Fandom: Teen Wolf
Characters: Stiles Stilinski, Sheriff Stilinski, Derek Hale, Kate Argent, OMC, OFM
Word Count: 14,487
Banner by Marlislash!
Author notes: Sentinels and Guides are known. Werewolves are a “known secret” and keep to themselves. Hunters exist, but follow a strict code of honour. Argents are assholes.
Author notes: Stiles, Scott, and Derek are the same age. Sheriff Tomasz Stilinski had tested Latent for Guide Possibilities when he was younger. Claudia said she had tested Latent for Sentinel Possibilities, but is actually Dormant.
Summary: After a traumatic Emergence, Sentinel Stiles Stilinski now has to deal with the rejection of the Guide that matches him best. And they see each other every day now, at school. And are those “longing” looks being aimed his way?
It is the harsh sound of beating wings that brings the Sentinel to awareness, but it is the spoken words, filled with concern, that truly wake him.
“Is he okay? Should I call someone? I should call someone.”
Sharp, whiskey-brown eyes focused for the first time in what seemed like forever, and the Sentinel zeroed in on green-blue, and he spoke the word that would change both their lives forever:
A very agitated Talia Hale stood in the main administrative office of the Northern California Sentinel/Guide Center, trying to calm her anguished son. The Center Director, Sentinel Prime August Mercer, observed both Hales with interest.
“Of course my son wanted to be tested and trained for Guide Attributes, Sentinel Mercer. That is why we’re here. But there was a Sentinel that he wanted to be tested for.”
“I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, Mrs. Hale,” said Sentinel Mercer calmly. “A person is either Sentinel, Guide, or Mundane. There is the possibility of Latency, of course, but those are the only designations that are recorded. A Guide can function perfectly well without a Sentinel, and Mundanes need neither, but a Sentinel is only at peak performance with a Guide. And we do not get to choose that Guide.”
“Then who does choose?” Talia had finally taken the proffered seat, holding her son’s hand gently between her own. “Because Derek has a tentative relationship with a young Sentinel, and she was certain that he was going to be her Guide. I realize it sounds very ‘fairy tale’, but plans were being made.”
Sentinel Mercer raised his hand and waved-in his partner, in life and work, Guide Angela Mercer. The Guide entered the office, a cloak of calm and confidence surrounding her, and she took her spot—leaning against the front of the desk in the office.
“Mrs. Hale, I’m Guide Angela Mercer, and I’ll do my best to explain what I can about Bonding. The truth is, we don’t know exactly what it is that causes the Bonds to form. I was extremely lucky that my Sentinel was also my best friend since childhood, and we Bonded rather young—in our twenties. From what we do understand, the bond between a Sentinel and a Guide starts on the Spiritual Plane, where two souls are joined before meeting on the physical plane. The Sentinel and Guide are never incompatible, we can assure you of that, but they just can’t choose who they are Bonded with.”
Talia frowned. “But there are cases of a Sentinel working with a Guide without a Bond, or even without a Guide at all. Can that not happen here?”
Guide Mercer grimaced. “In those cases, it is for the Sentinel’s safety and sanity that a temporary Guide is placed until the proper Guide can be found. It is rare that a Guide can’t be found for an online Sentinel. For some reason, the Sentinel only emerges if there is a Guide already available, either online or about to Emerge. Guides, you see, outnumber Sentinels four to one.”
The son, Derek, spoke for the first time. “What does that mean, then?”
“It means that while you have tested high on the Guide scale on four levels, you could go on to live a perfectly normal life without a Sentinel. Your scores on Empathy and Intuition could lead into your career choices, of course, but you would likely go on just as you are now: school, sports, extracurricular activities, family. You could graduate high school and decide to go into art, or math, or Social Services—whatever you want. Sentinel Stilinski, on the other hand, would need a Conservator for most of his life unless he forms a Bond, and that Sentinel that you were hoping to match with is going to have to find her proper Guide—the one who’s Spirit will Bond with hers. You will not be that Guide.”
Derek frowned. “But Kate said we were a match. She said she could feel it in her bones, but I wanted to be tested first, to be sure.”
Sentinel Mercer shuffled through some papers on his desk. “Kate who, Derek?”
Derek cleared his throat. “Um, Kate Prewett. She said she could feel a strong connection with me from the first time we met.”
More paper shuffling, then several clicks from the computer keyboard. “We have no Prewetts registered as a Sentinel at this center.”
Talia lifted surprised eyes to the Sentinel behind the desk. “Perhaps she is registered with a different Center? I was under the impression that she had moved here only recently.”
Sentinel Mercer lifted incredulous eyes to meet hers. “Mrs. Hale, all S/G Centers in this country share files on online Sentinels and Guides, and we link frequently with Centers around the world. That is the only way we can make sure Sentinels meet with all possible matches. Since we have never been sure what makes a proper match, it is imperative that we keep track of those who do Bond, and who with. If this Kate Prewett was online as a Sentinel, no matter where she came from, we would have record of it. It is possible that she is Latent, or is on the cusp of Emerging, but she is not registered as of now.”
Talia’s brow wrinkled in concentration. “So Derek’s girlfriend isn’t a Sentinel, but she claims that she is, and Derek has somehow caught the attention of a young Sentinel who has been in a coma for weeks? How is that even possible?”
Guide Mercer glanced at the miserable boy sitting hunched beside his mother and squared her shoulders. “Firstly, I’d ask you to be a little more sympathetic. Sentinel Stilinski was not in a coma; he was in Catastrophic Zone-out. Since he came online six years ago, he has had several temporary Conservators to help him adjust to his new situation, but zone-outs do happen. About a month ago, Sentinel Stilinski was involved in a minor auto-accident, and we believe the sound of impact caused the zone-out. He was not injured in any major way beyond a bumped head that didn’t even result in concussion, and his Conservator was not injured at all. The Conservator could not bring him out of the Zone, and his father was called in—and also failed. He was placed in our care at that time.”
“Why would the sound of impact cause this…issue?” Talia Hale looked concerned, and neither Guide nor Sentinel could sense any untoward motives for asking.
“Six years ago,” Guide Mercer said finally, “when Sentinel Stilinski was only ten years old, he was a passenger in a car that was struck by a teen-age driver. His mother was killed on impact, and it was that tragedy that forced Sentinel Stilinski online at such a young age. The memory of that accident would have been enough to trigger the zone. Catastrophic Zone-outs are recoverable, and we had hoped that, with time, his father would have brought him out of it. We are just fortunate that you happened to be on the tour of the facility today.”
“But…but…I didn’t do anything!” Derek stammered, wide-eyed. “I just, he was just sitting there, staring out the window, but he was making fists. I felt….it seemed like he was in pain, so I asked if I should call someone.”
Guide Mercer smiled. “It was your presence, Derek, and the sound of your voice that brought him out. Something about you, on the Spiritual level, called to his Sentinel and brought him from the zone-out. You are the one he called ‘Guide’.”
“But we aren’t bonded, are we? I don’t think we are.” Derek looked confused and conflicted.
“No,” Guide Mercer confirmed, “you are not Bonded. Bonding takes time and effort—and seclusion, of course. But you can always refuse to Bond. Nobody here is going to force you to accept the Bond of a Sentinel. We will offer you the services of the Center; we’ll get you trained and comfortable with your Guide Abilities. We will offer counseling for you and your family, and we can offer career advice and training if you choose a field that is in line with those abilities. We won’t turn our backs on you, Derek, if you choose not to bond with Sentinel Stilinski. There will be no repercussions.”
Talia stood and pulled her son to his feet. “Thank you, Guide Mercer, Sentinel Mercer. I think our family has much to discuss now, but we’ll be in touch”
John Stilinski stood by his son’s hospital bed as a Guide/Doctor gave a thorough examination of his son, who had just emerged from an almost-month-long zone-out. The boy was alert, for the first time in almost a month, but looked rather despondent.
“Well, you look fine, Miz…Meesh….”
“For the love of God,” said the young Sentinel with a roll of his eyes, “call me ‘Stiles’ before you choke on your own tongue!”
The doctor, Guide Douglas Taylor, gave a rueful grin. “Alright Stiles, you look physically fine, for all that you’ve been Zoned for so long. I’m glad that you finally came back to us. Now, how are you feeling, really?”
Stiles lifted his eyes and focused his attention on the doctor. “How should I feel? A Guide came in here—the one that I could feel in my soul—and ‘woke me up’…and he’s rejected me before even finding out how much of a pain-in-the-ass I am. He just took one look and said, ‘nope, not for me’. So, how should I feel?”
John stepped forward. “Stiles, you know that’s not what happened. This kid may not be online yet, or may have other things going on in his life. He didn’t exactly ‘meet’ you, so he can’t have rejected you.”
“Actually,” said a voice coming from the doorway, “Young Derek Hale has a bit of a conflict.”
