The unfortunate thing about being a supernatural college student is the fact that no amount of awesome telekinetic power can negate the annoyance of group work. It isn’t that his group is bad, per se, but they’ve been sitting in the special collections reading room of the research library for twenty minutes without having made any real progress and Stiles is starting to get hungry. The very old (and strangely tingly?) volume of Croatian mythology they’re supposed to be considering is open in front of them, looking a little judgmental, he thinks, while his group-mates: Dreadlocks, Nose Ring and Very Large Biceps, argue quietly about the direction of their project.
His phone rings and he nearly tips over backward in the chair he’d been precariously balanced on. He’s only able to save himself with an impressive pinwheel and a full-body jerk that will probably necessitate a visit to the chiropractor later, but he does save himself. Which is the important thing.
The girl with nose ring—Raven? Rowan? Gives him some side-eye at the ringtone. It’s Howlin’ For You by the Black Keys and Stiles is unrepentant.
“Oh, shit, hold on guys,” Stiles says, “it’s my husband.”
“Husband?” Dreadlocks says.
Stiles tries not to be offended by the identical looks of shock on the rest of the group’s faces.
“What’s up, sweet cheeks?” he says.
“Stiles,” Derek sighs.
“Yes, love muffin?”
Stiles grins. “What Derek?”
“He’s married?” Biceps says to Dreadlocks. “Like, to another person?”
Stiles resists the urge to roll his eyes. To be fair, the new semester only started the week before so he hasn’t had a chance to introduce himself fully to anyone in his classes, much less start waxing poetic about his husband’s abs. He’s getting there, though, ok?
“I’m here,” Derek says, verbose as ever.
“Here? Like here in the city or here on campus?”
“Here in the library,” Derek says. “They won’t let me into special collections without a student ID.”
Stiles stands, flannel shirt catching on the back of his chair, and he has to execute another graceless but effective self-saving maneuver. He pushes his phone between his ear and shoulder, shoving his laptop into his bag.
“Oh my god, Derek. You weren’t supposed to get back until tomorrow! How are you here?”
“I got an earlier flight. And I thought I’d meet you so you didn’t have to walk home alone.”
“My hero. Are you prepared?”
“Prepared?” Derek asks, wary.
“For your hug. It’s going to be a good one. Like. At least ten feet of a running head start. Possibly down some stairs depending on where you are. Are you in the entryway or the main lobby?”
“Dude. I haven’t seen you in 36 days. This is going to be a Notebook-level reunion, ok? Just submit yourself to this. And maybe do a few squats to warm up or something.”
Derek laughs, probably despite himself.
“Just come find me.”
“Will do. I’m packing up now, one sec.”
He pushes his phone to his chest with one hand, throwing his backpack onto the opposite shoulder.
“I’ve got to head out, guys. Are we done for the day or--?”
His group gladly accepts this as an excuse to pack up their things as well, trailing behind Stiles as he moves through the glass doors of the reading room and into the open floor of special collections.
“So do we want to meet after class again on Wednesday or do this on a Google doc?” he asks.
Nose Ring shrugs.
“Google doc,” Biceps says.
“What’s a Google doc?” Dreadlocks asks.
“Jesus,” Stiles mutters. He passes the phone to his other hand so he can access the second backpack strap as they start to descend the stairs.
“Hey,” he says into the phone, “We’re heading down, I’m just making a plan with my group real quick though, ok?”
“Ok,” Derek answers. “What are you wearing?”
Stiles sighs. “Derek, the time for phone sex has passed, you’re going to see me in less than a minute.”
“Stiles.” Derek sounds pained.
“Ha. Sorry. Red plaid. Grey beanie. Not that it’ll be difficult for you to—ohmygodIseeyou.”
He hangs up, stows his phone in his back pocket, and pulls the adjustable ends of his backpack straps so it’s tight between his shoulder-blades. Then he makes a mad dash for his husband.
Because Derek is here. And he hasn’t seen his stupid, stubbly, grumpy, glasses-wearing face in 36 days and that’s unforgivable and just. He loves him. So much.
Derek catches him, because of course he does. They’ve been doing this for five years now. He has embraced (pun intended) Stiles quirks. Or resigned himself to them, anyway.
“Hey,” Stiles says, pushing his face against Derek’s.
Derek makes a happy noise, guttural and sweet, and rubs his jaw along Stiles’ cheek.
“Hey,” he answers.
“I missed you.”
“Don’t you dare Han me.”
“I love you,” he says, quiet, but serious.
Stiles tightens his legs around Derek’s waist, dropping a quick kiss to his mouth.
Derek puts Stiles down after a second kiss because they are, in fact, making a bit of a scene, and Stiles’ group, still descending the stairs, is staring.
“You got a new tattoo,” Derek says, touching the still-tender patch of skin under Stiles’ left ear.
“I did,” he agrees. “It’s for puzzles.”
“Puzzles,” Derek repeats, frowning at it.
“You totally want to lick it, don’t you?”
Derek flushes and Stiles’ grin widens.
Derek has his quirks too.
“It’s ok,” Stiles says. “You can. Just maybe wait until we get home.”
“Can we go now?” he asks hopefully.
“Jesus, you’re cute. How did I end up married to you?”
“That’s what I want to know,” Nose Ring says, not even making an effort to be quiet.
Derek glares at her.
“One sec, honeybunch, I was just making a plan with my group. Let me—finish that real quick. Then we’ll go home.”
Derek looks aggrieved at the pet name, but he reaches for Stiles’ hand anyway. “Okay.”
“So. Guys. Google doc or--?”
“You’re married?” Biceps says again.
He holds up the hand that Derek hasn’t commandeered and then remembers belatedly that, for humans, the inked wolf circling his wrist doesn’t actually mean anything. To other Fae, and wolves familiar with them, he is quite literally wearing his heart on his sleeve, but to his group, it’s just another tattoo on his admittedly well-adorned body.
“Yes,” Derek says shortly. He’s still glaring at Nose Ring.
“Uh. I’m good with a Google doc,” she says.
“What’s a Google doc?” Dreadlocks repeats.
“Oh, god, I’ll show you,” she says, “How did you get through high school without—you know what? I don’t want to know. Come on.”
Stiles figures that’s good enough and gives Derek’s hand a squeeze, pulling him in the opposite direction.
As he pushes open the frankly gaudy entrance doors, he hears Biceps say again, distantly, “he’s married?”
“Well,” Stiles says, “that continues to be offensive. I mean. I understood it was a little weird to be married when I was a teenager but I’m twenty now. A full-fledged adult. Like. Mature, and shit.”
“I’m serious! We have a mortgage, Derek. We do our taxes.”
“I do our taxes,” Derek murmurs.
“We do couples yoga and monitor our fiber intake.”
“I don’t monitor my fiber intake.”
“That’s because you’re a werewolf and your colon can just regrow itself or whatever when you treat it badly. I have a human colon, Derek. It has human colon needs.”
“Please stop talking about your colon.”
Stiles is quiet for a few seconds.
