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A Single Magic Bullet

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You would think that Stiles would be able to get some privacy hiding as he was on the top of the tallest building on campus, but apparently that is just too much to ask for.

“This spot’s taken.” He calls out over his shoulder because whoever it is doesn’t have a flashlight, which means they aren’t from security and as such are trespassing every bit as much as he is. “Also, if you’ve got some crazy idea about mugging me then you are about ten seconds away from a very rude awakening. Get lost so I can drink in peace.”

Whoever it is seems to have, if not a death wish, then at least a desire for severe bodily harm because Stiles really can’t think of a better reason for anyone to keep walking up behind a visibly cranky mage whose judgment is already impaired by half of bottle of really shitty whiskey –but whatever.

Stiles has spells in place. He’s got wards to keep him from falling off the roof, he’s got charms to keep him from getting cold, he’s got barriers up that will react to people sneaking up on him with bad intentions.  You name it? Stiles has cast it because he damn well can.

Take that, Scott.

The crunch of gravel underneath booted feet gets louder until the owner of said boots resolves into a dark blurry figure in Stiles’ peripheral vision and he is not going to turn his head because that would make it look like he wants company. Which he does not.

“I said ‘get lost’.” Stiles repeats himself. Wow, that sounded fairly curmudgeonly. He’s already on a fast track to becoming one of the crazy old emeriti professors who wander around the Institute and refuse to die. All he needs is an office drowning in paper clutter with a belligerent vulture for a familiar and a stuffed alligator hanging from the rafters. “If you’re having trouble figuring out what that means, I suggest you check the campus library. They’re open all night this time of year and they’ve got plenty of dictionaries you can use. If you run you’ll catch the reference librarian before she goes off shift.”

“… leaving a teenage kid up on the roof drinking himself stupid? Sounds completely sane.”

Stiles tilts his head just enough to get a look at the intruder, who turns out to be… well… damn. Way too hot to be wandering around the Institute alone at night.

Whoever he is he isn’t wearing robes from any of the multiple colleges of magic housed on the Institute’s main campus, which is really kind of dumb if he is a student. Any professor or upperclassman who spots him outside of the dorms without his robes can assign him punishment duty with the full blessings of Headmaster Argent.

Then again, he doesn’t seem to be able to see the veritable fireworks display of protective charms and spells that Stiles has wrapped himself up in so maybe he’s just a visitor –which begs the question of what the hell he’s doing up on the roof of the Orrery Tower, but Stiles is hardly in a position to point fingers.

The man –and he is a full grown man now that Stiles is actually paying attention- sits down next to him letting his feet dangle over the edge of the roof. Everything about him is dark; his clothes, his hair, even his skin looks kind of dusky in the thin light. He’s not wearing much in the way of protective layers, but despite that he doesn’t seem to notice the cold and that’s Stiles first clue.

It’s a cool jacket and all, but it’s freaking November. A single layer of black leather over blue jeans just ain’t gonna cut it.

When the man turns and holds his hand out for Stiles’ bottle the light catches his eye and… ah.

“On campus for the big choosing faire next week?” Stiles guesses and hands it over. He’s drunk enough that the possibility of it not being returned doesn’t bother him too much.

The stranger takes a long pull and sets the bottle down between them within easy reach.

Stiles nudges his wards out and lets them cover his new drinking buddy too. No sense in keeping himself from falling off the building if he goes and lets someone else pitch over the side in his place. The stranger nods his thanks as the warmth envelopes him.

So, lycanthropes aren’t immune to cold. They’re just not particularly bothered by it. Good to know.

“I am.” He says and turns to look out over the twinkling lights that make up the night time view of the Institute of the Highest Mysteries’ campus. He doesn’t look particularly thrilled, which is fair. He’s kind of old be attending a faire. Most unpartnered lycanthropes go through agencies once they hit a certain age rather than subject themselves to the Institute’s annual cattle call.

Stiles’ stomach turns thinking about it. Ugh.

Stupid Scott. Stupid Allison, for that matter. Stupid Stiles.

“Good for you, man.” He says instead because other peoples’ problems are way more interesting than his own. “Good luck.”

“Thank you.” The man says, but he doesn’t sound very enthused about the idea. Stiles can’t really blame him. “You too.”

“Heh, too late for that.” The words are out of Stiles’ mouth before he can swallow them, which… damn, that’s embarrassing. Definitely time to lay off the Jim Beam.

