Stiles tugged his backpack up on his shoulder as he walked with Lydia to their first session of Defense Against the Dark Arts of their senior year. Cicadas were screaming in the courtyard in the August heat. He tugged down his tie and unbuttoned the top of his shirt. When the wind blew, the massive old fountain in the center of the yard misted the walkway.
“Why the fuck do we still have to wear uniforms?” Stiles asked.
“Because the administration loathes us,” Lydia said.
“At least you get to wear a skirt.”
“Wear one too.”
“I don’t have the legs for it.”
“Liar,” she said, pulling open the large door to the DA room.
“It’d be nice if they’d let us wear shorts.”
“You’ve been saying that for seven years.”
“I know. About time.”
Lydia snorted as they took the same seats they had sat in last year as juniors. Second row back to the left. The scent of burning peppermint and wolfsbane smoldered from a set of scales on Professor Argent’s desk. He had missed that smell. He didn’t realize it until the second he smelled it.
Around them, their own house colors, navy, mixed with red in equal parts. They had shared the same class time for nearly a decade so it only made sense that they had become friendly.
“At least you get to see your man,” Lydia said, pulling out her text book.
“True,” Stiles said, glancing around the room as he pulled out his own books.
Professor Argent wasn't there yet. His coffee cup was on his desk though. The silhouette of a jackalope etched in silver on the navy enamel.
“Speaking of sexy professors,” she said, leaning back in her chair and twisting a piece of her red hair. “The potions professor showed up last night after the dinner. Glory be.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “The werewolf?”
“He can use me as a squeak toy whenever he wants.”
“Jesus,” Stiles said, laughing.
“Just wait until you see him.”
“Not into bestiality.”
“Nope. Just fucking men old enough to be your daddy.”
“We shared a computer for a month last year. You have no room to talak.”
Lydia laughed. For a witch, she had a laugh like a fucking fairy. Her siren bloodline was so easy to see in her pale skin and big eyes. He had seen it get her out of more homework in the last seven years than he would’ve thought possible.
Then the door at the back of the room came open and Professor Argent came in. Stiles groaned low in his throat. Argent wasn’t even trying to be hot and he still was. He picked up something on his desk then took a drink of his coffee before looking at the class. When he made eye contact with Stiles, he smiled slightly. Stiles smiled back.
“Teacher’s pet,” Lydia said.
“If only that got me spanked.”
“Could both of you go rub one out? You’re fogging up the air,” Danny said behind them.
“Help me? I don’t do it as well as you do,” Stiles said, looking back at his roommate he hadn’t heard come in and giving him pleading eyes.
Danny laughed slightly and opened his own books.
“Settle down,” Professor Argent said. When the class kept rumbling, a loud boom rocked through the room hard enough to make Stiles’s ears ring. Argent didn’t even move his lips to cast the spell. “I guess your summers were good since you can’t keep your mouths closed.”
“Yes, Professor Argent,” they mumbled.
“Good,” he said. “We don’t have time to waste a day with only going over the syllabus,” he said and papers flew from his desk, landing on theirs. The syllabus for their final year. “Look it over. Let know if you have questions. My office hours are the same time they’ve always been. I’m also available by appointment or during detention. Now open your books to page seven-hundred and fifty-two.”
It had been a long summer. A long summer of dealing with his internship and spending the last few weeks with his dad and his deputies. None of them were remotely as hot as Argent. His dark wash jeans made his legs look like they went on for days. The dark gray shirt he wore was tucked in and it didn’t even look stupid.
Still, what got him more was Argent giving the background of the Southern Plain demon covies without ever glancing at the book. Within a few minutes, Stiles remembered that he didn’t get to gawk during lectures. His pen needed to be moving or he was going to miss shit that would be on the test and wasn’t in the book, because Argent knew things that it didn’t.
By the end of the lecture, Stiles had five pages of notes with some writing in the margins of his book.
“That’s it for today,” Argent said. “Finish the chapter. We have dueling next week, so brush up on your spells. No, do not put out anyone’s eye,” when he said that, he looked at Greenberg, who turned maroon. “And whoever started inflicting UTIs on their peers last year, stop it. Keep it to non-medical wing spells or I will back trace it and put you in detention until Christmas break.”
“Yes, Professor Argent.”
“You’re dismissed,” he said.
Stiles took his time gathering his things, letting others filter out of the classroom. When Lydia and Danny started talking about their yuppy vacations, he side-stepped them into the aisle.
“Stiles,” Argent said.
Stiles turned back to him still leaning against his desk.
“What’s up, sir?” he asked.
“How was your internship?”
“It was good,” he said, walking down the steps until he was in front of Argent. He had the bluest eyes. They only looked bluer against his stubble-covered cheeks. “We spent a few weeks in Michigan hunting a werewolf, but the local branch was able to take over before we got him. Then we went to Kansas for a possession case. I got to dress up as a priest, so I guess those Christian theology courses weren’t all bullshit.”
