When a new Hale alpha rises, it's tradition for them to make two trips exactly seven days after their ascension. The first is to the mayor, usually with a gift of wine, oil, and honey, to symbolise the wish for a good working relationship, one based on goodwill and peace and the sweetness of compassion. The other trip is to a little shop, set back on the east side of town, where the rich white residents of Beacon Hills like to keep their undesirables: minorities, the poor, the sick and infirmed, the mentally unstable and drunks and addicts. There, in the back of a small neighborhood bodega, the alpha customarily presents the bruja of Beacon Hills with a gift of blood, bone, and teeth.
Laura fled after she became alpha, so she never made the trips, and Peter was too feral to hold to any traditions, but on the seventh day after he rips his uncle's throat out, Derek gets ushered into the mayor's office, gift basket under his arm.
The meeting is cordial; the mayor's eyes light up when he sees the wine Derek's chosen, an expensive bottle purchased from a vineyard two counties over, and the olive oil is fresh-pressed by a California-based company, the honey from a local beekeeper and flavoured with hints of wildflowers. Derek's uncomfortable, he knows that's clear to see, and the mayor softens, seeing it, and gently welcomes Derek back to Beacon Hills.
They talk for ten minutes. The mayor suggests that they meet next week to go over paperwork and asks Derek about bringing other city officials into the know during that meeting. Derek considers Stiles' reaction to his father finding out about werewolves, about Derek, maybe even about Peter, and says, "Perhaps we can hold off on the introductions for now. It's been a while since I've -- since we left; I'd like to get a little bit more settled before -- uh. Rocking the boat like that."
The mayor gives Derek a considering look but nods, walks Derek out and shakes Derek's hand.
Done with that meeting, Derek drives east, watches as the streets become more potholed, as the houses grow smaller, as the smell of desperation and determination and tired, worn-out hopelessness grows stronger. He parks the Camaro in front of a strip mall, heads for the shop in the middle, the one with a flickering neon sign, bars on the windows and a roll-down metal door for when it's closed overnight. He has two tote bags in his hand and tries not to smell the odors seeping out from the containers, packages, and bundles inside. The bell on the door, when he walks in, rings down his back like razorblades as the wards surround him and encase him in something that feels like glue.
Derek stands there, doesn't move, doesn't hardly breathe. The man behind the counter has a toothpick in the corner of his mouth, has laugh lines around his eyes and mouth, looks tired but in good humour as he shuffles a ragged pack of playing cards. As Derek continues to stand stock-still, the man looks at Derek, slowly stops shuffling the cards and loses the air of amusement as he tilts his head and his nostrils flare. He sets the cards down and leans forward, hands on the counter and fingers spread, the smell of lightning starting to spark in the back of Derek's nose. The man nods at the bags in Derek's hand and asks, "What's that?"
"Gift for the bruja," Derek replies. The man raises an eyebrow, and Derek says, "I've come to pay my respects as the new Hale alpha. I'm not here to hurt anyone, I swear. "
That makes the man laugh. "Wouldn't be able to you even if you was thinking about it, lobo. Eh," he says, and waves his hand in dismissal. The wards slide away, slow and viscous down Derek's skin, a few strands staying to wrap around his hands and mouth to block his shift, and one rope looping around his throat in very potent warning.
Derek steps in, resists the urge to swallow. "Where," he starts to say, before the ward around his throat tugs at him, gently pulls towards the back. "Ah. Nevermind."
The man laughs, a rasping sound, then sits back down on his stool, picks up his cards and starts shuffling them again. "Go on, alpha," he tells Derek, "and don't bother staying past your welcome. We don't need none of your kind in here any longer than we gotta."
Derek feels stung -- this man doesn't even know him -- but follows the draw of the ward rather than start an argument. He walks down one closed-in, cramped aisle overflowing with cheap crackers and squished packages of Wonder bread, some infant formula on one end with green sale stickers on the front across from family-sized boxes of cereal and giant containers of oatmeal, glosses over the stock along the back wall before his eyes settle on a door between off-brand cleaning supplies and generic diapers. There's a sign 'Authorized Personnel Only / Solo Personal Autorizado,' and Derek hesitates once he's about to open the door.
The Hales kept peace with the other supernatural residents of Beacon Hills, a sometimes-complicated peace and one that was always tense, but peace nonetheless. His mother rarely spoke about the bruja but it was the Hale alpha's responsibility to make sure the shifters followed the rules, the bruja did the same for every other supernatural or magical resident, and their separation and truce worked even if they might not have been the most comfortable for anyone involved.
Derek hopes it's more comfortable for him but he doesn't have a lot of faith in hope, anymore.
The ward yanks, impatient, and Derek wheezes through the tightness for a moment before it loosens, strokes the inner pain away with a magic that seems almost apologetic. Derek takes it for the chastisement it is, though, and knocks once before he opens the door.
The reek of magic overwhelms his senses, all ozone and electricity and blood, so strong that he takes one step back in automatic response, ready to flee, because everything in him knows that he has no chance against power like this. It's old, implacable, rooted in this space like it soaked into the cement and steel and drywall along with the stench of terror and pain.
He waits for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, takes in racks of mason jars filled with things he'd rather not think about, piles of books, a heap of fabric to one side and a low table to the other. When he blinks and he's not seeing spots, he sets his eyes on the person sitting there, waiting for him, watching him with an air of cruel amusement.
"Oh," Derek says. He nearly drops the tote bags. "It's you. I don't -- how?"
"That," Stiles Stilinski replies, "is a very long story."
Derek sits down in the chair across from Stiles, sets the tote bags in between them. Stiles nudges at one with his foot, nods thoughtfully. "Most would bring a deer," he says. "Maybe a mountain lion. We even had a bear, once. But you brought me your uncle. An interesting choice, Alpha Hale."
