout menus. He worked at a couple of the restaurants as a delivery boy, so he has the scoop on which ones spit in your food and things like that.”
“No, thanks. I stopped at the Double Meat Palace on the way into town.”
Dawnie shuddered. “My sister worked there. I’ve had it way too often to enjoy it. And I know what their secret ingredient is.” She waited for him to indicate that he wanted to know, then leaned forward to psuedo-whisper. “The patties are actually vegetarian ‘burgers’ with a little bit of animal fat added.”
Stiles blinked as he took that bit of information in. If it was true, then he could let his dad “cheat” on his diet at the Double Meat. He’d have to check the nutritional information first, of course, just to be sure. His Google-fu was great, after all.
Xander came in with his bags and set them by one of the doors that led off the main room.
“It’s not much of a guest room, I’m sorry to say. More of a storage space. But it has a bed and a dresser.”
Stiles maneuvered himself off the couch, ignoring the hand Dawnie held out to help. Sure enough, the room was tiny, barely big enough for the twin bed and highboy dresser. There was no closet.
“It’s fine,” Stiles assured his cousin. “Do you mind if I crash for a while?”
“Nope. We have nothing planned for tonight, so sleep as long as you want.”
Stiles nodded and set his backpack on the floor beside the bed before lowering himself down. Xander gave him a funny little wave before closing the door and leaving him to his own thoughts.
He woke up to the sound of voices in the main room. He laid there for a few minutes, just listening to the cadences. Xander’s was easy to pick out, as it was the only male voice he could hear. Dawnie’s was high and girlish. The second female voice he did not know. Deeper than Dawnie’s. Maybe Xander’s girlfriend or the sister Dawnie had mentioned.
He used his phone to check the time and noticed waiting text messages. Two were from his dad, reassuring him that this break was for the best. He replied to them, telling his dad that the trip went well, Xander didn’t seem too odd, and that he was taking his pain pills as prescribed.
He wasn’t mad at his dad, far from it. Annoyed, yes, but not mad. His dad was doing what he thought was the best for Stiles. If he had all the facts, then maybe the decision would have been different. Or Stiles would have been shipped cross country to Grammie Stilinski in Maine.
Five messages were from Scott, four of which were questions about what a certain look from Allison meant. The fifth a simple “I miss you.”
The last message in the queue was from Derek. Stiles paused in confusion before reading it. There was no reason for the alpha to even text him.
I’ll keep an eye on your dad. Call if you have problems.
Stiles felt tears prick at his eyes for just a moment. Derek had no reason to watch over his dad. Stiles wasn’t even part of the Hale pack.
Thx he sent in reply, then he wrapped his left hand around his ribs and used his right to push himself off the bed. It hurt like a sonofabitch, but he made it to his feet.
Xander, Dawnie, and the unknown woman were sitting around the table in the main room, cartons of Chinese piled in the middle. The smell was enough to make his stomach rumble.
“It moves,” Xander joked. “I didn’t want to wake you to find out what you wanted, so I got both beef and broccoli and kung pow chicken.”
“I’m a teenager,” Stiles snarked back. “I’ll eat almost anything.”
He chose the beef and broccoli, snagged a plastic fork, and dug in before he’d even sat down. The two girls watched him with wide eyes as he practically inhaled the food.
“I thought you were the only one who ate like that, Xand,” the unknown woman said, awed. Stiles glanced at her, taking in the shoulder-length blonde hair, which was well done, but he could see a hint of roots showing, a slender nose, and green eyes before concentrating on his food again.
“It’s a guy thing,” Xander explained around a mouthful of food. Stiles had a feeling that he did it partially just to annoy his female friends, who both made disgusted noises.
“You’re gross,” the blonde replied.
Xander just grinned before wiping his mouth with a napkin.
“So, introductions. Ladies, this is Stiles Stilinski, my cousin who will be staying with me for a few weeks. Stiles, the visions of loveliness before you are Buffy and Dawn Summers.”
Stiles nodded at them in greeting, his mouth too full to actually reply. The Chinese was better than the take out place he usually bought from in Beacon Hills.
“Any big plans while you’re in our little burg,” Buffy asked.
“Burg’s a funny word,” Dawn said, interrupting any reply Stiles might have made. “Who even says burg anymore. Burg. Burg. Burg. It sounds like something you say when you have a stomach virus.”
Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Lovely dinner conversation, Dawnie.”
“Like you haven’t done worse. Like that time! That one time, with th--”
The younger girl looked sheepish for a moment before perking back up. “So, plans?”
Stiles swallowed his mouthful of yummy, yummy beef and sauce before replying. “I’m supposed to start work with Xander on Monday, doing whatever it is that I’ll be doing. As far as I know, that’s it.”
“Gophering, mostly. Legally you can work construction as long as you’re not up on a roof or higher. The owner of the company has stricter rules than OSHA, though. Gophering, clean up, some actual work, but not much. And you’re required to wear a hard hat and orange safety vest the entire time that you’re on site. No exceptions.”
Buffy snickered. “Awww, look at the Xand-man being all grown up and responsible like.” She wiped an imaginary tear from under her eye. “I’m so proud.”
Xander made a face at his friend. “You smudged your mascara.”
They all burst out laughing as Buffy screeched and rushed to the bathroom to check her perfect makeup. They were still laughing when she stomped back in, a pout firmly in place.
Stiles had to hold his ribs to laugh, but it still felt good. He hadn’t really had a chance to laugh like that in a while.
He found Xander frowning at him when the laughter finally died down.
“How long since you got injured?”
“In that case, you’re starting next week instead of Monday. They’ll still be sore, but you should be able to move around better. You can hang around the apartment next week, or drive around and explore the town, if you feel up to it. My only request is that you be back before it’s dark.”
Stiles nodded slowly. Dark was an odd curfew, but he’d promised his dad to live by Xander’s rules. Maybe he could find the local teen hangout and be normal for a while. It was a novel concept.
Normal was over-rated. Stiles had tried, he really had. But there was only so much an ADHD teen could find to occupy his time in a small town. He’d tried the high school, to see if any kids were making use of the athletic fields, only to find that the school itself was Xander’s job site. The fields were technically finished, but heavy construction equipment made them off limits for anyone without a hard hat.
The local coffee shop, the Espresso Pump, catered to the hipster and college crowd, who held loud conversations over the sound of the man playing an accordion in one corner. Not even their admittedly excellent coffee could keep Stiles there for longer than it took to order his coffee and go.
He visited the zoo, which was rather impressive for a small town. He spent a whole afternoon watching the small pack of grey wolves interact with each other, giving them ironic names in his mind. The alpha male was definitely Peter, prancing around with his tail up high and nipping playfully at the flanks of the alpha female, whom Stiles named Lydia due to her no-nonsense attitude. The betas were Scott, Isaac, and Erica, with Derek being the wolf who slunk around the edges of the enclosure and glared at the humans who cooed over him.
Stiles took a picture of “Derek” with his phone and sent it as a picture message to both Scott and Derek before he could think better of it. Scott replied with a laugh. Derek with a “not funny”.
The museum was closed for repairs, apparently the most recent earthquake had caused significant damage. The theme park was open, but the thought of getting on the Avalanche with bruised ribs made Stiles wince, so he skipped that as an activity.
He finally ended up at the library, browsing in the folklore section in what he was sure was a futile attempt to find a bit of research that he had not seen before. He really was not expecting to find anything but Twilight inspired drivel, which was why he stood in the aisle and stared in awe at the section. Both sides of the aisle were filled with antique books, the gilt on their spines faded and the corners bent. He could smell leather, vellum, and dust. It smelled like home to him.
Stiles reached out to trace a spine before pulling his hand back. He turned away to find the circulation desk, to find out how he could get a card and what the checkout limit was.
“You’re under eighteen,” the librarian he talked to confirmed. “You need a parent to come in and show proof of residency, which can be a driver’s license or a piece of mail addressed to them here in the county. And they need to sign for you to have a card.”
Stiles grimaced and rocked back on his heels. “I’m staying with a cousin, just for the summer.”
“What’s your cousin’s name?”
“Xander Harris.” Stiles thought it was an odd question to ask, but he saw no harm in answering.
The librarian nodded and pulled out his cell phone. He fiddled with it for a moment before holding it up to his ear.
“Harris, hey, this is Owen Thurman. Yeah, yeah, long time, no talk. Listen, I have someone here who claims to be your cousin. Yeah. Yeah. That sounds like him. Mind if I issue him a card on your account? Cool. Yeah. Hey, how’s Buffy?”
The librarian, Owen, waved for Stiles to follow him to a corner of the counter and presented him with a stack of papers to read over. Stiles kept one ear on Owen’s half of the conversation as he read over the library’s policies. Some were pretty standard, like only being able to check out ten books and two movies at a time. The heavily highlighted clause stating that he could not reproduce the books in any fashion, including photocopying, scanning, or taking a picture was the only oddity. At least he was allowed hand-written note cards for research purposes.
“No, her sister comes in every once in a while. She doesn’t cause any problems, no. Just sits in a window seat and reads. And we all make sure that no one bothers her. We know better than that. Yeah. Yeah. Listen, I need to get back to work. Yeah, give them my best. And tell Buffy to drop in some time. I promise I won’t break out the Dickinson until at least her third visit. Yeah, you too, man.”
Owen hung up the phone and took the paperwork back from him, checking it over to make sure he had filled in all the necessary information.
“You actually read it, right? Didn’t just skim it?”
“I read it,” Stiles assured with a tiny flail. His ribs barely even twinged, which was a good sign of his progress.
“Great.” Owen fiddled with his computer for a moment, scanning a card and then putting it in a smart card reader before handing it to Stiles.
“You’re good to go. Books have a two week lending period, movies and music one week.”
Stiles nodded and gave a cheerful wave before heading back to the folklore section. Once there he decided to start at the top, using one of those funny library stools to reach the top shelf. He carefully pulled out each book individually and checked the title before deciding if it deserved a second look. Most of the books seemed to be on demons. Several were on witchcraft and vampires. He found three dedicated just to werewolves and one bestiary that seemed to be different than either the Hale or Argent bestiaries.
He wished he had not agreed to not copy the books, because Lydia was the only person he knew who could have read some of them.
Still, as far as research went, he was set for his entire stay in Sunnydale. If Xander asked about the subject matter, Stiles would make up an excuse. Maybe a summer paper on a topic of his own choosing? It could work, especially if he threw in some references to cheesy horror movies.
“Yes, Mrs. Osborne, I really do understand. And we will do all we can to help. Can I talk to Jordy?”
Stiles looked up from his book, an 1736 treatise on werewolf pack dynamics that was so hilariously wrong that his ribs ached from laughing, to see Xander enter the apartment, phone pressed to his ear. Xander gave him a distracted wave and continued into the kitchen section of the apartment.
“Hey, J,” his cousin was saying, his voice gentle and light. “I hear you’re having some problems. No, I’m sorry, I don’t know how to get in contact with Oz. I wish I did, Buddy. Can you talk to me, try to explain it?”
Stiles went back to his book, chortling as he reread a passage. It was so funny that he had to share it.
An alpha’s pack is his harem. That explains why your pack is oh so pretty.
And then, when Derek did not reply. But not why you’re still grumpy. Are they withholding favors?
Xander came back towards the couch, still on the phone.
“No, Bud, your mom assured me that you were fine all three nights. She wouldn’t lie about that. She knows how important it is. I know, J. Other than the zoo, where did you get the wiggins?”
Can your magical sperm actually knock a guy up? Dude! No glove, no love! Esp with Jackson!
His phone beeped with a new text and Stiles opened it with a grin.
what the hell stiles?
Stiles giggled as he imagined Derek’s face.
Jackson would make a horrible mom. He’d bitch about losing his girlish figure and nag about taking out the trash.
