"Happy anniversary, Stiles. And happy Winter Solstice." Alan slid the tissue-paper wrapped packed across the desk.
Stiles batted his eyelashes. "Why, Dr. D., I didn't know you cared."
Alan's only response was a faint lip twitch he wasn't sure Stiles had seen, too busy ripping the paper off his present.
Alan didn't like to brag, but this notebook was one of his best in ages. He'd darkened the leather covers with pigment he'd made from black walnut oil. The paper was handmade deckle-edged linen—again, his hand. He'd chosen a dark green thread for the coptic binding, which blended well with the leather and stood out dramatically against the paper. The only part he hadn't done himself was the debossment of the five-fold knot on the cover, but the person who'd done that work was a master. In short, it was a work of art.
Alan watched Stiles examine the notebook. His eyes widened, and his mouth opened slightly. Stiles might have the attention span of a newborn mayfly, but he recognized and appreciated other people's efforts when he saw them. "Doc, did you make this?" he asked quietly.
Stiles swallowed. "I can't—whoo!" He ran a surprisingly shaky hand through his messy hair. "I don't think I could write in this. It's too pretty."
"The blank notebook is a customary gift at the one-year anniversary of magical study," Alan said calmly. "It becomes the student's first grimoire, in which they record spells, recipes, and other information of note."
Stiles waved his battered Lisa Frank spiral notebook, which he'd picked up from the dollar bin at the Walgreens and admitted he'd mostly chosen because he would never mistake it for his class notebooks. "I already do that in here."
"Those are spells you've learned from me. The first-year grimoire is where you start developing your own spells and recipes."
Stiles stared at the book in his hands like it had taken on a terrifying new significance. Alan remembered that feeling from when his teacher had presented him with the same responsibility.
"We'll start small," Alan said. "One spell that does anything you'd like, within the usual ethical parameters—although I encourage you to stay on the smaller side. Test, revise, take notes on your process. It's fine if it doesn't work properly, but document every test you undertake and change you make so we can pinpoint the weak spot. I'll review everything when we meet in two weeks."
Stiles looked up at that. "Two weeks?"
Alan bit back a smile. He'd thought Stiles might like that. "Also customary in the second year of study is to move to every other week lessons, to give the student more time in between to absorb and apply the lessons learned. But, Stiles—" He sharpened his voice and waited until he had Stiles' full attention. "That means you have to work on this every day. No waiting until the night before. You won't have the time."
The past year had been an education for them. Like Alan, Stiles had come into his studies with no prior magical exposure. He'd been as ignorant of the time requirements as of the processes. Alan had come into their time together with too little understanding of how ADHD worked. Their early months together had been a frustration dream of unread tomes and half-finished assignments, until Alan researched how his pupil's brain functioned and adjusted his teaching method accordingly. They were doing better, but it helped to periodically remind Stiles of the importance of magical time management.
"You bet," Stiles said. He threw in two cheesy finger-guns, but Alan knew him well enough to trust that he would follow through. "You'll still teach me spells, though, right?" Stiles asked. "It's not just whatever pops out of my brain from now on?"
"I will still teach you spells," Alan confirmed. "I want your magical tool-kit to be as comprehensive as possible by the time I retire."
Stiles snorted and glanced over Alan's right shoulder before returning his gaze to his notebook. "Like you're ever gonna retire. In the years I've known you, that thing's moved once."
Alan didn't need to look to know that "that thing" referred to his retirement countdown clock. It had been a gift from a friend skilled in woodworking and time magic. One end of the carving bore a heavily stylized version of the symbol of the pack he'd sworn his loyalty to. The other showed a charming representation of Alan asleep in a hammock, a book open on his chest. The marker that showed the time between those two events in Alan's life was significantly closer to the pack symbol than to retirement, and it had last moved a year ago.
"That countdown refers to my other job, not my veterinary work. And retirement from that job is determined not by age or tenure, but by precise alignment of several crucial factors. I don't know when the day will come. I may simply arrive one day and find that the marker has moved all the way over."
Stiles stared at him, mouth agape. "That... is no way to live."
Alan shrugged. "I find I rather like the unpredictability. It keeps me humble."
Stiles looked at him a beat longer and then snorted. "Sure. Humble."
"I'll see you in two weeks, Mr. Stilinski," Alan said, hiding his smile behind the dismissal. "With one full spell and notes."
"Aye aye, Cap'n," Stiles said, saluting.
"And don't let that notebook out of your sight!" Alan called.
Alan waited until Stiles left the office before turning and looking at the retirement clock. Was Stiles' overactive imagination rubbing off on him, or had the marker moved a tick?
March 3, 2012
Cora has developed an allergy to grass. I had not previously been aware that werewolves could have allergies. Emissary Deaton says that we can, and that plant and animal allergies are the most common. He says it relates to the sheer volume of allergens one is exposed to being more than even the lycan immune system can keep up with.
Unfortunately, over-the-counter allergy medications don't work. Emissary Deaton has promised to make Cora a special werewolf antihistamine, and to share the formula with me. I will record it here later.
Cora would probably say that an entry about her allergies was boring, because Cora said everything was boring. But Dr. Deaton had said that needed to practice chronicling events in the pack's life. Cora's newly discovered grass allergy was causing a kerfuffle in pack life, so it went in the book.
