The pack is involved in a lively game of capture the flag when Scott shouts, “Allison, your dad is calling you!” Their bags and the phones inside them are on the side of the ‘field’, about fifty feet away, but that’s nothing to a werewolf’s hearing. Allison, like all of them, has a special ringtone for her father so she’ll know when she shouldn’t ignore it.
“Time out!” Stiles shouts, for the benefit of the others but mostly because Erica is sneaky enough to try to keep playing as Allison trots over to her things. That’s okay; he needs a lemonade break anyway. It’s a gorgeous early summer day, but the combination of the sun and the exertion are making him sweat like a pig and thirsty besides. Shirts long ago went by the wayside; even the girls are just wearing bikini tops and short-shorts. Erica would play naked if they would let her, but nobody will let her.
He keeps half an ear on Allison’s phone conversation. “Hi, Dad, what’s up? Uh huh . . . now? Okay . . . oh. Is everything okay? . . . uh huh . . . uh huh . . . okay. I’ll see you soon, then.” She flips her phone shut and says, loud enough for the pack to hear, “He needs me to come home. Stiles, he wants to see you, too.”
“That can’t be good,” Stiles says.
“He says it’s not bad,” Allison says, somewhat skeptically. “Hunter stuff, he said.”
“Goody,” Stiles says, picking up his shirt and pulling it over his head. “No time like the present.” He waves to the others. “Hey, we’ll be back in an hour or so.”
There was a time, not so long ago, that at least two or three others would have insisted on going with them. But they had a blessedly quiet spring, and nothing exciting has happened in months. Derek has stopped clinging, and the others are more relaxed about Stiles venturing out on his own. Besides, humanity aside, Allison is one of their best fighters and one of Stiles’ chief enforcers. He’ll be safe enough with her.
So they grab a bottle of water each and head back to Stiles’ Jeep. They’re playing out on the preserve, so her house isn’t far away. Stiles enjoys her company. Scott is his best friend, and Erica is his, well, best friend with benefits, and Derek of course is his lupa. But Allison is still a close friend. She’s the only other human in the pack, so she’s who he hangs out with while the wolves are running around in the forest. The time when he would have felt awkward to be alone in her presence is long since past.
He still isn’t one hundred percent comfortable around Chris, despite the fact that they’ve been allies multiple times now. He also doesn’t like the vague frown on the man’s face as they enter the living room. Allison greets her father with a hug; Stiles greets him with a handshake, and they sit down on the sofa.
“As you both know, hunters are not a tight-knit community,” he says. “We’re spread out all over the globe. There are some families who keep in touch, and there’s a loose code of conduct that governs us – not the Argent Code, that’s different – and so I suppose you would say we’re more of a brotherhood than an organization. There are certain rules we’re all expected to follow.”
“Like extending hospitality when other hunters are in town,” Stiles surmises.
“Yes, exactly,” Chris says. He shifts uncomfortably and continues, “Every ten years, there is a . . . conclave, is what they call it. A gathering of all the hunters from different families around North America. To share intelligence, update our knowledge, et cetera. It lasts a week.”
“And you want me to look after the kids while you’re gone,” Stiles says, with a solemn nod. “Got it.”
Chris gives him that annoyed look that he wears so often while Stiles is present. “Each decade, there’s an honor bestowed upon a hunter that has particularly distinguished themselves in the preceding years.” Looking as if he’s bit down on a lemon, he says, “This time it’s me.”
“Wow,” Stiles says. “Congratulations,” he adds, with sincerity, because he knows that all this hunter stuff is important to Chris. Allison echoes him. “Is this because you killed Kali?”
“That’s undoubtedly part of it,” Chris says. “I’ve heard rumors that the honor was going to go to Vivien, but . . .”
“It can’t be presented posthumously, I take it,” Stiles says.
Chris shrugs. “If you’re dead, it means you don’t deserve it.”
“Fair,” Stiles says. “Who decides this shit, anyway?”
“There’s a special council of some of the older hunters,” Chris says. “Basically, once you get too old to fight. It’s assumed that if you lived that long, you’re probably pretty good at what we do. I don’t know how they choose. Not very much is known about the council of elders, actually.”