“We’ll keep an eye out for anyone suspicious,” Xander promised the kid on the phone as he settled beside Stiles. “Yeah, kiddo. Yeah. Call me, any day or time, it doesn’t matter. Make sure that your mom knows. Yeah. Yeah. Bye.”
Xander ended his call and turned to him. “My kitchen smells good. Like cooking food. Why does my kitchen smell like cooking food?”
“It might have something to do with the casserole in the oven.”
“You cooked? Actual food, not just warming up take out or a frozen meal?”
Stiles laughed. “It’s nothing fancy, just chicken and broccoli. It’s really too warm for it, but it was easy and sounded good.”
“Actual food,” Xander mused, his face comically happy. “Can I keep you?”
“My dad might object.” Sometimes he wasn’t so sure about that.
“We...” Xander’s face took on an uncomfortable grimace. “Haven’t talked about why Uncle John sent you down here.”
Stiles turned his gaze to his phone, which he was flipping over and over in his hands.
“Oh, you know. A prank that went too far; one too many police investigations that I thought it would be fun to stick my nose into; a frenemy who was a little too rough during lacrosse. Normal teen stuff.”
Xander hummed, like he did not believe Stiles, but was willing to let him get away with the lie.
“Well, consider this the obligatory reminder that you can talk to me about anything. You can’t shock me and it won’t go any further than me. Unless someone is in danger. That’s kinda the tipping point. I can’t knowingly let someone get hurt.”
They sat in silence for a moment before Xander hit his fist against the couch cushion and stood up.
“Good talk. Good talk. Do y’think that casserole is done yet?”
Xander followed him into the kitchen and started assembling plates and utensils as he got the casserole out of the oven.
“I can actually cook,” Xander said. “It was my responsibility when Anya lived here. But since she moved out... it’s more hassle than it’s worth.”
His cousin sighed.
“My fiancee. Ex. I realized the day of the wedding that I wasn’t ready to take that step. Not because I didn’t love her, but because I still had too many issues of my own to work out.”
“Are you still friends?”
“Anya,” he paused, obviously searching for the words he needed. “She doesn’t really do amicable breakups. She’s more the type to hack into your bank account and steal all your money. Or wish that your insides were on your outsides.”
“That’s tough. But, not to sound fortune cookie-ish, it’s better to have loved and lost, dude.” Stiles served up heaping helpings of the casserole and the two settled at the table to eat.
“And you would know this how?”
“Vicariously, unfortunately.” Stiles threw up his hands before slumping down in his chair. “Girls don’t seem to like the Stiles charm. Hell, guys don’t seem to like the Stiles charm.”
Xander laughed. “I was just like you at that age. Ignored by my crush, the forgotten about sidekick. Not good at sports or at school or anything. Then, suddenly, I’m making out with one of the hottest girls in school. Usually in broom closets, but that’s neither here nor there.”
“No, her name was Cordy, or Queen C, if we were feeling snarky. She was also the most popular girl in school. She’s living in LA now, working for a private investigator. We still keep in touch.”
“Awesome!” Stiles jackknifed upright again, wincing as his ribs protested. “That means my fifteen year plan still has a chance.”
“Fifteen year plan?”
“Also known as the Lydia Martin Fifteen Year Plan.”
“Lydia being your Cordy?”
“Yes,” Stiles agreed. “She’s brilliant. Like, scarily so. Unfortunately, she also has this epic romance with douchebag Jackson.”
“The same Jackson who tried to break your ribs?” Xander’s expression was knowing.
“He didn’t try to break my ribs. Jackson... has more issues than National Geographic, which I totally don’t understand since his parents think he can do no wrong, buy him anything he wants, and actually take an interest in his life. Anyway, one of his issues is that he’s overly competitive. I scored a goal, he got pissed and forgot that we weren’t wearing protective gear.”
It was close to the truth, at least. As close as Stiles could get. And anyone who knew Jackson knew it was the sort of thing he would have done.
“Sounds like a real winner of a guy.”
“He has his better moments,” Stiles said with a shrug. “Like he adores Lydia and will do anything for her. And he won’t let anyone give Danny a hard time for being gay.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Not that anyone would. Everyone loves Danny. It’s a thing.”
“Yeah, I’ve known a few people like that. Usually they improve after high school when they realize that the world is a big, scary place.”
For some reason, namely lycanthropy, natural good looks, and family wealth, Stiles did not think that Jackson would improve with age. He’d always be a douche.
“So, Friday,” Xander said. “Have any plans?”
“Oh, yeah, I made a ton of new friends today. Their names are Me, Myself, and I. We’re going to have a Call of Duty tourney on the invisible game system I have set up in the corner.”
“Or you could ditch them and come to The Bronze,” Xander said, not missing a beat.
“Bronze?” He thought he had passed a warehouse that sported that name, but he had no idea what it was. Sunnydale sported an inordinate amount of warehouses and churches. It was as odd as Beacon Hills having a train car in an abandoned warehouse. Some things defied explanation.
“It’s a local nightclub. Pool tables, a dance floor, live music on the weekends. I’ve been told by a semi-reliable source that their blooming onion is the best in the world. Enough teens hang there that you might meet someone interesting. Maybe even someone who could replace Lydia Martin.”
“I think only a goddess could replace Lydia in my affections,” Stiles said, holding his hands to his heart to show his loyalty.
His cousin gave an uncomfortable laugh.
“Let’s not test that theory, OK. Try for a nice, normal human.”
“Human?” The phrasing caught his attention.
“I didn’t want to presume.” Xander shrugged. “Either way, male or female, do me a favor and don’t leave the club with anyone. Sunnydale has a gang problem and the different gangs don’t always advertise who they are. So, that pretty girl hitting on you, or handsome guy, could actually be really dangerous. I’d rather not have to explain to Uncle John that I let his only son get kidnapped by some stoner on PCP.”
“Is PCP even a thing any more? I thought meth was the drug of choice.”
“Bath salts, actually. It does crazy things to a guy, man. You’ll be talking to a perfectly normal person, then they’re trying to gnaw through your neck. Really unpleasant.”
Stiles grimaced. He had enough of that kind of thing with the pack. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The Bronze was very different than The Jungle. Since those were the only two clubs he’d ever been in, Stiles wasn’t sure if one of them was an oddity, or if clubs came in a full range of styles. Where Jungle had been pounding beats and flashing lights, The Bronze was more independent artists and low lighting. It kept the warehouse feel with the bare brick walls and steel supports, using tables and chairs that matched. A dance floor took up most of the downstairs, along with a stage, the bar, and a few pool tables. There was seating along the walls as well as on the catwalk above.
The band playing was called Noctura. The band’s sound reminded him of Evanescence, from the beat to the sound of the lead’s soprano. He found his head bobbing along with the music as he watched Xander and Buffy dance.
Though, in Xander’s case, “dance” was stretching the definition of the word. His cousin was spastically moving his body in no rhythm that Stiles could detect, alternating between too fast for the beat and too slow. And he was sure that he’d hit bystanders at least twice, and elbowed Buffy once. Not that Buffy seemed to mind. She just laughed at Xander’s antics.
Stiles held down the fort at their table, playing with his straw and people watching. It was odd to just watch people without looking for signs of the supernatural. He found himself turning every time something flashed in the light, checking to see if it was a pair of werewolf eyes reflecting the light. It wasn’t. It was always a watch or a necklace.
He turned at the sound of his name to see Danyella Dior in all of her glory, descending on him like he was her long lost baby brother. Which she possibly thought he was.
“Danyella,” he greeted, giving her a hug, careful not to smush his face into her impressive bosom. That would be awkward and would dislodge whatever padding she had. “What are you doing here?”
“Making the rounds, sweetie. I have a show in Oxnard tomorrow night. Sunnydale’s close enough to half way that it seemed like a good place to stop.”
“Any of the others with you,” he asked, scratching nervously at his eyebrow. It wasn’t that he disliked Danyella and the girls, but they did tend to be boisterous.
“Just me tonight, baby boy. None of the others wanted to get gussied up for a night on the town. I’m glad I did, though. I like the band.”
He laughed in relief as Buffy and Xander came back to the table. He watched them as they took in Danyella’s form-fitted dress and six inch heels, the careful dramatic makeup that emphasized lips and eyes, and the ash blonde wig that was artfully styled. He knew that Danyella could take care of herself, anyone in her line of work could, but he still tensed as he waited for their reactions.
“Who’s your friend?” The question came from Buffy, who was eying Danyella with a look that Stiles definitely did not like.
“Danyella Dior,” he introduced. “And this is Buffy Summers and Xander Harris.”
Danyella smiled politely at Buffy and turned a wide grin on Xander. “Scruptious.” Her voice dropped a good octave as she said the word, causing Buffy to stiffen and Xander to gulp nervously.
“I meant that figuratively, of course,” she directed at Buffy. “I’m not actually going to eat him up. But, boy could I rock your world, Xander.” The grin got wider as Buffy started snickering and Xander turned bright red.
“So...” Xander had to gulp before continuing. “How do you know Stiles?”
“Baby boy and I met a few months ago in a club. Poor boy was out of his depth.”
“I was just there to help a friend,” he protested. Which was technically true. The trick to telling lies was to keep them as close to the truth as possible. He hated lying, but he could stretch the truth with the best of them.
“So you said,” Danyella said, petting his hair with a smile. Stiles rolled his eyes and waved his hands in defeat. Any moment now she was going to mention her on going fight with Taylor Dakota over him.
“We’ve met up a few times since then, a party here, a club there. I’m still trying to convince him to give it a go, and he still protests that he prefers looking like a twink.”
Stiles banged his head on the table. There she went. Again.
“I don’t look like a twink,” he insisted. “And I don’t want to wear all that gunk on my face and totter around in heels that will destroy my back. I’m happy being who I am.”
Danyella gave him a fond smile. “I know, baby boy. I just like you turning such delightful shades when I bring it up.” She ruffled his short hair. “Though, if you ever change your mind, I do make an excellent Drag Mother. Much better than Taylor. She’d dress you up in the same frizzy wigs she loves. It’s her love of Hermione showing through, I think.”
Stiles laughed again and raised his head from the table. Buffy and Xander were both hiding grins behind their hands. He heaved a sigh and nodded.
“Just... lay off a bit, OK?”
“Sure thing, sugar.” She pressed a kiss against his head and he could feel her lips twitch into a smile. “I was just about to leave anyway. Tomorrow’s going to be busy and the girls want to get an early start. But I saw you and had to come say hi.”
“I’m spending the summer here, so if you come back through, give me a call.”
“Will do, baby boy.” She turned her eyes to Buffy and pointed a long-nailed finger at her. “You look after my boy here. A lot of good people would be upset if anything happened to him.”
“I can take care of myself,” he protested, flailing his arms around.
The two women ignored him as they studied each other over Danyella’s nail. It was a tense moment until Buffy nodded. Danyella gave her a large smile in return and kissed Stiles’s head one last time before sweeping out of the club.
“Do you ever feel like you missed part of the conversation,” he wondered as he rubbed at his head, checking to see if Danyella had smeared her purple lipstick on him again. “Is there lipstick on me?”
Xander laughed, a relieved sound. “No. No, you’re good.”
Stiles wanted nothing more than to take a shower and collapse into bed. He’d just finished his first day working for Xander and he was exhausted. He had no idea that lugging buckets of nails around all day would be so tiring.
Because that was all he did. He had carried five pound boxes of nails to each construction zone at the school and refreshed the workers’ supplies. He’d also swept up after them, collecting debris and parsing it out to various recycling bins. As a change of pace, he had also carted coolers of water and Gatorade to ensure that no one became dehydrated. He’d had a little red wagon to tow the coolers and everything. Sure, the guys had appreciated it, had all thanked him, but it was not exactly a challenging job.
