Dr. Eleanor Kuan is a petite woman who has a perpetual ‘I do not tolerate bullshit’ look on her face, which impressed Tom Stilinski the moment he met her, and has continued to impress him ever since. She’s a disciplinarian who can be understanding, a psychologist who can be firm, and above all else, a teacher who knows her students.
“Sheriff, thanks for coming,” she says, standing up to shake his hand. “Is Mrs. Hale going to be joining us, do you know?”
“She said she would be,” Tom says. He gave up a long time previous on trying to get Dr. Kuan to call him Tom. She preferred to stay formal with the parents, with everyone, really. “It’s a really busy week for her, though.”
“I do apologize for the timing,” Kuan says, with a nod, “but I didn’t really want to let this wait.”
Tom grimaces a little at that and tries to pretend that he isn’t ready to climb out of his skin. In some ways, Stiles does take after him, and they both hate being left in the dark or left waiting for information. He imagines that Stiles is going to freak out when he hears that this meeting took place, but that’s something he can tackle at a later date. Since Kuan obviously isn’t going to start until Talia is there, he strikes up a conversation about the upcoming Searching Ceremonies that are keeping the alpha so busy.
Talia rushes in ten minutes late, clearly a little flustered. “I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting,” she says, shaking Kuan’s hand and then giving Tom a brief embrace. Like his son, it had taken Tom some time to get used to the casual touching that came part and parcel with a werewolf pack. Now their greetings were as natural as breathing.
“Thank you both for coming,” Kuan says, taking her seat. She dons a little pair of reading glasses and looks down at a page of notes she’s made. “As you know, we are entering the fourth week of the new semester, and I wanted to discuss Stiles’ progress with you both.”
Tom nods, but he’s tense, and he knows that both the alpha and the woman across from him can sense it. Kuan probably would have just e-mailed them if everything had been okay, so the fact that they’re being dragged down here isn’t a good sign.
“His grades are good,” Kuan says, flipping through her notes. “We did have to take him out of physics, as you suspected we would, Sheriff. We put him in a biology class instead.”
Tom nods again. It hadn’t come up much during that first summer after Stiles had been shot, but upon his reentrance to school, they had realized he had a lot of difficulty with numbers. The school had taken him out of math, and at the time he had been on a light schedule, half-days, so it hadn’t been a big deal. “How’s he doing in it?”
“Quite well, actually,” Kuan says. “It’s an advanced class – normally for seniors – but of course Stiles is quite bright, so he hasn’t had any trouble there.” She flips through her notes. “Math was replaced with an extra English credit.”
“That was the expository writing class?” Talia asks, and Kuan nods. They hadn’t been sure about that class, but Stiles did fine with writing as long as he was given time to think about the words he needed. The teacher had said he rarely did timed assignments such as in-class essays, and in deference to Stiles had decided he would avoid them altogether for the class, so he wouldn’t feel singled out.
“It’s mostly history that’s the problem,” Kuan says. “He didn’t have that last semester, when he was still on half-days. He’s in the modern history class. They started with World War One and Ms. Ricci says he has a great deal of trouble remembering the names of the countries and the people involved. She’s working with one of the other professors to make his testing less ‘memorize names and dates’ and more ‘explain to me why a particular event is important’. He’s done much better since she implemented that change.”
“That’s good,” Tom says, feeling uncertain. He’s not sure why Kuan called the meeting, and all this praise is making him conversely even more nervous, like she’s softening them up before landing the punishing blow.
Talia doesn’t have much more patience. “Dr. Kuan, I’m sorry to be blunt, but I’m on a very tight schedule right now. What is your concern?”
Kuan folds her hands in front of herself. “I’m concerned that Stiles is growing extremely depressed.”
Tom and Talia exchange a look. Tom carefully takes in a breath and lets it out. “Could you elaborate, please?”
“Your son is obviously very intelligent, Sheriff. My guess is that schoolwork has always come easily to him. Or at least, it did once he was put on medication for his ADD. Yes, his grades are good. No parent would be ashamed of them. But he’s having to work three times harder for them than he ever has in his life before. And it isn’t just that. He’s aware of the special accommodations and . . . he feels singled out. Embarrassed. He doesn’t like getting different assignments that cater to his disabilities. Several of the teachers have noticed.”
