Back to Fate Plays Chess
Stiles and Derek stood suspended in darkness together. Stiles’ right hand gripped Derek’s left, while his other held one of his most devastating destruction spells ready to be released. He didn’t need to be able to see to know that Derek was holding his dragonbone war axe as well.
The silence that enveloped them was complete.
“What the fuck?” Stiles said, needing to hear something, anything. He felt the words leave his mouth and the vibrations of his throat working, but no sound reached his ears. He tightened his grip on Derek’s hand and moved in closer to him, terrified that he would somehow let go and be left alone here in this emptiness.
A pinprick of flickering light caught his gaze. It was the only thing he could see, so it wasn’t hard to track as it became brighter and brighter. As it grew, Stiles realised that it wasn’t growing brighter so much as growing nearer.
The light resolved itself into a woman-shaped being. She was naked, but there was nothing sexual in her nudity. She didn’t look human enough for nudity to seem like much of an issue. In fact, she reminded Stiles more of the spriggans that could be found scattered throughout Skyrim than anything else, although she didn’t look nearly as healthy.
Her rough looking, hairless skin was a kaleidoscope of colour—all shades of brown, red, yellow, black, and white swirled and danced over its surface. Purple vein-like streaks appeared from time to time, but were quickly subsumed by the rest of the tumultuous mess. Her eyes glowed with a red/orange fire.
She was close enough now that they could see her expression, and she looked quite cross. That did nothing to help Stiles with his desire to run away. Only Derek’s hand in his own and the knowledge that there was literally nowhere to go stopped him.
“I see that timely notifications are things that only others need to be concerned about,” she said grumpily. “With a lax attitude like that, it’s no wonder that they lost track of their chosen one and ran out of options.”
“What?” Stiles asked blankly, remembering even as he said it that he couldn’t hear his own voice in this place. To his surprise, this time his voice was perfectly audible.
“But where are my manners,” she said, focusing her attention on Stiles and Derek. She examined them closely, and seemed satisfied with whatever she found. “I have had many names, but the one I have come to prefer above others is Gaia.” She stopped, her manner expectant.
“Oh,” Stiles said, casting a glance to his right to where Derek was glowering at Gaia. “You mean, Gaia as in Mother Earth? That Gaia?”
“I am the Gaia you know as Mother Earth, yes,” she said with a smile. “You are one of my children, descended from one of my chosen. You were already on the cusp of awakening your sleeping heritage, which is why I allowed the exchange. As promised, you have grown in your power—become quite formidable, in fact. You will do well in the task ahead of you.”
Stiles blinked as he tried to formulate a reply. But Gaia had already turned from him and was regarding Derek with a slight frown.
“You were not part of the bargain,” she said with some sternness. “You are not one of mine, and so I have no jurisdiction over you. Your presence on the quest was unlooked for.” Her demeanour softened slightly. “But despite that not unwelcome, I think. Know that I am grateful for the aid you have given my child, son of Selene.”
“Before we go any further, I’d like it clarified just what this ‘task’ is supposed to be?” Stiles said, raising his hand as though he was still in the classroom.
Gaia blinked at him. “You are to be my instrument in creating the safeguard that will save life on earth,” she replied, as if that was supposed to mean something to him.
Stiles shook his head slightly, like if he had a bug on his face that he wanted to make uncomfortable enough to fly off. “I’m sorry, I must have had something blocking my ears, and that came out garbled. It sounded like you said that I’m going to be saving life on earth.”
Gaia nodded solemnly.
Stiles was speechless. Derek stepped in, drawing her gaze again.
“What I think Stiles is trying to say is that this is a bit of surprise,” he said smoothly, with his best fake flirty smile in full force. “As far as we knew, when Stiles was finished ‘the Path of the Dragonborn’ we would be sent home. Discovering that there’s more to do is a bit of a shock.”
“The Divines did not mention the full scope of the bargain when they explained things to you both?”
Derek’s brows drew together, fake smile dropping off his face. “Explained? What explanation?” He turned to Stiles who was still having trouble getting his vocal cords to work. “Did you receive an explanation that you somehow forgot to tell me about?”
Stiles shook his head in mute denial.
“There was no explanation,” Derek confirmed, squaring his shoulders and facing the goddess of their planet with a frown. “I think we’re just about due one, right about now. We can start with the ‘bargain’ you mentioned.”
Gaia heaved a huge sigh. “It is perhaps my own fault for expecting such consideration. Very well then. In brief, the Divines of Nirn discovered that they had been negligent with the bloodline that was to produce their champion in the prophesied confrontation that was to decide the fate of their world. Their last candidate was killed before reaching adulthood, leaving them—”
“In a bit of a pickle?” Stiles suggested, finding his voice again.
“Quite. This caused some consternation. Now, one of their number had once been mortal, and had been accidentally transported to my surface some time ago. He was here for a number of years and had fathered a family before being quietly retrieved.”
“One of the Divines that used to be mortal,” Stiles repeated, wishing there was something other than his own hand—or Derek—to beat his head against. “I can see where this is going. You’re leading up to telling me that I’m from Tiber Septim’s direct line, aren’t you?”
“I had no interest in his name,” Gaia said dismissively. “His arrival and subsequent departure were not brought to my attention at the time. I am of the opinion that the Divines hoped that if it could be kept quiet, they wouldn’t be penalised. Not an unreasonable assumption.”
“Yeah, we hear about governments doing it all the time,” Stiles nodded. “Sweeping things under the rug. So, I think I can skip a few steps here. The Divines realised they might have an out with their prophecy fubar, right? If they could find someone of Tiber Septim’s blood, they could borrow him and have him be their champion.”
“Or her. The gender of the champion mattered not to them.”
“Right,” Stiles reflected. “Yeah, there wasn’t much in the way of gender discrimination as far as I could see. Most of the discrimination I saw was either racial or class based.”
“So, how did they find Stiles,” Derek asked, voice tight and body tense.
“They did not find him,” Gaia corrected. “I did, as part of our bargain.”
Derek started a rumbling growl low in his throat, the sound both a threat and a promise.
“Hey,” Stiles said soothingly, giving Derek’s hand a squeeze. “I know, it’s pretty shitty. But there’s nothing we can do about it, and I really don’t think you’re going to get anywhere if you attack Gaia. She’s like the whole planet, dude, this is just an avatar. We need to make the best of this.” Hopefully, Derek would pick up on the sub-text. Stiles intended to leverage his services strategically.
The rumble subsided so that it was barely audible, but didn’t quite stop.
“Right,” Stiles said, deciding not to try for more. He gave Gaia a slightly fake smile of his own. “Please forgive Derek’s anger. He’s pretty big on consent, you see, and it really pisses him off that you felt it was okay to trade us as if we were slaves.”
Gaia looked affronted. “I did no such thing.”
Stiles tried to lift one eyebrow at her. Unfortunately, he still hadn’t perfected the muscle control, and both eyebrows went up instead, albeit one slightly slower than the other. Hopefully, it didn’t make him look like a demented squirrel. “Are you saying that you didn’t trade our services to the Divines without our consent?”
“Technically I only traded for your services,” Gaia said stiffly. “The werewolf companion was neither bargained for nor expected.”
“I love how she said ‘werewolf companion’ like you were a pet or something,” Stiles murmured to Derek, all but cuddling the arm that was attached to the hand he was holding.
“I meant no offence,” Gaia began, before making a frustrated sound. “I apologise for not consulting you before agreeing to trade your services,” she said slowly. “It was not my intention to vitiate your autonomy, although in retrospect I can see that is indeed what has occurred.”
The sincerity with which she said that kind of took the wind out of Stiles’ sails.
“In truth, I was just as desperate as the Divines were,” she admitted. “Without intervention, my death—and the destruction of all life in my sphere of influence—is all but inevitable within the next hundred years.”
Stiles vaguely noticed that Derek’s rumbling had stopped. “What? All of it? Inevitable?”
Derek only said one word. “How?”
“The energy lines running beneath my skin have been corrupted,” she said, extending one of her arms and examining the randomly appearing purple lines in a detached fashion that Stiles felt somewhat alarmed by, now that he knew that the purple was a bad thing. “As soon as the destruction or corruption of vertex nodes reaches a critical point, a cascade failure will be initiated that will result in complete annihilation.”
Stiles did his best to swallow despite his suddenly dry mouth. “How far away is the critical point?” he asked hoarsely.
“There are two critical vertex nodes that currently hold everything together,” Gaia replied, dropping her arm back to her side again. “One of those was in the process of being corrupted when you were transported out of our universe.”
“And when it falls?”
“Everything else will fall with it,” Gaia confirmed. “Not all at once, of course. But at that point, there will no longer be any way of stopping it, not without re-writing the past to such a degree as to invite deletion. We are almost at the point of no return, and only your swift action will give us any hope of recovery.”
“How would I even begin to go about such a task?” Stiles asked, feeling confused and afraid in a way he’d never felt in Skyrim. The destruction of Nirn would have been terrible, but ultimately Stiles wasn’t all that invested, despite the friends he had made there. The destruction of Earth, however…the thought was not to be borne. He didn’t even want to know what ‘inviting deletion’ meant. He would do whatever it took.
“I know exactly what has to happen, and the best time in which it may be achieved,” Gaia said confidently. “I will give you this knowledge, and you will be transported to the appropriate time to do your work. A new system needs to be laid down beside the existing corrupted one, a system with appropriate safeguards and filters, as well as shielding so that it won’t be discovered. When that is complete, you will be transported back to where and when you were before you were brought away. There, the additional age will be wound back off your bodies and you will be inserted back into the time stream. You will then make your way as swiftly as possible to the node that is in peril and disconnect it, bringing the new system online.”
“You’re saying the energy network under the earth works like a computer?” Derek asked.
“Not at all,” Gaia responded with the shadow of a smile. “But those are terms you are both familiar with, and the analogy is accurate enough for a discussion of this nature.”
Stiles cocked his head to one side. “You must have been aware of this whole…thing…for some time,” he suggested carefully, waving his free arm for emphasis. “Since you have everything planned out. Why did you wait until now to do anything?”
“Because I cannot,” she said, and for a moment Stiles could see the depth of frustration and fear that must have been with her for a very long time before she hid it away. “I am a being made from belief. I have the talents and skills that those who believe in me think that I have.”
“That makes no sense,” Derek said flatly.
“I have been around a very long time,” Gaia said, words weighted with the history of the ages. “For as long as there were feeling beings who were able to associate those feelings with ideas, I have watched. The idea of home, of safety, made up my first moments.”
Stiles noticed that he was still gripping Derek’s hand in a death grip, and sheepishly loosened his fingers. To his relief, Derek didn’t release his hand, although he did adjust their grasp to be more comfortable.
“Over time I have grown and developed as those that believed in me gained more awareness. However, the attributes which were ascribed to me are the only ones I have. I cannot travel through time, as that is not something that those that live within my sphere believe that I can do. I cannot even talk to my chosen, those I changed with my touch, because there is no belief that allows for it!”
“You’re talking to us now pretty well,” Stiles pointed out.
“We’re in a place between universes where the rules that govern our plane no longer apply. I would not have been able to bring you here to talk, but I can meet you here.”
“Ugh.” Stiles made a face. “Nitpicking and loopholes. Still, they can be useful at times.”
“I had thought all hope was lost,” Gaia said, calming somewhat. “This chance that we have—it is a great gift, and we must seize it with both hands lest it slips away.”
Despite his indignation at being picked up and thrown higgledy-piggledy through universes and time without so much as a ‘by-your-leave’, Stiles began to feel somewhat sympathetic towards her.
“Well, I think that on balance Derek and I are also opposed to the imminent destruction of Earth,” he said, glancing over to check that Derek was okay with him being their spokesperson. “You’ll need to give me training, of course. When exactly are we going back in time to?”
“The optimum time period is within a century after a volcano erupted in what you would know as Sumatra.”
“So, pretty far away from where we live,” Stiles remarked, frowning slightly as his mind rifled through piles of information gathered during years of computer assisted research spirals. He blinked as his brain came across a match. “You mean Mt Toba? The supervolcano that caused a decade of volcanic winter, and was postulated to have been the cause of a human population bottleneck?”
“But that was over seventy thousand years ago! That was still in the Pleistocene era!”
“Yes,” she seemed surprised by his knowledge. “The population decline in the hundred years following the event will make it easier for you both to go to the places you need to work without having a significant effect on its occupants.”
Stiles closed his eyes and rested his forehead on Derek’s shoulder. “How long are you expecting this task that you’ve set us to take?” he asked, torn between wanting to know and sticking his fingers in his ears and pretending that none of this was happening. If it wasn’t for Derek’s familiar presence and his reassuring feel—combined with that of the dragonbone armour he was still wearing—Stiles might have been able to convince himself that this was a dream, or an elaborate hallucination.
“Not much more than a decade,” Gaia replied confidently. She smiled faintly as Stiles gave a despairing groan that was muffled. “In truth, I expect you will be done much quicker than that, but that is my outside estimate. There are one hundred and twenty-seven vertex nodes all over the world that will need to have duplicates crafted and installed. Once that is done the secondary energy line can be laid down.”
“Do we really have to go that far back?” Stiles asked.
“Yes,” Gaia nodded. “The new system will need time to settle properly, to strengthen and stabilise. If we don’t allow enough time for that, then the new system will be unable to pick up the load from the old system, and the whole thing will collapse, leaving us right where we started only with no plan.”
“So much walking,” Stiles whinged. “There’ll be no useful carts to help us out and give us a rest. There won’t even be roads! And I’m guessing we’ll be adding boat-building onto our resumes now? Derek, tell me you know how to build a boat!”
“Do not concern yourself overmuch with travel,” Gaia told them. “You will be able to use the existing energy structure to travel to each of the nodes. You will be able to maintain a dwelling that you commute from.”
“It’s a long time for two people to be alone together,” Derek said, sounding hesitant to bring the matter up.
Stiles sent him a sharp glance. “Well, we’d hardly fit in with the local populations, would we? We look nothing like them, we talk nothing like them, and we do things nothing like them. And I’m not willing to forgo what hygiene we’ll be able to make for ourselves just to blend in with the locals, which as I already said wouldn’t work anyway.”
Gaia cocked her head to one side, pretty much exactly the way Stiles had earlier. “If you wish I could deposit you near a pack of werewolves,” she suggested. “It would be close enough for contact but far enough that you would not be required to interact with others constantly.”
“There were werewolves back then?” Stiles asked, somewhat fascinated. “What about other supernatural creatures? Are we going to be running into them if we travel the energy lines like you said?”
“All that remained of humanity in the time directly following the eruption are also supernatural beings,” Gaia answered. “Some are those that I have touched, my chosen, such as yourself. Others were touched by my sister Selene. Those without our marks did not survive the upheaval, the cooler temperatures, and the two decades where food was scarce.”
Stiles blinked. “What?” He turned to Derek. “Did I just hear that right?”
Derek was giving Gaia one of his penetrating stares. “I know that two werewolves can produce a non-werewolf child,” he said slowly, clenching his hand spasmodically around Stiles’. “Are you saying that the entirety of the world’s population in the twenty-first century was descended from the supernatural? Even those that appear to be fully human?”
Gaia nodded at him. “Yes.”
Stiles closed his open mouth with an audible click. Well, that was very interesting information. Very interesting indeed. A thought struck him. “So, hunting families like the Argents are descended from supernatural beings? Do we know which ones?”
“The Argent family that reside in Beacon Hills were primarily descended from Selene’s Children,” Gaia confirmed.
“I wonder if they know?” Stiles wondered aloud, before giving himself a shake. “Not that it really matters at the moment. Derek, do you want to be near another group of werewolves?”
Derek looked conflicted. He opened his mouth to answer, but closed it again without saying anything.
Gaia seemed to understand what Derek wasn’t saying. “I will ensure that the area you are in encroaches on no-one’s territory,” she assured him. “In addition, I have observed that fighting for dominance and territory are generally limited to times when numbers are high or food is scarce. Neither of those factors will be in play. Nevertheless, it is your choice.”
“We just need to talk this over between the two of us, if you don’t mind,” Stiles said, turning so that he was more facing Derek than standing beside him. He didn’t bother waiting for Gaia’s permission, at this point she’d made it clear how much she needed them and Stiles was pretty sure that they weren’t going to be incinerated or anything if he behaved in a slightly casual manner.
“Will you being an Alpha make it easier or harder?” Stiles asked Derek directly. “Also, aside from me, you don’t have a pack. Will that make things difficult for you during the full moon? I presume you’ll be affected by the moon again, right?”
“I don’t know,” Derek said, his customary resting death glare deepening considerably. “If they ask where we’ve come from, we won’t be able to lie to them.”
“Good,” Stiles said with a shrug. “It’s not like one—or even two—packs of werewolves from seventy thousand years ago knowing that there were time-travellers around is going to have a drastic paradoxical effect on the timeline. Probably. And hey, maybe one of these Alpha’s might be able to give you a few tips?”
