What nature does blindly, slowly and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly, and kindly. As it lies within his power, so it becomes his duty to work in that direction.
—Sir Francis Galton
The houses this close to The Park were mostly normal, as long as you were looking at their fronts—small, square, like post-war soda boxes, stacked in rows and painted like Springtide ribbons. Around back, of course, they all had moon-porches. Stiles could see them as he made his first left turn: outdoor cushions and fire-pits on flat wooden decks, far as the eye could see. Nothing else. No umbrellas, no Florida rooms, no fences or bushes over four feet tall, and no trees—nothing that could obstruct moonlight.
Scott would have a moon-porch now, Stiles thought, and he squinted at his navscreen so he could stop thinking it.
Farther west, the houses grew. Gables, dormers, and extra floors stacked themselves on top of two-car garages. Boats and jet skis appeared in well-paved drives.
When Stiles slowed to make his final left turn, a fine mist of water pocked streaky holes in the grime of his windshield. He tapped the swiper-push and glanced out his window. A broad-shouldered man stood on the corner. He held a hose with a micro-drop skirter that fountained a perfect bell of mist over his lawn. He looked around the age of Stiles' father, except the Sheriff was going silver around the temples and on his arms, and this man's hair was coal black. His aquamarine eyes were so vivid that Stiles could see them from five feet away, across the sidewalk, through the window of his grungy Jeep Throwback. Those eyes narrowed as Stiles made his turn and rolled passed the man's double-pad driveway.
Two-thirds of the way down the street, Stiles glanced at the rearview v-feed. The man still watched, his squinted eyes full of ocean.
Stiles' fingers double-timed against the steering wheel. He didn't breathe again until he turned down May Lane, Scott's street. Apparently. Now.
May Lane was tastefully beige.
Stiles cursed under his breath as he slowed the Jeep to a crawl and peered out his window at the house numbers.
It turned out that Scott's house was easy to find because Scott stood in front of it, grinning. He jogged up to the Jeep as soon as Stiles rolled to a halt.
"Hey, buddy," Stiles chirped as Scott clambered in.
He tossed his satchel behind Stiles' seat, and Stiles noticed it was the same ragged, faded piece of crap Ms. McCall had bought two summers ago. It matched Stiles' black one. A smile flickered on Stiles' lips as he re-initiated the Jeep's drive mode and jerked away from the curbside, maybe just a tad aggressively.
"Bro," Scott admonished, lurching against the seatbelt.
"Sorry," said Stiles. "Just want to get outta here."
"You've never even been here before."
"There is a reason for that." Stiles gesticulated as well as he could while he whipped the Jeep around. "Your neighbors think I'm a frickin' 'bane dealer or something."
"They do not."
Stiles' hands puffed out like blowfish, his fingers quills. "Um, yes. There was this cit, with, like, the most expensive hose I've ever seen. This thing had a temp-push, and shape options, and, like, a designation, okay? He was just holdin' that thing and his eyes were like frickin' lasers, all zhoop!" Stiles' arm shot out, slapping his fingers against Scott's shoulder. "And he was like, 'I know you're here for my Audi, Tape scum.'"
"His hose probably had a kill setting, dude. And he was fuckin' considering it. Like, pondering it. He was, like, this close to zippidy-zapping my ass." Stiles squished an invisible line between his fingertips.
"Could you drive, maybe? Please?" Scott asked, but he said it around a grin so big it split his face like a crescent moon.
"You know what? Don't sass me," said Stiles, but he smiled back. When Scott McCall smiled at you, that's what you did.
Scott shook his head and started a mash-push on the Jeep's LiLu, pulling up Stiles' retro playlist as Stiles turned them north and chanced two miles over the speed limit. At this rate, he thought, they might just make school by the bell.
"Thank you for that introduction, Headmaster. I appreciate the gracious welcome of the faculty and staff. Everyone here has extended a hand to me, and I hope that I can do the same for the students of Hale Prep. I know that many of you, especially the upperclassman—" she shot a smile at the front rows where Stiles and Scott slunk into their seats.
For a moment, Stiles was positive that the woman's eyes caught on Scott, and the edges of her red smile twitched into something cold, but then she continued her speech, chin dipping charmingly as she cast her eyes around the room.
He might have imagined it.
But the hair on the back of his neck prickled.
Stiles touched Scott's shoulder, but Scott didn't turn, entranced by something at the end of their row. Stiles leaned forward, but all he saw was the incomparable Lydia Martin speaking lowly with a brunette girl Stiles didn't recognize. Stiles frowned and settled back in his padded seat.
The woman continued her speech, smiling and encouraging the juniors and seniors to take advantage of the guidance office when making their college plans. She had a serious moment at the end of her speech and, with a grave countenance, expressed her pride to be in Beacon Hills on this auspicious date. Polite applause followed her as she click-clacked across the stage and into a folding chair.
Stiles bounced his knee and tapped his fingers against his armrest. The blonde boy beside him gave him the side-eye, but Stiles ignored him.
Headmaster Jones returned to the podium to begin another introduction. Stiles tuned him out. He'd heard every variation of the Lib-Day speech there was, and he didn't care to hear which bit of color-by-numbers patriotism ol' Jonesy would trot out this year.
He leaned into Scott's shoulder.
Scott quirked his eyebrows and Stiles translated: either 'What could you possibly want right now?' or 'Maybe this conversation can wait for we're not surrounded by people with super-hearing?'
Stiles bet on the first.
"Do you know the guidance counselor?"
Scott stared at him. Stiles bounced his knee higher.
"No?" said Scott.
"Well, I think she knows you. Looks like she's picturing your head mounted over her fireplace."
"Like zhoop!" He thwacked the side of his hand against Scott's shoulder. "Exactly the same look."
Mr. Harris, their chemistry teacher, glared at them from his seat on the stage.
"Can we talk about this later?" Scott breathed.
Stiles was about to insist they address all (interesting) matters concerning Scott's safety immediately, but his thoughts and mouth were interrupted by the audience breaking into slightly-more-than-polite applause. That couldn't be for Jones' sermon on remembering their history. Stiles swiveled around just in time to see a be-suited entourage emerge from behind the theater curtain.
