A Hope in Hale
Fandoms: Teen Wolf, Sentinel
Content Warning: R
Warnings: Character Bashing, Death – Minor Character, Discussion – Kidnapping, Discussion – Slavery, Hate Crimes, Violence – Canon – Level
Genres: Alternate Universe, Angst, Fusion, Science Fiction
Relationships: Scott and Stiles, Scott/Allison, Derek/Stiles
Alpha Readers: WestWind, HarleyJQuin
Beta Reader: Pixyblades
Word Count: 55,265
Author Note: First, the Scott/Stiles pairing is platonic. The slavery warning is from an oral report and only mentioned once. Thanks to HarleyJQuin for the fictional name of the country in Stiles’ report, Tezcatlipoca. Thanks to my Alpha Readers, WestWind & HarleyJQuin, and to by Beta, Pixyblades. Finally, there will be no sex since Stiles and company are underage. For most of the story Derek is 18 and Stiles is 16 with a sixteen month difference in age..
Summary: Blair Sandburg smiled as he watched the ten-year-old Prime Guide and his barely online sentinel play superheroes in the next room. “Don’t worry, Noah. Every Prime has a perfect match somewhere. Stiles just latched onto Scott out of need when he came online so traumatically with his mother’s death. It won’t take long for him to realize the bond is unbalanced and let go.”
Noah Stilinski gave a slightly choking laugh, “I know my son. Perfect match or not, you have a hope in hell of him letting go of anyone he has decided is his.”
“Here comes another one.”
Deputy Noah Stilinski glanced over at his partner, Deputy Vincent Donati, and rolled his eyes. “Pretty certain that one is sliding on the ice, not drunk, Vince.”
“Still failure to control vehicle.” Vince started to reach for the lights, and Noah waved him off.
“It’s New Year’s Eve and one of the worst ice storms I’ve ever seen in California. Let’s give the people a break. We are already an hour and a half over our shift. I just want to get back to the station and get to my wife and son.” Noah looked out over the frozen parking lot, where they had broken up the start of a fistfight over a fender bender, and sighed.
Vince winced beside him and sat back in the seat. “OK, sorry. You’re right. You were only supposed to have a half-shift to begin with. Damn storm threw everyone for a loop. Did Mischief sound OK when you told him you would be late?”
“Yes, but I worry. He always sounds fine, but I think he’s putting on a front.” Noah gave a little laugh, “That kid is something else. When the sitter fell through, he begged me to let him spend New Year’s Eve with Claudia at the Hospital. He took an entire bag of party favors and treats to hand out on the ward. The hospital was warned, and I think that new administrator was Mischief’s partner in crime. Luckily Claudia has had a string of good days.”
“That new administrator…he the one who started integrating Sentinel and Guide medicine into the hospital?” Vince buckled up and motioned for Noah to head out to the station.
“That’s the one. Murphy. He’s a real good guy. Has a brother who’s part of an S&G pairing and advocates mainstreaming services in smaller communities. We were lucky he took over, or the Los Angeles Center would have relocated Claudia whether she wanted it or not.” Noah shivered a bit at the thought as he carefully turned the car in the direction of the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Station. The wheels were spinning a moment as they fought for traction.
Claudia’s memory problems and imperfect control of her guide gifts had caught the attention of the local S&G Center long before anything was noticeable enough to warrant medical attention. The diagnosis had been devastating, but the early catch had meant treatment to slow it down, giving her more time and better palliative care. It gave them time to accept the inevitability of her loss. Well, at least Noah had. Mischief had been clingy and acting out since Claudia moved to the hospital’s long-term ward.
“I don’t see why they would want to relocate her.” Vince kept staring out the window, the subject obviously upsetting him. “She lost her Guide gifts before you had to admit her to the hospital. It’s not like she could cause any empathic problems.”
“Hey, you’re preaching to the choir here. I don’t pretend to understand how the Sentinel and Guide Community works, and I married a Guide. Luckily Claudia was only a mid-level guide and didn’t require a bond. They were constantly needling her to use her gifts for the community. She completely shut them down on that, and they had to respect it.” Noah smiled slightly at the reminder of the diatribe she had let loose on the last one who tried to dictate what she was expected to do with her gifts.
The smile faded. “But, when it comes to the care of a sentinel or guide, the Centers can legally override mundane family members when the person is unable to make decisions for herself. Hell, Vince, it’s almost unheard of for a dormant guide to be allowed to remain outside the Center’s control. I honestly think, in the end, that Murphy was able to convince them to allow Mischief time with his Mom for as long as she has left.”
“Well, then I’m glad he’s spending it with her and probably the best damn New Year’s Eve party in town. Real sorry that half the force is down with that flu, and you had to work tonight. You should be there celebrating with them.” Vince shrugged when Noah glanced his way. “Don’t look at me like that, Stilinski. I can be considerate of someone’s damn feelings. Just don’t expect me to hug or any of that crap.”
“Don’t worry, Vince. Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Right, well…as long as that’s clear, why don’t we head back to the station. I think the weather sent most of the drunks home early. No reason for you to stick around. If Sheriff Weiss has issues with it, then he can go on patrol with me.” Vince grinned at the mention of Sheriff Weiss.
Noah let out a little bark of a laugh. “I just have this image in my head of the Sheriff of Beacon County driving an actual patrol. I don’t know if the man has gone into the field in the last five years.”
“Does that duty belt actually fit around the old SOB?” Vince let loose with laughter. “Can you just see him hitching up those pants while chasing a suspect? I would pay money to see…Holy Hell!”
Noah felt the adrenaline flood his veins as the Jeep slid through the stop sign and across their path. Forcing himself not to overreact and slam on the breaks, Noah turned into his own slide while allowing the vehicle’s momentum to take it in the opposite direction. He knew a moment before it happened that the Jeep was going to roll. As soon as he could get the cruiser stopped, he turned the vehicle around so they could use the headlights to light the area.
Vince reached up and flipped on their flashing lights as he reached for the radio. “Do you think we’re out of the dead zone yet?”
“Iffy. Try it. You call it in, and I’ll check the driver.” Noah unbuckled his seatbelt and grabbed his flashlight as he headed toward the overturned vehicle. It was a newer model Jeep Wrangler. The hard-top was crushed toward the back, but the passenger compartment wasn’t compressed. Thank God for rollbars. By the off-road wheels on this thing, it was probably four-wheel drive. Damn, don’t people realize that four-wheel drive doesn’t mean four-wheel stop on ice!
“Help!” He heard a feminine voice from inside the car.
Noah slipped around to the driver’s front of the car, checking for safety as he moved. Kneeling on one knee to get a look inside, he verified only one occupant. The driver was restrained in the front seat. Airbags had deployed, and her face showed the beginnings of burns from the lifesaving device.
Deliberately forcing a calm voice, he started talking to her while evaluating her condition. “Ma’am, it’s going to be OK. I’m Deputy Stilinski with the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department. My partner is calling for an ambulance now. We are going to stay with you. Can you tell me your name?”
“Cheryl.” Her voice trembled with shock and some pain.
“Hi Cheryl, it’s good to meet you. Can you tell me if anything hurts?” Noah couldn’t see any injuries short of a split lip.
“Uh…my shoulder…arm…it hurts,” Cheryl replied, her eyes a little glossy, but otherwise, she seemed to be tracking.
She was wearing a coat, so there was no way for him to see the problem visually. “OK, Cheryl. I’ll make sure they look at that. Now I’m going to reach around the steering wheel here and see if I can turn off the car.” Taking care to protect his arm, Noah was able to turn off the engine.
“Can you get me out?”
“I would prefer to wait for assistance so they can tend to your shoulder. I don’t want to hurt you more by pulling on you here. Can you tell me where you were going so fast tonight?” Noah pulled out what Claudia called his Andy Griffith persona to keep her talking.
“My son. I need to get to him.”
“How old is he?”
“Seventeen. He just turned seventeen.”
“Practically grown up. I’m sure he’ll be worried about you. What’s his name?” Noah glanced back toward the cruiser, but Vince was still inside talking to the dispatcher. Noah could hear the static from the radio but couldn’t make out what was being said. This whole area was one big dead zone, and they were just at the edge of it.
“Phillip. He’s staying with friends. But he got a bad rash and won’t let anyone near him. He’s been acting strange lately. I think he’s been coming online for a while, and I didn’t make the connection. Don’t know why I didn’t. My father was a sentinel. A parent should know when their child is coming online.” She tried to move and then froze, grunting in pain.
“Hey, no. Stay still. It’s OK. You figured it out; that’s all that matters. Parents can’t know everything. Kids understand that. It’s just important that you’re there for them when they need you. That he knows you love him whether he’s a sentinel or not. I’m sure in the long run, he would be more upset about losing you than you not being with him right now.”
Noah saw she was calming down and looked back to the cruiser, wondering why Vince hadn’t been down to check. “Now, I need you to just keep still here. I’m going to check in with my partner, Deputy Donati, and find out how long until that ambulance gets here.”
Making his way back to the cruiser, Noah could see Vince talking into the mic. He looked pale and washed out even with the dome light inside the vehicle. His partner’s eyes locked with Noah’s as he approached the door, and Noah felt a frisson of foreboding shoot through him.
Vince dropped the mic and exited the vehicle before Noah could reach the door. “Noah, how’s our vic?”
“Split lip, no other visible bleeding. She’s tracking and able to hold a conversation. Pain in her left shoulder; don’t know if it’s just seatbelt bruising or something worse. Facial burns from the airbags,” Noah reported.
Nodding, Vince walked back and pulled a blanket out of the trunk. “OK, good. Ambulance and fire are on the way. Probably another ten minutes. I won’t have a problem handling this until they get here.” Vince kept moving and was avoiding Noah’s eye contact.
“OK…let me go tell her that.” Noah reached for the blanket, but Vince held it back. “What’s going on, Vince?”
“I’m going to handle the scene. You need to go now, Noah.” Vince finally met his eyes again, and this time there was pain. “The hospital’s been trying to reach you. Claudia’s not…” he swallowed hard and took a breath. “They don’t think she has much time left. You need to go be with your family.”
Noah’s stomach cramped. It was too soon. It was…he forced himself to take a deep breath and then another. “OK, yeah. But…” He looked back toward the overturned Jeep.
Vince followed his gaze. “I’ve got this, and I have backup on the way. You don’t have time to wait if you want a chance to say goodbye, Noah. Drive careful and go to Claudia and Mischief.”
Vince put a hand on his shoulder and turned him back toward the car. Noah nodded, opened and closed his mouth a few times without speaking, then got in the car. “Drive safe, Noah. And you let us know if you need anything.” There was one last squeeze of the shoulder before Vince shut the door.
In moments he was driving toward Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital, the icy grip of his fingers around the steering wheel having nothing to do with the weather. Most of the drive was a blur, his mind not ready to accept the change. He could only think that he needed to get to Claudia while there was still time.
There were more cars on the road the closer he got to the hospital. It took everything he had not to speed around them. He reached for the lights but pulled back, not wanting to disrupt traffic as long as it was still moving at a good pace.
It happened without warning. One moment he only knew his desire to get to his wife, then in the next, the world exploded in fear/denial/pain/loss. It felt as if the entire world was shattering. His heart raced, and for a brief time, he thought he might be having a heart attack. He couldn’t catch his breath. The explosion changed to waves like a child sobbing out his devastation, and Noah just knew.
“Mieczysław,” Noah choked out as the vehicles around him swerved all over the road. Noah didn’t slow for the traffic. His only thought was to get to his son. He flipped on his lights and ignored the people on the side of the road, trying to flag him down. There was an edge of panic to the devastation, and it was driving Noah to respond.
His car skid to a stop at the Emergency Room entrance. It was the only door unlocked at this time of night. He threw the door open and ran toward the building, not noticing or caring that the vehicle was still running and the door wide open.
He made it past the security station and noticed the chaos within. Hospital staff was barely moving, fighting the force of the feelings pressing down on them. Noah kept pushing his way through it and made it into the elevator when everything suddenly stopped. No, not stopped, changed. It was muffled, no longer pressing down, just a steady cloud of sorrow…deep, unending sorrow.
Tears were pouring down Noah’s cheeks unchecked as he made it onto the long-term ward. There was a small crowd of people around Claudia’s door. They were moving out of his way before he reached them.
The first thing he saw was Claudia in bed. She looked peaceful, her persistent pain gone. Next, he noticed that the floor held the detritus of the last minutes of medical care—the acts to make her passing as painless as possible.
He moved so that he could see the couch on the other side of the room that he had spent so many hours sleeping on in the last few months. He vaguely recognized a woman as one of the ER nurses from interviewing victims sitting on that couch. She was staring at something on the floor on the other side of the bed. Noah didn’t hesitate to move around the bed, allowing him to see his ten-year-old son wrapped around another boy about his age or younger.
He moved forward, and the dark-headed child suddenly growled at him. “Mine.”
“Scott!” The nurse reprimanded the child.
Noah knelt next to the boy and took a deep breath, connections firing in his brain and his training kicking in. “Yours, sentinel. But he’s my son.” He reached out slowly and placed his hand on the back of his son’s neck. “Mieczysław.”
His son turned toward him; his face screwed up in tears. “Daddy!” Noah braced himself as his son latched onto him and began crying in earnest. The sorrow seemed to seep into the fabric of reality. His Claudia was gone, and his entire world had reduced to one heartbroken little boy who was online. His son was a Guide a decade before any guide should be online.
Noah Stilinski sat down at the conference table. He didn’t bother to hide his exhaustion as he accepted the cup of coffee offered him. It was just eleven short days since his wife’s death, and he felt like he hadn’t slept even once. He glanced across the table to Rafael and Melissa McCall, parents of Scott McCall. In a matter of moments, the McCalls had gone from strangers to sharing kids when Mischief’s major empathic event had dragged the nine-year-old Scott online. This adorable little boy was now his son’s sentinel…sort of.
Rafael was a sentinel with the FBI, and he had made it clear he didn’t appreciate having to share his son with a County Sheriff’s Deputy. Proud that his son was online years before he should be, sure. But not dealing well with the guide that came attached. Noah thought it was telling that the man’s own guide never visited Beacon Hills. They were apparently a work-only pairing.
Speaking of Pairings… Noah looked up as Dr. Alan Deaton, Director of the Beacon Hills Sentinel & Guide Training Center, entered the room with two others. Alan was an Alpha Guide who either had never met his sentinel or lost the sentinel early. It wasn’t something that was spoken of with mundanes, and Noah got the feeling the topic was off-limits in the community as well. Whichever it was, the man had adapted by throwing his gifts into training the community. He was well known for his work with sentinels.
The other two individuals were the current bane of Noah’s existence. Sentinel Robert Cohan and Guide Patricia Rowlette, Directors of the Los Angeles Sentinel and Guide Institute. Like most Center Directors, they were Alphas and had been called in to consult on the issues surrounding the youngest known S&G pair on the planet.
Noah took another drink of coffee while he waited for the Directors to take their seats. The three of them were controlled and methodical in their movements. But there was a hint of frustration about them. He wasn’t surprised at the frustration considering the last two days’ events.
Rowlette chose to start the conversation. “First, we want to apologize for last night’s events. The attempt to separate the boys was ill-conceived, and we will be doing everything we can to rebuild trust.”
Noah just remained silent. He had already spoken his peace to the idiots involved. Rafael looked particularly sour on the subject, but the man wasn’t the one who stayed up all night with two terrified boys.
Melissa McCall wasn’t willing to just let it go, however. “I’ve heard several apologies about the entire thing, but absolutely no one has given me a reasonable explanation of what happened. I think I deserve that. In fact, after the last nine hours of crying children, I demand an answer.” She glared down the Sentinel, who looked ready to brush her off.
Rowlette reached over and placed her hand on her sentinel to calm him. “Yes, you do deserve an answer. As you know, it is almost unheard of for a sentinel to come online before the age of sixteen. While we have records of Sentinels as young as fourteen, we have determined sixteen to twenty-four is the most common range. That last growth cycle following puberty seems to be key as their bodies stabilize into their adult bone structure.”
She met Noah’s eyes a moment before turning back to Melissa. “As for guides…well, the brain takes longer to finish growth than the body. It is almost unheard of for a guide to come online before their nineteenth birthday. We normally start seeing guides emerge between nineteen and twenty-eight. The ages are only important for one reason: we have no records of a sentinel and guide bond occurring before the age of seventeen. Frankly, the reason we encourage sentinels and guides to avoid bonding contact before twenty is that they are just not ready to physically and empathically create a stable, healthy bond.”
“Well, they obviously have a bond. So your information is wrong,” Melissa pointed out.
Noah traded looks with Deaton, noticing the way the man’s jaw tightened microscopically. Huh. Noah cleared his throat to draw attention to himself. “So what you are dancing around here is that you don’t think this bond the boys have is healthy.”
“What?” Melissa whipped her head around from Noah to Rowlette. “Is this hurting Scott and Stiles?”
Noah winced. It had only taken two days for that little brat to give his son that awful nickname. Noah pulled it back in. He’s just a little kid who couldn’t pronounce Mischief, much less Mieczysław if his life relied on it. It just hurt that his son was willing to let go of the name his mother gave him to latch on to anything this kid desired to make him happy.