Derek closed the notebook and slid his pen into its clever holder along the side. This book was incredible. The dark brown leather cover stamped with the Hale triskelion made it look so official, while the visible binding, the dark green thread stark against the white of the pages, gave it a touch of whimsy. Dr. Deaton hadn't said, but Derek was fairly certain he had made this book by hand. Derek felt honored to have received it.
Voices at the front of the classroom drew Derek's attention. Stiles and Lydia were slipping in just before the bell as usual, deep in a spirited discussion.
Derek wasn't sure when those two had become friends. Around the time Stiles came out as bi, his crush on her had dropped from "mortifying for everyone involved and also innocent bystanders" to "ordinary awkward high schooler," which was apparently a level of adoration that Lydia could work with. The two of them worked well as friends—although their combined intellectual power was terrifying in action.
Stiles and Lydia paused in front of the desks. Most of Derek's classmates resented having juniors in a senior-level class, but Derek gestured to two empty spots near him. Lydia nodded in acknowledgment but unsurprisingly chose a seat closer to the front of the room, ignoring glares on all sides.
Stiles grinned, bright and unfettered, and bopped down the aisle toward Derek. Derek maybe got lost in Stiles' sparkling eyes, wide smile, shoulders that seemed broader each day, and long, nimble fingers that set Derek's pulse racing.
Derek had a million fantasies about Stiles, from the scorchingly hot to the sappily romantic, that had filled his idler hours (and guiltier jerk-off sessions). But Paige had almost died because Derek made a bad decision about how to introduce her to the supernatural, so he'd sworn that from now on he would only date people who were already in the know. Stiles stayed firmly in the fantasy box.
Stiles jostled three desks on his way to Derek's row, earning scowls and muttered curses from the other seniors. But he was smiling as he dropped into the desk next to Derek, jarring his desk, too. Derek's pile of books wobbled, probably because it was resting on top of his pack history notebook, which was smaller and not as flat as his mass-produced textbooks. Derek slid the notebook out of the pile and tried to drop it into his bag. Only he couldn't bring himself to look away from Stiles, so he missed the bag a few times. He finally got it into the bag, where it slid satisfyingly in against... something. (That didn't seem right; he didn't put anything else in that pocket. Well. He'd deal with that later.)
Stiles was frowning at the books in his own hands. He shuffled a couple out of the pile and dropped them toward his bag. Then he turned wide, hopeful eyes to Derek. "Heeey, Derek. Did you do the homework?"
Derek tucked himself into his favorite library nook. The forty minutes before Cora's study group session ended and they could go home gave him plenty of time to finish the entry on her allergy and make a good start on tomorrow's homework. He reached into his bag and grabbed the notebook.
The instant he closed hand around it, he knew something was wrong. The smell, or the way the leather yielded under his fingers. He drew it out slowly, cold dread congealing in his gut.
It was almost identical. The same dimensions, the same dark brown leather, the same dark green thread. But the symbol on the cover was a complex knot Derek had seen before but was too freaked out to identify.
This was someone else's notebook. Which meant that one of Derek's classmates was walking around with his notebook. The one where he'd talked so openly about being a werewolf. The one his mom had told him repeatedly not to take out of the house. Shit. He was so dead if Mom found out! Maybe whoever had it would... think it was fiction? Christ, why had he used real names? He was double-dead.
Heart in his throat, Derek slowly opened the book. Time to face the music and find out who knew his family's secret.
An ornate bookplate on the inside front cover, identical to the (mercifully blank) one in Derek's book, read, This Book Property of Mieczysław Gajos. Derek blinked. He didn't know everyone at Beacon High, but he'd've remembered that name.
The first page bore a hand-drawn replica of the knot on the front cover, surrounded by hand-calligraphed text in—what language was that? Polish? Did they have a Polish exchange student?
Derek turned the page, desperate for any indication of who this Mieczysław Gajos was. The next page was in English, and Derek did a double-take when he read the header: A SPELL FOR THE PROTECTION OF FIRST RESPONDERS. The ingredient list began with rue, High John the Conquerer root, and the ashes from a fire put out by the local fire department. Derek scanned the rest of the page. He couldn't do spellcraft, but he'd read enough to know that this was no "rebellious teenager witchcraft phase" spell. This could work, if the caster had magic. Derek's next breath came easier. Maybe this wouldn't end horribly after all.
"I have to give Derek his notebook and get mine back. Five-minute hand-off, max. You'll be at school and ready to suck Kira's face off by the time she's done with lacrosse practice."
"But why am I here?" Scott demanded for at least the fourth time.
"Because Talia Hale intimidates the shit outta me, dude," Stiles replied, immediately and without shame. He would bet every dollar he didn't have on Talia being the Hale alpha. That would explain her air of general pants-wetting scariness and her infamous ability to keep her children and their squirrely friends corralled with nothing more than a well-placed glare. "You, being literally made of sunshine and puppy dog tails, may go a long way toward defusing her hundred-mile glare."
Scott sat silent for a long beat, eyes slightly unfocused. Then he said, "Huh."
Stiles took his eyes off the road for an instant to glance at Scott. "Huh what?"
Scott shrugged. "I expected you to say I was here to keep you and your giant crush from making an ass of yourself in front of Derek."
"You copied Derek's calc homework in class today. You said so."
"Yeah, so? He's really good at math."
"Stiles, you did the calc homework. Last night! I was there!"
"Okay, yes, I have a crush. Crushes are had. By me. On him. But that doesn't mean I'm going to be weird about it."
Scott leveled a flat look at him. "Do we need to revisit Lydia's thirteenth birthday?"
