Stiles studies the file in front of himself for what feels like the hundredth time, and then the couple sitting in front of him for the second. The woman looks hopeful and eager; the man angry and impatient. He takes a deep breath, sets the file down on his father’s desk, and says words that he never thought he’d say to anyone. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can help you.”
The woman makes a noise that’s a combination of surprise and grief, but whatever she wants to say is overridden by the man. “What do you mean, you can’t help us?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Hewitt,” he says, taking care to keep his voice calm and even, “there isn’t a case here.”
“Our son is missing!” Mrs. Hewitt protests.
“No, he’s not,” Stiles says. “Your son not returning your calls and texts doesn’t mean he’s missing. It just means that he doesn’t want to talk to you.”
“We told you what happened!” Mr. Hewitt shouts. “That shifter he was dating has abducted him!”
“Please keep your voice down,” Stiles says, fighting for composure. “You’re in a police station, and I have to warn you that after everything that’s happened to me, the officers here are more than a little protective. They’ll throw you out if you don’t stay calm.” He sees Mr. Hewitt open his mouth to say something rude, and continues, “Your son going to live with his boyfriend is not an abduction, even if that boyfriend is a shifter.”
“You – you just don’t understand, you didn’t - didn’t look into it – ” Mrs. Hewitt says tearfully.
“Oh, I did,” Stiles says. “Would you like me to give you a summary? Your son Mason went to college. He met a were-chameleon named Corey Bryant. They dated a few times and developed a serious relationship. The moment you found out about it, you completely lost your shit and started trying to insist your son leave college and come home so you could keep him away from this completely innocent and by all appearances normal person he was dating. He then stopped returning your calls and texts and moved in with his boyfriend. And I’m very sorry if that bothers you – well, actually I’m not sorry at all – but a grown man telling his bigot parents to fuck off does not a missing person make.”
Mr. Hewitt looks like he’s swelling up with rage, and Mrs. Hewitt is crying now. “But he left school entirely, he stopped going to classes – Mason was such a good student and he’s throwing it all away – ”
“He took a leave of absence. It’s not the same thing as playing hooky.”
“But he would never – ”
“I’m guessing that the school refused to tell you why he’d done that, since he’s an adult and you are not entitled to his personal information,” Stiles says. “I probably shouldn’t, but you clearly don’t get what’s happening here, so I will. He stated in his leave of absence request that he felt unsafe on campus because you had accosted him several times in his dorm and on his way to classes and the dining hall, and at two separate points attempted to physically remove him from campus and force him into a vehicle. The school granted his leave of absence request due to these reasons.”
“Because he’s dating a shifter!” Mr. Hewitt roars. “It’s disgusting! They’re going to, to force him into a pack and force their heathen ways on him – ”
“Were-chameleons don’t even pack, you ignorant – ” Stiles takes a deep breath and reminds himself that he’s trying to be professional here. Parrish has opened the office door, looking questioningly between Stiles and the Hewitts. “In my honest opinion, there is no case here. If you want to get in contact with your son, I recommend you send him a text or an e-mail apologizing for the way you’ve treated him and offer to meet him somewhere on neutral ground where you can talk about everything that’s happened. That’s the best I can do for you. Deputy Parrish will show you out.”
The Hewitts are still protesting as Parrish ushers them out the door, and Stiles sits with his head down for a minute, pinching the bridge of his nose. He startles a little when he hears his father’s voice. “I thought you handled that very well.”
“Yeah?” Stiles manages a smile. “I have to admit, it’s not every day I’m given a case by the Vice President of the Foundation for Human Rights.”
“I can’t imagine why they even brought it to you,” Tom says, squeezing his son’s shoulder.
“Because the police refused to take their case for the same reasons I did,” Stiles says, and shrugs. “Because they’ve read online how good I am at missing persons cases, and they thought that if they threw enough money at me, I wouldn’t be able to resist, I guess.”