A young woman with blackbird hair strode to the podium, two men in tailored suits flanking her. From his seat in the second row, Stiles had a perfect view of their symmetrical faces, their high cheekbones, their lean muscles, and fantastically colored eyes—obvious LPs. And that's when Stiles realized who the woman was. For the last month, he'd seen her face plastered on lawn-signs, and her white smile flashing on every public v-feed in the city limits: Governor Hale.
It occurred to Stiles that there were not usually photographers hunched by the stage during the first day assembly. There were not normally spectators crowding the back rows of the auditorium. The teachers on stage were not usually dressed in their Moonday best.
Laura. Freaking. Hale.
The men behind her could only be Peter and Derek Hale, her uncle and brother, all three of them alumni of Hale Prep. Peter looked at ease, his posture relaxed, and the ghost of a smirk on his lips. He sank onto his folding chair as if it were a throne. Derek, in contrast, perched stiffly on his seat, arms crossed over his chest, managing, somehow, to look less a pouting toddler and more a brooding model on a photo-shoot. Another miracle of modern science, Stiles thought.
Laura outshone them both. Radiant under the stage lights, she settled behind the podium as if it were the head of a dinner table: her smile appropriately contained, and her eyes hungry.
"Good morning," said Laura. A few precious souls bleated 'good morning' back at her.
"I bet those cufflinks would pay my tuition," Stiles grumbled to Scott, glaring at Peter Hale's winking wrists.
"You don't pay tuition," said Scott.
"It's the principle."
"Sean McCormick was five months pregnant"—all chatter ceased—"when a mob stormed his home in east BH and marched him, bound, to the fringes of Beacon Hills Preserve."
The room oriented itself towards the Governor, as if she were not so much a political preacher at her pulpit, but a greater, irresistible fulcrum around which the room revolved.
"There, they strung him up with aconite ropes, and for two hours, beat him. Cursed him. Spat on him. They struck him until Sean's body ceased to heal, until the LP's biological fail-safes activated and abandoned Sean in favor of his child—the future.
"But that future died, too, left broken on the roots of an oak tree."
Alpha, Stiles thought.
"There was no investigation. There were no arrests."
It was one thing to know what the presence of an Alpha could do to young double-doubles, and another to see it in action. The LPs sat like ladies at finishing school, chins parallel with the floor, their bodies bent slightly towards the stage, their attention all for the Alpha at the head of the room.
Stiles leaned to his left, into Scott's space, a quip in his mouth about stalled updates for the LP firmware, only to find Scott sitting stiffly upright, hands curled over his armrests, eyes fixated on the stage.
One thing to know it, Stiles thought, and another to see it in action.
Stiles leaned back into his own space.
"Seventy-eight years ago, today, students of then Beacon Hills Preparatory Academy left their desks and took to the streets. Their friends followed. And their parents. And their parents' friends. And then the West entire.
"Sean McCormick was not the first to die, but we—students, parents, friends—ensured that he would be the last.
"Out of enemies, we made Pack. Out of a riot, we created a nation. As one body, we have reclaimed the future that perished at the hands of the mob. And it began here.
"It is our duty to honor the sacrifices of our past. We are also charged with safeguarding the promise of our future. We must do better in listening to each other—listening to the unjaded voices of the students, who were the first to rise; and to heed the wisdom of our neighbors, especially those whose perspectives differ from our own. This was our victory then, and will be ours again. This is our legacy. Courageous, whole, united, and free.
"God's grace on California, on America, and may Her face ever shine on the Pacific."
The teachers stood up, and the students followed. Stiles lurched to his feet, but his eyes were not on Hale, but on the guidance counselor behind her. The counselor's arrowhead eyes slit holes in the back of the Governor's head.
"What was?" said Scott. He craned his neck, and Stiles frowned, craning his own as well, trying to see what Scott was looking at.
"That. The speech, the Governor, the redhead."
"Is this about Lydia?"
"What? No. Why? Did she say something?"
Scott shot him a look, which was totally, totally uncalled for.
"Whatever. It's strange. The Governor just gave the shortest, most dramatic Lib-Day speech ever in the absolutely least important venue she could have chosen. Jonesy was obviously unprepared for it, and— look, look!" Stiles pointed at a huddle of anxious people dressed in pantsuits. "Her staff is totally freaked out. This is bizarre."
"It was just a speech," said Scott, shrugging, still trying to look over the sea of heads.
"What are you even doing?"
Scott ignored his tone and put one hand on Stiles' shoulder, pointing down the hallway with the other. "You see that girl?"
Stiles squinted. "Lydia?"
"No, the brunette. Talking to Lydia."
Standing near Lydia Martin's locker was a brunette girl with mounds of wavy hair and an overwhelming smile. Gorgeous, but then again, this was Hale Prep, and she was talking to Lydia Martin. Probably WOSHS, maybe VSHS, Stiles thought. Definitely sequenced.
"Dude, stop pointing," he tugged on Scott's arm.
"Do you know her?"
"Not yet. Must be new."
"Yeah," Scott agreed.
Stiles shot him a knowing look.
Stiles rolled his eyes on reflex. Jackson Whittemore's voice had that effect on people.
The dreamy look dropped off Scott's face as Jackson came into view. He and Stiles paused, and Scott moved just slightly in front of him, defensive already. Stiles didn't know if he should be touched or embarrassed.
"I hear you're joining the team this year," said Jackson. A few passing students took notice of their tête-à-tête, but moved, tilting their heads together to gossip. A glance down the hall confirmed that they now had Lydia and the brunette's attention as well.
"We've been on the team since we were sophomores," said Stiles.
Jackson didn't spare him a look.
"A real team."
Scott frowned. "We've been on the same team for three years, dude."
Jackson rolled his eyes and sighed as if Scott was being intentionally difficult, like Scott was the one giving him a hard time. Stiles was about to jump in when Lydia slipped under Jackson's arm, leaning her head against his chest.
"First string, he means," said Lydia, as if she'd been part of the conversation all along.