“It is not necessarily hurting them, but it is unbalanced. Your son, Mrs. McCall, is barely online. We haven’t successfully tested him with the new bond, but his hearing is the only thing even remotely approaching normal sentinel levels. The rest of his senses are above normal, certainly, but they are still developing. It may be years before we can officially rate him.” Deaton jumped in when it looked like the LA Pairing wouldn’t answer. He looked back toward Noah and inclined his head. “As for…Stiles. Until we teach him control, we won’t be able to officially rate him.”
Sentinel Cohen leaned forward in his chair and finally spoke up. “Right, officially we can’t give him a rating, but the kid caused an empathic event that was felt in at least three states. It will be months before we have an accurate count of how many sentinels and guides he pulled online with him. Centers across California, Utah, and Oregon are shipping people out of state to handle the sheer volume of new trainees. And every time he has one of these meltdowns, he causes another event. Thankfully not to the same level, but this county is feeling battered.”
“And you seriously thought the best way to reduce the number of events was to attempt to sever their bond forcefully?” Noah glared at the sentinel. “I may not be a sentinel or a guide, but I am an officer of the law. It sounds to me like you people came suspiciously close to pair-bond interference.”
Cohen bristled, but Rowlette attempted to rein in her sentinel, and Deaton jumped in to placate everyone. “I assure you, Noah, that there was no intent to interfere with a true bond. They shouldn’t be capable of a bond at this stage in their development, even a platonic working bond as they have established. What was attempted with the boys was an accepted practice. We use it to assist long-term working pairs in severing a bond when one or both of the pairing has trouble letting go,” Deaton explained.
“I can assure you that the actions taken have no hope of damaging a true bond between a compatible pair. Given their short-term bonding, the disparity in their status and levels, and frankly, young Mr. Stilinski’s state of mind, we should have been able to gently separate them without them even noticing.” Rowlette met Noah’s eyes. “We just didn’t count on your son’s…tenacity.”
“If you would have spoken to me, you know—his parent, first, I could have told you how this would end. Instead, I had a kid with night terrors waking up half the city.” Noah pushed his coffee aside. It was starting to make his gut burn. “Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate everything the Center did for my wife and the way you stepped in to help my son, but I think we all need to be on the same page going forward.”
Melissa nodded her agreement. “There is nothing more important to me than my son’s welfare. I want him to have a happy childhood. I want to do what’s right for him, and right now, I know this isn’t right. He’s too young to understand what’s going on. That’s my job. So we are going to sit here, and you are going to tell me how you plan to make this work out for those boys.”
Rowlette and Cohen traded looks. “You are right,” Rowlette finally responded. “We have a plan for how to best help the children in the short-term. We need to take the time to study this bond the boys have built while giving them the support and training they need to either balance the bond or sever it on their own.”
“That seems reasonable,” Noah responded slowly. The looks the two kept trading were triggering his cop instincts.
“We are glad you agree, Mr. Stilinski. So there should be no problem relocating the boys to the Los Angeles S&G Institute as soon as possible,” Rowlette responded with a slight smile.
Noah opened his mouth to disagree vehemently, but Rafael McCall was speaking before anyone could object.
“Actually, I think relocating the boys to LA is an excellent answer.” Rafael’s face, which had been impassive throughout the meeting, was suddenly smiling.
“Excuse me?” Noah turned on the man. “You just want to give them our kids? In what world do you live that it’s suddenly OK to just hand over your son?”
Melissa was staring at her husband in horror. “You can’t mean that, Rafe. How can you contemplate sending Scott off to the other side of the state without us?”
“Now, Mel. I wouldn’t do that. Of course, we won’t send him alone. We don’t have to. I’ve been offered a promotion out of the Los Angeles Office. Crimes against Sentinels and Guides Division. In two years, I can make supervisory agent. This is all just perfect timing for us.” Rafe reached over to put an arm around his wife, but she just jerked back.
“And when were you going to tell me about accepting a position that requires relocation?” Melissa’s eyes were blazing. “We were clear when we married that we were going to move back to Beacon Hills to raise our family. This is where I grew up and where I want Scott to grow up.”
“This place is a dead end. I have zero chance of advancement here. In LA, the sky’s the limit. I already have a realtor searching for listings, and we can put the house on the market here.” Rafe sighed sharply, “Don’t give me that look, Mel. You know I’m right. There’s plenty of hospitals in LA to choose from, so it’s not like moving matters for you.”
“You can’t just make these decisions without my input.” Melissa spat at her husband.
Noah finally decided to weigh in because this had gone off the rails, and they were so far from the issue. “Can the two of you take this up on your own time? I think we need to focus now on the real issue. These people want to take our kids. If you decide to work with them from LA, that’s your right. But there is no way in hell I’m letting anyone take my kid out of my city. Beacon Hills is our home. It’s the place his mother was buried…two days ago.”
Everyone started to speak over each other, and Noah just whistled loudly for attention. He held back a smirk as the two sentinels in the room gave a jerk. “I’m not unreasonable. I’m willing to work with the Center here in Beacon Hills. I will take a conservator in my home 24/7. But, I am his father, and there is no way I will ever approve the Center taking him away from his home.”
“Mr. Stilinski, you seem to be under the impression you have a choice here.” Sentinel Cohen sat up straight. “The S&G Centers have the right to take custody of any sentinel or guide who is in distress or is a danger to themself or the community.”
Noah felt anger and fear well within him in equal measure. They were going to try to take his son.
Rafael shook off his whispered argument with his wife to speak to the Directors. “Look, we don’t have to go to this kind of trouble. The boys can’t be separated, right? Well, the way I see it, I can just file for emergency custody of the Stilinski boy. He can live with my family in LA, and they can spend their days at the Institute. They get their training, and the Center isn’t the bad guy in their eyes.”
Melissa stood up in shock, “Rafe, you wouldn’t!”
“You think the court would give you custody of my son?” Noah leaned forward, ready to jump over the table and punch the asshole.
“I’m a sentinel, and you are mundane. There is no way in hell the courts would favor a mundane over a sentinel seeking custody of his son’s guide. There’s case after case supporting me. Don’t worry, Deputy. I’m sure the court would give you visitation.” Rafael McCall stood up and turned toward the Directors. “I give you my permission to move the children as soon as it’s safe to do so. Mel, if you want to yell at me, we can do that at home.” He marched through the door and didn’t slow down.
Noah stood up to go after him, but Deaton was faster and blocked his way.
Melissa came to her feet slowly and looked at Noah with sorrow. “I’ll fix this, Noah.” She picked up her purse and turned toward Cohen and Rowlette. “You’ll move my kid over my dead body.”
Cohen and Rowlette followed her out of the room, quickly turning in a different direction. It wasn’t until all of them were gone that Deaton released his grip on Noah.
“Can they do that? Can they just take my son away from me?” Noah kept a tight grip on his fear, knowing his son was keyed into his emotions.
“I certainly won’t recommend it. Unfortunately, I may be the Director of this Center, but my specialty is the training of sentinels. They can use that against us when we argue to keep him here. And these panic attacks Stiles has started having aren’t helping your case. The fact is, Noah, the idea of having control of a ten-year-old Prime has people in the community overreacting. The U.S. S&G Council will be stepping into our business if we don’t get things sorted out and quick.” Deaton stood to leave but stopped at the door.
Noah asked quietly as the man turned to exit, “Is there anything I can do to keep my son?”
Deaton cocked his head to the side a moment in thought. “Do you know any lawyers?”
Noah let his head rest on his forearms while he took several long breaths to calm himself down, then he pulled out his phone. He considered his contact list for a long minute before he scrolled to the end. Without allowing himself a chance to reconsider, he dialed the number.
“Law Offices of David Whittemore. How may I help you?” The voice answered.
“I need the first available appointment with Mr. Whittemore,” Noah responded.
He could hear the clicks of her keyboard. “May I ask who is calling?”
There was a pause, and then her voice sounded tighter. “Deputy Stilinski. Is this regarding a case?”
“No, it’s personal.”
“One moment, please.” The sound of hold music lasted barely a minute. “Mr. Whittemore can see you in one hour if that is acceptable.”
“I’ll be there.”
Noah paced in David Whittemore’s office for the second day in a row. The office decor spoke of a wealth Noah had never chased. Whittemore wasn’t the kind of attorney Noah could usually afford, but he was the kind Noah needed now. Luckily for Noah, Whittemore had listened to Noah’s story and jumped in with both feet. His offer to represent him pro bono was a relief.
Noah understood that Whittemore wasn’t taking the case out of the goodness of his heart. It was more like fear and self-interest. Whittemore’s son, Jackson, was in Mieczysław’s grade. Most of the town was aware that Jackson was adopted. What they didn’t know was that Jackson was a latent sentinel.
As Noah had described the Center’s plans to take custody of his son or give it to his sentinel’s father, he could see the repercussions flow through Whittemore’s mind. If they could take a child away from his biological father, how much easier would it be to remove the child from an adoptive home? Noah wasn’t proud of himself for leading the man down that path, but if it got someone of Whittemore’s quality to fight for him, he would take it.
The man in question entered the office with a legal pad. His jacket was off, and his shirt sleeves rolled up. He motioned Noah away from the desk to a small table and chairs.
“Tell me you’ve got good news.” Noah prompted when the man took a moment too long, spreading out his papers.
“I wish I could, Noah. I’ve had my people going over every bit of case law we could find regarding the rights of mundanes and gifted when it comes to the custody of minors. I could really hate the Hales if I didn’t already admire them so much. Their names are all over these files. Here are generations of Hales fighting for the rights of Sentinels, Guides, and Sensitives both in this country and internationally. They have done everything they can to make sure that Sentinels have primary rights to their children due to the territorial imperative to protect their offspring.” Whittemore played with the edge of a page before stacking them all together.
“The Hales pretty much wrote the book on this. It’s too bad Talia and Peter took the whole family with them to The Netherlands when they were asked to represent the U.S. Sentinel and Guide Council in establishing the International Concordance of Laws regarding Sentinels and Guides.” David leaned back in the chair and just looked down at the files.
“So, there’s no hope?” Noah couldn’t accept that.
“In all my reading, I don’t see where the courts will support you over a sentinel seeking custody of his son’s guide. You may win some points with your family situation and recent loss, but honestly, it will just earn you liberal visitation rights.” He tapped his finger on the legal pad. “However, you might have a shot if you circumvent the courts.”
Noah leaned forward. “How can I do that?”
“We petition the U.S. Sentinel & Guide Council for a summary ruling. We focus them on the emotional welfare of your child. Push like mad when it comes to parental rights and the rights of the child. And, most important, you invite them in and talk to them. Let them see you for who you are and how you interact with both your son and his sentinel.” David turned his hand over, “Then you take a chance.”
“It’s the Sentinel & Guide Centers who are trying to take my kid. You really think the U.S. Council will even hear this, much less side with me?” Noah rubbed his face with his hands, trying to think this through.
“I think this is the only shot you’ve got. And yes, they will hear the case. Noah, whether you realize it or not, your son is a Prime. Ten, sure, but a Prime. There is power in that in their communities. They will talk to you. But if they are worth anything, they will listen to him.”
Noah considered his options and decided a Hail Mary was his only shot. “Can you Petition the Council?”
“Consider it done. I’ll have the paperwork ready for your signature today.” David stood up and shook Noah’s hand. “Go take care of yourself and that boy of yours, Noah. Get some sleep.”
“Sleep? What’s that?”
Meeting Blair Sandburg was like opening a window into the future for Noah. There were so many hints of Stiles in thirty years. His first thought had been, Don’t they ever grow out of it? But at least Blair had a grace about him that Stiles was distinctly missing. The man had a kind of energy hovering on his skin that made him practically bounce in place. Strangely either because of the constant movement or in spite of it, he projected a sense of inner calm.
His sentinel was the polar opposite. Jim Ellison was granite and resolve. All the other sentinels gave way before him instinctively. It was a sight to see, and Noah might have enjoyed seeing even Cohen and McCall give deference to the two if he hadn’t been so worried about their presence.
To say that the U.S. Sentinel and Guide Council accepted Noah’s petition was putting it mildly. They had flown in just hours after receiving it. The last five days had been a whirlwind of interviews, assessments, and tests. The Alpha Prime Guide of the United States was enamored by tests. His sentinel would twitch every time the word was said.
The doors were closed as the last person arrived, and Sandburg tapped his fingernails against the tabletop to gain attention. “First, I want to thank everyone for their patience and cooperation this week. We’ve had a lot of things to go through. But while there is still more I want to review, I believe we’ve learned enough to respond to the Petition for Summary Ruling on the Matter of the Custody of Mieczysław Stilinski, a minor guide within the Northern California Territory.”
“Jim and I have looked into the child’s history, family situation, emotional state, educational opportunities, and the current expression of his gifts along with his bond. I’ll be honest with you, I have never seen a situation where the Directors of one of our Centers has screwed the pooch so thoroughly.” Blair turned to look at Directors Cohen and Rowlette with a disappointed expression on his face. “The Council rarely needs to step in and re-evaluate Center leadership. But you have forced our hand with this bullshit.”
Rowlette shook her head. “We were acting in the best interest of the community.”
“You were terrorizing a ten-year-old child! You took an empathically fragile, newly online guide who was working his way through the grieving process in extraordinary circumstances, and you tried to take away every support mechanism he had cobbled together. He had recurring empathic events? Damn right, he did. It’s natural. Every damn Guide on the planet has this issue.”
“I don’t see every guide causing an empathic event across three states,” Cohen stated.
Blair nodded thoughtfully. “Most guides have more maturity, training, and don’t have the reach to affect more than their own home. But our response to them is to help them find support and balance. Assign a conservator if the lack of control is ongoing. We don’t try to rip away their bond or threaten to take them away from the only parent they have left.”
Rowlette opened her mouth, but Jim cut her off. “No. We’ve heard enough from the two of you. You shattered the trust of a child so that you could make a power play. You claim to be acting in the community’s best interests, but you failed to consider the fact the boy is a Prime. His emotional outbursts have intruded into the world past these walls. Yes, he’s been a disruption to Beacon Hills and the surrounding communities. But you haven’t been able to shield him enough to stop it from affecting people here. What the hell did you think you were going to do when he had a meltdown in the middle of Los Angeles? How the hell is that protecting the community?”
There was silence following Jim Ellison’s final question. Noah traded glances with David Whittemore and felt the tension leave his body. David was holding back a smile of his own. The man was going to be a smug bastard for eternity over this.
“Let’s face it,” Blair commanded attention. “If the Hale Pack were still in residence, there is no way you would have attempted to take custody of a guide from their territory. Talia and Aaron Hale are the Primes for this territory. Since they are away for the foreseeable future acting on behalf of the Council, it’s our duty to protect their region. That means we will do what all of you should have done to begin with and protect our newest and most fragile member.”
Blair turned his attention to Noah, and Noah sat up straight. “Mr. Stilinski, we apologize for the strain this process has put on you and your family. Instead of the support and compassion you should have received, you’ve been subjected to stress and manipulation. We grieve the loss of Claudia with you; she was a breath of sunshine in the community. But we rejoice at the gift she has given us in Mieczysław. It is our Ruling that Mieczysław is to remain in the custody of his sole surviving parent. It is also our decision that he remain in Beacon Hills. It is the place he feels safest and the easiest area to contain his projections until he learns control.”
“Thank you.” Noah felt tears in his eyes as relief flooded him. “I…thank you.”
Rafael McCall slammed his hand down on the table. “I can’t believe you are siding with a mundane over a sentinel for custody. That kid is my son’s guide. It’s ridiculous that you are advocating leaving the kid here without his sentinel when my family is moving to Los Angeles.”
“We weren’t asked here to determine the custody of your son, Sentinel McCall. But I would think your first thought would be for the welfare of that son. Don’t you think it would be in his best interest to stay with his guide?” Jim Ellison shot back at the man. Noah watched McCall flinch because, as Noah had learned the last few days, it was unusual for a sentinel to keep his family and his guide separated. Even with a platonic working bond, they would typically become an extended family.
Melissa McCall had been alternating between furious and crying all week when she wasn’t with the boys. “It’s OK. Scott will be remaining here with one of his parents.” She turned toward Rafael. “I think you and your guide should head to Los Angeles. Scott will be staying here with me. And don’t even consider trying to take me to court over his custody. I dare you to find a court that would give custody to a sentinel parent who is trying to separate a sentinel from his guide.”
Noah watched through the observation window as his son gave the stink-eye to the Prime Guide of the United States. They had just finished a discussion on the importance of daily meditation to control a guide’s gifts. The thirty-minute first session was a disaster. Forget the fact that two little boys didn’t have a chance at sitting still through the exercise. Noah thought it was hilarious watching his son from the outside as Mischief attempted to outsmart the Prime by asking so many questions to derail the session. Blair had handled it by finishing the last question and then announcing that the official start of their thirty-minute session would start now.
Jim Ellison had stepped in at the end and handed over gifts to the two boys. A superman action figure and cape for Scott was followed by a batman figure and cape for Stiles. The boys were immediately lost in making up rules for their game and didn’t pay attention to the two men as they left the room. It was less than a minute before the men joined Noah in observation. He smiled at the boys’ antics as they started to play.
“Your son is something else, Noah. I’m going to have to stay on my toes around him, or he is going to find loopholes in everything I say.” Blair shook his head.
“That’s my Mischief for you. Are you certain you want to relocate to Beacon Hills to train him?” Noah raised an eyebrow as he looked over at the guide.
