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The Foul Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

Chapter Text


It was the looming presence of his mentor that tipped him off. A little, mystical itch at the base of his spine warning him of the fact that, once again, Alan was displeased with something. Stiles finished cleaning the plain ceramic mortar and pestle. At least he’d had the sense not to use one of the magically-charged mortars for this job. Whistling tunelessly, he didn’t have long to wait before Alan interrupted.

“Stiles. Did I just watch you sell that man a hex-bag full of crushed caffeine pills and rocks from our own parking lot?”

“I threw in some sage too,” he corrected as though that was a great improvement. “He paid, like, five hundred bucks for that and the exorcism this morning. Plus a very generous tip! I’m good for business, Doc.”

“We run a legitimate business here, Stiles. How many times have I told you? Nothing but guaranteed magical solutions.” Alan tapped the workshop table for good measure. It sent up a tiny dust cloud that resolved itself into the Deaton family motto: Ad verum et bonum. To the good and the truth.

“Yeah, but those are for actual magical problems. Not some dude who’s terrified that the stray cat that keeps getting in his garage is a fucking ghost. Do you know how many times I went out there to check for a haunting? Five fucking times! At morning. At night. In the rain. I showed him the cat three times, and he still didn’t believe me.”

“Stiles.” Alan shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose like he was fighting off a migraine. He claimed he’d been getting a lot of those since taking on Stiles as his Journeyman student a few years ago. “How many times do I need to remind you that I took an oath, not only of neutrality, but to provide help to those in need? This is an official Sanctuary.”

“It’s not like you do all that for free, and I got rid of the cat! Scott’s keeping it for now. He’s thinking about giving it to Kira or something. Pretty sure her mom will just eat it the first time it claws the furniture.”

“Stiles, that was the third customer this month.”

“That you’ve seen!” He paused. “Which was probably not the right thing to say if I wanted to inspire faith and trust in me, your faithful shop assistant, but you know I’m good. I can do the real stuff. I’m great at the mystical abracadabras and mixing up your ointments.” Sensing Alan’s continued disapproval Stiles whined, “C’mon, Doc. You said that I’m the best you’ve seen at haruspicy! Marin’s chickens love me. They never see it coming.”

Alan mouthed ‘mystical abracadabras’ and shut his eyes briefly before he agreed, “You do fine work, yes. It’s true that I could have asked for a more circumspect assistant, but not a better one. You’re remarkably talented for a practitioner without a specialization, and we’ve worked well together in pursuit of your Mastery—even though our abilities never meshed as well as we hoped.” Alan smiled kindly at him, but Stiles was beginning to have a bad feeling about the direction this conversation was headed. It was all sounding suspiciously like the teacher’s version of “it’s not you, it’s me”. Except it really was him in this situation. Just like the last time.

He should have paid more attention to Lydia last week when she’d started throwing around the old knucklebones. Fucking banshees. They never had any good news—not even while they were doing drunk divination.

“I like you, Stiles. You have disturbingly loose morals for the child of a law enforcement officer, but you’re extraordinarily gifted and have a fine work ethic. Business has never been better than in the years we’ve worked together. But the fact remains that I can’t keep someone who sells the magical equivalent of sugar pills to my customers. We turn away those cases. We don’t take their money. The Deaton family name means something, and I can’t allow my students to compromise that integrity. Not even if I like them.”

Stiles scoffed to cover the hurt. “I only do that to the people who won’t leave, and only if they can afford it. Besides,” he wheedled, “isn’t it better if it happens like this, where I’m basically harmless, instead of with someone like the Blakes? They don’t have many fucks to give over some schmuck who thinks a cat is a poltergeist.” Stiles shivered in not-completely feigned fear. Jennifer and her mate were great. They were also kind of (really) scary as fuck. He knew that most of the shady stories weren't precisely true, but they weren't exactly wrong either. Anyone who worked in the First Sorcerer's spook squad wasn't someone you'd want to meet in a dark alley. Or a bright one. Or anywhere really, if they were on the job.

“Be that as it may… I can’t be your teacher anymore, Stiles. I also can’t employ someone who disregards my rules.” Alan sighed. “This isn’t how I wanted to end things between us, and I had hoped… well, it was a long time coming. I’m just glad that you’ve attained your Journeyman levels.”

“So you’re really doing this?” From the other side of the counter, Stiles stared shell-shocked at his mentor. “You’re getting rid of me.” He didn’t even attempt to stop the full-body flail. “Are you forgetting that I live in your garage apartment because I’m your student. Was your student. This is really happening.” He wobbled on his feet and began to hyperventilate. “Oh my god, I’m homeless and unemployed. I have to tell my dad. Oh my god—”

Alan stepped forward and laid a hand on Stiles’ tensed shoulder. “Calm down, Stiles.” His teacher (former teacher’s) placid voice pierced through the building panic, and Stiles sucked in a few much-needed breaths as he listened. “I know this seems like the end of the world, but it’s not. And I’m not kicking you out immediately. I’m not unreasonable. I want you to find a place to live and a new teacher. In fact, I have someone in mind.”

“You have someone in mind? How long have you been thinking about this?” Stiles let out a wet-sounding chuckle at the ensuing silence. “Oh, that’s just rich. Did you and Adrian and Marin all get together and talk about how no one could ever mesh with me? I’ve been in training for thirteen years, and it never clicked. But everyone just kept plugging away at it. Poor fucking Stiles and his long-suffering teachers who couldn’t manage to find a decent apprentice.”

“Stop that,” Alan ordered. “You know that’s not how it was. We all care about you, Stiles. The teacher-student bond is a profound one. Especially the one you had with Adrian. From the time you were ten, he had a full, traditional binding with you. That is not something done lightly. The depth of his responsibility for you…” Alan paused meaningfully. “It boggles the mind. There’s a reason it’s fallen out of common practice in modern times. He was more aware of you and your feelings and your magical core than it’s likely for you to experience with any other person in your lifetime. Never disparage what you’ve had with us.”

“Yeah, well.” Stiles winced. “You know how well that ended. Humiliation and eternal awkwardness.” Almost six years and he still couldn’t think of the incident without cringing. The bond had been intense. Especially in the first flush of new hormones and sexual feelings. Stiles would have done anything for his Master Adrian. On Stiles’ elevation to Journeyman status, he may have crawled into the man’s bed and begged to be deflowered. Then like the honorable Master and family friend he was, Adrian had packed him off to the Druid Groves for special training before he arranged for Stiles to continue his education with Alan Deaton.

Eventually Stiles shoved down the resentment and thanked him for his help. He’d even meant it, but the remembered rejection stung. Just like this one. It’s not you, it’s me. Always the same story. “So who’s the lucky guy, gal, or golem?”

Alan raised a quelling brow. “It’s hardly going to be a golem,” he scolded. “We put a lot of thought into this and looked at all the nearby practitioners without too many students. We all agreed that Peter Hale is probably the best choice for you.”

Stiles blinked stupidly. “Peter Hale is a Hale.”

“Yes. That would be the Hale portion of his name.”

“He’s a werewolf. And a witch. Sorcerer. Magic guy.”

“Hm, yes. I wouldn’t call him a witch-wolf though. As you know, the Hales are born ‘wolves with very few exceptions. I have a close relationship with Talia, the alpha, but I’ve mostly kept you away from it. You hardly needed another werewolf distraction after Scott was bitten.”

Stiles nodded at Alan’s reasoning. It was fair enough. But the sorcerous werewolf thing gave him pause. He hadn’t met many werewolves or were-anythings. Definitely not anyone from such an old or respected lineage. And some of the things people said about Peter Hale were unwholesome. “Taking on a Mastery level student is kind of a big favor to expect from a stranger. Besides, isn’t he a necromancer or something? That might kind of tie-in with my Mastery project, but he does all that high ritual shit, right? You sure he’s going to want to work with someone like me?”

“Believe me, Stiles.” Alan hugged him. “Anyone would be proud to have you as a student for any amount of time.”

Stiles wrapped his arms around his teacher. Alan always smelled like tree sap and rosemary. It was a familiar, calming scent. Stiles was going to miss it. “What about all those rumors? Does this mean he isn’t creepy and dark?”

Alan laughed and ruffled Stiles’ hair. “I think it’s more accurate to call him grey. He’s a caustic asshole with a giant ego, but no one can argue with his results. He’s an excellent necromancer. The things I’ve seen him do with chalk and a little chicken blood. Mad bastard.” Alan shook his head in grudging admiration. “You have a lot in common, and I think the two of you will be highly compatible. Call it a feeling.” He gave Stiles Creepy Zen Smile #6. “Trust me.”

In an anxious fit, Stiles drove around town aimlessly before forcing himself to scavenge discarded boxes from behind a couple of package stores and bookstores so that he could get a head start on packing. Good thing he didn’t have much in his student quarters, but shit. It was hard to wrap his head around the events of the day.

“Feeling better, Steve?” he looked at the rainbow-patterned chondro morph coiled on Stiles' favorite pillow. Judging from the fang-gouges, Steve Rainbow McSkittles, the second of her name, was still grumpy about losing her favorite perch to the roughhousing antics of Stiles and Scott. “Guess not… well, it looks like we’ve gotta find a new place pretty soon. Don’t worry. I’ll still be able to keep you in the style to which you’re accustomed.” The magically-enhanced green tree python hissed balefully and flicked out her tongue in reproach. “And yes. Okay. I’ll get you a new perch.” Steve bunched up her multi-colored coils and tucked her head beneath the loop typically used as her cushion. There was no mistaking that for anything but shunning. “Fine!” Stiles threw his hands up, sending flattened boxes flying into the air. “I will go to the fucking Preserve and induce that tree you like to grow you your very own custom perch. It’ll be ready in a few days.” He bent down to pick up the fallen boxes and muttered, “You’re such a prissy princess. This is all revenge for naming you after your dad. Save me from moody fucking snakes.”

Complacent now that Stiles had promised to make reparations, Steve uncovered her head and slithered down the bed and onto the floor. She nudged one of the farther boxes and made a questioning hiss. Stiles sighed. “I guess you caught that, huh?” He accepted the proffered box. “Well, Alan ended our teaching relationship today, and I’m supposed to see a new guy soon.” He shrugged and took consolation from her affectionate tongue flicks, their bond pulsing love and understanding. “You're right. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it was really… yeah.” Stiles blew out a gusty breath. “I should have figured.”

He and Alan had always worked around the rough spots. Same as he and Adrian. He sort of figured that they’d keep chugging along until he could present his proof of Mastery. Why change what worked? Except, apparently it hadn’t been, and he was the last to know. Fucking typical cryptic Druid bullshit. He’d think they trained for that, but as far as he could tell it just came naturally to those tree-worshipping weirdos.

Stiles snorted in bitterness and halfheartedly tossed a few books into a magazine box.

It was no great secret that Stiles’ approach to magic was syncretic. He’d use anything from any tradition as long as it worked (and wasn’t going to incur a huge karmic debt). As his mother had always said “magic is whatever you can get away with”. However, his chaotic (haphazard) style was almost diametrically opposed to Alan Deaton’s. Stiles made a poor Druid, and couldn’t deny it. He didn’t lose sleep over the fact that he wouldn’t be up for any awards as an Ent Wife, but Stiles truly enjoyed his time learning from Alan (and sometimes Marin). He’d taken the long way around during his Journeyman’s years, and spent an additional year with Alan to pursue his Mastery. While their styles and natures differed wildly, actually liking each other could still take you pretty far.

But not far enough to see him through his Mastery.

Possibly, Alan was right. Maybe he needed a mentor who was a little less rigid. More relativistic, in a moral way. Yeah, Adrian and Alan had given him his foundation in the magical arts. They’d taught him more about plants and potions than any regular twenty-three year old had a reason to know, but Stiles acknowledged Alan’s statements as truth. He and his teachers had just never clicked in that special way. They were missing the synergy his mother had described in a good mentor-student match. Even if your talents and specializations were polar opposites, something in your cores could still resonate. So far, Stiles hadn’t experienced that feeling for himself. No matter how infatuated he’d been with Adrian back when he first entered puberty.

It was hard seeing his peers gravitate towards their perfect mentors, and this far in his training he’d resigned himself to never finding the one. Alan had never steered him wrong before, so there must be something about Peter Hale that made Alan believe they could mesh.

His phone buzzed briefly in his pocket. Stiles pulled it out and swiped the screen to check his messages.

Alan: You have an appt at 10am tomorrow. Bring coffee. Be early. Be yourself, and he’ll like you just fine.

Tomorrow, Stiles would drop by the shop. See Peter Hale, Necromancer Extraordinaire. It’d all work out this time. He had a feeling.

Caveat Emptor was small with a deceptive, maze-like layout of clever sections meant to trick the eye into believing the building was more spacious than the exterior suggested. No magic, just a bit of a spatial chicanery. Peter kept it all clean and well-lit despite the prevailing belief of the average non-magical that these sorts of places should be shadowy dens full of entrails and incense.

It wasn’t always easy being what his kind colloquially referred to as a “witch-wolf”. The path had been difficult, but the rewards—the power—had been great. Even the fact that he was alive today was all down to his “witchy ways”. He may never have his family’s love, but their fear and respect? Their acceptance of him as an authority? Those he earned with blood and sweat and one accidental death followed by a very non-accidental resurrection.

And he’d be throwing all of that effort out the window if anyone heard that he has some woman, “you can call me Xinnia with an X”, in the middle of a consultation on her haunted vagina. She seemed like the usual blonde trophy wife when she came in, here to waste her husband’s money on frivolous charms. Perhaps a bit troubled, but his clients were almost always troubled by something. That’s why they braved the wolf in his den, but this… Peter couldn’t say he’d ever had a client quite like this.

Peter felt the wards surrounding his shop tingle in the back of his mind, warning him of an approaching sorcerer before he heard or smelled the newcomer. After a few more minutes, he noticed the faint smell of coffee and young, healthy male at the same time as he heard the faint sound of the door swishing open and shut. The previous quiet was broken by a clatter as the sorcerer stumbled over the purposely uneven threshold. Fragrant coffee and artificial syrup wafted through the air from what must have been a small spill. A few muffled curses reached his ears.

The unseen fumblings of his ten o’clock appointment distracted him enough from his client that he missed the last of her rambling. Peter was certain that was all useless blather. Appearances were important, but at this point he simply wanted her out of his building.

“Madam,” he interrupted her mid-sentence, disregarding his usual niceties. “It is my opinion that you need a medical practitioner—not a magical one. I’m sure that after a few calls I could recommend you a good gynecologist if you don’t already have one.”

“Are you even listening to what I said?” she whined in a high-pitched, nasal tone that sent sharp stabs of pain directly to his sensitive eardrums. The flicker of movement in his peripheral vision indicated that his prospective student-cum-employee had wandered closer to listen to this trainwreck of a case. “I already saw the doctor, and she said my downstairs parts are all normal! But they’re not.” She brandished her exquisitely manicured and be-ringed left hand at him. “Look at this! The skin on my fingertips is peeling off. My hands look like a dishwasher’s! I’m losing sensitivity in my,” Xinnia with an X splayed herself across the countertop and lowered her voice to a whisper, “in my clitoris. And sometimes I have contractions. I can sense that there’s something trying to come out. Like a demon. Or something.”

If that wasn’t an engraved invitation for mockery, then Peter had never seen one in his life. He gave in to the imp of perversity and drawled, “Are you sure the contractions aren’t an indication that you’re having an orgasm? I can understand if you may have been confused—considering what you said about your husband’s abilities, or lack thereof.”

“Why I never!” she sputtered, face turning red with embarrassed rage.

“Ahh, as I suspected.”

“No!” she snarled, bosom heaving with indignation. “It is not a goddamned orgasm. I know what those feel like, and this is different. I have no idea how you came so highly recommended if this is the type of attitude you take with paying customers,” Xinnia was clenching her hands into fists as though she were fondly imagining throttling Peter. She wouldn’t be the first. “I tell you that my vagina is haunted, and you just tell me to see the doctor like I’m some hysterical female from the 1800s. How dare you, sir!” Finally, she drew herself up and turned to leave. Hopefully, she’d soon be plaguing some other more deserving quack who would coo over her for her terrible trauma.

But fate, or his interviewee, decided to intervene. The lanky brunette clunked both of the to-go cups down by Peter’s elbow and smirked. “Hey, Boss-man! Sorry for running late this morning.” The kid, Stiles Stilinski, aimed a perfect charlatan’s smile directly at Xinnia with an X. She blinked in surprise as he poured on the charm. “Miss, I couldn’t help but overhear your problem. Why don’t we discuss it a little more privately?” Without waiting for a response, he took her right hand and sketched a bow over it. Peter had to hand it to him, the kid was a smooth operator. He leaned into her space with a calculated disregard for her cautious body language and whispered with a confiding air, “Master Hale is always a bit cranky before he gets his coffee. Why don’t you tell me all about your problem while he caffeinates?”

“Well…” she inched closer, pursed lips softening in mollification. It was clear that she was beginning to thaw from the sheer expression of concern on such a pretty, young face. “At least someone here seems to be taking my issues seriously.”

“Oh, I know,” he intoned solemnly. “Just last year one of my close friends had a similar experience, but I was able to help her through it.” At those words, Xinnia sagged into Stiles’ chest in obvious relief. Stiles glanced at Peter and shot him a wink. Barely loud enough for Peter’s supernatural hearing to catch, Stiles muttered, “I’ve got this, dude.”

The day and this appointment were suddenly looking much more interesting.

Gently easing her back, he took both of her hands in his much larger ones. “All right. My name is Stiles, and I want you to take some deep breaths and relax for me.” He gave her an encouraging smile. “Can you do that for me, Xinnia?”

She nodded her head shakily and clutched at his fingers.

“I’m just going to feel your energy with mine. Totally non-invasive. It’ll probably feel like a gentle warmth flowing through your body. Just concentrate on answering my questions, and we’ll be done in a few minutes.”

“Okay, Stiles.” She smiled tremulously at the little con-artist and nearly swooned against him again. “I’m ready.” From the angle, Peter couldn’t be certain, but he’d almost be willing to swear that she actually fluttered her lashes at the kid. He had to admit it. He was definitely a little impressed at the way Stiles was handling such an annoying customer.

Stiles shut his eyes and put on a look of intense concentration. “Did you start doing anything different when this all started?”

“No,” she drew out the ‘O’ sound in contemplation. Clearly, thinking in such close proximity to Stiles was difficult for her. “I’d started touching myself more often. A few times a day. Then my fingers started peeling. So I started using a vibrator to let my hand heal, but then everything got sort of numb down there. Then I used something else, and my g-spot is broken forever.”

“That sounds like you have a pretty serious case, Xinnia. You’re going to need to follow my instructions to the letter if you want to resolve this.” Stiles squeezed her peeling hands, and re-opened his eyes. She swayed closer to him and breathed out, “How bad is it? Are you going to need to perform a more… hands-on examination?” Her scent thickened with cloying excitement.

“Ah! No no.” Stiles dropped her hands, careful not to give offense, and took a tiny step backwards. “No need to worry about that. The scan we did should be more than enough. I need to mix up a few things for you, so just leave your contact information at the counter. I’ll have detailed instructions for you when it’s all ready, and we’ll give you a call.”

“And this will fix it?” she demanded.

“You’ll be right as rain as long as you follow your instructions. If this doesn’t work, then the next time will be on us.”

“Oh thank you, Stiles!” Xinnia gushed. “I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you.” Her heartbeat thumped erratically. Peter would be willing to lay odds that she had some type of repayment plan in mind that involved using her freshly exorcised genitals on the unwholesomely pretty boy subtly edging away from her. He smirked in amusement. This had been worth the headache of dealing with her for those ten, eternal minutes before Stiles took over. Peter caught Stiles’ eyes over her much shorter head and sent a fang-baring grin his way. A strange spasm crossed over Stiles’ face, but he still went through the motions of taking Xinnia’s information, sending her off with a spring in her step and an armload of “cleansing” items.

The second the door shut behind her, they burst into laughter. “Oh my god!” Stiles crowed. “That was so awesome. Alan never let me play with clients like that.”

Peter reached out and grasped Stiles’ wrist, thumb brushing over the prominent veins. “You must be Stiles Stilinski. My ten o’clock. Unless there’s more than one of you?”

“Nah, I’m the only one. My teachers are eternally thankful for the fact that I never got a working simulacrum up and running.” Stiles tilted his head and looked pointedly where Peter was still stroking the veins in his wrist. He smelled like reptile and coffee and bubblegum, which should have disgusted Peter, but somehow it fit. Peter couldn’t wait to see what kind of magic they could make together, and wasn’t that something? He’d been ready to hear him out as a favor to Alan and then send the boy on his way, but now he was intrigued.

“You were early.”

“Yeah, well.” Stiles shrugged. “Adrian always said that being on time was the same as being late, so I got coffee and came on over. I saw you were dealing with all that,” with his free hand he made a wavy gesture that failed to encompass the sheer weirdness of the last consultation. “Sorry, I just jumped in on it, but you seemed annoyed and she was getting really upset and it was such easy money. I couldn’t help myself.” He lowered his lashes and bit his lip nervously. Peter allowed him to stew in anticipation before he raised an eyebrow.

“Did you forget how hard I was laughing the second she was out the door? That was the most entertainment I’ve had in months. Consider that your interview. If you want the job, then it’s yours. No one else has even come close to that sort of performance. We can discuss your student status after we get to know each other better. It’s a big decision, and I’d like to know that we’re a good fit. I suspect we’ll mesh wonderfully, judging from what I’ve seen and how my wards reacted to your arrival.”

Stiles brightened, pleasantly surprised. “That’s awesome! That’s just. Yeah. I want the job. Totally.” He gave a little flail, breaking Peter’s light grip on his wrist, and grabbed his coffee cup. In between gulps, he enthused about his new situation. “This place is so cool though! There are so many things I wanted to look at when I came in. And you do a lot of ritual shit, right? Like real necromancy and high magical arts!” Stiles whirled around in a panic. “I don’t know much about that kind of thing. Is that a problem? I mean, I’m pretty eclectic, haven’t picked out my ‘mancy yet, but I’d be interested in learning more about what you do. If that’s cool. It’s not all super secret, right? But I’m totally up for it. I’m not squeamish anymore. Not after all the intestines I’ve gotten down and dirty with. So yeah.” He shuffled awkwardly in front of Peter, sipping the last of his cold coffee.

Peter huffed out a laugh at that ramble, attention caught by the last tidbit Stiles dropped. There weren’t many with the aptitude or the stomach for wet divination. That could prove quite useful in the future. The more he learned about Stiles, the more it seemed that he’d been gift-wrapped and given to Peter as the perfect student. “I know what Alan and Adrian do. You have a talent for haruspicy, and they were wasting your time with plants?”

“The student doesn’t really choose the teacher.”

“True enough.” Peter smirked at his new assistant (and first student). Give him a week, and there was no way Stiles would deny that they were a match. “Stiles, we’re going to do great things together.” He beckoned the boy behind the counter. “Now tell me, have you ever extracted a bezoar before?”

Chapter Text

The best (worst) thing about working for Peter was how much it didn’t feel like work. When Peter asked him about bezoar extraction, Stiles assumed that it was an academic question. Oh no. Peter Hale had to do better than that. On the way out, he’d given Stiles the tour of the back—which included the workshop, stasis room, major ritual room (with inlaid, golden blood-troughs to siphon sacrificial energy), minor ritual room, and a library Stiles couldn’t wait to explore—and there, in a walled-in enclosure behind the building, was a small, yet respectable, herb garden; trees with eerie, white apples; a shed for chickens; and a field for the goats. Peter had to be doing some serious stuff with folded space for all of this to fit on his lot. No way this matched the original dimensions of the property.

The dude had actually figured out how to make some of his goats produce bezoars. But he couldn’t take them to the vet and have them surgically removed. Nope. Enter Peter Hale, necromancer. A mere hour after meeting Peter, Stiles got pulled into a pretty heavy ritual undertaking. They sacrificed a goat for a bezoar (Stiles even got to choose if he wanted the goat with the food bolus, phytobezoar, or the trichobezoar) and then they brought it back to life. Shub was a fucking weird goat at the best of times, but she seemed to be doing okay after her resurrection? Maybe? Any signs of flesh-eating or dead zombie eyes, and she’d be the main course at the next Stilinski barbeque. No way was she getting her undead goat-y tongue anywhere near his pristine skin. And the less said about Diablo the amorous goat, the better off everyone would be. If Diablo tried to eat the zipper off of Stiles' pants one more time, then he'd soon discover the joys of life without certain body parts. Judging from the evil eye Peter gave Diablo, his boss had no arguments with that plan.

