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A Promised Paradise

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PROLOGUE - The Forgotten Funeral

Pre-Note

 

Thank you for checking into this fanfic. Hope you enjoy.

This is an experiment on my part to try out a new 'minimalist' style of writing and dialogue.
I failed at that judging by this thing being over eleven thousand words long, apologies.
...And no, this really is just a background prologue of a much bigger idea.

 


 

The house emptied out steadily in the year leading up to the death of Stiles’s mother.

First to go were the coach and stablemen who attended their horses. No one left the house other than the staff so there was nothing to pay them for. Shortly after went the newer servants who were not as committed to the family. Those who never went above the lower quarters or the ground floor. In passing he’d overheard his father and the head butler talking about how they grew frightened by rumors and resigned. When asked his father did not explain.

‘You’re too young to understand right now. Everything will be fine, trust me.’

It wasn’t, he knew it even then, but things settled enough to believe it. Physicians from across the province came and went. Most stayed less than a few days. The longest lasting, an aged woman from across the ocean, made it two weeks before leaving in the night. Doctors became fewer after she left. Instead one would show up at random by recommendation to his father and depart shortly after in a hurry. He knew his father was stressed and tried to talk to one of them.

‘Your mother’s condition is…bizarre.’

That doctor was gone three days later after screaming at his father in the dead of night.

Shortly after the last doctor came and went, so too did the rest of the servants. Few of them made a scene. One day he would see them and the next they were gone and his father, already stressed, seemed more attached to the bottles in his study. Eventually a haggard few roamed the halls of their estate cleaning quickly before retiring to the servant’s cottage. The foremost among those to leave was his mother’s ladies maid whom, without warning one evening while they took dinner, screamed in terror as she fled down the stairs and out of the house. His nanny was sent out to bring the woman back. Neither of them ever came back after that night.

Their letters of resignation arrived jointly in the mail later along with the groundskeeper whom, they would later realize, no one even knew left. He was paid for weeks of undone work.

John Stilinski did not see to mind as instead he spent more and more time in solitude.

Unattended by his nanny nor father, Stiles had the run of the estate. He read nearly every book in the library he was expressly ‘forbidden’ to read. There was no one to catch him. Just as no one caught him when, with a butter knife from the empty kitchen, he pried open the wine cabinet and sampled a few of the opened bottles. He saw himself to bed that night, barely sleeping through all the vomiting and regret, and the next morning fetched a washer maid to fix him a meager breakfast as the last of their kitchen staff had already left. She became their cook after.

Most of his time, when not getting into trouble freely, he spent at his mother’s bedside.

Claudia Stilinski, prior to confined bed rest, was a talkative and spirited lady. She still was some days despite the sweat soaked sheets and occasional manacles on her wrist. On especially spirited days Stiles, to his great displeasure, was not allowed to see her.

Not that it stopped him.

The fewer people there were to watch the more he slipped away into her room without anyone the wiser. Most of the time she calmed down upon seeing him, her smile coming easy and a curse dying on her lips mid-syllable. On those days they would talk until she was too tired to continue or play whatever board game he dug up from his room. They talked about all manner of things from what he did with his day to strange insects he had seen in the yard, anything at all.

Occasionally she would reach for him and by his father’s order, Stiles had to flinch away, just out of her reach. It was the one thing his father was stern over - it involved propriety , a term he did not quite understand but one his parents harped on enough to be important. The few times she caught him off guard Claudia either patted at his head or, on several occasions, gripped him fiercely by the arm, shoulder, or neck, wherever she reached, in silence for several minutes. Those instances were rare though. Both Claudia and John had told Stiles to simply leave when she did it as that meant a ‘spell’ was coming upon her. Usually, she recovered and pulled back.

The days she did not usually coincided with the ones where she did not smile and laugh with him. Instead she spasmed on the bed, eyes wide, raging at things Stiles could not see around them while he attempted to tend her needs. John had forbidden him to see her like this but when there was no one else, his father passed out in the study, Stiles felt he had to be there. A wet cloth for his mother’s head as she thrashed in her bed screaming obscenities and a quick change of sheets if she wet herself. He never touched her in these instances. Instead of staring in silence she would latch onto him in a painfully tight grip, all her attentions turned to him while she screamed in his face. Her screams were not usually even real words.

By the time the bleeding started, John Stilinski forbade Stiles from going to see her. At first it was just a thin trickle from her nose and then she began to vomit blood. It was the one time during her sickness that Stiles’s father put down the bottle and stayed by her bedside to attend her night and day. John slept in the chair by her and when Stiles brought food opened and closed the door quickly. He kept the bedroom locked at all hours and eventually, seeing as no servants remained to stop him, Stiles dragged the mattress from his bedroom into the hall and slept there. His father of course noticed, John had to walk by him each morning when he left her, but the elder Stilinski never forced him back to his room. They also never discussed the new arrangement.

While everyone fled there was only one who willingly came into their holdings.

Talia Hale rarely came announced. As one of his mother’s oldest and few friends, she had an open invitation to their home that spanned years. Unlike other ladies of distinction she never came by carriage nor with an entourage, instead simply showing up with a knock at their door and sweeping in when first the servants and later Stiles opened for her. At the start of his mother’s illness she came often, sometimes at odd hours, and paid no mind to anyone as she went up the stairs to his mother’s room. Stiles could count on his hands the number of times the scary woman acknowledged him with more than a nod. His father avoided Talia, had before Claudia’s illness and only more so after, which the woman did not seem to mind. She came, stole anywhere from an hour to a whole evening with his mother, and then left in the same great storm in which she entered. These visits were rarely mentioned by Stiles or his father though the servants, when they actually had them, bristled with fear at the woman’s presence. They said things about her that Stiles did not understand - often involving the work ‘indecent’. The one time John and Talia crossed paths in the hall there had been a great argument that sent Stiles into hiding while his father threw things in the study and Talia continued to his mother undeterred.

Talia’s visits grew less and less as his mother’s health declined sharply near the end.

Her last two were different. For one, they were two days in a row.

By this point Stiles had long taken up residence outside his mother’s room while his father stayed inside or in the study. When John was not with her, Claudia’s room door stayed locked. It was one such occasion when Stiles woke up well before dawn, not even late enough to be ‘early morning’, to find Talia Hale simply standing in their hallway staring down at him. The woman, usually dressed in velvets and highest fashion, had on a simple dark robe tied closed with her dark hair in a strict bun. It looked, for all Stiles’s limited view, she just came from bed to his hall.

Stiles started immediately, “Lady Hale, what are...you...does my father-?”

Quicker than he could follow she knelt down and covered his mouth. Gently, far more than he expected of the lady, just as he did not expect her hand to cradle the back of his neck as he flinched back and collided with the wall in shock, “Calm down, little one. Why are you out here?”

Shock forgotten, Stiles hunched in on himself, eyes looking over her shoulder to the locked door, “Father...he locked the door, I’m not to see Mother. But…” He lapsed into silence, a rarity, as she stared into his eyes. Time seemed to lapse between his words before Talia nodded at nothing and stood, the hand at his neck instead coming to rest on Stiles’s shoulder with a soft pat.

“I see. I’m sorry, I can not go against his wishes.”

Stiles nodded, expecting no different, and went to speak before she caught his chin. WIth the same gentleness as before Talia raised his head to look at her, “Sleep in your room, child.”

He shook his head jerkily, “No, I’m staying here till...when she-” The word ‘improves’ hovered right there, riding his tongue, but beneath Talia’s sad glance and his own truth, it never came. Stiles small frame sagged back against the wall and simply watched as the barefoot woman, another oddity he noticed now, did something to the knob. She slipped inside a moment later.

Stiles woke up an indistinct amount of time later as Talia draped a heavy blanket over his bed. There were no words between them. Her eyes were heavy and darker than normal, downcast.

She left without further notice and Stiles made no mention of her when his father came later.

He did not wake up the next day as gently. Instead of his father shaking him awake for whatever random meal they skipped to, if his father ate at all, instead Stiles woke up to screams. With no one in the house but his father and him, they echoed down the halls, blasting off the walls of their foyer. Their home was an amphitheatre of his mother’s cries and Stiles jumped from his bed, no thought to still being in his red velvet pajamas, and threw open her bedroom door.

It wasn’t locked - it should have been locked.

“Mom!”

John practically snarled at him, “Stiles, get the hell out!”

His father stared at him, eyes locked on Stiles’s as the child’s mouth hung open and a hand lingered forgotten on the door. John’s whole body was over the bed, using his size to hold Claudia’s too-thin frame as she fought against him. One of her husband’s hands held the woman down by her chest as her whole body seemed to lift up. The other, in a white handed grip, held her down by the throat as Stiles watched his mother snap at his father like a rabid animal.

“Stiles!”

He did not hear his father. Stiles’s eyes were held captive by his mother’s, pure white with long trails of blood pouring like tears from the corners, as she stared him down. It should not have been possible. She had gone blind earlier in her sickness, his father explained it at the time, but now her pupiless gaze found Stiles easily. As he stood there, blank to his father yelling at him, Stiles watched his beloved mother’s lips curl into a horrid smirk. It looked too wide for her face.

The voice that choked out of her throat with a bloody gurgle was too deep, too smokey to ever be his mother, and yet it came from her mouth, “ Aperire te-”

John’s hand slammed on her mouth hard enough to shove Claudia back into the pillow.

“Son, get out! Now!”

Stiles shook his head slowly, eyes still held by the empty view of his mother, and John struggled to cover her eyes, mouth, and hold her down all at the same time. She never looked away.

He may not have either if a hand had not covered his eyes while an arm wrapped over his chest.

“He should not be in here.”

Talia’s hand felt warm on his face as the woman pulled his body back with her own.

John said something in response but Stiles could not hear it. A buzzing took over his hearing and all he could think about were his mother’s eyes. There was no way to know if she dragged him or simply picked him up before handing him off to another. The touch was not as gentle as Talia’s, this new person held him upright by the arms tightly as Stiles vision swam.

“Stay out here with him. Do not let him come back in, Derek.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Thank you. Laura, be prepared before you come in.”

Clearly Talia had not come alone this time. Derek , a tall boy older than him with Talia’s hair and dark complexion, was the first thing Stiles saw when he could focus again. While her son held Stiles at arm’s length the other person, a girl several years their senior with looks even more similar to Talia, stood to the side with her arms crossed tightly over her chest. Neither of Talia’s children, anyone could tell who they were, looked happy to be there. Derek’s eyes were wide and he kept looking past Stiles to the door Talia guarded while Laura chewed at her lip and shrank back at every screech from his Mother. They were all dressed in black as if it were a funeral.

Stiles knew .

“She’s going to die.”

Derek, still holding onto him, gave Stiles a strained look at the declaration while Laura grimaced.

Talia, from behind him, held her voice strong, “Yes Stiles, she may. I’m sorry.”

As she turned and entered the room, closing the door behind her, Stiles’s legs gave out. The only thing that kept him up was Derek as the older boy pulled him into a tight hug that held them both.

Laura took a step closer to them, “Are you-”

The other boy quickly shook his head and took steps back, pulling Stiles with him, until his foot bumped the mattress. Stiles offered no help as the Hale boy lowered them both onto it.

“Mom needs you.”

“Derek…”

“I’ve got him. Go.”

Laura looked like she wanted to say something else but refrained. With a deep breath the girl in her black and silver dress followed Talia inside the bedroom.

Stiles did not even try to look into the room when the screams turned into cackling. He did not want to see anymore. Derek had them side by side, shoulders touching, sitting on the mattress. At the sound of his mother Stiles turned his head and buried his face in the other boy’s shoulder with both hands over his ears. He could not see Derek’s face, did not really care to, but the other boy did not seem to mind as he wrapped his right arm tightly over Stiles until the door closed.

All at once it was silent in the house as if they were alone and everyone else had left.

As if sensing his confusion through the tears, Derek mumbled, “My mother.” Stiles did not respond but he nodded into the other’s shoulder and attempted to pull away. It didn’t work. His body felt heavy and the attempt was token at best, thwarted by Derek gripping him tighter.

They sat in the silence for a time before Derek spoke into Stiles’s hair, “Sorry.”

‘Why?

He did not realize he had spoken until Derek replied, “It should be Laura out here with you.”

Stiles did not understand and for once his curiosity let it go. The boy did not say anything as he stared into Derek’s black button down. All of his tears were drying up and yet his eyes still burned. A smell hung in the air and he could not tell if it was from Derek or just in the house. The odor was sharp like too strong spices and Stiles nose burned with it. Derek did not seem immune to it either as the other boy’s free hand covered his nose. It only grew worse as the minutes ticked by. Eventually Stiles felt the arm over his shoulder pull away and when he looked up, Derek had both hands clutched to his nose. The Hale’s whole face scrunched up in disgust.

Free of the hold Stiles leaned back and stared at the other boy, “Are you okay? Is it that bad?"

The question seemed unexpected as Derek threw him a weird look, “You can smell it?”

Stiles nodded slowly, a bit unsure as the other boy leaned back and looked at him. It went on until the smell suddenly got worse and while Stiles sneezed, Derek began to outright gag.

“I could-” His voice trailed off as Derek waved a hand and pulled back, clutching his nose tightly in hand. Looking around Stiles quickly grabbed one of the pillows from his makeshift hall bed, ripped the pillowcase off, and thrust the silky blue cloth toward the other boy, “Wrap your face.”

The dark haired boy did not take it. He instead watched Stiles through rapidly watering eyes.

“Derek, right?”

A nod.

