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Divided We Stand

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As it turns out, the cookies are ginger molasses cookies. Stiles gets quiet, focused, while he’s cooking, and Derek doesn’t bother him. He sits at the kitchen table and plays games on his phone. Cora is doing her homework. Laura is texting with some friends and cutting pictures out of magazines for a scrapbook she’s currently working on. It’s a nice, quiet moment, just the three of them. Aaron and Talia are home, but they’re making themselves scarce.

Once the goulash is cooking, Stiles starts with the cookies. Derek finds himself taking surreptitious glances over as he works the dough with his hands, rolling it into balls.

“Oh, hey, can I try it?” Cora asks eagerly, bouncing over.

“Sure,” Stiles says, and he places a little blob of it into her hand. “It’s good stuff,” he adds, licking off his fingers.

Derek stares. First there was the smell of the cookies themselves, the spices in them, and Derek’s pre-existing sweet tooth is enough to make him want to sit up with his ears at attention, tail wagging. Then there are Stiles’ hands and his fingers. Okay. Derek can handle that. He’s just sneaking looks. A lot of looks. But what was with the licking? His phone slips out of his hand and hits the table with a thump. “I uh . . . I gotta go.”

“What?” Stiles asks, around the finger in his mouth.

Derek doesn’t blink. He might have forgotten how. “Oh, God.” He licks his lips, trying to remember how to use words. “Away. I have to.” He shoves his chair back and stands, very nearly tripping because he’s paying attention to nothing but Stiles. “Being not here. Yeah.” He trips his way around the table towards the kitchen door because he can’t stop staring.

Behind him, he hears Cora laughing hysterically and Stiles saying, “What’s with him?” There’s a quiet murmur that he can’t make out, and then Stiles, “Whoa, really?” and then Derek slams the door behind him because he definitely doesn’t want to know where that conversation is going to go next. He’s intensely glad for the soundproofed bedrooms because it’s possible that he’s never been so hard in his entire life. It’s not like jerking off is normally a leisurely experience for him anyway, but this session is a lot quicker than most. He lies there for a few minutes afterwards, boneless and half-terrified of going back downstairs. Then he realizes that he just left Stiles alone with his sisters, and that’s even more terrifying, so he cleans himself up, zips himself up, and heads back down to the kitchen.

Cora is complaining about her math homework when he gets there, and Stiles is putting the first tray of cookies in the oven, and when the teenager looks up from that and sees Derek he flushes dark pink and quickly looks away. Derek clears his throat. “Uh. Sorry,” he says, not sure of what else to say. He isn’t sorry for finding Stiles attractive – well, aside from the age difference – but he is sorry that he embarrassed Stiles.

“Are you apologizing for finding your mate attractive?” Peter asks from behind them, in a nonchalant voice, and everyone jumps.

“Jesus fucking Christ, you’re like some, some demented jack-in-the-box,” Stiles accuses Peter, who just smiles at him toothily.

Derek’s used to be startled by Peter, so he recovers quickly. “No. I’m apologizing for embarrassing him.” To Stiles, he adds, “I’ve suggested putting a bell on him, but he gets prickly at the idea.”

Stiles lets out a snort of laughter, still blushing, and Peter gives him a curious look. “Why are you embarrassed? I can’t imagine the idea is unpleasant to you.”

“Okay, wow,” Stiles says. “Paging Dr. Freud, come in, Dr. Freud, can you come tell this guy to slow his roll.”

Derek throws his hands up. There’s nothing to be done about Peter. “Stiles, I just want you to know that I was going to apologize for embarrassing you and move on. Just so we’re clear.”

Peter gives an elegant shrug.

Laura takes pity on Stiles and says, “Privacy is . . . kind of a different thing for werewolves. I mean, in that it doesn’t exist. And so talking about things that humans consider taboo is pretty common. We try to remember when humans are around, but, well, you have to make allowances for the occasional werewolf with no manners.” She shoots a look at Peter.

Calmly, Peter says, “I’m just trying to help.”

Derek decides not to comment, because Peter might have a point in clarifying Derek’s reason for apologizing. “So now that we all know where we stand, can we move on?” he asks, hoping that they can do so before Stiles decides he’s done tolerating this.