If Stiles didn’t know Derek so well, he might have mistaken his reaction to that suggestion as anger, rather than recognise it for the mix of anger, shame, and hurt that it really was. He spent a few moments cursing himself internally for his insensitive tongue before trying to fix the mess that a few thoughtless words might have made of their relationship.
“It’s not a reflection on you that you need training to be a better Alpha,” Stiles said, aiming for a mix of gentleness and brutal truth. “I’ve heard both you and Peter mention that you were never meant to be the Alpha, you weren’t taught any of the skills that Alpha candidates are trained in, that your sister got. And hey, even with all her training she wasn’t all that great at being an Alpha either!”
Derek had tensed up and tried to drop Stiles’ hand. Stiles was having none of it, holding on even as Derek flashed his eyes and let his teeth lengthen.
“No! Hear me out! Laura was an Alpha with two betas in her care, and she abandoned one of them to a non-existence in a hospital ward while she took the other one far away from your territory, all the way across the country! That cannot have been good for Peter! No wonder he turned into a psycho revenge killer!”
“She was scared!” Derek snarled, giving up on freeing his hand and getting into Stiles’ face instead. “She was worried that the hunters who had killed our family might try for the full set!”
“Of course she was scared!” Stiles agreed, which surprised Derek enough that he lost his fangs. “Of course she wanted to get away! I don’t blame her for any of those, but you have to see, Derek, that they weren’t the actions of a good Alpha! She should have come up with a way to have Peter with you!”
Derek now looked more confused than angry. “I don’t get what you’re trying to say. On the one hand, you don’t blame her, but on the other, she was a bad Alpha?”
“That’s because a good Alpha is supposed to be better!” Stiles said, hoping he wasn’t digging himself in deeper. “A good Alpha would have found a way. But she was young, and new to her power, and scared, and traumatised. I know she was being trained up as the next Alpha, but I’m guessing that wouldn’t have been passed on for a number of years yet, right?”
Derek gave a slight nod. Stiles was encouraged by this small sign that Derek was actually listening, and hurried on.
“And that’s because no one with any sense puts someone with very little life experience in a position of leadership and power! In a perfect world, Laura would have had years to learn and grow and meld that together with her Alpha training, and then she very probably would have been a good Alpha. With all that training and life experience under your belt, you would have been a good Alpha too. Instead, you were shoved in at the deep end—still young, no training, heavily traumatised, a wolf alone in the midst of enemies—for what you had to work with you did fine. Good, even, all things considered. But that doesn’t mean you’ve been a good Alpha. That’s no reflection on you, because the way the chips fell it was impossible for you to be.”
Derek still didn’t look very happy, and really, who could blame him?
“Don’t think I’m sitting around here believing that I was Mr Fantastic either,” Stiles added. Derek’s eyebrows raised slightly. “Hell, I feel like I’ve been reeling from one crisis to the next since the night Scott was bitten. A whole bunch of my choices could have been a hell of a lot better, saved us all a lot of grief.”
“Yeah? Like what?” Derek asked, but his body was starting to relax.
Stiles stifled a sigh of relief and thought carefully about how he should answer. He finally decided that he owed it to Derek to admit the big one.
“I had a long time to think, over winter at the College,” he said, looking down at where their hands were still entwined. “I think getting away from everything was really good for that, you know? I mostly thought about my Dad and Scott. At first, I spent my time missing them, thinking about the things I never got to say to them, how much I loved them, the things I was sorry for.
“But the more I thought about them and the recent past, the more I started to see that maybe keeping my Dad in the dark wasn’t the best idea, not since this supernatural business started looking like it’s here to stay. To be honest, the whole thing at the station with the kanima and Matt and the Argents was the final proof that he needed to know, for his own safety if for no other reason. But I didn’t tell him, for two reasons.
“The first was that I was scared that he might be disappointed in me, for getting Scott bitten, for all the times I’ve screwed up since then. The second is a result of the biggest mistake I’ve been making. It was because Scott didn’t want me to, and ever since he was bitten I’ve been trying to make it up to him by helping him wherever I could, and taking his side even when I knew he was wrong.”
“You are not responsible for Peter biting Scott. The only one that bears responsibility for that is Peter.”
“As it happens, I believe you. At least, now I do. At the time we began our fun-filled action-packed adventure to another universe? Not so much. Scott has spent a lot of time complaining about how being a werewolf had ruined everything and made it impossible to be with the love of his life, and every time he did I felt like it was a direct rebuke for being the one to suggest we go out to look for a dead body. And so I tried my best to make it up to him.”
Derek’s glare was ramping up again, but he made no effort to release his hand, so Stiles was counting that as a positive sign.
“A few months away from all the drama and some time to think and I began to have a clearer view. Scott liked to talk a lot about how being a werewolf had ruined his chances with Allison, but in reality, I think that being a werewolf was the only thing that gave him any chance with her. And I’m not just talking about the whole needing a pen thing, either. Allison may have thought he was cute, but she was slated to be one of the popular crowd. Would she have been as willing to buck playground convention if Scott hadn’t been the new superstar of the lacrosse team? I don’t know, maybe she would have. Maybe she would have found his inability to run a hundred metres without needing to stop and use his inhaler as charming as she clearly found his ability to run circles around the opposition on the field. She might not have minded that he was weedy rather than ripped. We’ll never know for sure. But personally? I doubt it.”
“I didn’t realise his asthma was that bad,” remarked Derek.
“Oh yes,” Stiles nodded. “Life-threatening. Despite that, he had a habit of forgetting to carry his inhaler with him. When we were younger, I used to carry two spares at all times. That kind of tapered off in the year before he was bitten, I think Melissa had given him an ultimatum of some kind, although he never would tell me what it was.”
Stiles sighed. “My point is that when Scott talks about his lycanthropy, he only ever talks about the problems he’s had. If we take the long view, the bite probably saved his life. He wasn’t content making do, even before he was bitten he was intent on making first line. He would have continued to push himself more and more, and who knows what would have happened? But I’ve been feeling so guilty… I’ve made some really poor decisions as a direct result.”
Derek frowned, but didn’t say anything.
“You at least made mistakes in a place of trying to do the right thing,” Stiles said, feeling weary all of a sudden. “Mine were because I was trying to make up for something I’d done wrong. Going forward is always better than going back, and you had the right idea. If you’d had the right support behind you—any support behind you—it probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal. But Scott and I were so determined to make you the bad guy—and sure, you weren’t exactly helping that perception with all the lurking and the—but that’s not the point. The point is that I supported Scott through some stuff that really didn’t sit well with me because I felt that I owed him.
“Even when I didn’t actually support him, when his actions horrified and disgusted me—I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think I had the right. Which, away from the constant danger and uncertainty and with time to think about it, is really fucking terrible. I’m sorry, Derek. I’m sorry that I didn’t get my head out of Scott’s ass and give you the support that you needed, that you deserved, even if only by virtue of saving my life so often.”
Derek didn’t answer out loud, but Stiles had become considerably more adept at reading his body language since they’d been stranded together out of universe. The slant of his eyebrows and the set of his shoulders and the tightness around his eyes gave his discomfort away as surely as if he’d held up a sign.
“I won’t make you talk about this right now,” Stiles said, looking away so that what he was saying seemed like less of a challenge. “Just think on it, okay? One of the things my mother tried to teach me is that it’s okay to make mistakes so long as you try and learn from them. I kinda forgot, over the years, but it’s good advice.”
Derek finally nodded, shoulders relaxing slightly. After a few moments he turned to where Gaia had been waiting patiently for them. “Yes, it would probably be a good idea to be near a pack. Although communication might be a problem—is there some way that you can teach us the language of the time? Otherwise…”
“It shall be so,” Gaia said with a graceful incline of her head. “I keep within me the memory of all languages that have ever been used within my sphere of influence. I will enable you to communicate with all who walk the world in the time you are sent to.”
“Well, if we want to get this done I suppose we’d better get on with it,” Stiles said. “Tell us everything there is to know about these vertex nodes that we need to be creating.”
For all that time didn’t move in the place between universes, it seemed ages before Gaia agreed that they were ready for the next step.
“Why am I not hungry yet?” Stiles wondered after what felt like an eternity of instruction. He poked the general area of Derek’s belly, although not too hard since he had no intention of breaking his finger on dragonbone. “This is being suspiciously quiet as well.”
“We’re not really here,” Derek answered absently, eyes closed as he went through the motions to the fighting style Gaia was teaching him while Stiles worked with his magic.
Stiles stopped mid poke. “What?”
Derek opened his eyes and raised one eyebrow in Stiles’ direction. “You didn’t figure it out already?”
“Figure out what?”
“That our physical bodies aren’t here,” Derek replied. His eyebrows twitched. “I can’t smell anything, and I can’t feel any heat radiating from you. I can feel the pack bond, though, so I know it’s definitely you. The only way for all those things to be true is if there’s only enough of us here to… I don’t really know how to say this.”
“You’re saying that we’re like phase-shifted,” Stiles said wonderingly, bringing his hand up to his face to peer at it more closely. He got close enough to it that he accidentally poked himself in the eye. It didn’t hurt, so Stiles did it again. “It’s probably something to do with quantum, or something. Hey, you know what would be awesome? If we bone here, it’ll be like a quantum bang. I imagine that’s a considerably more exclusive group than the mile high club. You in?”
Derek frowned. “I don’t like not being able to smell you. It would be like having sex with a ghost, which is something I’d really prefer to avoid, if it’s alright with you.” He turned to Gaia. “I’m right, aren’t I? We’re not really here?”
“These are representations of your physical bodies,” Gaia confirmed. “Utilised in order to provide you comfort while here. Many of my children are firmly attached to their physical form, and since I didn’t want anything untoward to happen to you I insisted that the Divines ensure that your forms not be altered.”
“Small mercies,” Derek muttered. He raised his voice. “Are we ready yet?”
“Are we there yet?” Stiles mocked, before looking to see what Gaia’s answer was. He certainly felt like he was ready.
“I believe you are as ready as is possible, given the constraints we’re under,” Gaia confirmed. “Ideally there would be a chance to test your application of knowledge in a more practical setting, but we have to make do with the hand we’re dealt.”
“You know it makes me uncomfortable when you do that,” Stiles complained. “Why do you have to talk like that? Why can’t you be all booming voice, and thees and thous? That’s how I always thought a deity would talk.”
Gaia smiled. “Get used to disappointment,” she replied.
“Right! That’s it!” Stiles said. “That’s more than I can take! I can’t be sitting around here while you quote movies at me! Let’s get this show on the road.”
“As you wish.”
“Well, Toto,” Stiles said, hoping he didn’t sound quite as freaked out as he felt. “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
The place that Gaia had chosen for them was a valley in the midst of a group of imposing snow-capped mountains. The area was beautiful, and Stiles would have been utterly delighted with it if it were not for the colour of the leaves on nearby trees and the distinct chill in the air.
“Fall?” Stiles’ voice was climbing into a register that was rather more shrill than he would have liked. “She dropped us here in the mountains in fucking fall? I don’t know why she didn’t go all the way and leave us here in winter!”
Derek just shrugged, examining the area around them.
“We’re going to freeze to death before we even get properly started!” Stiles griped. “It’s very pretty,” he said somewhat grudgingly. “If we weren’t going to die in a few months, I’d say it’s probably one of the loveliest places I’ve ever seen.”
“There’s a water source over this way,” Derek said, ignoring Stiles with the skill of someone who’d had a lot of practice. He glanced around again, before turning his gaze on Stiles. “It’s a pretty good spot, actually. We’re a considerable distance below the tree line, which is a good indication that the snowfall will be survivable—providing we take appropriate precautions. Besides, we’ve just spent over a year in Skyrim. Hardly a tropical climate.”
Stiles blinked. “That’s true,” he acknowledged. “Although I’ll remind you that we were often indoors, out of the weather. I’m not sure that we have enough time to get a decent place together before the snow arrives though.”
Derek stared at him for a few moments. “Do we need to?” he asked. “This is where Gaia suggested we make our base; she must have had a reason for that. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t spend time elsewhere. Can’t you transport us through the ley-lines to somewhere warmer over the winter months? Like, the other hemisphere?”
“They’re not ley-lines,” Stiles said. “They’re an interlacing web-like network of energy channels feeding—”
“To-may-to, to-mah-to,” Derek interrupted. “They’re ley-lines. The question stands. We don’t have to stay here, do we?”
“No,” Stiles admitted. “I can sense the vertex node near here, it’s fully operational. We’ll be able to use it to travel if we want to.”
“Then let’s spend a few days here familiarising ourselves with the area, maybe getting some plans in place for how we’ll set up in the spring,” Derek suggested. “I want to see what kind of wildlife is around too. Just…we’ll need to be careful. If there’s anything nearby that hibernates over winter then they’ll be looking around right now trying to store up as much as possible.”
“Right,” Stiles nodded. “Memo to me: Don’t get eaten.” He leered in Derek’s direction. “At least, not like that.”
Derek rolled his eyes, but his mouth twitched upwards.
“Come on,” Stiles said, turning towards the pillar of power he could feel almost like heat against his skin. “It’s this way. We might as well take a look.”
Three minutes’ walk brought them to a lake, and the source of the power that Stiles had been able to feel.
Derek stared at the water. “Is that going to have any effect on the fish in that lake?” he asked, brows drawing down into a frown.
“Uh—” Stiles came up blank. “I don’t know?”
Derek turned to frown at him.
“Probably not,” Stiles decided after a few moments thought. “I think. How the hell am I supposed to know?”
Derek shook his head. “I suppose it’s lucky that we’re not planning to rely on it as a food source,” he said, and his expression turned slightly wistful.
“You like fishing!” Stiles exclaimed, feeling like he’d decoded another piece of the ‘Derek Hale Puzzle’. He frowned. “Hang on, if you like fishing so much why didn’t I ever see you doing it in Skyrim?”
Derek shrugged, turning away slightly so that Stiles couldn’t see the expression on his face. “It’s something my dad used to do with us,” he said, voice soft and reflective. “Every year he’d take everyone ten years old and over all the way to Beardsley Lake for a week of camping and fishing. We’d go in the offseason to avoid the real enthusiasts, and Dad had contacts in the Forest Service, so we were allowed a bit of leeway. It was a week of running around half wild, fishing and swimming, eating terrible food…” he gave himself a little shake. “Never mind. There will be other lakes, it might be safer to leave this one be.”
Their stay in the area they had landed in was further complicated by the discovery that the trees found most predominantly in their new surroundings were probably some kind of mountain ash, a discovery that was made when they lit a fire and Derek was prostrated by the smoke.
Stiles hurriedly doused the fire with a water spell, making the smoke situation momentarily worse. “Shit!” he said, turning the water to ice and then moving over to hover beside Derek’s prone body, wondering what the hell he should do. At least he was still breathing, and he’d no doubt recover shortly. In the meantime, they had no fire and no guarantee that they’d be able to find safe wood to burn in the area.
Derek awoke fifteen very long minutes later, just as Stiles was getting to the panic stage.
“I’m fine,” Derek said immediately upon opening his eyes, before he’d even tried to sit up. “I’m okay. What the hell was that?”
“I think these are rowan trees,” Stiles said, feeling a lot of the terror draining out of him. “I should have figured it out sooner, sorry. The fruit is a bit of a giveaway if I’d just been paying attention, but I wasn’t expecting Gaia to dump us somewhere surrounded by mountain ash! Here, I’ve got some goat in my pack.”
“I feel sick,” Derek said, pushing the offered dried goat meat away. “It’s my fault, Stiles. It’s my responsibility to pay attention to the things that could negatively affect me, not yours. I didn’t think either. I guess a year in Skyrim was enough to get me used to not having any of the weaknesses I grew up with.”
Stiles shook his head, but didn’t argue. Derek’s self-blame reflex was well ingrained, and while he’d been working on trying to get Derek to see that he wasn’t responsible for everything bad that had happened in Beacon Hills, in times of stress he tended to revert.
Stiles paused as a thought struck him. “You’re connected to the moon cycles again, aren’t you?” he said, sitting back on his heels. “Where’s the moon at tonight then?”
Derek closed his eyes and breathed in. “It’s a new moon,” he said once he opened his eyes again.
“We’ve got some time to prepare for the full moon then,” Stiles said, getting to his feet. “Will you be alright? You’ve got no pack here.”
Derek stood up with his usual grace, and gave him a look. “You’re here. That will be plenty. Not that it really matters, since I would hope that I have enough control not to be a danger.”
“Oh. Well, that’s good then,” Stiles said, feeling his face grow warm with pleasure. He cleared his throat and gestured towards where what had been their fire was now a bunch of lightly singed sticks held together by a block of ice. “Looks like we won’t be doing any cooking tonight. What do you say that we retire to our sleeping rolls for warmth, and then tomorrow I’ll see if I can find us a place that’s a little more hospitable.”
