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Strange Duet

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Vogue Magazine
May 2019 issue

The past three years have been a series of shocking, or not so shocking, successes for 2018 Tony award winner and two time Grammy nominee, Stiles Stilinski. You don’t typically find classically trained opera singers singing alternative folk rock to crowds at Coachella. Nor do you find indie singer/songwriters winning best actor awards at the Tony’s for their Broadway debuts. Stilinski has made it his lifetime habit to defy and exceed all expectations.

Raised in the small northern California town of Beacon Hills, originally known for the Hale Music Conservatory (HMC), Stilinski currently spends time traveling between his quaint house in his hometown and apartments in LA and New York. It's a beautiful May day in Beacon Hills, and the town is quiet in the late morning sun with little traffic passing through downtown. A cozy coffee shop sits on the main street, and Stilinski reveals that it’s one of his favorite places in town. “The music is good,” he says, “and the servers know me.”

It's clear that his celebrity is not something that matters much to the locals. He laughs when asked if the people in town ever ask for his autograph. “In this town I'm known more for the trouble I used to cause as a kid than as someone famous. I mean, people know, of course, and they're proud of me, but I'll be the Sheriff's kid first in most people's mind until I'm old and gone.” Stilinski is dressed in his trademark battered jeans, a patterned tee, and a plaid button-down shirt. His hair is a mess as he frequently runs his hands through it. It's obvious this is a place he feels comfortable, and he smiles and nods to just about everyone who comes through the door.

The waitress asks him if he wants his regular, and he blushes a bit but nods. "Once I've found something I like, I tend to stick with it."

This particular mindset seems to have served him well. "I always wanted to be a musician," he says with a small laugh. "Or an actor. My mom used to sing all the time, and I, well--" He pauses for a moment and takes a sip of his coffee. “After she died, I knew that doing this, doing what I do now, would be the best way to honor her memory.”

Stiles had many memories of his mother and of music, but the first one was the most important. He was standing in his crib and the sun was shining in through the window, and his mother was singing and dancing to something. It's hard to remember what song, but she was smiling and he was laughing and she was beautiful.

When Stiles was two years old, his mother taught him rhythm games and how to “play the drums” on pots and pans. She was always singing, and he was always singing along. She taught him songs in Polish and songs in English and even songs in Spanish. He loved it, and he loved her. She started teaching him how to play the piano when he was five. It was hard, but he spent a lot of time picking out the notes just to make her smile.

The first time his mother took him to the Hale Music Conservatory, he was six. The Hale House, as it was called, sat on 200 acres of land in the middle of the Beacon Hills Nature Preserve and consisted of two old brick mansions and a series of smaller houses about a 15 minute drive north of town. On that particular day, the high school students were putting on a kid's version of Into the Woods. Stiles was enthralled by the huge houses in the woods and even more enthralled by the singing and dancing on stage. He had never sat so still or focused so closely for such an extended length of time.

As they were leaving, he said, “I'm going to be an actor when I grow up.”

His mother ruffled his hair and laughed. “I thought you were going to be a musician, little bird.”

He bounced up and down and shook his head at her. “Didn't you see that? They were actors and musicians. At the same time. I'm going to do both, and I'm going to be famous, and I'm going to be Jack in Into the Woods.”

She smiled down at him again with that same fond smile he remembered from his earliest childhood. “You can be anything that you want to be. I know it.” That wasn't the first time she said it to him, and it wouldn’t be the last. When she died two years later, he knew what to do to make her proud. He would be exactly what he dreamed to be and settle for nothing less.

Stilinski enrolled at the famous Hale Music Conservatory at age 12. Yet, even before enrolling, his passion for music and the arts was apparent to the teachers at the school as he could often be found at their plays and performances. "The older students thought of me as a tiny mascot, I think. I was always there any time it was possible to be there."

When he wasn’t attending to lessons or performances, Stilinski could be found wandering the woods near campus with his best friend, Scott McCall, who is now drummer for alternative band Silver and the Wolf. The friendship between McCall and Stilinski has been closely documented as both have strong fan followings online. "We grew up together. He's more like my brother than a best friend. Even when he's out touring or I'm doing a show, we talk every day."

The first day of classes was similar to his days in public school and yet entirely different. The biggest change was that his class only had six students and that he only knew two of them. Scott and Cora grew up in Beacon Hills with him, but the other students were from out of town. Stiles and Scott shared a room next door to Jackson, who was from LA,and Danny, who came all the way from Hawaii. The other new student was a girl from San Francisco named Lydia, who was the most beautiful girl in the world.

Stiles had dreamed of going to school at the Hale House for so long he could hardly contain his excitement to pay attention to his teachers. The third class of the day was PE with Coach Finstock, who had often chased Scott and Stiles off the field during his lacrosse practices.

When Scott and Stiles walked into the gym that morning, Coach glared at them. “McCall and Stilinski. Here to join us at last. If you set one foot on my lacrosse field before high school, I will fail you both.” He turned to look at the rest of the class. “My name is Coach Finstock. You can call me Coach Finstock or Coach. If I hear one Mr. Finstock from any of you, there will be push ups and laps ready and waiting. Are there any questions?”

Stiles raised his hand but did not wait for Coach to acknowledge him. “Will you tell us the story of the Hale House Ghost?”

Stiles and Scott had first heard rumors from the older students that Hale House was haunted when they were nine years old. The story went that Coach had actually seen the ghost several years ago, but the students had refused to tell them the full story because they were “too young.” Asking Coach was the only way he would be able to hear the truth.

Coach spun to face him, glare intensifying. “Stilinski! This is not the time for ghost stories! Now everyone line up.”

Lydia raised her hand, giving Stiles a small smile that made his heart speed up just the slightest bit. “The Hale House is haunted? By what?”

Coach sighed and gave Stiles a look that seemed to say, “Now look what you’ve done.” Instead he said, “This is PE, not history class.”

Lydia piped up again. “But, Coach, isn’t it important to be prepared? If there’s a ghost, I really think we should all know about it now rather than when it is too late. What if it shows up tonight and I don’t know about it? What would happen to me then? Do you think it’s an actual ghost or could it be a poltergeist or maybe-” Coach seemed more and more flustered the longer Lydia spoke.

Stiles looked at Lydia with awe. Not only was she the most beautiful girl in the word, she might also be the smartest.

“Martin, Stilinski. That’s enough talk of that. I won’t tell you about the ghost. Not today. Not ever.” Coach turned and walked toward the bin of basketballs just as the entire class began to speak at once. There were only six students in the middle school age group, but the gym echoed with their voices.

“Do you think there actually is...?”

“Who really believes in ghosts? Come on.”

“No, it’s real. My brother goes here, and he told me that his roommate’s sister-”

“Do you think someone-”

“No way! She just said that to scare-”

“Be quiet!” Coach shouted, and all six students stopped talking and looked at him. “If I tell you this story, do you all promise to never mention it again in my presence and to do as I say for the rest of the class?”

The students exchanged glances and then said in relative unison. “Yes, Coach.”

Coach sighed again, hand massaging his forehead. “Fine. Everybody sit down and let’s get this over with.”

Stiles bounced a bit as he sat, elbowing Scott in the side with a conspiratorial wink. Scott elbowed him back with a grin.

Coach sat down on his chair, elbows on his knees and chin resting in his hands, meeting each expectant gaze in turn without saying a word. Stiles had never seen Coach look so somber, and it made the excitement that much more intense.

“There is a ghost that haunts the halls of Hale House. A few people have seen him over the years but many more have heard him. The ghost appears as a man, sometimes young, sometimes older, and always with his face covered by a mask. He has never spoken to anyone and the only sound he ever makes is when he plays his haunted piano. The music he plays is the most beautiful you will ever hear. Some people think it must be magic because it can never be played by anyone else. If you’re ever wandering around campus alone and realize you feel sad, listen closely, because the ghost may be playing his song nearby.”

The students were all silent and still, eyes wide. “I have seen the ghost. Many years ago, when I was a brand new teacher, I came across a strange man in the hall way. I spoke, and he turned to face me before disappearing.

"The ghost is incredibly thin; his black coat hangs loosely on his bony body. His eyes stare straight ahead without moving, and they’re so deep set you can hardly see them. All you really see is two dark holes, like the ones in a skull. His skin is tight-”

Two seats over, Lydia snorted and Coach stopped. “That last part is from Phantom of the Opera. You’re making this up.”

Stiles deflated in disappointment. Maybe being the smartest girl in the world wasn’t such a good thing after all.

Coach stood up. “You bet your butts I am. No one has ever seen the ghost at Hale House and no one ever will. He doesn’t want to be seen.”

Stiles’ brain took a second to realize exactly what Coach had just said. Maybe there was a ghost after all. He looked at Scott, who was already looking at him with a matching expression of glee.

They were going to a school with a ghost and a haunted piano. This was the best school ever.

“I’m not a prodigy. I’m not a genius. There were musical prodigies at school with me and people who could play instruments better and sing better and act better. Lydia Martin could hear a song once and sing it back or play it back from memory and tell you what key it was in. Jackson Whittemore is still one of the most talented tenors the Opera will ever have the pleasure to hear. That kind of talent can be a bit daunting for a Sheriff’s kid with no connections.”

