“Right!” Magnus said with a clap of his hands. “Now that the werewolves are far enough away to no longer be bothersome, we can get started. The first thing that we need to do is get comfortable. We’re going to be working on a form of meditation, and the last thing you need is to be dragged out because your leg starts jiggling. So pick whichever of these,” he gestured to the lounge furniture with a wave of his hand, “that you deem best, and we’ll get started.”
Stiles shrugged, looking around at the options available. “I’m actually pretty comfy here.”
“Good! Now, you’ve been taking medication for some time now, correct? To manage your ADHD? I would like you to discontinue that for the moment, if you please.”
“What?” Stiles asked, startled. “That may not be a good idea, without my meds— well, let’s just say that it might not turn out well.”
“It must be done if you want to be confident in your control,” Magnus replied seriously. “Your brain has been altered in ways that we don’t properly understand, and continuing to take anything that artificially alters your brain chemistry is inadvisable at this time. Once your current medication is completely out of your system and your brain is operating without assistance, you can be re-evaluated. Now, I have a friend who is a doctor and she has agreed to oversee your needs while we’re in training. She’ll be coming by later this afternoon to begin diagnosis and to provide documentation that can be sent to your school.”
“Alright,” Stiles said, with a shrug. “Just don’t say that I didn’t warn you.”
Magnus gave him a warm smile. “For now, I want you to close your eyes and concentrate on evening out your breathing. Three beats in, three beats out. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Take as much or as little air during those three beats as you need, and then just…let it out again.
“Good. Now, when you’re happy with your breathing, I’d like you to imagine a place where you can be alone. It might be an island, it might be a tower. It might be a clearing in the forest. But you can be alone there, there is some kind of barrier that keeps the rest of the world from intruding on you, unless you desire it. While you do that, keep your breathing steady. Good, very good. Now…”
Stiles sat and concentrated on his breathing while he tried to follow Magnus’ directions. It was harder than it sounded, mainly because keeping his mind on task wasn’t the easiest thing to achieve. Magnus didn’t seem to mind though, and he always gently steered Stiles back to the exercise.
Magnus had him imagine a variety of possible scenarios where he could remain isolated yet still be able to reach out to others if he chose, and each scenario came with a number of ways that it could be protected.
Throughout it all, Magnus’ calm voice directed him here and there. Once or twice, Stiles’ mind started straying into memories of what had happened at the Argents, but Magnus was there each time to redirect him, his very presence a reminder that Stiles was safe now.
“Very good. Now, I want you to go back to the place where you felt the safest, and that you had the most control over your surroundings,” Magnus said.
In his mind, Stiles found himself back in the Preserve, in a clearing he used to visit with his mother when he was younger. There was nothing about this particular clearing that made it more defensible than any other part of the Preserve, not in real life, anyway. But here in Stiles’ mind the trees moved at his whim, brambles emerged and receded as he wished. Small creatures patrolled the borders, and rattlesnakes lurked, waiting to leap out and envenom the unwary.
“Alright, for now, I want you to leave your defences at the ready, but not actively engaging intruders,” Magnus continued. “For now, there are no threats nearby, you can relax your vigilance. Just enjoy being in your safe space and, when you’re ready, open your eyes.”
Magnus stopped talking, but Stiles sat there a while longer, enjoying the beam of light that reached the very centre of this spot that he remembered so well. For the life of him, he couldn’t recall how he and his mother had got here, had no idea just where in the Preserve this oasis of calm and joy was located. Perhaps it would be a nice idea to try and find it again.
He opened his eyes to find Magnus beaming at him.
“Well done! Have you done meditation before?”
“No.” Stiles stretched his arms and legs in all directions. Wow, he felt kind of tired, considering he’d just been sitting there. “My doctor said that it wouldn’t be useful, that I didn’t have the right mindset for it.”
Magnus frowned, rising to his feet. “How old were you when this happened?”
“I don’t know, maybe five or six?”
Magnus just shook his head and reached a hand out to Stiles, helping him to stand.
“Headrush!” Stiles blinked a few times.
“Sorry about that.” Magnus didn’t sound sorry at all. “I didn’t expect that session to go for quite as long as it did. There are clear signs when someone has had enough, and you were doing fine so I didn’t see the harm. How do you feel?”
“I don’t know.” Stiles shrugged. “I don’t really feel any different. A bit hungry, maybe? But then I lost my breakfast, so that’s not too surprising.”
“You did?” Magnus asked. “Well then, I feel we must brave Peter’s wrath and get you something to eat right away.”
“Come to think of it, I lost most of my dinner last night too.” Stiles winced as he remembered being carried to bed like some fainting heroine.
“Hmm.” Magnus took out a phone and tapped out a quick message. “I’ve asked Catarina to bring some nutritional supplements with her. Nothing that you couldn’t buy yourself, if you were of a mind,” he assured Stiles. “But since the ones I have in mind are only available in Brooklyn, it’s just easier if she brings them with her.”
“Whatever.” Stiles’ mouth was slightly full of some leftover bacon that had been stored in the fridge. He stiffened as a feeling of pressure started building on the inside of his skull. “Huh. I think someone might be coming?”
“Really?” Magnus shook his sleeves out and turned towards the door, before visibly relaxing again. “Not to worry.” He went back to rifling through the tea offerings.
After that display Stiles wasn’t surprised when Derek and Peter arrived, bringing Noah with them. As soon as Noah was close enough Stiles reached out for a hug, enjoying the red/wet earth feel without the accompanying pain he experienced the day before. The door in his mind was back and, just like last time, it was wide open but, today, Stiles managed to avoid bumping into any of the thoughts that spilled through.
“These two suspicious looking characters showed up at the station and invited me to lunch,” Noah explained, after being introduced to Magnus and shaking his hand, expressing his gratitude that he’d come all this way to help his son.
“I couldn’t resist another opportunity to cook for you.” Peter began pulling various items out of the pantry and the fridge.
“Is that why you’re back so early?” Stiles surreptitiously licked the remaining bacon grease off his fingers.
Derek’s eyebrows drew together. “We’re not early, Stiles, we’re late.”
“You are?” Stiles reached across and grabbed Noah’s phone from where he’d put it face down on the counter. The time blinked up at him—12:13 p.m. “Huh.”
“I told you we went for longer than I expected,” Magnus reminded him.
“Yeah, but I thought you meant we’d been going for about an hour or something.” Stiles had been meditating for two and a half hours? That was crazy talk.
“Stiles did extremely well.” Magnus went on to explain that his doctor friend, Catarina Loss, was stopping by that afternoon. “She’ll very likely be bringing my other half with her, if he’s managed to get everything on his end sorted out, anyway. Please don’t mind Alec if he seems gruff and surly. He always starts out grumpy when I drag him away for his own good.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. Around here, we’re pro’s at dealing with grumpy and surly.” Stiles gave a wave of his hand that indicated Derek.
“Don’t be rude to your host,” Noah said calmly even as Derek’s frown grew more pronounced. “Just because someone’s not a chatterbox, it doesn’t make them somehow deficient and deserving of being mocked.”
“Yes, Dad.” Stiles felt a twinge of remorse. Derek knew he was only joking, right? He snuck a look at Derek’s thunderous expression. Huh. Maybe not.
“Magnus thinks I should go off my meds for a while,” Stiles informed his father in an attempt to change the subject.
“His brain has been physically and very likely chemically altered,” Magnus explained. “We must start afresh with any diagnoses and corrections and, before we can do that, we need to see how things are without outside interference. It would be good if we could scrap them entirely, since overuse of ADHD meds is linked with heart disease later in life, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
Noah nodded. “Sounds fair,” he agreed. “We’ve already got a history of heart disease in my family; we don’t need to double the chances if we don’t have to.” He winked at Stiles. “Maybe I should start monitoring your diet, then?”
“I’m sure Magnus has the right idea and everything will be fine,” Stiles said hurriedly, scenes of his beloved curly fries being cruelly dangled out of reach of his desperately grasping hands playing out in his head.
Noah snorted, shaking his head fondly. “You know what they say about double standards, kid,” he warned. “It’s going to come back and bite you if you’re not careful. Oh, and I managed to get a message passed to Scott that he shouldn’t expect you in school for the next few days. Melissa had already told him you were sick, so he didn’t seem too surprised.”
A blind man could have seen the reaction that dropping Scott’s name had on several of the people in the room, and Stiles was well aware that his father was not blind. Noah didn’t say anything, just raised his eyebrows.
“So, you may have noticed a bit of tension between Derek and Peter here, and Scott.” Stiles awkwardly rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. “Things got off to a pretty bad start and, well, they never really got any better.”
“Derek is perfectly entitled to have a few reservations after being falsely accused of murder, twice,” Noah pointed out reasonably.
“Yeah, well, it’s not exactly Derek who’s been holding the grudge,” Stiles muttered.
Noah’s eyebrows lifted again. “Scott? Really? Well, what’s he holding a grudge about?”
Stiles sighed. “Firstly, for being bitten.” He related what happened that night in the Preserve, and the events following, leading eventually to Kate Argent’s death, followed swiftly by Peter Hale’s.
Noah frowned throughout most of the story and sent several assessing looks to where Peter was ostensibly giving all his attention to the risotto he was preparing. “Reyes and Boyd didn’t mention any of this,” he said finally.
“They weren’t really on the scene,” Stiles replied. “I’m not sure if anyone even told them all about this.”
“I see.” Noah was visibly turning things over in his mind. He sat in silence for what seemed like forever before giving himself a little shake. “Right. Thank you for that. Now, are we going to be eating anytime soon, Peter? Because I do have to head back to the station this afternoon.”
The risotto was delicious, but Stiles spent the entire meal on tenterhooks. There should have been more reaction than that, surely?
“Peter Hale, your skill in the kitchen is truly wondrous.” Noah gave a sigh as he finished. “Thank you. Now, kid, I’m sorry to love you and leave you but duty calls. I’ve done some shift juggling, and by the end of the week, I should have three days completely free to spend with you catching up and talking about what’s been happening, okay?”
“Yeah, that’s cool.” Stiles nodded. “I’ll see you before then, though, right?”
“If I’m going to be fed this well, then I’ll be stopping by regularly.” Noah gave Stiles another quick hug, and then headed back outside and down the driveway. As he went, the pressure inside Stiles’ skull receded, taking the low-level headache he’d developed with it. That reaction was something he definitely needed to concentrate on in his lessons.
“I wonder why I feel a sudden sense of impending doom.” Peter continued to watch the path long after Noah had disappeared.
“Yeah, he’s good at that,” Stiles said. “I don’t know if he’s good at it because he’s a cop, or he’s a cop because he’s good at it. He can drag that shit out for days if you let him.”
Peter’s eyebrows rose. “Is there some way to stop him?”
“Duh.” Stiles rolled his eyes. “Just man up and go and talk to him. It ends up being less traumatic in the long run.”
“I don’t see why I should have to,” Peter muttered. “He’s not my father.”
Magnus stifled a laugh by turning it into an unconvincing cough.
“Ugh.” Stiles grimaced. “Thanks for that. Now I’m going to have a picture in my head of you calling him ‘Daddy’, which I very much did not need, thank you very much.”
Peter deflated slightly. “Am I being that obvious, then?”
Stiles gave an elaborate shudder. “I shouldn’t have to deal with this crap. Come and get me when the conversation is no longer revolving around my dad’s prospective love life.” He got up and headed towards the back door.
“Don’t leave the property!” Magnus called after him just before he closed the door behind him.
Stiles looked out over the generously sized, but not huge, back yard and groaned. It was like being eight again, only without the increased chances of using his big Bambi eyes to get gifted with random candy. Skirting the path where he left his dinner last night, Stiles made his way back to the swing seat.
“If that was part of a plan to get out of doing the dishes, it’s not going to work,” Derek advised him, making him jump.
“Yeah, well, that would have been a bonus but not the intent behind my leaving,” Stiles replied. “Am I really restricted to the back yard?”
Derek nodded. “Magnus said there’s something very wrong somewhere in the area, that it’s saturated the land.” He walked over to stand at Stiles’ side and look out over the Preserve. “He went off last night to see someone called ‘the Morrigan’ about it, said it needed to be sorted out.”
Stiles whistled. “Wow. If the Morrigan is who I think she is, then Magnus went right to the top.” At Derek’s blank look, he elaborated. “In fiction, the Morrigan is often the leader of the Druids. I have no idea how she’s chosen, only that all Druids come under her jurisdiction, and they answer to her. Magnus must really be worried about whatever it is that he found here.”
“So you’ll stay in the yard until we hear that it’s safe?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll be good.” There was silence for a few minutes, the only sounds the birds and the occasional squeak from the swing seat. “Hey, I’ve been thinking about what Peter told me,” Stiles said hesitantly. “I kind of feel that maybe there were some crossed wires somewhere, you know? I just can’t believe that Scott would make a plan that involved you being forced to bite your worst enemy, not without warning you first, not without telling me. And you know I would never have let him do it.”
Derek’s withdrawal was palpable.
Stiles hurried to continue. “I’m not saying I think you were lying, that Peter was lying, I just wonder if there wasn’t some kind of miscommunication somewhere. I mean, it’s not like you and Scott have a history of great communication, you know? Did he actually come out and say that he planned to force you to bite Gerard?”
Derek relaxed slightly. “Not exactly. It was heavily implied though, and Peter and I weren’t the only ones who read it that way. Chris Argent seemed genuinely shocked too.”
“So there is a possibility?” Stiles asked hopefully, looking up at Derek.
Derek sighed. “I suppose.”
“I need to talk to him, then,” Stiles said. “I need to find out just what his plan was. He’ll tell me the truth, I know he will. And maybe we’ll find out that it was just a misunderstanding.”
Derek snorted, but didn’t actually disagree. Stiles decided he’d take what he could get. Cause even if Scott hadn’t intended what Derek and Peter had thought he intended, he still acted like a giant douche with that ‘not my Alpha’ remark. What kind of ally keeps secrets about threats to their allied leader’s life a secret? The shitty kind of ally, that’s what kind. If Scott wanted to play with the big boys, he needed to man up and put his big-boy knickers on.
Derek sat down on the grass next to the seat, and they remained there in silence for some time. Stiles’ mind went back to that clearing that he’d been imagining that morning. He wondered if he could populate it with razor-beaked crows. They could dive-bomb people who were trying to break through his other defences.