“Definitely. He’s a challenge, and I owe it to him and the entire community to train him. Besides, it’s kind of my fault there isn’t a Prime here now to train him. I’m the one who pushed for the Hales to represent us. If I hadn’t, then Aaron would have been here in minutes to buffer and shield Stiles when he came online. Their entire Pack would have supported the two of you.”
“Can you explain why the Hale’s are called a Pack when everyone else always talks about Prides?” Noah asked, curiosity getting the better of him.
“What do you know about Spirit Guides?” Ellison asked him.
“That all Sentinels and Guides have them. They’re animals that influence or teach them. What does that have to do with my question?”
Ellison leaned against the wall. “Most sentinels have solitary predators for spirit guides. In most cases, some kind of big cat. One of the first sentinels to form a hierarchical group of sentinels and guides had a Lion Spirit guide. Lions form Prides. The name stuck.”
“Wow, history from Jim. I’m going to record this day.” Blair’s eyes were wide, but he had a big grin on his face.
“Watch it, Chief,” Jim growled.
“Anyway,” Blair continued. “The Hales are unique in that every sentinel born to their line has had a wolf spirit guide. Thus, they are a Pack. Since they have always had sentinels born to their family, we allowed them to build the S&G Center out here to focus on advanced training for sentinels. We’re going to correct that. I’ve had funds allocated to expand the Center to an entire campus structure.”
Blair’s hands were waving around as he spoke. “We’ve been inundated with new sentinels and guides that we had to refer to Centers in other states. We will keep doing that for now and then pull them back in here for advanced studies. Deaton is already searching for more support staff to relocate to this area. I’ve also spoken to Beacon Hills State College. I’ll be teaching there, starting next year. Just a two-year contract. But that will up their credibility and add support to the community. I figure three years here, and Stiles should be able to manage his gifts well enough that he can take instruction from other teachers.”
“I’m just thankful that you are willing to disrupt your lives for my kid. Even if he is insisting you call him your Padawan.” Noah grinned at the chuckle from Jim. He glanced back at the boys and focused on Scott. “I do feel bad that this has led to the McCalls divorcing. Especially since everyone has made it clear that Scott is not a good match for Stiles.”
Blair Sandburg smiled as he watched the ten-year-old Prime Guide and his barely online sentinel play superheroes in the next room. “Don’t worry, Noah. Every Prime has a perfect match somewhere. Stiles just latched onto Scott out of need when he came online so traumatically with his mother’s death. It won’t take long for him to realize the bond is unbalanced and let go.”
Noah Stilinski gave a slightly choking laugh, “I know my son. Perfect match or not, you have a hope in hell of him letting go of anyone he has decided is his.”
“Stiles! Breakfast in five minutes if you want to make it to school on time!”
Stiles jerked at his father’s yell and fell back onto the bed, one arm twisted in the arm of his shirt while trying to simultaneously stuff his foot into his shoe. “On my way!” He called out.
It took a few minutes to finish wrestling with his clothes before he pushed aside several pages of research on the empathic nature of pack animals to find his backpack and the lacrosse gear Scott had insisted he buy. He reached for his keys before heading down to breakfast, his father’s feelings of impatience driving him to hurry.
“Here. Made it, I’m here.” Stiles barreled down the stairs and jumped the last step before rushing to the kitchen. He dumped his pack and gear by the door. “Wow, what’s the occasion?” Waffles and fresh berries were center stage on the table.
“Well, the first day of school is usually a pretty big deal.” Dad put down the coffee and Stiles’ protein shake. “And this is your first one without a conservator. How do you feel about it?”
“Scott and I are ready, Dad. Don’t worry about us,” Stiles spoke around the first mouthful of waffle.
A paper napkin came flying into his face. “Why couldn’t that conservator teach you manners?”
“Uncle Blair says manners are a transitory construct of society,” Stiles pointed out.
“Well, Uncle Blair doesn’t have to watch you eat. Don’t even try to convince me that Jim put up with that. Didn’t you and Scott have to eat with them at all over the summer?” Amusement tinged with just a hint of frustration assured Stiles that Dad wasn’t really concerned about his table manners.
“Uncle Jim is a marshmallow. Scott just has to whine at him, and he caves.”
Dad raised an eyebrow. “Scott, huh?”
Stiles grinned. “Yup. He says he pity’s him for having to put up with me.”
“We haven’t had a lot of time since the two of you got back from your summer in Cascade. How was it—honestly?”
“You know I always like it when I can visit Uncle Blair and Uncle Jim. It sucks that they don’t live in Beacon Hills anymore. I mean, they gave us three years of their time, and I really appreciate that. But, I wish I could see them in person more often.” Stiles spun a square of waffle around on his plate.
“Me, too, kiddo. They worked like crazy to expand Sentinel and Guide Services and Education in this area. Just look at your school. The first fully integrated Sentinel Public School.”
“And Guides!” Stiles interjected. “Everyone always forgets about the guides in school.”
“Yes, the guides. What are there now? Four of you?” Dad teased.
“The few, the undervalued,” Stiles mocked. He couldn’t exactly dispute it. It took extreme trauma for a guide to come online in their early teen years. “This summer was all about advanced shielding, maintaining connections while distant, how to assist unbonded sentinels in need, how unbonded guides cope with their gifts, and living without a conservator. And, you know, the duties of a Prime.”
“I’m glad to hear they kept you busy and out of trouble. Do you and Scott have your sleep schedules set?”
“We’ve worked it all out. We are together before school, an hour after school, and sleeping at each other’s house at least twice a week. Three times if we’re having any shield fuzz, zones, or spikes. We have after-school sessions at the Center with Doc Deaton and his crew twice a week. Then, a full bonding/meditation session on Sundays to start our week. We’re golden.” Stiles jumped as his phone vibrated in his pocket. He didn’t bother to check it. “Scott’s ready. Gotta go, Pops.”
He grabbed his gear and, with a quickly shouted, “Love you!” ran out the door to jump into his Jeep and head to the house that was like a second home to him. That first year they bonded, it was impossible to keep him and Scott apart without some kind of support. Blair searched for teams of conservators that could handle Stiles’ projections. Honestly, Blair was the only one able to handle a full-on panic attack. But the two-man teams Blair trained were eventually able to modulate the output and allowed the boys to live in their own homes. They established a pattern of trading houses based on whose parent was at home that night, the conservators following along. Eventually, they could separate for a night as long as Stiles had the conservators with him. The last year and a half, they had stepped it down to one conservator and more nights in their own beds. This summer was the dry run for a conservator-free life.
Scott was out the door and running for the Jeep before he even pulled to a stop. He threw his gear into the back and climbed into the front seat. “Man, I am so pumped. This is going to be our year. I was terrified I was going to come out and see Karl in the car again.”
“Nope, we are conservator-free and on our own. Just two more months before you get your license. Did you talk to your mom about it?” Stiles looked over.
“She’s not happy about it, but yeah, I start Motorcycle School on Saturday. Freedom, wheels, and this year we can try out for the lacrosse team.” Scott’s eyes were shining with excitement, and that buzz-stop-buzz-stop Stiles associated with the bond was humming like a cell phone on vibrate.
“You know we might not make the team.”
“Don’t worry about it, Stiles. I’ve been practicing, and Jim set me up with that trainer at the Cascade Center this summer. I’m ready. I will definitely make the JV team, no problem. But I’m shooting for the Varsity team.”
“Fine, you can play. But I have a pretty full schedule, and I don’t think I want to play lacrosse, Scott.”
“Well, of course you’re not going to play. They’re not going to let a guide play a contact sport with a bunch of unbonded sentinels. As long as I make the team, you can ride the bench. So you’ll be on the team, but you don’t have to play. See, problem solved.”
“Right…problem solved.” Stiles wanted to argue the point, but the happy thrum from Scott stopped him. Bonding 101 stresses the bond requires give and take to remain balanced. He could give a little to make Scott happy. Maybe he could work on his homework during lacrosse or something.
Stiles pulled into the parking lot of Beacon Hills High School and cut the engine. A racing sound came from behind as Jackson Whittemore practically flew into a space in his new Porsche. Stiles could feel Jackson’s sentinel instincts controlling the machine.
Scott spun around to stare. “When did he come online?”
“Over the summer. It was in the weekly briefs….” Stiles trailed off at the look of contrition on Scott’s face. “Which you didn’t read.”
“It was a really busy summer, and I had to do a ton more physical training than you did, Stiles. Besides, it doesn’t matter if I know all that stuff. That’s your job.” Scott squeezed his shoulder, then got out of the Jeep.
Stiles just sat there and watched a moment. “No, that’s our job, Scottie. Remember, this Prime gig is a team sport.”
“Exactly. You take care of all of the paperwork and details; I will handle the community. It’s teamwork.” Scott headed for the front door, and Stiles ran a few steps to catch up.
They entered the school together, Stiles one step behind Scott and to his left. It was their standard blocking pattern in a crowd. As long as his shields held, Stiles didn’t have a problem with casual contact. But the first few years he was online, it was a nightmare to have people brush up against him. Stiles was hyper-vigilant and unable to turn it off. So even though he didn’t need it now, he appreciated Scott’s ability to keep people back. It was better safe, anyway. Teenagers in high school were emotion bombs waiting to explode.
Stiles double-checked that they were assigned adjoining lockers as usual before following Scott toward their homeroom for roll call, announcements, and receiving their schedules. Scott stood tall and proud as the crowd in the hallway split to allow them to pass. Whispers of Prime and the acknowledgment of sentinels in the hall marked their passage. It still made Stiles uncomfortable, well over six years later. Scott loved it, of course. The instant respect he received as the sentinel half of the Prime Pair of Northern California.
Stiles drummed his fingers as the roll was taken and their schedules handed out. He glared at the gaping hole where the AP symbol should be next to his Chemistry class. A quick glance at Scott’s schedule showed third-period Chemistry with Harris. He sighed, but he should have expected it. He should have known they wouldn’t put a sentinel in chemistry without his guide.
Turning from his conversation with another lacrosse hopeful, Scott glanced down and grinned. “Look, we’ve got one together.”
“Yeah, Buddy. We’ve got one together.” Stiles slouched down as the overhead announcements started. He barely paid attention.
Welcome back, blah blah, Sign-ups to run for class president and student council? Nope, he’s got enough on his schedule, thank you. Club recruitment will start Wednesday. Forget that; the Center has claimed Stiles’ after-school activity calendar. Reminder to the students that Beacon Hills High is a fully integrated Sentinel/Guide school. Students are encouraged to treat everyone as if they might be a sentinel or a guide. Flyers from the S&G Centers will be distributed to remind everyone what to do in the case of a sentinel experiencing trouble. This year we have four guides at the school. Please give them every consideration. On that note, Prime Scott McCall has a special message for everyone.”
Stiles sat upright and turned to Scott holding a palm up in question as a recording of Scott’s voice started to play. “Hi, everyone, this is Sentinel Prime Scott McCall. I just know we are going to have a great year. And I wanted to be sure everyone was aware that there are both bonded and unbonded guides at school this year. With so many sentinels in the school, you need to be careful to avoid touch when interacting with a guide. Sentinels can react badly if they think a guide is being threatened. In fact, it’s probably best that you do not approach any of the guides unless they want to talk to you. For instance, Guide Prime Stilinski should not be approached unless he has invited your attention. Anyone who needs to speak to him should probably check with me first just to be sure it’s OK. This year he won’t have a conservator in class to take care of him, so we all have to do our part to make sure he feels safe. I know I can count on the whole student body to give him and the other guides all the room they need to manage their gifts. Thanks, everyone!”
Stiles was frozen in shock and couldn’t do anything but stare at his sentinel. What the ever-living-fuck?
Scott smiled and gave Stiles a thumbs up. “I got ya covered, dude.”
That happy/satisfied/helpful buzz-stop-buzz-stop brought Stiles up short from yelling at him, which he desperately wanted to do. Everyone in the class was staring at them, and Stiles wanted to shrink down into the floor. The shock and amusement weren’t unexpected, but it was intrusive. Stiles forced himself to face forward and focus on the whiteboard while taking even breaths to calm himself.
The bell rang for first period, and Stiles followed Scott out into the hallway. Scott gave him a half hug and turned toward the stairs and his first class of the day. Stiles adjusted his backpack on his shoulder and headed out. The crowd split ahead of him while students pointed and whispered. It was like a neon sign was pointing straight at him and saying, look at the freak. He locked down his shields tight and headed for AP Engish.
He was barely in the door before he felt the anger drilling into him. A glance at the front row showed Lydia Martin, probably the smartest student at Beacon High, sitting in front of the class. He admired her mind; it was orderly and normally rather soothing to be near. Not today.
“Sit, Stilinski,” She hissed at him, her eyes blazing while never losing her exterior queen bee demeanor.
Stiles looked at the desk beside her. The front row, center desk that put him on display for the entire room and just said, nope. He started to move toward the back when Mrs. Blake, the AP English teacher, spoke out.
“Guide Stilinski, perhaps it would be best for the entire class if you and your fellow guides took the front row.” She smiled slightly and nodded toward the front seat.
Slouching further, Stiles took the seat. He tried to avoid Lydia’s gaze.
“What the hell was McCall thinking?” She hissed at him as more students entered the room.
“I had no idea he was going to do that.” Stiles defended himself. “Besides, you’re not online. You’re latent. Why are you here?”
“Because it was decided that it’s better to be safe than sorry and latent guide still equals guide in their minds.” Lydia took the sign-in sheet and filled in her name before slamming it down on Stiles’ desk. “I’m dating Jackson this year, Stiles. You better make sure McCall doesn’t pull the Prime card against him and interfere with my plans.”
“Wouldn’t dream of interfering, your Highness,” Stiles replied as the tardy bell rang and class started.
Stiles entered third-period Chemistry just ahead of the bell and froze. Sixteen sentinels were already inside, fifteen of them unbonded. What the hell?
“Guide Stilinski, It’s so good of you to join us,” Mr. Harris stated deadpan. “Take a seat.”
Scott motioned to the empty seat at his lab station. Stiles slipped onto the stool and raised an eyebrow at Scott. Scott was buzz-stopping with excitement. “What’s going on?” Stiles whispered to Scott.
Harris mock whispered, “What’s going on is that there should be no talking in my class, Guide Stilinski.” A knock on the door interrupted whatever he was going to say next, and Harris got up to unlock it.
A student Stiles recognized from the S&G Center as Vernon Boyd was standing in the doorway. He was tall and solid, built the way every sentinel wished they were. But he was no sentinel. Stiles had been there the day Boyd flipped online.
Boyd’s youngest sister was snatched from the skate park last April, and Boyd’s status changed in an instant. With an empathic cry, the new guide had alerted six sentinels who were in the park. They stopped the guy and saved the sister. Boyd spent a month at the Center and was released with a Conservator to finish his basic training over the summer. With Stiles’ conservator, Kyle, to be exact.
Boyd looked around the room uncomfortably, which is something Stiles could totally relate to. “I was given a schedule change.” Boyd held out his schedule to Harris.
“Of course.” Harris took the schedule to copy down information and handed it back. “Take a seat, Guide Boyd.”
Instead of moving, Boyd just stood there facing Harris. “Why am I here?”
“I would assume to learn about Chemistry.”
“In a class full of sentinels?” Boyd crossed his arms and stood firm.
“The school, in its infinite wisdom, determined that a sentinel class would cause less disruption since experiments will need to be altered to accommodate their senses. Since you and Guide Stilinski are the only online guides who need a lab science credit, the administration determined that it is in everyone’s best interests to include you in this class. You can fill in as needed if a sentinel experiences an episode.” Harris gritted out through his teeth. “Now, have a seat.”
“That isn’t cool,” Stiles blurted out. “Someone should have asked first before dumping guides into a class with unbonded sentinels.”
“Oh, I assure you that someone asked,” Harris smirked at him and then stared at Scott.
Stiles felt his stomach drop. “Scottie?”
“It’s OK. They asked me, and I agreed it sounded like the best idea. They didn’t think there would be a problem with changing your and Boyd’s schedules. And this way, the school doesn’t need a bunch of conservators on call for the class. You already know way more than any of them.” Scott blew it off and picked up a pencil and notebook to take notes.
“Big deal, Scott. I was supposed to have AP Chem with McMichaels. And I know that Boyd had tested into German 3. It’s only available this period.”
“I know I probably should have discussed it with you, but when they asked me, I had to consider the majority. As Prime, it’s my job to consider what’s best for the sentinels in my territory. You can understand that, Stiles. I have to focus on what’s important.” Scott gave him those sad puppy dog eyes and a hint of misunderstood sadness.
Stiles opened his mouth to argue that what’s best for the guides should be considered when Harris dropped a book on his desk, and the sentinels flinched hard.
“Any issue you have with your schedule can be taken up with administration tomorrow morning. Now, if the drama is out of the way, everyone take a seat so I can hand out books, and we can review lab safety procedures.” Harris glared Boyd into compliance and started his work.
“Mr. Harris?” Stiles tempted fate.
Harris clenched up. “Guide Stilinski, if this is not directly related to this class, the next words from your mouth will land you in detention.”
“Is there any way I can get AP credit for this class?”
“Is there any way you can avoid breathing in my class for the next year?”
The moment the bell rang to dismiss them from Chemistry, Scott was out the door and headed to lunch. Stiles was sliding his books into his bag as he raced to catch up, sentinels dodging out of his way.
