It turned out that Cora had escaped the fire by the simple method of being outside working on her secret tree house. After coming home to find her home ablaze and with the scent of wolfsbane on the air, the training that they’d been given for these situations kicked in, and she’d fled.
She’d managed to make it to an allied pack, who had quickly and quietly arranged for her transport to Brazil. She had remained there until hearing of a powerful new Hale alpha back in Beacon Hills, and had returned home full of hope, only to run into the Alpha Pack.
“What a bunch of assholes,” Stiles muttered, after taking a seat at the dining room table beside his dad. “So what happened with the Alpha Pack?”
Derek shrugged. “They died. Except for the two youngest, who have been sent to South Dakota.” He went to the fridge and poked his head in, his sister following.
“Right.” Stiles turned to Peter. “So, what happened?”
Peter smirked at him. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
Noah cleared his throat. “Yes. Yes, we would.”
“Oh, if you insist,” Peter capitulated with a roll of his eyes. “We met up with Magnus’ friend Garroway and the group he’d brought, as arranged. There were the usual introductions—rather a lot of posturing—and then we made our way to the warehouse district. By the by, it’s a little concerning just how many empty buildings there are around there.” He cocked his head slightly to the side in consideration.
“Peter,” Noah said wearily.
“There were five alphas present,” Peter went on. “Not counting our group, that is. Two of them were teenagers, twins. They were rather obviously in a subservient position to Deucalion, the leader. Alpha Vettori offered them a position in her pack, and they seemed happy enough to accept, so I imagine life under Deucalion hasn’t been all beer and skittles. Then there was a rather deranged woman by the name of Kali and a man called Ennis. As it happens, Deucalion and Ennis were both allied to the Hale Pack at one time, so I was rather familiar with them.”
“Deucalion had a hard-on for adding a Hale to his stable of alphas,” Cora put in from the kitchen. “Personally, I think he had some sort of weird obsession with my mom. He’d stop by sometimes and give me lectures about the way the world should be, how the werewolves should ‘rise up and take their place as the apex predators they were born to be.’ He couldn’t talk for five minutes without bringing up mom and how the way she’d run the pack had doomed the lot of us. If I hadn’t been restrained, I might have clawed my own ears off in order to get some relief from it.”
“He courted Talia, you know,” Peter said casually. “Before she chose your father, of course.”
That caught both Cora and Derek’s attention. “What?”
“What?” Stiles’ response came slightly later.
“Oh yes. He had some strange idea that she should be flattered by his interest and only too willing to merge our pack with his. She would take a lower rank than him, naturally.”
“Sexist pig,” Cora muttered.
“Verily,” Peter agreed. “Anyway, Deucalion heard the same rumours that Cora did—spread by the hunting community, amusingly enough. He came here hoping to pick up his very own pet Hale and ended up biting off more than he could chew.”
“No one expects a gathering of alphas and emissaries,” Stiles said, leaning forward with his elbows on the table.
Peter’s smirk widened into something that looked more like a smile. “Alpha Garroway made it clear that since the ‘Alpha Pack’ had been abusing their power, they had a choice. They could either give up their power—revert back to beta status—and accept supervision for the rest of their days from one of the alphas present, or they could die. The twins chose supervision, the other three…”
“Chose death.” Noah looked conflicted. He sighed. “I suppose it was necessary.”
“Oh, it was,” Magnus said with a seriousness he rarely displayed. “A rogue alpha werewolf is a serious threat.”
“Don’t we know it,” Stiles said with feeling. “Been there, done that, received the lifelong trauma. Really quite pleased that we’ve avoided having to do it again.”
“Peter wasn’t truly rogue,” Derek said quietly, leaning against the kitchen cupboards. “He was frenzied and mostly feral, perhaps insane. A true rogue still has complete control over themselves, is fully aware of every move they make. A rogue beta can be brought down by a smart alpha, but a rogue alpha? That’s when you need an Alpha Pack.”
Peter folded his arms and tilted his head up, as if daring anyone to say anything further.
“So, how did the fight go?” Stiles asked after a moment. He ran his eyes over Derek and Peter, letting his attention linger on the rips and tears while mentally calculating how much of the visible blood had been personally shed and how much was transfer. “If only three of them were fighting, they were considerably outnumbered, right?”
“It wasn’t the number of alphas standing against them that did the trick,” Peter informed him. “The fight had only just got started when the emissaries pooled their magic and paralysed all three of them. After that, it was pretty simple.”
Stiles wrinkled up his nose. “You mean, you just wandered over and…” He held his left hand in a vague claw-like position and swiped it through the air with a ‘rowr’ sound.
Peter gave him a pitying look. “Executed them, yes.” His eyes darted over to Derek and then away again.
Derek looked at the ceiling, avoiding having to look at anyone’s face. “As the hosting alpha it was my right to end their lives and take their power,” he said, apparently speaking to the room in general.
“Did you?” Stiles asked bluntly, ignoring the way that Cora was trying to skewer him with her brain, if the look on her face was anything to go by.
Derek gave Peter a speaking glance.
Peter sighed. “Given the number of unallied alphas present, it was a delicate balance of taking just enough responsibility. Refusing to do it himself would have shown him—and by extension the rest of us too—to be weak. Insisting on executing all three of them personally would have also given worrying signals to the others about Derek’s ambition.”
Stiles and Noah both nodded at that. It made sense that a young and largely untrained alpha being four times the strength of a regular alpha would be of concern to the other, better-established alphas, and that they would probably have wanted to keep a close eye on him and his small pack.
“There was also some…” Peter paused.
“It was readily apparent to those of us new to the situation that there was some kind of history with Derek and Ennis,” Magnus supplied. “We’d only just arrived and hadn’t got to the point of introducing ourselves when that bald freak started doing his best to bait our young friend. Really, I’m sure everyone would all have understood perfectly if you’d taken his death for yourself.”
“It wouldn’t have been an execution,” Derek said quietly. “It would have been revenge.”
Alec, Magnus, and Noah bestowed approving glances on Derek, to Derek’s clear embarrassment.
“So you took out that Deucalion dude then,” Stiles surmised.
Peter nodded. “Which added another layer of symbolic politics, since Deucalion was the leader and arguably the strongest. All in all, it turned out very well. There was enough back and forth chat to reveal that Deucalion was planning to quietly build an empire. He would have been at the peak with his two extremely strong and loyal generals only one step down, and the twins—who can apparently merge into some sort of transformer version of a werewolf—were going to be his personal intimidation and attack weapon. That plan ended up halted in its infancy—thanks to the Hale Pack—and the rest of the alphas are going to be rather more vigilant in the future to ensure that nothing like this can happen again.”
“So they’re gone, then.” Stiles felt the twist of anxiety he’d been feeling since he heard about the Alpha Pack uncoil and relax. “All of them. Just like that.”
“There was also something else that came to light, something that might impact you personally.” Magnus looked directly at Stiles.
Stiles groaned. “Oh my god, what now?”
“Deucalion asked what we’d done with his emissary,” Derek said sombrely. “She disappeared without warning a few days ago. A woman who had been undercover at Beacon Hills High school as a guidance counsellor.”
“Ms Morrell.” Stiles squeezed his eyes shut before opening them again. “She was working for the Alpha Pack? Marin Morrell, who has had access to me, and Lydia, and Allison, and—you know what? No.” He slashed his hand through the air in a sharp gesture. “Do we know what happened to her?”
Magnus shook his head. “Not for certain. Werewolf packs often appoint druids to be their emissaries. In which case, her disappearance might be something to do with the Morrigan and the nemeton. But I don’t know for sure one way or the other and, quite frankly, the Morrigan is unlikely to tell me.”
“Yeah.” Stiles sighed. “I remember you talking about that. I guess I don’t really care, so long as I never have to see her again. What’s more, that’s the last time I try any kind of therapy with someone who doesn’t come with recommendations and a background check so deep that I know what their grandparents ate when they were three.”
Magnus nodded, coming forward to lay a hand on Stiles’ shoulder. “I know that it’s been a hard few months,” he said sympathetically. “You’ve had to take on the burdens of adulthood far too young. All of you have.” He looked up, including Derek in his statement. “You’ve stood firm in some extremely terrifying situations, which in itself is worthy of praise. Then there are the hunters, these Argents and the rest of their ilk.”
Derek looked down, glaring at his feet as though they’d mortally offended him. “You don’t need to say it. The Argents have repeatedly walked all over us, I know that. But the moment we retaliate, we’ll be on the hit list of every hunter in the United States. As will other perfectly peaceful packs. I can’t be responsible for that. I can’t be responsible for more deaths.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Magnus said firmly. “You’ve had to deal with an organised group of adults, who have been doing this for years. Your pack is still young, new to their power, and you don’t have the backing, the infrastructure that the hunters have built over the centuries. Yet, you’re all still here. That is an achievement of epic proportions.”
Derek raised blazing red eyes to fix his glare on Magnus. “No, we’re not all still here. My pack, my family, was burned alive not ten miles from here. No one was held accountable, it was dismissed as a wiring issue, blamed on us for cutting corners.”
It was only because Stiles was sitting next to him that he noticed his dad’s slight flinch at that.
Peter had moved to stand beside Derek and Cora, presenting a united front. They looked extremely formidable like that. Individually, the Hales were all impressive, but when they stood together… Stiles was suddenly aware—for the first time—of just why Gerard and Kate had targeted them.
It must have been like a needle in the eye to know that these beautiful, powerful people would always be proof that hunter rhetoric, their personal belief system was flawed. They saw an unstoppable force that, rather than bulldoze over everything in its path, merely remained in one place, showing no inclination to move. The Argents must have been waiting and watching for years, trying to find some evidence that the Hales weren’t as benign as they presented themselves to be. Stiles could see it for a moment, the pattern of mounting hysteria as the Hales refused to step a foot out of line. For Kate and Gerard, leaving that strength intact must have been intolerable.
—I thought you had everything set up?” Kate said angrily. “You said it would work perfectly!”
“How was I to know that bitch would refuse to engage!” he answered, fear mingling with the satisfaction of getting one over that arrogant freak. “Deucalion is blinded for life now, however long that will last. I imagine he’ll be torn to shreds sooner rather than later. Talia Hale should have been with him, should have agreed to take part in the talks.”
“She’ll be wary of us now,” Kate stated. “We won’t get another chance like that again.”
“I have a new plan,” he said. “I won’t be able to do much to help you, but I have some men that would be perfect—
Their strength was like the beacon that this town had been named for, and there was no way that the hunters could touch them, could take them down, but by treachery.
—third stage already,” Mary said sadly. “I’m sorry, Gerard. There’s nothing that we can do. Will you try the CS? The death rate is high, I know, but you’re dying anyway.”
“No,” he replied. “The catalytic substance is still too unrefined, the successful results are just too unpredictable to risk. No. But I know of another way. Being bitten by a werewolf would cure me.”
Mary recoiled. “And end up a monster? Enslaved by whoever bit you?”
“I would take the alpha power for myself, of course,” he responded. “I can bring that power back to us and, with it, I can create an army of test subjects! An endless supply!
Mary began to look interested. “How are you going to get an alpha to bite you?” she asked.