“Don’t...don’t hit me or anything, okay?”

The other boy looked confused until Stiles began to double up the pillowcase in his hands. Derek obviously understood when Stiles reached forward and, once the other dropped his hands, wrapped it tightly around the Hale’s face. Derek’s hands still covered the front of the makeshift mask as he tied it off in the back. That done, he leaned back enough to look at the other.

Derek looked ridiculous.

“Is that any better?”

Instead of responding, Derek just stared at him until Stiles turned away. His arms wrapped under his knees while his head found a place between them. There was nothing to do but wait.

While his mother died.

He sniffed lightly, eyes too dry for more tears, and burrowed deeper.

“...Sorry.”

Stiles did not raise his head or look the other’s way. Derek’s voice was muffled by the mask and normally, Stiles would have laughed. Instead he gave a small shrug, “...You said that already."

He felt it when Derek fell back onto the mattress beside him, “Not just that. Your…” He paused but Stiles understood the ‘your mother is dying in there’ regardless, “You worrying over me.”

Stiles said nothing. It was not a thing for him to look after others. Having just met Derek of course the other did not know how he cares for his parents through the entirety of his mother’s sickness. Briefly Stiles considered going downstairs to the kitchen and working out a meal, perhaps breakfast, even though he still did not know the time. Something for all of their guests. He thought it over long enough to have a brief menu in mind, what few things the washer-maid-turned-cook had taught him, but stopped when it came to the soup. It was all his mother could eat and in trying to think of which to make for her, the entire idea fell into ruin.

Derek seemed to sense his mood as Stiles felt a hand on the back of his neck. The younger Hale was not as gentle as his mother. His hold felt like a pinch and Stiles winced at first.

“Sorry.”

Stiles raised his head enough to side-eye the Hale, “Stop.”

The hand on his neck stilled, “What?”

“Stop apologizing, please.”

Derek went to say something else but stopped, probably another ‘Sorry’, and nodded. That settled, Stiles dropped his head back into his knees while Derek continued to knead at his neck. The feeling of being pinched did not go away but for some reason, with each circle of the other’s fingers, Stiles started to feel better. His eyes were still dry but not stinging anymore and his stomach pains - ‘When did I last eat?’ - were slacking off. He felt light and floaty, his body at least.

Stiles sneezed, “What is that smell anyway?” Oh, it did not hurt his throat to talk anymore.

The hands on the back of his neck stilled, “Erm...I...I’m not sure?” Stiles perked up and looked at him with the hesitation and the other male, still leaned back on the bed, shifted, “I really don’t know. My mother comes home smelling like it sometimes, Laura too. Never like this. It involves their...work, I think?” His tanned face scrunched a bit at the prospect of their ‘work’, not that Stiles had any idea what Talia did for a living. They never really talked about his mother’s friend before his mother’s illness.

“I’m surprised you can smell it.”

Stiles rubbed his nose, “Why? It’s so strong. Anyone could.”

“No, they can’t.” Derek said as he dropped the hand at Stiles’s neck and threw it over his stomach. It was odd, Stiles stared at it for a moment, missing the contact, as he let himself fall back beside the other. They lay shoulder to shoulder staring up at the same roof Stiles had inspected for days as Derek started and stopped several times, as if he were figuring out what to say. It would have driven Stiles crazy (despite being equally guilty of it most days) but this once, tired as he was, the youngest Stilinski let it go and just waited. At long last Derek made an annoyed noise, “What do you know about us?”

His head lolled to face Derek, “...About the Hales?”

Derek stared at him and Stiles chewed at his bottom lip, “Um...nothing, I guess?” When the other boy made an annoyed sound Stiles rolled onto his side toward him, “I...is there something I should?”

“I should not talk about it then.”

“Please, Derek.” Stiles’s voice seemed to surprise them both. The words came out plaintive, desperate even, and neither of them had to question why. Something, anything to pull him from the room nearby.

The older boy looked at him for a moment then away, back to the roof, “My family is...we’re not like most families.” His words were slow, clearly thought out, and Stiles latched onto each one greedily. Derek moved his free arm, previously thrown at his side, behind his head as he continued, “I can’t tell you how exactly, my mother would be mad, but we’re different. Being able to smell that is just one way.”

“Then why can I smell it too?”

Derek shrugged as he reached with his free arm and grabbed the nude pillow to thrust at Stiles. Taking it, Stiles laid his head on it instead, one hand under his face with the other across his stomach.

“Does that mean I’m ‘different’ too?”

He did not get a response.

Stiles, despite himself, practically yawned out, “...Derek?”

The boy in question gave something of an annoyed grunt as he closed his eyes, “Go to sleep, Stiles.”

“But…”

Derek opened one eye and peered at him, “Sleep.”

Stiles wanted to argue, to say he was not tired at all, and would not be sleeping until he got to see his mother. His argument died in the midst of another yawn and for once he listened to someone else.

It was the first in a long while that he slept peacefully.

That made it all the worse when he woke up. Instead of slowly drifting awake Stiles jerked away at the feel of someone shaking him. The first thing he saw was the girl from earlier, Laura, crouched down over him. Her previously neat hair was thrown up in a messy bun, strands sticking out, and a bruise darkening on the left side of her face. She was saying something to him but Stiles only heard one thing.

“You can come see her now.”

Stiles practically leapt off the bed past her through the open door. No one called him on running in the house for once. John sat in a chair at Claudia’s bedside, head tilted back as he stared at the roof. His father looked exhausted and did not even spare a glance. Talia, from where she leaned up against the wall with her arms crossed, glanced at Stiles then away, toward the door, probably watching her children. Neither of them were the focus of Stiles interest as he rushed to the opposite side of the bed from his father and, without a moment’s pause, grabbed one of his mother’s too thin hands in his own.

“Mom, are you...I mean...you’re...I’m so...No, I always-”

His eyes watered, these tears different than those before, as he tried to come up with words.

Stiles…

Claudia’s voice was more air than words. Her eyes, blank as they had been for months, turned in his direction but lacked any focus on him. Sweat matted her hair and soaked the simple beige gown that clung to her skeletal frame. Someone must have washed her face before calling him. The blood beneath her eyes was gone despite the evidence of it scattered on her pillow, the sheets, and in bits of her hair.

He did not even notice Laura and Derek entering the room, the other boy looking sharply down and away from the bed. His sister’s hand stayed at his shoulder to hold him back as Stiles saw to his mom.

Baby boy...I...I’m…”

Stiles had never been so careful as when he squeezed her hand, “Mom, it’s okay. You don’t have to-”

John’s head rolled forward, sagged forward now, as he watched them, “Stiles, stop...I can’t do this.”

All of them watched his father shakily stand from the chair, one hand on the back for support, before making his way from the room. Stiles watched him go with misty eyes. Laura looked sympathetic and moved aside only to pull Derek with her as the boy glared down the older man who passed them. Derek’s glare, sharp as it was, went unnoticed by John Stilinski. Talia held no expression as she watched him leave. Nothing, disappointment or approval, shown on her face at the action. She instead turned her eyes back to Claudia’s bed and simply watched with pursed lips.

Don’t be mad at him…

Stiles frantically shook his head, “I’m not. Dad is just having a hard time, I know.”

Derek made a noise from across the room. It did not even register in Stiles world but at Talia’s sharp glance Laura quickly escorted him from the room. The door closed behind them with a soft click.

“Mom, are you…”

Slowly, as if it pained her, Claudia shook her head and Stiles face plunged.

Suddenly Talia was at his side with her warm hand gently on his neck once more, “Claudia, let me assist you.”

Claudia shook her head and Talia’s expression soured further, “Stubborn to the last. You can barely speak. If these last words are so important than at least let me pay this much of my debt to you.”

These last words.

Stiles face was stricken as his mother tried and failed to speak. It was simply a rasp of air but seemed enough as Talia nodded and carefully pried Claudia’s hand free of Stiles’s own. He should have been stunned but somehow, with everything he had seen, it only took him slightly off guard when his mother’s eyes closed and Talia sagged forward suddenly. When her mouth moved it was Talia’s voice but the tone was different, far lighter and less strict, and Stiles never once questioned it as his own mother’s.

“My baby boy, I need you to listen closely. I don’t have much time.”

It may have been the strange woman beside him speaking but Stiles kept his eyes on his mother. One of his hands rested on the bed while the other brushed some of Claudia’s long hair from her face. At the very least his mother’s body leaned into the touch as her voice came from elsewhere.

“I’m so very sorry for what I’ve…” His mother, through Talia, paused for a moment and her sturdy voice chipped away as she continued, “You and your father did not deserve...please don’t hate him.”

He shook his head quickly, “I don’t, I promise Mom, I would never, I understand, I promise.”

Stiles was crying again for what felt like the thousandth time that day. Talia’s hand, still on his neck, tightened softly and the same feeling as earlier came over Stiles. He began to feel light again. It was the same as with Derek except without the tugging feeling or the pinch. It would have been easy to stay in that warmth but Stiles pulled away from her hand the moment it started. Talia did not force it.

“Did you meet Laura?”

He nodded, thinking after the fact about his mother’s sight, “Kind of, only a little. I don’t really-”

“That’s fine baby. Stay close to her. Let Laura watch over you, she will guard your domain.”

Stiles started to ask what she meant but the furthest he got is, “What do-” before a full body cough shook Claudia’s frame. He nearly leapt onto the bed with her as his hands sought something to do. Talia still had her hand closest to him. In the end he settled on a using a loose bit of sheet to dap at her lip where, with each rattling cough, red blossomed. The bleeds had returned and with each desperate inhale from Claudia, Talia seemed to return to herself until the woman stood straight again.

“It is too much for you to continue. Any further and I’ll…” Talia threw a glance at Stiles before she stopped speaking, watching his frantic attempts to see to his mother, before she caught his hand, “She can no longer speak through me, I apologize. All we can do now is see to her.”

He could barely breath, “I can’t...I don’t...Mom, please, just-” The words died on his lips as each gasp of air came shorter and shorter. An ‘attack’, something he had in the past, each breath more shallow.

Carefully, so as to not pull at Claudia, Talia brought Stiles and her hand together once more before crouching down beside him. There was no questions to be had as the woman then pulled him into a tight hug. Stiles’s head sat in the crook of her neck as Talia’s arms, stronger than he would expect from a woman of her size, came to rest around him. Her words were spoken with a warm breath into his ear, “Just breath, Stiles. Show your mother the strongest face you can. Do not let fear steal this from you.”

He nodded into the dark haired woman and they stayed that way, held together with Claudia’s hand clutched in his fingers, until well after his mother, Claudia Stilinski, drew her last breath and passed on.

The three days leading up to her funeral were the longest in Stiles’s life.

No one saw his father leading up to it since he left Claudia’s room prior to her death. The elder Stilinski sequestered himself in his study and at all times, soft music came through the walls and the door. In some interludes it joined the sound of shattering glass that no one questioned. More than once Stiles attempted to see to his father but was each time stopped by one of their practically live-in guests.

The Hales effectively took over all manners of the estate leading up to the funeral. Talia made all the appropriate calls and decisions to have arrangements settled. On the second day the priest came, a young black man accompanied by a woman of similar appearance. Of the two the man was the only one to express his condolences while the woman simply trudged up the stairs to do the cleansing. Stiles, who had not been allowed back since his mother passed by Talia, occasionally heard bits of their hymn.

Most of his time was spent in the company of one of the Hale siblings. At first it was only Laura, whom seemed almost uncomfortable around Stiles. The older dark haired girl, well into her teens, always took a seat across from him, never beside, and talked to fill his silence. At any other time he would have enjoyed getting to know her. Despite being known as a talkative boy, Stiles barely spoke to her beyond a compulsory ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to questions that demanded answers. More importantly, he never cried in front of the girl, no matter how often she assured him it was okay.

Mid-way through the second day he saw the last of her until the funeral.

They were in the sitting room, he on the two seater plush loveseat while Laura sat on his father’s recliner across the table. She talked, he scarcely pretended to listen, a fact that was obvious to both of them, the same as ever. Stiles imitation of a deaf-mute neared flawless quality the more time they spent together. When at last she could not stand it anymore, Laura left to make them a snack. By the time she returned Stiles had retreated to the coat closet. All her attempts to woo him out failed. She never yelled, despite her obvious irritation, and instead tried nicely to get him to open the door. There was no lock on the inside but she did not try to open it, instead waiting on him. Stiles never replied and eventually she left.

He fully expected Talia to come try and talk him out or his father to simply remove him.

It came as a total surprise when, some ten minutes later, a soft knock came echoed in his dark closet and the voice of Derek Hale said, “I’m coming in.”

Stiles said nothing.

As the door opened he turned from the sudden light of their gas lamps as Derek came in and closed the door behind him. In the closet meant to hold clothes, not two people, Stiles found himself up against the wall knees together as Derek sat beside him. Their shoulders and even sides pressed against each other tightly and no matter how he shifted, Stiles could not get space. It felt like Derek was doing it on purpose. Instead of complaining, Stiles made himself small and leaned his head to the side.

They sat that way for several long minutes before Derek spoke.

“You are not being fair to Laura.” It was too dark to see Derek’s face when Stiles peeked over and shrugged. He continued, “She is trying to help. You two are promised-”

Stiles voice was low, clipped to an edge, as he cut Derek off, “There are no promises.”

They both fell into silence after that. Derek had yet to move a muscle, not even to take up more of the tiny closet, and Stiles’s stared into the darkness waiting. He surprised himself that as time ticked by he grew increasingly annoyed. Instead of questioning him, Derek calmly sat in a dark closet waiting .