He felt a spike of anger a moment before Boyd caught him just outside the doorway and pushed him against the wall. “Fix it, Stilinski. I worked hard to get into that class. I have to have at least three languages besides English to even apply for an internship with the International Search and Rescue Unit the Germans are sponsoring.” Boyd shoved him one last time. “So do something about your sentinel and fix it.”
Stiles stood still a moment, watching Boyd walk away. The sentinels leaving the room beside him formed a barrier against the press of students in the hallway. The only one to even look his way was Jackson, but no one said a word. Readjusting his backpack, Stiles nodded at them then took off after Scott.
He reached the cafeteria and saw Scott walking toward a table with two trays in hand. The school usually prepped two trays for him and Scott so that they didn’t have to stand in line. No one wanted a repeat of the Great Lunchroom Debacle of 2008. The one and only feral episode Scott ever had started when Jackson Whittemore pushed Stiles. It sent him down and across the floor to end up wearing the sloppy joe from his tray.
Stiles was almost to the table when Scott sat down next to a girl. His sentinel had a sappy grin on his face as he placed both trays on the table, one for Scott and the other in front of her. He stuttered to a halt and just watched. She had brown hair and dimples that were accented when she smiled shyly at Scott. They were staring at each other as if no one else existed. Stiles decided to make his presence known. After all, he and his sentinel needed to have a conversation.
“Scott.” Stiles dumped his bag down on the seat next to Scott, the sentinel not even turning to acknowledge him. “Scott, we need to talk.” He insisted, tapping Scott on the shoulder.
“Hey, Stiles.” Scott smiled at him before looking back at the girl.
Screwing his face up in confusion, he tapped Scott again. “So, what was that about earlier? You can’t make these decisions without talking to me first.”
“What? Oh, Stiles, have you met Allison yet? She’s new here. We’re in English together.” Scott turned back to her. “This is my best friend, Stiles.”
Brown-hair-dimples…well, Allison smiled openly at Stiles. “It’s great to meet you. Everyone here is so friendly.”
Stiles held back his desire to drag his sentinel out of the room and berate some sense into him. This girl isn’t responsible for his current issues, and it isn’t fair to bring her into it. Stiles plastered a smile on his face and locked down his shields to prevent bleed over of his frustration. “Welcome to Beacon Hills. Been in town long?”
“We just got in this weekend, and we’re still unpacking. I’m completely not ready to start school today. Scott was kind enough to give me a pen and a notebook this morning.” She blushed and looked down. “And he offered to get me lunch.”
“Lunch, huh?” Stiles looked at Scott, who was smiling smugly at that. “Speaking of lunch, Scott…,” Stiles looked at the empty space in front of his chair and then back to Scott—who was not even paying attention. Stiles nudged him AGAIN. “Scott…lunch?”
Looking back to Stiles, Scott looked down and then looked back between the two trays. He got that sheepish, bad puppy look. “Hey man, you don’t mind getting your own today, right?”
Stiles nodded slowly, right. “Sure, I don’t mind.” He left the table, Scott already turned back toward Allison.
The lunch line froze as Stiles approached. He headed for the back of the line but was stopped by some senior sentinels on the football team. He tried to decline the cut in line, but they weren’t taking no for an answer. Stiles gave in gracefully…well as gracefully as he was capable. Grabbing a tray and selecting items without really paying attention, he stopped at the cash register.
“Stiles, honey, Scott already picked up your tray,” Mrs. Linda informed him.
“Uh, yeah…I know. But, um…well, we gave it to a new student as a welcome to BHH.” Stiles gave her his believe me grin number five, and she smiled at him.
“That is so sweet of you. OK, I’ll put this on your account.” She reached for the keys, and Stiles stopped her.
“Oh, no. Mrs. Linda. Scott said to put this on his tab. You know…sentinel providing for his guide and all. Wouldn’t want to upset him, would we?”
She glanced over toward their table and then nodded fondly. “That boy is so thoughtful. People around here could learn a lot from him. OK, take your tray.”
Stiles returned to the table, which was now full. Lydia Martin was sitting next to Allison, Jackson next to her, and the usual suspects following them. Stiles took his seat and hunched down when Lydia raised an eyebrow at him in question and then glanced at Scott. Stiles just made an abortive motion toward Allison and shrugged. He would just have to deal with Scott after school.
Talk at the table meandered around topics, finally landing on lacrosse tryouts. By the time lunch was over, Scott and Jackson had convinced three others to try out for lacrosse, and somehow Scott had scored a date with Allison. Stiles was just trying to avoid the evil eye from Lydia.
He was feeling stressed by the end of lunch and had to drag Scott out of the lunchroom so they could have a few minutes to stabilize before splitting for the rest of the day. Scott insisted he was fine the entire way to the designated ISO room just inside the nurse’s office.
He kicked off his shoes as he entered the room. “I can’t believe you.”
“I know, right? I can’t believe she said yes, either. Allison is just so amazing. I can’t wait until Friday.” Scott flopped down onto the floor to take position.
“Right, your date.” Stiles huffed and took his position. Stiles checked the time and realized there wasn’t time to get into it now. “Just focus on your center so I can steady our connection.”
Scott closed his eyes and took a deep breath as Stiles fell into his own mental space and reached for the buzz-stop of the bond. Happiness from Scott’s side met frustration from Stiles, making the buzz discordant. Stiles forced himself to let go for a moment until he was calm enough to accept Scott’s emotions and smooth out the bond between them. From there, he did a quick check on Scott’s levels. But, Scott rarely had trouble managing his senses. Then he ended it by smoothing out and reinforcing his own shields.
He could breathe easily again about the time that the bell rang. Scott slipped back into his shoes, patted Stiles on the shoulder, and took off with a brief, “See ya at lacrosse.”
Stiles lay back on the padded floor for a moment. “Right, lacrosse.”
Stiles took his turn in the line running relays while catching and passing the ball with his crosse. They were warmed up and ready to go when Coach Finstock blew the damn whistle, and all the sentinels on the team flinched, a couple going down. Stiles instinctively reached out to buffer them slightly and ignored Scott’s frown as he turned back to Coach.
“OK, form up. One-on-one, defense and offense. Run through twice then we’ll switch sides.” He blew the whistle again, and they ran to form lines.
Stiles watched Jackson body-check Scott and winced. Those two had been antagonistic since elementary. When it was Stiles’ turn, he found himself facing Greenburg. Stiles caught the ball and ran forward. Greenburg moved in, body checked Stiles, and chaos erupted on the field as all the sentinels save Scott piled onto Greenburg. From the ground, Stiles looked around to stop his own sentinel from causing damage. He caught Scott waving to Allison in the stands while the unbonded sentinels were out of control.
Stiles rolled over to sit and let loose with a wave of calm/soothing/safety/happy toward the sentinels. Coach followed it with a loud blast of the whistle, and the sentinels went down. Danny Mahealani, their goalie, moved in to pull the shocked Greenburg out of the pile and drag him away from the crowd.
Coach just stood between the sentinels, who were climbing to their feet, and Stiles, who was still sitting on the ground. “What the ever-loving hell was that? Does this look like football to anyone? Does it? No, it doesn’t because this is lacrosse, not football. Sentinels were allowed to play this year because everyone was assured they could handle it. Now, does anyone want to explain what happened?”
They all looked at Stiles, and he rolled his eyes. Before he could say anything, Scott ran up and put an arm around Finstock, turning him away to speak to him in a low voice that Stiles couldn’t hear. Some of the sentinels were shifting from one foot to another, obviously listening in.
Stiles gained his feet as Finstock turned back around. “Bilinski, bench. The rest of you, back to the drills.”
Removing his mask and gloves, he took the bench and watched as the hopefuls continue tryouts. Coach usually ran two rounds of boot camps during the summer for hopefuls to practice skills and show their dedication. But he didn’t officially select the players for the team until the first day of school. Stiles and Scott knew about the boot camps but were exempt due to their standing schedule of advanced S&G training in Cascade every year.
Eventually, Coach made it back over next to him. “Look, Bilinski, you know I can’t take a chance of a bunch of hormonal sentinels slaughtering the other team because you stub your toe. I want McCall on the team. He surprisingly learned how to move with a stick over the summer without putting out his eye. I’m surprised beyond belief. But I can’t have a bonded sentinel on the team without his guide. So you will officially be on the team for games. You have to come to practice. You’ll do the warm-up with the team, so I can truthfully say you are part of the team, but I can’t put you on the field. If you’re going to cry, please find someone who cares.”
Stiles smiled and leaned back. “It’s cool, Coach. I agree with you completely. Maybe I could just sit around and do homework or something.”
Coach pointed at him, “But gear up, and I expect you to take track when the season ends like everyone else. God knows most of them don’t have cross country in them if their life depends on it.”
“Will do, Coach. Any chance of you signing off on my Phys. Ed. Credit if I do? I mean, unless you really want me playing dodgeball with everyone else?” Stiles slipped in. He might as well get something worthwhile out of his time.
Finstock looked at him hard. “You might actually have two brain cells to rub together in there. Fine, keep the sentinels from zoning out during the games, run cross country in track, and I will sign off your PE requirement.”
“Good doing business with you there, Coach.”
Stiles headed for the showers while everyone was waiting for Coach to announce the JV and Varsity teams. He was getting dressed when he felt the zip-buzz-zip excitement/victory/joy feeling from Scott that meant he made Varsity. Stiles didn’t stay for the rest as he headed out to wait in his Jeep for Scott. They were running just a little late for their check-in with Doc Deaton at the Center.
He could see Allison and Lydia waiting next to Jackson’s Porsche, so it was clear that Allison was officially part of the school’s ruling court. Eh, good for her. Those who didn’t make the team were dragging themselves out to their cars, and Stiles was glad he didn’t have to stew in the disappointment that was pouring off them.
Finally, Scott and the rest of the Varsity team came out and were gathered together around Jackson’s car. Scott held up a hand and then jogged over to the Jeep. Stiles went ahead and started it up, ready to get to their appointment.
“Stiles, the team’s going out to the diner to eat,” Scott said with the biggest grin.
“Good for them, but we have an appointment at the Center with Doc Deaton. He needs to see how well I did without a conservator today, remember?”
Scott nodded, “Yeah, that’s cool. You don’t need me for that. You can go check in with him, and I’ll go out with the team.”
“No.” Stiles shook his head. “They need to evaluate how well we do apart.”
“Exactly!” Scott tagged him on the shoulder. “They need to see us apart. It’s perfect. They can check you out today, and next time they can check me. You know I really would go with you, buddy, but Allison’s going. You understand, right?”
The excitement was flooding the bond, and Stiles glanced back at everyone waiting on them. “Yeah, sure. I understand. I can handle this alone. I’ll just tell Doc Deaton you had another commitment.”
“You’re the best!” Scott exclaimed as he ran back to the group and then stuffed himself into the back of the Porsche with Allison.
Stiles watched as they all drove away, not knowing how to feel. He put the Jeep into gear and headed to the S&G Center of Beacon Hills…alone.
Stiles got to school early on Wednesday, dropped Scott off near the lunchroom to pick up something for breakfast, and headed to the language lab where he knew Boyd spent most mornings. He didn’t have to wait long for Boyd to arrive.
Boyd saw him as he stepped through the door and hesitated before heading to one of the computers to log in. He blatantly kept his back to Stiles as he did so. Stiles started to reach out empathically to his fellow guide but thought twice about it. Starting the day with anger would give him a headache by the end of the day.
“Come on, man. Give me five minutes, please,” Stiles pleaded.
Stiffening his shoulders, Boyd moved his bag to the side and spun around in the chair to glare at Stiles. “Give me one reason.”
“I want to help.”
“Can you get me out of Chemistry and into German 3?”
Boyd turned away.
“I tried, OK? I tried everything I could. I even berated Scott into retracting his agreement, but the school won’t budge, and Doc Deaton at the Center thinks it is a good real-life experience for us. He disagrees with what the school did but decided it’s not an unreasonable expectation.” Stiles tried to explain. “It sucks. Even my Dad wouldn’t help change it.”
“Then you can leave.”
“No, hear me out. Did they put you in German 2 last period?”
“Look, I can’t get them to swap classes for you. But, Beacon State has a dual credit program. You can test into the appropriate German level class and get both high school and college credit for it. I know you won’t have trouble with the testing, and they have the class you need on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Since you wouldn’t have last period, it would give you time to make it to the campus on time.” Stiles pulled some printouts from his backpack.
Boyd crossed his arms while Stiles held out the papers. “I can’t afford to pay for it.”
Stiles waved the papers in his face. “Yes, you can. I checked your status. Your parents had trusts through the Center. Your grandmother refused any money from the Centers because…well, they wouldn’t have been in danger in the first place if the Center hadn’t asked them to take the assignment.”
Boyd frowned at that, and his shields became icy. “How do you know that?” His voice was laced with accusation.
Stiles deflated and lowered his hand with the paper. He sat down in a nearby chair and looked at Boyd. “I know I don’t act like it, but I’m your Prime. It’s my place to see that the sentinels and guides in this territory are taken care of. I have…access to stuff, OK. Stuff I can’t talk about. I don’t spread stories, and I don’t use what I know. But you were screwed over, and I need to make this right.”
Stiles held out the papers again, and Boyd slowly took them. “I know your grandmother does just fine taking care of you and your sisters. If she doesn’t want to touch the money, that’s fine. But it’s your money, and you have a right to it. The Center holds it in trust for all of you. When you turn twenty-one, they will release it to you to do what you want. They will pull you in to talk to you about it when you’re eighteen.”
“That doesn’t do me any good now, Stiles.” Boyd looked down at the paperwork with longing.
“Yes, it does. I put the form in there for Legal. As long as it is used directly for your education, they can pay the institution. It doesn’t require approval from your grandmother. They will pay for everything for you to get the class. But you have to move fast if you want to get in. They will help you; all you have to do is ask. That’s what the Center is there for.” Stiles sat in silence for a moment after speaking, then reached down for his bag. “I…you should have options.”
He reached the door when Boyd called out, “Stiles, even if I could do it, I don’t have a car to get there.”
“Oh, yeah. Kyle’s starting his Masters in Sentinel Studies this semester. He offered to pick you up to get to class, but you’ll have to take a bus home. Kyle has to pass by the school around that time to get to campus, so it’s no big for him. Give him a call.” Stiles turned back to leave.
He turned back to face his fellow guide.
Boyd held up the paperwork. “Prime Stilinski…Thank you.”
Stiles gave him a slight grin then left the room as quickly as he could.
Classes sucked as the day dragged on. Stiles missed breakfast to track down Boyd. There was a buzz in every class as people recruited heavily for extracurricular activities. And emotions were mercurial as people got their first real assignments in classes. By the time Chemistry came along, Stiles was just not ready to deal with a room full of sentinels.
Boyd was more comfortable to be near, at least. He had a very soothing aura, though Stiles kept his shields locked down to prevent bleed-off. It was the only pleasant part of Chemistry. Harris started the class with a pop quiz that sent the stress level through the roof, and all Stiles wanted to do was calm everyone down. Luckily the quiz wasn’t difficult, though from Scott’s anxiety spike, it was pretty clear that he didn’t feel the same.
Everything was just pressing down on him when the lunch bell finally rang.
“Guide Stilinski, sit.” Harris didn’t even stand from where he was grading papers.
Scott gave Stiles an apologetic face and mouthed “Allison” before running out the door.
Stiles slumped on his stool and waited until the room cleared.
“I didn’t ask to teach a room full of oversensitive, hormonal sentinels. I wasn’t consulted, either. It is my job to fill their little brains with as much science as I can. Though, many of them fall closer to the test tube size rather than the beaker when it comes to available space,” Harris started as soon as the door had closed.
“It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I was against the practice of mainstreaming sentinels and guides. Obviously, I didn’t get my way, but I am used to disappointment. Now I realize you have led a relatively privileged existence since no one wants to upset the little guide prime, but I don’t care. You were trying to make waves, and that reflects back on me.”
“Mr. Harris,” Stiles started to deny it, but Harris cut him off.
“I’m the one speaking, Guide Stilinski. You didn’t get into one class you wanted. Well, boo-hoo. For better or worse, we are stuck together this year. Learn to accept your reality. Nothing is stopping you from self-studying for the AP test at the end of the year.”
“I wasn’t doing it for me.” Stiles insisted. “Boyd worked hard for that class, and it wasn’t fair that they just took that away from him.”
“Fair? There is nothing fair when it comes to Guide Privilege. There certainly wasn’t anything fair about my wife getting full custody of my son when she came online and ran off with her sentinel. Your precious Center will get him and you all the help you need if you just ask them. The rest of us don’t have that luxury. We have to work to get ahead and earn our advancement. So when I get called in on the second day of school with a complaint in my file because Prime Stilinski complained about my class, I get a little cranky.”
Stiles leaned back in shock, both at the words and the spike of anger coming off the man. “I didn’t complain about your class. I swear I didn’t. I complained about being placed in a situation where I’m expected to use my gifts without being consulted. And about Boyd being included. I said nothing about you.”
“Well, welcome to the real world where what you say matters. Not enough for them to move you, but enough for them to talk to me about watching my attitude with a Prime. So, I’m just putting you on notice, Guide Prime Stilinski. I. Don’t. Care. That. You. Are. Prime. And I refuse to change how I teach my class. Now you’re dismissed.” Harris picked up his pen and a quiz to start grading again.
“Dismissed means leave now Stilinski.”