"Will you need something else?" Derek asks. Stiles raises an eyebrow in question and Derek shifts, says, "You helped kill him. It's not a -- is it still an acceptable gift if you did some of the work?"
Stiles' eyes narrow. His fingers tap the chair; Derek doesn't know whether to look at those fingers, the chewed-down nails and the hint of bone dust and grave rot he can smell lingering on Stiles' skin, or the way Stiles is looking at him, thinking. How Derek didn't see the magic brimming over in Stiles' irises, he doesn't know. It puts him to shame.
"It's a glamour," Stiles says. Derek flinches because -- Stiles can read his mind. "A little piece of disguise magic so that no one out there notices except those who should. And you think loudly. Most shifters do. It's not so much me reading your mind as it is not being able to shut you out."
"Does your dad know?" Derek asks. "About you, about -- about everything?"
Stiles grins, showing teeth that are just a little too pointed. "Since I was five," he says, "and a great deal of what's happened since, so he's going to get a good laugh about arresting you when he finds out you've become the alpha. You should expect him to pull you in for some clarification, though," Stiles says. "I've tried to keep him up to date but there are things he doesn't know yet, things it's your choice to explain or not."
Derek shakes his head. "How are you -- how did you become this? When?"
"Bruja -- or brujo, in my case, a few others -- is a title passed down to the most magically gifted in the territory," Stiles says. "I began training to hold the position when I was five though most of my magic was suppressed while I grew up. I was called to take over when my predecessor died. I was twelve. The coven that witnessed my ascension unbound my magic though I still sometimes wear stabilisers."
Stiles doesn't move and his scent doesn't change, but Derek gets the feeling that there's more pain in the story than can be explained in those few sentences. His wolf's been bound more than once and it always hurt down to marrow, made his teeth ache and his vision go blurry, made his head pound and his heart skip beats. He can't imagine that having magic bound is any different, especially when Stiles seems to have so much of it.
Derek doesn't know what to say. He sits there, feels unmoored, and Stiles' lips quirk. "Cementing my position was quick though I will admit, blood was spilled -- and not all of it was mine. I'll go over the changes with you if you want; that way you'll know what you're dealing with in terms of other supernaturals in the territory. We've had some fae show interest in the preserve, one of the O'Fallan banshees has recently awakened, and we had an increase in the magically inclined population once the Hales left." Stiles' grin grows as he adds, "They may leave now that you're back."
"I'd like that," Derek says. "Thank you for -- for the offer."
"You're a good person," Stiles says. "You're from a good family with a strong foundation, but you lack training and a pack." The words are dispassionate but Derek still flinches from them, muscles tensing with the urge to flee until Stiles adds, "I'll do what I can to help, Alpha Hale. I can make recommendations for good bite candidates or I can reach out to other territories if you'd prefer those already comfortable with their shifts. I'm also willing to see if anyone's interested in an emissary position and, if you want, I'll help you work with my dad to settle you back in town as quickly as possible."
Derek shakes his head a little -- not in refusal but in disbelief. "Why?"
Stiles' foot taps against the tote bags. "Because you brought me your uncle," he says, "and because the land needs an alpha. The land needs a Hale. As long as you swear to protect those who need it and remove threats from the territory as soon as they show themselves, you'll have my help and the aid of all those I command."
"You're not like this out there," Derek says. "You're not like this with Scott. Does he know about you? What you are?"
"I wear a mask, same as you. I learned how to hide what I am a long time ago. As for Scott," and here Stiles trails off, nails tapping against the wood of the chair's arm again, "I'll deal with him."
"He's a shifter," Derek points out. "He's my responsibility."
Stiles gives Derek a long look, hard and unreadable. He finally says, "Fair enough. But the Hales have never allowed omegas in their territory before. I would prefer it if they didn't start now. If you can't bring him to heel, I will."
The implication of that chills Derek to the bones. "Understood," he says, and gets up. He's ready with everything in him to flee, to feel the ward slide off of his throat and let his claws come out just to feel them. He nods at Stiles, meets those unnaturally golden eyes once more, and heads for the door.
He's got one hand on the handle when Stiles says, "By the way." Derek pauses, tilts his head to show he's listening but doesn't turn around. The feeling of Stiles' eyes on him is enough to give him goosebumps; he doesn't want to have to look at him again. "There's a coyote shifter in the preserve. She's been running around for, oh, I don't know, six years? Seven? I'd appreciate you finding her. Her name's Malia Tate. She's your cousin."
Derek turns, then, at that. He has to. "Tate? We're not related to any Tates."
Stiles ducks his head, looks up at Derek through his lashes, and Derek goes still. He can't decide whether to lunge forward at that invitation the way his instincts demand or cringe from the laughter in that smile. "She's adopted," Stiles says. "The illegitimate daughter of a shifter named Corinne and, well, this guy." The rattle of Peter's bones, bound in twine, as Stiles taps one of the tote bags, jangles in the air. Every hair on Derek's arms raises at the noise, shudders going down and then back up his spine, across his scalp. "She'll know the value of blood even if coyotes don't generally run in packs. Howl her back to two legs, Alpha Hale, and keep her close. I wager you'll benefit a great deal from having the pragmatism of a coyote in your pack."
Derek licks his lips -- gone dry enough to crack -- and nods. He walks out without saying another word.
As soon as he closes the door behind him, shutting out the feeling of that room's magic, he lets out a breath. The man behind the counter laughs when Derek walks past but doesn't say a word, and the ward around Derek's throat strokes over his pulse point and disappears as Derek leaves, taking the magic binding his shift along with it.
He gets in the Camaro, peels away, and doesn't feel like he's truly alone until he's back in the preserve, surrounded by trees and the scent of clean mud.