Sentinel August Mercer entered the room, and with a nod of his head, dismissed the doctor. He turned his attention to the two Stilinski men. “Mr. Hale came to us for testing because his girlfriend told him that he could be her Guide. He was most distressed to learn that it might not be so.”
Stiles nodded. “Okay,” he said with bitter finality. “That’s okay. I’ve been doing pretty well so far, right?”
“You have,” agreed Mercer. “A Guide has come in that might be a closer match for you. He even said he’d like to meet with you and get to know you so that you can see if a match can be made. He’s quite a bit younger than your previous Conservator, so he can relate better to your situation. He’ll be here tomorrow to meet you.”
John looked at his son. “This could be a good thing, right? You were never fond of Guide Grady.”
Stiles snorted. “Just her name sounds like an old school marm.” He looked aghast at Sentinel Mercer. “Um, I’m sorry! I don’t mean to disrespect her. It’s just…she was old enough to be my grandmother, and she wasn’t very soothing for me. I had more mini-zones around her than I ever did without a Conservator.”
Mercer frowned. “If that was the case, you really should have brought that to our attention. The main purpose of the S/G Centers is the ‘Care and Feeding of Sentinels’, as my wife is so fond of telling me. Your comfort and prosperity is important. Sentinels are intrinsic to the success of the Tribe, and having a bad Conservator could have caused you irreparable damage.”
“Do you think that’s why this zone-out was so bad?” asked John.
“It could be one reason,” Mercer agreed. “Stiles needs to have at least a partial bond with a Guide to function properly. Skin-to-skin contact, mental stimulation, common interests—all are needed, even in a temporary arrangement. We thought Stiles had a good relationship with Guide Grady, or else we would have intervened long ago.”
Stiles grimaced. “She treated me like a puppy most of the time. I got most of my skin-to-skin from my dad or my best friend, Scott. They don’t mind cuddling if I need it. And Scott offered to help me during school, once I get back into the public school.” Stiles gave a pleading look to the Director. “Dad has been great with the whole home-school thing, and Guide Grady was a good tutor, but Dad has to get back to work full time. Beacon Hills can’t have a home-bound Sheriff. And I can’t exactly ‘protect the Tribe’ if I’m kept away from it.”
Mercer smiled gently. “If you are able to form a partial Bond with Guide Lane, then I see no problem with you attending the public high school—with certain provisions! You have to be sure that you can deal with the crowds, noises, and odors of a public school. We’ll be closely observing you, to make sure that this isn’t a toxic environment for you.”
When Stiles sputtered in annoyance, Mercer grinned widely. “There is a habit of coddling young Sentinels, Stiles, and you’re just going to have to deal with it.”
One week later, John and Stiles opened their home, and guest room, to Guide Michael Lane, Stiles new, younger and hipper Guide.
Michael was only twenty-two, and freshly graduated from college with a degree in Sentinel Psychology (he was working on his Masters), and was happy to possibly bond as Guide to the High-level young Sentinel. He was shown to the guest room next to Stiles’ own bedroom, and he set about unpacking while Stiles and John put together dinner.
“He seems pretty cool, huh?” Stiles asked as he chopped mushrooms for the sauce he was simmering. “He likes video games and comics, and he’s actually seen a Lacrosse game! And he’s not bothered by the idea of attending classes with me once school starts.”
John smirked at his son. “He’s very good-looking, too.” He chuckled lowly as Stiles’ ears turned bright red.
“Shut-up Dad! I’m just a kid to him—just a job. The Bond we form is going to be platonic only. With cuddling, probably, but platonic. I’m fine with that. He’s getting his higher degree online and at the local Community College, so we can study together. He’s not put off by meeting my friends, either. That week we spent at the Center proved that I won’t totally drive him crazy and that he and I will get along better than I did with Maggie Grady.”
John shook his head. “I don’t know what they were thinking, sending you a Conservator like that in the first place. She was old for me, so I know she wasn’t a good fit for you.”
Stiles shrugged. “She made good fudge.” Stiles paused in his chopping and tilted his head, listening to something that John could not hear. “He’s coming down, dad, so no more talks about his looks, okay?”
But Michael Lane was good looking, and Stiles had definitely noticed. He had short, blond hair and bright green eyes, and shoulders to die for. And he had the most infectious laugh.
Stiles had spent most of the last week in the presence of that laugh—and the sexy smile attached to it—and he was happy that they seemed to be a good match.
Not perfect. Not like it would be if Michael Lane was Stiles’ perfect Guide. Not like it would be if Michael was that Guide from the Center.
But good enough. They would be friends, if nothing else. Scott would be coming over the next day to meet Michael, and all would be good in Stiles’ world.
Good enough, anyway.
Stiles stood in the parking lot of the high school, staring at the building in front of him. He hadn’t set foot there since the previous semester, when classes ended. His unfortunate accident and Zone-out was during the summer break, but the Lacrosse and track teams had summer practices and scrimmage meets that he had missed. He didn’t play any sports—it was too dangerous for him. Stiles ran for exercise, but he had no interest in joining the track team, as possible zones during the meets would be horrific. He did enjoy watching Scott play Lacrosse. His best friend was not as spastic as he was, but Stiles could see the bound energy radiating from Scott when he was on the field.
Stiles tensed momentarily as Michael walked to his side, but he relaxed as his Guide gently placed a hand on his shoulder.
“You ready to go in there and start a new school year?”
Stiles squared his shoulders and lifted his backpack. “Yeah. Let’s do this thing!”
They walked toward the front entrance, mingling with the other early students. Michael held the door for Stiles as they entered the building. “Don’t forget, you have to go to the administrative office first, before assembly.”
Stiles nodded. “Yeah, I know. Gotta get that nasty science requirement dealt with.”
Stiles had missed taking basic Biology in his freshman year, and managed a summer online course for his sophomore year, but Mr. Harris, the Chemistry teacher, was pushing to have Stiles in his classroom for the actual class this year. The Sheriff tried to fight it, but Stiles figured that he could do it now that he had a Guide—even if they weren’t fully and completely Bonded. He could dial-down his sense of smell enough to deal with the chemicals, he hoped, but Harris was trying to insist that Michael—as a graduated adult/college student—could not be in the classroom with Stiles during his class. And that? Was non-negotiable. Now that he had one, Stiles needed his Guide every day, almost all day, and none of his other instructors had issue with this. They all understood that Stiles was in a peculiar situation and that Michael would have his own schoolwork to do during his time in the high school building.
Harris was just being an ass. If he was pushed too hard on this, Stiles would have to bring in the S/G Center—and the school district did not want that to happen. Having an online Sentinel in their school was a major status point for them, so they didn’t want Stiles to pull out of school.
When Stiles and Michael walked into the Administration Office, the school Principal, the School Board Superintendant, and Mr. Harris were on one side of the room, and Director Sentinel Mercer and Dr. Guide Douglas Taylor were on the other side. Stiles could only sense tension coming from one person: Adrian Harris.
“Hey all!” Stiles greeted when the office door was shut behind him. “We’re not late are we?”
Sentinel Mercer smirked at them. “Not at all. We were just…getting the preliminaries out of the way.” Mercer turned back to the school employees in the room. “Now that we have an understanding, I trust there will be no more arguments?”
Principal Davis shook his head. “No, there shall be no arguments here. I have Sentinel Stilinski’s approved schedule of classes here, so he can take it and head off to first-day assembly.”
Stiles shrugged and reached for the sheet of paper offered by the principal and read his class list.
English, math, social sciences—ah, there it was: Chemistry 201, right before lunch. That should be interesting. Stiles looked at Mr. Harris before leaving the office and made note that the man did not look at all happy.
Once back in the hall, Stiles turned toward Michael and said, “He’s probably going to try to accuse you of helping me cheat in his class. He doesn’t want you to be in there with me, that much is clear.”
Michael snorted. “Well, I hope he has good proof that I’m helping you cheat. I was horrible in Chemistry.”
Wearing huge smiles, Stiles and Michael headed to the auditorium for assembly, watching out for Scott, who was saving seats for them. Michael walked closely by Stiles’ side so that their shoulders touched often. It wasn’t skin-to-skin, but the contact helped Stiles stay balanced and focused. They spotted Scott easily, mostly because he was standing in the aisle waving hugely at them, and Stiles led Michael to their seats. Scott was sitting with several Lacrosse team-mates, and he happily introduced Michael to Danny Mahealani, Isaac Lahey, and Jackson Whittemore. Wisely, none of the boys offered to shake hands, but they did nod ‘hello’ after introductions. Stiles sat beside Scott, placing Michael next to Jackson, and he showed off his schedule.
“Do we have any classes together, Scottie?”
Scott produced a similar piece of paper and compared the two. “Yeah—we have English, Chemistry, History, and Economics together. Hey! We can be lab partners!”