Stiles fidgets for a moment. “Was Gerard on it?”
“No, actually,” Chris says. “Gerard hadn’t yet retired from active hunting. He probably would have been in ten years or so.”
With a nod, Stiles says, “Okay, that makes sense. But I’m assuming you didn’t actually want me over here to tell me that exciting news.”
“The distinguished hunter,” Chris says, “is given the honor of hosting the gathering.”
“Oh,” Stiles says. He blinks. A moment later, it sets in. “Oh. Shit. You mean a few dozen hunters are coming to Beacon Hills?”
“Probably more like a hundred,” Chris says. “Yeah.”
“Next week?” Stiles squawks. “Geez, they don’t give a guy much time to prepare for a party, do they.”
Chris sighs again. “It’s a matter of security. The conclave tends to attract its share of party crashers, so to speak. It’s rare that so many hunters gather in one place, and some monsters think of it as an opportunity to take out a bunch of us at once. So the elders have probably known for months, but they don’t announce the location or the host of honor until the week before. We’ve all known it’s coming, because it’s always the week of midsummer, and the people who are in the running are usually aware of the possibility they’ll need to host, but nobody knew where until today.”
“Hoo boy.” Stiles shoves both hands through his hair. “Well, it’s a little short notice, but we had been talking about taking a trip this summer to LA and San Francisco to look at some college campuses. I mean, there’s no chance we’re all going to wind up at the same college, but we want to at least wind up in the same city, so we can get a place together and – pack stuff, never mind, you don’t care – anyway, we can bump that trip up to next week.”
“There’s going to be . . . a hitch,” Chris says. “Allison needs to be at the convention.”
“Hah! How about no,” Stiles says.
Chris rubs a hand over his face. “I’m not exactly thrilled with the concept myself, believe it or not. But there’s some Argent family history and hunter politics you have to understand. It’s tradition in most families that the boys are trained to be soldiers . . . and the women, leaders.”
“Okay,” Stiles says. “So that’s why Vivien was the only woman in the alpha pack hunters.”
“Basically, yeah,” Chris says. “And Allison is the only girl in her generation of Argents. In fact, after Kate’s death, she’s the only living female Argent at all.”
“Reverse sexism, yay,” Allison says, rolling her eyes.
“No other women at all?” Stiles asks, surprised. “What are the odds?”
“Gerard had a sister, but she’s dead now,” Chris says. “He also had a brother. His sister had two sons, and her brother had one son. One of them is also deceased now. That generation has had four children – five counting Allison. Three of them are boys, and the only other girl died young when she fell through some ice during a winter hunt. So Allison is the only girl. She is rather literally the Argent family princess. And believe me when I say that there is no excuse for her not to attend.”
“Why do we care what some old hunters think?” Allison asks, still clearly dubious.
“They’re old, but they’re hardly senile,” Chris says, “and you don’t want to give them a reason to look closer at Beacon Hills. I suspect that they’re already far too skeptical of the fact that I live in peace with a local pack.”
Stiles gets it then. “You think they picked you so they could get a chance to come check things out.”
“I don’t think that’s the only reason they picked me, but yes, I suspect it played in.”
“And you’re afraid if Allison doesn’t show up, they’ll set up camp and start inspecting things with magnifying glasses, looking for the slightest bit of evidence you’re in active collusion with the local wolves,” Stiles says, and Chris nods. “Okay. Then Allison will stay here. And I will be with her every second.”
“I figured you would want to stay,” Chris says, “but I’m not sure it’s a good idea for you to come to the conclave.”
“No, it’s a terrible idea,” Stiles says, “but I’m still doing it. We can say I’m her boyfriend and a hunter in training. I’ll still send the rest of the pack away – well, except Derek, and I’m not sure Scott will agree to go either, but they won’t be hanging around here. Will everyone – they can’t all stay at your house, right?”
Chris lets out a snort. “No. I’ll be hosting the actual Council of Elders, and most likely my two cousins and their children.”
“Well, that’s reassuring,” Stiles says. He glances at Allison and says, “So if these things are every ten years, you’ve been to one before, right?”
Allison blinks at him and says, “No, I don’t think so . . .”