“You dressed up as a priest?”
“I had to.”
“Mhm,” Argent said, smiling slightly. “Make up your mind if that’s your field?”
“I’m going into investigation. I’m still on the fence about research or field work.”
“You’d be a good hunter, but you’ve got the brain for research. Not all hunters can say the same.”
“Yeah, but I’ve got a spine too and not all researchers can say that.”
Argent nodded, that small smile still pulling at his mouth. “I talked to Reed. She was impressed with you.”
“She said she’d take you back on whenever you wanted. She’s not an easy woman to impress.”
“No she isn’t.”
“I’m proud of you.”
Stiles laughed slightly, feeling himself turn red. “Thanks. And thanks for the letter of recommendation. Without you and Dad I wouldn’t have been able to swing that.”
“John could’ve gotten you in the door just fine, but I’m glad I could help.”
Stiles smiled again. “I need to get to Herbology.”
“Sure. See you Wednesday.”
“See ya,” he said, turning and jogging up the steps to where Lydia was lingering with Danny.
They walked out of class with him. When he stepped out of the room, he felt like he could breathe again.
“God you are so his puppy,” Lydia said.
“That he wants to train into an attack dog, but yeah. His puppy,” Danny said.
“Shut up,” he said, then laughing slightly, trying to shake off the giddy energy.
It felt like he was walking on a cloud as he traded out his books for herbology then went down to the greenhouses with Lydia as Danny parted ways for one of his many advanced courses in medicine.
Their normal herbology professor was on maternity leave, but her teaching assistant was a guy that graduated a few years ago. Werewolf. But all Stiles knew of him was that his peers had called him Toothless. The guy never seemed to resent it with his teeth that looked more like a rabbit’s than a wolf’s. He talked to them about some kind of mushroom that was coming into season. Then he sent them out onto the grounds to look for them.
Stiles walked with Lydia over the lawns that still smelled of cut grass. The hills of the Ozarks rose around them, cradling their valley like a green pearl. From a broomstick or winged-horseback, thousands of feet in the air, that’s exactly what it looked like.
“So what exactly did Argent have to say?” Lydia asked.
“He just asked about the internship.”
“Then why are you still smiling?”
“He said he was proud of me.”
“Aww,” she choursed. It sounded so much more melodic than it should. “You deserved it, though. You worked hard.”
“Fuck yeah I did.”
“There are some of those mushrooms,” she said, pointing out a ring.
Stiles followed her over and sketched them on their pads like the TA had told them. Before they left, Stiles ground one of the caps beneath the heel of his boot to break the ring.
The grounds had been so terrifying to him when he was thirteen and walking through the front doors the first time. Now he crossed over that path he’d followed as a kid and it was nothing. The woods stretched out around them and he knew permitted and tagged monsters lingered in them. There were dangerous things even within the school walls, but overall, it was just hundreds of acres of well-kept lawn. The ponds were nearly the size of lakes. As he looked down on them from the crown of the hill, the silver glittering body of one of the relocated river monsters rose from the dark water.
“It’s so strange that next year we won’t be here,” Lydia said, watching where he was.
“I know,” he said.
“I’ll miss it.”
He would miss it too. The nesting elm they had been warned away from as kids, because one of the founders had wound a piece of her soul into it. The grove of sycamores that stood apart from the woods. The first year Argent was there, he had led them down there to stand in its shadows. The leaves had made shapes on the ground, acting out scenes of cruelty and love in equal parts. They had all whispered. The year after he had met the withered sprite that called the grove home. Seven foot tall with skin of bark and the legs of a goat like a satyr.
When the bell tolled to signal the end of class, Stiles left the hill with Lydia and walked back to the greenhouses. Eventually they started to talk about the start of semester party the other seniors were having that weekend. By the time they handed their drawings and coordinates in to the TA, the melancholy feeling had mostly left him. He still had a year. He would make the best of it.
That night in his dorm, Stiles took the tonic he brewed at home to help him sleep. It had the same base as the one his dad made himself, but it was about a quarter of the strength. As Danny and Isaac talked to him about their homework, he sipped it. It hit like a hammer, making his head fuzzy, but it was no worse than being tipsy. It felt nice. By the time he finished his glass, his fingers were tingling.
“Isn’t your birthday soon?” Danny asked, as he pulled his shirt down from showing he and Isaac his soulmate mark he got over the summer. It looked vaguely like a dolphin.
“Yeah. Day after next. What about you, Isaac?”
“Not ‘til next year.”
“Not like it matters. Most of us won’t know we’ve found them until we’re naked together the first time anyway,” he said, laying back on his bed.
“I’m thinking of getting one of those charms made that looks like it,” Danny said.