Derek nodded, and began peeling himself out of his dragonbone armour.
Stiles frowned. “Is that safe?” he wondered. “I thought you were worried about bears or something?”
“I figure that not much can kill me without a great deal of effort,” Derek said with a grunt as he pulled his chestplate off with one big yank. “Everything else I’ll be able to heal from. Why don’t you put up a ring of runes around us? We might as well be comfortable tonight.”
Stiles did a quick calculation and groaned. Getting a decent sized circle around them was going to require at least fifteen runes, and waiting for his magic levels to replenish after each one was going to get very boring. Not to mention that afterwards, he was going to be rather tired. “I expect my werewolf boyfriend to keep me toasty warm all night,” he warned, as he prepared his favourite rune, the lightning one. The creatures living nearby might have built up tolerances to cold, after all, and safety was no reason to chance starting a forest fire.
The next day Stiles decided that before they went hopping and skipping over all of creation, he should start the business they’d been sent here for. To wit—getting the secondary energy web in place and ready for connection.
The first step was the creating of the vertex nodes that would be a mirror of the ones already here. Gaia had gone over what he needed to do step by step, and Stiles was confident that he knew exactly what needed to be done. He sat cross-legged on the ground and brought his mind and magic into focus.
His first attempt was an abject failure, as was his second, third and even fourth. His frustration levels rose, and he was starting to fear that the task Gaia had sent them wasn’t going to be achieved when Derek suggested that he take a break.
“Why don’t we do a larger sweep of the area and get something to eat. Then explain to me what you’re doing and why, and we’ll see if we can find out why it’s not working.”
Stiles was a little disgruntled at being managed, but he did have to admit that he wasn’t getting anywhere and should probably take a break before he lost his temper and tried to fry the lake with fire.
The walk did wonders for clearing his mind and restoring his good humour, and trying to relate what he needed to do was a bigger help than he expected it to be.
“Of course!” he said, halfway through a mangled explanation of energy weaving. “I need to secure the node in place before I invert the central weave as well as after! Why was I forgetting that! No wonder the whole thing unravelled!” He dropped his cheese and tomato sandwich into Derek’s hands and went to stand up.
Derek sat him back down again, and gave him the sandwich back. “Eat. No magic on an empty stomach. Also, you might as well continue telling me about how you’re creating these nodes.”
Stiles blinked at him, taking a bite and chewing it thoughtfully. “You mean you understood all that?” he asked. “I didn’t think I was being particularly coherent.”
“Not a word,” Derek replied. “But it might pay to finish the exercise before you begin again, just in case.”
Stiles agreed that it couldn’t hurt, and re-launched into his rambling description of weaves, ties, energy pockets, and filament brackets. Nothing else popped up, but when he was done he was back to feeling confident that he knew what he was doing.
This time when he tried, the node took properly and anchored as he’d intended. Stiles sent Derek a brilliant smile, and began the process of working the fluid energy of the area immediately surrounding his new node into a reflective barrier tied to his magical touch. If Gaia was right—and Stiles hadn’t screwed up—then this would make the node invisible to all magic users but him. It was the only part of the process that he wouldn’t be able to properly test, since there were no other magic users around.
He tied off the barrier and sat there for a moment surveying the work he’d done with satisfaction, absently taking the chicken leg Derek handed him and biting into it.
“All done?” Derek asked.
“All done,” Stiles confirmed, feeling a real sense of accomplishment. “One alternate node, complete with invisibility cloak in place! I can’t wait to get another one set up! The real test is seeing if I can create a permanent connection between the two of them.”
He went to get to his feet, only for the world to spin and then fade out in an alarming fashion.
He opened his eyes back at their makeshift campsite. Over to the left, Derek was picking through the contents of his pack, a thunderous frown on his face. Even as Stiles looked at him, Derek started shuffling over to him, scowl fading slightly.
“I feel like I’m on the other side of a Red Bull gaming marathon,” Stiles said groggily. He remembered what he’d been doing before he passed out, and grinned. “Wow, that really took it out of me. I feel strange. Sort of scoured clean on the inside.”
“Here,” Derek said, passing him one of the ubiquitous wooden plates that had an array of cheese and cold meat on it.
Stiles rolled his eyes a little, but did as he was instructed. “You know, it actually turned out rather well,” he said around a mouthful of cheese. At Derek’s inquiring look, he elaborated. “Having these weird packs that tend to accumulate all sorts of random shit, I mean. That stuff might actually come in handy.”
Derek nodded seriously. “We’ll have to make sure that we don’t leave anything that’s not from this universe lying around,” he remarked. He looked at the bones that were left from the goat leg that he’d been picking the meat off, and frowned. “Maybe these will be alright,” he decided.
Stiles gave a snort that had him choking, as the cheese that was still in his mouth nearly went down the wrong tube and into his trachea. He felt that maybe Derek’s helpful slaps to the back were slightly harder than they really needed to be.
“You just don’t want to carry rubbish around with us for years,” he said, voice slightly scratchy.
Derek just gave him a ‘duh’ look.
Stiles shrugged. “Well, I suppose a chicken is a chicken and a goat is a goat, and it’s not like we’re introducing live animals into the ecosystem. I’d be more concerned about some of the plant matter and fungi that we’re carrying around. Like those tomatoes that we had earlier—how crazy would it be if it was our presence here that introduced the whole nightshade range to Earth?”
“Unless we want to spend a great deal of time gathering, we’re going to need to do some sort of cultivation,” Derek pointed out. “The stuff we brought with us isn’t going to last forever.”
“Will we even recognise edible plants?” Stiles wondered, his happy mood of earlier rapidly deserting him. “Oh my god, I’m going to die of scurvy. Scurvy, Derek!”
“You won’t die of scurvy,” Derek said with a sigh. “Did you never learn how to test plants for their edibility?”
“No I didn’t, Mr Nature Enthusiast,” Stiles said, pride stinging. He knew it wasn’t reasonable to expect to always have more information than his companions, but his habit of late night research spirals along with Scott’s lack of curiosity about the world meant that he’d often fallen into the role of ‘the knowledgeable one’. He liked it that way. It was certainly better than having no use at all.
“I can teach you,” Derek assured him. “We might be able to find fruit that’s fairly recognisable as well, particularly in the warmer areas.”
“Yeah, fine.” Stiles put the wooden plate to one side and flopped back down on his bedroll. While they’d been talking dusk had rolled in, and the air had chilled down perceptibly. “Let’s find somewhere warmer tomorrow. Now that I’ve placed the node here, I’ll be able to find it again with no problem.”
Derek tidied away the remains of their meal and then joined Stiles, the warmth from his body making Stiles feel cosy and cared for. “Alright,” he agreed, before letting out a great full body sigh.
“You alright?” Stiles asked, after several moments had passed in silence.
“Yes,” Derek said, before changing his mind. “No.”
“What is it?”
“I can feel the moon tugging at me,” Derek said, his voice hushed. “I can feel it, feel her, but she’s not as comforting as she used to be.”
“Is because we’re displaced in time? Does she feel different?”
“No, not really. It’s me that’s different. And being back here has driven home that the pack bonds that I used to have are withered and gone now.”
“But won’t they snap back into place when we get home?” Stiles asked, feeling Derek shrug in response.
“I don’t know. Maybe if I’d only been gone a week or two… But years? It’s too long. When we get back I will have changed so much,” Derek said, and there was so much aching loss in his voice that Stiles wished he could wave his hands and make it all better. “I might be able to salvage something with Cora and Peter, but not Isaac or Boyd—not unless they choose to reconnect with me. And why would they, after everything I put them through? Boyd was already leaving, and for all Isaac knows, I was the one that broke the bond in the first place. They were all I had left, and now—” Derek stopped talking.
Stiles didn’t know what to say. The truth was that he didn’t really like Isaac particularly well and wasn’t going to mourn his loss much, if at all. And Boyd—well he didn’t dislike him, but it wasn’t like they’d had any real chance to bond. But he knew that Derek cared, and he didn’t want Derek to suffer any more than he absolutely had to. As far as Stiles was concerned, Derek had already suffered quite enough. Surely he was due some good stuff in his life now, to balance out the shit-fest that he’d already gone through?
In the end he just hugged Derek hard, and tried to radiate his affection as much as possible. “It will work out,” he said, voice muffled slightly since his cheek was mashed into Derek’s biceps. “You’ve got me now, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that you get everything you deserve, Derek Hale. Whether you like it or not. And I’m the Arch-Mage, you know.”
“Sounds scary,” Derek murmured, but his voice was lighter than it had been so Stiles counted that as a win.
The next few months involved a lot of hopping around. It soon became clear why Gaia had given them an estimate of a decade to complete this task, as anchoring each node depleted Stiles’ reserves of natural energy to such a degree that it took several weeks each time for it to recover enough in order to begin the next one.
Luckily the weaving of the ‘invisibility cloaks’ he was dropping over the completed nodes took more attention than power as they were linked directly to the nodes, and travelling between points wasn’t too arduous either. They discovered that it took Stiles at least eight hours sleep to recover from anchoring each node enough to travel, and so Derek had insisted that he be present for each one.
Since Stiles wasn’t all that keen on being eaten by any of the mega-fauna that were still roaming around, he choose not to argue. It didn’t take long for that cautious approach to pay off, as a group of large hyena type creatures attacked them while Stiles was in the process of weaving the cloak for his fifth node. He was so absorbed in his task that he didn’t even notice anything happening, and it wasn’t until he was done that he looked up to see four huge, dead, smelly creatures lying close by, and a blood-streaked Derek standing over him in a protective stance.
He blinked slowly, feeling light-headed and confused. “Derek,” he murmured, sounding wasted even to his own ears.
Derek picked him up and carried him swiftly over to the sleeping area they had prepared earlier in anticipation of Stiles incapacitation, and after seeing to his comfort resumed his protective stance.
“You make a good guard dog,” Stiles mumbled even as his eyes dragged closed and sleep overcame him.
That was a bit of a wake-up call, and after that they started being more careful. They’d arrive at the site and spend a day setting up wards, runes, and other defences before Stiles began working on the node. Derek had suggested that Stiles bring his bow as well.
“Not that you’ve been practising much with it,” he said critically.
“Excuse you,” Stiles retorted, “it’s not like my aim when I’m wasted is going to be of much use. Not to mention that building up my magic so that we can get this whole thing done faster was something that we both agreed on.”
“You’re pursuing one skill to the length that you’re neglecting others,” Derek replied with a frown, but with the resigned air that meant he knew he wasn’t going to get his way. “Physical skills that don’t get regular reinforcement deteriorate and become useless.”
“I’ll be fine,” Stiles said confidently.
Their various excursions in between had managed to net them a growing list of places where easily gather-able food could be found, some of the best finds being what appeared to be date palms and olive groves. Stiles waited impatiently for Derek to do the initial testing before he’d let Stiles try them. After about a week of testing and waiting, Derek reluctantly agreed that they were probably alright, and Stiles immediately felt a whole lot better about how they were going to survive for the next few years.
He was also working on a rudimentary map. It wasn’t anything spectacular, given the scant supply of paper that he had to work with—it wasn’t like Skyrim had reams of it floating around or anything. It was a pretty basic thing that marked out the locations of nodes that they’d travelled to and anything useful about the site—i.e. the presence of an olive grove. Stiles carefully marked each one off as the backup node was created.
They periodically went back to the spot by the lake where Gaia had left them. As winter in the region had progressed, the area had grown more inhospitable, but it was an ideal time for Stiles and Derek to scope out the best place for a dwelling. With no leaves on the trees it was easier to see which of their prospective sites were more exposed to wind, and by the time the shortest day had passed they had decided on a site.
Now they just had to agree on what to make it of.
“We should use what’s here,” Derek said stubbornly.
Stiles rolled his eyes. “Derek, the majority of what’s here is rowan, otherwise known as mountain ash. Rather than denude the surroundings of every single tree and twig that isn’t rowan, thus making the environment even more hostile for you, doesn’t it make more sense to bring the timber here from elsewhere?”
“We don’t have to ‘denude the surroundings’,” Derek argued. “There’s plenty of non-rowan trees around if you don’t mind walking a bit.”
“Well maybe I don’t want to ‘walk a bit’,” Stiles replied. “That second node we did was right next to a great big pine forest. Why don’t we just bring some of those through the portal?”
“We’re trying to reduce the impact of our presence, remember?”
“It’s wood!” Stiles groaned. “It will have disintegrated into dust thousands of years before it could even be an issue!”
“What about the ecological impact?” Derek had folded his arms across his chest and squared his feet. “It’s not like we can treat the wood to make sure that it’s free from pests and parasites. What if we bring something that doesn’t belong here—to a place with no natural protections—and we end up wiping out whole swaths of the nearby flora? We should just take a bit of extra effort and get the wood from nearby.”
“Fine,” Stiles snapped. “Glad to hear you volunteer for the job of lumberjack. The axe is in your pack, you know what to do.”
Derek just shook his head.
Eight moons after their arrival in the past Stiles and Derek were at the site and still bickering about the best way to construct the base of their dwelling when contact with the nearby werewolf pack was initiated.
Derek stopped mid-sentence and turned sharply to one side, his whole body going on alert in a way that Stiles had come to recognise.
“What is it?” Stiles asked quietly, readying a fire spell.
“Werewolves,” Derek replied succinctly, moving forward until he was facing the game track that veered off to the east. He stopped and waited, not bothering to draw his axe. Stiles came to stand by his left shoulder and slightly back—a protected position, but one that allowed him to be included easily.
Two figures emerged from the trees, a man and a woman dressed in furs. They halted metres away, and Stiles was acutely aware that they were being observed closely.
The man—who looked to be rather older than the woman who was with him—spoke first. “I am Gitkol,” he said, his voice deep and calm. “This is my daughter Tenna. We come to you from Alpha Miska’s Pack to extend greetings, and to learn the boundaries of your territory.”
“I’m Alpha Derek, and this is Stiles,” Derek said, gesturing towards him. “We welcome you. We are peaceful, and have no wish to intrude upon the territory of our neighbours.”
Gitkol relaxed slightly. “That is good to hear,” he said, examining them with astute eyes. “But Stiles is not a wolf. Where, then, is the rest of your pack?”
Derek shook his head. “It’s just us.”
Both Gitkol and Tenna tensed up visibly. “Have you been banished?” Gitkol growled. “We have no wish to fight, but those who have been banished cannot be trusted.”
“Excuse you, no,” Stiles interrupted. “We’re actually on a mission of vital importance to save the world, you know.”
Derek gave a long-suffering sigh. “He’s telling the truth,” he admitted. “Although it’s probably fair to say that Stiles is the one on the mission of vital importance, and I’m here as a bodyguard to ensure that nothing eats him, or he doesn’t stumble off a cliff one morning before he’s properly awake.”
Stiles mouth dropped open. “That was one time!” he said. “And that was your fault anyway. Who decides to camp right on the edge of a cliff?”
The two newcomers had relaxed again. “You have many stories to tell,” Tenna observed. “I hold the lore of Miska’s Pack. I extend an invitation to you both to share our fire and food for the afternoon, that we might grow to know each other’s stories.”
Seeing that Derek had relaxed as well, Stiles had no problem accepting on behalf of them both. “That would be awesome,” he said enthusiastically. “Do you have someone who’s good with plants? I’d be really grateful if they were willing to give me a crash course in what’s edible around here.”
Gitkol looked uncertain, and Tenna was mouthing ‘crash course’.
“He means, will it be alright for someone to teach him?” Derek said, grabbing Stiles and placing one hand firmly over his mouth. “We’re not really from around here, and he’s been worried about our health if we only eat meat.”
“Ah,” Gitkol replied, although he didn’t look any less confused. “We have several people well versed in plant lore, I’m sure one of them would agree to share their knowledge. Our Pack made camp early in order to be ready to meet with you,” he said. “Come, let us share fire and food.”
“Thank you,” Derek said. “We’ll be right behind you; we just need to have a little talk first.”
“We will return and await you,” Gitkol said, and he and his daughter returned the way they had come.
Derek waited several minutes before releasing Stiles from his grip. By then Stiles was furious.
“What was that?” he asked, trying to be mature about it.
“There’s a certain etiquette when packs meet for the first time,” Derek replied. “I’m the Alpha; it’s up to me to make the decisions. Other pack members may advise me, but they don’t get to accept or decline on my behalf when I’m right there. Not in such a formal setting, anyway. Later, when we’ve gotten to know each other and we’ve formed bonds of friendship and alliance it won’t be important, but for a first meeting—”
“Well then, perhaps you should have told me that ahead of time,” Stiles said, still angry. “Rather than cuffing me like a puppy in front of high ranking members of the pack that we’re about to meet.”