“I have some ideas,” Gerard said. “I know exactly where I need to be—
“He did terrible things to you,” Stiles said, thinking over what his recent visions revealed. “The idea of your pack succeeding despite all his efforts tormented him. He feared you, your bloodline, so much that you were all he could concentrate on. Then, he thought he’d finally done it. Defeated the monster in the dark that couldn’t be defeated.”
“Only to hear that the Hales were moving in Beacon Hills again.” Noah nodded as though he could see how it would go.
Magnus didn’t back down. “No one here wants to make light of your loss. What was done to you was horrific, by anyone’s measure. But considering that their intent was to wipe the Hales from the face of the Earth, they failed! They didn’t manage that, you are still here. Still working to protect the land that you chose, that chose you in return, with everything you have. And, now, because of you, because of his failure, his organisation is going to be crippled. And we’re not going to do it in the dark where no-one can see us. We’re going to make it known to everyone what happened, and why!”
“How can you be sure that doing that isn’t going to doom every werewolf in this country?” Derek asked roughly.
“Because they’re experimenting on base-line humans,” Stiles answered as the realisation hit him. “Their highest trick card has always been the threat of making werewolves known to the world, of inciting ordinary people into violence against anyone supernatural. It would be so easy. But with proof that they’re abducting people and experimenting on them—the pendulum just swung back in our direction.”
“What?” Cora asked, eyes wide.
“Oh yeah.” Stiles rubbed the back of his head self-consciously. “Gerard and his thugs captured me and kinda experimented on me a little bit. It looks like they’re trying to make some sort of Captain America knock-off—despite the fact that the science of that made no sense whatsoever.”
“Scientist’s have been using Sci-Fi to help drive their imaginations for years,” Noah pointed out. “That’s how we ended up with self-opening doors, cell phones, and iPads.”
“Comics aren’t Sci-Fi,” Stiles informed him. “There are many that have Sci-Fi elements, but that alone doesn’t mean that they can be classed as—”
Noah groaned. “I’ve set him off. Okay, Stiles, we get it. The point is, ideas are all around us, and it’s up to those exploring them to make them work somehow. Who cares where they got their ideas from? What concerns us is what they’re doing with them now.”
“No, it matters,” Cora said slowly. “In this country, anyway. People here have a big thing for Captain America. That might play into the hunter’s favour.”
“But only here in the United States,” Stiles said, catching on to her meaning. “You could be right, Cora. In the rest of the world, it would probably swing it the other way.”
“We’re getting ahead of ourselves,” Alec interjected. “Let’s take one problem at a time, okay? The Alpha Pack is no longer an issue. Now we can turn our attention more fully to the hunter situation. What we need to do is find out as much as we can about them without tipping our hands. What we don’t need to do is build theories from next to nothing and then have those theories cripple us by pre-deciding our reactions and how we see the information that we find.”
“Oh my god,” Stiles groaned, dropping his face into his hands. “Do you know how hard that’s going to be for me, dude? Coming up with theories is what I do, it’s part of my process!”
“That’s fine. Just don’t go infecting the rest of us with them,” Alec said firmly.
Stiles’ foray into investigative internet diving was diverted by the late-afternoon arrival of Derek’s three puppies. He couldn’t help but be distracted by the show that was put on in front of him. Erica was sizing Cora up like she was planning to drag her into the boxing ring, while Cora pretty much ignored her and Isaac, all her focus on Boyd.
“The pack postures as they greet the new member, each angling to be higher ranked than their fellows,” Stiles murmured in his best David Attenborough impersonation.
“That sort of thing isn’t helping,” Derek said from directly behind him, nearly sending him through the roof.
Stiles spun around, heart thundering. “I knew it! You totally do that on purpose! You get your sick thrills out of creeping up behind me and trying to give me a heart attack!”
Derek just gave him a patronising smile. “Maybe you should pay more attention to your surroundings,” he suggested. “I really wasn’t trying to hide my approach.”
Stiles narrowed his eyes. It sounded plausible, but for the fact that recently Stiles had found it almost impossible not to pay attention where Derek was at all times. Last he knew, Derek had gone upstairs. He did not come back down again. In order to get behind him without him noticing, Derek would have had to jump out of one of the upstairs windows and come in the back door.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t actually say all of that without looking like a creepy stalker himself, so he satisfied himself with a vague noise that he hoped indicated his disapproval and disbelief.
Derek leaned forward with mock concern. “Are you alright Stiles? You sound as if you’ve got something stuck in your throat.”
“I’m fine, thank you, Derek,” Stiles lied, before deliberately turning his back and returning the majority of his attention to the beta show. He did his best to ignore the heat that Derek radiated as he stood close behind him.
To his disappointment, the show was pretty much all over. Isaac was talking to Cora about something maths related, going by his vague gestures towards his textbook, and Erica and Boyd were speaking too quietly over by the front window for Stiles to hear. Stiles turned to glare at Derek, who gave him an unrepentant shrug.
“Told you that you weren’t helping.” Derek clapped him lightly on the back before moving over to join his sister and his puppies.
“We don’t like to admit it, but we’re a little closer to wolves than we are to humans,” Peter said softly from the recliner chair where he had been sitting and watching everyone.
Stiles gave up his attempts at detectoring for the moment and went over to join Peter. He always felt a bit left out when the wolves all got together, and Cora’s introduction hadn’t helped matters any. If anything, it had helped drive home to Stiles just how on the outside he really was. Fifteen minutes after meeting her, they already accepted her more than him.
“Stiles! Come and lend me your expertise,” Peter demanded as he opened his laptop, breaking Stiles out of his private pity party. “I need to find a way to display some of this data so that it’s easily interpreted. Alec has said that if we present our case well enough then he’s pretty sure that his clan will agree to help us when it finally comes down to us or the hunters.”
“Right.” Stiles gave his full attention to the problem at hand and put Derek’s puppies out of his mind. “Well, a graph of some kind would probably be best. What variables have to be considered?” He caught the wink that Peter sent Derek but decided not to make an issue of it, settling down to work with a focus he usually reserved for life and death research.
That night, after the puppies had said their goodbyes and dinner had been eaten, Scott called to see if Stiles had an update for him. His call interrupted a rather amusing story that Magnus was telling them about how he had escaped with Marie Antionette in a hot air balloon.
“Can I just take this?” Stiles said, looking at the caller ID. “Going by recent examples, it won’t be long.”
“Of course.” Magnus gave a beneficent wave of his hand.
“Thanks.” Stiles put Scott on speaker before heading over to where his laptop was set up on the dining room table.
Unlike previous phone calls, Scott didn’t seem to be in a great hurry to hang up.
“I’ve been trying to tell you that Derek didn’t do anything!” Stiles said when Scott once again told him that Derek was responsible for whatever was wrong with Allison. He apologised with his eyes to Magnus, who just shook his head.
“He must have done!” Scott said. “The doctors have done a lot of tests and they said that she’s in a vegetative state, and they have no guarantee that her awareness will ever emerge. Chris said that when he left the house, she was fine. They were talking together! Then he goes out for an hour, and when he comes back she’s like this! And then about an hour after that, their house was burning down! Of course it was Derek! He must have cast a spell or something on her!”
Stiles sighed. “I hate to burst your bubble, Scott, but Derek is not the source of all evil. He didn’t do anything to Allison. Also? He’s a werewolf, he can’t cast spells.” The timeline that Scott was going on about pinged something though. “Hang on, was this Saturday night then? After the game?” He wondered if it could just be a coincidence. The sick feeling in his stomach argued against that sort of thinking. The timing was just a little too…
“Yes, of course it was!” Scott replied testily. “And he must have done, because according to Chris, when he left the house, Erica and Boyd were down in the Argents’ basement. Then the house burns down, but Erica and Boyd are at school on Monday like nothing’s wrong. Obviously, Derek did whatever he did to Allison in revenge!”
Stiles went cold then hot. “You knew that Gerard had Erica and Boyd in his basement?” he asked, feeling the shock reverberate all the way down to his toes.
“No! Well, yes, but not until after it was all over. I mean, I didn’t know then. Gerard said he had a plan to keep them out of the way, but I didn’t know until Chris explained it to me later that it included holding them in his basement.”
“To keep them out of the way.” Stiles wondered if his voice sounded as strained to Scott as it did from inside his head.
He looked up to see that Noah was regarding the phone with a sort of dawning horror, and he winced. Having your illusions shattered was painful, and Noah had treated Scott almost like a second son for years. Considered him to be the good one, the one who was less inclined to get into potentially illegal mischief.
Magnus was sitting up now, leaning against Alec whose scowl could rival one of Derek’s more offended expressions. Peter was in his usual chair, and he might almost look amused if you paid no attention to the glittering expression in his eyes, and the way his smile showed a hint of fang.
Cora was upstairs, having claimed the spa bath “for the evening, come in if you want to be killed messily.” Derek had been dealing with more of his never-ending paperwork but must have had his ears tuned in to what was going on below. He was standing in the doorway with his arms crossed and his face blank.
Aside from Scott’s voice, the only sound that Stiles could hear was his own breathing.
“Well, Gerard didn’t want them to complicate things,” Scott explained. “Chris said he and Allison had picked them up while we were at the game.”
“Picked them up,” Stiles repeated, the image of Erica and Boyd strung from the ceiling and being constantly electrocuted for the sick pleasure of a loathsome old man flashing through his mind.
“At first, Chris thought that Gerard might have set the house on fire himself,” Scott went on, either oblivious or uncaring of Stiles’ reactions. “But he would have only done that if Erica and Boyd were still there, as a kind of final ‘fuck you’ to Derek. As soon as I saw them at school on Monday, I let him know that—”
“Let me get this straight,” Stiles said, interrupting him. “For a while now, you’ve been working with Gerard Argent, you know, the mass-murdering serial killer who wants all werewolves dead, that Gerard Argent. You’ve been working with him on some kind of plan that involved capturing Derek, and somehow making him give Gerard Argent the bite. This plan involved luring Matt and the kanima to the station,” he winced as his father closed his eyes and dropped his face into his hands, “where Gerard killed Matt and became the kanima’s master. Hang on, the pieces are falling into place.”
“He threatened my mom, Stiles.” Scott didn’t sound the least bit ashamed. “He said he’d kill her or have her killed if I didn’t help him. But it’s okay, Deaton and I switched his cancer meds over to these great copies that Deaton had made that were filled with mountain ash. Deaton said that it would cripple him, make him unable to function in a meaningful capacity, but wouldn’t actually kill him.”
“Why not just kill him rather than go through this convoluted plan?” Stiles wondered if it could get any worse. While Stiles in no way considered himself any kind of expert, he was pretty sure that he knew far more than Scott about how mountain ash interacted with werewolves, because as soon as he’d found out about it, he’d studied it. He could think of several problems with Deaton’s plan right off bat, none of which appeared to concern Scott in the least. Nor did he seem broken up that he had been an accessory to the deaths of several law enforcement officers.
“Killing is wrong.” Scott sounded so sure of himself, so certain that he was right that Stiles just wanted to reach over the airwaves and smack him.
“I thought you were all gung-ho to kill Peter not all that long ago,” Stiles pointed out. “Then you got pissed off at Derek for doing it before you could.”