“You’re a mage.” The man says and it’s not entirely a question or a prompt or any other kind of conversational gambit that Stiles can recognize. Ok, fair enough, lycanthropes aren’t really known for their ability to make small talk but still. Anyone still being accepted onto campus for the faire has to have at least a modicum of socialization.

Stiles holds up the wide sleeves of his thick red robes and –yes, okay, they’re kind of a ratty burgundy brown rather than a proper red but Stiles isn’t exactly rolling in money. His dad is the Sheriff of a little town that could legitimately be considered Bumblefuck Nowhere, California. It’s not like he’s, oh say: Jackson Whittemore who can afford to buy premium cochineal and madder whenever he pisses Lydia off (read: all the damn time.) He has to make due with brazilwood and iron oxide, which means his robes fade in the sunlight and eventually turn brown unless he re-dyes them every few months.

He looks at his robes and then back at the lycanthrope. “It looks that way.”

If he notices Stiles sarcasm (and there’s a good chance he doesn’t, lycanthropes aren’t always entirely domesticated even at the best of times) he doesn’t give a sign of it. “Why are you out here alone? Where is your partner?” He asks and is at least polite enough to not actively sniff him.

“Off with a cute little Black Robe he met over winter break.” Stiles replies and looks away because it still stings. He and Scott have been partners since… wow, since Stiles was an initiate who hadn’t even picked his specialization and Scott’s wolf was just a puppy with paws too big for the rest of him. Stiles would have gone so far as to call Scott his best friend in the whole world. “It’s all very romantic. Love at first sight and all that. He called me a few hours ago to give me the news so I’d have time to put my name down for the winter choosing faire. Lucky me.”

Stiles knows he’s not actually angry with Scott because how can he be? At least he can’t stay that way for very long. He’s never been able to stay mad at Scott, but at the same time he’d been looking forward to graduation when a lot of magi had good cause to dread it.

After all, up until yesterday he had a partner he knew he could trust. He wasn’t about to embark on his future leg-shackled to a complete stranger who had the ability to make or break his career.

Or at least he used to. Allison has that now and Stiles hopes very much that she’s worthy of it because he knows absolutely zilch about Scott’s mystery lady aside from the fact that her hair smells like strawberries and she’s the deadliest archer known to man.

“It happens that way sometimes.” The stranger says and Stiles was so braced for an ‘I’m sorry that happened’ or another of the empty platitudes he’s been hearing all day because OF COURSE Scott’s been telling the whole world about his New Found Love so the entire campus knows about Stiles’ sorry state.

There’s a reason he’s hiding up on the roof instead of his carrel in the library.

“Buh… what?” Stiles blinks.

“Fixation.” The stranger says and takes another pull from the bottle. “Is he a wolf?”

“Yeah. He got the bite when he was ten years old and suffering from extreme asthma.” Stiles shook himself. “What does that…?”

“It’s a biological imperative for our kind.” The stranger-werewolf, apparently- shrugs one shoulder and his clothes twist around to momentarily reveal some truly impressive biceps. “Then you should know that your friend has found the person he’s meant to be with. He’ll be happy, inasmuch as anyone gets that kind of guarantee in life.”

Stiles blinks and feels something unknot in his chest, something he wasn’t entirely aware of until just that moment. It was fear, he thinks, mixed in with the resentment because looking after Scott is –was a full time job that Stiles has been doing for some six-odd years; not really the sort of thing you can just drop over the course of an afternoon.

Ever since he got Scott’s call, he’s been every bit as worried that Scott’s sudden onset love affair is going to blow up in his face and that Stiles is going to have to help pick up with pieces even after Scott dropped him without so much as an apology… but if this is something Scott has no control over? That’s… better. Not great. Far from ideal, but it’s enough to let Stiles escape the cage of his own head.

“That’s good.” He breathes out, trying to exhale whatever bad feelings that’re left inside him. “That… I’m glad. Thanks. For telling me that. It helped.”

“Good.” The werewolf sloshes around the dregs of whiskey in the bottom of the bottle. “Mind if I kill this?”

“Knock yourself out.” Stiles gets to his feet and pulls his robes close around his body so they don’t catch wind and launch him over the edge. “I’d better head back. I have apprenticeship duties tomorrow morning. I’ll leave you the wards so you don’t fall down. They’ll only last about an hour without me here so don’t stay up here too long.”

The werewolf just nods as Stiles leaves.