Still, the heat and the activity tired him out. The school was almost completed, but the central air was not hooked up yet. Even if i had been installed, it would be a waste to run it, especially when construction workers were constantly moving from section to section, hauling equipment and supplies.
“How about ‘Spaghetti a la Harris’ for dinner tonight,” Xander asked as he pulled a jar of Prego from the cabinet. “Not fancy, but you look too tired to wait for either real food or decent delivery.”
Stiles grunted as he stumbled his way into the bathroom. He left his filthy clothes on the floor as he stepped under the spray. He stayed in the shower, just letting the water rinse away the aches of the day, until the hot water heater ran out, then he gave himself a quick scrub and got out. The shower refreshed him, waking him up enough that he was at least willing to consider something other than collapsing.
Stiles made sure the towel was wrapped firmly around his hips before he poked his head out of the bathroom to check for visitors. He usually took clean clothes in with him, but had forgot to grab some in his haste to get clean. He’d already experienced Buffy and Dawn’s tendency to show up at the apartment out of the blue. He and Scott had the same type of close relationship that Buffy and Xander seemed to have. That being said, neither Stiles nor Scott had a little sister who was too nosy for her own good. He’d come out of the bathroom before to find Dawn standing in the hallway, a too innocent expression on her face.
Not seeing anyone, and not hearing anything other than Xander moving around the kitchen, he made the mad dash to his bedroom.
He had just finished getting dressed when his phone started ringing.
“Hey, Dad. How was your day?”
“When did you become the parent,” John Stilinski grumbled. “I’m the one who should be asking you that. It was even the reason I called.”
“It was good,” he replied, letting himself fall back gently onto the bed, only to wince as his back hit one of the library books he’d left in the middle.
“That didn’t sound good. Is it your ribs?”
“I just flopped down on a book. My ribs are fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, Dad. They’re barely even bothering me right now.” The bruises had faded to a gross brownish green color and most of the pain was gone. He could breathe normally, even when lugging nails or climbing stairs. He’d even started some gentle stretching exercises he’d found online. They still ached whenever he bent wrong and he was thankful that he wasn’t at lacrosse practice doing suicides, but they were improving.
“Xander didn’t work you too hard? Or make you do anything dangerous?”
Stiles almost snorted at the question, but he could still hear his cousin’s safety lecture from the morning, detailing the many and varied ways that a person could get hurt on a construction site.
“I hauled nails and water. I wore a safety vest, hard hat, eye protection, and ear plugs the entire time. I couldn’t even listen to my iPod. Xander is a safety Nazi, Dad!”
“His crew has not had an injury in over one hundred days, Stiles. They have an excellent rating with Cal/OSHA. The only complaint filed was dismissed as being too absurd to be added to the file and there’s no longer any official record of it.”
Stiles let his silence speak for him.
“I may have had coffee with Daryl Wiseman before I called Xander,” his father said, his voice defensive.
Daryl Wiseman was the Cal/OSHA investigator for Beacon Hills and one of the sheriff’s old friends. Knowing that his father had called in a favor to investigate his working conditions filled him with a warm, happy feeling.
“Thanks,” he said, his voice soft.
“Any time,” his dad’s voice is equally soft.
“Alright, time to ‘fess up. You had the bacon double cheeseburger from Sal’s for lunch, didn’t you?”
His dad laughed. “Does it count if I had the salad instead of the curly fries?”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “No. Because you probably asked for double bacon on the burger.”
“I refuse to confirm or deny that statement on the grounds that it might incriminate me.”
“Triple bacon? Dad!” He flailed his free arm in protest.
“It seems, though, that Sal and Anne have no respect for the authority of the sheriff’s office. Asking for extra bacon earns a stern look and a lecture about the dangers of cholesterol. The lecture sounds suspiciously like one I’ve heard you spout.”
Stiles smiled smugly as he switched the phone to his other ear and settled more deeply into the bed. His foot bounced on the floor, tapping out a rhythm.
“I don’t think I like what you are implying, Father Mine.”
“I’m not implying anything. I’m outright saying that you have corrupted my best source of greasy food with your healthy ways. Anne has even started including low fat mayo on my burgers and bragged about switching to lean beef. It’s unnatural!”
Stiles chuckled. “It’s healthy.”
“Like I said,” his father grumbled. “Unnatural.”
Stiles hummed good-naturedly. He could smell the warmed up sauce from the kitchen and suspected that he would need to go eat soon.
“Listen, kid, I’m on the late shift tomorrow, so I might not be able to call. Not until after you should be tucked into bed.”
The teen sat up, barely even noticing the way his ribs protested the sudden motion.
“Everything OK?” His father had been scheduled to have the day off. Stiles knew this because he had been memorizing the schedule for years. The last time his father had to work long hours, Jackson had been rampaging through the town, paralyzing those he did not kill. And Gerard Argent had been terrorizing anyone who might have stopped him.
“Yeah, everything’s fine. Johnson’s just going on paternity leave, so I’m taking up the slack.”
Stiles covered the mouthpiece of his cell and let out a relieved sigh.
“Just don’t overdo it,” he reminded his dad after he’d recovered from the small panic.
“We’re all taking turns covering his shift,” the sheriff assured. “We’ll be a bit stretched thin for a couple of weeks, but it’s been quiet so far this summer.”
“OK.” Stiles rubbed his hand over his face.
“Don’t worry so much, kid. I’m the adult, remember?”
“Your eating habits say otherwise.”
“Yeah, yeah,” his dad snarked back. “Get some rest, Stiles. Love you.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
Stiles hung up the phone and sat for the moment, the device pressed to his forehead as he breathed.
All quiet on the western front? he texted to Derek and Scott.
Derek’s reply came ten minutes later.
just made a round. all quiet.
Scott’s reply did not come until sometime much later, after Stiles had eaten dinner with Xander and then fallen asleep with his face pressed into a book. The text consisted of a series of question marks, followed by asking what kind of flower he should leave on Allison’s windowsill.
Friday night was Buffy and Xander’s standing Bronze “date” night.
“Not that it’s an actual date,” Xander explained as they walked to the club. Stiles liked that almost everything was within walking distance. It saved him tons of gas money.
“Buffy just ended a bad relationship. A really bad relationship. Like, if I see him again I’m going to cut off his head, stick garlic in his mouth, and shove a stake through his heart.”
“Nope. Underkill. Very much underkill. Anyway, Dawnie spends most Friday nights with her friend Janice, so this is the only time Buff can really let her hair down.”
“Dawn is what, fourteen? Fifteen? Why isn’t she trusted to stay home alone?”
Xander grimaced. “Dawnie... didn’t deal with her mom’s death well. She got into a lot of trouble and part of her punishment is to have almost constant adult supervision.”
“And to never, ever go into stores where they sell anything sparkly or that can be easily slipped into a pocket,” Buffy said as she joined them at the club’s door.
“OK, then,” Stiles said. Reading between the lines was easy when the hidden words were in a 34 point font.
“So, Stiles,” Buffy looped an arm over his shoulder and her other one through Xander’s offered elbow. “Have you made any friends your own age yet? Not that we mind you hanging with us! Of course not. We’re cool; we’re hip. What’s the phrase all the whipper snappers are saying now, Xand?”
“Groovy! Yes, we’re groovy! We might even be jive.”
Stiles laughed and shook his head at Buffy’s antics. “You’re not that much older than me.”
Xander was over twenty-one, and he assumed that Buffy was as well. Which put them at five years older than his own sixteen. They acted more like kids than adults at times, which was cool. He wondered if most young adults acted more like them or like Derek. Which brought to mind a really odd idea of Derek trying to joke and act the fool. Stiles could not see it happening. Ever.
“Old enough,” Xander said, pulling Buffy away from him and towards the dance floor. “Go, have fun. Just remember the rule.”
“Watch out for gang members hyped up on bath salts. Got it.” He waved as he headed towards the bar.
“Bath salts,” he heard Buffy ask.
“Apparently PCP isn’t a thing anymore. All the cool druggies are using bath salts. Like that guy in Florida.”
Stiles settled onto a stool at the bar and ordered a Coke. He didn’t even try to flash his fake ID for something alcoholic. Getting drunk was much more fun when he was with friends who could watch out for him. Werewolf metabolism was awesome for some things, at least. Stiles never had to worry about who the DD would be.
An hour later he was nursing his second Coke, chasing the straw around the glass as he watched two girls on the dance floor all but make out. Almost every other set of masculine eyes were focused on the same couple. Stiles freely admitted that men were dogs, especially teen boys. He still could not tear his gaze away.
“It’s a disgusting display,” a voice said practically in his ear, making him fumble his drink as he startled. He managed not to spill it all over himself, though some of it did land on the floor and earn him a glare from the bartender.
“Want to dance,” the same voice asked.
Stiles looked over at the girl who had spoken and coughed in embarrassment. She had dark blonde hair that fell down her back in curls, a cute button nose, and green eyes that were showing obvious interest in him.
“Um... dance! Yes. I can dance. Let’s dance.”
She giggled as he set his drink down on the bar and hopped from the stool, almost losing his footing as his foot landed in the puddle of Coke he had spilled.
“Heh.” He could feel his face heat as she grabbed his hand and pulled him to the dance floor. The song helpfully changed to something with a slower beat as they got there, not something slow enough to be considered romantic, but not the fast beat that would have had him looking like Xander when he danced.
“Stiles,” he choked out as she settled her hands on his waist. He could feel the coolness of them through his t-shirt, like she had just been holding a cold drink.
“My name that is. Um.” He huffed out an exasperated breath before giving her a small smile “Hi. I’m Stiles.”
“Bethany,” she replied with a smile in return. He put his own hands on her waist and moved them both to the beat, finding the rhythm after a few awkward moves.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here before. Are you new?”
“Visiting for the summer.”
“Too bad.” Her thumbs were massaging small circles into his skin, rucking his shirt up slightly with each pass until he could feel her hand on his bare skin.
“Sunnydale could always use some new blood. Sure you don’t want to stay?”
“The idea is very appealing,” he told her with a smile. “Especially right now. But I would miss my dad and my friends. And lacrosse. Does the school here even have a team?”
Bethany wrinkled her nose adorably. “Sunnydale High isn’t really a big sports school. We have a football team that sucks, and not in a happy fun way.”
Stiles found his eyes focused on where his dance partner was running her tongue over her teeth. The whole thing was surreal. Girls did not flirt with him like this. Usually they ignored him in favor of their jock boyfriends.
“So, family, friends, your dog. Is there anyone else who would miss you? Someone special maybe?”
His thoughts turned to Lydia for a moment and he felt his gut twinge. “Is that your way of asking if I have a girlfriend stashed away?”
“Wasn’t subtle at all, was it?”
“I’ll overlook it, just this once. No one special. How about you?”
“I’m still sampling the buffet. So many yummy boys to choose from. And I have plenty of time to find the one I want to keep.”
“So don’t get my hopes up,” Stiles summarized for her.
“Doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun in the meantime,” she said, going up on her toes to press a kiss against his neck. He inhaled sharply at the action, his body responding in natural and embarrassing ways.
The song ended and Stiles tightened his hold on her waist for a moment before letting her go and stepping back.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
“To start with.”
Bethany grasped his hand again and let him lead her to the bar. Once they had drinks again, Coke for him and a hot tea for her, they made their way to one of the tables under the catwalk.
“So, tell me about Stiles. Where are you from? Hopes, dreams, aspirations? I’ll even listen to you talk about your dog.”
“I’m from Beacon Hills, a little town in Northern California, where I warm the bench during lacrosse games and try to keep my best friend from doing anything too stupid. Which probably counts for ‘hopes, dreams, and aspirations’. And I don’t have a dog.”
Bethany frowned. “You don’t? I could have sworn... that you were a dog person.”
“I had a boa constrictor once. That was my one and only foray into pet ownership.”