A female voice coming from the house eventually roused them.
“That’ll be the doctor lady,” Stiles said, getting to his feet. He felt energised and refreshed, and happier than he’d been that morning. Believing that Scott could do something so terrible had been weighing him down. Now that Derek had accepted that there was a chance that it didn’t happen quite like that, everything was better.
They got back to the house, only to find the dishes already taken care of and Magnus pouting at the newcomer. She didn’t appear to be impressed.
“You didn’t need to do them,” Stiles said with a wince. “The dishes, I mean. I was going to, just not while that discussion was happening.”
“Don’t mind Magnus, his boyfriend isn’t arriving until later and he’s never been good with delayed gratification. I’m Catarina Loss, and you must be Stiles. And Derek, of course, the new Hale Alpha. It’s an honour to meet you.”
“The honour is mine.” Derek was politely respectful. Stiles had never seen him behave that way to anyone before.
“You’ll do.” Catarina smiled.
Stiles stepped forward. “Thanks for coming to give me an examination.” He held out his hand to be shaken.
Catarina took it and examined his palm. Her eyebrows shot towards her hairline. “Well, that’s unusual.” She peered into his eyes. “I see what you mean, Magnus. His magic levels indicate that he’s completely mundane, and yet his brain activity is off the charts. Not to mention his fate line.”
Magnus sniffed. “You know I place no faith in palmistry, Catarina.”
Catarina didn’t seem to take any offence and just shook her head. “Don’t be concerned,” she warned. Her hand lit with blue flame. “It won’t burn you, it’s a diagnostic tool. Go on, touch it and see.”
Stiles poked at it with a finger. There was no heat, just a faint tingling.
“I’m going to apply this now,” she told him. “It might feel a little strange, but it will give me everything I need all in one go.” She slowly extended her hand and pushed the flame into the centre of Stiles’ chest.
“Wow.” Stiles could feel the flame moving. “It’s like it’s tickling on the inside! It’s the weirdest thing I think I’ve ever experienced.”
Catarina exchanged a glance with Magnus that seemed laden with meaning. “Just ignore that.” She sounded sad. “It won’t be much longer.”
It wasn’t. Within two minutes of it starting the magical examination was complete. The magical flame re-emerged from his chest and was placed into a wooden container that Catarina had waiting. When that was done, Catarina excused herself to examine the results and to write up her notes, so Stiles took the opportunity to ask Magnus what that look had been all about.
“That tickling you felt is something one powerful warlock might feel when another is using their magic on them,” Magnus said. “Your magic was burnt out of you, but the channels it carved in your lifetime are still there, and they reacted to the foreign magic.”
“Stiles was a warlock?” Peter asked. “I thought warlocks were half demon?”
Magnus snorted elegantly. “Superstition.” He waved his hand in dismissal. “Brought about because of Christianity’s teaching that anything magical was of the devil. No, a warlock is merely a person born with a certain level of power. Generally, the power manifests sometime before puberty. On very rare occasions it happens later in life. Some have postulated that the more powerful the warlock, the more traumatic the experience needed to awaken them must be, but that’s not substantiated. We do know that some potential warlocks never awaken their power, and we only have guesses as to why.”
“At one time, Stiles had the capability to be a powerful warlock,” Catarina confirmed, having finished up what she was doing. “That is the past, however, and we must look to the future. Here’s a list of instructions I would like you to follow for the next few weeks.” She handed a sheet of paper to Stiles. “This one is a letter that can be sent to your school recommending that you be removed and schooled at home until you’re over this terribly infectious glandular fever that you’ve managed to contract.” She handed him another sheet. “Photocopy that one and make sure a copy is put on file with your local doctors. It will ensure that I’m contacted before any drugs of any kind are administered to you.”
“Thank you.” Stiles’ was still reeling over the warlock revelation.
“Magnus, please tell me that you plan to do something about that dreadful…thing that’s tainting everything around us?” Catarina said as her bag packed itself up and dropped itself at her feet.
Magnus spread his hands in a “who, me?” gesture. “I’ve spoken to the Morrigan, Catarina. I know better than to interfere on another’s turf without a good reason.”
Catarina frowned. “Oh my god, she hates you, Magnus, you know perfectly well that she’s not going to respond to the problem here just because you told her about it.”
Stiles sighed. “Great, I’m going to be stuck here forever.”
“Don’t fret, flaugnarde, once she’s left it for a week after notification, I’ll be within my rights to take action myself.”
Catarina patted Stiles on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, honey, I’ll take care of it. The Morrigan might have her problems with Magnus, but she knows that if she pisses me off there’ll be hell to pay. She’ll take care of it by morning if she ever wants my special tea again.”
“Oh, Catarina, you are naughty,” Magnus said with clear admiration. “This is the blue leaf tea, I assume.”
Magnus laughed delightedly. “What a charming thought. Remind me never to get on your bad side, my dear.”
“I’ll do that,” Catarina replied dryly. “Right, I’ll be back in a fortnight. Remember, I want to see how magical teaching methods are working on a non-magical mind. Magnus, I’ll expect to see detailed notes.”
“Don’t forget to visit the Morrigan on your way home,” Magnus called after her. He clapped his hands, rubbing them together with glee. “Well then, providing that’s all taken care of by tomorrow, how about we find someplace a little more scenic for our next lesson?”
“Alright,” Stiles said with a shrug.
That afternoon Magnus decided to head back to New York to see what was taking his other half so long, and Peter gave Stiles a cooking lesson.
“I really don’t get why you’re doing this, dude,” Stiles said, even as he tried to follow Peter’s method of filleting the fish he’d acquired for dinner.
Peter gave him the eyebrow. “My current choices of abode are the burnt wreck where my family died, a derelict train car, here, or some other location that I have to somehow pay for myself. Why wouldn’t I be here?”
“No, I get why you’re here.” Stiles gestured at their surroundings with the knife he was holding. “I don’t get why you’re being all buddy-buddy with me. You being nice to me isn’t going to make my dad any more likely to sleep with you, you know. A whole parade of ‘concerned’ single women would be able to give you chapter and verse as far as that goes.”
Peter was silent for a few moments. “Derek is trying to build a Pack. For it to work, all members must work together. Right now, no one is interested in working with me except for Derek, and long-term that won’t—”
“Wait.” Stiles held up his hand to stop what Peter was saying. Peter leaned back to avoid the knife that was waving around perilously close to his exposed throat. Stiles put the knife down. “You’re playing nicey-nice with me to get on Derek’s good side? How does that even work?”
“For god’s sake,” Peter muttered. He raised his voice again. “I’m trying to be a real boy, okay? The only way to get better at this is to practise. I am practising my people skills. I didn’t use them for a while and they kind of broke, so—”
“Oh fine, why didn’t you say?” Stiles picked up his knife again. “Now, does it have to be one long slice or will a number of shorter slices do?”
Peter shook his head. “Fucking teenagers.”
“Yeah, maybe don’t try that.”
Later that afternoon Erica, Boyd, and Isaac showed up, bringing their homework with them.
“What?” Erica gave Stiles an innocent look that wouldn’t fool blind babies. “I remembered you talking about how far ahead you were and figured you could help us out. Isaac has issues with math, and Boyd and I would be so grateful if you could explain what the hell we’re supposed to be doing in the latest English assignment.”
“Right. And I’m going to be doing this out of the goodness of my heart, I suppose?”
“No.” Erica smiled wickedly. “You’re gonna do it cause you’re bored, champ.”
Stiles raised his eyebrows. “Champ?”
“Oh yeah.” Erica dropped onto the couch. “You’re the big thing at school at the moment. The hero who came out of nowhere and won the game for Beacon Hills? Why didn’t you mention this yesterday? It was weird being more out of the loop than Greenberg. Isaac is on the naughty step.”
Stiles didn’t bother asking, he just looked at him.
“I knew and didn’t tell,” Isaac explained. “Of course, by the time I saw them at the sheriff’s house, I had other things on my mind, but that’s not good enough, apparently.”
“Greenberg,” Erica repeated flatly.
Stiles winced. Yeah, that might be kind of embarrassing.
“So, maybe you owe me for making me look like an idiot?” Erica suggested.
“Come on, Erica,” Stiles said. “You know you’ve never needed me for that. But I suppose I could help out as a thank you to Derek.”
Isaac frowned. “What does Derek have to do with it?”
“Pack mates?” Stiles rolled his eyes. “He mighty Alpha, you three adorable puppies? He happy provider of Stiles’ sanctuary, Stiles repay mighty Alpha?”
Boyd made a noise that sounded like disgust deep in his throat. “You know, maybe his help isn’t worth it after all,” he said to Erica.
“Fine by me,” Stiles replied easily. “I don’t have to change myself for you, not when you’re the ones asking me for help.”
Isaac winced. “He kind of has a point.”
“Look,” Erica said, “are we going to sit around here chatting all day, or are we actually going to get this school work done?”
“Yeah, yeah, let’s see what you’ve got.” Stiles made the “come on” gesture with his fingertips.
Helping Derek’s three beta’s was actually more engrossing than he’d expected it to be. It was so engrossing that it took him a while to recognise the pattern of behaviour, even though it was playing out right in front of him.
Erica, Boyd, and Isaac were fairly tactile with each other. There were frequent nudges, they leaned into each other when they could, and if one of them was explaining something to another, there would invariably be a hand placed on a shoulder or arm.
With Stiles, however, there was none of that. Not once did any of them touch him with their hands or bodies, although they were happy enough to use objects to interact with him. Erica had found a plastic spork somewhere and would poke him when she wanted him to focus on her, Isaac nudged him with an open book, Boyd didn’t even bother with this subterfuge and just got his attention by saying his name.
At first, Stiles wasn’t sure if it was deliberate, so he tested it. It became obvious that they knew exactly what they were doing and, what’s more, they were helping each other avoid his touch.
“Right, well, you should be able to take care of it from here.” Stiles got to his feet. “I have to go and do a thing.” He ignored the way the three of them exchanged glances and fled out into the backyard.
He ended up back on the swing seat, grasping his knees and doing his best to regulate his breathing. It wasn’t like he unused to rejection. His long running infatuation had taught him chapter and verse on that subject. While he’d never wanted to be one of the people hanging off the edge of the in-crowd, grovelling for scraps of recognition, Scott had been determined to make first line in lacrosse, which meant enduring more abuse.
How fitting that in half an hour, Erica, Boyd, and Isaac had managed to drive home his outsider status in a way that neither Lydia nor Jackson Whittemore and his cronies had never come close to.
The whole thing was made exponentially worse, of course, because his usual defences were useless against werewolves. He could lie like a rug, but they’d be able to hear his heartbeat betray him. He could feign indifference with the best, but his smell would give him away. It was humiliating on every level, and there was nothing he could do about it.
A familiar presence stopped beside him, and Derek’s hand landed on his shoulder. “Hey. You alright?”
“Where were you?” Stiles asked. He hadn’t seen Derek anywhere since just before the puppies had arrived.
“There’s quite a lot of paperwork that needs to be taken care of,” Derek replied. “The sheriff has agreed to help us get the county confiscation of our land reversed. It seems like the process was hurried through in some areas and some corners were cut. We should have had another four years to get the insurance sorted out.”
“You think Kate and Gerard were agitating behind the scenes to get it done sooner?” Stiles wondered, trying to think of anyone else who might benefit from the Hales losing their ancestral land.
Derek shrugged. “Maybe? It might have been a developer on the city council who’d been eyeing up the land; there’s no proof one way or another. At least, not that the sheriff has been able to find. But now that we have a definitive ruling that the fire was arson, and…the rest, we can finish up with the insurance companies and the probate officer.”
“Oh my god, they’ve all been dragging their feet all this time?” Stiles asked angrily. “Meanwhile there were three of you who needed to survive somehow! Ugh. God, people are assholes sometimes.”
Derek just shrugged again. He lifted his hand and took a pinch of Stiles’ hair, tugging on it experimentally. “This is starting to look longer than usual.”
“Yeah, I usually buzz it once a week. Since I’m going to be homeschooled for the next little while, I might just let it grow out a bit.”
“Why do you keep it so short?” Derek rubbed his fingers through the stubble gently.
Stiles leaned into the feel of Derek’s fingers on his scalp. Derek’s mind was right there, but it wasn’t pushing at it him. He could relax without worrying about what he might pick up. “Mainly because it helps me look younger.” He closed his eyes and tilted his head a little to move Derek’s fingers to an itchy spot. Derek obligingly began scratching, and Stiles made an embarrassing pleased noise that wouldn’t have sounded out of place coming from a cat.
“Most people your age want to look older, not younger.”
“Yeah, well most of them aren’t a year and a half older than their classmates.”
“How did that happen?” Derek sounded more surprised about that than he did when he learned that Stiles had somehow gained telepathy.
“A combination of my ADHD and my winning personality,” Stiles answered. “I just couldn’t control myself for any length of time in the classroom. I was kicked out fairly quickly and told not to come back until my chemical imbalance was sorted out. My mom tried to teach me from home for a while, but that didn’t work out all that great either. Eventually—through quite a bit of trial and error that my parents were not happy about—I had a prescription and dosage that worked for more than a day at a time, and I was re-enrolled in school. By then, the class that I’d started with had moved on.”
“I find it hard to believe that someone with your intelligence couldn’t have made up the difference.”
“Thanks.” Stiles was feeling so relaxed that melting into a puddle might have been a decided possibility. “Yeah, probably. But I’d met Scott, and I wanted to go to school with him if I could. I kicked up a big enough fuss that eventually they all decided it was easier to indulge me.”
Derek chuckled. “I can imagine. You must have been a terror as a toddler.”
“Mom always used to say, ‘One day you’re going to have kids just the same as you, and I will enjoy every moment of it!’ But then she got sick.” Stiles’ happy mood faded slightly. “She won’t be seeing anyone’s kids now. Not that it seems likely I’ll be having any.”
“I was experimented on, physically and chemically changed,” Stiles said. “I can’t help but think that either I’ll be functionally sterile, or I’ll be the human equivalent of a mule. Hey, did you know that female mules and hinnys can actually give birth? But it’s so unlikely and rare it’s like a million to one chance.”