His first day at Caveat Emptor was amazing. It was possibly the most magical experience of his life, and he meant that in both the literal and metaphorical ways. They’d resurrected a goat like it was just another day at the office. Who even did that shit? Stiles regularly spent time with Druids and alchemists. He knew magic and sorcerers. He’s seen some crazy awesome stuff in his time, but he’d never seen anything like that. Despite being a sorcerer and spending his life around the supernatural, it was increasingly rare to use the high arts so casually and with such little expenditure of power. It had even become uncommon for practitioners to use the smaller magics in their daily lives; many of the convenient, little spells and cantrips were only seen in restaurants and other service industries. But Peter was a different breed of sorcerer altogether. Everything he did was natural—like breathing—and seemed to take just as little effort. For those with the eyes to see it, Peter Hale walked through the world cloaked in a near-tangible aura of blood and power. He was terrifying and brilliant and really, really hot.

The weirdest part of it all was realizing that Peter seemed to be engaged in some kind of campaign of mentor-wooing when no one else was in the running, or even trying to be in the running. The field was so clear that it was barren. For real, consider Stiles wooed. The man used a resurrection for his opening gambit. There was literally no way to top that as far as first days went. Then he hadn’t even batted one werewolf eyelash when Stiles showed up on his first official day of work wearing Steve in her magically-shrunken state as a reptilian headband. All Peter had done was ask if Steve had an aversion to witnessing the skinning and breakdown of dead snakes. When Stiles told him that Steve didn’t care as long as she wasn’t joining the pile, Peter had given him a boyishly excited grin and ordered him to the parts lab. They proceeded to spend the day skinning and gutting several large specimens that Peter’s supplier had almost flaked out on supplying. If the implication that Peter had leveraged some kind of threat to finally get his promised shipment made Stiles a little tingly in his heart (and his pants), then that was nobody’s business except his. And maybe Steve’s, since she’d done her reptilian equivalent of mocking laughter after tasting the air around his temple.

Peter would still be the best even if he looked like a troll (which he didn’t). Stiles might have been willing to swear to it in a court of law. Peter didn’t waste time with boring step-by-step instructions. He was more the type of guy who was all about hands-on experience and throwing you in the deep end to see if you’d drown. Not that he’d let Stiles drown. Even though he expected Stiles to keep up and perform at Peter’s level (and wasn’t that an ego boost), he’d slow down and help with minimal snark if Stiles ever told him that he needed help or didn’t know something.

After his first necromantic ritual, Stiles would have fallen flat on his face, trembling and shocky. But Peter grabbed him by the waist and plopped him down on a slightly sagging sofa while he dealt with putting Shub back in the pen. Stiles had no way to tell how long he sat there. All he knew is that Peter returned to sit beside him; he held Stiles’ wrist and monitored his pulse while he told Stiles that he was amazing and remarkable. When Stiles drifted back down to earth, Peter sent him home for the day. Standing at the uneven threshold of the store, juggling his bag and newly acquired trichobezoar in a jar, he’d gushed at Peter and thanked him for his time and consideration until Peter hushed him and pinched his lips shut. Then he’d paid Stiles the greatest compliment he’d ever been given. “I deal in death, Stiles. I do many distasteful things because I’m good at them, and because it’s worth it. This is not a field that suffers fools or false ego. If my peers call me arrogant, then I don’t mind. I’ve earned it. You’re remarkably suited to this path; if you allow me, then I can turn you into someone who can make the same claim.” Then he’d released Stiles’ lips with a lingering caress and told him to come back tomorrow morning.

Stiles regularly engaged in the harmless embroidery of the truth and active denial of things he’d rather ignore, but Steve’s reminders were making it hard to do that with his teeny tiny crush on his boss. With the terrifying competency and the hotness and the constant touching, he spent more time on the clock fighting down a boner then he didn’t. It didn’t even bear thinking about how blue his eyes were or how sexy his hands had looked while he made a few practiced incisions and peeled a 6-foot-long snake like a banana. There were things deeply wrong with Stiles for finding that hot. He may have only known Peter for a week, but it felt like so much longer. He had no regrets for how often he’d used that memory during his traditional morning jack-off session.

Okay, fine. Maybe a few regrets with a heaping side of shame. He had a giant, soul-crushing attraction to his new boss with the potential to eclipse anything he’d felt for Adrian. No one could know. Which is why he should have been paying more attention to his terrifying, discerning friends of the supernatural persuasion.

"Stiles!" Lydia's tone of voice indicated a high level of annoyance. He had no idea how many times they'd tried to attract his attention, but it had to be more than a couple. "Don't make me say your true name," she threatened.

He scoffed, "Like you even know it." Though knowing Lydia, there was a better than even chance she did. His eyes shot to hers. Shit. She didn't even look upset. She looked curious and a little smug. That was never a good sign.

"No, I don't." The yet hung heavily in the air. Her scarlet lips turned up in a parody of a smile, showing off her even, white teeth. "But Jackson does. I'm sure he could be persuaded to tell me. He might even throw in a few questions about your new job as a personal favor to me." The swinging light over their booth tilted at just the right angle to give her face an otherworldly cast, for a millisecond Stiles could See blood-soaked hair and thin skin stretched over a grinning skeletal spectre, and then Lydia's beautiful, human features returned. The drinks must have been stronger than usual for her power to have triggered his Sight so early in the evening.

"Ooh. That's a little harsh to be bringing out the big guns," commented Kira with one cheek packed full of baba ganoush and pita, looking more like an Asian chipmunk than a kitsune. She hastily swallowed, then sipped at her Orange Blossom Martini. "Especially after Jackson promised not to use the Allure against him after that one time at your birthday party. Stiles dragged him out to the public ritual circle at the high school and made him swear some heavy-duty oaths. Or that's how the story goes."

Lydia tossed her long, strawberry blonde hair, uncaring of the facts now that she knew she'd won. She spoke airily, "I'm just using all the resources at my disposal. No jury of my peers would convict."

"Ugh, no." Scott grimaced. "I would. You don't know what it's like since being a banshee makes you immune to most fae glamours. Jackson is a huge dick. Just because he’s a gancanagh doesn't make it fair for him, or you, to use his Allure like that." Scott drained his pint and attempted to burp discreetly into the empty glass to save their sensibilities. "Stiles' dad even arrested him that time for the thing with Stiles and the closet. That's why they did that ritual."

"Dude," Stiles groaned. "Talking around it is one thing, but we don't talk about The Closet. The Closet never happened. It has been wiped from our collective memories."

"Oh yes, Stilinski," drawled Isaac. "Remind us all about why we don't talk about your seven minutes in heaven. I seem to remember you stumbling out and telling Lydia that you were giving up on your dear Master Adrian and making a new ten-year plan to win Jackson’s heart." Isaac cooed and fluttered his ridiculously long lashes. For having such an innocent face and cherubic blonde curls, Isaac was a fucking asshole. Scratch that, all of them were. He didn't even know why he was friends with these jerks. Except for Kira. He took a consoling sip of his vodka and sprite. Kira could stay.

"Shut up, Isaac." Stiles twisted free a seed from its place on his braided leather bracelet and stuck the burr-like seed to Isaac's cerulean scarf with a muttered word. That should keep him busy for a minute. "No one likes you anyway." He turned to Kira and offered her his plate of loaded cheese fries, pretending not to notice the sudden plant growth attempting to strangle Isaac and take over his hair. "Kira, you're the only one who loves me. Even Scott betrayed me by bringing up The Closet." He ignored Scott's hurt puppy yelp with a grace born from years of practice. "Let's run away together. I'm sure I'll be a much better boyfriend than Scott." Stiles smiled winsomely and threw in a wink for good measure. It was a good combination. He used it on clients all the time, but Kira just giggled and kissed her boyfriend's pouting face. Notably, no one comforted Isaac who'd finally conquered his viney invader.

"Sorry, Stiles. Our forbidden love must remain unrequited."

"What can I offer then, if you won't accept my love or my cheese fries?"

"Well," she hedged and glanced around the booth before leaning over to snag a fry. "You could tell us what happened after Deaton fired you last week."

"Et tu, Kira?" Stiles groaned.

Kira shrugged cutely in apology, but Lydia was the one who answered. "You would have talked to us anyway. Besides you're the only hot gossip right now. I work with my grandmother and mom, Kira studies with her mom, Scott lost the spark and does whatever it is that good beta werewolves do, Jackson never does anything interesting anymore, Danny earned his Mastery as a technomancer last month, and if we have to hear one more god damn thing about fiber crafts or string magic, I will not be held responsible if I strangle Isaac with his own scarf. Are we clear?" She aimed a close-mouthed smile that promised doom at a sneering Isaac. "So start talking."

Stiles sighed and thunked his head on the slightly sticky table. You'd think that a magical bar would have figured out a solution for automatically self-cleaning tables by now. "So," he said into the wood, "keep this part on the down low, but Alan fired me for selling useless crap to annoying customers who didn't believe that they had ordinary problems. It was understandable considering the fact that he runs a Sanctuary, but also kind of bullshit. He and Marin and Adrian all got together and had some kind of conference about my prospects." He raised his head and let it fall back down. When he lifted it up to repeat the gesture, Scott caught Stiles' forehead in his hand. Thwarted, Stiles sat up sulkily and shoved Scott's last tamale into his mouth as revenge. Because Scott was that kind of bro, he didn't say anything. He just waved over their server and put in an order for refills and more food.

After chewing and swallowing the entire tamale, Stiles continued. "I mean… it could have been worse. I know they care, but do they have to be so creepy and invasive about it? I'm twenty-three. Them finding me a new teacher felt kind of like they were arranging a marriage or something." He slumped down into the padded booth and tossed back the rest of his drink. "Even with how weird and matchmake-y it was, Peter's great. He's amazing. They really picked out someone I can connect with. It makes me wonder why it took so long to find him." Stiles knew he was starting to gush a little, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. "He just knows so much, and I've done so many cool things already. And he loves Steve. Said he'd make sure she has a perch for when she comes to the store. He's a really awesome boss."

Scott nudged his foot under the table. "Is it true that he keeps a bunch of zombie animals in the back? That's what Laura was telling me, but that's super weird, bro. I know he's a necromancer and all, but zombie goats! Isn't that a little too Pet Sematary?"

He shot a look at Scott. Stiles loved him like a brother, but he was so gullible. It was adorable. Stiles attempted to explain, "They're all alive… but maybe they aren't always strictly alive? We ritually sacrificed a goat to remove a bezoar, and then we resurrected it. Real resurrection, no literal, zombie goats. I promise. That was a hell of a first day. Definitely the most intense thing I've ever done. And he gave me the bezoar. Said every sorcerer needed one."

"Oh really?" Lydia's face twitched a few times before smoothing out. "A man you just met that day invited you to join him in what must be his private ritual space to do an intense, magical procedure with him. And then he gave you the artifact from the ritual. That didn't strike you as moving too fast or as slightly unusual?"

"Uh… no?" Stiles winced. He'd been so starstruck by Peter that he never paused to consider how his actions might look. Those actions taken with all the touching were kinda creepy. If he ignored the touching (which might only be tactile werewolf behavior), then not even Alan or Adrian had done something like that. And he'd known Adrian his whole life, since Adrian and his mother had been apprenticed to the same master. Not like your teacher couldn't give you presents or tools for your magical education, but it had been barely appropriate for Adrian to give him Steve, his familiar, and that was as a long-time family friend and a few years as his teacher. Stiles’ grandparents still tutted over Steve whenever they visited. A sorcerer giving another sorcerer such a magically significant gift—with no conditions—and performing such a rite together. The only word for that was intimate. Shockingly so for a first meeting. Possibly something you'd do to court a highly desirable student... or just court. Which was definitely not what Peter was doing. The courting was not a thing. He just wanted Stiles to be his first student and didn't have the faintest clue about personal boundaries. Obviously.

Isaac, and even Kira, were giving him looks of pitying disbelief. "Really, Stilinski? I never thought you were that much of an idiot, but really?"

"Oh Stiles," Kira sighed and patted his head.

"Are you his student now?" Lydia asked, cutting straight to the heart of the matter.

"No?" he squeaked. "I mean. It's an option. Peter said he wanted me to feel comfortable taking that step after severing such a long-term bond with Alan, and we could get to know each other before making such a big commitment. It's all aboveboard. Alan and Adrian wouldn't have recommended him if they didn't think he'd be good for me." He hummed contemplatively. "I'm not too sure about Marin. She might still be upset about the chicken incident from last year."

Lydia's brows raised high enough to almost touch her hairline after Stiles' rambling explanation. "He wants you to get to know each other. Isn't that considerate of him."

Scott nudged him under the table again and firmed up his crooked jaw in a fierce scowl. "You tell me if he does anything you don't like. His sister is my Alpha. We'll take care of it."

"Whoa guys. Frankie says relax. He's just being nice. He's never had a student before, so this is all new to him. Maybe no one ever told that kind of thing isn't really done."

"Stiles," Kira frowned. She did cute a lot more often than serious, but that gave the serious more of an impact when she pulled it out. "The man is from a prominent supernatural family that has close ties with the town's magical governing body. Yes, the Hales are werewolves without many practitioners born to them, but I think I know what I'm talking about coming from a family of kitsune. I think he knows what appropriate behavior looks like."

Stiles blessed the heating charms on the plates and stuffed another forkful of fries in his mouth, chewing in agitation. He would have been done with them at least ten minutes ago if it hadn't been for this unwanted discussion. His friends weren't going to get the fact that it just didn't matter. He had a stupid, pointless crush, and it wasn't going anywhere fast. They shouldn't be building his hopes up with all this talk of inappropriate intimacy and courting behavior.

"Whatever," he mumbled after finishing his plate. "It's just whatever. I know better than to think it means something, so we're all good, okay? He just wants me to be his student. I'll probably say yes pretty soon." He dredged up a half-smirk from somewhere, probably the vodka, and joked, “Anyway, Lydia. Haven’t you always said that you’ve gotta make mentors work for it? I’m prime student material. Totally worth a few paltry tokens.”

Lydia narrowed her eyes. “A bezoar extracted from a ritually sacrificed goat is hardly a paltry token!

The arrival of more drinks and food served as the perfect interruption and distracted them from asking more questions Stiles didn't want to answer or think about. After a few minutes (and the application of more alcohol), even persistent banshees forgot to interrogate him, and their former good cheer was restored.

"So," Stiles smirked. "Guess what I heard about Meredith and Deputy Parrish."

"Thank you so much!" Peter tried his best not to smile, but he couldn't quite keep the corners of his mouth from twitching up as another client gushed at his soon-to-be student. He busied himself with the till as Stiles wished them well.

"It was my pleasure." Stiles' heart rate held steady though he smelled amused. "Come back and see us if you have any more trouble."

Their client swore, "You'll be my first call. I can't believe it was so easy." Peter was less pleased when the man grabbed Stiles in a hug, his hands edging dangerously (for him) close to Stiles' ass. Thankfully, he released Stiles after a few seconds and pumped his hand up and down. "The husband thanks you too." A wink. "Or he will after tonight. You saved our anniversary."

Stiles laughs and returns the wink. "I'm glad that we could help out your marriage." He continued waving as the man exits the shop, and when their client was completely gone, Stiles' laugh warmed, turned more genuine. "Can you believe that's the tenth one since Xinnia, and the fifth this week?"

Peter snorted, "Oh yes, the fifth case of erectile dysfunction after the first one claimed he'd tell all his friends about us. And all this after you helped out poor Xinnia with an X three months ago."

"Hey! I never said that there wasn't a reason. Just can you believe it?" Stiles stuck his tongue out at him, and Peter couldn't help but ponder better uses for that tongue. He blew out a harsh breath, and put aside those thoughts. There would be time for such pursuits soon enough, but first Stiles had to accept Peter as his mentor. Courtship was a delicate business—especially when it involved an uneven power dynamic. He only had to practice a bit of restraint, and the rest would follow in time.

He watched Stiles' long fingers play over the shelves and trinkets displayed. Absently, Stiles picked up a statuette of Ishtar holding a detailed lapis lazuli rod. It was quite valuable. "You little charlatan," Peter said fondly. "How would you like to go on a real job? The Beacon Hills Sheriff's Office needs a zombie raised. Apparently, the sheriff has heard good things about Caveat Emptor."

"Hell, yeah!" Stiles jumped up and flailed. "I knew it would work!" When he wobbled on the landing, Stiles hastily put down the statuette and grinned at him. Peter hid the smile at Stiles' impudence. Anyone else would exercise more caution when moving around so many breakable, expensive objects. Especially after knocking over a bookcase last week. Peter was learning that if anyone else would do it, Stiles certainly wouldn't. It was refreshing to have someone he couldn't intimidate with his presence or reputation.

"What would work?"

Stiles crossed the intervening space and hauled himself up on the counter. "Dad was just telling me about a case they had. I don't know the details, just that they needed a raising." He scoffed, "Can you believe they were going to try Raven Auguries? They specialize in prophecies and foretelling."

"It's a natural assumption that banshees might be able to help in that area, or failing to help, they might know someone suitable." Peter placed a hand on Stiles' knee when it started jumping, and asked carefully, "Aren't you close friends with the Martin girl? Should you really try to deprive them of business?"

The knee under his hand bounced a few times until Peter squeezed with gentle force, enjoying the act of bending young muscle and bone to his will. Now unable to express himself with his body, Stiles snorted in derision. "It's nothing she wouldn't have done to us." Peter didn't suppress the surge of glee at Stiles putting himself on Peter's side. "Besides, Dad would have had to go to someone else in the long run, and we do dead people." Stiles made a face. "You know what I mean. We raise dead people. Not fuck them." His marvelous eyes widened in horror. "You don't, do you? I mean, it's okay if you do. If they're consenting. But um...please never tell me about it. Oh my god, you're not like that one dude who liked to raise ghosts and fuck them for the ectoplasm? Gross." Stiles inched closer and bumped shoulders with Peter. He waggled his eyebrows in what must have been a bid to appear trustworthy. "Have you… have you ever touched a ghost? Really touched one?"

He should have been accustomed to these random mental leaps by now, but even months later, Stiles astonished and charmed simply by being himself. He sailed through every test Peter threw his way. Despite his habit of using whatever came to hand for minor rituals, Stiles always pulled them off. Everything about Stiles attracted Peter, but his competency (and his scent) played the starring role. The merest thought of performing another ritual with Stiles had him adjusting his pants. It was terribly vexing that Peter couldn't just throw the boy down and fuck him into insensibility… even if he persisted in asking the most ludicrous questions. "No, Stiles," Peter sighed. "I do not, nor have I ever fucked a ghost. I have on occasion touched one, but in a purely non-sexual manner. Is this what journeymen spend their free time pondering these days?"

"You can't seriously think I'm the only one in town who wonders about your sex life." Peter watched in delight as Stiles' mouth dropped open prettily as blood rushed to his face, filling it with deep red splotches. Stiles stammered, "I mean. It's just. Sorry that was out of line." His face was scarlet at this point. Peter was fascinated. It had been a fairly tame remark. Stiles routinely said worse to clients and never became this flustered. He dragged in a deep breath, taking in Stiles' scent, and smirked. Coffee, Steve, bubblegum, and the thick musky-spice of arousal. Excellent. It seemed that he was already halfway there. On impulse, he pulled his shoulder away from Stiles, repositioning himself to lay his right hand on Stiles' other knee, boxing him in on the counter. Stiles' pupils widened in response as Peter's hands wandered up another few inches to grip him mid-thigh. A perfectly respectable spot, nothing indecent about it.

He leaned in close enough to breathe in the air Stiles was puffing out in ragged exhalations. Under his regard, Stiles sat frozen like a tender prey animal. Peter pulled in another ostentatious breath, not even hiding the fact that he was enjoying being up close and personal with Stiles. He rubbed a stubbled cheek against Stiles' face, dragging the prickly hairs higher and higher until his lips hovered beside Stiles' sensitive ear. "I want you to go home and meditate for the rest of the afternoon. Rest, stay hydrated, have a good dinner, but don't overeat. Meet me in the garden at eight o'clock tonight. We have a zombie to raise at nine o'clock sharp."

Stiles drew in a shaky breath. "What? Peter?" He sounded dazed and sex-hazed, and in that moment with his name on Stiles' lips, Peter almost decided to take and damn the consequences. Fortunately, the prick of fangs on his lower lip reminded him that he had too many plans to ruin it all with impulse. Patience would see him rewarded. Soon, he soothed himself and backed away from the counter. Though freed, Stiles sat there dumbly, disappointment and confusion clear on his face, but he rapidly collected his wits. "Right," Stiles said in a strangled voice. "Meditate. Dinner. Zombies at eight." He shot dual finger guns at Peter. "I'll be here with bells on." Then he dropped to the floor and walked off with the slightest hitch in his step, cursing all werewolves for being awful teases and giving mixed signals—clearly forgetting that Peter could still hear every word.

Following a solid meal of high-fiber pasta for him and a mouse for Steve, Stiles shut himself in his room and indulged in a vigorous jack off session under the judgemental gaze of his familiar before engaging in the mental preparations necessary for a novice at ritual magics. He was as ready as he’d ever be. Which was why he’d been parked in front of Caveat Emptor for the last fifteen minutes, avoiding his final task.

With a grimace, he stroked Steve’s shrunken form and said, “I need to take off the ring, Steve. I’ll give it back soon.”

She hissed in agreement and draped herself over his shoulder, prepared for Stiles to take possession of his first artifact—the ring he’d received after Adrian had accepted him as an apprentice. Although it came with a boost and several useful enchantments, Stiles didn’t usually wear his apprentice ring. For an entire year after the rejection, he couldn’t stand the sight of it—an ugly reminder that Adrian’s love was purely platonic, familial. Somehow, without looking at it too often, he’d managed to devise a way for Steve to wear it in his place. Conveniently, Stiles hadn’t needed to figure out a sizing charm on top of the other problem, and with the proper spells in place, it sank into her body, only visible as a circle of glittering gold scales just behind her head.

Neither had known at the time how the constant contact with an object of power would affect her, but Steve never hesitated. The results were that Stiles had the smartest green tree python he’d ever seen, enhanced communication between them, and her already fantastical coloring had shifted to match the custom-fabricated stone, giving her scales their unique rainbow shimmer.

It felt strange to coax the ring up and out of her flesh. With a low incantation, he drew it out, slow and steady. Once it wholly exited her body, Stiles slid the gold ring down her body and tail as she shuddered in loss. “There you go, girl. I know,” he comforted. “It’s weird for both of us. I’m not even used to wearing a ring anymore.” Still, he shoved it onto his left ring finger, where he’d worn it for almost eight years. Unpleasant energy prickled over his skin then subsided, but Stiles could sense the grumbling mutter. His apprentice ring had enjoyed its time living in Steve, communing with her magical core. No surprise, since Steve had also come from Adrian, and her sire was Adrian’s own familiar. The sad fact was that his apprentice ring—the greatest gift an apprentice can expect to receive from their master—had never rested easy on his hand, and time apart had made it worse. The only reason Stiles wore it now was because resurrecting a goat had nearly put him on his back. Who knew what zombie raising would do? He needed all the extra power he could muster, and the ring was part and parcel of his tools.

Fed, watered, and meditated: check. Ring on: check. Familiar looped around his neck: double check. A glance at the clock in the dash told him that there were ten minutes to spare. Perfect. He hadn’t completely wasted his early arrival. Stiles grinned, allowing the excitement to take hold.

He was about to raise a motherfucking zombie. Best job ever. After one last run through his checklist, Stiles jumped out of the Jeep and strolled around the building to meet Peter before the guy decided to investigate his delay. No way was he going to admit how long it took him to put on his apprentice ring—not even under pain of death, torture, or Lydia.

After several deep, cleansing breaths, Stiles ambled to the ivy-covered stones making up the privacy wall sprouting from the side of Caveat Emptor. Starting from the brick building, he counted off his steps until reaching the hidden gate. Brushing aside tangled ivy and the wild profusion of wisteria that had spontaneously blossomed out of season shortly after he met Peter, Stiles paid no attention to the disgusting layer of cobwebs and scuttling spiders that covered the smooth, grey stones—they were only illusions,and everyone who knew anything about magic knew that the constant use of it on the property prevented any uninvited pests from making themselves at home.

Every stone of the wall glowed with a gentle light—as long as the person looking had developed some type of Sight—but Seeing wouldn’t be enough to force the stones to give up their secrets. Entering the combined garden and pasture without passing through the wards inside Caveat Emptor required the person at the gate to enter the “code” by using sorcerous intent on the keystones and a very minor donation of blood. Peter had shown him the process two weeks into Stiles’ employment. He had thought it then, and he thought it now: Peter is charmingly paranoid over a few resurrected animals and ghost apples that only the revenant goats could love. Huffing out a sigh, he held out two fingers to Steve and waited for the pain. She obliged and soon he had a few neat punctures in his fingertips.