“Huh.” She shook her head, sending her curls flying. “So, lacrosse.” She rested her chin on her hand and her elbow on the table. “That’s the game the Indians played, right?”
Stiles winced a bit and took a sip of his drink before launching into a short explanation of the history of the sport and how it had changed in modern times. Well, short for him, at least. Bethany was looking a little annoyed by the end of it, but she still gave him a wide smile.
“I can tell that you love it. You mentioned being on the bench. That must get frustrating.”
He frowned and fiddled with his straw as he thought about his answer.
“It can be. I was put on the field during the championship game and that... that was a rush. A lot of the guys on the team are just on it because it’s the most popular sport in our school, or because it looks good on college applications. They still get more field time than I do because I trip over my own feet and have horrible aim.”
“What if there was a way to change all that?”
Stiles jerked his head up and studied her for a long moment. She looked back innocently, taking a sip of her tea.
“Long hours practicing on my own,” he said, voice firm. “There’s no miracle pill or... or... anything that I would try to make myself better. Because it’s never free.”
Bethany smiled. “You’re a smart boy, Stiles. And I like you. Wanna get out of here and go somewhere a little more private?”
He shook his head, only half regretting the answer. “I promised my cousin that I wouldn’t run off and leave without him.”
She pouted her lip out. “Not even just for a quick bite?”
“Sorry. I’m told that the food here is decent, though. Would you like to order something?”
Bethany sighed. “A burger. Rare.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Ew. Salad, please.”
“You got it.” He gathered up his empty glass and her tea cup and bussed them to the bar. He glanced back at Bethany, who was staring at the dance floor, before turning to the bartender and placing the order.
“Who’s your friend,” Xander asked, coming up beside him. Stiles looked back towards the table once again and saw Bethany stand and head towards the restrooms, a slight sway to her hips that drew his focus. Teenaged boy, he couldn’t help it.
“Bethany,” Stiles replied once she was out of visual range. “She’s... nice, I guess? I haven’t really decided. But she seems interested, which is a new thing for me, so I’m going to go with it.”
“That’s good, man. Awesome. Only...”
“I don’t want you getting too attached. You’re only here for the summer. Go out, have a good time, but don’t do something you’d regret.”
Stiles gave an exaggerated frown. “Aren’t you supposed to be my bro and tell me that I’ll only live once and that I should sow my wild oats when I’m young? Dude, you’re harshing my mellow. Plus, I seem to recall you suggesting that I find someone to replace the ever lovely Lydia. What changed?”
“I just... worry about you,” Xander said as he waved to Buffy, who was coming from the restrooms. She didn’t notice him for a moment as she swiped at her skirt.
“I got dust on my skirt. Again. I should know better than that by now.”
“How’d you get dust on your skirt,” Stiles asked.
Buffy looked at him with wide eyes. “You would not believe the little girl’s room. Seriously. I should complain to the management.”
“Do that and we’ll stop comping your drinks, Summers,” the bartender snarked, appearing at her elbow with two plates of food, which he handed over to Stiles.
“Thanks, dude. Awesome. Buff, Xand, I’ll see you guys a little later.”
He made his way back to the table and set the plates down before realizing that he’d forgotten the drinks. He turned back to get them, only to find that his cousin had followed him, drinks in hand.
“No problem. Mind if you keep me company until your friend comes back? Buffster’s planning on taking a walk around the neighborhood, to clear her head a bit.”
“What about the gangs?”
“They tremble at her witty puns and keen fashion sense.”
Xander looked so hopeful that Stiles could not turn him away. His cousin reminded him a lot of Scott right then. They both could pull off the puppy eyes in a way that Stiles had not been able to since he was five.
“Yeah, dude. You can be my wingman.”
“Sweet!” Xander sprawled into one of the chairs and Stiles followed his example, making sure that he could see the hallway that led to the restrooms. He didn’t want Bethany to come out and think that he had ditched her.
“Any plans for tomorrow?”
“Just going to the library. My books are due and I’m finished with most of them anyway.”
“Books are of the good. The ones I’ve noticed you reading looked rather old. Are they for school or pleasure?”
“Why would anyone read antique books for pleasure,” Stiles hedged.
Xander chuckled. “I have a couple of friends who would rather read an old musty book than anything else. I’ve even been known to check a few out myself, back when I was your age.”
“I’ve lived with you for two weeks, dude, and the only thing I’ve seen you read is comic books.”
“I never said I actually read them,” Xander coughed, his face flushing. “I was a teen, there were partially nude etchings. And let’s never mention this again.”
“Agreed.” Stiles looked back towards the restrooms again. Bethany had been gone a long time. How long did it actually take girls to powder their noses?
“I’m sure there’s a line,” Xander said, obviously noticing his slight distress. “There’s always a line to the ladies, right? Because they go in pairs. No one will explain that to me. Do girls need help or something?”
“Allison says that they gossip.” He’d asked when she and Lydia had dragged him out shopping for formal dresses. It had been a very scarring experience. He had not known that white came in so many colors.
“Really? Buffy and Willow never told me that. Willow said that it was one of the mysteries of the universe that I would never understand. Her voice got all mystical when she said it, too, so I believed her.”
Stiles left his gaze on the hallway, but his attention was on his cousin. Xander had mentioned Willow before. Afterwards he always went quiet and sad. It made the teen very curious.
“She probably wanted to keep you guessing. That’s a thing, right? Girls do it to keep guys interested.”
“Nah, not Wills. We’ve always been best friends. OK, sure, there was the clothes fluke thing, which led to tears and rebar and it was all bad. Don’t clothes fluke with your best friend, cuz. That way lies the Dark Side.”
“OK... I’ll keep that in mind.”
“I wish you could meet her,” Xander said. His hands were spinning his cup of coffee around. “You two are a lot alike. You both do the babble thing. And the book thing.”
“So, why can’t I meet her?”
Xander went quiet again. “She’s in England right now with another of our friends, Giles. Willow... Tara. Tara was the sweetest girl in the world. She was shy, liked to hide behind her hair, stuttered when she was nervous. She was good for Willow and vice versa. Willow brought Tara out of her shell, revealed her wicked sense of humor. And Tara grounded Willow, brought her back to Earth when she was on a tangent.
“In May... God, it’s still so stupid. This guy that we knew... we’d figured out that he’d been involved with some bad stuff. So we turned him into the police, only he got away and decided that Buffy was the root of all his problems. I still don’t know where he got the gun. He missed Buffy, but one of the shots went wild. Tara was in the house, talking to Willow, and then she wasn’t anymore.”
Stiles swallowed thickly. He never forgot about the normal, human dangers in the world, his dad’s job did not allow for that. Random violence touched so many people and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Anyway, Wills did not deal with it well. Giles ended up taking her away to help her recover. He calls with updates, but right now she’s not allowed to have outside contact.”
“I’m sorry,” Stiles said. “About Tara.”
“Yeah.” Xander took a drink of his coffee, then frowned in the direction of the restrooms. “Surely the line isn’t that bad. Your friend has been gone a long time.”
Stiles glanced at his watch, but didn’t have a point of reference to compare the time to. He poked at his fries, and then his burger, to find that both had gone lukewarm.
“I’ll go check for her,” he said, wiping the grease on his jeans as he made his way towards the restrooms. Despite Xander’s predictions, there was no line outside the ladies, and a cautious cracking of the door and yelling her name did not net him a response.
Stiles made his way back to the table, shoulders slumped.
“I think I got ditched, dude. I knew I shouldn’t have gone on about lacrosse. Turns girls off every time.”
“Obviously she has horrible taste. She should be turned into a toad or something. If, you know, that were possible. Totally not.” Xander grabbed a handful of Bethany’s fries and shoved them into his mouth.
“Ugh, cold,” Xander complained, grimacing as he chewed.
“Yeah, but they’re already paid for. Might as well enjoy them.”
“Let me see if Marc can heat them up for us.”
He waved his cousin away as Xander gathered up the plates and took them back to the bar. Stiles thumped his head down onto the table and sighed. What was his life? Seriously?
Stiles had a decent collection of folklore books in his backpack the next morning, but was thinking that he could do with some lighter reading. So he browsed the Library, searching for something fun and entertaining to read during his downtime. Something that did not involve werewolves or giant lizards. Unless they were dragons. Dragons he could do.
He grabbed the first book of an Eddings series he’d read before and continued to look when his attention was caught by a row of slim red and black books that proclaimed Sunnydale High and the year published. The Library had issues of the school’s yearbook going back at least fifty years. Stiles laughed and pulled out one of the books from when Xander was in school.
He started flipping through 2008 and found his cousin in the junior section, along with Buffy. A couple of candid shots showed the two with Willow Rosenberg and a Daniel Osbourne. Willow was a cute redhead and Osbourne appeared to have constantly changing hair color, given that it was green in his senior picture and blue in the one full-color candid.
Stiles grinned as he continued to look through the book. It was a little odd looking at pictures of people he did not know, but still fun.
Until he got to the Memorial section of the book. Stiles’s yearbook had a single page for the memorial, with a picture of the two students who had died in a car wreck over the summer. Sunnydale High’s book had no pictures, just a listing of names and dates to record the too short lives. It took up the whole page, fifty names in all.
Stiles stared at the page, taking in the different dates. They were spread throughout the year, so it was not some sort of horrific accident or viral epidemic that had managed to get missed by the press. This was something different.
He left the book on the table and went back to the shelf, pulling five random years. The Memorial pages in 1970, 1986, 1998, and 2000 were impossibly more grim than those in 2008. 2011 was only slightly better.
He leaned back in his chair and considered the books open in front of him. The statistics were astounding. How was it possible that so many teens were dying and nothing was getting reported? The parents in Beacon Hills would have been demanding answers, stricter traffic regulations, drug and alcohol education, a curfew.
He remembered what Xander had said, about gang activity and requesting that Stiles be in before dark. It made sense that Xander knew about Sunnydale’s hidden dangers, especially with his suspected gang ties. But it made no sense that the town’s mortality rate was not making national headlines.
Stiles took the books to one of the computers, thankfully free because people in Sunnydale did not seem to use the library at all. He logged in using his library card and started Googling the names, starting with those from 2011.
Of the thirty names from 2011, only three showed up in the search. Sunnydale Times articles revealed that one died in a car wreck, one from a heart defect, and one had committed suicide. Three out of thirty names.
When his allotted time ran out, Stiles logged back in and entered into his gmail account. He started transferring the lists into a message that he could save for later research. He could search for them using the BHSD system, but not using a library computer. If there were police reports on their deaths, then the police database would find them.
Stiles was working on 2005 when a name made him pause. Bethany Durnham: Oct 8, 1988-April 17, 2005. A cold chill crawled up his spine. Bethany was not an unusual name, but some gut instinct had him searching the portrait section for her picture.
He felt his stomach roil when he found it. The black and white portrait did not do her justice. She seemed somehow less in it, her hair limp and straight, oversized glasses covering her eyes and detracting from her nose. But it was definitely the same Bethany who had ditched him the night before.
Stiles punched her name into Google with shaking hands. He was not particularly surprised when nothing showed up.
Feeling light headed, he logged out of his email and gathered up the year books. He carefully reshelved them before grabbing his backpack and heading towards the circulation desk.
The librarian at the desk eyed him as she went through the process of checking out the books.
“Are you feeling OK, dear? You’re looking a little peaked.”
“Forgot to eat breakfast this morning,” he replied with what he hoped was a believable smile.
She hummed and reached into her desk, extracting a bag of cookies.
“These are leftover from this week’s Summer Reading Program. They should help raise your blood sugar.”
This time his grin was real. “Thank you, I appreciate it.”
“No worries, dear. Here’s your books. They’re due in two weeks.”
“Thank you. Have a nice day.”
“Oh, thank God you’re back,” Dawn grabbed his arm and pulled him into the apartment the moment he opened the door. He barely kept his balance. Dawn was stronger than she looked.