“Well, you know what they say about million to one chances,” Derek said. “They happen nine times out of ten.”
Stiles found himself laughing. “The turtle moves, dude. The turtle moves.”
Derek sighed. “Please don’t call me dude.”
“No promises, mostly it just comes out.” Stiles was unrepentant. He sobered. Thinking about what had been done to him had him thinking about all those dead bodies in the Argent basement and the mysterious fire. “Hey, you don’t think Chris Argent set the fire deliberately, do you?” Stiles wondered. “I forgot to ask dad about it when he was here earlier.”
Derek’s hand dropped back to his shoulder and squeezed gently. Stiles was unsure if it was silent support or an acknowledgement of the lie he’d just told. Because he had remembered to ask about the fire, he just wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answers, and so he’d left it. It was a bit nerve-wracking, wondering if he was going to be hauled in for questioning. Gerard’s people had stripped him naked, after all. His clothes must still have been there. Who knows if the fire had destroyed everything?
“I’m sure the sheriff would never compromise an open investigation by sharing details with the public,” Derek said blandly. “But it may interest you to know that while Peter and I were waiting for him to be free, we did hear several deputies debating about what exactly the Argents had been cooking in their illegal lab before it caught fire. Some new gas, is the theory most agree on, since there were so many dead bodies strewn around with no other signs of injury.”
Stiles turned to stare up at Derek. “They think the Argents were manufacturing illegal drugs? For sale?”
“It’s a pretty fair assumption given the lab set up they had going down there. The ignition point was the basement. Everyone knows that meth labs burn down pretty easily, why not experimental labs?”
Stiles laughed so hard he nearly fell off the swing. He would have fallen if Derek hadn’t caught him and propped him up again.
“Oh god.” Stiles wiped his eyes. “That’s going to really put a dampener on the proud Argent name. I mean, they already sell guns, and now they’re involved in illegal drug manufacturing? The mind positively leaps to a number of conclusions, and when they look a lot harder, there’s going to be questions about the minions they take with them everywhere they go, the suspicious deaths that pop up… Oh man, it’s a real shame.”
“Yes, I can see you’re all broken up about it.”
“I just think that maybe it was worth it, you know?” Stiles enjoyed the small smile on Derek’s face. “If what happened to me ends up being the fuse that blows this whole hunter conspiracy wide open, and stops them from hurting other innocent people—whether they’re werewolves or not—then I can be okay with it.”
Derek’s eyes flared red. “No, Stiles, it’s not okay. Even if the road we’re on leads to world peace and an end to accelerated climate change, that still doesn’t make what they did to you ‘okay.’ I never want to hear you say that again.”
“Alright.” Stiles felt warmed by Derek’s concern for him.
“Good.” Derek finally withdrew his hand. “Have you had enough fresh air? Can we go back inside?”
“You don’t actually have to bodyguard me every second of the day, you know.” Stiles’ good mood gave way to irritation. “Magnus said he put up wards, and it’s not like I’m going to be abducted in broad daylight by hunters, that by the way I already killed.”
“Magnus isn’t the only warlock in the world, and he’s not here right now,” Derek countered. “I would rather be a little overprotective in keeping you safe than have you be taken and experimented on again. Hunters are like cockroaches. Once you have an infestation, there are always more. Always.”
“Great.” Stiles got to his feet and walked with Derek back to the house. “There’s always something to look forward to in this town.”
Breakfast the next morning was interrupted by what sounded like a small army coming through the portal. Both of the werewolves at the table grew tense, and visibly got ready for battle.
“Hello, darlings!” Magnus said cheerily, letting himself in the back door. “You’ll have to forgive the invasion. It’s a terrible thing to happen before one is properly ready for the day, I quite agree. I myself was woken at an ungodly hour this morning by the Morrigan. She was most upset. It seems that someone who is both very smart and very stupid has contained a greater demon nearby. Of course, I immediately turned to Alec and hired him for the job.”
“A greater demon?” Stiles dropped his spoon back into his bowl and leaned forward with interest.
“Yes, they’re not often found in this dimension,” Magnus replied. “They do have a habit of wreaking havoc and possessing people. Or is that possessing people and wreaking havoc? Never mind, they’re bad news, flaugnarde, and it’s best if you stay as far away from it as possible.”
The back door opened again and a tall, handsome, well-built man came striding in. “We’re just about ready to head out, Magnus.” He ignored everyone else. “Were you still planning to come with us?”
“As if I would give up a chance to watch you work, darling,” Magnus replied with a smile. “Just let me introduce you first. Alexander, this is Stiles, my new student; his alpha, Derek; and Derek’s uncle, Peter. Stiles, Derek, Peter, this is Alec Lightwood, leader and commander of the Lightwood demonhunters out of New York.”
Alec’s expression was unimpressed. “Is there a reason that you haven’t destroyed the revenant?” He didn’t bother with a greeting.
Peter and Derek both scowled.
“How could I?” Magnus replied. “He’s not corrupted yet, dearest. And he’s been up and walking around for nearly two weeks now! It really is quite astonishing, and I can’t in all good consciousness get rid of him until he is.”
Alec sniffed, clearly not convinced.
“Can I come with you to see you take care of this greater demon?” Stiles asked excitedly.
“No.” Every single person in the room answered him at the same time. Stiles subsided, picking up his spoon and poking at what was left of his breakfast resentfully.
“It really wouldn’t be a good idea,” Magnus explained gently. “Especially right now, before you’ve had a chance to get some proper mental defences in place. I’m afraid you’d be rather like a gourmet buffet—in the extremely unlikely event of the demon getting loose, of course.”
“The demon is not going to get loose.” Alec didn’t sound offended at the aspersion Magnus had just thrown on his people’s competence. “But you still can’t come. It’s possible that the presence of the greater demon has attracted smaller spirits to it, and it’s easier to take care of these things when we don’t have to worry about civilians getting in the way.”
“Fine,” Stiles said, trying not to sound like a five-year-old who’d been told that he wasn’t getting ice-cream until he’d eaten his peas. “Can I at least meet your merry band of demonhunters?”
This time Alec did look offended. “We’re not a merry—” He was interrupted by the back door opening for the third time. Alec turned to scowl at whoever was coming in.
It was a woman, not nearly as tall as Alec but just as gorgeous. “What’s taking you so long, Alec? Is Magnus coming?” Her gaze quickly flicked around the room to finally land on Derek. A slow smile curled her bright red lips. “Well, hello there.”
“We’ll be there in a minute, Izzy.” Alec rolled his eyes. He turned back to Stiles. “We’re not a sideshow to be gawked at. We’re professionals here to do a very dangerous job.”
“Don’t be such a stick in the mud, big brother,” Izzy said breezily. “How are we ever going to get new blood if you chase away everyone who expresses the slightest amount of interest?” She stepped forward, extending her hand. “Hi, I’m Isabelle Lightwood. You must be Stiles, the new pupil that Magnus has been telling us about. And you must be Derek, the new alpha.” She didn’t extend her hand to Derek after releasing Stiles’, only gave him a very obvious once over. “Charmed, to be sure. She turned to address Peter and for the first time looked surprised. “Is this—”
“Yes, yes, the revenant,” Peter said testily. “I feel like I’ve got a sign on my forehead or something. We’ve already gone through this more often than we need to. I might have been dead not all that long ago, but I’m still a person, you know.”
“You’re stunning,” Isabelle corrected, sounding so impressed that Peter’s smug smirk appeared again. Her next words wiped it back off. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to let me study you? Nothing sinister, I promise. Just some tissue samples, and perhaps a few tests, maybe a biopsy or two—”
“No,” Derek said with clear finality, to Peter’s obvious relief.
Isabelle wrinkled her nose. “Fine. I suppose he is moving around rather more than my usual test subjects.”
“Can we go?” Alec asked impatiently. “I’d like to get this taken care of sooner rather than later.”
“Yes, alright,” Isabelle agreed. “But I think I’ll be coming to visit you while you’re on vacation after all, big brother. So many unexpected attractions in this quaint little place.”
“I’ll be back before too long,” Magnus assured Stiles, Derek, and Peter. “Yes, Alexander, right behind you!” He winked at Stiles. “My favourite place to be,” he said sotto voce before following the other two back outside.
Stiles moved to the window and watched the group of demonhunters walk off down the driveway. “Wow, is it me or are all of them, like, mega-hot?” he asked.
“They do seem to be a rather pulchritudinous lot,” Peter agreed. He frowned. “Pity they don’t seem to be as amusing as they are pretty. If that’s the Alec that Magnus is bringing to stay with us, I can already predict that we’ll be in gales of laughter all the time.”
“Magnus warned us that he came across as surly and grumpy,” Stiles reminded him. “Quite frankly, anyone that good looking is going to get away with a lot of bad attitude. And his sister? Phew!” Stiles fanned the air in front of his face. “Did it get hot in here or what?”
“Well, if there’s nothing important going on I’ve got paperwork to do,” Derek announced to the room in general before going up the stairs. There was set to his shoulders that suggested that he was offended but didn’t want to make a big deal of it.
Stiles blinked. “What did I say?”
Peter shook his head. “Oh, Stiles.” He looked at the table of abandoned breakfast. “Well, it looks like that’s done with for the day. Chop, chop, Little Red. Looks like you’re on clean up.”
A little over an hour later, the demonhunters returned. Magnus sent them off through the portal and then brought Alec back inside. He threw himself down on the couch with a huff while Alec went into the kitchen and began making tea.
“All done?” Stiles wondered what the mood was about.
“Yes, Alec and his team were magnificent, as always.” Magnus gave a wave of his hand. “Don’t mind me, flaugnarde, the stupidity of otherwise intelligent people just sometimes really gets me down.”
“Why?” Stiles asked, interested. “What happened.”
“There were distinct signs that more than one magic user had been in the area,” Alec said from the kitchen. “There wasn’t enough residue to trace, unfortunately, but it’s pretty clear that, whoever they were, they were attempting to tap the nemeton.”
“What’s a nemeton?”
“It’s a conduit for a convergence of natural energies,” Magnus said. “Able to be tapped by most magic users, but of most benefit to druids due to its tree-like properties.”
“That’s why you went to the Morrigan,” Stiles realised.
“Yes,” Magnus agreed. “The Morrigans have claimed jurisdiction over all naturally occurring nemetons. When I determined that the corruption in this place originated from one, I passed that knowledge on.”
“The Morrigan came to sort it out after Catarina put a bug in her ass, and found the demon,” Stiles concluded. “But you knew that much this morning. What would have happened if the nemeton had been tapped in its corrupted state?”
“Well, the demon would have been released, for one.” Magnus sighed and accepted a steaming cup from Alec with a smile. “Thank you, darling. Perfect as always.”
Alec’s small answering smile had Stiles metaphorically fanning himself again. So hot.
“The demon was well contained.” Alec took a seat next to Magnus. “It made it pretty easy to destroy. If it had gotten loose and possessed someone…well that’s when things get tricky. It could have caused a great many deaths before anyone even thought to notify a group like ours. The greater demons are pretty crafty.”
“What happened to the nemeton?” Stiles recoiled from the thought of being possessed by a demon. “Was it fixed?”
Magnus shook his head. “It was too far gone to be fixed. The Morrigan removed it; it was the only way.”
Stiles frowned. “But you said it was a conduit. What will happen to those natural energies now?”
Magnus beamed at him. “In about a decade’s time, a new conduit will begin to grow. Probably another nemeton, but possibly something else. By then, the energy of this area will have been washed clean.” He nudged Alec. “I told you he was bright.”
Alec grumbled an affirmative noise, and Stiles grew warm with pleasure.
“Wait,” Magnus said suddenly. “Where did the werewolves disappear to? There were two of them here when we left, weren’t there? They didn’t leave you by yourself, I hope?”
“Peter’s gone off somewhere, but Derek’s upstairs in the little office.” Stiles pointed at the ceiling.
“Why don’t you take him outside and do some training,” Magnus suggested to Alec. “Stiles and I can have our lesson, and we can all meet back here for lunch.”
“You said we could go find somewhere else to do our meditation,” Stiles reminded him.
“Yes of course,” Magnus agreed. “Come on then. Let’s see how well you do today.”
For whatever reason, Stiles found meditating much easier than he had the day before.
“Brilliant!” Magnus said enthusiastically. “Very well done. Would you like to try the next step?”
Stiles eagerly consented, and soon Magnus was teaching him the basics of shielding.
“Your shield must always be flexible,” Magnus stressed. “A rigid shield may look stronger at first glance, but most shatter if someone places enough pressure on it. Whereas a flexible shield does not. No, don’t try to make it flexible and permeable yet. We’ll work on ways of filtering data another time. For now, all we need to do is shield.”
When Magnus finally said they were done, Stiles could feel sweat on his brow and the back of his neck, but he’d constructed a shield that Magnus was happy with. Keeping it up for more than a few minutes at a time was beyond him, however.
“All it takes is practice,” Magnus assured him. “For the rest of the day, I want to you to practice. It’s not good enough that you can raise a shield while we’re sitting here in peace, you need to be able to raise it when you’re under threat, when you’re stressed. Every time you succeed, I want you to wait at least an hour before you give it another try. Tomorrow, we’ll have a look at it again.”
They headed back to the house. Stiles felt good, like he’d made some real progress for the first time since Erica and Boyd broke him out of the Argents’ basement.
As they neared the border of the Preserve, a loud semi-regular clacking noise broke the quiet.
“Alec must be teaching Derek stick fighting.” Magnus picked up his pace and changed direction slightly so that he was moving towards the noise. “Come on, you’ll want to see this. You’re in for a treat.”
Alec and Derek had found a relatively clear area and were fighting with what looked like hastily fashioned staffs.
Both of them were barefoot and shirtless, and Stiles had to wonder for a moment if he’d maybe died and gone to heaven. A sigh beside him had Stiles glancing over to see that Magnus looked pretty happy about the situation too.
Alec was clearly the better fighter, but even to Stiles’ untrained eye, Derek was visibly improving all the time. It looked like a dance, a violently passionate dance.
“Can you imagine what they’d look like in bed together?” Stiles murmured to Magnus.
“Yes, yes I can,” Magnus agreed.
Derek stumbled, giving the victory to Alec.