Stiles was stubborn, but he did sometimes acknowledge when he was beat. "No, we do not."
Okay, so, yes, Stiles tended to lose control of his higher brain functions in the presence of people he was attracted to. But he was (he hoped) maturing (a little). Also, he had a much better handle on his Adderall dosage now. Sure, he was an awkward disaster person around Derek, but it was a normal level of awkward disaster. The Stiles Stilinski who'd commemorated Lydia Martin's thirteenth birthday by writing and declaiming an epic limerick cycle was not the same Stiles Stilinski who was driving toward the Hale house.
(And by the way, no one gave that poem cycle the respect it deserved. Thirteen limericks, one for each year of Lydia's life, and he hadn't once rhymed "Martin" with "fartin'.")
The Hale house was huge yet homey, a blue clapboard two-story with a wraparound porch, actual gables, and the biggest garden Stiles had ever seen. As he put Roscoe in park next to Derek's Camaro and turned off the engine, Stiles looked at Scott and said—quietly, mindful of his new discovery about the Hales—"And ancay the ushcray alktay, apiscecay?"
Scott rolled his eyes. Stiles refused to move until Scott rolled his eyes harder and said, "Got it."
Despite the lack of an Omisepray, Stiles was willing to trust Scott on this one.
Stiles bounded up the porch steps. Scott followed at a more sedate, asthma-non-aggravating pace. Stiles tried to calm his pounding heart. This was fine. He would walk up to the door, ring the doorbell, and be faced with either a terrifying alpha werewolf or the guy he had a big, embarrassing crush on. Noooo big deal.
Only it wasn't Talia or Derek on the other side of the door. Or Cora or Andrew or anyone else Stiles recognized. It was a man between Derek and his parents age-wise, with wavy dark hair and intense dark blue eyes. In his fitted black slacks and gray v-neck sweater, he gave off a vibe of hot but potentially sleazy.
The guy's gaze flicked dismissively past Stiles—rude—and landed on Scott with an eagerness that immediately bumped him to hot and definitely sleazy. "Scott!" he said, too excitedly. "What a delightful surprise!"
Stiles glanced at Scott. Scott wore the look of suppressed horror usually reserved for surprise visits from his father. "Hey, Peter," he said, and, oh, yeah, that explained that. Whether through magic or twelve years of bffship, Stiles saw Scott's departure a split second before Scott said, "Oh, hey, Stiles, I have to do a thing for my mom. I'm gonna go, okay?"
Stiles hated the thought of being alone (alone? Stiles counted three other cars in the driveway, but he hadn't seen or heard anyone else in the house, so they could all be gone) with a man his dad once said he wished he could arrest on "multiple counts of smarm." But he wouldn't make Scott stick around with someone who made him so obviously uncomfortable. Stiles yanked his keys from his pocket and tossed them to Scott, who, bless him, only fumbled them twice.
Scott's eyes widened. "I was going to walk."
"You have the lung capacity of an overexcited chicken, dude. Take the Jeep."
Scott jerked his head unsubtly toward Peter. "How will you—"
"I can give your friend a ride, Scott," Peter said, too smoothly.
"Nah, it's good," Stiles said tightly. "I'll call my dad to come get me. In the sheriff's cruiser. Which he drives. Because he's the sheriff." Peter didn't react, so Stiles looked back to Scott. "Be nice to Roscoe. Don't grind the gears."
"That happened once," Scott protested. "When I was fourteen!" Scott gave Stiles a quick bro-hug and then lit off like his ass was on fire.
"Goodbye, Scott!" Peter called. "Do give my regards to your mother!"
"Fat fucking chance!" Scott replied, bold now that he was making his escape.
With Scott gone, Peter turned his attention to Stiles. Stiles' scalp prickled. "So," Peter said as he gave Stiles the hands-free version of Bad Touch, "What brings Claudia Gajos' child to our humble abode?"
Calling this house humble was laughable, but Stiles was more interested in Peter calling him Claudia's kid when he'd literally just mentioned the sheriff being his father. That mystery would have to wait for another time. "I think Derek and I switched notebooks today in calc," he said. "I was hoping he'd be here so we can switch back?"
"Of course," Peter said, opening the door further. He positioned himself so Stiles would have to brush against him to get into the house. Stiles used a small burst of magic to lean Peter to one side enough to slip inside without touching. Peter looked faintly confused but didn't seem to have caught on. Stiles tamped down his smirk and hoped his smugness didn't have a smell that Peter would recognize.
The front door led into a short hall that opened onto the kitchen, which was as big as the Stilinskis' kitchen and dining room combined. The appliances and cabinetry looked top-of-the-line, but the room looked and felt lived-in. It might be practically a show kitchen, but it clearly wasn't for show.
Stiles set his bag on the counter and unzipped it. This put his back to Peter, a dangerous move, but he couldn't figure out how to face Peter without his expression giving away how uncomfortable he felt. "So, uh, like, is Derek here or what?" he asked as he pulled out Derek's notebook and set it next to his bag.
Before he registered that anything was happening, Peter had slammed him against the wall, one hand pressing his hip, the other arm across his throat. "Who are you?" Peter growled. "How did you get that notebook? Did you steal it? Which hunter put you up to this?"
Stiles' heartbeat thundered in his ears. He was so flooded with adrenaline he could barely think beyond a hazy what the fuck?!