“Actually, I’m kind of curious. Do you know if werewolves can get dietary illnesses? Like vitamin deficiencies? Oh, oh, like scurvy?”
“I know. That’s what I find distressing.”
“I have a curious mind.”
Derek tugs Stiles into his side, letting go of his hand so he can cup the back of Stiles’ neck. He rubs his thumb just beneath the collar of Stiles’ shirt, dragging the pad of it lightly over the new tattoo, then lower to the slightly raised scar tissue at the bend where neck meets shoulder.
Stiles shivers and goes quiet.
“I really did miss you,” he says. “Seriously. I don’t want to do that again. I didn’t like it.”
Derek uses the leverage he has to pull Stiles into an uncoordinated mid-walk kiss. It’s messy and kind of terrible but Stiles loves it.
“Okay,” Derek says.
“We won’t do it again.”
“Good. Now let’s pick up the pace. You’ve got a tattoo to lick. Actually, can we eat first before the sexy times? I forgot to pack a lunch today and if you take two hours to rub your face all over my body like you did after your last trip I may pass out before we get to the main event.”
Derek sighs. “And they say romance is dead.”
“Dude. I’m trying to save you emotional distress here. I don’t want you to feel like you’re not meeting my needs or whatever. My needs right now being a sandwich.”
“I’m so glad I came home early.”
“Don’t front, you love me.”
“I do,” Derek says, squeezing his hand. “And I went to the grocery store on my way home. I got ingredients to make Ruebens.”
Stiles beams at him. “Best husband ever.”
Derek rolls his eyes, but the tips of his ears go pink.
Jesus. Stiles thinks. I am so damn lucky.
10 years previous
The unfortunate thing about being a supernatural graduate student was that no amount of awesome telekinetic power could negate the annoyance of undergrads. Particularly freshmen undergrads. Particularly freshman undergrads in 8am classes that you were required to teach in order to continue receiving fellowship funding. Particularly werewolf freshman undergrads attending the 8am class you were required to teach, whose nostrils flared every time you gestured and who’s eyes tracked you, unblinking and feral, as you moved at the front of the classroom.
Teagan had been in town for three days and was still living out of a hotel because she hadn’t found a place to stay yet, and on her first day as a PhD student she walked into an early-morning class of bleary-eyed freshman and nearly walked right back out again because in the back row was a hulking, muscle-bound, monster of a werewolf who was far too alert for her liking and eyeing her like he might enjoy eating her for breakfast rather than the protein shake on his desk.
Teagan managed to pull herself together and walk through the syllabus, field a few expected questions about her age (yes, she was only 23, and it was her first year of teaching, but she had a masters degree and she knew what she was doing) and coax her students through the requisite first-day class introductions: Name, hometown, major, interesting fact about self.
When she got to the werewolf he spoke without inflection.
Name: Connor Walsh Evans
Hometown: Sawtooth, New Mexico
At “interesting fact” he paused, then smirked darkly and said, “I like to hunt.”
Teagan rubbed the protection tattoo on her inner elbow through the fabric of her sweater and gritted her teeth.
By the end of the class she knew she smelled like nervous sweat and she made sure to pack up her laptop slowly and take her time shutting down the projector. The last thing she wanted was a wolf at her back as she walked across campus to her office.
She made it through the rest of the day without incident and, after leaving her evening seminar class, was starting to feel optimistic about the whole grad school endeavor. Naturally, this was when a man appeared, seemingly out of nowhere in the empty hallway, and fell into step with her. He wasn’t a student, not a typical one, anyway. He was probably in his 40’s, tall and lean and with a curve to his mouth that unsettled her.
“Can I help you?” She asked, maybe a little too sharp.
“You smell like fire,” he said, “And pain.”
She blinked at the non sequitur. “That’s incredibly invasive and also inappropriate.” She kept her voice low. She couldn’t tell what he was—he had some sort of blocking cast on him, but she was guessing werewolf. If so, he could hear her just fine. “Now, can I help you with something?”
“You can leave.”
“I am leaving, I’m on my way home now. Also, still inappropriate.”
“I don’t mean campus. I mean the school. Your kind isn’t welcome here.”
She tightened her hold on the straps of her backpack.
“Go fuck yourself.”
“Fine,” he said easily, holding the door for her. “But don’t say you weren’t warned.”
She opened the adjoining door rather than walk through the one he proffered her and his eyes lightened at the slight, not an actual shift, not technically yellow, but close enough to make her suddenly realize how very, very vulnerable she was.
“Teagan!” One of her classmates yelled across the quad. “You still want a ride to the train station?”
The wolf—and she was certain he was a wolf now— blinked, eyes darkening to their previous brown again. He crooked one hand, beckoning her toward her classmate with a mean smile.
“Safe travels,” he said. “I’ll see you soon.”
She gave him the finger.
The unfortunate thing about being a supernatural graduate student was the inherent vulnerability. She had no pack to protect her, here. No family or friends. Worse: she had no anchor. She was a sitting duck and an accident waiting to happen and as much as she’d enjoyed living in denial the past few days, she realized something had to change.
When she got “home,” tossing her hotel keycard onto the freshly-made bed, she retrieved a beer from the mini-fridge and took a long pull from it, putting her phone on speaker to replay the same voicemail message she’d been replaying for the past twenty-four hours:
Hi Teagan, this is Robert Ashford, Alpha of New Mexico. I hope you’re getting settled in nicely. I know I extended an invitation for you to visit the house when we first agreed to your presence in my territory, but I’d like to extend it again. I actually have a proposition for you, that I think could benefit both of us, considering your unique situation. I know your primary goal at this point must be finding a suitable anchor, and my pack would greatly benefit from fae influence. I’d like to offer you a four-year contract: my pack’s exclusive rights to you and your abilities in exchange for an anchor for you, pack protection, and room and board here on the reservation for the duration of your graduate studies. You can take the train to campus or I can provide a vehicle for you as well. Obviously you’re welcome to ignore this message if an agreement like this holds no interest for you, but if you’re willing to speak further on this matter please give me a call and we’ll set up a time to talk. Hopefully I’ll speak to you soon.
She played it again.
Then one more time.
She sighed, finished her beer, and found Robert Ashford in her contact list.
She hit “call” before she could talk herself out of it.
Stiles wakes up just past 6am to an empty bed and the smell of bacon. The bacon only slightly negates the disappointment of the empty bed.
He had plans, okay?
He stumbles into the kitchen, decidedly non-sexily, and drapes himself over Derek’s bare back, pressing a messy kiss to the nape of his neck.
“Too early,” he mumbles.
“Sorry,” Derek says, shifting the bacon in the pan. It pops and he takes a step back, turning the stove eye down a few degrees. Stiles moves with him.
“I had sexy plans,” Stiles says, nose shoved into the rumpled hair at the back of Derek’s head. “You ruined them. You are a sexy plan ruiner. That’s like. The worst kind of ruiner.”
Stiles realizes he’s mostly incoherent but he’s too sleep-dumb to care.
Derek laughs softly, tipping his head so he can rub his jaw against Stiles.’ His stubble is verging on beard-territory and Stiles closes his eyes, grinning against the tickle of it. Derek kisses his nose before turning back around to see to the bacon.