“You can’t get distracted,” Alec said commandingly. “Again.”
Derek said something under his breath that Stiles couldn’t hear. By the immediate reddening of Alec’s cheeks and the glance that was thrown their way, he could hazard a guess though.
“Fine, we’ll take a break.” Alec leaned his stick up against a tree and picked up his t-shirt and shoes. He was scowling as he walked up to Magnus and Stiles. “This isn’t a spectator sport, you know.” He handed his shoes to Magnus to hold and pulled his t-shirt on. His gravitas was slightly diminished by how red his face still was.
“Pity.” Stiles watched sadly as Derek put his shirt back on too. “You could make a fortune selling tickets.”
“Leave him alone, Stiles,” Derek said gruffly. “How did your telepath training go?” He turned back to the house.
“It was great!” Stiles fell into step beside him. “I can build a shield! I can’t do it for long yet, and it’s not exactly instantaneous, but it’s an actual, proper, mental shield!”
“That’s good to hear,” Derek said. “Not that it’s terribly surprising that you’re excelling.”
Stiles felt like the happiness that had already been bubbling within him got even more bubbly.
Peter was already back when they got in. “Here.” He threw Stiles a new phone. “The sheriff asked me to pass this on. He’s transferred your old number to the new SIM, and it’s been charged. He seemed to think you’d be missing it. The passcode should be the same as on your last one.”
“Thanks.” Stiles immediately unlocked it and checked his messages. There were numerous missed calls and three voicemails, all left by Scott since yesterday afternoon. Stiles looked at them for a moment then put his phone in his pocket. Maybe it would be a good idea to check them later when two werewolves weren’t listening to every word.
His desire to deal with Scott’s concerns in private didn’t pan out. Lunch was being cleared away when Scott called again, the strident ringtone interrupting Magnus’ story about some dealings he’d once had with a clan of vampires who were trying to go vegan.
Bracing himself, Stiles answered.
“Oh my god, Stiles!” Scott began speaking before Stiles had time to say anything more than “yo.” “You won’t believe what’s happened! Someone’s attacked the Argents, and Chris thinks it’s probably Derek!”
“What?” Stiles replied. “No, what are you thinking? Derek didn’t—”
“I tried to find him to make him undo what he did to Allison, but he’s nowhere to be found. He’s painted some creepy symbol on his house and just disappeared! So, I know you’re sick and all, bad luck getting mono, dude, but I need you to work your magic and find out where Derek is, alright?”
“Look, Scott, despite what you seem to think Derek is not, in fact, the root of all the evil in the world.” Stiles started to get annoyed at being ignored.
“I think he’s done something to Isaac as well, some sort of alpha thing, but he won’t tell me, and anyway I’ve been spending most of my time with Allison in the hospital, trying to help heal her and to protect her in case Derek comes back to finish what he started.”
“Scott!” Stiles said sharply. “Have you heard anything I’ve said?”
“Yeah, I don’t really have time right now, just get onto that and let me know when you find anything. Oh, and maybe see if you can find out what Derek did to her. Bye.”
Stiles frowned, wondering if Scott had been unable to hear him or if this was a case of his one-track mind at work again. He looked up to see everyone staring at him. Derek’s face was blank, but Peter looked like he was having a throwback moment to his evil alpha days.
“Nephew.” Peter spoke with the kind of forced calm that always sounded really sinister. “Have you been painting any obscure symbols on or around the wreckage of our family home, by any chance?”
“No.” Derek stared intensely at his butter knife, like if he just concentrated hard enough it might turn into a sabre that he could stab people with.
“I need to tell my dad that Chris Argent might be going to try and implicate Derek,” Stiles said. “Oh my god, what is wrong with everyone?” He stabbed at his dad’s name in the contacts list with his finger. It rang twice before going to voicemail. “Hey, Dad, bit of a heads up. Seems like Scott and Chris want to blame Derek for everything that went down at the Argents, FYI. Also, something seems to be wrong with Allison. I don’t suppose you could find out what the story is there? Scott seemed big on accusations but very short on details. Thanks. See you.”
“It looks like it may be beneficial for Derek to stay here for a while,” Peter suggested. “I, however, am feeling the need for a bit of a walk. I might just stop by the old house and see if I can identify this mysterious symbol that has McCall’s knickers in a knot.”
“Be careful,” Stiles and Derek said at the same time. Stiles felt himself go red but continued speaking when it looked like Derek had said all he was going to. “We’ve already seen that hunters aren’t above trying to trap Hales there. Maybe take a phone with you or something. Call my dad if you get into trouble.”
“Already done,” Peter said, waving around a new phone that was the same model as Stiles’. “I’ll see you all later.”
“If you’re going to stay here, we can do some more training,” Alec suggested to Derek.
Magnus leaned over to Stiles. “That’s Alec speak for, ‘You really impressed me and I really enjoyed fighting with you’,” he explained sotto voce. “Now he wants to bond some more.”
Alec shrugged. “Finding a sparring partner that can match me or that I don’t have to worry about injuring is pretty hard. You can’t match me yet, but I don’t have to hold back with you. And you’re a fast learner, so it’s beneficial for you too.”
“Sparring sounds good,” Derek admitted. “Although I’m a little angry at the moment. I wouldn’t want to hurt you by accident.”
“You won’t,” Alec replied, clearly assured in his own skills. “Come on, let’s go back out to where we left the sticks.” He frowned at Magnus’ thrilled expression. “But I think it’s best if you two don’t come and watch.”
“Rats.” Magnus pouted but didn’t argue.
“I’ll make it up to you later,” Alec murmured, leaning down for a quick kiss. When he straightened up he was all business again. “Come on, Derek. The day is wasting.”
“As for you,” Magnus turned to Stiles when Alec was no longer in view, “I think now would be a good time to have a discussion about the uses to which your telepathy might be bent, and the ethics surrounding them.”
“Okay,” Stiles agreed readily. “Is there some protocol that warlocks use when it comes to mind powers?”
“There are rules, yes, although they are unwritten.” Magnus wiggled a little to get himself more comfortable in his chair. “They mostly amount to common sense. Don’t do anything to someone else that you would be averse to having a stranger do to you. Don’t use other people’s brains for practice. Unless the situation calls for extreme measures, of course.”
“That does make sense.” Stiles nodded. “Kind of like, ‘Don’t perform brain surgery unless you are a qualified brain surgeon.’ But how will I know when extreme measures are called for? I mean, that’s a bit ambiguous.”
“How do you know when it’s appropriate to use violence to solve a problem?” Magnus replied. “In many ways, it’s up to each practitioner to judge for themselves. Be aware though, that if it comes to the attention of the wider community that you’re using your mind powers indiscriminately or just to hurt people, we will take steps. Magic made the world small long before the advent of the internet, and, to a lesser extent, international travel. We may live far apart, but we keep tabs on each other.”
“That’s why you came so quickly when Derek told you what had happened,” Stiles realised. “You needed to make sure I wasn’t going to go all evil overlord.”
“That was a factor,” Magnus admitted. “Also, I’ve always had a fondness for Derek. In many ways, he’s a great deal like my Alexander, you know. But, yes, the news of a burgeoning mind practitioner in need of instruction would have caught my interest even had Derek not been involved.”
“Is the magic way of doing things much different from my way?”
“Oh yes. I think, on the whole, that magic is much easier. It’s a single medium that you can train, and once you understand how to work with it effectively, your only limitations are your own knowledge and the amount of power you have available. When I use my magic to connect with your mind, my own mind is never endangered. It is the magic that connects with you, not my mind itself. My mind then interprets the information my magic brings back, and I can then choose what my next step will be, whether that be retreat or even giving my magic a new task to carry out.”
“It’s sort of like you’re wearing gloves,” Stiles suggested.
Magnus cocked his head to one side. “More like a very advanced robotic prosthetic that can deliver sensory information. If something bites it, I know that it’s been bitten but I’m not actually hurt. You, on the other hand, have no such protection. Your mind is intimately involved in what you do, and while that will allow you more precision, you are at far more risk.”
Stiles frowned. “Well, I don’t know that I want to be fiddling around in people’s minds without their consent anyway. That just seems invasive and wrong, and ick. But what about the ethics around being able to tell what people are thinking? That’s more of a passive ability, but people are still uncomfortable knowing that I can do it.”
“That’s another area where magic differs,” Magnus replied. “A magic user must always reach out to the minds around them deliberately. I cannot reach into your mind unless I tell my magic to do so.”
“I have to work to keep the minds around me out,” Stiles said with a grimace. “Except for werewolves, it seems, or people with mental shields. Like you and Alec. Can normal people even build mental shields?”
“Oh yes,” Magnus assured him. “Even people without a drop of magic, or any other ability, can form respectable shields, providing they work at it. It’s harder to achieve without guidance, but then so is training yourself in any discipline. As for ethics, in many ways, you will need to come up with your own set of guidelines. I think that you might find it beneficial to discuss this with your wolves. The born ones rather the recently bitten, that is. Derek and Peter have both grown up possessing senses superior to that of the average person, senses that can give them a lot more information than most people have access to. The social rules that they follow in order to blend in with humanity might give you a starting point.”
“That’s true.” Stiles perked up. “You know that werewolves can smell your emotions as well as hear your heartbeat?”
“Advanced mediation can help with that too,” Magnus pointed out. “Awareness can lead to deliberate regulation of otherwise automatic bodily responses.”
“I am going to be the mediation king,” Stiles declared. “Teach me your ways, oh master.”
Magnus laughed. “That can be a goal for the future, if you like. Right now, how about we work on the other, less controversial aspect of your new power?”
“You mean my telekinesis?” Stiles asked. “It only ever happened the once, and I don’t even remember it. How would you even go about training it?”
“Oh, I can think of a number of different ways,” Magnus said airily. “Unfortunately, the ones that would probably work the quickest involve the most discomfort for you, so we’ll have to make do with more pedestrian means.”
Stiles laughed. “Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the saying ‘no pain, no gain’,” he said. “I take it your plan is for me to really want something and to see if that works?”
Magnus shrugged. “If you have a better idea, petal, I’m all ears.”
“No, that seems pretty much all I can come up with,” Stiles admitted. “The question is, what to use?”
Magnus tapped the side of his nose with a finger. “Fear not.” He wiggled his fingers, which were briefly encased in blue mist. When the mist cleared he was left holding a smallish, flat, blue and gold cardboard box. “I’ve done some research and I came prepared. Here, open your mouth.” He held out a small brown disc.
Stiles stared at him. “That trick stopped working on me when I was five.”
Magnus made a frustrated noise. “It’s chocolate. Very good, very expensive chocolate. But only a tiny taste. After you’ve had a small taste of this, believe me, you will be very motivated to get your taste buds on a decent-sized piece.”
“Alright.” Stiles still felt suspicious. He took the small button of chocolate Magnus offered him and gingerly stuck it in his mouth. Flavour burst over his tongue. It was so good, it was amazing. It was the best chocolate Stiles had ever had. “Oh my god.” Stiles chased the taste around his mouth until it was all gone. “What was that? Is that magic? Did you magic up that chocolate?”
“That, my friend, is Leonidas chocolate. And if you think that was good, you should try their pralines. Oh, wait, what do we have here?” Magnus very carefully picked out a chocolate and placed it not far out of Stiles reach. “There you go. If you can use your telekinesis to get it, you get to eat it.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Stiles focused on the reward that he fully intended to be eating as soon as possible, “but I think I might be in love with you.”
“I’m not sure how one goes about taking such a declaration the wrong way,” Magnus mused. He opened the box again and selected another chocolate, this one covered with a smooth dark coating. Closing his eyes he brought it to his mouth and began nibbling on it.
“Never mind.” Stiles was unsure whether he was more envious of the chocolate or the eater. “I’m pretty sure I’m over it now.”
“That’s the spirit,” Magnus murmured, paying far more attention to his chocolate than he was to Stiles. “Do hurry up, Stiles. I will eat the whole box, you know, and then I won’t be interested in dinner.”
By the time Derek and Alec came back in, sweaty and happy and apparently new besties, Stiles had managed three pieces of chocolate and was working on a fourth. Magnus had eaten almost double that.
“That smells great.” Derek picked Stiles’ motivation up and popped it in his mouth. “Oh my god.” His eyes widened “That’s—”
“That was mine,” Stiles said indignantly.
Derek looked confused. “It was just sitting there.”
“I was training,” Stiles said darkly.
“Oh.” Derek considered that for a moment. “Good.” He headed up the stairs.
Stiles turned to get another one just in time to see Alec pick the last one out of the box and eat it.
Peter returned with grim news. “It’s an Alpha Pack.”
“But that doesn’t make sense,” Derek pointed out. “I didn’t even think Alpha Packs were real in this day and age. Even if they were, there hasn’t been an alpha here for years. I haven’t even been back six months, and there have been hunters here the whole time. Our pack hasn’t even reached double figures, so what’s their angle?”
“Or more importantly, what’s an Alpha Pack?” Stiles interrupted.
“It’s what it sounds like, a pack made up entirely of alphas,” Peter explained.
“Uh, I’m not really an expert on werewolf societies, but isn’t that a bit counter-productive?” Alec asked. “Like a kingdom where everyone’s a king?”
“There are precedents in history,” Peter replied. “It’s said that an Alpha Pack forms to combat an alpha who has gained too much power, who has spread too far and who therefore risks exposing us all to the general population.”
“Because an alpha gains strength from their betas,” Stiles said slowly, “an alpha with a hundred betas would be too strong for an alpha with five betas to beat.”
“Yes.” Peter nodded. His voice gained the sing-song quality of someone reciting an old story. “And so five alphas came together, giving up their packs and walking alone. Together they grew strong and, finally, on a night the moon glowed red, the Alpha Pack engaged and defeated the Mad Alpha of Engelberg, bringing peace and safety back to the world.”
“Right,” Stiles said when it was clear that Peter had finished. “Not really applicable here, as Derek already pointed out. So, I suppose that finding out just what they are here for is going to have to be a bit of a priority. Once we’ve done that, we’ll know what we have to deal with.”
“We will deal with this. You need to stay out of it,” Derek told Stiles with a frown.
“Excuse you?” Stiles bristled with annoyance. “Am I or am I not a part of your pack, Derek?”
