Stiles feels his heart pounding in his chest as he pushes the needle further on the Jeep. There’s not nearly enough streetlights out in this part of town, heading for the Preserve, and it’s a damn good thing he’s driven this way so often or he’d probably be in a ditch by now. The steering wheel rattles slightly under his hands, protesting the speed they’re going.
“C’mon, buddy,” Stiles pleads, following the curve of the road that even his supernatural eyes can barely pick out in the headlights. Reflectors. God, can’t the county even spring for reflectors on this damn road? He’s going to write a strongly worded letter to the planning commissioners as soon as he’s not so late. Late for his own goddamn mating run. Derek will never let him hear the end of this. “Don’t give out on me, Roscoe.”
He gets to the edge of the Preserve and kills the engine, with absolutely no idea if he’s going to be able to get the thing back on again later. The Jeep shudders under him as it shuts off. Stiles will worry about that later. He shoves his door open and almost throws himself onto the asphalt before running off into the woods. His eyes light up yellow and pick up the scant moonlight through the trees, dodging around the branches that reach too low and the roots that reach too high. Sticks snap under his sneakers, and leaves crunch. God, hopefully everyone will hear him coming and wait.
“I’m here!” he calls when his nose begins to itch with familiar scents. He yanks his shirt off, trying not to get it caught in the brush. Shit, how close to naked does he have to be for this? Why didn’t someone email him instructions? “I’m here, don’t run with anyone else!”
Stiles bursts into the clearing and pitches forward, bracing his hands on his thighs and panting for breath. “I’m here. I’m here for the… run…”
What run? Stiles fights for air and shakes his head, but the ideas are evaporating from his head like smoke. What was he in a hurry for…?
“Ah, Stilinski. Good of you to join us.”
Stiles looks up, startled to remember that Finstock exists at the moment. He looks around at the rest of the pack. Isaac is cradling a 2-liter of 7-Up under one arm. Boyd has both his own and Erica’s backpack slung over his shoulders. Derek is sitting on a tree stump with a tire iron on his lap.
“Finstock has a new trick,” Isaac growls.
“I call it the Coach’s Whistle.” Finstock puts his actual whistle in his mouth and blows sharply, making everyone flinch as it cuts through the ambient noises of the forest, shrill and synthetic. “Whatever you needed to believe to get your ass here the quickest, that’s what woke you up. Look, it worked on everyone but Peter.”
Erica looks Stiles over critically. “What the hell were you imagining?”
“Isaac brought soda,” Stiles snaps. “I’m not the weirdest one here.”
“I thought I was late to a potluck!” Isaac tucks his soda against his side better. “Least I wasn’t having werewolf porn dreams or something.”
“Stop kink-shaming Stilinski. We’ve got work to do.”
Stiles blinks and checks his watch, suddenly reminded that they’re in the middle of the woods in the pitch black night. The digital numbers light up white.
“Why did you use dark magic on us at 3 in the morning?” he asks, rubbing his face. Now that the panic is wearing off, the fatigue is coming back.
“I tried texting everyone last night and you ignored it,” Finstock says, like that’s a totally normal reason to hex people. Like most people don’t ignore 3 AM texts by sleeping through them. “And it wasn’t dark magic. It was a standard enchantment.”
Stiles groans tiredly. Having Coach as an Emissary has been an... interesting experiment so far. Stiles made it halfway there himself before taking the Bite, and that meant... well, someone had to do it. And there were only so many people in Beacon Hills crazy enough to get involved with a wolf pack. Even fewer whose crazy wasn’t the kill-everyone kind.
All to say, Stiles knows stuff about magic, and anything with this amount of ill will involved is absolutely fair to call a hex.
“That still doesn’t tell us why you’re trying to get ahold of us at this hour,” Derek says, catching Stiles’ arm and dragging him over to sit on the tree trunk with him.
Coach blows sharply on his whistle. “Watch the lip, Hale. And next time do the assigned reading.”
“Wait, we had reading?” Isaac asks.