Stiles snorted at his friend’s enthusiasm. “You do know the teacher tried to have me barred from or restricted in that class, right?”
Scott frowned. “Why? Is it because you didn’t take Biology until summer term last year?”
“No, it’s because I’m a Sentinel and I need to have my Guide with me. Mr. Harris is personally offended that there will be an extra person in his class.”
“Well, that’s just stupid.”
Stiles nodded in agreement before focusing on the stage in front of the auditorium, where the principal stood at a podium, waiting to start the assembly meeting. Stiles settled in his uncomfortable seat and tried to pay attention to the speaker in the front of the room, but a particularly pleasant scent of cinnamon cookies had caught his attention. Stiles surreptitiously glanced around the room, trying to find who had the delicacy in their possession, but he could not see any obvious bakery boxes or bags.
Instead, he clearly saw a dark-haired young man sitting a few rows in front of him. Derek Hale. Stiles would never forget his face.
But he had no idea that Derek would be attending school with him.
Sensing Stiles’ new agitation, Michael leaned into him and took his hand gently. “What’s wrong? You were fine a moment ago.”
Stiles lifted his chin in the direction of the boy seated down in front of him. “That’s Derek Hale. I didn’t know he was from around here.”
Michael frowned and squeezed Stiles’ hand firmly. “He’s the one who rejected you?”
“Yeah—something about another Sentinel or girlfriend or something.” Stiles frowned. “I don’t notice another Sentinel around here, do you?”
Michael paused. “No, not at all. Maybe she shields really well.”
“Or she’s not here.” Stiles had noticed that Derek was sitting with a group of male students—no females near his group at all.
Stiles forced his eyes away from Derek and focused on the assembly announcements about lunch privileges and sports teams and extra-curricular activities. But he couldn’t help but wonder where Derek’s Sentinel/girlfriend was. Shouldn’t he be with her? Especially if she were newly online? While Stiles was at the S/G Center, the personnel avoided talking about Derek Hale around him, but he still had heard enough to know that Derek was almost fully online as a Guide and that he had a Sentinel in mind that may not have been online herself. Since Stiles understood that having a Guide would balance him and make him a more effective and focused Sentinel, it made no sense to him that Derek would be apart from the woman that would need him so much. Stiles and Michael spent many hours just in casual physical contact, sitting side-by-side on the sofa or bumping knees at the dinner table. Michael slept in a different room, but they greeted each other with a hug in the mornings—shirtless, to make the most of the contact and so Stiles could re-scent his Guide after a night apart.
After assembly, Stiles followed Scott to his first class—English—and he prepared to enjoy his junior year in high school. Michael was introduced to his English teacher, who foolishly tried to shake his hand before proper conduct could be explained, and then he took a seat behind Stiles before the lesson began. English was followed by Geometry, which Stiles had with Jackson and Danny, and then they met with Scott again for Chemistry—and that was when Stiles’ world turned sideways.
Derek Hale was seated in the front of the classroom, and he looked incredibly startled to see Stiles walk into the room.
Scott gave Stiles a worried look as he crossed to the far side of the room, and Michael hooked a hand around his shoulder to guide him behind Scott. Stiles lowered his gaze and took a seat next to Scott, which placed him a row behind and three rows to the left of Derek. This class was going to be agony, he could just tell.
“What just happened, Stiles?” Scott turned in his seat so that he could face both Stiles and Michael.
Stiles shook his head. “I’ll tell you at lunch, okay?”
Scott nodded in agreement just as the teacher came into the room and closed the door.
Stiles tried to take notes, but he kept finding himself looking at Derek. Behind him, Michael was leaning over his desk so that he could keep a steadying hand on Stiles’ neck, preventing a Zone-out that watching Derek could cause. New seating arrangements would have to be made the next day unless the teacher employed a seating chart.
The lunch bell rang, ending the class, and Stiles and Michael kept their seats, waiting for the rest of the class to leave the room. Scott stayed with them, and Stiles indicated that conversation would wait until they reached the noisy cafeteria where they wouldn’t be overheard. Stiles and Michael carried insulated lunch bags containing food geared toward Sentinels’ more sensitive taste buds, so they found seats at a table with Danny, Jackson, and Jackson’s girlfriend Lydia and they waited for Scott to finish in the lunch line.
Once Scott was seated across from Stiles, he asked, “Okay, so what’s wrong?”
Stiles sighed and put down his water bottle. “Okay, so remember that I told you how a new Guide at the Center brought me out of the Zone-out last month, but that he rejected the idea of being mine?”
Lydia frowned, but Scott replied, “Yeah, I remember that. It was pretty cruddy, if you ask me. Um, no offense Michael.”
Michael offered a rueful grin. “It’s okay. It was pretty cruddy. But I got the chance to be Stiles’ Guide, so it worked out for me, at least.”
Stiles nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I mean, Michael is great! We’re, uh, only partially Bonded, but we’re working out fine. But that other Guide? He goes to school here, and I didn’t know that until I saw him in assembly. And again in Chemistry class.”
“Wait,” said Lydia, having come to her own conclusions. “I thought there was only one Guide for a Sentinel? Like your perfect match, or something, and you would both feel the connection? So how could this guy blow you off like that, if you’re destined to be together?”
Stiles snorted, but Michael answered. “It doesn’t quite work that way, Lydia. Yes, a Sentinel has only one perfect Guide—someone he or she will feel complete with, like two halves of a whole. But sometimes a passable Guide can be found, like me for Stiles, in cases where that one True Guide can’t be found for one reason or other. There are more Guides out there than Sentinels, so the matches should logistically be easy to find, but there are sometimes extenuating circumstances. Injury or illness causing Dormancy, accidents or death—life happens sometimes and matches can’t be made. In this case, from what I’ve learned, this particular Guide had not come online yet, and he has a Sentinel girlfriend who thought he would be her True Guide. We know that’s not the case, because a Guide can only be a perfect match for one Sentinel, but he was already attached to this girlfriend and had loyalty to her.”
“Why wouldn’t you just force him to Bond with Stiles?” asked Jackson, proving total lack of tact.
“Because,” said Michael patiently, “We, as a society, have moved long past the days of Guide ownership. There used to be a time when a Sentinel owned his Guide, like a slave. Since there were always more Guides than Sentinels, at one time Sentinels could have large harems of Guides, with only one as a True Guide. But we’re more advanced and civilized now, so we don’t conscript Guides anymore.”
“Yeah,” said Stiles. “I have a partial, platonic Bond with Michael now. But some day he might meet his perfect match Sentinel. I couldn’t keep him from that, because he’s a great guy. He deserves a perfect match if he finds one.”
“But don’t you deserve a perfect match, too?” asked Scott. “You’re a great guy, too.”
“Thanks, Scott. You’ll always be my best bro! But it always goes back to the days of Primitive Sentinels and need versus want. It would be easy to put someone’s wants behind me if my need was greater, and that’s not fair to anyone. I like to think I’m a bigger person than that.”
Jackson scoffed again. “So, who is this perfect match that was such a douche to you?”
“Uh-uh,” said Stiles, shaking his head. “I’m not telling. You’d all just give him a hard time, and I have to move past it. Let’s just drop it and get on with our day, okay?”
Reluctantly they all agreed, and lunch progressed with less invasive conversation. And Stiles was ready to get through the rest of his day in peace. But it was not to be.
Derek Hale was in two of his afternoon classes.
At the end of the school day, Derek Hale made his way downtown to his mother’s office, a concentrated frown marring his handsome face. He entered the lobby of the law office and raised an enquiring eyebrow at the receptionist, who was on the phone, but he moved toward the inner offices when she waved him through.
Derek knocked twice on his mother’s door, then pushed the door open and went inside.
“Derek? What’s wrong?” Talia Hale stood and rounded her desk to meet her son.
“Sentinel Stilinski is in my school this year. I have three classes with him.”
Talia drew Derek to a cushy chair in front of her desk, and then sat beside him in the matching chair.
“Is that going to be a problem for you, Derek? Knowing that you could have been his match?”
Derek shook his head. “He has a Guide with him, in class all day. The guy seems nice. He’s a graduate student, I think. I overheard them talking in the halls today.”
“Alright, then. What is bothering you?”
Derek looked balefully at his mother. “Sentinel Stilinski has his Guide with him all day. I think Guide Lane lives at the Stilinski house. He’s in all the classes, even though he’s a grad student at the local college. They’re constantly touching—holding hands in the hall or shoulder to shoulder in the cafeteria. It’s like Sentinel Stilinski needs his Guide with him all the time.”
“Yes, Derek,” Talia said patiently. “They did tell us about that when you went to the Center for testing.”