“I just figured I would let Stiles know that if he needs to take a similar break – “ Peter begins.

“Oh my God,” Stiles says, and just shoves a glob of cookie dough into Peter’s open mouth.

Derek starts laughing. Getting a second look at Peter’s face just makes him laugh harder. Cora and Laura have both cracked up, too, as Peter works on chewing the cookie dough and Stiles blushes fiercely and turns back to his baking. So he doesn’t see when Talia rushes up to the doorway, drawn by the laughter, staring at her son. Her eyes are shining with what looks suspiciously like tears. Aaron is only seconds behind her, pressing a warm line against his wife’s back, his hand sealed over his mouth so he doesn’t make any noise and ruin what’s happening.

When Peter finally finishes chewing, he says, “Not quite the comeback I expected, but very well. I cede the match to you.” He looks over at his sister, sees the way she’s close to tears, and then looks away.

Stiles follows his gaze, and then flinches. “I, uh . . .” he says. “Sorry if we disturbed you.”

“No,” Talia chokes out. “It’s just . . . been a long time since I heard Derek laugh like that.”

“Years,” Aaron says quietly. He moves a little when Peter looks away from Talia, making sure that he isn’t blocking the door. He hopes that Peter won’t need to leave, but he doesn’t want to block him in, either.

“Oh,” Stiles says, as Derek walks over to them and lets Talia draw him into an embrace, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. Aaron presses in from the other side, rubbing his cheek against Derek’s hair. “Oh, I, uh,” Stiles continues, suddenly feeling painfully awkward, like he’s witnessing something far more intimate than he’s entitled. “I’ll just, uh, let you guys – “

Before he can finish his sentence, Peter reaches out and casually shoves his shoulder. There’s enough force behind it to send Stiles stumbling forward, into Derek and his parents. Derek would have pulled Stiles in, but before he can, Aaron gets an arm up and around Stiles’ shoulder, pulling him into the hug. If Stiles puts in effort, he’d be able to get away, but it’s pretty clear that Aaron is intent on him being part of the embrace.

Stiles doesn’t fight, although he goes stiff and tense for a minute, particularly when he feels Talia’s hand against his back. It gets a little better when Cora pig-piles on top of him, and Laura comes in from the other side to snuggle between her mother and Stiles. Only Peter stands apart, and when Talia holds a hand out to him, he turns and walks away.

In the end, Derek manages to work his way around so he’s at least partially wrapped around Stiles, but it’s the timer for the cookies that breaks things up. “Oh, uh, I gotta,” Stiles says, and pulls free. He heads back over to the counter with more haste than is really necessary.

Talia wipes her eyes and kisses Derek on the forehead. “Stiles,” she says, and he looks over at her warily. “Thank you.”

Stiles ducks his head, not meeting her gaze. “Yeah,” he mumbles and busies himself with the cookie dough. Derek smiles at his mother, like he’s finally forgiving her, and then he moves away from his parents, toward Stiles, and starts helping him with the cookies. Talia gives a quiet little sigh and turns and leaves the kitchen, with Aaron following behind. A few minutes later, Stiles realizes that he and Derek are alone in the kitchen; his sisters have left, too. “You should laugh more often,” he finally says. “I like the way it sounds.”

This time it’s Derek’s turn to blush. “I laugh when you’re around. It’s a talent you have. Or something.”

“Well, it’s nice to know I’m good for something,” Stiles says lightly, sliding a second sheet of cookies into the oven.

“You’re good for a lot of things,” Derek agrees quietly, and for once Stiles doesn’t argue with him.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It takes several days of neglecting his school work and intensive Googling, but eventually Stiles decides that the arson investigator was full of shit. On paper, he certainly did his due diligence. He’s got facts that can indeed be backed up by research, and nothing he says on the report is technically untrue. He searched for all the common accelerants, did a thorough examination of the house’s wiring, or what was left of it.

The only strange thing about the report was how quickly he had turned it in. From what Stiles can tell, it can takes weeks, even months, to issue a final report on an arson. But this guy turned the report in four days after the fire. One could chalk that up to internal pressure because of the number of victims and Talia’s relatively prominent place in werewolf society. But it seems fishy to Stiles.