“That was different,” Scott replied heatedly. “That was my chance to become human again! Derek stole that from me just to get more power.”
“Derek took back his family’s legacy,” Stiles corrected without much hope that Scott would even hear him. He hadn’t the last few times this conversation had come up. “If he hadn’t, you would probably be the alpha now. Or, somewhat more likely, you would have taken the alpha power, spiralled out of control, and then been killed by the Argents shortly after.”
“I would not have spiralled out of control,” Scott argued.
“Right. Cause those times you tried to eat me when you were first turned never happened,” Stiles responded. “It was all a bad dream I had. Something I ate, no doubt.”
“I don’t know why we’re even talking about this!” Scott sounded frustrated. “I called to find out what you’ve discovered about whatever Derek did to Allison!”
“And I already told you, Derek didn’t do anything to Allison!” Stiles lost his patience. Scott went to reply, but Stiles overrode him. “I don’t care what Chris Argent says! Also, while we’re on the subject of Argents, what the fuck? That plan you just told me about, of how you were going to deal with Gerard? Of the top of my head, without doing any targeted research whatsoever, I can think of three likely results of that switched meds ploy. Providing that it was actually working, of course, and that Gerard hadn’t noticed something wrong with his meds and just got new ones!”
“It would have—”
“One. The bite could have killed him.” Stiles used his hands to visually punctuate what he was saying even though Scott couldn’t see him. “The bite isn’t guaranteed to take, you know, even without mountain ash. Although, between you and me, I think the survival rate of bitten hunters might bear investigation, because— Sorry, getting off track. Two! The mountain ash does nothing more than inconvenience him slightly, if at all, and very shortly afterward, he’s up and about and his usual diabolical self, only with nifty new werewolf powers. Three guesses as to what his first move would have been, and then you would have been directly responsible for unleashing another evil alpha on the world, this one who wasn’t insane with grief!”
“Or three.” Stiles pointed his finger at his phone. “This one appears to be the effect you were hoping for. Gerard turns just enough to be incapacitated by the mountain ash. Now, if the mountain ash wins its war with the werewolf side, then he would die, which, according to you, would be bad. So you were counting on the mountain ash to continue incapacitating Gerard indefinitely.”
“There are records—”
“Do you know what option three says to me, someone who has yet to do any meaningful investigation into the matter?” Stiles steamrollered over him. “It says torture. But it also says a magical substance caused the condition, it’s not fatal, so it can be cured. Both of those things make it an unattractive option! Because, quite frankly, I personally think running around and intentionally torturing people is worse than killing them! And people with any kind of correct moral compass don’t do it! If someone remains a danger to innocents and the law can’t contain him or her for some reason, then absolutely kill them! Don’t plan their long-term torture and call it the ‘right’ thing!”
“It wouldn’t have been torture!” Scott objected.
“Oh yeah?” Stiles challenged. “What, you think it would cause ongoing incapacitation without pain?”
“No, it— Deaton never said anything about torturing him!”
“Well, I suggest you go back to Deaton and start asking some questions. Because intentionally poisoning someone with something when you don’t know what the results will be is a stupid thing to do, Scott. If I’d known about it, I would have made sure we knew as much as possible before proceeding. Which we probably wouldn’t have, because your plan sucked ass on more than one level, and I would have stopped you. Which I guess answers the question of, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’”
“I can’t talk to Deaton,” Scott said, ignoring the second half of Stiles’ remark. “He’s been called out of town suddenly. He’s been gone since sometime last week. He didn’t even give me proper notice, just left a note asking me to take care of the day to day stuff at the clinic until he gets back.”
“How convenient that he happens to be out of town and can avoid any fallout,” Stiles said, sarcasm dripping off the words. “How lucky for him that you seem to find him above suspicion and are instead focused on Derek. You know what? I’ve told you that he had nothing to with it. You can take it or leave it, but my answer isn’t going to be changing.”
“Why would Deaton attack Allison and kill Gerard and set the Argent house on fire?” Scott asked heatedly. “He has no motive. Derek has lots of motive! Of course it was him!”
“Derek has had motive to go after the Argents for six years now, and you’ll note a distinct lack of action on his part. Except for when he bit Victoria—which happened when he was saving your ungrateful life while he was disoriented from the poisonous gas that she was pumping into the room and which was, therefore, an accident and unintentional on his part—Derek has never once harmed the Argent family. The aggression has all been on their side!”
“I can’t talk to you right now, you’re not listening to a thing I say.” Scott sounded angry and frustrated.
“Scott—” Stiles began, not even certain of what he was going to say, only that he needed to somehow make Scott see.
“No, I mean it, I can’t talk to you. You’re all worked up and ranting, and you’re not in a place where you can even hear what other people say. So I’ll leave it for now, and hopefully tomorrow you’ll have calmed down a bit and dialled back on the caffeine. Talk to you then. Bye.”
Stiles was left gaping at his phone. He swivelled to face Noah, who was doing a poor job of hiding his smirk. “Well, I’m glad you think something’s funny.”
Noah lost his amusement. “That boy. What can he possibly be thinking?”
“He’s thinking, ‘Wow, I love Allison so much, we are like Romeo and Juliet, how romantic is this, it’s so amazing, nothing matters but Allison, Allison-Allison-Allison, hope my mom is okay, Allison likes how I take care of my mom, Allison-Allison-Allison,’ etcetera, ad nauseam.”
Magnus raised his eyebrows. “That was quite the bitter speech there.”
Stiles shook his head and looked out the window so he wouldn’t have to meet anyone’s eyes, only to see the room reflected back at him in the glass. As he suspected, everyone in the room was looking at him. Great.
“He has reason, I think,” Peter remarked, surprising Stiles enough that he looked over to the recliner chair that Peter had staked as his own. Peter was looking pretty pissed off. “Has he made any but the most cursory attempt to find out what happened to you that night?”
“No.” Stiles stashed his phone in his pocket. “But then our friendship always revolved around me taking care of him rather than the other way around.”
“That’s interesting,” Noah interjected. “From a parental perspective, it looked a lot like Scott was a calming influence on you. Your mother and I certainly thought so, and Melissa used to say he never got up to nearly as much mischief before he became friends with you.”
Stiles tried to hide the sting that he felt, hearing it out loud that his dad had agreed that Stiles was a troublemaker and that Scott was the ‘good’ one. “Before we became friends, Scott used to have a pretty severe asthma attack on average of twice a month,” he pointed out. “I was the one who made sure to always have a backup inhaler, I was the one who policed what he was eating at school once Melissa explained which things he reacted to. The reason Scott got into more mischief after we started hanging out was because he was no longer as concerned about not being able to breathe.”
“Ah hell, I’m sorry, kid.” Noah winced.
Stiles gave a one-shoulder shrug. “Whatever. Doesn’t really make much difference right now. Scott’s asthma problems are a thing of the past, thanks to our friendly local revenant over here. Scott’s now doing whatever he wants with no input from me whatsoever, and I’m still getting the blame for it.”
“What?” Alec asked. “Who’s blaming you?”
“Pretty sure Melissa thinks everything wrong in Scott’s life is all my fault,” Stiles informed him. “I was the one who asked Scott to come out with me into the Preserve to look for half a dead body, after all, and that was when he was bitten. Naturally, every single terrible thing after that falls on my shoulders.”
Alec frowned. “Did you know that there was a feral alpha werewolf roaming around?”
“Didn’t even know werewolves existed outside of fiction.”
“Then that’s ridiculous,” Alec dismissed. “Unless you physically dragged him out there, or used some other form of coercion on him—you weren’t holding anything of his hostage or anything, right?—then his subsequent lycanthropy is not your fault any more than it is his.”
“I just asked him,” Stiles admitted. “He said he wanted to get an early night, and I said, ‘Please, don’t make me go out there alone.’ And that was it.”
“I think we Stilinskis need some lessons on how to stop blaming ourselves for things that aren’t our fault,” Noah said with a wry smile. “There’s plenty of things that are our fault that we can take the blame for, after all. Like the mysterious disappearance of a bottle of Jack Daniels from my office.”
“I deny all allegations of interaction with the substance in question.” Stiles sat up straight. “Scott and I very definitely didn’t use it to find out if werewolves can get drunk or not.”
“You gave alcohol to an untrained werewolf that already showed signs of an inability to control himself, in order to see if it would get him drunk?” Derek asked incredulously. “What exactly was your plan if it had worked and he’d tried to eat your face off?”
“Firstly, ewww, thanks for the imagery, dude,” Stiles replied. “Secondly, I already told you that I deny all allegations, and anyone with werewolf superpowers to detect lies will shut up if they know what’s good for them. Thirdly, ewww.”
“You know, I sometimes think you’re too old for your age.” Noah shook his head. “Then you go and do something like this and I’m reminded that, yes, you are very much still a teenager.”
“There might have been an element of consoling my best bud during his first heartbreak,” Stiles said. “Not that he would admit that they were broken up or anything. Even with her starting to date Jackson, he was in denial.”
“Yes, well, I think we’re all coming to some conclusions about this young man’s ability to face reality,” Magnus said. “I know some people find a stubborn disposition admirable, but I can’t say that I’ve ever found it to be a particularly attractive trait.”
“I never really saw that side of him,” Noah admitted. “But then I haven’t actually spent all that much time with him one on one. You’d think Melissa would be more aware of it, but she’s not mentioned it.”
“Melissa holds down a full-time job,” Stiles reminded him. “Shift work and all. I think most of their day to day revolves around laundry and dishes and whose turn it is to do the grocery shopping. I’m pretty sure he spends more quality time with Deaton, his boss.”
“Ah yes, this Deaton has come up already,” Alec said with a frown. “He’s aware of the Shadow World, I take it?”
“Yeah, from what he’s said recently he used to be the Hales’ emissary,” Stiles replied, most of his mind somewhere else. He only vaguely registered Cora coming in and curling up quietly on the arm of the chair that Peter was in. “He showed me how to set a mountain ash barrier one time. You’d think, what with all that knowledge and experience with werewolves, that he would have been some help to a newly bitten teenager who worked in his clinic. For some reason, he kept quiet about it. Scott said it doesn’t mean that Deaton doesn’t care about him, it’s just because he doesn’t want to get involved in it all again, but I call bullshit. It was more good luck than good management that Scott didn’t seriously hurt or kill anyone in those early days. No-one who cared about Scott would want that for him.”
“It is a bit suspicious,” Magnus mused. “If he was an emissary, then he’s most likely a druid, yes? Hmm.”
“Yes, so Talia told me,” Peter attested. “I never really knew him, so hearsay from Talia is all I have. She kept a lot of the management side of being alpha close to her vest. She used me as an information gatherer, and sometimes as part of her enforcement team, but I was never included in the decision making.”
Noah snorted. “You were somewhat volatile when you were younger.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “Not nearly as much as I seemed, I assure you. Any werewolf as off the rails as I pretended to be would have either been killed as a danger to humans, and therefore the pack, or kept under strict supervision at all times.”
“Like Aunt Lucy.” Derek sounded like he just understood a mystery of long standing.
“That’s why she never went anywhere?” Cora asked, eyes wide.