"Peter! What are you doing?" Talia Hale raced into the kitchen, although she looked put-together enough to keep arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court. She peered around Peter. "Stiles?"
Stiles said, "Hey, Mrs. Ha—" but Peter increased the pressure on his throat, and he couldn't finish the sentence. Tiny black spots danced at the edge of his vision. He reached for his magic, but without his breath, he couldn't access his spark—a gap in his training that he would fill the instant he got away from the homicidal werewolf.
"He has Derek's notebook," Peter said. His tone was casual, almost conversational.
Talia crossed briskly to the counter and gasped audibly when she saw Derek's notebook next to Stiles' bag. "Stiles, how did you get this?"
"I've asked him that already." Peter pressed harder on Stiles' neck. The black spots grew larger and crept further as Stiles struggled for breath. "He refuses to answer."
Now didn't seem like the time for Talia to be rolling her eyes. "Let up on his trachea, Peter. If he can't breathe, he can't speak."
Peter looked at Stiles suspiciously and let up on Stiles' throat with obvious reluctance. The hand at Stiles' hip pressed harder.
Stiles gasped, sucking in blessed air until he was hacking with it. The black dots receded. He put a hand on his throat, rubbing the soreness, keeping a buffer between himself and Peter. "We have—" Shit, it hurt to talk, and he couldn't stop coughing. "—calc. together. Sat together. Must've—gone in—wrong bag."
"He's telling the truth," Talia said.
"He sounds like he's telling the truth," Peter countered. "Hunters have tricks for getting around that, don't you?"
"H-hunters?" Stiles asked. It made all too much sense. If werewolves existed, then, yeah, werewolf hunters probably did, too.
"Peter, he's a child," Talia said sharply.
"So was Gerard Argent, once." Peter spat. His grip on Stiles' hip sharpened into claw-points.
"Uh, what's going on?"
Derek. Oh, thank all the deities who might be listening, Derek was here.
"Oh, Derek," Talia said, turning and trying to hustle Derek out of the room, "it's nothing. Why don't you go to your room, okay?"
"I heard Stiles. I need to give him his notebook."
Talia paused. "You have Stiles' notebook?"
"Yeah. It looks almost exactly like—okay, you told me not to take Dr. Deaton's notebook out of the house, but I have so much to write down, and between homework and chores and baseball I don't have time, and—"
Stiles tried to laugh, but it came out as slightly amused coughing. "You got that from Deaton?"
"For my birthday."
Stiles wasn't sure yet what was going on, but a picture was forming in his mind, and he wasn't wild about it.
"You didn't mean any harm, Derek. I'm not mad at you," Talia said. Stiles winced. His dad did the I'm not angry, just disappointed schtick. Stiles preferred angry. "But Stiles has read your notebook, and—well. Have you read the notebook, Stiles?"
Stiles knew better than to lie. He and Deaton hadn't reached the How to keep your heartbeat steady around werewolves part of the curriculum yet. "Just, like, four pages, looking for who it belonged to." He scowled around Peter at Derek. "You didn't put your name on the bookplate, dude! Like, who does that?"
Peter laughed, and he actually sounded amused. "Infuriating, isn't it?"
"Neither did you!" Derek protested. "Who the hell is Mieczysław Gajos?"
"I am, jackass!"
Peter sighed, his breath too close and heavy across Stiles' face. "So you know our secret."
"I won't tell anyone! I promise."
Talia stepped up beside Peter. She looked reassuringly normal and momlike, but if she was the alpha, Stiles wouldn't be able to defeat her, if it came to that. If he could make it past Peter. "I hear in your heartbeat that you mean that, Stiles," Talia said gently, "but there is always a risk that you'll let something slip."
"Hunters are wily, Stiles," Talia continued implacably. "You might tell one of them something without realizing it's important." Her mouth tightened. "Maybe without realizing they're a hunter." Derek flinched. Talia looked Stiles in the eyes. "If it helps at all, I truly am sorry."
"What will you do about my dad, huh?" Stiles demanded. "He's the best sheriff this county's had in decades. He'll figure you out."
"Oh, you charming boy," Peter said, "do you think we don't have ways of getting around human law enforcement?"
"Don't worry about your father, Stiles," Talia said earnestly. "The Hale pack will take good care of him."
The wildest thing was that she meant it. She genuinely thought her pack could take good care of a man whose son they'd killed. She thought there'd be anything left of Noah Stilinski to take care of, once his only remaining family member had been found murdered. Or maybe not found, if Peter were as good at this as Stiles suspected. Dad, I'm sorry.
"Mom," Derek said, finally seeming to have caught on to the plan, "you don't have to do this."
"I'm sorry your little crush isn't turning out the way you'd hoped, Derek," Peter said idly, "but this is what's best for the pack."
"No, Uncle Peter—Mom—I'm trying to tell you: it really isn't."
"Derek!" Talia snapped, and her eyes flashed red. So Stiles had been right about her being the alpha. Cool. Too bad that knowledge was going to get him killed. "To your room. Now."
No big surprise, Derek ignored this order. But apparently Talia was choosing to pretend she didn't see that. Instead she looked at her brother with one eyebrow raised and said, "Peter?"
The shift happened so fast Stiles didn't get a chance to appreciate it. He would've loved to study the transformation in more detail, to observe the emergence of dropped fangs, forehead ridges, and electric blue eyes. "Where did your eyebrows go?" Stiles asked and then mentally kicked himself. That's going down in history as Stiles Stilinski's last words.
