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the power and the heart

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Evelyn Rodriguez wasn't the strongest, or smartest, or most dangerous of SHIELD agents, but she liked to think that her inner bullshit detector was second to none.

That ability to tell when someone was lying to her had gotten her out of a lot of trouble over the years--from the first time her older brother had tried to feed her something suspiciously not-food like, to the time her high school boyfriend had told her that he was busy with family the night of the winter formal, to her decision not to go on that spring break trip her junior year of college--and it had been working almost constantly in the three weeks since the Fairy Ball. Her life since that fateful night had been both thrilling and terrifying by turns; suddenly, there were SHIELD agents falling all over themselves to get into her office, random supernatural creatures popping up to “liaise” with Stiles, and Avengers climbing out of the woodwork, and although her department’s newfound fame had been interesting at first, Evie was starting to realize exactly why Stiles had been so invested in keeping his head down.

Ninety-eight percent of the people Stiles knew--supernatural or otherwise--seemed to be absolutely nuts.

Granted, Evie didn't have much room to talk, considering she worked for an organization that regularly fought aliens and killer robots, but the number of blatant once-overs and thinly-veiled fishing expeditions she’d had to field (many from her own colleagues) since the harvest celebration made her want to punch someone.

Stiles had warned them, she and Graham both, to expect a definite uptick in supernatural visitors after the ball, but she knew that neither she nor Graham had expected their office to become the latest SHIELD-sideshow-of-the-month. Some of their new admirers were interested in Stiles's supernatural connections, others wanted a closer look at the agent who had caught the Avengers’ attention, and some were just nosy bastards with nothing better to do. All of them were annoying as hell.

(Evie knew it was horrible of her, but she was sort of hoping for an alien incursion just to get the spotlight off of them for a while.)

Instead, everything was amazingly calm in the outside world, which meant that inside SHIELD, the natives were getting restless. And stupid.

Case in point: the most recent visitor to their office was drawing much more attention than was probably healthy for the majority of her colleagues, and although anyone with half of a brain should have recognized the predator just inside the doorway for what he was, there were still a half dozen agents milling around in the hallway, angling for a peek at the vampire. All at once, Evie felt a flash of sympathy for wild animals stuck in captivity, and wondered just how much paperwork she'd have to fill out if she mauled some of her fellow agents.

“I'm not sure Stiles would appreciate that,” her visitor remarked mildly, breaking into her train of thought as he moved further into the room, “he’s still remarkably squeamish about blood.”

Evie startled and mentally cursed herself for getting distracted by the idiots outside; just because the man in front of her seemed harmless didn't mean she could drop her guard. Her eyes narrowed. How exactly had he known what she was thinking anyway?

The man grinned and planted himself gracefully into the chair opposite her desk, looking for all the world like a baby-faced college student instead of the ancient creature that he was. “I'm not telepathic, if that's what you're wondering. Your eyes give you away.” The man's smile widened. “And what pretty eyes they are, too.”

Evie’s finger twitched toward the panic button on the underside of her desk as she considered the man before her. The enchantments on the office kept out everyone with the intent to harm, but as she and Graham had seen firsthand over the past few weeks, many of the oldest creatures’ whims seemed to change by the minute, so just because her visitor had entered in good faith didn't mean he wasn't thinking about gouging out her eyeballs right this second.

Or, he could genuinely be flirting; it was impossible to tell.

Evie was mostly sure that this man wasn't interested in harming her, but the panic button--and the alert on her phone, and the tracker in her necklace--made her feel marginally more secure. It had seemed like overkill at the time, but she was appreciating more and more Stiles's two-hour “stay alive ‘till help arrives” lecture that he had given to her, Graham, and the Avengers two days after the ball.

(For a split second, she almost wished that Hawkeye or one of the other Avengers would randomly pop out of nowhere like they seemed so fond of doing recently; sure, it had scared who knew how many years off of her life already, but it was almost worth it to see the archer practice his death glare on the office’s frequent visitors.)

“This place seems very...tedious,” he gestured lazily behind him, where there were still agents skulking outside. “Stiles told me that I wouldn't care for it, but I had thought he was exaggerating. It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to spend any time here at all.”

“Sorry?”

The vampire stared at Evie long enough that her finger reached for the panic button again, before he grinned widely with his perfect teeth and pushed himself to his feet. “Tell him that Edward called, will you? We have business to conduct, hopefully somewhere more interesting. He knows how to find me when he has a moment.”

The agent frowned at him, nonplussed at the sudden turn of events. “But you just got here.”