“Like you’re in dire need of money,” Tom says, with a snort.
“I feel like after this wedding, I will be!” Stiles perks up, laughing. “I mean, damn, have you even seen some of the stuff Talia is putting together? She’s really going all out. I guess she’s supposed to, but still. It’s getting to the point where I’m afraid I’m going to use the wrong phrase with the wrong alpha and the whole thing is going to be a disaster.”
“Werewolf rituals are pretty intense,” Tom agrees. “Speaking of, what’s on your schedule for today?”
“I have class from one to three,” Stiles says, “and then Derek and I are meeting with the officiant. She wants to go over the ceremony step by step with us so we know what to expect. Derek’s seen werewolf weddings before but I haven’t. Then I was going to either do homework or work on the favors. We’ll, uh, we’ll see how it goes, I guess.”
Tom shakes his head a little. “You know that you don’t have to assemble the favors yourself, right?”
“Actually, I do,” Stiles says. “Because werewolf tradition dictates that both mates must individually contribute to the favor given to the alpha of any attending packs. That’s why Derek is doing the pressed flowers and I’m doing the home made caramels.”
Tom lifts his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. Go make your caramels. I’ll see you at dinner?”
“Yeah, see you then.” Stiles gives his father a hug and departs. He leaves through the back, just in case the Hewitts are still lurking, and heads to class.
~ ~ ~ ~
Stiles studies his spreadsheet for what feels like the hundredth time and then pinches the bridge of his nose. Derek is sitting beside him quietly, rubbing his back, waiting to see if Stiles is going to give in or if he’s going to have to say something. Talia is drinking tea behind her desk, and Derek suspects she’s already made her own decision, but she’s letting Stiles have a moment.
“Quiz me one more time?” Stiles says hopefully.
Derek doubts he’ll do any better this time than he has any of the last four times, but holds up a picture nonetheless.
“Oh, okay, I know her, that’s Evelia Romero. From northern Sacramento. She’s gonna be . . . ‘you honor us with your presence, Alpha Romero’.”
“Right.” Derek holds up the next picture.
“Okay, and that’s . . . the guy . . . no, I know this, give me a second.” Stiles clears his throat. “Alpha . . . Wilson. Williams. Wilkins?”
Derek arches an eyebrow and says nothing.
“Don’t look at me like that, if he didn’t have such a boring name, I’d probably remember it! Anyway, his is gonna be ‘it’s an honor to meet you’ ‘cause we haven’t met him before obviously, and then . . . it can’t be ‘you honor us with your presence’, can it? It’s not ‘honor’ twice in a row, that would sound weird.”
Instead of replying, Derek just goes to the next picture.
“Oh, an easy one! That’s Cecilia Reyes. ‘It’s an honor and a privilege to receive you.’” Stiles looks like he might be cheering up until Derek flips to the next picture, and he stares at it, completely blank. Finally, he says, “There are no trick cards in here, right?”
“Stiles,” Derek says patiently.
Stiles groans and scrubs both hands through his hair. “Okay,” he finally says. “You were right. I just can’t . . .” His voice trails off.
“Stiles, it’s fine,” Talia says. “Everyone coming to the ceremony is aware of what you went through and why you have the difficulties you have. Nobody is going to have a problem with you needing cue cards.” The additional, ‘and if they do, they’re going to have a problem with me’ is unspoken but still heard loud and clear.
“I guess,” Stiles says, despite how much he clearly hates it. Derek knows he can never fully understand how Stiles feels, so he doesn’t say anything. Besides, they’ve already talked about it multiple times. The greeting ceremony for a wedding of this caliber is incredibly intricate. The attending couple needs to greet every attending alpha, and the greeting issued depends on the relationship between that alpha and their own, and the alpha’s place in the regional hierarchy. Stiles had been insistent that he would be able to memorize the attendees, but there were over two dozen alphas coming, and it had quickly become apparent that it wasn’t going to be possible.