"I've killed a fair number of people for this pack," Peter said, voice only slightly slurred by the fangs. "This will be one of the few I'll truly regret."
"Cool story, bro," Stiles snarked, which were worse last words.
Peter snarled and tilted his head and oh shit this was it. Stiles squeezed his eyes shut. Mom, if anything comes after this, I'll see you really fucking soon. Sorry about the swearing.
Talia sighed. "Honestly, Peter. Unless you want to explain to Andrew why there's a body in his kitchen, take it outside."
Peter huffed, and his breath was so close, so hot on Stiles' face. "I will," he said, sounding almost confused. "As soon as I figure out why he's not afraid of me."
"What?" Stiles' eyes flew open. "Are you fucking kidding me? Hello, literally quaking in terror here. Pants may have been pissed. I am plenty scared, thank you, you murdering psychopath!"
"No." Peter said it fast and flat, like Stiles had said it was raining on a cloudless day. "Your heart is racing at an alarming rate; you recognize me as a threat. But you're not... scared the way others have been." He leaned back to look at Stiles more fully, and Stiles didn't need any more opening than that. "Why is that?"
Stiles gasped in the deepest breath he'd been able to take since Peter pinned him to the wall. Oxygen ignited his spark, and magic coursed through him. "Ask Derek," he rasped. He caught Derek's eye over Peter's shoulder, and Derek gave a small, jerky nod.
"Derek? Why?" Talia demanded.
Peter turned to look at his nephew. Stiles directed magic into his hands and arms and said, "Because he read my notebook, too."
Peter turned to Stiles with a look of horrified dawning realization, but he was too late. Stiles raised his hands to Peter's chest and shoved with the full force of adrenaline-aided magic. Peter flew clear across the kitchen and landed groaning in a heap at Talia's feet.
Talia looked between Derek and Stiles with an expression that demanded answers. "What is going on here?"
Derek ignored her and ran to Stiles. "Are you okay?"
Stilinskis were huggers. Stiles flung himself at Derek, and after a second of shocked stillness, Derek's arms closed tight around him. Stiles cried and shook and let Derek hold him up while terror drained away, leaving him shaking and empty.
"Mom, can we have a minute?"
Talia made a disapproving sound, but her shoes clicked across the kitchen tiles and seemed to be going away from Stiles and Derek.
"Hey," Derek said quietly, his hand rubbing slow circles across Stiles' shoulderblades, "how are you doing?"
Stiles had been threatened and almost killed. His hip ached from where Peter'd dug in his claws. And he might not've smelled scared to Peter, but he'd never been so terrified in his life. Suddenly, the walls seemed too close. "Can we go outside for a couple minutes?"
"Yeah, of course." Derek crossed to the counter and scooped both notebooks into Stiles' bag. "Come on."
"Boys—" Talia was crouched in the space between the kitchen and dining room, arranging Peter into a more comfortable position but not trying to wake him up.
"We just need a minute, Mom," Derek said, voice flat. It must be hell, Stiles thought, to be angry with the person who's your mom and your alpha.
She rose to her feet. It was amazing, the way authority settled around her like a cloak. "I expect an explanation when you get back," she said, and though her tone was kind, her command was clear.
Stiles nodded. "I hear that, Alpha Hale. I understand why you want it. But you're not my alpha, and I almost died a minute ago because you wouldn't listen to an explanation then, so I don't feel like you deserve one now." He looked at Derek and shrugged. "Maybe you feel differently."
Derek glanced at Talia and then smiled at Stiles. "Your secrets aren't mine to tell."
Stiles smiled back, weak with relief. "Thanks, dude." He figured Talia, and maybe the entire Hale pack, would one day learn about his studies with Deaton. But he really didn't want her to have that privilege today. Stiles pointed toward the door he'd come in what felt like a lifetime ago but was probably no more than ten minutes ago.
"Don't call me dude," Derek said automatically.
Stiles laughed and grabbed Derek's hand to pull him across the kitchen and out the door.
The instant they were outside, Stiles' breath came easier. He hoped he would be able to go into the Hale house again someday, but it wasn't happening today.
"How far do we have to go before they can't hear us?" Stiles asked.
"Farther than you want to go in your state."
Stiles raised his eyebrows. "My state?"
"You've had a shock. I'm told humans have a hard time recovering from that."
'Humans,' Stiles mouthed. "Wow. That's gonna take a while to get used to." He considered Derek's face. "Can I see?"
Derek frowned. "You sure? I don't want to, like, trigger anything for you."
"You gonna pin me to the wall and try to choke me?"
"Not unless you ask me to," Derek blurted and then looked like he wished he were strong enough to stomp a hole in the ground to swallow him up.
Stiles hooted with laughter. "Show me what ya got, big guy."
Stiles wondered if Derek had ever shifted for someone else. But he rolled his neck and suddenly there it was: the wicked fangs and the glowing gold eyes and the—"Seriously, where are your eyebrows?"
Derek laughed, but he sounded scared as he asked, "So you don't think we're... monsters?"
"Monsters? No way. Your mom and uncle need one hell of a refresher course on hospitality and conflict engagement, but no. Not monsters."
Derek chuckled but looked mildly horrified. "I would pay you to say that to them."
Stiles shrugged. "If their hearing's as good as you say, I just did."
Derek cocked his head to one side. Stiles swallowed the dog jokes that jumped into his head. "Do you trust me?" Derek asked.