Derek blinked. “You’re right,” he said, taking some of the wind out of Stiles’ sails. “I’m sorry. But you also need to remember that they don’t have the pop culture references we do, and using them too much will only make us look like we’re trying to confuse and rattle them to gain the upper hand. So try not to use them if you can help it.”
“Fine,” Stiles said, still feeling grumpy but not willing to have a long drawn out argument when the other pack was no doubt waiting for them. “Should we take anything with us? Some meat, perhaps? Some mead?”
“Not this first time,” Derek shook his head. “If we bring food or drink we look like we’re casting doubt on their word. They offered to feed us, after all.”
“Well, let’s get on with this then,” Stiles said. “I’ll try not to be too much of an embarrassment in front of your new wolfy buddies.”
“You’re not an embarrassment,” Derek insisted. “I was wrong to stick my hand over your mouth, I agree. I was just concerned about making a good impression—and I thought you wanted us to get cosy with the nearby pack. Don’t you want me to get Alpha lessons?”
“Oh yeah,” Stiles said, remembering his impassioned speech to Derek about it. “Whatever, it’s done now. Just don’t do it again. Come on, dude. Let’s get going. They’re waiting for us.”
“Are we okay?”
“Yes, grumpy-wolf. We’re okay.”
Alpha Miska was a calm woman who weighed her words carefully before she used them. Her mate, Delor, was just as impressive. They led a group of eleven in total, including four children. Or two children and two sub-adults, since the older two were introduced as a prospective mated pair.
After the introductions, Alpha Miska asked to have a private discussion with them.
“You understand our caution,” Miska told them as they made their way towards the firepit. “We have seen and heard nothing of you at the Gatherings. It was very strange to find your signs all over the forest here.”
“I was unaware that the territory had been claimed,” Derek replied cautiously. “I was unable to discern any signs, but you may have a different way of marking than what I was taught.”
She laughed. “Don’t concern yourself. This land is free for the claiming. Our territory runs to the west, but we’ve made a habit of travelling through the surrounding areas each year to ensure that the land is well and that nothing sinister has laired close by.”
“That makes sense,” Derek said. “I remember my mother used to say that we had a duty to the land that superseded territorial boundaries.”
Miska nodded approvingly. “As the land gives to us, so we must give back,” she agreed. “It inconveniences us only a little, and the benefits have the potential to be great.” She stopped and looked at Derek kindly. “You lost your mother young, I think.”
“Yes,” Derek replied shortly.
“How long have you been Alpha?” Stiles asked, seeing that Derek was floundering.
Miska turned her attention to him. “My father passed the duty to me three summers ago, a full year after the death of my own mother.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Derek said gravely.
“I like the way you said that, I think,” Miska replied after a moment’s contemplation. “It does not demean her death, only expresses sympathy for the pain I feel at being parted from her. I also am sorry for your loss.”
“Your mother had a good death, then?” Stiles asked.
Miska nodded, a half smile flitting briefly across her face. “I am sure that she thought so. We were walking apart from the pack together when we were surprised by a mother bear with two cubs to defend.”
Stiles winced sympathetically.
Derek had picked up on something else, though. He looked over to where a small boy was being thrown into the air by Gitkol. “The bear wasn’t the only one with young to protect, I take it?”
Miska’s smile this time was bigger and stayed longer. “Indeed, I had taken her to one side to inform her of the joy that the pack would be anticipating when we stumbled across the bear. Medtar took on the task of distraction and suffered several blows that were meant for me. She was mortally wounded moments before the rest of the pack arrived to help us.”
Stiles privately wondered what could mortally wound a werewolf. He considered some of the injuries that he’d seen Derek recover from, and decided he probably didn’t want to know if Miska’s mother had gotten her head ripped off and eaten or something.
Miska had grown completely serious again. “My father tells me that you came to this place on quest to save the world,” she said. “Is there some way my pack and I may help you?”
Derek looked a little taken aback. “Uh, no?” he said, sounding unsure. He looked over to Stiles, eyebrows signalling his question.
Stiles was pretty surprised as well. These werewolves were being very accepting of strangers that arrived with wild claims of ‘saving the world’. If it was him he would have required a lot more convincing. Sure, they could tell that Stiles and Derek were telling the truth, but then they could also just be insane. “We came back in time,” he said, deciding honesty was probably the best policy with beings that had inbuilt lie-detectors. “You see, there are lines of power that run just beneath the surface of the world, right? In our time, they’ve become corrupted to the point where the whole world is at risk. So, we’re here to get everything sorted out so the world doesn’t end!” He beamed at her.
Miska bowed her head, raising it again to look at him with great respect. “Then you are a powerful mystic! My father said that it must be so for you to have such a strong Alpha devoted solely to your protection. It is an honour to host you both.”
“Oh,” Stiles said, floundering a little. “Um, how can you tell that Derek is strong?”
“His strength sings to us,” Miska replied, looking surprised at the question. “His power is anchored by a single bond, and yet he brims with good health.” She gave a slightly conspiratorial smile. “I think it is well for you both that my youngest sister has recently gone to Alpha Pragta’s pack. She would have been overjoyed to discover an as yet unmated male alpha of such strength nearby. She would have worked hard indeed to garner an invitation to your pack.”
Derek started to look slightly ill at the thought, and Stiles bristled. “Well, good,” he said firmly. “Because Derek’s not on the market.”
“Anyone with a nose can tell that the two of you share blankets,” Miska said merrily. “But my sister is willful and stubborn, and is quite happy to ignore anything less than a mating bond.”
Stiles sneaked a look over at Derek, wondering what exactly a mating bond entailed. It couldn’t just be copious amounts of sweaty awesome sex, or Miska would have considered them mated already. Hmm. Something to ask about later.
“Our quest takes us away from here on a frequent basis,” Derek said, bringing the conversation back to firmer ground. “Stiles is able to transport us through the lines of power so that we can get to the places we need to be. It is likely that we will spend at least half of every moon cycle away, but the rest of the time we plan to return here. Would it be… It would be good for us to have interaction with others on occasion.”
Miska nodded thoughtfully. “You speak as if this quest will take some time,” she observed.
“As long as ten years,” Stiles said, “although we’re hoping to get finished before then, if we can.”
“That is indeed long to go without the companionship of others,” Miska said decidedly. Her eyes flicked over to where her mate was running the children through some basic fighting moves. “I extend you welcome to visit our Pack House, should you desire to. We are not always there of course—indeed, we are not there now—but we never spend longer than a moon away unless it is Gathering time.”
“So, what Gathering time is, is probably pretty self-explanatory,” Stiles said, leaning forward with interest. “But is it just werewolves who go? What about the other supernatural people? How often do the Gatherings take place? Is it always in the same location, or does it move around? Who decides? Who’s in charge?”
“Stiles,” Derek said with a sigh, “perhaps let Alpha Miska answer one question before asking her a whole pile more?”
“Enthusiasm does not weary me,” Miska said with a wave of her hand. “The Gathering is held every five years. It is always in the same place—an area that is not claimed or hunted by any one group. That allows enough game to flourish in the intervening years so that all who attend may hunt. Any who wish to attend the Gathering may do so—it is a place of neutrality and physical confrontations are not allowed. However, if two packs are feuding then the Gathering is a good place to argue their case and gain allies towards their cause. I have been to five Gathers in my lifetime, and to my knowledge, only wolfborn moon children, our silenced brethren, and the occasional mystic, have ever attended.
“As to who’s in charge—technically no one, each Alpha takes up the responsibility to see to their own pack’s behaviour. If their pack is wild and unruly, then that will limit the mating offers coming their way, so it is in every Alpha’s best interests to see that their pack is not a nuisance. If any one group may be said to be in charge, it might be the Wanderers. Their words are usually listened to carefully by all Alpha’s.”
“Who are the Wanderers?” Stiles asked.
“The Wanderers are travelling packs,” Miska told them. “They are unmated individuals who hold no territory as their own, but go from Gathering to Gathering across great distances. They bring news and innovation with them, as well as new blood. They are worthy of great respect.”
“Wow,” Stiles murmured. “Is it big, this travelling pack? Is there more than one?”
Miska nodded. “I have interacted with three in my lifetime,” she said. “Placement in the Wanderers is fluid—they pick up new members on occasion, and then sometimes a member of the Wanderers will find a pack and mate they wish to join, and then they leave. That is how Kalmi and Sedra came to join us. My brothers Gatrin and Teldi joined the Wanderers in their place, and Sedra brought her mate with her in order to stay with her brother. It was a good exchange.”
“Yeah, I can see how careful you’d need to be to avoid inbreeding,” Stiles said. His stomach rumbled audibly, and he felt himself flush with embarrassment.
“Eat with us,” Miska invited. “Delor! Bring the young ones over, I wish to make them known to our guests.”
Whatever rule of etiquette had been holding the remainder of the pack back so that Miska could speak with them was clearly done with. Stiles and Derek were swarmed by eager children and almost as eager adults who led them over to an eating area, passing them tightly woven bowls that held some kind of herbed grain mixture.
“This is delicious!” Stiles said with some enthusiasm around a mouthful. “Oh my god, I’d forgotten what grain tasted like.”
“Thank you,” said Fotno, one of the younger men in the pack. He was mated to Sedra, and had left his pack to follow her and her brother when they had left the Wanderers. “My old pack’s territory is abundant with grain, and they’re happy to trade for tubers which are harder to find.”
“Fotno is our best food picker,” Miska said, smiling proudly. “If you wish for instruction on what plants can be eaten and how they should be prepared then he is the best one to talk to.”
“Thank you, Alpha,” Fotno said with a blush, ducking his head.
“Fotno’s previous pack prized the hunt above everything else,” Tenna murmured to Derek. “They let him go with barely an argument. Idiots. We’ve never eaten so well.”
“Will you teach me?” Stiles demanded after savouring another mouthful.
“I have never been asked to teach before,” Fotno replied hesitantly. “I will try.”
“It will be good practice,” Delor said bracingly. “Tigdan will be ready to learn from you soon, and when he’s old enough I’ll be asking you to train Dilko too.”
“Why doesn’t Gatba have to do it?” Tigdan said indignantly. “He never has to do the boring stuff! It’s not fair!”
“Gatba is nearly twice your age,” Delor replied. “He is of an age to choose his own training. Until you reach his age, you will learn what your mother and I wish you to learn.”
“It’s not fair,” Tigdan repeated, but it sounded more like an oft-repeated phrase rather than a true resentment, and she seemed content to leave it at that.
Fotno looked overwhelmed at all the responsibility that was coming his way. His mate Sedra looked as pleased as if all the validation was hers, rather than his. Since she’d been the one to bring him into the pack, Stiles considered that it was maybe fair.
After eating, Derek and Delor moved over to poke at the fire while speaking at some length, Delor giving details about the way to their summer lodge. He offered to give the directions to the winter one as well, but Derek declined.
“We’ll probably spend the majority of the winter elsewhere,” he explained. “On the other side of the world the seasons are the opposite of the ones here. Over there it’s leading into winter right now.”
“Astonishing,” Delor said, looking intrigued. “How is such a thing possible, I wonder?”
Derek looked uncomfortable. “Stiles is probably better at explaining the reasons why,” he said. “It has to do with the earth being a giant sphere that is spinning through space around the sun.”
Delor blinked. “Perhaps it is not for one such as me to know,” he decided.
Stiles was sitting nearby, trying to keep an ear on Derek’s conversation at the same time as answering the excited questions posed to him by Tigdan and Locab—the sub-adult female who was the prospective mate of the Alpha-in-training, Miska’s oldest son Gatba.
“But how does it work?” Locab demanded, looking from Stiles’ hands to the magical dagger that he had conjured and passed to her to look at. She stabbed it at the ground, looking thrilled when it left a hole behind. Stiles managed to grab it back off her before she used it on her arm.
“It’s just something that I can do,” Stiles replied. “I can’t shapeshift, though. That’s something you can do that I can’t.”
“Can I give up being moonborn so that I can use magic?” Tigdan asked hopefully.
Stiles shook his head, smiling a little at the strangeness of a werewolf wishing they were more like him. “No,” he said gently, “as far as I know, there’s no way to go from being moonborn, as you call it, to anything else.”
Tigdan sat back and sulked, while Locab leaned forward eagerly. “I heard your Alpha say that you can travel along lines of power to distant lands,” she said. “How far can such travel take you? Are you able to take others with you? Would you take me?”
“Locab! It is not your place to beg favours from our guests,” Tenna said sternly, joining their small group. “Mystic Stiles has a sacred duty to perform that requires him to travel, it is unseemly for you to ask him to try and interrupt that with your frivolous requests.”
Locab’s eyes flashed angrily, but she swallowed whatever it was that she wanted to say.
“Oh,” Stiles said, feeling awkward. “It’s okay. I mean, I know I can take Derek with me, so clearly it is possible, but then there’s the danger to consider. Maybe once I’m more experienced and we have a few safe places picked out we could give it a go.”
Smug satisfaction flashed across Locab’s face, and Tenna looked sour.
“I’d need parental permission, of course,” Stiles said hurriedly, “if you’re not eighteen yet anyway.”
Tenna’s and Locab’s expressions performed a full reversal and Stiles just wanted to get out of there.
He turned to where Derek was still talking with Delor. “Hey, Derek,” he said, hoping that his discomfort wasn’t obvious to everyone, “we should probably be heading back if we want to get that meat smoked this afternoon.” Not really a lie, since there was meat that they had been planning to smoke, although it didn’t really have to be done that day. The next would have worked just as well.
Derek didn’t so much as blink, and agreed, thanking Miska, Delor, and their pack for their welcome and promising to come and visit two moons hence for the Summer Run.
It was a relief to be alone with Derek again. Stiles had never fully realised just how exhausting it was to be around other people, especially people he didn’t know and therefore had difficulty reading. He found himself rolling his shoulders as they walked, releasing the tension that had built up.
“Oh my god, I’m a wreck!” he complained. “If this is how screwed up I am after a single afternoon hanging out with a pack of werewolves, then what am I going to be like after three days?”
Derek shot him an amused glance. “You’ll do fine,” he said, his confidence in Stiles clear. It was both gratifying and terrifying. “We should go over basic pack politics before then, though. Once you know how it works you’ll be in your element.”
Stiles thought about that for a few minutes. “Is it like a wolf pack?” he asked hesitantly, since Derek had previously been very firm about the fact that werewolves weren’t wolves and shouldn’t be treated like them.
“Only in that everyone is aware of everyone else’s status,” Derek replied. “Other than the relationships in individual family units, rank remains the same for all members. If Tenna is considered higher ranked than Sedra, then everyone in the pack will follow that—except for any young children Sedra might have. In everyday family matters, Tenna will not rank higher than Sedra as far as her children are concerned. In formal pack matters, Tenna is more of an authority than Sedra.”
“So Tenna won’t be able to order Sedra’s kids around unless it’s official pack business,” Stiles said.
“That’s right,” Derek nodded. “In their family unit and for purely familial matters, Sedra is higher ranked than Tenna—even though Tenna is Miska’s second and is mated to Sedra’s brother. Not that Tenna should be spending a lot of time ordering people around anyway. If she was abusing her position she would likely find herself demoted and another would be chosen as second.”
“What about if people don’t like their position in the pack?” Stiles asked, thinking of Locab’s reaction to Tenna’s orders.
Derek shrugged. “Packs grow and evolve,” he replied. “As leadership changes, pack positions are reshuffled. Gitkol used to be Alpha, and Medtar acted as his second as well as his mate. That left him unable to cope with the burden of leadership when she died, and so he passed leadership onto his daughter. I imagine he’d been grooming her for the position for some time, just as Miska is grooming Gatba. When Miska became Alpha, her sister Tenna became her second rather than Miska’s mate Delor. Delor would have been an excellent second, but it’s possible that Miska wished to ensure that the pack wouldn’t fall to disarray if he were to die and she was overcome with grief, or vice versa. A three-pronged leadership arrangement is nearly always more stable than one with two prongs, after all.”
“So Locab is Gatba’s prospective mate,” Stiles said slowly, “and Gatba is going to be Alpha. At the moment she’s got lower status than Tenna, but that will probably change in the future. Tension time.”
“Exactly.” Derek sighed. “By rights, Locab should be content with the situation as it is, and Tenna should leave her be. But Locab is ambitious, and Tenna is defensive. The reasons for her rank of second are not so obvious, it’s possible that it’s more of a nepotistic appointment than one based on ability.”
Stiles looked at Derek with new respect. “You managed to get all of that in the short time that we were there?”
“A lot of it’s conveyed by body language,” Derek said, looking uncomfortable again. “Small cues that are pretty obvious to someone who’s lived in a large pack for any length of time.”