“Nothing to say?”

He felt Derek shrug against him, “I’m not here to argue with you.”

Stiles head snapped up and he (to no great effect) pushed against him, “Then why are you here?”

The answer came immediately, in the same calm matter-of-fact way that Stiles was learning accompanied Derek Hale, “You were crying again and Laura did not know what to do.”

Stiles scoffed, “You do then?”

He may not have been able to see it but Stiles could feel that smirk even still, “Seems I do. Your smell is not as sad now. If anger is all I can get, that’s something.”

At that Stiles turned looked toward the other boy and then away toward the wall. The tips of his ears burned and his face felt warm -- probably just the anger Derek had mentioned. His brain momentarily tripped over the idea that he apparently ‘smelled’ sad but soon let it go. The Hales were weird in general and that was something Stiles had come to terms with. Talia Hale stood as a paragon of all things strange in the world and her daughter, Laura, when not trying to pry into his emotions just felt off. It said something when Derek, who ‘smelled sadness’, still felt the most normal of them. It hardly helped his irritation that the hat the older boy was not wrong. Stiles had been crying and now true to word he wasn’t.

He lied anyway, “I wasn’t crying again.”

Another shrug as Derek stretched out his legs further to throw his feet up against the wall. Clearly the closet was not as comfortable a fit for the taller boy, “You were. That’s fine though. I don’t mind.” The Hale paused before adding, “None of us do. If you want to cry then just do it. We all understand.”

Something in Stiles felt warm at that but he shook his head, “Your sister...I think it makes her uncomfortable.”

“So?” Stiles started at the frankness in Derek’s voice and glanced his way as the Hale continued, “Laura is pretty bad at people, you’ll see. She cares though. She’s walked by several times to make sure we’re okay in here.” As he spoke Stiles felt the other boy’s hand on his wrist and Derek squeezed once, reassuring, and that feeling of being pinched momentarily came back. It still stung but Stiles grew to almost enjoy it now as his problems seemed less afterward, his body felt lighter, good even.

“Give her a chance.”

‘Why can’t you just stay around instead of her?’

Stiles did not even know he mumbled out his thoughts until Derek’s hand, kneading small circles on his wrist, stopped and the other boy replied, “I...That’s not how it works. You two are promised.” He restarted his work on Stiles’s wrist though the pinched feeling was gone and with it the light feeling. Stiles missed it immediately and almost whined at the loss. Derek ignored it, “I’ll be around if you need me but Stiles, you need to learn to live with Laura. One day you two will be…”

“Married? Is that what you mean by ‘promised’?”

Stiles did not know what he expected but it was not an honest-to-goodness laugh fro Derek Hale.

“No, well actually, I suppose if you two really get along. Promised is…”

Derek paused and after a minute of silence Stiles elbowed him gently, “Going to explain?”

The other boy started and bumped against Stiles, “Sorry, listening, I’m not allowed to tell you.”

Stiles pulled a face, “What? Says who, why?”

Derek’s fingers dropped from his wrist as the Hale pushed off the wall to stand up. When he offered a hand Stiles took it and jumped up. Their chests bumped each other and unlike Derek, who barely flinched, Stiles almost fell back into the wall. Luckily, Derek managed to right him before he hit his head.

“My mother will explain when it is time. For now just try to be nicer to Laura, please?”

That said Derek opened the door and stepped out. He held it open like a servant would and for a moment Stiles just stood in his closet, mouth scrunched in confusion, and regarded the other boy. When at last Stiles did exit his closet domain it was with a deep sigh and a nod. Derek just smiled smugly.

True to his word Stiles gave it a genuine effort. He and Laura did not quite grow close over the next day and a half leading up to his mother’s funeral. Their conversations remained stilted likely due to their age gap of several years. The few times that Stiles broke down into tears seemingly at random she looked panicked and often said the wrong things while sitting by awkwardly. She even once brought him a lunch platter from the kitchen consisting almost entirely of foods he hated but ate anyway out of politeness. Their best moment was the evening before his mother’s funeral when Talia had breezed through and announced the event as ‘tomorrow morning with the sunrise’. Stiles had almost broken down again but Laura, after an odd expression as if she were listening to something far away, pulled a chess board down from a cabinet and challenged him to a match. The one match turned into ten. Laura did not win a single one, something she complained about vividly, but she kept suggesting rematches.

It was at least enough that Stiles did not complain when she sat by and held his hand during the funeral.

A part of him had suspected but it hit home the few people at his mother’s funeral. Prior to her illness Claudia Stilinski had been popular, Stiles knew this. Now it was only his father and him, the Hales, and a handful of others who in the far back rows that fanned out on either side of the grave. The casket sat open on a sturdy table with the hole already dug several feet away. His mother’s body looked different than in in her last days. Someone had taken the time to put makeup on her to return a rosey color to her cheeks, dress her in a fine gown, and drape her in jewelry from her collection.

Stiles could not bring himself to look at her and instead stared down toward his feet. For one he was the mirror of his father as John Stilinski leaned forward, elbow on his knees, and a pair of dark glasses to keep the early day sun away. Both Stilinski men wore black suits that Talia acquired from somewhere the day before. John’s fit like a glove, Stiles’s suit was a bit on the large side and the cuffs at his ankles were rolled up so as to not drag. The suit probably belonged to Derek, at least that is what Stiles suspected, and it had bothered him until they arrived. Now only the smell his father gave off bothered him. John Stilinski smelled like he bathed in liquor before coming out to see off his wife.

Everyone politely ignored it though Stiles, on several occasions, caught a few of the Hales throwing his father looks with sour faces. Laura, sitting the closest of all, held her composure except for a few turns of her head to breath in the other direction.

Stiles knew he should be embarrassed but wasn’t. He knew he should take his father’s hand but didn’t.

Deacon, the same priest who attended his mother’s last rites, led the funeral. Unlike all the assembled in their black dresses and suits, the priest wore a strange outfit of dark greens and browns. There was not a left arm on the outfit. It cut off at the shoulder and instead began a long, black spiraling tattoo that stretched all the way to the tip of his fingers. When they arrived the man had tried to shake his father’s hand only to be ignored and then Stiles, with his right, and the black priest just smiled when Stiles stared at his left in confusion. Nothing about this priest matched the one who presided over Grandpa’s Stilinski’s funeral. Nature came up a lot more and instead of ‘God’, Deacon kept referring to ‘Nature’, and while Stiles tried to keep up he simply couldn't. He kept drifting in and out, his attention split between the smell clinging to his father and people moving rows over, and focus felt impossible.

He snapped back in when, after saying a few words, Deacon stepped forward with a pouch in hand.

John spoke for the first time all day then, “What the hell are you doing?”

Stiles stared at his father along with everyone else. The entire funeral assembly froze save some people shifting awkwardly. Deacon, pouch raised, stilled as the black man looked to Stiles’s father, “We discussed this yesterday.” The calming quality of the man’s voice held as he explained, “Considering the unique nature of your wife’s passing this is a necessary part of the ritual.”

Stiles father’s voice cracked like a whip, “A ritual? This is Claudia’s damn funeral, not one of your-”

Duke Stilinski .”

Everyone fell silent, Stiles father included, as Talia’s low voice made itself known. She sat across the casket from the Stilinski’s in a long black dress, high collared, with a sharp-looking medallion hanging from her throat. On one side of her was an older man, somewhat greying in the hair, in a black suit whom could only be her husband. Derek sat on the other-side along with his younger sister, Cora as Laura had mentioned her, whom glared at Stiles’s father openly. Derek, equally as angry looking, instead looked to Stiles with a raised eyebrow and it was all Stiles could do to not shrug helplessly.

John, shaded face the very image of rage, spoke quickly, “Don’t silence me, Talia.” Several in attendance seemed taken aback by that and some, unrelated to either family in the back rows, actually took the interruption as an opportunity to leave. Stiles ignored them so intent on the dispute between the Lady Hale and his father. Even more so when his father ground out, “You and your’s already took her from me. Now you plan to take her funeral from me too? Should I just give you the body too so you may-”

It was just a moment, a flash at best, but Stiles thought he saw the Lady Hale’s eyes flash a shade of red, “Perhaps that would be best if you can not contain your drunkenness in honor of her memory.”

No one moved, not an inch, beyond the two of them as Talia crossed her arms tight and Stiles’s father stared at her open mouthed. The moment seemed to last forever to Stiles as his eyes began to water and his hand in Laura’s felt her squeeze. There was no pinch like with Derek and no feeling of ‘lightness’ in his body. Stiles could only squeeze it back. He was in a manner of shock when, after the terse moment dragged on, his father jumped up and stormed off. Everyone else watched the Duke leave while Stiles, his son, sat there waiting for something else to happen. It felt like everyone was staring at him and Stiles began to breath quicker, each one increasingly shallow, and Laura’s hand clutched his like a vice as she looked from Stiles to her mother and back. Stiles looked up as well though his eyes did not go to Talia, whom rose from her seat and walked around the casket, but to Derek.

The older boy was staring hatefully after Stiles’s father. That changed when he caught the younger Stilinski’s eye. Derek tried to smile reassuringly, Stiles could tell, but the expression was strained. At any other time it would have been hilarious. Derek looked less reassuring and more crazy. Stiles inclined his head toward the now-empty seat beside him. He knew the other boy understood but instead of taking the offer, Derek’s face fell and he shook his head before looking away toward the priest.

Stiles was surprised at how much the refusal hurt.

Nearly as much as he was when Laura squeezed his hand and whispered beside him, “I’ll explain later.”

Then Talia was in his father’s recently vacated seat and all attention was on her. The woman’s presence commanded a form of respect but it seemed even stronger now, having cowled his father, as everyone regarded her in awe. Talia took it in stride as she gently gripped Stiles by the chin and turned his face to her’s, “Stiles, would you follow your father or would you like to stay? The choice is entirely yours.” There it was, the choice, and Stiles had to fight against his own panic as everyone awaited his answer. The only people not looking at him were Derek, whom still looked away, and the priest and his sister who seemed to be in some form of non-verbal arguement judging by their faces. At the same time that Stiles nodded he would say the priest’s sister took off from her place at the front of the congregation.

Father Deacon, if he was vexed by it, did not let it show as he looked to Talia, “Shall I continue?”

She looked to Stiles one more time and at his assent nodded to the priest.

The pouch made a reappearance as Deacon used his fingers to pinch out a black sand and resumed, “And with this mountain ash, I ask for protection in this world and the next from all things that would harm. The circle shall be three fold strong so as to represent the connection of the physical, spiritual, and that which is natural.” Try as he might have to keep focus on the words, Stiles could not, as the moment Deacon let the black sand fall into the casket all his attention concentrated. That sand offended his father. Deacon called it mountain ash - the remnants of something burned as Stiles took it. He watched intently enough to notice that even though Deacon had only sprinkled the mountain ash an entire circle of it crested the grooved-edges of his mother’s casket. It circles her on the cushioned cloth which she lay. A third circle haloed around her head. He had not added enough for that. Stiles knew it, everyone in attendance knew it, and yet no one questioned it. Not even Stiles who questioned everything.

Even the sudden feeling of peace he had once the ash was down went without question.

The remainder of the funeral proceeded rather normally from there save the absence of his father. Talia stayed on Stiles right with her hand on his back, Laura on his left with both her hands folded over his.

He did not cry anymore to his own great surprise.

When the pail bearers consisting of several males of the large Hale family, Derek and his father included, approached the coffin Deacon looked to Stiles, “Would you like to say anything before?”

There were so many things Stiles wanted to say to his mother. He wanted to thank her for all the time she spent with him, teaching him and the games they played. There were questions he still wanted to ask her. So many thoughts went through his mind but instead of standing and voicing them Stiles just shook his head. Everyone seemed to understand, Talia especially, as she needed no words when he looked to her. As the pallbearers gripped the handles on either side of the coffin she stood and led Stiles away.

She at least understood that he could not watch the coffin go into the earth.

A part of Stiles expected the Hale family, whom had taken over his whole life in the past few days, to adjourn to his family home after the funeral. Talia and he had after-all waited on them. Yet as Stiles prepared to leave he was instead greeted by each one in turn as they approached.

An old woman whom Talia introduced as her mother took his hand and kissed the knuckle, “Your mother was a beautiful woman in both body and spirit. She will not be forgotten.” The Dowager Hale’s voice was soft and at Stiles choked nod a smile flit across her face, “If you ever lack, simply ask of us.”

Talia rubbed at the spot between his shoulders as Stiles thanked the Dowager.

After that came more of them. Stiles, whom was working at a career as a professional Hale observer, noticed a great many things. Without any manner of directed organization they came in a certain fashion. After the Dowager Hale came a selection of older Hales whom Talia introduced casually, one by one, as her brother, sister, or cousin. Some spoke while others said nothing. All of them had contact with him in some way, whether a kiss at his knuckles or a hand on his shoulder. Before any of them touched Stiles however they looked to Talia and nodded, head kept low until she returned the gesture to them.

Stiles tried to remember their names but soon it was a blur as his mind began to drift off. Only a few held his attention closely: a young man named Peter, whom unlike the other’s drew Stiles into a hug and breathed a, “Your mother was a saint.” right into his ear. Peter held close even after Stiles went rigid and Talia coughed politely into her hand. When he still refused to let go Talia placed a hand on his shoulder and Peter quickly pulled away with one last parting, “If you are ever in trouble, I’ll be there.” Once the strange(st) Hale walked away Stiles looked to Talia for an explanation but did not get one. The dark haired Hale matron just held a tiny smile on her face and looked back with a raised brow.