When Stiles was 14, he found a hidden door in the floor of the library. The library itself looked like something out of a fairy tale with tall shelves and two levels and a winding staircase. There were a dozen small alcoves where students could gather to work on projects or have a study group. Stiles spent a lot of time in the library with Scott at least in part because Jackson rarely came there.

Stiles found the door mostly by accident. Scott was in the nurse's office after an asthma attack brought on by some flowers Lydia's mother had mailed her for her birthday. Stiles had given her a book called Mathematics and Music just moments before Scott had stopped being able to breathe, which had earned him a smile and thank you from Lydia and the promise of retribution from Jackson who had only gotten her a charm bracelet.

The library was as good a place as any to hide from Jackson, at least until dinner time. Jackson's anger flared hot but Danny could usually distract him given enough time. Stiles didn't want to be found easily, so he made his way to the far back of the library, out of sight of the librarian and all of the alcoves and sat down with his back to the shelves and a good view of the surrounding area in case someone tried to sneak up on him. That was unlikely, but it didn't hurt to be prepared.

He had just settled in with some Assassin's Creed on his PSP when he heard the music. At first, he thought maybe he’d forgotten to silence the game, but the melody was all wrong. When he checked the settings, he unselected the mute option and heard the theme song coming through the tiny speakers. He selected mute again, and still the strange music played.

He tilted his head from side to side. The music wasn’t coming from the game. It was coming from beneath him. Except, that was impossible. The library didn't have a basement. His ears had to be playing tricks on him. He plugged one ear, and then the other, but the music continued to sound from below.

Unanswered questions were unacceptable.

He turned off his PSP and put his ear to the floor. Looking like an idiot wasn't something that concerned Stiles, so he crawled across the floor, searching out the source of the music. There weren't many people in the library, so no one questioned him as he crawled along the back shelves. In the farthest alcove, under the table, his hand thudded on something hollow. The music was the faintest bit louder. Stiles knocked again.

Definitely hollow.

He felt along the floor, for what, he couldn’t have said. His hand hit something at the edge of the table leg. There was a soft click and the carpet shifted. Stiles jumped and hit his head on the bottom of the table. What the hell?

The music became louder.

Stiles scooted back a few feet and then pulled on the carpet. A wooden trap door came up with it, revealing a dark hole and the top of a wooden staircase. He looked around the library. The alcove was well hidden from everything else behind the tall shelves. He hadn't been thinking of the stories about the school being haunted until just that moment. He really wished he hadn't thought of it then, either.

"Okay, Stiles, do you go down the creepy ladder without telling anyone or do you close this door and wait until Scott is out of the nurse?"

Stiles considered this for a second but realized he was already sliding down the ladder. Scott might not be out for hours, and there was no possible way he could wait that long. The ladder creaked a bit under his weight but seemed sturdy enough. It was only about 15 steps to the bottom. Stiles didn't close the door above him in case he needed to make a quick escape.

The music was definitely louder here. And it was dark, except for the light coming in from the library. Stiles flipped open his cellphone for a bit of extra light.

He stood in a tunnel of some sort. No bugs or cobwebs or any sign of neglect marred the tunnel. Someone cleaned this place and well.

So much for the Hale House Ghost. Ghosts didn’t clean up after themselves.

He walked down the tunnel, phone held out in front of him, filling the space with more shadows than light. No sound came from above, just the plaintive echo of a piano. The music seemed to fill his mind with a multitude of emotions, a sense of loss, a beauty so intense Stiles' eyes filled with tears. He'd never heard a piano sing and wondered if, maybe, this was some kind of spirit after all.

His sense of awe was cut short as he tripped over a wire pulled taut across the hall. He fell. His phone flew out of his hand and slid across the floor. The light went out as it flipped closed.

Chimes sounded farther down the tunnel, and the music stopped.

Stiles' heart raced as he felt around for his phone. He couldn’t find it. The hall was darker than he'd realized. No residual light left from the library door. No light up ahead. It was just him and the dark, and he couldn't find his phone.

He moved his hands from side to side until he felt another wire stretched across the hall about six inches from the ground. It was a trip wire. A fucking trip wire in a secret tunnel under the school.

He was just about to give up on his phone and run back to the ladder when he heard a voice from the darkness sternly commanding. "Get out."

Stiles couldn't see anything, but the voice was male. "I'm sorry. I found the door-"

"Get out!"

Stiles scrambled back until he hit the first trip wire again.

"Get out! Get out!" The shouting rang out in time with the chimes.

Stiles ran back down the tunnel, heart and feet pounding. When he came back to the library, it was still empty. With shaking hands, he slammed the door shut. It sealed with a click. He spared only a moment’s thought for his missing phone as he ran from the library.

When he made his way back to the dormitory, there was a note from his RA letting him know that Scott's attack had been worse than they'd thought and that he'd be spending the night in the hospital. Stiles cursed and looked around his empty dorm, hoping to find something to distract himself from what had just happened.

Who was that? Why was there a secret tunnel? Who would put a trap door in a school? Was it really haunted? Was that even possible? Who was that? Who was that?

Stiles pulled out his laptop and opened up Google. He stared at the blank search box and wondered how he was even supposed to find something like this on the Internet. He Googled the school and found nothing interesting. Adding haunted to the end of his search revealed only news articles talking about Halloween events or plays they'd performed.

This was useless. Maybe he could ask Cora at dinner.

Cora, of course, wasn't at dinner because that would be helpful, and he wasn't having a lucky sort of day. Jackson, however, was at dinner which earned him an "accidentally" spilled soda and sullen glare.

Stiles stormed back to his room with wet pants and no answers. Throwing himself down on his bed, he reached over to his desk and grabbed his phone for a distraction.

His phone.

His phone, which should have still been on the floor under the library. It was just sitting there on his desk as if nothing had happened to it at all.

"What the fuck is going on?"

Stiles stared at the phone for several long minutes as if it would give him the answers. No luck there either.

Stilinski’s first album, Trials in the Dark, a beautiful but eerie indie folk rock album, was released in late 2014 and earned him a small but vocal fanbase. The album particularly appealed to those who had experienced loss. “It deals with each stage of grief in some way,” he explained. The most popular song from the album “Deny Me” made it to mainstream radio nationwide and was featured on several TV shows. The album was a moderate success but Stilinski was dropped from the label anyway because his sound was “too unusual.”

The second album, Discovery, was released almost two years later in the fall of 2016, due in large part to the advance release of the #1 hit song “Dancers”. The song appealed to the alternative rock and pop crowds alike and soared to the top of both charts. Discovery was written in response to Stilinski’s own sadness over his difficulties with his first record label. “It’s about overcoming difficulties. I needed something powerful to talk about, to show the world that I was never giving up. I’m stubborn, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Stiles was going back to the tunnel.

When he woke up the next morning, there were more questions than answers. Unanswered questions were unacceptable.

Before leaving for the library, Stiles grabbed his phone, his flashlight, and a miniature can of mace attached to a key chain that he had stolen from the police station.

Stiles had gone to the library no less than a hundred times in the past two years, but this time the walk felt strange. The door to his dorm room was the same one he’d walked through last night. The trees were all the same along the path. The librarian offered the same smile she offered him every day. The shelves were all in the same places. But Stiles knew a secret, and it made the whole world different.

There was no one in the back corner of the library again, so he crawled under the table and felt along the back leg for whatever had opened the door last time. He felt the button this time and pushed on it, prepared enough not to jump and hit his head.

The room was still dark beneath the ladder. No music played.

Stiles turned on the flashlight before climbing down the ladder, shining it in to the dark space. He climbed down slower today, pausing every few steps to illuminate the room in case the strange man arrived while he wasn’t looking.

The room was still empty when he got to the bottom. The flashlight revealed three sets of trip wires before the tunnel turned a corner. Stiles walked to the first set of trip wires and braced himself.

He kicked the first trip wire and heard the familiar sound of chimes. Stiles kept the flashlight on but not pointed directly at the corner, key chain mace at the ready.

No one came.

Stiles walked farther down the path and kicked the second trip wire, really hoping this one didn’t trigger a hidden axe in the ceiling or a trap door into a pit of stakes. Instead, he heard a slightly different set of chimes echoing from around the corner.

He was about to kick the third wire when he heard something coming down the hall. Stiles backed himself up against the wall and held the mace in his right hand with the flashlight in his left.

“Get out,” the voice said.

“No. I need to know why you brought my phone back.”

“Get out.” The man spoke louder, but he did not come around the corner.

“No. Why did you bring my phone back? How did you even get in my room?” That last question had not occurred to him until just now, and he felt a bit sick thinking about the fact that this man could have been in his room last night at any time.

“Go away.” Aha, he could say something other than get out!

”Who are you?”

The man hid in the shadows, just out of reach of Stiles’ flashlight, and said nothing.

“Seriously, who are you? I’m not leaving until you answer my questions. I’m very stubborn.”

No answer came. But the sound of departing footsteps was answer enough. He couldn’t lose the man or he’d never get any answers.

Stiles jumped away from the wall, racing after the man. He remembered the trip wire the instant before he felt it caught the top of his foot.

Pain shot up his left wrist when he hit the ground. A breathless cry escaped him. The mace rolled around the corner and the flashlight spun for a moment before settling, light pointing back toward the ladder.

There weren’t any footsteps. Maybe the man had stopped when he fell. Or maybe he’d been smart and just kept going.