While he’s researching that, he spends some quality time charting out all the conflicting information he can find about werewolf society. The back of one poster in his room rapidly becomes three, and then six, posters full of his notes. He includes his own observations whenever they conflict with the research, and makes sure to list all his sources.

It took a day or two to decide how to handle Kate. Initially, he had texted the number she left him to say he had changed his mind and wanted nothing to do with her schemes. But in order to avoid any ideas she had about retribution, he had played it off like he was frightened. ‘I can’t just go behind a werewolf’s back,’ he had said at the time. ‘He’ll *know*, Kate, I don’t dare. I’m sorry but I can’t help you.’

At the time, Kate had offered to help him, to make sure he was protected. Stiles had simply ignored her texts.

But what’s been happening recently has given him an idea. It’s a terrible, underhanded idea that he’s pretty sure nobody would approve of, but it’s an idea. So he texts Kate again. It just says, ‘can we meet? I need help. Has to be private but can’t go to your place.’

Kate texts back almost immediately and offers to meet him at the school library. Nobody will think it’s weird if he stays after school. He agrees, and meets her there the next day. He tells her about how Derek had scent-marked him, how Derek wants him, in all sorts of ways he’s not comfortable with, because, ‘I’m just . . . not into guys like that.’ If he lays it on a little thick, Kate doesn’t seem to notice. She’s all over him with sympathetic touches and suggestive glances.

If he’s going to find out what she’s up, he’s going to have to work with her and stay in her confidence. So he tells her about how he’s been welcomed into the pack, how he’s been staying there after school most days and cooking dinner. He manages to sneak a little bitterness into his voice. He’s still not sure how to take their comments about how being a denmaker is an important part of the pack. There’s been conflicting information on that, too.

Kate, of course, jumps all over it. She gets righteously indignant at the idea of them treating him ‘like a servant’ and goes on at length about how he’s better than that, how he doesn’t deserve to be treated that way. But she also praises him for working his way into the pack, getting them to trust him. Stiles soaks up this praise and promises a return on her investment. He even manages some puppy dog eyes at her. He says, “It’s not fair that I have to be stuck with Derek when I’d rather be with someone like . . .” and the trails off. Kate smiles at him and tells him not to worry about it.

So there’s that, and now he’s meeting with her after school two days a week so he can tell her what he’s ‘learning’ about the pack. He keeps careful note about both the truths and the lies that he tells her. If something happens, he wants to know if it was her. But he tries to make the Hale family look like an unattractive target as much as possible.

While all this is going on, the bullying at school is just as bad as ever, and he tries to ignore it. He keeps a copy of everything he turns in, and documents all his injuries with his digital camera. He’s not even sure why he’s doing this. Some inside impulse that says he needs to keep everything straight. Just in case. Everything he does is just in case.

There’s less than a month left of school at this point, and he can survive it, but he’s worried about his grades. He doesn’t want to end up in summer school, or worse. Regardless of everyone’s conceptions and misconceptions about werewolf culture, he has plans for a career, and what’s going on at school could sink him for good. But he can’t figure out how to fix the problem without just making it worse.

So it’s fair to say that there’s a lot on his mind. But at least he and Derek are settling into comfortable patterns now. He’s noticed that the werewolf is a lot quieter now that he doesn’t always feel like he has to apologize for everything. They can sit together in Stiles’ living room or the den while Derek reads some thick, dusty book and Stiles does his homework, and not talk, and it’s okay instead of awkward now. Sometimes the air between them gets tense and heavy, like they both want to say something but neither of them are sure how to go about it. It’s awkward, but hell, Stiles tells himself, they only met three months ago. They don’t need to go rushing into anything. And if he can’t imagine life without Derek, well, that’s his own problem.

He’s in the kitchen, wearily cutting up some vegetables, when Peter comes in to get a glass of water. The werewolf goes still as soon as he gets near Stiles, and Stiles glances up to see Peter staring at him. It’s unnerving, especially after a long day. His arm and shoulder aches from where someone had shoved up into a water fountain earlier that day, and Kate had cooed over the injuries, lingering touches on his shoulder that made him want to go to a teacher and say ‘bad touch’. Peter’s eyes are cold blue even though he hasn’t shifted.