“Can’t you just greet them all?” Stiles said the first time they had the discussion.
“I can and will, but I won’t be with you,” Derek said. “Remember? The ceremony has two parts. First Talia and I greet them, and then you have to greet them separately, because you’re the one marrying into the pack and therefore the region’s hierarchy. I’m already part of that by virtue of being mom’s son.”
Stiles groaned and pulled a pillow over his face.
Getting even one word wrong could be considered an insult, and although Talia was a powerful alpha, that meant the pack had enemies. He couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. Tom had suggested the possibility of Stiles being allowed to keep a cheat sheet with him over a week ago, but Stiles had argued against it up until now.
“I’ll have Aaron take the photos to his office and make some cue cards for you.” Talia clearly considers the discussion complete. “Is there anything else you two needed to go over?”
“I don’t think so,” Derek says, and looks at Stiles.
Stiles just shakes his head and then says, “I’m going to go get dinner started. See you around six.”
He stands up and leaves the room, and Talia’s worried frown follows him. Derek stays behind, since Stiles clearly doesn’t want to talk about it right now. After Stiles is gone and out of earshot, Talia says, “Derek, he will use the cue cards if we make them, right?”
“Yeah,” Derek says. “He knows how important this is. He’ll hate it, but he’ll use them.”
“Okay.” Talia lets out a breath. “I’ll see you at dinner, then?”
“Yeah.” Derek leans over and kisses his mother on the cheek before heading back to his own house. He finds Stiles in the kitchen, as he had expected, chopping vegetables with ruthless abandon. Since there’s nothing he can say on the subject on Stiles’ memory that he hasn’t already said a hundred times, he slides an arm around Stiles’ waist and changes the subject slightly. “Only six days until we’re married.”
That seems to cheer Stiles up slightly; he tilts his head to the side for a quick kiss. “Yep. I’m gonna be your husband. No takebacks.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Derek says, going in for a more generous kiss. Sometimes he just can’t help it; it’s like Stiles’ lips are magnets that he’s hopelessly drawn to. He slides his hands up underneath Stiles’ shirt, tracing the musculature there.
“I’m trying to cook here,” Stiles says.
“Yeah? How long will it take you? It’s only four fifteen.”
Stiles sighs and pulls out of Derek’s arms. “Look. I’m not really in the mood, okay? It’s not you, I’m just – I’m disappointed in myself and I know it’s irrational, so to make up for it, I’m gonna make a super elaborate dinner and everyone’s going to compliment me and then I’ll feel better.”
“Okay.” Derek gives him another kiss, but it’s gentle and chaste. “How about I go grab you some herbs from the garden?”
“Oh, yeah, could you? Grab me some basil and some thyme. Thanks.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Stiles glances up as he hears the front door bang open, and then instants later, Malia, fully shifted, is climbing his leg. He yelps despite himself as her claws dig into his abdomen before she manages to find purchase on his shoulder and bares her teeth at Peter, who has followed her into the house. “Little one,” he says calmly, “your behavior isn’t helping.”
Malia shifts back, wrapping her arms and legs around Stiles’ shoulders and waist like an octopus. “I don’t wanna wear that and you can’t make me!”
“What is happening, exactly?” Stiles asks, trying not to overbalance. Derek, who has been in the other room reading, comes in and helps steady him.
“She doesn’t like the perfume we bought to hide that her sister isn’t a shifter.”
“Oh,” Stiles says. They’ve been working on possible solutions to this issue for quite some time. Despite the fact that Tom and Peter wanted Malia and Marisela to have lives as normal as possible, they still had to be very careful about who met them. Neither of them are in school yet, although that was partially because both of them had been so poorly educated up until their adoption by the Hale pack. Peter thought it would be safe to send them to school if they passed them off as fraternal twins, rather than identical. Cut and dye their hair, give one of them a set of blue contacts to wear, and nobody would know the difference.