Talia’s three children, unlike the rest, all came as one. Laura led the youngest, Cora, with her hands on the girl’s shoulders. Derek walked behind them with his hands in the pockets of his dress pants. The youngest Hale with her pigtails and knee length black dress seemed two things; decisively unimpressed with him and bored all the same. Unlike the rest who looked to Talia first, Cora stared at Stiles straight on with her nose turned up. Weird as it was, she definitely sniffed in his direction, “You do not seem all that special to me.”

Laura whacked the back of her head, “Cora! Keep those thoughts inside your head, please!”

“Oww, that-”

Talia cut in, “Cora, apologize.”

Another example of Talia’s power over her family. With just the two words Cora looked put out but thrust a hand forward and held it till Stiles shook, “I apologize, young lord Stilinski.”

Stiles face colored, “I”m hardly a-”

She didn’t care, “Mother, may I go, please? Cousin Shelly wishes me to ride with her.” Laura went to whack her again but stopped as Talia gave a long suffering sigh and waved the girl off. Cora wasted no time in dashing away to climb into one of the waiting carriages. Rudeness aside, Stiles liked her.

 

That only left one Hale who had not greeted him. Derek stood several feet away where he first stopped. He didn’t return Stiles smile, if he even saw it, considering how intently the dark haired teen watched his mother. Stiles looked to her just in time to catch the end of Talia shaking her head. The other boy squared his shoulders and at last finally looked at Stiles only to say, “I’m very sorry for your loss.”

Derek walked off toward one of the waiting carriages without any further discussion.

‘Did I do something?’

He was nearly certain the thought stayed in his head, positive even. Yet still Talia’s hand retracted from his neck the great host of Hale carriages began to depart, “It is nothing of your doing, I assure.” She did not meet his questioning eyes though and when Stiles looked to Laura, the last remaining Hale child, the other girl gave him a sympathetic smile. Clearly he had done something wrong for the sudden change.

Stiles spent the entire carriage ride back to his estate considering what it could be to no success.

The Priest, Deacon, rode with them in Talia’s great black carriage. The entirety of their pleasant conversation centered around the man. He and Talia conversed over things that Stiles mostly did not understand. He actually felt bad for intruding with the question of, “What is a triskelion?” when the man mentioned having one carved into the gravestone. Deacon just smiled at him while Talia pulled her strange medallion from her neckline and raised it for Stiles to see. To him it was just three spirals. From the way they spoke it would have meant something else to his mother - another question never asked.

As the two adults resumed their conversation Stiles turned instead to Laura. She had been quiet as well, head turned to the carriage’s window, off in her own world. He felt a pang of jealousy at her ability to escape when he was so firmly rooted in the moment. While Stiles may have pushed it down quickly he still bumped his hand against her’s and brought Laura’s attention to himself.

It felt silly to do but Stiles leaned up so as to whisper in her ear, “I wanted to ask you about…”

Stiles felt betrayed when the girl put a finger to his lips and shook her head. She even had the audacity to smile, “Never whisper around Hales. My mother will still hear anyway, isn’t that right, Mother?”

His face burned as the Matron Hale in question nodded with a small smile, “It’s true, I hear everything.” Deacon, beside her, laughed as if she made some great joke. Not for the first time Stiles felt excluded from something involving these people, even more of their oddities, and sunk into his seat. It wasn’t sulking, he kept telling himself that as the carriage turned onto the path to his home. Once they would have been greeted by an assortment of the footmen or at least head butler. Now the only person standing watch was Deacon’s sister, still in her black funeral attire, with arms crossed as she waited in front of the estate doorway. The air in the carriage soured with sight of her. Deacon stopped laughing, though his small smile never fully slipped, and Talia’s face momentarily pursed in full view of them all.

It made Stiles nervous - even more so when Talia glanced to Laura meaningfully, “You and Stiles stay in the carriage and have your discussion. I’ll do my best to respect your privacy and not listen in.” That said Talia stormed from the carriage with Deacon trailing behind her. From the window he watched the leader of the Hales pointedly ignore the priest’s sister’s half-bow as she passed. Deacon at least paused to exchange words with his sister. Stiles could not know what sort as the man faced away.

Any further attempt to watch was interrupted by Laura jerking at his arm.

“Come Stiles, you wanted to speak with me. Let’s speak then.”

Her smile seemed too wide, nearly all of her pristine teeth on display. It felt showy and false. Stiles, after all his time spent around the servants of his family, recognized that smile for what it was, platitude. For a brief moment the Stilinski heir considered asking Laura if she even truly liked him. If this was all some sort of act based on the premise of them being ‘promised’ - whatever that meant. He refrained solely out of propriety and out of respect for his promise to Derek. He would give her as many chances as it took.

Instead Stiles bit as his lip and instead of asking he stated, “Derek acted strangely at the funeral. I must have done something to offend him. If you and your mother would simply tell me what I could correct it.”

Of all the responses he expected it was not for Laura to laugh. Any other time it would have struck Stiles as the first time she did. Her laugh was airy, clearly amused, and at his scandalized face Laura tucked a hand in front of her mouth as if to stifle it.

She failed, “Oh Stiles, it is as we said. You did nothing. The fault is entirely with Derek, I promise.”

He stared at her, saying nothing, as Laura ceased her laughter. She looked willing to start again at his expectant face, “I can not tell you all the details - it is a matter of my family. I can try to explain?”

It wasn’t enough and his expression fell even further.

She patted at his knee while speaking, “Have you ever wondered why until now you only met my mother?”

Stiles pursed his lips. It was true. Talia had been the only one to come and even that was rarely up until late. He’d assumed it was because they lived far away but apparently that was not the case with the early time of his mother’s funeral. He could hardly imagine the Dowager Hale riding overnight.

Laura continued, “We are a very private family. My mother, as matron of our family, handles all the business and affairs of our estate. We find it easier to keep to ourselves, you understand?”

He didn’t, not exactly. His own family, prior to their move to the country some time ago and then his mother’s illness, had attended some lavish social parties. His father’s military position certainly had not dissuaded that in any way. The thought of a family in hiding, like the Hales, was a mystery to him. The thought must have registered on his face (or he spoke aloud again) as Laura let out another small laugh.

“I realize we must seem so strange to you.”

His nod certainly did not deny it.

“You’ll come to understand us as you see more of us, I assure you.”

Stiles nodded again, slower, as the thought drifted in his mind. He was to see more of the Hales, apparently. His father would not be pleased with that if how he acted to Talia was any indication.

“My father does not seem to care for your family.”

Laura winced, just a tad, at his words, “It certainly does seem that way. I can only hope he will move past it. We,” At that she pointed at him and then herself, “are promised after-all. Having your father hate me for my unique heritage will certainly not aid in that.”

He did not even realize he was speaking until after he blurted out, “What does ‘promised’ even mean? Are we getting married one day or something? Derek said that wasn’t it but you make it sound that way.”

Usually, when Stiles spouted off his thoughts without thinking on them, people laughed. It seemed to be the go-to reaction to his behaviour. It took him especially off guard then when Laura’s face contorted into a look of discomfort and she shifted in her seat to face him full on, “Hold on, you mean no one has explained it to you yet?” Stiles shook his head and she pressed, “Your mother never…?” At his soft, ‘No’, she went even further, “My mother? Your father?” Another shake of his head, “Surely Derek then-”

Stiles cut her off as his arms crossed, “No, no one will tell me what that means. I tried to ask Derek but he told me I had to ask your mother. The only thing my mother said was…” He paused to look down at his lap. Remembering that moment his mother passed threaten to overtake him for a moment and he blinked rapidly, expecting tears that simply did not come. Thinking back his mother’s last words had been about Laura, telling him to trust in her, and Stiles had almost forgotten to do just that already, “S-She said you would ‘protect my domain’.” He looked up again to face Laura, “I don’t...Laura?”

The older girl looked, to say the least, stunned. Her eyes were wide with a hand covering her mouth as she faced Stiles fully on their bench seat, “Your mother acknowledged me? Are you certain?”

He leaned back on the seat to put a bit of confused distance, “Erm...yes? It was one of the last things she said to me.”

‘Said through Talia.’ Stiles still did not understand that he was certain Laura would not explain.

“I...oh, I never thought. I apologize, it’s just that your mother is something of an icon to my family.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed. What did she-”

It was probably a mistake to ask. Laura’s hand caught his and she all but gushed, “Your mother is the reason my family can live as freely as we do. I was just a child when her and my mother bonded,” Stiles raised a brow in confusion but Laura kept going, “, but we were able to settle here then. I hear things were terrible before she came along. Uncle Peter told me stories about other things she did. He said sheonce kept him from making some terrible mistake. Apparently without her, he would be dead.”

Stiles stared at her in shock as Laura kept talking. It was the first he heard of any of this. His mother and father had definitely never mentioned her apparent adventures with the Hales.

How much had been hidden from him all this time?

“How did she-”

Stiles never got to finish his question. He jumped as the carriage door jerked open and Deacon poked his head in, “Sorry to interrupt but we need the two of you inside. It’s important.”

They exchanged a look before following the man. Deacon, whom Stiles had yet to see without a smile, certainly lacked one now. If anything the man looked annoyed as the power walked up the way to the left-open door and led them inside. Stiles expected to be led to the sitting room. It was a surprise when Deacon took the path leading them to his father’s study. Stiles had not been allowed in his father’s study nearly since they moved into the country home. Now walking into the room with its dark wooden accents Stiles did so nervously. Deacon’s change threw him off and Laura, as they approached the room, had adopted her own look of nerves. The situation was not helped as Stiles caught side of his father leaned back against his desk with a dark look on his face and beside him stood the priest’s sister, arms crossed over her chest. The two seemed united in their task of glaring across the room where Talia sat on the arm of an easy chair. She returned them a baleful look mostly focused on Deacon’s sister.

Deacon moved to Talia’s side with Laura rushing behind him. Stiles took a step toward his father and then stopped as every eye in the room turned toward him, “...Father, what is going on?”

John Stilinski, now that he was not glaring at Talia, looked tired as he waved Stiles forward, “Come here. Apparently my opinion as your father is not important to her,” His hand made a gesture towards Talia that must have set the woman on edge. She made a low sound, nearly a growl, as her sharp eyes remained on Stiles father as the younger Stilinski joined him. Something about the whole situation set Stiles on edge. His father’s behaviour as of late had been off to the point of scaring him sometimes.

They barely spoke in the past few days and now John lightly squeezed his son’s shoulder.

With everyone save Laura and himself looking to go at each other’s throats it was neither Talia or John that spoke. Instead the dark skinned woman stepped forward and dropped on her knee before Stiles. Were it not for his father’s hand Stiles may have flinched back from the woman as she pushed her hair back and took his right hand, “Young Lord Stilinski, a pleasure. My name is Marin Morrell. I humbly come before you as an emissary of the Triskelion.” Talia must have made a comment under her breath as several eyes turned to the woman. Morrell herself even glanced back before returning her attentions to Stiles, “Very well, if Matron Talia would divest me, I come to you by rights of the World Triad.”

Stiles had absolutely no idea what she meant but Talia’s disgusted scoff and Laura’s gasp meant something. Even Stiles father looked at her with a raised brow. The strongest response of all thought was Deacon’s as the man stepped forward from Talia’s side, “Marin, you do not have the authority.”

Without rising or breaking eye contact with Stiles, Morrell snapped off, “Matron Talia’s involvement in this matter discludes the Triskelion regardless. In this situation I may only invoke the World for status.”

Deacon did not look pleased but he stepped back as Talia announced, “This is a farce.”

Morrell ignored the interruption, “Young Lord Stilinski, I brought counsel to your father and he has made a decision as to his own future. He wishes the same for you but the Lady of the Triskelion disagrees. You are not of her pack,” Stiles face contorted at the word ‘pack’, confused still, and he pulled his hand back. Morrell did not fight him and released immediately, “, so the decision is ultimately yours and no other.” She lowered her head and it was so strange for Stiles to have a grown woman prostrating herself to him like this. He looked to Laura, the only one he felt was as confused as him, once the self-described ‘Emissary's hypnotic eyes were off his own.

Laura did not look confused. Instead the girl looked like a bundle of nerves and was actually chewing at one of her nails, free arm crossed tight over her chest. When their gaze met she quickly shook her head.

Something was wrong and Stiles desperately wanted to know what or to run.

His mind leaned towards run.

He would not have gotten very far as Morrell stepped back and suddenly, Stiles’s father took her place. The Duke Stilinski had dark circles about his eyes and still, even hours after the funeral, smelled like fresh drink. He had too much clarity in his eyes to still be under the influence, “Stiles, son, I know you are confused. I know there is so much we have all kept from you.” His father was a sincere man, he spoke his feelings and never lied. Stiles had a lifetime of his father being straight with him to accept this kind of talk as he nodded, solemnly, to John’s words, “I apologize, but I never wanted this life for you.”

This life. The same one that was either falling apart or changing in less than a week.

“Dad,” Stiles was confused enough to drop formality in front of guests, “, what are you trying to…”

“This is not the life I want you...no, us , to have.” John lowered his head against Stiles shoulder and the boy froze, body rigid, as his father had never been so touchy. The man gave hugs but never so close.

More notable however is that Stiles had never seen his father cry like he was not.

“Stiles, I can’t live like this. I can’t live with the memory of what that thing did to your mother.”

Everyone froze when Stiles pulled a face, “...What thing?”