“You smell wrong,” he says, in that too-soft voice.

“I’m . . . sorry?” Stiles says, not sure how to handle this.

Peter takes a few steps closer, eyes gleaming. “I don’t like it,” he says. He leans in to press his nose against Stiles’ shoulder, taking quick, short little breaths. “You smell like an enemy.”

“Well . . . I’m not,” Stiles says. He resists the urge to squirm from the way Peter has him trapped against the counter. “Peter, I – ” he starts, taking a step forward. Quick as a snake, Peter’s hand comes out and slams into his chest, knocking him backwards. Stiles lets out a surprised little cry of pain.

“You smell like an enemy,” Peter snarls, and his teeth are lengthening, and Stiles is too surprised to move and too confused to call for help.

“Peter!” Talia’s voice rings out from the door to the kitchen like a drill sergeant. “Let him go. Now.”

Peter turns on her. “He smells wrong.”

“He is not your enemy, Peter. Now let him go.”

Peter snarls, but Talia’s eyes have gone crimson, and after a moment he cows, releasing Stiles and then slinking away. Talia’s gaze snaps to Stiles as he stands there, bewildered, and Derek jogs up behind her. “Are you all right?” she demands.

“Yeah, I – I’m fine,” he stammers.

“You smell like pain,” Talia says.

“It’s nothing. Just – some bruises, maybe. He didn’t hurt me.”

The red seeps out of Talia’s eyes. She gives a weary little nod and leaves the kitchen without another word. Derek comes up to Stiles and wraps him in an embrace, unthinking, uncaring of whether or not Stiles will find it awkward, rubbing his hand over Stiles’ hair and his back, marking him thoroughly as if to warn other werewolves away.

Stiles allows it for a long moment, sinks into it, in fact, before finally saying, “I’m okay, Derek. Confused, but okay.”

Derek lets him go. “What happened?”

“I have no idea. He came in and just said I smelled wrong. That I smelled like an enemy. I think he was – about to freak out, but then Talia came in and told him to let me go, so he did.”

Derek rubs both hands over his face. “Sometimes . . . Peter gets confused. When things remind him of the fire. We’re not always sure why. A scent, or a sound, and he can just . . . lose touch with reality. God, I’m glad you’re okay. Not just for your sake, but . . . it would have killed him if he had hurt you.”

Stiles nods and tries to steady his hands and his voice. “It’s okay,” he says, knowing he needs to answer the question that Derek won’t, can’t, ask. “I’m not going to stop talking to him or anything. I know he didn’t mean to hurt me.”

Derek lets out a breath. “Thank you,” he says.

Stiles nods again and says, “Uh, I need to finish this up,” so Derek says okay and leaves him to it. But Stiles stares after Peter, chewing on his lower lip and wondering, not for the first time, why Peter is so convinced that the fire wasn’t an accident.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Derek looks up from the row of shrubs he’s pruning when he hears his boss calling his name. “Hey, Derek, got a customer asking for you,” he says. “To help pick out some plants. I guess someone recommended you.”

“Sure.” Derek puts down the pruners and grabs his smock, which he doesn’t usually bother to wear when he’s in the greenhouse. He follows his boss out to the front of the store and is surprised to see Stiles standing there. He doesn’t look upset, and is dressed casually; his scent is calm and there’s that sneaking edge of happiness he gets now, whenever he sees Derek. “Hey,” Derek says. “You don’t need to employ subterfuge to come see me at work, you know.”

“It wasn’t a lie,” Stiles says. “I want some plants.” He shoves his hands into his pockets and shrugs. “Laura said you sometimes work Saturday mornings but you’re always done by midafternoon, so I thought I’d stop by and get some stuff to, you know, put in our backyard. I figured you could help me out.”

“Sure,” Derek says. He’s a little surprised, but he remembers what Stiles had said about how his mother had gardened, how he had tried but the plants had always died. “What were you looking for?”

“Just some flowers, I guess,” Stiles says.

They wind up with a lot more than that. Stiles doesn’t know the names of the flowers his mother planted, but he can describe most of them, and recognizes them on sight. He also decides to get some herbs, because his mother had a small herb garden, and they buy some topsoil and a kit to see if the soil is acidic – Derek’s most likely guess as to why Stiles had so much trouble – some plant food, gardening gloves, and a few tools.