Either Edward didn't hear her, or didn't care, because he vanished, practically between one blink and the next, and Evie sighed half in relief and half in exasperation.

Like she said: nuts.

<> <>

Agent “just call me Graham” was no stranger to the supernatural, or at least, he hadn't felt that way felt that way before the Fairy Ball.

His parents had traveled a lot when Graham was a kid, so he'd grown up feeling like he understood the supernatural world a little better than most. He'd met kitsune in Japan and naga in Indonesia, and although he'd never planned on joining SHIELD, when the opportunity arose, Graham felt like it was the place best suited to his experiences.

It had come as a surprise to him just how little SHIELD and the supernatural community had to do with each other outside of the occasional posturing and local political scuffles. The Preternatural Council (or PAC, when no shifters were present to complain) took care of its own business, and left SHIELD to handle “the extraterrestrials and anyone stupid enough to galavant around in their Halloween costume, sleepwear, or tights in public”, as the Fae representative on the Council liked to say.

Graham’s experiences with the supernatural quickly became little more than an interesting asterisk in his file, and he’d eventually moved on to dealing with other things. Until Stiles, at least.

The ball had opened his eyes to the naivety of his childhood, and he wasn't sure he'd ever get a good night's rest again.

He could still remember his neighbor in Japan, old Mrs. Nakamura, who liked to give Graham and his brothers candy when they passed her in the hallway; he had liked her then, but now the agent wondered how much of her true nature the kitsune had hidden behind a well-crafted human mask. After all, Mrs. Nakamura had looked to be in her early seventies at the time, but she had probably been five times that age, and Graham was smart enough now to know that no one lived that long without having at least a couple of skeletons in their closet.

It was disconcerting to suddenly wonder how many people he'd met over the years were only pretending to be human, or cloaking themselves in humanity because that's what people like Graham expected to see.

Even though he didn't (couldn't) regret going to the Ball, that revelation meant that Graham was still fighting the urge to check inside his closet and underneath his bed every night before he went to sleep.

Despite his protectiveness that night, Stiles had been frank with him on how everything in his life would now be divided into his life before and after supernatural contact. Stiles hadn't assured him that his fear would pass, but instead had told Graham his favorite brands of night light and taser, and suggested the best times of day to sweep for possible supernatural lurkers. He was so matter-of-fact about it that Graham knew that most of their colleagues had assumed Stiles was joking, at least until supernatural go-bags had been left on his and Evelyn’s desks later that week.

Shortly thereafter, all sorts of random people had started popping into their office at all hours, and, for a few days, Graham actually almost regretted working for SHIELD.

While Graham hadn't had to deal with as many of their guests as Rodriguez, his lack of confrontations with supernatural creatures was more than supplemented by random appearances by Avengers.

Unlike his counterpart, who seemed to be the agent of choice for nosy nonhumans, Graham had suddenly become the go-to guy for information-seeking Avengers.

Agent Barton’s visits were to be expected--the memory of the normally stoic agent sprawled over Stiles's lap in the back of the limo would forever be etched in his mind--and it was likely that Agent Romanov vetted all of her friend’s potential dates, so it made sense for the two of them to visit Stiles's office. Captain Rogers’ appearance was explainable considering his tendency to worry about his friends, and Stark probably had surveillance on the entire building, but Thor, really? The Asgardian had shown up claiming that he wanted to meet one of the “creatures of magic” that frequently visited, but he'd barely stuck around for fifteen minutes once he realized that Stiles wasn't in the office and the thunder god hadn't been back since.

The only good thing about Avengers popping up unexpectedly was that the nosy agents in the hallway always scattered when any of the superheroes appeared, mostly due to an unfortunate incident involving Black Widow, Iron Man, and a pair of computer programmers who were never quite the same after JARVIS was through with them.

That was why, when the otherwise noisy corridor outside their office went quiet, Graham knew they were about to be visited by one of the Avengers--except that it wasn't an Avenger that appeared moments later, but Stiles himself.

Who, frankly, looked like he’d been dipped head-to-toe in chocolate sauce.

“What the hell happened?”

Stiles was staring down at himself like he couldn't decide whether to start licking the chocolate off of his body or stripping off his clothes right there in the office, but it was the look in his eyes that gave Graham pause. It was a particular gleam that the other agent had only recently learned to read, and one that said “the next person who irritates me will very much regret it”. Considering that Stiles had done more to frighten their gawkers in the past three weeks than all of their supernatural visitors and the Avengers combined, it was a warning that everyone lurking in the hallway had rightly heeded.