"Well, sure, but—"
Before Stiles finished the sentence, Derek scooped him up bridal-style and was rushing through the preserve at speeds no human could reach. Stiles whooped and clung to Derek's neck, laughing uncontrollably.
They stopped on a promontory overlooking Beacon Hills and the areas beyond. Stiles figured they were a mile from the Hale house, and Derek had needed less than two minutes to get them here. He wasn't even sweating, the asshole.
Beacon Hills looked peaceful from here, lit up in the early evening blue. Stiles shoved his hands into his pockets to calm their twitching as he stared at the town's twinkling lights. "I gotta tell ya, picking me up and whisking me off to somewhere romantic is not lessening my crush."
"You... have a crush? On me?"
Stiles whirled to face Derek. "Well, I mean, strictly speaking, that is, if you want to get technical, and I mean, who doesn't, nothing sexier than gettin' technical, amirite—" Stiles paused and looked more closely at Derek's expression. He looked... hopeful. "I thought you knew," Stiles said, quieter. "I thought everyone did."
Derek took a step closer. "I do now. And you know I have one on you."
Stiles shook his head emphatically. "Your uncle is a homicidal asshole who was seconds away from ripping me apart with his teeth and claws. I assumed everything he said was a lie."
Stiles watched, fascinated, as Derek shook his head and pink crept into his cheeks. "That part was true," he said softly. He took another step closer.
Stiles reeled. Derek liked him! Top student, baseball star, and physically perfect human being (werewolf being?) Derek Hale liked ADHD- and anxiety-riddled, lacrosse washout, flailing mass of limbs and moles Stiles Stilinski. Somebody pinch him. Preferably Derek.
Stiles was feeling bigger feels than his body could contain, so he let them out by doing what he did best. "Wow. Okay, wow, so, this is amazing. So you have a crush on me, and I have a crush on you, and I have literally no idea what to do. Should we kiss? I feel like we should kiss, right? Maybe? Or would that be inappropriate? Your uncle almost killed me today, and your mom sanctioned it. My sense of propriety is off."
"Stiles," Derek said, laughing, "I'd really like to kiss you." He took another step closer, and whoa, he was, like, super-close. Close enough that Stiles could—yup. Stiles reached out and cupped his hand around Derek's head, drawing him in.
It was tame, as kisses went. Not that Stiles had a ton to compare it to. Derek's lips were a little rough, and they stayed firmly closed, not even a hint of tongue, and Stiles felt it to his core.
When they parted, Stiles gazed moonily (heh) at Derek, and Derek looked back with a faintly bemused smile, like he was the one who couldn't believe his luck. He grabbed both of Stiles' hands. "I'm sorry about Peter and my mom," he said. "They just want what's best for the pack."
"Yeah, dude, I get it," Stiles said. "But somebody's gotta tell them there's a middle ground between 'turn a blind eye' and 'kill all perceived threats.'"
Derek drew Stiles to a towering incense cedar, walking backward so he could keep holding Stiles' hands. They sat down, and Stiles wasted no time cuddling right up against Derek. Derek let out a quiet, contented sigh and dropped his arm around Stiles' shoulders. "They used to be better," Derek said, a pensive note creeping into his voice.
"Is this about what your mom said? Not realizing someone's a hunter?"
Derek's next sigh was more fraught. Stiles heard frustration, guilt, sadness, fear—it was a sigh with a lot to say, was Stiles' point. "Do you remember Miss Ackerly? She subbed in the computer lab my sophomore year."
Stiles tried to remember. "Oh! She had lots of low-cut blouses and no idea about computers, right?"
Derek snorted. "That's the one. She was... really nice to me. Like, in retrospect, suspiciously nice. But she told me she was—well, I'd been through something rough, and my family was super supportive, but they were my family, and she wasn't, and... I told her stuff. Private stuff. Some of it I didn't realize was pack stuff, because it was... my life, you know?
"Anyway, then she tried to make things more, uh... NC-17, I guess?" Stiles' stomach plunged, but Derek just looked faintly disgusted as he continued, "I freaked out and told my parents. They looked into it and discovered that Kelly Ackerly, substitute teacher, was Katherine Argent, werewolf hunter."
Stiles remembered what Peter had said about Gerard Argent, and another piece slotted into place. "Argent like Allison?"
Derek blinked. "Oh. Right. I forgot she was in your year. Yeah, Kate's her aunt, and the Argents are one of the oldest and most powerful werewolf hunting families in America. Europe, too, I think. Allison and her dad follow a code. Kate and Gerard, not so much."
Stiles had only met Allison's super-extra-creepy grandfather once, but now he understood why the family had arrived and then disappeared so abruptly, leaving Stiles to deal with Scott's broken heart.
"Kate was planning to burn down our house with the pack inside," Derek continued. "The information I'd given her would've made it possible."
"Derek, oh my god!" Stiles gasped, squeezing Derek's hand as tight as he could.
Derek nodded and squeezed back almost as hard (not as hard, which was good because fragile human ouch). "Mom and Peter will calm down about it someday." He smiled wryly. "Today obviously isn't that day."
"Well," Stiles said, leaning into Derek's side, "it sure wasn't great. But I get it. And it brought us here, so, I can't be all mad."
"Yeah," Derek said with a huff of a laugh.
Stiles sat quietly for a second, basking in the feeling of Derek's hot (in all senses of the word) body against his. But his brain kept making connections without his conscious effort, until he had to ask, "I wasn't processing that well, because imminent threat of death, but, did you say you got your notebook from Dr. Deaton?"