He winced. Finger wounds were the worst. Hell would be made up of demons tormenting sinners by sticking their fingers with tiny lancets. “I can’t say I thought I’d have to get used to your freakishly giant fangs in my delicate places. Seriously ouch. Could you stab a little gentler next time?” he grumbled. “I think you nicked bone. Sadist.” Steve hiss-laughed in his ear and curled back up into a rainbow-colored noose.

Quickly, before the blood congealed, Stiles released a trickle of energy in his blood as he swiped it over the keystones. Up, up. Down, down. Left, right. Left, right. He finished by scrawling a messy, cursive B and A in the center keystone. The blood trailed down the stones as the ward processed his identity, then with a mournful susurration it seeped into the stones, like water into a sponge, before abruptly revealing a gap in the wall.

Stiles still had trouble reconciling the cool, fun retro-gamer geek who used the Konami command as his security code with the scary-hot necromancer who wanted to be his teacher. It had been so unexpected that he’d laughed himself sick the first time Peter showed him the keystones. Not that he didn’t appreciate both facets of Peter’s personality. Because he did. Stiles appreciated pretty much everything about Peter Hale. It was sickening.

As the wall made a warbling note of warning, Stiles hastily stumbled through about five seconds before the wall rematerialized. It was stupid to forget that even familiar places could be dangerous. He knew what would happen if he got stuck while it closed. According to Peter, the results would not be pleasant. Stiles blinked hard when he heard a soft crunching sound. He whirled to his left and saw Peter leaning against one of the ghost apple trees, actually eating one of those pale, disgusting apples. Stiles shuddered in distaste, but kept walking. “Oh, that’s so gross, dude. It wasn’t enough to have your biomancer friends fuck with regular ghost apples to make them extra creepy. You had to stick in your death magic.” He flapped his hands at the goats. “Only your weirdo revenant farm animals will eat those. I have seen raccoons avoid those like the plague.” Now within poking range, he jabbed Peter’s side. “Are those even good for you after they’ve been all death-ed up? Are you going to keel over? Will I need to resuscitate you?”

Peter grinned, then popped the semi-translucent apple core into his mouth. He swallowed it down in two crunchy bites. “Why Stiles,” he fluttered his lashes. “Are you saying you want to play doctor with me?”

“Oh my god!” Stiles felt the heat as he broke out in a full-body blush. “Asshole. I’m just concerned if your werewolf constitution can handle your stupid death apples. See if I care again!”

If anything, Peter’s grin widened. For a second, Stiles wondered if he just imagined the points of his gleaming, white teeth growing sharper, but Peter’s hand landed on his shoulder and his thoughts skittered. When he looked again, the teeth were back to their typical state of human perfection. “My dear boy, we both know that’s not true at all.”

“Ugh. I don’t even know why I’m thinking about being your student.”

“Mmm. You know what I heard, Stiles?” Peter stepped into his personal bubble, so close that a deep breath would cause their chests to touch. Lips quirked in a half-smirk, he trailed the hand on Stiles’ shoulder down to his wrist, circling long fingers under the tangled braids of his seed bracelet. “I heard the distinct sound of a lie.”

His hand jerked in an aborted flail. Stiles could break Peter’s hold if he wanted, but he really, really didn’t want to at all. Instead, he ignored the flutter in his stomach, and carried on with their banter. “Harassment! It’s so unfair when you point out all the times I’m lying.”

At that, Peter threw his head back and laughed as his thumb traced distracting patterns against the rapid tattoo of his pulse. “Unfair? If the rumors led you to believe that I ever play fair, then I need to work on my reputation again.”

Stiles bit back an answering laugh. Peter’s amusement was infectious. Something about it made his skin feel hot and tight. “Yeah, well,” he muttered. “I work for you, and you’re courting me—to be your student, I mean. Not like that!” Fuck his crush. Fuck Freudian slips. Fuck everything forever. If Stiles had learned anything from Adrian, then he’d learned relationships between teachers and students never worked. Unable to bear the momentary stillness, Stiles unleashed a frantic torrent of words when he saw Peter open his mouth to respond. “Not like, courting-courting. But teacher-courting. Because you want to be my teacher, like you said. And that’s all. Not that I blame you, because I’m super awesome and totally not squeamish, except for one time, but I grew out of it.” The flutter shifted into a sick roll. He was going to throw up. In front of Peter. Maybe even on Peter. The words barreled on, out of his control. “So, Peter. Did I ever tell you that I threw up on the body during my first dissection? I threw up and fainted. I was totally fine later. Stomach of iron forever after, but um. Yeah. I’ve never seen a zombie before. In person. But it should be fine! Totally fine! I’m a grown man. I can handle it.” He offered a slightly shaky thumbs-up with his free hand.

Peter draped one large, capable hand on the back of Stiles’ neck and cupped it tenderly, stopping the flow of words. They were so close, and touching in so many places. No one could honestly expect him to suppress his shiver at their intimate contact. “Stiles, I have the utmost faith in you.” Peter’s eyes were intensely blue as he smirked. “Besides if you throw up or faint on anything tonight, I will beat you unconscious and wake you when it’s over.”

His eyes widened in horror. “You’re just kidding, aren’t you? Peter, that was a joke, right? Peter?

His maybe-possibly-soon-to-be teacher smiled and gestured towards the chickens. Oh god. Creepy zen smiles weren’t just a Druid thing. “Now Stiles, a sacrifice for zombie raising and other necromantic rituals almost certainly means that this is a one-way trip into death. I want you to pick out the chicken you hate the most. We’ll call it… incentive.”

“Holy shit, yes.” Stiles rubbed his hands together in spiteful glee, and stalked towards the unsuspecting golden-yellow Orpington. After this, he’d never need to see that infernal chicken perch on Peter and preen his hair. Not a single avian love song would escape his scrawny throat after tonight. “Hey, Hastur. You wanna help us out with a little ritual?”

Chapter Text

The trilling of the shop’s phone broke his concentration just as Peter reached the tail-end of his vision. Annoyed, Peter dragged his hand across the mirror’s surface, disturbing the tacky film of blood that coated the glass. Slowly, the images of Claudia Stilinski and Adrian Harris wavered and faded until only his red-tinged reflection stared back.

The information had been interesting but inconclusive, like everything else he was learning about his very dear and soon-to-be apprentice.

There was less than an hour before Stiles’ return, but that was no reason to rush. Peter took his time with the clean-up—a man couldn’t be too careful when disposing of his bodily fluids. He held the mirror under the faucet until the water ran clear, every drop of blood banished down the drain, before wiping it with a soft cloth. He ignored the phone; it could keep ringing until the call dropped.

A moment later, his pants pocket vibrated as though the caller knew he was available now. Peter sighed. He could count with the fingers of one hand the people who would be insistent enough to call him on multiple numbers. Peter fished the phone out of his pocket and glanced at the display.

Ah. His old teacher. Hopefully, he had good news. Peter stabbed at the screen to accept the call. “Tell me you know something.”

Deucalion’s rich laughter rolls out over the line, wrapping Peter in warmth. He’d spent the best part of his youth with the man, and magic never forgets a kindness done—or Peter’s never did. “Such impatience. Now is that any way for you to greet your old master? I thought I’d managed to beat manners into your head.”

“You beat manners into my head?” Peter repeated incredulously. “Deucalion, you taught me three uses for a dead man’s tongue. How to scry with my own blood. Never to be ashamed of my abilities. And many other things, but I don’t think manners were ever on the list. I’m expecting Stiles back in….” he glanced at the clock on the wall. “In forty-five minutes. And I still need to clean up and change.”

Deucalion clucked his tongue in mock disappointment. “As fussy as ever, Peter. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I found something strange or rather. I found nothing where there should have been something. If what I suspect happened, then I’m furious with myself for missing it.”

“Oh?” His pulse raced at the implications of all Deucalion has left unsaid.

“Indeed. Jennifer and Kali are researching the matter for me. So far, there’s nothing of relevance to your current situation… speaking of. Have you made the offer? It’s enormously valuable and incredibly suited for the kind of magic you two work. He would be a fool not to take such a gift.”

Peter’s hand crept to his pocket, tracing the outline of the small, velvet box that housed yet another inappropriate gift to Stiles. The apprentice ring that he had no true right to offer, and yet… Peter had been unable to stop himself, not from requesting his teacher to find him a gemstone and not from crafting it, imbuing it with the best of his magical essence to aid Stiles for as long as he wore it. So far, he’d not seen Stiles wearing his own apprentice ring from Adrian, but tonight would be the first time Stiles was to raise a human from true death. The chance that he’d appear before Peter wearing another man’s ring was as galling as it was likely.

“No. I haven’t offered it yet. It’s never felt like the right time. I’d ask where you came by a naturally occurring blood ruby of such size and quality, but I know better.”

“As well you should! This stone… ahh.” Deucalion chuckled. “The story would take longer than you have now, but it was a gift from many years ago. It’s definitely not the result of any unsavory rituals, or I wouldn’t have offered it—not after you called his gift pure.”

“I couldn’t use any other description for the feel of his power. I look forward to when you meet him, then you can see what I mean. It was quite a shock to the system.”

“So that’s how it is then?” mused Deucalion. “I worried that you’d never find your match. You’ve isolated yourself for the last few years, ever since the incident with David, and I’ve been concerned. In fact, we were talking about about trying to set you up with someone soon.”

“Really, sir,” scoffed Peter. “You act like I’m still the same boy from my apprenticeship.”

“Nonsense, Peter. You’re a grown man and every bit as powerful and capable as I knew you would be, but you’ll always be my student. And if you need a perfect blood ruby or for me to misuse my position as an elected official or even to find a date, then it’s my pleasure to come to your aid whenever I can. Now go and get your boy.”

“How could I dare to fail with you as my teacher?” Peter laughed, the niggling worry over his courtship of Stiles and his visions of Claudia dropping from his mind for now. Here, in his private space, he could be permit himself the vulnerability to feel young and carefree for a few short minutes. “Thanks for the help, old wolf. I’ll let you get back to running the town.”

At the cemetery, Stiles stared at Peter in a nausea-inducing mixture of terror and excitement. They had just exited the Jeep, and Stiles was pretty certain that he’d lost his sense of hearing on the fifteen minute drive here. Peter couldn’t have said what it sounded like, no fucking way.

“You want me to do what?” he wheezed and leaned against the door, utterly gobsmacked by Peter’s request. No, screw request, they’d entered fully fledged threat territory.

“I want you to perform the ritual tonight, Stiles.” Peter seemed to have infinite patience even as he repeated himself for the third time—that or he liked the sound of his own voice a little too much. Stiles leaned towards the narcissistic asshole interpretation. “You know the theory behind the rituals inside and out—eyeballs to entrails—and I know that you’ve designed something for your own use. You’re ready, Stiles.”

“But it’s only been three months!”

“Yes,” Peter agreed with a peculiar, hungry expression. “It’s only been three months, and you’ve excelled beyond my wildest expectations. It’s time to let you run, Stiles. I would only be holding you back needlessly if I didn’t ask you to do this now, but I’ll be beside you every step of the way.” Peter wrapped an arm around Stiles in a quick hug and pulled him flush against his muscular chest.

For a few seconds, Stiles lost all sense of reason and luxuriated in the hug, wallowing in the approval of his mentor. He indulged in running his fingers over the worn softness of Peter’s v-neck; it was probably something ridiculous like cashmere or a silk blend. “I guess that sounds reasonable….”

“You’ll be splendid,” Peter rumbled, nuzzling behind Stiles’ ear, inches away from where Steve lay wrapped around his neck. Stiles’ heart thumped unsteadily at the platonic gesture, yet he couldn’t tear himself away.

“You really think so, Peter?” Stiles muttered, face pinking at the puffs of warm air hitting both his neck and his familiar, making Steve rub her coils together and hiss in pleasure—mirroring his own emotions.

“Dear boy, I’m sure of it.”

“Hey!” shouted Deputy Haigh. “We hired you to raise a zombie. Not stand around, jacking off.”

Embarrassed, Stiles’ face burned with the horrible, splotchy blush that made him look about twelve years old. He jerked away from Peter, ignoring Steve’s displeasure at the sudden move. He flicked a glance at Peter’s face and winced. The shuttered expression was bad enough, but the barely perceptible citrine-yellow eyeshine guaranteed Haigh’s doom in the near future. It was time to defuse the situation before his dad wound up with a mutilated deputy.

“Uh, I’ll just grab Hastur and set up the circle!”

Stiles bustled around to unlock the back of the Jeep like he’d intended to do a few minutes ago—before Peter had blindsided him with the request to lead the ritual. As he pulled out the chicken crate and their bags of tools, he shored up his resolve to not think about Peter’s encouragement or touchy-feely behavior—not when they had a zombie to raise on the city’s dime.

Jordan walked up, an apologetic grimace on his face. “Mr. Hale.” He nodded to Peter and clapped Stiles on the back. “Hey, Stiles. Sorry about Haigh, but you know how he is.” Jordan jerked his chin at the chicken crate. “Need a hand with all that?”

“Thank you, Deputy, but we really must decline,” Peter cut in as Stiles opened his mouth to accept. “It’s best if no one else handles the materials right before the ritual. I’m sure you understand that we wouldn’t want any contamination.”

“Say no more.” Jordan made a show of putting his hands in his pockets and stepping a few feet away from Stiles. “It should be a pretty standard raising. The body’s only been down for a few weeks.”

Stiles listened with one ear and cast some dubious glances at Peter as he loaded himself with bags and bird. And really? Contamination? That was such a load of bullshit he was surprised Jordan had fallen for it.

“See, Stiles. That’s so fresh, it’s practically alive.” Peter took the chicken crate from Stiles before he dropped something. “I told you it would be the perfect learning opportunity.”

“I guess we’ll see about that,” he groused, hefting the bags with renewed energy now that he didn’t have to juggle the crate as well. “You probably already know this, but I’m just warning you. I tweaked the ritual. A lot. And by tweak I mean that I pretty much gutted it into something I could do solo.”

“I would expect nothing less. It’s something all practitioners do. I taught you the core, but this is what makes magic so… alive. It is endlessly adaptable.” For such a sarcastic guy, Peter got downright reverent over magic. Stiles was willing to concede, in the privacy of his mind, that it made something in his chest squirm in awkward happiness whenever Peter sounded like that. He wanted to have all that focus and admiration centered on him instead of the virtues of magic.

Which was not what he should be thinking about right now. At all. He needed to focus on the ritual. He couldn’t fuck this up, not even a little, not when Haigh would taunt him about it for the rest of eternity.

“If you two have everything, then it’s not far to the plot. Just follow me.” Jordan strode through the cemetery gates. “I’m glad you’re early. They told me that the lamp-timer is a little off schedule, so you’ll still have the last of the light to set up.”

“What about good old Deputy Haigh?” Stiles ambled along beside Peter while Steve rode side saddle on his left shoulder, queen of all she surveyed. “Is he not joining the rest of us for the corpse-a-palooza?”

“If the man knows what’s good for him, he’ll stay right where he is and like it,” snapped Peter.

“Oh him.” Jordan grinned back at them. “He’s just pissed off that he might clock out late. Apparently, he’s got a hot date after this. Told me that he’s taking off at ten sharp unless you managed to start the zombie apocalypse.”

“Hmm. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was paying for his company.” Peter sniffed with disdain. “He certainly has nothing else to offer a partner.”

“Didn’t you just meet him tonight?” Stiles perked up at Jordan’s question. He was starting to wonder about this unreasonable animosity.

“Call it instinct.”

“Right… instinct,” drawled Jordan, looking back at the two of them. Whatever he saw made him face forward with a snort. “You’re the wizard, so I guess I’ll put my trust in your third eye.”

“As you should.”

Stiles laughed. “You’re fucking ridiculous. Both of you.” The twin looks of affront he received when they whirled around kept him laughing when they reached the grave, but he quieted once he caught sight of the dirt piled to one side of Kathleen Jensen’s eternal resting place.

“Ahh, that’s one thing I like about Shades’ Rest,” Peter remarked. “They’re the only cemetery in the tri-county area that uses all the most recent advances in burial tech. It does mean that each plot is enormous, but it makes everything so much easier for the modern necromancer to do their job.”

“Yeah yeah. In your day, you had to dig the grave both ways in the snow.”

“Actually, we only had to wait for the corpse to dig itself out, but that was bad enough.” Peter shook his head. “A messy and tedious affair. It’s a nice touch that they excavate the plots in preparation for all sanctioned raisings. You should be thankful that the owner of Shades’ Rest has a necromancer in the family. They only allows burials with pop-lid coffins, and all the graves have a built-in blood basin for sacrifices.”

Jordan cleared his throat. “Not that this isn’t interesting, but… maybe a little less conversation, a little more zombies please? I still have to interview her, and Haigh hates raisings. He won’t be any use at all.”

“Sorry about that, Jordan.” Stiles dropped his bags with a dull thud and knelt to rummage through them, pulling out his unguents and herbs and the jug of salt. “You really should talk to dad about Haigh if he’s cutting out on work. There’s no fixing his supreme dickishness, but he’s still supposed to act like your partner.”

“Aww.” Jordan reached down to ruffle his hair but paused an inch away. After a slight hesitation, he followed through with the motion. “You’re a good kid, but I can handle Haigh. You didn’t hear it from me, but he might be getting a transfer out pretty soon.”

“Yeah? I’ll be quiet as the grave.”

“A little ironic when you’re here to make the dead speak.” Jordan snorted. “And necromancer jokes. Really?”

Peter’s voice drifted over, “You see what I have to deal with, Deputy Parrish?”

“If I can’t make them, then who can?” Stiles protested. They were losing the light, so he dropped the banter and nimbly sorted through candles, totems, and various oddments until he found the tallow sigils by touch. He hovered over his options as Steve hissed encouragements into his ear, and he chose four Solomon’s knots in green, white, black, and purple for the cardinal points. He piled them on the pristine blood basin, where they looked innocuous and out of place. Next, Stiles poured the salt into the perfect circle marked around the open grave with a steady hand that belied his nerves.

He stole glances at Peter and Jordan where they chatted easily by Hastur’s crate while the rooster made the occasional, petulant cluck. They were acting awfully friendly after the rough start, but Jordan was a nice guy. Everyone liked him. Stiles blinked hard at that thought, pursing his lips in irritation. His mind shouldn’t be jumping to irrelevancies after all the time he’d spent meditating this afternoon. With a wordless grumble, he resolved to concentrate harder just as he completed the circuit around the grave.

“And that’s the salt. These inscribed circles will make the bloodletting part pretty convenient,” he muttered and patted his hip where he’d threaded the athame onto his belt. “I’ve got the steel, and Hastur will be providing the blood in just a minute.” Stiles drew in a deep breath, flashing a grin at Peter. “I guess it’s time to get this show on the road.”

Peter inclined his head towards the indignant noises coming from the crate. “And the star of the evening. After you, Stiles.” He paused. “You should put on the apron now if you want it.”

“Eh. How messy can this get?”

“Say that when you’re slitting the throat of a two thousand pound bull.” Peter said dryly. “You’ll wish you had coveralls and rain boots.”

Stiles shrugged. “You’re the expert.” He turned back and plucked the heavy, black apron from the mouth of the bag. It was the work of a moment to duck his head through the neck loop and wrap the belt around his waist twice, knotting it into a haphazard bow. “I think the star of the evening is supposed to be the zombie, but okay. We’re ready for our close up. Steve, you have my permission to attack if that thing pecks me again.” Clothes now protected from the mess of animal sacrifice, Stiles ignored Hastur’s outraged squawking as he opened the door and grabbed the chicken by the neck, dragging him out to meet his doom. “All right, time for you to finally be useful.”

“I’ll place the seals while you get into place.”

“Thanks, Peter.” Stiles nodded in reflex and tightened his grip on the wriggling bird, wrapping his other hand around the legs to keep from being scratched. He brought Hastur up to eye level, so he could look straight into his angry, little bird face. In a flex of magic and will, Stiles sent a burst of power out through his eyes. The chicken twitched once and stilled, gaze caught in Stiles’. “Yes,” he hissed. “Still and calm. That’s a good bird.”

“Your familiar bond is even stronger than I suspected,” Peter noted from his place by the basin. “I’ll kneel here with you while you make the cut. That should make it easier for you to utilize my help.”

“Okay.” His breath whooshed out. “Let’s do this thing.” Despite his nonchalance, Stiles felt inadequate as he lined up the limp chicken’s neck with the basin’s lip. “Just like falling off a bike,” he muttered and unsheathed his athame. This would be the first death it would taste. The first mature ritual. The first one he was leading. He swallowed the lump in his throat. He didn’t even like Hastur, but this wasn’t like the goats. This was a one-way trip. This was the type of magic that left its mark on the caster. A hand landed on his shoulder.

“It’s time, Stiles. You’re ready. I swear it. Make the cut.” Peter’s energy nudged at him, almost coquettish in its impatience. The tendrils lurking just outside his barriers possessed an odd icy-hot quality that made goosebumps rise on his skin.

“Okay,” he repeated, sure this time. Stiles lifted the blade, freshly sharpened and honed just for this task, and brought it down with a steady hand. He made a textbook perfect slash across the throat, severing the artery. As blood gushed into the salt circle, he laid the athame down on the basin shelf.

Slowly, he opened his outermost barriers to accept the carefully controlled trickle of Peter’s power, adding it to the combined pool of his own and Steve’s. Peter continued to offer his power as they watched the blood flow through the salt.

Finally, when the second circle was nearly completed, and he was ready to burst with their combined energy, Stiles broke contact with Peter. The shock as he shifted the few inches necessary to allow Peter’s hand to fall from his shoulder filled him with such a profound sense of loss that he wavered. It was only the flick of Steve’s tongue against his ear that reminded him of their purpose here. Immediately, his focus narrowed to the circle of blood and salt, to the steel blade gleaming on the stone altar, and to the body waiting for him to wake it.

The air around them was heavy with the energy he’d harnessed to call up the dead, quiet and still like the moment before lightning strikes—and Stiles was the lightning. With Steve and his ring, he channeled the power, directing it to the circle where it ate through the blood and salt and wax seals. As the last seal melted, bright blue banefire shimmered into being where the blood and salt had been. Searching for more fuel or a vessel, the energy sparked, sending the flames higher. It struggled against his hold, so he sent it burrowing deeper into the earth, to the body. Once it touched the corpse of Kathleen Jensen, it settled there, satisfied to flood the decaying flesh and bone.

Stiles drew a deep breath and intoned. “Kathleen Jensen. I call you from your grave. Rise and speak truly, Kathleen Jensen.”

The switch from magical energy that was sated and happy to fill a corpse into alert and awake came without warning. But it was intensely weird for his Sight to flare as something Other drifted down through the darkness and looked at him—through him. Stiles shuddered and whirled to face Peter. “Holy fuck. What was that?”

Peter simply sighed and lifted one shoulder. “It’s a peculiarity of raising humans. There are a lot of arguments on if that is the actual soul of the person or something more sinister. I’m inclined to say it’s the authentic soul, or how else do they rise and speak and act as they did in life?” He gestured to the grave. “You’ll see in a moment.” One by one, a buzz filled the air as the path lamps came to life, spreading a soft, amber light over the grounds. Together they watched a neatly coiffed, grandmotherly lady in a petal pink suit dress ascend the steep steps from her coffin to the manicured, green lawn of Shades’ Rest cemetery.

“Hey, Jordan!” Stiles called out. The deputy had drifted closer throughout the ritual while maintaining a respectful distance, but now it was time for him to do his part in tonight’s work. “Have you questioned a zombie before?”

“Yeah, a few times.” He shifted on his heels, hands tight on notepad and files.

“Then you know I’ll have to blood you.” Stiles grabbed Jordan’s elbow and pulled him closer to the basin. He picked up the knife and swiped the blade clean between his thumb and forefinger. In three swift moves, Stiles dotted his brow and the backs of both hands with chicken blood. “Now for you. You can close your eyes if you’re squeamish,” he suggested.

Jordan rolled his eyes. “I’ve been in a warzone, Stiles. Blood doesn’t bother me.”

“See if I extend you any more professional courtesies,” he huffed and dabbed the blood onto Jordan. “There you go. Just step through the circle.” Stiles gave the blade a quick wipedown on his apron before jamming it back into the sheath. “The banefire only burns the dead, so you’re safe. You’ll just have to question her here. Peter and I will take a little walk out of hearing range, so if anything goes wrong just get on the other side of the circle and call. Otherwise, we’ll leave you alone until it’s time to put Mrs. Jensen back to sleep.”