By the time they get everything, and Derek’s boss is beaming at such a large purchase, it’s about two o’clock. Derek gets one of his coworkers to help Stiles load everything into his Jeep while he finishes up with the shrubs and clocks out. “I thought you were broke,” he says, meeting Stiles outside the store.

“Dad paid for this,” Stiles says. “I mean, not that I told him I was going to buy several hundred dollars worth of gardening equipment, but he does pay for some of the stuff I need and/or want. I’m only seventeen, you know,” he adds, elbowing Derek in the ribs.

Derek gives him an unimpressed look, then gets in the Camaro to follow him back to the house. Stiles produces lemonade and a pitcher of ice, and they get to work. The backyard is nice, with a wooden deck and a large grassy area, with several trees for shade. The edges of the yard have been built up into several beds for gardening, with wood or stone edging.

“Dad did all that for her,” Stiles says, his tone unemotional even though his scent is mixed sorrow and loneliness. “After they got married. It was his first anniversary gift to her. He built it all up so she could do her gardening.”

“That’s nice,” Derek says quietly.

“Yeah. Flowers over here and around the trees – I guess some flowers like shade or whatever – and then the herb garden was over there,” Stiles says, and gestures. “She was talking about starting a vegetable garden and had even bought some seeds for cucumbers and tomatoes, but then.” His voice hitches. “Then she got sick, so, I guess she didn’t.”

Unable to help it, Derek wraps an arm around Stiles’ waist and presses his nose into the hair just above Stiles’ ear. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I really miss her, you know?” He kicks a rock. “Hey, let’s get to work.”

Derek knows when enough is enough, so he starts unpacking the goods. It’s a perfect day to spend outside, sunny but breezy, and the backyard has enough shade for when they want to take a break. Stiles has a radio that he’s tuned to the same classic rock station he had found in Derek’s car that first, and he sings along under his breath in a passable enough voice.

They don’t talk a lot, but that’s okay. They’ve gotten to the point where they can be comfortable in silence with each other, which Derek treasures. They exchange some comments here and there, and Derek stops to explain what they’re doing occasionally, and Stiles sometimes goes off on one of his tangents. But for the most part, they just work, combing rocks out of the soil, uprooting weeds, arranging the flowers.

Tom gets home a few hours later and comes out to the backyard when he doesn’t see Stiles in the house anywhere. He stands on the back deck and just stares for a few moments, at the flowers, at his son in his dirty jeans and T-shirt, at Derek leaning over one of the beds and carefully making sure the plants aren’t too close together.

“This . . . this looks amazing,” he says, and Stiles’ head snaps up.

“Oh, I, uh,” he says. “I thought it would be nice. You know. To have flowers back here again. And Derek, you know, he works at the nursery so he knows all about plants and . . . I hope that’s okay.”

“It’s fine.” Tom’s voice is a little choked up. “You two hungry? I’m going to go order some dinner.”

“Yeah, sure,” Stiles says, and frowns as his father makes a hasty retreat. “Shit. I guess I should have warned him. I hope he’s not mad.”

“He’s not angry,” Derek says, knowing that Tom just needs a few minutes to sort out his tangle of emotions upon seeing Stiles working in his mother’s flower garden. When Stiles just gives him a skeptical look, he says, “What? He isn’t angry. I can tell.” He taps the side of his noise to indicate how, and leaves a smear of dirt on it.

Stiles cracks a grin. “You’ve got a little, uh,” he says, and reaches up with one hand to wipe the dirt away. It’s a gesture that’s so casual that it’s somehow infinitely intimate. His hand lingers on Derek’s cheek for a moment before he flushes pink and ducks his head, looking away. Derek’s fingers curl into the dirt as he struggles for self-control, to restrain the urge to just tackle Stiles and rub his scent all over him, to claim him in every sort of way.

“We, we should finish this up,” Stiles says, grabbing a trowel and devoting himself to something that probably doesn’t need to be done. “Since my dad is ordering dinner. You can stay. It’ll be nice.”

“Yeah,” Derek says, and lets out a breath. “Okay.”