“Will you please tell these two doofuses that you’ll take me to the mall and keep me out of trouble? I’m going to go crazy if I don’t get away from them both.”
“Sixteen does not an adult make,” Buffy snapped before Stiles could even open his mouth to ask what was going on.
“Stiles is a very mature sixteen.”
“Stiles was sent here because he has juvenile delinquent tendencies and his dad thought that Xander would be a good influence on him.”
“Hey!” The girls ignored his protest to continue their argument. Not that Buffy was wrong, but there were circumstances.
“And you would know all about being a delinquent, wouldn’t you?”
“Exactly! Look how much trouble I got into at sixteen. Angel alone...”
“I would not do that!”
“Halloween ringing any bells with you? Because I swear I can hear church bells. Xander?”
Xander raised his hands from his position on the couch. “Leave me out of this.”
Stiles edged around the girls and sat beside his cousin. “Dawn realizes that I’m only like a year older than her, right,” he whispered.
“I think it has more to do with you having a license and a car. Dawnie’s feeling a bit cooped up.”
The sisters continued to fight, bringing up past instances that Stiles had no context for. He was suddenly glad that he was an only child. Dawn seemed to know way too much about Buffy’s life, including when the elder Summers lost her virginity.
“Harsh,” he muttered as Dawn got a particularly nasty jibe in. “Should we break them up?”
“No. They’re just letting off some steam. It’s been a hard year. I give them another fifteen minutes before they’re both crying. Then, shoe shopping will occur. Unless we do something to piss them off, then they’ll both tear into us like rabid wolves.” He lowered his voice even more. “Don’t make any sudden moves or look them directly in the eyes. And remember, they can smell fear.”
He had to stifle a snicker behind his hand. The description would do well for any of the girls he knew.
As predicted, shortly afterwards, Buffy and Dawn were both sobbing. Xander produced a box of tissues from somewhere and made soothing noises until the two girls had calmed
“I need shoes,” Buffy said. “How’s my makeup? Is the mascara smeared?”
“It’s a little smudged, but it looks good,” her sister assured her. “Oh, Janice was telling me about a cute pair at the mall. We can go window shopping!”
“Sounds like a plan. Xander? Stiles?”
Xander gave a huff and stood. “Yeah. You too, man.”
“Better to just give in. She’ll pout if she doesn’t get her way.”
Stiles sighed and ran a hand through his hair. There went his plan of researching. “Please tell me there will be lunch involved. I could eat a horse.”
“Trigger?” Dawn’s voice had gone wobbly again. “Buffy, you promised me that people didn’t actually eat horses. That Trigger was living out the last of his days in a lovely field with a tree and some goats to keep him company. The tree, Buffy!”
Buffy shot a glare at Stiles, who backed away in fear of Dawn’s renewed sobs.
“Trigger?” His voice absolutely did not squeak. Because he was a man and men did not squeak in the face of crying girls.
Dawn’s shoulders started shaking, her sobs now buried in Buffy’s shoulder. Stiles flailed around and looked to Xander for advice, only to find his cousin holding a throw pillow to his face in an effort to stifle his laughter. When he looked back to the girls, it became obvious that Dawn’s “sobs” were actually howls of laughter.
“You’re screwing with me,” he said, his mouth agape. “Rude!”
Xander took the pillow away from his face and let his laughter fill the apartment.
Stiles stumbled out of his bedroom early the next morning, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. He’d say that he’d been up too late the night before plugging names into the police database, but he had not actually gone to bed yet. Which meant that he needed coffee. And possibly a double dose of Adderall, despite his doctor’s dire threats about medicine tolerances and recommended dosages.
“Did you pull an all-nighter?”
“Minecraft is damned addictive,” he said as he slumped onto a chair, almost tipping it over before rebalancing. “And the Creepers are just... creepy.”
“Well, it’s not like you have any pressing plans for the day, right? Unless you want to go to church services with me?”
Stiles cracked his eyes open and actually looked at his cousin, who was dressed much the same way he did for work. He pulled breakfast sandwiches out of their family-sized box and read the back of one of the sandwiches before he opened one end of each and popped them in the microwave.
“Nah. I think I’d rather laze around and try to find some diamonds instead. Thanks for the invite, though.”
“No problem.” The microwave beeped, but Xander ignored it. “I’m going to services at the Methodist church on the corner. If you need me, call my cell.”
Stiles frowned as his cousin turned to the microwave and pulled out the sandwiches. “Didn’t you go to a Baptist church last week?”
Xander shrugged and handed him one of the heated sandwiches on a paper plate. “I like to keep my options open. I figure God doesn’t really care which service I attend, as long as I make the effort. Plus, it’s good to get to know the local clergy.”
Stiles hummed, his mouth full of yummy, yummy sausage and biscuit.
“Anyway, I need to head out. I should be back in a couple of hours.”
Stiles nodded absently, more focused on the fact that he had food than his cousin’s departure.
Thirty minutes later, after a shower and some much-needed Stiles Private Time, he was back at his computer, searching for yet another name in the police database and Google. He had once again started with the most current list of names and worked his way backwards, using a notebook to make notes on any news articles or police reports he came across.
There was distressingly little information. A few more car wrecks, a long fight against cancer, a medical mishap that cost the operating surgeon his license. A handful of animal attacks, including the former school principal. Stiles had no idea how a pack of freaking hyenas of all things had gotten loose from the zoo, much less across town and into the man’s office.
Most of the sparse police reports he found mentioned gangs on PCP, but a search for other gang activity turned up absolutely nothing. No tagging, no increase in drug distribution or arrests, and no reports of weapons’ violence. Not to mention Sunnydale did not fit the demographic where gangs were usually found, not with its middle class, suburban population.
It was more like “gangs on PCP” was an internal code used to shut down further investigation.
The only other trend he found in the SPD police reports, at one point when he’d gotten distracted from his primary search, involved accidents with barbecue forks. Barbecue forks, of all things! He had thought it was weird when it showed up on Xander’s record, but finding other instances was a major red flag.
“Twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern,” he muttered as he picked up his phone and found the contact he wanted. “And more is insane.”
“What’s wrong?” Derek picked up on the second ring, his voice sleep rough. Stiles glanced at his watch and realized that it was possibly still too early for grumpy alphas to be awake, but it was too late now to hang up.
“Are vampires real?”
“Stiles, I swear to God, if you called me to ask inane questions--”
“You’ll rip my throat out with your teeth. Got it. But I’m serious this time. Do vampires exist?”
He could hear Derek grumble over the line and then what he could only assume was the sound of him flopping back against his bed.
“Vampires are real and usually avoid areas where there’s a pack.”
“Is it some sort of long-standing blood feud deal?”
“This is not Twilight, Stiles!”
“I was hoping more for Underworld, myself. I’ll take hot vamps in leather catsuits over sparkly teen angst any day.”
Derek actually huffed a laugh before replying. “Vampires are soulless demons. They stick to cities because their kills are easier to hide there. Werewolves prefer rural areas because there’s more room to run.”
“Huh. I guess that makes sense.” Stiles propped the phone between his ear and shoulder and tapped his thumbs on his stomach as he thought over that. He should have brought a copy of the Argent Bestiary. Lydia would have bitten his head off for even suggesting it, though. She was spending the summer translating the document and notes into something the rest of them could understand.
“Tell me about them. How can I tell if someone is a vampire?”
Derek hesitated. “Are you having problems at your cousin’s?”
“No more than normal. It’s a small town and boring at first glance. But there’s something about this town, dude. Too many cemeteries and churches, too few police investigations.”
“It’s fine, dude. I have my mountain ash and know not to go wandering in the woods during a full moon.”
“If you think you’re in danger, come home. We’ll figure out what to do about your dad.”
He considered it, considered grabbing his backpack and hopping in the jeep and just going. Heading home and dealing with the fallout later. Dealing with telling his dad the truth.
“If it comes to that, I will.” He flung his arms off his stomach and his right hand connected with a pen. He picked it up and started absently spinning it . “What else can you tell me about vampires?”
“Don’t you have someone else you can ask?”
“Lydia’s still working on translating the bestiary and threatened my dangly bits if I bothered her. If I had a way to contact Peter, I still wouldn’t go to him for information. And the less said about Allison, the better. As for the internet, I don’t feel like wading through The Vampire Diaries and Twilight fansites today. No amount of information would make that worthwhile.”
Derek sighed. “I ran across a few in New York. They smell like blood.”
“They look perfectly normal, until the fangs come out,” Derek continued, as if Stiles had not interrupted at all. “Though they feel cold, if you touch them. They can easily pass for human and use it to their advantage. Some movies did get it right, though. They cast no reflection, they combust in the sun, and decapitation or a wooden stake through the heart will kill them. Of course, that will also kill most creatures.”
“And when you say ‘soulless demons’, what exactly do you mean?”
“Exactly what it says on the box, Stiles. Whatever it is that makes a person human, call it a soul, conscience, light of hope, just disappears. What’s left has memories of being human, but no emotional connection to the memories. They become psychopaths who revel in wanton destruction.”
Stiles swallowed heavily at the thought. “How have they managed to remain hidden?”
“As far as I could ever figure, mostly because they killed each other just as often as they killed humans. There’s also a few hunters who specialize in vampires. Laura dated one named Robin for a while. Vampires never want to admit that humans are dangerous, though. They have this mythical boogeyman called... what was it? Slayer. The only thing any of them could agree on was that Slayer was a girl. Some said she was a demon herself, some that she was a warrior of God.”
“How do you know all of this?”
“You don't know everything about me. I had a life before you.” When Stiles did not snark back, he continued. “There are places, bars, mostly, where supernaturals gather. Sometimes there’s a spell to make sure no one fights, sometimes not. The seedier bars are good for working off some aggression. Most supernaturals are up for a fight and you don’t have to hold back with them.”
“You make it sound like demons are pretty common.”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“A play about a murderous uncle. Fitting.”
“I thought so. There’s a lot of creatures out there, Stiles. Like vampires, they tend to stick to large cities. Not only are they less noticeable, but cities also have large sewer systems, subways, even Prohibition tunnels for them to move around if they can’t be on the streets.”
“Are there any in Beacon Hills,” he asked, his thoughts immediately turning to his father’s safety.”
“A handful that can pass as human. Despite what the Argents would tell you, plenty of creatures are perfectly peaceful, especially if they’re living in smaller towns. And I would have dealt with any that were a danger.”
Stiles thought to some of the pictures he’d seen while flipping through the Bestiary. They had all seemed horrendous, which he supposed was to be expected from a hunter’s notebook. Everything in it had to be taken with a grain of salt.
Still, if obvious demons existed -- ones with horns and claws and purple skin, not Supernatural black smoke wearing meat suits -- then big cities were the place to be. In LA a guy wandering around with horns on his head would be dismissed as an actor between scenes. In New York, maybe he’d be on his way to a costume party.
In Beacon Hills a demon would be quickly noticed. The sheriff’s department would be called. There would be chaos, screaming, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.
“Yeah, OK,” he finally said. He would have to trust Derek’s judgment on this, at least while he was banished from Beacon Hills. Once he was back, he was definitely going to force the alpha to tell him who was less than human and do his own investigation.
“How are things there?”
Derek huffed. “Your friend is an idiot.”
“How come when he does something stupid, he’s my friend, but when he does something smart, he’s your beta?”
“When was the last time he did something smart?”
“I... refuse to answer that question on the grounds that he’s my best friend. What did he do?”
“Almost shifted in the middle of the mall because he saw some guy flirting with Allison. Luckily Isaac was there and managed to get him into an empty store.”
Stiles winced. “Damnit. That idiot.” He hoped to hell that Scott wasn’t stalking Allison again. Lurking on her roof might seem romantic, if you were Bella Swan, but in reality it was creepy and the exact opposite of giving her time.