Derek groaned and rubbed his face with both hands. “Mom, I’m almost online, fully, now. I can sense all these feelings at school, even if I try not to. I think I can force feelings onto my friends—I can cheer them up if they’re down at school. I can sense your concern, and it’s kind of like your Alpha powers, only I feel it in my chest instead of smelling the pheromone changes. And Kate said she’s online now. Why doesn’t she need me all the time? Why doesn’t she want to Bond with me, if she was so into having me as a Guide? Shouldn’t I be spending time with her?”
Talia sighed and sat back into her chair. “I don’t know the answers to those questions, Derek. Since she was the one that was so sure you were her Guide, only Kate has those answers. I think I’m more concerned with the fact that I haven’t even met Kate yet, and you’re somehow planning to move in with her.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “I’m not ready to move in with her, Mom. I haven’t seen her at all since I’ve started coming online. She’s been busy, at the Center I think. I just…what if she was wrong? What if I was wrong?”
Talia leaned forward and took his hands in hers. “What does your instinct tell you, Derek?”
Derek looked her in the eye, and for a short moment his eyes flashed gold. “My instinct—my wolf—tells me that I need my Mate. But I don’t know who that is.”
Derek Hale was sitting alone at a secluded picnic table in one of Beacon Hills’ many parks, trying to blend with nature. The first week of school had passed uneventfully, and his mind was a whirl of emotions and thoughts. He still hadn’t heard from Kate, his girlfriend and supposed Sentinel, since classes had started, and being confronted with Sentinel Stilinski and his new Guide had confused Derek completely. Add that to the fact that his Wolf clearly wanted its Mate, and Derek felt alone and desolate.
He thought back to his conversation with his Mother about werewolves and Mates, and how that might correspond to the Sentinel/Guide relationship.
“Wolves need their Mates, Derek,” his mother had said clearly. “The Mate is the perfect match between Wolf and Human, whether the Mate is human or not. Your Mate will be the one person that you absolutely can NOT live without. Once you meet that person, you will feel it in your bones. It might take a while until your Wolf feels the connection, but once that connection is made, you will move Heaven and Earth to be with that person. If Kate is that person, then her absence will hurt, but you will know deep inside when she will return. You will sense her deeply, as if she were already a part of you. If your Guide gifts are as strong as we were led to believe they will be, then they will corroborate those feelings.”
So deep in thought was Derek that he didn’t notice the person sneaking up behind him until warm, feminine arms were wrapped around his shoulders and a husky voice whispered, “Miss me, handsome?”
Derek pulled away quickly and spun around, relief flooding him as he recognized Kate Prewett. He pulled her into a deep hug. “Where have you been? I’ve been thinking about you!”
Kate laughed as she allowed the hug, and then extracted herself. “I had business. At the Center.”
“Did you come online? Shouldn’t I have been with you?”
Derek started to stand away from the table, but Kate pushed him back down and took a seat across from him. “I’m fine. Online? Yes. But it was something I needed to deal with alone. You understand, right, lover?”
Derek frowned but reluctantly agreed. “It’s just…I thought you would need me, as a Guide, to be with you. To settle your senses, or something.”
“That’s sweet, Der-bear,” she said with a husky laugh, “but I really needed to deal with things on my own for a while. But things will get better. I promise. And we can be together soon.”
Kate pulled him to his feet and Derek allowed her to lead him toward the other end of the park, where nature trails led into the woods. They strolled hand in hand, skirting the edge of the forest that surrounded Beacon Hills, but never going too far along the path. Derek let her talk, tentatively agreeing with her plans to spend the day together, but inwardly he was confused. He could feel his Wolf whining deep inside of him, unsettled, and his confusion about his girlfriend grew.
Stiles and Michael walked around town with Scott, enjoying the clear, warm weather. Scott talked about school and sports and his after-school job, and Stiles used the gentle buzzing of his voice to send his senses out around them, so that he could get a sense of the city around them. Stiles was always aware and on guard—something he trained for at an early age. He would be a protector of his territory, so he needed to imprint on that territory. Suddenly, Stiles became aware of a presence—another Sentinel in his territory. He drew-up quickly but subtly, pulling Michael to a stop while he quickly searched the immediate area.
Across the street, a beautiful dark-haired woman was leaving a music store. She paused, and looked across the street at Stiles, and then she winked and carried on, on her way. Stiles considered that she was no threat, and continued following Scott—who had neither stopped walking nor talking.
Scott led them to a busy diner, where they were meeting Lydia and Jackson for a study-lunch. The first week of school was usually lite on the homework front, but Mr. Harris at least was leaning on the heavy side of homework, and Stiles didn’t want his friends to suffer because he was in their class.
They took a booth in a far corner, where it was blessedly quieter, and Stiles and Michael allowed Scott to scoot toward the middle of the booth so that Stiles could have the outer seat. His back was to the wall and Michael was next to him, keeping shoulder-to-shoulder contact, and Stiles was focused on his friends at the table with him.
“I hear Sentinels have really good reflexes. You should try out for Lacrosse, man.” Jackson closed his menu after ordering a greasy cheeseburger. Stiles could almost feel his arteries closing in sympathy.
Stiles chuckled softly. “Nope. Not gonna happen. Sports are a bad idea for most Sentinels, but me especially.”
“Why is that?” Lydia looked almost concerned.
Stiles sipped from his water bottle before answering. “Physical contact during sporting events are usually violent. They could cause a Zone-out. Zoning on a sports field during a game would be tragic.”
Lydia nodded. “I can see that. But why would it be bad for you ‘especially’? That’s what you said.”
“Well, Michael and I don’t have a full Bond. So, because of that, I’m susceptible to more Zone-outs.”
Lydia gave Michael a very invasive look-over. “I heard that Bonding was full of sexy-fun times. Why haven’t you done that?”
Michael laughed uncomfortably and Stiles blushed bright red and was thankful that the waitress brought their food just then so he could compose himself. Seeing that Lydia wasn’t going to let the subject drop and that Jackson and Scott also looked curious, Stiles took a deep breath.
“I’ve imprinted sight, sound, and scent on Michael,” he said, glancing at his Conservator. “I could spot him in a crowd if we ever got separated—up to three miles away. I can already spot my father up to five miles away, because of the close connection he and I have. I know the sound of Michael’s voice and heartbeat, and I know the scent of his body wash and shampoo, combined with his own body chemistry.” Stiles paused to take a bite of his salad and noticed that Michael was blushing as well. “A Sentinel in a close relationship with a Guide will imprint on all senses. Even in a platonic Bond, which Michael and I have, the Bonding and imprinting will be close and almost invasive. I’ve imprinted touch as well, but not in an intimate way. Michael and I are in a platonic relationship, so I’m not imprinting on him as closely as I would otherwise.”
Stiles shrugged and swallowed another bite of salad. “Anyway, this is better than the last Guide/Conservator relationship I had. I’m friends with Michael, and he sees me as a contemporary instead of a charge to be baby-sat.”
Lydia daintily dabbed a napkin at the corner of her mouth and sipped at her lemon-water. “What was that other Guide like?”
Michael gaped at her, but Stiles had a feeling that Lydia just ignored boundaries if she wanted information. He shrugged at Michael, and the blond turned back to his food. “Guide Grady was older than my dad. She treated me like a pet. She would bake cookies and brownies and talk to me like I was five, and she would ‘produce’ her Spirit Animal and play with it around me, like I was going to do the same. She had a spiritual Russian Blue, and she would call me her ‘Little Kit’, and she would only touch my hand if I was in apparent Zone.” Stiles laughed mirthlessly. “I Zoned so much when she was around, and she never noticed. I would come out of it when Dad came home and spoke to me. She used her Conservatorship of me like a status symbol, and acted like I should have been grateful.”
Michael’s hand on his shoulder calmed Stiles, and he dipped his head so that his cheek was resting on Michael’s knuckles. “You never told anyone about that, have you?” Michael asked softly.
Stiles shook his head. “I don’t know what anyone would have done if I did. Dad couldn’t stay with me, and I couldn’t Bond with him anyway.”
Scott cleared his throat, breaking the tension, and said, “So—Spirit Animals? What’s that all about? Because I have never seen an animal around you.”
Stiles laughed. “Guide Grady was so sure I had a cat, just like her. Sentinels and Guides have a connection on a different Plane—On the Spiritual Plane, we can be centered and connected to all other Sentinels and Guides. We have a connection to that Plane in the form of a Spirit Guide, in animal form. Sometimes the animal is a representative of our personality. Sometimes the animal is ironically the opposite of our personality. And when a Sentinel or Guide is fully online, we can produce a totally corporeal Animal form, so that everyone—mundane or not—can see it, or even touch it. Most of the time, we can produce a partially-corporeal form—one that only other Sentinels and Guides can see or interact with. An offline or latent Sentinel or Guide can produce the partially-corporeal form. It was that form—or rather, the beating of the wings—that brought me out of the big Zone-out I was in over the summer.”
Scott perked up visibly. “You can let me see it?”