“But thanks. Really. I mean.” Stiles glances over his shoulder, flushing pink. “The garden. It looks nice.”

“You’re welcome.” Derek leans over and presses a kiss into Stiles’ forehead, just below his hairline, and Stiles doesn’t flinch away.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles eyes the gigantic hunks of meat speculatively, thinking over what to do with them. He’s pretty sure that after years of Laura’s cooking, pretty much anything would be acceptable. Still, everyone seems so impressed by his cooking – for reasons far beyond his understanding – that the idea of just sticking it in the oven doesn’t appeal to him. He checks his watch. It’s only about one o’clock in the afternoon. He’s not sure if Laura and Peter don’t know what time his school gets out, or if they’re just not mentioning the fact that he’s obviously been ditching a lot lately.

“Do you have any cooking wine?” he asks, rooting into the pantry. He’s pretty sure that the Hale family has wine, but, well, they have wine. The kind that goes for several hundred dollars a bottle. He’s not about to empty half of a bottle into a crock pot.

“I don’t think so,” Laura calls back.

Stiles frowns a little and says, “Well, that lets out beef burgundy, anyway. The cashiers all have strict instructions about not letting me buy liquor.”

Laura lets out a little snort and says, “I’d offer to go with to the store you, but Sylvia won’t be up from her nap for another half hour at least . . .”

“I’ll go with you,” Peter says, folding the magazine he’s reading. “I don’t mind.”

“Oh, all right,” Stiles says, a little surprised, but not unhappy. Peter’s been having a string of good days recently, and nobody wants to mess with his karma. He’s been lucid, friendly, and bitingly sarcastic. Apparently this strange combination is reminiscent of Peter-before-the-fire, and everyone has been enjoying it.

Peter doesn’t drive, however, so they take Stiles’ Jeep and head to the grocery store. He makes a mental list while he drives. They’re nearly out of onions, and he’ll need carrots and noodles, too. They park at the left side of the store, where the liquor selection is, and he gives it a quick skim before grabbing what he thinks is a passable Merlot.

“That is not a good vintage,” Peter informs him.

“It’s going in the crock pot for four hours. It doesn’t have to be.”

Peter purses his lips and continues to peruse the wine.

Stiles gives a snort. “Look, if you wanna buy something nice to drink with the meal, be my guest. It’s your dime. But for cooking wine,” he adds, hefting the bottle, “this is fine.”

“If you say so,” Peter says.

Stiles waits another minute, but when Peter doesn’t seem to be coming to a quick decision, he says, “I’ll just go grab the other stuff we need while you do this, then.” He’s amused despite himself, as he heads towards the rest of the grocery store. He has to admit that it’s a lot easier to do the shopping with the Hales footing the bill. It’s only fair, despite his own minor qualms about it. They’re eating a lot more of it than he is. His phone chirps and he glances down to see that Laura has texted him, asking him to grab some yogurt and applesauce for the baby. He adds both to his cart and heads for the produce section.

It takes less than a minute to grab a bag of carrots and a bag of onions, but then he stops to look at the fruit. Since werewolves tend to avoid chemicals, fruit is a common dessert. There are some decently priced strawberries, and he starts comparing the packs to find ones that look good.

Behind him, he hears someone snickering. He glances over his shoulder to see a young man only a few years older than him. He’s vaguely familiar. Former lacrosse team member, maybe, or the brother of one of the people he knows from high school. Stiles turns back to the strawberries, but then he gets hit in the back of the head with something soft and a little squishy. He looks over and says, “Problem?”

“You tell me,” the man says, laughing. He’s dressed in an employee’s uniform, complete with smock, and holding a bag of what looks like moldy cherries.

Stiles sighs and turns back to the produce. Another cherry hits him in the back of the neck. “Okay, dude, seriously,” he says.

“Lighten up,” the guy says, with a huge, shit-eating grin. “I thought you might want these. I mean, seeing as you’re on kitchen duty now. I mean, holy shit, kid. They’re making you run their errands and cook their food? Do you shine their shoes? Oh, wait, I bet you do it with your tongue, right? Or does Derek Hale have better uses for your tongue?” he adds, leering, and Stiles just sighs and turns back to the strawberries, fighting to keep his composure. “Come on, dude, inquiring minds want to know. How does it feel to be a servant to the most powerful family in town? Do you do their laundry, too? Clean their floors?”