With the exception of one they all stared at him in confusion before the John began to yell. Not at Talia, not at Morrell, nor even at Stiles himself, but as Deacon as the rest stared at the man, “What in hell did you do to my son?!”

Talia, as if expecting violence, rose from her perch to stand between John and Deacon, though she too addressed the man, “You assured me that he would be fine afterwards. What is this?”

Deacon to his credit, raised his hands and spoke calmly as if no one looked down on him, “I explained that a transference could have side effects. Rejecting the creature from his soul was hardly peaceful.”

“...Creature, from me?”

John rounded to his son with a panicked look, Talia as well though she threw up a hand for silence from Deacon. Even Morrell kept her silence by looking away from him pointedly. The woman did not seem able to face him. Something was wrong and Stiles felt his breathing shallow as he tried not to panic.

In the end it was Laura who spoke, her voice painfully soft, and her eyes wet as she looked from Deacon to Stiles in a frenzy, “You told me it would all be fine. It passed through me. I didn’t take…”

Stiles spoke her name at the same time John and Talia both, in separate tones, yelled at her to be quiet.

“Laura…”

“Stiles...the thing that killed your mother was inside of you first.”

In that moment Stiles entire world collapsed as Talia viciously slapped her daughter across the face and his father, tears in his eyes, kneeled before Stiles with hands on both his shoulders. John was saying something to him. More talk of how they did not have to live like this. How they could put all this behind them. It all sounded wonderful except that the only thing Stiles could truly hear was Laura’s words on repeat in his brain. Something had killed his mother, some creature. A creature that came from him.

“I killed mom.”

John shook him by the shoulders, “No, you didn’t, that thing did.” So much was happening and Stiles just stared into his father’s eyes as the man frantically spoke to him, “If you say yes she,” John waved one of his hands in Morrell’s general direction, “can take this hell from us. Please Stiles, please.”

She can take all of this away.

Stiles nodded to his father slowly, lamely, before looking to Morrell, “I accept.”

Talia’s voice came as practically a roar as she rounded on Morrell, “I refuse to help with this. He is too young to make this sort of decision. What is your agenda in this emissary? If you had not invoked the World Triad, I would end you here and now.” It was the first time he ever heard Talia yell and the sheer force of it would have reduced him to tears at any other time. Now, Stiles just lamely looked at her as the woman’s voice echoed off the study. Her threat held weight as Deacon stepped before his sister.

Morrell, the one with the threat of murder hanging over her head, simply shrugged, “It is not your help I need Lady of the Triskelion, it’s her’s.” One of her long fingers pointed to Laura who paled.

“I won’t.”

Morrell shrugged, “He has already consented. Would you have him live with killing his mother?”

Stiles heard shouting and even some panic at that but it all sounded so far away. All he could picture was his mother’s empty expression as she clutched his wrist and stared up at him weeks before.

He had done that to her.

He had caused her that much pain.

While all the adults argued amongst themselves Stiles fainted dead out on the floor of his father’s study.


 

Post-Note

This is not a false alarm.
This is really the prologue of a work.
Disgusting, amirite?
Hopefully it leaves you with fun questions.
And not wanting to kill me.

Do please leave comments if you enjoy it and would like me to continue.

 

Chapter Text

The new moon meant he was weak.

Tonight’s eclipse on the other hand made him feel helpless.

Stiles threw himself against a standing tree as the rain pelted down. Everything wet, his black and grey bodice stuck tightly to his skin and the muddy ground turned every barefoot step into struggle. What should have been an easy run tonight turned into his personal hell.

Breathing ragged, he used the moment to take stock.

His side burned from where the sword bit into it earlier. It had been overconfident, no, stupid even to take on a hunter in these conditions. He evaded the man but not without taking a wound of his own prior to escaping. The blade more than likely coated in wolfsbane. Hunter’s always douses their blades in the herb liberally. He needed to find a place to hide and burn the infection out before it set in. While peering into the forest Stiles gripped the end of his black skirt and ripped a long piece free. He wrapped his torso on the move as he set off.

There was no time to stop. They could not be that far behind him.

Wound wrapped, Stiles gripped the medallion hanging from his neck while climbing a small hill.

“They won’t get away with this…”

There was no one else around, save perhaps hunters lurking in the bushes, but he whispered to himself anyway. Too much was at stake. If they had not waylaid his carriage he would already be in the city setting things to rights. Perhaps he had already succeeded. Not for years now had the connection in his mind felt so strong. Another person walked through the darkness with him.

“Of course, the first time I feel you in years, and I bring pain.”

He pressed a hand against his side and held as another burning wave radiated from it.

“Definitely wolfsbane…”

Stiles stopped as the smell hit his nose again. All day from shortly after leaving his current lodging, the smell hovered right at the edge of his senses. At times it seemed familiar and he could almost place it. Other times it smelled distinctly off like ash and blood. The ‘blood’ portion of it practically overpowered now. It wasn’t the hunters. They smelled of silver and mountain ash.

Whatever this was stalking him all day - it had killed recently.

“Damn eclipse…even a new moon would-”

The words died on his tongue as his foot slipped. His graceful climb up a slight hill turned into a muddy slide down to the bottom. Mud coated the front of his dress and grass clung to his burning cheek. He probably caught a rock on the way down. Pushing himself up Stiles did not bother trying to brush away the grime coated to him, more would replace it.

There were more serious matters - that strange smell clouded all his senses despite the rain.

Someone else was right here with him and not even the rain scented over their bloodlust.

xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx

Stiles did not so much leap from bed as he tumbled off the edge and hit the floor with a crash. It took a moment of floundering against his blankets to free himself. Liberated he sat up, elbows on the bed, and looked back and forth across his room in a panic. The sun lit every corner of the room and clearly no one hid in the corners. He was also definitely not in a dress, Stiles looked down at his red pajamas and even ensured he was not wearing one. Letting loose a sigh of relief the seventeen year old climbed back on his bed. It was too early for all of his; he could still…

Any plans he had to sleep in were ruined by a knock at his door.

“Stiles, I know you are awake in there.”

Said-Stiles groaned loudly. Without removing his face from the mattress he threw a hand off and fished for the comforter. In sync with his door opening he threw the bedding over himself.

“Get outttt…”

Scott McCall ignored him which Stiles fully expected. The other teen kicked aside some of the clothes strewn around the door. Considering the amount of time since Stiles had sorted out his clothing to be laundered and his fondness of just tossing things, Scott basically cut a path. He looked a bit disgusted by it like he expected something to crawl out and assault him, “Your room is a tragedy. You know that if you put it in the baskets she brought it would get washed.”

Stiles’s freckled face poked from the bedding, “Tragedy, Scott? Really?”

His closest friend of three years smirked, an honest-to-god smirk.

Stiles groaned, louder than before, as he rolled himself in the other direction, “Spell it.”

He could not see Scott’s face but he could hear the annoyance in the other boy’s voice, “No.”

“Spell itttttt....”

Scott gave an annoyed sigh and did it as he hopped to sit at the foot of the high and fluffy bed.

From the depths of his blanket Stiles muttered that he forgot a ‘C’ and Scott frowned, “No, I didn’t. I know it’s ‘T-R-A-G-E-D-Y’. Hurry and get up. Mom made breakfast and we leave soon.”

Stiles poked his head out again and eyed the other teen. Scott, who usually dressed for comfort or in a very limited range of casual outfits, looked fancy in his white dress shirt and wine red tie. His slacks were a bit too big and he was missing the black vest that went with the outfit, but Stiles still stared at him aghast, “You actually look like a dignified young man for once.”

He rolled his eyes, “You are talking to me about being dignified? We’re going to be late.”

Sitting up in bed at last Stiles stretched, arms going so wide that Scott had to duck his head to not get smacked in the face, “We won’t be late. It’s only…” He looked around his room with a yawn as if something would give him the time of day. When that obviously failed he rubbed at his eye and looked to Scott, “...What time is it? Should I be really worried or just slight panic?”

Scott gave him a dry look, “Little more than slight. My mom made breakfast to celebrate.” At that Stiles looked sharply at his friend and his face made an, ‘Ohhhh…’ that had the black haired teen looking smug, “Yeah, so hurry up. The Duke left right as we arrived earlier, some case.”

He crawled from his bed in a hurry - Melissa McCall food not to be missed - and headed towards his desk. Nearly the entire mahogany surface was covered in books, mostly half read with make-shift bookmarks hanging from random pages. Other things took up space as well such as his own pair of dress pants to match Scott’s. Stiles changed right in front of his friend as they talked. The two were practically brothers at this point anyway; Scott’s insistence on calling his father by formal title aside, “Did he say anything about it? Must be new. He was taking time off.”

The other boy shrugged as he pointed Stiles’s in the direction of his shirt, “He didn’t say much. I tried to ask for you,” Scott, a professional Stiles conversationalist, did not let the declaration of ‘This is why I like you, Scott.’, phase him, “but my mother stopped me.”

“Thinks she knows anything?”

Scott shrugged, “Don’t think so. They did not keep her late last night.”

Stiles stewed over that while throwing things aside in his closet. Ms. McCall’s worked as a nurse in the lower district hospital. If there had been any sort of mass incident the night before they would have kept her late. She would have heard something at the very least. That ruled out murder in the lower quarter at least. If Stiles’s father’s word was anything to go by, murder did not happen in the upper quarter. The only stabbings were in the back over drinks.

“It could be nothing.”

Stiles strolled out of the closet tugging on his dress shirt and fighting with the tie all at once, “Dad does not leave this early for ‘nothing’. Anything short of cold blooded murder waits until noon.”

His friend ripped the tie from him while holding the door to his room open. Stiles simply did not accomplish two tasks at once. Scott’s reward for his efforts; a sour look. Scott opening doors was a standing point of contention between the two. It sat right up with Scott trying to carry things for him. Despite popular belief in the upper district among the Duke’s social circle the McCalls were not servants. They did not work for the Stilinskis. Scott was Stiles friend by choice. Melissa McCall, whom greeted the boys with a wave as they entered the dining room, was not their house cook. She cleaned the house on occasion for extra money when the Stilinski men let it get particularly bad but that was all. Even that was because she refused any ‘help’ from the Duke.

His father refused to hire servants, had for years, and Stiles was glad for it as Melissa dropped two hefty plates of pancakes in front of them, “Thanks Melissa, it looks really good, as always.”

She looked tired, a constant thing lately according to Scott, but still mustered up the energy to beam at Stiles compliment, “Thank you, Stiles. Now if only someone else appreciated it…”

Scott, already two mouthfuls in, practically whined, “Mom, you know I love your food.”

Melissa, whom adamantly refused to let Stiles call her ‘Ms. McCall’, smiled while flipping a lock of her curly black hair back, “Of course you do but a woman does like to hear compliments.”

Stiles smirked and ignored Scott’s half-hearted glare as he went at the food.

Half-way through their meal Scott’s mom joined them. Instead of a plate of food for herself the woman clutched a steamy cup of coffee and watched them go at it. Stiles had long since got past never seeing the woman eat with them, “Happen to know why my father left before noon?”

“I tend to not quiz your father on his cases, Stiles.” Melissa dealt with Stiles better than most. Her dry response shut him down and when he went to speak again, she cut him off, “I did not hear anything at the clinic last night. I’m sure he will tell you about if he deems it important.” All three of them knew that would never happen. Stiles depth of knowledge about his father’s cases tended to come from pestering the man into slipping up or reading papers meant to be put away. Occasionally they were put away and yet somehow ended up in Stiles’s hands regardless.

She sighed as Stiles and her son looked at each other and in unison said, “Murder.”

“You two can be gruesome.”

Scott whined a drawn out ‘Mom’ while Stiles looked at her straight with a serious face, “Hardly, we are just trying to stay informed so that we may better protect ourselves as young men of society.”

He remained markedly unphased by her flat look over the brim of her pale green coffee cup, “‘Young men of society’? How long have you been waiting to use that one on me, exactly?”

Stiles shrugged and bit into his last bite of pancake, “It was meant for father but he’s not here.”

Melissa glanced toward the grandfather clock shoved in the corner of the Stilinski dining room. Stiles, who apparently ‘ate like an animal’ had finished, but Scott was still working on the last bit when she snatched the plates from them, “You two need to hurry or you’ll be late.” Scott leapt up from his seat at her words while Stiles, rather lazily, pushed away from the table. Instead of worrying over her son Melissa caught Stiles by the shoulders and practically guided him to the front door of his own estate. Somewhere along the way the woman even had time to pull their waistcoats from the coat closet. The two boys matched perfectly as they buttoned up the black vests with red buttons and the ‘Beacon Hills Academy’ logo emblazoned on the breast.

While buttoning up the top two button of Stiles’s dress shirt, Melissa looked proud, “Well, you two certainly look dashing.” They both knew those buttons were doomed the moment he left but for now Stiles let her. He suspected what was coming. No sooner had she done him up then Melissa gave Scott a pointed look and, as he always did, Stiles loudly announced he would be waiting outside. It did not matter that it was his own house. He understood the McCall privacy.

Not that he had to ask about it. They barely made it down the street before Scott’s sour face got a look from Stiles and the black haired boy spilled, “She told me to not embarrass the Duke.”

“You won’t.” Stiles did not even have to think about it.