Stiles shook his head. “Not in here, I can’t. Mrs. Grady had a tiny, fat cat as a Spirit Animal. Mine is too big for an enclosed space. Even non-corporeal, people here would ‘feel’ it around because it has a huge presence. My parents totally knew that I would come online some day, because Dad could sense a shadow of my Spirit Animal around the house when I was a kid. I’m supposed to be a protector. My father is a protector, and so was my mother—in her duties as a children’s counselor, so my animal form reflects that. It’s HUGE, and imposing, and very…protective.”
“Okay, bro—you are totally showing me when we leave here.” When Stiles demurred, Scott broke in. “Dude, you can’t leave me hanging! I’m your best friend! No secrets, remember?”
Lydia and Jackson also looked anticipatory, so Stiles nodded in agreement. “I’ll show you after we finish studying for that Chemistry test. In the park across the street, where we have room. What?” Stiles noticed the contemplative look on Michael’s face.
Michael shrugged. “You said the beating of wings brought you out of that Zone. Maybe that’s why we’re as compatible as we are—my Spirit Animal is a Tawny Eagle. Wings, you know?”
Stiles smiled and bumped shoulders with his Guide. “Maybe. But your Eagle is much larger than the bird that woke me up.”
Jackson huffed as he finished his fries. “I still think we should pound that guy that left you hanging.” He looked Michael in the eye. “You’re a nice guy, and I’m sure this match is pretty good for both of you, but you should each have the option of being with a perfect match.”
Michael shrugged. “Stiles is the first Sentinel that I ever tried to even partially Bond with. I know the match isn’t perfect, but the odds of me finding my perfect Sentinel are small. If my Sentinel ever comes around, I’ll be happy to continue being Stiles’ friend and counselor. My degree is in Sentinel Psychology, so I’ll be around anyway, working at the S/G Center. At the very least, we’ll be great friends.”
Two hours later, once Michael totally proved that he was useless in Chemistry, the study session ended and Scott led the way to a covered bridge at the end of the park across from the diner. This park was mostly empty, as most families sought the play parks near the sports complex or the woods for weekend recreation. This park was used for community gatherings such as the Founder’s Day picnics or Independence Day festivities. Scott perched himself on the railing of the bridge and Lydia and Jackson leaned next to him, all three looking expectantly at Stiles and Michael.
Stiles looked at Michael and nodded. “You first, dude. You’ll understand why later.”
Michael conceded the point, and raised his left arm. There was a slight ‘shimmer’ in the air, and then a large light-colored bird of prey landed on his extended arm, wings outspread in a glorious presentation. Lydia gasped in delight. “I call him Gandalf,” Michael said proudly, “because he always appears when I have some sort of ‘lesson’ to learn, but he’s less than forthcoming about hints. He is, however, always there as a comfort when I’m stressed or troubled. He was the first sign that I was coming online two years ago.”
Ever brash, Lydia stepped forward. “Can I touch him?” She was asking Michael, but her eyes never left the Tawny Eagle, who was watching her just as avidly as she was watching him.”
In response, the large bird crept down Michael’s arm so that it was resting on Michael’s lower arm, easily within Lydia’s reach. She gently brushed her fingers over a presented wing, marveling at the warmth she felt. “He’s really real! I mean, like an actual, real eagle that didn’t just appear out of nowhere.”
In response, ‘Gandalf’ let out a low screech and blinked into nothingness. Lydia turned a bright, delighted smile to Michael. “That was great! Thank you so much!”
Michael nodded. “It was no problem. Actually, since you’re all becoming good friends, you may see Gandalf around sometimes. If you ever see him and I’m not around, it may mean that there is trouble, and you should seek another Sentinel or Guide for assistance.”
Stiles could feel all eyes on him, so he squared his shoulders. “Okay, just don’t act scared, okay?”
Before anyone could respond, there appeared before him a large canine.
A very large canine.
Its appearance was that of a wolf, but it stood easily five-feet tall at the shoulder, and it had razor-like spines along its skull and down its back. The fur was a silvery-grey all over the body, with black on the tips of the spines. It held its head low below its shoulders, but its eyes were bright and alert—a deep golden-green color that reflected the fading sunlight. It was also long—almost six feet in length—and broad across the chest.
It was a very formidable animal, and Jackson and Lydia both instinctively stepped back away from it. Scott, however, leaned toward it, tentatively reaching out to touch. “What kind of dog is this? I’ve never seen one before.”
It was Michael, however, who answered. “It’s a Dire-wolf. It’s practically pre-historic. I can see why you would never produce him around Guide Grady.”
Stiles snorted. “Yeah—he would have eaten her cat!”
Derek and Kate had returned to the deserted picnic table. He had resisted being pulled into the woods, wanting to actually talk to her, but Kate was a master of prevarication when she wanted to be.
“My mom would like to meet you, since we may be Bonding soon.”
“And she will,” replied Kate with disinterest. “When the time is right, your mother will know all about me. I just have to make the right plans for it, is all.”
Derek shifted in his seat and Kate returned her laser focus onto him. “Derek, it’s going to be okay. You need to trust me. We can’t rush into this, okay? This whole Sentinel/Guide thing…it’s intense, okay?”
And really, Derek couldn’t argue. It was intense. But, new as he was to the whole empathy thing, Derek could sense that Kate was keeping something from him. She didn’t seem actually happy to see him after so long an absence, and she wasn’t really being forthcoming about what she was doing at the S/G Center. Before he could inquire about what was really on his mind, they were interrupted by a lovely dark-haired woman holding a road map.
“Hi! I’m so sorry to barge in here, but I’m a little lost and the GPS on my phone is totally whacked out. Could you tell me if I’m anywhere near Highway 232?”
She wasn’t much taller than Kate, and her hair was deep cinnamon-brown—as were her eyes. But Derek felt completely at ease in her presence, like something inside of him recognized her. Even his Wolf was settled as she stood there, looking pleasantly confused.
Kate, of course, ignored her. Derek stood to look at her map and offered, “Yeah, you’re really close. If you head East on this road, the junction to 232 is in half a mile. It’s pretty clearly marked, so you can’t miss it.”
Dark eyes lit in a bright smile as the stranger thanked him for the directions, and she briefly glanced at Kate before retreating back to her car. As she left, a small, dark owl drifted from the woods behind him and flew to follow the dark woman as she drove away.
“Did you see that? Kate?”
“Hmmm? Did I see what?”
Kate had obviously not seen the owl, or paid much attention to the woman. Separately, the events were nothing to notice.
Taken together, they were something that made Derek pause.
Something was up with Kate.
“Director Mercer? This is Sentinel James.” Gina James pushed her long, dark hair away from her face as she placed the call from her car. She had only driven far enough away from the public park so as not to be noticed by the young man she had just spoken to. “My Guide is still in town, speaking with staff from the Sheriff’s Department, but I managed to make contact with Hale.”
“Is he finally online, Sentinel James?” Director Mercer had promised to give Derek Hale space to deal with coming online, but he had a duty to be available if any burgeoning Sentinel or Guide had issues during the process.
“I believe he’s getting there, but he’ll need to be trained. He also has a little secret that his mother neglected to tell us about.”
“And what is that, Sentinel James?”
“He’s a werewolf. I haven’t met the mother, but I’m sure the whole family is werewolves. They’re good, too. If I wasn’t looking for trouble, I would never have sensed it. So, they’re good at shielding, which means they’re protected. But there is a problem that none of us could have foreseen.”
Mercer sighed, and James could tell that she wasn’t giving him good news. “What is it?”
Gina James adjusted herself in her seat and put on her sunglasses against the glare of the setting sun. “Derek Hale was in the company of a woman he called ‘Kate’. I’m assuming this is the girlfriend that he told you about during his visit to the Center. I don’t know who she is, or what she is, but she’s no Sentinel. She’s not even Latent. She could be trouble.”
Stiles and Michael had offered to do the weekly grocery run, and John had gladly relented. He knew healthy options would be coming from the store, and he would hope that they were at least a little bit tasty, but he had paperwork to do and didn’t want to make the trip himself.
Stiles actually liked grocery shopping. He liked being able to create his own meals, and while his father had Stiles’ best interests at heart, the Sentinel-friendly groceries were easier for Stiles to buy than for his father. Stiles could, after all, smell the freshness of the produce and meat selections. And Stiles preferred to bake his own bread rather than buying the mass-produced loaves from the store, so Stiles could pick and choose flour for his experiments.
And the trip was an excuse to spend time with Michael without his father watching every move.
Not that there was anything to watch for.
If they had been a perfect match, if Stiles had been the Sentinel made for Michael, they would have formed a very close relationship and would have Bonded more closely than they truly had. But because Stiles was really meant for someone else, Michael’s preference for a female sex partner was not over-ridden, and they had only formed a close friendship.