“I went to the last one by myself,” Chris says. “Victoria and Allison stayed home. I didn’t want her introduced to all the hunter stuff when she was so young. The competition between the kids at the conclave can be pretty fierce, so younger kids are often left at home or with relatives. Some families will only send one representative. It’s different for everyone.”
“Well,” Stiles says, leaning back in his chair, “this is going to be an interesting summer, then.”
~ ~ ~ ~
He breaks the rest of the news to the pack that evening over spaghetti and meatballs at the new Hale house, which has been finished for a few months now. He frames it carefully. Hunters are coming to town. Lots of hunters. He doesn’t want the pack exposed to danger. Everyone is to talk to their parents about going to Los Angeles and San Francisco next week to look at colleges and pick up information packets. Most of them are eighteen or older now – Isaac and Erica are the only exceptions – so there’s really no need for an adult chaperone.
Only once everyone has agreed to that and admitted that they don’t want to be in town while the hunter conclave is going on does he casually add, “Unfortunately, Allison’s presence is expected, so she’ll stay here, which means I’ll be staying with her.” A ripple of surprise goes through the pack. Derek opens his mouth, and Stiles holds up a hand to stay his protest and says, “Yes, Derek, you can stay in Beacon Hills too, but for God’s sake we’ll need you to lay low, got it?”
Derek nods. Scott immediately opens his mouth and says, “If Allison’s staying, I’m staying.”
Stiles shakes his head at him. “You wouldn’t be able to attend the conclave itself, not without a huge risk – not just to yourself, but to the entire Argent family. This isn’t just a couple hunters like it was when Vivien was in town. I can’t even begin to comprehend what will happen if the high muckety-mucks find out that the Argent princess is in a werewolf pack. You should go with the others.”
“But I – ” Scott says. Allison pulls him out of the room. The two of them engage in a fierce, quiet discussion out in the backyard, where the others can see them but not hear them. Finally, Scott pulls Allison into a tight embrace. When they come back in, he says he’ll go with the rest of the pack.
“What about me?” Erica asks.
“What about you?” Stiles replies.
“I’m your bodyguard, I should be with you,” she says, and as soon as he shakes his head, she adds, “but what if you need urgent sexin’?”
Stiles arches his eyebrows at her, amused despite himself. “I’ll have to use my right hand and memories of you, I guess,” he says, and she pouts at him. “Erica, no. You’re going with the others. This is not a negotiation.” He looks at Boyd and Danny, who still haven’t clued their parents in. “Any problems that you two foresee?” he asks.
“Nah, I drive down there to surf all the time anyway,” Danny says.
“You might have to bribe my little brothers with cookies to keep them from coming to look for me,” Boyd says, laughing.
The others laugh, and then Lydia starts listing the colleges they absolutely have to see, starting with Stanford and CalTech, of course. They’re all leaning more towards San Francisco than Los Angeles, although to a certain extent it will depend on where they get into college. UC Davis has a great veterinary program that Scott has looked at, although it’s nearly two full hours from Palo Alto, but they could get a place somewhere in between and split the distance. Erica has no desire to go to college and Isaac won’t be able to afford it without going thousands of dollars into debt, which he has no real interest in doing. Boyd is hedging on the idea of college; he wants to be a teacher so he knows he’ll need higher education, but the money is a hang-up for him as well. Derek has quietly offered to pay tuition for anyone that needs it, but Boyd is a little too proud to accept that kind of gift.
Stiles still wants to go into law enforcement, although he’s torn between forensics and profiling or plain old detective work. There are plenty of schools in both LA and San Francisco that would qualify, and he’s not feeling picky. Danny is almost certainly going to go into some sort of computer-oriented field, and colleges offering good computer programs in California are a dime a dozen. Allison doesn’t really know what she wants to do about school since hunting can be a full-time occupation and she’s talked about being a professional archer, but she wants to go to college if only to buy herself more time to make a decision.