“Don’t do that,” Stiles said, slurring slightly as his eyes dragged. “You don’t want some fucking nutjob copying your mark and lying to you.”
“That only happens with famous people.”
“No it happened to that lady in New Jersey last year. She was like thirty and her coworker faked it,” Isaac said.
“Don’t underestimate how fucking creepy people can be,” Stiles said.
“I don’t. I also don’t underestimate how paranoid the would-be hunter is,” Danny said with a faint smile. Then he flipped off the overhead light. “Good night, Stiles.”
“Night,” he mumbled before he was dead to the world.
Lake Eerie glittered through the trees. He couldn’t tell where the sky started and the water ended in the glow of the full moon. Morgan Reed was beside him, her wand placed beneath her handgun as a light. He only had his pistol. Ten rounds of silver-leaded full metal jacket. It was hot and sticky, but his skin still broke out in gooseflesh when a wolf howled far from where any natural wolf should be.
It was so much closer to them than he thought it would be.
The underbrush rattled and Reed aimed at it only for birds to fly up through the brush. Then Stiles saw the shadow. It was eight foot tall at least. His mind rejected it at first. It was only a shadow of a tree, but it moved so fluidly. It dropped to four feet and charged.
Reed’s and his own gunfire was deafening, the scent of gunpowder overpowering, and the muzzle flashes blinding. There was a yelp, but in the dark, he couldn’t see the wolf. He thought he could hear it moving away, and then something knocked him to the ground.
He started to scream.
“Stiles. Stiles! Hey!”
Stiles jerked awake with Danny sitting on the edge of his bed, his hands on his shoulders. When he saw his eyes were open, the pinched look on his face eased.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Stiles said, panting. “Sorry.”
“What time is it?”
“Shit. Sorry,” he said again.
“It’s cool. Do you want me to spell you to sleep?.”
Stiles started to tell him no, but if he didn’t have him do it, he’d just end up laying there awake, afraid to go back to sleep and wake up his roommates again. He nodded and laid back, closing his eyes, exhaling slowly.
“Nightmare free I promise,” Danny said.
The last thing he heard was Danny casting the spell.
The next afternoon, Stiles sat in the basement with Lydia and Isaac. A few other people from their house were scattered around with one of the other houses they didn’t particularly care for. It wasn’t a rift that ran that deep, but the colors didn’t mix nearly as much as they did in other lectures. Navy was with navy and purple was with purple.
On the tables, cauldrons were on burners. He had already laid out his notebook and the textbook the new potions master had requested they buy. Of course it was about three-hundred dollars more than the previous one, but it was about two-hundred years newer. He probably wouldn’t hate it as much if he didn’t know exactly what was about to walk through that door.
The first werewolf professor at their school.
Sure Derek was a TA, but he was spineless and they all knew it. Stiles had seen him care for animals with the gameskeeper. He was a pushover. He had heard Derek and this guy were related, but no litter of pups was the same, as his dad had said when Stiles told him the same thing.
Then he’d given Stiles his mom’s old silver necklace and a silver-edged pocket knife.
As he stared at the door, it opened and a man younger than his father, but at least ten years older than Derek came in. He had a handsome face, but that was a given for a predator. He needed something to draw prey in.
“I told you he was hot,” Lydia said.
“He’s okay,” Stiles said, watching the professor lay out a few things on his desk.
Around them, others were rumbling and stirring.
Stiles wondered how tall he was when he was shifted. He probably moved like a shadow too.
“Hello, class,” the professor said, waiting for them to quiet. He had a rough scratchy sounding voice. “My name is Professor Hale and I’m taking over Ms. Everlast’s position. I’ll start by passing out your syllabus then taking roll.”
Chairs creaked, but no one spoke as the werewolf started passing out papers to the first table. He came to theirs next. Up close, his hair was graying at the temples and his stubble was barely graying. He wasn’t as old as Stiles’s dad, but he was older than he’d thought. When he saw Stiles staring, he gave him a syllabus.
“Do you have a question, Mr.-?”
“Stiles, do you have a question?”
“Wonderful,” he said as he moved to the next table.
Lydia kicked him under the table. Stiles stared at her, fighting the urge to do it back. She had a knack for getting him right on the shin.
“Stop with the murder face,” she said in a quiet hiss.
“Yeah you were,” Isaac said.
“Did anyone ask you?” Stiles asked.
Isaac shrugged him off. Stiles leaned back in his chair and made himself exhale through his nose. Professor Hale had finished passing out the syllabuses and was at the front of the room again. He held his role book and started to call names from the other house. Stiles stared at a fixed point on the wall until he heard names that were more familiar. He knew the exact moment that Hale saw his name, because he barely tilted his head to the side like the dog he was.