“Well, I guess it’s lucky that I’ve got you to give me the cheat sheets,” Stiles said, giving Derek a friendly nudge. “So, I guess you’re ranked pretty high, being an Alpha and all. Where would I fall then?”
“You’re a special case,” Derek admitted. “Partly because you’re not a werewolf, or moonborn as they call it here. Expectations of you are different, and human rankings are kept separate and are often determined solely by the human’s relationship with the Alpha. So the Alpha’s human-born son or daughter might be higher ranked than another pack member’s human spouse.”
Stiles blinked. “Wow. So if that’s part of it, I take it the other part has to do with my magic?”
“Emissaries, magic users, pretty much anyone supernatural who’s not a shapeshifter—they have a whole different ranking system. When I was young, that kind of ranking was decided outside the pack—various magic disciplines have their own societies and their own ways of ranking their members. Pack’s would assign pack-rank for them based mostly on reputation.”
“That system doesn’t look like it’s evolved yet,” Stiles noted as they arrived back at their familiar base camp. “What does that mean for me?”
“I imagine that they’ll give you whatever rank that you and I think you have,” Derek replied. “If you behave like a high ranked individual then they have no reason to believe that you’re not.”
“It’s as easy as that?” Stiles asked with open disbelief.
“That, and the fact that I’ve openly acknowledged you as having higher rank than me,” Derek said, moving over to their small stack of firewood and getting the fire ready for lighting. He looked up at the darkening sky. “It was good that we left when we did,” he commented idly. “Here, come and throw some fire on this.”
Stiles did as Derek asked, still mulling over the information he’d been given, trying to apply that thinking to the rag-tag pack that Derek had made after becoming Alpha. Of course, that was a much different situation. Derek was the only one who had any idea of how a pack worked, and Isaac, Erica, and Boyd, were probably too new to their changed circumstances to even listen very well if Derek had tried to explain it. Nor Jackson, for that matter, when he was still around.
There was another question he wanted to ask as well, but he wasn’t sure how to go about asking it.
That night, after they’d curled up in their slightly worse-for-wear bedrolls, Stiles found his courage. “What does mating entail? For werewolves, I mean.”
“It’s a blood ceremony that ties two werewolves together,” Derek answered, voice hushed. “The bond that’s created can only be severed by death, so it’s not something to be undertaken lightly. My mother and father were mated. So were Peter and Marta.”
“Peter was mated?” Stiles asked, startled. He wondered for a moment what that must have been like for Peter—losing his mate and then being stuck recovering alone for six long years. He gave a bit of a shudder. No wonder he’d awoken insane. “If losing your mate is so terrible, then why do people get mated?”
“There are several reasons. It’s said to be the closest a werewolf can be to another person. The wolf instincts crave that kind of connection, delight in it. Also, my mother always said that for a pack to have long term health, it had to be led by a mated pair. That the Alpha power was too strong to be wielded safely by just one person for any length of time.”
Stiles’ mind went immediately to the Alpha Pack. A pack of werewolves who all manifested Alpha power, and no mates in sight. “Do the Alpha Pack have mates?” he wondered aloud. “I haven’t seen them.”
Derek shifted uncomfortably. “Deucalion told me that each of the Alpha Pack increased their power by killing their own beta’s, taking their power into themselves,” he replied. “He didn’t come outright and say it, but that would have to include their mates as well.”
Stiles felt sick, but something clicked in his mind. “That’s why you trust Peter around them,” he realised. “It never made sense to me, because it seemed obvious that Peter would most likely betray you to get a chance at being an Alpha again. But you think that the fact that they’re mate-killers will be Peter’s hard line.”
“I don’t know for sure that they killed their mates,” Derek said. “I know that Ennis lost a mate not long before the Alpha Pack was formed, and Aiden and Ethan are still a bit young to have been mated. But it would be a fair explanation of why Kali’s so psycho, I suppose. Deucalion—I don’t know. He’s the Alpha Pack’s driving force, and it’s true that he used to have a mate or my mother wouldn’t have agreed to talks with him. Whether he killed them himself or their death was part of what drove him down the path that he came to embrace—I don’t know.”
“Can you only mate with other werewolves then?” Stiles asked, knowing that Derek would know how much the question meant to him by how hard his heart had started pounding.
“It’s more common for a mate bond to be between two werewolves or a werewolf and another shifter,” Derek said carefully. “On the fairly rare occasion that the prospective mate is baseline human, then that human is generally offered the bite by the werewolf partner’s alpha. When it comes to other enhanced individuals—I’m not sure. I’ve never known of it to happen, so I have no idea what the protocol is, or if it even works. Peter would know, he was my mother’s intelligence gatherer.”
Stiles was silent for a long moment. He’d been hoping that Derek would answer the question that he hadn’t asked, the one he was afraid to ask. Finally, he screwed up his courage again. “Would you want a mate bond with me? If it’s possible?”
Derek let out a sigh, but pulled Stiles closer at the same time, confusing him slightly. Was that good or bad?
“The thing is that I don’t know if you’re asking because of what Miska said about her sister not respecting anything but a mate bond,” Derek said, voice carefully neutral in that way he had when he didn’t want to give away that he was experiencing strong emotions.
Stiles opened his mouth to deny it, but something in Derek’s sudden stillness made him consider his answer more carefully. “Until Miska’s comment about her sister I wasn’t aware that, despite our relationship, you might be considered ‘available’ to other werewolves,” he said slowly. “Until today I didn’t know about mating at all. So in a way, yes, it is about what Miska said. But not—” he broke off, frustrated, and tried again. “I’m very interested in having that type of bond with you. Because I love you, and want to be as close to you as I can possibly get. But you’ve never brought it up before, so now I’m left wondering if that’s because you don’t want that with me.”
Derek was silent for long enough for Stiles to start to feel sick. “Blue-eyed werewolves don’t get to mate,” he said eventually. “That’s something I’ve known since I was small. No one wants someone with that kind of stain on them, and anyone who does gets tarred with the same brush. So it’s been a long time since I even considered mating as a possibility. I only realised today that I might get to have that after all, but I was worried that—”
“That I might not feel the same way,” Stiles concluded. “Or that I might want it for the wrong reasons.”
“If the two participants don’t truly want it, or want it for the wrong reasons, the bond doesn’t form,” Derek revealed. “I saw it happen once; it was a very fraught time for everyone involved.”
“Well, now we both know that it’s something to consider,” Stiles said, relief flooding through him and leaving him feeling wrung out.
“Yes,” Derek said, and pulled Stiles closer, tucking his face into his preferred spot at Stiles’ neck.
Stiles felt his cock stir and wished wistfully for some kind of mattress and reliable lube. Not that there was any point in pursuing the feeling right then, if they had one unbreakable rule it was no hanky-panky in the bedrolls. These things needed to last as long as possible, after all.
It was bound to happen eventually, of course. It was inevitable that something would go badly wrong at some stage. Stiles had just been hoping that they could put it off for a while.
They’d travelled to the next site on Stiles’ improvised map and raised their usual protections. Stiles had done his work and created the node, followed by weaving the invisibility cloak for it.
He’d stumbled to his feet and made his way to the sleeping area that had been set up in preparation, and fallen into darkness immediately.
Normally he’d be out for a good eight hours or more and would wake feeling refreshed, although rather low on magic.
This time the sound of a loud commotion brought him from his rest far earlier than usual. His surface from sleep was slow and sluggish, his limbs all felt like they were weighed down with lead and his brain was barely working.
Stiles forced open his heavy eyes in time to see Derek go down, one large, solidly built cat type creature on his back, and another leaping in from the side. At least four more were within view, prowling a short distance away and watching intently.
It was enough to shock in into wakefulness, heart thundering in his chest as adrenaline rushed through his body. Stiles scooped up his bow—the closest of the weapons he’d laid out for just this eventuality—and grabbed an arrow, firing at the nearest attacking cat. He swore when the shot went wide, taking his next shot with more care. Derek had re-emerged from the fray, looking a bit tattered and torn but otherwise alright.
Stiles’ next shot went wide as well, although not as much as the previous one. It hit one of the big cats anyway, one of the more distant ones. Unfortunately, it seemed to hurt the creature slightly less than Stiles would have hoped, and instead served to draw the creature’s attention away from Derek and onto him.
“Shit,” Stiles swore, reaching for the nearest staff. He usually preferred to use his magic without resorting to amplifiers like staves, since back here on Earth there was no way of recharging them without using up one of the now extremely limited soul gems that had been their packs. He pointed the staff and cast without taking the time to properly recognise which one he’d picked up—he was kind of hoping for fire, to tell the truth—and so he was almost as surprised as everyone else when a huge Frost Atronach emerged and began laying about itself, it’s footfalls heavy enough to make the ground shudder.
Stiles breathed a sigh of relief. At least now there was a chance. With the aid of the Frost Atronach, Derek was gaining ground on the attacking cats, two bloody and furry corpses now lay quiescent leaving three to be taken care of by Derek and his unconventional fighting partner.
It might have been a small movement caught in the corner of his eye, it might have been some sort of sixth sense, but Stiles turned around just in time to be brought to the ground by another cat that had sneaked around behind him, leaping nimbly over the lightning rune that Stiles had cast on the ground.
Stiles reflexively shoved the pointy-pronged staff in the cat’s face even as he landed with a jarring thud that made his head ring. Somewhere in the background, there was an enraged snarl, but by then the world had begun wobbling to such a degree that Stiles was no longer sure what was real and what wasn’t.
He vaguely noted foetid breath and sharp claws that raked at his shoulder and arm before he was suddenly free again. There was an armoured figure standing over him, a threatening growl, and heavy thudding in the background.
Then it was silent. Stiles hazily recognised that the danger was over, and slipped gratefully into the darkness.
For what seemed like an eternity, the only things Stiles was aware of were heat, and confusion, and a voice calling his name. He knew that there was something he needed to do, somewhere he needed to be, but he couldn’t quite grasp the details. The voice nagged at him, moved him about and stopped him from resting. There was a hazy memory that the owner of the voice was important, but there wasn’t enough urgency in the thought to bring Stiles to focus.
Every now and then he’d feel something cool dribble down his throat. The first time it happened it made him cough until he recalled that he needed to swallow. After that, he did it automatically.
Eventually, things started becoming clearer. He recognised Derek’s voice commanding him to drink as he gave him more water, could tell by the ambient temperature whether it was day or night. Finally, he opened his eyes, once more lucid if still feeling feverish.
“Stiles!” Derek said, his relief clear in his voice.
“Hey,” Stiles tried to say, but his throat was dry and his attempt to talk brought about a fit of coughing that rather highlighted the amount of pain his left shoulder was in.
The coughing fit exhausted him, and by the time that was over, he was just about ready to sleep again.
“Stiles!” Derek said, this time using his name as a command. “Hey, you need to eat something.”
Stiles forced his eyes back open to stare at Derek balefully. He had possibly never in his entire life felt like eating less than he did right at that moment—and that included the time he’d eaten an entire cheesecake in one go and then felt sick for the rest of the day. He told Derek so.
“You need to replenish your energy,” Derek replied, tone adamant. “Then maybe you can tell me if any of these potions that we’re still carrying around will be any good for you.”
“Ugh,” Stiles said, but allowed Derek to lever him into a sitting position. His shoulder was hurting less, but it took him an unacceptably long time to realise that was because Derek was taking his pain. “Stop that,” he said irritably, taking the cheese that he was being offered. “I can deal with a bit of pain; I’m not some wilting flower. I refuse to eat this while you’re pain-draining me.”
Derek reluctantly did as asked, and watched carefully as Stiles sniffed the cheese before taking a small bite.
Despite his lack of appetite he tried to enjoy the treat. They didn’t have an endless supply—despite Derek’s cheese collecting habit—and had decided to ration it very strictly since what they had would have to last them for years, until they made it back to their own time.
Thank the Divines for enchanted packs that kept everything fresh.
“How long have I been out of it?” Stiles asked as he nibbled his cheese under Derek’s intent gaze.
“Three days now,” Derek said with a sigh. “I was starting to wonder if you were going to recover at all. Now, help me with these potions.” He gestured at an array of potions that they’d picked up in various dungeons and temples around Skyrim.
Stiles blinked. Well, that explained why Derek was looking so haggard. A thought occurred to him, and he lowered his cheese wedge in order to give Derek a smile that was hopefully adorable and contrite at the same time. Judging by the frown on Derek’s face, he wasn’t terribly successful.
“Is this a bad time to tell you that the wooden staff with the moonstone tip is a restoration staff?”
“Yes,” Stiles said hurriedly. “Well, I’ve never had to use it before, since the healing spell I can cast on myself is perfectly adequate and it’s not like you need me to heal you because, hello, werewolf! So it’s perfectly reasonable that I kind of forgot to tell you about it and show you how to use it.” He did his best to widen his eyes anime-style and ducked his head slightly so that he was looking up at Derek through his lashes.
“You look like a demented chipmunk,” Derek said flatly, getting to his feet and stalking over to where Stiles’ pack was leaning against a nearby wall of rock.
Stiles took the opportunity to look around. It was obvious that Derek had moved Stiles and all their gear to a considerably more defensible spot. It wasn’t precisely a cave, more like a curved aperture in a sheer rock face. Somewhere nearby was the sound of running water, which meant that Derek had chosen the risk of keeping them close to water—which meant a higher likely-hood of encountering predators—over the risk of leaving Stiles by himself for long periods in order to fetch water himself.
Derek extracted the correct staff from the pack and returned to Stiles’ side. “How do I use this thing then,” he said gruffly, holding the runed wood as if he expected it to bite him at any moment.
“It might be a better idea to try a potion,” Stiles said, thinking that it might be a good idea to save the staff for as long as possible, since it wasn’t going to go off anytime soon and the same might not be able to be said for the potions.
Derek glared at him. “I need to know how to work it,” he explained, dragging out his words as if Stiles was slow, “so that next time something like this happens we’re not left vulnerable for three whole days.”
“Fine, fine, suit yourself. Just point it at me and, I don’t know, will it to work,” Stiles instructed. “Most staves can be used by anyone, although someone with magical skill in the correct school of magic will get a better, more impressive result—” The thrum of warm healing magic washing over him distracted him from what he’d been saying.
He felt the wounds in his shoulder and arm start to close and heaved a great sigh of relief as a great deal of the weariness he had been feeling was lifted. After several straight minutes of healing, the flow of magic stopped. Derek lowered the staff.
Stiles stretched, feeling like a million dollars compared to how he’d felt only a little while ago. “That is amazing,” he said with a groan of pleasure. His bare arm was now fully healed although there was faint scarring where the claws had raked open his flesh. “I wonder why that is,” he murmured to himself. To be honest he didn’t really mind. It was a bad-ass looking scar, after all.
He looked up a Derek. “What’s my dragonscale armour looking like?” he worried, pretty sure that Derek was going to say it was a write-off. “Must be a bit ripped up if that cat thing managed to get through it well enough to do this much damage. In fact, holy shit! Imagine what it would have done to me if I hadn’t been wearing it!”
“It’s pretty torn up,” Derek admitted, returning the staff to Stiles’ pack and then coming over to examine the healed wound for himself. “I wish I could say that I could repair it. I mean, I know what to do and we have the supplies, but without a proper forge I can’t.”
“Can’t you build a forge?” Stiles asked, remembering that Derek had set up a fully equipped smithy at the house in Falkreath.
Derek shook his head. “The problem is that in order to build a forge, I first need a forge,” he said with a half smile. He sat down beside Stiles and leaned against the rock wall, heaving a great sigh and closing his eyes for a long moment.
Stiles abruptly realised that Derek had probably been awake for the last three days caring for him, ensuring that neither of them became dinner for some other predator. “Hey,” he said gently, “why don’t you sleep for a while. I’ll keep watch, and the moment I think something’s not quite right I promise I’ll wake you up.”
“No need,” Derek mumbled without opening his eyes. “M’fine. Gotta keep watch.”
Stiles watched fondly as Derek’s head lolled to one side and he started snoring.
As arranged, they spent the Summer moon with Miska’s pack. Derek got his wolf on and ran with the others, while Stiles stayed back at camp with Gitkol to help keep an eye on the two youngest, Tigdan and Dilko.
Remembering that Gitkol had been an Alpha for years before passing the power to his daughter, Stiles thought to ask him about the possibility of getting training for Derek.
“The thing is that he was never intended to be the Alpha,” Stiles said earnestly. “He was Gatba’s age when a psycho hunter wiped out his pack, and while his mother had been training his older sister Laura, she was only two years older. So she became Alpha long before she was ready, and in extremely traumatic circumstances. After that, as far as I can tell, they hid away for the next six years hoping that the hunters wouldn’t follow them. Then Laura died—long story—killed for her power. Derek killed him—it needed to be done, the guy was insane—and then he was all of a sudden an Alpha. With no training, and no pack, and though I think he realised that he was the best choice of those available, he never thought that he was a good choice.”