Stiles lets their chatter about schools fade into the background while he thinks about the persona he’s going to need to assume in order to survive the conclave without giving himself away. It would help if he knew more about it, but Chris says every one is different. “What you can count on,” Chris said, “is a lot of weapons demonstrations, a lot of meetings about the movements of different creatures and vulnerabilities that have been discovered. Depending on who’s there, there’s usually a sparring tournament, but it’s not mandatory. There’s often . . . a group hunt. But that’s organized by the host, and I don’t plan on offering it at this conclave.”
“Will that raise eyebrows?” Stiles asked.
“I really don’t give a damn if it does,” Chris replied.
So there’s that, which Stiles supposes is good news. And technically, he won’t need to stay there all the time. Most of the visiting hunters will be staying at a few hotels in the downtown area where Chris has already blocked out some rooms. Stiles is thinking that he’ll wait to meet the people who will actually be staying at the Argent house before he decides if he’ll leave Allison alone there for the nights. He suspects that he won’t want to, and if he has to sleep underneath her bed so nobody knows about it, so be it.
Derek leans over and nudges him with his shoulder, and Stiles realizes he’s been absently twirling his spaghetti with his fork for over ten minutes while the others talked. “What’s going on in that head of yours?” he asks.
“Logistics,” Stiles says with a sigh. “So many logistics. Are you sure you don’t want me to have someone else from the pack stay? You’ll be all by yourself if I’m sleeping at the Argent house.”
Derek scowls a little, but then shakes his head. “I’ll be okay.”
Stiles suspects that Derek’s reasoning for this is uncharitable. If anyone is given the right to stay behind, it would be Scott. And if Scott and Derek have to stay together for a week without Stiles or anyone else as a buffer, they will likely beat the shit out of each other multiple times. Their relationship is definitely better than it used to be, but they still rub each other the wrong way, and Stiles knows that leaving the two of them alone, stressed out, and with a lot of free time on their hands is a sure recipe for disaster. But if he suggests that someone else, like Erica, stays in Beacon Hills to keep Derek company, Scott will – not unreasonably – get pissed off that he’s getting packed off and they’re not. Derek will just have to suffer through by himself.
~ ~ ~ ~
All the parents are quite supportive of the idea of a trip to look at college campuses, although Boyd’s express some quiet concern about how he’s going to afford it. They know he spends most of his earnings from the skating rink on buying necessities for his younger siblings. Fortunately, Lydia and Danny both have enough money to casually offer to cover his portion without raising too many eyebrows.
Erica’s father is iffy on the idea, of course, but she talks him into it, mostly by convincing him that he doesn’t want her home for an entire week complaining about how he wouldn’t let her go. Danny’s parents are by now accustomed to the fact that Danny has been adopted into this circle of friends. It’s an abrupt change that they had initially expressed some concern about, but he reassured them that everything was okay with his usual combination of charm and confidence.
Scott’s mom isn’t sure why they need an entire week to look at college campuses but doesn’t actively argue, and Lydia’s mother probably has no idea that she’s going anywhere. Lydia and Danny are the only people in the pack with a car of their own besides those staying behind, so they get nominated for transportation. Hotel reservations have been made, and everyone is ready to go.
“Call us if you need us,” Isaac says. “Okay? You promise?”
“You got it,” Stiles says.
“And don’t take stupid risks,” Boyd says.
Stiles gives him a thumbs-up.
Scott kisses Allison for approximately ten minutes, and she promises up and down that she’ll call him if anything goes wrong, if they need anything, if she gets lonely, anything. The others try not to roll their eyes or gag. Finally, Scott gets in Danny’s car, the others load up, and they start down the road. Stiles checks his watch. It’s six hours before the conclave is due to start. He suspects that a lot of the hunters are already in town, but Chris has assured him that nobody will show up until the conclave’s official start, which is, of course, at moonrise. Stiles can’t help but roll his eyes when he finds this out. He’s beginning to suspect that he’s the only one in the supernatural world who isn’t prone to enormous amounts of melodrama. Exaggeration and hyperbole, sure, but not melodrama.
They get to the Argent house about an hour before moonrise. Stiles has brought several trays worth of appetizers that he’s prepared. Chris had said that they were providing food for the initial ceremony, but Stiles figures the more, the merrier. And he makes a killer deviled egg.