“You are, which is why—”
“Which is why it’s my right as well as my responsibility to help you take care of this!” Stiles finished.
“Which is why you have to do what I say!” Derek corrected him.
“Yeah, sorry, that’s not really working for me,” Stiles replied.
“Why will nobody…” Derek shook his head and took off out the back door. Magnus and Alec exchanged a glance, and Alec took off after him.
Stiles’ feeling of triumph was short-lived.
Magnus looked at him, eyes hard. “Do you know what just happened there? You just openly defied your alpha in front of outsiders. Powerful outsiders.”
Stiles glanced over to where Peter was leaning against the kitchen bench with his arms crossed, watching intently but saying nothing. “I didn’t mean it like that. But—”
“But is he your alpha or isn’t he?” Magnus raised his eyebrows. “If he is, you should afford him the respect his position deserves. If he’s not, you need to stop stringing him along under the pretence that you are.”
“He just makes me so angry!” Stiles burst out. “He’s always trying to leave me behind! I’m the one who figures things out, who gets the information he needs, and then, as soon as that’s done, I get a pat on the head and a ‘stay there Stiles, it’s too dangerous for you Stiles,’ and then I end up in danger anyway and—” His head was starting to throb. Stiles drove the heels of his hands into his eyebrows, hoping to stave off the frustrated tears that were prickling his eyes. “I’m not useless,” he said when he was sure his voice would be steady.
“No, you’re not useless,” Magnus said softly. “You’re one of the most well-rounded people of your age that I’ve seen in some time. But you’re not an adult yet, Stiles. Can you see why Derek might want to keep you safe, keep you out of the line of fire?”
“Most of that wasn’t about Derek anyway.” Peter’s voice was as impersonal as Stiles had ever heard it. “Ever since Scott became a werewolf, he’s been leaving you behind, hasn’t he? Using you to find out what he needs to know and otherwise ignoring you and focusing on things he finds more interesting.”
“He went behind my back and made a deal with Gerard Argent.” Stiles was struggling to keep control of himself. “And then Gerard kidnapped me, and he said the more fear I felt the better, ‘cause it would make a better weapon against Scott, because that was all I was good for. And then he, he changed me. And Scott didn’t—”
“Scott didn’t come,” Derek said from the doorway. “Scott didn’t even seem to care that you were missing.”
Hearing someone say it aloud, say what he’d been trying to avoid thinking of since he’d woken up confused and hurting in his own living room with Peter Hale watching over him, finally broke open all the emotion he’d been bottling up the past few days.
He was vaguely aware of strong arms picking him up, of Derek’s smell intensifying as the cotton his face was pressed against grew wet with tears, and then he was being surrounded by care and concern. It should have made him feel better but, for some reason, it only made him cry harder.
“Hey, kiddo,” came a familiar voice, and then his dad was there too.
“Get it all out,” Magnus said gently, and there was a soft touch on his forehead and the tingle that he associated with magic. “Get it all out, and then sleep.”
Stiles’ sobbing finally tapered off, and he dropped off into sleep. Noah slumped into the spot on the couch that Magnus had vacated for him as soon as he’d arrived, and watched as his son’s breath evened out. “Jesus.” He ran a hand over his face.
“Not that we’re not glad to see you, Sheriff,” Peter brought over a fresh cup of coffee, made just the way Noah liked it, “but we weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
“I just started to feel like Stiles needed me,” Noah admitted, accepting the coffee and taking a sip. “What with telepathy and magic and whatnot on the table now, I figured it was probably a good idea to stop by, since I was in the area anyway.”
Peter’s eyebrows rose. “You were in the area?”
Noah gave an unrepentant shrug. “I make the patrol schedules. I get to go where I like. I really shouldn’t hang about here too long though. He’ll sleep for a while now, since the worst appears to be over. I’ll come by when my shift is over, see if he’s awake. I’ve probably left him to deal with this by himself for too long.” He wished he could just stay, but he had duty to the people of Beacon Hills, and Stiles was being taken care of for now.
“He’s generally fairly self-controlled, for all that he insists he’s a mess.” Magnus helped Noah to his feet and steadied his coffee when it looked like it was going to spill. “I’m pretty sure we all saw precisely what he wanted us to see.”
“Yes.” Noah gave a grimace of regret. “It’s something he learned after my wife died. I’m not proud of the way I self-medicated immediately following her death and, at one point, there was talk that if I couldn’t take care of him he would be better off in foster care. I got myself cleaned up when I realised what was happening, but the damage was already done.”
“With his emotional stability so uncertain, he’s been making remarkable strides with his training,” Magnus said thoughtfully. “Perhaps it’s one of the ways in which what happened to him differs from magic. A mage with this much turmoil wouldn’t be able to achieve anything other than explosions.”
“Something to be grateful for,” Noah said. He drained his cup, gave it back to Peter, and then bent to give Stiles a kiss on the forehead. “I really must go. If he wakes, tell him I’ll be back in a couple of hours after my shift.” He went to head back out the front door, finally noticing that there was someone new that he hadn’t been introduced to yet. “Sheriff Noah Stilinski,” he introduced himself, extending his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Right, you’re here with Magnus,” Noah said. “Well, hello and goodbye.” He lifted a hand to the rest of the room and left, wondering if he’d be able to juggle things around to get the next day off. Duty was important, of course, but Stiles so very rarely needed him anymore that it really rankled to have to leave so soon.
Stiles awoke to a rumbling belly and a slight feel of disorientation. His last memory was of having a rather embarrassing breakdown on the couch downstairs. Now it was morning and here he was, stripped down to his boxers and tucked up to the chin. Hopefully, his dad had done this for him, because the thought of any of the others taking his jeans off while he was sleeping… No. It was probably his dad.
A short note left beside his bed confirmed it, and if Stiles found himself smiling sappily, no one was around to see it so it didn’t count.
His stomach’s increasing demands for food derailed his fleeting thought about whether he could just stay in bed and avoid everyone. In the end, he figured he’d better get it over with. The smell of bacon wafting up the stairs had nothing to do with that choice.
Derek, Peter, and Alec were already up and eating. To Stiles’ relief no one brought up what had happened the previous afternoon, so he tucked into his breakfast with gusto. While he ate, he considered the discussion that had set everything off last night. The thing was, when he thought about it dispassionately, he could understand where Derek was coming from. It was highly inappropriate for adults to take teenagers into life and death situations on purpose, after all. It just grated that it seemed like one rule for him and another for Derek’s newly bitten puppies, who didn’t seem to be under the same restrictions.
Then there was the fact that leaving all the decision making up to Derek had not historically proven to be the best idea. Derek’s heart was in the right place—Stiles was certain of that much—but he was a short-term thinker rather than a long-term planner, and it made it difficult for Stiles to trust that he knew what he was doing.
Magnus and Alec, on the other hand, clearly knew what they were doing. Maybe this was the time to try to sit back for a bit, let actual grown-ups deal with all this shit and just try to enjoy not feeling like the world was going to fly apart at any second. The fact that his dad was in the know and was surely going to let him get away with a lot less than Derek did was also a consideration.
Magnus came down shortly after Stiles, wearing a silk dressing gown but with his hair done and his makeup already applied. Stiles watched him greet Alec with a kiss, and wondered a little enviously what that would be like. To just be that comfortable with someone, to know that you were welcome. He turned his attention back to his toast, not wanting to get caught staring.
Remembering Magnus’ instructions of the day before, Stiles pulled the shields they’d worked on up and into position, taking note of the position of the minute hand on the kitchen clock so that he could measure how long they lasted.
“Hey,” Derek said from beside him several minutes later, “can you pass the salt?”
Stiles handed it over and watched with a kind of awestruck horror as Derek sprinkled salt on a peanut butter and bacon sandwich. “It’s like an advert for badness,” he breathed, even as Derek raised his evil creation to his mouth and took a large bite. Peanut butter somehow got smeared onto his cheek, and Stiles had to remind himself that this was reality, not one of his porn dreams, and that him licking it off wasn’t welcome nor a precursor to sexy-times. The lack of a throbbing bass soundtrack was a bit of a giveaway, really.
Peter was watching his nephew eat with a grimace on his face. He wasn’t eating, only had a cup of coffee in front of him. “I see going to the effort of getting low-salt options with the groceries is wasted here.”
Magnus was looking with disfavour at the food on offer. “One doesn’t wish for special treatment or anything,” he said to the room at large, “but is there any such thing as a ripe avocado in the house?”
Stiles wrinkled his nose at the thought. He was all for making his dad eat healthy foods in a bid to stave off arterial plaque, but he’d never gone so far as to try to force avocado on him.
“Thank you, darling,” Magnus said fervently to Peter when it was revealed that, yes, there was ripe avocado in the house and it had been brought to him. “Now if only the toast was wholegrain… And might there be the possibility of a poached egg or two?”
With an audible sigh, Peter got back up.
Eventually, Magnus’ meal was to his liking, and then he fell on it like he’d not eaten in days.
“Hey, Magnus, I was hoping that we could do something a little more physical today,” Stiles suggested when it looked like he was nearly done. At Magnus’ enquiring look he elaborated. “I’m starting to feel a little jumpy, like I need to move around. Maybe we could go for a run before we start meditating?”
“If you wish,” Magnus replied agreeably. He looked at Stiles knowingly over his teacup. “How is your shielding coming along?”
With a start, Stiles realised that he hadn’t dropped his shields yet. A swift glance at the clock confirmed it had been close to three-quarters of an hour, and he hadn’t even begun to feel the strain. “Wow!”
“I think that you’re just about ready to progress.” Magnus winked.
Before their next lesson, Magnus spent some time assuring Stiles that his outburst the day before had been fully expected and a healthy reaction to the trauma he’d experienced recently. It didn’t stop Stiles feeling awkward about breaking down in front of the Hales—not to mention Magnus and Alec—but when none of the snide commentaries on his weakness that he’d been half expecting happened, he began to put the whole embarrassing incident behind him. True to his word, Magnus provided Stiles with physical training as well as the mind stuff and, after some cajoling, began teaching him some down and dirty fighting tricks.
Derek and Alec disappeared for the majority of the day, coming back in the late afternoon with no explanation of where they’d been or what they’d been doing. Whatever it was, Derek was a lot calmer than he’d been since Stiles had known him, and he even overheard him talking with Peter about plans for the future, about rebuilding on Hale land.
Peter came and went, hanging around long enough to make delicious food but otherwise keeping himself out of the way. No one else seemed the slightest bit concerned about him, so Stiles tried not to worry about it either. It was hard letting himself learn to trust Peter. It was a nice safety net knowing that Magnus or Alec—or both—were watching and would have a better chance at being able to spot if something went wrong. Stiles didn’t even realise how stressed he’d become until he’d been able to relax his vigilance and trust that the people around him would keep watch.
Noah stopped by late Wednesday afternoon to hug his son and declare that he’d managed to wangle a record five days in a row off starting Monday the following week, and that Deputy Graeme had promised to hold the fort for everything up to the zombie apocalypse.
On Thursday morning, Magnus removed the magic that had been keeping Stiles’ mind cocooned. “Your mind has recovered a great deal,” he said when Stiles expressed his concerns that it might be too soon. “The binding was all very well and good while you were injured, but continuing to use it once you’ve healed beyond a certain point means you run the risk of it becoming a limiter to your growth. And I can always replace it if I see the need.”
“What if the visions come back?” Stiles asked.
Magnus pursed his lips. “I think that we both know that they’re memories, rather than visions,” he said gently. “Now that your mind is stronger, you should be able to cope better with them. When your training has progressed further and you’re more confident in your control, we’ll look at dealing with them more permanently. For now, perhaps just let me know if and when they occur.”
Stiles nodded. “Okay.”
There were no immediate problems, and Stiles had soon relaxed into the day’s lessons, confident that Magnus was correct and he would be alright.
Derek’s puppies showed up on Thursday afternoon with more homework and tales of what was going on in school. It appeared that Stiles’ popularity was growing in his absence, to his great confusion.
“It’s like you’ve become this mythical being,” Erica said. “The mysterious saviour.”
“Yeah, and it helps that you’re not there to remind them of how annoying you are.” Isaac frowned at his math text.
“Hey, do any of you know what the story is with Allison?” Stiles asked, not really expecting a proper answer. They didn’t exactly hang out with Allison and Lydia’s crowd, after all.
All three werewolves stiffened like he’d prodded them with a stick. “Okay, that struck a nerve,” Stiles said a little warily. “I didn’t mean to; it was an honest question. Scott said that she was in the hospital, but has so far neglected to give me any other kind of supporting information other than a vague instruction to ‘find out what caused this,’ which has left me rather in the dark.” He tried not to sound as bitter as he felt. If Scott really wanted his help, he should maybe answer his messages once in a while.
Isaac looked anxiously at his glowering pack mates. “All we know is that she’s in hospital,” he said hesitantly. “No one’s really talking about it at school. Scott is the only one who probably knows anything, and he’s been missing a lot of classes.”
Stiles frowned. “Well, I suppose I’m not in any position to disapprove of him not bothering with school.” He wondered what the hell Scott was up to now. “I’m really not sure he can afford the absences though. Unless he’s trying to make sure that if Allison is held back, then he is too.”
“Yeah, well excuse me for not giving a shit about what’s happening with that evil bitch!” Erica slammed her book closed angrily. “If you ask me she deserves everything she gets!”
Stiles blinked. “Since when have you hated Allison?” he asked, worried that Erica was going to break something. Perhaps him.
“Since she was the one who stalked us and shot us full of arrows and then tied us up and gave us to her psycho grandfather to torture,” Erica replied, eyes blazing gold.
Stiles sat there with his mouth open. “She did what?” he asked when his voice worked again. How had he managed to miss this?
“Oh yes, didn’t you know?” Erica crossed her arms over her chest and lifted her chin as if daring him to disagree with her. “At first she wanted to torture and kill us herself, but Chris Argent convinced her to hand us over. Didn’t want his little princess getting her hands dirty, no doubt.” The sneer that Erica finished with was impressive.
—there is nothing you can do that will injure a werewolf more than hurting and killing its pack,” he said. “That’s why the Hales were burned alive, to disorient the members we didn’t manage to catch. It worked so well that one of them remained in a coma for six years!”