"They're still the same team," Stiles muttered.
"But are they? I mean, really?" Lydia canted her head, smiling unkindly.
"Hey, I'm gonna head to class," said the brunette, passing behind Lydia.
Scott perked up. "Um, what class?"
Lydia raised an eyebrow.
"Gym," said the girl. "You know, HS gym." She wiggled her bag.
"Me too," said Stiles.
"Fascinating," Jackson sneered.
"Scott, meet Allison. Allison, Scott. He's going to play LP lacrosse this year," said Lydia, as she raked her eyes over Scott.
Allison smiled shyly. Scott beamed as if she'd just proposed.
"Hey," said Scott.
"Yeah, hey," said Stiles, walking towards the girl. "So, we should go, right?"
"Oh," said Allison. "Um, yeah. Let's go."
Lydia and the other sequenced girls claimed Allison as soon she wandered out of the locker rooms.
Stiles meandered towards the bleachers, towards the handful of other little Vs, their knees looking especially knobby poking out of their gym shorts. Finstock emerged from his office a few minutes later, blowing his whistle, and screaming about how he hadn't seen weather like this since his vacation to Haight-Ashbury. He ordered them all out of doors.
The Hale Prep grounds were bordered on two sides by the Beacon Hills Preserve, evergreens and underbrush girded with a chain-link fence. The fields themselves were immaculate: two regulation lacrosse fields for the state champions, a soccer field, and a football stadium ringed with a pillowphalt track. Finstock sent them running on the track, and gave no indication that he would stop them soon. Stiles fell into an easy jog.
Ahead of him, Allison broke out her wide, white smile for a gaggle of cackling girls. As a group, they glanced back at Stiles, and he tripped, wheeling his arms for balance. Allison's smile turned pained, but the others laughed, and Lydia smirked. He couldn't blame them; it was funny. He was just glad Jackson was too busy maintaining his two-hundred yard lead to pay attention to Stiles.
Five minutes later, the LP gym class trickled out of the gymnasium, lacrosse sticks slung over their shoulders. Stiles watched with envy as they took their positions on the twin fields. He watched the first play, looking for Scott's floppy, black hair. The second play, Scott made a goal, dashing around a super-humanly swift defender. Stiles grinned. Scott's teammates whooped and clapped him on the back. They lined up to do it again.
Watching their celebration, Stiles felt something smooth and heavy fall into his stomach.
He glanced at Finstock, but the coach was busy scowling at the lacrosse fields, paying no attention to his charges on the track. Stiles kept his eyes on Finstock as he cut away from the red pillowphalt, but the man never looked up. Stiles made it to gym's back doors, mashed the perm-push, and slipped inside.
Cutting the first period of the first day may not exactly have been Stiles' best decision, but running in circles while his best friend scored goals half a universe away made his eyes hot and his fists clench, and it's not like Finstock was going to notice, anyway.
Stiles changed his clothes and headed towards the parking lot. There was just enough time left to grab a tub of curly fries and hustle back before second period. He took the science corridor instead of chancing the walk past the admin offices.
"—and this list has twenty names on it. Do you know how long that's going to take?"
Stiles paused. Voices from the lab hallway, maybe ten yards off, but there were no labs this early in the day.
"It's a little important, Der, I thought maybe you'd take some time at it."
"Why don't you just pick one for me, Lor?"
Stiles recognized that voice. He scuttled back and ducked behind a row of lockers. Not sufficient camouflage from a pair of VLPHs, but hopefully the school's sounds would muffle his heartbeat and breathing.
"Why must you be a child about absolutely everything? I'm trying to give you options."
"Here's an option: we go home, you stay out of my business."
"You've made that impossible."
"Inconvenient for you is not the same as impossible."
"It's time, Derek."
"It's time," said Laura, her voice softer. "I know you can feel it."
Stiles decided it was time to draw some attention to himself. He fell into the lockers with a clatter, and then whipped himself around the corner.
He kept his eyes on the double-doors and marched down the corridor, fingers twisting in the straps of his backpack. He did not look down the lab hall. He barely breathed until he pushed into the sunlight. Then he took gulps of gravelly air.
He sat still in the front seat of the Throwback, fingers twirling through the options on his LiLu, thoughts alight, curly fries forgotten.
He knew why the Governor was here.
Power walking his way through the halls, he dodged elbows, bags, and meandering cliques. He whined impatiently behind slow-moving traffic. He snarled at the idiot humanoids clogging the cafeteria door.
He realized he'd arrived too early.
A few lonely brown baggers milled around the tables. Stiles slumped into a corner table and pulled out his ZipBox and history homework.
Fifteen minutes later, the tables twittered like trees at sunrise. Stiles finished the last of his reading, and looked up, blinking. His eyes caught on a familiar mop of dark hair. Scott was sitting…Stiles' eyebrows quirked. With Lydia Martin? And Jackson?
Whatever. Stiles shoved his lunch and his book back into his bag.
"Scott, buddy, bro, dude," said Stiles, dragging a chair from a neighboring table and wedging it between Scott and—holy fuck, Danny Mahealani, okay—Stiles nodded masculinely at Danny. Danny's dimples did not appear. Shame.
Stiles straddled the chair.
"What's up?" said Scott.
Stiles spread his hands—'I am about to lay some knowledge down.' "I know why the Governor is here."
"Didn't she give a speech?" said Danny.
"Okay. Why?" said Scott. And Stiles noticed his nervous glances between Stiles and someone behind him. Allison, Stiles bet.
"It's her brother, dude. It's mate season; as in the season of mate hunting; as in Derek Hale is mate hunting; as in somebody is about to become the wolf-bride of Hale."
"Oh," said Scott. "Dude. Here? We're sorta…young?"
"We're the highest concentration of young, healthy, unattached, politically advantageous mates in the Northern region," said Lydia. "Of course that's why Derek is here." She scoffed. "What did you think this was, a photo op?"
Jackson cast her sideways glance.
"I mean, obviously."
Jackson nodded as if it was, indeed, obvious, but the furrow of his brow denied it.