They are disgustingly domestic.
Stiles loves it.
“Sorry,” Derek says again, “my internal clock is still off. You can go back to sleep if you want.”
“Not without you. ‘M tired of sleeping alone. Big stupid bed. I almost got a dog.”
Derek makes a noise that could either be amusement or disgust.
“If we ever get a dog it’s not allowed in the bed anyway.”
“Says the man responsible for the dog hair on the couch.”
“Wolf hair,” Derek corrects, turning to nip at Stiles’ ear. “But thank you for not getting a dog while I was gone.”
“You would have given me the disappointed eyebrows. Also I didn’t want to be a single parent until you got back. Hey, what about a cat? They’re less work and just as cuddly. Maybe we could kidnap Stormy from your dad when we visit at Christmas.”
“We’re not kidnapping Stormy.”
“So we should hit up the Humane Society then?”
“I think we should wait until you’ve graduated to get a pet. Since we’re not sure where we’ll end up.”
Stiles huffs. “Are you…paw-sitive?””
Derek’s shoulders slump.
He makes a pained noise.
“I’m just saying, purr-haps we should talk about this?”
“Help meowt here,” Stiles says. He’s trying to stay serious but Derek can feel his smile against the back of his neck.
“No? You don’t think I could…purr-suade you,” he murmurs, voice low, digging his teeth lightly into the meat of Derek’s shoulder
“There is literally nothing sexy about cat puns,” Derek says.
Stiles sighs, slumping a bit.
“I can’t believe I married someone who doesn’t want to use puns in the bedroom. Honestly. What was I thinking?”
“Please,” Derek says, turning off the stove eye. “I’m a cat-ch.”
Stiles goes still. “Did you just—“
“Can you get the orange juice out of the refrigerator?” Derek asks, shrugging Stiles off of him. “The bacon is ready.”
“Uh, no.” Stiles says. “We’re going to talk about the fact that you just made, like, the second ever pun in your grumpy, pun-hating existence, this is a magical moment, Derek, we should savor the—ah, fuck.”
The frying pan bangs onto the countertop where Derek drops it in his hurry to face Stiles again. Stiles is bent at the waist, one hand wrapped around his opposite wrist, teeth gritted in pain.
“Fuck,” he says again. “Where’s my phone?”
Derek doesn’t move, staring at Stiles’ pointer finger where one of the tattooed rings has gone dark—a swirl of inky black-green. It’s bleeding from its edges too, wispy tendrils of red, and Derek can’t discern if it’s actual blood or—
“Derek,” Stiles says again, urgent. “Phone.”
“Sorry,” he slides on his socks around the hall corner, grabbing Stiles’ phone from its charger on his nightstand, and runs back to the kitchen.
Stiles is leaning on the counter, now, shoulders around his ears, both palms pressed flat, breathing intentionally slow.
“Who is it?” Derek asks, pulling up Stiles’ contacts.
“Teagan,” Stiles says, “It’s Teagan. Call Walsh.”
10 Years Previous
Hi Teagan, this is Robert Ashford, Alpha of New Mexico—
She deleted the message while sitting on the train, watching the scenery outside get progressively less scrubby and more mountainous. Her clothes smelled like the hand soap from the motel because she hadn’t been able to find a laundromat within walking distance and her options were washing them in the sink or wearing them dirty. Since she didn’t want to wear dirty clothes to meet someone who would definitely be able to tell that they were dirty, she figured sink-washing was the way to go. Now, though, she could actively smell the artificial scent clinging to her jacket, and she wondered if it might be offensively strong to a wolf-nose.
Too late to doubt herself now.
It was Saturday, the first week of her life as a grad student behind her, and she was on her way to meet a man who she both desperately wanted to impress and…was somewhat fearful of. She wasn’t particularly fond of wolves and, judging by the current political climate—the feeling was probably mutual. But there she was, sitting on the train, wearing hand-soap-clothes, and petting the protection rune on her inner elbow.
She leaned her head against the window and sighed.
A human met her at the station, which was a surprise, but a welcome one.
She introduced herself as Leticia, the wife of one of Robert Ashford’s sons, which Teagan found equally surprising. Intermarriage with humans was usually frowned upon in wolf communities, but she found herself relaxing on the short car ride to the reservation. It occurred to her, as they passed through the main estate gates, that sending Leticia was probably intentional.
Leticia was small and curvy, with so much hair that it nearly didn’t all fit in the car. She kept up a steady but not overwhelming string of conversation as they entered the house, and Teagan touched the small skunk tattoo on her left bicep, letting it stretch and sniff around for a moment. It was for prudence, awareness, and good judgment, and when it settled again, content, a moment later, she let out a breath.
“—so sorry,” Leticia was saying, offering her a glass of—lemonade? “He was supposed to be done by now, but it really shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Would you like to wait in the sunroom?”
She took the glass, slick with condensation, and followed Leticia through the open floor plan of the kitchen and into what was clearly the sunroom. It was full of plants, yoga equipment, and two hammocks, as well as an assortment of floor pillows and a low table in the far corner.
“Make yourself comfortable,” she said. “I’ve got to go check on the kids, but he really should only be another moment or two.”
She tucked herself into the corner, back to the wall so she could see both the door from the kitchen and the door leading to the back porch, and set the glass of lemonade on the table.
She touched the skunk tattoo again, still content, and tried to slow her heartbeat.
They had invited her because they wanted her, she reminded herself. She was not in danger. Probably.
There was a commotion outside and she kneeled up, pushing aside a wide frond of the fig tree next to her so she could see into the back yard.
There were three juvenile wolves –all legs and fluffy puppy-fur—chasing a man in human-form who looked as if he was returning from a trail run. She admired, for a moment, the sweat-slick plane of his naked back, smiling despite herself as he goaded the pups on. It occurred to her belatedly that the man was running toward the house, more specifically, the outside door to the sunroom.
She sat back down, uncertain what to do, and a few moments later, the glass door a few feet away from her opened.
“Uh-uh,” the man said, laughing, “put your skin on before you come inside, Mom just cleaned the floors—Diego, quit it. Alex, watch your nose.”
After a moment of snuffling and puppy nails against glass, the door closed again and she watched as he bent, back to her, to remove his shoes. Teagan waited for the inevitable moment when he noticed her.
His head came up as the second shoe came off, and he executed a frankly impressive 90 degree turn before fully straightening or regaining his footing, at which point they both let out noises of disbelief.
Because of course.
Of course the one, troublesome werewolf student she had would live on the reservation.
Connor Walsh Evans, barefooted, wearing tiny neon green shorts and nothing else, crossed his arms, eyes lightened to a yellow-gold.
“You” he said.
She spared a moment to wonder why he’d been running in his human skin before answering.
“Me,” she said.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was invited. By Robert Ashford. I’m waiting for him.”
She curled her fingers around the cuffs of her jacket but didn’t have a chance to the respond as the door leading to the interior of the house opened and an older man, perhaps early sixties, entered.