“And why the younger kids were never left alone with her,” Peter confirmed. He shrugged. “She was injured as a child by a group of hunters. At the time, it was decided that it was unnecessary to kill her and that the pack would continue to care for her. She was actually improving, if slowly. By the time she was ready for a retirement home, she might even have been safe to be around.”
“Are we just going to ignore it, then?” Stiles burst out, unable to contain himself any longer. “No one’s going to bring up how I somehow managed to mind wipe-someone accidentally? No?”
“We don’t know for sure if that’s what happened,” Noah suggested.
Stiles gave him an incredulous look. “Right. Her mind just happened to wipe itself right in the same small window of time where I used my nifty new mind powers to kill a group of people just downstairs?”
“It doesn’t matter if you actually did it or not,” Magnus said firmly. “You were under attack and in imminent danger of death. Your untrained mind reacted to a threat in order to ensure your survival. Now, while I fully believe that it’s every person with superpowers’ responsibility to ensure that they have complete control over themselves so as to reduce or eliminate collateral damage, you can be excused from that. Brand new powers had just been foisted upon you by monsters who were now trying to kill you. Nothing about what happened in that house is in any way your fault.”
“Besides,” Peter added, “little miss Princess Argent had spent the earlier part of the night assaulting and abducting teenagers, and then became an accessory to torture when she handed them over to her grandfather, knowing full well that he wasn’t taking them to a tea party. She might not have been directly involved in your own torture, but she was hardly an innocent bystander. I really can’t find it in my cold dead heart to feel even the slightest twinge of regret.”
“You’d be perfectly happy if the entire Argent family was wiped out,” Stiles accused weakly, not wanting to admit that Peter’s words had actually made him feel better. He had to stop acting like Scott’s version of the truth was the real one.
Peter shrugged, not bothering to deny it. To be honest, at that point, Stiles couldn’t really blame him.
Noah went home at 10:30 p.m., promising to be back bright and early. Stiles got ready for bed, mind still going a million miles an hour. He lay awake for what seemed like hours before finally giving up and slipping out of bed.
He made his way downstairs as quietly as possible. He opened the fridge, not sure what he was looking for, and then closed it. He opened it again and grabbed a bottle of water. He twisted the cap off and took a drink.
The light of the moon was pouring into the kitchen, giving him a black and white view of the backyard. On a whim, Stiles picked up his water and went out to sit on the swing seat.
The night was cool and clear. A bit too cool, to be honest. The breeze soon had Stiles shivering slightly, goose pimples forming on his arms. He was regretfully considering going back inside when a leather jacket was dropped unceremoniously over his shoulders. His slightly hunched posture straightened out immediately.
“Hey, Derek.” He didn’t bother to turn around to check. Who else would it be? Peter? Ha. “You want to sit with me for a while? Look out at the world, and just forget about everything that’s going on, and be?”
“If you’re not careful, you’ll catch a cold.” Derek sat down beside him. His extra weight gave the seat more movement, and Stiles quickly lifted his feet off the ground so that they wouldn’t end up stubbed.
“You can’t actually catch a cold just by getting a little bit chilly,” he pointed out. “The common cold is a virus, and needs either a recently infected surface or an infected person in close proximity. The worst thing I’m going to get out here—providing that Magnus’ wards hold up and no sudden werewolves or vampires or zombies or rabid foxes appear out of nowhere—is hypothermia, and I would hope that I’d go inside long before that became likely.”
Derek was silent for a moment. “We didn’t have many full humans in our pack,” he said softly. “There was my father, my Uncle Brendan—he was married to my Aunt Dora—and their son Steven. It was always kind of terrifying when they were sick or injured. It just came up out of nowhere, and it always lasted so long. And they just…put up with it. Like it was okay that their body was attacking them for no reason.”
“Well, not no reason,” Stiles said. “Because various viruses and bacteria can affect cells by—” He stopped as Derek’s eyebrows drew together. “Did you guys not learn any biology in school?”
“Theory is different from real life,” Derek replied. “Knowing the science behind a rainbow doesn’t make it any less beautiful.”
“Are you seriously telling me that you like rainbows now?” Stiles shook his head. “Stop being so adorable, Derek, I don’t think I can take it.”
Derek’s grin was fleeting, but the sight of it gave Stiles the courage he needed.
“I’m sorry for blurting your private business out like that,” he said quickly, hoping to get the whole thing out before Derek shut him down. “I promise I’ll try my best not to do it again.”
Derek sighed. “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Stiles bumped Derek with his shoulder. “Take me, I’m yours. Rainbows and Star Wars? I’m done.”
A cloud drifted in front of the moon, dimming the meagre light. They sat in companionable silence for a while.
“Laura didn’t know,” Derek said eventually.
Stiles had begun to feel drowsy, but those quiet words startled him back to full wakefulness. “You never told her?” he asked cautiously.
“I never told anyone,” Derek admitted. “I was too ashamed, too—”
“Too sure that everyone else would blame you the same way you were blaming yourself?” Stiles finished for him.
“Yes,” Derek said simply. “Then she was dead, and I thought no one ever had to know.”
Stiles winced. “Right, well, I can see how me blurting it out must have come as a bit of a shock. But you know that I don’t blame you, right? You were fifteen, Derek, and she was an experienced predator.”
Derek shook his head. “I should have known, I should have—”
“You think your family was the first?” Stiles interrupted. “Me and dad and Alec, between us, we had everything we needed to dig up some very interesting stuff. Of course, it would have been better if Danny was in on it, he’s like some kind of genius when it comes to—never mind, not the point. The point is, Alec has a lot of contacts. Dad has access to the national database, and I have the knack of sifting data and putting patterns together. You weren’t the first, Derek, nor the second or third.
“You can bet your boots you weren’t the last. And it wasn’t your fault. She would have found a way in without you. The only reason she used you like she did is because she was a sick psycho, and I’m pretty sure she got off on hurting people.” Stiles paused. “Not like in a BDSM way, ‘cause so long as the participants are consenting adults and safety measures are properly considered and implemented then there’s nothing sick about getting off on pain. Giving it or receiving it. It’s just sick, you know, when you’re giving pre-adults the bad touch and lying to them while planning to set their families on fire.”
Derek snorted, but he seemed less gloomy than a few moments ago, so Stiles counted that as a win.
“I came into this supernatural world not all that long ago with no preconceptions at all, and it’s clear to me after only a few months that werewolves have never been the problem that the hunters have tried to make them out as. Of course, the only werewolves that were a problem were taken care of by, oh yeah, people who weren’t hunters. They are lying hypocrites. Your family didn’t deserve what happened to them, and neither did you.”
“The Argents did help a bit with Peter,” Derek pointed out.
Stiles snorted. “The Argents made Peter. Making a mess and then cleaning it up again doesn’t win anyone points. And they didn’t clean it up, they only ‘helped a bit.’ Fail.”
“I appreciate you trying to cheer me up.”
“Yeah, I know that it takes more than that.” Stiles hesitated. “Magnus suggested that I should look into getting some therapy.” He slanted a sideways glance at the werewolf sitting beside him.
Derek nodded thoughtfully. “It might help,” he agreed. “It probably can’t hurt.”
“Provided that my therapist isn’t actually working for a pack of evil alphas that intend to kill off my friends,” Stiles amended. He took a deep breath. “See, the subject came up because I was wondering if you could benefit from therapy. Magnus suggested that it was something that we might do together.”
Derek’s brows drew together.
“Not together, together,” Stiles said hurriedly. “Not like couples therapy, that would be weird, we’re not even a couple! More like, I’ll do it if you do it, and you’ll do it if I do it. And Magnus would be able to find us a trustworthy therapist, and maybe get them to make a binding oath or something that they won’t betray us. Can he even do that? That would be really cool.”
Derek still wasn’t saying anything.
“Because honestly, dude, there’s been some whacked-out shit that’s happened to both of us,” Stiles went on, “and the way I see it, if Magnus can get some kind of secrecy magic going, then what could it hurt? Sure, it might end up being a waste of time but, on the other hand, it might not. And I know they say that therapy only works if you want it to work, but that’s no problem because I do actually want it to work, I’m just doubtful that it will, you know?”
“Stop babbling, Stiles.”
“Oh thank god.” Stiles took in a deep, relieved breath. “I thought I might have temporarily broken you or broken your ability to communicate. With me, anyway.”
“If I can get some assurances from Magnus that talking to a therapist will in no way harm my pack, then I’ll do it,” Derek said. “Providing you hold up your end of the bargain and go as well.”
“Deal!” Stiles said triumphantly. “I’ll tell Magnus tomorrow.”
They sat in silence again, the creaking of the swing seat sounding louder with every moment that passed.
“You should get to bed,” Derek said eventually.
“I know.” Stiles sighed. “There’s just something… Sitting out here in the dark, the world feels peaceful, you know? No evil hunters, no Alpha Packs, no freaky new mind powers. I could wake up and find that this whole thing has been an extremely vivid dream.”
“And that’s what you want?” There was an edge to Derek’s voice that Stiles didn’t remember hearing before.
“Sometimes,” Stiles admitted. “But then I sometimes wish I could wake up and discover that my mom is still here too. Do you never do that? Imagine waking up in your bed with all your family still alive?”
“No,” Derek said, and Stiles realised that the edge he was hearing was pain. “I never thought I deserved that kind of—”
“Well, you do,” Stiles said fiercely. “Come on, Derek, do this with me. Sit here with me, listen to the sounds around us, take a deep breath and relax. Now imagine it, waking up, going into the kitchen and seeing your mom or dad making breakfast—”
“Peter,” Derek murmured so softly that Stiles could barely hear him. “Peter is making breakfast. Laura is trying to convince dad that she needs a better car than Jason Stevenson otherwise our family reputation will be ruined. Cora is yelling at the twins for spilling eggs on her English essay. Mom’s telling her that it was her own fault for having it on the table at meal times. Thea is talking to Peter about heading up to New York for a while to see if any of the werewolves up there strike his fancy, but Peter says he’s happy where he is. Beth is crying, and mom is rocking her…”
The skin under Derek’s closed eyes began to glisten with moisture.
“It’s like a scorpion trapped in amber,” Stiles said quietly, closing his own eyes again. “A piece of the past, preserved indefinitely. They deserve to be remembered, Derek. And you deserve to remember them.”
Stiles sat quietly as the moon moved its slow graceful way across the sky, his companion still and silent beside him.
Eventually, Derek heaved a shuddering breath. “Thank you.”
The next couple of days primarily consisted of training and research. Magnus had listened to Stiles’ halting request for him to provide a therapist that could be trusted for him and Derek, and had agreed to talk the matter over with Catarina. He was also still working on Stiles’ shielding with him as well as strengthening his telekinesis.
Noah decided he could get more benefit from the training that Alec was giving Derek, and soon he and Peter had joined them.
Alec proved himself to be a superb instructor. He swiftly assessed his students and assigned exercises that would challenge them and help them improve.
For Noah, this started out with a lot of running. “I didn’t realise I’d let myself get this far out of shape,” he groaned on Wednesday night as he went to get up from the dinner table.
“You sit behind a desk for the majority of the day,” Stiles pointed out.