"Wasn't obvious to me," said Scott. "I mean, isn't that kind of sketchy?" He wrinkled his nose. "What's he gonna do, line us up and look at our teeth?"
"Pretty much, yeah," said Allison, her tone decidedly less playful. "If you meet the criteria, you'll get an interview, and whichever one of us he likes, he'll just"—her lip curled—"pick."
"Ew," said Danny.
"Yeah," said Scott.
"Oh, whatever," said Jackson. "If Derek Hale picked any of you, you'd bare your necks so fast you'd get whiplash, don't pretend like you wouldn't."
"Maybe you should speak for yourself, there, Whittemore," said Stiles.
"Maybe you shouldn't speak at all, B-team."
"Hey," Scott snapped, a rough touch of the wolf in his voice.
"Hey yourself." Jackson huffed and tossed his fork on his plate.
Stiles rubbed his fingers against the plastic back of the chair, trying to keep his blush confined to the back of his neck.
"It's obviously…pragmatically…" Lydia hesitated. "Well, who wouldn't want to be a Hale?" She looked significantly at the mural on the cafeteria wall, the Hale Preparatory Academy crest featured prominently in the center.
"And it's not like he's repulsive," said Danny.
"Truth," said Stiles.
Scott shook his head. "I still think it's weird."
"It is," said Allison.
"Welcome to the world, kiddies," said Jackson, picking up his fork again, probably just to wave it around. "But hey, you don't want to bare a little neck in exchange for billions of credits, freaking ridiculous political power, and a genetically perfect spouse, by all means"—he stabbed at a spear of broccoli—"don't."
"It's not that easy," said Danny. "And it's not like he'll pick one of us. He'll take an LP. A VSHS, worst case."
Jackson raised a dubious eyebrow, and, though it rankled, Stiles had to agree. Danny, Allison, Jackson…Lydia. God, even Scott had a chance.
Not Stiles, though. He was pure, unadulterated homo sapien. One-hundred percent natural, that's him, complete with ADHD and a family history of cancer and heart disease. No reason for Derek to give him a glance. No chance at all.
He definitely was not disappointed.
"Holy shit," said Stiles, staring at the pass. "Seriously."
Scott shrugged. "It's gonna be a short interview. 'Hey, I'm not into dick. Bye.'"
Stiles rolled his entire head on his shoulders, his eyes insufficient for the task. "This is your chance, dude."
"To what? I don't care how hot he is; I'm not gonna be into him."
"No—Christ—look at the big picture. You have at least, what, fifteen minutes? Alone. With one of the most influential LPs in California."
"What am I supposed to do with that?"
"Dude." Stiles wanted to stretch out of his skin with energy; he wanted to shake Scott so hard the pieces would snap into place in his head. "You know what you could do with that. You know." Stiles gave him an eyebrow wiggle.
Scott glanced around. "I'm just supposed to trust somebody with…? Are you crazy?"
"When else will you get a chance at this?"
Scot groaned. "Stiles," he said, "all I want is to get through today, okay? Just get through today, and go home, and, like, v-chat Allison. That's it."
"Dude, you got her number?"
Stiles socked him in the shoulder. "Awesome."
"Yeah," said Scott. "She's pretty great. Her mom's the guidance counselor, though, so, like, parents everywhere. Always."
"Wait, wait, the guidance counselor? As in redheaded, glare-of-death, wants-your-pelt-for-her-playpen counselor?"
"I guess? But she can't hate me yet, dude, she doesn't even know I exist. Me and Allison, like, aren't there."
"Yeah, I know, you met this morning. I was present. In attendance. Me. Right next to you."
Stiles chuffed. "Oh, right."
Scott spared him half a smile, but then they were at a classroom—in the lab hall, Stiles noticed. Scott knocked on the door. The people inside must of said something, because he slumped into a plastic chair stationed under the doorplate.
"What?" said Stiles, leaning up against the wall. "What do your VALPHS ears hear?"
Stiles sighed. "Waiting."
"You should go back to class."
"My bag's there. That's good enough for Finstock."
Five minutes later, Scott rose from his seat. Sophia from the track team shuffled out. Scott shut the door behind him.
"So?" said Stiles, crowding Scott's shoulder.
Scott put a finger to his lips, and they walked together past the science classrooms. When they emerged into the central stairway, Stiles overflowed.
"Exactly what I told you." Scott shrugged. "'Hey, hello, not into dick.' And he was all, 'Oh, indeed, toodle-pip, very good, cheerio.'"
"Your English accent is terrible."
"My English accent is grand."
Scott laughed. "It was no big deal, dude." He clapped Stiles on the shoulder. "He was sort of a butt, to be honest."
"Yeah. A butt. Like…gloomy. Butt-like."
"A butt. Hale. A Hale butt. Derek Hale was a butt."
"Yes. What do you want, a play-by-play?"
"Something more than, 'butt,' maybe?"
Scott tilted his head back and closed his eyes. He looked a bit like Stiles' dad, searching for patience. Stiles gnawed on a thumbnail.
"What? What is it? How can I help you?"
Stiles bit a cuticle.
"No, really, tell me. That's all you seem to care about lately, so go on. Ask."
"Um, okay, Mr. McMoodSwing, pack it in. Not your time of the month yet."
"I mean, it's not like I haven't seen you since June or anything. Not like I haven't had the entire summer to think of questions that no one was around to answer, or to…." Stiles shook his head, trailing off.
"Phone works both ways."
Stiles felt acid irritation in his chest, burning, making words. A feeling, dark and fermented, pushed the words up his throat. "I'm so glad to hear you say that; I really am. I was worried you'd forgotten how to operate a push. But I guess that's what happens when you get a May Lane address. Totally understandable. Yeah. I bet you start forgetting there's even a world out there east of Vernon Street."
Scott's eyebrows met over his nose. He looked at Stiles, disbelieving. "You know it's not like that."
"I don't know what it's like," Stiles snapped.
Scott stopped walking. His lips thinned and Stiles could hear the tightness in his jaw when he spoke. "Fine. This what you want? Open freaking book, Stiles. Please, tell me how my fucked up life can feed your curiosity."