“Hi, Teagan, I’m sorry to keep you waiting, I’m Robert.” He smiled, nodding to Connor by the door.
“Walsh! I see you’ve met Teagan. She’s a student at the University as well. Teagan, this is my youngest son, Walsh. He’s a freshman this year.”
“We’ve met,” Connor—Walsh?— said shortly.
Robert took a moment to consider them both. His smile dimmed a bit.
“I see. You look thirsty, Walsh. Why don’t you go get a drink and let Teagan and I talk.”
Walsh looked like he wanted to disagree with that, but ducked his head slightly and brushed past his father through the door to the kitchen.
Robert watched him go, the skin between his eyebrows pinched, and sighed, moving toward Teagan.
“I apologize for my son. He’s had a…trying time, adjusting to collegiate life.”
“Oh.” Teagan stood because she was pretty sure that was good manners. “That’s. Unfortunate?”
He extended his hand.
She shook it, because that was also good manners.
“Indeed. I hope his behavior doesn’t influence your opinion of my offer.”
“I—what exactly is your offer? I mean, your message said—but I don’t—“
He smiled slightly and she stopped, flushing.
“Could you maybe give me a little more detail? About what exactly you’d want from me? And, um, what you’re offering in return?”
“Of course. Please, let’s sit.”
She dropped back into her previous position, and he took a floor pillow opposite her, looking strangely at ease despite the fact that he was wearing a suit.
“At minimum we want wards for the territory, consultation on alliances, your tracking of the safety and good health of the most prominent members of the pack, and your physical presence at any important meetings between packs or individuals of a non-human persuasion. If you are interested in providing assistance with lower profile issues within our community that is up to your discretion.”
Teagan took a sip of her lemonade, considering.
“That sounds reasonable.”
“As for provisions for you in return, we are willing to accommodate any reasonable requests, but the initial offer is housing, food, a vehicle should you require one, and an anchor. I’m assuming you would rather not live in the main house, or in one of the other multi-family buildings, so I took the liberty of renovating one of the greenhouses into a studio living space. It’s small, but it’s a distance from the central part of the reservation so you’ll have privacy, and it will facilitate any plant-growing and animal-keeping you intend to engage in.”
Teagan put down the lemonade.
“That’s—you put a lot of thought into this.”
“I wanted to present a compelling offer.”
“Well, you’ve succeeded. A greenhouse would be—“
She forced herself to stop.
“My primary concern is finding an anchor. I’m curious how you intend to, uh, facilitate that.”
“I have spoken at length to several young men and women who will be living on-reservation for the next five years. There are currently four significant contenders who understand what would be required of them who are willing to undertake the responsibility, should you choose them.”
“Oh. Well that’s.” Awkward, honestly, but it was better than anything she’d been able to come up with. “That’s good.”
The traced her finger around the rim of her glass.
“What about protection?”
Robert tipped his head, lupine, and unsettling as he considered her.
“Has someone been bothering you?”
“Not exactly? There was just a wolf on campus who threatened me. Earlier this week.”
Robert’s eyes flared briefly yellow.
“One of mine?”
“I don’t know. He was middle-aged; not a student. But his aura was blocked. I didn’t know he was a wolf until I made him angry and his eyes changed.”
Robert took a deep breath at the reminder, shaking his head minutely.
“None of mine have the connections necessary for that. But the fact that there is an unknown wolf in my territory is…disconcerting. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.” He paused, blinked, and then smiled, somewhat ruefully. “Back to the initial topic at hand: Of course, we will guarantee you protection to the best of our ability.”
She felt like she should have more questions but the promise of free lodging—in a greenhouse—an anchor, and protection was enough to solidify her decision.
“I—,” she tried to remember even a vestige of the wolf-politics she’d read up on and found her memory entirely lacking. She decided frankness would probably be the best course of action.
“I accept your offer. Uh. Sir.”
Robert beamed at her.
“That’s wonderful, Teagan. I’ll have my lawyer finish the paperwork and we can sign everything Monday. Would you like to move in immediately? I can have someone drive you back to retrieve your things now, if you’d like.”
“Oh. That would be great, actually.”
She stood as Robert did, reeling a bit, awkwardly holding her glass of, still mostly-full, lemonade with both hands.
“Walsh,” Robert called, “can you join us again?”
Conner—Walsh—whoever he was— appeared in the doorway. He was still mostly naked, sweaty and unfairly attractive and Teagan suddenly had a bad feeling.
“Walsh,” Robert said, “Teagan has just agreed to become the pack’s temporary emissary, isn’t that wonderful?”
“Wonderful,” Walsh repeated, looking as if Teagan’s choices were made purely to spite him.
“I need you to drive her back into town so she can retrieve her things. You still have the keys to the truck, yes?”
“Yes,” Walsh grates out.
Robert turned to grin at Teagan again, apparently unconcerned that his son looked like he wanted to eviscerate her.
“I’m afraid I need to see to other things, but I’ll leave you in Walsh’s capable hands. Perhaps we can talk more at dinner this evening?”
“Dinner,” Teagan agreed faintly.
Robert nodded and left the room.
Walsh didn’t growl at her but it was a close thing.
“Wait here,” he said darkly. “I need to change.”
Thank God for small mercies, Teagan thought.
The end of the semester is kicking my ass but by the 8th I must have final grades in for my undergrads (who really are amazing and I'm so proud of them) as well as all of my own final papers turned in. In the following month I'll have a much more regular updating schedule as I have no intention of doing anything academic over the winter break. Look for another update around the 10th, and thanks for being patient!
It’s usually around a five-hour drive from Boulder Colorado to Taos New Mexico. Derek makes it in a little over 4, holding Stiles’ hand on the center consul, eyebrows pinched low and serious over his eyes.
They speak to Erica three times during the drive, getting updates and pieces of the story—still largely a mystery. Walsh was on an early morning run with Boyd in the preserve, Teagan was still asleep, recovering from the night before when she’d renewed the reservation’s wards. Halfway through the run, Walsh felt Teagan reach for his wolf, passed out, and when he came to, he couldn’t feel her through their bond anymore. He and Boyd returned to find her in the greenhouse, surrounded by mangled plants—sign of a struggle—unresponsive. They had no idea what happened to her, could pick up no scent of an intruder, and she’d gotten progressively worse, heart slowing, skin going cold, as the hours passed. The wolves could all smell she was dying, they just didn’t know why.
Stiles spends the trip with an ice pack around his opposite hand, slowly going through the dozen they brought in the cooler at his feet. This shouldn’t be a habit, he things. The fact that they have a freezer full of ice packs and a cooler waiting by the door isn’t right. Packed bags, constantly in the truck, a waiting email draft to his advisor about missing class, the uncertainty about the wellbeing of close friends and family; It shouldn’t be normal, but it is. And it’s not fair.
When they get to the Sawtooth reservation, there are two wolves in a pickup waiting at the main gate. They wave them through, then follow Derek’s car down the series of gravel roads to Teagan and Walsh’s house: set a fair distance from the rest of the reservation buildings
Stiles never gets used to how beautiful it is. Even after dozens of visits. Even in pain. The cabin is built off the side of a greenhouse, surrounded by a perennial, seemingly always-in-bloom garden, a host of fruit trees, and several rows of berry bushes. Inside the greenhouse, he knows, a veritable Eden is growing. He wants a space like that, someday. To share with Derek. To make a home.