There isn’t anyone in the lobby of his dormitory when he gets there and he doesn’t run into anyone in the halls, so Stiles is able to curl up in his own bed without any further incident –and maybe he drank too much because the room is cold when he wakes up (fuzzy headed and more than a little hungover) because it’s Merlin’s Final Mystery how the heck Stiles could remember to put out a glass of water and some advil on the nightstand for himself while drunk and yet somehow forget to close the fool window when it’s practically snowing outside.

As taskmasters go, Magister Harris is probably the worst of a pretty sadistic lot.

Stiles is so damn glad that graduation is in just a few days. Once he’s got his journeyman’s cowl then no one can assign him scut work ever again. This, if nothing else, reminds him that he owes Scott rather more than Scott owes him because when he was partnered with Scott they could both report to Dr. Deaton, head of the Theriomorph College, for their work-study hours.

After four years of Stiles managing to avoid it, he’s finally at Harris’ mercy (of which there is very little) and the Magister is determined to make up for every last missed opportunity.

Technically apprentices aren’t supposed to be sent off campus in the course of their duties, but in practice that edict is pretty hard to enforce –though, truth to be told, most apprentices have the good sense to decline off-campus chores unless they’ve got a group they can go with and just accept the demerit as part of paying their dues.

Most apprentices can afford the demerit. Stiles… can’t.

Well, whatever. It’s not like he can’t look after himself. As a Red Robe he’s not great at offense, but he’s got defense in the bag.

He gets as far as the City Solarium five blocks away from campus when he realizes he’s being followed.

“Shit.” Stiles mutters as he tries to speed up his pace without looking like he’s spotted his tail. “Shit, shit, shit.”

It’s been a long time since the old days when snagging a kid off the street was the method du jour for lycanthropes and other theriomorphs to pick up partners –or rather thralls, as they were called in those days since the mage’s relationship with their bonded was far from that of equal partners. It has, in fact, been ages since the lycanthrope population has been reliant on magi to keep them from slowly going feral.

However, there will always be some poor slob who either can’t find a partner or can’t keep one. Breaking a contract is hard, but not unheard of. There are even some fundamentalist throwbacks who slavishly follow the Old Ways to the point of dancing naked under the applicable moon phase and, yes, capturing under-aged magi to serve in their households.

… or trying to, anyway. They don’t have much success as a mage old enough to be much of any good as a thrall is a mage who’s learned enough to set you on fire with one errant twitch.

“I do not have time for this.” Stiles checks his wristwatch and scowls. He’s got approximately fifteen minutes before the oh-so-exclusive apothecary who is THE ONLY PERSON whose powdered mandrake will possibly do for Magister Harris’ latest experiment closes and thirty minutes after that to get back onto campus before the front gates close.

Stiles uses a storefront window to get a peek at the guy following him. It’s a man; thirtyish, with brown hair, and eyes that flicker red whenever he passes through a shadow; definitely a lycanthrope on the hunt. And an Alpha at that. Shit.

Just as Stiles is trying to decide whether it’s a better idea to find somewhere to stand his ground or to duck into a busy shop and call campus security for a ride back, a black Camaro pulls up to the curb next to him at the passenger side door pops open.

“Get inside!” It’s the dude from the night before and… oh what the hell, if he was part of some kind of elaborate magi kidnapping ring then he’d have gone after Stiles last night when he was drunk and his guard was down.

Stiles gets in and slams the door mere seconds before the Camaro shrieks away from the curb.

“You mind explaining to me what you’re doing out on your own?” It’s easy to peg him as a werewolf now. He’s clearly agitated enough that his face has started to do that thing where it crumples in on itself in preparation of sprouting a snout.

“One of the asshole teachers sent me out on an errand.” Stiles sighs and watches the mystery man watch them drive away in the rearview mirror.

“Is he trying to get you killed?”

“Maybe?” Stiles shrugs and belatedly remembers his manners. “Thank you for getting me out of there. I, uh, don’t suppose you’d mind dropping me off at the ritzy apothecary on Fifth St. and Asmodeus Boulevard?”

The werewolf shoots him a look that could peel paint. “I’m taking you back to the Institute.” He growls and his eyes shimmer with blue light as hair sprouts along the line of his jaw and in that moment he looks so much like Scott going through an involuntary wolf-out that Stiles just reacts. He reaches out and covers one of the werewolf’s hands where he’s gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles and saps away the anger bleeding off the man in waves.

This, right here, is the reason for everything; the reason where werewolves and humans have never been able to split apart for long. Stiles takes the anger, a bit of confusion, and something else that he can’t quite identify but is too big and frightening for the werewolf to handle on his own. He takes all of that excess emotional energy and pulls it into himself, converting it into the power he uses to fuel his spells.