Stiles blew out a huff of frustration and left the room. The halls were already clear, and the lunchroom packed by the time he made it there. Stiles was starving, but his shields needed some work, and he tried to determine which was more important. He glanced over and saw Scott sitting at what was quickly becoming their table with Allison and the usual crew. They looked happy, so he took a breath and headed for the front of the lunch line to collect his tray.
“Stiles, sweetie, you look a mess. You OK?” Mrs. Linda asked softly.
“I’m OK. Just didn’t get breakfast.” Stiles gave her his best starving face, and she melted.
“Well, it’s ready for you. Let me know if it’s not enough, and I’ll get you extra.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Linda. You’re the best.” Stiles kept the smile until he was out of sight, then pushed his tray onto the table beside Scott’s.
Conversation continued around the table without acknowledging his presence, and Stiles took a moment to relax and eat. The eating certainly helped but didn’t erase the headache. Hoping to use physical contact to stabilize the bond and thus his shields, Stiles attempted to wrap his leg around Scott’s. It was a common method they had of discreetly making contact by letting their ankles touch. The maneuver was made difficult because Scott was shifted to slightly face Allison. Still, Stiles pressed on and ended up kicking Scott’s far leg by mistake.
“Ouch!” Allison jerked back.
Or maybe not, Scott’s leg?
“Stiles!” Scott growled, then turned back to Allison. “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine.” She gave a pained half frown while reaching down to rub at her ankle.
Stiles pulled back. “I’m sorry, I was reaching for Scott.”
Allison gave a quizzical little look. “Do you normally play footsie with Scott under the table?”
“No!” Scott exclaimed, just as Stiles answered, “Yes?”
She leaned forward and looked between the two of them. “Which is it?”
“No. It’s no.” Scott insisted. He turned wide eyes on Stiles, begging him to confirm.
“No. We don’t play footsie under the table.” Stiles confirmed while looking at Scott.
Scott nodded and turned back to look at Allison with a smile.
“But bonded pairs frequently develop little bonding rituals to manage the senses and settle the bond.” Stiles continued to explain while looking back toward Allison. “Skin contact is preferred. So we usually hook ankles or something equally as innocuous. I talk with my hands a lot, so just holding hands never worked out well for us.”
Stiles turned back to his food and started eating. It took a moment to notice that the table had gone silent. He looked up to see Allison leaning back in her chair, her arms wrapped around her, with a look of shock on her face.
“You’re a sentinel?” She asked Stiles, her voice stressed.
“No, I’m a guide. Scott’s the sentinel.” Stiles looked between her confusion and Scott’s wide eyes. “You didn’t tell her you’re a bonded sentinel, Scott?”
“Yeah, Scott. You didn’t tell her you’re a bonded sentinel before making a date with her?” Lydia Martin piped in and just raised an eyebrow when Scott shot her a look.
“Scott? You’re bonded?” Allison asked, her voice small.
“No. I mean, yes. Yes, I’m a sentinel. And, yes, Stiles and I are bonded. But we’re totally platonic. I’m not into guys…like at all. Stiles is, but I’m not. He’s like my brother.” Scott was all earnest and looking like a kicked puppy.
“I don’t understand.” Allison looked between them then settled on Stiles. “I thought when sentinels and guides bonded, they were exclusive.”
“Nope. There are all kinds of levels of bonding. Some pairs just have working bonds. They don’t need each other to function. They just form a small bond so they can work at a higher capacity. Other pairs need that whole exclusive bond thing. Scott and I are sorta in the middle. We’re actually bonded, but we don’t have to be together all the time.” Stiles explained, Scott nodding his head emphatically in agreement.
“Exactly. We just have a bond. It’s no big deal, and it’s not like we can’t live our own life.” Scott turned completely back to Allison and took her hand gently. “I’m really sorry I didn’t tell you all that. It’s just I really wanted to have a chance to get to know you first before introducing all this other stuff. I mean, it’s not like it changes anything, you know. I still want to take you out.”
“And it’s OK with you that I date your sentinel?” Allison asked Stiles with a blush.
“He’s fine with it. He doesn’t care. Do you, Stiles?” Scott shot him a look.
“Right. I’m fine with it. Scott can date anyone he wants,” Stiles agreed.
“I suppose I can give it a try.” Allison blushed with a soft smile while Scott started making heart eyes at her again.
Stiles listened as Guide Paliki Jakob guided the class through the meditation, her voice smooth and melodic. Her aura, as always, was serene. He allowed himself to relax and immerse in the experience, preparing for the next step but trying not to anticipate. Eventually, they reached the state where they could attempt to connect with their spirit animal.
With his shields thinned, Stiles was able to feel that moment when a sentinel or guide first met their spirit animal. It was profound as if a missing piece of their soul returned. As a child, he had been enthralled by the process. It was a magic that science couldn’t explain.
Unfortunately, it was also one of the things he had never experienced himself: his spirit animal and stepping onto the spirit plane. It was unheard of for a pair to bond before meeting their spirit animals. A piece of Stiles wondered if his bond with Scott prevented his spirit animal from manifesting.
He could feel the frustration from Scott fizzling down the bond, and Stiles pushed back calm. Scott hated these sessions and had expressed more than once that they should abandon them. But the only times Stiles had felt even close to finding his spirit guide was when Scott was sitting beside him.
Stiles let himself settle past feeling, allowing himself to let go of the stress of the week and reach toward the spirit plane. There was a sweet spot between stepping onto the spirit plane and just reaching for the connection. It was a place of transition between the physical and the psionic where a meeting of energies could exist. It was as close as he came to experiencing the psionic plane.
Allowing his spirit to feel the ebb and flow of energy here, he opened himself to discovery. This was his favorite part. He could feel the spirit animals of the sentinels and guides in the room milling about, some just waiting for an opening to step through. In the background were other energies, waiting to find a form. Occasionally he caught a glimpse of forms that no longer existed in the real world. He wondered if they were guides who had never found their human, waiting in a limbo of existence. Or, maybe, they were spirit guides returned to the spirit plane after long service on Earth and lending their experience to the newer forms.
He felt at peace here, letting the energy embrace him. But never once did anything connect with him in a way that said, you are mine. He felt the tug on the bond that meant Scott was calling him back, and he allowed himself to return. He realized this stuff made Scott uncomfortable. Hell, only a few sentinels embraced this part of their existence. Most treated this as an exercise they needed to master before they could move on.
Opening his eyes, Stiles saw Scott stuffing his feet into his shoes, preparing to leave. Stiles stretched out on the floor, his shields slowly returning to normal.
“Stiles, I know we’re supposed to sleep at your house tonight, but can we change it to mine? Mom switched shifts with a nurse that needs off for her kid’s bar mitzvah, so she would like to have a family dinner tonight,” Scott asked Stiles while finishing with his laces.
“You didn’t say anything earlier.” Stiles shot Scott the evil eye.
Scott shrugged. “I forgot. It’s OK, isn’t it?”
Stiles nodded while answering, “Yeah, no problemo. I’ll let Dad know. He has a double anyway, so he was going to be late getting in.”
“A double? He hasn’t worked one of those in a while.” Scott gave Stiles a worried look. “Not since the whole department went down with that flu last year. He’s usually good about scheduling.”
“It’s fine,” Stiles assured him. “All six of his deputies that were involved in that shootout over in the Valley back in February were called to testify today. He could get all the other shifts scheduled, but they will be short on the evening shift, so he will fill in.”
“He’s not riding alone, is he?”
“Nah, safety in numbers is his motto. Jordan Parrish is riding with him.” Stiles rolled up to his feet. “I trust Jordan. He’s a solid sentinel. Just below alpha standing, and he made me a promise that he’ll protect my Dad.”
Scott nodded in agreement. OK, I’ll see you later. I don’t want to hang out here while you do your time with Doc Deaton, and I have homework.” And then Scott was out the door before Stiles could acknowledge it.
“Tell Allison I said hi!” Stiles called out as Scott disappeared.
Paliki made her rounds, checking on those remaining in class for questions. Stiles just gave her a smile and a wave toward Deaton’s office, and she made a shooing motion. He wandered toward the Administration Building on the campus that covered six acres of buildings, meditation gardens, and spaces for physical activity. There were also fifteen acres of shielded apartments, Medical Center, and a food court for long-term residents.
Instead of going through the front lobby, Stiles made his way to the fifth floor and Deaton’s office using his swipe card to access the staff elevator. It was wide open, as usual. He stood in the doorway, unannounced, just watching the man work. Doctor Alan Deaton was the picture of serenity in a storm. The man was utterly unflappable, and Stiles had tried.
“Guide Stilinski, would you like to enter?”
“Sure, Doc. Just thinking.”
“Any thoughts of substance?” Deaton looked at him with an enigmatic smile.
“Nope, no substance—just energy,” Stiles replied with an impudent grin. Deaton raised an eyebrow, so Stiles explained, “Paliki’s class.”
“Ah, I take it there was no progress in connecting with your spirit guide?”
“No. Seriously, what is wrong with us that we haven’t even seen our spirit guides, Doc?” Stiles fell onto the couch in the room. “Six years. Who goes six years online without finding their spirit guide?”
“There are many theories on the purpose and power of spirit guides. Science cannot measure their impact; we only know of them through their interactions with sentinels and guides. I would say the only ones with any working understanding of the psionic plane are our shamans.” Deaton stated with information Stiles knew by heart.
“Yeah, Psionic Energy 101.” Stiles banged his head back against a pillow. “But even the weakest sentinels see their spirit guide at least once the first year they’re online. Sometimes in meditation, it’s like it’s right there beside me. I feel like it’s with me, and yet I’ve never seen it. It’s just frustrating.”
Deaton steepled his fingers and rested his chin on them. “Is meditation the only time you have felt that closeness?”
“I guess…maybe?” Stiles grabbed the pillow and smothered his face with it before throwing it back toward his feet. “I don’t know, Doc. Sometimes it feels like it’s around, and sometimes it feels like it’s behind a wall with the energy focused away from me. I honestly don’t know if it’s just my random use of psionic energy or if it is my spirit guide.”
“Well, I, for one, am certainly appreciative that your random use of psionic energy is no longer so random. The City of Beacon Hills did not respond well to the need to create a special budget for streetlights.” Deaton smiled slightly.
Stiles groaned. “I can’t believe you made me give that apology speech to the City Council. I was eleven and excited that Dad won the election for Sheriff. Uncle Blair was on that call overseas when the election results came in.”
“Yes, and he took responsibility for that. But the apology speech reinforced the concept that your actions have consequences.” Deaton reached for a three-ring binder and placed it on the edge of the desk. “Now, if you will review the section on the ratification procedures for the new International Sentinel and Guide Laws, we will discuss the issues regarding the new International S&G Passport System.”
Stiles pulled himself up off the couch and shuffled over to pick up the binder. “Why doesn’t Scott have to study International Law?”
“Sentinel McCall is always welcome to come to these sessions. He has made it clear he has no interest at this time. As for yourself, with great power comes greater responsibility.” He turned back to his computer and continued to work as Stiles started to read.
“He’s just as much Prime as I am,” Stiles complained under his breath, his eyes already following the page.
“Hmm,” Deaton whispered. “Is he?”
Stiles allowed his fingers to drum softly on his desk as Danny Mahealani finished his oral report. He started to reach for his note cards to review them again and forced himself to pull back. Danny turned around to erase his diagram from the whiteboard, turned in his notes, and returned to his desk.
“Bilinski!” Coach Bobby Finstock called out.
Stiles rolled his eyes at the mangling of his name. He could briefly feel a pulse of amusement from the man every time he did it, so Stiles knew it was intentional. He appreciated how the man went out of the way to treat him like everyone else, especially since Finstock was one of the few teachers who refused to call him by his title.
Once he was at the front of the room, he glanced down to his first notecard, then looked out at the class. He locked down his shields because he didn’t need feedback from the class throwing him off his game. Then he took a breath and started.
“Hi. So, a little history to start. It’s late February of 2002 on the western side of South America. Summer has been going on for almost two months, and it’s the rainiest summer on record. There’s been a little rain every day, but for the last two weeks, it’s been torrential. Low-lying areas are experiencing flooding and the countries affected have sent in their troops to provide aid. With the troops, sentinels and guides respond for search and rescue.”
Stiles waved his hands around in emphasis. “On February 21st, around 11 am, the trifecta of bad luck slams into them with a magnitude 6.9 earthquake. People up and down South America feel it. But where the rain is falling and the water is rising, it becomes a nightmare. Structures collapse in the ground that can no longer support them. Thousands of people die in a few minutes of chaos, including all the aid workers who are just there to help.”
Turning toward the board, Stiles started writing out country names and numbers of estimated dead. “The disaster triggers a wave across the psionic plane that is felt by sentinels and guides worldwide. Before the first aftershocks are registered, S&G rescue units are flying into the area to give aid and support. Sentinels and Guides from almost every country on Earth are there to help with search and rescue efforts by the time it’s over. They do good, and a couple of weeks later, the first arrivals are ready to return home. Everyone thanks them for their service and sends them on their way.”
“Well, everyone except the country of Tezcatlipoca. It’s nestled between Peru, Columbia, Bolivia, and Brazil. It was one of the hardest-hit regions. And, as all of these sentinels and guides prepared to leave, they realized that most of their own had died in the earthquake. So, they decided to solve their problem by using the law of their land. You see, in Tezcatlipoca, sentinels and guides are considered property of the state. They are immediately pressed into military service upon coming online.”
Stiles turned back and wrote the number 1108 on the board. “The first group prepares to leave, and they find their passports confiscated, and they are forced onto busses to be relocated. It takes a few days for people to realize what’s happening, and then all of them are rounded up.” He pointed back at the board. “Eleven hundred and eight sentinels and guides are suddenly informed they have changed citizenship.”
Waving his hands around, Stiles continued, “Now people around the world didn’t take that lying down. These people responded with humanitarian aid and now are considered prisoners by the rest of the world. People start talking war, and the U.N. stepped in and instead cut them off with a complete embargo. They are cut off from all commerce, aid, funding; you name it. Allies that attempt to help them are cut off as well. It’s looking pretty damn close to war.”
“After thirteen long months, the Military Dictatorship of Tezcatlipoca finally concedes due to rampant unrest of their people. Busses are sent across military blockades, and one-thousand and sixty-four sentinels and guides are returned home. The remainder were reported missing or dead.” Stiles pauses a moment in the silence of the class.
“So, it takes a few years, but eventually they pull together the International Council on Sentinel and Guide Law. Their mandate is to create a universally accepted statute of laws applicable to Sentinels, Guides, Sensitives, and Aide Workers worldwide. The hope is that we never again have to risk our futures and citizenship when following the imperative to Protect the Tribe. We even have a local connection. Sentinel Prime Talia Hale, Lawyer, and Authority on International Sentinel and Guide Law, was asked to represent the U.S. S&G Council on the Committee in The Netherlands for the last six years. She was so dedicated to the task that she took her entire Pack with her to support the effort.”
Coach cleared his throat. “Not to interrupt the pretty story, but this is supposed to be an oral report on Economics, not History.”
“Right, Coach. Getting there. So, going back to the trade embargo. You might not think that it would mean much for the rest of the world. A little country like Tezcatlipoca doesn’t have much to offer in the large scheme of things. And, to most people, you would be right. They only have four major exports.” He turned around and wrote a chemical formula on the board.
“One of those exports is a special variety of caoutchouc. And caoutchouc is one of the primary ingredients in the formula you see behind me on the board. Now, what is that formula for, and why would it be important to anyone, you ask? That, my friends, is the formula for the only one hundred percent sentinel-safe condom in existence. For thirteen months, that substance was unavailable, and supplies started running out. Many tried other products, sometimes with very uncomfortable results.” Half the room shifted in their seats.
“Eventually, the supply was restored, and sentinels everywhere rejoiced. However, it was a little late for some of them. Whether they planned for it or not, we have a six-month range about nine months later when there was a sudden increase in the birth rate for registered sentinels. What does that mean to us today? Nothing. But in another six years, Coach will have a lot more sentinels and guides in his classroom.”
Stiles put the rubber band back around his cards and turned to hand them to Finstock. The man just stared at Stiles a minute, then shook his head.
“Stilinski, what the hell was your topic again?”
He scratched the back of his head. “Um, Scarcity and Resources?”
Coach blinked. “You are terrifying. Sit down.”
Stiles grabbed the bag of Tupperware from the back of the jeep and headed into the station. It was edging on 7 pm, and he wanted to get in to have dinner with Dad before the man tried to convince his deputies to run out and get him a burger. He waved to Tara at the front desk as she buzzed him in.
“Dad available?” he asked as he pulled a container out of the bag and handed it to her. “Pork tenderloin, Hasselback sweet potato, and roasted Brussel sprouts.”
“Who did you kill?” Tara asked while taking a long sniff of the container.
Putting his hand over his heart, Stiles staggered back. “You wound me. Do I need an excuse to cook a good meal for my own father and my favorite deputy?”
She scoffed at him but waved him on back while searching her desk drawer for a fork.
The office door was open, so Stiles knocked on the door jamb as he entered the room. Dad looked up with a smile but made a motion toward the desk phone he had wedged between his ear and shoulder. Nodding, Stiles started clearing off part of the desk to set out the dishes for them, finishing with a thermos of iced tea.