“I’ll find a rolled up newspaper to smack him with. Not that it will help. Is there anything else I should know about?”
Derek didn’t speak for over a minute, which made Stiles fidget. “Whatever it is, dude, just tell me.”
“Jackson left. Emptied his bank account, took his car, and left. I only know because Lydia asked me if I knew where he was.”
Stiles rubbed a hand over his face. He honestly did not know what to say to that. “Good riddance” to the douche who had made his high school career hell. “Fuck you” to the asshole who abandoned Lydia after her love brought him back from being a murderous fucking lizard.
“Sorry,” was what he settled on. He wasn’t even sure why. Sorry that Derek had picked such horrible teens to be his pack. Sorry that three out of the four betas had abandoned him to the alpha pack that Isaac said was circling. Sorry that he could not be there to offer comfort to Lydia, who was probably hiding her hurt behind perfect makeup and a bitchy attitude.
“You’re sure he left of his own free will?”
“He left a note for Lydia.”
“Douche nozzle,” he muttered. He wondered if he should call her, or at least text. She’d probably ignore both, though.
“Yeah.” Stiles thought Derek was responding to him, but then he heard another, muffled voice come through the phone.
“I have to go. Keep your nose out of trouble.”
Stiles didn’t bother to answer as Derek hung up.
Stiles gave a jaw-popping yawn as he stopped by the fence that surrounded the high school construction zone. He’d spent all of Sunday pouring over Google search results, looking for patterns and delving into the scary world for Twilight fansites on the off chance that one was cleverly hiding real information. He’d given Twihards too much credit there and was sure that he was scarred for life now. He’d only left his room for food and bathroom breaks before collapsing on top of his laptop. He could still feel the imprint of the keys on his cheek. At least he had not drooled.
“Hey, kid, don’t you know those things are contagious?” One of the construction workers, Earl Sinclair, gave his own wide yawn as he paused by the gate. “You stay up too late watching the ol’ boob tube or somethin’?”
“Or something,” Stiles agreed.
Sinclair grunted. “At least you showed up for work. Most of you kids today have no sense of responsibility. It’s all Grand Theft Armor and World of Legions. Virtual worlds have nothing on the real world, kid. You gotta go out, live a little. Absorb some sunshine. Find a mate.”
Stiles tuned Sinclair out as he pulled on his obnoxious orange vest and the rest of his safety gear. Sinclair was one of those guys who just liked to complain. Last week Stiles had heard all about his family, from the wife who had managed to bleach one of his precious red flannel shirts to the baby who refused to call him “Dada” and everyone in between. Sinclair had also expounded on the economy, the government, current fashion trends, and his old job, which he declared was as mindless as pushing down trees.
“So, I said to him, ‘Robbie, if you want a new game system, then you have to earn the money yourself.’ Which, of course, makes me the bad guy when Frannie turns around and hands him the money.” Sinclair gave a frustrated sigh. “Is it too much to ask a kid to take a little responsibility?”
Another worker calling Sinclair’s name saved Stiles from having to reply. Sinclair turned and waved, knocking his hard hat askew, letting sunlight illuminate the features of his face.
Before his research binge, Stiles would have thought that he was seeing things. Because surely Sinclair’s skin was not actually tinged green across his forehead, nose, and cheeks, and slightly yellow around his mouth and chin. And the hard hat was not hiding two rows of bony ridges on at least one side of the man’s head.
He sucked in a quick breath as Sinclair righted his hat, shading his features and hiding the ridges. He looked perfectly human once again and was casting Stiles a worried look.
“You OK, kid? You need me to go get the boss? He said something about you being injured and told us all to look out for you.”
“No, no, I’m fine. Just... stubbed my toe.” It was not his best lie.
“Yeah, sure, kid.” The doubt was obvious on Sinclair’s face and in his voice.
“Go, before you’re officially late. Only one of us can fall back on nepotism.”
Sinclair sighed again before turning and hurrying over to the time clock. His friend, Hess, was waiting for him with a worried expression on his face.
Stiles leaned against the fence and drew in a deep breath. Earl Sinclair was a demon. One he had talked to for a week without realizing that he was anything other than human. It lent credence to Derek’s insistence that some demons were just regular people. Sinclair seemed like an OK guy. Not like someone who enjoyed ripping out spines or ate livers.
He exhaled, letting his shoulders slump to try to relax the tension in them. It was OK. He could do this. If he could train a hormonal teenaged werewolf, then he could work with a demon that had showed no tendency towards violence.
He took another deep breath as he pushed the squishy little earplugs into place and straightened. He had this.
Stiles discovered three more suspected demons during the course of the day. Two worked for Xander in the construction crew, Jorge Ortiz and Matt Stevens. Ortiz’s eyes were deep purple, something Stiles had assumed was caused by colored contacts until he caught a glimpse of the man’s pointed ears. Stevens lifted two hundred pound piles of bricks like they were feathers when he thought no one was looking. Stiles only caught him doing it once, but it was memorable.
The third worked in the Indian restaurant where they picked up dinner. The tip of a pointy blue tail peeked out from under her ankle-length skirt when she crouched down to pick something up off the floor.
Stiles opened his mouth several times to ask Xander about the demons, about the town. But he didn’t know how to bring it up. Talking about it would reveal his own connection to the supernatural. Plus, he had no idea how Xander would take the information. Just because he seemed to know about demons living in Sunnydale didn’t mean that he’d blithely accept Stiles running around the woods with a wolf pack and studying magic in his down time.
“So... Xander,” he started as his cousin parked the car outside of his apartment.
A furious knocking at the window made him jump and he turned to see Buffy standing outside with a too-wide smile. Dawn was standing behind her, sulking with her arms crossed over her chest.
“Xan! Hi! I am such a spaz. I forgot that thing that we have to do tonight. I brought Dawn over so that the kids could keep each other company while we dealt with it. The thing. That we have to take care of. Tonight. Now.”
Stiles blinked at her as he tumbled out of the car, tripping over his own feet as usual.
“But, Indian! The good stuff from The Curry Leaf that will make the apartment smell like curry for days. And Ushma put in extra naan.”
“Sorry, Xander. Time sensitive.”
Xander sighed and handed the bags to Stiles. Dawn’s expression had become a bit gleeful when he had mentioned the food and she made grabby hands for the bags.
“Is there peanut sauce? And mango chutney?”
“No to the chutney, yes to the peanut sauce,” Stiles told her as he handed over a bag and led her towards the stairs. Xander and Buffy gave a wave before getting back in the car and heading off to do their mysterious “thing.” Stiles really hoped that he lied better than that when he had to come up with an excuse. He’d like to think that he did, at least.
“There’s also daal and some chicken dish Xander swore was excellent.”
Dawn gave an exaggerated sigh. “He has strawberry jelly. That will have to do.”
“For... what, exactly?”
“Oh, you mix the peanut sauce with mango chutney, or strawberry jelly, if you’re desperate, then make a sandwich using the naan and daal and pretty much anything else you can plop on it without making a huge mess.
He felt his mouth drop open in disgust as he keyed open the door.
“No, seriously, it’s good.”
“And you and Buffy complain about how guys eat.”
“To be fair, Buffy thinks my taste in food is disgusting. I can’t even get her to try a peanut butter and banana sandwich, which is a classic. Elvis ate them.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing.”
They continued to chat as Stiles tried to gross Dawn out with how much food he could fit in his mouth and she created weirder and weirder combinations from the take out and whatever she could find in Xander’s kitchen. He wasn’t sure who won the gross out contest, but in the end he felt pleasantly stuffed and only a little guilty that they had polished off the food.
“Any idea how long this errand will take,” he asked as Dawn settled onto the couch and started flipping through channels to find something to watch.
“Probably all night,” she replied with a sigh as she settled on some teen drama, judging by the incredibly beautiful people on the screen. “I have an emergency bag in the closet with everything I need to crash on Xander’s bed.”
“So... this happens a lot?”
She shrugged. “Buffy’s like one of those prepare for the Apocalypse type of people. I have a Go Bag here and at home. She does too. The plan is to book it into the mountains if the world ever goes to Hell. She’s drilled the exact coordinates into all of our heads until we can repeat them backwards and forwards.”
“A little insane? Yeah. But it makes her happy, so the rest of us go along with it. Xander has a bag at our house too, and one stashed in town. It’s not much, a few changes of clothes, some MREs, toiletries, and copies of our favorite pictures. Buffy figures on scavenging anything we can’t carry out.”
It was an interesting idea. One he’d bet that Derek made use of. Not that he thought the Alpha believed that the world was going to end, but he might be forced to beat a hasty retreat in the face of hunters or a rival pack. Stiles made a mental note to ask Derek about it and to suggest the same to Scott. God knew that his best friend would not think of it on his own. Even after everything that had happened over the last few month, Scott still thought the world was a good place full of puppies and kittens.
Stiles wished he had the luxury of believing the same. He became cynical years before he was due and werewolves, kanimas, and insane hunters had just solidified his opinion that the world sucked.
His phone rang and Dawn grabbed it up and answered it before he could stop her, which: rude!
“Staab and Polk Funeral Home. You stab ‘em; we slab ‘em. You kill ‘em; we chill ‘em. Some go to Heaven; some go to Hell-O, how may I help you?”
Her smug grin dropped when whomever was on the other end responded. “Er... yeah, sorry. Sir. He’s right here.”
Stiles took the phone from her with a glare.
“Why is an unknown girl answering your phone,” his father’s voice asked.
“Because she’s a brat with boundary issues?”
“It’s cool, Dad. That was Dawn. I know I told you about her. She’s basically Xander’s pseudo-sister and is over all the time? Don’t tell me you forgot. You know, they say that memory is the first thing to go?”
“I remember who she is. She sounds... nice?”
Stiles knew that tone of voice. It was the same tone his dad used whenever Lydia came up in conversation. He groaned and flopped back onto the couch. It earned him a questioning glance from Dawn and a laugh from his father.
“Nope! I’m not having this conversation. She’s Xander’s sister, which makes her my cousin and this is not an episode of ‘Arrested Development’.”
Dawn pulled a disgusted face before getting up and moving towards the mess they had left on the table. She started cleaning, obviously trying to give him a bit of privacy. He appreciated the gesture, even though he could have easily moved into his bedroom to accomplish the same thing.
“How was work today?”
“Good,” Stiles replied. “I actually got to pick up a hammer and everything. It was just to hand it back to Steve, who dropped it out a window, but it totally counts.” He earned a laugh from his dad, which was what he was going for.
“The crew has tomorrow off, except for Xander. He’s stuck dealing with permits and inspections. From the sounds of it, it will not be fun.”
“And what will you be up to while your cousin is working?”
“Making a library run in the morning. Then Minecraft until my eyes give out.”
Dawn gave a loud snort from the kitchen.
He pulled the phone away from his mouth a bit and yelled, “It’s a perfectly legitimate way to spend my day off. I refuse to go to the mall with you. Again! I’m not built to be a pack mule.
“I’m suddenly glad to be an only child,” he muttered to his dad, who burst into laughter.
“Kid, the only time you ever wanted a sibling was when you were too old to get the kid’s meal but still wanted the toy.”
“Hey, Mickey D’s had some quality toys. And those Transformers from Burger King will be collector’s items.”
“Which is why you strapped them to rockets and tried to launch them into space?”
Stiles flailed his free arm up and kicked out his feet. “That was for science, Dad. For science. I learned all sorts of important lessons from those experiments.”
“I learned that Scott cannot run faster than a toy rocket and that Mrs. McCall can get her voice really high when you try to explain why her son has second degree burns on his rear.”
Stiles was pretty sure that the neighbors could hear his dad’s laughter through the phone.