Of course, word had probably already gotten to Hawkeye about Stiles's situation, so Graham only had to keep his friend calm long enough for the other man to get here, and then Stiles and Clint could take care of the problem themselves.

(Which was something that Graham absolutely did not want to be thinking about. Ever.)

Stiles grimaced, his expression all the weirder on a chocolate-covered face. “I ran into a werewolf who thought he was being creatively romantic with his offer to ‘eat me’.” At Graham’s shocked look, he added, “it's even more embarrassing than it sounds because he covered himself in chocolate, too. I'm not sure what his plan was, exactly. I don't think I want to know."

“Can I...” Get you a towel? Shoot the guy? Complain to Coulson? Find some strawberries? “...do anything for you?”

“Will you sign for the shipment we’re supposed to get this morning and cover for me for awhile? I have to go clean this off before I start to attract either bugs or other supernatural creatures, and I'm not sure which would be more annoying, so…”

Stiles might have said more were it not for the Hawkeye-shaped missile that suddenly appeared and plastered his lips--as well as the rest of him--against Stiles, seemingly unconcerned with the mess. When he finally pulled away, Graham expected the Avenger to at least crack a smile at his boyfriend’s appearance, but instead, he stared at the younger man like he was checking Stiles over for injuries.

“Someone said you’d been attacked,” he said lowly, running his hands up and down Stiles's still chocolate-covered arms.

“Only if he was trying to give me a sugar high,” Stiles soothed, purposefully not mentioning the werewolf's unfortunate innuendo. No doubt, Tony would find out and fill Clint in later; but for now, his boyfriend was worked up enough as it was. “Covering wolfsbane with chocolate doesn't make it any less effective, you know. I can handle creepy werewolves.” Stiles’s voice dropped low enough that Graham could barely hear him add, “The real question is, how am I ever going to get all this chocolate off of my hard-to-reach places?”

Seconds later, Clint had drug Stiles out of the office, and Graham was watching the elevator doors close on the pair.

(When that elevator reopened, it was newly decorated with the telltale outline of a person pressed into the back wall; at least for the ninety minutes it took for Tony Stark to send someone to clean it [and any pictures on people's phones] up. If Tony himself took pictures, no one was dumb enough to mention it.)

<> <>

Things calmed down a little after the chocolate incident, at least for Evie and Graham. Sycophantic supernaturals kept popping up with alarming regularity, but they rarely stayed around if Stiles wasn't available, and Stiles was in enough meetings that his officemates managed to lull themselves into a false sense of security. If anyone followed Stiles outside of SHIELD, he never mentioned it, and Evie and Graham started to think that maybe there was life after meeting the supernatural.

And then came the Winter Solstice.

A week before the city's solstice celebrations, Evie, Graham, and Stiles were suddenly meeting with multiple visitors per day, each one more outrageous than the last, and with seemingly none of them willing to go through the proper protocol and set up a meeting through Director Fury. It had gotten bad enough by Tuesday afternoon that Coulson had set himself up in the office across from theirs just to keep an eye on things.

Unfortunately, on Wednesday morning, Evie and Graham entered their office to the sounds of an argument already in progress between Stiles and a platinum blonde who kept pushing herself suggestively over their friend’s desk, which Stiles was using like a shield so that she would need to lay across the desk in order to reach him.

“...please don't make me get your alpha or mine involved,” Stiles was saying. “I said no, thank you for the offer, but I'm already in a personal relationship, and you have no discernible skills to recommend a professional one.”

“I could prove it to you, you know,” she chirped, and for all that it was said mildly, it was was not an idle threat; after all, Courtney was both the human daughter of a werewolf, and really, really creepy in a way that reminded Stiles of one of those glass-eyed porcelain dolls that stared at you from a shelf in your great aunt’s house. It wasn't an uncommon opinion, and Stiles wouldn't put it past Courtney’s father to sic her on him just so he didn't have to deal with her for a little while. “Your Director would never have to know,” she added with a look that--on a man's face--would have been called a leer.

“I'll tell Peter,” he countered, and that was not an idle threat, either. Even from the other side of the country, the Hale name held weight. That, and nothing put creepy people in their place better than someone who could be creepier than them.

Stiles saw his friends watching him, and held up a hand to stop them before either Graham or Rodriguez could comment (though it didn't stop Evie from casually dialing Coulson’s number in the meantime) and grabbed his own phone. A deep voice answered almost immediately, and Stiles fought off a scowl at the thought that the alpha had been waiting for his call.

Graham started texting Clint as soon as he saw the scowl.

Stiles didn't notice either of his colleagues’ efforts as he glared at his own phone, too busy alternately glaring at Courtney and his phone. “If you don't stop sending me puppies,” he warned, “I'm going to start sending them back to you with wolfsbane shoved in unmentionable places.”