Finstock pulls his binder out from under his arm, flipping it open. Light emits from the pages and casts shadows on his face. “I sent everyone the link to this on Thursday. What are you idiots even using the group chat for?”
“Uh... memes, mostly.” Stiles yawns and leans against Derek’s shoulder.
Finstock sighs. “It’s the witching hour, team. The best hour for making important pack changes.”
“What change?” Derek asks, clasping his hands over Stiles’ ears when he sees Finstock raise his whistle again. He blows three short blasts from it.
Nothing happens. Which is weird. Something always happens when Coach uses that whistle these days. Circles of runes glow, candles light themselves. But not this time.
Coach pauses. Blows his whistle again. 3 short blasts.
He sighs and yanks the whistle free of his mouth. “Jackson!!”
Somewhere behind them a car door shuts and a vaguely familiar scent floods he area. Stiles didn’t even know he knew that smell. Because that’s definitely Jackson who comes sauntering into the clearing. Carrying Starbucks because of course he is.
“Losers,” he says, nodding at everyone as he comes to stand by Finstock. “Alright. Let’s get this over with.”
“Jackson is part of the pack now. Any questions?”
Stiles raises his hand. So do Isaac, Erica, and Boyd. Derek probably has questions but he refuses to use the ‘raise your hand’ system of communication.
“Reyes, let’s have it.”
“Why?” Erica asks. Everyone else puts their hands down.
“Because as a pack, on a fundamental level, we suck.” Finstock sighs as five werewolves deflate slightly. “I mean on a pack level. You’re all… lovely kids. Even you, Hale.”
Derek just curls his lip to show a fang.
“But on a comparison level of any other pack, we’d get our asses kicked in a fight.”
“Who’s gonna fight us?” Isaac asks. “We haven’t been talking shit about Satomi’s pack.”
“Yeah, we had a cookout this summer,” Stiles agrees. “Erica and I are Pokemon Go friends with a bunch of them.”
“Truly you’re all a force to be reckoned with,” Finstock says dryly. “But if their pack took a collective swing at us, we’d be dead on our feet.”
“Are you gonna make us fight Satomi’s pack?” Boyd asks, belatedly raising his hand. “I don’t want to fight them.”
Finstock rubs his forehead as collective agreement begins rising among the pack. He blows his whistle again to call for silence. “No one is gonna fight them. That was called an example.”
“Use a different pack example,” Derek growls.
“They don’t know any other packs!” Finstock gestures at the teenagers. “You bit a bunch of locals.”
“Okay, but isn’t involving Jackson just going to make other packs hate us because he’s an asshole?” Stiles asks.
“Excellent question,” Finstock says, pointing at Stiles and ignoring how Jackson flips him the bird. “Yes, but also we don’t have to care about social graces nearly as much if we’re stronger.”
“Do we get to vote on this?” Isaac asks.
“Another excellent question and I appreciate the participation level here. No.” The pack groans as one and Finstock holds his hands up. “Look, your Alpha is the one who bit him. So this is technically me just bringing Jackson back to the back. You should have been stuck with him all along.”
“Peter told me to!” Derek protests.
“Sorry, you’re the Alpha, you own the Alpha fangs, you take the responsibility.” Derek opens his mouth to protest further, but Finstock shoves his whistle back in his mouth and blows again. “Hale! I said you’re the Alpha, now take responsibility.”
Derek growls, and his eyes glow red, and Stiles can feel the muscles in his arm twitching where Stiles is trying to hold him back from launching himself at their Emissary. It’s not uncommon for that to happen, though. Probably 40% of their pack meetings end in Derek and Finstock squaring off.
“Fine,” Derek snaps. “Jackson is in the pack. Happy?”
“Thrilled.” Finstock blows his whistle again. “Team dismissed.”
Stiles almost misses his mating run two weeks later. And remembers that that’s not a thing as soon as he gets to the forest clearing.