The other boy shrugged and walked with hands in his pockets and a bit of a slouch. Stiles knew Scott was nervous about it, even the Stilinski heir was, but he just hid it better, “She’s not a big fan of this arrangement. I mean, I am. Dream come true. She just worries, you know…”

“Yeah, absolutely.” Stiles was not all that sure but lied for his friend anyway. When his father first suggested getting Scott enrolled in Beacon Hills along with Stiles, Melissa had been staunchly against it from the very start. The two had minor disagreements before but they never fought the way they had that evening. Then again, Duke Stilinski announced it out of the blue with little to no preamble. The two settled it behind closed doors in the study that Stiles was fiercely prohibited from listening in on. Not even Scott let him try that time. Scott received his enrollment notice the next week at the Stilinski estate as if he lived there and not in the lower district. The Stilinski heir was sure her reasons had something to do with the cost of enrollment. It wasn’t that bad though.

Scott choked the first time he heard it, granted, but they had the money.

The Stilinski manor sat near the center of Beacon Hill’s upper district, sandwiched between other estates nearly border to border. While technically the ‘finest’ area of the city it was also the smallest. The few times his father or Melissa took him to the lower district Stiles had been surprised to see the horse-drawn trams and open spaces. Highly inconvenient versus the upper district where everything felt in walking distance. The only downside was despite the open space in the lower district versus the upper, nearly every salesperson seemed intent on setting up their carts or shops on any given corner. Even the park they walked through to cross the district had them. Stiles noticed some time back that their wares often changed by the house. Right now they were serving breakfast to the people walking past. Once breakfast passed? Perhaps lunch, maybe trinkets collected from trade outside the city, it could be anything. Stiles knew of one particular saleswoman who went from serving crepes to fake-diamond jewelry like clockwork.

Stiles patted his friend on the shoulder while they skirted a particularly aggressive one, “You need to stop worrying about it. You earned it when you passed the entrance exam, right?”

Scott shot him a scathing look.

“Whoa, all the hostility. What? You did pass.”

The other boy practically grunted, “ Barely . It started raining during the run and that’s-”

Stiles cut him off, “None of that matters. You passed, you earned it. First day. Let’s try to enjoy it. I mean, prestigious military academy here, Scott. You really want to pass it up? Anyway you-”

He paused mid-tangent and glanced back to where Scott stopped. The other boy intently looked around. They were almost at the academy and at first, as he peered in the same direction, Stiles did not understand why they were pausing in front of the war museum. The three story tall structure had yet to open for the day and the heavy ‘closed’ sign still hung in the window. Not that it mattered; Stiles had dragged Scott in there once to look at a imported sidearm collection. His friend showed no interest in anything other than a collection of swords, so why did he…

Oh .

“He’s not here today?”

“No,” Scott sounded a bit absent as he looked, “I wonder if something happened to him.”

The ‘he’ in question was a bum who set up his sign in front of the museum. Most beggars who worked the upper district showed off some kind of craft. An old woman over on Fourth played a beat up old flute with years of experience. The willowy dirty blonde teen who worked the museum area just sat somewhere, curled up in a ratty old coat, and held out a tin cup. Hardly seemed the best begging practice to Stiles. The teen did not even say a word the one time Scott brought him food from one of the vendors. That was actually an improvement over the time Stiles threw some coins in his cup and instead of smiling or thanking him, the guy frowned .

Scott still seemed to be a fan.

“I’m sure he’s fine. Probably just set up shop somewhere else for the day.”

Scott shrugged and started walking again, “Guess so. Hope he’s okay.”

As they walked Stiles rolled his eyes at Scott, while looking in the other direction at least, “You should just talk to him one day. Maybe your sunny attitude will perk him up or something.”

He should have expected Scott’s to actually consider it, “Next time I see him then-”

“Scott, joking. Don’t talk to beggars. They’ll follow you home.” His words got a dark look and Stiles sighed, “Nevermind. Talk to him. He might be perfectly - Oh, this is going to ruin my day.”

This’  came in the form of a black and silver carriage stopping at the curb. Stiles’s attempt to pull Scott along backfired as the door opened before they could pass. First out came the tan, bulky form of Danny Mahealani dressed in the same uniform as Scott and Stiles save one difference, a black and silver pin attached to his collar. He did an admirable job of ignoring them both despite close proximity while side-stepping.  Out of the way, Danny performed a flawless half-bow with one arm over his chest as the other occupant of the carriage came out. Scott nearly did as well, purely by habit and clumsily, before Stiles caught his shoulder and held his friend upright.

“Really Stilinski? At least let your servant can show the appropriate respect to his betters.”

Scott should have gotten angry, not looked embarrassed, and Stiles stepped in front of his long-term friend instinctually, “Shove off, Jackson. You know full well Scott’s not my servant.”

Jackson Whittemore, sole heir of Archduke David Whittemore, descended from his carriage looking perfectly together as always. Every single dark hair on his head swept perfectly in place and his academy uniform looked perfectly pressed. It would probably never be worn again. Stiles heard on multiple occasions that the Whittemore never bore the same outfit twice. Despite the perfection of his appearance Jackson still brushed at his sleeve in their direction as he continued, nose up, looking only at Stiles and never once at Scott, “Oh right, I forgot. Duke Stilinski has something against living as our rank was meant to.” Stiles went red in the face and stood his ground despite Scott attempting to pull him along. Jackson did not seem to care, he instead looked to Danny, “From what I hear they can scarcely afford the luxury these days.”

His teeth grinding together, Stiles took a step forward despite Scott pulling at him, “Take it back, Whittemore. Is spreading lies just a hobby of yours or is it a family occupation? Seems to me-”

Scott tugged him again, “Stiles, stop.”

It was Jackson who cut him off as the Whittemore’s head snapped around, “Careful Stilinski.”

The two boys were squared off against each other. Stiles ground his teeth while Jackson wore his particular ‘angry yet mocking’ smirk. A regular enough image that had, on a few occasions, ended in fights that got them both in trouble for ‘being so common’. Scott saw it enough to have one of his hands latched onto Stiles wrist and tugging. He was used to reining in his friend.

Even Danny, the impeccable footman, looked somewhat concerned as he stepped from Jackson’s shadow to his side, “We will be late if this continues.”

Neither boy looked willing to back down.

It was another voice altogether that pulled their attention fully from each other, “Is this really how we are starting our time here? I realize you two are stupid but really, this is pushing things, no?”

Four sets of eyes turned, along with everyone else present, as Lydia Martin stepped down from her gilded white carriage with a plethora of servants around her. Her uniform was nearly the same as the boys save a knee-length red skirt instead of the slacks and no vest. She tossed her red scarf, a few shades lighter than her hair, as she walked toward them. Scott had the good sense to move back while Danny fell into another half-bow. She acknowledged Danny with a nod. By the time she stepped between Stiles and Jackson without pause, the two noble youth had even stepped back out of her path. Stiles wore his usual ‘Lydia-is-present’ look; his smile seeming several sizes too large for his face. It looked less pleasant and more mildly crazy.

Jackson, on the other hand, rolled his eyes and fell into step behind her, fight put aside for now.

Danny, watching Jackson and Lydia go, hung back long enough to sigh and look at Stiles.

“Sorry about that. He’s in a mood.”

Stiles crossed his arms and glared after Jackson, “He’s been in one since I met him.”

“Stiles!” Scott stepped forward and ahead of his friend to smile at Danny, “Don’t worry about it.”

“Oh, I’m not.” Danny spoke with a straight face and crossed his arms, “I’d rather not get yelled at by Lord Whitmore - again, mind you - for you two getting in trouble in public . Restraint, please .” The footman’s voice was deadpan to the point of sarcasm; as if he never expected his master nor Stiles to ever show any form of the word. Not that he was entirely wrong.

Scott at least seemed to agree, “I’ll rein him in.”

Stiles, “Scott!”, was overdone by Danny’s dry, “See that you do.” as the tan boy went his way.

Their future fellow students, whom had kept distance before from Jackson and Stiles, fell back in around them with the spectacle over. Scott and Stiles joined the hoard of emblem bearing students through the gates. Beacon Hills Academy, though named after the city, had nothing with the simple schools scattered across the upper and lower districts. As a military academy it functioned more as a university for the upper class. Enrollment fees were stiff, unaffordable by most anyone without a title to their name, and nearly every face around them Stiles recognized in passing. Several of those new to him bore the same silver pin that Danny wore. The pin marked a servant of a noble family, allowed in on graces of the Headmaster and by the family’s money.

Beacon Hills Academy stood as one of the largest buildings in the upper district. A massive, three story tall structure designed more like a castle than the House of Governance across the district, the Academy invoked a heavy impression on its students. All four sides of the massive grounds were closed off by a tall gate of grey-black stones. From the one entrance in which they came a paved path wove around rose bushes to the polished double doors of the academy’s entrance. Along the path on both sides of the door guards, dressed in white and black, watched.

Stiles at least paid them no mind as he and Scott walked, arguing over dealing with Jackson, through those doors. They along with the rest of the incoming class - as the rest of the school body was not forced to attend reception - stood idly in the entrance hall. A crystal chandelier over their heads sparkled with light from the gas lamps hanging from the walls. Halls stretched out around them, two on either side, with a grand stairwell taking up the center of the room that split toward both of the upper wings. Stiles had been there before on a social function. Scott however stared aghast at all the wealth and polish as Stiles newest ramble washed over him unheeded.

Everyone insisting they would be late was not entirely without merit. Even with the size of the room it was nearly filled so Stiles and Scott were at the back of the large crowd. Everyone talking raised the noise level in the room to a near rumble. Well, everyone except for Scott, and when Stiles noticed his friend’s failure to respond he punched his friend lightly in the shoulder.

“Stop stressing, it will be fine.”

Scott’s smile in return did not look entirely sure of that.

Looking around, as Scott was seemingly struck silent, Stiles took stock of who he did know.

Lydia had unsurprisingly managed to part the crowd and Jackson and her had a wide circle around them at the very front near the grand stairwell. She was talking to Jackson while Whittemore simply scowled at everyone and anything. Danny, a few steps away as always, just watched them with his arms crossed and a bored look on his face. It was only his attachment to Jackson that kept him in the group as most Pins seemed to drift towards the wall to be unseen.

Other than them, Stiles saw a few other faces he actually cared to note. Some distance away from he and Scott stood Vernon Boyd. The son of one of Stiles father’s lieutenants, the tall black teen stood with his arms crossed, an unimpressed look, and a empty circle around him to rival Lydia’s. Not quite for the same reason. People were scared to stand close to Lydia for her cutting wit and status; they were scared to stand near Boyd because his biceps looked ready to burst from his uniform and the teen stood almost a full head taller than anyone else present. Even Stiles was not eager to try and strike up a conversation there. The last time he tried had been at a cocktail that his father was forced to attend and bring Stiles. In no time at all Boyd shut him down with a glare and a stern, ‘Are you done bothering me?’ that sent Stiles running.

Dying on his first day was hardly in the plan.

Several others he recognized through association but had rarely if ever spoken to. He at least noticed the daughter of the Reyes family, a quiet blonde girl standing so far back from the crowd as to barely be in it. He almost looked past her without even seeing the girl - probably not the first that day to mistake her for a Pin. There were others as well such as Emily and Caitlin, the two girls whom despite always being together Stiles knew the first by name alone and Caitlin by her flirtatious attitude. They were talking to Greenburg and judging his red face, it was traumatic.

Somewhere far above their head the great bells of the school rang.

It had truly begun.

A hush fell over them when a dark skinned woman in a stark-white pants suit descended the stairwell. Her black hair was worn up and a pair of sharp, nearly cat-eye glasses perched on her nose. One hand held an open book, the other a poised pen, and her face a flat look Stiles had never seen her before. He would have recognized her. For some reason though, as she looked up and her eyes swept across the crowd and briefly across his, Stiles felt a lump in his throat.

The feeling did not abate as she spoke with a raised voice to the room.

“Welcome new arrivals to Beacon Hills Academy.”

Someone off to the side clapped but with a single sharp look she put an end to that.

“My name is Marin Morrell and I wish to personally congratulate all of you on passing the entrance examinations.” She glanced down at her book and back up, “Some among you even managed exemplary scores across multiple sections. Be proud of that. At your age there are few things other that can be counted as real accomplishments. You do your names proud.”

There was some murmur from the assembled students at that, Stiles included as he elbowed Scott with a, “Well, isn’t she nice?” His friend just looked nervous as if Morrell were going to call him out personally for ‘barely passing’ as Scott put it. For Stiles at least, the exams had not been all that rigorous, at least the written ones. Most of those consisted of basic intelligence and an excessive amount of state history. The only parts that had worried the Stilinski heir were the physical exams. His run time had not been the best but at least he beat Greenberg who tested the same day as Scott and himself. Fencing had also been something of a wash out. Even Scott had bested him there, though not without some challenge. Thankfully they also tested marksmanship and having a Justice for a father meant he’d gotten in some practice. Even being able to load and point a firearm at someone other than the tester should have earned him points. Scott, upon being handed the flintlock testing pistol, had been utterly clueless with it. Greenberg almost shot the tester in the face but considering it was Greenberg, no one expected different.

Morrell continued, “Normally Headmaster Argent would be the one to greet you but urgent matters demanded his attention. So instead, I will be handing out your squadron assignments. Your squadron will be a five-man team dictated by ability based on your exams. Successes and failures will be measured both on an individual level and as a unit. I suggest you learn to work together quickly as possible lest you be removed from the academy. As I call you, step forward.”