The uneasy thought occurs to him that, if Teagan dies, the Sawtooth Pack may very well offer it to him. He gets out of the car, stomach sour, and reaches for Derek. He leaves the last, soggy, ice pack on the passenger seat and shoves his still-burning hand into the pocket of his hoody.
There are already two Jeeps and a Honda motorcycle parked in front of the cabin and the two wolves from the truck are somber as they accompany Stiles and Derek to the door.
“Boyd and Erica are with them. We’ll be out here if you need anything,” one of them says.
Derek says something to them, thanks, probably, but Stiles is too concerned with bracing himself and pushing open the door.
Boyd greets him in wolf-form, a soft head-butt to the hip before Erica launches herself at him. He loses track of Derek as she drags him forward, into the bedroom, and then. Well. He loses track of everyone, for a while. Everyone but Teagan.
She looks like she’s asleep, silver hair in a soft tangle that spills over the black of Walsh’s T-shirt. He’s sitting up against the headboard, one arm around her shoulders, one around her waist.
She looks like she’s asleep.
There’s no garish smear of blood, or rapid breathing, no sign at all that something is wrong except for the fact that Stiles’ finger still feels like it’s on fire and Walsh’s hands, where they’re holding her, are shaking.
“Please,” Walsh says. His voice is wrecked. “Please tell me there’s something you can do.”
“I don’t know,” Stiles says. “I’m not—I don’t know.”
He hasn’t been trained for this. Healing, yes, but for humans and wolves—not other fae. Not—He hasn’t learned this yet. Teagan hasn’t taught him this yet and she can’t because she’s—
“Stiles,” Derek says behind him, the palm of his hand warm against his lower back.
“Deep breath. What do you know?”
“Nothing—we weren’t supposed to cover this until next summer,” he looks, somewhat desperately, at Erica. “Are you sure there isn’t—?”
“We called everyone else we could think of while we were waiting for you,” Erica says. “No one was willing to come. Most hung up on us before we could even ask.”
Stiles swallows. “Okay,” he says. “Okay.” Derek’s hand moves in a slow circle on his back. He pushes up his sleeves, pressing his thumb hard against the tattoo for wisdom and clear thought over his wristbone. The small blue-ink whale stretches its fluke a few times before making a lazy circle around his forearm. The nearby tattoos ripple in the whale’s wake. Stiles closes his eyes.
“Okay,” he says again. “Has anyone seen this done before?”
“No,” Erica says. “No one on the reservation. I checked.”
Well. He’d known it was a long shot.
“Fuck. Okay. What about a fae to fae energy transfer?”
He vaguely remembers reading about the process being similar.
“No,” Erica says.
“Fucking oral histories,” Stiles mutters, pushing his palms into his eyes. “This would be so much easier if there was a goddam instruction manual.”
“You—“ Walsh clears his throat. “You might be able to use me. Our connection. It’s more involved than—well, than any other bonding tattoos that exist, I think. It’s similar to a Gemini pair bond. So she can borrow my sight. I don’t—I don’t know if you can use that to force a transfer but if you can it may give you enough time to talk to her.”
The whale tattoo, circling Stiles’ bicep, breeches over a rune for safety before making it’s way lazily up into his armpit. It tickles.
“That might work, actually. You going to be alright with me touching her?”
“Yes,” Walsh says through gritted teeth.
“Look, man, knowing it’s necessary and getting your wolf to understand that it’s necessary are two different things. I just wanna make sure I’m not about to get mauled.”
“I’m fine,” Walsh says again. “But—Derek?”
Derek’s hand slides off of Stiles’ back as he moves to stand at the head of the bed.
“I’m fine,” Walsh repeats. “But just in case.”
“Alright. Okay. Let me see your wrist, please?”
Walsh turns his forearm, not letting go of Teagan, but enough that Stiles can touch the white wolf that circles his wrist. The wolf stretches, yawns, then butts its head against Stiles’ fingers.
“Good,” he says, more to himself than anyone else. “Now hers. Brace yourself.”
The tattoo of Walsh’s wolf, curled around Teagan’s wrist like a bangle, takes much longer to wake up. It’s unsteady and weak as Stiles prods at it, and the white wolf on Walsh’s arm paces, watching.
“Okay,” Stiles says, a hand on each tattoo. He closes his eyes. Wiggles his fingers. Tries not to be terrified. He opens his eyes again.
“I have no idea if this is going to work,” he says. “I don’t—the best case here is that I can’t help her but worst case— I could end up hurting you in the process and I can’t—I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Please,” Walsh says. “Please, Stiles. You have to try. Please.”
“Fuck. Okay. Derek?”
“If Walsh passes out keep him upright and let me know if—“ Stiles swallows. “Uh. If his heart rate starts to drop, I guess.”
“Shit. Okay. Here we go.”
I can do this, he thinks, closing his eyes again. I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.
10 years previous
Teagan learned quickly that, when living on a wolf reservation, there was rarely solitude. Even in the relative remoteness of her greenhouse residence, she had a near-constant stream of visitors, in fur and skin, dropping by on their way out to run, taking naps in the sun on her porch, soliciting produce from the garden, or just keeping her company in the mornings and evenings when she was grading or researching. Her visitors were often helpful, particularly the children, who found her garden, and her ability to make things grow so quickly within it, fascinating. She never had to pull weeds herself, at least, though on occasion she did have to quell the more exuberant helpers, who pulled perfectly good plants as often as they did weeds.
There were a handful of non-permanent-resident wolves that, like Teagan, had taken up temporary sanctuary on the reservation for the duration of their college education. They were all undergraduates, but they were friendly, and eager to assist her when she needed muscle in exchange for fruit from her trees. In fact, nearly all of the wolves she encountered were shockingly friendly and helpful, and despite mistrusting this pleasantness at first, halfway through the semester Teagan resigned herself to the fact that they all apparently genuinely enjoyed her presence. Well. All but Walsh.
Walsh was a mystery. A rage-filled, childish, annoyingly attractive, mystery. It was a shame, considering that he was the one she spent the most time with, because, naturally, his schedule matched almost perfectly with hers, so she rode to and from campus with him every day. It was a thirty minute trip each way, and despite the dozens of hours they’d spent in the car over the past two months, she knew nothing about him except that he liked to run in human form, he routinely turned in dull but mechanically excellent essays, and, also somewhat annoyingly, they had similar taste in music. As a student, he was frustrating because, despite obvious intelligence, he didn’t appear interested in participating in class discussion, or writing about any topic with even a degree of passion. As a person, he was just as frustrating. And just as passionless.
It didn’t make any sense. He was an alpha’s son. A very powerful, wealthy, alpha’s son. One of the most well-known alpha’s in the US, in fact. He was intelligent, and good-looking. Why he was such a quiet, brooding, asshole, she couldn’t determine, but by midterms she’d had just about enough of his attitude.