“No arguments here.” Stiles pulls back his hand when it’s clear that wolf-boy’s got a grip on himself once more. “I’m just pointing out that maybe, possibly we could go by way of Asmodeus so I don’t rack up another demerit that’ll keep me from graduating.”

For some reason that seems to be a convincing argument, although Stiles can’t possibly say why Mr. Sourwolf has any vested interest in Stiles not being held back a semester. Well, whatever. So long as Harris gets his Super Special Mandrake, Stiles cannot be made to care.

The Camaro makes the trip to the apothecary and back onto campus well within Stiles’ forty minute window and Sourwolf doesn’t stick around for Stiles to thank him. He just scowls and accelerates away almost before Stiles even has the door shut.

Magister Harris isn’t in his office when Stiles gets there, which is just fiiiiine because it means Harris can’t give him another suicide mission.

Just to be sure, though, Stiles hightails it to the commissary and doesn’t come out until well after the dinner hour is over.

As he walks back to his dorm that night, full of curly fries and a truly awful hamburger, he keeps getting an itch at the back of his neck like someone is watching him. However, whenever he checks there’s no one around.

“Probably my imagination.” Stiles tells himself, but hurries back to his room just the same.

His room is cold again the next morning, but this time the window’s properly closed and Stiles has a very long mental debate about whether or not it’s worth his time to report the heating malfunction to housekeeping.

In the end he decides that it isn’t. In three days this room is going to be someone else’s problem. Let them deal with it.

Stiles sees Sourwolf around campus a few times in the days leading up the choosing faire. He tries to wave once, but the older man is turned away and (ironically) talking to a group of younger werewolves that Scott likes to call the ‘Leather Triplets’ and as nicknames go that one is pretty damn accurate.

Although it’s not like Stiles is in any position to poke fun at people who like to live out the stereotype because, dude, between his splotchy robe and ink-stained jeans he wears under it he’s like a poster child for absentminded scholars everywhere (although maybe the Vitruvian Geek t-shirt edges him out of that category.)

Either way, the days pass in their own way. Stiles finishes up his projects and presents his senior project to the Headmaster. He gets some fairly decent commentary, but nothing spectacular. Lydia is the one who wows the review committee with her thesis on sympathetic magic in relation to rare astrological events.

Graduation is… kind of awesome and kind of weird at the same time. It’s nothing like when he graduated high school. There’s too much magical pomp and ceremony for that, but that doesn’t stop his dad from sneaking out into the aisle to film the whole thing even if two thirds of it won’t be viewable because of all the werewolves present whiting out the shot.

Scott walks the stage with Allison (who turns out to be freaking adorable, a black robe mage, and the Headmaster’s daughter so Scott has pretty much hit the partnership lottery). Stiles walks alone, which makes his dad happy because it means that there aren’t any lycanthropes nearby to foul the shot. Harris is handing out the diplomas and he looks like he’s bitten into a radioactive lemon when he’s forced to hand over Stiles’.

Maybe it’s a little vindictive, but after the whole mandrake incident his discomfort is sweet music to Stiles’ ears.

Stiles’ dad takes him out for dinner in celebration afterwards and asks some really poorly disguised questions about whether Stiles has picked out any likely candidates for partnership, mostly aimed at subtly implying that there are some nice single lady lycanthropes back in Beacon Hills.

“…and guys.” The Sheriff adds quickly. “Also guys. If that’s more your… I mean, you and Scott might have been … uh… although probably not since he’s with that nice Argent girl now.”

“Dad, he’s a werewolf. They’re all pretty much pansexual.” Stiles does not comment on his own preferences or lack thereof. That’s just not a conversation he’s willing to have with his dad ever. He’s still smarting from the lecture his dad gave him on the Birds and the Bees back in the sixth grade, literally years after he’d discovered how to de-fang the Net Nanny. There were finger puppets involved. No one escaped with their dignity intact. “Maybe I’ll find a partner at the Faire. I have to go anyway.” He shrugs because the Institute’s arbitrary rules regarding magi who happen to be minors are weird.

“Just, keep your options open?” His dad has that slightly dopey ‘I am being open minded!’ expression parents get when there’s something specific they really want you to do, but know it’s not fair for them to come right out and say it. “There’s always job waiting for you back home.” He sobers. “Seriously, there’s a job. Right now the only red robe in my department is Joe Greenberg and… just no.”