Gitkol’s eyes had widened. “Indeed, that is a path full of strife and woe that you describe to me,” he said. “It is not to be wondered at that he should suffer much self-doubt. But what is it that you wish for, exactly?”
“I’d like for him to receive the same sort of training that Gatba is likely to be getting, that Miska had,” Stiles replied. “I know it would be a bit different, since he’s already an Alpha, but I think that he could really benefit from it.”
“Alpha training is a task that belongs to the Alpha,” Gitkol said. “Miska is the one you should petition for this.”
Stiles shrugged. “I’d need to talk to her about it anyway,” he agreed, “but I realised that you have trained at least one Alpha—your daughter Miska. I know that she has many demands on her time, and since these are not usual circumstances, I wondered if you would consider taking on the task yourself. Provided Miska approves, of course.”
Gitkol got up and fiddled with the fire, getting more wood and rearranging the half-burnt logs.
Stiles easily recognised an attempt to get some time to think when he saw one, and was content to let the old werewolf mull over the idea. Finally, Gitkol finished what he was doing and came to sit down again.
“You ask for this on Derek’s behalf,” Gitkol said, and his whole manner had become more sure, more steady. “Does he know that you do this? Does he truly wish for instruction?”
“We’ve talked it over,” Stiles said evasively. At Gitkol’s look, he gave a sigh. “He knows that I want him to get training, and that I don’t think it’s any reflection on him, either personally or as a member of his family, not a weakness on his part. I think that in many ways he does want training, wants to be the best Alpha that he can be. He’s afraid to ask for it though, afraid to look weak, and I’m pretty sure he thinks he doesn’t deserve it. But he does. He deserves everything.”
Gitkol gave a short laugh. “It is ingrained in an Alpha’s nature to avoid every appearance of weakness,” he said. “Even with those that we love most, it is often hard to show vulnerability. That your Derek can share such things with you speaks well of you both. Very well, if my Alpha and yours both agree, then I will do as you have asked.”
Miska didn’t need very much persuasion to let Gitkol give Derek the same training that she’d had. In the discussions that ensued, it was agreed that following each full moon Gitkol would join Stiles and Derek, returning to his own pack at the new moon. Derek and Stiles would then be on their own for two weeks, before joining Miska’s pack at the full moon, thus beginning the cycle again.
Derek accepted the schedule with good grace, although Stiles was well aware that at first, he didn’t really like it. Still, he gave it his best shot and within a few moons had completely changed his tune.
Gitkol fit in with them easily. He and Derek often spent hours at a time off doing wolfy things together, leaving Stiles to practice his magic, growing those skills in a way that he hadn’t really bothered with since his winter at the Mages College. It was harder without other mages to bounce ideas off and to help him, but in a lot of ways, it was easier as well. Stiles had never done well with rigid thinking, and even in the College—where the majority of the mages had at least one experiment running at all times and often more—there were certain ideas that were held to rather strictly. The idea that the schools of magic were entirely separate was one of them—Stiles was sure that it wasn’t so nearly cut and dried as all that.
Gitkol was also a great help when it came to the construction of the dwelling at what Stiles had begun to refer to as ‘Hale Base’. Gitkol was able to instruct them on the best way to insulate against the cold weather, and he also cleared up Stiles and Derek’s long-running argument on whether the floor should be made of stone or wood.
With the three of them working together the cabin was up in just under three moons.
Several moons into this collaboration, Stiles tried taking two people through the ley-lines—due to Derek’s insistence on calling them that, now even Stiles was thinking of them like that—to one of their previously mapped areas to gather what appeared to be pears. It was only slightly more complicated than taking only Derek.
Gitkol was amazed and thrilled, and insisted on bringing some of the ripe fruit back to his pack to try.
Miska, in particular, loved them, and declared right then that Stiles and Derek were to be considered close-kin, following that with a request for more pears whenever possible.
There was some discussion over how to work their arrangement over the harshest of the winter months—enough snow would fall to make the journey between Hale Base and Miska’s winter lodge difficult at best and foolhardy at worst. Eventually, the decision was left up to Gitkol, and he chose to spend that time with Derek and Stiles.
“But why?” Stiles asked on their way back to Base after the winter moon festivities were over. “I thought that moonborn were happiest with their pack. You know we’re delighted to have you, but not at the expense of your peace of mind.”
Gitkol considered his answer before replying, a habit that Stiles had noticed and was trying—unsuccessfully so far—to adopt. “I have found that having a new purpose has eased my grief,” he said eventually. “I do not feel cut off from my pack—and indeed I am well aware that I could return to them at any time of my choosing—but being away from them has been beneficial. It has been a relief not to be bombarded with memories again and again. Not that I would give those memories up, no, not in a hundred lifetimes, but having some respite from them has eased my mind. I no longer feel as close to death as I once did.”
“Oh,” Stiles said, taken aback. “Uh, that’s good I suppose.”
“Very good indeed,” Gitkol agreed.
Now that they had a roof to shelter under, Stiles and Derek were more inclined to spend time at Hale Base during the winter months, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t also spending a great deal of time in warmer climates.
“This is truly a gift,” Gitkol said as he relaxed in the sunshine on a sandy beach. With two werewolves and a mage capable of transporting them, it had been agreed that full armour was only needed on a case by case basis, and the three of them had enjoyed a number of afternoons such as this one, just enjoying life. “My old bones thank you, Arch-Mage.”
Stiles inhaled in surprise and choked on the figs he was eating. “What? Why did you call me that?” he asked, once he’d got his breath back from all the coughing.
Gitkol didn’t bother opening his eyes, just lay there with his head tipped back. “I would be very hard of hearing indeed if I had not been able to hear you assert your title on various occasions. Is it so strange that I would call you by it?”
Derek had stopped adding wood to the bonfire they were building and was clearly trying not to laugh. He wasn’t terribly successful at it.
Stiles sent him a fulminating glare. “Thank you, Gitkol. It’s nice to be treated with a bit of respect once in a while.”
Derek gave up the pretence and dropped to the ground, laughing openly.
“I really don’t see what’s so funny,” Stiles said huffily, before deciding to ignore the whole thing. Although, after that, he maybe tried to avoid reminding Derek that he was the Arch-Mage quite so often.
Time passed. Gitkol returned to his pack after the spring thaw, carrying with him various exotic fruits and meats that he’d picked up in their travels. When Stiles and Derek arrived for the full moon, they were greeted like long lost heroes.
Fotno, in particular, was ecstatic at being able to incorporate exciting new flavours into his cooking. Stiles privately thought that if Fotno had grown up in the future he would have been a Michelin chef for sure.
The next month Gitkol stayed with his pack as they completed their annual spring tour of the extended territory, since the pack was most vulnerable while travelling. Stiles and Derek hadn’t truly realised just how well the old wolf had integrated into their lives until he was gone again.
“Although it does have an effect on our sex life,” Stiles mused from where he was sprawled in a sweaty mess over Derek’s bare torso. He moved his head to one side rubbing his nose against Derek’s skin, hoping to get rid of the itch that the tickling of his chest hair had started. Eventually, he gave up and lifted his hand to give it a good scratch.
“That olive oil you made is great,” Derek commented idly, running his hand up and down Stiles back in a petting motion.
“There’s sometimes value in knowing a lot of weird stuff,” Stiles said, feeling a little smug about it.
When his father had first had the cholesterol scare Stiles had looked into the possibility of making his own fresh olive oil, but had eventually decided that it wasn’t worth the time and effort. The oil that he’d recently managed to make with the tools he had to hand was no doubt an inferior product, and the yield was a lot smaller than it would have been if he’d had access to a blender or a proper grinder, but beggars couldn’t be choosers and quite frankly it was great just having lube again.
“Was there anything else you wanted to get done while Gitkol was gone?” Derek asked.
Stiles yawned. “Nah,” he said sleepily. “Just have lots of sex, I think. I’m not meant for communal living, Derek, I can’t get busy knowing that other people can hear or see everything that’s happening. Quite frankly I’m not sure I’m even over the whole smell thing yet. I think that it’s easier to ignore though, since it’s something that I have no real frame of reference for.”
“Mmmm,” Derek mumbled, giving his own yawn. “You wanna get cleaned up now, or leave it till later?”
Stiles was tempted to say ‘leave it’, but he knew from experience that he’d regret it if he did. He levered himself up with a frown. “I need to learn some kind of spell that just gets rid of all this mess,” he said, looking with disfavour at the congealing body fluids that were the result of the afternoon’s activities.
“You’d make a fortune if you could sell it,” Derek said, a small smile on his face as Stiles gave them both a quick clean.
“I don’t see why it has to be me that has to do this,” Stiles muttered, rinsing the cloth out and leaving it spread out to dry.
“You do it because you’re the one who gets bent out of shape about it,” Derek murmured, already half asleep. “Come here, I want to cuddle you.”
Stiles went willingly into Derek’s warm embrace, relaxing with a happy sigh.
It was early fall when Kalmi, Tenna’s mate, arrived unexpectedly at the Hale Base, out of breath and very worried.
Derek and Gitkol had easily heard him coming from some distance away, and had warned Stiles. All three of them were waiting, wondering what the story was.
“It is Dilko,” Kalmi said when he’d gotten his breath back. “He fell out of a tree and broke his arm badly enough that the bone was sticking out through his skin. Delor straightened it up, but Dilko is not healing. His skin is hot to the touch, and he no longer responds to his mother. Fotno’s herbs have helped a little, but not enough. Please, Mystic Stiles, can you do anything?”
Stiles didn’t even wait for him to finish speaking before he was opening his pack. He made sure that the restoration staff was inside, and that he had a variety of healing potions available before closing it picking it up.
“Kalmi and I will carry the gear,” Gitkol commanded, holding his hand out imperatively. “Derek, Stiles will not be able to keep up on foot, you will have to carry him.”
Normally Stiles would have objected to being toted around like this, but on this occasion, it was clear that time was of the essence and his pride was unimportant. He’d have a certain level of concern for any child, but this was Gitkol’s grandson, and Gitkol had become very important to both him and Derek over the last year and a bit.
The trip that usually took two days at a steady walk was completed in four hours, with Stiles riding Derek piggyback style. Just clinging on for that long was pretty exhausting, but it was worth it to get there before Dilko got too much worse.
As it was, his situation looked pretty bad.
Stiles had been readying his healing spell, and so he didn’t waste any time, applying it at full strength with his right hand while he took in the details.
Dilko’s tan skin was pale and starting to look dry, his arm was swollen to almost twice it’s usual size, and the skin that Stiles could see was shiny and stretched looking. He was breathing rapidly, and Stiles could see his pulse fluttering in his throat, it was going way too fast. “Get some fresh water!” he snapped to whoever was listening. “See if you can dribble some down his throat, he needs fluids! Also, see if you can wipe him down, it might help lower his fever.” He could vaguely hear the murmuring of voices around him, but didn’t have the inclination to pay any attention to them right at that moment.
Stiles’ strength was waning rapidly. The healing spell was starting to take effect on Dilko—he was already looking less pale and his arm had reduced in size—but Stiles could tell that he was going to run out of magic long before the infection that had taken root in his bloodstream was rooted out.
“Bring me the smallest health potion,” he said to Derek, who he could sense was standing behind him. “Get it open and give it a sniff. Does it smell bad at all?”
“No?” Derek said hesitantly, just as Stiles’ magic gave out. “But I’m not sure I’d know if it had.”
“Give it here,” Stiles said, bringing the open bottle to his nose. As far as he could tell, it smelt just like it did after it had been made. “Thanks, Derek. You should get the staff out,” he instructed. “I want to try and do this without it, if we can, but I want it on standby just in case. Delor, lift him so that he’s in a sitting position. I want him to have some of this, but only small sips. Maybe three sips of this and then three sips of water.”
“He is already so much better,” Miska said, sounding relieved as her mate carefully did as Stiles had said.
The health potion seemed to do the trick. Stiles leaned back wearily into Derek’s strength even as Dilko was healed.
“That should be enough,” Stiles said when it looked like the only thing bothering Dilko was the same weariness that Stiles was feeling. “Give him a small meal and some more water, and let him sleep. We’ll look at him again in the morning. Now, if you don’t mind I’m gonna go lie down before I pass out.”
“Your usual area is not ready yet. Here, take my spot,” Miska said, leading him over to where she and Delor usually slept, waving away Stiles’ half-hearted protests. “We will not be needing it for a while anyway, as we will be staying with our son.”
“Right, whatever,” Stiles muttered, collapsing onto the soft furs and dropping deeply into sleep.
Dilko made a full recovery, and by lunchtime on the next day was running around with his usual enthusiasm. His elders didn’t bounce back quite so easily.
“I think that we can no longer ignore the obvious,” Miska said that night after the children were asleep. “We have suspected it for a time, but it is now clear that my youngest son was not moonborn.”
“Does that matter?” Stiles asked, feeling like he needed to stick up for non-werewolves everywhere.
“Not at all,” Delor replied. “Or at least, only in that it will make life harder for him than for his siblings.”
“There are some who do not treat those that are different well,” Miska acknowledged. “He will find it harder to attract a mate, if he mates at all. There are many who will believe him to be a burden to a pack.”
Stiles scowled in the general direction of the fire. He knew well what it was like to be considered the weakling who always needed to be rescued. It didn’t matter how important his contributions were—after all, without the proper information nothing gets done, and without his research Scott would no doubt have been killed by the Argents soon after he was bitten—he was looked down upon because he was a puny human. And that was in a world full of humans. Poor Dilko was going to have a crap time of it.
“Will you consider giving him the bite?” Derek asked a little hesitantly.
Miska nodded slowly. “If he should ask for it once he reaches manhood, yes. And while that would solve many issues, it would create others. No moonbitten ever reaches the same level of control as a moonborn, that would count against him. And he may not wish to. Indeed, why should he? He is perfect as he is.”
“Sing it, sister,” Stiles grumbled, still feeling annoyed on behalf of humans everywhere. At least he wouldn’t have to put up with bullshit like this anymore, the next time Isaac gave him that superior ‘I’m a werewolf and you’re not’ look he was going to get his ass fried with a bolt of lightning. Stiles blinked as a thought popped into his head. “I could try to teach him magic!”
“What about your quest?” Miska asked cautiously.
Stiles gave a careless shrug. “Well, that’s going to take years yet. We’ve only done, what, twenty-five nodes? There’s a hundred and twenty-seven in total. We’re not even a quarter of the way through.”
“If Dilko could use magic he would go from being ostracised to being courted,” Delor pointed out.
“He’ll be really useful in a fight, too,” Stiles agreed enthusiastically. “I’ll teach him to wield mountain ash like a boss, and your enemies won’t know what hit them!”
Derek slapped his hand over his eyes. “Let’s not run before we can walk. There’s no guarantee that Dilko has enough magic to train, so it might not be a good idea to give him false hope.”
“A lot of magic has to do with belief, though,” Stiles pointed out. “We can’t tell him it might not work, or we’d be defeating the whole purpose.”
“Next summer is the Gathering,” Miska said with the tone of someone who has made up her mind about something. “Stiles and Derek have already indicated to me that they do not intend to attend. I propose that Gitkol and Dilko spend that month at Hale Base, and if he wishes to, Stiles may use that time to see if Dilko has the potential to be trained in magic.”
It was agreed.
Stiles spent a great deal of time that winter coming up with lesson plans and ideas for instruction that would seem natural to a small boy born to a pack of werewolves seventy thousand years in the past. Yeah, he had no illusions that he was going to be like Dumbledore or anything—although considering some of the things that Dumbledore had considered it perfectly okay to put Harry through that was probably a good thing—but he wanted to be able to help Dilko get some confidence in magic so that he’d have something to believe in when the rest of the world tried to shit on him, as it inevitably would.
Gitkol remained with them that winter as well, appeared to think of it as a done deal. Stiles and Derek were happy enough to have him—it made evenings a little more lively and they had fun sharing stories.
“Although I have been wondering about something,” Stiles mentioned one night as they sat scraping some skins for later use. “How is it that we’ve never seen anyone when we travel? I would have thought that the magical energy in those places would have drawn various populations to settle nearby.”
“Some have,” Derek said, running his fingers over the skin he was working to test it before picking up his scraper again.
Stiles stopped what he was doing. “Really? Then why haven’t I seen them?”
Gitkol shook his head with a smile, but said nothing.
“Because they were hiding from us,” Derek replied patiently. “Three strangers, arriving by magic? They wait and observe. We don’t move far from our arrival point, make no indication that we’re setting up to stay, and then leave within three days.”
Stiles absorbed that information. “So that’s why sometimes the two of you go exploring, and sometimes you just hang back with me? Cause you don’t want to spook the locals? You never considered going over and trying to make friends?”
“There would be little point,” Gitkol said, sounding amused, “and we leave fairly quickly in any case. For such a fleeting friendship it would not be worth the possible danger.”