"Your fucked up life?" Stiles scoffed. "What? Like, what's happened to you, Scott? Other than becoming a superhero, and a lacrosse savant, moving into a huge house, and picking up numbers from hot VSHS girls without trying? Like, wow, that's your big tragedy? Lemme get the Kleenex."
"You think that's what this is? Some sort of…" Scott jerked his shoulder forward, his backpack jumping with the force, the strap straining. "You want the Bite so bad, you go roll over." He pointed down the hall. "You go be Hale's bitch, you think it's such a privilege."
"I don't want fucking…Hale, and I sure as hell don't want the Bite, and you know it. I'd never take it. Ever."
"And what, I wanted it? I didn't choose this. This happened to me, and you know it."
"Hasn't stopped you from milking it, has it? No, I don't think so. You're one of them, now. You're in. Better hurry up and tell Jackson how your interview went. Better go show him how fucking cool you are. Yeah, look how much you don't give a fuck; you're Scott McCall."
Stiles could see the words drain out of Scott's head like air into a vacuum, like rage had ripped open the system they'd circled through, and now the life-support was all twisted and messed up and gone. "Fuck you," Scott growled, his puppy-brown eyes hinting tangerine.
"Yeah, well"—Stiles huffed, fighting the heat on his neck, and the knot in his throat, and the stupid salt stinging the back of his stupid eyes—"fuck you back."
"You need to calm down," said a voice from beyond Stiles' shoulder.
Scott glared at the intrusion, but Stiles startled and stared. Derek Hale emerged from behind the classroom door. He frowned, his bold eyebrows tilted in such a way that he was either terribly concerned for their safety or on the doorstep of pissed.
For all Stiles had seen the Hales countless times on the v-feed, and he'd spent more than a little bit of time staring at Derek Hale's inhumanly sculpted ass, seeing the VLPH up-close and personal was a different experience. For one thing, Stiles was shocked to hear Hale's voice was smooth and higher pitched than Stiles', not the gravelly rumble the width of his shoulders and radiating gloom suggested. All too easily, Stiles could imagine it gone breathy—desperate—slight and begging—and goddamn being seventeen, because Stiles was eighty-percent sure he now smelled like angry boner, which could not have been subtle.
"I'm fine," Scott snarled.
"No. You." Hale stared into Stiles' eyes. "You're aggravating the others."
The others? What— Stiles realized where they stood, and the acoustics of the main stairwell, and how difficult it must be for an LP to listen to a pre-calculus lecture with he and Scott mid-meltdown outside.
Stiles realized his hands were shaking. Damn it—why couldn't he be cool for once? "Fine," he bit out, looking at the floor and not—not—at Scott or Hale.
"I'm going to class," said Scott, and stalked down the hallway.
Stiles glared at the tiles. He waited until he couldn't hear Scott's footfalls, and then turned to follow.
"Hey," said Hale, like he was trying to get Stiles' attention, but Stiles didn't need a lecture, or a pep talk, or whatever the fuck it was that Hale was about to do, so he kept walking.
"Hey." And that 'hey' came with a VLPH-warm hand on Stiles' shoulder.
"What?" Stiles snapped, jerking away from Derek's grasp.
"Did you mean that?"
"You don't want the Bite."
Stiles' eyes narrowed. Hale probably expected him to take it back; probably expected Stiles to eat his words in the face of his betters, like a fake apology from a spanked little boy. Stiles lifted his chin.
"Yeah, I meant it. I don't want the Bite—never have, never will."
"Not even if you were dying," Hale insisted. "Not even for that."
It didn't sound like a question, but Hale stared at him as if he expected an answer, and Stiles never had a problem talking, especially not when he needed a distraction from his heart pounding in his chest like a jogger on bane.
"Never," Stiles said. "I'd rather die human." And yeah, that last part was maybe not the best call, because there was no real cultural consensus on what sort of humanoids qualified as 'human', and implying somebody didn't qualify was a good way to get your ass kicked by a genetic marvel.
Hale didn't seem fazed. In fact, his eyebrows straightened a few degrees. His frown shrank. His stare turned…Stiles didn't know. Hale's eyes scanned down Stiles' body, not glaring, but not quite leering. It was more assessing, and appreciative, than either.
It was creepy as fuck.
And now Stiles definitely smelled like boner.
"I gotta go," said Stiles, ducking away from Hale, trying to hide the blush that slunk from his ears to his cheeks.
He high-tailed it to economics and slipped into his seat with seven minutes to spare in the period. Finstock glared, but dealt no detention. Stiles tried not to think about Scott's anger, or his humiliation in front of Hale, or really anything for the rest of the day.
Stiles parked the Throwback on the too-steep driveway in front of Casa de Stilinski. He tripped over the grass growing from the crack near the mailbox, and cursed, because he always did. 'Always' being every day this week—every day since he'd requested the prospectuses. It was the first time in his life he was getting real, physical mail delivered.
He paused a moment when he opened the box, the smell of plastic wafting out. He pulled out the thickest booklet and ran his fingers over the embossed lettering at the top: Pennsylvania State University, one of the only eastern universities that offered scholarships for CoPA citizens. Scott's copy probably went to his old address.
"Evening, Stiles," said Mr. Friedricks. He stood in the driveway across the street, hunched over the bare engine of his classic Mustang.
Stiles waved, and tucked the prospectus under his arm, cover hidden against his side.
"How was school?"
His dad ruffled his hair as he passed behind the couch, and Stiles rolled his head up for a brief acknowledgement. His economics book lay ignored near his left hand. The v-feed played in the background, but Stiles returned his attention to the tablet balanced on his knees. His dad switched the feed to NBCNN.
On the screen, Laura Hale smiled for the cameras, haloed by stage lights.
"That looks like your school."
Stiles grunted again.
"That's pretty exciting."
"It was a real privilege. I can't even tell you."
His father shot him a look, but it was just as amused as it was censoring.
The image changed to the memorial fountain in the center of The Park. A crowd of people surrounded a podium—B-roll of the official Lib-Day memorial. The reporter mumbled over the top about the progress of Laura's campaign. Thirty seconds later, the story changed, and low-quality footage of a riot replaced the videos of smiling LP families.