“What if he does?” a new voice intervenes, and Stiles freezes, because he knows that voice, and more importantly, he recognizes that too-soft quality of it, the deadliness that lies underneath that complete calm. He looks up to see Peter standing there, holding a bottle of wine in one hand. “Is that a problem for you, young man?”

“Uh . . .” The boy just stands there, blinking, clearly more confused than anything else. He doesn’t seem to recognize Peter by sight, but some animal part of him recognizes the predator, and he’s smart enough not to continue in the same vein. “Hey, I just think, maybe Stilinski here deserves better than that.”

“Do you, now?” Peter sets down the bottle and walks forward, a slow stalk that’s completely unnerving. Stiles wonders if he should do something, try to intervene or maybe even call Derek to tell him what’s happening. But he can see from the look on Peter’s face – an aloof, almost curious look, like he’s examining a bug underneath a microscope – that Peter is in complete control. The werewolf continues, “That position, for your information, is called the ‘denmaker’. It’s actually a highly revered position in packs.”

“Yeah, right,” the kid snorts.

Peter’s expression doesn’t change, and now he’s only a few steps away. “Think about it,” he says. “The denmaker prepares the meals. That implies a great deal of trust, does it not? Do you know who the previous denmaker of the Hale pack was? It was a woman named Olivia. She was my wife.” His voice becomes incredibly, infinitely gentle. “You’re not insulting my wife, are you?”

The boy swallows, his Adam’s apple visibly bobbing up and down. “No, sir.”

“That’s good,” Peter murmurs. He lifts one hand, and Stiles sees his claws are out, delicately tracing the cords on the young man’s neck. “I’d hate to hear someone belittle my wife that way. She was amazing at what she did, you know.”

“Y-Yeah,” he says, when it becomes clear that Peter is waiting for an answer.

“Do you know what my position in the pack is?” Peter asks, as a bead of blood starts to trickle down his neck. “It’s called the Left Hand. Do you know what that position entails?” he asks, and receives no answer other than a hitching breath. It’s clear that if the young man moves more than a centimeter, Peter’s claws will sink into his throat. “You always hear about someone’s ‘right hand man’ or someone being the king’s ‘right hand’, et cetera. Right, of course, having the same root as ‘righteous’. The right hand carries on the honorable work of the alpha.

“The left hand, however . . . does all the dirty work. The wet work, as they say. He’s a ‘fixer’ . . . he cleans up the messes . . . that nobody else can touch. Keeps the secrets. I know where all the bodies are buried . . . often because I’m the one who buried them. I’m a very discreet gravedigger, you know. Sometimes people don’t even realize they’re dead before they’re in the ground.

“So,” Peter concludes, “what do you have to say for yourself?”

“I’m sorry,” the boy whispers.

Peter shakes his head. “Not to me. Pay attention.”

The words are a gentle reprimand, but the young man is shaking as he turns to look at Stiles, just barely moving his head. “I, uh, I’m sorry I made fun of you.”

“No problem,” Stiles says, hoping that a nonchalant response will keep Peter from ripping his throat out.

Peter smiles and releases him. “There,” he says, with a look of satisfaction. He turns to Stiles. “Oh, strawberries,” he says. “Cora is particularly fond of them. Get an extra box. She can eat an entire one on her own.”

“Sure,” Stiles says, going back to examining the berries. There are no more fruit attacks, and a few minutes later, they’re at the cash register. Peter pulls out his ID and then his credit card, and pays for the food.

Once they’re back in the car, he glances at Stiles and says, “Did I frighten you?”

Stiles can’t help it. He breaks out into a grin. “No, dude, that was awesome. I just wish I’d had the presence of mind to get it on film, holy hell, I think that guy pissed himself.”

“Only a few drops,” Peter says, and Stiles chortles. “It was all true, though, you know.”

“I know,” Stiles says. “Trust me, I, uh, I’m done questioning the whole ‘the denmaker is important’ thing. Really done. Gonna go make all of you some dinner.”

Peter nods, as if this is how it should be, and returns his gaze to the window, watching the scenery roll by.

 

~ ~ ~ ~