Chris greets them with his usual gruff welcome, and Victoria gives Stiles the sour look she typically saves for him. He smiles back at her and holds out a tray of appetizers. “Put those in there,” she says, gesturing, and not taking the tray from him. Which he figures is fair. She’s not the hired help.
“Is this acceptable?” Stiles asks, gesturing at his outfit. He had no idea what to wear to a thing like this, and figured that hunter garb would be relatively appropriate, certainly better than formalwear, which he doesn’t own any of anyway. So he has on jeans, a camo T-shirt, and his leather jacket.
“It’s fine,” Chris says. He hesitates, then says, “I have one other thing for you,” and slaps a small box into Stiles’ hand.
Stiles opens it to find a Claddagh ring identical to the ones Allison and Scott wear. “Oh, I don’t know, Mr. Argent,” he says. “I’m not sure I’m ready to take our relationship to that level – ”
Chris gives him a light slap upside the head. “It’s to match hers,” he says. “Relationships are serious business in this world. Allison’s boyfriend wouldn’t be invited to a conclave. Her fiancé would. You two are a little young, but betrothals can be made early if the parents think that the arrangement will work and benefit both families.”
“Okay, but, I’m not from a hunter family,” Stiles says.
“As of now you are,” Chris replies. “The Winchesters owed me a favor.”
Stiles lets out a guffaw. “Winchester, really? Like in the TV show?”
“Don’t even ask,” Chris says. “Apparently they knew some people in Hollywood. I told them that I didn’t want the Council of Elders to know my daughter had her heart set on marrying some nobody that had started training to be a hunter after he’d been roughed up by the local pack. And it’s not like you can use your real name; many of the hunters here followed the story when the three alpha pack hunters were put in jail, so they would recognize your name. So the Winchesters agreed that for the purpose of this conclave, you’re their grandson. Don’t worry; you won’t have to interact with them and pretend. They’re only sending one representative and given their family structure, he’d be some second cousin of yours or something.”
“Cool,” Stiles says, and slides the ring on. He extends his hand to Allison. “You like?”
“Oh, God, that is so weird,” she says, laughing at him. “Also, you’re wearing it backwards. Left hand, point of the heart towards your fingertips. That’s how you signal being engaged.” She takes her own off and transfers it from the right hand to the left. Chris grimaces but doesn’t object.
“So who am I?” Stiles asks Chris.
“Stanley Winchester,” Chris says. He sighs and says, “We figured that was vaguely close enough that you could still go by ‘Stiles’.”
“Since odds are good one of us will fuck up if I try to use a fake first name,” Stiles says with a nod, “and the nickname never made it into the papers, only my real name. Good. Got it.”
“Any more questions?” Chris asks.
Stiles thinks about it. “How do you know my ring size?”
Chris’ glower deepens. “Get out of my sight, Stiles.”
Stiles grins, grabs Allison by the wrist, and leaves the room. “Just helping him treat me like the guy dating his only daughter,” he says, and Allison dissolves into giggles. They go out into the backyard, where there are dozens of tiki torches and picnic tables set out. “Your dad sure knows how to throw a party,” Stiles says, looking at the liquor display.
“He hates this,” Allison says. “He’s been bitching about it all week.”
“Yeah, it doesn’t really seem to be his style,” Stiles agrees. “He should have let me throw it for him. I rock at this sort of stuff.”
“Don’t let him hear you say that,” Allison says.
“He’d kick my ass, huh?”
“Worse. He’d take you up on the offer.”
Stiles chortles and starts arranging the tables in a more aesthetically pleasing manner. Allison helps out. By the time the moon is rising and the guests are arriving, the backyard could have been set up by a professional. Suddenly, Stiles is being introduced to more people who he can possibly remember the names of. He starts categorizing them in his head under nicknames so he can at least remember who he’s met before and who he hasn’t. There are people of every ethnicity, but not every age. The party is predominantly men and women between the ages of thirty and fifty, with a handful of people older and a handful of people younger.