"In Philadelphia, ten men abducted a teenage boy from his family's downtown apartment…"
Shimmering metal walls rose from red cobbled roads. A crowd surged in towards the center of the street, pressing in on a huddled figure. He stood about Scott's height. The camera came in tight on him, searching for his face, but not finding it—hidden by the black hood cinched around his neck. In flashes, between the limbs of the people crowding him and the burly men that held him by the elbows, Stiles could see the boy's bound wrists and his red, 'Class of '78' sweatshirt; his stomach swelled against the fabric, round and full.
"—group, The Fraternity of Man, posted footage of the attack on their website, with the caption, 'Now that's what I call a riot.'"
Three LPs close to the center of the crowd threw people back¬¬¬¬—waves on boulders. The feed flashed yellow when a woman's eyes caught the recorder.
A smoke bomb exploded. Purple fog rushed through thrashing bodies—bane-bombs, obvious from the lavender color, and the way the LPs began to stumble and fall. HSs pulled their shirts over their noses, but plenty of them fell too. Stiles watched as the mob tossed the LPs aside and overwhelmed the boy in the center.
"—when questioned about the incident's resemblance to the lynching of Sean McCormick…"
A skinny, bearded man's face took up the screen. He wore a baggy black t-shirt, printed on it the white silhouettes of a man and woman, hand in hand, walking away from a stylized sun. "Perversions all die the same way," said the man, a happy sneer on his lips, "and that's at the hands of pure men."
Abruptly, he disappeared, replaced by film of a harried Laura Hale. Reporters bombarded her with questions as she strode away, flanked by her staff and her scowling brother. They wore the same clothing they had on the stage of Hale Prep.
Derek's face caught the recorder just as the Hales disappeared into a waiting town car. Hazel eyes burned with resentment, lighting up the feed like a match to the fuse of a cartoon bomb. Stiles' stomach clenched.
"—not available for comment. The victim has been naturally stabilized in a healing coma, but doctors are unsure when, or if, he will wake. The survival of the child—"
"And that's about enough of that," said the Sheriff. He switched to Double2 Sports.
Many minutes later, he spoke again. "Sometimes…" said the Sheriff, shaking his head. His tone was too solemn for the LP basketball on the feed.
"Yeah," said Stiles.
"I'll tell you what, though: I would not want Laura Hale's job. Not for ten million credits."
Stiles thought about Derek's scowl as he subtly shielded his sister from the cameras. "At least she can do something."
"Like what? Secede? Read us a bedtime story?"
Stiles shrugged. He didn't want to argue with his dad. Not today. He let the conversation lapse. His dad watched the rest of the basketball game, and Stiles flicked through the headline news on his tablet, bookmarking articles for later review.
The Penn State prospectus lay upstairs, safely hidden in the bottom drawer of Stiles' desk.
Stiles sat by himself at lunch, his tablet perched in his left hand. He didn't look up at all, not even when he heard Jackson's laughter braying over the top of feminine giggles and Scott's familiar guffaws.
If the LPs huddled a little closer together in the lunchroom that day, it was probably just a coincidence. Confirmation bias, Stiles thought, as he tossed his trash and marched past an LP table beside the cafeteria doors. An LP he recognized from the basketball team flashed her eyes at him, but that could have been for anything. Really, he was an annoying little shit; that was no secret.
In English, he found himself rubbing his fingers on his neck, imagining the pull of a drawstring. He picked up his stylus and opened a doodle app, just to keep his fingers occupied.
When English finally let out, Stiles bullied his way through the halls, intent on getting to the gym. He borrowed a lacrosse stick and a dozen balls from the equipment room, and grabbed his pads from the back of the Throwback. His old gear reeked, but if he loosened the straps, it still fit. He spent two hours running the twin fields and lobbing practice shots at the net.
He'd make first line this year if it killed him.
He saw Scott running on the soccer field. Scott didn't look towards the track, where the HS class was doing warm up laps. Maybe this is what Scott wanted after all, Stiles thought. He was probably the last of Scott's HS baggage, and—what luck—he'd conveniently unloaded himself.
Stiles pushed himself to stay in the front of the pack this time, concentrating on his feet hitting the ground in the right place, pushing off as quickly as possible. Jackson, on the other hand, jogged at a pace suspiciously non-indicative of his insecure attachment issues—moderately fast, right in line with Lydia's gaggle of sequenced girls. Stiles trailed them by a few yards.
"Greenberg's parents are gone, and they have, like, a massive bar," said Jackson. "They won't even notice shit's gone."
"Libations do not a party make," said Lydia.
"Obviously. But his pool is ridiculous. It's Olympic standard with, like, boulders, and underwater stools, and crap."
A freckled VSHS jogging beside Jackson made a sound in the back of her throat. "I hate pool parties. Speedos are a privilege, okay? Some people just do not get that."
"So don't go," said Lydia.
"That's not what I said," Freckles snapped.
"Well, I'm definitely going," said another girl, jogging between Allison and Lydia. "I love pools."
"So it's gonna be the lacrosse guys and maybe some of the basketball starters," said Jackson, ignoring everyone who wasn't a strawberry blonde goddess.
"Perfect," said Lydia. "We can all get a little better acquainted. How's that sound, Allison?"
Allison fought her smile, but even from yards behind her, Stiles could see her teeth flash and her head turn toward the soccer field. "Good," she said. She glanced over at Lydia. "I mean, it'll be nice to…know more people?"
"Uh-huh," said Lydia.
Allison glanced back at Stiles, and Lydia followed her gaze. Lydia snapped her eyes back to the track, but she didn't comment.
Stiles didn't need Lydia's cold shoulder to know he didn't qualify as one of the 'lacrosse guys'.
Shy-eyed Lowry was probably Scott's plus one to the stupid party.
Stiles' shot hit the back of the net with a satisfying fwoop.
He played until the custodian flagged him down and told him to bring the balls in; they had to lock up for the night.