Instead of being offended, however, the man started laughing, making Stiles's scowl deepen. “You’ll just be doing me a favor, separating the wheat from the chaff. I’ve already told my pack that anyone who approached you on SHIELD grounds was talking their lives into their own hands; it's not my fault that some of them are too dumb to listen.”

“I've seen three of your packmates following me just this week,” Stiles countered, “and no matter what you say, none of them are that stupid; except for maybe Courtney, here, who is inching closer and closer to a sexual harassment suit as we speak.”

“Well,” the alpha drew out the word, “I may have made a tiny wager with Alpha Diaz about how many offers you’d have to get before you made good on your threats. Feel free to start with Courtney; if SHIELD wants to make an example of her, I can consider that a good faith step toward open negotiations. And it will help me win the bet.”

Stiles squawked loudly enough that Courtney startled and took a step back, while Coulson magically appeared next to Stiles and plucked his phone away before he could start ranting at the alpha about not helping any of them and pressed it to his own ear.

Graham and Evie had seen firsthand how most supernaturals just ignored that particular rant from Stiles, so it was particularly satisfying to listen to Coulson put on his bland everyman voice and inform the alpha that any particular partnerships with SHIELD would be the result of dozens, if not hundreds of hours of meetings with the Director, his deputy, and representatives of the PAC, and added that any harassment of SHIELD agents would naturally be detrimental to that goal.

It was impressive enough that they could be excused for not noticing Hawkeye until he had thrown Courtney over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and started marching her out of the office.

(No one really knew what happened to Courtney after that, except that for months afterward, she turned and went in the opposite direction every time she saw a redhead.)

<> <>

Thursday was nice--Natasha sat in their office all day and frightened away all potential lurkers, while Clint fed him pasta by candlelight and let Stiles use him as a pillow all evening--but Friday started off with the one meeting that Stiles would have liked to put off indefinitely. Which was probably why Coulson forgot to tell him about it until the last minute; meaning, he ambushed Stiles as soon as he walked into the office and started herding him toward one of the conference rooms.

Negotiating with the Black Prince was a hell of a way to start the morning.

It wasn’t that Stiles had anything against Edward; despite the unfortunate moniker, Edward was one of the few members of his family that Stiles actually liked. It was the politics behind the meeting that set Stiles's teeth on edge.

No, Edward wouldn't be any happier about this than Stiles was, which is why he'd let Stiles put it off for so long. Now that the moment was here, though, they’d both play their parts accordingly.

(And possibly get drunk together afterward.)

Stiles squared his shoulders and walked into the room with his head held high. It still surprised him sometimes how everyone--including Director Fury--looked to him for supernatural advice, but Stiles wasn't going to let that get in the way of him sharing his opinions about a possible northeastern vampire-SHIELD alliance.

As in, it should never happen.

The Avengers were situated around the table when he entered, and although Stiles appreciated the support, they were mostly going to be window dressing on this one.

(That didn't mean that Stiles wasn't grateful when Clint, who had heard the story of Stiles and Edward’s sister one night after Chinese food and way too much alcohol, squeezed his knee under the table the moment Stiles sat down.)

Just for a second, before their masks came down, Edward grinned at him. Stiles rolled his eyes.

"I don't care what it is,” Stiles began, “I'm not interested, SHIELD isn't interested, nobody's interested. Go away.”

Someone (possibly Bruce) snorted.

The vampire didn't so much as blink. “As we understand it, Queen Aine invited you to her gathering as a representative of SHIELD. We would like to extend the same invitation to our Solstice gathering.”

Stiles could practically feel Fury perking up at the intelligence-gathering opportunities, which is why he almost felt bad for shooting the idea down.

“No, she invited me because she can't help but meddle in her family's love lives, and she invited Agent Barton because she's a pot-stirrer with too much time on her hands. Neither I, personally, nor SHIELD, professionally, have any kind of reciprocal agreement with either of the Courts. As such, we would be remiss to enter into such a partnership with the covens without input from the PAC; I'm sure you agree.”

Edward and Stiles stared at each other for a few seconds before the vampire reached into his jacket, pulled out a glossy black envelope, and tossed it casually onto the table.

“We’ll see,” Edward agreed evenly, but his lips twitched upward as he watched Stiles eye the invitation. “I wouldn't want to forget to give this to you, as a token of our commitment to our mutual aims.”

Ignoring the curious looks of the Avengers around him, Stiles glared at the vampire and opened his mouth to argue.