Derek stilled. "Uh... yeah?"
Unbelievable. On so many levels. "Because he's your emissary, right?" Derek didn't answer, but he didn't answer in a decidedly shifty-looking way, so Stiles figured he was right. "Did he give it to you around the Winter Solstice, maybe?"
Derek looked at him with wide eyes. "My birthday is Christmas Day. It was a birthday present." He puffed up proudly as he continued, "I'll become pack historian when my dad stops wanting to do it, or if something—" He swallowed hard. "Dr. Deaton said I should have a special notebook to record what was happening in the pack. For practice." His eyes narrowed. "Did yours come from Dr. Deaton?"
"Chyeah ," Stiles snorted. "On the Solstice. At the one-year anniversary of my starting magic lessons with him. It's my first real grimoire. He says it's traditional—not that I would know, because I haven't met anyone in the supernatural community besides him. And now you."
"What are you thinking?" Derek asked quietly.
"I don't know!" Stiles sat up so he could look at Derek while they talked. "I mean—he made those notebooks, right? They could've looked like anything. But he chose to make them look almost identical."
Derek's eyes widened. "You think he planned for us to swap notebooks?"
"It makes no sense," Stiles admitted, "but I wouldn't put it past him. He goes on about neutrality and non-interference, but he's got wide parameters around that'"
"But why? Did he want Uncle Peter to kill you?"
"I don't... think so? I mean, he's a veterinarian and a highly skilled Druid. If he wanted me dead, he had easier ways. Leaving Peter to do it would've created uncertainty for him, and trouble for your pack, which isn't good for him, either." Stiles shrugged helplessly. "The dude's secret plans have secret plans. I gave up trying to scrute his motives in, like, month two of our lessons."
"Scrute?" Derek's forehead did the most precious crinkly thing when he was confused. Stiles had adored it for months, and now he got to stroke his thumb across it until it smoothed out.
"Yeah. I scruted hard. But he's inscrutable." Derek gave a startled laugh. Stiles sighed. "I'm still pissed. Here. Cuddle the angry out of me." He leaned into Derek and rested his head on Derek's chest. Derek dropped his arm around Stiles shoulder and kissed the top of his head. Stiles sighed in contentment and burrowed further in.
It was the weirdest thing. Here they were, two high school boys, and Stiles had always assumed that if he ever got anywhere with anyone, it would be all hormones and clothes flying. But he didn't feel that urgency with Derek. Make no mistake: he was hot for Derek's bod and eager to see what was under those clothes, if Derek was into that. But he didn't feel like it had to be now. He felt like they had time.
They talked and kissed as the shadows lengthened around them. Stiles never wanted to stop, never wanted to leave this bubble of time and space where he felt like he and Derek were the only people in Beacon Hills, trading stories and slow, syrupy kisses that made his head spin. The concerns of the real world couldn't touch them here, so here Stiles wanted to stay.
But eventually the darkness grew so thick and deep that even a werewolf's eyes might struggle with it. Stiles sighed, cursed that he was being the reasonable one, and grabbed Derek's hand to pull them both to their feet.
Derek raised an eyebrow and smiled, challenge clear. "Same way back?"
Stiles grinned. "Oh, you're on, mister."
Derek laughed and scooped Stiles up. Stiles was ready this time and held on tight, his fingers playing with the ends of Derek's hair, his face pressing tiny kisses to Derek's neck. Derek only stumbled once, when Stiles found a sensitive spot behind his ear. When they reached the Hale house, Derek all but threw Stiles against the Jeep, crowding him in and claiming a toe-curling kiss. "You're a menace," Derek growled.
Stiles pulled Derek's notebook out of his bag. "You like it," he said, smacking the notebook against Derek's ridiculous chest muscles. He leaned in for another kiss, and another, and another until he was dizzy with it.
"Ugh, I do," Derek groused. "Go home, Stilinski, before your dad thinks we really have eaten you."
Stiles looked around. "Hey, why is my Jeep still here? I told Scottie to get out of here."
Derek rolled his eyes. "He walked."
"Right. Because sensible asthma management is for other people. Good work, Scott."
Derek frowned faintly. "You know the bite could cure Scott's asthma." He threw it out so casually that Stiles was sure at first that he'd misheard.
"Nnn!" Stiles shook his finger in Derek's face. "I've known you're a werewolf for less than eight hours. Let's not go turning my best friend into one just yet."
"You're right; I'm sorry. That's more of a fifth date conversation," Derek said with a hint of a smile.
Stiles ignored him and looked around. "Well, at least he left the keys... in the door. Which is ridiculous." He squinted at Derek. "We're a package deal, you know."
Derek's lip just barely twitched. "I've noticed. Please go now, before I decide I don't want to let you."
Stiles groaned as he realized he really wouldn't say no to that. "See you tomorrow, boo!" he said, laughing, as he turned the keys with kiss-drunk fingers and basically fell inside the Jeep.
"Leave your notebook at home!" Derek called, already at the front door of the house, the show-off.
Stiles laughed under his breath. "Not a chance," he muttered. He knew Derek could hear him. He wondered if Derek agreed.
Stiles derived particular pleasure from making Alan visibly react to anything, so he worked hard not to give his student much to work with. Still, he couldn't prevent the slight pause in his step when he came out of his office and found Stiles and Derek Hale on the other side of the mountain ash barrier—holding hands. He schooled his features and stepped forward again. "Mr. Stilinski. Mr. Hale. How can I help you gentlemen?"