“Nobody’s giving him a hard time, are they?” Talia asks, her voice cold as steel.
“Of course not,” Kuan said. “I wouldn’t allow it, but even then, nobody would. Everyone in this school knows why Stiles has the issues he has. The students are all very good to him. The older ones treat him like a mascot, and the younger ones look up to him as some sort of god.”
“As usual, Stiles is harder on himself than anyone,” Tom says, pushing his hands through his hair. He isn’t surprised by any of this. Stiles had been chomping at the bit to get back to full-time classes, but since he started, he’s been suspiciously quiet about them.
“Stiles has had a lot to deal with,” Kuan agrees, “and I think he pictured this going a little better than it has. Last semester he was only taking three classes, all of them specifically chosen to work around his disabilities. This is the first time the reality of it is hitting home for him. I don’t think we need to panic or rush to any conclusions, but I wanted you to be aware of his situation.” She hesitates, then says, “One comment in particular bothered Ms. Ricci, and she asked me to report it to you. Some students were discussing the upcoming ceremonies, and Stiles made a comment about how lucky it is he has the pack to take care of him, since he ‘obviously’ won’t be able to hold down a job. His words, not mine.”
“Oh, hell,” Tom says, with a sigh. “God, we’ve been over this and over this . . .”
Talia reaches out and squeezes his shoulder. “We’ll figure something out. Like Dr. Kuan said, he’s still getting back into the swing of things. Let’s not push him too hard. He’ll only get his back up if we do.”
“This from you?” Tom says, amused despite himself. “I guess you’re finally figuring Stiles out.”
“A little bit at a time,” Talia says.
Kuan thanks them for coming, and they leave her office. “Coffee?” Tom asks, thinking that they could talk about strategy.
“I can’t,” Talia says, apologetically. “I have so many things to do, I just – my head is going in eighty different directions right now. After the ceremonies on Friday – let’s have lunch over the weekend and we can talk about this.”
“Okay,” Tom says. He wants to flail and protest and say that his kid has priority, but he knows how hard Talia – and Stiles himself, for that matter – have worked to put together the Searching Ceremonies this year. A lot of different factions had argued to call them off completely for the year while they continued to work on re-educating the public and re-organizing the system, but Talia said that would be taken as a defeat.
It’s been just over six months since Kate Argent had tried to kill the entire Hale family and one of her lackeys had succeeded in shooting Stiles. For Stiles, the shine of being a celebrity had worn off quickly. He had gotten to appear on Good Morning America and meet Ellen Degeneres and Jon Stewart, which had been the highlight of his life, but a lot of the press kept asking questions he was uncomfortable with, and after the first month, he had declared he was done giving interviews and was going back to life as usual.
‘Life as usual’ for a while had been a lot of therapy, both physical and mental. And there were days when he was fine. He could sit and read for hours without pause; if he stumbled across a word that gave him trouble, he could usually figure it out from context. Laura and Derek helped with his physical therapy, and the pack kept him insulated from most of the things that would have upset him.
The problem with his memory was mostly short-term data retention. He had no difficulty remembering things he had known before the shooting, but too much new information would give him trouble. But for the most part, it simply didn’t come up. They had carefully chosen his three classes for the new semester – a literature course since his reading comprehension was still fine, a science class that was a combination of geology and geography, both things he already knew a lot about, and a class that Stiles had termed ‘intro to werewolves’ which focused on the culture differences between humans and werewolves. Again, a subject he knew a lot about and was keenly interested in. He had also had the math class, but Dr. Kuan had pulled him out of it after three weeks due to intense frustration on everyone’s part. Stiles could learn it, go through a problem with his tutor and understand it perfectly, but when he got to the next problem – an identical concept but with different data – it was like he had never seen it before.
Tom had been in favor of another semester of half-days, but physically he was cleared to get back to a full schedule, and Stiles had been anxious to get back to normal. Now Tom is wishing that he had pushed the issue a little harder.
It isn’t like Stiles doesn’t have enough to do. He’s still the denmaker, and he spends a lot of time in the Hale family kitchen. He’s even taking a class on it that the school offers – he had laughed at the idea at first, but it’s the one class he actually talks about. It offers tips for cooking for large groups, nutritional information, even shopping strategies.