Stiles scooted into a sitting position with his back to the wall, cradling his left wrist in his right hand. “Please don’t leave. I need to know who you are.”

A sigh echoed down the corridor. “You don’t know what you need. Curiosity is a desire, not a necessity.”

Still no answers to his questions but this was definitely progress. “Without curiosity, we’d still be living in caves. Curiosity is the mother of all invention, you know?”

“Necessity is the mother of invention, not curiosity. If you’re going to use cliches, at least use them correctly.”

“You know another cliche that might be relevant? Adding insult to injury.” Stiles held up his injured wrist and turned it a bit. He winced when it twinged with pain.

“Are you asking me to insult you or somehow implying I’m to blame for that? You knew the wire was there. You kicked it on purpose.” The man stepped closer, and it was just bright enough that Stiles could see his outline in the darkness of the tunnel. Progress indeed. Maybe he would get some answers after all.

“Well, who puts trip wires in a tunnel under a school?”

“Someone who obviously does not want to be bothered. A rather large detail which seems to have escaped you.”

Stiles shrugged. He would never apologize for his curiosity. “I don’t like unanswered questions.”

“Well, get used to disappointment.”

Stiles gaped at the man. “Did you… did you just quote The Princess Bride at me?”

The man bowed with a dramatic flair as he stepped into the dim light. The top half of his face was covered in a simple black mask. “It seemed appropriate somehow.”

Stiles was speechless for a moment and then began to laugh.

The man in the mask took a step backward, face twisted in a scowl. Stiles stopped laughing. “Wait, I’m not laughing at the mask. I’m sure you have an excellent reason for that. I’m laughing at the situation. Only I could find myself in a secret tunnel under my school talking to a man in a mask. This is so like me.”

The scowl had almost disappeared. “Do you often find yourself in hidden tunnels with strange men?”

“All the time actually.”

“Might I suggest you find a new hobby then? Like skydiving? It’s bound to be less dangerous.”

“You did just see me trip over a wire I knew was there, right? I’m not sure skydiving would be a wise pastime. I’ll just stick to secret tunnels and-” Stiles broke off mid-sentence when he felt a familiar buzz from his pocket just seconds before the Zelda theme filled the narrow space. He cursed and fumbled in his pocket, trying to get his phone out and stop the noise.

It was Scott. Casual. Be casual. There’s nothing weird going on. “Hey, man. Feeling better?”

“Yeah, I’m in the dorm. Where are you?”

Shit. Shit. Where was he? “Definitely not in the library.”

Stiles ran his hand through his hair and winced, remembering too late that he’d just injured it. The man in black smirked. That did not help.

Scott was still talking. “Why are you lying about being in the library? You’re always in the library. It’s not like you could possibly lose any more cool points with me.”

“Yes, thank you. That makes me feel so much better.”

“I’ll be there in five.” Scott hung up without saying bye.

“I can tell you’re a very proficient liar,” the man said.

“Shut up. He caught me off guard.”

“Well, if you could possibly do a better job and not inform your friend of my presence, I would be most grateful.”

“You’re not doing anything illegal down here, are you?”

“If I was, would I tell you about it?” The man in black smirked again.

“Good point. If I come back, will you answer some of my questions?”

The man paused before answering. “If you successfully keep my secret for two weeks, I will answer your questions. I’ll know if you don’t, and you will get no more answers from me.” The man in black stepped back in to the shadows.

“Two weeks. Got it. I’ll keep your secret and be back in two weeks for some answers.” Stiles started to leave but turned back. “I don’t even know your name.”

“Two weeks. Now get out. You only have two minutes. Watch out for the wires this time.”

Despite having been a presence at the school for years, Stilinski revealed that he was never a teacher’s pet, probably spending more time in the principal's office than the classroom his first few years at HMC. “It’s not that I wasn’t smart enough or couldn’t do the work. It’s just that I had severe ADHD and couldn’t focus on anything that didn’t interest me, and it was never easy to know what would interest me on any given day. I never sat still and rarely shut up and had difficulty with impulse control, all those things you expect from teenage boys with ADHD. I’m probably still infamous for turning in an economics paper on the history of circumcision.”

Stiles needed a distraction. It was only one more day until he could go see the man in black again and his patience was wearing thin. He didn't sleep much the night before because his mind wouldn't turn off, running through the list of questions he wanted answered.

By the time Stiles had made it back to the library, the adrenaline was starting to wear off, and his wrist was really hurting. It was sprained. Scott just assumed Stiles' distraction was from embarrassment about spraining his wrist in the library or hatred of the fact that the brace made practicing his music difficult.

Now, the brace was off, the pain in his wrist almost entirely gone, and he had only one more day. One long boring school day and then he could go and ask all the questions that wouldn't quit running through his head. His Adderall wasn't helping him focus at all.

After Stiles jumped in his seat for the fourth time during lunch alone, Scott shook his head with a sigh. "Dude, how much Adderall have you had today?"

"A lot, but it isn’t doing anything."

Scott gave him an odd look. "Oh, it's doing something."

Stiles sighed. "Just ready for the weekend. Two more classes."

“No more Adderall, okay? We have band practice after school and chair tryouts are tomorrow."

Science class was a disaster. Mr. Harris didn't like Stiles when he was on his best behavior. This was not his best behavior.

Stiles fell of his lab stool three minutes into class, trying to get his book out of his bag. Warning one.

Stiles tapped his pencil on the lab tables during lecture. Warning two.

Stiles whispered to Scott during work time. Warning three.

The walk to the office was depressingly familiar. He didn’t hurry.

Mrs. Hale opened the door and beckoned Stiles inside. She didn’t say anything but pointed at the chair in front of her desk. What was the deal with that? Did people assume silence would make him more worried?

Mrs. Hale sat down at her desk and crossed her hands in front of her. “6th period. Mr. Harris. It’s sad that I have your class schedule memorized. The only teacher who hasn’t sent you to see me is Mrs. Taylor.” Mrs. Taylor taught choir and had a soft spot for him because she’d been friends with his mom.

Stiles nodded, maintaining his solemn expression. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Hale.”

The principal looked skeptical. “Sorry you got in trouble, maybe, but not sorry enough to behave.” She paused, looking down at her hands, before looking back up to meet his eye. “Can I be honest with you for a moment?”

Stiles was taken aback but nodded again.

“I’m worried about you. You’re incredibly talented and have been since you were a little boy. I want you to be able to stay here and study music to your heart’s content.”

His heart stopped. Color drained from his face. Tears sprang to his eyes. “Are you kicking me out?” His voice broke at the end of the question.

“Oh, honey, no. We’re not kicking you out. I’m just worried. You seem aimless. You can play instruments. You can sing. Your grades are decent, but you have no focus. I sometimes wonder if this school is too lenient for you. Maybe you need some place with more structure. Music is important. Of course it is, and I know what it means for you.”

His heart thumped again, but now it was beating too fast. “I don’t want to go anywhere else. I’ve never wanted to go anywhere else.”

“I know that. Find some way to channel all that energy. Make it an entire week without ending up in my office. Show me that you’re mature enough to stay here. Can you do that?”

His hands shook and the room started to get a little blurry, but he nodded. “I can do it.”

There was always music in the Stilinski house as he was growing up. “My mom started teaching me to the play the drums when I was a toddler and the piano when my fingers were big enough to reach the keys. Playing music was a good way to distract me, so she could actually get something done around the house.” Stilinski laughs at the memory. These early lessons served him well. On his last album alone, Stilinski played the piano, guitar, drums, and sang all the vocals.

“Can you teach me to play the piano?” Dozens of questions dancing through his mind but this one was important. Mrs. Hale told him to find some focus. Maybe this was it.

The man in black raised an eyebrow. It was just visible above the black mask he’d been wearing when Stiles saw him two weeks ago. “You don’t know how to play the piano?”

Stiles shook his head. “No. I mean, I do know how to play the piano, but that’s not what I meant. Can you teach me to play the piano like you play the piano?”

“And how do I play the piano?”

“You make it sing.”

The man in black steepled his fingers together. “Ah. It’s not easy to learn to play like that. Most people can never learn.”

“Well, I’m not most people.”

The man laughed, a quiet sound that ended too fast. “Now, that, I have certainly found to be true. Follow me.” He turned the corner and disappeared without waiting to see if Stiles would follow.

The tunnels continued around several corners with doors leading off into other unknown rooms. The tunnel split and the man went right. Stiles followed, amazed that such a place existed. It was as clean here as it had been in the entrance.

“What is this place?”

The man continued walking but answered as he spoke. “The family who built this house originally built these tunnels as private gold mines and then when the gold ran out, they turned it in to a secret storage area for valuables or wine. In the 1920s, it was used as a place to make and sell moonshine. Now, this is my home.”

He stopped at a door that looked like all the others and pulled out a key. When he unlocked and opened the door, he beckoned Stiles in ahead of him.

Stiles hesitated for the first time all morning. “You’re not going to murder me down here, are you?”

“And again I say, if I was, would I tell you about it?”

“I don’t know. You might. Some people—” Stiles quit speaking as he saw what was in the room.