“I know how to pick up two of them,” Allison says, expression cold. “When we’re done with them there’s still one more—
Stiles shook his head to clear it, thankful that there was no headache to accompany the memory this time. “Oh my god. How is it possible that I didn’t notice everyone I know going darkside?” Stiles wondered. “I mean, I knew that her mother’s death upset her, but then everyone gets upset when their mom dies. Well, most people. I’m sure there are some people out there who are positively jubilant to hear their mother died, like people who were abused, or maybe if your mom was really rich but made you wear rags and do all the housework or something—wait, that was Cinderella, and that was a step-mother rather than an actual mother. But you get what I mean. What was I saying?”
“That Allison was upset over her mother.” Isaac was watching Stiles with a kind of horrified fascination that Stiles was very familiar with.
“Right.” Stiles nodded. “I just— It just seems like a pretty big turnaround, that’s all.”
“Well, excuse me if I don’t actually give a shit about her emotional trauma.” Erica was still visibly angry. “Everyone’s got emotional trauma. What I care about are her actions. She’s a fucked up psycho like the rest of her family.”
“Yeah, probably,” Stiles said with a sigh, wishing that Scott would actually stop whatever he was doing for long enough to explain what the hell he was up to, rather than giving sporadic called-in updates. These usually involved a brief synopsis on how Allison wasn’t getting any better and it was all Derek’s fault, followed by “got to go, bye.” “I think that sort of thing actually runs in families? And if you think about it, hunters have probably been breeding for it for generations.”
“You think that was why Allison was going after Jackson Whittemore so strongly?” Isaac suggested. “You think she was looking to add a bit of bully, narcissism, and self-delusion into the mix? Along with those cheekbones, of course.”
Stiles blinked. “Allison was going after Jackson? I thought it was the other way around. But he was a kanima! A kanima that Gerard was in control of, no less. Maybe it was something to do with that. Also, if she wanted cheekbones, she would have gone after you,” he pointed out. When all three of them looked at him like he was crazy, he spread his hands. “Hey, I’m just saying that Isaac here is the cheekbone king, that’s all.”
Erica studied Isaac with her head tilted to one side. “He has a point,” she admitted. “Your cheekbones are pretty amazing. And, to be honest, I thought baby psycho was mostly doing it to piss off McCall, not that I really cared. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about Allison Argent anymore. Let’s get on with our homework.”
That evening Stiles was feeling fidgety, so Derek and Peter took him for a run, leaving Alec and Magnus to have some alone time.
“They’re so going to bang,” Stiles puffed out when they’d been running for ten minutes.
“If you can still talk, then we’re not going fast enough,” Peter said with a wicked grin—not puffing at all, the bastard—before ramping up the speed.
It was mostly dark, and Stiles had long since lost track of where they were. It was good to be able to run into the unknown and trust his two companions not to lead him astray. It felt almost freeing. The burn of his lungs matched the burn of his leg muscles, and the sound of his heart thundering as it pumped blood around his body was like a great big ‘fuck you’ to this universe that kept trying to kill him.
Eventually, they finished up at the top of a hill with a great view of Beacon Hills, lights twinkling in the darkness under the moon.
“Wow,” Stiles said, bending over and grabbing his knees so that breathing was easier. “Our town’s kind of pretty from up here.”
“Things always look better from far away.” Peter sounded serious for once. “Up close you can see all the imperfections, the flaws. From a distance, however…”
Stiles squinted at him. “You’re not going to break out into song, are you? We haven’t stepped into an episode of Buffy or anything?”
Peter gave a surprised sounding laugh. “No. No, not tonight anyway. If I did, I’d hope it would turn out as some kind of rock anthem rather than the numbers that they were belting out.” He turned thoughtful again. “Oz would have had a good song. He was definitely the best character in the whole series,” he mused. “It was a pity he fixated so heavily on Willow. Mind you, Tara was pretty awesome as well.”
Stiles snorted. “Buffy was a perfect example of the trope of awesome side characters and shitty main characters.” He straightened up. “Except for Giles, of course. But the main three, the core group? They were awful, and they never really got called on their awfulness.”
“You don’t think you’re being a bit harsh?” Peter asked curiously. “They were supposed to be teenagers, after all, trying to make their way in a town where something new was trying to kill them every week.”
Stiles shrugged. “Hey, my opinion is my opinion,” he said. “They’re fictional anyway, so getting uptight about it serves nothing. I just worry about the people who idolise them and those like them, thinking they’re role models worth looking up to.” He grimaced. “I’m pretty sure Scott thinks he’s Buffy.”
Peter cocked his head to one side. “Would that make the Argent girl Angel then?”
Stiles snorted before he could stop himself. “Well, she’s apparently got the fondness for torture down pat. Of course, she’d no doubt think that she was Buffy.”
“Everyone’s the hero of their own story,” Peter murmured, eyes distant again.
Stiles wondered what he was seeing. He was about to ask when movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention.
Derek was standing in the shadows, his eyes gleaming as he watched them. “Come on,” he said. “I think we’ve probably given Alec and Magnus enough time. Do we want to go the long way or the short way back?”
“Short,” Stiles said immediately. “Only, not too much direct downhill, if you can avoid it. Now that we’ve stopped, my legs are feeling slightly wobbly, and I don’t want to fall flat on my face.”
“We could race?” Peter offered. “Derek has an advantage, what with being the alpha, but if he was carrying a person he would probably be sufficiently handicapped to even things out a bit.”
“Uh, no,” Stiles said hurriedly. He was only human, after all, and rubbing his groin up against Derek’s back would have pretty obvious consequences that he did not want to deal with right now. Or preferably ever. “I refuse to be another man’s handicap, dude. Let’s just do this the old-fashioned way.”
“Suit yourself.” Peter shrugged. “Let’s go then.”
On Friday, Alec and Derek interrupted Stiles’ lesson with Magnus, insisting that they finish up inside the house. A closer look at one of the trees nearby showed why.
“Is this the same as the mark that was left on your house?” Stiles asked. Someone had stripped the bark off the tree and then used a poker or something to burn some sort of sigil into the exposed flesh of the tree that looked like a jagged hybrid of a swastika and the triskele that Derek had tattooed on his back. “Is it some kind of magic? Does it mean anything? Or maybe it just says ‘I was here,’ like some creepy kid with a new butane burner.”
“It’s not any magic that I recognise, not that I claim to be all knowing. In any case, I agree that we should probably go back to the house.” Magnus frowned at the symbol. A tendril of blue smoke-like magic trailed out of his index finger to touch the edge of the burn marks. “Hmm.”
“Yeah,” Stiles agreed. “I think I’ve lost my enthusiasm for having my lessons outside. I’m not the only one creeped out by the idea that they’ve been watching us, right? Also, is creeping like a genetic imperative for werewolves or something?”
“I’m not sure ‘creeped out’ is quite accurate for all of us.” Magnus’ gaze drew Stiles’ attention to where Derek’s claws looked like they were about to pierce his own skin. “You know, I’m thinking I might like to have a word with this ‘Alpha Pack.’”
“Is that a good idea?” Derek asked. “We still don’t really know much about them or what their purpose here is.”
Magnus seemed unfazed. “I’ll be sure to ask them and find out.”
“Would you like me to bring the team in?” Alec asked briskly.
Magnus thought about that. “No,” he decided as they entered the house. “But—provided you don’t object, hotpot—I might bring Luke along.” At Derek’s raised eyebrows he explained. “He’s the foremost alpha of the Greater New York region. His presence would lend a certain amount of formality to the discussion.”
“I know who he is, you’re talking about Alpha Garroway. But he doesn’t really know me, nor does he owe me any favours.” Derek sounded troubled. “Laura and I only met with him the once, and that was to establish the local rules.”
“Don’t worry about that, he owes me any number of favours,” Magnus assured him. “He’ll be only too happy to use one of them up on what will likely be a simple matter.”
“Why would you use up a favour owed to you for us?” Derek asked. “There’s no gain in it for you.”
“Don’t be silly, hotpot,” Magnus replied airily. “Their crude symbols have offended my sense of style; of course I must have it out with them as soon as possible. Imagine how dreadful it would be if they started defacing more trees in order to put up that horrid thing? I shudder at the very thought.”
Derek gave both Peter and Stiles a helpless look. “If you’re sure,” he said hesitantly. “The Hale Pack would be grateful for your assistance in this matter.”
“That’s better!” Magnus smiled at him and then headed towards the stairs, talking to himself as he went. “Now, what to wear? The black and silver with the red shoes, I think. I do want to send the correct message after all. I wonder if I should wear the necklace that Ragnor bought for me in Paris? I could stop off at the apartment to pick it up…”
“What just happened?” Derek asked, sounding bewildered.
“Magnus is like a large, colourful, mother hen.” Alec watched fondly as Magnus reached the top of the stairs still muttering to himself. “He’s got a reputation for greed and callousness, but personally? I think that he deliberately cultivated that so that people wouldn’t find out just what a soft touch he really is. How did you meet him? He hasn’t said.”
“Laura went to see him when we got to New York,” Derek explained. “She wasn’t sure who she needed to petition for guest-status, and she said that he’d know who we should talk to and might even set up a meeting. When she got back, she told me that he’d agreed that he was beholden to our mother for one favour, but that she wanted to save it for something big. After that, we saw him whenever there was a convocation. He always made a point to stop by, say hi, and exchange a few words. That’s when he started calling me ‘hotpot.’”
Stiles gaped. “The favour Laura mentioned, you used that favour for me.”
Derek gave an awkward shrug. “It seemed like the thing to do. I didn’t know of anyone else who would even know someone who could help, and it was our fault you were hurt. I would never have thought to call our favour in for something like an Alpha Pack. We’re supposed to deal with things like that on our own.”
“Excuse you, it was not your fault Gerard wanted to use me for a bit of human experimentation,” Stiles corrected.
“No, but my pack has to take responsibility for Scott being bitten.”
Stiles scoffed. “Right. Because I’m sure that Scott was bitten as part of some long-range villainous plot hatched by your family to take over Beacon Hills, and not at all as an impulse-driven attempt to gain strength in part of an insanity fuelled bid for vengeance against the sadists who horrifically murdered your family. Scott being bitten was bad luck—or good luck, depending on your perspective—but it’s hardly something you need to reproach yourself for. And I’m sorry if Scott and I ever made it feel like it was your fault.”
Derek just stared at him.
Stiles felt his face get hot. “Right. That veered kind of off topic. So, any ideas about how we’re going to find these alpha assholes so that we can tell them to fuck off?”
Derek opened his mouth to say something, but Alec covered it with his hand.
“Think about what you’re about to say,” Alec advised. Derek nodded, and Alec took his hand away.
Derek took a deep breath. “Stiles, since you’re still underage, you will need your father’s permission before going into a situation that we know is going to be dangerous,” he said carefully. “Also, it would probably weaken our stance against the alphas to have someone so young in our ranks. It would suggest that we had no other options, because no alpha who did have other options would risk someone so obviously valuable.”
“Look at you, being all grown up and leadery.” Stiles wasn’t offended in the slightest, and was somewhat tickled at Derek’s efforts to be diplomatic. “I like it! For the record, I’m not sure that speech would work on me if I’d really made up my mind that I had to go, but you would definitely have avoided pissing me off. Also, I’m not actually underage, my eighteenth birthday was last week. But don’t worry! Your calm and measured words have convinced me. Right now, I’m just thinking about finding them.”
“Oh,” Derek said, his ears turning pink.
Alec was giving Derek an approving look. “Magnus is usually pretty careful. He’ll want to get everything lined up before making his move. I doubt it’ll be today, probably not even tomorrow.”
“I wonder if having my dad with him will be better or worse?” Stiles mused mostly to himself as he wandered into the kitchen and looked in the fridge for something to snack on. “Cause he’s off on Monday. I’ll have to check with Magnus.”
On the edge of his hearing, he could hear Derek whisper to Alec, “Earlier this week he jumped down my throat at being told he was being left behind!”
And Alec replied, “See what I mean? Delivery can make a big difference. How you say something is sometimes more important than what you’re saying.”
Stiles let the fridge door hide his smirk.
Magnus decided that having the town sheriff along would be beneficial and managed to secure Noah’s agreement to go along with whatever approach the rest of them came up with. A tentative plan to confront the Alpha Pack was arranged for Monday just before lunch.
“That’s the day after the full moon,” Stiles pointed out. “Is that really a good idea?”
Peter snorted. “We’re werewolves, Little Red, we know exactly when the full moon is.”
Stiles felt his face grow hot. “Yes, but you’re not answering my question. Is confronting them right then a good idea?”
Derek shrugged. “We get as much power from the moon as they do. More, since this is Hale land. Peter and I will take the betas for a run the night before, make sure everyone’s healthy and happy. If we start early enough, by ten or eleven they’ll be pretty exhausted. Then we’ll let them sleep for six or seven hours, and they’ll wake and be full of energy on Monday.”
Stiles frowned. “You seem pretty certain of that,” he said dubiously. “Are you sure that will work for the puppies? Are they going to be able to control themselves in school on Monday?”
“They’ll be fine,” Derek said with confidence. Peter didn’t appear to disagree with him at all, so Stiles decided to let it go and find out more about it later.
On Saturday, they had another brainstorming session. Alec had gone back to New York for the day to take care of something that had cropped up, and so it was Derek, Peter, Magnus, and Stiles, all sitting around the dining room table with Stiles’ laptop open and full of notes.
“Since you’ll be seeing them tomorrow, it might be a good idea to make sure the puppies know what’s happening,” Stiles suggested.
“I wish you wouldn’t call them that,” Derek said with a sigh. “I’m not sure why you think they need to know. Won’t that just increase the chances of them interfering?”
“Uh, no,” Stiles said. “It will make them feel more like a trusted part of the team. Given that Erica and Boyd are probably still traumatised from what happened with the Argents, and Jackson only just stopped being a puppet for psychos, I doubt they’re going to be in any hurry to run off into danger anytime soon. Especially if you project confidence in the plan and promise to tell them what happened afterwards.”
Derek was silent for a moment. “You’re right,” he said eventually. “Running together won’t be enough. If I want this to work properly then we need to do a better job at connecting. I need to do a better job.”
“Hey, it’s not all on you.” Stiles gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Communication is a two-way street, you know. But as the alpha and the quasi-adult, you’re probably going to have to take the lion’s share.”