The sky glowed dove-violet as Stiles tossed his kit in the back of the Throwback and slammed the driver's side door. He turned his phone on and threw it in the passenger's seat, only to pause with his thumb on the ignition push when his missed call alert beeped, and beeped again. Then his phone vibrated across the seat like water in hot oil. Stiles snatched it up.
Seven missed calls—Stiles' heart crashed like a cymbal. Two from his dad's phone and three from an unknown number.
Stiles didn't bother to check the messages, just held his breath as his father's phone rang, and only let it out when the line connected. The Sheriff scowled at him on the v-feed.
"Where are you?" his father demanded.
"At school," said Stiles, "I was practicing. What's wrong? You—"
"I called you half a dozen times, where was your phone?"
Stiles rolled his eyes and tapped the last of his anxiety out with his fingers on the steering wheel. "Next time I'll tuck it in my jock, just in case you call for a reason that is apparently not mortal peril."
The Sheriff sighed, and Stiles watched the ravines appear in his forehead. Stiles knew he should wait the silence out, but his fingers started tapping again, and then his thoughts clanked and clobbered each other until he let out an impatient huff. His father shot him a look, but Stiles saw the smirk hiding in the corner of his mouth.
"How do you know Derek Hale?"
Stiles squinted at the screen. "How do non sequitur what?"
The smirk had emerged from hiding; it had more than emerged, it had come out, like a debutante. His father had a coming out ball on his face, and it was undignified for someone of his advanced years.
"How. Do you. Know Derek Hale."
"His assistant called the house."
"To set up an interview."
The Sheriff studied him. "Why were the Hales at your school on Monday?"
And then Stiles recognized his situation: he was being interrogated. "The Governor gave a speech."
His dad raised an eyebrow.
"And," said Stiles, relenting, "Derek Hale was possibly meeting with potential mates."
"And he met you?"
"Wow, thanks for the tone there, Dad of the Year."
"You're a very pretty boy, Stiles. Answer the question."
Stiles rubbed a hand over his chin and looked out the passenger side window. "I dunno, sorta? He saw me. I didn't think he knew my name or anything."
"But you didn't meet?"
"What, like, formally?"
"Yes, Stiles, 'like, formally.'"
"Sarcasm? In a man of your age?"
"Why are you giving me a hard time?" The Sheriff's eyes narrowed.
"When do I not give—"
"Did something happen?"
"No. Jesus. He didn't ask for me or anything. We just…passed in the hall. I have no idea why they'd be calling for a meeting…interview…thing."
The Sheriff hummed like that answer was only provisionally accepted. After a moment's thought, he sighed, and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. "They asked for a call back. You give 'em a call tomorrow, and that's that." He hadn't asked a question, but the look he gave Stiles demanded an answer.
Stiles squirmed. He didn't know what to say. He hadn't thought about this; he hadn't considered what he'd do. He didn't want the Bite, that he knew, but he couldn't help but remember what Lydia had said that day in the cafeteria. She was right: who wouldn't want to be a Hale?
But that was, like, two billion steps ahead of a phone call with an assistant. He had ADHD for god's sake, he was hardly fit to raise the next generation of LP royalty. And that's what LP mating was about: the next generation—the 'Ideal Lifecycle'. Ick. And also, laughable. Whatever Stiles was—and he had some not inconsiderable charms, thank you very much—he was not 'ideal'.
"It's a PR thing, anyway," said Stiles.
His dad's eyebrows crumpled together.
"When whatever sequenced heiress they pick becomes Mrs. Derek Hale, it'll look better if they've at least considered someone like me, right? Somethin' like forty-percent of Laura Hale's base is unsequenced."
"Maybe," said the Sheriff, as if he didn't like the taste of the word.
"It'll be fine. It'll be a great story. 'Hey, remember that time I almost became an LP-American-Princess? Oh, but to have those thighs again.'" Stiles smiled, but his dad didn't.
"I need you to be smart about this, kid."
Instead of rolling his eyes, which would only aggravate his dad more, Stiles bumped his head back against the seat and looked at the ceiling. "I think I can handle a conversation."
Eyes crawling over the ceiling, Stiles noticed the faded interior of the Throwback drooped near the passenger window. Stiles leaned over to fiddle with it.
"Stiles, listen to me," said his dad, and his tone was not jovial, so Stiles slumped back into the driver's seat and looked at the feed.
"Do not mess around here." The Sheriff's forehead kept its creases, his light eyes intent on Stiles. "This is serious for them. If they're calling you at home, it's more than a meet and greet. It means you're on a list, and that's never good. You do not want special attention from these people."
Stiles decided it was the wrong time to mention his three other missed calls.
Discounting cosmetic politics, the whole idea of the Hales having any sort of interest in him at all was absurd. Stiles wanted to say so. But he knew this phone call wouldn't end until his dad was satisfied, and, 'Father, you are perhaps overestimating my sex appeal,' was not the answer the Sheriff wanted.
Stiles nodded. "I get it. I do. Promise."
"Fine." The Sheriff nodded back. "Pick up some Thai on your way home. All we've got in the house is ketchup and tuna."
Instead, Stiles staked out a corner of an adjacent table and stared at his math homework, sandwich in one hand, pencil twisting in the fingers of the other. He unabashedly eavesdropped on Scott's conversation, listening for anything half-interesting, but most of it was whining about having a math test the first week of school, with a liberal sprinkling of bashful flirting with Allison. Stiles tuned it out and was half-done with his page of calculus when he heard 'Derek Hale' said in Jackson's haughty drawl. Stiles twitched, nearly snapping his pencil in half.
"—second meeting set up for Saturday," said Jackson. "I guess he liked what he saw."
"Don't be gross," said Danny. "This whole process is creepy enough to begin with."
Stiles privately seconded Danny's sentiment, but he could practically feel Jackson rolling his eyes. Stiles shifted on the bench, subtly angling himself for a better view of the sequenced table. All he could see was Jackson's smug profile and Lydia Martin's clenched jaw. Anger flared in Stiles on her behalf.
Apparently, Scott thought similarly, because Stiles saw him frown at Jackson, eyes flicking towards Lydia. "But you wouldn't actually say yes, right? I mean, like, interview or whatever, sure, but you wouldn't really…?"