In between all that, he’s taken a large part of the new Searching Ceremonies onto his plate. As the person most familiar with all the misinformation that travels the human world, he’s been vital in making sure Talia knows what needs to get straightened out, and how. In addition to the ‘terms and conditions’ that people had to sign before they could enter the pool, Talia had put together an educational seminar the weekend before the ceremonies themselves. It had both human and werewolf speakers and focused not only on the benefits but also the disadvantages to being part of a pack. They had even allowed an anti-werewolf group – not the WLO, which had been dismantled, but a milder group – to make a video and promised it would be displayed at the seminar.
Tom had been there when the pack had watched the video, and seen a lot of rolling eyes, but agreed with them that it wasn’t that bad. It focused mainly on the drawbacks of having to learn to control the shift and be on constant guard against shifting by accident. Of course, a chosen mate wasn’t required to become a werewolf, but that didn’t seem to have bothered whoever made the video.
After the seminar, each entrant was required to choose one of three categories. They were willing to let a werewolf lay claim with no questions asked, they were willing to be claimed but reserved the right to withdraw after meeting the pack, or they were only willing to do the meet and greet and would negotiate further terms with any werewolf that expressed interest in them from there. Each category came with a wristband – green, yellow, or orange. Stiles had jokingly called them stop-light bracelets, which was basically what they were.
Basically, the idea was that everything needed to be taken slower. A lot of the educational articles and conferences that had been held in the last year had helped dispel the myths that went along with the ceremonies. But not everyone watched those conferences, and some people thought they were staged. There’s not much they can do about the latter, but Talia is determined to have everyone going into the ceremonies be as informed as possible.
Cora is the only Hale pack member who will be attending this year, and Talia has made it clear to her that she’s not required or expected to choose anybody. If that has Derek a little irritated at her, well, she can hardly blame him. But the pack has been growing, slow and steady, and she’s not about to complain.
Stiles and Derek have agreed that children are probably unlikely for the two of them. Their attitudes might change, Tom supposes, but he frankly doubts it. Derek is fairly adamant about it, and while Stiles was ambivalent before, the idea of child-rearing on top of denmaking causes him no small amount of concern. Add his mental disabilities to that, and he simply isn’t interested.
But Stiles’ entry into the pack had made it grow in another, unexpected way, when he had asked Talia about Scott. In October, Scott had been hospitalized with a nasty case of double pneumonia, and that had finally given Stiles the courage to approach Talia about turning him and bringing him into the pack. Scott was at the Hale house two or three nights a week anyway; he was Stiles’ best friend, his brother, and everyone liked him.
At the time, Talia had been somewhat uncertain. “It isn’t normally done that way,” she said. “We can’t go turning anyone we like and increasing our pack’s power. But given the circumstances . . . well, Scott is basically your brother, and his illness . . . let me talk to some of the other alphas in the area and I’ll see what I can do. Providing that both Scott and his mother are willing, of course.”
So she had talked to some people and Melissa had been okay with it and the day before Thanksgiving, Scott was officially turned and became the newest member of the Hale pack. With Scott came Allison, and given that they were probably going to be making the world’s most beautiful babies once they got out of college, they would add to the Hale pack in numbers, despite not being genetically related.
Allison’s entry had been an interesting matter. She was Scott’s mate, and nobody was about to argue with that. In fact, none of the Hale pack really had a problem with her. There was no evidence that she had been involved with the WLO, and Stiles was adamant that it was Allison’s words that had led to him actually giving the pack a chance in the first place. Some of the other werewolves in the territory weren’t so sure about it, but Talia had pledged herself for Allison’s conduct, and at that, they let it go.
No, the problem had come from the Argent side. Chris had thrown a small fit at the idea of Allison actually dating a werewolf, let alone being part of a pack. Allison told him to go suck an egg. It looked like things were headed for disaster until Melissa intervened. Calm, rational Melissa, who had challenged Chris to spend one evening with the pack and see if he couldn’t deal with some of his preconceived notions about werewolves.