“You think they’d be that quick to be hostile?”
“You are technically in their territory, so yes,” Gitkol replied. “There is also your skin to consider.”
“What’s wrong with my skin?”
Gitkol hesitated. “You are very pale,” he said finally. “There are also… You have…”
“Your pale skin and your moles might lead some to believe that you’re diseased,” Derek said bluntly as Gitkol watched anxiously, clearly worried about how this news would be taken.
Stiles laughed so hard he thought he might rupture something. “Oh god, that’s priceless,” he said, wiping his eyes when he finally calmed down again. “Well, I suppose that does explain it. It doesn’t explain why your pack approached us though.”
Gitkol shrugged. “You had not encroached on our territory, and we had known of your presence for a number of months before Miska came to her decision,” he said. “Tenna and I both observed no sign of sickness in either of you during our first meeting, and we have seen strange birth defects before. There is a member of Pragta’s pack who was born with completely white eyes, but she can see fine.”
Derek’s mouth twitched up, but he kept his gaze on the animal skin in his hands.
Stiles was still too amused by the whole thing to feel indignant. “If you’re not careful I’ll curse you with the pox,” he muttered at Derek, poking at him with his foot.
When they headed back to Base after the full moon before the Gathering, they brought Dilko with them. After three days of his rambunctious energy, Stiles privately decided that he probably owed his father a big apology or two. Kids were exhausting. Thank goodness Gitkol was there.
Dilko didn’t look like he’d be challenging Merlin any time soon—or even Stiles, for that matter—but he was able to do a few small things that indicated to Stiles that he had a trainable magical talent. He immediately began giving him exercises to do that would strengthen that magic, mostly involving tapping into the magical energy that all living things possessed and ‘reading’ what it said. Remembering his own childhood, he did his best to make it fun. Going by Dilko’s progress, it worked.
“My daughter owes you a debt that is too great to be repaid,” Gitkol said one night soon after Tenna and Kalmi had come to pick Dilko up and take him back to his mother and father. “You have not merely saved her son’s life and given him a skill that will benefit him and his pack greatly, you have also raised the status of our pack immeasurably. There are few Mystics amongst the packs, and all are prized. Now it will be known that our bloodline has produced a Mystic and our pack’s standing will rise accordingly.”
“I taught him magic, I didn’t give it to him,” Stiles corrected, leaning against the carved wooden backrest that Derek had made for him. He had Derek’s head in his lap and was rubbing gently at his scalp with his fingertips. Derek had his eyes closed in bliss, he loved having his head massaged, and Stiles was willing enough to oblige him.
“Is there nothing that we may do for you?” Gitkol asked, ignoring Stiles deflection.
Stiles gazed down at Derek’s relaxed features for a few moments, considering the question. “Derek and I have spoken of mating,” he said eventually. “It’s something that we both want, but we’re unsure if it’s possible.” He looked up to see Gitkol’s dark eyes watching him understandingly. “I’m not a shifter, after all, nor do I want to become one. Do you know? Is it possible?”
“It is,” Gitkol answered slowly, “providing you are willing to do what it takes to give him a scar that will not fade.”
Stiles blinked. “What?”
“That is how the bond is cemented between two shifters,” Gitkol explained. “Each gives the other a special bite—you do not need to worry, there would be no chance of you becoming a bittenborn—a bite that will produce a scar that does not fade.” He removed a leather strap that he had kept around his wrist as long as Stiles had known him and showed him an old-looking bite mark, still clearly visible on his skin. He wrapped it up again.
Stiles was pretty sure that he’d just been afforded an honour not commonly given. Derek had opened his eyes, although he hadn’t lifted his head from Stiles’ lap.
“A mate mark stays with you until the day you die,” Gitkol continued. “But outside of mating bites, there is not much that will scar us, so—”
“Hey,” Stiles said, poking Derek in the shoulder. “I know that your tattoo is permanent. Would you agree to get another one? I can probably mix together a fairly good approximation of a decent ink—I kinda spent a bit of time researching it when Scott was planning to get his one done—and if someone else is willing to do the poking then I can do the blowtorch part.” He wiggled his fingers meaningfully.
Derek sat up, hair going everywhere and face falling into its default grumpy state. “Can you hold a fire that hot for long enough?” he asked cautiously.
Stiles shrugged. “Probably not right this minute, but I’m pretty sure I can train myself to do it. I won’t like having to burn you, but if it’s the only way we can have the mate bond…”
Derek nodded sharply. “Then that’s what we should do,” he said. He glanced over to where Gitkol was sitting. “Will you help us?”
“It would be my honour, Alpha,” Gitkol replied, inclining his head in a gesture of respect that he didn’t use very often.
Derek flushed slightly and hurriedly lay back down, shoving his head back against Stiles’ hands. Stiles obediently began rubbing at his scalp again, already considering the ingredients he’d need to make the tattoo. Perhaps berries from the rowan? He would need to practice, because that could either be a great idea or a spectacularly bad one.
Derek and Stiles had their mating ceremony under the Summer Moon the following year. It was an emotional time for Stiles—he couldn’t help but wish his parents could be here with him. He suspected Derek felt the same, and did his best to be as supportive as possible—when he remembered to, that is. What? It wasn’t his fault that he tended to get distracted by shiny things.
Derek had suggested at one point that if Stiles wanted to, they could wait until they were back in their own time to have the ceremony, which would allow his dad to be present, but Stiles declined. Doing it this way, just them and the pack that had adopted them, left them on equal footing. Also, he didn’t want to chance the possibility that something would happen to make it impossible. Carpe diem and all that.
The oaths that werewolves made included the moon, asking for her blessing. Stiles decided that since he was a child of Gaia it made sense to ask for her blessing as well. It might have been his imagination, but he thought he felt a flicker of her awareness touch him as they sealed their oaths, Derek with a bite and Stiles with blue fire coming out of his finger.
Then there was eating and dancing until the small hours, and when they awoke the next day Stiles could feel Derek inside his head. He was a warm, strong presence in the back of his mind, a steadying influence that allowed him to think with more clarity.
Stiles had never felt this wonderful in his entire life; it even eclipsed those golden memories of his childhood with his mother. He’d never felt so loved, so accepted, so sure of his place with someone.
“You feel different,” Dilko said soon after while Stiles was running him through a new exercise—showing him how to remove water from plants without killing them, useful if there was no handy river or lake nearby.
Dilko shrugged. “Don’t know how,” he said after a moments thought. “Just is. You don’t move around as much.”
Stiles blinked, and realised that Dilko was right. His ADHD, which had already become a lot more manageable since he’d begun to use magic regularly, was pretty much gone.
“Wow,” he said, stunned. “Well, as a substitute for drugs I’d say a bond is pretty awesome, although it’s probably not FDA approved.”
Dilko stared at him with a frown that was adorably like Derek’s. “I never understand half the things you say.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Stiles said with a hand wave. “It would take too long to explain, and I’m not even sure I could explain it in a way that would make sense to someone with no exposure to technology. Just file it away as weird mumbo-jumbo and leave it at that.” He saw Dilko mouthing ‘mumbo-jumbo’ to himself but decided against trying to be any clearer. He didn’t want the kid’s head to explode, after all.
Something else Stiles started to notice was that his magic was more controllable, and was recovering faster. It was like it had somehow tapped into Derek’s healing power, and was using it to up the regeneration levels. When he asked Gitkol if that was normal, he was disappointed to discover that he didn’t know.
“Mystics are so rare,” Gitkol said apologetically. “Until you arrived I had only spoken with one in my whole life. And that one, well, she travelled with the Wanderers for a time. Most of what I know is based on stories only.”
“You mean like lore?”
Gitkol shook his head. “No,” he replied. “Lore is truth, handed down from lorekeeper to lorekeeper, to preserve the pack’s history and knowledge. The stories I tell you are just that, stories.” He grinned suddenly. “You and your mate have added greatly to our pack’s lore. When you have completed your quest and passed from our lives, I will be the most sought-after tale-teller the pack has seen. Tenna is already quite envious.”
“Good,” Stiles said. “I mean, good that you benefit, not good that Tenna’s envious. Unless you want her to be envious. I’ll just shut up now.”
“Of course, within a generation or two no one will believe that any of this happened,” Gitkol said, eyes twinkling. “You are rather unusual, Stiles, great power notwithstanding.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles said, flapping his hand in Gitkol’s face. “I’ve heard it all before, believe me. Just be glad you never met me before my ADHD calmed down a bit.”
“I have heard Derek speak of this time,” came the mock-solemn response. “I thank Mother Moon on a frequent basis that I was not able to see it.”
The enhanced regeneration coupled with his rediscovery of the Arch-Mage’s robes—which had been sitting in his pack all this time—gave Stiles the idea that maybe he would be able to take care of two nodes each moon rather than the one he’d managed before bonding with Derek.
“Are you sure?” Derek asked.
“Of course I’m sure!” Stiles replied. “Well mostly sure anyway. As sure as I can be without actually trying it. Say eighty per cent sure. No, wait. Make that seventy-five per cent.”
Derek was wearing a familiar frown. “That doesn’t sound all that sure to me.”
“Look,” Stiles said, “I’m more sure that I will be able to do this than I was that I could kill a dragon, and I managed that without any trouble.”
“You’re not comforting me, Stiles.”
“Sorry,” Stiles said, not really feeling it but saying it anyway. Derek was just being a worry wart, anyway. “Hey, here’s a thought. Why was it that killing dragons really wasn’t a problem for me, but a cat nearly got the better of me? What’s up with that?”
Derek rolled his eyes. “You don’t think that maybe a group of Divines with quite a lot on the line weren’t cheating somehow?”
Stiles thought that over. “Is that why I can’t use a bow worth a damn any more? Those bastards! They nearly got me killed!”
“Told you that you should have practised,” Derek pointed out smugly. “You’d probably have noticed a bit earlier if you had.”
It was Stiles turn to frown disapprovingly. “Have you been storing that up all this time?” he demanded. “Just waiting for the perfect time to drop it into the conversation?”
Derek shrugged, which was answer enough all by itself.
“Right, that does it,” Stiles said, making up his mind. “I’m totally going to do a node every two weeks from now on. On the half moons, I think. That way we don’t miss the full moon at Miska’s.”
Derek went from smug to frowning again in half a second flat. “If you do this I want to take Gitkol with us,” he said firmly.
“Fine with me, if you can get him to agree,” Stiles replied, happy enough to give a little since it was obvious he was going to get his way.
Gitkol and Miska both agreed that it would be fine.
“Provided that you don’t mind me staying with you permanently until we’re done,” Gitkol added. “Running between pack houses all the time is getting boring.”
Stiles glanced over to Derek, and saw that he was okay with it and that it would be up to him. He picked at his fingernails as he weighed the biggest pro—that they’d be done and home twice as fast—against the biggest con—he’d lose the two weeks each moon that he currently spent mostly naked with Derek having great sex, since there was no way he’d be able to be that uninhibited with Gitkol around.
In the end, expediency won out over sexcapades, and Gitkol came to live with them full time. After the spring tour, of course.
Doing two nodes each moon was doable, as Stiles had thought it might be, but it was very tiring. By the third two-node moon he was fully appreciative of Gitkol’s presence, since he was no longer able to contribute in any meaningful way to their defence.
Six moons or so into the new arrangement Stiles got another huge shock. Derek and Gitkol had gone off together about an hour prior to do wolfy things in the forest, and Stiles was curled up in some furs in a patch of early fall sunlight, soaking up the warmth and energy and trying to do the magical version of photosynthesis.
A motion at the corner of his eye caught his attention, and when he glanced over to see what it was, he saw a huge black wolf with red eyes just standing there watching him.
He had a fireball ready to hurl in moments, but the red eyes held him back. Since when do wolves have red eyes, outside of horror fiction, anyway? Then the wolf gave a clear eye roll, and Stiles abruptly noticed amusement radiating from his bond with Derek. He dismissed the fireball, stunned to realise that the wolf was Derek.
“Oh my god,” Stiles whispered, “you did the full shift! Derek, you’re a wolf!”
Derek rolled his eyes again, but trotted over to Stiles, tongue lolling happily. Gitkol emerged from the trees behind him, looking as proud as if he’d made the achievement himself.
Stiles ran his hands all over Derek’s fur, feeling the coarse hair at his shoulders and the softer, finer fur of his head and ears. “This is amazing! You are amazing! Oh my god, this is amazing!” Stiles gushed, giving in to the urge to bury his face in the thick fur at Derek’s neck.
Even to his unenhanced nose, Derek the wolf still smelled a lot like Derek the human, and for some reason that made Derek’s ability to change into a wolf even better. Stiles pulled his face out to grin at his mate and got a face full of wet tongue for his troubles.
While Stiles was spluttering and trying to wipe the slobber off his face, Derek took the opportunity to settle himself comfortably on the furs that Stiles was still bundled in, looking very pleased with himself indeed.
“Is this what the two of you have been up to?” Stiles said to Gitkol, pulling Derek’s furry head into his lap so that he could administer the head rubs that his mate enjoyed so much when he was in human form. His assumption that the preference would carry over was soon borne out by the sound of a bushy tail thwacking against the ground.
“He wished to achieve mastery of his form before he told you about it,” Gitkol said, coming to sit nearby. “He told me that it was something his mother and older sister could both do. I confess, until I saw it for myself I was doubtful. I have never known a moonborn to be able to do anything like it. Nor has anyone else—I am sure that if the Wanderers had come across such a thing they would have spread the tale of it far and wide.”
“The research that I’ve done indicates that Talia Hale was greatly respected, largely for her ability to do this,” Stiles commented, gesturing towards Derek. “It’s not something Derek and I have spoken a lot about, because there’s still a lot of hurt there.”
“You are very patient,” Gitkol said approvingly.
Stiles shrugged. “I’m the same way about my mother,” he revealed. “Some hurts are just—I don’t know. Maybe one day we’ll be able to talk about them, our two wonderful mothers, lost before we were grown. It’s enough at the moment to know that if I wanted to talk, he would listen.”
“Your bond is strong,” Gitkol replied. “I think that you will both become a new legend of our pack. The Alpha who walked as a wolf at the side of the Mystic who could ride the currents beneath the earth, on a quest to save the world. Yes, it will make for a good legend.”
The moons seemed to blend into one another after that. It was node after node after full moon after node, rinse, repeat. Stiles’ map was growing crowded, and it was getting harder and harder to find nodes that hadn’t been replicated. He was glad that he had thought to keep a list of them as he went, or he’d never be sure he’d gotten all of them.
Two and a half years after Derek’s full shift into wolf form—and eight years and three months after they arrived in the past, by Stiles’ calculations—Stiles had finished creating the duplicate nodes.
Now all he needed was to lay down the connectors, and the task would be done.
“Just how hard is this going to be?” Derek asked, as he sat together the afternoon after the final node had been anchored.
Stiles did some mental calculations, before wincing at what he came up with.
“That bad, huh?” Derek said with all the dry resignation of someone who knew that there was nothing he could do to stop it.
“Let’s just say that I’ll be ensuring that I’m at full strength before we do this,” Stiles replied. He considered Derek, and whether he would be affected through the bond. “It might be a good idea to do this close to the full moon,” he suggested. “That way you’ll be building energy, rather than having it slowly reduce.”
“Should we do it on the actual full moon, then?” Derek suggested.
Stiles shook his head. “Too unpredictable,” he said. He hesitated for a bit. “It might be a good idea to have Dilko standing by with the restoration staff and a few potions,” he said eventually.
Derek’s eyebrows rose. “It’s going to be that bad.”
Stiles shrugged. “I don’t know for sure, but I think likely? I mean, the connectors aren’t nearly as energy consuming each as the nodes, but if I want the web to be strong and stable, I’ll need to do all of them at the same time. One part of the web can’t be stronger than the rest, that will just cause imbalance and failure down the line. Which means they all need the same amount of time to soak up the ambient energy.”
Derek’s eyebrows had dropped again, and were now drawn tightly together. “How many connections is that altogether?”
“Eight thousand and one?” Stiles replied. “If I’ve done the calculations properly, anyway. Let’s just say ‘lots’. We might even go so far as to say ‘a fuckton’.”
“You’re still going to be needed to switch from the old system to the new system when we get back home,” Derek reminded him, sounding as worried as Stiles had ever heard him. “There’s no point in getting yourself killed laying the groundwork, that would completely invalidate the whole process.”
“I won’t let it kill me,” Stiles promised, hoping that it was a promise that he would be able to keep.
When Gitkol learned what the next step was going to be and how dangerous it was, he immediately asked to tell Miska all about it. “You will need protection while you are vulnerable,” he insisted. “More than just me, since it is possible that Derek will find himself lending you his strength and becoming compromised himself. Our pack still owes you much, let us do this for you, and for our distant descendants.”