“So do you. When you’re at school.”
“Maybe, but I also play lacrosse, and in the off season, coach makes us do cross-country,” Stiles returned. “Not to mention that you’ve got twenty-two years on me, old man.”
“Careful who you’re calling old man,” Noah threatened. “I can still ground you indefinitely. Or stop paying for Wi-Fi.”
“No!” Stiles gasped, his hand going to his forehead in an overly dramatic manner. “Not that! Anything but that!”
“You know what you need to do,” Noah said, raising an eyebrow in Stiles’ direction.
“Forgive me, kindest of fathers,” Stiles said obediently, making his eyes as big and wide as possible. “My brain was addled by this delicious salmon dinner that some wizard enticed me into eating.”
“It was pretty amazing,” Noah agreed, wandering over to the recliner chair that Peter normally claimed as his own, sinking into it with a sigh. He squinted over at where Peter was glowering at him from the table. “Are you sure you don’t have magic? First that amazing dinner, and now I discover that the chair you’ve been sitting in is made of clouds.”
Peter’s frown gave way to a reluctant smile. “Just good taste and culinary skill, I’m afraid. Does this mean that you don’t intend to help with the clean-up?”
“That’s why I have a son.” Noah closed his eyes and waved a hand in Stiles’ general direction. “Hey, kiddo! Do your old man a favour and get these dishes sorted out?”
“Yeah, okay,” Stiles agreed. “Come on, Derek, Cora, let’s let the oldsters rest their weary bones.”
“I don’t know whether to be offended or grateful,” Alec said to Magnus as they relaxed together on the couch. “I’m really not all that much older than Derek.”
“If it gets you out of boring chores, who cares?” Magnus shifted so that he could stretch out and lay his head in Alec’s lap. “Pet me, Alec.”
Alec obligingly started running his fingers through Magnus’ hair. “I sometimes wonder if you’re secretly a cat and this is your ‘humagus’ form.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Magnus murmured, eyes slipping closed in pleasure. “I couldn’t be a cat. Cats don’t have enough magic in them to set a portal.”
Alec’s hand stopped. “But they could transform themselves to a human shape?”
“Theoretically, yes,” Magnus said. “They have enough magic in them, but it would require that they had the mental capabilities to learn and understand the spell in the first place. Alexander, why have you stopped petting me?”
“My apologies,” Alec said gravely, resuming his appointed task. “I had a message from Izzy a little while ago. There are some things that need to be taken care of in New York, so I’ll be heading back tomorrow morning.”
“I hope nothing’s wrong,” Noah said with some concern.
“It’s mostly bureaucratic stuff that can’t be handled by anyone else,” Alec dismissed. “Providing that there’s nothing too unexpected, I should be back by lunchtime, two at the latest.”
“Call me if you need me, dearest,” Magnus mumbled, nearly asleep.
Alec smiled fondly down at the head in his lap. “Of course.”
In the kitchen with the Hale siblings, Stiles was bemoaning the lack of a dishwasher. “I mean, it doesn’t matter so much when there’s only a couple of people.” He scrubbed at a particularly stubborn spot on the pan he was holding. “But when we’re talking about six adults sharing the same space—with another expected to be here all week, not that I’m complaining or anything—well, I think that a dishwasher should definitely be included! It’s a five-bedroom house!”
Derek frowned. “It’s a four-bedroom house.”
Stiles finally managed to dislodge the troublesome piece of food matter, giving a quiet crow of triumph. He gave the pan a final inspection before handing it to Derek, who was waiting with the tea-towel. “What? No, dude. There are five bedrooms.”
Derek shook his head. “I paid the lease, remember? It’s listed as a four-bedroom, when I looked through it, it was a four-bedroom. It is a four-bedroom.”
Stiles dropped the scrubber into the sudsy water and turned to face Derek, holding up his hands so he could count on his fingers. “Going up the stairs, to the left we have your room, my room, with Magnus and Alec in the master suite at the end. On the right, we have the bathroom, followed by the toilet, followed by Peter’s room, followed by Cora’s room, which is incidentally the same room that the puppies crashed in on Sunday night. Five.”
Derek reached over to hang the now dry pan in it’s designated spot on the wall and absently wiped off the foam that Stiles had inadvertently flicked onto his shirt, frown intensifying. “How did that— there were only four bedrooms, Stiles. There was no extra bedroom between Peter’s room and the master suite at the end of the hallway. Where the hell did Cora’s room come from?”
“Are you telling me that I’m sleeping in an imaginary room?” Cora did not look impressed by that revelation at all. She was leaning against the oven and holding an almost completely dry tea-towel in her hands, having stood back and watched as Derek did the bulk of the drying.
“Maybe not imaginary so much as magical,” Stiles theorised, dipping his hands into the hot water and scrabbling around for the plug as quickly as he could to avoid burning them. “Hey, here’s a thought. Maybe next time the dude with the healing superpowers should be the one to stick his hands in the piping hot water.”
“You called dibs on washing,” Derek reminded him. “Also…” He opened the cupboard under the sink and gestured towards several pairs of rubber gloves.
Stiles gave him the stink eye. “You didn’t think to mention this earlier? Like, several days earlier?”
Derek raised his eyebrows in response. “You mean to say that you didn’t poke your nose into every nook and cranny of this house at the earliest opportunity?”
Stiles busied himself with wiping down the bench. “Well, yes. And, okay, maybe I had actually seen those before. But I obviously didn’t remember them, and you didn’t remind me, so you’re still in the doghouse, mister.”
“Are we done here then?” Cora interjected. “Because all this desperate flirting is making me feel ill. I don’t know why the two of you can’t either just fuck and get it out of your systems or agree to be together like normal people.”
Stiles felt his whole face grow hot. A glance at Derek showed that he was pinker than normal too. “Haven’t you ever seen a rom-com?” he asked, trying to brazen it out. “There’s a week or two of desperate flirting still on the books, followed by an amusing misunderstanding surrounding the surprise appearance of an old flame before anything interesting can happen.”
Cora made a disgusted noise, throwing her tea-towel at her brother. “I can’t be here for this.” She turned on her heel and walked out to join the group in the lounge.
Derek folded Cora’s tea-towel and settled it over the oven handle, dropping his own far more used one on the table. “All my exes are dead,” he said quietly.
“Yeah?” Stiles said, inching closer. “I don’t even have any old flames.”
“So, we can probably skip that part.” Derek leaned sideways slightly so their shoulders were touching.
“Sounds good to me,” Stiles replied. Their eyes met and held for a long moment. Stiles was enthralled by Derek’s eyes. He’d known in an abstract way that they were greenish but seeing them up close like this he was able to discern flecks of blue and brown in the inner part of the iris. They were beautiful.
Derek looked away. “We should join the others,” he said, although he made no motion to do so.
“Yeah,” Stiles agreed, his gaze dropping to Derek’s lips.
All of a sudden, Derek’s already pink skin went deep red and he straightened up, breaking their connection. “One day I’m going to kill Peter,” he muttered. “Again.” He stalked into the lounge without a backwards glance, leaving Stiles feeling flushed and confused. He gave himself a quick shake before following.
He arrived in the lounge to find all the comfy seats were taken, and Cora giving Peter a glare of disgust to rival the one she’d levelled at Stiles and Derek in the kitchen. Stiles decided he didn’t want to know, and went to sit at his dad’s feet the way he used to when he was small.
“Hey, kid,” Noah said sleepily. “Anything you want to do tomorrow since my trainer is going to be absent?”
“Since Magnus will still be here to make sure no one abducts me off the street, we could maybe go somewhere that’s not here? Not that this isn’t a nice place,” he hastily reassured Derek, “I just feel a little cooped up, is all.”
“I don’t see why Magnus couldn’t take you all for a short trip to New York,” Alec offered.
“Really?” Stiles was thrilled with that idea. “That would be bangin’, dude.”
Alec shuddered. “Don’t call me dude.”
Stiles narrowed his eyes and cast a suspicious glance Derek’s way. “Are you two sure you aren’t secretly twin brothers separated at birth?”
Alec stared at him. “I’m four years older than Derek.”
Stiles waved a dismissive hand. “Details.”
Stiles was up bright and early on Thursday morning, looking forward to their prospective trip. He tried not to show how crushed he was when Magnus—who had seemed almost as enthusiastic as Stiles about the idea when he’d woken from his nap the night before—received a text that meant that not only was New York off the agenda but that Magnus would be leaving them for the day.
“We’ll do it another day, flaugnarde.” Magnus consoled him with an absent pat to the shoulder, mind already elsewhere. “Alexander, darling, you surely aren’t wearing those boots for a meeting with Aldertree? Please let me bring you the ones with the garrotte hidden in the heel.”
“These ones have the throwing blades, see?” Alec pulled three small aerodynamic looking blades out of nowhere and brandished them in Magnus’ face.
Magnus sniffed disapprovingly. “The garotte ones go better with those trousers,” he grumbled, clearly unwilling to concede the point. “Now, where did I put my coffee?”
Before long they were gone in a flurry of movement, Magnus clutching the travel mug that held his coffee with a grip that suggested anyone trying to remove it from him was looking at nothing short of evisceration.
Stiles picked at the delicious breakfast that Peter had provided and tried not to behave like a spoiled child that had been denied a treat.
Noah arrived at ten with bad news of his own. “Chris Argent has been seen meeting with several newcomers to town,” he reported. “Tara did some ringing around, and they haven’t booked in at any of the motels or hotels within official city limits. Which means that they’ve got a base here or they’re commuting from somewhere.”
“We should assume they have a base.” Stiles reached for his laptop. He swore under his breath when he saw that he’d forgotten to charge it the night before, ignoring the disapproving look his father sent his way.
“I’ll get your cables,” Derek offered. He leapt up the stairs in two strides before Stiles had the chance to agree.
“Where is Chris Argent living at present?” Peter asked Noah after smirking at Stiles’ and giving him an exaggerated wink.
Noah sighed. “He’s rented a house on the edge of the warehouse district. It’s not quite as up-market as his previous residence, but it’s no doubt a lot cheaper. Especially since his daughter is still in the hospital.”
Derek returned with the recharge cord and bent to plug it into the nearest socket. Stiles found himself distracted by the way Derek’s jeans curved over his backside. That was one round, biteable ass.
“You can boot up now,” Derek said, breaking Stiles out of the daze he’d fallen into.
The blushing shyness that Derek had been displaying the previous night was gone, replaced by a smooth confidence that was much more like what Stiles would have expected in the first place.
“Any time now, Little Red,” Peter said mockingly.
“Get stuffed, Peter,” Stiles replied. Somehow the power cord was now connected to his laptop, so he pressed the power button.
“Stiles!” Noah reprimanded him. “Don’t be rude to the man cooking your food! Do you want to be stuck eating grilled cheese for the next two weeks?”
“I happen to like grilled cheese,” Stiles said with pretend dignity, waiting for the Wi-Fi connection to be established before he opened up his browser. “Now, stop flirting, the two of you, and let’s get to work.”
Unfortunately, Stiles soon hit a dead end with information that he had the skills and ability to access. “Danny would be so much better at this,” he muttered as he poked around, trying to think up avenues that he hadn’t already explored.