It was the Friday before fall break and she’d decided to hold class outside. The students preferred sprawling in a crude circle on the lawn to being crammed into the closet of a classroom, and most were more attentive as a result. Walsh, however, fell asleep fifteen minutes into the lecture. Twenty minutes in, she called on him.
He didn’t so much as twitch.
“Walsh,” she repeated, louder.
His eyes snapped open and he sat up, baring teeth a shade too sharp to be human.
“My name is Connor,” he snapped.
Which. Was it? That was another mystery about him. Literally no one on the reservation called him Connor. And if his father was Robert Ashford, why was his last name on her attendance sheet “Evans”?
“Sorry,” she gritted out. “Connor. Would you please give an example of a sentence in the passive voice, and then correct it into the active voice?”
“The girl was eaten by the wolf,” he said, staring at her with such open hostility that the students around him shifted away, uncomfortable. “The wolf ate the girl.”
“Charming, thank you,”
He glared at her for the rest of the class, and, when she met him in the parking lot at the end of the day, he was already in the drivers seat of the truck, iPhone connected to the aux cable, Goo Goo Dolls blaring at a volume that had to be outright painful to his ears considering that it was borderline uncomfortable for hers. She was rather a fan of Let Love In , so she left the volume dial alone and waited to see how long he intended to be petty. It wasn’t until they’d hit the highway that he finally turned the volume down to a more reasonable level.
“Don’t do that shit again,” he said.
“What? Wake you up? You fall asleep during my class again I sure as hell will.”
“No. Don’t call me Walsh,” he growled. Actually, literally, growled.
“Jesus. Why not? Everyone on the reservation calls you Walsh.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not in fucking hiding on the reservation, am I?”
Teagan was lost.
“I’m lost,” she said.
Walsh shifted his grip on the steering wheel—flexing white knuckles.
“My father has a lot of enemies. It’s not safe for me to be enrolled there under my actual name.”
“Oh,” Teagan said. “Oh, shit. That’s why there wasn’t a distinction on my roll sheet. You’re stealth. The university let you register as human?”
“Yes. My father has a friend in the registrar’s office. They have my real information but arranged that on all university documents and online platforms my name is Connor Evans. They also allowed me dispensation to live off-campus as a freshman due to my special circumstances.”
His lip curled as he finished the sentence and Teagan…Teagan didn’t know what to say.
“You don’t seem, uh, happy about that.”
He laughed, dry and unamused, and Teagan wished she could see his eyes behind his sunglasses.
“I’ve been stuck on the reservation my entire life. College is supposed to be freeing, it’s supposed to be new experiences and friends but I’m just as much a prisoner now as I’ve ever been and I have to lie to everyone I meet on campus. Of course I’m not happy.”
“I don’t—couldn’t you leave, then? Go out of state for college?”
“You think I didn’t fucking try? No alphas would grant me temporary asylum in their territory. I was either too much of a liability or they didn’t want my father’s son on their land. I turned down a full ride scholarship to fucking Columbia because of my goddamn name.”
Walsh’s attitude suddenly made a lot more sense.
“That’s—“ She swallowed. “That’s seriously fucked up.”
He laughed again without humor.
“I’m sorry,” Teagan said. “I mean, for earlier. It would have been nice if someone had clued me in to the situation before, but I understand the whole name thing and why its important now and I won’t do it again.”
“You can’t be falling asleep in my class either, though.”
“Sorry,” he said, rough, but actually vaguely repentant. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
She winced a moment after the automatic question. It wasn’t any of her business and just because they’d just had something resembling a heart-to-heart exchange didn’t mean that he—
“I was mad,” Walsh says slowly, almost grudgingly. Teagan realized that, because of his circumstances it was unlikely he had anyone he could talk to and that—that made her chest hurt with sympathy. She was all too familiar with that particular phenomenon.
“My father doesn’t—“ Walsh stops, starts again. “We don’t see eye-to-eye about his expectations of me, for when the Alpha from Montana comes next month. I went for a run last night to blow off some steam and lost track of time.”
“You got back from your run at 6am,” Teagan says. “I saw you from my kitchen window.”
He’d been sweat-shiny and wearing a pair of blue shorts that were even tinier than the green ones. It had been memorable.
“Yeah,” Walsh agreed, eyes on the road.
“So…you ran all night.”
She realized, somewhat belatedly, that he did, indeed, look exhausted.
“Should I be driving?”
He coughed out another laugh. Self-deprecating, but actually amused. “I’ll be fine. My reflexes are still better than yours, even tired.”
They lapsed into silence for several minutes but he didn’t turn the music back up and she got the feeling he wanted to keep talking but wasn’t sure how.
She waited, silent, because she didn’t know what else to do either.
“I’m good at it,” Walsh says finally, “running, I mean. I’m really, really, good at it. I broke the existing record in every event I raced in high school. I mean, granted, wolf-divisions in track and field have only been around for six years, but still.”
“No,” Teagan said. “That’s—shit, that’s amazing.”
His grip on the steering wheel went tight again. His voice quieted.
“That’s what the scholarship to Columbia was for. Their track team.”
Teagan closes her eyes.
“Columbia is one of the best schools for non-human collegiate athletes.”
“The best,” he agreed lowly.
“And you can’t run here because you’re stealth,” she realized “they’d figure out you’re not human in about ten seconds.”
“Playing human wasn’t your choice, was it?”
“No,” Walsh says. “My father insisted. It’s easier this way.”
“But you’re miserable!”
Walsh laughed softly again and Teagan was getting really tired of hearing him make that hopeless, awful little sound in the back of his throat.
“It’s easier,” he repeated.
“It’s bullshit, is what it is,” she said. “I mean. It sounds like you could be an Olympic prospect.”
He shrugged. “Maybe.”
“What was the problem with the New York alpha? She’s decent. I know her. And she doesn’t have beef with your dad, right?”
“Yeah. She couldn’t take responsibility for me, though. Their emissary died two years ago and they haven’t replaced him yet. As high-profile as I would be, she wasn’t willing to take the risk of hosting me—both for my safety and the safety of her pack.”
He swallowed, glancing briefly at Teagan before returning his attention quickly, too purposeful to be natural, to the road.
The owl tattoo on her wrist shifted restlessly and she sat up straighter.
“At first,” Walsh said, “We thought it might be possible. Because when I first applied and met with her she was interviewing a prospective emissary and she thought—well. With a fae in the pack again she would have been willing to accept me.”
Teagan goes still.
“Me,” Teagan realized. “You were there when she interviewed me last year. If I’d accepted their offer you would have—you’d be at Columbia now. ”
“I only saw you briefly in New York,” he admitted. “But I knew who you were and why you were there. I hoped—“ he stopped. Started again. “I didn’t know you were coming here. All I knew is that you turned down her offer. When you walked into class the first day—“
“Jesus,” Teagan said. “No wonder you hate me.”
“I don’t hate you.”
“It’s ok. You can hate me a little, I understand.”
He huffed. Not a laugh, but not as dire as his previous exhalations, either.