The rooms themselves were decorated like an elegant modern apartment, except there were no windows. The floors were made of white marble, and the walls were painted white. Modern art covered the walls with splashes of color. In the center of the room, there was a red sofa with fluffy black and white pillows and a small coffee table. One wall was covered by a built-in bookcase that was filled with books. And in the back of the room was the most beautiful piano Stiles had ever seen.

Stiles stammered a moment, multiple questions trying to force their way out of his mouth all at once. “How did you get all this stuff?”

“I bought it, of course.”

“But this is under the school. There’s electricity. Are you even supposed to be here? Who are you?”

The man bowed at him, playing dramatic once more. “Please allow me to introduce myself. I am a man of wealth and taste. I’ve been around for a long, long year—”

“No, stop quote the Rolling Stones at me. Who are you?”

“Do you want to know who I am or do you want to know how to play the piano?”

Stiles opened his mouth to answer and then closed it without speaking. He could know the answer to a question that had bugged him for weeks. He could sate his curiosity. Or he could learn to make the piano sing. He could make listeners laugh or cry or rage with only the notes on the page and the keys under his hands. He could learn to be the musician he’d always wanted to be.

It was an easy choice. “Teach me to play. I still want to know, but music is more important.”

The man in black nodded toward him as if he had expected nothing less. “I will make you a deal. For every time that you come to see me and work hard, I will answer one question honestly. If you ask me something I don't wish to answer, I will tell you so and allow you another question.”

Stiles started to interrupt to ask his first question but the man held up one hand to stop him. “The only questions that are off limits are about why I wear this mask and about why I live down here. Do we have a deal?”

This was one of the best days of Stiles’ life. A secret deal in a secret tunnel with a secret man in a mask. There was nothing cooler. “It’s a deal.”

The man in black walked to the piano. “Come here then, and I will teach you your first piano lesson. And because I’m not sure you will ever shut up about it if I don’t just tell you, I will answer your most basic question. My name is Peter Hale.”

“Creating music is more than just putting notes on a page. Anyone can play an instrument. Anyone can learn to sing. Creation, though, creation is about passion.”

Spring of ninth grade changed Stiles’ life in more ways than one.The previous fall, Stiles met with Peter as often as possible, but Scott made the meetings difficult. Before Peter, Stiles had no friends but Scott, and Scott had no friends but Stiles. They were brothers and brothers didn’t keep secrets from each other. But Stiles had a secret. He had no way to explain where he was going and why he needed to be alone, so he didn’t explain. Stiles only saw Peter when Scott was busy with sectionals or in the nurse’s office with another asthma attack.

But Spring changed that.

That Spring, Allison Argent enrolled at Hale Music Conservatory.

Scott thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. Scott thought she was the most talented guitar player. Scott thought she had the best hair and the best eyes and the best smile. Scott got his first kiss.

Stiles was definitely not jealous. Why would he be jealous?

So what if Scott got his first kiss and all Stiles got was piano lessons? That didn’t mean anything. The piano was important. Music was more important than girls anyway.

So what if Scott got invited to hang out with Lydia and Jackson and Danny, and Stiles only got to hang out by association? Stiles was going to the most talented piano player in the world after all. High school cliques didn’t mean anything.

A loud noise behind his right ear made Stiles jump.

Spinning around, Stiles saw Peter standing behind him, face set in an angry frown. “You weren’t even listening. Not to me and not to the music. Why are you so distracted today? What could possibly be more important?’

Stiles flushed. “Nothing.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Ah, yes, the ubiquitous nothing. The thing that’s wrong with teenagers everywhere. Either tell me what’s wrong with you today or get out and come back when you’re willing to work.”

Stiles huffed and crossed his arms. “It’s stupid.”

Peter made a “go on” gesture with his hand and took a seat in his armchair across from Stiles.

“Scott has a girlfriend.”

“Yes, you’ve told me about the Amazing Allison. Are you jealous?”

Stiles grabbed a pillow and wrapped his arms around it, tucking his knees up on to the couch. “Not jealous jealous. I don’t want to date Allison. I certainly don’t want to date Scott, but Scott’s kind of popular now. He gets to hang out with Lydia and Jackson and go on dates and get kissed, and I’m just tagging along. I mean, I’m awesome, but suddenly, Scott gets this girlfriend, and he gets to be cool.”

Peter said nothing for a long moment, and Stiles looked up at him. Peter was looking away from him, face drawn tight and hands clenched in his lap. “You’re not going to want to hear this. No teenager ever does. High school relationships don’t last. They don’t have substance. They don’t have depth. They don’t understand loyalty.” Peter’s voice was harsh on the last word and his fists clenched tighter in his lap.

Stiles had seen Peter irritated before. He’d seen him happy and manic and boasting. He’d even seen him appear almost sad. But this was something new. This was a mix of grief and rage and hurt and obviously had nothing to do with Stiles or his current situation. This was an old hurt.

Stiles let go of the pillow and reached out to Peter. “Are you okay?”

Peter shied away before Stiles could touch him. He unclenched his fists and looked back to Stiles with a small, sad smile on his face. “In times like these, remember to take a deep breath and know that this, too, shall pass.”

Peter paused for a moment. “The important lesson for you to take from this is that emotions can be the greatest asset for a musician or the greatest hindrance. Today your emotions were a hindrance. You let them distract you from the music rather than using them to make your music better.”

He should use his emotions to make the music better. Take all the jealousy and envy and frustration and channel it in to the piano. Stiles tried to visual it. He tried to imagine his hands on the keys, pounding out his feelings into the ivory.

It didn’t work.

All he could imagine was Scott laughing at something Lydia said or Scott kissing Allison between classes or Scott closing the door on his way to another date.

Stiles shook his head, trying to dispel the images and the jealousy. “I don’t know how to do that. How am I supposed to do that?”

Peter stood up and walked to the piano. “Sit still and listen. Actually listen this time.”

Peter began to play, hands bouncing over the keys. Stiles listened. He didn’t understand what Peter was trying to show him. Yes, the song was fast, but it wasn’t helping. His frustration began to build.

After Peter had played for a couple of minutes, Stiles said, “I don’t get it. What am I supposed to do?”

Peter stopped. “Were you listening?”

“Yes, that’s Beethoven, right?”

Peter sighed. “Yes, it’s Beethoven, but I don’t care if you know the composer. I care if you were listening.”

“I was listening!” He slammed his hand down on the top of the table.

Peter glared at him through the mask, and Stiles felt his face turn red. Peter’s voice was calm as he spoke. “Take a deep breath, Stiles. Sit still and listen to me for a moment.”

Stiles took several deep breaths, hands clenched in his lap.

Peter was still seated and watching him, face neutral. "Are you feeling calmer now?"

Stiles nodded, and Peter continued. "Give me a moment, and I'll explain how to take that anger and play through it. How to use music to express frustration or sadness or joy.

“When I write music or play music, sometimes it is just an experiment with notes or rhythms or patterns of sound. Sometimes it is just technical. You’re good at technical. Most of the time, though, when I write, I am expressing an emotion or telling a story through the music. That piece I just played was ‘Rage Over a Lost Penny’, which is an expression of frustration. Could you hear the frustration in the music?”

“I think so," Stiles said.

“I know you’ve felt sad listening to music or felt happy, but I need you to really listen to the music this time. I need you to do more than listen. I need you to feel it. Let all your logic and intelligence and technical know-how go away and leave only emotion behind.” Peter disappeared into a side room where Stiles had never been and returned a moment later with a black scarf in his hands.

“Umm… what the hell is that for?”

“I want you to listen and not be distracted by anything else that’s going on in the room. I’m going to tie this around your eyes.”

Stiles hesitated. “Is that really necessary?”

Peter shook his head. “No, it’s not, but I think it will help center you a little to only have your ears to worry about.”

That made sense. It wasn’t like he couldn’t take it off if he needed to after all.

“Okay. I’ll try it.”

Peter smiled, one of his rare genuine smiles. “I’m going to play, and you’re going to listen and feel. I’m going to play a song you’ve probably played hundreds of times and heard even more. Don’t think about the technical aspects of the song. Just let yourself feel.”

Stiles shivered a little as the scarf wrapped around his face. The world went dark. There was a slight tugging sensation as Peter knotted it behind his head. “Is this okay? Not too tight?”

Stiles nodded and heard Peter walk away.

“I’m going to play now. Focus on what emotion the song is trying to convey. When I ask, tell me the first emotion that pops into your mind.”

His heart skipped a beat as Peter began to play. The song was Chopin’s “Nocturne Op. 72, No 1 in E Minor.”

Peter was right that he knew all about the song.

But Peter was wrong in one very important way. This was not a song he’d played hundreds of times. Just the opposite. This was a song he had never played at all and never wanted to hear again.

And in that moment, Stiles was no longer in the room with Peter. He was sitting at the top of the stairs in his home. He was seven years old again, and his mother was playing this very song. Her body was moving in time to the music, eyes closed, tears on her cheeks.

He wanted to go to her. He wanted to comfort her. But he was supposed to be cleaning his room or watching a movie, supposed to be busy with something else. After the nightmares and the panic attacks and the long stay in the hospital, Mom didn’t play sad music anymore. Mom only played happy music when she knew Stiles was listening. She didn’t want him to be sad. She didn’t want him to think about trips to the doctor’s office or more bad news or Dad crying at the kitchen table.

Mom only played sad music when she thought he wasn’t listening. This song was a secret song for her, something she played when she thought she was alone.