Tom was skeptical about the idea, and so far had been balking. The problem was that he didn’t have a better idea, and he did want the girls to be able to attend a regular school. Aaron had suggested sending Malia to the supernatural school and Marisela to the mundane, so nobody would see them right next to each other and realize how similar their faces were. Stiles was the one who had thrown up an objection to that, due to his own experiences in mundane public school. He had survived, but given Marisela’s temperament, it was altogether too likely that she would beat the crap out of anybody who looked at her funny.
All of that was a problem that was going to take some time to solve. For the wedding, Peter had come up with something more expedient. Taking a page out of the WLO playbook, he wanted the twins to wear perfume that would interfere with the werewolf senses and keep them from realizing Marisela wasn’t a shifter.
“As long as they stay together at all times, and both wear the same perfume,” he said upon producing it, “they’ll basically just have one scent. And if any werewolf thinks something is off about their scent, they’ll chalk it up to the perfume.”
Everyone had agreed to this, including the twins, up until this precise moment. Malia continues to bare her teeth at Peter and snaps, “It smells weird and it makes me smell weird and it makes ‘Sela smell weird and I won’t wear it and you can’t make me!”
“You are correct,” Peter says calmly. “I cannot and will not make you wear it.”
Malia eyes him suspiciously. “You won’t?”
“No. It’s fine. You just won’t be able to attend the wedding, then.”
“But Papa!” Malia bursts out, and Stiles holds back a quiet snort. He knows it’s an empty threat. Malia and Marisela’s adoption was pack news; everyone in the area will be expecting to see them there. If they aren’t, a lot of awkward questions will be asked. Malia, however, doesn’t know this. She’s only nine years old, and it’s not something they’ve talked about with her. She desperately wants to attend the wedding, because Stiles has told her she and Marisela can be the flower girls. “That’s not fair!”
“No, it isn’t,” Peter agrees. “Much of life isn’t fair, little coyote. You know how important it is for nobody to find out that you and your sister are identical twins but only one of you is a shifter. Don’t you want to help keep your sister safe?”
“Yes,” Malia says, sullenly.
“And didn’t she say she would wear it to help keep you safe?”
“Yes,” Malia mutters, but then adds, “but she can’t smell the difference! She has a human nose and it doesn’t smell things!”
“Mm hm,” Peter says, and waits.
Malia whines, “I don’t like it. We don’t smell like sisters when we wear it.”
Derek clears his throat. “Can I ask a stupid question?”
“Feel free, nephew,” Peter says, with an amused lift of his eyebrows.
“So the point of this whole thing is that we don’t want anyone to know Marisela was cured, right? So we have to convince people either that Malia and Marisela are not identical twins, or somehow hide the fact that Marisela is human.”
“That’s a statement, not a question, but it’s an accurate one, yes.”
“But why can’t we just tell people that they were both born human and Malia got bitten by a werecoyote?”
“Uh – ” Peter’s mouth opens slightly, and for possibly the first time ever, he seems to be struck speechless. Stiles is likewise blinking at Derek, having somehow overlooked the simplest solution. “I – suppose we could? That it would work?” Peter frowns and turns to Stiles as if for confirmation.
“We just . . .” Stiles clears his throat. “I mean, since we know that they had been born shifters, we sort of forgot that not everybody knew that. That we could tell people whatever we wanted about their parentage and early life because, hell, it was pretty much a mystery.”
“I – ” Peter continues to frown for several long moments before saying, “I guess?”
The uncertainty is so unlike him that Derek has to choke back a laugh. “You Left Hands are so busy looking around corners that sometimes you don’t see the answer right in front of you.”
“So I don’t have to wear it?” Malia asks, her eyes shining.
“Ah – hang on a minute, little one. I want to discuss this with your daddy first – give me just a moment – ” Peter pulls out his phone and taps on the screen. A few moments later, he says, “Can you think of any reason we can’t just tell everyone that Malia was bitten by a werecoyote when she was young?”