This was it - the part Stiles dreaded most. Scott as well judging by the pale face of his friend. They both knew about it going into the school. A ‘Squadron’ was a five man team of students meant to work in tandem with each other. It seemed odd to Stiles first, having never worked with others in his previous schooling, but apparently it was custom. His father apparently went through it as well and had told Stiles, in no uncertain terms, that there was no getting out of it. They were expected to learn to work together in the military and this prepared them for it. Stiles was less worried about being assigned to strangers than he was not being assigned Scott though. This was the one instance where Scott being a Pin might have been best. Pins were not assigned to a Squad - they went where their masters went. Scott being enrolled instead as a Named student meant he could be assigned elsewhere and neither boy was comfortable with it.

When Morrell called the first team and it consisted of Greenberg, three boys, and Caitlin without Emily by her side, Stiles started to panic just a bit. He and Scott were going to be separated.

Then she called Greenberg as squad leader and Stiles panic ebbed into confusion because really, Greenberg leading? His squad did not look happy about it either, Caitlin’s face in her palm.

The next two squads mostly consisted of people Stiles barely knew though Boyd ended up in one alongside the Reyes girl. He fully expected Boyd to be named leader of that squad but instead it went to a bored looking blonde girl named Malia Tate. She seemed less than excited.

As the three assembled squads took a place off to the side, Morrell continued her calling.

“Lydia Martin.”

Lydia, already at the front of the crowd, barely had to step forward.

“Scott McCall.”

Internally, Stiles felt like ice water was dumped on his head. Outwardly, he flashed his worried friend a thumbs-up as Scott fought through the crowd to the front. Things could have been worse. Of anyone present, Stiles knew for a fact his friend would succeed with Lydia as his squad leader - and there was no question she would be. He just had to hold his breath while the red headed heiress gave his friend a thorough once-over look before nodding to herself in acceptance. There was no holding his joy in there as Scott pumped a fist in the air and smiled.  He’d been worried that Lydia would shoot his friend down flat - despite not having a say in it. It would suck not having Scott by his side as they originally planned but at least he wasn’t with-

“Jackson Whittemore.”

Shit .

Stiles felt terrible as Scott shot a panicked look over his shoulder and all he could do was give his friend another thumbs-up and perfectly false smile. So Scott’s school experienced may have just been ruined. They could still work with this, maybe. Jackson had to at least work with Scott a little if he wanted to succeed in the academy. The disgusted look Jackson sent Scott’s way as he joined his squad members did nothing to up Stiles hopes. Danny did not look too particularly cheerful, in his own dry way, as he stood behind and off to the side of them as Jackson’s Pin.

Stiles internal hopes withered as he desperately prayed for his name only to hear Morrell’s voice call out, “Allison Argent.”

Argent?

Stiles was not the only one curious. Another murmur went through the crowd as a girl with curly raven hair stepped from the crowd and joined her squad. Stiles was surprised he’d not noticed her before. She was pretty, tall, and carried herself firm despite the whispering of every other student at her name. Other than the Academy’s Headmaster, Gerard Argent, whom Stiles met all of once at his father’s behest, the Stilinski heir had never encountered another member of the Argent family. Supposedly they lived out in the country or something despite effectively running the Academy. The girl stood beside Scott who smiled at her while Lydia gave the girl one of her hard stares. Stiles could see the approval written all over the red head’s face at the addition.

Only one spot remained and Stiles squeezed his eyes shut and prayed for all his worth.

“And lastly we have…”

Morrell paused and lifted her glasses to regard the page for a moment. The delay only worked harder at Stiles nerves and some people were whispering. It was the first time Morrell paused.

When the woman resumed her voice sounded almost amused, “Fascinating name.”

Stiles eyes popped open and his jaw nearly dropped, was it-

“Stiles Stilinski, is it?”

“Yes! It’s Stiles!” He probably sounded insane, several people looked at him that way as Stiles bounded through the crowd to join his squad. Not even Jackson’s angry face and muttered cursing, Lydia’s sigh, or Morrell’s raised eyebrow dampened his enthusiasm as Scott met him with a high-five and the two laughed with joy. Even Allison, whom Stiles beamed at as he took her place in line when she side-stepped from beside Scott, was looking at them concerned.

Surprisingly Morrell did not tell them to be silent, pleasant as she was so far, and instead waited for the two to calm down before continuing, “Your squad leader is Lydia Martin, congratulations.”

All six of them, Danny included, gave her a respectful bow before moving to take their place.

The rest of the assignments went on from there as a total of thirteen squads were named. Stiles barely paid attention to any of them. Instead Scott and he wore ridiculous matching smiles and at one point bumped their fists together. It must have been infectious as towards the latter parts of the ceremony Allison’s worried look turned to a small smile. She even laughed at their antics once. Lydia, unphased by it all, had a bored look plastered on her face but Stiles could practically see the gears speeding in her head. Jackson appeared ready to vomit from sheer disgust at any moment but that hardly surprised Stiles. Danny just looked resigned to his disastrous future.

The entrance hall looked even bigger with the center cleared and all squads off to the side.

It should have bothered Stiles that Morrell kept looking at his squad as she spoke, “From here we will not be making the decisions for you. Classes will begin tomorrow but for today you are to get acquainted with your squad and register for the appropriate courses. Decide amongst yourselves where your particular strengths and weaknesses are and work with them.” She threw one last look their way, catching Stiles’s eye with a raised brow, before calling out, “Dismissed.”

Stiles assumed that they would take a moment to get to know Allison considering the rest of them all knew each other already. He should have known better as the moment Morrell dismissed them and left, Lydia threw up both hands for silence, “Before any of you start, we are getting this sorted out.” Four mouths snapped shut at once, Danny not included as his face was in his hand and Stiles half-suspected weeping, and Lydia marched on with a stern face, “They do not allow even squad leaders access to exam information, I asked the examiner.”

Stiles was completely unsurprised at that.

“So instead, I will go by your account. Name what you think was best among your written and physical exams.” She looked at each of them in turn stopping on Jackson before he could even open his mouth, “Don’t bother, I know yours already; fencing and business customs.”

Jackson’s, face sour as it had been since he was assigned his squad, nodded.

Lydia returned it, “Good, Danny?”

Danny looked up when she addressed him and without hesitation, “Fencing. I suspect I also scored highly in the run considering I finished first among my group.” Stiles expected something more, an intellectual subject, but Danny stopped there. It was only after Lydia moved on that Stiles remembered that Pins were not tested on intellect, only martial skill. They would attend whatever classes their Proprietor did and learn the same subjects vicariously in that way.

Something felt inherently strange in the universe to not only have Lydia look at Scott, something she rarely ever did, but also say his name, “Scott, what subjects did you do well in?”

Jackson looked like he wanted to say something but a scathing look from Lydia stopped him.

Scott looked no less comfortable, “Umm, I’m fairly sure I scored high in our military history. I mean, it’s fascinating stuff.” Lydia nodded, apparently understanding how something so boring to Stiles could be interesting to someone else. Stiles quickly understood why his friend looked so nervous as what came out of Scott’s mouth next was, “And umm, fencing. I did well in fencing.”

Stiles shot his friend a confused look at the straight out lie. Scott had not done badly per-say but he was fairly certain that he and Scott were if not the lowest ranked, fairly close in that fencing.

Lydia surprisingly did not seem to catch onto his friend’s lie, “Excellent then. Allison?”

Scott just shrugged helplessly under Stiles hard gaze as Allison spoke, “Military history, as I’m sure you can imagine with my family. I also scored very high in archery and marksmanship.”

Crossing her arms with a nod Lydia asked, “Both? Impressive. Which was better?”

“Archery.”

“You should register for that then. Gives our squad diversity which is important. Stiles?”

He did not realize she abruptly switched to him until a moment of all five people staring at him. When he finally did Stiles rubbed at the back of his head and smiled apologetically, “Ah, me, right, sorry. Erm, I’m not sure where I scored highest. The written exams were all fairly easy though military history was boring, sorry Scott.” His friend, used to Stiles, just waved it off with a smile while the rest of the squad stared him down, “Eh, I guess my highest was mathematics. I’m good with numbers - always have been, it’s just easy. They speak to me I guess-”

Jackson groaned, “Stilinski, please just answer the damn question so we can go.”

The, “Shut up, Whittemore.” came out of Stiles mouth by reflex before he did just that, “I’ll be honest, I did pretty bad in the physical exams. Especially the run - that was horrible. When will I ever really need to run a mile, honestly?” In that moment Stiles decided he liked Allison as she laughed outright while the rest of them, Scott included, stared in exasperation, “My best though - marksmanship. Father taught me how to shoot a long time ago. Not that I’m some kind of carnival sharpshooter or anything. I won’t be taking apples off your head. But-”

With a drained sigh Lydia cut him off, “Okay, okay, I understand. That’s enough, Stiles.” Had it been nearly anyone else, Stiles would have been annoyed. Lydia telling him to ‘shut up’ was okay though sheerly because it was Lydia. She did what she wanted and everyone else just kind of accepted it, himself included. The red head pointed to him and then herself while speaking, “My best was the same as yours, surprisingly. That works - I can keep you on task this way.”

“Good luck.”

Scott flinched as Stiles shot him a betrayed look alongside Lydia’s annoyed one for interrupting.

That settled, Lydia crossed her arms and looked at two of her squad in particular; Stiles and Jackson, “Secondly, we need to settle this between you two now. As members of my squad I’ll not have your annoying squabble disrupting my plans.” Both boys stared at her in something like shock and were both ignored as Lydia peered from Scott to Danny, “If they get into another stupid brawl let me know and I’ll deal with it. If you try to hide it for them, I’ll know, Danny .”

Danny had the good sense to look worried while Scott just nodded slowly in fear.

Jackson tended to lack good sense, “You can’t command my servant, Lydia.”

All the fire in the shortest member of their group came down all at once in the glare she shot Jackson. Even he looked suitably cowled by it, “I will command whomever I wish, Jackson .”

He wisely didn’t argue with her. It may have been gripping terror or a sudden need to survive, could have even been Danny’s tight grip on his shoulder and the rest of them taking a step back.

Lydia got her way - it was a fact of life.

All at once, she looked bored again, and her hands clapped together once in finality, “Good, with that business settled. See to signing up for specialized courses in the subjects we discussed. For the most part we should share the same base classes.” All five of them nodded to her, Jackson looking angry with Danny’s hand still holding his shoulder. Lydia pushed back a bit of bang and turned to Allison, “Now, you’ll be with me. I have some things I want to ask you. We’ll meet again tomorrow morning before classes begin to discuss our plans. 8AM, sharp.”

All the guys gaped at her in shock. Stiles took the chance by raising his hand as if in course already, “Lydia, you realize classes do not start till 9, right?”

She rolled her eyes dramatically while pulling Allison away. The best the boys received was a sarcastic call over her shoulder of, “And yet I said 8AM, which is when you will be here.”

That said, the girls departed and left the boys standing together in a circle. Scott seemed determined to watch until they were out of sight. Stiles and Jackson faced each other down in a contest of who could glare the longest. Neither seemed on the verge of losing. Then again, as typically went in these situations, Danny was the designated loser of their conflicts. Before it could escalate to name calling he stepped between the Whittemore and Stilinski and with a hand on either of their chests pushed them back a step, “Let’s please not; Jackson, Stilinski. I believe Martin was quite serious about her implied threat to punish you both if anything happens.”

Jackson made a disgusted noise and stormed away without a word.

Scott, now that the girls were out of sight, looked to Danny, “You do this a lot don’t you?”

With a grunt Danny shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks, “Unfortunately.”

He took off after Jackson and suddenly it was just Scott and Stiles left. The other squads not ran by Lydia Martin were still in the meet-and-greet phase. Scott stopped his friend from bothering any of them and instead directed Stiles down one of the hallways chosen at random.

It took long enough just to get the Academy layout down. The higher mathematics department lurked in a corner of the building. Professor Harris, a stern thin man in glasses, did not even spare Stiles the time of day. The one attempt Stiles made to speak with the man he was pointed at an open book, told to sign it, and then to get out. It did not fill him with confidence for the year. Scott did not fare much better in his own chosen course speciality. Professor Finstock, a boisterous man wearing a suit a size or two smaller than it should be, was yelling at a hoard of incoming students as they entered. He at least greeted them when they came in. Finstock had been the professor on duty for their examinations. It worked out quite well that as Scott signed himself into history, he also signed himself into fencing. Apparently Finstock specialized in both.

The man did give Scott a shocked look at the second signature.

Stiles elbowed his friend as they left the classroom, “He saw your skill level.”

Instead of fighting him on it, Scott just shrugged loosely and directed them towards their last stop, marksmanship, “He knows what I need to work on then. That counts for something.”

“I guess.”

They batted around the idea of Scott’s future in swordsmanship while walking. Well, Stiles kept bringing it up, while Scott tried to steer the conversation anywhere else. By the time they reached the assigned area for specialized marksmanship training they were discussing Allison Argent.

“Come on, you do not think she’s beautiful?”

Stiles rolled his shoulders, “I mean, yeah, she is pretty. That’s obvious. I just, she’s not-”

“Lydia?”

“Exactly!”

“No, Lydia.”

Scott pointed over his shoulder. While talking Stiles walked backwards to face his friend. Now he glanced over his shoulder and true to life, Lydia and Allison stood there talking to the instructor over the marksmanship courses. He was a tall, sharp faced man with brown hair peppered with a bit of grey, the kind of guy who looked intimidating even in an instructor uniform. As if to further enforce his status as the ‘gun guy’, a long barrelled rifle hung over his shoulder by a sling.

The strangest part is this stern-looking man was laughing at something Allison must have said.