This music hurt. This music was sad. It made Mom cry. Seven year old Stiles cried with her.

Fifteen year old Stiles cried, too.

Stiles ripped the blindfold off and opened his eyes, looking at a blurry Peter and feeling reality settle back in to place. He was not seven and watching his mother mourn for her own death. He was with Peter. He was fifteen and with Peter and learning how to master the piano.

“Stop,” he said. Peter couldn’t hear him. He spoke louder. “Stop playing.” His heart was pounding too hard in his chest, a counterpoint to the music.

Peter looked up at him, clearly confused. He stopped playing.

When the music stopped, Stiles felt like he could breathe again. It wasn’t enough. Breathing should have been good. The music was gone, but Stiles felt his heart continue to beat too fast and the breaths were coming too hard and too deep. A panic attack. Tears continued to fall down his cheeks.

“Stiles?” Peter was right in front of him now. When had that happened?

Peter reached out as if to touch him but pulled his hands back at the last second. “Stiles, I need you to look at me. I need you to match your breathing to mine. Can you do that?”

Stiles looked at Peter, watched his chest rise and fall at a normal rate. He tried to mimic that movement, but his breathing was too fast. “Stiles, I need you to count out loud and with me. One. Two. Three.”

Stiles counted with Peter. It was a slow count at first with long pauses for Stiles to sob and shake, but they kept going.

By the time they’d reached 85, he was no longer hyperventilating. By the time they reached 150, the tears had stopped. When they reached 200, he stopped and took one last deep breath. “I think I’m okay now.”

Peter nodded and moved back to give him some space. “What happened? You seemed fine at first.”

“Panic attack. I used to get them after my mom died.” Tears sprang into his eyes again. He hadn’t cried over his mom like this in years. “The song. She used to play that song when-”

“You don’t have to explain. I understand.” Peter’s voice was soft.

Stiles looked at Peter and saw his own sadness mirrored back at him. And he knew then that Peter did understand. Maybe he understood too well.

It’s common to hear in the music industry of someone being a triple threat, meaning they can act, sing, and dance. Stilinski is a quintuple threat, which is practically unheard of. Not only can he act, sing, and dance, but he also plays multiple instruments and writes his own music. This diversity has suited him well on the stage and caught the attention of laymen and critics alike.

It was Friday afternoon after midterms, and Stiles was bored.

Scott had a last minute band rehearsal for the Christmas concert and that meant Stiles had an entire afternoon to spend time with Peter.

Peter was not in a good mood. He’d greeted Stiles with a curt hello and set him to work gathering information on French composers. Stiles was bored. And he had a terrible song stuck in his head. He needed to be doing something other than reading about dead French guys.

Stiles tapped his pencil on the table, bouncing in his seat, and started to sing. If he had to suffer, at least he could make Peter suffer with him. “‘Friday, Friday! Gotta get down on Friday. Everybody’s gettin’ ready for the weekend’.”

Peter slammed his book closed. “What are you singing?”

Stiles looked up from his own books. “It’s this terrible song that’s all over the Internet right now.”

“If you’re going to sing, at least sing something good.”

“Like what?”

“Anything but drivel heard on the internet.”

“Teach me?”

Peter sighed. “If I must—”

Stiles jumped out of his chair. “Please. I’m so bored. I need to be doing something.”

“Lord save me from a bored Stiles Stilinski. Come along then. I have something you’ll enjoy.”

Peter walked to the piano and grabbed a book of sheet music, handing it to Stiles. “Have you listened to this yet?”

Stiles gaped at Peter. “The Book of Mormon? Have I listened to it? Have I listened to it? It just won nine Tony awards. Yes, I’ve listened to it.”

Stiles pet the cover of the book and began flipping through it, humming pieces of the songs he passed.

Taking the book back and closing it, Peter said, “What do you think about ‘I Believe’ as your solo piece for the competition next semester?”

Stiles whooped, jumping up with his arms in the air. “Hell, yes, let’s do that.”

Peter shook his head and sighed.

Peter Hale, of the famous Hale family, disappeared off all records not long after his seventeenth birthday in 1994. There is no record of taxes paid or jobs held or even a known address, until he appeared again on the music scene in 2014 alongside the now very well known Stiles Stilinski, who attended the HMC from 2006-2013. There are many rumors involving Hale's disappearance but neither actor will confirm or deny any of them. Talia Hale, who runs the HMC, had no comment.

Every March, the Hale House held a vocal competition. And every March, Jackson Whittemore won.

While Stiles had improved each year, rising from fifth place as a freshman to third as a sophomore, junior year looked to have the same outcome as every year before it. Stiles might be most improved, but he wasn’t Jackson.

When Greenberg placed third, Stiles started to stand, expecting to hear his name called next.

“And the runner up is Jackson Whittemore.”

Both boys froze, Stiles half way out of his chair. Jackson stared at Stiles for several seconds without moving before the realization dawned that he had gotten second place. The look of horror on Jackson’s face in that moment was one that Stiles would cherish for many years to come.

Jackson walked to the stage to grab his award, jaw clenched and face flushed red in anger and embarrassment. Stiles didn’t bother to sit back down, still frozen in shock. He won first place. He won first place against Jackson Whittemore, God’s gift to tenors.

“And first place goes to Stiles Stilinski.”

There was a loud whoop from the audience. Stiles turned around to see Scott, Allison, his father and Scott’s mom standing and waving. With a grin and a little wave to his family, Stiles walked to the stage to get his first place award.

Talia Hale was waiting for him, certificate in hand and a smile on her face. “Congratulations, Mr. Stilinski. I’m glad you found somewhere to channel all that energy.”

Stiles couldn’t wait to tell Peter. Maybe he could go after Scott fell asleep.

Stiles’ excitement did not wane through dinner. The long hug and his father telling him how proud he was certainly did nothing to calm him down. This might be the best day ever.

As Stiles approached the back entrance to his dorm, something slammed in to him from behind, pinning him to the wall.

All the breath wooshed out of his lungs on impact. He had enough instinct to brace himself so that his face didn’t smash in to the bricks. He was so shocked he didn’t even think about fighting.

The person holding him against the wall breathed heavily against his neck. Stiles started to panic before he heard a familiar voice. “What the hell was that, Stilinski?” It was Jackson.

Stiles struggled then, but he couldn't break Jackson's hold. “Let me go, you jackass!”

“Who’s been helping you, huh? Getting outside tutoring somewhere? That first place was mine. Do you think you’re better—” Jackson’s rant end on a yelp, and the pressure eased off Stiles’ back.

Pausing a moment to take a deep breath, Stiles turned around to see Jackson crumpled on the ground, apparently unconscious. Peter stood in the shadows, breathing heavily.

Stiles’ eyes widened. “What did you do?”

“Stopped him. Are you okay?” Peter stepped close to him, hands reaching out as if he wanted to touch but stopping short of Stiles’ face.

“I’m fine. Is he going to be okay?”

Peter glanced down at Jackson as if he had already forgotten about the boy he’d knocked unconscious. “Oh, him. He’s fine. He’ll have a bit of a headache tomorrow, but he’s been drinking, so he might not even remember. Are you sure you’re okay?”

Stiles snorted. “It’s just Jackson. He’s mostly harmless.”

“You have no idea what teenagers are capable of.” Peter’s voice was cold. Before Stiles could ask a question, Peter spoke again. “Come with me. I don’t like being out here even if it is dark.”

The walk down to Peter’s rooms was empty and quiet. This was not one of Peter’s good moods.

Peter stalked into his kitchen and poured himself a drink. Stiles sat down on the sofa and waited until Peter sat down in the chair.

Something was wrong with Peter. All of his earlier excitement was gone. Jackson had assaulted him. His first place didn’t seem so exciting anymore.

Peter sipped his whiskey for a moment. Stiles said nothing.

After another several moments passed, Peter said, “You did an amazing job tonight. Congratulations on your win.”

Stiles felt some of his tension ease. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“That is likely true.”

Stiles scoffed, voice sarcastic. “Oh, thanks for that.” He paused, realizing how that sounded. “Wait, seriously. Thank you. Thanks for the lessons and thanks for saving me from Jackson, even if I don’t think he was going to do more than talk me to death.”

“I think you underestimate him.” Peter’s body stiffened again, and he took another sip of his drink.

Stiles hesitated, but he couldn’t stop himself from asking. “What’s wrong?”

Peter sighed. “You’ve never asked me why I wear this mask.”

Stiles sat up straight. Maybe he’d finally get an answer to one of his biggest mysteries. “That’s one of the rules. It’s not because I’m not curious.”

“I know.” There was a long moment where Stiles was afraid Peter wouldn’t say anything else.

Then Peter did something Stiles did not expect. He reached up and untied the mask, pulling it down.

The skin underneath was badly scarred around his eyes, nose, and forehead, face alternately smooth and ridged and mottled red. Peter had been burned. Nothing else scarred like that.

Stiles didn’t gasp or cry out. It looked bad, yes, but it was still Peter. Peter’s eyes and mouth, which had always been visible even under the dark mask he wore.

Stiles kept his voice as neutral as possible. “What happened?”

“A teenager did this to me. Someone who appeared harmless, just a simple bully, someone several years younger than me. I’d never paid her any mind except when she was called out for bullying her classmates near me.”