“I don’t want to pronounce this wrong-”
“It’s just Stiles,” he said. “Stiles Stilinski.”
“Easier,” Hale said with a tight-lipped smile as he continued down the list.
Stiles read over his syllabus as Hale finished the role before he put his book down.
“I don’t want to strain anyone on the first day, including myself,” Hale started, “But I do want to gauge where you all are in terms of potions. So I want you to brew any spell from last year that you can make within the class period. I’ll be grading them on prep, consistency, and potency. If you have any questions, just raise your hand.”
Stiles rolled his eyes as he flipped to the index and opened to the page with the sleep draught he’d learned last semester. It was slightly different from Ms. Everlast’s, but it would be easy enough.
“What will you be making, Ms. Martin?” Hale asked.
Stiles jumped slightly. He hadn’t heard him approach. If Hale noticed, he didn’t show it as Stiles took out his measuring spoons and mortar and pestle as Lydia talked.
“And you, Mr. Stilinski? What are you making?” Hale asked.
“Good choice. I like this book’s version of it.”
Stiles nodded before he got off his stool and went to the supply closet. He grabbed the things he needed after waiting his turn then flipped on his burner. Hale was on the other side of the room. He heard him laugh. When he turned back to his table, Lydia caught his eye.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said, adding the base of water to the cauldron.
Then he began to grind roots and flower petals, adding water in increments until he had a paste that was viscous enough to not run when he swiped his finger through it. Then he chopped a few dried blueberries with his lab knife, chopping it into fine pieces before dragging the blade over it until it smeared on the board.
Stiles barely kept from jumping again when Hale stood at his shoulder as he wiped the blueberry gum from the blade and into the paste he already had.
“Does it call for that?” Hale asked.
“No, but sleep tonics are bitter. It cuts that.”
“Interesting,” Hale said. “Something you make often?”
“For yourself?” Hale asked.
“Me and my dad.”
“Is that John Stilinski?”
“Yeah,” he said.
Hale nodded. “He’s a credit to his profession.”
“Yeah he is.”
“I look forward to sampling it,” Hale said as he moved on to the next table.
Stiles added the paste in bits before dropping in a large chunk of root to simmer in the liquid until it thickened. He took notes on what he had done. How he had altered it from the book by choice and by necessity from the limited stock in the cabinet. It was probably a tactic by Hale. He couldn’t fault him for it. They were almost finished with the backbone of their education. They should know what could be substituted in intermediate spells. Still, even as he thought it, he heard a small explosion somewhere behind him.
“Does it always have to be McCall?” Lydia asked, rolling her eyes.
“He’s still here?” Stiles asked.
“I guess so,” she said, glancing toward what must be McCall’s table. “He’s a fluke.”
“Yeah he is,” Stiles said, stirring his own tonic.
It didn’t take long for most people to be waiting for their brews to finish. The low rumble of talking grew in the dark basement room with only the sparse overhead lights. Hale didn’t seem to mind people talking. He went to his desk and read through his book, even pulled out his phone at one point and seemed to check things before he made the rounds again. This time he checked in with Isaac and left Stiles alone, only glancing into his pot.
When his tonic was the right color, Stiles took out the large root it had simmered with. It was shriveled. It crumbled to wet ash as he put it into a small jar and put that in his bag to use that night. It would be more stout than the tonic. He just needed to get back into the routine of school, then the dreams would stop. This would ease him along.
“Okay, class, I’m going to check in with each of you, then you may leave,” Hale said.
He started on the opposite side of the room this time. After he finished with each person, they left the room with their things. Stiles went ahead and packed up the rest of his things, ladling out a small portion of the tonic to take with him. He was about to put the jar into his bag when Hale came to their table.
“What are you doing, Mr. Stilinski?” he asked.
“I was going to use some tonight. I have a sleep tonic, but it isn’t dreamless.”
“I can’t let you use an untested potion,” Hale said, holding out his hand.
Stiles stared at his hand for a moment. “You’re serious?”
“It’s dreamless sleep. Not wake the fucking dead.”
“Stiles. My name is Stiles.”
“Stiles, then,” Hale said, any friendliness leaving his face. “You may brew this often, but not in my class, not as my responsibility. Anything brewed in this room will stay here. Also, refrain from profanity in my classroom.”
“Yeah?” Stiles asked. Lydia kicked the shit out of him under the table, hearing the tone of his voice. “How about this one? Go fuck yourself.”
Hale clenched his jaw. “This is how you want to start your year off?”
“It was your call.”
“Detention then. Tonight. Room 154. Seven. Bring your homework.”
“Call it a fuckin’ date,” Stiles said, shouldering his bag.
“Fine,” Stiles said, going toward the door.
As he left, he could faintly hear Lydia apologizing for him and gritted his teeth. His arms were still bumpy with pebbled flesh as he climbed the stairs to the main floor.