“Hey, we caught up with you two!” Scott practically barrelled past Stiles to get the attention of the girls while Stiles followed him. Allison shot them a smile and little wave before continuing her conversation with the instructor. Lydia on the other hand gave them a scrutinizing look.

“Did you two finish already? I assumed you would get lost.”

Stiles shrugged with a grin, “We did for awhile. This place is bigger than I remember. We’re signed up for everything; I just needed this to finish up.”

Lydia made an ‘ah’ sound. As Allison finished speaking to the instructor, she butted in while pointing at Stiles. “Instructor Argent, this is Stiles Stilinski, the one I told you about.”

Argent?

Scott seemed to have the same though as he looked to Allison, “So this is your..,?”

Whatever she was going to say was cut off as the Instructor stepped forward, “Her father.”

He stuck out a hand first for Scott then Stiles to shake. At the contact Scott pulled a face that he attributed to shaking hands with the father of your obvious crush. Stiles understood his friend as the man’s large hand closed over his. Allison’s father’s grip was like an iron vice. He also did not let go of Stiles hand unlike Scott’s, whom he just shook and released. Stiles could not help the wince that snuck on his face as the man’s hand tightened just a bit further. It didn’t help that the whole time Allison’s father stared down at their joined hands with an appraising look. Stiles knew enough about these military guys, his father being one, to understand this was some sort of test. Instead of yelling and jerking away, he held the grip as best he could and suffered through it. By the time Argent finally released him, Stiles neared his limit and was ready to start pulling.

Allison sighed deeply with crossed arms, “Really, Dad? Is that necessary?”

Instructor Argent ignored her and instead looked Stiles over again, “Your grip is not as strong as Ms. Martin’s.” Something inside Stiles withered and died at that, spurred on by Lydia’s barely concealed smirk and Scott’s outright laughter. Crushing his ego accomplished, the older man continued, “Not exactly suited to the more high kick-back models like this one.” He patted the butt of the rifle hanging off his shoulder, “Martin said you have experience though. What kind?”

He was absolutely not sulking as he replied, “Erm...just practice, I guess? My father used to be in the military and he’s a Justice here in Beacon. He taught me.” Argent nodded for him to continue and Stiles, who never wasted an opportunity to speak, did just that as his voice picked up speed, “It was really either that or I practice alone and probably kill myself. Erm, mostly pistols. Well, only pistols really, though he does have several rifles. Never let me touch those. Figured they were more valuable or something. I know how to take one apart. Dad did not like that much I-”

Everyone else, except perhaps Lydia who peered at something on Argent’s desk, looked ready to continue listening to Stiles’s rant. They were to be forgiven for it considering they did not know better. Scott, a veteran, saved their ears by bumping Stiles side with his elbow. It distracted Stiles enough for him to get a word in, “I’ve gone with them a few times. I’m terrible at it but Stiles is actually really good. Even his father said so and it takes a lot to impress the Duke.” At Stiles’s scandalized look Scott shrugged, palms up, “What? It’s true. You can hit moving targets while I could not even get near the target. He would not even let me load the flint by myself.”

Argent nodded and looked between them before settling on Scott, “Then you are focusing on…?”

Scott perked up a bit with his shooting-failures behind them, “Fencing.” Then he promptly deflated with a glance at the rifle on Argent’s shoulder, “Which I guess is a lot less useful than being able to shoot. Not much you can do with a sword against something like that.”

Both Stiles and Argent went to speak but Allison beat them to it, “That’s not true at all.” With a gesture she got her father to pass over his rifle. She popped the mechanism and cocked it with expert hands, almost too fast for them to follow, before raising it toward the far window of the room. Stiles half expected her to shoot but she lowered the rifle to look toward Scott, “I’m fairly quick at working a rifle but a lot of people have never even held one. The range is an advantage but if you can stop them from loading and shooting...”

Scott stared at her dumbfounded, mouth gaping, and so Stiles came to the rescue.

“So...swords.”

“Swords,” Argent answered while talking his rifle back.

Scott, still taken with Allison, just nodded until a sharp look from Allison’s father stopped him.

“Oh, right, I mean, I understood that. Thanks though. It’s-”

Stiles stepped in to save his friend but it was Lydia who got there first. The red headed heiress stepped between the group and, one hand on Allison’s arm while another floated palm-up before Scott, put them on pause, “And that’s enough of that.” Perhaps wisely, no one looked annoyed at the interruption. It gave Scott a chance to rub the back of his head and flush. Only Stiles may have noticed that part, it was harder on his tragic, sad friend. Argent on the other hand looked vaguely impressed at the shut down as Lydia went on, ”We still have things left to do, Allison.”

Everyone could tell Allison was not sure what said ‘things’ were. For having only known Lydia a few hours, far as Stiles could tell, the Argent caught on quickly, “Of course, I’ll see you later, father.” She said it with a formality Stiles could not imagine using with his own father. The short half-bow that went along with it brought a look to his face that Scott had to elbow his side to dismiss. Thankfully, he recovered face before the girl looked at them and with a much more chipper tone and a wave, “I suppose I’ll see you two tomorrow, Stiles, Scott.”

Scott may be somewhere else but his wave back was no less dumb. Pity for his friend got Stiles to reach over and put a stop to that while speaking to Alison, “Tomorrow it is, ladies.”

It took Stiles crunching his friend’s foot with a heel for Scott to snap off a, “See you tomorrow!”

Scott smiled, Allison smiled, Lydia made a disgusted noise, and Stiles rolled his eyes upward for strength.

They were not a minute out of the room, ladies gone and Argent talking to other students, before Stiles nudged his friend with a grimace, “You got it bad. Planning to woo her with creepy stares?”

He took no pride in dousing his friend’s good mood but some things needed to be done.

Scott dropped his face in a hand and sighed, “I wasn’t that awkward?”

Thanks to Lydia glossing over the entire ‘meet-and-greet’ part to speed them along, Scott and Stiles were some of the few finished with their day. A small part of the hoard walked opposite them down one of the expansive class halls. They got to watch Stiles throw his hands and speak skyward, to something invisible, about Scott’s plight, “Oh, whatever is up there, assist my-”

The elbow to the side shut him down with a yelp, “That hurt, Scotty. I’ll have you know I’m noble.”

“And an ass.”

Shrugging, Stiles dropped a nonchalant, “So I’ve heard before.”

The conversation bounced back and forth between them after that. Try as Scott might to change the subject Stiles kept bringing it back to the raven haired Argent girl. Most of it was just to tease his friend. A few times he tried offering actual advice that got him weird looks from his friend and forced Stiles to defend himself. Well try to at any rate, considering his own lack of experience in the area. Though by the front gate they at least agreed Scott would actually speak with her the next day. Anything other then staring would do really, as Stiles put it. Scott seemed mortified.

Him pausing at the gate brought Stiles up short, “I, erm, have to go. I promised my mom I’d help with…” Scott paused for a moment, face apologetic, and rubbed at his head again. The most notable of tics that he did in nearly any uncomfortable situation. Not that Stiles minded. He was able to translate it appropriately when Scott finished with, “Stuff. She asked me to help with.”

They both knew it really had to do with Scott’s part-time job down in the lower district. He worked there at least five times a week. Stiles knew, Scott knew Stiles knew, but neither directly brought up the job. The Stilinski heir did not even know what it entailed. Attempts to pry it out of Scott failed and the one time he asked Melissa, she flawlessly deflected the question. Eventually it just felt rude to pry. Not that his friend keeping secrets did not bother Stiles, it absolutely did, but even he could back off on occasion. McCall issues concerning money. Not that it helped matters any that when Scott first mentioned getting a job Stiles had paid for his meal and offered him ‘help’.

The McCalls really seemed to have an issue with that…

A bit put out but not enough to show it, Stiles brought on the cheer, “No problem at all. I’ll just walk myself across the great and scary upper district without anyone to protect me.”

His tone came out perfectly. Scott started to apologize for ditching him on instinct before, a bit late but better than never, Stiles actual words caught up to him, “...So you’re a princess now?”

Both spoke with a perfectly straight face even as they continued.

“Hardly, I look terrible in a dress.”

“Didn’t know you tried one on.”

“There are many mysteries about me, Scotty.”

“...And how many of those involve dresses?”

Stiles’s response paused on his lips as the conversation tripped something in his mind. Not that he had ever worn a dress - okay, one time aside jokingly, really - but he still had to think on it. During his silence Scott just stared at the Stilinski heir with a deadpan stare that gradually started to look uncomfortable. It took Stiles a moment to come up with nothing and notice.

“Oh, sorry, just thought of something. None of them.”

Him yelling, “I do not wear dresses, Scotty!” as the other teen walked away should have drawn more attention. Instead people just walked quickly by, eyes carefully averted, while Scott all but ran away from his friend.

Scott gone, Stiles ran a hand through his hair before pocketing them both. Instead of walking into the school to find someone to talk to, he headed home. Lydia’s instruction to be there so early the next morning gave him no great inspiration to hang around. Having been at the academy for most of the morning meant he walked through a midday rush of people. More street vendors appeared while they were inside and in between people talking and them yelling, the noise volume increased dramatically. Not being in a rush meant Stiles ducked past more than one person too hurried to bother. At one point, while dodging an angry looking old man, Stiles ran into a woman carrying bags. Her angry look did not shrink just due to him helping and apologizing profusely.

A cold feeling ran down his spine and at first Stiles attributed it to the woman’s anger.

It stayed once she ran off.

The feeling got worse as Stiles made his way through the park. People walked by on both sides and no one really looked his way. It felt silly when he thought about it. Broad daylight, people everywhere, he had no good explanation for the stress. Despite that Stiles hurried to get home. He knew this feeling - they did not come often but usually did not end well.

Stiles was probably overdue for a panic attack anyway after not having one for months now.

It was nearly overwhelming when he took his first step out of the park. He felt like an idiot. There was nothing to be afraid of but still his breath came shallow and his eyes jerked. No one was looking at him but Stiles felt like he were being stared at. He briefly considered sprinting home, people’s opinions be damned, but instead Stiles instead took a seat on a nearby bench. People were everywhere and breaking out into a run would just make him look crazy. Better they think him sick as Stiles took his shallow breaths and leaned forward toward his knees.

So stupid , to have one as soon as Scott left. His father and Melissa would be angry again. Stiles could already hear Scott’s apologies in his head as if Stiles’s problems were the other’s fault.

He would not be telling them about this.

Stiles missed the voice speaking to him until a heavy hand landed on his shoulder.

“Are you okay?”

He flinched back as if burned and threw a protective hand over the place touched, “Y-Yeah, I’m fine. Just not feeling well. Sick maybe. Busy day. I don’t-” His voice exploded from him low and quick, all in one breath and he had to draw a big gulp to catch the next.

“...I can see that.”

Stiles hoped the guy would just walk away. Instead he dropped down beside Stiles, close but not touching, with his legs sprawled out and arms back over the bench. If the dark haired man noticed Stiles scoot a bit away, he didn’t say, keeping up his comfortable lounge. Glancing from the corner of his eye Stiles took note of the black hair, scruffy face, and sharp gaze into the crowd. Of course, due to his upbringing, Stiles instantly noticed something else - the guy was not dressed as nice as the other people around them. He looked like one of the workers or street vendors. Considering the turn of his life in the past thirty or so it was probably the town drunk if they had one.

He took another deep, steadying breath, as the guy spoke.

“Get sick like this often?”

Shaking his head, Stiles stole a glance that showed the guy still looking away.

“No, just happens. Nothing serious. I’m already starting to feel better.” Surprisingly, it was true even, as Stiles felt his breathing come a bit easier. Weird, considering he usually had to ride it out much longer, but considering how fast the attack came on him...maybe he was getting better.

With a noncommittal grunt the man scratched at his stubble, “That’s nice. Can’t have little lords passing out on the street, I guess.” The way his low voice muttered ‘little lord’ set Stiles on edge.

He snapped a sharp, “I’m not a lord.” without even thinking about it.

Rather then respond the guy moved his hand. Stiles watched with laser focus, suspicious, as the guy rapped two knuckles against the academy logo on his chest, “Whatever you say.”

Shit , he forgot about the uniform, so stupid, “So? I could be someone’s servant.”

The green eyes turned his way with a dry look, “You’re not though.”

“How would you know?”

“Whatever, be what you want.”

“You know, you’re pretty rude,” said Stiles as he sat further forward, half-off the bench to put more distance between them. If the guy noticed he didn’t say anything about it. The bizarre sense of fear gripping Stiles heart so tightly before had entirely faded. Only the worry it would resurface kept him on the bench and not continuing on his way from the rude drunk.

Except when said potential-drunk did not speak, Stiles awkward feeling grew into full on discomfort.

“Well, I’m feeling better, so I’ll be on my way rude stranger.” Without waiting for a response Stiles hopped to his feet, hands back in his pockets and face turned away, “Good luck finding someone else to accost.”

That should have been it.

Then the rude-guy had to mutter something just loud enough for Stiles to hear.

“Need an escort home, your lordship?”

Spinning on his heel, Stiles shot the guy an incredulous stare, “You have to be joking?”

All the response given was a shrug.

Gaping now, Stiles took a step backward, then two, “N-No, I’m fine. No thanks. I mean - No.”

Another shrug.

Feeling even more awkward, Stiles increased the speed of his backstep, “Okay. Erm, good day.”

He did not quite run away from the guy so much as speed walk. At least this time his anxiety had a face attached to it. A face that, unbeknownst to Stiles, watched him all-but run away curiously.

The bench sat empty when Stiles glanced back before turning a corner.