Stiles had so many questions, but he didn’t say anything. If he interrupted, Peter might stop talking.

“When I was a senior, I was the the most talented piano player at the school and one of the most talented vocalists. I was arrogant and attractive and talented, and I knew that I was going to be famous. I’m a Hale after all. I had everything going for me. I was even secretly dating the only person at the school who could almost match me in looks and talent.

“In October of my senior year, I got a letter that I thought was from Chris asking me to meet him at midnight in a clearing in the preserve about 10 minutes away from campus. When I got there, it was empty. I didn’t think anything of it. A few minutes later, this little girl steps out of the woods, carrying a bucket and a torch. It was his sister, Kate, just 13 years old. She threw the bucket in my face and the torch, and the outcome of that is quite clear. It’s a miracle I didn’t lose my eyes.”

Peter stopped speaking and downed the rest of his whiskey.

There were so many emotions and so many questions. Stiles didn’t know what to say or what to ask first. This was not the story he was expecting. He didn’t know what he was expecting really, but this was worse.

Stiles asked the only question he could get out. “Why?”

Peter’s laugh was bitter. “Why did she burn me? Because she was a psychopath, diagnosed and committed now. And because she considered me to be a threat to her brother’s career. I was more talented, yes, but that wasn’t all. In the 90s, it was still shameful to be gay and could ruin someone’s chances of success if anyone found out. She tried to kill me to keep me away from her brother. A 13 year old girl who seemed so harmless.”

“What happened to her brother?”

“He came to see me in the hospital once, but he couldn’t even look at me.” Peter’s grip tightened on his glass. Stiles was scared that he might break it. “He never spoke to me again. Got married straight out of high school and had a daughter. He was my first love, I suppose, though love might be too strong a word.”

Stiles tried to think of something else to say. He wanted to comfort Peter, but he knew that would any attempt would be rebuffed.

“When I got out of the hospital, I moved in to these rooms. I didn’t even officially finish school. My family tried for years to get me to go seek help or get plastic surgery, but there’s nothing out there for me. This is where I belong.”

Stiles felt his chest ache at the thought. “It must be lonely.”

Peter looked up at him. “I’m sorry?”

“It must be lonely. To live like that.”

Peter stared, face a mix of emotions. “I’ve gotten used to it. Loneliness is an easier emotion to handle than pity or disgust.”

“I don’t pity you,” Stiles said before he could think how that might sound. It was true, though. He didn’t pity Peter. He hated that this had happened to him and hated that he’d chosen to hide himself away. But that was Peter’s choice, and Peter was a grown man.

Peter chuckled and shook his head, the anger and wariness of moments ago gone. “No, you don’t. You never do what I expect you to do. That’s quite refreshing honestly.”

McCall, along with former Hale alums Allison Argent, Vernon Boyd, Isaac Lahey, and Eric Reyes, formed the band Silver and the Wolf in high school and moved to New York together to pursue music as a profession. Stilinski also moved to New York at the same time to enroll at Juilliard to study vocal performance.

“Scott’s performing with his band for Senior Showcase, and I’m stuck playing the piano,” Stiles said as he walked into Peter’s rooms.

Peter looked up from his book. “You had to know he was going to play with his band. What else would he do? And why are you playing the piano?”

“Because I’m good at the piano. And I knew he would, but I still feel left out.”

“He invited you to join, didn’t he? And you’re a better singer than a piano player. We need to stop having two conversations at one time. What’s actually bothering you? Scott or the piano?”

It was a good question. One he didn’t entirely know the answer to. Scott forming the band without him made sense. Stiles hadn’t wanted to join. But seeing Scott spending all his time with other people still hurt.

“It’s both, I think. I feel like everyone else knows what they want to be doing, and I have a million ideas and no idea what I want to do with any of them or if I’m talented enough to pull it off or if any of it’s even reasonable.”

“Being a musician is rarely reasonable.”

“That is not helpful.”

“Why did you decide on the piano?”

“I’m good at the piano. I’ve always been good at the piano.’

“No, you chose the piano because it’s easy. You’re feeling insecure, so you chose something you knew you could do well rather than something that would actually showcase your talents.”

Stiles sighed. “It’s too late now. It’s already been decided.”

“We’ll see.”

Stilinski attended the Tony awards this past June with his father as his plus one. Although Hale was in attendance to perform, he did not sit in the audience with his partner or accept his awards with a speech. Hale and Stilinski performed the duet “Deal with the Devil”, which received a standing ovation. “It was surreal,” Stilinski recalls. “I’d watched the Tony awards for years, and there I was.”

Senior showcase was the event of the season for the students at Hale House. All the younger students were required to attend, and the audience was packed with parents, students, alumni, and reporters. All of the seniors stayed in the hallways and classrooms behind the auditorium to warm up, adjust costumes, or run last minute lines. Scott’s band was in a practice room tuning instruments and finalizing plans, so Stiles sat alone in the hallway reading a book.

“Where is Stiles Stilinski?”

Stiles looked up from his book at the sound of his name.

Mrs. Hale was at the far end of the hallway, looking frantic. She stopped when she caught sight of him. “Stiles! Come here! I need to talk to you.”

His heart raced. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Had he? He couldn’t think of anything.

“Ummm…” he said as he walked closer.

Mrs. Hale grabbed him by the upper arm and pulled him into the music teacher’s office and closed the door before turning to face him. “Jackson is sick and won’t be able to perform tonight.”

Stiles’ jaw gaped. “Aren’t he and Lydia supposed to be performing in like 20 minutes?”

“Yes. And there are no understudies for senior showcase, so no one knows his part.” She paused and cocked her eyebrow at him. “Unless you might know his part for some reason.”

His face flushed. “Why would you… I mean, why would I know Jackson’s part?”

Mrs. Hale rolled her eyes and pulled out her cell phone. “Read it.”

In a text message time stamped from 5 minutes ago. “Stiles can go on for Jackson.” The message was from Peter.

Stiles’ stomach dropped, and he looked at the floor. “Oh.”

“Oh? That’s all you have to say? Oh?” She sounded exasperated rather than angry at least.

He couldn’t meet her eyes. “Ummm…” he said again.

“Peter, Stiles? Really? How long has this been going on?”

At just that moment, her phone buzzed in his hand. He glanced at it. Another message from Peter. This one said, “15 minutes until showtime.”

Peter probably thought he was helping, but he definitely wasn’t. Stiles handed Mrs. Hale her phone, and she cursed.

“I’ll talk to you about Peter another time. Can you sing Jackson’s part or not?”

Stiles nodded. He could definitely sing Jackson’s part because Peter had made him practice it. Peter, who had said he should know it “just in case.” Peter, who had always looked so unbearably smug every time he made Stiles practice. Stiles probably should have seen this coming.

Mrs. Hale took a deep breath and shook her head. “Go find a costume that suits you right this minute and warm up while you’re dressing. You’re going on in less than 15 minutes.”

Jackson and Lydia were set to perform “Parle-moi de ma mère!” from Carmen in the first half of the showcase. Stiles found an outfit that was suitable in the costume closet, singing his warm up as he dressed. Mrs. Taylor, the choir director, gave him a glass of water and a grateful smile. “Lydia would have been so disappointed if she couldn’t perform today.”

He gave her his most self deprecating smile. “I just hope I don’t disappoint her.”

Mrs. Taylor laughed. “Nonsense. You better get backstage. It’s only 2 minutes until you’re supposed to go on.”

Stiles felt the butterflies jump in his stomach. He hadn’t had time to think about the fact that he was about to go onstage to perform a piece he had never sung in public with a partner who barely acknowledged his existence. He was going to sing Jackson’s part with Lydia. Jackson was going to kill him. But only if Mrs. Hale didn’t kill him first.

Damn Peter and his scheming.

Stiles walked to the edge of the curtain and could see Lydia waiting on the other side. She appeared calm and collected as always. He tried to match her cool demeanour. This was no big deal. Just a bit of opera. In French. With the most beautiful girl on the planet.

The music started, and Stiles walked onstage. Stiles sang first, and Lydia followed his lead. Once he actually started to sing, the nerves faded, and he concentrated only on the music and on Lydia. Music was easy even if life was hard. Just six minutes of singing, and it would all be over.

When he sang his last note, the elation he felt was in no way dampened by the sight of Mrs. Hale standing backstage.

Mrs. Hale grabbed him as soon as he walked offstage and marched him back to the office. It was still another hour until he was supposed to perform.

In an all too familiar gesture, she pointed at the chair in front of the desk. He felt like a middle schooler again.

"Tell me about Peter," she said.

That was vague enough to be terrifying. What should he say?

"I found the door in the library when I was a freshman."

He stopped talking when she huffed out a laugh. "Of course you did. And of course you went down the ladder."

"I tripped on one of those trip wires."

Mrs. Hale muttered something under her breath that sounded like, "Those damn trip wires."

"And Peter showed up and told me to get out, so I did, but then I went back because I wanted to know who he was."

"And you didn't think to tell a teacher about a strange man living under the school?"

Stiles blushed. "It was a mystery. I wanted to solve it."

"Of course you did," she said again. "How did you convince him to teach you?"

"Do you remember when you told me to find a passion?" She nodded, so he continued. "I'd heard him play, and I asked him to teach me how to make the piano sing."