"Bet your ass I would, and so would anybody with two brain cells to rub together."
Lydia blinked rapidly and leaned away from the table, digging in her purse and letting her hair fall briefly in front of her face. She reemerged with a mirror in one hand and lipgloss in the other, making it impossible to tell if her eyes had ever so much as glistened.
She rubbed her lips together and checked the mirror. "Well, let's just be sure we don't put all our eggs in one basket," she said. "I know I won't."
Jackson rolled his eyes, and the talk shifted to the party on Friday. The party Stiles would not be attending, because apparently he didn't rate an invitation.
But Hale seemed to think Stiles rated differently. He wondered what Jackson would say if he knew about Stiles' interview. He imagined Jackson's pinched little face, the same one he'd worn in the fourth grade when he'd been eliminated from the spelling bee, and the one he wore now when Danny blocked his shots during practice.
It was a nice thought.
Somebody started clapping from the edge of the field. Stiles turned¬¬¬¬: Scott.
Stiles plucked the ball out of the net and trudged back across the field.
"You're getting good," said Scott. He fidgeted with the straps of his backpack.
"So, are we talking now?" said Stiles.
Scott tensed, but then sighed, smoothing a hand over his hair. "I dunno. Yeah?"
Stiles raised an eyebrow.
"Look, it's¬¬—" Scott shrugged. "I'm just trying to deal with this, okay? I just…I'm trying to deal with this, and it's hard, and I...sort of need you to be talking to me."
"Didn't seem so hard the other day."
"Didn't seem that hard all summer, actually." Stiles pretended to inspect the lacing of his crosse, not looking at Scott's expression.
"Dude, I was at The Center all summer."
"They don't have phones there?"
Scott looked out across the field, and Stiles hated that look: the one that meant there was something Scott wasn't going to say because he thought Stiles wasn't up to hearing it. It was the same look the doctor had worn when Stiles visited his mother in the hospital; it was the same look his therapist had worn when she'd diagnosed him with ADHD; it was the same look the Sheriff wore when he talked to Stiles about going to college in CoPA.
"It's fine," said Stiles, woodenly, because it wasn't fine, and they both knew it wasn't fine, but Stiles didn't do well with expectant silence. "You were trying to get used to LP whatever-ness. I would've been in the way. I get it."
"That's not it," said Scott, but he didn't sound as sure as Stiles would have liked. "I mean, yeah, they were teaching me things and, like, training me and stuff, but it was…I didn't want to see anybody. Not even mom. It wasn't about you. You just gotta trust me on that."
This time Scott wouldn't meet Stiles' eyes. Finally, Stiles nodded. "Okay."
"And maybe, if you could…lay off the questions. For a while."
Stiles shot Scott an incredulous look, and Scott rolled his eyes, beginning to smile.
"Please?" said Scott.
Stiles sighed gustily. "I'll try to contain my enthusiasm."
"Gee, thanks," said Scott, and gave a proper smile. Stiles felt remarkably lightened, beginning to quirk one in return.
"One more question, though, before my vows of inquisitorial celibacy."
"The house—it's from the Hales, isn't it?"
Scott sucked on his lip for a moment, then shrugged. "From Tris. Technically."
"Tris? As in the Triskele Experimental Station?"
Scott shrugged again.
"So it is from the Hales," said Stiles triumphantly. He twisted his hands on his crosse, the familiar thrum of a hunch making him want to bounce on his heels. "Was it a payoff? Did they do it at The Center? Did you talk to an actual Hale?"
"It was part of an established housing program for fresh ALP, and you said one."
"Dude, come on."
"I don't want to talk about this here," said Scott, shooting significant glances to their right and left. He was right; it was impossible to tell if there were any other LPs lurking about, unless Scott wanted to go sniff out the perimeter to be sure.
"They still don't know who bit you, do they?"
Scott glared. Quietly, he said, "They know it wasn't Hale."
Scott wouldn't say more about it, and Stiles didn’t badger him, careful not to wreck what they'd just rebuilt. Besides, Stiles thought, if he wanted answers about a rogue alpha roaming Hale territory, Scott was not the one to ask.
A pretty woman in a business suit appeared on his screen. "Thank you for calling Hale Corp. Our business hours are Monday through Friday, eight—"
Stiles ended the call. He pressed the phone against his chin. "Fuck," he said.
His phone vibrated.
Stiles nearly dropped it, but kept the device off the ground with an impressive flailing of limbs. He managed to get the phone propped up against his knees and pushed the receive button on the v-chat. The same pretty redhead who'd starred in the recording appeared on Stiles' phone.
"Hello there! Is this Stiles Stilinski?"
"Yeah. Hello. I just—"
"We saw your call," said the woman, chirruping right over Stiles' mumbles. "We're so glad to get ahold of you."
"I guess I've been sorta busy."
"Of course." Her smile never lost its vibrancy. "Well, we were calling in regards to your introduction with Mr. Hale the other day."
"Yes. We would like to invite you this Saturday to—"
"Yes," said Stiles, and for the first time, the woman paused. She tilted her head, considering, as if Stiles had interrupted her script, and she was deciding whether to laugh it off or slaughter the infidel.
"Yes?" she said at last.
"Yes," Stiles repeated. "I will come in for the interview-thing."
"Oh." Her smile returned. "Of course. In that case, what time would be most convenient for you?"
"We do have an open slot Saturday afternoon, around one. Would that be convenient?"
"Sure," said Stiles. He'd be up by then.
"Excellent. One o'clock at the Hale Corp offices downtown. Give your name at the desk, and they'll show you right up. Do you need the address?"
Hale Tower was the tallest building in Beacon Hills.
"I'll Google it," said Stiles, and tried a smile, though it felt more like a grimace.
"Fantastic. See you tomorrow." Click. She disappeared.
Stiles licked his lips. Tomorrow.
A few hours later, he glanced at the clock: ten. Vaulting off his bed, Stiles grabbed his keys and thundered down the stairs. There was a party at Greenberg's, and he was officially Scott McCall's plus one.