“Well, I can’t, but I figured there had to be a reason,” Tom says, and Stiles has a momentary well of gratitude for the lycanthropy which now allows him to hear both ends of phone conversations. “I mean, it’s the obvious solution. Since you never brought it up, I just assumed there was a reason it wouldn’t work.”
“Ah,” Peter says, and clears his throat. “No. I just didn’t think of it.”
Tom is silent for a moment, then says, “Okay, but now I’m confused. If we could have just said that Malia was bitten when she was young, why did any of what happened with Calaveras happen? Why did Corinne try to kill Stiles, why was Arya obsessed with finding Marisela? If we could have just said ‘oh, yeah, she was born human but got bitten’ and there’s no way to prove otherwise?”
“Well, there is a way, technically,” Peter says. “There are slight genetic differences between a born wolf – born shifter – and a turned one. That’s why turned wolves have a slightly smaller chance of having born wolf offspring. But it’s certainly not something that someone would be able to tell at a glance.”
“So I don’t have to wear the perfume?” Malia interrupts, loudly.
“Patience, little one,” Peter says. To Tom, he adds, “You don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work?”
“No. It’s easy to say we adopted Malia as a coyote, nobody is sure when or how she was turned but obviously she was, because her twin sister is human, right? And that when we found out about her twin, who was in foster care, we decided to adopt her too so we could reunite them.”
“All right. I’ll see you at home later, then.” Peter says goodbye, hangs up, and then turns to the others. “Number one: no, you do not have to wear the perfume.”
“Number two: if you need me, I’ll be at the main house telling Talia I have to retire as her Left Hand because I’ve clearly lost my edge.”
Derek gives a snort. “That’s a bit dramatic even from you, Uncle Peter.”
“Says the man who just took twenty seconds to come up with an obvious solution that I overlooked for six months,” Peter replies, and groans. “As soon as Tom has recovered from the surprise of this, he’s going to mock me mercilessly. I’ll never come back from this. You might as well put me out to pasture.”
“Put you out on an ice floe to die?” Stiles asks, clearly trying not to laugh.
Peter heaves a sigh. “Come on, little one. Can you see that your silly old Papa gets home safely?”
“Yeah!” Malia grabs his hand and tugs him towards the door. “Let’s go, silly old Papa!”
“Sorry to bother you, Stiles,” Peter says over his shoulder, as he’s dragged out the door.
Stiles shrugs, because honestly, he thinks it’s adorable that Malia ran to him when she wanted protecting. Derek is still laughing, resting his forehead against one hand. “This family,” he says, chuckling. “What a trip.”
~ ~ ~ ~
The area around and between the houses has been transformed for the wedding, and Talia has been working day and night on it for months. All of the attendees would be staying several days, and it was tradition for the alpha to host them, even if they only lived a few miles away. The entire area was adorned with tents for the guests to stay in, and not the tiny ones that Stiles remembers from a few camping misadventures in his youth. These tents look like they had stepped straight out of Harry Potter, and he wouldn’t have been surprised at all to enter one and find a hotel room from the Hilton inside.
Each of the tents had the pack’s insignia posted outside the tent, so the guests would be able to find their own lodgings. Of course, they wouldn’t need them until much later that night. The welcoming ceremony, according to Talia, was arguably a bigger event than the wedding itself. The wedding was primarily about Stiles and Derek. The welcoming ceremony, however, was a chance for all the attending packs to interact and connect. There would be food and drink and dancing until long after midnight. The entire center of the clearing was decorated with lights and tables with chairs or benches.
Those benches and chairs are now filled with guests from the surrounding area packs. Talia’s importance in the regional hierarchy is such that alphas from the entire western part of the United States are in attendance. Most of them have their mate, or if they don’t have one, have brought their pack’s peacekeeper or denmaker. (Bringing a Left Hand, Peter had mentioned, was basically a declaration of war. That’s the reason why Peter has hardly been to any werewolf weddings. Having met Peter, Stiles feels like he understands this.)