“If we move this to a spot further in, are you gonna eventually show up naked to these?” Erica asks as Stiles grumbles and re-fastens his belt.
“Shut up. It’s Finstock’s stupid spell, not mine.” Stiles looks around. “Where’d my shirt go?”
Derek drops his leather jacket around Stiles shoulders as he comes into the clearing. “You left it about 400 meters back,” he says shortly. His grip on the tire iron suggests he may be thinking about actually beating someone with it this time.
Stiles checks his watch and sighs. 2:58 AM. Witching hour.
“What are we here for this time?”
“Glad you asked, Stilinski,” Finstock says, striding into the clearing with his binder. “We’re expanding the team again.”
Everyone looks at Derek, who looks like a deer caught in the headlights. Which is funny because he’s a werewolf in a dark forest clearing.
“I didn’t bite anyone.”
“Did Peter kill an Alpha again?” Isaac asks.
“Lahey, don’t you think I would have started this meeting off with that, if we were restructuring?”
“Hey!” Derek and Stiles say at the same time.
“Why would Peter get pack Alpha status over Derek? That’s not cool,” Stiles protests.
“Yeah, Derek has seniority,” Isaac adds, in a rare display of loyalty. Probably because he’s had to deal with Peter as pack the most and knows what a terrible idea it is to have him in power. “If Peter is the new Alpha, I quit.”
“I commend your loyalty, but not your listening skills.” Coach slaps his binder for emphasis on each word. “Peter. Is. Not. An. Alpha. At least that I know of, he didn’t show up again.”
Stiles sighs and squints at the tree line where the moonlight doesn’t reach. “Okay. Who do you have stashed back there this time?”
Finstock blows his whistle. “Look alive, Mahealani!”
There are several snaps in the darkness. A bush rustles. Jackson finally emerges, hauling Danny by the arm.
“You can’t leave a human back there to do this dramatic entrance shit, Coach. He can’t see.” Jackson has Starbucks again.
“Wait, why is Danny joining the pack?” Stiles asks. “I mean, not that he’s not great,” he adds, since Danny is a more welcome surprise than Jackson was. And if he shows up to pack meetings then Jackson might be less of an ass because Danny is allowed to tell Jackson to fuck off without it starting a fist fight. He’s just… sort of… not a werewolf. He lives on the outskirts of werewolf shenanigans.
“Have you seen him mind a lacrosse goal, Stilinski?” Finstock flips open his binder and pulls the cap of his ballpoint pen off with his teeth, mumbling around it. “You guys are damn lucky he wants to hang around you.”
“Thanks, Coach,” Danny says, the same resigned look he always has when he’s decided to get on board with one of Coach’s crazy ideas.
Erica raises her hand. “Are you gonna… make Derek bite him?” she asks, ignoring the glare that earns her from Jackson.
“You know what happens when the entire group is made of werewolves?” Finstock shoves the pen back into its cap once he’s finished scribbling into the binder.
“It… it’s a wolf pack?” Isaac asks, looking around at the others. Since that’s basically every other pack they’ve ever seen, no one else has any guesses.
“It’s a pack that gets shit on by any asshole with enough mountain ash and wolfsbane.” Coach claps Danny on the back. “Now we have a human pack member who’s exactly as functional every day of the month.”
Isaac’s and goes up.
“Lahey, you’ve got the floor.”
“Hi, yeah. Uh… are we going to war?” Isaac asks. “Is anyone else feeling like that’s the pattern here?”
Finstock sighs. “Look, team. Being stronger is never a bad thing. Being versatile is never a bad thing. Expecting that weird shit is around every corner in this town is absolutely not a bad thing.”
“But… no war?” Isaac checks.
“At present time, no. I’ll keep you posted.”
Stiles raises his hand until Coach points to him. “Is Danny actually here to make Jackson more palatable or are you going to recruit the whole lacrosse team?”
“Excellent observation skills. I may have sensed the underpinning of a mutiny startup these past few weeks while Jackson’s been integrating,” Finstock agrees readily. “Also that’s a negative on recruiting the whole team. I’d have to recruit Greenberg. Is that what you want, Stilinski? Do you hate your pack that much?”