“Thanks, Stiles. I’ll text you.”

“No problem, man.” Stiles crossed the blue fire to where his zombie waited patiently for instruction. “Kathleen Jensen. I called you out of your rest to answer some questions for this man. Do you understand?”

As though his question had given her permission, the zombie’s eyes brightened with awareness and human emotion filled her face. “I understand perfectly, young man. Oh, I am glad that my necromancer was a handsome one, and what a charming snake you have.” Her fine-boned hands fluttered at her chest like tiny birds when she caught sight of Jordan. “Now you say that lovely young officer is here to question me? Simply marvelous. This is all so exciting! If I were still alive, I’d really have something to tell the other girls on bingo night.”

Stiles exited the circle and listened to Jordan introduce himself. “Hello, Mrs. Jensen. I just have a few questions for you. I’ll be recording our conversation if that’s all right, ma’am?”

“Of course, officer.”

“I’m just a deputy, ma’am.”

Stiles wrinkled his nose when Mrs. Jensen giggled. Maybe next time he’d use less power. He was clearly doing it wrong if his corpses were flirting with innocent officers of the law.

Peter met him right outside the circle, eyes narrowed at the blue flames. “Banefire hmm? An interesting choice.”

“Yeah well.” He clammed up at Peter’s ambiguity, the beginnings of hurt blooming in his chest. Steve reacted to his emotions, expanding her size to spread herself over both shoulders in a reptilian hug that just so happened to allow him the excuse to slouch, so he curled in on himself and started speed-walking along the first stone path he reached. “It seemed like a good idea?”

“You mistake me, Stiles.” Peter lengthened his stride, shoes crunching on loose dirt and leaves, catching up to Stiles with ease. He walked beside Stiles, drifting closer with each step. He bumped their elbows companionably then put his right hand on the small of Stiles’ back for a few breaths, just long enough for the heat to seep through his shirt, before it returned to the more natural position of swinging by his side. “I couldn’t be more pleased. Most necromancers who do raisings at cemeteries like this don’t bother with the extra precaution of banefire.”

“So you’re saying that I’m exceptional?”

“You’re my student aren’t you?”

The sincerity of Peter’s answer caught him off-guard, but he couldn’t let Peter have the last word without a fight. Stiles opened his mouth, about to snark back, but he’d been watching Peter in his peripheral vision. So he saw the split second when Peter went stiff and almost stumbled over thin air. “Been walking long?”

“Very funny. If you must know… I was surprised by something I overheard from the circle.” Peter smirked. “If Deputy Parrish isn’t careful, then he’s going to have an amorous corpse on his hands.”

He glared in Peter in disgust. “She’s a tiny, cute grandma… and dead. That’s so gross. You have the filthiest mind. Besides, Jordan can’t help the way he charms old people. It’s all that Boy Scout politeness.”

“Ahh, I can see how you wouldn’t have any experience with being charming.”

“Hey now! I’ve been terribly insulted. Wounded even,” Stiles protested. Steve added her own harmonizing hiss. “See, Steve agrees. I demand reparations.”

Peter hummed in thought. “Reparations you say?”

“Oh yeah. Something awesome. Shiny is a plus.”

“Well,” Peter spoke slowly, “I might be able to do something about that.” He captured Stiles’ hand, tangling their fingers together as he guided them to a nearby bench. When Peter sat, Stiles was forced to follow suit since his hand remained firmly in Peter’s grasp… and he really needed to start doing something about the palpitations he got whenever Peter touched him.

His hand freed from its Peter-shaped tyranny, Stiles scooted a few inches away, just enough for propriety’s sake. “I wasn’t really serious, Peter.” He laughed uneasily and plucked Steve from his neck. She tasted his blood-stained fingers with rapid flicks of her tongue before shrinking to finger-length and wrapping around his apprentice ring. The dry rustle of her scales as she settled against the metal was comforting in its normality.

“You shouldn’t demand reparations if you don’t want them.” Peter dipped a hand into the pocket of his tight, black jeans and emerged with a small box. The kind of box that usually had jewelry inside.

“Umm. Peter?” His voice rose in confusion.

“Stiles,” Peter murmured. “This is very inappropriate, as you are far from an apprentice… but I would be pleased if you would do me the honor of wearing my ring now that you’re my student.” He snapped open the top of the box and offered it up.

“Oh my god.” Stiles gaped at the dark red stone and engraved, silver-colored metal. The stone was huge, at least four carats. Only criminals, trust fund babies, or trophy wives wore stones that large. It caught the light from a nearby lamp and glinted at him in greeting. “What? I. Peter,” he stammered. “This is too much.”

His eyes landed on the ring Adrian had given him, or what of it that he could see from behind Steve. It had been simple gold band with a custom, alchemical stone built from an opal. It had been the ring from a teacher who had cared for Stiles like a son and who Stiles had loved dearly.

And yet.

The ring that Peter held out to him called to his magic, not his familiar’s. Not only physically beautiful, it was metaphysically dazzling. It shone like a small sun to his Sight. Stiles hadn’t even held it, and he couldn’t wait to feel it with the private, inner core of his magic. He yearned for it like it was a part of him he hadn’t known he was missing. Hot tears pricked at the corners of his eyes.

“Don’t you like it, dear boy?” Peter’s worried face swam in his vision.

Stiles shut his eyes, and one of the tears escaped to trail down his face. “It’s amazing. I don’t even know what it is—”

“It’s a natural blood ruby on a platinum band.” Gentle fingers brushed the wetness from his face. “Do you like it?”

“It’s beautiful,” he answered truthfully. Stiles hesitated. He opened his eyes to be met with Adrian’s well-meant and ultimately unsuitable gift gleaming up at him though Steve’s coils. “I don’t know how you did this, but it’s perfect for me. I don’t even need to touch it to know.”

“You accept this apprentice ring then? You’ll be my student, officially?”

“I do.”

“Take off your other ring, Stiles.”

“Oh, right.” He nudged Steve into moving and slipped it off his finger, so she was free to slither her way into it. That ring had been more hers than anyone else’s anyway. Almost in a trance, he stared as Peter slid the new ring free from its satin nest and took Stiles’ left hand. With an unexpected delicacy, Peter eased it on his ring finger, sliding it home. Stiles shuddered as his magic latched onto the new ring, tethering it to the well of his power. “Wow. That didn’t happen with the other one.” He shivered through the aftershocks and smiled at Peter, his eyes heavy-lidded from pleasure.

“It suits you.” Peter gave him an odd, tender look and squeezed Stiles’ hand, rubbing his thumb over the ruby. Stiles gasped as Peter’s contact with the stone sent hot pulses through his body. “I’ll expect you to wear it at all times from now on. Like a proper student of mine.”

“Yeah. Definitely. It won’t leave my hand for anything,” Stiles promised recklessly.

“See that it doesn’t. It does you no good if it's decorating your dresser or your familiar. Now, we should probably start walking back to the good deputy and Mrs. Jensen before she gets too frisky.”

Chapter Text

Steve lounged on his pillow, basking in the light pouring through the window now that the task of moving in was complete, but her sun-induced pleasure didn’t stop her from laughing at him. She always seemed to be laughing at him, but really! A man’s own familiar should take his side once in a while, but most familiars don’t think of their bonded as their own hatchlings.

“It’s not that funny,” Stiles grumbled from his spot, sitting in the green and silver striped settee beside the closet door. “And neither is this ridiculous Harry Potter themed decor. He must have been planning this. Look at this!” He pointed at the honest to God tapestry that Peter considered appropriate decor. “I mean, let’s forget for a moment that there are actual tapestries in my room, and look at the scene! The temptation of Eve.” His voice rose in a whine, “How am I supposed to sleep with a naked woman staring at me every night? How am I supposed to jack off like this? Would you want to use a dildo with judgemental angels watching from the bushes?”

She hissed at him, and rippling scales flashed in the sun.

“I don’t think you’re considering it from my perspective, and no, I could not have just moved into Peter’s house. What about this is insufficient?” Stiles gestures to his new room. The green walls and dark wooden furniture should have been oppressive or made the space seem small, but instead it was elegant and old-fashioned and far too good for him—even if the subtle silver snake accents took a cheesy joke much too far.

Objectively, this was better accommodation than Marin had given to the Archdruid when he’d visited last year. It made him feel like he was living in a museum or in an episode of Million Dollar Listing. As though the surprising and opulent “in-law suite” wasn’t enough, Stiles had access to the entire building that housed Caveat Emptor, with the exception of Peter’s private ritual space, and even then he only needed to ask. He also had the privilege of inviting his friends into the private living areas upstairs.

When she didn’t bother to answer, Stiles sighed. “This is plenty. Living at work is super convenient. I can run all the experiments I want as long as I keep the inventory up-to-date! Nobody’s ever trusted me that much before, even though I’m a fucking adult. A student couldn’t ask for more.”

Even without shoulders, she seemed to shrug. As she turned away from him, undulating with her strange, reptilian laughter, and their bond lit up from her amusement.

“Oh my god. Maybe I’m not only a student,” he mocked, mouth twisting around the words. “Maybe you should shut your piehole. I’m just…” Stiles blew out a harsh breath. “Sorry, sorry. I know you mean well, but I have all of this because he’s my teacher. I just got kicked out of my last home. I can’t do that again, Steve. Not when I’ve finally found a teacher and a place. I have something I’m good at. Just let it go.”

He stiffened in outrage. “Elsa! You did not just call me that.” Stiles scowled at the snake, lazing in a pool of sunlight. “You lie there and think about what you just did. I’m going downstairs.”

When Steve flicked her tail in obvious dismissal, he decided that discretion was the better part of valor and fled. Thoughts of his housewarming cake beckoned, but sitting around, moping and eating his feelings, wasn’t exactly how he’d planned to spend the first night in his new home.

With a brief, wistful goodbye to ganache, Stiles walked through the too-fancy sitting room and to the outer hall. Then he shut the door gently, and leaned his head on the jamb. After a moment’s consideration, he shunted his awareness of Steve to the side, muting her lingering, passive disappointment to a cranky mutter in the background of his mind. There was no dealing with her when she decided to take an interest in his personal affairs. Stiles loved Steve more than almost anything in the world, but there was no good way to remind her that she wasn’t really his mom.

If he needed to deal with cantankerous serpents without the solace of desserts, then he could go outside and poke at the wards—maybe add something of his own to the ward scheme. In that moment, Stiles left reason by the wayside and fully embraced Bad Idea Bear™.

In the harsh light of the mid-afternoon sun, Stiles almost regretted his impulse. He’d been walking the property line for a few minutes, but sweat was already beading on his forehead and at the small of his back. The only reason he couldn’t truly regret the impulse was because it was shameful and negligent of him to know so little about his own home’s protections. Over the last three months, Peter had described some of the wards and the layering methods, but Stiles still didn’t know what all of the wards did or how they interacted on the backend. He was keyed into all of them for his own safety—enough to allow him free use of the space now that he lived here—but that was no substitute for real knowledge of their design.

“So stupid of me,” Stiles groaned. “I should have asked more questions before Peter left this morning.” Stiles had even planned it out. He’d written a list and everything, but Peter possessed an inborn ability to send all of his meticulously arranged thoughts skittering sideways. That and he used Stiles’ own curiosity against him with clever evasions or offhand remarks to dangle shiny, new conversational bait—which Stiles always took. It didn’t help matters that sometimes Peter refused to explain things in the hope that Stiles would blunder into the answers on his own. To add insult to injury, the man took ridiculous pride in every hard-won piece of information Stiles teased from vague references and hands-on experience. The lack of information on the wards was probably one of Peter’s devilish surprise tests.

He continued to walk, allowing his magic to skip along the ward scheme, gently touching down on the anchor points. Every time he swung his arm, the unfamiliar weight (spiritual and physical) distracted him. Stiles crinkled his nose as his arm arced high enough for it to catch the sun. An apprentice ring that suited him right down to his bones, more puzzles than he could ask for, and a rewarding, exciting job… it was strange how quickly things changed.

Even without the sunlight, the ruby glowed and sparks rose and fell within its depths, lit from within by some quirk of the enchantments Peter had laid on it. At least Peter had foreseen a need to include some type of general protection on the ring. Since receiving it, Stiles was positive that he’d bashed the thing into every stationary surface possible—and some he would have sworn were impossible.

“Hmm… there really isn’t much initiative built into these,” Stiles mused. “I guess that makes sense. No one wants to fight their wards on opening the pod bay doors.” He knelt down and touched the dirt, taking the time to examine this anchor more carefully than the others. Stiles frowned. This one felt more awake than the others and, for lack of a better word, angry. It was enough to make the back of his neck prickle with nerves.

“Hey there, little buddy. What’s got you so worked up?” Stiles felt a bit silly, cooing at the buried focus, but the irritated buzzing calmed under his attention, fading to a sleepy grumble as Stiles pet the ground. Without bothering to shift from his knees, Stiles performed a quick field diagnostic on the wards. One by one, they all lit up in his mental landscape, indicating all was well.

Stiles sighed and let his tension ease out of his shoulders. “It figures. Even his wards are prissy.” He snorted and stood, rubbing his hands on his jeans. “That was a minor heart attack I didn’t need. I should quit before something actually malfunctions.”

He managed to make it back to the shop without any more complications, but Stiles’ eyes narrowed at the sight of a silver sedan sitting in the parking lot with its hood up. When an oddly jointed, grey-skinned arm emerged from behind the hood, he paused in the trees and ran through the possibilities. Maybe some type of fae or elemental?

Nervously, he fiddled with his new apprentice ring, absently wishing for something with more spin. Stiles hesitated at the treeline, unable to justify the unease curling in his gut. According to a long-suffering Peter, people with car trouble often found their way to Caveat Emptor since it was so close to the highway… but this would be the first time that Stiles had to deal with it.

Grey skin and non-human elbows weren’t enough to make a species determination, so Stiles would just need to wing it and hope he didn’t insult them terribly.

Stiles took a deep breath and stepped past the trees, pulling on his salesman persona as he went. “Hello there!” He waved when two craggy, grey faces jerked towards his voice. Two large pairs of yellow eyes blinked at him in unison, owl-like in their surprise. The two looked like some artist had sculpted anatomically improbable stone giants and, after choosing spectacular eyes, they had rushed through the rest of the details. Perhaps their features were normal for their species, but to a human perspective, they seemed blurred and unfinished.

“What seems to be the trouble?” he asked, carefully non-committal. It wouldn’t do to extend an offer of help that could be manipulated into something far more comprehensive than he intended.

The two exchanged a hurried conference in whispers before one of them stepped away from the car. “Hello. I am Zeke. My brother and I do not often drive, so we don’t know what is wrong.”

The shy one grabbed Zeke and whispered in his ear. Zeke nodded and turned back to Stiles. “We stopped here because we have a AAA membership but no phone to call.”

The normality of the request quieted the rest of Stiles’ paranoia. “Yeah, of course! I live here, and it’s no trouble to let you call.” He stepped past them with a smile and unclipped the keyring from his belt loop, flipping until he found his new house key. Stiles tamped down the giddy feeling at unlocking his front door and let the door swing wide open as he fumbled for the light switch.

“Come in, and I’ll show you where the phone is.” The air around him grew hot. The wards shrieked a furious warning right before a hand came down on his arm, preventing Stiles from stepping over the threshold. One of the brothers stepped in, crowding his space and pushing him farther away from the door. “What the fu—” Pain exploded in his jaw and the back of his head, interrupting the rest of his question.

“Looks like we won’t be needing the phone.”

Someone punched him again, abandoning the attack on his head in lieu of his stomach. Without ceremony, they zip tied his hands and shoved his head into a cloth hood when he doubled over in a bout of dry heaving, fumbling to shape his magic into something, anything that would help.

“Get him in the car, Jude!” Something metal clanged, probably the hood now that there was no more need for the broken down car ruse. “Quick! Before he can activate the wards. Who knows what Peter’s done to this place.”

“I’d be quicker if you helped more,” whined Jude. Someone, probably Jude, picked him up, successfully using his pain and nausea to prevent him from reaching out for the wards and raining hell down on his attackers. Fortunately for his head, he didn’t need to endure the bouncing gait for long before he was shoved into the car, landing on his bound arms. The door slammed shut behind him, and the vehicle lurched into motion.

“What do you want?” Stiles demanded, ignoring around the pain in his jaw. “I’m not worth kidnapping.”

“Shut him up, Jude. We don’t need him trying to spell us.”

“Why are you making me do all the dirty work? You promised, Zeke!”

Zeke huffed. “I don’t know why you wanted to come. You’re useless. We bought that stuff for a reason.”

“Oh! I forgot about that.”

Stiles tried to concentrate, but he couldn’t tell which direction they were headed. The overwhelming queasiness made complex thought impossible, and all he could hear was Jude rummaging for “the stuff”. When the hood lifted away from his head, he blinked as light poured into his eyes. Stiles had barely opened his mouth when a cloud of sparkling yellow powder enveloped him. He gave a startled gasp and inhaled, setting off a round of torturous coughing as he choked on the rough grains.

“Wha…” Stiles wheezed. His thoughts quieted, distant and fuzzy, trapped behind a wall in his mind. He blinked when his head fell onto his shoulder, too heavy for its own weight.

Jude patted him in a moment of misplaced kindness. “This will make the drive go by faster, and Zeke would hate if you threw up in here.”

“Fuckers,” he muttered as darkness closed in around him. “‘m never helping again.”

Once, when Stiles was too young to know better, he’d trapped himself in one of his mother’s circles. Claudia had finally declared him old enough to learn more about what she and his godfather did on cases, so she allowed him into the special greenhouse she shared with the Uncle Adrian. Stiles had been playing with his ring (the one that acted like LoJack for people) idly spinning and twisting it on his finger since only his parents could remove it, when a shock ran through his hand. It surprised him more than it hurt him, but the ring went flying into the inactive circle when he jerked his hand.

At the time, the only safety lectures he’d received about circles were to keep away from them and disturb nothing, but he only meant to run in, fetch the ring, and run out.

Perhaps it would have gone just like that if he hadn’t scuffed one of the marks while crossing the line. He’d been frozen in body and voice—lost in a great, still sea as the magic’s unyielding pressure commanded him to wait upon Claudia Stilinski’s bidding and speak only the truth.

The tiny circle he’d woken in was nothing compared to the weight and force of his mother’s will. It was the difference between gossamer threads and iron bands, but it would still keep him from his magic.

Stiles sneered at his kidnappers, Zeke and Jude (if those were even their real names). They’d shaken him awake with rough hands and dropped him into a metal folding-chair, tying his arms and legs to it with lengths of black nylon rope. After pulling the loops tight, they took up poses within the circle and attempted to loom menacingly over his trussed up body.

Jude crossed his arms in front of himself, elbows jutting out at odd angles, and drummed square-cut fingers along his forearm. It looked more like self-soothing than threatening to Stiles, but Zeke was another story. Zeke had aspirations and a baseball bat.

The look in his eye spoke of malice aforethought, but what had Stiles done to offend two fae-elemental-whatevers enough to warrant being kidnapped? For whatever reason, they wanted something from him. There were at least six rituals that he could think of off the top of his head that would require him as a component, but they would have already killed him or taken him somewhere else for those.

The funny thing about sacrificing necromancers was that they were never the only dead body at the party—just the most recent one.

The perfect chalk circle contrasted with the one ring of rudimentary symbols, well-crafted but rather textbook. It was the sort of thing he might have done as an apprentice, so they could be trying to take him off guard with the circle and with the room itself. Something about the mundanity of the Xbox One and foosball table made his skin crawl. Was he supposed to believe that they were foolish enough to take him back to their house? It had to be a trick, something meant to lull him into a false sense of security.

None of the clues fit together perfectly, there was still too much that Stiles didn’t know. However, it seemed to indicate minimal planning and personal reasons: two things that might allow him to leave with most of his skin intact—long enough for help to arrive.

Mostly assured of his value as a living, breathing entity, Stiles let the tension flow out of his limbs before he tried twisting his wrists in their bonds, but the knots were tied too tightly for him to reach anything useful or to try wriggling out. With no tools and no magic, Stiles’ only assets were time and his ability to stall for more… which called for some fast talking even he might have trouble pulling off.

“So,” he drawled, “you seem to be in need of a necromancer. Was Peter Hale too much for you to take down?”

Zeke’s face shifted, trembled as though something deep under the surface struggled to free itself. “Don’t talk about Peter! You don’t even care about what you did, how you ruined everything.”

What? Stiles blinked. This couldn’t possibly be what that sounded like. “Hey, Zeke. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Stiles spoke in a slow, calm tone, emanating as much of a submissive aura as he could. The bondage probably helped with that. “Peter’s only been my boss and master for a few months now. I don’t know how I could have ruined anything for you or anyone else.”

Jude’s jaw dropped. “But you live with him!” He turned to Zeke and asked with a wavering voice, “Maybe we made a mistake?”

Zeke cuffed his brother. “Don’t be stupid,” he growled. “We went over everything together. Peter stopped coming over at night a while ago, but then he stopped seeing Mother entirely a few months ago. Not even for business! It has to be his fault.”

Ah. Now Stiles understood the venom in Zeke’s gravelly voice. The two believed that Stiles was interfering in Peter’s relationship with their mother, but what would moving in have to… Oh. They thought that Peter and Stiles were together, dating.

Oh gods. They thought that Peter had stopped seeing their probably terrifying and supernatural mother because of Stiles.

Fuck his life.

Stiles swallowed in reaction to the sudden dryness in his mouth. He needed to tread more carefully here than he’d thought. Especially if they decided not to take the truth. “I don’t know anything about Peter and your mother, but I moved into the shop building because he’s my teacher now. He’s overseeing my Mastery, and that’s it.” Jude nudged Zeke, nodding along like it made sense to him. Encouraged, Stiles shrugged as much as the ropes would allow and quirked his lips in a self-deprecatingly smile. “Do you really think that Peter’s the kind of person who’d stop seeing your mother for someone like me?”

Unlike Jude, his brother didn’t look as convinced. In fact, judging by the stone glare on his face, Zeke thought that Stiles was the lying, homewrecking piece of ass who’d tempted Peter into straying. The ominous creak of the bat under his fingers added to the interrogation ambience.

“See! That’s how we know he’s lying,” Zeke insisted. “Their relationship was serious and committed. Didn’t she call Peter a dear friend? Mother always told us that we could trust Peter to help us if anything happened to her. Why would she tell us that if they weren’t almost as good as married?”

“Well…” Jude hesitated, gnawing on his lip. “Peter didn’t live here. He never even spent the entire night. Even Father does that sometimes, and they’ve been separated for, hundreds of years.”

Zeke stomped over, hard enough to send up tiny puffs of dust from the stone floor. He stood toe-to-toe with Jude and pushed him hard, in the chest. “What are you saying, Jude?”

“I don’t know, but maybe… maybe Stiles isn’t the problem. Or we misunderstood.” Jude twisted his huge hands together, unhappiness written in every line of his body.

“No. I won’t believe it. I refuse to believe that. This guy is the problem!” Zeke flung his arm back at Stiles and let go of the bat at the same time. Maybe it was an excess of emotion at exactly the wrong time. Maybe it was intentional. Either way, it slammed into Stiles’ knee with greater than human-flung force. He had a few seconds to force himself to breathe through the pain before the other end bounced back and clipped him above his right ear.

“So that’s what it’s like when you see stars,” Stiles groaned. He chuckled at their shocked expressions, but the irregular movement set off dry heaves. “Fuck. You really need to learn to control your strength there, Zeke, old buddy. Good thing my knee took the worst of that.”

“Oh my g-o-d!” Jude babbled. “Mom’s going to kill us!”

“Just shut up! No one has to know what happened. We’ll just take him back, and he’ll keep it quiet. Right, Stiles?”

What? Stiles squinted at the brothers. He expected a lot of things after they broke the seal on violence, but panic about their mom was not one of them. “Hey, Jude,” he asked suspiciously, “just how old are you two?”

Zeke whirled around, tiny tremors racing under the skin of his face. “What does that have to do with anything? We were old enough to grab you, so there!”

So there. Stiles would have facepalmed if he wasn’t tied up with a possibly broken knee. He was going to die in some teenagers’ gaming den. “You’re fucking kids aren’t you?” Suddenly, everything weird about this made an awful amount of sense.

“Don’t answer that, Jude! We’re getting him out now—before Mom gets home.”

Jude rushed to Stiles, frantically working at the knots. “Maybe if we untie him, we can pretend we invited him over to hang out?”

Stiles swallowed back the urge to evacuate the contents of his stomach and whimpered, “Guys, a little easier with the wounded?”

