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Dumb Supper

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The loft was the only place with enough space. The industrial drafting table was a good start, but onto each end they tacked a folding card table, and starting in September began amassing a truly astonishing number of chairs. Derek was practically squeezed out of his own den, constantly tripping over extra furniture, and tablecloths, mismatched dishes, every style and shape of wine glass. And one A5 notebook.

They’d each been given one, to fill up as they wanted, but the night before their first annual Dumb Supper, Derek’s was still empty.

Stiles came over every day that week, dropping off buttery rolls he’d baked in advance, or setting up one more in a row of crockpots. They needed to feed a dozen people and two dozen souls, he said, and that wasn’t easy. Every time he visited he ran his fingers along the notebook’s cover where it sat on the table, like a prayer, but he never opened it. Derek was glad.

He could see evidence of the whole pack’s influence everywhere he looked. It felt good knowing the others were finally in a place to do this, to face their own grieving head on, but he wasn’t sure he was. It had been almost a decade, he should be ready, but he didn’t feel like it. He felt weak. Raw. The notebook was still empty.

Finally, at two in the morning, he sat down and started to write. Haltingly, sometimes a sentence an hour, but he wrote.

 

***

 

“I know you all know the rules, but let’s go over them again just for surety’s sake.”

Stiles stood with his back to the loft door, hands braced on the handle behind him like he was posing for an ad. The pack gathered in front of him, somber muted clothes and not a single smile among them.

“Once we get inside there is no speaking. The chairs with shrouds covering them are taken, so just find your placecard at one of the open chairs. We’re serving buffet style, but be sure the ghosts are served before any of the humans.”

“Or wolves,” Scott offered, quietly.

“Humans or wolves,” Stiles nodded, “Does everyone have their notebooks?”

A few nods and murmurs of assent traveled around the group and Stiles gripped the handle surely now, pushing up straight.

“The candles are already lit. We’ll send the notes at the end.”

And then he opened the door and they all filed in.

 

***

 

It was beautiful inside, patchwork and thrifted but harmonious. Everything was cast in dark blacks and grays, and there were more shrouded chairs than open ones, wrapped as they were in tulle from the craft store. At each place sat an index card with a name and when Derek circled the table slowly, looking for his own spot, he spotted Erica, Boyd, and Allison. At the head of the table, in the spirit spot of honor, was a card reading Talia, and on top of the tulle wrapped chair sat a paper crown. His eyes felt hot with tears already.

There was no set plan for who would serve who, and a few times hands bumped against one another as both Scott and Isaac reached for Allison’s plate, or Stiles tried to grab his mother’s plate before the sheriff could. The pack let out a few amused chuckles, and a few resigned sighs, but everyone managed to stay silent while the food was plated. Derek made sure his baby brother’s plate was mostly pie, and that his father’s included a huge serving of cabbage and carrots.

Finally, he filled his own plate with mashed parsnips and gravy, a few rolls, and a glass of ginger ale, and took his spot directly across the long row of tables from his mother.

Stiles lifted a glass and clinked a knife against the side, as if silencing a crowd, and when everyone was looking his way he inclined his head to indicate the start.

Derek had expected them to eat quickly, the silence oppressive and unnatural for most of the loudmouth teenagers, but no one did. They worked through their meals at a slow ambling pace, each person spending more time watching the empty spots and having conversations with one another composed of weighty looks and small gestures. The air felt more and more charged as the minutes ticked by, heavy and exhilarating, and Derek couldn’t take his eyes off the paper crown. It was there every time he glanced up, or came back to center, stark and juvenile and perfect.

When everyone was done eating, Stiles cleared his throat, and then nodded at Scott to start the procession.

He pulled his notebook out of the inside of his suit jacket, and tore out the first page. It was filled with tiny script, although Derek couldn’t read anything from this distance, and he folded it in half and walked over to Allison’s spot at the table. He ran it over one of the candles marking the center and then dropped it onto her plate once it was burning steadily.

He repeated the action at Aiden’s place, and then sat back in his own chair. Each member of the pack repeated the ritual, passing along their messages to the dead in burned paper, until only Stiles and Derek were left. Stiles gave notes to Boyd, to Erica, to Allison, to Claudia, and then he walked to the chair with the crown and dropped a small one onto Talia Hale’s plate to burn down.

Derek’s notebook was, by far, the most full. There was something in there for almost everyone, and he felt watched as he made his way around the table much slower than everyone else had.

When he was finished, all hollowed out like he’d been washed clean, he walked back to the end of the tables.

He nodded at Stiles, who nodded at the others, and they all stood from their chairs and filed back out of the loft.

 

***

 

It took about twenty minutes to collect themselves enough to go back in.

They could talk again, and most of them jumped on the opportunity.

“That was a lot harder than I expected,” Isaac mused, stacking plates and scraping uneaten food into the trash.

“It felt like…” Scott hummed, “I mean, it felt like it was mostly for our benefit. Not actual magic.”

Stiles chuckled and licked his fingers to snuff out the closest candles.

“All grieving is for the benefit of the living, Scotty boy. But I have it on good authority that they get the messages. Especially doing it on Samhain night, they’re all so close right now.”

Derek wound around the others as they moved, making his way slowly but surely to his mother’s seat. He plucked the crown from it’s place, flattened it and folded it, until it was small enough to stow in his pocket.

“Good touch?” Stiles asked, and when had he come up behind Derek?

“Yeah,” Derek said. His voice felt rough from disuse, even though it hadn’t been longer than an hour, “What did you write to her?”

Stiles raised his eyebrows at him and he cursed under his breath.

“I mean, you don’t have to tell me. Sorry, I know they were private. I just...you never met her so...I wondered.”

“Well it is private,” Stiles bowed his head and pressed a palm against Derek’s back, cutting them off from the rest of the room, “but that’s okay. I told her she did a good job with you. Teaching you right from wrong, showing you how to be a wolf and a man. I told her every good lesson you have is quoted from her. And I asked her if it was okay if I took over looking after you for a while.”

Suddenly there wasn’t enough air in the room. His chest caught in place and his eyes drew up to stare at Stiles dumbly.

“It can mean as much or as little as you want it to, big guy. I just want to see you happy, and I knew you’d appreciate it if I checked with your alpha before approaching you.”

Just like that, the tears he’d been holding solidly at bay all night broke free, and his shoulders heaved as he shuddered. A few pack members glanced his way, faces drawn, but he buried his face in Stiles shoulder until he couldn’t see them anymore, and Stiles wrapped him up in his arms.