Teagan sighed. “I didn’t—I mean, I can’t—“
He shrugged again and after a moment reached for the volume knob and turned up the music, pushing his sunglasses more firmly into place.
Teagan leaned her head against the window, watching the mountains in the distance get closer.
She needed to do some research.
Thanks for being patient! The good news is, even though I wasn't able to update very often this semester, I managed to pull all A's in my classes and got one of the highest cumulative ratings in undergrad surveys as a prof. Hurrah! I'm off for the next three weeks, and will try to get a chapter posted each of those weeks. See you soon!
If you want a visual, I imagine Teagan's greenhouse looks something like this:
And obviously both are surrounded by various growing things. :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The thing about Stiles’ magic is that it’s either completely anticlimactic or involves Star Trek levels of over-the-top dramatics. Occasionally with lens flares included.
This is an instance of the latter.
The power goes out first.
There’s a soft crackle, a smell of ozone, and then the lights flare back to life—blindingly bright, buzzing high and angry for three terrifying seconds before every light bulb shatters, leaving superimposed white starbursts in Stiles’ vision as the room goes black again. Stiles closes his eyes, trying to focus, trusting that if he sets the house on fire or something Derek will handle getting them out safely.
I can do this, he thinks. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
His head is starting to hurt and he can vaguely hear Erica shout something but it doesn’t feel like anything is happening and
I can do this. He thinks. I can. I have to. I can do this. I can do this. I can—
“Stiles,” Teagan says.
Stiles opens his eyes.
What the fuck. He thinks.
“What the fuck,” Stiles says.
Teagan is awake, illuminated by the light of Erica and Boyd’s iphones, still wrapped in Walsh’s arms, expression placid, like she hadn’t just been dying a few seconds before.
“Tea,” Walsh says, grunts really, into the back of her neck, and Derek makes a concerned noise.
“I need a knife,” Teagan says, and then, when Stiles starts to retreat—“No. Don’t move. You’re making this easier. Keep the bond open.”
Stiles has no idea what that means but he fits his hands back to their respective wolf tattoos and thinks open-bond thoughts.
Boyd hands Teagan a knife.
“We’ve got less than two minutes before Walsh and I are both dead so I need everyone to focus.”
Walsh pushes his face harder into her neck.
“Stiles, I need you to start a basic transference spell with Derek.”
“I thought I needed to concentrate on keeping the bond open.” Stiles says, only a little hysterically.
“Ok? I mean. Ok. That’s fine.”
“Do I have your consent for blood?”
Derek growls softly, probably unconsciously, and Stiles shushes him.
Walsh’s breathing gets steadily faster, and louder, as Teagan uses the knife to open the skin in the inner elbow of her arm that Stiles is still holding.
“Derek, I need you to do the same with Stiles. I know it’s going to feel wrong but he can’t do it himself and I’m not certain you’ll be able to control yourself if anyone else does it.”
Derek, thankfully, doesn’t hesitate. He takes the knife and makes a quick, shallow, slice on Stiles’ forearm, catching the excess blood that wells after the fact with his thumb, smearing it on the blade with Teagan’s.
“Good,” Teagan say. “Stiles, are you ready?”
“Ready for what?” He asks.
“You can’t fix this, you don’t know how. I can but I can’t do it in two minutes. So I’m going to pull from you as well as Walsh but I need you to take as much as Derek can give you, first. It still might not be enough but—“
Walsh whines, low and long, and Derek moves forward.
“But we’re going to try,” he finishes for her.
Derek pushes up his sleeve, extending his arm, and the fox tattoo there uncurls, moving to stand on his knuckles, sliding easily to Stiles’ skin when Derek cups Stiles’ elbow with his palm. The fox bounds happily to touch noses with the wolf on Stiles wrist—Derek’s wolf, and the two inked animals curl up together like a furry yin/yang symbol.
Stiles closes his eyes again.
“You have to tell me when to stop, Derek.” Stiles says tightly.
Derek slowly sits, probably feeling light-headed already, fingers still curled around Stiles’ elbow.
“I mean it. Don’t try and be a martyr, here.”
Derek leans his head against the outside of Stiles’ thigh.
He rubs his cheek back and forth slightly, a probably unconscious gesture, and the scrape of his stubble against denim is loud in the silence.
“Almost,” Derek says, voice low. “I’m —yeah. Stop.”
Derek slumps harder against him.
“Trying not to pass out,” he says, mostly into Stiles’ leg.
“Are you ready?” Teagan asks.
No Stiles thinks.
Derek squeezes his ankle.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Yeah, let’s do this thing.”
10 years previous
The problem with oral histories, Teagan had always found, was that it was so damn difficult to get any solid information. Three weeks after her little heart-to-heart with Walsh, Teagan had written several dozen emails and spent a frankly infuriating amount of time on the phone with very little to show for her inquiries. Why she felt it so necessary to find a solution for Walsh’s predicament, she didn’t know. But she’d always found that “following her gut” as her father used to say, was better than the alternative. Unfortunately, her quest to find a solution to Wash’s problem was slow-going. For the most part, more experienced Fae were either unwilling to assist her or not knowledgeable enough to help. And the two Gemini pairs willing to talk to her weren’t helpful resources because they could just do the things Teagan needed runes for.
Originally she’d wanted to make some sort of shrouding object. A necklace or bracelet that Walsh could wear that would make him invisible to those who might wish to harm him. That, she discarded rather quickly when it became apparent that such an object would only work for a short period before necessitating replacement, and creating such an object would be a massive undertaking in terms of both time and energy—one she couldn’t realistically keep up with while also a student and emissary.
After that she briefly considered a blocking object—something that would render Walsh entirely human while wearing it, thereby letting him remain closeted and capable of competing as a human. But there was nothing she could find that would impact blood tests, only perception—and that seemed more than a little dangerous, as well as ethically circumspect. Walsh was a wolf. He should be able to represent his heritage with his skill, not have to hide it.
Now, nearly a month later, Teagan was relatively certain she knew what to do. If she could create a worn or skin-inked guardian object that demarcated Walsh as under her and the Sawtooth pack’s protection—thereby voiding another Alpha’s responsibility for monitoring him—he could attend Columbia without restrictions.
Teagan knew this for a fact because she called the NYC Alpha the day before and had a very awkward conversation in which the word “hypothetically” was used several dozen times before an agreement was made. If Teagan could reliably prove that her rune, whatever its form, was effective regardless of distance, and could provide adequate advance warning that Walsh was in danger, allowing her to alert the NYC pack in a timely manner—Walsh could enroll at Columbia.
There were, however, two problems with this. One, she was relatively certain such an arrangement would stretch, if not break, the current contract she had with Robert. Making a connection that would monitor Walsh at that distance would take a not insignificant amount of energy and attention that she could otherwise use to the benefit of the pack as a whole. True, Walsh was Robert’s son, so it was likely he could be talked into an arrangement, but she was still anxious and largely unsure of how to present the idea to him, despite already setting up a meeting with him for the following weekend.