“We’re not going to be commissioning lawless acts from a teenager who has already run afoul of the system,” Noah said sternly. “Mr Māhealani is not a resource for you to exploit. Let him get on with his life. Young offender’s records are sealed for reasons, you know, and one of them is so that unscrupulous people can’t take advantage of them.” He studied Stiles’ face and obviously saw a trace of guilt or something there. He groaned. “Oh, for— You’ve already done it, haven’t you?”
“It was important!” Stiles insisted. “We needed to find out who the alpha was! It was only tracing the origin of an email, nothing nefarious!”
“Stiles! Those files are supposed to be confidential! Do I even want to know what you threatened the poor boy with in order to get him to do your dirty work?”
Stiles cast a guilty glance towards Derek who was still standing beside him. Derek just raised a single eyebrow at him, face expressionless.
Noah looked between them. “You threatened him with Derek?”
Stiles winced. “Well, threaten is maybe not the right term. You see, Danny’s gay. Very gay. So, let’s just say that I offered Danny something that he wanted and, because of that, Danny was in the mood to be obliging.”
Noah looked horrified, but Peter’s expression was one of glee. “Are you telling me that you pimped out my nephew to find out where an email had been sent from?”
“No!” Stiles objected. “Well, not really? Only a little!”
“How can you only pimp someone out a little bit?” Noah asked despairingly.
“Oh. My. God.” Cora looked almost as amused as Peter. “Look at him! It’s all true!”
Derek had crossed his arms across his chest and was staring at the ceiling like it might hold the secrets of eternal life.
“It was nothing all that bad, I just had him take his shirt off a few times,” Stiles defended. “He takes his shirt off all the time anyway! Sometimes I wonder if male werewolves develop an allergy to shirts or something, ‘cause they’re always stripping to skin!”
Cora looked at Stiles as though she’d never really seen him before. Noah put his hand over his face, like maybe if he couldn’t see it then it wasn’t happening, and Peter chortled with delight. Derek continued staring at the ceiling, although his cheeks had gained a bit of colour.
“Can we maybe stop talking about this now?” Stiles asked plaintively. “My original point still stands. I’ve pretty much done everything that I can, and while we now have a lot of information about all the names on my list, it’s not really enough to do anything with.”
Noah dragged his hand off his face. “I might know someone who can help with that,” he said hesitantly. “She’s an old friend from my Army days. I haven’t talked to her in years, but last I heard, she was making quite a name for herself in online security. The only thing is that I have no idea if she knows about werewolves, and it would be pretty hard to get her help with something like this unless we tell her.”
Derek and Peter exchanged a long look.
“Uh, it might not just be werewolves,” Stiles reminded him. “There’s a whole group that Magnus calls the Shadow World, you know. Warlocks and druids and vampires and demons, although, according to Alec, demons aren’t so much part of the Shadow World as they are invaders from another dimension that need to be wiped out.”
Derek nodded. “Yes, he was complaining the other day that more and more are coming through every year. There are theories that it’s to do with pop culture making demon summoning something cool that friends can all do together. And wherever the demons are coming from, they’re getting craftier all the time. They used to announce themselves when they came through, but now they’re trying to be more sneaky.”
Noah made a frustrated noise. “That’s not really helping me. Can I make a call to her or not?”
“How much do you trust her?” Peter asked cautiously.
“I’d trust her with my life,” Noah stated. “I’m confident that if she knew what these hunters were doing, she would be right beside me demanding that something be done.”
“That’s good to know, but you’re a cop. You trust a lot of people with your life on a daily basis,” Peter reminded him. “You should make sure you trust her with Stiles’ life.” He paused. “Of course, the biggest concern in bringing someone on board isn’t whether or not they can be trusted, it’s whether or not the people that they trust can be trusted. And so on and so forth.”
“If that’s the case, how do you wind up telling anyone?” Noah asked.
Peter shrugged. “We’re generally either marrying them or turning them. Or sometimes both. At that point they’ve got a rather invested interest in keeping the secret.”
Stiles snorted. “Well, I hate to say it, but there’s been a whole lot of outing going on down this neck of the woods lately.” He regarded his father. “I say that you should go with your gut. Use your instincts and, you know, maybe sound her out a little bit before springing the whole werewolf and hunter shebang on her?”
“Yes, well.” Noah cleared his throat. “The thing is that me getting in touch with her is going to be unusual enough that she’ll no doubt immediately look into what’s going on in my life.”
Peter leaned forward, intent. “That might actually work in our favour,” he suggested. “If she’s in the know about the Shadow World, she’ll see signs of what has really been going on down here these last few months with very little effort. How she reacts to that might be an answer in itself.”
“Great,” Cora muttered. “Gambling with our very existence. What fun. Why did I bother coming back here again?”
“You came because you felt the draw of pack,” Peter replied sharply.
Cora raised an eyebrow. “Right. Pack. If it’s such a draw, then why did I only just start feeling it now?”
“Because the Hales have only just returned to pack lands,” Stiles offered. “A lot of my research indicated that the longer a pack resides in a territory, the deeper the ‘mystical bonds’ go. It wouldn’t have just been the bonds between wolves that were sent reeling after the fire, the land was injured as well. It would only have started to heal again when Derek took the alpha power from Peter and chose to make his home here again. Abandoned rail cars notwithstanding.”
“Abandoned rail cars?” Noah shook his head. “No, actually, I don’t think I really want to know.”
“Our assets have been tied up,” Derek replied seriously. “There was also the threat of the hunters.”
“How would isolating yourself like that keep you safer from hunters?” Stiles wondered aloud.
Derek frowned at him. “It’s not just about keeping the pack safe, it’s about keeping the general innocent populace safe as well. Hunters have shown time and time again that they’re not terribly concerned with human casualties, so long as they can’t be tied back to them. My mother always said that it was our duty to keep innocents as safe as possible, not just from us but from those that would come looking for us.”
“Yes, well, mom’s dead,” Cora snarled. “Maybe her way of doing things didn’t turn out to be so great after all.”
“It wasn’t mom’s fault we were attacked.”
“No?” Cora got right up in his face. “She was the alpha, wasn’t she? Why didn’t she know about the hunters? Why did most of our family burn?”
Derek was holding himself stiffly, but it looked like it wouldn’t take much for him to just shatter. “Our pack was killed because of me.”
Cora drew back. “What?”
“I was the one who broke silence.” Derek’s stance was brittle and closed off. “I was the one who told Kate Argent about the secret entrance and that everyone would be there that day. It was me, not mom.”
Cora looked devastated. “But, why would you…”
“Let’s not only tell half of the story now, nephew,” Peter said smoothly. He rose to his feet and came forward. “Derek may indeed have done those things, but it wasn’t quite as simple as all that.” He laid his hand on Derek’s shoulder and turned to Cora, who had shrunk in on herself and was staring at Derek with wide-open, wounded, eyes.
Stiles desperately wanted to intervene, to stand by Derek and give him his support. But Stiles hadn’t been affected by the fire. It would be better for Peter—who had suffered for years—to make Cora see the truth.
“I don’t know if you knew about the thing with Paige,” Peter began. If anything Derek’s face went even blanker, and Stiles was confused. Who was Paige? “Young Derek, not yet fifteen, got to talking to a sympathetic alpha at the gathering in the August of that year. There were a lot of alphas present, if you recall. Deucalion—you remember him, I trust—had gathered them together so that they could enter into talks with the Argents.
“Talia disagreed and chose not to put her support behind it—said that Gerard Argent wasn’t to be trusted—but she did allow them to hold the meeting in her territory. Most of Talia’s children were carefully scouted by the visitors to see if they could be lured into other packs. Our blood is strong but so is our loyalty, and our line has been gifted with some rare talents for more generations than we have records for.”
“Is that why so many grown-ups wanted to talk to me?” Cora asked, realisation crossing her face. By the look on Derek’s face, he hadn’t known about that either.
“Talia chose not to tell you what was going on,” Peter continued. “I’m not sure if she thought you’d be intimidated or if she was worried you’d start looking around to see if there was another pack you liked. The result of this lack of explanation was a young Derek, pouring his romantic woes into the ear of a sympathetic alpha.
“You see, Derek was in love. She seemed to care for him too, but he didn’t know if she would continue to care for him once she knew his secret, and he wasn’t allowed to tell her. This alpha—Ennis, another of your recent acquaintances—realised that if he played his cards right, he might have a chance to nab one of the coveted Hale bloodline. If he could make Derek’s love into a member of his pack, it was highly probable that Derek would follow her. He convinced Derek that the only way to solve the issue was for him to bite her.
“Remember that Derek was only fourteen, and Talia kept all of her children rather sheltered. He eventually agreed, and Paige was bitten. However, the bite didn’t take. Ennis fled the scene, and Derek stayed with his love.
“Paige was dying in agony, and so she asked Derek to make it quick. Derek gave her the release she asked for, and that’s when his eyes turned blue.”
“That was why… But no one told us this!” Cora said, eyes wide and horrified. “We just knew that blue eyes meant he was a killer. Why didn’t anyone tell us?”
“I told you before, Talia liked to shelter her children.” Peter shrugged. “Right, so then we have Derek, broken-hearted, blaming himself, being gently excluded from a lot of pack activities because of his eyes. This went on for a few months, and then an older woman began paying attention to him. She started spending time with Derek, I assume she flattered him a little. And why wouldn’t he be flattered? She was older and gorgeous, tons of men and boys wanted her time. Yet, she singled him out.”
Stiles sighed, knowing where this was going now. Derek had turned his face away.
Peter kept going, speaking steadily and calmly. “Kate Argent was twenty-four. Derek—having had his birthday—was newly fifteen, grieving, and being left largely to his own devices. Yes, he told Kate Argent what she wanted to know. But I for one don’t blame him at all for what she did with the information she gathered. Hunters are supposed to follow a code, and if she hadn’t been an evil murdering cesspit of morality, it wouldn’t have mattered what he told her. I didn’t get the chance to properly question her, you understand, but it was obvious that she targeted Derek, and that she wasn’t new to the game she was playing.”
“We’ve found evidence of her pulling similar tricks in a number of other places,” Noah said gently. “Both before and after the fire here. Even if you hadn’t told her what she wanted to know, Derek, I’m sure she would have found the information somehow.”
Cora looked like she didn’t know how to feel. “I can’t be here right now,” she choked out, before fleeing back up the stairs to the room that she’d been given.
Derek looked devastated, but Peter hadn’t taken his hand off his shoulder. “Leave her for now,” he advised. “She just needs time to work through it. It’s very emotional, after all. And in case you didn’t catch it, I want you to know that I don’t blame you at all for what happened. Cora was right about one thing, at least. The defence of the pack is the alpha’s responsibility, and the way you were left alone while you were so vulnerable—it wasn’t well done of your mother.”
“She may have made mistakes,” Derek said hoarsely. “But she didn’t deserve to die. They didn’t deserve to die.”
“Of course she didn’t,” Noah said. “No one thinks she did. Well, apart from some of these hunters Stiles and I have been following up on, I suppose, but then that’s a given and isn’t any kind of judgement on her for being anything other than a werewolf.”