“Certainly, Alpha Hale. I will have a couple of my deputies sweep the property first thing in the morning. When should you and your family arrive?” Dad pulled up a pad of paper and started taking notes. “OK…yes. Will you need an escort from the airport?…No, I’m sure it’s unnecessary, but you and your family did a great service for the entire S&G Community. I think an honor escort could be afforded. Sure, I understand completely. It must be a relief to be returning to your own territory finally. Well, we all look forward to seeing you. Have a pleasant trip home, Peter.”
The moment he hung up the phone, Stiles blurted out, “The Hales are coming?”
His father shook his head. “Yes, they are. But you can’t tell anyone. They want a quiet return, and after six years of hard work, I think they deserve it.”
“Kinda hard to keep quiet about the entire Hale Pack returning to Beacon Hills, Dad,” Stiles objected.
“Well, they aren’t all returning at the same time.” Dad tapped the notepaper. “Peter Hale will be returning with his guide and some of the children who need to start school. The rest of the Pack will return in waves as their work is completed. They’ve had a firm taking care of their homes. I’m just sending a team as a courtesy to ensure no one has tampered with their property since the last crew finished cleaning and repairs.”
“This is awesome. When do they get in? Can we be there to meet them? Do you think they would be willing to talk to me about their experiences? What do you think it will be like, having so many high-rated sentinels and guides in the territory? I mean, I’ve met a few Primes, but Uncle Blair and Uncle Jim are the only ones I’ve lived with, and word is the Hale Pack is really tight-knit.” Stiles released in a single breath.
“Stiles!” Dad gave him the Sheriff glare. “I’m sure you will have all the time in the world to meet the Hales, but we will be leaving them alone when they arrive. They have a very long and tiring trip, and I’m sure their senses will be readjusting to their territory. Everyone should wait until they are ready to re-enter the local society. And that, young man, means you and your sentinel will back off and leave them alone. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Dad. I hear and obey.” Stiles slouched down and started opening containers.
“Speaking of your sentinel, where is he? I’ve only seen him once all week.” Dad made a pleased sound and grabbed the divided plate.
“Oh, yeah, well see, Scott met this girl at school. Her name’s Allison, and they are out on a double date tonight.” Stiles ran his fork through the potato to sever one of the slices.
Dad chewed his bite slowly and set down his fork. “Wow, Scott on a date. So, how do you feel about that?”
“It’s great, Dad. I’m happy for Scottie.” He looked up from his potato to see his father watching him. “Really, Dad. I’m fine. It was bound to happen sooner or later. She seems like a really sweet girl, so no complaints.”
Stiles walked into school on Tuesday with a spring in his step. The weekend had been a little off, but he was adjusting to the new schedule. Scott’s Saturdays were devoted to Driver’s Ed and, apparently, Allison for the next couple of months. Stiles kept his phone available in case Scott had any issues with his senses. Frankly, that was such a rare occurrence that he would probably panic if he received a call. Besides, Saturdays were family days. Their parents always tried to separate them to give each of them individual attention.
Sunday, they had an entire four-hour session together, then played video games for a while. Stiles meant to tell Scott about the Hales returning. But, frankly, Scott bombarded him with how wonderful Allison was every time he tried. He gave up trying and just enjoyed their time together.
This last summer had been so different. In the past, everything had been the Stiles/Scott show, but this year Uncle Blair and Uncle Jim had taken great pains to separate them most days. He understood it. If they were going to live without conservators, they also had to function independently. And god knows he had overheard enough therapists talking about codependency issues.
Maybe he did have some issues. Scott was doing what the Primes had instructed them to do this year, embrace their freedom. Well, how did Uncle Blair say that? You’re teenagers and free of adult supervision the first time in your lives…live a little. Which was quickly followed by Uncle Jim’s, And don’t break the law.
Stiles had attempted to embrace his freedom on Sunday evening and sneak off to see the Hales. Dad’s powers of Mischief Management kicked in, and he caught Stiles before he was halfway across town. That turned out pretty good, come to think about it, because Dad took him out to see the latest Conan movie. And damn if that wasn’t one fine-looking sentinel.
Monday was just another day of school, practice, and study. But Stiles felt a little fuzzy by the end of the day. Realizing he wasn’t devoting any time to individual meditation, Stiles decided he would do something about it before he got a call from Blair.
So, Tuesday morning, he got up a little early and headed to the Preserve for a morning run. There was a spot about twenty minutes in that had this beautiful pool fed by a modest waterfall. He discovered the place with Uncle Jim and Uncle Blair when they lived in Beacon Hills. It quickly became one of his favorite meditation spots. With his ADHD, a short cross-country run to burn energy helped him settle down for meditation. He could center himself and slip into the proper state to examine the flow of energy around him.
His internal clock brought him out of it within thirty minutes, and he stretched back out and took off to finish the run back to his Jeep and home to shower. The whole activity had him humming away, so he was ready to go when school started and feeling much better than he had a week ago.
Lydia gave him a slight nudge and a raised eyebrow as they entered English. He grinned at her unrepentantly, and she gave her little smile back. “You’re practically buzzing.”
“Eh, had a good morning,” Stiles said as they slid into their seats. “Figured if I couldn’t change my situation, then I could change my outlook.”
She cocked her head to the side, considering. “Good for you.”
Mrs. Blake started the class with a discussion of Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. The debate between barriers providing safety and limits vs. creating divisions raged on, Lydia and Stiles taking the opposing views in the argument. Stiles, of course, couldn’t just leave it with a treatise on interpersonal interaction. He had to take it into the realm of international borders. Lydia kept up with him point for point until Mrs. Blake reeled them in and refocused the discussion.
They had just moved on to their first activity, selecting their subjects for the year’s research paper, when there was a knock at the door. Principal Thomas stuck his head in and motioned for Mrs. Blake to come into the hall. She shot the class a look that threatened dire retribution if they acted out while she was gone and stepped out.
Lydia whispered something to Stiles, but he wasn’t paying attention. All he could focus on was the sense of sentinel outside the door. Taking a deep breath, he let his shields thin slightly and let his mind reach out. Ignoring Lydia’s static from being ignored, he directed his perception toward the hall and the distinct impression of an alpha sentinel. There was a second, teetering on the line between sentinel and alpha, who would probably tip over the edge to alpha by the time they…she?…yes, by the time she is an adult. Or if her guide is an alpha.
The strength of the guide could alter the strength of the sentinel. Strangely the boost wasn’t reciprocal. Probably because of how a guide had a direct connection with the spirit plane. You know, there was probably a study on that phenomenon. He should definitely check. Imagine how much of a bump a strong guide could give a weak sentinel. How much of a difference could a strong sentinel make on a weaker guide, if any? Had that been studied? Not that a strong guide would be able to have a healthy bond with a weak sentinel. Was that even something that had happened before? Maybe. Probably. He should definitely look into that. Maybe Doc Deaton has something in his private library. Or, maybe he could finally convince them to get him access to the Sentinel Studies restricted library at the College. Shouldn’t being a Prime have any perks to make up…
Lydia pinched him hard. “Snap out of it, Stilinski! They’re coming in.”
Stiles pulled everything behind his shields, taking a second to check that he hadn’t left any cracks for emotion to intrude. Then rubbing his side where she had pinched, he gave her a wounded look. “If sentinels at lacrosse lose it because I’m bruised, I’m totally ratting you out.”
“Don’t be a baby, Stiles. And seriously, do you have to go that deep to do a scan?” She shook her head at his antics.
“I didn’t go deep.”
“I called your name four times.”
“I wasn’t deep, just thinking.” Stiles leaned back and glanced at the doorknob that was slowly turning as if someone were deciding whether to open it or not. “It’s not my fault that ADHD meds interfere with shielding. Guides should be able to redirect their energy without relying on pharmaceuticals. But you and I know that’s bull.”
Lydia’s eyes softened. She had been there through his years of seeking control. She knew him before he was diagnosed and stuck with him through the trial and error of finding the dosage that would control his symptoms. She was also in the classes that received his bleed-off when he was reintroduced to school online and without meds.
Before Lydia could attempt to say something, the door opened, and Mrs. Blake stepped back in. Everyone’s focus, however, shifted to the two girls who followed her in. There was a similarity between them that screamed related to anyone with half a brain.
The first was maybe five foot three to five-five, dark brown hair, brown eyes, face in a scowl, and arms crossed. She was definitely the Alpha that Stiles had sensed, and she looked like her give-a-fucks had been lost in another state. Her clothing was good quality sentinel-approved materials but worn in a way that spoke of comfort over style and ease of movement. He got the distinct impression that she was of the shoot first, tear them apart, then get ice cream while the cops decide if they want to sort it out variety.
The second girl was about four or five inches taller with the same hair, but she had a glint of something in her eyes that the first was missing. She moved with a grace and poise that was an unconscious part of her. Yet, even so, there was no mistaking a predator among them.
“Class,” Mrs. Blake called them to attention. “We have two new students joining us today. This is Cora Hale.” She pointed toward the first girl, who scowled more before pointing to the second. “And, this is her cousin Malia Hale. They have recently returned to Beacon Hills from The Netherlands. I’m sure some of you may have known them before they moved. Others may just have questions for them about their experiences living abroad. I ask you to hold those questions. This is not an appropriate venue.” Mrs. Blake turned back to the girls. “You may take the seats at the end of the front row. I will issue your books and a syllabus. For now, the class is gathering in discussion groups to brainstorm topics for this year’s research paper. It will be the final exam for the course. You can join Stiles and Lydia.”
The girls moved to the end of the row and exchanged an entire conversation in eyebrow talk. It was fascinating to watch, and Stiles wanted to film it for a study. So much seemed to be communicated in micro-facial expressions and the movement of two eyebrows. Would it count as its own language? Was there grammar involved? How many curse words existed in it? These were things a guy needs to know. He watched as they traded places, so most of the discussion must have involved seating selections. Fascinating.
They gathered nearby, and Stiles gave them a nod. “Hi. I’m Stiles, and this is Lydia.”
Cora leaned back and crossed her arms, “Obviously. What idiotic assignment is this paper that we have to spend a year on it?”
“The point is to teach them how to write an academic paper.” Lydia shrugged as if to indicate that she and Stiles were not among those who needed to learn. “We will have to complete the project in the approved steps, receiving feedback and approval along the way. Her methodology creates more work, but in the end, it is an easy, if tedious, A.”
“You know, I have a thousand questions about what it was like in the Netherlands and, I’m dying to know any inside scoop on how the debates over the new laws really took place behind closed doors. You’ve got to have picked something up with your family in the thick of it.” Stiles leaned forward, hoping for any tidbit of information.
Cora rolled her eyes and leaned back, “How about you keep those questions to yourself, and I won’t have to rearrange your body parts.”
Stiles leaned back quickly and looked between the two girls. “I didn’t mean any harm, seriously.”
“Don’t mind her,” Malia waved a hand toward Cora like she was flicking away crumbs. “She’s anti-social and vindictive. This is how she acts when she likes you.”
Lydia gave her patented you are beneath me gaze toward Cora before refocusing on Malia. “And what about you?”
Malia gave a little grin that grew into a full shark. “I’m malicious.”
Reaching out a hand toward Malia, Stiles smiled. “Hi, she’s Machiavellian, and I’m Mischievous. We should get along just fine.”
Chemistry was amusing for a change. Malia got to class ten minutes late. When Harris exhibited his regular sterling attitude and made a crack about the Hales returning, she let loose with a burst of Dutch. This resulted in Harris accusing her of insulting him, a very uncool remark about her status as a female sentinel, and giving her detention. Malia threatened to sue him for slander, harassment, and cultural insensitivity.
Scott tried to stick his nose into the mess when Principal Thomas arrived and took over. Apologies and warnings were offered all around, and eventually, order was restored. While everyone was stretching their senses, trying to listen in on Thomas and Harris down the hall, Stiles turned around to catch Malia’s eye and gave her a big thumbs up.
Unfortunately, Stiles was so focused on his amusement at the Malia show that he forgot to turn over and watch his regular Scott programming. It wasn’t until class was over and lunch was in full swing that he realized Scott was simmering. Thinking back, he didn’t remember anything that should have set his sentinel off, so he figured it was probably an Allison issue and tried to ignore it.
Turns out, that was a tactical error. Stiles was headed to their table with his tray when Cora and Malia entered the cafeteria together. Stiles immediately changed direction to invite them to the table.
“Hey, you made it to lunch. Are you still hungry, or did you find a freshman to feast on in the corridors?” Stiles grinned impudently at Cora whose lips quirked briefly before she tried to renew her scowl.
Malia shook her head. “No, never go for the Freshmen. They stink of fear, and the pocket protector gets stuck in your teeth.”
Stiles let out an obnoxious snort at the quick comeback and motioned them to follow him to the table. “So, how’s the day going so far? Eviscerate any more teachers?”
“Eviscerate?” Cora asked.
“You totally missed it. In less than three minutes, Malia completely alienated one of the most obnoxious teachers in the school. It was fabulous.”
“Malia!” Cora hissed. “You promised Uncle Peter you’d behave.”
“If Father wants me to behave, he needs to practice what he preaches,” Malia replied while trading stares with Cora.
“Whoa, seriously? You call your Dad, Father?” Stiles stopped, staring at Malia.
Cora smirked, “She calls him Father to piss him off. She’s still mad that she’s grounded because she took off to go clubbing with her friends the night before we left. Then she had the bad luck to get caught with a fake ID by a sentinel Peter knows.”
“Please, he wasn’t mad that I tried to go clubbing; he’s mad that it was a bad fake ID,” she said to Cora before turning back to Stiles. “Dad’s of the opinion that if you are going to try to do something illegal, you should have the intelligence to plan ahead and not get caught.” Malia smiled and reached over to put a finger under Stiles’ chin and shut his mouth.
The sound of a chair scraping loudly across the floor pulled their attention in time to see Scott storming over to the trio. His eyes were practically flashing. Before Stiles could react, Scott was between him and Malia.
“I don’t know what they teach you in The Netherlands, but in Beacon Hills, you don’t touch a bonded guide without the permission of his sentinel.” Scott was practically growling at the girl.
“Last time I checked, the rule was you don’t touch a guide without the guide’s permission. And newsflash puppy, he wasn’t protesting the touch,” Malia responded before turning away from Scott.
Cora edged closer as if to put herself between Scott and her cousin. “I don’t know who you are, but, bonded or not, we were speaking to our new friend here.”
Stiles was pulling back on Scott’s arm. “Yeah, Scott, we’re just talking here. Chill, dude.” Looking at the Hales, Stiles shrugged. “We haven’t completely socialized him yet. If you have a rolled-up newspaper, keep it handy.”
“Stiles,” Scott growled at Stiles.
Stiles flicked Scott’s ear. “No. You’re being rude. They’ve done nothing wrong, and this isn’t exactly the right way to welcome them back to Beacon Hills.”
“Who gave them permission to move here?” Scott demanded.
“Excuse me?” Cora pressed forward into Scott’s space. “Who died and made you Master? For your information, little boy, the Hales founded Beacon Hills, and we don’t need your permission to move into our own home.”
Scott stood up straight. “I don’t think you understand who you are talking to. I am the Prime of this region, and if you want to be accepted here, you need to show the proper respect for the title.”
“Scott!” Stiles hissed, embarrassment flooding him.
Cora moved in closer, and Stiles could swear she was looking down at Scott even though he edged her out by at least five inches. “Prime? You’re no Prime. I was raised by a Prime, so I think I would recognize one. What you are is a barely gifted ferret with delusions of wolf. Now I’m an Alpha. So, in the world of sentinels, I’m the predator, and you’re the prey.”
The tension was ratcheting higher and higher, and Stiles tried to thin his shields to release a peaceful aura. But his anxiety, coupled with his normal instinct to keep things locked down, was interfering with an exercise that Blair insisted would one day be instinctive.
Before anyone could make a move, a feeling of peace and harmony flooded the room. Stiles glanced at the doors as Principal Thomas and Ms. Morrell entered the cafeteria. Marin Morrell was the school’s Guidance Counselor/Guide Conservator.
“Well, this was unexpected.” Principle Thomas looked at those involved. “Stilinski, McCall, Hale, and…Hale, we are going to take a walk to my office and talk this out. Everyone else can return to your lunch.”
Stiles grabbed Scott by the arm and started pulling him. He kept the bond locked down because he didn’t want to bleed his anger all over his already worked-up sentinel. “I can’t believe you, man.”
Scott stubbornly clenched his jaw and glared before taking the lead and marching them to the office. They didn’t stop until they were in front of the desk. Principal Thomas and Ms. Morrell flanked the Hales while traveling slower to give a little distance between the two pairs.
Stiles paced back and forth, waiting for them to catch up before he couldn’t take it anymore and exploded. “What the hell was that, Scott?”
“She touched you, Stiles. I ordered everyone in the school to keep their distance, and she just waltzed in here and touched you without even talking to me first.”
“Well, newsflash Scott. I don’t need your permission to let someone touch me. And frankly, it was a dick move to make that stupid announcement without asking me or any of the other guides around here how we felt about it. I’m not some delicate hothouse flower that can’t express my own opinion about who can and can’t touch me. And I really resent you implying that I’m fragile.” Stiles threw his hands up in the air in frustration.
“I’m a sentinel, and you’re my guide. That gives me the right to protect you.” Scott shot back.
“Right, exactly. You can protect me all you want, but you don’t own me, and you don’t control me.” Stiles jabbed Scott in the chest to emphasize his points.