Ms. Donna, the librarian who had supplied cookies the last time he had been in, had given him juice, in a tiny waxed paper cup, as she set up for the summer reading program. It left an awful aftertaste in his mouth, but he had still thanked her politely and asked about the program, gaining a wealth of information about her, her time as Children’s Librarian, and which of the children she could depend on to behave during the excitement of the program.
“We’re having someone from the zoo come in today,” she told him. “That’s always a big hit. He brings snakes and hissing cockroaches, raccoons and parrots. Nothing too big or exotic, but the children still love it. It will be standing room only for the ones who try to slip in late. It’s about to get very noisy in here.”
“In that case,” Stiles told her. “I will get out of your way. Have a good program.”
Ms. Donna waved goodbye as he took his books to the checkout counter. Kids were already arriving and dumping a truly amazing amount of books on the part of the counter designated for returns as harried parents chased younger siblings.
The librarian who checked him out did not raise a single eyebrow at Stiles’s stack of books with titles like Daemonologie and Grimoire de Chaos. He supposed that his first trip to the library really should have clued him in if nothing else had. How many teens checked out antique books on the supernatural? For that matter, how many libraries boasted such a comprehensive section on mythology and folklore?
He weaved between all of the rushing kids to the building’s exit, taking a deep breath once he was in the open air. It was a gorgeous day, so nice that he almost wished that he had walked instead of driven the jeep.
“But, Mom, I can smell him!”
A child’s yelling voice drew his attention to a woman who had one hand firmly wrapped around the collar of her son’s shirt. The boy was pulling against her hold, threatening to rip the fabric.
“Jordy, calm down.”
Stiles felt the breeze against his cheek moments before the boy’s gaze focused on him. He was too far away to tell the color of the kid’s eyes, at least before they shifted to alpha red and the kid growled at him through his sprouting fangs.
Despite what all the movies say, time did not slow down. Instead Stiles’s mind sped up, giving the events outside of his own head a disjointed and slow quality. He could see the kid’s shirt rip, though he could not hear it through the blood pounding in his ears.
The kid was between him and the relative safety of the jeep and they were surrounded by innocent bystanders. Stiles did not even think of his actions, he let instinct take over as he turned and dashed away from the library, towards the cemetery that was across the street.
“Jordan!” he heard a voice yell, but his entire being was focused on getting away from the little alpha, and getting him away from anyone he could hurt. At least until the kid calmed down. Hopefully without getting mauled or turned himself.
He chanced a glance behind himself as he ran. The kids was fully shifted, larger than Stiles despite the fact that his human form had looked smaller. He was issuing a constant stream of growls and snarls as he quickly gained ground on Stiles.
The cemetery was luckily empty as he sprinted through, looking for a place that he could either hole up or trap the alpha using his emergency supply of mountain ash. He was just glad that he had the good sense to hold on to his backpack. Yes, it hurt as the books slammed into his back, but it also held the gallon-sized Ziplock full of ash.
The growling grew closer and he looked over his shoulder just in time to turn away from the leaping alpha. He fell as he made the sudden change in direction that caused the werewolf to miss him and quickly scrambled back to his feet before running through the headstones.
Up ahead there was a mausoleum standing open. He tried not to think of the oddity of that as he dashed inside and slammed the door behind him. He panted and raced to get the baggy out of the front pocket, scattering his Adderall and the last of his pain pills in his haste.
Stiles pulled the bag free and carefully opened one corner. It took more time than he was comfortable with, his hands clumsy from adrenaline, but he could not risk spilling the ash all over the place, not when he might need more.
He poured a line across the threshold, fiercely believing that it would bar the werewolf from entering the stone structure, just as the alpha hit the door. The impact made a dull boom, but the door held.
Breathing ragged, Stiles backed away from the door, coming to a stop against the sarcophagus on one side of the tomb. His knees gave out and he slowly sank down until his was sitting on the dusty floor, leaning against the remains of the poor schlub he had disturbed the rest of.
He concentrated on breathing as the alpha - Christ, just a kid - bashed against the door again and again. He wasn’t sure if the door was sturdy enough to keep the kid from breaking in or if it was the mountain ash and his belief, either way, he’d take it.
“Is that a werewolf?”
Stiles yelped and flailed around to face the unexpected voice. A head was poking up from a hole in the floor that he had not noticed before. A large domed, bald skull, skin wrinkled enough to rival a shar pei puppy, and pointy ears that stuck out from his skull and flopped down like a puppy’s. He was obviously not human.
He yelped again as the rest of the creature appeared, revealing sharp claws. He wasn’t sure if the tshirt and flannel was reassuring or not.
The being moved to the door and sniffed before looking down at the line of ash.
“You used mountain ash? Smart move. I guess you’ve come up against weres before. They’re usually not so bad, really. Unless you make one mad. Did you make him mad, kid?”
Stiles opened and closed his mouth, unable to formulate an answer. This was surreal.
The alpha growled again before blocking out the light in on the high windows on the side of the mausoleum.
“Yeah, you made him mad. I guess I better call for a rescue.”
The demon pulled a phone from his pants pocket and pressed a key before holding it close to one floppy ear.
“Hey, it’s Clem. Yeah, that Clem. I’m stuck in Spike’s crypt with a mad werewolf outside. Think you could come help? No, we’re safe enough. What? Oh. No, I have no idea. Some kid who’s aware enough to use mountain ash. He’s gone a bit non-verbal, though. Yeah. OK. See you in a bit.”
The demon put the phone away and looked at Stiles with a considering gaze. Stiles really hoped he wasn’t sizing him up as a snack.
“You play cards, kid?”
Stiles snorted out a slightly hysterical laugh in response.
Half an hour later, Stiles and the demon, whose name was Clem and who was a really nice guy once you got past the idea that his main source of protein happened to be cats, heard the werewolf give a yelp. They paused their game of poker to listen as the growls faded as he apparently chased after someone else.
“What just happened?”
“Sounds like the Slayer arrived. She’s taking care of your little were problem.”
Stiles dropped his cards and jumped to his feet. “She’s not hurting him, is she? He’s just a kid! He hasn’t broken the Code. I’m barely even scratched!”
The thought of some demonic superwoman, who looked like Victoria Argent in his imagination, killing the kid because of him sent him into a panic. He opened the door, scattering the ash, and rushed out, following the distant sounds of growls. He could vaguely hear Clem yelling something behind him, but ignored him.
It took several minutes to find them, and when he did, Stiles felt his breath stutter. A woman was standing over the body of the alpha, a rifle pointed at him as she prodded his side with one booted foot. At that range, a bullet would do devastating damage, more than werewolf healing could keep up with.
Stiles didn’t think. He barreled into the woman with all the hard-won lacrosse skill he had, knocking her off balance and away from the kid. The gun went skidding away. She recovered quickly, though, turning the tackle into some sort of roll that landed her on top of him, arm raised to punch him in the face.
He had been trying to throw her off when the familiar voice jolted him out of his fear and panic. He suddenly realized that the woman he was struggling with - though calling it that was an overstatement, considering that she was easily holding him down with one hand - was Buffy.
“Buffy?” He stared at her in confusion for a second before his mind clicked on again. “Oh, God! Don’t hurt him! He’s just a kid! And, yeah, sure, he just tried to kill me, but I’ve suffered a lot worse. He’s a kid! Even hunters have rules about that.”
“Stiles, chill,” she said, levering off of him and holding out a hand to help him up.
He ignored it in favor of scrambling towards the werewolf’s body. The boy was breathing, slow even breaths. He quickly started running his hands over the kid’s torso, looking for where Buffy might have shot him, praying that it was not a wolfsbane bullet. He did not want to see a kid in that sort of pain.
Instead, he found a fletched dart imbedded in the kid’s thigh. He pulled it free and looked at it for a moment.
“It’s a tranquilizer. Enough to knock even a pre-teen werewolf on his backside. Jordy’s a good kid and it’s not like he can help being a monster for three days out of the month.”
Buffy was prevented from answering by Xander running up to them, followed by the woman he had seen with the kid at the library. Jordy. The kid’s name was Jordy.
“Oh, God, is he OK?”
“Just taking a nap, Mrs. Osborne.”
She dropped to her knees beside Stiles, running a shaking hand over his fur.
“I don’t understand. There’s still two days before he needs to be locked up. And it’s daytime. Is it getting worse? Is he going to wolf out any time he gets upset now?”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Osborne,” Xander answered her, taking a blanket he had apparently been carrying and wrapping it around Jordy’s body. “We’ll hit the books, try to figure out what’s going on.”
“What,” Stiles repeated, drawing his cousin’s gaze.
“Yeah... so, werewolves exist. Jordy is one. He’s normally harmless, I promise.”
“But, you knew that, didn’t you,” Buffy asked, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at him. “Because he was chasing you. Clem said that you did something about you using some sort of ash. And you tried to prevent me from hurting him.”
“He’s been smelling another werewolf around town all month,” Mrs. Osborne spoke up from where she was smoothing the blanket. “You. Do you know what’s going on?”
Stiles looked between the three adults. “I am so confused.”
They relocated to Xander’s apartment. Jordy had shifted back to human at some point after Xander had bundled him into his car, though he remained asleep. Buffy had wanted to chain the boy up again, but Stiles had objected. He didn’t imagine that waking up in a strange place, covered in chains, would be helpful in keeping the kid calm. Instead, Stiles created a circle of mountain ash around the kid while Buffy and Xander watched him like a hawk.
“It was the usual dose,” Mrs. Osborne asked Buffy, who nodded. “Then he should come out of it in about an hour.”
“Which gives us plenty of time to figure out what’s the what,” Buffy said as she sat down at the table and pointed a finger at another chair.
Stiles rolled his eyes before he slouched in the chair. Xander and Mrs. Osborne sat as well and both turned to him.
“You’re a werewolf.”
“You’re a witch.”
They spoke at the same time, voices overlapping.
“What?” Stiles flailed around until he sat up straight. “Why would you think that?”
“Jordy attacked you because he smelled another werewolf,” Mrs. Osborne stated. “He’s been anxious about it all month, the smell of another werewolf in his territory.”
“Huh. Maybe... my best friend, Scott, is a werewolf. So, maybe that’s what Jordy smelled? I assure you, I am one hundred percent human.”
“But a witch,” Xander interrupted.
“Then explain how you created a circle,” Buffy said as she poked at the empty baggy.
“You mean the mountain ash? It’s just rowan ashes and a bit of belief. That’s not exactly dancing around a bonfire, naked.”
“That’s a horrible stereotype,” Xander said. He sounded like he was repeating an oft heard lecture. “Witches come from all walks of life and very few dance around skyclad. And most spells are simply will power. Belief that it will work, if you will. It’s also very dangerous and can be addictive, especially if you’re forced to advance sooner than you should.”
“You sound like you’re talking from experience.”
“Willow,” he says, voice quiet. “She went from floating pencils to re-souling vampires overnight. At the end, it was so bad that she was using mind control to get her way. When Tara died...”
“She tried to end the world in order to end her pain,” Buffy supplied. “So, you can probably see why we are a bit worried.”
Stiles swallowed thickly and nodded.
“All I’ve done so far is the mountain ash. But I’ll talk to the guy who showed it to me, get proper training.” He was sure that if he had any magical ability, it would not be strong enough to pose a danger to the entire world, but he had no desire to become a slave to addiction.
“Good,” Xander said with an obviously relieved sigh.
“About Jordy,” Stiles said after a few moments. “You said he didn’t have control. That you have to lock him up on the full moon?”
“For three nights,” Mrs. Osborne confirmed. “The night before and after the full moon as well. He’s never shifted at any other time.”
“Oz could do it,” Xander interrupted. “Willow said he learned it from some monks in Tibet, I think. But he couldn’t control himself around her and he had to leave again.”
“My nephew. Jordy bit him around four years ago,” the boy’s mother explained.
Stiles cast a glance at the kid, who looked so innocent curled up in the blanket.