The second, and perhaps most troubling problem, was that she still had no idea how to create such a rune. Knowing it was possible was nice, but that knowledge was hardly a consolation if she couldn’t find someone to teach her how to do it.
The third problem was that, despite their little heart-to-heart, Walsh was still, more or less, an intolerable brat. His participation in class was lacking, his work dull, and their car rides were just as silent and passive-aggressive as ever. She was tempted to tell him what she was working on, if only to get him to stop being such a dick, but she didn’t want to get his hopes up and he did, admittedly, have a good reason for his attitude. She just wished he would give her a little more incentive to help him. Because it was hugely time consuming, her research, and it wasn’t like time was something she had in abundance considering that she was teaching, taking her own classes, and working for the pack.
To make things even more difficult, she’d yet to find an anchor. And it wasn’t from a lack of trying. The first candidate she met she knew within a few minutes wouldn’t be compatible. He was middle-aged, entitled, and after spending sixteen minutes talking with him on her porch, she encouraged her sink to flood purely so she had an excuse to cut their meeting short. The second was more promising, and she genuinely tried, like, genuinely, over a series of weeks, to get to know the girl, but forcing the kind of spiritual connection necessary for an anchor bond wasn’t possible and the harder she tried the more difficult it was for her to feel anything. She was supposed to meet the next candidate the following week and she was already exhausted at the prospect.
So Teagan was sitting at her tiny kitchen table, frowning absently at her contact list on her phone, trying to think of someone who could help her fix the Walsh situation, trying to ignore the fact that she should really be focused on writing a paper, or grading her undergrad’s homework, or even renewing the henna pack surveillance tattoos on her left hand. She sighed set her phone down and went to work in the garden. Which was, unsurprisingly, also being problematic.
The first cold snap had hit, meaning the highs were rarely above fifty, and she’d had to focus her attention on her greenhouse plants, letting the outdoor ones follow their natural cycle of winter dormancy. Her greenhouse plants were largely flourishing, the vegetable portion producing exceptionally high yields that the pups took great pleasure in picking after school and bringing up to the main house to give to whoever was tasked with cooking dinner that night. Her berry bushes were similarly heavy with fruit, her small patch of herbs thriving.
The problem, in all of this, was the carrots.
Or, rather, the lack of carrots.
Because someone was eating them.
“Someone” because “something” didn’t make sense. The only animals that could enter the greenhouse were insects, small lizards, and the occasional enterprising bird. There was no way a raccoon could be sneaking in, and, according to the pups, they couldn’t smell anything but Teagan and the various wolves that frequented Teagan’s garden. She didn’t think any of the kids were responsible, but, apart from them, no one else really spent any time in the greenhouse apart from herself. She was, in short, stymied. So, without any other leads and a general irritation at life as support, she set a trap to discover her thief.
The trap was, admittedly, a bit over the top for a carrot-related infraction but considering she had come to standstill with both the Walsh situation and the Anchor situation, this was, at least, a positive avenue in which to express her frustration. The trap involved a simple detection spell paired with perhaps an overzealous amount of beet juice.
Like. A lot. Of beet juice.
She went to sleep pleased.
She was not, however, anticipating waking up at 3am to a very angry, beet-juice covered, werewolf banging on her door.
It was even more surprising that this werewolf was Walsh.
“Oh,” she said, upon opening the door. “Shit.”
“What did you do?” he hissed, pushing his way inside.
He was not only covered in beet juice, she realized somewhat belatedly, but also naked.
“I’m—You. Carrots? You?”
Walsh stomped into the bathroom, turning on the light with a literal growl of rage.
“Teagan, I am pink.”
“You were stealing my carrots! What the fuck?!”
“They taste good,” he snarled, as if that was an acceptable excuse for thievery. As if it was her fault for growing delicious produce.
“That’s—that’s not an excuse!”
Walsh turned on the water, scrubbing ineffectively at his brilliantly colored forearms.
“Why isn’t this coming off?”
“It’s beet juice.”
“And I picked it for a reason, it doesn’t just wash off.”
Walsh turned the faucet off and rounded on her so quickly that she took an automatic step back, ramming the towel rod behind her into her ribcage.
“What the fuck is your problem,” Walsh hissed. “I have class tomorrow.”
“My problem was that someone was stealing all my carrots. And obviously I didn’t know it was you.”
Walsh ducked low, to get into her face, teeth bared.
His fury was only slightly tempered by the fact that his face was magenta.
“Okay, fine, just—can you.”
She flapped her hands at him and he stepped back, arms crossed, leaning his hip against the counter.
She bolted for the greenhouse.
Luckily the lemon tree was heavy with fruit for the taking and she returned to a furiously scowling Walsh with several lemons, a knife, and a towel.
“This may take a while,” she warned.
“Good thing I’ll have help,” he said.
She considered debating that but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it. There was nothing separating her bedroom area from the rest of the little studio and the light from the bathroom would keep her from sleep anyway.
“Fine,” she said, cutting the first lemon. “You start on your face, I’ll do your, uh. Chest.”
His very naked chest.
His well-defined naked chest.
His eighteen-year-old naked chest, she reminded herself.
Four excruciating minutes passed before either of them spoke again.
Teagan cleared her throat while cutting a third lemon.
“You mind telling me why you were eating carrots naked in my greenhouse at 3am on a Tuesday?
“It wasn’t on purpose,” Walsh muttered.
“What do you mean it wasn’t on purpose? How do you accidentally eat carrots?”
“No, that’s not—I didn’t come hear to steal your stupid carrots.”
“I don’t—“ He stopped, wet a rag to wipe down his face, and started again, the towel clenched in one fist against the counter.
“Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night I let my wolf out to run. He likes your garden. Particularly the spot between the carrots and zucchini. It smells nice.”
Teagan…had no idea how to respond to that.
“But I get hungry. Or, he does, I don’t—“ Walsh sighed, more tired than angry. “I don’t actually mean to eat anything, it just sort of happens.”
Teagan glances up from where she’s scrubbing at his bicep. She thinks the remaining pink is mostly from friction rather than staining.
“Well. I could leave you something, if you like. In case you get hungry. Like…a snack?”
She winced, afraid he would find the offer patronizing, but Walsh just shrugs, looking uncomfortable.
“I make a sandwich most nights to take for my lunch the next day. I could start making two and leaving one in the Greenhouse.”
He shrugged again.
“Or—maybe some jerky? Sandwiches require hands, I guess, so if you don’t want to change I could—“
“Sandwiches are fine,” he said, rough, and maybe a little embarrassed. “That’s—that would be nice.”
“Oh. Well. Okay, then.”
First off, I apologize for going an entire month without posting a chapter. The sad thing is, I've actually had time to write--just no motivation. I've never had an issue with writers block before, so this is a new and terrible thing for me. It seems I'm finally coming out of it, though.
Apologies if this chapter is sub-par, I'm just glad I have something to post to be honest.
In life-news, my condo is great (and nearly finished in terms of renovations), Deacon is great, my grad classes this semester are great, and my students (around half of which took a class from me last semester) are also great. So, apart from the writer's block, life is pretty rad.