So, John may have liked to think he was really chaperoning his son and the Guide, the truth was, if Stiles and Michael were meant for one another, nothing would have kept them apart. Not even well-meaning fathers.
As Stiles and Michael debated cracked-wheat over rye flour, the scent of cinnamon cookies drew Stiles’ attention, and Stiles watched as Derek and a pretty blonde woman rounded the corner of the baking aisle. Derek’s eyes widened as he spotted Stiles, but Stiles merely cocked his head a little and nodded in greeting. Then Stiles and Michael moved on, grabbing the cracked-wheat flour on the way. They met again in the check-out area, with Derek two lanes away from Stiles, and they headed to the parking area at the same time. Stiles prodded Michael to take the groceries to the car and he indicated to Derek that he’d like a word.
Derek maintained his cool, calm exterior and excused himself from Kate to meet with Sentinel Stilinski just outside the exit doors.
“Hey, Derek,” began Stiles. “I don’t want things to be awkward for us, okay?”
Derek shrugged self-consciously. “Okay. I’m sorry, for what it’s worth.” Derek looked across the car park to where Michael was loading the groceries into his car. “He seems like a decent guy. Older, but you know.”
Stiles smiled. “Yeah, well…it is what it is. Your girlfriend is pretty, too. But Derek,” Stiles paused, unsure of what to say. “Derek, I know that being a Guide to me isn’t what you wanted. And obviously, you’re way into women, so a guy like me wouldn’t turn your head. But, I do want you to be happy, okay? You didn’t have to make up a story about another Sentinel to keep me away. Guides are precious, you know? Your happiness is important to me. If you’d have rather been with a Mundane, you could have just said so. I won’t hold a grudge, okay?”
And with that, Stiles walked away toward his Guide—his friend—and left a confused Derek standing alone by the exit doors.
Shaking his head to try to clear the confusion, Derek headed toward Kate.
“Who was that, Derek?” Kate seemed concerned, but something about it didn’t ring true.
“Oh, um, Sti—Stiles, from school. We have a Chemistry test on Wednesday, and it’s supposed to be intense. He was asking if I understood some of the test questions.”
Kate smiled and linked her arm with Derek’s. “Well, why don’t we go make those cupcakes, and we can make some Chemistry of our own.”
Derek pulled away slightly, disentangling his arm. “Um, maybe I should go home and go over my notes some more, instead. I don’t think I understand as much as I thought I did.”
“Okay, people, obviously someone is trying very hard to pull some kind of con on a young and inexperienced Guide. Do we have any idea of just who this woman is?”
Sentinel August Mercer, Director of the Northern California Sentinel/Guide Center was pacing in front of his desk in obvious agitation. In the lavishly decorated room with him were his Guide (and wife and partner) Angela Mercer, and another Sentinel/Guide pair, Gina James and Matt Murray—an aggressive pair of investigators often sent to seek out signs of Sentinel or Guide abuse. James and Murray had been Bonded for fifteen years, and they were experienced at finding even the slightest hint of impropriety in relations between Sentinels and Guides and Mundanes. They had taken an interest in Derek Hale after the young man refused to be introduced to Sentinel Mieczyslaw ‘Stiles’ Stilinski, citing another Sentinel in his life.
But investigations had shown no known or potential Sentinel by the name of Kate Prewett—or Katherine, Catherine, Kathleen, or any other iteration of the name—in the state of California, or anywhere in the S/G database. Sentinel Mercer was happy to have assumed that Ms. Prewett may not have been online at the time of his first meeting with Derek Hale, but two months had passed and Derek had begun to come online—without a Sentinel present in his life. Derek had also, in fact, come to the Center for personal training with Dr. Douglas Taylor, a Guide that specialized in Traumatic Emergences, and he had tested high for two out of four Guide Levels with Intuition being his low grade—and that was mid-range. The fourth Guide Level, Base Telepathy, could only be tested once a Guide was Bonded with a Sentinel, so Derek remained untested for that.
“I’m not sure who she is,” said Murray, flipping through a pocket-sized notebook, “But I’m sure Prewett is not her actual surname. The ‘Kate’ is probably real, as many people using aliases will keep an easy-to-remember given name. While Gina made contact two days ago, I managed to capture some still-shots of the woman around less popular businesses around town. I’ve sent copies of the photos to several of my contacts in other agencies, so if she has some sort of record, we’ll find it.”
Sentinel Mercer nodded. “Good. I don’t like that the Hale boy refused to even meet with Sentinel Stilinski after bringing him out of Cataclysmic Zone-out, but it was his choice to make. But if he made that choice based on the belief that he belonged with someone who is, in fact, a fraud—well, I don’t like that at all. Now, Sentinel James, you’re sure he’s a werewolf?”
The brunette nodded. “Very sure. My cousin, Artie, married into a werewolf Pack when I was in college. I’ve been around them most of my life. While some of the stronger Packs have managed to find a way to shield from Sentinels, I do know the less obvious signs.” Gina sat back in her chair and sighed deeply. Murray responded to her minor distress by lacing his fingers with hers as they sat side-by-side. “I want permission to approach his mother. Derek Hale is still a minor, so all communication should go through the family anyway, and I think it is possible that his mother is the Alpha of the Pack. She should be made aware of the investigation around her son, if only to assure her that Derek is not the subject of the investigation and that we’re trying to protect him.”
“We could invite them both here again,” said Dr. Taylor. “They know me and they seem to trust me.”
“No,” said Angela Mercer, speaking for the first time. “While Talia Hale may know and trust you, we need to bring this up away from the Center. I think Gina would be best to bring it up, but Matt needs to be with her. He’s a very soothing person, Guide-hood notwithstanding, and he’ll bring a level of credence to the discussion. But you should call first, and make an appointment at her office, and be very clear as to why you want to speak with her. As a mother, she’ll be cautious. As a werewolf, she’ll be ferocious.”
Sentinel James nodded in agreement. “Of course, I’ll be very direct and make sure she knows that we only have her son’s best interest in mind. I’ll call after lunch. Maybe by then Matt will have some answers from one of his contacts.”
The meeting adjourned, and James and Murray left the office. Angela Mercer pulled her husband away from his desk and pushed him onto a settee in the corner, so that she could curl onto his lap.
“We’ll fix this, August. Even if we don’t get Stilinski and Hale together, we’ll fix the Hale situation. It won’t go south on us.”
“I hope not, Angie.” Sentinel Mercer’s face was grim. “Losing Andy Carter and his family due to Guide interference was a horrible blow to the community. If Hale is damaged by this woman, Stilinski may never recover. The partial Bond he has with Guide Lane is good, but it’s not strong enough to withstand that kind of damage.”
“I don’t care what kind of cockamamie rules you think you have to follow—I will not have this man in my classroom! He’s disruptive and he’s a cheat risk!”
The gathering of teachers and administrators from Beacon Hills High School was taking place in the principal’s office, and the office was full and crowded. Stiles and Michael were sitting ‘center stage’ beside the Sheriff, in front of the principal’s desk. Mr. Adrian Harris, the screaming nincompoop at the center of the debacle, was standing in front of the office window, facing the school principal, Mr. Douglas. The other occupants of the tightly-filled office were Stiles’ other teachers (frowning at Harris), several members of the School Board (frowning at each other), and the leaders of the PTA (also frowning at Harris). Principal Douglas was trying desperately to keep control of the situation, but the murmuring of the crowd was getting louder.
“Mr. Harris! We discussed this before Mr. Stilinski came to this institution! He is a special case, and he has very special needs. This school is able to accommodate the special needs of many different students, from PTSD dogs to dietary menus, and I will not allow Mr. Stilinski’s needs to be ignored!”
“Yes,” Harris sneered, “But that dog isn’t capable of passing notes during tests! And that menu is a step above the normal fare in the cafeteria anyway, so everyone benefits.”
“And do you have proof of cheating, Mr. Harris?” asked Principal Douglas. “Or, in fact, was Guide Lane sitting in the back of the classroom during the test, far away from Sentinel Stilinski—as was required by you to begin with?”
“Proof or not, Mr. Lane is a distraction in my classroom, and I want him removed—or you can remove both of them!”
“Well,” said Adam Johnson, president of the School Board, “It seems we have a problem. You can’t deny Sentinel Stilinski an education. You’ve already admitted that Guide Lane was not sitting near Sentinel Stilinski during the test, so they obviously were not cheating. And—this is the important part, Harris, so pay attention—you can’t forbid Guide Lane from being in the classroom during your class. So, I would suggest that you adjust your attitude, Mr. Harris, before you have the S/G Center down on you for Pair Interference. Every teacher in this school was made aware of the situation, and every teacher—including you, if my memory serves—agreed that having Sentinel Stilinski attend this school would be a boon to us all. He could have attended any one of several other schools and private academies in this state, but he chose this one.” Johnson gave an apologetic glance at Stiles as he continued. “The S/G Council provides many financial incentives to a school hosting an S/G pairing, and Beacon Hills High School was lucky to receive the funding. Sentinel Stilinski scored high on his admittance tests, and he managed to test out of his 101 science requirement. If he didn’t need Basic Chemistry for his college prerequisites, I would allow him to transfer to another elective. But you will just have to deal, Mr. Harris, or we will place you on administrative leave and find a replacement. Frankly, I’ve had enough complaints against you in the last two years that that sounds like a reasonable alternative to me, but the rest of the Board thinks you can overcome your obvious prejudice and continue for the rest of the year.”