He breathed a little easier when they slowed down. Three cheers for Stiles. He survived, and it was only a little more embarrassing than it had to be. Right now, he had better things to focus on, like blocking out the queasiness and excruciating pain as they lifted him out of the chair.

“Oh yeah? And what about the bruises, numbskull?”

“It was an accident! And it really was, so that part’s the truth!”

Footsteps sounded from upstairs. “Boys, where are you?”

Stiles held a scream behind his teeth when they startled and dropped him on the floor. “We’re too late!” Jude moaned, on the verge of tears. “I’m really sorry, Mr. Stiles.”

“Just leave him on there. At least we got him untied.” Zeke snatched the bat from the floor and held it behind his leg. “Shit.

“Stop cursing, Zeke!”

“Boys? I’m coming downstairs, so I hope you’re all decent!”

Absent-minded humming preceded their mother’s appearance, and at the first creak of the basement door, the brothers exchanged a look and darted in front of Stiles, blocking him from immediate view—more accurately, they tried to.

The cheerful hum cut off, replaced by a high, thunderous roar. It filled the room, layer upon layer of furious, crushing sound that finally resolved into words. A terrible, female voice rang out, "Ezekiel! Judah!"

His kidnappers froze in horror as the newcomer’s entrance flooded the basement with white light. Zeke dropped the bat and Jude crumpled to his knees spouting apologies. "I can't believe you kidnapped someone! Upstairs now and leave that poor human alone. I'll deal with you two later, but you've been very, very bad."

Ezekiel and Judah scurried away as quickly as their lumbering bodies could take them. As they passed the woman edged in burning light, they each extended a hand, entering the glow for a moment before hissing in discomfort and rushing away.

The woman, their mother, watched them flee. "Your father and I taught you better than this." One of them sobbed, probably Jude going by the remorse; he clomped up the stairs, dragging his brother along.

Stiles shut his eyes against the light that set his head to pounding. He was one big mass of pain. It seemed like the glowing woman was against the hurting and the kidnapping, but those were her kids. Or it seemed like they were? Who knew how she really felt about the situation? He slumped there, curled in a fetal position within the circle, waiting for her reaction. It wasn’t like he could do much if she did want to continue where the kids left off. Even with his eyes shut tight, he could see the abrupt dimming of the light—it was that bright—only for the quiet footsteps to ring through his head like a shotgun. At his grimace of pain, she somehow muffled the sound of her approach, and much to his relief, the spiritual weight of the circle lifted away.

“I’m sorry about that, little mage.” The thunder was gone, replaced by rich, melodious tones that brought to mind the sweet peals of perfectly formed bells. If sound could shimmer, then that was what her voice would do. Just hearing her use that shimmery voice caused the sick, roiling in his head to abate. The lady put her cool hand on his knee, and blessed numbness sank in through the worn fabric of his jeans.

“Hnng,” he croaked. It was all he could manage until he worked up enough saliva to moisten his mouth.

“My boys mean well, but they haven’t even reached their first centennial yet.” She tsked. “They’re still just babies.”

Still babies? She was one of those parents then. No wonder they kidnapped him. Peter must have seemed sane in comparison. Stiles whimpered when another cool hand cupped the side of his head. She sighed when she found it tacky with blood.

“What a mess,” she muttered as she prodded and stroked over the rest of his skull, checking for more damage. “So you’re Peter’s boy… Stiles was it? I’m so sorry about my sons. Can I convince you not to press charges? They really are only children. We don’t mature like you humans, and their development is even slower. Too much stone,” she confided and gentle fingers combed through his hair. She laughed, and the unbearable urge to weep swept over Stiles. “They do take after their father.”

“Press charges?”

“It’s within your right,” she said gravely. “No matter how much I help you now, I couldn’t protest that you’re owed some kind of recompense.”

“Oh.” Stiles wet his lips and considered the day he’d gone through, and the recovery time for his busted knee. He sighed. Damned kids. “They thought I stole Peter, but they were going to let me go at the end, so… I guess I won’t. Not if this is their first offense.”

“I swear that it is. My name is Mara, and I’m going to ease your pain. It might feel strange at first.” At the first touch of foreign magic, Stiles should have gone on alert and triggered his mental defences, but whatever she was doing felt nice. He sagged in the woman’s lap as waves of narcotic pleasure swept through him. His cheeks heated when he realised that it was coming from his groin. “Wha–are you healing me with sex magic?”

“Sorry. This is only for the pain. I can’t do real healing unless I take you wholly inside of my spiritual barriers—that’s fucking, by the way—and somehow I don’t think Peter would be too keen on getting you back injured and covered in succubus fluids. He might not be happy that I’ve done even this much for you.” The amusement in her voice seemed to indicate that she’d risk Peter’s reaction. “Silly puppy. He’d be even less pleased if I let you stay here in pain.”

Stiles kept his eyes shut tight at the word “succubus”, but he couldn’t hold in the shocked exhalation when her hands crept across his stomach to rest on his sternum. The contrast of her cool hands and the fever-heat of her magic under his skin made him tingle. He cast about for a suitable distraction from the situation in his pants. “So, you and Peter, huh?”

“That was many years ago, as humans count it. Peter was probably close to your age, leaving his teacher’s nest to strike out on his own. After our passion burned out, we discovered we were better friends, though with some benefits.” She laughed then, and it was the sound of flowering cherry trees and perfect sunrises—every beautiful, heart-wrenching thing in the world condensed into a few notes. It made Stiles feel reckless, like his blood was sizzling in his veins. “I’m not going to steal him from you, little mage.”

“That’s not.” Stiles swallowed. “That’s not how we are.” Throwing caution to the winds, he slitted open one eye to get a look at his rescuer. Oh. So that’s a succubus. Either the kids took after daddy dearest in bodies and in nature, or she was way better at illusions than her “babies”. Considering the fact that Peter had been in a relationship with her, Stiles wasn’t betting on the illusions. Peter was a lot of things, good and bad, but he could be a little shallow about appearances.

Instead of grey skin, monstrous proportions, and that half-finished quality to their forms, Mara was sharp-featured and exquisite. Wonderfully and fearfully made—Mara had the sort of beauty that almost hurt to see. Her hair was dark with a sheen like a raven’s wing, and it fell around them in a silken curtain, brushing against his face. Her pale skin glowed, and her eyes were tawny gold like an owl’s. For a moment, his thoughts wandered to Lilith and her mythological connection to owls and succubi, but it was probably too rude to ask if succubi lore considered her to be the first of their kind.

“You have owl eyes,” he blurted out, then flushed; the wave of heat crept from his cheeks and up to his hairline.

Mara laughed, and it was just as overwhelming as the first time. She hummed and traced her fingertips over his eyes with a touch so light he barely felt it. “Shush for now. When you wake again, your Peter will be here. I’ll call your father, too.” At her touch, the worst of his pains faded, replaced by a rush of tingling heat.

During his last conscious moments, Stiles was aware of floating and the distant sound of wings. He fell asleep dreaming of owls and wolves, swimming in warm, golden water under a sky filled with icy, blue stars.

“What the fuck happened, Mara?”

Stiles shifted restlessly at the voice. It sounded angry, but it tugged at him, made him want to get up and follow it. The voice shouldn’t be angry. It should be soft and syrupy, wrapping around him in the dark like a secret. He rocked his hips into the couch beneath him, uncaring of how he’d gotten here from the floor.

“Hush before you wake the boy,” she warned.

Someone laughed; it skated by pleasant and detoured straight to devilish. “It’s a bit late for that, Mara.” Stiles stirred at the unfamiliar, vaguely British voice. There was something about it like the slow slide of a sharp knife, and his pulse throbbed at the sound.

“Where’s my son? You said he was fine.” Dad? No, he shouldn’t be here now. Not when all Stiles wanted was to wrap the voice around him and roll around in it. He moaned as his cock filled with blood, pressing against the fly of his jeans.

“Stiles is fine for now. I took his pain.”

“You mean you tricked his synapses into registering pleasure instead of pain after calling up some of his magical energy and letting it cycle through him. I can’t believe you did something so intimate with a stranger!”

Yes, it was getting closer. Stiles needed it—the voice and whomever was attached to it.

“Well excuse me for not fucking him, Peter. Would you have preferred that?”

Wordless snarls echoed around Stiles, making him toss and turn. Sweat broke out across his skin at the restrained power in the voice.

“See. You’re disturbing him.”

“John,” said the voice like a knife, “you may not want to do that.”

“I don’t care who you are in this town, but that’s my son lying there,” John snapped. “Stiles,” his voice gentled, “Stiles, are you awake?” Someone, maybe his dad, picked up his hand, and a moan slipped through Stiles’ lips.

“As I suspected.”

“Jesus.” They dropped his hand as though they’d been scalded. “Was that…?”

“Damn it, Mara. He’s aroused—not disturbed. I’ll take him, John.” Strong arms lifted him like a ragdoll. It made his skin itch for more contact. “Of all the irresponsible things!”

“I didn’t expect him to have such a strong reaction. You know… my powers are closely tied to voice, but that’s not my voice he’s responding to now.”

“We’ll deal with that later.” Stiles snuggled closer to the warm chest vibrating under his cheek, mouthing at the cotton-covered nipple by his mouth. “Damn it, Stiles!” A hand turned his face away, so he caught a finger between his teeth and gnawed. “Just keep your little hellions here in case Stiles decides to press charges.”

“I’ve got half a mind to press charges myself!”

“Please, Sheriff. They’re just babies.”

“Babies or not—they kidnapped my son! He’s covered in bruises, just look at his face!”

“Sheriff—John, allow me to take care of this. It is my job after all.” The knife-voiced man took charge of the conversation, leading away Mara and his dad.

“Stiles. Stiles, look at me.”

Blearily, he opened his eyes, tuning out the other people and conversations, so he could focus on the deep blue eyes floating above him.

“There you are, sweetheart.”

“Peter?” he mumbled around the finger in his mouth.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” He released the finger. “Better now. I feel weird?”

“Mara miscalculated a bit. She doesn’t normally use her gift on humans.”

Stiles hummed agreeably and nosed at Peter’s shirt. “Home now?”

“That’s right, sweetheart. Now hold still.” Peter trailed his spit-damp finger across Stiles’ brow, forming loops and whirls that his fuzzy brain almost didn’t recognize as a sigil for dreamless sleep.

“Cheater,” he slurred.

“Go back to sleep, Stiles. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

“‘kay,” he yawned. “Thanks for showing up, Peter.”

“I’ll always come for you, Stiles.”

Before opening his eyes, Stiles froze. His heart rate shot through the roof, but the feel of Steve flicking her tongue against his ear cut off his soon-to-be panic attack.

“Oh my god, Steve,” he gasped. Tears leaked past his closed eyelids as the pain in his leg crashed in on him. “That was the worst day ever.”

She slithered around his neck and gave him the gentlest of reptile hugs.

“That’s right. I’m never helping distressed motorists again.” Stiles laughed, wetly. “You sound more and more like Peter. You’re totally hanging out too much.”

He ran shaky hands over her smooth scales. Stiles had almost fallen back into a half-doze when she gave him a sharp squeeze. “What? Quit it! I’m awake.” His eyes shot open in proof of his conscious state. “What. The. Fuck.”

This wasn’t his room at Caveat Emptor. This room had light grey walls with subtle maroon and purple accents. The dark furniture was filled with books and curiosities, including what appeared to be an authentic human skull. The bed he’d been put in had a canopy, the wine-red fabric neatly tied to four wrought iron posts.

Stiles sniffed at the soft pillow under his cheek and shut his eyes. Everything about the decor was coordinated and adult, and the bed smelled suspiciously like Peter and his favorite cologne.

“Steve?” he asked in a strangled voice. “Where am I?”

His smug little familiar let out a few condescending hisses and flipped her tail at him. Clearly done with such obvious questions, she slithered up the bed post closest to his head.

“You can’t be serious. I live at the store. Not in Peter Hale’s house.”

“Ah, but you do.” Peter stood in the open doorframe, wearing a blue sweater that brought out his eyes. He waited politely, at the threshold, holding a tray and watching them with a half-smile on his face. “Knock knock.”

“Come in,” Stiles said automatically. Peter slid the tray onto the nightstand, and settled into the chair by Stiles’ bedside.

“You’re probably wondering, but I put you in my room while we moved you into yours.”

“Mine? I have to say that anything’s better than the judge-y angels.” Stiles sagged back into the pillows, already weary from the last few minutes. “How long have I been asleep? When did you even have time to do all of this?”

“It’s only the next day. We all thought that it would be best to let you sleep.” Peter brought the glass with a straw to Stiles’ lips. “Drink this. Slowly.” Once Stiles took a few sips of the grassy beverage, Peter continued, “It’s amazing how much work you can accomplish with a few extra hands.”

Stiles blinked. No way did Peter have a third hand. He would have noticed by now.

“Oh not like that. Nothing that exciting. Just your father and Alan and Adrian. In fact…” Peter nodded towards the door. “There’s Adrian now.”

“Stiles!” Adrian rushed to the bed, wringing his hands in the same fussy way that Stiles remembered. “I was so worried when John and Peter told me what happened to you.”

When Adrian sat on the edge of the bed, Stiles stiffened, waiting for the pain and humiliation that always came at the sight of his first love, but nothing happened. Not even when Adrian smoothed the sheets or laid the back of one hand on Stiles’ forehead. There was a time when Stiles had lived for these few, paternal touches. Could his feelings really have vanished without him noticing? All that remained were the vestiges of attraction and the warmth and affection for a father figure and mentor. He had looked upon the glasses-wearing face of Adrian Harris and been unmoved.

Dazed, Stiles protested, “Dude, I don’t have a fever.”

“Don’t call me dude,” Adrian scolded. “And I know you don’t have a fever. But you had an irregular reaction to the circulation of your energies. Let me fuss over you now.”

Stiles shifted under Adrian’s cool hand and dredged up the ghost of his old self. “Whatever you say, Da-ad.”

“Foolish boy. It often felt like I was. Taking on you as my apprentice was a lot like parenthood. That’s what Claudia said. John too.” Adrian removed his hand and began peeling away the blankets, and that caused a jump in his heart, judging from Peter’s narrow-eyed look.

“So, what are you doing here?” Stiles glanced between Peter and Adrian. “And why do I need to be uncovered?”

Adrian rolled his eyes, and weirdly, Peter’s lip curled. “I’m here because I was worried, and because Peter doesn’t have much in the way of a healing ability.”

“Oh no,” Stiles moaned. He squirmed away, setting sharp pains running through the length of his leg. “That shit hurts. I’ll just hang out like this. I’m sure it’s not too bad.”

“Stiles,” Peter interjected, “your knee is badly damaged. Please let Adrian do what he can to help now.”

Stiles bit his lip but stopped trying to escape Adrian’s cold hands. “I thought it felt bad, but I didn’t think it…” He turned to Adrian, who had never been afraid to give him bad news. Not even the day he came home with Stiles’ dead mother. “Are you sure?”

Adrian shook his head. “If we leave you to mundane science, then you’ll never run again. The only reason you aren’t in a hospital now is because they called me. I would have taken you in myself if I thought I couldn’t help.”

“Fine. Do your worst.” Stiles steeled himself for pain. The last time Adrian had healed him was ten years ago, after he’d fallen out of a tree. It had hurt more than falling.

Peter lifted an eyebrow. “You misunderstand, Stiles. There’s a reason we’re both here.” He walked to the other side of the bed and took Stiles’ hand. “I am a werewolf after all.”

“Oh, right.” Stiles relaxed. “But are you sure you want to take my pain? It’s a lot when Adrian does this.”

“I’ve done it before, with other people.” Peter brushed the hair away from Stiles’ eyes. “Of course I want to do this for you. I’ll be fine, Stiles.”

Adrian clapped his hands together. “If you’re quite reassured? It’s best to begin five minutes after drinking the tisane.” He shot a pointed look at Peter.

True to his word, Peter never faltered, and Stiles didn’t feel a moment’s pain during the gruesome, accelerated healing. He did hear more creaking and disgusting wet noises than he wanted to in relation to his own body, but there was always a price, and Stiles was grateful to Peter for taking on some of that burden. He considered it a bonus that Peter chose to bear a portion of that burden by cuddling Stiles to his chest for "a more effective pain-drain".

By the time Adrian finished the healing, they were all breathing heavily and dripping with sweat, not unlike some of Stiles’ filthier fantasies.

Slowly, Adrian drew his hands away from Stiles’ knee and wiped the sweat from his brow. “It wasn’t as bad as I feared, but not by much. You should spend the day resting. If you need help, then I can leave you some tea?”

Stiles turns his face away from Peter’s chest to glare at Adrian. “I’m gonna be pissed if one more person puts me to sleep.”

“Okay then.” Adrian chuckled. “I’ll let it happen naturally.” He pursed his lips, looking into space. “Now let’s see,” he muttered to himself. “What next?”

“Are you doing okay,” Peter asked, voice pitched perfectly to whisper into Stiles’ ear. “I took as much pain as I could.”

“Yeah, Peter,” Stiles whispered back, as Adrian paced and muttered to himself. “You were great.” He squeezed one of Peter’s arms in appreciation.

“Peter!” Adrian snapped. “Are you still taking his pain?”

“No, I stopped when you let go. Should I have?”

“No, no. That’s fine. I was only checking before making Stiles move.”

“Uggh. Why,” Stiles whined. “Nothing hurts. It’s fine.”

“I need to see it in action. I’m not going to make you walk. You’re just going to pedal in my hands, and then you can have some non-soporific tea and rest. How does that sound?”

“I’ll hold you to that,” he grumbled, unhappy at the chill when Peter removed himself from his place, supporting Stiles’ weight.

“Can you put your foot in my hand?”

It took effort, but Stiles lifted both feet. “Yeah,” he grunted. “It doesn’t hurt. I‘m just tired.”

“Excellent. Now push like you’re pedaling a bike,” urged Adrian. “Good job. A bit faster now.” His knee twinged at the pace, but it was the discomfort of not moving, nothing like the pain when he woke up.

“Can I stop now?”

“Keep going for a few minutes. Why don’t you talk about something?”

Stiles stuck his tongue out. “Fine. You’re the worst.” In the corner of his eye, Stiles saw Peter lift his hand.

“Peter, please don’t,” Adrian snapped again, “I know you care, but I need to know if he’s in real pain or uncomfortable.”

Peter lifted up both hands in surrender. “Whatever the doctor says.”

Great. If Stiles didn’t start talking, they were going to start a pissing contest over his pedaling body. His teachers were so mature, paragons of magic and virtue.

“So it’s kind of funny,” Stiles said to the ceiling and smirked when their attention snapped back to him. “When I was waking up the first time, after Jude and Zeke kidnapped me, I remembered that time I got stuck in one of mom’s circles. I’d almost forgotten that had ever happened. Maybe I wouldn’t have really remembered without being trapped again.”

Adrian sniffed. “You terrified her. She had you out of that circle so fast your head nearly spun around twice.”

“Ah yes,” Peter mused. “Your mother was rather infamous for her years on the Fugitive Task Force, but this must have been after she went into the private sector?”

“It was,” Adrian affirmed. “We were partners then, and that bit of business with Stiles is why he became apprenticed at such an early age. All right, Stiles. Slow down now.”

“Did you take him then?” Peter asked his questions with every appearance of idleness, but Stiles recognized Peter at his devious best. Though why he wanted to know more about Adrian and his mom, Stiles couldn’t begin to guess.

Stiles huffed his way through the slow, deliberate exercise. These smaller, controlled motions were always more difficult. He’d let these two snipe at each other since they were determined to do it anyway. Assholes. He could be half-dead, and they’d probably still carry on with their passive aggressive bullshit.

“Oh no, Claudia still wanted to wait, but in a few years it became clear that he was moving through the simple exercises far too quickly to be on his own.”

“So he went to you.”

“Yes, he went to me.” Adrian stiffened his back. “And I treated him like a son. The Harris family has stood with the Stilinskis for a long time.”

“But you must mean the Novaks, not the Stilinskis?”

“Sorry, what?” To Stiles, Adrian smiled. “You’re doing well. We’re almost done.”

“You knew Claudia before you ever met John. Isn’t that right?”

Adrian sighed. “As you seem to already know, yes. I did. What of it?”

“Nothing.” Peter pat Stiles on the shoulder. “I was merely pointing out that you misspoke. If anything, your family stood with the Novaks first, and through them, Stiles and his father.”

“Er, I suppose. What difference does it make?” he asked in irritation.

Peter hummed. “Nothing I suppose. Just making conversation.” He stood. “I’ll be right back with tea, Stiles. It’s always so interesting getting to know your family.”

Stiles stared at Adrian with wide eyes. “What the hell was that?” he hissed. “I know Peter was fucking with you, but I’ve never seen you try to pick fights with people in front of me. And I don’t care what you say, I’m done pedaling. I’m tired.” For emphasis, he jerked his feet out of Adrian’s grip and let them drop. A dull ache reminded him why that had been better in theory than practice. He winced. “Ouch.”

“You never change do you, Stiles?” The fondness in Adrian’s tone was unmistakable. While not so heady a drug as it had been, it still called to him.

“I guess not.” He shrugged and glanced at Steve, meeting her unblinking reptile eyes. “Steve’s missed you and Big Steve.”

“Hello, pretty girl,” Adrian cooed to her and reached for the post. She wound her top half around his fingers with a happy hiss. “And are you the only one who’s missed me?”

Stiles’ mouth flattened at the way Adrian addressed Steve, like nothing had changed. Like she had a reason to tell him everything about Stiles, or as though he didn’t need to ask before touching Stiles’ familiar. Peter never did that—regardless of his status as Stiles’ master; but Adrian had always overstepped in little ways, fatherly ways.

“So what if she wasn’t?” he interrupted rudely. “It doesn’t really matter. Apparently you’ve been keeping up with dad but not me. I’ve hardly seen you the last six years. Maybe I couldn’t bear to look at you, but I thought you must have felt the same way about me. Then you just come running because I’m hurt. Like nothing’s changed. Asshole.”

“Stiles.” Adrian’s face fell in comical dismay. “That’s not how it was.”

“Adrian.” Stiles grimaced to say his name bare of any title. He’d rarely called him that, and that was mostly in his head. He had imagined that it would feel better, that he’d finally feel equal or adult. Instead, it tasted bitter in his mouth. “Thank you for healing my knee. I would have hated not being able to run or walk well.”

“But,” Adrian prompted.

“But I’m tired, and you should go home.” Stiles turned his face into the pillow and inhaled the scent of Peter.

“Of course. I’m sorry for overstaying my welcome. I’ll let Peter know that you’re ready to rest.”

“Hate to break it for you, but he’s a werewolf.” Stiles snorts. “He already heard all of this.”

“That’s right,” Peter agreed. “He did hear all of this and will see Dr. Harris out now.”

“No need, Mr. Hale. I’ll see myself out. Please take care of yourself and exercise your knee, Stiles. You can always call if you need me.”

Stiles curled up, and listened to Adrian walk out without a fight. In an economy of motion, Peter eased himself onto the bed and pulled Stiles and Stiles’ current pillow almost into his lap.

“You can always call if you need me,” Stiles mimicked. “What a laugh.”

“He does care about you. He was frantic when we told him what happened to you. He blamed me and my philandering.”

“Asshole.” Stiles curled closer to Peter’s warmth.

“Yes, I’d always thought so.” Peter’s hand cupped Stiles’ neck and squeezed. “A prissy man who always wanted what he couldn’t have. He never saw your worth.”

“But you do,” Stiles joked.

“I do.”

“Huh, I guess that’s good because teaching me will be the best thing you ever do with your life.”

“I really do believe it will, Stiles. And as soon as you’re well, we’ll start by making sure something like yesterday never happens again.”

“Whatever,” Stiles muttered. “I can take anything you dish out, old man.”

Steve hissed emphatically from her perch. Fantastic. He was surrounded by conspirators. And so beset on all sides by foul betrayers, Stiles fell asleep smiling.

Chapter Text


Unless it was a party, Lydia hated glow balls, floating fire, and faerie lights. Instead, she favored a spell she’d devised as her final apprentice project. The layperson’s explanation was that it combined night vision and the ability to detect infrared radiation without sacrificing clarity or quality of sight. Hardly the first spell to augment vision, but it was more magically efficient and elegant than most—so it fit Lydia down to the bone.

Stiles loved all the showy light spells the best. He always kept at least one flash bang on his little bracelet of tricks. His go-to magical light source was a cloudy, white marble he carried in his pocket (though now he could, and sometimes did, use his ring). Whenever he needed a little extra overhead light, he threw the marble in the air, and it acted like a tiny, portable star.

This situation required more stealth than his usual methods.