“I’m not trying to control you. I just don’t like you spending time with people I disapprove of, especially other sentinels.” Scott pointed toward the doorway where everyone else was standing. “Blair says it’s the place of a guide to provide a clean sensory anchor for their sentinel. So if I say I don’t want you near them, you have to listen to me. And I say that it makes me uncomfortable for you to spend any time with those people.”
Stiles’ anger flashed hot, and he barely registered everyone in the room flinching. “No. Abso-fucking-lutley not! You don’t get to dictate who my friends are. And don’t quote Blair at me without quoting the whole damn thing. Because that’s his spiel to sentinels and mundanes. To always respect the guide’s choice on if touch is allowed.”
Scott scoffed, “Right, that’s why you always freak out when someone gets in your space. I’ve had to protect you from yourself for years. So, you are going to stay away from them.”
“Excuse you. Sure, I’m touch-sensitive, and it took a while for me to get my shields under control, but I haven’t needed that protection in years. And, don’t go giving me orders like you have a right because two can play that game.”
Scott crossed his arms. “Oh, really?”
“How about I just quote Uncle Jim back at you? A Sentinel’s highest imperative is to protect the Guide. As such, nothing and no one should take precedence in a sentinel’s mind or life over their guide.” Stiles quoted from Jim Ellison’s primer for new sentinels.
“See…exactly!” Scott pointed at Stiles. “It’s my job to protect you.”
“See…exactly!” Stiles mimicked. “Way to only hear the part you want. But, I’m glad you agree with that. So you won’t have any problem not seeing Allison anymore.”
“What does Allison have to do with any of this?” Scott stepped back.
“Maybe it makes me uncomfortable that lately, you’ve put Allison ahead of our bond.” Stiles stood up straight and glared. “So if I’m not allowed to see my new friends, you won’t have a problem walking away from her, too.”
Scott surged forward. “You can’t make me stop seeing Allison. She has nothing to do with the way you’re acting, so leave her out of this. If I want to have a girlfriend, I can have a girlfriend.”
“And, if I want to have friends, then I can have friends. This is supposed to be a partnership built on mutual respect. So, when you learn that, come find me. Until then, stay the fuck away.” Stiles turned toward the door and pushed his way past everyone there. “Principal Thomas, I’m headed to the Center to meditate before I lose the last fuck I have to give and blow up the whole damn school.”
Behind him, he heard Principal Thomas say, “I will notify your teachers that you are taking a Guide Day…, and your father that he should speak to you about your language. Now the rest of us are going to sit down and discuss proper behavior in my school.”
“Hey, kiddo. You’re up early.” Stiles looked over his shoulder at his father, who was entering the house, then went back to lacing his shoe.
“And you’re just getting in?”
Dad yawned and nodded. “Traver’s wife went into labor, so Parrish and I stayed on to cover for Travers and Gibbons. Well, we sent Underwood and Reed on patrol and covered the desk.”
Stiles grinned. “How strange is it that Mrs. Travers is in labor and Lenny Gibbons of all people is her birthing coach? There aren’t that many guys that would want their work partner to see their wife naked.”
“Trust me; there is nothing sexy about that situation.” Dad rubbed the top of Stiles’ head as he passed by. “And, Travers might be one of the best deputies I have, but damn that man has a weak stomach. Their first kid, Beau Travers ended up with eleven stitches in his head when her water broke, and he passed out. Besides, Gibbons is calm in a crisis, and sometimes I think Elaine likes him better than Beau.”
“So, what did they have?”
“Another girl. Haven’t announced the name yet.”
“I’ll take a gift to them later, Dad.” Stiles finished his laces and put on his shoe.
“Thanks, kiddo. Let me get some cash for you.” He dug into his pocket for his wallet. “So, what is a teenager doing up at dawn on a Friday?”
“I’ve been up early every day this week. I like to go for a run in the Preserve and meditate before school. It helps.” Stiles finished tying his shoes and headed for the kitchen to get his water bottle.
Following him to the kitchen, Dad looked him over. “I’m glad it’s helping. You and Scott still fighting?”
“Until he gets his head out of his ass, yeah. We’re pretty much ignoring each other.”
Dad sighed, “Language.”
Stiles just raised an eyebrow at him while filling his bottle.
“Well, it’s not the first argument you boys have had. It’s not my place to stick my nose into your bond. But, do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself, son, and I’ll support you every step of the way.”
Nodding, Stiles started to pass by Dad to head for the front door before he stopped and pulled him in for a hug. “Thanks, Dad.”
“Now I’m going to go get some sleep. Be careful in the Preserve. The new schedule starts next week, and we’ll be back to full capacity, so maybe I’ll go out on that run with you in the mornings.”
Stiles stepped back with a smile, a sense of warmth and love flooding him briefly. “That would be great. It’s been a while since we’ve run together.”
“Then it’s a plan. See you after school, kiddo.”
Stiles watched Dad head to his office to lock up his weapon. With a grin and a bounce in his step, Stiles grabbed his bottle and headed for the door and the start of a great day.
Derek Hale worked furiously, moving the brush across the canvas in short decisive strokes, adding color, and then blending it into the overall work. He tried not to overanalyze the result, just allowing his emotions and impulses to guide his hand to shape the image. But the more he painted, the more frustrated he became. Nothing was working like it should.
He stepped back and looked at the canvas, the blacks, greys, and reds blending to show a storm of anger/rage/betrayal. He threw the pallet at the painting with a growl, then grabbed his box cutter from his desk to slash at the canvas before knocking it over onto the drop cloth in his bedroom. Derek paced back and forth a few times before turning to his desk and grabbing his backpack.
A thousand thoughts were racing through his head, and the primary one was that he needed to get out of the house. He was starting to feel like a caged animal in his bedroom, and enough was enough. Derek threw his pencil case and a sketch pad into the bag before heading for the stairs.
Noting the time, he detoured to the kitchen to throw in a couple bottles of water and something to eat. Derek added some snacks so he wouldn’t have to return anytime soon. A barely heard creak on the stairs was the only warning that someone was headed his way.
“Well, nephew, it’s nice to see you among the living.” Peter Hale, Derek’s uncle and overall pain in his ass, said with a fake smile as he rounded the corner into the kitchen.
Derek grunted and kept shoving items into his bag. The last thing he wanted to do was give Peter any satisfaction by engaging. He pulled the zipper closed and threw the backpack over his shoulder.
Peter blocked his way out of the kitchen. “I received a call yesterday from the Center. We’ve been here almost a week, and they informed me you haven’t been in to register.”
Just staring at him, Derek didn’t comment. He just waited for Peter to speak and get out of his way.
“They are cutting us some slack because of the move, but sooner or later, you will have to register as online.” Peter sighed when Derek didn’t answer. “You know I will fight for your right to be anti-social. As long as you’re stable, they can’t make you attend classes or accept their services, but all online sentinels are required to be in the database.”
Derek pushed past him and headed for the back door that faced the Preserve.
“As long as you’re going out, get it over with, Derek,” Peter called out behind him.
Derek shoved his AirPods in his ears and tapped his iPod to start his playlist. He took off jogging toward the path with Coldplay’s Paradise playing in his ears. The trail was clear before him, and he navigated more from memory than anything else.
The Preserve was one of his favorite places in the world. It was a place that called to him and settled him in a way nowhere else ever had. He had fought with his parents about moving to The Netherlands. He understood that it was their duty to protect the tribe that had set them on that path, but nothing had felt right since they left. Nothing had gone right for him, either.
Things had only gotten worse when he came online so disastrously just six months ago. The whole idea of him as a sentinel was a joke. It was the last thing he ever wanted, and it was going to ruin all his dreams. Every moment since the incident, he had spent suppressing every sense he could manage. And now, nothing was the same.
Derek shook his head to chase away those thoughts and focused on where he was going. A spot on the border between the Hale land and the Preserve was his special oasis. It was a pool fed by a waterfall. The waterfall was in the Preserve, but the pool was entirely on Hale land. He spent hours there as a child, reading and drawing.
He pulled up short as he rounded the bend to get his first view of the falls. He stopped to just drink in the sight. A feeling of peace flowing over him to make everything feel right. There were the falls, morning’s light sparkling against the water. The rock face with green framing the opening where the water fell into the pool. And around the pool, round rocks that were perfect for…
Feeling a spike of anger, Derek spotted the interloper sitting on his rock. This trespasser was sitting in Derek’s favorite spot. How else had he defiled this sacred space? He would teach him about intruding where he wasn’t wanted.
Derek took a step forward, determined to run off this guy when he finally looked at the face. With a soft gasp, he saw the upturned nose and long lashes, eyes closed while breathing deeply. His body was relaxed in a quarter lotus position. His breathing deep. Something about the man pulled at him; it sang of home and acceptance.
Careful not to disturb anything, Derek slowly lowered himself onto a fallen tree and pulled his sketch pad and pencils out of his bag. Flipping to a new page, he began to sketch. His eye quickly transmitted the scene to his hand and onto the page. Once he had the basic form, he started adding detail and depth to the drawing.
He glanced back up as the sun broke through an opening in the trees, and it appeared as if a beam of light was shining a spotlight upon the man. Strengthening the contrast between light and shadow, Derek translated it to the page. When he felt he had captured his subject, he looked back up to compare it to the original and gave a start as he realized his subject was gone.
Rubbing his fingers delicately over the drawing’s face, Derek looked around before looking back down. “Who are you?”
“Derek, stop fidgeting.” Peter leaned back in the reception room chair while editing some sort of legal document on his tablet.
They had been back in the States for almost a month now, and his Uncle had lost no time reopening the local office of Hale & Associates Law Group. The offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco had remained open while the Pack was away. Still, the family preferred to work out of the Beacon Hills office building. It was where the firm got its start, after all.
It started as a local firm handling legal issues in Beacon Hills. But with so many sentinels in the family, it quickly took on S&G rights issues and built a reputation of winning. Derek’s great-grandmother had been a war guide, brought back from Europe during WWII. They were bonded but not yet married when they returned to the States and ended up in a fight for entry. The family firm stepped in, and next thing you know, they were knee-deep in immigration law.
Derek sighed as he watched the man work. He was proud of his heritage, even if he wanted nothing to do with it. He wasn’t made to practice law. He wasn’t made to be a sentinel either, but look where he was now.
Peter cleared his throat and gave Derek a look.
“You don’t have to be here, Peter. I’m eighteen, not a child that needs you to hold my hand.” Derek slouched in the seat.
“If you could be trusted to stay and complete your registration on your own, I wouldn’t have to be here.” Peter never looked up from his tablet. “And, yet, here we are. So, grow up and sit still.”
“Why couldn’t Aunt Zamira come with me instead?”
“Because my sweet wife and guide has to deal with an issue at school with the twins.” Peter looked up and met Derek’s eye.
Derek raised an eyebrow. “They’re five. What kind of issue could they have?”
“Apparently, Micah felt nap time was unconstitutional and has been arguing his point since his first day of school. Today he took the argument too far and earned himself a recess detention. Being the supportive brother he is, Benjamin decided to take matters into his own hands and convinced eight of his schoolmates to chain themselves to the jungle gym as a protest.” Peter smirked at Derek.
The first bark of laughter escaped Derek before he could help himself. Unable to hold it in, he descended into uncontrollable laughter that left him in tears. “I can just see it. Let me guess, Malia put them up to it?”
“I did overhear an in-depth explanation of how padlocks work. But that could only be considered circumstantial evidence. I withhold charges until all parties can be properly interrogated. I would not put it past Benjamin to have come up with the plan on his own and manipulated his sister into teaching him what he needed to know.” Peter looked back to the tablet. “I leave the first round of questioning to Zamira. She frequently lures them in to incriminate themselves.”
Derek shook his head. Those kids were awesome in small doses, but their mother was one of Derek’s favorite people. Zamira was literally the best thing to happen to his Uncle. Peter had met Malia’s mother while finishing law school. There wasn’t an emotional attachment to the woman whose name was never spoken, but Derek knew that she had only slept with Peter to get back at her husband for an affair. Peter didn’t even know he was a father until the hospital contacted him. His daughter was in the nursery, he was named on the birth certificate, and the mother had signed away her parental rights. The story goes that Peter came online the moment he picked her up for the first time.
When Peter left a month before the family to finalize their living arrangements overseas, he took nine-year-old Malia with him. Peter and Zamira met at an embassy dinner a week later and bonded before the night was over. By the time the rest of the family arrived, she was pregnant, and Malia was calling her Mom.
“I guess she’s in the right place then.” Derek settled back as a sentinel on the other side of the waiting room was called back. Closing his eyes, he forced his hearing to return to normal, then locked it down hard, ruthlessly suppressing his senses.
Peter’s throat clearing interrupted him. “I know what you’re doing, nephew, and it’s not healthy.” He looked at Derek over his tablet.
“They’re my senses. I can do whatever I want with them.” Derek scowled at Peter before looking away and braced himself for a fight.
“Yes, you can,” Peter agreed mildly, shocking Derek into jerking his head up to look at the man. “Hopefully, one day, you will understand what that means.”
Derek opened his mouth to ask the man to explain when a voice called out, “Peter Hale, it has certainly been a while.”
Peter turned and, locking his tablet, rose to shake hands with Director Alan Deaton. “Alan, it’s been too long. The reports of the changes here hardly do it justice.”
“We had some growing pains, but I think I’m pleased with the overall results. We are now the premier Sentinel and Guide Training Center for the Western United States. We regularly waitlist applications for advanced training, or we refer them to other centers. And, of course, the local community has blossomed. Beacon Hills State College recently earned recognition for one of the most progressive S&G programs in the country.”
“It certainly made the decision of returning early with Malia easier for me. She needs the grounding that an active community provides.” Peter motioned toward Derek. “You remember Derek, don’t you?”
“Of course, of course. I understand you are here to register with the Center today, Derek.” Deaton focused his attention entirely on Derek.
Derek just gave a sharp nod and a grunt without making eye contact.
“I practically had to drag him in.” Peter nudged Derek and gave him the patented Uncle Peter look that said, you will behave like an educated human being and use your words, or I will eviscerate you before making you regret all your life choices.
“Yes,” Derek answered, trying not to grit his teeth. “I’m here to register.”
Peter rolled his eyes then reached into his pocket to pull out his phone when it gave the slightest hint of vibration.
“I promise it will be painless, Derek.” Deaton gave him an enigmatic little smile and turned back to Peter. “The staff is running a little behind today. Why don’t I take him back and get him started on the paperwork while we wait for someone to be available for his assessment?”
“That should be fine.” Peter nodded while reading the text message on the phone. He laughed then took a moment to reply. “It seems I have been called away. Derek, will you be OK to get home after the assessment? Deaton, you can arrange transportation for him, can’t you?”
“Of course. Not a problem. Nothing wrong there, I hope.” Deaton gave a pointed look at the phone.
Peter waved it away. “Not at all. My twins were involved in a bit of trouble at school. It seems Benjamin feels that his rights are not being respected. He is insisting on legal representation during his interrogation and trial. Well, the job of Daddy Lawyer is never done. I will leave my nephew in your competent hands.”
They watched Peter leave the Center before Deaton cleared his throat. “Why don’t we go on back and get that paperwork started?”
Derek picked up his backpack and followed Deaton down a corridor and into an individual consultation room. Derek’s ears popped slightly as the door closed.
“That’s the soundproofing,” Deaton mentioned as he reached into the desk to pull out several pages. “Most of this is the standard registration paperwork. Identifying information, contacts, allergies, sensitivities since coming online. All the basics. Since you are an adult now, there are also medical releases required so that a primary care physician can be appointed to you within the Center. Of course, you can have a private physician or even select the doctor of your choice among the Center Staff. But, you must have someone within the Center listed in the event of a health crisis, such as sensory failure.”
Gripping the pen tight enough to break it, Derek forced himself to take a breath and nod his understanding. He took the pages and silently spent the next twenty minutes filling them out. It was the last page that stopped him. He dropped the page and shoved the papers toward Deaton.
With a single glance, Deaton put his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers while looking over them at Derek. “Yes. Details of onlining incident or experience. I understand your hesitation in putting this into words. First, you should know that I have the appropriate authorization to hear the entire series of events. I have already been fully briefed on the situation.”
Derek felt his heart rate speeding up. He never wanted to have to think about this again.
“The anxiety you are feeling is perfectly normal. It is extremely rare for a sentinel to come online in a feral state. The fact that you pulled three others online with you is unheard of in modern times. Though, after reading the details of the incident, I feel the cause was sufficient. It was probably the only reason everyone survived.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Derek glared at the man.
Deaton calmly returned his gaze. “You may not want to, but you will continue to feel anxiety until you process the experience. A sentinel does not suffer regret for actions taken during a feral episode. What you have is a disconnect between the normal human sensibilities and the drive to protect the tribe of the sentinel. Until you reconcile the two, it will continue to give you difficulty.”
Derek looked away and refused to speak.
“Very well, we will not push the issue for now.” He picked up the papers and motioned Derek to follow him. “This is everything we need to complete your registration. Next, we will do an assessment so that we can record your current baselines, determine your approximate level, and work with you to set up a course of study.”
They walked down to another waiting room, this one leading to medical offices from the sign on the door. Deaton motioned toward the door. “If you can wait here, it will only take us about fifteen minutes to get this entered into the system, and they will call you back for your health screening.”
Deaton turned down a side hallway and slipped into a nearby room marked Records.