Chris and Victoria had grudgingly agreed. Stiles made lasagna; they ate and then watched a movie in the Hale’s gigantic new living room. The only pack member who hadn’t attended was Peter. He was willing to come, but everyone thought it for the best if he didn’t. Given that it was altogether too likely that Peter would greet Chris with, “It’s so nice to finally meet you; I really enjoyed killing your sister”, it was in everyone’s best interest if the two simply never crossed paths.
(Incidentally, the first time Peter and Allison had met after the incident, Peter had taken both her hands in his and gravely told her, “I’m sorry that you lost your aunt”. He was completely sincere; although he in no way regretted killing Kate Argent, he was sorry that Allison had lost a family member that she cared about, despite her faults. Peter and Allison had been wary of each other for a little while, but after Scott’s formal introduction into the pack, they had gradually gotten used to each other.)
It wasn’t that werewolves weren’t people, Chris said, or didn’t have feelings. He just viewed them as ticking time bombs, guaranteed to eventually lose control, and thought that they should be segregated from the rest of society, so at least they would only hurt each other when that happened. “That’s a hell of an argument from someone whose sister murdered a bunch of innocent children,” Tom was the only one ballsy enough to say. Chris grimaced and agreed that humans could, indeed, be just as bad.
In the end, Chris agreed to meet Allison halfway. He didn’t approve of her choices, but they were her choices to make. He wasn’t going to sign anything, but he wouldn’t stop her from dating Scott or disown her for joining a pack.
Officially, then, Allison had to wait until her eighteenth birthday before she could join. But she was already a member in all but name, and nobody had a problem waiting on the formalities.
With Scott came Melissa, and of course Tom spent a lot of evenings at the Hale house as well. So the pack had gone from nine members (counting Laura’s two young children) to fourteen, and Talia could find no reason to complain.
Tom is right there with her. Stiles has good days now, a lot of them, where he never loses words or forgets things that people had just said. His neurologist said he would probably continue to improve, that recovering brain function took time, particularly after trauma. “It can often take up to two years or even longer to see as much improvement as you’re going to get,” he said. “And sometimes things don’t start to improve until you actually start working on them again.”
So Tom is hopeful that things at school will get better. Stiles is exercising his brain, and it just needs to get used to the workload. It’s just a bump in the road. Now if only he can get Stiles to believe that, everything will be okay.
~ ~ ~ ~
Derek takes a deep breath as he enters the house, and takes a few moments just to savor it. The scent of pack, of family, the faint smell of the new wooden flooring and the paint that’s barely been dry a month, the scents drifting from the kitchen of herbs and spices. The scent of Stiles, which he can catch in even the smallest amounts.
He goes into the kitchen despite being filthy and sees Stiles at the counter, chopping vegetables for a salad. He’s smiling as he looks up, and says, “Hey.”
“Hey,” Derek says in reply. He leans in to brush a kiss over the back of Stiles’ neck, not going in for a full embrace because he just got home from work and he’s covered in dirt and sweat. “That smells amazing.”
“Thanks,” Stiles says. “I made it last night and had Laura turn the crock pot on at noon. Amazingly, she managed to do that without ruining what was inside.”
“A shock,” Derek agrees seriously. Laura’s ineptitude in the kitchen is a running joke. “Looks like you made enough to feed a small army.”
“Yeah. Gonna be a full house for dinner.”
Derek can hear tension in the words, and he isn’t sure where it’s coming from. He rubs a hand up and down Stiles’ back absently, thinking about whether or not he wants to ask. Sometimes it seems unfair to acknowledge the tension he can sense in Stiles’ shoulders and his scent if Stiles doesn’t say anything about it, since Stiles doesn’t have the same senses. He decides to settle for a middle approach. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, half-turning to glance at him. “Talia and my dad were going to meet with Dr. Kuan after school. They think I don’t know about it but my history teacher let something slip.”
“Ah.” Derek’s thumb traces over the short hairs at the back of Stiles’ neck. He’s been growing his hair out, which Derek likes. It gives him something to hold onto when Stiles is, well. Doing things best not thought about in the kitchen. “Do you know why?”
“Not sure. Probably about the fact that they switched my science class or that I had to take my last history quiz open book because I keep confusing Belgium and the Netherlands.”