Currently, he was being chased through the woods and herded to an unknown location. So far, nothing had delayed his pursuer for very long, but Stiles hadn’t seen or heard anything for a few minutes. He’d have to thank Jen if the bog of non-eternal stench had worked. He crouched by a tree root and let out a slow, near-silent breath, willing his heart to slow down.

That last time had been too close for comfort. If he hadn’t seen moonlight reflecting off of sharp claws, that could have been the end.

Stiles caught his breath and checked over his inventory of prepared spells. He’d already gone through too many in the last hour. If only he hadn’t been ambushed. He fingered the only remaining cantrip on his bracelet—his last resort before he’d be forced to rely on whatever brute force magic he could muster on the go.

At times like this, he could almost hear his mother. Remember, Stiles: magic is whatever you can get away with. It is your will given form.

All at once, blue light flared to life, surrounding him in an incandescent aura—vision overwhelmed he choked out the word of cancellation. Berating himself, he recalled the unnatural hush and the stillness just before the light spell had hit him. Well and truly caught, his limbs were too weighed down to react or fling the spell at his attacker.

Fucking bug in amber spells. Stiles hated those with a fiery passion. Abruptly, the spell extinguished itself. Unprepared for his release, he fell over as the air around him lightened to its normal consistency.

“God damn it, Peter,” he whined when the man stepped into view. “I almost had you this time. And really? The light. Very uncool.” Stiles smirked at the foul reek floating around Peter and the muck clinging to his hair and clothes. “You were just pissed off about the bog.”

“The bog was a nice touch,” Peter acknowledged, pulling a handkerchief from his pants pocket and making a moue of disgust at the gunk caked in-between his fingers.

“But I really thought I had you this time.” Stiles sighed. “I dampened my scent. I silenced all of my bodily functions and put a spell on my shoes and clothes not to break the quiet. I did that new thing Kira showed me about copying the energy signature of animals. I even took off your ring. I was so prepared. It was gonna be my night! You were totally going to have to suffer through Phouka Palace tonight.”

“Better luck next time, infant.” Peter cuffed him lightly on the head and trailed his much cleaner hand down to cup the back of Stiles’ neck. (Thankfully, he’d managed some small magic to eradicate the smell.) He squeezed once, but unlike most times, Peter let his hand remain in a light, yet secure, hold. It made Stiles remember things he shouldn’t, but he did nothing to remove the warm weight—even relaxing into the touch and subtly leaning into his teacher as they started the walk back to civilization.

“You still don’t know what you’re missing. The Palace has the most amazing food even if it’s named after a shape-shifting hell beast.”

“Oh, I know. I used to date the owner before he opened up the restaurant. He tested most of his signature dishes on me.”

“No way! Does that mean you get the friends and family discount?” Stiles waggled his eyebrows at Peter, nudging his elbow into the man’s side.

“Ahh. Not as such. We had a nasty fight after I caught him summoning dog demons and fucking them.”

He stumbled at the bland way Peter brought up his previous partner’s infidelity and bestiality. “No way! He cheated on you with dog demons? Oh my god. Are you saying that’s why he named the place Phouka Palace?”

“The statue out front is a rather good likeness of his partner. If you can really refer to a phouka like that. I’m told the city council refused to allow for anatomical correctness despite claims that ‘it was the best part’.”

“Seriously?” Stiles winced, ducking his head. That sounded all kinds of terrible and awkward. “Hey, Peter. I’m sorry about all that. If I’d known, then I wouldn’t have bugged you about it. I’m an asshole, but I’m not that much of one, you know.”

After a short silence, Peter tightened his grip on Stiles’ neck and dropped his hand, so he could throw his arm around Stiles’ waist, tugging him into his side. Stiles could feel the heat of Peter’s werewolf body temperature wrapping around him like a fluffy blanket, fresh from the dryer. God, he had it so bad for Peter. Stiles blew out a breath and relaxed his tensed shoulders. With Peter’s tacit forgiveness, he screwed up his courage and tucked his fingers through one of Peter’s belt loops.

“I guess we’re heading to Abuelita’s since you won.”

“Oh, well I was reconsidering my stance on The Palace.” Peter turned his head with a wolfish grin, bumping his nose into Stiles’ cheek. “It might be fun to go there and show David how well I’ve been without his company.” His grin widened. “That is, of course, if you’re game to be my companion.” The silky way Peter’s voice lingered on that word was nearly an obscenity in itself. It made his gut clench in arousal until he remembered that Peter’s his teacher and didn’t mean it like that. He was just an incorrigible flirt. Stiles needed to calm down and stop assuming stupid things before he had to find yet another new teacher.

Stiles couldn’t bear to lose this, not after finally discovering the place he belonged. He couldn’t.

“Uh. Yeah. That’s me. Student. Assistant. Constant companion. We’ll make him eat his heart out.” If his smirk was a little shaky, then it had nothing to the with the fingertips brushing over the jut of his hipbones under his shirt—nothing at all.

“Indeed. We’ll shower and change for optimal heart eating. And you’ll put your ring back on your finger and keep it there.” Peter pinched him lightly on the hip. “It’s important that you do so, Stiles.”

Phouka Palace had been a Beacon Hills landmark for the last decade. Whether they loved it or hated it, no one could deny its place in the proverbial guidebook. The quirky (dick-obsessed) decor, irreverent menu, and the food had established The Palace as a hotspot for the young, liberally inclined crowd. They were always packed after two a.m., and tonight was no exception.

Peter grinned viciously at Stiles’ discomfort as they were seated by the half-dressed waiter. “I thought you’d been in here before?” he asked, all sweetness and light, unfolding his cloth napkin and covering his lap.

“We used to eat here all the time!” Stiles hissed, face flushed an endearing shade of red. “But—oh my god.” He threw a tortured look at the nearby wainscoting. At first glance, it seemed like innocent florals, but closer inspection proved that the embellishments weren’t vines and flowers but a profusion of cocks in various stages of hardness. “The interior design has all new meaning after what you told me.”

“Hmm. Yes. David always had a tendency towards the flamboyant.” Peter ruefully shook his head. He may have been feeling a touch of fondness for the flighty little bastard. “And such a size queen. I can’t believe this menu.” He pointed to an item in the entree section. “The Cock Up. Twelve inches of swinging meat.”

Stiles laughed at that, a bit strangled, but it was there. “That was the best thing ever. This is the whole reason I wanted to bring you here.”

“Why Stiles,” Peter leaned across the table and took one of his apprentice’s elegant hands in his own. “Are you saying you wanted me to whisper low-class smut into your ear?”

An undignified squawk escaped from Stiles, and he ripped his hand from Peter to shake it in his face. “Oh my god. Fucking rude,” he hissed. “I’m the one who’s supposed to make you uncomfortable and red. Wait. Scratch that. The only one who’s supposed to be uncomfortable is David, so save that for him.”

“And speak of the devil.”

David entered the room, still wearing his signature, aging rocker couture; his closet must have been filled with nothing but Ed Hardy shirts and velveteen pants. He was obviously informed of Peter’s presence since he power-walked directly to their table, leaving a wake of glitter and canine musk behind him.

Peter winked at Stiles and snatched his hand back. “Here we go, Stiles. Time to act like you enjoy my company.”

“Goodness, Peter! What a surprise to see you here after all this time!” David said breathlessly. “A good surprise! And you’ve brought a… friend.” His retail-smile faltered as he took in their joined hands and the way Peter played with Stiles’ ring, but he recovered admirably. “Have you ordered yet?”

“We were still looking through the menu,” Peter drawled. He squeezed Stiles’ hand and gave him a proud smile. “What would you recommend to celebrate some good news?”

David’s smile could have been carved from granite, his eyes narrowed as he glanced at the giant ruby on Stiles’ hand. Peter beamed at his charming, cheating ex, and let him draw his own conclusions; they would be closer to the truth than even Stiles knew.

“Oh no, you’re my special guests. I couldn’t serve you from the menu,” he demurred. “Nothing but the best for such a sweet couple! I’ll see to your meals personally.” David nodded firmly, almost striking a pose before he stalked away, leaving his “special guests” to exchange alarmed glances behind his back.

Stiles stared at him in slow-dawning terror. “Peter, I did not sign up for this,” he whispered urgently. “You’re a werewolf, and you like those death apples, so you’ll be fine, but I’m only human. He’s going to poison us. It might be with glitter.”

Peter bared his teeth in a smile. “Ahh, David would never do that. I heard that he’s after some sort of permit, but Deucalion is still holding a grudge from the way he ended our relationship. He’s obviously hoping that I’ll have a chat with my old teacher, smooth the way.”

Across the table, Stiles snorted with laughter. “I guess it helps when your teacher runs the state.” Stiles stuck his tongue out Peter. “So really, you just wanted to come for politics? And there I was feeling special.”

There was thinnest undercurrent of real disappointment in Stiles’ tone and scent, and Peter couldn’t have that—not when he finally had Stiles out on what anyone would assume was a date. He squeezed Stiles’ left hand and leaned forward, allowing the neckline of his shirt to expose even more of his chest. “I could have seen David in his office just as easily. We’re eating here now because you asked me.” Peter glanced up at Stiles through his lashes. “Never doubt for an instant that you’re special.”

Stiles’ eyes widened, and his heart rate sped up. He reflexively licked his lips as they parted, a quick flash of pink on bitten-red lips, and vibrant color rose in his cheeks. Stiles shifted in his seat, almost trying to pull his hand from Peter’s, as uncertain of the acknowledgement (of the contact) as he was thirsty for it. After the silence held a moment too long, he grumbled, “You old charmer.”

Peter’s lips curved into something genuine. There was just something about Stiles that made him soft. “Only for you.”

Two courses into the meal, the cloud of anxiety around Stiles lifted, and he stopped checking all the food for “special ingredients”. Stiles also relaxed enough to bring up his Mastery project, sharing thoughts and ideas as though relieved to be free of the burden of secrecy now that Peter was his teacher.

And what a delightful project it was… so full of potential, for good or ill.

“Okay,” Stiles said, “I know that I just asked you about all of this, like a few days ago, but did you find a source on something less ridiculously expensive than naturally occurring Pigeon’s blood rubies? Not that I have anything really against synthetic stones, but then you need special licensing and official verification that you performed ethical sacrifices. The paperwork and fees get fucking excessive if you ask me.”

Peter leaned forward, gaze avid on the sparkle in Stiles’ eyes and the animation in his face. He took heart at the way Stiles’ pulse raced as he studied his apprentice ring.

“As it happens, I do have a few leads on some quartz and mystic topaz that might work. And my source gave me an excellent deal on bone opal. The first shipment of samples should arrive in the next few days, and you can get started on prototypes as soon as you file the petition to make an Imprint.” Peter’s voice remained light and steady as he asked, “You never said if you were trying for dead or living. Did you have someone in mind for that?”

Stiles glanced away, the tiniest micro expression, but it was there. He shrugged and stabbed at his plate, dipping the fried, stuffed potato ball into the potent garlic sauce. He chewed his way through several of them before taking a huge swig of soda and leaning back.

With cynicism clear on his face, Stiles replied, “You know how this project started. The way it always starts. Of course, I thought of it before, originally. I wanted… I wanted my mother. I wanted to make a copy of her personality and memories. I wanted to stuff a little simulacrum of her in a box and carry it with me all the time.”

“It’s only natural.”

“Yeah well.” Stiles smiled tightly, smelling of frustration and old pain. “I’ve been through the therapy. And now I’m a necromancer, officially. No necromancer ever gets approval to raise family members. It makes sense. Not everyone could or should have access to shit like animated portraits or other mementos mori. If I could have done it when I was younger, I wouldn’t have cared how much it hurt anyone else as long as I could still talk to her. Or well….” He paused in consideration. “Something like her. You know how it is with the pictures and portraits. Through a mirror darkly and all that jazz.” His hands clenched on the table top.

Peter pried one of Stiles’ hands open. He drew a simple sigil for comfort and peace and watched as the tension went out of Stiles’ muscles. “It takes a lot of strength to follow this path and not abuse it. I haven’t always made the best choices, but I’m… I’m very proud of you, Stiles.”

“Thanks, Peter.”

The shy pleasure in Stiles’ crooked smile held a familiar trace of old regret—a longing for the departed—so reminiscent of Laura that it almost startled Peter into letting go. Any more than that trace and Peter might have felt true worry, but this much was natural and fitting. Stiles’ grief was the silver tracery of old scars compared to the still-bleeding wounds his niece wore like a badge of honor or a strident accusation.

There were good reasons for him to avoid the old Hale house.

With effort, Peter pulled himself away from those thoughts; they were far too dark for a good meal with pleasant company. A quick survey of Stiles’ chemosignals indicated that the storm had passed, but a distraction wouldn’t be amiss.

“So,” Peter drawled, “how much do you want to bet that I can get David to break out the gold-dusted chocolate lava dicks?”

“Oh no,” Stiles moaned in horror. He waited a beat before leaning forward, his face suffused with unholy glee. “You’re on.”

Even for someone as mean-spirited as Stiles, the joy ran out after a few hours of watching Scott squirm around Peter’s kitchen like he had ants in his pants. He’d timed it.

“Dude, you’re allowed to be here. I promise,” Stiles repeated for the hundredth time. “I’ve never seen you this touchy about someone’s territory before, and you’re in the same pack.”

“I know.” Scott cringed on the dark, wooden kitchen chair, looking as miserably sad as a wet puppy. “But you don’t even know about family drama until you’ve seen Hale family drama. Laura’s really fucking weird about Peter. She gets all Jekyll and Hyde about him, and Talia’s sort of resigned to it by now.”

“Uh huh,” Stiles muttered sarcastically, “I never would have guessed.”

This wasn’t the first he’d heard of some friction in the Hale pack, which, according to his sources, dated back to that time Peter had saved his niece from Gerard; but if anyone knew more, no one was talking. It seemed to be one of the genuine sore spots behind Peter’s armor, so Stiles left it alone. He wasn’t completely tactless. He could be considerate sometimes.

Especially when someone truly caught his attention. No one had fascinated Stiles quite the way Peter had.

Scott glanced around at the grey-green walls, creeped out and prepared in case something popped out of them. Little did he know.Like old, pre-werewolf times, he fidgeted with something under his shirt, probably the blessed rosary his abuela had given him.

“Anyway. I wanted to invite you to the usual Halloween thing. You’re always welcome, but, like, I needed to warn you what kind of statement it could make if you show up with Peter. I know that Laura likes you. You make her laugh, but….” Scott trailed off with a frown. “She loves Peter. I’m not always great at smelling feelings, but I can smell that. She’s just so sad and angry it’s like she forgets everything else. I wouldn’t want to get between them if I were you.”

Stiles narrowed his eyes at his guilty friend. As a werewolf in a pack so closely bound, it must have been something like agony to “betray” this much to an outsider. And make no mistake: friend or not, Stiles was absolutely an outsider.

He nodded. “I’ll take that under advisement, but he’s still my teacher. Where he goes I go. His people shall be my people. You know the spiel.” Stiles took pity on Scott and gave him the good news, “Cheer up, Scotty! I’m moving up in life. Peter told me that we’re heading to the First Sorcerer’s Halloween party. Which is pretty awesome if you ask me. I’ll get to see the magical elite and eat fancy hors d’oeuvres. Maybe I’ll run into Jen and Kali if they’re not working on some top secret assignment.”

“Eep.” Scott gulped.

“Oh my god, you can’t still be terrified of her.”

Scott gave him a dubious look. “Right. Jen and Kali. I’m not scared at all, and my dick never shrinks into my body at the thought of them together. Working.”

Stiles laughed. “I told you that someone was in the bathroom.”

“I thought you meant your dad! Not her! Them!” Scott dropped a protective hand over his balls. “I had literal blue balls for weeks after that!”

“Yeah, and it was hilarious,” Stiles shot back unrepentantly. It had been amazingly funny to Stiles. One of the first things that had really made him laugh after his mother…. Well, he tried not to let that get in the way of the good memories, or what was the point?

Scott’s mouth dropped open in shock at his betrayal, so sudden, so inevitable. When his lip quivered, Stiles relented. He could give Scott part of the painful truth. “So, yeah,” he mumbled, staring at the wood grain of the table. “I never told you before, but I’m pretty sure that Mom taught her that one. She liked to do shit like that to Dad ‘to keep him on his toes’.”

Now Scott looked sorry for him, and that had to stop or else Stiles would start crying, and that would be a mess.

“I haven’t seen much of her in the last few years.” Since Mom died. “So it’ll be nice if we can catch up again and feel like friends. Like we used to.”

That was the last straw for Scott’s puppy feelings. He swooped around the table, nearly bowling Stiles over with the force of his hug. “Aw. I’m sorry, man. I know you used to be closer before she got all spooky and BAMF. If that’s what you want, then I hope you get to see her and no one eats Steve or turns into a newt.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Scott. Old buddy. Old pal. But I’m running out of air.”

“Shit! Sorry!” Scott released him with a pat on the back that might have (probably) left bruises. “I’ll see you later. Everyone’s getting together for drinks and stuff before party season starts. Even Danny’ll be there. You love Danny!”

“Of course. Everybody loves Danny, that’s the rule!” And it wasn’t because he had asshole gancanagh powers like his jerky best friend, Jackson.

Scott cocked his head at some far-off sound. “And that’s Peter coming down the road. I’ve gotta run!”

As though the hounds of hell were after him, Scott dashed out the door. It closed with a bang, shaking the copper pots hanging from their hooks and the curtains over the sink window.

“Well okay then.”

Stiles blinked at the quick escape. He sat back down on his chair and nodded to the pantry. “It’s okay, little guys. The scary puppy is gone. You can come out again.”

Slowly, Peter’s house homunculi crept out from the pantry and the cupboards. A shambling band of shadow-and-smoke creatures that only vaguely met the definition of humanoid. If Scott thought the goats were fucked up, then Stiles didn’t want to try him out on these. Even he’d freaked out the first time Spoony tried to serve him soup during his convalescence.

And oh, fuck. The flapping curtain revealed something waving from outside. The sink window crept up, and darkness slithered inside, tall and rail-thin. “Jesus titty-fucking Christ on a pogo stick,” he gasped as Slendy pooled into the sink. Stiles clutched his chest. “Could you, like, as a personal favor, think about not doing that? You’re going to give me a heart attack.”

Slendy, so named for its downright horrifying resemblance to Slenderman, unspooled itself and nodded silently. According to Peter, it had a more serious bent than the others and was very concerned with its sense of personal dignity. As such, Slendy always preferred to elongate its body instead of maintaining the shorter, pudgier form of its fellows.

Once Slendy vacated the sink, the one with the towel attached to its hand-pseudopod got back to work on the dishes while the others split up to perform whatever tasks they deemed best. Stiles’ favorite, the one that seemed to collect lost flatware, trundled over to pet his knee. It pointed at the kettle with one of its many teaspoons.

“What’s up?”

Spoony waved harder, additional limbs popping out of its body to show its insistence.

“You think I should make a cup of tea?”

It nodded vigorously but kept pointing.

“You think I should make one for Peter before he arrives?”

Spoony jumped and wiggled against his leg. Huh. No way was Peter as harsh on them as he implied if they were this happy and socialized. He totally let them sit on the couch and eat people food when no one looking.

“Sure, Spoony. We can do that. What kind do you think he’d like?”

Emanating happiness, Spoony scampered off to the cabinet, on far more than two legs, and pulled out a faded tin, showing a grey, pansy-framed rabbit. Stiles accepted it gravely, opening it to release the intense aroma of bergamot and lavender.

“Oh good choice, little buddy. A London Fog will be nice with the chilly weather.”

By the time Peter came in, Stiles and homunculi had assembled tea and the whipped shortbread Peter had hidden behind the pots. The sweet-natured homunculus with a slightly pink tinge (Stiles called it Cleffa to much eye-rolling from Peter) had even put flowers on the table, and where on earth had it found yellow acacia in early fall?

“Well isn’t this a nice surprise.” Peter smiled at Stiles and took a bite of his nasty ghost apple snack. “I was just thinking about a nice cup of earl grey, and here it is: all ready.”

“Don’t thank me, thank your creations.” Stiles gestured to the line of homunculi, standing at rapt attention. “They seem to anticipate your needs pretty well.”

“As they should,” Peter said with such false arrogance that even he couldn’t hold the sneer for long.

As Cleffa served the tea, Steve slithered down to join them. With her wrapped around his neck and Peter across the table from him, it was nice—homey in way that Stiles hadn’t experienced in so long.

This was all he’d wanted when he’d wished for his mother’s return: this feeling of home and comfort. This was enough. He’d make it enough, by hook or by crook.

Chapter Text

Fairies, fey, the fair folk—whatever their name, they were notoriously prickly and prideful. They were, as a rule, inscrutable, inhuman, and most importantly: they did not submit to the whims of the lesser, short-lived races.

Though Deucalion probably didn’t count as lesser or short-lived. Demon Wolf was no simple nickname, but that didn’t mean Stiles could stop himself from gawking at the literal fairy lights, twinkling in the trees and in the fluttering canopies dotting the expansive grounds. Actual demi-fey darted amongst the branches and over the lawn. They flitted around party guests with a blithe disregard for personal space, delighting in the momentary disgust as the first thing that registered in anyone’s peripheral vision was giant insect wings brushing a temple or bared neck.

He wasn’t certain of the demi-fey’s criteria, but their favorite guests bore vivid streaks of color on their skin. According to the burgundy, violet, and gold smeared on his hair, neck, and clothes, Stiles was one of those guests.

Stiles stiffened at the tiny breeze that his brain had swiftly come to associate with a winged visitor. The brush of wings and leaves on skin was almost familiar, but the miniature humanoid hands on the curve of his ear was not a thing he wanted to “get used to”, as Peter had advised. It itched, physically or mentally, Stiles wasn’t certain. Maybe it was only a creepy-crawly sensation brought on by the association with insects, but he developed a full-body itch whenever they touched him. It would be just his luck if he was the only person in the known world allergic to fairies.

“Back again so soon, Nym?” Peter asked.

The demi-fey, Nym, giggled in his ear, or Stiles assumed it was what passed for laughter amongst the demi-fey. It was the chiming of the world’s tiniest silver bells laid over softly soughing wind. Just the sound of it made him want to lay down his burdens and go to the woods, “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”. Which was exactly how they got you. The demi-fey were legendary masters of illusion and enchantment. Throughout history, rogue demi-fey had been known to pull a Pied Piper.

Nym stood on his shoulder and leaned against his neck, wrapping her arms around as much of it as she could. “I like this one.”

Tiny fingers stroked him, and he tried not to compare the feeling to the pitter patter of little bugs crawling on him. So far, his best efforts were not enough. Stiles shuddered as the petting intensified, demi-fey hands tickling against flesh like the enthusiastic prodding of antennae.

“You should come back with me and Fen. He likes you very much. We’d feed you blood and nectar, and you’d never grow old.”

Stiles widened his eyes at Peter and mouthed “help me”. Peter canted his head to one side before shaking it very slightly. When Stiles continued to give him a look of betrayal, Peter rolled his eyes and deigned to take his hand with a lift of his eyebrows. The warm point of contact seemed to ground him, distracting him from the persistent itch of demi-fey proximity.

“Uh, Nym,” Stiles began, praying not to offend her inhuman sensibilities. “It’s a lot of responsibility to take care of a human. Are you sure you’re up to it?”

She puffed up on his shoulder. “Fen and I are very good with pets! You would want for nothing, lovely boy. We would show you the wonder of the deep forest, of distant light on a black night and terror.”

Was it his imagination, or was her voice a bit less musical, less enticing?


The demi-fey shifted her weight from foot to foot, shaking her wings. She turned towards Peter. “What?” she demanded.

“Stiles is my student, and I’m afraid that I can’t allow him to run off with the fey. I’m sure you understand.”

“Hmph.” Nym stomped her foot before snuggling back into Stiles. Her sheathed rapier bumped against the thudding artery at his throat. “We had a boy years ago. He left the daylight for us and grew thin and pale like a birch tree. He had eyes like gems and clever hands, just like you. And he learned to love the night and the bog. He would run with the hunt when we glutted ourselves on the richest emotions life and death can offer.” Her voice softened, turned distant and dreamy. “I don’t know what happened to the boy. It’s been so long. But you could help us remember. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

The itching, previously abated, returned with an intensity that Stiles imagined scratching himself raw—down to the bone. Oozing and open, he’d make a perfect meal, a gushing fountain for those tiny mouths. Stiles pressed his lips together, clutching Peter’s hand as a lifeline to sanity. He didn’t know whether he’d yell or laugh or say yes, and all of those seemed like terrible ideas when he had a sorcerous fae on his shoulder, ready and willing to bind him with any careless word.