Stiles' smirk said that Alan's slip hadn't gone unnoticed, but he shrugged and said, "We were in the neighborhood, decided to stop in and see our favorite vet."
Alan saw nothing to be gained from pointing out that neither the Hales nor the Stilinskis had pets, so he held his tongue. A second later, he almost swallowed his tongue as Stiles and Derek pulled their free hands from behind their backs to reveal the nearly identical notebooks they were holding.
"We wanted to thank you again for the notebooks," Derek said, oozing sincerity.
Alan lifted the gate and motioned them forward. "Would you like to come into my office?"
Stiles grinned sharply. "Boy, would we ever."
In the office, Stiles and Derek spun a dramatic but all-too-believable tale of switched notebooks and Peter Hale's menace. The events involved had only taken a day, but between Stiles' dramatics and Derek's quiet dismay, the story had the feeling of an epic saga, the kind they would be retelling for years. Alan resisted the urge to look behind him.
When they was done, Alan sat for a moment, parsing what they'd said, sorting implications and consequences. He folded his hands on the desk and looked at the young men in front of him. "That is quite the tale," he said.
Stiles, predictably, flurried into motion, hands waving and voice spluttering indignantly, no words getting out. Derek looked at Alan steadily and then said, in that quiet tone so much like his father's, "Why?"
Alan raised his eyebrows. "Why what, Mr. Hale?"
Derek just kept looking at him. "You had to know something like this would happen." It wasn't a question.
Alan's magical teacher had once told him that he failed to plan for the unexpected, and once again, Alan had proven her painfully right. In his plan, Derek and Stiles would've seen each other's matching notebooks and started a conversation that would allow them to make a connection. Then, in a few months, when they were friends, they might reveal their secrets to each other. As simple an accident as switching the notebooks had never occurred to Alan, but it had set Derek and Stiles on a different path than he'd envisioned for them.
Alan could've—and perhaps should've—continued to evade. But Derek looked just like his parents at this moment, and Alan had always struggled to say no to Talia and Andrew. "Besides myself, Stiles has no contact with the supernatural world. The isolation is impeding his progress in his magical studies."
Stiles' eyes widened. "You're saying this was all for... a magical play date? You couldn't've, oh, I don't know, introduced us?"
"Confidentiality is of utmost importance, Stiles. I would never have told you the Hales were werewolves. Nor would I have told them that you are a spark."
"But giving us almost identical notebooks so we would 'accidentally' learn each other's secrets seemed okay to you?" Stiles demanded.
Alan kept his mouth shut. He had no intention of ever telling Stiles and Derek how they'd thrown off his plan.
Misinterpreting Alan's silence, Stiles whistled. "I gotta say, Doc, that doesn't jive with your doctrine of neutrality."
"Balance, Stiles, not neutrality," Alan said. "Balance is active. Sometimes we have to nudge the pieces to maintain it."
Stiles' mouth set in a hard line. Derek's jaw clenched. "We're people, not pieces," Derek said tightly.
"I've listened to your lectures on balance," Stiles said, voice as serious as Alan had ever heard it, "and I wonder what kind of balance you're getting if you have to use people to reach it. If I ever find out you've manipulated us again, I'll find someone else to finish my training."
Alan's eyes widened. "You would have a difficult time finding anyone to take you on at this stage of your training." Once a student was in their second year, they typically only switched teachers if their original teacher died or they had to move too far away to reasonably continue. And those transfers required weeks or months of navigating alliances, territories, and lines of succession to avoid ruffling feathers. Alan could think of no reputable teachers, and only a few disreputable ones, who would take on a student who'd intentionally walked away from their old teacher.
"Then I'll train myself," Stiles said with a wicked grin.
Alan repressed a shudder. Stiles would absolutely do that.
"A-and I'll tell my mom she should look for a new emissary," Derek blurted.
Alan was impressed. It must've cost much for a rule-abiding beta and dutiful son like Derek Hale to say that. Still: "You would have equal difficulties finding anyone willing to fill that role if your pack and I parted under a cloud."
"Stiles can do it," Derek shot back.
Self-trained teenage spark Stiles Stilinski as emissary for the Hale pack. Talia wouldn't allow it. Alan was tempted to believe the universe wouldn't allow it.
But someday. After Alan retired. Or if one of Talia and Andrew's children hived and formed a new pack. Once Stiles' training was finished, he would make an excellent emissary for a Hale alpha.
"I understand," Alan said placidly.
Stiles scowled, clearly aware that something complex had happened in Alan's mind. Alan looked steadily back.
No big surprise, Stiles broke first, hauling Derek with him as he jumped to his feet. "Okay, well, we're gonna go. Good talk, Doc. Be seein' ya."
"Mr. Stilinski. Mr. Hale." Alan nodded to them. "One completed spell by our next meeting, Stiles. This conversation does not obviate your homework requirements."
Stiles grumbled and tugged harder at Derek's hand. "Goodbye, Dr. Deaton. Thank you for speaking with us," Derek called as they left Alan's office, polite to the bitter end.
Alan waited until the clinic's front door closed behind the young men before he allowed himself to look at his retirement clock. The pointer had jumped three inches closer to the retirement marker. He waited until he heard Stiles' Jeep rattle out of the parking lot before he allowed himself to smile.