Stiles looked at his father, who was choking on his own spit in an effort not to laugh, and raised his eyebrows. John shook his head, indicating that the topic would have to wait. “Um, not to be an ass, but if I transfer to another school, does this one have to return the grant money?”
Mr. Johnson nodded. “Yes, Sentinel Stilinski, we would have to return the money.”
Stiles sat back in his chair and huffed. “Well, that sucks. I was going to offer to switch over, just to calm the nastiness, but I like this school. I have friends in this school. And I know that money goes to some classes that really need it, like art and music.”
“Well,” said Principal Douglas, “We mostly (glaring at Harris) enjoy having you in our school. I know Coach Finstock would like to have you on the track team, but we understand why that is a bad idea.”
“What I really want to know,” said Finstock from the back of the crowd, “Is why Harris insisted that you were cheating on that little test?”
Michael raised his hand, and then blushed when he realized what he did. “I can answer that, maybe? Stiles had a reaction during the test. In his test kit, two of the vials were mis-labeled, and when he followed the directions to mix the substances, they created an odor. Not a big one, but enough of an odor to cause his senses to spike. Then he started to get a rash on his face from the chemical mix, and was starting to Zone when I made my way over to him.”
Mr. Johnson raised an eyebrow. “And how do you know the liquids were mis-labeled?”
“Um, because Stiles’ friend, Lydia Martin, examined the vials when class was being dismissed due to our disturbance. All of the test kits were pre-prepared and at the test stations before we entered the classroom and all of the kits looked alike. Lydia said that Stiles’ kit was just slightly different.”
Johnson looked to the principal and asked, “And this Lydia Martin is…?”
“One of the resident geniuses at our school,” the principal answered proudly. “She’s in the Basic Chemistry class as an audit, to keep the schedule that she needs without taking credit that she does not need. Her placement in that class is as a control, to make sure students that need the help actually get the help.”
A quick glance at Harris confirmed that the man had no idea that one of his students was a plant. Harris’ face was flushed red with anger.
And so was the Sheriff’s face. “Wait, do you mean to infer that Stiles’ test kit was altered before the test, just to create that reaction?”
Principal Douglas looked to Harris. “Well, Adrian? What of that?”
Harris’ fists were balled in anger. “I have a right to test my students as I see fit! If Mr. Stilinski’s senses aren’t good enough to be able to tell the difference between chemical compounds, then maybe he shouldn’t be in that class!”
There was a rush of angry voices in response to that, and Stiles dialed back his hearing so severely that he missed the door opening behind him as Coach Finstock left for the outer office. Stiles also missed the door opening again, and Finstock’s return—along with a guest.
Stiles could sense a change in the room’s atmosphere, so he dialed up his hearing in time to hear Sentinel August Mercer berating most of the educators in the room.
“…ski has agreed to be as normal a student as possible for him. I know it was to be taken as an honor code, but Sentinel Stilinski agreed to keep his senses normally based and not to use any Talents to score higher in his classes. And I had to sit in the outer office and hear that a trusted teacher in this school used his position to basically torture a Sentinel as some kind of test? I have respected Sentinel Stilinski’s choices, but he is a minor and a High Level Sentinel and he is under my care as Director of the S/G Center. I could pull him from this school! I could bring all sorts of charges against this School Board! And most importantly—I can have you, Mr. Harris, put in jail for Sentinel Abuse! It won’t even be the first time that I’ve done that since I became director.”
August Mercer was a FORCE! One by one, the teachers that weren’t directly involved in the issue (except Finstock, who thought Harris was a douche who abused power) left the office, followed by several Board Members, leaving Adam Johnson to represent the Board and Principal Douglas to represent the school—and Harris, who was just now starting to realize that he was in so much trouble.
Sentinel Mercer turned to the Sheriff and held out his hands. “Sheriff Stilinski, I totally understand if you feel we have failed to protect your son. The Council tries very hard to make sure that minor Sentinels and Guides have the best educations and the safest environments for that education.”
John stood and shook Sentinel Mercer’s hand in complacence. “Sentinel Mercer, you and the NoCal S/G Center have been a blessing to my family since Stiles came online. You have given us valuable resources and training, and even medical care once he grew beyond what the local hospitals could handle. No, if I blame anyone here, I have to blame Mr. Harris. What he did could have been so much more dangerous. The rash that Stiles developed had almost disappeared by the time I got here, and Michael kept him out of Zone. I’ve met with all of Stiles’ teachers since this school year began, and they all report having no problems with having Michael in the classroom, all stating that Michael is quiet and uses the time for his own studies.”
Mercer nodded and then turned to Johnson and Douglas. “I expect to see Harris removed from this school immediately. If he has tenure, I’ll go to the State Board of Education myself and explain the reason for his dismissal. If he applies to teach anywhere that a minor Sentinel or Guide may be a student, I’ll explain personally why hiring him may be a bad idea. If you need a new Chemistry teacher, I’ll have one provided for you—one that is in no way associated with the Center or Council. Is that acceptable?”
Both Johnson and Douglas agreed.
Harris was given the rest of the day to clean out his office and classroom of personal effects.
When Stiles and Michael met with their friends in the parking lot after school let out, everyone was full of questions. Stiles and Michael did their best to answer them without drawing too much attention.
Yes, Stiles had a nasty reaction from the chemicals in the test.
No, Stiles did not Zone, but it was a near thing.
No, Stiles’ dad did not shoot anyone. But it was a near thing.
Yes, Harris got fired, but they really can’t comment on that.
Yes, the hottie in the suit was from the S/G Center—and the hottie blonde with him is his wife!
Throughout the whole thing, Stiles remained composed, and Michael kept a hand on his shoulder with a thumb rubbing along his neckline, skin-to-skin.
From across the parking lot, Stiles could see Derek watching in concern.
When the chemical reaction began and Stiles started to suffer, Derek got out of his seat and tried to reach him, but Michael got there first.
The fact that he tried made Stiles’ heart skip a little beat. What was that about, anyway?
On Friday afternoon, Talia Hale sat in her chair behind her desk in her nicely appointed law office and looked confusedly at her guests. One, a Sentinel with regal bearing, was a woman of quiet beauty with dark hair and dark eyes. The other, a Guide, was a man that held the air of a college professor, leather-patched tweed jacket and all. His pale eyes were kind and gentle, and his blond hair was graying at the temple.
“I’m sorry? Did you say that my son’s girlfriend was not, in fact, a Sentinel?”
Sentinel Gina James nodded. “Yes, Mrs. Hale. I haven’t personally made physical contact with her, but I have been in her presence, and she is Mundane.”
“How do you know this, if you haven’t met her?”
Sentinel James cocked her head sideways. “May I be blunt, Mrs. Hale?”
Talia looked from Sentinel to Guide, softly and silently scenting them both—searching for deceit and finding none. “Please, be very blunt.”
Sentinel James nodded and leaned forward slightly in her chair. “You are a werewolf, yes?” When Talia visibly startled, James continued. “You can sense things, yes? You know when another werewolf is near, especially when in direct presence of one? Sentinels are like that. I can sense that you are a werewolf. Not especially because of my Sentinel Gifts, but because I have a close family member that married into a Pack, and I spent a lot of time with them while I was training my Sentinel Gifts. So, I know what to look for in that regard. But because of my Sentinel Gifts and a Spiritual Connection to every other Sentinel and Guide on this planet, I can sense other Sentinels. When the Center could find no record of Kate Prewett anywhere, as a Latent or online Sentinel, we grew concerned for your son. Guides, no matter that they outnumber Sentinels greatly, are very precious to us, and if there is a risk of someone abusing a Guide or manipulating him, then we try to halt the abuse. My husband and I are investigators for the Center, and we were tasked with finding Ms. Prewett and learning about her. If there was any misunderstanding, if she merely thought she might possibly become a Sentinel, then there was no harm and we could pass along the knowledge to your son and let him make a decision about his relationship.
“Last week, after doing some minor reconnaissance, I met your son and his girlfriend at a park just on the edge of town. I approached under the guise of needing directions, and his Spirit Animal reached out to me. Ms. Prewett, however, did not react to my presence at all. She saw me, clearly, but had no reaction. And I could sense nothing about her person that suggested that she was a Sentinel, yet before I approached them I clearly overheard them discussing Sentinel Bonding. Matt had seen both Ms. Prewett and your son in town prior to my encounter, and he managed to snap some candid photographs of the two. He sent out copies of Ms. Prewett’s photo to several of his contacts in Centers across the country in the hopes of learning about her.”