Peter dropped his hand and smirked at Noah. “You know, sometimes the similarity between you and your son is very striking.”
Noah rolled his eyes. “If you’re trying to tell me that I was babbling, Peter, then thank you. I was actually able to discern that on my own.”
Stiles made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat. He wanted his father to move on, of course he did. Eight years was plenty long enough to mourn alone. But he wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to the idea that the first interest he’d shown was in Peter Hale. Peter. Ugh.
Noah blinked. “We swerved off topic, a bit,” he said. “Can I call Renee Hepler and ask for her help, or not?”
“Should we wait for Alec and Magnus and find out what they think?” Stiles asked.
Derek closed his eyes, and his shoulders relaxed slightly. “Alec and Magnus are a big help,” he said, voice rough with his recent emotional turmoil. “But we can’t rely on them for everything. As a pack, we have to be able to stand on our own feet, make our own decisions. Even if it’s about who to ally with.”
Peter nodded approvingly.
Noah raised his eyebrows. “So that’s a yes, then?”
Derek nodded once, sharply. “That’s a yes. If you trust this woman, and you think she can get us information that we need on the hunters and their movements, then I would be grateful if you could ask for her help.”
Noah inclined his head in response, but made no move towards his phone.
“Aren’t you going to call her?” Stiles prompted.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? She’s in England. I’ll call her around midnight. She likes her sleep, and I have no intention of waking her before she’s ready to be up.”
Stiles found the property Derek had hired even more confining than usual that day; he no doubt got on everyone’s nerves. His own mood wasn’t improved by the sight of everyone else coming and going with none of the restrictions he was under.
Needing to work out some of his frustrations, he asked Peter to run him through some fighting drills.
“Why not Derek?” Peter asked even as he stretched his arms up towards the ceiling in preparation. Stiles very carefully ignored the way his father was watching appreciatively.
“Derek has to go and get some stuff done with the lawyers,” Derek said, coming down the stairs. He cocked his head to one side, observing his uncle. “Besides, your fighting style is more like Stiles’; it’s based on speed and unpredictability.”
Stiles beamed up at him. Derek had obviously put on his big boy clothes for the day, and rather than shave the scruff, he’d done something else with it that just managed to make him look like the sexiest thing Stiles had ever seen. And he’d watched a lot of porn.
“Come on, then.” Peter motioned for Stiles to follow him outside. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Fighting with Peter was completely unlike fighting with Magnus. Magnus always seemed completely in control of himself, his movements studied and graceful, and Stiles always felt like he was fighting in slow motion in comparison.
But Peter was a whirling dervish; he was here, there, and everywhere. Stiles was reminded forcefully of how scary Peter had been when he was the alpha, how helpless they’d all been. It was a great way to use up all his energy though. The lingering fear and anger he’d been harbouring towards Peter, his worry that Peter was playing them all and would turn on them sooner or later, his anger that his dad seemed to be moving on from his mom with him, Stiles put it all into his fighting.
Eventually, he collapsed onto the grass panting. It was then that he realised Alec and Magnus had returned at some point; he and Peter were the centre of attention. A quick squint at his watch showed him that they’d been training for over two hours. No wonder he was thirsty. Even as the thought crossed his mind, Derek was there. He handed him a glass of lovely, cool water.
“I thought you had something to sort out with the lawyer.” Stiles gulped down the water and handed the glass back.
“I did.” Derek shrugged. “We’ve been corresponding mostly online, so I only really needed to get some paperwork signed and witnessed.”
“Wow, kid you’re much better at that than I expected.” Noah looked like he didn’t know whether he should approve or not.
Stiles shrugged, rolling his shoulders to get some of the tension out. “Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, you know? Necessity is a great motivator. Makes for a tight learning curve.”
Magnus clapped his hands together, drawing everyone’s attention. “That’s probably enough for the day. Come inside and get cleaned up before you fall unconscious. I’ll see what I can do to restore this area a bit.”
Stiles looked around a little guiltily at the rather battered looking vegetation. He looked at Peter.
Peter looked back at him with something like concern. “He could be right. I think I pushed you a bit harder than was perhaps wise.”
“Good.” Stiles wondered if he would get away with asking to be carried inside. “My enemies aren’t going to wait until I’m rested and give me convenient water breaks—if it ever comes to that.” Groaning theatrically, he heaved himself to his feet, accepting Derek’s assistance when it seemed like he was going to get stuck halfway up.
“You were supposed to be learning,” Peter retorted. “I think I lost sight of that at one point. You have my apologies; it was just exhilarating to have a fight that had less to do with strength and more to do with agility. It’s been a while.”
“You used to take martial arts,” Derek mentioned.
“Yes, well there was that six years I was in a coma,” Peter pointed out. “I have to admit, I let my training lapse somewhat.”
For some reason that struck Stiles as extremely funny. He was still snickering even as he stepped under the shower upstairs.
Magnus and Alec had no problem with the decision to call in Renee Hepler. “Every supernatural being has to make their own choices,” Magnus said. “So long as you make them with consideration and in full knowledge of the possible consequences, that’s all we can ask.”
Alec nodded, looking slightly uncomfortable for some reason that Stiles couldn’t figure out. He was too tired to look into it right then and merely made a mental note to ask about it some other time. Maybe when he had Alec to himself.
Stiles nearly fell asleep in his dinner that night and went up to bed immediately afterwards, greeting his mattress like a long lost friend.
Downstairs, Derek made small talk by asking Peter about the possibility of having grilling outside when the weather warmed up.
Peter stopped halfway through a sentence on the best place to source organic meat and looked up at the ceiling. “There, he’s dropped off,” he said.
No one asked who he meant. There was a collective sigh.
“How is he really handling things?” Magnus asked, looking concerned. “The state he was in when we got back—I think I need to speak to Catarina soon. He’s got a lot of weight on his shoulders for one so young.”
“He’s doing better than he was,” Derek offered. “At least he’s starting to work through it now.”
“Thank you for what you did for him today,” Noah said to Peter. “I think that training with you really allowed him to get some stuff out. Maybe, after Claudia died, I should have set him up with some sort of physical training, given him an outlet.”
“I’m not sure that structured martial arts would be all that beneficial for him,” Magnus interjected. “Stiles’ greatest strength is that he doesn’t follow the rules the way everyone else sees them; he thinks out of the box and finds loopholes. Most martial arts are about strict control over your body and your surroundings. Stiles does better—” He hesitated.
“Stiles fights like a berserker,” Alec said bluntly. “My brother Jace fights much the same way. It can be highly effective but, at this early stage in his training, it means that he tends to leave himself open. What we need to do is get him working on awareness and train him in the moves that will allow him to take advantage of his unpredictability. The more he learns, the better he’ll be at plugging those gaps.”
Noah sighed. “I just wish that he only had to deal with the usual things teenage boys have to deal with. You know, crushes, sports, the jock bully.”
“Speaking of that, how’re things going with Jackson?” Peter asked Derek.
Derek frowned. “I think he’s doing better,” he said. “He’s agreed to come with the others tomorrow evening.” He grimaced. “He’ll probably bring his girlfriend.”
“Have you considered how best to go about telling his parents?” Noah asked. “If you want, I can come with you.”
“That would be good,” Derek agreed immediately. “I think Jackson would appreciate it too.”
Noah nodded. “What about the other parents? Boyd’s and Erica’s, I mean. I don’t think that Isaac’s foster parents really need to be consulted.”
“What do you think about getting them together and doing one big reveal instead of a number of smaller ones?” Derek suggested.
“Do you think that would work better?” Noah asked
“It might,” Peter said slowly. “It would give the parents a small network of people who were in the same boat as them, so to speak. Other adults that could understand what they’re dealing with.”
“Well, let me know and I can set something up,” Noah said. “They’re more likely to turn up to a meeting that I arrange, after all.”
Peter winked. “Who wouldn’t want to come to something that you arranged, dear Sheriff?”
Derek sighed. “I’m glad Stiles is upstairs and I don’t have to look at his screwed up face at that comment.”
“He doesn’t think he’s being subtle, does he?” Alec asked.
Peter frowned. “Does he really disapprove? I don’t want to come between you and your son, Noah. I’ll stop the flirting if you ask me to.”
Noah laughed. “Trust me, if Stiles disapproved as much as he was pretending to, we would know about it. He’s not shy at expressing himself, and Peter doesn’t have the same protection of his love that Scott and I have when we upset him.”
Magnus leaned forward. “This sounds like a story. Do tell!”
Noah settled back. “Well, I don’t know if any of you are aware that Stiles is actually more than a year older than most of his classmates?”
Derek nodded his understanding, but the rest of them looked a little surprised. “He gets the buzz cut on purpose to look younger.”
Noah gave him a searching look but didn’t say anything and continued his story. “So, that mostly came about because of his ADHD,” he revealed. “Stiles had atypical responses to most of the general methods and doses. It took quite a bit of trial and error to get everything sorted out to the point where he could sit still long enough that class time wasn’t a nightmare for everyone. During that period, he met and befriended Scott. When it came time to join classes again, Stiles had decided that he wanted to be with his friend.”
“Seems reasonable enough,” Magnus said.
“Yes, Claudia and I thought so as well, except the school wasn’t all that keen on it,” Noah reported. “Stiles is a bright kid, and he’d have easily kept up with his own age group, could probably even have been sent ahead if he’d showed any inclination for it. Also, the teacher in Scott’s class was the same one that Stiles’d been having the problems with the year before. She flat out refused to have Stiles in her class again. Stiles wasn’t all that happy with her decision and, after that, she had a rather long string of bad luck that ended with her moving all the way to Texas. Not that anyone managed to pin anything on Stiles. Even at seven years old, he was a crafty little bastard.”
“But the issues with the medication had been sorted out,” Cora said, frowning. “Why would it matter?”
“Stiles has always had a rather polarising effect on those who meet him,” Noah admitted. “It’s a love or hate thing and, unfortunately, a lot of people go straight to hate. Which is a pity for them since, if they took the time to actually get to know him, they’d find out that there’s no more loyal friend they could ever make.”
“Tell me about it.” Derek shook his head. “Scott—his instincts should be better than that. I have to believe that he doesn’t have any idea of what he’s throwing away.”
“I offered him the bite you know,” Peter said unexpectedly, talking mostly to Noah. “Stiles, that is. He would have made an exceptional werewolf. He said no, but there was quite a lot of lie in his answer. I understand now; it wasn’t being a werewolf that he had a problem with, it was the possibility of bite rejection. He’s determined that you live to a ripe old age, and seems to feel that his direct intervention will be required to achieve that.”
“He’s been micromanaging my life since not long after my wife died,” Noah said with a sigh. “I had one bad physical—mostly due to some bad habits that I picked up directly following Claudia’s death—and he’s never let me forget it. It can be irritating, but I know it comes from a place of love; believe it or not, it actually helps to keep him settled down. I just wish I could be more help to him right now.”
Magnus smiled at him. “I think that your support is all he really needs. He’s a resourceful young man; he’s one of the most strong-willed people I’ve ever met. Stiles will get through this.” He frowned. “His biggest difficulty as far as I can see—aside from the possibility of people wanting to use him for nefarious ends of their own—is the rift that’s growing between him and this Scott person. Not that it seems like a great loss, but Stiles is finding it particularly distressing.”