The closer packs, with whom they’re closely allied, have more invitees, so the entire Boyd, Reyes, and Ito packs are in attendance. Stiles doesn’t have to greet every member, however, and in fact it would be considered a faux pas to greet any beta before all the alphas are greeted.
Stiles is exceptionally glad at this moment that he’s not a born wolf. If he had been, the ceremony would have been held on the full moon, and it would have been even wilder. Instead, he and Derek are getting married on the waxing quarter moon, which is a much lower key occasion.
His hands are trembling slightly as he grasps the cue cards and the basket of caramels he had made for all the attending alphas. Talia emerges from the main house and smiles at him, reaching out to give his shoulder a squeeze. “You’re going to be fine,” she says. “Derek and I already greeted everyone on their way in and they’re all in good moods. Just read off your cue cards and don’t worry about anything else.”
“Right. Okay.” Stiles takes in and then lets out a deep breath. “Okay, let’s do this.”
Talia steers him around and they go from table to table. Each alpha stands as they approach, Stiles says the prescribed words, they give the expected response, and then they’re on their way. Stiles loosens up a little as he proceeds through the crowd without anything untoward happening. Despite his initial reluctance, he’s deeply grateful for the cue cards. He knows he wouldn’t have done this without them.
After what seems like a small eternity, he’s greeted all the alphas. At that point, Derek comes over from where he’s been waiting. Stiles holds out his arm, and Derek lifts it, scenting the inside of Stiles’ wrist. Stiles does the same to Derek, tries not to think dirty thoughts, and fails immediately when he sees Derek’s tiny smirk.
There’s some polite applause from the gathering, and then the music starts and the caterers start bringing out food. Stiles breathes a sigh of relief; everything had gone relatively smoothly. He embraces Cora and then Laura as they both head over, then the other pack members.
They’ll be sitting with the Hale pack, but they’ve got time to go around and greet some of the other guests who they actually know personally. They say hi to Boyd and Erica, the latter of which is wearing a gorgeous dress which has Boyd staring at her adoringly. There are a few other werewolves they know from the surrounding packs, and they greet them and thank them for coming. The human guests that have been invited don’t attend the welcoming ceremony, only the wedding itself.
“Stiles, hey, over here!” an unfamiliar voice calls, and Stiles looks over to see a man about his own age waving at him vigorously. “Hi, I hope you don’t mind, I wanted to get a chance to introduce myself. My name’s Theo. Theo Raeken.”
“Nice to meet you,” Stiles says, a little puzzled although not actively annoyed.
“I’ve been following your work for years,” Theo says. “You are truly amazing. What you did to the WLO? Holy shit.”
“Oh, thanks,” Stiles says, fighting the urge to back away. He’s never been one hundred percent comfortable with his celebrity status, although he’s gotten more used to it over the years. He still isn’t sure he deserves credit for a lot of what people give him credit for, but he’s learned there’s no use in arguing with people.
“I mean, it wasn’t personal for me, the way it was for a lot of people, but still,” Theo says. “They should make a movie about you.”
“Hard pass,” Stiles says automatically.
Derek gives a quiet snort, and then says politely, “What pack are you here with?”
“Stewart,” Theo says. “I’m not part of it, though; I’m just Tracy’s plus-one.” He waves over a dark-haired girl who looks considerably less-enthused than he is. “Anyway, I don’t want to take up a lot of your time. I just wanted to say hi, tell you want a big fan I am.”
“Great,” Stiles says, realizes that’s not an appropriate response, and follows up with, “Thanks. It was nice to meet you.”
Derek echoes him and then steers him back through the crowd. They sit down at their table and Derek leans in to nuzzle at Stiles’ neck. “Only two days until we’re married.”
Stiles sighs and nestles closer. “It can’t pass fast enough.”
~ ~ ~ ~