Stiles takes special note of the other teenagers, figuring that they’re who he’ll be spending the most time with. There’s a young man a few years older than him who has enough muscles to look like he could be a body double for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stiles dubs him ‘Beefcake McAbcrunch’. He seems like a decent guy, with a handshake that practically crushes Stiles’ fingers and a thick southern drawl. He calls Victoria ‘ma’m.’ Then there’s a girl a year younger than them, dressed all in black, hair dyed black, makeup done in classic Goth. He talks to her without seeing a facial expression for almost ten minutes and nicknames her Wednesday Addams.
There are two siblings the same age as him, twins with pale blonde hair. They’re obviously fraternal, since they’re a boy and girl set, but their likeness is still spooky; they look like they’ve stepped out of ‘Children of the Corn’. They clearly think they are far too good to be associating with some nobody and wander around with their noses in the air. Then there’s a teenager several years younger that Stiles immediately nicknames ‘Grabby Hands’ because every three minutes he’s saying “lemme see that” and snatching something from someone, whether it’s a knife, a plate, or a piece of paper. He’s the youngest there, only fifteen. The only other teenager is a whiny seventeen-year-old who spends a full minute complaining about how they don’t have the right kind of bottled water. She is duly named Veruca Salt.
“Which of these kids are the ones who are related to you?” Stiles asks Allison, then immediately sees the problem with his question when she says ‘Jake and Sam’ and he has no idea who those people are. Then he realizes that he already knew. There are no female Argents, which lets out Veruca, Wednesday, and the twins. That leaves Beefcake and Grabby Hands. He can definitely see the former being related; the latter, not so much. The kid looks and behaves more like a mouse than anything else. He wonders which one of them lost their sister to the winter hunt. Some subtle questions reveals neither; that girl was the daughter of Chris’ cousin who’s deceased. Apparently he became reckless on his hunts and died not long after his daughter. Grabby Hands has a younger brother, but he’s only nine and isn’t attending the conclave with his family.
After nearly an hour of mingling and drinking, Chris clinks a glass and everyone falls silent. The hunter looks about as uncomfortable as a man currently being suffocated by an anaconda. He clears his throat and says, “I’m not really one for speeches, so, let me just say, welcome to Beacon Hills and the fourteenth conclave. If there’s anything you need while you’re here, please feel free to let me or my wife Victoria know. Nous chassons ceux qui nous chassent.” He raises a glass and then quickly turns away from the crowd to indicate that he’s done with public speaking for the evening, or possibly forever.
Stiles is kept busy, but actually doesn’t talk very much. Allison has enough natural charm and charisma to get her through the night’s events. Almost everyone wants to meet her, as the Argent family heir, particularly those related to her. Some of Victoria’s relatives are there as well: an aunt and a cousin, who was Vivien’s sister.
He isn’t sure what to make of the elder council. There are three of them, two men and one woman. All of them are old enough to be his grandparents. He takes care to actually learn their names, because that sort of information seems important to know. The eldest is Dragan, who has a heavy European accent that Stiles isn’t quite cultured enough to actually place and a last name several syllables longer than Stiles can commit to memory. Stiles can only understand a quarter of what he says. The other man, Greger Aronsson, is happy and cheerful and always very interested in what the teenagers have to say. He’s got the same white-blonde hair as the twins and is obviously related to them somehow. Agnes St. James, the woman, is a stone cold bitch, like pretty much every other female hunter Stiles has ever met (Allison being the notable exception). He hopes he won’t have to interact with them much.
Given the givens, over the course of the party, he decides he will definitely be sleeping at the Argent house. These people are altogether too scary to leave Allison alone with them, even once most of the party has left for the hotel. That leaves thirteen people at the house: the three elders, Chris’ two cousins and their wives, Beefcake and Grabby Hands, along with the nuclear Argent family and Stiles himself.
He goes up to Allison’s room and calls Derek. “Gonna stay here tonight,” he says.
“Thought you would,” Derek says.
“Don’t stay up all night painting,” Stiles says.
“You’re the worst,” Derek replies, and hangs up.
Stiles just laughs and changes into his pajamas. Allison comes in a few minutes later and crawls into bed. Stiles curls right up to her, and it should be weird, because she’s not his girlfriend, but she’s pack, and he needs her right now. He needs to not be alone. After a while, he drifts off to sleep.
~ ~ ~ ~