“We saw you on that dark night, running through the woods. Didn’t you trap this one in a bog of your making?”

“I, yeah,” Stiles admitted. “But it was a game.”

She laughed, and it was the sliver of moon shining through the clouds, the only light in a deep midwinter night. “So you see! We’re not so very different, human boy.”


“What, Peter?”

“I like you, Nym. Very much.” Peter paused significantly and squeezed Stiles’ hand. “But that won’t stop me from reporting you for attempted bespellment. No more recruiting. No more using your Voice. You can flirt. You can land on him if he lets you. You can even visit our home if Stiles decides that he enjoys your company. But you will cease this at once.”

“Spoilsport,” she hissed. Her wings emitted a harsh buzz. “Very well. I will abide. As a favor to your master.”

To Stiles, she said, “Your teacher has chased me off for now, but we shall call on you.”

She flew up to his face, nearly touching his nose. With such small features, it was difficult to judge their expressions with accuracy, but something Stiles was willing to call sadness stole across her face. “You do look like our Rhys. It’s uncanny.” With a final flutter of her wings, she shot up and into the nearest tree.

“Fuck,” Stiles breathed out, gripping Peter’s hand. “I wasn’t expecting that when you invited me to a party.”

“A poor showing of my hospitality. My apologies for that, young man.”

That voice—the knife voiced man? There was still a hint of the devil about him, but he sounded infinitely more friendly than the other night.

Wait. Rewind.

If this was his hospitality to apologize for, then that made him—fuck, that made him Deucalion of the Black Wood, Peter’s teacher and the First Sorcerer of California. More importantly, that meant he was the stranger who’d been part of his super embarrassing “rescue” party. Stiles spun around, almost toppling over, but Peter’s hold kept him on his feet.

“Damn it. I swear I’m not normally this much of a klutz.”

“No. I’m sure you’re not.” Deucalion frowned. It pulled oddly at the lines etched around his mouth, as though it was a face more prone to smiling than not. “You’ve barely been here twenty minutes, Peter. It should take far longer for this much deterioration in his motor skills.”

“You’re right,” Peter said, “but I suspect he has a sensitivity to glamours and compulsion magic.”

“Hey! He is right here and totally fine. I mean, there was that whole thing before that triggered my first magical maturation and that other thing with Jackson, but I’m impervious. A steel trap.”

Deucalion’s frown deepened. “If you mean to say that Jackson Whittemore, the gancanagh, committed magical malfeasance with his glamour, then I am somehow unsurprised. That boy is so irresponsible.”

Stiles nodded sagely. Anyone willing to badmouth Jackson was all right in his book. “I’d like to say he’s the worst, but that was, like, seven years ago. He’s a lot better now.”

Peter’s grip tightened as Stiles listed to the side. “Perhaps we could take this conversation to a more comfortable spot?” He jerked his chin towards the seating options located under a canopy of sheer silk in reds and oranges.

“Or we could make this spot more comfortable.” A cold breeze picked up as Deucalion gestured sharply with two fingers—a familiar, imperious motion that Stiles saw every day. The conjured wind should have rustled the branches or ruffled their clothes, but instead, a small twister rose out of the dust, leaving them untouched. It whirled, ponderous in its speed, growing bloated with moisture and patches of shadow. With a snap of his fingers, it froze into a solid pillar of dark ice that split itself neatly into thirds. The thirds trembled as unseen sculptors carved ornate borders of magical flowers to surround wolves, running under glowing stars and silvery moon.

A copper-colored tray popped into existence and hovered in the center of the chairs. It was followed by faceted glasses filled with a cloudy, bubbly liquid in the palest shade of coral.

Stiles blinked at the stunning display. The entire process had taken less than a minute. The First Sorcerer had made an incredible feat look like a child’s first cantrip. He couldn’t begin to understand how to push that many elements around just to make a new set of chairs. (He could pull off the tray and beverage service, but he wouldn’t be anywhere near as stylish about it.)

Peter pulled him over to one. “Sit, Stiles.” He claimed his own chair. “Not that we couldn’t have used one of the many other seats that already existed.” Peter pursed his lips in disapproval. “But someone went through all the trouble to show off and make us ice lawn chairs.”

Puzzled, Stiles poked at the chair. “It’s not cold, but I saw you make the ice.” He stroked the scene carved into the glossy back, dipping the tip of a metaphysical toe into the energy holding the chair together. “Whoa. Awesome, but shouldn’t that… huh. Why start with air if you were going to transfigure the water. Or wait. No, ignore the wind. That was a vehicle,” he muttered to himself. “But it’s still ice, so why is it acting like this? The stars and moon are warm to the touch, so the carvings aren’t all cosmetic. Not the sun because you wanted the reflection of heat, not fire itself.” Stiles tipped the chair back and forth. “Heavier than it looks. Heavier than ice. Almost like it doesn’t want to move. Super density with preservation? Stasis field would be ridiculous overkill, but… huh. No fucking way.”

“Embarrassing isn’t he? I couldn’t take him anywhere when I was an apprentice.”

Stiles pointed at Deucalion. “You! Oh my god. Did you take these chairs out of time, so they wouldn’t melt? I can’t even begin calculating what’s necessary to do that and still have enough of them in the here and now for us to sit on. Who even does that?”

“Excellent job. And with no help from either of us,” Deucalion said. “You’re quite quick, but Peter wouldn’t have chosen anyone slow or dull.” He leaned closer, sandy hair flopping into bright blue eyes. “The stars and moon may have been functional, but the wolves matched the theme, and I couldn’t resist. And as for the rest… well, I’ve always been a dab hand with space and time. It’s simple with enough practice and even easier when you have fae living in the vicinity.”

Peter handed him a glass awash in rainbow light. “You should have some sparkling water. It has freshly squeezed blood orange.”

Stiles took the drink and eyed the two of them: Peter and the man he still looked to for guidance. He shook his head and dropped into the seat that had been so kindly, if ostentatiously, provided. “I’m beginning to see where Peter gets all his Peter-ness from.”

Startled partygoers turned their heads at Deucalion’s sudden laugh—everyone curious to see what, or who, had amused him so much.

“I suppose you could say I played a large role in making him the man he is today, but he always enjoyed the showmanship and the grandiose gesture. Truly, I was more of a gemcutter than a sculptor. I only enhanced what was there, but we were very well matched, magically and personally.”

Deucalion leaned back in his oddly squishy seat, and Stiles would bet a vital body part that it was no mere trick of the light when it moved to cradle him. “I doubt that I will take another student now that six hundred years is creeping up on me, but I have no regrets. Peter is the crown of my life, the finest legacy I could ask for.”

Stiles watched as Deucalion smiled at Peter. It wasn’t a politician’s façade. It was wide and unguarded, full of genuine pleasure to be here, in Peter’s presence. The tenderness, the pride Deucalion took in his student, could have been seen by blind men. Did any of Stiles’ former teachers think of him so fondly, with such love? They’d all said, with regret for their pity or hubris, that he’d been an ill match for them. Would Peter one day describe him in such glowing terms?

“Thank you,” Peter said. “I’ve always strived for to elevate my craft, to seek the most pure expressions of it. Knowing you see those efforts has always been a comfort and a blessing to me.” He crossed his legs precisely at the knee and fussed over the drape of the fabric for a moment.

Had Deucalion put on this extravagant show with the chairs just to make enough privacy for a meet the family conversation? He must have known that Peter would never display real emotions somewhere as public as the pavilion. With all the love between them, of course Deucalion would want to safeguard Peter’s vulnerabilities. The same way Peter did for Stiles, in a hundred ways, large and small.

Screwing up his courage, Stiles spoke, “Peter’s the best teacher that I’ve ever had and the best practitioner I’ve ever known. I’m sure that all the masters think I’m a screw up, but he saw something in me. Pushed me to accept him as a teacher, and I’ll never regret it. And.” Stiles took a deep breath. “I hope that I’m someone you’ll both be proud of too.”

Bloodlines were important. Who was related to whom. No one ever called it breeding, not anymore, but strong practitioners usually made new, little practioners of roughly equal strength. Families tended to specialize in the same types of magic with minimal variation. He and his mother had been the exception, not the rule. But just as important was the teaching lineage. It made a stamp in a person’s magic as much as genetics. Families and teachers gave you an inescapable flavor. If Jen had never been adopted, she’d still always feel a little like his mother. Regardless of his feelings, his magic would always carry the whispers of Adrian and Alan and Marin. One day, he hoped someone might feel his energy and label it Hale and Blackwood.

Two pairs of flame blue eyes examined him. He was skewered. Laid bare to their judgement. They could squash his dream with a single word, like so many others before.

“Hmm.” Deucalion reached across their cozy triangle of chairs and plucked Stiles’ left hand from his lap. “Peter told me that he’d found someone to be his student. A young man remarkably suited to his discipline, but his potential had been left to lie fallow.” He tapped at the gaudy ruby on Stiles’ finger. “I gave Peter this stone because he said you deserved such a gift. Do you agree?”

“What?” Stiles blinked rapidly. Despite the cool Halloween night, sweat prickled at his temple, and he took a few gulps of his bubbly citrus water. “Do I think I deserve it?”

Pain and a crushing blow to his ego had encouraged him to abandon his original ring to Steve, but he couldn’t have done it if it had loved him, even a little. It had never latched its hooks into Stiles’ magic and strengthened him—that had been all for his familiar. This ring. Stiles rubbed the smooth metal. It had been a boon, unasked and unhoped. And yet.

“This stone responds to me as though it’s part of me.” Stiles shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know if I deserve it, but it’s mine now and I won’t dishonor its use or its choice.”

“Very well said.” Deucalion smirked at Peter. “Much better than some others when asked the same question.”

“Oh, this I’ve got to hear.”

“Several years ago, I found the perfect stone for Peter, or so I thought—”

A delicate cough interrupted them, and Jennifer and Kali Blake approached their triad. “Sir,” Jennifer said, “I’m sorry, but the Felhaven rep is getting impatient.”

“Oh, cut the crap, Jen.” Kali scowled. “What my darling love means is that he’s shot past drunk and is rapidly approaching disorderly. And we can barely say boo to him without violating his restraining order.”

“You’re lucky that they agreed it was infeasible to restrict proximity, given your duties.” He sighed and rose to his feet. “Stiles, it was lovely to meet Peter’s young man. The two of you are always welcome in my home. If you require any help or favors with your mastery project or anything else, please don’t hesitate to ask. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

“Go on.” Peter flashed a toothy grin at him. “You know you’re itching to remind those assholes why you’re the Demon Wolf.”

“And you’re not wasting any time in shooing away your old teacher. I see you.” Deucalion smiled and bowed from the waist. “Until we meet again.”

He crossed the lawn in long, ground-eating strides that lacked any sense of urgency, pausing only to speak into his hand.

Peter yelped as though he’d been pinched. “That man. Why he won’t just use the phone, I have no idea.”

Kali snorted. “Better you than me. You know how much he hates modern tech when he can just use a spell or commandeer any passing air spirit to send you a message.”

“But why do they always go for the ass?” Peter glared into the distance.

“If you wanted him to stop, you’d say something.” Kali lifted an eyebrow. “Instead you whine to everyone else.”

“Such a beautiful teacher-student relationship,” Jen cooed. “The glorious manly bonding ritual of ass slapping.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.” Peter sniffed. “In case anyone is interested, that little message was to let us know that the chairs will be stable all night, so we’re free to remain.”

“How considerate.”

Stiles jumped into the first break in conversation. “So! Jen. Kali. Hi, hello.” He waved at them. “It’s good to see you two again.”

“It’s been too long, puppy.” Kali stalked forward and pet him. “Jen’s missed you and your father, but Deuc keeps us busy.”

“Oh yeah.” Stiles nodded at them like a bobble-head. “I figured. Spook squad stuff.”

“The spookiest!” Jen agreed with a mischievous grin—his mother’s grin. “We’re even on an assignment right now, but you and Scotty will always be my annoying little brothers.”

Stiles fumbled his glass, but strong fingers wrapped around the heavy stem, righting it before anything spilled. He sucked in a breath at the soft drag of Peter’s skin on his before catching his eye and mouthing “thanks”.

Jen tugged Kali to the seat left vacant by “Deuc” and dropped into her lap, casual as she’d ever been on those long ago Sunday night dinners. Sitting in front of her, Stiles felt every bit of the distance and years of absence punctuated by carefully worded emails and offers of new spells or books. He weighed it all against the memories, against the knowledge that Jen had been his mother’s only student. That the moment she’d ceased to be Julia Baccari, she’d been reborn as Jennifer Blake: Claudia Stilinski’s daughter in blood and magic. What else could he do but give the rote response?

“And you two will always be my terrifying older sisters.” Stiles tested the words, rolled them around in his head, and finally made eye contact with Jen. He smiled, a small quirk of the lips, but it was there. “Scott’s still terrified of you two for the epic blueball-ing you gave him.”

Kali leaned her forehead against Jen’s and smirked. “I have no idea why he’s so traumatized. We’ve been angels ever since.”

“Why don’t you stay a while and tell me all about it?” Peter passed the tray of sparkling water, now with two new glasses.

Jen fluttered her dark lashes at Stiles and giggled. “And because I’m the nice one, I’ll even avoid most of the really embarrassing ones.”

“For tonight,” Kali added.

“Uncool! Totally unfair!”

Peter held up a hand. “No, no. As your teacher, I have to say that this is a perfectly equitable exchange.”

Kali nudged Jen. “Babe, you’re sitting on my pocket.”

“Sorry! Let me move.”

“Babe, stop wiggling. I’ve got it.” With one arm, Kali scooped up Jen while she dug her phone out. After replacing Jen on her lap, she brandished her shiny iPhone.

“Now!” she said with unholy relish. “Let’s start with some pictures. If Stiles plays nice, then I won’t even pull out that one video.”

“Which video?” Unease crept over him. Those were deleted. Weren’t they?

“Oh. You know. Just that cute, little video where you lay out the conditions for dating you.”

“Foul betrayers” Stiles grumbled, but he couldn’t stop the grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I don’t know why I like any of you.”

“Well, color me intrigued,” Peter drawled. “That sounds like something I should know about.”

Stiles stared at the three in openmouthed horror. “You’re all actually the worst. You’re terrible. I don’t know why I expected anything else.”

Three amused faces smirked back at him.

“Aww, don’t be like that, little Puddleglum.” Jen looked up at him through her lashes and pouted. “We love you,” she singsonged.

“Fuck it.” Stiles sighed. “We’ll do it live. Just show him the dirt and put me out of my misery.”

“With pleasure.” A sharp fingernail tapped at the screen.

“Yo! I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want.”

After fussing over Peter and Stiles and leaving them with a full pot of tea, the homunculi bid them good night. Stiles still hadn’t quite worked out where they all slept, but he could periodically hear the clinking of cutlery throughout the night, and he kept catching Slendy unfurling itself in the most unexpected (blood-chilling) places.

“Tonight was good. I liked meeting Deucalion, and… I felt like I got to see a whole new side of you.”

“Ah yes.” Peter smiled into his tea mug. “It’s a complex and beautiful thing, to take a student and give them the best part of your craft, hoping they’ll make something new and wondrous with your instruction. I think that the best teacher-apprentice relationships will leave you a little in love with them no matter how long it’s been.”

Take a student. Leave you a little in love.

Stiles licked his lips, suddenly parched. “So. You can tell me to shut the fuck up, but. There was a lot of low-flying subtext and actual text for that matter. But did you really just tell me that you’re in love with him?”

“I suppose I did.” Peter’s voice wrapped around him, calm and comforting as he admitted to still being in love with his teacher. “We’re werewolves, and that always comes with different boundaries for intimacy. Especially intimacy with authority figures. We’re more touch-oriented. We’re in each other’s pockets and smelling everyone’s business. The things that are normal for us might seem strange or inappropriate to others.” Peter spread his hands as though to say “what can you do?”.

Stiles picked at his placemat. Cleffa had put down these umber and gold ones just this morning, but the embroidered pattern was a huge distraction to someone with his attention issues. “Most of my friends think that the master/apprentice romance is this huge abuse of authority or something. Some of them still read all the books about it, like romances and stuff, but I know that they’d hate it in real life.”

“And what about you, Stiles?” Peter asked, low and intense in the dim kitchen. “Do you hate it?”

“As though you don’t know my history.”

Peter flicked a fallen sugar cube at him. It thunked squarely in the center of his forehead.

“Hey!” Stiles dodged another sugar cube.

“Don’t mind me,” Peter said. “I’m just reminding you not to feel sorry for yourself over that man.”

Stiles brushed a few stray granules of sugar from his face and wrinkled his nose. “Thanks?”

Peter gave him a beatific smile. “Think nothing of it. But back to the question. Falling for your teacher is separate from hating it. So which is it?”

Did he hate it? Stiles hated the not knowing. He hated building his world on the shifting foundations of what could be. What he hoped would be. So many dreams on the shelf. He hated knowing that one wrong move could send his life crashing down again to start over with someone new. Did he hate his crush on Adrian? Loving him? No. In the end, Stiles had only hated how careless he’d been. He hadn’t stopped to think at all.

“I guess. Maybe. I don’t hate it. I don’t see the imbalance as inherently wrong. It just is, and it shouldn’t be a problem as long as everyone treats each other with decency. My mom always said to be kind.” Be kind until you can’t, and then show no mercy.

“Be kind,” Peter mused. “Simple but true isn’t it? And there’s nothing more true than this: most of us love our teachers, even when we hate them. Perhaps especially then. We live cheek by jowl. We wear their rings before most of us ever look at another person with interest. We do magic, such amazing things… and all we want is their approval. Is it surprising that we look at them during our adolescence and after? If they’re worthy of our love, then they are among the best people we can hope to emulate or know.”

“I think… that that is a good point,” Stiles said. See. According to Peter, Stiles was simply a statistic. He’s completely and utterly normal. Boring even. Relief and anxiety struggled for primacy in the space behind his ribcage. If he was lucky, then it wouldn’t move to his head or his stomach. Weird breathing and a tight chest was infinitely easier to live with than dizziness or unhappy bowels.

“I was fortunate to have someone teach me like this. He accepted the love I gave him, and when I was ready to go, he set me free with no expectations. Not everyone meets someone like Deuc.”

“No,” Stiles agreed, aching at the easy affection in Peter’s voice and face. “He’s one of a kind. Half-demon. Half-werewolf. All gentlemen-scholar.” He stuck out his tongue. “Sounds fake.”

“Haha.” Peter sipped his tea. “I suppose he does with that description.” He paused. “I’m glad that you liked him. It was a given, of course, that he’d like you, but I worried about what you’d think.”

A given? That an ancient and powerful demon wolf hybrid would like Stiles Stilinski? He shook his head. “You’ve been spending too much time with the goats.”

“You shouldn’t put yourself down so much.” Peter hesitated. “You’ve been my student for what, five months now?”

“Yeah… you know I have. You sign my paychecks, and we live together.”

“Yes, Stiles.” Peter rolled his eyes. “I’m fully aware. That’s not what I’m saying.”

Stiles waited for more, but for someone who loved the sound of his own voice, Peter had taken a rather squirrelly turn just now. “Yes?” He waved his hand at Peter to continue. “Was there going to be more there or am I supposed to start guessing?”


“That’s me.”

“You may think that I don’t know when I pressure you sometimes, but I do. And this is… a difficult subject to bring up. The last time, the only time, I had a consultation like this was before you.”

“What kind of consultation? How long have you been angsting about this?”

“Oh, it’s nothing so dramatic.” Peter scowled and refilled his mug. “My cousin approached me at the party tonight. You might remember seeing her with her wife.”

Stiles ran through his mental rolodex of faces that had that particular Hale stamp on them. “Umm. Moira, right? With the long purple hair. Half of Team Leather?”

“Yes. She and Corinne always put in an appearance at these sorts of affairs.”

“Peter.” They were close enough to touch, but Stiles got up to stand behind Peter’s chair. He put a hand on Peter’s shoulder and patted it for good measure. He was being supportive—not noticing how built Peter was under the black cashmere. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on. Like, do they want you to kill someone? Resurrect someone? I’m at a loss here.”

Peter shook himself. “You’re right, I’m being ridiculous.” He reached under the table and pulled out his wallet. “Here,” he said. “Flip to the back of the pictures.”

Stiles took the wallet. The black leather was still warm from Peter’s body heat. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be.” He reached the end. “Seeing…” The penny dropped.

At the back of the flimsy insert for pictures were two photos. One was of Moira and Corinne, holding a baby with wide, kerosene-blue eyes. The other was of Peter. He held the same baby and smiled down at her, helplessly infatuated.

“That was baby Malia four years ago. Her eyes changed to brown, and she looks very like her mothers now.”

“They want a fertility rite.”

Peter sighed. “They do indeed. I have no problem doing it for them. I love my cousin, and I never imagined myself as a father. Being Malia’s doting uncle is more than enough for me. But now there’s you to consider.”

“Me?” Stiles yanked out the closest chair and sank like a stone. “You mean. You did a thing. Not just made potion and put yak butter or whatever on someone’s stomach. Like, a sex thing. Shouldn’t you find someone. I don’t know? Fertile?”

“Yes, I did a ‘sex thing’. Most practitioners who regularly perform the high magical arts have dabbled in sex magic. It’s a highly effective way to sanctify some spaces and perform magical communions.”

“Okay, but you’re saying that they want you to perform ritual sex, so they can make a baby.”

“Yes. I and one other will enter a circle and have symbolic sex while Moira and Corinne have sex in a different room. I will take the fruits of all our labors and brew a potion. There are a few other steps, but if you agree, your part ends there.”

“If I agree,” Stiles repeated.

Peter gave him a look. “It’s more than bad form to coerce someone into a fertility rite with you. It’s illegal. And it always has unexpected, terrible results.”

“Yeah.” Stiles winced, thinking of monstrous chimera children clawing their way out of screaming people. “I’ve read about it.”

“So yes, Stiles. If you agree. There are others I could ask… but really. There’s no one else I’d rather have assisting me in this rite.”

Oh boy. End of the line. Good try, P1, but that was the Game Over in flashing letters. Consider his ticket well and truly punched. Peter Hale now owned his heart and soul for all eternity.

“Okay,” Stiles blurted. “I’ll do it.”

“Really?” Peter tilted his head, puppyish in his curiosity. “You’ve barely thought it over.”

Fuck. He hadn’t, but could he bear the thought of someone else helping Peter with this?

There’s no one I’d rather have.

Stiles pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. “Yes, really. I want to help. I want to learn. I trust you.” Please don’t break my heart.

He scrubbed his hands through his hair and opened his eyes. “I trust you, Peter. You’re one of the best people I know.”

And here it came: the big secret. The reason Stiles was in so deep. Peter’s eyes, his whole self lit up at that validation. Only from certain people, but Stiles was some asshole who’d gotten lucky enough to be one of the elect.

Stiles drained his mug in one long swallow. “I’m fucking beat after the night we’ve had, but tomorrow.” He shook a finger in Peter’s face. “Tomorrow, you’re filling me in on this whole thing then.”

“Good night, Stiles. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“All righty then. Good hustle. Night, Peter,” he said and carried his dishes to the sink, only a little guilty that one of the homunculi would take care of it for him.

Stiles trudged all the way upstairs and threw himself on his blue duvet, fully clothed. He muttered, “Jesus. What a day.”

Steve hissed a chain of questions at him, but his head was too full to sort out a real answer.

“Not tonight, Steve.” Stiles rolled over when she nipped him. “Ouch! You spiteful cow.”

She flipped her tail at him.

“I don’t care how hard you bite me. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay? I just can’t right now.”

She hissed again, flicking her tongue out, tasting his skin and breath. Somewhat appeased, she slithered over the back of his neck and coiled there, using him like a tree branch.

“Good night, Steve.” Stiles yawned. “You’re the real MVP.”

With the familiar weight of Steve and the sound of scales shifting on scales, Stiles fell into a deep sleep. Tomorrow, he’d face the reality of ritual sex with someone he probably loved who was definitely in love with someone else.

Chapter Text

As Stiles busied himself with wiping away the last remnants of chicken guts, a delightful warmth crept up behind him—the only warning before Peter pressed himself along his back. The tip of Peter’s nose was hot like a brand as he poked it into Stiles’ neck.

“Your muscles are tight,” he observed. “Your boss is a real asshole. You should complain to HR.”

Stiles grinned and shook his head. “Nah. He’s a beast, but I’m doing all right.” He leaned into Peter’s firm body. “Besides, the perks are pretty great.”

“Are they now?”

Peter huffed out a laugh, stirring the hairs at his nape, and nipped at him.

He gasped at the brief spark of pain. Was this really happening? And after he’d already decided that his teacher and employer would never step over this line.