Stiles’ voice is light and casual; it’s obvious that he doesn’t want to discuss this in detail. At least, not in the kitchen. So Derek lets it drop, at least for now. “I’m going to go shower. I’ll be back in about twenty, okay?”
“Okay,” Stiles says, and goes back to his chopping. He and Derek came to an agreement not long after Stiles had started classes again that his grades weren’t Derek’s business. Derek was his mate, his boyfriend, not his father. Stiles has a father to worry about his performance in school. When he wants to rant or complain or just vent his frustrations, Derek will always listen. But in general, school is something they don’t talk about much.
By the time he gets back downstairs, the house is full of people. Cora is chattering with Scott while they set the table. Allison is filling glasses with water while Laura gets Tyler’s bib on. The adults are in a cluster on one side of the room, less Peter, who is nowhere to be seen. There’s a place set for him on Talia’s left, as there always is. Aaron will be at her right, and Tom has taken Laura’s typical place at the other end of the table. Melissa is at his right with Stiles at his left. Derek takes the place next to Stiles, and everyone else fills in the middle.
As usual, dinner is a loud, boisterous affair. There are too many people to have only one conversation going on, and Derek likes to sit in the middle, listening to Scott and Stiles talk about a new video game on one side, and Laura and Jonathan talk about Tyler’s new tooth coming in on the other. Further down, Talia and Aaron are talking about security at the Searching Ceremonies. His mother looks tired, but not in an unhappy sort of way. A busy tired. It’s a look he’s familiar with.
Whatever the meeting at school was about, it can’t have been dire, because neither Tom nor Talia seem particularly troubled. Derek sees Tom give his son a few sideways glances here and there, but he doesn’t say anything. Derek doesn’t ask. It’s not his business, not until Stiles decides to tell him about it.
When Talia does address him, it’s about something different. “Oh, Stiles, about Friday,” she says. “I thought something simple would be good. We don’t know how long Cora will be at the high school, and of course I’m going to be there to make sure things are running smoothly. I assume Peter will be, too,” she adds, glancing at her brother’s empty chair but not commenting on his absence. “We may eat at different times. And if Cora does bring someone home, casual would be better. We wouldn’t want to overwhelm him.”
Stiles nods. “Okay, I’ll just go down to Midwestern Meats and pick up nineteen tons of deli meat,” he says. “Work up a few veggie trays and stuff.”
“Sounds good,” Talia says.
They’re mostly done eating by then, so Derek says, “Am I on dish duty tonight?”
“Nope, it’s me and Allison,” Scott says.
“I’ll get the food put away,” Laura says. This is her perpetual job; she may be incompetent with a wooden spoon, but she’s a demon with a roll of Saran-Wrap. This is good, since Stiles always manages to get it tangled in his (obscenely long) fingers, make it stick to itself, and otherwise be unruly. The first time he had wrapped up leftovers, they had resembled a translucent football.
Jonathan looks doubtfully at Tyler’s face where it’s smeared with chili, and says, “I may need help giving him his bath.”
Cora giggles. “I’ll help,” she says.
Since they seem to be off the hook, Derek turns to Stiles and says, “Do you have a lot of homework? We could watch a movie.”
“Did it already,” Stiles says, stiffening at the mention of schoolwork. The werewolves at the table politely pretend not to notice. “I have some e-mails I want to answer, but after that, I’m all yours.” He distracts everyone from school by wiggling his eyebrows at Derek salaciously. Cora starts to giggle again.
“Okay.” Derek leans over and rubs his cheek and jaw over Stiles’ hair, thoroughly marking him. Right now, after the hour in the dining room, Stiles smells like pack, and that’s good. But he wants Stiles to smell like him for a little while. Stiles smiles up at him, bright and happy and genuine, in that way that worms right inside Derek’s heart and makes a home there.
They wish Scott and Allison good luck with the dishes and head upstairs. They’ll probably leave afterwards; Allison’s parents like her home at night, and Melissa typically goes home because it’s more convenient for her to go to work in the morning, as the preserve is a ways out of town. Scott sometimes stays the night and sometimes doesn’t. On a night like this, where Derek has made it unequivocally clear that he will not be sharing Stiles, he’ll accompany his mother.