She smiled. "Flattering his ego is a great way to get through to Peter. You must have impressed him if he's still working with you."

Stiles shrugged. "I think he was lonely."

Someone knocked on the door. "Mrs. Hale? You're needed in the costume room."

"Coming," she said to the person at the door before looking back at Stiles. "Congratulations on your performance tonight. I know you'll do well on the piano later. Come talk to me if you need anything.”

When she left the room, Stiles let out a long breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding and started to laugh. This was not how he’d expected tonight to go. He spent the last thirty minutes or so before his piano performance hiding in the office, alternating between laughing in relief and wanting to have a panic attack.

Peter was right about one thing, though. Playing the piano was easy. He’d chosen Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue because it showcased his technical talents, but it also required more than correct notes to actually sound good. He’d played it hundreds of times with Peter’s help and hundreds of times on his own, so he did well even while distracted.

When all the seniors finished performing, everyone gathered in the lobby to mingle. Stiles received hugs from Scott and Allison, an acknowledging nod from Lydia, and handshakes from several other students and teachers. Scott disappeared to go say hello to Allison’s parents, so Stiles stood by the concessions table with his dad, eating petit fours and generally hiding from the crowd.

A stranger approached him, wearing a fancy suit and a broad smile. The man stuck out his hand, and Stiles shook it, feeling very confused. “Mr. Stilinski, my name is Deucalion. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed both your performances this evening.”

Stiles smiled at the man, no less confused. “Thanks.”

The man held out his business card to Stiles. “I’m a recruiter for the Julliard School. I understand that you have an application in with our program. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions. You should be getting a letter from us any day now, and just between you and me, I hope to see you there in the Fall.”

Deucalion winked at him and walked away, leaving Stiles staring after him speechless.

Stiles felt a hand clap down on his shoulder and turned around to see his father beaming at him with a broad smile spread across his face. “Congratulations, Stiles. I’m proud of you.”

Stiles blinked at his father. “Did that really just happen?”

His father laughed and hugged him. “Yes. Yes it did. Seems like you’ll be going to Julliard after all.”

“It’s not official yet. It’s not official until I get the letter.”

His father rolled his eyes. “Don’t be such a pessimist.”

He’d really gotten in. He’d really, truly gotten in to The Julliard School. This was really happening. His excitement waned a moment when the reality of going to New York hit him.

“Julliard is expensive. How are we going to be able to afford that?”

His father scoffed. “Hopefully you’ll get a full ride, but we don’t have to worry about that yet. If we have to take out loans, we’ll take out loans. Quit worrying about what might happen and take a moment to just be happy about it.”

Stiles couldn’t believe this was happening. He hoped the night didn’t throw him any more curve balls. There was really only so much he could handle.

Stiles headed back to the dorms with his friends and tried to match their level of excitement. He didn’t tell anyone about the recruiter from Julliard. He couldn’t talk to them about that yet.

All he could think about was talking to Peter.

Scott finally went back to the dorm room to sleep, so Stiles was able to slip away.

As he approached Peter’s rooms, he heard piano music, something original that Peter had written. He smiled and opened the doors. He didn’t bother to say hello as he walked in.

“Food poisoning? Really?” Stiles stood next to the piano, eyebrows raised and arms crossed.

Peter raised a matching brow. “You have no way to prove that was me.”

Stiles laughed a little, arms relaxing. “Oh, yes, because somehow Jackson was the only one who happened to get sick the night of the senior showcase. And of course, he just happened to get sick only 30 minutes before showtime, and we just happened to have been practicing his part for the past several weeks for no reason. Oh, and you just happen to know all the secret entrances to the kitchens or bedrooms in this place.”

“That does seem to be a lot of coincidences. For all I know, it could have been you.” Peter stood and met Stiles' gaze through the mask. “You did a wonderful job this evening. I couldn't be more proud.”

“I’m not sure whether to be grateful or insulted right now.”

“Why should you feel insulted? I just told you that you did a wonderful job.”

Stiles snorted. “You poisoned my only competition. Why? Did you think I couldn’t get in on my own?”

“You chose to play the piano. It seemed a shame that the recruiters would only see one side of your talents. And the weaker side at that. ”

Stiles ignored the dig and responded to the more important part. “You knew about the recruiters?”

“Of course I did. Does anything happen at this school that I don’t know about?”

Stiles shook his head. “Apparently not. Did you know one of the recruiters talked to me after the show?”

“I’m not surprised. Was it Deucalion?”

“How did you know that?”

“He’s the West Coast recruiter for Julliard.”

“Ah.” Stiles paused for a moment before a shy grin spread across his face. “I think I might have gotten in to Julliard.”

Stilinski and Hale have reportedly been romantically involved for four years, but have never been pictured together, as Hale will not be seen in public and has granted no interviews. This enigma and their apparent devotion to each other has led to a large fan following on social media sites, such as Tumblr, though Peter is never found in pictures outside of publicity shots for Faust.

The letter from Julliard was too large to be a rejection. He didn’t even bother to leave the mail room before tearing in to the envelope. There was his acceptance letter like he’d hoped, but there was more. Behind his acceptance letter was another letter. He read both twice before he could convince himself they were real.

Stiles let out a little whoop of joy before he could stop himself. Blushing, he glanced around the mail room and saw that he was not alone. Lydia tucked her mail in to her purse, looking at him with eyebrows raised. “Good news, I take it?”

“You could say that. I just got a full ride scholarship to Julliard.”

Lydia crossed the room and kissed him on the cheek.“Congratulations, Stiles.”

Stiles gaped at Lydia as she walked out of the room. He continued gaping for several more moments before letting out a small laugh. He’d wanted Lydia’s attention for years and now that he had them, the only person he really wanted to tell was Peter.

His excitement at getting in to Julliard was momentarily dampened at the realization that he would be leaving Peter in a few short months. He’d be in New York, and Peter would be here. Peter had encouraged him to apply and even poisoned Jackson so he would have a better part to impress Deucalion. Peter obviously knew Stiles would be leaving him.

Stiles wavered back and forth between sadness and excitement as he walked down to Peter’s room, the envelope heavy in his hand.

When Peter opened the door, Stiles didn’t say anything. He shoved the envelope at Peter and dropped down on to the couch, grabbing his favorite pillow to hold to his chest.

Peter cocked an eyebrow and looked down at the acceptance package in his hands. “You knew you’d gotten in after the showcase. You’ve wanted nothing but to go there as long as I’ve known you. Why are you sitting on my couch looking as if your life is over?”

Stiles didn’t know how to answer that without sounding stupid, so he shook his head.

“Shaking your head at me is not an acceptable answer. There is obviously something bothering you, and I can’t begin to imagine what it could be.”

That didn’t make Stiles feel better.

Peter sighed. “Is this about leaving Scott?”

Stiles jerked his head up. “No,” he snapped. “I’m sad about leaving you.”

Peter looked startled. “Why on Earth would you be leaving me? You’re the only student I’ve ever had. I don’t intend to let you run off to New York and squander your talents without me there to keep you on task.”

Stiles gaped. Peter was going to New York. Peter was going to New York to be with him.

“But you--” Stiles stared at Peter, who was still holding the envelope, a bemused expression on his face. “You’re really going to New York with me?”

“Of course I’m going with you. Where else would I be?”

As though someone else had momentarily taken over his body, Stiles sprang up from the couch and stepped into Peter's personal space, almost but not quite touching him. Peter cocked his head to the side but didn't step back. Stiles leaned forward and brushed his lips against Peter’s.

Peter stiffened and shoved Stiles back, hands held out in front of him as if in defense. “Why did you do that?”

Why had he done that? Heat ran up Stiles’ face and ears. “I’m just going to go.” He felt like he was going to be sick.

Stiles spun on his heel, back to Peter. He needed to get out of here. He needed to be someplace where he could die of embarrassment. Alone.

“Stiles, stop.” Peter sounded sad and maybe a little impatient.

Stiles stopped but didn’t turn around, shoulders hunched, arms wrapped around his chest. He couldn’t meet Peter’s eyes. Not right now. Maybe never again.

“You don’t need to be embarrassed. I’m not angry or upset. It’s not even that I’m not… interested.”

Stiles turned then, hope swelling in his chest. Peter held up a hand before Stiles could speak. “Listen to me. You’ve only been an adult for 3 weeks. You haven’t even graduated high school yet. Yes, I’m coming with you to New York. Yes, I’ll continue to be there and help you develop as a musician. But I will not be some boyfriend to a high school boy. Spend some time in New York. Become an adult on your own, and then we’ll see.”

“So I just have to go to New York and then you’ll date me?”

Peter shook his head. “Go to New York, do well in your first year at Julliard, and then we’ll see.”

Stiles grinned, wanting to run to Peter and kiss him again. He resisted the impulse. “You’re always bribing me with things so I’ll do well.”

Peter smiled back. “Well, you have very few questions unanswered these days. I needed something else to keep you in line.”

Stiles was about to leave when something occurred to him that stopped him in his tracks. “If you’re coming to New York with me, that means I have to tell people about you.”

Peter grimaced. “I suppose it does. Please be as discreet as possible. My privacy is important to me as you well know.”