“The danger... you like it,” Peter breathed in glee, trailing biting kisses down to the junction of shoulder and neck, testing human canines against the barrier of Stiles’ fragile skin.

Stiles shuddered. With one slip of teeth, he could lose so much: magic, humanity, his whole life as he knew it.

“Do you want the bite, Stiles?”

When he moaned in confused pleasure, Peter set his teeth in harder, gnawing at the tendon like a dog with a bone. The spark of pain grew until it was all he could feel. He couldn’t think of anything but the white-hot hurt or the way his body seemed to crave it.

“Yes or no, Stiles,” said Deucalion, who materialized beside them. He cocked his head, watching them with dark, curious eyes.

“What?” Stiles blinked at the sudden apparition.

“The bite,” he repeated. “Don’t you want to be one of us?” Deucalion stroked his face, fingers following the hot flush of arousal painted over his cheekbone. They dipped down to trace his open mouth. “Don’t you want to be Peter’s?”

As Deucalion’s thumb slipped past his lips, Peter’s hands clamped hard on his waist. The muffled moans a counterpoint to Stiles’ harsh breathing.

“Say yes, Stiles,” Peter groaned, hips grinding into him. “Let me keep you.”

“Oh sweetie.” Claudia hovered in the doorway, silvery and indistinct. “He likes you so much. You should put him out of his misery.”

Softer kisses replaced the frenzied biting, and Peter nuzzled his ear. “Say the word, and I’ll never let you go.”

Stiles apprehensions faded away at Peter’s sweetness. Everything he wanted… and such a small price. Did he dare?

“Say yes.”

“Say yes.”

“Say yes.”

“Yes!” Stiles gasped, loud enough to startle himself conscious. In a panic, he slapped a hand to his neck. Surely it was torn open and bleeding, but no. He was fine. The skin was unbroken, unblemished.

It had only been a dream.

“I don’t even want the bite,” he mumbled. Not that kind of bite.

But he did want the connection, to be tethered to Peter with an unbreakable bond. He wanted Peter to kiss him and bite his skin with his safe human teeth. He often thought of having bruises and little marks to wear with pride, as a reminder—or a ward. Something that said, Peter’s been here. Peter wants me.

He shivered at the idea. It wasn’t the first time he’d dreamt about Peter touching him, wanting him, but this had felt so real. He rubbed absently at his apprentice ring as it throbbed in time with his heart.

Even the odd bit with Deucalion and his mother couldn’t distract him from his still-hard dick, so with the full weight of his arousal pressing in on him again, he reached for his erection.

Closing his eyes, he wrapped his hand around himself and focused on his dream. On the feeling of Peter biting him, rutting against him in desperate pleasure. With a soundtrack of dream-Peter’s gasps and moans playing in his mind, Stiles lost himself to sensation.

It wasn’t his hand but Peter’s that stroked his cock. The thumb swiping over the wet head, dragging pre-cum along his shaft was Peter’s. The delicate pinch of claws on nipples was Peter.

Every touch, every sigh, every word of praise: it was all Peter.

Cocooned in his fantasy, Stiles jacked himself relentlessly, ignoring the throb and sting as he abused sensitive flesh. Later, he would regret his rough treatment, but for now, it was exactly what he wanted.

He writhed in his sheets. “Close, close. I’m so close,” he chanted, staring sightlessly at his ceiling.

I’ll never let you go.

With a muffled whine, Stiles came all over his hand.

He sighed as the last weak pulses of cum trickled out then wiped the mess on his sheet. He hadn’t meant to do this, and regret was already creeping in. The rush of chemical joy wasn’t strong enough to cushion his crash back to reality. Stiles reached over and twitched the blackout curtains. The soft light of false dawn touched his hand.

Staying in bed would be the best thing. Even if he couldn’t fall asleep, lying here and thinking of nothing would be better than no sleep—Mythbusters had proven that much. He glanced at the clock and winced. Only 4:24 a.m.

From her heated habitat, Steve hissed a suggestion to go back to sleep.

Shaking his head, Stiles threw the sheet off and rolled out of bed. He might as well open early and do something useful if he had to be awake.

But first, a shower.

“Thank you, come again!” Sure that his customer was mincing towards the exit, Stiles muttered, “And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

From behind him, Peter chuckled. “Problems?”

Instead of looking up, Stiles scrubbed at a nonexistent spot of counter. “Oh just the usual,” he said and switched to Mr. McGovern’s querulous tones. “The yarrow is half this price at Bentley’s. My grandmother could mix a better tonic with one arm tied behind her back. The Foundry always lets me have their noble metal scrap, I don’t see why you and Hale are so stingy.”


Stiles snorted. “Remind me why you make me work the counter?”

“Because you’re a clever bit of baggage with a keen sense of what people want.” Peter smirked. “Plus, it means that I don’t need to take problem customers unless you need ‘the manager’”.

“Oh yeah, that.” He stuck his tongue out at Peter. “Must be nice to be the boss.”

“It is.” Peter patted him on the head. “Maybe one day you’ll know what that’s like, but until then…”

“Right right. Endless drudgery and demeaning chores.”

“Now you’re getting the picture.” Peter grinned at him, flashing a hint of fang before stepping into Stiles’ space. “You left early this morning.”

The concern in Peter’s voice was a knife in Stiles’ back.

“Yeah, I just couldn’t sleep. It was a big night.”


He shored up his mental fortitude, forcing himself to relax under his mentor’s measuring gaze. It must have worked because, after a long moment, Peter relented, finally nodding in satisfaction of whatever he’d discerned.

“Good to know.” He patted Stiles on the shoulder. “Moira and Corinne are coming in for their consult this morning. They should arrive before too long, no more than an hour. You should be there if you’re taking part.”

A consultation already? Shock tightened his chest. If he’d eaten breakfast, then the sudden eruption of butterflies in his stomach would have caused a bad scene.

He wasn’t nervous, not exactly, but he’d expected—hoped for—longer. More time to prepare and build up his emotional armor. Stiles swallowed hard, willing the churning in his gut to subside. Well fine. He’d always been resilient. He was a regular roller with the punches. Improvisation was his middle name.

“They sure work fast.”

“It probably seems like short notice to you, but we’d discussed it several times before now. Though I did expect to have a bit longer to broach the subject. I know you haven’t had much instruction on sex as a ritual.”

“Nah.” Stiles said, edging away from Peter. “Can you imagine Adrian and Alan, or Marin, teaching me how to harness the power of sex?” He waggled his brows. “They’d be more likely to bring a tree to their circle than a person.”

Peter tilted his head and smiled, soft and secretive, his eyes crinkling with the genuine amusement that never failed to turn Stiles’ heart to mush. “I should tell you about Alan and the Nemeton. But later.”

“No way.”

“Yes way.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“You’ll never look at him the same way again.”

“I want all the details.”

“Later. I promise.”

“Oh, I’m holding you to that. You’ll never have clean silverware again if you weasel out of this. Spoony loves me. He’ll have my back.”

At the threat, the crinkles deepened and the smile broadened. Peter’s eyes had never been so blue.

“I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” Peter assured him. “But for now…” He gave the clock a pointed look. “We’re expecting some company.”

And just like that, the butterflies were back with a vengeance.

It seemed that Moira Hale was the kind of person who considered leather to be appropriate daywear. The sly smile she gave Stiles, as he entered the room, said she knew exactly what kind of impression she left on people with her vibrant purple hair, leather, and facial piercings.

“Stiles, it’s so good to see you again!”

Moira took his hand in both of hers, shaking it as gently as if she was holding a baby bunny or a butterfly.

Stiles nodded. “It’s good to see you too.”

“We appreciate your help in the process,” Corinne said. She leaned back and crossed her legs, casually cool.

In the light of day, Corinne Hale wasn’t pretty. That was too soft a word for someone whose face was a masterwork of sharp edges. Metaphysically, Corinne was locked up tighter than Fort Knox, and, in contrast to Moria’s effusive cheer, the deliberate neutrality was creepy. She watched him with the barest hint of appraisal in her eyes, as though sight alone could tell her what kind of child he and Peter would make for her.

He nodded again and tried to feel less like a bobble-head doll. “Of course. I’m happy to help.”

Moira drew him to one of the chairs set up in a cozy circle. “Really, dear. You’re doing us a huge favor—and on such short notice! It’s a delicate balance, finding the right people to perform this sort of spell. This keeps everything on schedule. Just like we hoped.”

Corinne touched his hand. Her stern expression softened minutely. “I’m not…” She looked at her wife and sighed. “I’m not friendly the way Moira is, but we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe in both of you. Thank you for doing this.”

A wave of relief swept over him. Honestly, she had the best poker face he’d ever seen. If Stiles had been left to his own devices, he’d assume she barely tolerated him, and that was the best case scenario. He licked his lips and searched for something to say, anything that wasn’t a variation on “thank you so much for liking me and wanting me to fuck your cousin”.

Thankfully, Peter decided to rescue him. “What, no one wants to thank me for my contributions?” He spread his arms wide, as though welcoming his adoring throngs.

Moira snorted. “Sorry, cousin. We’re all about the new hotness.”

“Vile betrayers,” Peter said in a deadpan tone. “However shall I recover?”

“Hmm. I think you’ll find someone willing and able to comfort you.”

Stiles’ ears burned. Resolute, he schooled his face into one of polite attention and kept his eyes up and off the floor.

“Cruel.” Peter shook his head. “Well, since there are no last minute objections to Stiles’ participation, let’s get down to business.”

Corinne pulled out her phone and tapped the screen. A frown furrowed her brow.

“Before or after Thanksgiving?” She passed the phone over to Moira. “We’re still wrapping up the Bradley case, and Malia is in that play…”

When they looked at Stiles expectantly, he said, “I guess I'm pretty free except for my mastery project. I’ve got a few meetings, but most of that can be shuffled around. Oh, and whatever Peter has me doing, but obviously that won’t be a problem.”

Peter shrugged. “And I already promised to clear my schedule for my favorite little cousin.”

“Hmm. Beginning of December?” Moira suggested.

Corinne’s frown deepened. “We conceived Malia in spring. Should we wait?”

“There's no magical reason,” Peter assured them. “Spring would be best if either of you had fertility issues, but this is a very simple procedure. We don't need the boost.”

The two women broke into wide smiles. Corinne glowed with happiness as she took Moira’s hand. “I'm gonna have a baby.”

After a minute of feeling like he was intruding on a special moment, Stiles coughed. “Sorry to interrupt, but as the only person who hasn't done this before…. What exactly am I going to be doing?”

Moira shot an arch look at her cousin. “Ooh, I can take this one. You'll be helping Peter collect reagents—”

“You mean sperm,” Corinne said mockingly.

Reagents. Which will go into a tonic for Corinne. You'll be taking something similar, by the way. Then at the appointed time, you and Peter will make passionate, and very manly, love while we do the same thing… minus all the penis and the men and your machismo.”

“Right.” Stiles ran through the spiel in his mind. “I guess it makes sense to use… fluids. Resonance and all that, but,” he gave Peter an aggrieved look. “No one said this would involve me drinking… population pudding.”

“We all make sacrifices for art.”

“Uh huh.” Stiles laughed. “The things I do for love.”

Assuring his adorably determined student that he was qualified to perform ritual sex didn’t take much effort. Honestly, finagling his cousin and her wife into choosing December 9th as the baby-making day was the tedious part of the meeting.

In the end, it just went to prove that clients were all the same—even if they were family.

Now that Stiles was safely away, Peter straightened in his chair and glared at Moira, his darling baby cousin.

“Passionate and very manly love?”
“Tell me I’m wrong,” Moira lifted one dark eyebrow in challenge, channeling every ounce of smug superiority a Hale could muster—and promptly spoiled the effect with a giggle.

“Well now….” Peter raised his eyebrow right back at her. “That would be telling, wouldn’t it?”

Corinne laughed. “Oh please. That kid is wearing the biggest “Property of Peter Hale” sign I’ve ever seen. I’m surprised that you let him out of your sight long enough to do his job, much less have a life away from you. If you had your way, he’d be here under lock and chain under the watchful eyes of your homunculi.” She leveled a long, challenging look at Peter. “Isn’t that right, Pete?”

He hummed and twisted his ring. It was a new one with chips of embedded ruby that sparkled from a nest of soft, braided gold. What his delightful cousins didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Finally, his mouth tipped in a half-smile, enigmatic as a Sphinx and twice as cheery.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.” Peter dimpled. Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

“Uh huh.”

“Stiles is an exceptional young man. He doesn’t need a minder. Even if I had the desire, I’d never have time to sleep. He’s quite busy with his mastery project, fascinating stuff. In fact,” Peter said, genuine pleasure coloring his tone, “Stiles is doing field work right now.”


If you require any help or favors with your mastery project or anything else, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Last night’s words echoed in his ears as Stiles contemplated the business card that had appeared in his workstation, turning it over in his hands. In some angles it appeared blank, but with his Sight, it blazed like a star, the ten digits of Deucalion’s number blinking in and out of existence with every turn. He could only begin to guess at the spells that had gone into its creation.

How convenient that it would appear now, when he’d hit a snag in his prototype. When Peter was occupied with his cousins.

“All right, Deucalion. Let’s play ball.” Stiles flipped the card one last time and set it aside.


Without double checking the card, he unlocked his phone and created a new contact. In a matter of seconds, he’d tapped out a text message and hit send.

Are you available for a meeting today?

In seconds, a fine sheet of linen paper materialized beside the business card.

Old Burying Ground in 20 minutes.

Just as his eyes passed the last letter of the last word, the note shivered and dissolved into thousands of shimmering particles.

Stiles shook his head in admiration. “What a stylish fucking asshole.”

He could see where Peter came by his flair for dramatics with each interaction. Maybe one day, Deucalion would share some of his tricks. Lydia would eat her heart out if he ever sent her one of these.

Before running out, he tore a strip off of his self-renewing blotter and scribbled a more mundane note for Peter.

Out on research. I’ll be back for dinner. ~Stiles

“Hey, Slendy?” Stiles called to the empty air. “You here today?”

A nearby shadow rippled and split; darkness pooled into the familiar form of Peter’s first homunculus.

“Hey buddy. Do you mind making sure Peter gets this when he comes in?”

Slendy took the note in its inky hand, pulling it into the void of its body. It gave him a courtly bow in acknowledgement of its mission and waved him off.

“Thanks, dude! I can always count on you.”

Could a shadow preen? Stiles couldn’t swear to it as he jogged away, keys jingling, but Slendy seemed almost cheerful as it sank back into the floor. Good. They deserved it, and if he sometimes showered these strange creatures with the praise and affection he had for their maker… well, that was his business wasn’t it?

The Old Burying Ground was almost on the edge of the city limits, straddling Beacon Hill and Wolfville. As names went, Wolfville was a bit on the nose, but two hundred years later, it was still accurate. It had been a tiny frontier town when human/creature segregation had been more common than not, and it was where most of the old families put their dead to rest.

With five minutes to spare, Stiles passed through the cemetery gates and was filled with the immediate certainty of where to go. It was like a hand reached in and plucked the cords of his vital bits and pieces—a warm pull that guided him to a small group of hemlocks.

And there was the man himself. Deucalion stood in front of a profusion of white bleeding hearts, planted by a simple monument bearing two names: Kate Argent and Laura Hale.

There was no death date for Laura.


Shivering in the crisp November air, Stiles nodded at the grave. “I’m all ears.”

Deucalion stared at him, head tilted, mouth curled into that ever-present half smile, like he knew all the secrets of the universe and perhaps he would deign to tell you some of them.

“You need a license for a soul imprint. A professional grade imprint, none of those shallow rubbings you get from a mall photo booth or carnival hucksters. No, you want the real deal, something so true to life that you’ll have the government knocking on your door one day, asking you to do some quiet jobs for them.”

Stiles hunched his shoulders, automatically shrinking in defense. Nobody ever understood what he wanted. That he wasn’t doing this for himself. He just wanted… he wanted other people to have peace of mind. To be able to say goodbye. To have the closure he couldn’t.

And it was forbidden for necromancers to raise their familiar dead. He’d be cast out, forced to live as the mundane.

He could say so many things, but he didn’t. What good would it do?

Stiles shoved his hands in his jeans pockets, trying to formulate a defence, never more conscious of the contrast between his scruffy appearance and First Sorcerer Blackwood’s finely tailored suit.

“It’s not illegal. Or black. It’s hardly grey. There are medical journals, psych stuff, that talk about the efficacy of using soul imprints in grief counseling.”

Deucalion let the words hang in the air, his stare piercing into Stiles’ own soul.

“Good,” he pronounced. “You have put some thought into this haven’t you? I’m glad you’re as smart as I thought.” He smiled at Stiles, nothing but approval in his blue eyes, and the sun actually seemed brighter.

Instead of sagging in relief, Stiles stood taller and straightened his shoulders. He took his hands out of his pockets, casually flashing the ruby from Peter. It was good to remind both of them that Deucalion didn’t have all the power here.

“So you’re not here to hassle me. You really are here to do me a favor… but.” Stiles glanced down at the grave again, and more pieces fell into place. “You’re the one who really wants a favor. You want to give me the license to take this particular imprint don’t you?”

“He did say you were clever.”

“Why all the secrecy and magic tricks then? I’m Peter’s student. You’re his teacher. It’s my duty to help both of you if I can.”

“Because Stiles.” Deucalion sighed, and for once, he sounded centuries old. “For my dear apprentice, I’m asking you to ignore ethical standards and all the ways that I’ll bend and break the laws. I’m giving you power to move against me if you say no. But this has driven a wedge between Peter and his future alpha, and it’s a problem that I think we can solve together.”

His mind chased down all those odd moments in the past months, putting the clues together. This explained so much of the friction, Peter’s odd melancholy, even Scott’s nerves. This was also precisely zero percent his business.

As though he was aware of Stiles’ thoughts, Deucalion continued, “Most of this is private, so I trust that you’ll be discreet, but this goes back to the problem between the Argents and the Wolfville shifters. Gerard’s family never forgave the Hales for refusing to become part of Beacon Hills once it became a proper magical town. I tried to mediate those talks, but they still failed. There was very little trust between factions in those days. It’s strange now, to see shifters in Beacon Hills and magicians in Wolfville, but time has its way.”

“So… what happened here? I can’t imagine Peter straight up murdering one of the Argents out of nowhere.”

“You’re right. Peter wouldn’t do that on a whim, and he had good reason to believe that Kate was up to no good. Gerard had big plans for his daughter. She was meant to gain the trust of one of the younger ones. To seduce if necessary, but she truly fell in love with Laura and Laura with her.”

“But that was supposed to be a secret,” Stiles whispered in dawning horror. “Peter thought she was betraying Laura and killed her.”

“That skips neatly over most of the drama, but yes. Kate planned to betray her father, not Laura, but Peter bought the act. He thought he was protecting his pack. Talia and I maintain that he was. Even Laura, in her more reasonable moments agrees.”

Stiles must have made some noise or gesture to betray his question, and Deucalion’s lip curled in disgust.

“It’s almost funny. She could have forgiven her uncle for acting on the information he had. When he died, she mourned him with genuine, uncomplicated grief. In her eyes, he died without blame. When he came back and couldn’t bring Kate with him? In fact, refused to consider it? That was when the hate began.”

Stiles bit his lip. This was seriously fucking murky territory. Family secrets and pack secrets, and yes he was Peter’s student and Deucalion was Peter’s teacher (and the magical authority in the state) but should they be plotting behind his back? Could Deucalion even guarantee the license to take an imprint of Kate’s soul? Surely he hasn’t talked to her next of kin, and yet he was so damn sure of himself.

He’d never been a very ethical person, but this felt shadier than usual. This was really, definitely illegal, not like selling magical placebos to the paranoid. This was shady politics and questionable soul magic. But… it wasn’t like the committee cared how he got his permits as long as he had them. Despite his feelings for Peter and Caveat Emptor, having his mastery meant freedom. He’d never need to depend on anyone for a home or education again. He’d never be someone’s duty or secondhand student again.

Still, there were a few things he couldn’t ignore, not if he cared about Peter. “Okay. I get that bad things happened. Peter thought he was helping and Laura couldn’t cope with Kate’s death. How is this supposed to help?” He jabbed a finger at the pale marble headstone. “It has her name on it already. If she’s still this unhinged over it, I seriously doubt that it would be good for her mental health to have a piece of Kate Argent’s soul hanging around all the time like a security blanket. It might make her worse!”

At that, Deucalion laughed, long and hard enough to be startling and inappropriate. He hadn’t been nearly funny enough for this reaction. By the end of it, the man drew out his elegant blue pocket square to brush the tears from his eyes

“Oh my dear, sweet boy. You mistake me entirely.” He curled his hand around Stiles’ shoulder and pulled him in for a quick hug. “As tragic as it is, people die all the time. Young lovers lose each other every day. If Laura had died then or now I wouldn’t lose a moment’s sleep. Whether or not this helps her in the long run?” He paused, baring his teeth in a terrible smile. “It doesn’t matter. What matters to me is procuring her forgiveness for Peter who’s suffered for the great sin of his resurrection far longer than he should have.”

“Oh wow. Okay.” Stiles took two big steps to the right, bringing him safely beyond hugging range. He adamantly did not want to think of how nice a hug it had been. “This has been really um. Weird. Or no!” He backpedaled “It’s been a lot. A lot of information about things that I probably shouldn’t know, and I think I have a terror boner over you now. Fuck. Shouldn’t have said that either.”

Deucalion smiled at him then, the way he’d seen adults look at little kids when they were oblivious to their charm. “What a dear boy you are. I can see why Peter loves you so.”

His mind nearly exploded at the word “love”. Fuck. What. Love? He said love. He can’t mean that the way I want, so focus, Stiles. Stick with the project.

“Right.” He pressed his lips together, wetting them. “When can you have my license ready? Who even is her next of kin? Or won’t I need that signature?”

“I’m prepared to have all of your paperwork finalized by end of business tomorrow. Laura was named her next of kin in deference to their secret mating, and I can push things through without her knowledge. Are you prepared to take on this task?” Deucalion held out his hand, waiting to seal their bargain.

“Tomorrow!” Stiles boggled at him. It was one thing to think he’d be bending a few laws, but another to know how willing and able he was to cut through all the bureaucratic processes. How many people had he blackmailed or bought off to do this?

What a devious man—not only stylish but effective. Stiles had to admire him.

Now that it was down to the wire, yes or no. Stiles knew what he would say. Of course he was prepared. He’d burn down the world if it would give peace of mind to his dad or Scott or Jen, and somehow Peter had snuck his way onto that short list.

He took Deucalion’s hand. “I’ll do it. For Peter.”

“For Peter.”

They shook on it, and the whole scenario hit him. The secret meeting in a graveyard. Betrayals and secrets. Tragic lovers and feuds. Resurrections and politics. This was possibly actually a bit dangerous and over his head. Teenage Stiles would have been elated to be part of something so thrillingly illicit, so noir. For a moment, he could feel some of that excitement and pretend that it was happening to a stranger or in a movie—not anything he ought to dredge up some guilt for.

Once their bargain had concluded, Stiles expected Deucalion to vanish in a puff of smoke or something equally ridiculous. Instead he took Stiles by the arm and played tour guide, showing him historic graves and spilling tea like only a contemporary could.

At the end of a truly baffling afternoon, he insisted that Stiles call him Deuc from now on and then he disappeared by totally mundane means. If a driverless, black car idling in the parking lot qualified as mundane.

Stiles climbed into his jeep, shaking with delayed nerves. That could have gone very badly. The worst. Deuc may be nice to him for his own reasons, or out of affection for Peter and Jen, but he was one scary fucking guy. The look in his eyes when he’d talked about not caring if Laura, Peter’s own niece lived or died. It had been ice cold.

He shook his head. “Not a guy to fuck around on if I can help it. Better get it together, Stilinski.”

With a subject and recipient chosen, for such a specific purpose… this put a lot of his old ideas back in play. Time to go back to the drawing board.

If he was going to do this, then he had to do it right—better than right. For Peter, it would be perfect. Stiles would accept nothing less.

The drive home passed in a blur. In fact, Stiles only came back to reality when he felt the car stop and realized that he’d pulled up the driveway and into his his spot.

He blinked away alchemical equations and sealing methods and sat back to watch. With the curtains up, the windows glowed with soft amber light, and he could see Peter move between the kitchen and dining area. The homunculi darted around him with silverware and place settings.

His heart swelled with yearning. He’d found it. This was home.

Shaking off the long, strange day, Stiles pocketed his keys and bounded out of the car and up the drive. At his touch, the front door swung open, and he couldn’t resist calling out, “Honey, I’m home!”

It was good to be back.