The pack is getting large enough now that Derek has heard his parents talk about how much longer they can logistically keep it in one house. It’s common for smaller packs to live in the same house, but larger packs typically have a commune, several houses on the same land. That’s one of the reasons why they live on the preserve: more room to build.
Beyond that, Derek knows that there’s caution at the heart of this decision. If the Hale pack hadn’t all lived in the same house at the time of the fire, more of them might have survived. But Talia and her two siblings were so close that it seemed natural to them to live in the same house, even though all three were married and had children, or in Peter’s case, were about to. It still feels natural now, but it’s also awkward having so many alpha personalities butting heads in the same house. Stiles will be going to college in a year and a half, but Laura and Jonathan will probably want their own place sooner rather than later.
“Whatcha thinkin’ ‘bout?” Stiles asks, as he goes into Derek’s room – their room, Derek silently corrects, and tries not to smile like an idiot. It’s set up the same as his last one was, with the large bed and the huge shelving unit along one wall adorned with books and plants of every variety. His plants had survived the Argent incident, and Deaton had removed them from the house and thoroughly cleaned each one off from all the wolfsbane, repotted them in fresh soil, and returned them. His book collection had not been so lucky. He’s been putting it back together slowly. But there are other parts of the room that are unmistakably Stiles’ now, like the corkboard on one wall, the sprawling pile of video games, the laptop docking station on the desk.
“Rebuilding,” Derek says, sprawling onto the bed. “Mom and Dad were talking the other day about how many houses they can fit on the preserve and what the minimum safe distance from Tyler’s temper tantrums would be.”
Stiles smirks as he plops down in Derek’s desk chair and pulls out his laptop. “Not a bad idea. Scott and Allison will want their own place, too. I mean, obviously not for a while, but eventually.”
Derek nods. Since Scott wasn’t born a wolf and Allison isn’t one at all, they’re still in the adjustment period. Made wolves are much more likely to need their space than born wolves. “What about you?” he asks, a little tentatively.
“I dunno. It’s nice to have my own space? But I’d be over here all the time anyway, I mean, I practically live in you guys’ kitchen.” Stiles shrugs a little. He still sleeps a few nights a week at his father’s place, but when he does, Derek almost always stays with him. Of course, up until a month previous, when the new house had been completed, Derek, Stiles, and Cora had all lived at the Stilinski house. Derek thinks that Tom misses having them there, but the sheriff knows that he’s always welcome at the Hale house.
Stiles finishes setting up his laptop and says, “This’ll only take me a few minutes, just gotta check in with some people.”
“Okay.” Derek rolls over and gets a book. He treasures this, this ability for he and Stiles to just be together, that they’re able to spend time with each other but not always need to be talking or doing things. He likes sitting and listening to Stiles’ heartbeat while he does his homework or they’re both just reading.
He does glance over at Stiles’ screen to get a basic idea of what he’s up to, because that will give him a better read on Stiles’ mood for the next few hours. There are two online support groups that he’s part of. One he actually helps moderate, in fact; it’s a support group that Talia set up for werewolves who were victimized by the WLO. There’s been so much legal bullshit to wade through that it’s been tiring, and Stiles had pointed out that a lot of those who had lost pack members would need support. Derek knows that he’s made several friends there, although he posts under a fake name so nobody will know that he’s the famous Stiles Stilinski who actually brought the WLO down.
The other support group is for victims of traumatic brain injury, and although he also uses a fake name there, it’s as a member, not a moderator. Derek doesn’t interfere with that, beyond having expressed his profound happiness that Stiles joined in the first place and was acknowledging that he needed – and deserved – support.
A quick glance at the screen reveals the blue background of the TBI site. Derek doesn’t look closely enough to see who he’s talking to or what about, although he suspects it’s about his anxiety surrounding the school meeting. He goes back to his book and waits. Stiles types for about twenty minutes, his scent fluctuating between stress and catharsis. Gradually, he settles down, and then he slaps the laptop shut and joins Derek on the bed.
“Where were we?” he asks, grabbing the remote.
“Episode seven,” Derek says, as Stiles starts the DVD up. They’ve been having a Criminal Minds marathon.
“Right,” Stiles says, and he curls into Derek, pressing his face into Derek’s neck and letting out a content little sigh.
~ ~ ~ ~