“What? No! I-”
“Good. I don’t want to have this discussion again.” Coach blows his whistle sharply, making two black pillar candles on the tree stump light up, revealing two clamshell boxes of supermarket cookies with discount labels on them. “Now everyone have a snack and welcome your new pack member.”
The third time Stiles is almost late for his mating run, Derek catches him by the back of the neck as he’s sprinting through the forest and hauls him to a stop.
“Derek! Holy shit, are you late too?”
“Finstock,” Derek growls. Stiles blinks and feels the fog in his brain lift a little. He checks his watch. 2:49 AM. Witching hour.
“Goddamn it.” Stiles sighs and rubs his face. “Thanks for catching me before I took my shirt off this time.”
“Do you think there are harsh penalties for an Alpha killing their Emissary?”
Stiles considers it. Not that he’d give Derek even a tiny bit of encouragement on that, because right now he just might take it. “Probably. Isn’t there a high council that probably oversees shit? Or a druid police agency that shows up if an Emissary goes missing?”
“Finstock isn’t a druid.”
“Yeah, but he was a better choice than any other druids we had available.” Stiles shrugs. Druids liked secrets and secrets had never been a good idea in Beacon Hills. “It’s not that bad, right? Danny has been pretty nice to have around. He hid your VPN or whatever with your internet to make it more secure for pack communications.”
“My internet has been down for 2 days and I don’t know how to connect anything anymore.”
“Oh.” Stiles rubs the nape of Derek’s neck. “Well, I’ll ask him to show me what he did and write instructions up and put ‘em on your fridge.”
Derek looks at him. “Really?” he asks, clearly waiting for the part where Stiles ribs him for his technological failures.
“Really. As long as you don’t kill Finstock.”
Derek groans. “Fine.”
“Thanks.” Stiles pats his back. “Don’t be so hard on the guy. He’s not doing a bad job at all.”
They come into the clearing, bright compared to the rest of the forest as the open sky lets the moonlight pool on the forest floor. Stiles is expecting to see Finstock there with his binder and his whistle, probably waiting to make another dramatic reveal of this week’s new pack member.
He’s not expecting to see Liam sitting in a circle of mountain ash, typing on his phone, with a styrofoam carton of Chinese food balanced on one knee.
“Stilinski! Look at you, first to arrive. I take it that’s because Hale found you,” Finstock calls, unloading his binder from the trunk of his car just inside the tree line.
“S’up,” Liam calls, not looking up from his phone.
“Coach… what’s going on here?”
“We have a guest.” Finstock shuts his trunk and comes into the clearing, dropping his binder onto the tree trunk. “Did you do the assigned reading?”
“The assigned reading was on teamwork, not kidnapping.”
Coach waves that off. “Please, he’s fine.”
“He brought me double orange chicken,” Liam chimes in before shoving a bite into his mouth.
“Okay, but… why is he here?”
“He already has a pack,” Derek says, voice terse and possible right on the edge of sprouting fangs.
“Absolutely correct, and no, I’m not adding him to our pack. See, here’s the thing, though…”
Stiles does not like that tone of voice. That ‘I had a great idea’ tone of voice because it’s really hard to convince Coach that not all of those are actually great ideas.
“You lot and the McCall pack don’t really work together so well.”
“And two packs sharing a relatively small territory have to be pretty well in harmony to keep the peace.”
“So I thought I’d… entice the McCall pack out here and we’d all do some mandatory communication exercises. And maybe run a few drills.”
Stiles feels like he’s watching a bomb timer tick down. He has no wire cutters. He can practically feel Derek trying to count to 10 in his head so he doesn’t bring the claws out.
“You were right,” he tells Derek, rubbing his back to try and delay the bloodshed until Danny gets here and gets Liam free and takes him immediately home. “He’s probably going to get us all killed.”
Still a better choice than a druid, though.