His dad drops him off back at the dorms so he can finish packing up and Stiles immediately misses him (more specifically the part where his dad is armed) when he opens up his door and finds Sourwolf asleep on his bed. The window is open and now that Stiles is actually paying attention, he realizes that the lock’s been broken from the outside… and probably has been for a while.

Stiles kicks the foot of his bed without ceremony and the werewolf jolts awake with an expression of red-eyed fury that quickly melts into something a little closer to ‘oh shit!’

“So you’re the hangover fairy, huh.” Stiles guesses and squints at Sourwolf’s face. Funny, last he saw his eyes had glowed blue and not red. Someone’s had an upgrade. “Since when have you been an Alpha?”

“Since I caught my uncle creeping around the Institute.” Sourwolf slides off Stiles’ bed and jerks his jacket into place. “He killed my sister for her rank and then risked our pack’s federal charter by trying to take thralls. Despite what you might think, the cops do actually pay attention when one of you goes missing.”

Stiles frowns and then remembers the red eyed stranger who was following him the day Sourwolf picked him up in his car. “So, wait… that guy was your uncle? Did you challenge him after that?”

“A few days later. I had to build support.” The man shrugs a shoulder like it was no big deal, like fighting a freshly promoted Alpha at the height of his power was just something you do over the weekend. It perhaps explains why he was making time with the leather trio. Fashion challenged they might be, but they also represent the top 5% of the Theriomorph College warrior program. “No point in taking the pack if the Betas won’t obey.”

“…and your reason for breaking into my dorm room?”  Stiles persists because this is really the main sticking point for him. Everything else is all very reasonable and sane sounding, except for the part where this conversation got started because he was making like Goldilocks in Stiles’ bed.

…and for some reason, the wards didn’t fry him the second he set foot in the room.

Sourwolf deflates a little at that. “The college is far from home and I’m too new to my rank to… relax. Around the others.” He isn’t quite looking Stiles in the eye. “I …I needed a safe place. To rest.”

“So you came here.” Stiles crosses his arms.

“You’re the only other person I know in this town.” Sourwolf looks up at him and there’s something …something not right about what he’s saying. It doesn’t match his expression and Stiles knows without being able to say how he knows that he’s being lied to.

It’s just a guess, little more than gut instinct, that makes Stiles reach out a hand towards Sourwolf. He doesn’t quite make contact, but rather cups his hand around the curve of his jaw and is gratified when he instinctively leans into it. Magic flows into Stiles even from such a brief contact, more than he should have been able to glean from a lycanthrope he’s only met twice and drawn off of once before.

“The only person you know, huh?” Stiles asks because this? This feels an awful lot like a proto-bond; just the bare foundations of something greater, but Stiles could build such a partnership on it. He never even felt it take root and start to grow, but it’s already light years past what he had with Scott. He’s read about similar naturally-occurring bonds before, but they’re rare. At the very least it explains why the protections on Stiles’ room didn’t react to the trespass. “Soooo. You were talking about fixation when we first met?”

Sourwolf hasn’t pulled away from his touch, which is a good sign. Rather, his eyes have gone heavy-lidded and sleepy looking. He rallies at Stiles’ jibe though. “Shut up, I could smell you the second I set foot on campus.” He mutters. “Then I find you drunk off your ass on the top of a five story drop fresh off a break up. I’m not stupid. I was going to wait and do it right, but then Peter…” He closes his eyes. “It was hard. I needed… this. You.  I needed you and I couldn’t have you yet. So I –made do.”

“You snuck into my room at night, didn’t you?” Stiles guesses and Sourwolf sighs.

“I snuck into your room at night.” He agrees, sounding like he’s still feeling a bit sore about having needed to do that. Stiles already had the impression that dignity means a lot to this guy, what with the muscle car and the leather and all, but this is the final confirmation.

“You know, this would be exponentially less awkward if you’d tell me your name.” Stiles points out as his partner-to-be’s hands creep up his sides. He doesn’t mind so much, being a mage kind of means becoming inured to weird shit. Besides, after the breaking and entering and the bed-appropriation, Stiles isn’t under any illusions that this is going to be a platonic partnership like he had with Scott.

He is, surprisingly, okay with this. He’s had to watch Sourwolf wander around campus in those tight-ass jeans and leather for an entire week. Being in a position to tap that? More than all right.

“Derek.” Derek pulls him in closer with this soft wondering expression that Stiles has no idea what to do with. Fortunately he doesn’t seem to need to do anything except let Derek touch him. Magic crackles along his skin under Derek’s palms and it’s pretty clear this is going to be a spectacular pairing. “Derek Hale.”