Most recently Stilinski was found performing Best Man duties for Scott McCall’s wedding to Allison Argent, lead singer for Silver and the Wolf. Stilinski pulls out his phone with a huge smile to show me pictures from the wedding, which took place two weeks before our interview. “Aren’t they so adorable?” he says. “They met on her first day at school in, like, the 9th grade because she forgot her pen.” As he’s scrolling through the photos, it’s apparent that the friendships made at the HMC are long lasting ones. There are shots of HMC alums Erica Reyes dancing with Vernon Boyd, Lydia Martin pinning a flower on Jackson Whittemore’s jacket, Kira Yukimura and Cora Hale wearing feather boas and silly hats from the photo booth, and many other familiar faces to anyone who follows up and coming artists in the music, fashion, or film industry.

Scott was waiting for Stiles when he got back to his dorm room. “Dude, where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you. Lydia told us you got in to Julliard. Congratulations! That’s so awesome!”

Stiles grinned. “Thanks. I’m still in shock, I think.”

“Where did you go? I thought you’d come straight here.”

And now the moment of truth. It was not going to be easy to tell Scott he’d been keeping a secret from him for more than three years.

“So you remember how there used to be all those stories about Hale House being haunted?”

Scott’s happy puppy expression from moment’s before was replaced with one of confusion. “Yeah, of course.”

Stiles took a deep breath. “And you remember when I sprained my wrist in the library freshman year?”

Scott looked even more confused. “Umm… yes. What are you talking about?”

“So freshman year, I found a secret door in the library which leads to a secret tunnel under the school. All those times you couldn’t find me, I was down there.”

Scott blinked at him. “Wait… what? Why?”

So Stiles told Scott about Peter, about the questions and the piano lessons, about research sessions and learning how to feel music, and about how Peter had asked him to keep the whole a thing a secret. He told Scott about the mask but not the details behind it. He told him that Mrs. Hale knew but he didn’t tell Scott that she’d only known for about a week.

Scott stared at him in disbelief through most of it and didn’t say anything when Stiles stopped talking.

Stiles swallowed hard. “Please don’t be mad at me.”

Scott’s face was still blank with shock for a moment longer. “I get why you didn’t tell me. It sucks, but I get it. I’m not mad.”

They sat in silence for another long moment before Scott’s happy puppy expression returned. “Dude, all your Department of Backstory reveal time almost made me forget that I also have good news. I’m moving to New York, too. And not just me, the whole band. We’ll all be there together.”

Stiles jumped off his bed and grabbed Scott in a hug, identical smiles on their faces.

On his relationship with Peter Hale, Stilinski is remarkably close-lipped.

Stiles spent his first year at Julliard in a haze of practice sessions, concerts, drinking binges with Scott in the tiny apartment he shared with his band, and hours spent playing music and talking with Peter. All first year students were required to live in the dorms, but Peter had his own apartment not far from campus where Stiles spent most of his time.

His first year was over. Grades were posted. He’d made an A in every class, gotten complimented by his piano and voice teachers, and had even started composing his own music on the piano and the guitar. That met the qualifications for Peter’s original ultimatum. Now he just had to convince Peter of that.

Stiles tried talking about dating several times during his first year at Julliard, but each time he brought it up, Peter said, “Prove to me you can be an adult.”

Stiles unlocked the door to Peter’s apartment with shaking hands. His feelings for Peter had not always been obvious, but he’d known that he wanted Peter for more than a year now. A year of waiting, and it was over.

Peter was in the kitchen drinking coffee when Stiles walked in. He wasn’t wearing his mask, which was a new development. That small change made Stiles more hopeful.

“Grades were posted this morning. I got a 4.0. That means I’m officially done with my first year at Julliard, and I did well.” Stiles waited in expectant silence but Peter said nothing, face blank.

Stiles felt his own face flush. “Now is the time where you say something.”

Peter blinked and set his coffee down. “Congratulations on your 4.0.”

Stiles felt his temper rise. “That is not what I mean. You told me if I did well that you’d talk about it. I did well. Now let’s talk.”

Peter held up a hand in front of him as if telling Stiles to wait.

Stiles almost cursed at him then. Peter had to have known Stiles would want to have this talk this morning. He knew grades would be posted. He knew Stiles had done well. He’d had a year to think about this.

But Stiles damped down the flow of angry words when he realized that Peter’s hand was shaking.

It was several moments before Peter spoke. “I don’t know how to do this. You are young and talented and beautiful and all of the things I was before this.” He waved his hand at his face in demonstration. “Being with me is not the same as being with some teenage boy. I’m not a good man. I’m angry and vain and demanding. You should find a nice boy to take home to your dad. Not some washed up old man who hid in the basement of your school for 15 years.”

Stiles stood still for several long moments before walking right into Peter’s personal space, an echo of his actions from a year ago. “I know who you are, and I know who I am. I don’t want some nice boy. I want you. I’ve wanted you for more than a year even if I didn’t know always know it.” Stiles paused and grinned at Peter. “I have a new question for you.”

Peter did not take a step back or make any move at all toward Stiles, but the tightness around his eyes had lessened. “You always have questions.”

“This is an important question. Maybe the most important I’ve asked in a long time. Do you want me?”

Peter didn’t answer in words but in actions. Their lips met for a moment, but Stiles considered it to be one the best moments of his life.

Peter Hale's Faust, starring Stilinski as Faust and Hale as Mephistopheles, opened off Broadway to critical acclaim in January of 2016 and appeared on Broadway in Spring of 2017 where it has gone on to be the highest grossing play of the decade. It was nominated for 8 Tony awards and won six.

Hale's interpretation of the story involved a growing passion between the bored and apathetic Faust and the mischievous Mephistopheles. As in the old legends, an aged Faust was bored with life and attempted to kill himself twice with poison. After his second failed attempt, Mephistopheles appeared and offered him youth, knowledge, and whatever else he desired for 12 years. In exchange for his service on earth, Faust would have to serve Mephistopheles in Hell and his soul would be forfeit. After several darkly comedic failed attempts with women in the first act, Faust began to develop a passion for Mephistopheles who provided him with whatever he desired. The play does not end in horror as Faust was dragged to hell as in many interpretations or in salvation in as in Goethe's interpretation. Faust welcomes the end of his life on Earth and considers his servitude in Hell to be a new adventure. “We wanted everyone to leave the theater wondering if that was a happy ending or not,” Stilinski says with a cheeky grin. “We wanted people to talk. We wanted people happy but maybe a bit uncomfortable with being happy. It’s an odd play, for sure, but I’m glad we got people to love it as much I loved it from the start.”

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Peter’s hand on his throat was both a caress and a warning, the sharpness of claws on tender skin juxtaposed with warm, gentle breath on the back of his neck. Stiles closed his eyes and leaned back into Peter’s embrace in obvious surrender.

A clock chimed its twelfth ring behind them, and there was a beat of silence before Peter spoke. “My time is served. You are mine.”

The lights changed behind Stiles’ eyes, and there was a gasp from the audience as there was every night. Behind him, he could feel a slight heat from the flames that had just exploded from the back of the stage.

Stiles opened his eyes again after a suitable beat and smiled toward the audience. “Your time is served. I am yours.” He placed one hand over the top of Peter’s, which was still curled around his throat, and laced their fingers together. “Did you think I would be afraid?”

There was a chuckle as the hand on his throat released, and Peter stepped back, moving to look Stiles in the eyes.“You are always a surprise, friend Faust.”

Stiles stepped toward Peter, hands reaching out. “There are no surprises here. I’m the same bored old man I was all those years ago.”

Peter’s hands grasped his own and pulled him into a kiss. “No. That man was weak and had a weak mind. You are strong and clever. I would never claim anything so simple as a bored old man.”

Peter began to sing their final song together, and soon Stiles joined him, voices mixing and melding, trading melody and harmony back and forth. As the song continued, Stiles and Peter walked closer and closer to the fire, bodies canted toward each other and toward the audience, but always walking closer to the fire. He could feel its heat on his skin as the song ended and the lights went out.

When asked if his newfound fame and notoriety has changed his life, Stilnski shakes his head. "Not as much as you might think. This sounds so cliche, but music has always been my passion. I've been surrounded by music and musicians my entire life. Sure, it's weird to be recognized in public, but the music has always been there. Now I just get to share it with everyone else."

The flight home to New York was uneventful. Stiles could never quite get used to flying first class, though he’d been doing so for several years now. He’d left Peter in New York almost two weeks ago to promote his new album and to talk about awards. They’d talked on the phone every night, but he was ready to be home, ready to feel Peter’s arms around him again.

Their shared condo was on the 22nd floor, and the elevator ride seemed to take forever. It was less than a minute until he’d see Peter again.

Stiles unlocked the door to the condo and didn’t even have time to say hello before Peter was on him.

Peter shoved Stiles into the wall, pressing their bodies together, lip to lip, chest to chest, hip to hip. He kissed Stiles like he wanted to be inside him. There was no tenderness in this kiss, just passion and lust and possession.

Stiles chuckled into Peter’s mouth. “Missed me, eh?”

Peter pulled back at the sound a few inches,enough to make eye contact. His voice was rough. “You’re mine.”

Stiles shuddered and ground his hips against Peter’s. “And you’re mine.”

Peter smirked. “Don’t forget it.”

He kissed Stiles again. It was softer this time but with no less passion. The kiss continued for several minutes, bodies pressed together against the wall. This time Stiles ended the kiss. “I missed you, too.”