Derek glared at him. “Quasi-adult?”
Stiles shrugged. “Yeah, dude. I was thinking about it, and you can’t be more than, what, twenty-three or twenty-four?”
“I’m twenty-one,” Derek admitted, looking away.
“What?” Stiles asked, thrown. He thought back to that first meeting the night after Scott was bitten, when Derek had told them they were trespassing. He’d been clean shaven at the time and had looked younger than with the scruff. He did some mental arithmetic. “Fifteen? You were fifteen? Oh my god, and I thought I already hated that psycho as much as I could hate anyone! Wrong! That complete and utter— I’m going to dig her up and resurrect her just so I can kill her in the most painful manner that I can imagine!”
Derek’s face went white. “I have to—” He got to his feet and bolted, slamming his way out of the house.
“Well, that was subtle,” Peter drawled.
Magnus looked concerned. “Will he be alright? I feel like I’m missing something.”
“Ugh, me and my big mouth.” Stiles felt terrible. “There’s— It’s really up to Derek if he wants you to know. I shouldn’t have said anything. I need to find him and apologise.”
“You won’t be catching up to him anytime soon.” Peter shook his head. “Not at the speed he was going. Maybe leave it until he’s ready to come back.”
“You know, don’t you.” Stiles watched Peter closely, trying to see how he felt about it.
“It wasn’t hard to connect the dots,” Peter admitted. “He would never tell me, of course. Did he tell you? I was under the impression he’d never told anyone.”
“No, I worked it out, same as you.” Stiles sighed. “You know, I’m not the biggest fan of therapy as a whole. I can’t help but think that maybe— But are there even any therapists who know about werewolves and hunters and stuff? Is that a thing?”
“Catarina likely knows some people.” Magnus tapped his fingernails against the table top. “I could find out for you, if you like. I should probably point out that therapy generally doesn’t work unless the patient wants it to. There’s no point in setting something up unless Derek is amenable.”
“You could offer to make a deal,” Peter suggested. “He might be more willing to give it a go if you were to do it too.”
“What? No!” Stiles recoiled from the thought. “I don’t need therapy!”
Peter and Magnus both raised their eyebrows at him.
Stiles deflated. “Fine. Alright, when I talk to Derek, I’ll tell him all about this little conversation, and then we can decide if we’re going to get therapy together. Oh my god, I can’t believe this.”
“It’s so adorable,” Peter cooed. “You’ll both be doing it for each other.”
“Oh, go fuck yourself, Peter,” Stiles said, giving him the finger.
“Not really a punishment,” Peter replied smugly.
Derek didn’t arrive back until just after Alec returned, a feat of timing that was too perfect to be coincidental.
Alec came bearing news. “I passed your message on to Garroway,” he said to Magnus. “He looked pretty concerned and told me he needed to make some calls.”
“I don’t suppose he happened to mention why?” Magnus closed the ancient tome he was reading.
Alec shrugged. “He just said that he’d have news for us tomorrow. He’ll be ready to see us at nine in the morning.”
Magnus sighed, closing the book and putting it gently to one side so that he could get up and embrace Alec. “I do wish people would be a little more considerate. I’m trying to make a plan here; it would help to know who I could count on.”
“Garroway knows how much he owes you,” Alec countered. “He’s not going to let you down without a very good reason. Whatever it is that concerns him must be important.”
On Sunday morning, Magnus and Alec left by portal after giving Stiles strict instructions to stay in the house.
“Why am I the only one on house arrest?” Stiles argued, feeling frustrated. “The Alpha Pack aren’t after me, they’re after Hales. No one’s telling them to stay put!”
“The wards are strongest on the actual building,” Magnus said in a no-nonsense tone. “And it’s not the Alpha Pack I’m worried about. There’s going to be some kickback from the hunters eventually, and if any of Gerard Argent’s plans were communicated to the larger group, they’ll know that you might be key to finding out what happened. They’re very good at bringing down werewolves already, and I would be too far away to be of any use. Just stay inside until I get back. I’ll have Alec take you for a run afterwards, if you like.”
—make sure that the cameras get everything,” he said. “This is for the future of mankind, and we need to make sure that we document every step of the way—
“Fine,” Stiles muttered petulantly. He hesitated. “Hey, did I look kinda strange just now? Like, spaced out or something?”
“No.” Magnus looked concerned. “Did you see a memory? Would you mind if I did a quick examination to see if there’s any physiological differences?”
“Go ahead.” Stiles sighed, resigned to being fussed over again.
Magnus waved his hands and the world sort of twisted into a blue haze before smoothing out again. “Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. “As far as I can tell, everything’s fine. It’s just bleed through, I think. You may be getting more as time passes, possibly less, it’s hard to say. Let me know how things are going, and if you get worried at all tell me. Catarina will be here at the end of next week, but I can always call her earlier if the situation requires it.”
“Well, I’m not tossing my cookies anymore,” Stiles said with fake cheerfulness. “And if I’m not standing around looking like a zombie when they’re happening, then I’m cool for now.”
“Hmm.” Magnus narrowed his eyes slightly, but didn’t probe any deeper. “Well, we’ll see you later, then. Be good.”
“Be good yourself!” Stiles shouted after him.
Stiles’ vague hope that he’d be able to take the opportunity to have that talk with Derek was stymied because Derek invited his puppies over to play with Stiles for an hour before going out with them to do their full moon wolfy things in the forest, leaving Stiles at home by himself.
Stiles decided to take the opportunity that being left alone for the first time since he was abducted afforded him to get rid of a bit of the tension that had built up while sharing a house with Derek “hotter than the surface of the sun” Hale. Not to mention the drool-worthy Magnus Bane and his stunning partner Alec Lightwood. Really, they were lucky he managed to get any coherent thinking done at all.
After taking an extended—and very satisfying—shower, Stiles took his laptop downstairs to see if he could find anything useful online about Alpha Packs, managing to stay fairly focused and only straying into shifter porn a few times.
He was still alone at dinner time and, rather than chance Peter’s wrath, just ate cold leftovers from the fridge. It was weird spending so much time alone after the near-constant supervision of the last week. He didn’t realise how much he’d missed the solitude.
Magnus texted at one point to say that they should be back at around 11:00 p.m., so Stiles indulged himself and had a nap, setting his alarm for 10:30 p.m.
Derek, Peter, and the puppies came in about fifteen minutes before Magnus and Alec were due. The four puppies went straight upstairs to the room that had been prepared for them with Derek fussing at their heels, making sure they were comfortable. Once the arguments about who was sleeping where were settled, they conked out pretty quickly. Stiles was just gearing up to apologise to Derek for his indiscrete remarks earlier when Magnus and Alec arrived back.
“Hello, my dears!” Magnus spread his arms wide. Stiles wasn’t sure if he was inviting hugs or applause. Perhaps both? “It seems that asking Luke to join our little expedition turned out to be more fortuitous that even I foresaw!”
“Why, what happened?” Stiles waited until Magnus chose where to sit before taking the seat opposite.
“It turns out that there’s more to a true Alpha Pack than a group of alphas banding together and declaring themselves,” Magnus said, making himself comfortable. “Luke told me that it’s the difference between a police force and a gang of vigilantes. Anyway, as Peter and Derek indicated earlier in the week, an Alpha Pack is a pretty big deal. Luke is one of the more influential alphas on the East Coast, and he was concerned that no one had told him about the appointment. He made a few calls, rattled a few cages, and discovered that he wasn’t the only one being kept in the dark.”
Stiles considered the ramifications. “You mean that this is an illegal Alpha Pack?”
“Indeed. And, judging by what Luke had to say, none of the bigwigs are happy about it,” Magnus replied. “There are seven alphas—along with their emissaries—who have invited themselves along tomorrow to have a chat with these upstarts. I’ll be making a new portal site—I’m not interested in having all those strangers traipse through my wards—and then we’ll be off to beard these thugs in their den.”
“Seven alphas?” Derek was visibly tense. “Shit.” He turned towards Peter, who also looked worried. “We’re not really in a place to defend ourselves against a legitimate alpha who decides he or she wants this territory, especially not one of the big names.”
“Your territory is safe, Derek,” Magnus said seriously, “It has been made clear to Luke—and I have every intention of repeating myself to the council that he’s gathered—that I consider the Hale lands to belong to the Hale line, and that I will be very displeased to discover anyone trying to take advantage of the situation.”
Derek didn’t look comforted. “That’s not… With this kind of scrutiny? However this goes down, we’ll be showing ourselves to be weak. We’re supposed to be able to hold our lands ourselves, not by hiding behind allies.”
“Actually, Derek, I think it will be alright,” Peter said, laying a hand on his nephew’s shoulder. “The Hales are a long and prestigious line with many known gifts. It’s alright to rely on allies while we get back on our feet, providing it’s not a permanent solution.”
“And so long as you pick your allies wisely,” Stiles added. “We don’t need any Obadiah Stanes around here, thank you very much.”
“Is that a dig at me, Stiles?” Peter asked politely.
Derek ignored them. “Mom would be so disappointed.” He shook his head. “She held this land for decades with no help from anyone. I didn’t even make it three months. I must be the worst alpha our family has ever had.”
“I imagine there are very few alphas who are trying to defend an embattled territory at twenty-one,” Alec put in. “Not to mention that most alphas have support networks in place long before they rise, they don’t have to put them together with duct tape and number eight wire and hope they’ll hold against an avalanche. There’s nothing wrong with being young and inexperienced, so long as you try to learn.”
“He’s right. You’re not a bad alpha,” Stiles encouraged him. “You’re only new and untrained, and those two things can be taken care of. You, my dude, are going to be a kickass alpha.”
Derek’s eyes rested on Stiles for a long moment. Finally, he nodded. “Alright. Peter, I’ll need to brush up on the protocol involved.”
Magnus waved a hand. “Don’t worry about that, hotpot. I’ve got it all taken care of. Believe me, none of them are going to act up and chance my displeasure.”
“Wow,” Stiles said, impressed. “You’re really that powerful?”
“He really is,” Alec said with a proud smile. “There’s something else to be aware of—”
“Oh yes!” Magnus sat up straight. “We’ve been a little decorative with the truth around why I was here in Beacon Hills.”
“We’ve lied like it’s our jobs,” Alec added.
“Why?” Derek asked. “What have you been saying?”
“It was all for a good cause, darling.” Magnus didn’t sound the slightest bit ashamed. “Rather than you calling me here for Stiles’ training, we’ve been telling people that you asked me here to evaluate Peter.”
Peter frowned. “What?”
“You’re a revenant, my dear, and the last of Derek’s family. It’s only reasonable that he would want some kind of assurance that your presence won’t endanger his fledgling pack or be the precursor to the zombie apocalypse. So Derek called for my aid—since he knows that I am the premier expert in my field—and as I owed his family a favour, here I am!”
“It’s pretty believable,” Stiles agreed. “No one wants to trigger the zombie apocalypse. Hey, do you ever wonder why people refer to ‘the’ zombie apocalypse, rather than ‘a’ zombie apocalypse? Does that mean that we all agree that it’s inevitable that there is going to be a zombie apocalypse, we just don’t know when it will start? But I’m getting off topic—why are we telling a lie again? What was wrong with the truth?”
Magnus became very serious all of a sudden. “You must be very careful about who you let find out about what the hunters did to you.” He held Stiles’ gaze. “I have travelled all over the world, Stiles. I have met warlocks and seelie and fae, werefolk and vampires and witches, demonhunters and druids and clerics. In all the world, I have never met anyone quite like you. In almost every test that I’m aware of that differentiates the mundane from the supernatural, you rank as mundane. A mundane that once had the potential to awaken a supernatural side, but still.
“You are not technically one of us, but the power you hold exceeds that of all but the most dangerous and skilled of us. That power is still largely uncontrolled and, until you have full mastery of it, you are in very grave danger. You would be a prize worth spending a great deal of effort for. Especially since we don’t know if what has happened to you will be passed on to your children or not.”
“The hunters aren’t the only ones who might want to experiment on you.” Alec spelt it out, voice and expression severe and full of warning.
Stiles shuddered. “Yeah, not something I’m interested in having happen to me ever again. Thanks for that.”
“This is one of the reasons why you won’t be anywhere near the action tomorrow,” Alec added. “Now come on, I think my services have been promised for a run? I could do with some exercise; let’s get going.”
“It’s nearly midnight,” Stiles pointed out. “It’s a full moon and there’s an Alpha Pack out there.”
“So?” Alec asked, looking unimpressed. “You have somewhere to be tomorrow? Then come on.”
“Magnus can put temporary glamours on us.” Alec looked towards the warlock, who nodded agreeably. “If they’re good enough to fool a demon, they’ll fool a group of werewolves. They’ll only last a few hours, but that should be long enough for our purposes.”
“Okay, okay, I’m coming,” Stiles said. “Just let me get my shoes.”
The run was long and gruelling. Alec liked to stop periodically for what seemed to be random fighting practice, picking up the run again without giving Stiles a proper chance for a breather. Stiles threw himself into it, trying not to think too hard about the warning he’d been given, about what it might mean for the rest of his life.
Finally, Alec called a halt and turned them back towards home.
“You did well.” Alec looked more like he’d been out for a brisk walk rather than Stiles, who dragged his dirt covered, sweaty body along beside him. “If that was a formal test you would have qualified for level two. That’s pretty impressive since, from what I understand, you’ve only really started training this last week.”
“I’m on the lacrosse team,” Stiles pointed out. “And our coach makes us take cross-country in the off-season. The idea of exercise isn’t exactly new to me. Not that I’m arguing with you, keep on telling me how awesome I am, I am totally on board with that. Level two? How many levels are there? What level are you?”
“There are currently ten levels.” Alec reached out a hand to gently steer Stiles around the tree he was about to walk into. “I’m a level ten. All squad leaders have to be; it’s one of the requirements. But I’ve been trained for this since I could walk, so there’s no real equivalency to your situation.”
“Your family really takes demonhunting seriously, then?” Stiles wondered how the Lightwoods’ doctrine differed from the Argents’, whether they were the same other than the targets they chose. It seemed unlikely, given what he’d seen of Alec, but Stiles knew very well that the face that was shown to the world could sometimes mask something very different. He’d known Alec for less than a week, after all.