Derek waited for the door to close, took one last look at the waiting room for medical, then adjusted the backpack strap over his shoulder and headed back the way he came. He promised Peter he would register; he promised nothing about an assessment. Derek made it out the front door and into the parking lot before realizing he didn’t have a ride home.
Continuing to walk away from the Center before anyone could stop him, Derek thought about his options. The easiest, of course, would be Cora. But then he would have to listen to her mock him half the night for skipping out. That would be better than Peter, who would march him right back to the Center. If he remembered right, Cora mentioned after-school detention. Then she and Malia had some Sentinel Training class.
So, all he needed to do was kill a couple of hours. Looking around, he realized that this part of town didn’t look familiar to him anymore. There were all kinds of businesses that had popped up while he was away. A few blocks away, a retro-looking diner stood out from the surrounding businesses. There was a pleasant and inviting vibe about the place that screamed welcome.
The place was packed, considering the time of day. There was a sign that said, Seat Yourself. Derek looked toward the long counter with stools that separated the kitchen and the tables with distaste. He wanted someplace he could place an order and spread out to wait a while. There was no sense of privacy at that counter.
He was about to turn around and leave when he spotted a booth in the back corner. It was a large corner booth with a seat that encircled the table, and it was empty. Derek headed straight for it before anyone else could take it. He might feel guilty taking up so much space later, but for now, that booth called to him.
A waitress with a badge that said Emma came up with a notepad. “Well, look at you just making yourself at home.”
Derek looked up into her green eyes and gave a polite smile. “Hello, ma’am. I haven’t had a chance to look at the menu.”
She smiled widely, “Take all the time you need. Why don’t I start you out with hot tea? You look like the tea sort to me.”
With a little start, Derek smiled a little wider. “I do like tea. I would love a cup if it’s not any trouble.” Just the thought that a diner like this would serve hot tea made this one of his best finds since moving home.
“No trouble at all. Just settle in and make yourself at home. I’ll get you a selection of teas to choose from.” She turned and left humming.
Emma was back before long with a small crock of honey, a selection of teabags, and a teapot-shaped thermos of hot water. “Just let me know if that cools off any, and I’ll refresh it.”
“Thank you.” Derek glanced back down at the menu before placing his order and busied himself with his tea before taking out his sketch pad and flipping through the pages.
He had recently found himself enamored of a single subject. The man at the falls was enthralling. Derek had returned daily and spotted him again the following Monday. He firmly determined to introduce himself, but the man had not arrived alone. An older man with him was obviously related to him somehow—every day since they had come together.
Knowing it was wrong, Derek had kept himself hidden away from them while he continued to draw. And now, it felt kind of stalkerish, but how do you go up and say Sorry, I’ve been drawing you for three weeks, but I’m not really a weirdo.
Derek sighed while flipping to his latest work. He wanted to add more detail to the surrounding landscape from where the two men were stretching out before jogging away. Yeah, not a stalker at all.
Movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention, and Derek looked over to see Emma arguing with the cook. Whatever the argument was, Derek seemed to be the focus based on how many times he pointed in this direction to make a point. She ended it by saying something that Derek couldn’t make out and then made a shooing motion at the man. He threw his hands up and turned away.
When she returned with his order, Derek asked, “Problem?”
“No, someone borrowing trouble where there’s none to be found.” She glanced down at his sketchpad, and her smile grew bigger. “Nope, I think you’re right where you belong.”
With that, she left him alone while waiting on tables. If the cook continued to give little scowls in Derek’s direction, he tried to ignore them in favor of the delicious food and his project.
Stiles was starving by the time school was over. Lunch was a complete disaster lately. Scott was still giving him the silent treatment and focusing all of his attention on Allison. Stiles had taken to lunching with Cora and Malia, which was fun in its own way, but gave him no physical contact to stabilize the bond.
In fact, he and Scott hadn’t meditated together for the bond since the blow-up in the Principal’s office. No sleepovers either. And while Scott had shown up for sessions at the Center, he either gives Stiles a complete cold shoulder or attends different sessions than Stiles to outright avoid him.
Hopefully, some of that will blow over after next week. Scott, Malia, and Cora received twice-weekly after-school detentions with Mr. Harris because of that lunchroom blow-up. That led to Scott in trouble with Coach for missing one practice a week. So all told, Scott was still pissed that the world was out to get him.
Stiles was just still pissed that Scott hadn’t caught a clue yet and realized that the world didn’t revolve around him. It seriously didn’t help that Scott’s faithful little band of sentinels were backing him up. Stiles was about ready to propose a Sentinel/Guide interaction class for the whole damn school.
His father’s ring tone blared out from his phone, and Stiles clawed at his pocket while he dropped his backpack in the Jeep. “Hey, Daddio, what’s up?” He pulled out his keys and stuck them in the ignition before reaching for his seat belt.
“Hey, Kiddo. Just wanted to let you know I’m going to be late getting home. City Council has called a special session tonight.” There was paper shuffling on the other end and the sound of ice sloshing in a container. “The Mayor’s having food brought in, so don’t worry about me.”
Stiles pulled the phone away from his ear to scowl at it. “Right. So, if I just happened to be outside the station right now, I wouldn’t walk in to find a burger and cheese fries from Jake’s?”
“Did you get out of school early? How did you get here so fast?”
“Ha! Busted. I never said I was there.” Stiles smiled in triumph.
“Damn it! Leave me and my burger alone. I’m allowed to have a burger once in a while.” Dad had that pout in his voice that meant he was totally busted, and he knew it. “You should show your elders a little more respect.”
“Respect, old man? No. It’s dishonor. Dishonor on you. Dishonor on your cow. Dishonor on your burger. How did you even convince Jake it was OK?”
“The staff at Jake’s is perfectly reasonable and knows how to treat their sheriff.” And now pouting has become petulance.
“I’m going to Jake’s and let them know you lied to them.” Stiles let the disdain drip off his tongue. “You lied to Emma? How could you? It’s like I don’t even know you.”
“Stiles,” his father’s voice was ordering through the phone.
Stiles started the Jeep and put it into gear. The sound of “Stiles!” followed with a bit more desperation before Stiles jammed his finger down on the end call and dropped the phone in the passenger’s seat. With barely a moment’s hesitation to watch for traffic, he took off toward Jake’s Diner.
Jake’s was a frequent after-school location for Stiles to do homework and catch a snack before classes at the Center. Jake and Emma had started the business shortly after Stiles came online. Uncle Jim had been a big supporter and frequently brought Scott and Stiles there for curly fries and milkshakes.
In deference to Uncle Blair, they started serving a lot of tea blends. After that, Blair relaxed a little. He even worked with them on healthy oils and sentinel/guide safe offerings. Honestly, he did it out of self-defense because Dad and Uncle Jim bonded over illicit hamburgers that first year they were in Beacon Hills. Stiles is pretty sure that Dad’s first campaign for Sheriff was hammered out in that diner.
He pulled into the parking lot and took a moment to lock down his shields tight. He didn’t want to accidentally broadcast anything, even if it meant he couldn’t read anyone in there either. Locking himself within his head was the safest course of action until he and Scott worked out their issues with the bond.
Once he was confident he was under control, Stiles grabbed his pack and headed into the diner. It was a little crowded this time of day. The east side of Beacon Hills State was within walking distance, and this was a popular location between classes. Stiles bypassed everyone and slipped around the front counter with a wave toward Emma as he made a beeline for Jake.
“Jake, I have a bone to pick with you,” Stiles called out across the busy kitchen.
“Stiles! If you have a bone, you better give it up so I can make some stock.” Jake grinned at him and handed off a spatula to one of his cooks while he wiped his hands on a towel. He motioned Stiles toward the office. “What’s up?”
“Someone let Dad order a burger and cheese fries!” Stiles stared at him, waiting for an excuse.
Shaking his head with a laugh, Jake responded, “Son, your father hasn’t even asked for a burger in almost a month. The man is allowed to indulge now and then. Don’t worry about it so much. He’s as healthy as a horse, and I can tell he’s been working out lately. Let the man live a little.”
“But a burger AND cheese fries? How is that moderation?” Stiles motioned out toward the kitchen. “Why not just pour grease in arteries?”
Jake turned him around and snapped him on the rear with a towel. “Get out of my kitchen, you rabble-rouser. I’ll send someone out with your usual.”
Stiles scowled and started walking backward toward his regular booth. “Just see if I’m on your side next time you’re in trouble with Emma.”
Jake waved him off, and Stiles turned then stopped. Someone was sitting at his table. Someone was sitting at HIS table. He looked around and caught Emma’s eyes, and flailed his arms out. She blew him a kiss and fanned herself while saying You’re Welcome, with a smirk.
This totally wasn’t fair. This guy looked like Stiles’ type, and she knew it. Emma was one of the first he came out to during a late-night study session with too much sugar. His conservator at the time was meeting with a study group and left Stiles alone on the other side of the diner. Emma had kept him company and listened to his constant stream of consciousness after cutting him off. When he had blurted out that he was into guys, he was mortified. Instead of being shocked, she had taken the time to sit with him and insisted on helping him find his type. It was the kind of acceptance that gave him the courage to speak to his Dad.
But this…seriously? Stiles gave her his best I’m on to you look and mouthed back to her I’ll get you for this. Then he turned to reclaim his place in the universe. He dumped his pack onto the empty side of the booth and slid in.
He sat down without speaking and pulled out his English homework. He had his notebook and pens lined up before dumping Romeo and Juliet next to his Selected Works of Poe. Once he had everything set up, he looked up into the most amazing blue-green eyes, which were staring at him in shock.
“Hi, I’m Stiles, and you’re sitting in my booth.” Stiles grinned at him, challenging him to dispute the fact. But the guy just sat there staring at him. And staring. And staring. “Oh, Sorry. I didn’t know it was your booth. Please join me.” Stiles said while trying to deepen his voice.
The guy just continued to stare, and Stiles briefly wondered if he was a sentinel in a zone. He started to reach out to touch the guy when he suddenly jerked back.
“Sorry…I…I’ll just go….”
“Whoa, no…shoot. It’s OK. You can stay.” Stiles held his hands up in surrender. “I’m just mouthy. I mean, yeah, the booth is normally reserved for me, but you were here first. It’s a free country and all that.”
The guy was just staring at Stile’s hands as he flailed around and gestured at everything as he spoke. A little weird, but he’s smokin’ hot, so Stiles fumbled around a little at what to say.
“Derek,” the guy suddenly said, and Stiles stopped.
It took him a moment to backtrack in his brain to review everything that had just spouted from his mouth, and he realized he had asked for a name. OK, Derek, that was hot guy’s name. He could work with that.
“Stiles,” he blurted out. “Um, my name, I mean. It’s Stiles. Well, it’s not my legal name, obviously. But I don’t wish the legal monstrosity on anyone. So, it’s Stiles. Good to meet you, Derek.”
Derek blinked a few times, then gave a soft grin. It did wonders to soften his face. “Nice to meet you, too.”
Emma appeared suddenly at the table with a large chocolate shake and a double basket of curly fries. “Here you go, Stiles. Play nice with the guests. No scaring away the new customers.”
Stiles grabbed his chest. “Wounded. What have I done to deserve this treatment? First, Jake is trying to kill my dad early with his Death Burgers, and now you are demeaning my character. It’s character assassination. The two of you are out to kill off my whole family. Premeditated murder…that’s what the charge will be.”
Emma reached out and pinched Stiles’ cheek. “Your character assassination doesn’t need any help from me. If anything, it will be justifiable homicide. Now you boys let me know if you need anything else.” She looked at Derek. “Don’t be shy. Lord knows our Stiles won’t be.” She walked away with a wink and a grin toward the kitchen to pick up her next order.
Calling out over the Diner, Stiles yelled, “I’ve got my eye on you, Lady. I know what you’re up to.”
He looked back toward Derek and caught him staring again. When he raised an eyebrow, Derek started blushing slightly. “So, we’ve got that awkward first word out of the way. I’m Stiles, you’re Derek, and Emma is a busybody of the first order. You look vaguely familiar, but I don’t recognize you from high school. Are you a college student at BHSC?”
Stiles quirked his lips, trying to hide a smile. “Was that a question or an answer?”
Derek rolled his eyes. “I’m out of high school, but I’m on a gap year before I start college.”
“Cool, what is that like? I thought during a gap year people traveled around and saw the world or some shit like that.”
“My family is just coming back from overseas. I wanted some time to get used to the U.S. again and figure out what I should do.” Derek looked down at the papers in front of him.
“I get that,” Stiles nodded. “Sometimes I get so hung up on what I’m expected to do that I never even stop to think if there is something else I would rather be doing.”
“Right?” Derek smiled and became animated. “Just because something is a family tradition doesn’t mean I’m excited to jump in and become a part of it. Maybe I have dreams of my own.”
“Exactly. And here I am in High School with teachers shoving these depressing stories about how trying to make your own way just ends in death and tragedy. Is this honestly the lesson they should be using to shape our generation?” Stiles pointed at the books in front of him.
Derek laughed and then seemed surprised that the sound came out of him. “I don’t think that is the reason they teach Shakespeare and Poe.”
Stiles gave him the stink eye and pointed at Romeo and Juliet. “Boy sees girl. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl realize their families are mortal enemies. Boy and girl keep seeing each other even after it gets people killed. Boy and girl plan to run away together and do it in the most epically stupid method available, which results in them going from a fake suicide to a real suicide. Families are oh so sad because they have lost their children. I say this is a clear attempt by our educators to manipulate the masses into their ideal acceptable behavior.”
Derek broke up laughing in a way that made his eyes crinkle at the edges, and Stiles joined in. “OK, I think there are a few more themes in there than manipulation of high school students. However, I respect your right to argue that position to death when you present your view to your teacher.”
“Ha, you say that like I won’t actually do it. Little do you realize that there is no filter between my mind and my mouth. I have not only accepted this fact but embraced it. It is my mission in life to speak truth to power. My teachers are already forewarned.” Stiles dipped a french fry in his shake and munched on it.
He pushed the basket of fries toward the center of the table and motioned Derek to help himself. Derek nodded and moved his pad of paper aside to reach for a fry. The movement uncovered a corner of what Stiles could clearly see now was a sketch pad. Without stopping to think about asking permission, Stiles reached out and pulled it free.
“Hey, you’re an artist? That’s so cool. What are you working on?”
Derek’s eyes widened in fear, and he reached for the sketch pad, but not before Stiles could see the subject of the piece.
“Um, wow. That’s…” Stiles trailed off as he looked at the drawing of himself and Dad at the waterfall. It captured the movement of their bodies as they were preparing to run back to the car. Dad had this long-suffering look on his face while Stiles’ head was thrown back in laughter.
He flipped the page to see another drawing, and then another, and another. Stiles looked up at Derek, who was pale and shaking a little. “You’ve been drawing me?”
“No!” Derek said before shaking his head and closing his eyes. “Yes. I’ve been drawing you, but it’s not creepy or anything. It wasn’t like I was stalking you or something. I like to go to the Falls to draw in the mornings, and you’re there sometimes. The first time I saw you, you were meditating, and so I just started drawing. You left sometime while I was working on it, and I didn’t see you go.”
“That’s more than one time, Derek. Why not introduce yourself?” Stiles glanced to the side to make sure he had an open path to get away. He should reach out and read this guy, but his first instinct said he was trustworthy and to give him a chance.
Derek ran his fingers through his hair. “I was going to introduce myself the next time, but you’ve had someone with you every time since the first. Frankly, that guy is intimidating. I got nervous; then, it felt odd because I had been drawing. The longer I went, the more awkward it got. I’m really sorry that I didn’t just suck it up and go introduce myself.”
“Well, given the guy with me is my Dad, who happens to be the Sheriff around here, I will totally buy the intimidation excuse. But I don’t know many newcomers around here that even know about that spot. The falls are a beautiful part of the Preserve, but not exactly on a normal path.” Stiles tapped one of the earliest pages that showed him meditating on one of the rocks around the pool. “How did you find this spot? I mean, the Preserve is free to all, but I can’t imagine stumbling across it.”
Derek smirked, “The falls may be on the Preserve, but the pool at the bottom is on Hale land. I’ve been going out there to draw since I was a little kid.”
“Hale? Wait…you’re Derek Hale. Cora’s brother,” Stiles relaxed back in the seat and handed Derek the pad.
“You know Cora?” Derek closed the pad and put it down in the seat next to him.
Stiles nodded, “Yeah, little miss anti-social and vindictive is in my AP English class with me and Malia the Malicious. I’m sort of the reason she has detention again today.”
Derek shook his head. “I’m sure Cora earned whatever detention she’s serving.”
“Oh, she did. She totally did, but it was justified if anyone asks. She doesn’t back down from a fight. Especially if she knows she’s right.” Stiles dug into his fries. “So what other kinds of things do you draw? Cause, those were great.”
With a blush, Derek picked up a smaller sketch pad and opened up his pencil box. “I’m still practicing my forms. Would you mind if I draw you while you study? You’ve got great hands.”
“Hands?” Stiles looked down and splayed out his fingers. “You seriously just want to draw my hands?”
“Hey, hands are hard. There’s a lot of expression and details in a hand. Entire conversations take place with just a flick of movement.”
“Whatever floats your boat, Dude.” Stiles tried to squash a grin while pulling out the homework assignment and getting started.
“Don’t call me Dude,” Derek responded absently as he picked up a pencil and started working.
With a glance at Derek, Stiles tried not to pay attention to the focus Derek was giving to his hand as he began answering the questions on the page.