Talia drew her hand across her mouth and sighed deeply. “I see. And did you learn anything, Guide Murray?”
Guide Matt Murray reached into his briefcase and extracted a legal-sized file folder. He placed it on Talia’s desk and waited for her to open it. “Six years ago, a young Guide named Andrew Carter came online during a driver’s examination, when his instructor had a minor heart-attack. Andy was sixteen years old, and rated high on two of four Guide Levels, and he loved street hockey. There was not much of a chance of him meeting a Sentinel, as his family lived in a rural area away from a Center, but he had hopes of going to college and studying to become a teacher. His gifts would have served him well in that profession.
“Andy’s parents brought him to a Center for training just before his seventeenth birthday, and he returned for long weekends, once a month after that. During his freshman year in college, he came to the Center and announced that he had met his Sentinel, but they were waiting to Bond so that she could meet his family first. This raised several red flags at the Center, and a team of investigators was sent in, just like Gina and I. The Sentinel in question was called Cathy Brewer—that is her picture, there. Shortly after an in-depth look into her background was begun, Andy Carter’s family was killed in a house fire. Andy, you see, was a werewolf, as were his mother and sister. Somehow, they were all trapped in the home, and it was set ablaze with strong accelerants.”
Talia’s shaking hands lifted the photos and file papers, and she read about the family that couldn’t defend itself from an attack.
“Andy Carter was the first recent victim of Guide abuse in a long time, and the Council was heartbroken that we could not protect one of our own.” Guide Murray reached once again into his briefcase and withdrew another folder, one that contained only three photos. “These are the photos that I took last week of Kate Prewett.”
Talia opened the folder and gasped. “This is the same woman!”
Sentinel James nodded. “We were equally shocked, Mrs. Hale. Somehow, this woman can shield herself from werewolves, so they can’t detect her duplicity. Matt received other reports from other, Mundane, agencies—all about families killed in fires. They all had a young son or nephew or cousin, just on the cusp of adulthood, who recently gained a girlfriend secretly. Three of those cases involved werewolf families, and two involved families who were close to werewolves in one way or another. There were no clear photos of those young men and their girlfriends, but several CCTV captures showed a female that matched that description very closely. A facial recognition search in Law Enforcement records is underway, as the Council considers her to be a danger to Guides.”
Talia cleared her throat. “Yes, I can see where the danger would be. And you think she has targeted my son, Derek? Could she have possibly known that he was going to come online as a Guide?”
Sentinel James shook her head. “Her early victims, from as long ago as fifteen years, were Mundanes. Before you protest, we consider werewolves to be Mundane if they are neither Sentinel nor Guide. We believe werewolves are her main target, and along the line she somehow found a newly Emerged Guide and played into it. Since there is no known way of predicting if someone is going to Emerge as a Guide until they do, she may have used that as a pick-up line of a sort, playing a game of making her prey feel special.”
Talia’s mouth twisted grimly. “Yes, I can see that. Nobody in my family, or in my husband’s family, has ever registered as a Sentinel or a Guide. Derek was rather nervous about approaching me to take him for testing, and he said that he met someone that said he could be her perfect Guide.”
Guide Murray returned her sardonic grin. “It was rather a fair bit of luck that he actually registered as a Latent Guide, then. If he hadn’t, we would not be involved at all, and this woman might get away with targeting your family.”
Talia gasped. “My family! I need to call home and warn them!”
“Are there precautions that you can take?” asked Sentinel James.
Talia nodded as she reached for the phone. “Yes, of course there are. Hunters are rare, but they do exist. If you’ll excuse me, I need to make that call.”
Sentinel James and Guide Murray were already out the door as Talia Hale began to call her husband from the office phone.
Stiles and Michael were sitting in the Stilinski living room, eating pizza with Scott McCall and the Sheriff. The topic of conversation was, of course, the new Chemistry teacher at the high school.
“She’s pretty laid-back, but she sincerely takes the subject seriously. Her first lecture was all about lab safely and reporting any unusual odors so as to contain gas or chemical leaks.” Scott talked around a mouthful of pizza, but they could all understand him, even if it was disgusting.
Stiles snorted. “Yeah, and she was looking very pointedly at me during the whole thing. I think I’m going to be called into service as a Sentinel in that class, whether I like it or not.”
John pointed at his son with a fork full of salad. “Better to be pressed into service than suffering from some bigot’s stupid test!”
The Chemistry class was not in session on Thursday, because the School Board was still vetting new instructors, but on Friday all was business as usual.
Except that Derek was not in class that day. Stiles had seen him in the hallway before classes began that morning, but Derek was not in Chemistry. He wasn’t in either of the two afternoon classes that he shared with Stiles, either.
Stiles never said anything, because it would be crass to mention Derek in front of Michael, but he was concerned and he could tell that Michael was as well.
Still, the conversation in the Stilinski house that night was light and fun, and Stiles was now looking forward to his Chemistry class on Monday. Especially since Harris was no longer around to make his life hell.
Stiles had just stood up to refill his beverage glass when the frantic flapping of wings caught his attention. Stiles looked around the house, trying to see if a bird had accidentally flown into the house, but nobody else seemed to have heard anything. Shaking his head, Stiles once again made for the kitchen, only this time the sight of an angry black owl stopped him.
And everyone in the house saw it this time.
“What the hell is that?”
Stiles could hear the voices, but he was focused on the owl. Small and dark, with creamy-white feathers on its underbelly and a ridge of white around its eyes, Stiles may have never seen the owl before but he recognized the sound of its wings.
This was the owl that woke him from his Zone-out in the summer.
This was Derek Hale’s owl—his Spirit Animal.
Stiles knew it as well as he knew that his own Spirit Animal would soon manifest at the sight of such distress coming from the owl.
Stiles held up his hands and called for silence—and he got it. Michael was at once by his side, and John stood from his chair, but they were all silent. Stiles reached out to the Spiritual owl, and he could feel distress coming from Derek.
Somehow, somewhere, Derek was in trouble. And he was reaching for Stiles to help him.
Suddenly, Stiles’ Dire Wolf appeared, forcing Scott and John to move backwards. There was a low growl, followed by a sharp screech from the owl, and then Stiles was in motion.
“It’s the Hales, Dad! There’s big trouble! I don’t know what, but they’re trapped and we have to help!”
John scrambled for the phone, calling the Sheriff’s station to see if any emergency calls had come in from the Hale residence and to order help to head that way in any case. Scott wisely got out of everybody’s way, as Michael bounded forward, car keys in hand.
“I’m driving. Do you know where they live?”
Stiles shook his head. “No, but we’re following these guys. We have to hurry! Dad…!”
“Just…go! Do what you have to, Sentinel Stilinski!” It was the first time ever that Stiles’ father called him by his title, and Stiles ran from the house secure in the knowledge that his father understood and welcomed Stiles’ duty to their Tribe and territory.
Following Spirit Animals through the night was surreal. They could only see vague flashes of tail feathers as the owl flew low over the road, but the Dire Wolf fairly glowed in the dark like a ghostly beacon. Stiles knew Michael was breaking all the speed limits, but he had a theory that his father had told the deputies to let them pass.
They actually met several police cars and fire trucks as they approached a clearing in the woods, and the sight was horrifying.
Bright, white-hot flames shot out of windows in the soot-darkened house in the middle of the clearing. The yard was clear, but Stiles could clearly hear screaming voices coming from the house. The firemen were scrambling to get water hoses sorted, but the heat from the fire was too great to approach. Stiles could see an older woman screaming at the Fire Chief, begging him to get her family out, but he was shaking his head at her.
Stiles looked at Michael, but the young man was only watching the Spirit Animals: the owl was circling over Mrs. Hale, echoing her screech of horror, but the Dire Wolf…
The large, ghostly Dire Wolf was digging at the ground in front of the burning house. He was digging fast and furiously.
And Stiles ran to the Wolf and felt along the ground, dialing his sense of touch up to eleven, feeling the dirt and leaves and rocks—and underneath the grime Stiles felt a fine dust, so fine as to be ash, and he swept it aside and a huge wave of energy swept across the clearing and the fire just…
And the Hale family flew out of the house, crying and screaming in relief.
Michael hugged Stiles close, not knowing what had just happened, but knowing it saved a family. And Stiles hugged him back, weeping in relief. And the gentle weight of the owl settled on Stiles’ shoulder, like it belonged there.
Across the clearing, held tight in his mother’s arms, Derek Hale watched as a huge Dire Wolf circled Stiles and Michael and then sat and howled, a deep mournful howl, and then faded away.