“Not all of us fight,” Alec said. “At least, not all of us choose to take up the fight even though we’re all trained fighters. But we have to be, considering the dangers.”
Alec shook his head. “It’s not really appropriate to go into it unless you’re seriously considering joining us.” He stopped and looked around. To Stiles, it looked like he was seeing things that weren’t there or, even worse, things that were there that Stiles couldn’t see. The thought made him shiver. “We should get back to the house.” Alec picked up the pace again.
Stiles groaned, but managed to squeeze just a little more energy from his exhausted body. He was going to get some great sleep tonight, that was for sure.
Noah reached for his coffee mug and swore under his breath when he found it empty again. There was always the option of throwing it against the wall, but since that would mean having to find a new mug the next time he needed an infusion of caffeine, that seemed like a bad choice.
There was a knock at the door, and Deputy Tara Graeme stuck her head in. “Your new best friend is here to see you again, sir,” she said with the suppressed laughter that all of his deputies had been doing a poor job of hiding in the last week.
Noah gave her a withering look. “Show him in.” He put his coffee mug down and cleared the edge of the desk in anticipation for whatever culinary delight that Peter was sure to bring with him.
“Ah, Sheriff Stilinski, just the man I wanted to see.” Peter breezed in and deposited a warming pod in the recently cleared corner of the desk. A tantalising smell wafted from it.
“Call me Noah.” He wondered if Peter would mind too much if he just dug into the food now. He’d overslept this morning and had missed breakfast, and then lunch had been taken on the run. He’d prioritised getting everything tidied up for his time off over having dinner, and now it was nearing midnight. His body was reminding him in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t as young as he used to be.
He tried to sniff the air discretely. Mmm. Whatever Peter had brought with him smelled amazing. His stomach chose that moment to make a loud gurgling noise. Only the years of practice gained by having Stiles for a son enabled Noah to sit there without blushing. “What mysterious malfeasance have you come to report to us today? Is it safe for you to be roaming around tonight?”
“I assure you that I have full control over myself. And no shenanigans to report, sadly. I thought I’d come by and fill you in on the latest.” Peter made himself comfortable.
Noah raised an eyebrow. “You don’t think my son is doing an adequate job of passing information on?”
“I’m sure Stiles is telling you everything important,” Peter replied. “Everything that he thinks is important, of course. I find that as we get older, our priorities change somewhat.”
“That’s true, I suppose,” Noah allowed. “So what has Stiles been leaving out? Do you mind if I eat while I listen? Whatever you’ve brought me smells great.”
“Go right ahead.” Peter’s eyes gleamed as he watched Noah tuck into his stuffed potatoes.
There were bacon bits. Bacon! It was an effort for Noah to pay attention to what Peter was saying. He frowned when Peter explained the possible ramifications of having so many powerful alphas in the territory while the Hale pack was still so young and inexperienced.
“Are you worried about it?” Noah pointed his fork at Peter.
Peter tilted his head to one side. “Derek is right to be concerned,” he said eventually. “Magnus may be able to stave off actual incursions by other packs, but reputation is important, and if we’re seen as hiding behind him, our reputation will take a hit that it may take generations to overcome. On the other hand, with the Hale pack in its current state, it would be foolish to try and take the Alpha Pack on by ourselves, especially since we have no idea as to their strength. In the end, that’s what it will come down to, I suspect.”
Noah nodded understandingly. “You mean the stronger this Alpha Pack is, the less weak the Hale pack will look for calling in reinforcements?”
“As you say,” Peter agreed. “Depending on how things fall out, there’s also the point that until we reached out, all these hotshot alphas were completely unaware that a pseudo Alpha Pack had formed and was operating under their noses, so to speak.”
“Yeah, maybe don’t mention that straight off,” Noah advised. “No need to get their backs up.”
Peter looked amused. “I assure you that I’m no stranger to the political dance. Regardless of Bane’s patronage, this is going to be an exceedingly delicate time for us, and I, for one, intend that we come out of it looking as good as possible.”
“Does Magnus still want me there?” Noah asked. “When I talked to Stiles, he was unsure. He said he’d let me know by this evening, but I haven’t heard. Thank you, by the way, this is amazing.”
“Don’t mention it.” Peter shook his head. “As for tomorrow, it’s better if you stay at the house with Stiles. Seven alphas—eight, if you count my nephew—and an equal number of rather powerful magic users should be more than enough. It’s not like they’ve actually done anything in this territory that warrants your interest yet, so we’ve decided that it’s probably better to keep you in reserve.”
“That’s fine,” Noah said equably. “I can get Stiles to help me look over some of the information I’ve brought together about the Argents and their movements.” At Peter’s raised eyebrows he explained. “He’s got a better analytical mind than I do, and he’s got better instincts. If he follows through on his plans to become a cop, he’s going to be a great investigator. With a bit of experience, he could be the best investigator I’ve seen.”
“Proud papa,” Peter murmured.
Noah shrugged, putting the empty food container back on his desk. “Maybe,” he allowed. “I don’t know how not to be biased when it comes to him. For a while there, I was worrying that his potential would go to waste, that he was heading down a dark path. To be honest, finding out about werewolves was a bit of a relief.”
The puppies had all left by the time Stiles got out of bed, thankfully. They didn’t need to see the way he was moving, not with their freaky werewolf healing and everything. Alec had somehow got him to use muscle groups he didn’t even know that he had. It felt like his whole body was complaining.
He was thrilled to get the news over breakfast that he wasn’t going to be sitting home alone waiting for everyone to come back from their pow-wow with the Alpha Pack.
“We’ve decided that it’s probably best if I stay back as well,” Alec said when Stiles expressed his joy.
Alec shrugged. “Not much point in me bothering. There’s plenty of clout without me. It’s probable that this Alpha Pack have never even heard of demonhunters, and since there’s not likely to be any demons hanging around—”
“You’d just be extra muscle,” Stiles realised.
“In a team heavy with alpha werewolves,” Alec concluded.
“Well, you can stay and help me and my dad try and sort out this Argent mess,” Stiles offered. “I think Magnus and Derek are right when they say that we haven’t seen the last of them, or if not them, exactly, then the group they were part of.”
Derek, Peter, and Magnus left at 9:00 a.m. It had been agreed that they would meet the rest of the group at a neutral location to get the introductions out of the way before moving on to the Alpha Pack.
Stiles took the opportunity to fill Alec in on his first-hand experiences with the Argents.
“I have to say, I’m not too impressed with what I’ve been hearing about these ‘hunters,’” Alec said with a frown.
“They’re supposed to follow a Code, where they only hunt werewolves that are a danger to humans,” Stiles replied, setting his laptop up on the dining room table. “Not that I’ve seen any actual evidence of any of them following this Code, mind you. As far as I can tell they’re just psychos who get off on killing and hurting people. The problem is that there are so many of them, and it’s not like weres can go to the authorities. Humans as a whole have a bad reputation when it comes to tolerance of those different than them.”
“Keeping the supernatural world separate is becoming more and more unsustainable as technology progresses,” Alec remarked. “We need to work on a reveal and integration plan because it’s going to happen sooner rather than later, and it would be better if it’s controlled.”
Stiles turned to look at him. Alec was leaning against the door frame, broad shoulders filling the space and muscled arms crossed. It was a casual stance, yet everything about him spoke of physical power and authority, things so ingrained in him that he didn’t even have to think about them any more. Stiles was very grateful that Magnus had brought this man in to help Derek learn how to lead. Eye candy aside, underneath his scowl, Alec was good. Good and kind, the sort of person not often found.
“Is that something that’s being worked on?” Stiles asked curiously. “Who would even make that kind of decision?”
“There have been a number of discussions,” Alec said. “Not very productive discussions, I’ll admit. Even the informal groups have been unable to reach a consensus about anything. But it has to start somewhere.”
Stiles considered that for a moment. “I suppose the first step towards a worldwide initiative would be getting each group of supernaturals to provide a single leader of sorts that could speak for them,” he mused. “Like, the Morrigan would be there for the druids. Once that was taken care of, you’d at least have a starting point. Once everyone’s at the table, find some things that you can agree on before tackling the hard ones. That shouldn’t be too hard, only a moron wouldn’t be able to see the danger everyone’s in.”
Alec straightened up, looking interested. “Not all groups have a titular leader,” he said. “How would that work out?”
Stiles shrugged. “You’d have to send the word out, one representative per species or group or whatever. Any species who can’t send just one rep doesn’t get a seat at the table. I think that the concern that their issues might go completely overlooked would motivate most groups to organise themselves at least that much.”
“You might be onto something,” Alec said slowly. “We’ve been held back by a perception that because it’s an issue that affects everyone that we need to make sure that everyone has the option to have a say. We might be trying for too much.”
Stiles gave him a look. “It’s the basic democratic system. Not the one in this country—that’s majorly fucked up, don’t try for that—but the standard global model.”
“Sometimes the most obvious solution gets overlooked, I suppose,” Alec said. “I’ll make the suggestion, see how it goes down. I might be back to pick your brains again.”
“Hey, anything I can do.” Stiles waved his hand in what he hoped looked like a gracious manner.
Noah arrived at ten, laptop case in one hand and an old briefcase in the other just as Alec received a call from one of his demonhunter friends that he took upstairs. Going by the frown on his face and the tone of his voice, he thought the person he was talking to was an idiot.
“You and I are doing some investigation,” Noah said. “We need to know everything we can about any hunters that might be associated with Gerard Argent.”
Stiles was thrilled that his father asked him to help build the case against the Argents and their other hunter buddies. “Not that I really know who any of the rest of them are.” His fingers were itching to dive in and sift through all the information that had already been gathered.
“Peter has given me names for some of the more well-known groups that operate here in the States,” Noah replied. “I thought we could see what we can scare up on them before I commit any government resources. Hopefully, I’ll have an idea of where to search ‘officially.’ So, we’ll be looking into the Calaveras, the Mataris, and the Tods today.” He laid out three slim folders, each with a list of names in it.
Stiles eyed the folders with disfavour. “You do know that we have these modern inventions called computers, right?” He was only half joking.
Noah rolled his eyes. “Yes, and I also know about this modern thing called ‘hacking.’ Peter suggested that we use a VPN while we go rummaging through the hunter network’s personal information, and I agree. For the rest, no one in this day and age expects information to be kept around in hard copy, and so this is probably the safest method of storage that we have.”
Stiles made a face, unwilling to admit that he was being outclassed by his own father. Weren’t parents supposed to be computer illiterate? It so wasn’t fair. “So, have you chosen a VPN?” He plugged in the laptop his father had brought with him and then opened the lid and booted it up.
Noah shrugged. “I thought I’d leave that up to you. Here.” He flicked a plastic card onto the table.
Stiles looked at the card. It was a Visa card issued to B Wallace. “Who the hell is B Wallace?”
“No idea.” Noah handed over another sheet with basic information for William ‘Bill’ Wallace. “I know nothing about this credit card or who it was assigned to. It must belong to someone you know, because if I thought it was issued under false pretences, I would be ethically obliged to do something about it, so that’s lucky.”
“Uh…” Stiles’ mind blanked for a few seconds before he caught up. “Oh, right, Bill Wallace. Yeah, he’s a…friend of mine? Someone I met, anyway. And he must have left this card in my jeep when I gave him a lift, to the…thing. Thanks, Dad. I’ll get this back to him, yeah.”
Noah gave a pained grimace, shaking his head. “I don’t know how exactly you managed to lie to me for so long, kid. I have to say it’s a real blow to my self-confidence as an investigator.”
“Rude,” Stiles said indignantly. “I’ll have you know that I am an extremely skilled liar, okay? Just this week Erica told me that you were some kind of interrogation expert and that I must be the best liar in the world for managing to keep the supernatural a secret from you for more than a couple of weeks.”
“You may be on a whole different level to Erica, but her terrible lying skills don’t automatically make you a master. You are less terrible than a traumatised young woman who has never been interrogated by a police officer before. Congratulations.”
While they had been talking, Alec had come back downstairs. “This would have to be one of the strangest father and son conversations that I’ve ever witnessed.”
Stiles shrugged, unperturbed, and decided to start with a simple google search.
The familiar sound of the Camaro approaching brought Stiles out of his research daze. By the time the sound of doors opening and closing reached him, he had started clearing the dining room table of the fruits of his labours, with Noah helping to keep everything somewhat organised.
Alec was standing over by the window like some kind of statue, a military statue maybe, since he seemed to be standing at parade rest. “No one looks hurt,” he reported. “But—”
Stiles looked up from what he was doing. “But? But what? Don’t keep us in suspense, dude.”
“They’ve got someone with them. A woman. Going by the look on her face, she’s not very happy. And going by the way her expression changed, she can hear me.”
“A werewolf?” Stiles abandoned his task to join Alec by the window. He didn’t make it in time to catch a glimpse of the newcomer before the small group made it to the front door.
Magnus came in first. The beaming expression on his face was enough to assure Stiles that whatever else had happened, the alphas were taken care of. “Alexander!” Magnus exclaimed as though he hadn’t seen his lover for weeks rather than the mere hours that he’d been gone.
“Hey.” Alec was wearing the gentle smile that he only ever seemed to give Magnus. “I take it that things went well?”
“Could you doubt it with yours truly at the helm?” Magnus reached up to give Alec a soft kiss on the lips.
Alec’s smile widened into a grin. “I don’t know, I seem to remember one time with a group of seelie, where—” He broke off as Magnus covered his mouth with one be-ringed hand.
“Hush!” Magnus was wide-eyed. “We agreed not to speak of that ever again!”
Alec’s eyebrows rose, and he reached up and captured Magnus’ hand, continuing to hold it once he’d removed it from his mouth. “You decreed that we would never speak of it again,” he pointed out. “I don’t remember agreeing to that at any time.”
Stiles kept one ear on their flirty exchange, while most of his attention was given to the woman who entered the house bracketed between Derek and Peter. She looked familiar but he couldn’t quite place her. Derek and Peter both appeared whole and in one piece, if slightly more frayed and tattered than they had been when they had left.
“Stiles.” Derek came to a halt once all three of them were safely inside and the door was closed behind them. “Noah, Alec. I’d like you to meet my sister, Cora Hale.”