Noah sighed. “I really wish I knew what was going on with that boy. I could have sworn I knew him better than this, that he was a better person than this. I suppose people can always surprise you. And Melissa!”
Derek shrugged. “It’s not all that surprising that she takes Scott’s side in things,” he murmured. “We all want to think the best of our loved ones, don’t we?”
Noah harrumphed. “Yes, well, I think it’s time Melissa and I had a little talk about everything that’s been going on in the last few months. I can’t believe she thought that keeping all of this from me was a good idea.”
Peter raised his eyebrows. “Are you saying that if she’d come to you with the information that her son was a werewolf, and that he and Stiles were running around saving the town from various evil beings, you would have believed her?”
Noah flushed. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I like to think I would have been open-minded enough not to need proof. Of course, having Erica and Boyd able show me their shift straight away got me over that hurdle pretty quickly. Also, I was more inclined to worry about my son’s health than the implications of a hidden society operating right under my nose.” He shook his head and got to his feet. “Well, I think I’ll head back home. I might stop by and talk to Melissa, see what she has to say. After that, I’ll be calling England. Tomorrow, I’ll let you know how it goes.”
Peter stood up as well. “I might meet you at your place, if you don’t mind,” he said casually.
Noah raised his eyebrows.
Peter had an air of studied nonchalance. “I just think it would be a good idea to have one of us standing by in case your friend has questions that you can’t answer.”
“Sure, let’s go with that, shall we?” Noah said, eyebrows still high. “I suppose I’ll be seeing you later, then.” He finished his goodbyes and let himself out.
Magnus remained silent until they heard the door of the cruiser close and the engine start then started laughing at Peter.
“It’s a valid concern!” Peter said half-heartedly, before shrugging. “Well, it can’t hurt, can it?”
“I suppose you’ll be stopping on the way for a nice bottle of wine?” Magnus suggested. “Just to pass the time, of course.”
“The sheriff’s more of a whiskey man,” Peter said, his usual smooth demeanour reasserting itself. “And if you don’t mind, I’ll get on with that. Don’t wait up for me, Nephew.”
Derek just shook his head. “I might head to bed as well.”
“Oh my god,” Cora muttered, “I’m living with old people. It’s not even nine o’clock!”
“Bite your tongue,” Magnus said with a smile. “Call me old again and your hair will be randomly purple, orange, and olive green for the next week.”
Cora stared at him.
“I wouldn’t test him,” Alec warned her. “It never ends well, you know.” He tilted his head at her. “If you want, we could go for a run? Sitting in meetings always makes me feel a bit antsy, and I could do with shaking the fidgets out.”
Cora nodded enthusiastically.
Magnus shuddered and pushed Alec away from him. “Go, you strange fitness freaks! Go do this running that you’re so fond of. I shall remain here with a good book and a cocktail.” He snapped his fingers and a book and a cocktail glass appeared in his hands.
Getting all that aggression out the previous day had worked wonders for Stiles’ mood. He awoke in a happy frame of mind, and not even going downstairs to find out there was oatmeal for breakfast was able to destroy his mood.
Then, the oatmeal turned out to be amazing. He looked with suspicion at the bowl filled with delightful goodness that Peter had given him.
“Is there something wrong?” Peter asked from his position by the stove. He was also in a pretty jovial mood; Stiles figured that the fight yesterday must have been as good for Peter as it was for him.
“This is delicious,” Stiles said in the same tone he might have said ‘this is an unexploded bomb.’ “It is incredibly delicious. Unbelievably delicious.”
“Isn’t that good?” Peter turned to give Stiles an enquiring eyebrow.
“It’s like you’ve broken one of the laws of nature,” Stiles said around another mouthful. He savoured the slightly tangy sweetness and swallowed, readying his spoon for another delivery. “Oatmeal is not supposed to taste this good. It’s supposed to be hot and filling and boring and keep you going all day long, and you eat only because you know that it’s good for you.”
Peter turned back to his stirring. “Well, no one’s forcing you to eat it. I can make you some toast if you like.”
Stiles cradled his bowl protectively. “Yeah, you’ll pry this out of my hands when it’s finished or when I’m dead, not before.” He took another mouthful. Flavour burst across his tongue. Was that a boysenberry?
Derek came in and immediately grabbed a bowl. “You made special oatmeal?” he asked eagerly, handing it to Peter.
Peter shrugged. “It seemed like the thing to do.”
Derek accepted his serving and sat down beside Stiles. “Oh yeah? What’s the occasion?”
Peter turned his back again. “Who said there has to be an occasion?”
“You did,” Cora said from the door. “Several times, as I recall.” Soon she had joined Derek and Stiles in their appreciation of Peter’s culinary effort.
“You mean he’s made this before?” Stiles asked.
“Yep,” Cora replied. “Special occasions and celebrations only, he always said.”
Stiles heard the cruiser pulling up outside, and chose to greet his father with a wave since his mouth was full of oatmeal. He nearly choked when he saw the red marks high on his father’s throat. Derek patted him firmly on the back but didn’t stop his own eating.
“Oh ho, so that’s what we’re celebrating!” Cora chortled.
“Are you telling me that I’m eating Peter Hale’s ‘I banged your dad and I liked it’ celebratory oatmeal?” Stiles asked, aghast.
Noah’s face went slightly pink.
Peter just smirked. “It sounds so terrible when you put it like that. But, if you like, I’d be happy to give you all the details.” He dished up another serving and handed it to Noah, his smirk gentling into something that looked like a genuine smile.
“Oh my god, I think I’m going to be sick,” Stiles moaned.
“Can I have your oatmeal?” Derek asked, sounding remarkably unsympathetic.
“No!” Stiles frowned at Derek. “It’s not that kind of sick.”
Derek shrugged and scraped his spoon along the bottom of his bowl. “Is there enough for seconds?”
Peter shook his head. “No, not unless Alec and Magnus prefer toast or something.”
“Magnus wants whatever it is that everyone else wants,” the man in question said, arriving with Alec just behind him.
Alec sniffed the air. “Alec does too.” He looked Noah up and down and smirked.
“Right,” Stiles said, putting his spoon down with a bang. “Rule one, we don’t talk about whatever it is my dad and Peter were doing last night, not while Stiles is in hearing distance anyway. Rule two, we stop referring to ourselves in the third person, it’s weirding me out. Rule three, please refer to rule one.”
“Can I add rules as well?” Peter looked far too innocent for Stiles to have any trust in him at all.
“No!” Stiles said. “Only I get to make rules!” He looked at the number of eyebrows raised in his direction. “And Derek, since he’s the one paying for the house,” Stiles conceded. A look at his father’s face had him adding, “And my dad, since he’s the sheriff and can arrest us all if he wants. Although, I will warn the sheriff right now that if I’m made to hear the details of his sex life, then he’ll be made to hear all about mine.”
“I wonder if a frank discussion of sexual habits would be more distressing from the parental or child point of view,” Magnus mused philosophically in between bites. “Children rarely like to think that their parents are sexual beings, after all. But, then, parents also often see their children as small and helpless long after they’ve actually grown up.”
“I’m not listening to this.” Stiles took his empty bowl to the sink and gave it a quick rinse. “I’m going outside until you’ve all got this out of your system. Someone can come and get me when the conversation has turned to another topic.”
“You mean, like my conversation with Renee last night?” Noah used his spoon to scrape up the last of his oatmeal. “That was delicious as ever. Thank you, Peter.”
“You’re most welcome,” Peter murmured, leaning in for a brief kiss.
“Leaving!” Stiles said, starting to get annoyed. “Also, perfectly capable of hiding chillies in your food when you least expect it if you don’t get on with it!”
“Fine,” Noah relented. “Well, I think it’s safe to say that Renee has known all about the Shadow World for a while.”
“Oh yes.” Peter shook his head with a smile.
“I told her the bare bones of what’s been going on,” Noah continued. “I left out your new powers, Stiles, just said that the three of you managed to escape and that the house burned down shortly after.”
“She seemed quite incensed on Noah’s behalf,” Peter put in.
“Yes, well, we were in the same unit,” Noah replied, waving it off. “Those kinds of bonds don’t just disappear, you know. Anyway, I gave her the names that we’ve been looking at, and she knows that they’re performing involuntary human experimentation. She promised to get right onto it; she’ll have as much information as possible to us by tonight.”
“Good,” Derek said. “That’s good. Thank you.”
Peter laughed. “He had to do some pretty fast talking to stop her from hopping on a plane and coming right over,” he said. “From the way that she reacted, it might still be in the cards.”
“We’ll deal with that if it happens.” Noah waved his hand again. He hesitated. “I also went to see Melissa,” he told Stiles carefully.
Stiles stiffened. “Oh?”
Noah sighed. “I wanted to talk to her about what’s been happening, ask why she didn’t think it important enough to tell me.”
“Did she tell you about how everything was all my fault?” Stiles asked, trying to sound uninterested.
Noah winced. “It’s probably just her reaction as a mother to her son being in danger,” he said apologetically. “I’m pretty sure that, inside, she knows you weren’t really responsible.”
“Yeah, well.” Stiles shrugged and tried to pretend that it didn’t hurt. He was pretty sure no-one bought his act, but at least they were all too polite to say so.
“So, I caught her up on a few things that her son apparently didn’t think she needed to know about,” Noah went on. “Like just how dangerous the hunters are, and how unscrupulous. She was pretty horrified about that, so it will be interesting to see the outcome.”
Stiles frowned. “If she doesn’t think that the hunters are the bad guys, how did Scott explain what’s been going down recently?”
Noah cast a glance over at Derek.
Stiles rolled his eyes. “Right, sorry, what was I thinking. Of course he used the ‘Derek Hale is evil and responsible for all my woes’ party line.”
“I tried to point out the reasons that it wasn’t true, but I’m not sure she was in a place where she could take my word for it,” Noah said sadly. “She pretty much told me that Scott had her full support to do whatever he had to do to get out of this alive.”
Stiles shook his head. “You know what? I’m sick of talking about Scott and Melissa. We’re waiting on Renee for any further info on the hunters, so nothing much to do there. Magnus, I don’t suppose you’re interested in taking us on a field trip? Anywhere but here really. Or even just me, if no one else wants to go.”
Magnus smiled benevolently. “I’m sure something can be arranged.”
Noah and Peter opted to stay behind, Alec begged off to get some work done, but Magnus, Stiles, Derek, and Cora headed out for a day off.
Rather than visiting New York as had been suggested, Magnus took them through a portal to the Bahamas. “You need some relaxation, flaugnarde,” he said, waving the colourful drink that had appeared in his hand. “Go play in the sea for a while with your wolves. I’ll sit here in the shade and maybe take a nap.”
So Stiles played in the waves with Derek and Cora for a few hours, coming out only to ask Magnus if he knew where they could get their hands on a surfboard or two. Magnus just snapped his fingers, depositing three in the sand at their feet, and closed his eyes again.
They got back to the cottage in time to enjoy a lavish dinner that Peter had probably been working on all afternoon. Stiles went to bed that night feeling uncharacteristically optimistic about the future.