“He’s what, eleven?”
Stiles rubbed his hands over his face as he considered the information.
“He’s a born werewolf, right? There’s not an alpha out there biting little kids. And I’m pretty sure that he didn’t kill someone to gain the alpha power. So, not you. His dad, whom I assume is dead?”
“I... I don’t know,” Mrs. Osborne revealed. “Jordy’s dad, his biological father, was someone I met in a bar. All I know is that his name was Frank. He doesn’t even know about Jordy.”
He giggled at the idea of an alpha named Frank. He wasn’t even sure why.
“Jordy was a perfectly normal baby, at first. But then, once he reached toddler-hood, around the full moon, he changed. Not like he does now, not that extreme. His eyes were blue then, and he would have pointy ears and more hair, but he still looked human.”
“He was a beta then. When did he become an alpha?”
“Right before he bit Daniel. Oz. He’d bitten me before, and Kevin, my husband. But until Oz, it didn’t change anyone. That’s when we had to start locking him up in a cage as well. Just locking him in his room no longer worked.”
Stiles nodded. It made sense, in a screwed up way.
“OK. From what I understand, alphas, especially new alphas, have this need to create a pack. He probably didn’t even realize what he was doing when he bit Oz. And there was no one around to teach him to control the shift or to explain anchors.” He rubbed his hands over his face again.
“God, a ten year old alpha. He’s lucky to be alive.”
Mrs. Osborne sucked in a harsh breath, which made Stiles realize that he had managed to put his foot squarely in his mouth. Again.
“There’s two ways to gain the alpha powers. The first is through familial inheritance, which is what I assume happened here. Frank was an alpha and Jordy was his oldest child. When Frank died, the powers passed to Jordy.” He briefly wondered if there was some pack who was confused as to why their alpha’s power did not pass on to anyone they were aware of, but shook the thought away. He could figure out how to research that later.
“The other is for a werewolf to kill an alpha. If a power hungry wolf found out about Jordy...” He shuddered at the thought and promised himself that Peter would never find out about the kid.
“God,” Buffy whispered. The three adults had gone pale.
“Do,” Mrs. Osborne’s voice was hesitant. “Do you think your werewolf friend could help him?”
Stiles shook his head.
“Scott’s been a werewolf for less than six months. He doesn’t have to chain himself up on the full moon anymore, but does lose control if he gets too upset.”
“And his alpha,” Xander asked.
“Derek is a bit of a dick. He tries, but he’s not a natural teacher and tends more towards negative reinforcement and repetition to get his point across. I’m the one that ended up teaching Scott how to control himself.”
Mrs. Osborne looked hopeful at that.
“I don’t know if it would work,” Stiles warned her. He could sense what she was going to ask. “I’ve known Scott since we were kids, he’s practically my brother. But I can try. If Jordy will let me. Someone he knows and trusts would be better.”
“Maybe you and Mr. Osborne could take lessons from Stiles and pass them along to Jordy,” Buffy suggested. “Do you think that would work?”
“It can’t hurt to try,” Stiles said with a shrug. “Or you could sit in on the lessons. You’re his parents, so he’ll naturally trust you more than me and possibly uses you both as anchors. Use you to stay human. Which is important. He’s stayed under the radar so far, with both other werewolves and with hunters. But if there’s suddenly a lot of animal attacks, hunters will find him. They’re supposed to have rules about killing kids and werewolves that they cannot prove have harmed humans, but so far very few I’ve met follow those rules.”
Buffy gave a grim smile, more a baring of teeth than anything else.
“I’ve dealt with one before. He ran away when I bent his gun into a pretzel.”
“That’s... both insanely hot and disturbing all at once. I’m conflicted.” Stiles turned towards Xander. “Should I be conflicted?”
“It’s a perfectly natural response to Buffy. As far as I can tell, every heterosexual male under the age of forty feels the same way about her.”
Buffy stuck her tongue out at him in response.
“So... what are you?”
“Slayer comma the,” Buffy said. “One girl in all the world who gets to fight evil whether she likes it or not. There’s always been a slayer, at least for all of recorded history. Traditionally she fights vampires, but Sunnydale happens to be on a Hellmouth, which is exactly what it sounds like. It attracts all sorts of demons. Sometimes it’s like there’s a new one every week, making trouble.”
“The vampire’s boogeyman. Derek didn’t think you existed. What can you do? Obviously you’re very strong, if you can bend a gun. I have so many questions!” He flailed his hands around. Why had he not Googled “slayer” after Derek had mentioned it?
“Should have known something was up when you kept coming home with old books,” Xander muttered. “The apartment is starting to smell like the high school library.”
“Why the library? And speaking of your high school, was it really a gas leak or something else? What’s ‘Gangs on PCP’ code for?”
“Slow down,” Buffy said with a laugh. “One question at a time. Like you said, I’m strong. I’m also good with weapons, at least the pointy hacky kind.”
“And the occasional rocket launcher,” Xander supplied.
“Rocket launcher,” Mrs. Osborne questioned, her voice weak.
“There was a ‘no weapon forged by man’ thing. It was actually fairly traumatic and I’d rather not mention it again. What was the next question?”
“The library,” Xander said. “Was where we met back in high school. Giles was the librarian and surrogate parent to most of us. Um, the school blowing up was not an accident, but there was a giant snake demon that we had to kill and an apocalypse to avert. So, extenuating circumstances.”
“And pretty much any supernatural activity is attributed to ‘Gangs on PCP’ by the police and newspaper,” Buffy finished. “Most of the residents of Sunnydale don’t even realize that there’s something hiding in the shadows. We think something about the Hellmouth keeps them blind to the oddities, or makes them forget. Unless it’s shoved in their faces in a major way, no one notices.”
“Now, a question for you,” Xander took over. “The trouble you’ve been in, werewolf related or not?”
“Unfortunately, yes. When Scott was bit... it was my fault, really. I had this stupid idea to drag him out into the woods to search for the other half of the dead body some hikers had found. Only we got separated and he was attacked. We didn’t know it at the time, but the body was Derek’s sister’s, his alpha. And the new alpha was crazy and seeking revenge against the hunters that had killed his family.” Mrs. Osborne put a comforting hand on his shoulder, which he appreciated, even though he wanted to shrug it off.
“We spent two months trying to figure out who the alpha was, trying to give Scott some control, and trying to stay alive. To make it all the worse, Scott started dating this new girl, Allison. Who happened to be the only child of a family of hunters. It was Allison’s aunt who burned down the Hale house years ago, orphaning Laura and Derek and driving the alpha insane.”
“Wait,” Buffy interrupted. “The insane alpha was related to Derek and his sister?”
“Their uncle, Peter. He killed Laura to gain the alpha powers and then went on a killing spree. He killed seven other people that I know of, people connected to the fire. Then he tried to kill Lydia. Scott barely fought back from being controlled by him. When Derek killed him and took the power, it was almost a relief.”
“Why do I have a feeling it only got worse,” Mrs. Osborne asked.
“Because you’re a smart lady? Derek... like I said before, he has not made the best decisions. He turned four betas to become his pack, but then couldn’t control them. Especially Jackson, whose body tried to reject the bite. Instead of turning into a werewolf, he became something else. It’s called a kanima and it’s the instrument of revenge. That’s why Scott and I kidnapped him, to prevent him from being used. Not that it mattered, he still escaped and Scott and I still had restraining orders drawn up against us.”
Stiles took a deep breath. Buffy stood and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and handed it to him.
“Thanks. So, Jackson was being controlled by this kid that was our age, Matt. And when we figured that out, he attacked us directly. He killed... so many of the deputies. He hurt Dad. It was FUBAR.
“Only, the next day, Matt was dead and Jackson was being controlled by Allison’s grandfather. As psycho as Matt was, Mr. Argent was worse. He wanted something from Scott and Derek, though I don’t know what. Dad told you I was beaten up by a rival lacrosse team?”
Xander nodded. Stiles responded with a short shake of his head.
“I was a message to Scott, that no one was safe as long as Mr. Argent didn’t get what he wanted.” He sighed and picked at the bottle’s label, pulling a corner loose.
“To make a long story shorter, Jackson was cured from being a kanima by the totally cliched power of true love. It’s almost vomit inducing. And Peter is somehow back from the dead.”
“I’m assuming that Uncle John knows none of this?”
“None of the supernatural elements, at least. He knows that Kate burned the Hales alive but officially she died of an animal attack. He also knows the Matt killed all the people he blamed for his childhood trauma before drowning himself in a shallow creek.”
“Convenient,” Buffy allowed.
“Ironic, considering that said childhood drama was a near drowning.”
“Some would call that poetic justice,” Xander said with a huff.
“Probably,” Stiles agreed. “But it’s still an awful way to die.”
“It is,” Buffy said, her voice quiet.
“Listen to your dad’s heartbeat,” Stiles reminded Jordy as the kid struggled to remain in control.
After talking to the elder Osbornes, they had come up with a training regime for the pre-teen
alpha that boiled down to annoying the crap out of the kid until he felt like he was going to lose control and then talking him down. Mr. Osborne, who was seriously the most Zen person Stiles had ever met, also led Jordy in daily meditations and Mrs. Osborne trained his senses by having him identify kitchen spices and the local flora and fauna they came across.
Buffy insisted on being at every session, tranq gun locked and loaded, just in case they could not bring Jordy around. So far she had not needed to use the gun, which Stiles was grateful for.
“You’re doing great, J,” Stiles called, well back from where the kid was panting for breath. Jordy was still skittish around him and much preferred the presence of his parents and Buffy, who did not smell like strange werewolves to his sensitive nose.
His ringing phone prevented him from calling out any other advice. He glanced at the caller ID before he looked back to Jordy, who appeared to be in control again.
“Hey, Dad. It’s early for you to be calling. Don’t you work until seven tonight?”
“Yeah, kid. I just... it’s been a long day already and I wanted to hear your voice.”
Stiles gripped the phone tighter and moved further away from the group. Not that it would prevent Jordy from eavesdropping if the kid really wanted to, but it gave him the illusion of privacy.
“One of the kids in your class that ran away...”
“Oh, God. Boyd or Erica?”
“Erica. They found her body early this morning.”
Stiles swallowed down the bile in his throat. He could hear all the things his father was not saying in his voice. Whatever was left of the ferocious girl he had known was not pretty.
“Just... you’re being safe down there, right? Xander’s keeping an eye on you?”
“Yeah, Dad. I’m being safe and smart. The most exciting part of my day is when we have picnics with a family that Xander knows. I’m even helping their son practice for lacrosse.”
“Good,” his dad sighed. “That’s good. I just worry.”
“I know, Dad. And I understand.”
“Yeah.” A muffled voice came over the line, someone telling his father something. “Listen, Stiles, I have to go. I love you, kid.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
He waited for his dad to hang up before he disconnected and pressed the cell phone to his forehead.
“You should tell him,” Buffy said after a few minutes, startling him.
“I’m going to invest in a bell factory,” he muttered as he turned to her.
“I get why you haven’t, really, I do. You don’t want to put him in danger, sure. But you’re also afraid that he’ll look at you differently once he knows. That he’ll treat you differently. And you’re right, he will.”
“That’s reassuring,” he muttered.
“Let me finish, brat. Nothing you do could make him stop loving you. Yes, it will be hard at first. He’ll try to keep you from running out to help your friends. He’ll show up in unexpected places and threaten to ship you off to military school. But he’ll start to understand and respect your choices.”
“Is this the voice of experience speaking?”
“I was only a little older than you when I told my mom. There were a few bad months. I ran away, managed to go into a hell dimension and kick some ass, but it all worked out in the end.”
“Still not much of a pep talk,” he pointed out.
“I suck at motivational speaking,” she confessed and she pulled him into an one-armed hug. “It’ll work out. Slayer’s honor.”