Derek was pretty keen to have the extra protection and it didn’t truly matter to Stiles one way or the other so they agreed.
Miska was thrilled to have the opportunity to help with Stiles and Derek’s ‘great quest’ and decided that the whole pack would be involved. That would mean that it would have to wait until after the spring tour was done, but that suited Stiles fine. It would give him welcome time to get his reserves up to full strength and even do some meditation.
Gitkol decided to join his pack for the tour, since Stiles and Derek weren’t going to be running around and getting themselves in trouble, which left Stiles and Derek by themselves for the first time in years.
“How long have we been here?” Derek asked one night after they had enjoyed a dinner of freshly caught fish.
Stiles burped. “Real glad you got over your issue about whether the fish in that lake were safe enough,” he responded lazily. “And we arrived in fall, right? So… We’ve been here eight full years, and about six months into the ninth.”
“It feels longer,” Derek murmured to himself.
Stiles laughed. “It’s pretty much a whole third of my life, dude, how do you think I feel? Sometimes I wonder if I’ll even recognise everyone we left behind.”
“I think the real question is, will they recognise us?” Derek replied. “We’ll look the same, of course. But you’ve smelt different than you used to ever since you took that first dragon’s soul. You walk and talk differently than you used to as well. I imagine it’s the same with me.”
“Well, time is going to be rewound,” Stiles reminded him. “The walking and talking—that’s ingrained behaviour now, but the smell might go back to how it was.” He wrinkled his nose. “It will never not be weird be talking about that so casually.”
“You smell like me now,” Derek said, leaning over to take a deep, obvious sniff at Stiles’ neck, tickling him with his beard.
“Stop that!” Stiles demanded, squirming away with a giggle he couldn’t suppress. A thought caused him to freeze mid-wriggle.
“What’s wrong?” Derek stopped trying to stick his beard in Stiles’ ear immediately.
“We’ll still have our mating bond, won’t we?” he asked, heart in his throat as he considered the possibility that it could be wiped away with the rest of the evidence of their time in the past.
Derek’s scowl was immediate. “We’d better,” he said, the sub-vocal rumble in his chest audible. His gaze softened as he noticed how distressed Stiles was getting. “Hey,” he said gently, “if something does happen, if it gets—” he stopped to calm himself again before continuing “—removed, or whatever, then there’s nothing to stop us putting it right back as soon as we can.”
“Do you promise?” Stiles demanded fiercely.
Laying the connectors was every bit as exhausting as Stiles expected it to be, possibly more. Even with Derek’s strength to borrow from, even with the remaining stamina and magic regeneration potions that they’d brought with them from Skyrim, it was almost too much.
Stiles laboriously laid line after line, connecting each node with each other node, doing his best to make sure that each connection was secure and tightly fitting. Eventually, he went into a sort of trance, aware of nothing but line after line, connection after connection, until finally there were no more to do.
He slid into unconsciousness with no thought other than a vague hope that Derek was okay.
Stiles awoke in Miska’s Pack’s summer lodge, curled up next to Derek, who was using a mortar and pestle to grind up grain under Fotno’s watchful eyes.
He immediately retched all over the furs that he was lying in, his stomach heaving and his throat stinging.
“Here,” Locab said from beside him, passing him a wooden cup filled with a dark liquid.
Stiles took it and sipped. It was some kind of herb, one of the ones that Fotno seasoned the stews with. There was some honey mixed in as well, and Stiles smiled in appreciation. Honey was rare and difficult to obtain, and it wasn’t used lightly. “Thank you,” he said, or tried to say. What came out was more of a croak than words.
Locab nodded, and waited until he’d finished before taking the cup from him and vanishing.
Stiles blinked. Between one moment and the next, he’d gone from being curled up next to Derek to lying flat on his back, with Derek nowhere in sight.
“Drink this,” Kalmi said from beside him, helping him into a sitting position so that he could drink from the cup he offered. This time it was a meat broth of some kind.
Stiles had what he could before his stomach began to turn and he pushed the cup away.
Kalmi helped him to lie down on his side and rubbed his back. “Sleep,” he said softly.
Stiles wanted to know where Derek was, if he was alright, but the words were too heavy to get out and his eyelids were closing of their own accord. He slept.
The next time he awoke he was more with it. He could feel the bond with Derek, and knew without having to ask that his mate was in good health.
“Here,” Delor said, passing Stiles the now familiar wooden cup. “Drink this.”
Stiles squinted at it suspiciously. “What is it?” he croaked through a dry throat, taking a sniff. It was nothing that he recognised.
Delor laughed, a boisterous, happy sound. “You are feeling better indeed! The Pack will be glad to hear this good news.”
Stiles glared at the unreasonably happy werewolf. “I don’t know about better,” he grumbled. A familiar urge was making itself known. “I need to take a leak,” he said, too miserable to be embarrassed.
Delor looked puzzled, and Stiles remembered that he was supposed to try not to confuse Miska’s Pack with his language. “I need to pass water,” he tried, feeling the need more and more strongly every second.
“Ah,” Delor nodded. “Here,” he passed Stiles what he recognised as an old empty wine bottle that had been picked up somewhere in Skyrim. “Your mate said that you would know what to do with this?”
With that taken care of, Stiles accepted the drink that Delor was still holding out to him insistently. It was another sweet herb concoction, and it coated his mouth and left a nasty aftertaste, sweetness notwithstanding. “Bleagh,” Stiles said, making a face and passing the cup back.
“Your mate has gone on a hunt,” Delor informed him, settling himself comfortably by Stiles side. “He insisted that you required fresh liver in order to recuperate properly. Usually, we keep those organs for the children or the elderly, but Derek was insistent that you should have some soon, and that it should be from the healthiest animal available. He was most—” Delor paused, clearly searching for a diplomatic way to say ‘stubborn’, “—insistent,” he finished.
Stiles cracked a grin, before realising that meant that he had a liver dinner looming in his near future. While he didn’t loathe liver, his preferred method of eating it involved a lot of onions, bacon, and tomato paste, none of which were available at present. Great.
“It was a great work you performed,” Delor said more seriously, his whole demeanour softened. “Even those of us with no magical capability could feel the power you were wielding. It took strength and courage the like of which I have never seen. You have been recovering for a long time.”
Stiles felt himself turning red. “Thank you for looking after me,” he said, feeling a little awkward. Then he remembered something that had been worrying him. “How was Derek?” he asked. “I mean, I know he’s okay now—yay mating bond—but how was he at the time?”
“He too passed out,” Delor said, sounding truly unconcerned. “But only for a day. Mother moon was rising and calling to him, and she gives us more strength so that we might worship her properly. Your mate refused to leave you to celebrate with us, but she blessed him with healing anyway. Perhaps she too was impressed by your feat.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Stiles said, feeling like he could relax again. He yawned. “I might take another nap,” he said sleepily, belatedly realising that he was laid out on Delor and Miska’s bed. “I’m in your bed,” he mumbled, feeling sleep reaching up to claim him. As he went under, he heard Delor laugh again.
His recovery was slower than he would have liked, but by the time the next full moon rolled around again, he was almost back to full health.
His magic wasn’t back to full strength yet, but he had enough so that he could travel the ley-lines inspecting his work. He was relieved to find that the web was intact and appeared to be complete and undamaged.
“It looks like we’ve done what we came here to do,” he said, feeling accomplished and a little sad. “We’ll be ready to go home soon.”
Derek was looking over to their small cabin, still standing strong, if a little worse for wear after several winters. “We’ll need to dismantle our Base,” he said softly. “Make sure that we don’t leave anything here that doesn’t belong here.”
Stiles gave a snort of laughter. “Can you imagine the hype if some archaeologist dug up our dragonbone or dragonscale armour?” he asked. “Oh my god, the world would go spare!”
“Yes,” Derek said dryly. “I can imagine.”
Stiles let the smile die on his face as he considered the implications. “It really is time to go home, isn’t it?” he asked, although it was more a statement than a question.
“One more full moon,” Stiles suggested. “We’ll have one more full moon with Miska’s Pack, and then I’ll summon the dude from Sovngarde and send him to tell Akatosh that we’re ready.”
Derek nodded. There was really nothing that needed to be said.
The goodbyes they exchanged with Miska’s Pack were long and heartfelt. For Stiles, it was hardest to say goodbye to Gitkol and Dilko. Gitkol felt almost as much like family as his own dad, and Dilko had grown so much in the time they’d been there. He was now elven summers old and looking more like his mother every day.
At his request, Stiles and Derek hadn’t dismantled the cabin. “I was thinking of using it when I’m grown,” he explained. “I want to try to learn to travel the ley-lines like you do.”
Stiles was privately uncertain that anyone other than him would be able to do that, since that ability may have been something that was gifted to him from Gaia, but magic was first and foremost about belief so he didn’t speak his doubts.
He did leave Dilko the restoration staff. “You may need it,” he said. “Just be sparing with it. Only use it in emergencies, because it will eventually stop working once its power is used up.”
“I thought we weren’t leaving anything behind,” Derek reminded.
“Bite me,” Stiles replied. “I’m the Arch-Mage; I can give my magical artefacts to whomever I like.”
“Fine,” Derek said with a roll of his eyes. “Then I’m giving Gitkol your dagger.”
“What?” Stiles frowned. “Why are you giving him my dagger? Why don’t you give him your dagger?”
“I use my dagger.”
“Whatever,” Stiles said irritably. “You made it, if you want to ungive it to me so that you can give it someone else, then who am I to stop you?”
Derek sighed. “Stiles, may I give your dagger to Gitkol?” he asked.
“Sure,” Stiles said.
Eventually, they were ready to go. Stiles and Derek shouldered their packs and moved some way away from Miska’s Pack, who stood close together to watch one last piece of amazing magic.
Stiles reached into himself for the feel of the dragonblood, and Shouted the thu’um that Tsun had taught him.
The ghostly warrior appeared before them.
“I have a message that needs to be passed to Akatosh,” Stiles said, voice steady. “Please tell him that the Dragonborn and his mate are ready to return home.”
“It will be as you say, Dragonborn,” the warrior said with a bow, before vanishing.
“How long do you think it’ll take?” Stiles asked Derek, holding tightly to him in the hope that it would allow them to travel together.
Derek shrugged. “Who knows,” he replied. “The Di—”
Whatever he was about to say was lost as they were sucked into a familiar looking portal that appeared right in front of them.
After what seemed like several minutes of disorienting spinning, Stiles and Derek found themselves exiting the portal onto a mossy, wooded area.
Stiles immediately fell to his knees and vomited, the nausea rolling through him from the spinning motion somehow made worse by being stationary again. Derek’s hand on his back and the feel of his concern through the mate bond were comforting, but did nothing to stop the retching.
“Stiles!” someone called out, which was when he realised that he and Derek had been portalled into what looked like a Beacon Hills supernatural convention, no Alpha Pack members need apply.
At a glance, it looked like Scott had come to face off with Peter Hale. Peter had Cora and Boyd standing close enough to him to be considered ‘with him’, while Scott had Allison and Chris Argent, with both Argents heavily armed. Isaac looked miserable, and didn’t seem to be part of either group, although he appeared to be edging towards Scott.
“Stiles!” Scott called again, coming towards him with concern on his face mixed with anger. “What did he do to you? Where did he take you? Your dad is frantic!”
Stiles stood hunched over and breathing hard, dry heaving done with for the moment although the nausea had yet to abate. He found himself looking at Scott in wonder. He was so very young. He hadn’t properly realised until this moment just how young they had all been. Oh my god, what was wrong with Deaton and Melissa? Why were they letting kids run around trying to fix all the mixed up bullshit that had been happening? Not to mention Chris Argent. Although, that begged another question. What were the Argents doing here, all loaded for bear? Perhaps his memory was faulty, but he’d been under the distinct impression that they’d been all ‘we’re not involved in this shit-storm’ since they got back from psycho summer camp.
“What is the date today?” Derek asked sharply.
Scott ignored him. “Are you okay? Have you been poisoned?” he asked Stiles worriedly, and then scowled at Derek. “If you’ve hurt him I’ll—” Stiles’ spluttered laughter made him break off what he was saying.
“Oh my god, that is so adorable!” Stiles said, straightening up finally. “Like an incontinent Labrador puppy trying to challenge a Rottweiler.”
“What?” Scott looked confused. “And what the hell are you wearing?”
“Can I get an answer to my question, please?” Derek asked impatiently. “What day is it?”
“It’s about one o’clock on the afternoon of the fifth, nephew,” Peter answered, looking speculatively between Stiles and Derek. “The fight at the mall was the day before yesterday. It’s good to see that rumours of your death were greatly exaggerated.”
Stiles turned to Derek. “Two days?” he repeated, ready to go on a rant about how that wasn’t the timetable they’d been promised. He forgot what he’d been about to say when he actually looked at Derek for the first time since they exited the portal. He blinked. “Derek, I can see your face!”
Derek raised a hand and ran it over his designer stubble. “Wow,” he murmured, “I’d forgotten what this was like.”
“You know what this means?” Stiles said gleefully, forgetting their audience momentarily. “I can get a blow job without getting beard burn on my balls!”
“Stiles!” Scott sounded horrified.
Derek had raised his hand and was stroking it down Stiles’ cheek. “You’ve still got your scars,” he noted.
Stiles’ immediately looked to Derek’s wrist, and was relieved to see the tattooed representation of his mating bite was still present. “So do you,” he pointed out with a smile. He let the smile drop from his face. “I have no idea who did the planning for this, but it was extremely sloppy. We’re in the wrong place, we’re in the wrong clothes, it’s the wrong fucking day! On the bonus side, we’ve still got our gear. Probably. I suppose we won’t know for sure until we get a chance to do inventory, which we totally don’t have time for right now. Come on. We can deal with this later; we need to take care of the node.”
“Good idea,” Derek nodded.
There was an immediate outbreak of discussion from the group gathered.
“If Stiles isn’t kidnapped by Alphas then Allison and I don’t need to be here,” Chris Argent said gruffly. “Come on, Allison, this is nothing to do with us.”
“What’s wrong with Derek?” Isaac’s voice in the background sounded worried. “Why do he and Stiles smell so weird?”
“I’m staying,” Allison said to her father, before her voice softened. “I’d like it if you stayed as well, at least until we know what’s been going on.”
“It looks as though our Alpha may be under some spell,” Peter’s smooth tones answered Isaac, who’d moved back over towards the Hale Pack. “Although you’re right about the smell. Good work, puppy.”
“Alright,” Chris Argent said, “but we’re not getting involved.”
“What?” Cora said, storming over to shove herself between Stiles and Derek. “Are you using magic on my brother?”
“Stiles can’t do magic,” Scott told her scornfully.
Stiles stopped trying to listen to two conversations at once and zeroed in on the one right in front of him. “Excuse you,” he said, feeling offended at the implication that he would use compulsion magic on anyone on one hand, and grateful that someone was ready to defend Derek on the other. “Excuse both of you! I can too do magic, and Derek doesn’t have to be under some kind of compulsion for him to think that an idea of mine has merit! Derek, tell them I haven’t spelled you into obedience!”
“What good would that do?” Derek replied, rolling his eyes. “Presumably one would have to be some kind of magic user to reliably detect that sort of thing, and Peter and Cora are both werewolves, ergo not magic users. Although the other side of it is that I imagine that such a spell, cast over an Alpha werewolf in his own territory, would require a rather high level of power combined with exacting finesse and precision, given that werewolves tend to be resistant to most magical influence.”
“Wait, are you trying to say that I wouldn’t be able to cast a spell like that, Derek? You are, aren’t you? I’m the Arch-Mage, remember? Leader of the pinnacle of magical learning? If I put my mind behind putting a compulsion on you, you would so be my bitch, Derek Hale!”
“No I wouldn’t,” Derek returned smugly. “I’m wearing the ring and the necklace.”
Stiles checked, and Derek was indeed wearing his magic resistant jewellery.
“You don’t need to worry, I’m fine,” Derek said to his sister, laying a hand on her shoulder.
“Indeed,” Peter agreed, coming closer. His eyes were locked onto the mark on Derek’s wrist, displayed by the manner in which he was reassuring Cora. “Is that what I think it is?”
Stiles exchanged a look with Derek. This wasn’t really how they’d planned to announce their mated status. Trust Peter to notice and make things difficult.
In the delay, Scott ended up being the one who answered him. “Did you get a new tattoo?” he asked, cocking his head to one side to get a better look. “It looks like a broken up circle. That’s pretty lame, dude.”
Stiles felt himself bristle, but was overcome with a fresh wave of nausea before he could correct Scott’s misperception. That tattoo was awesome. It was the mark Stiles’ bite made, tattooed onto Derek’s wrist and then burnt into permanence. It was not lame. Unfortunately, he was going to have to wait to tell him so, what with all the retching.
Derek’s hand was on his back again. “That wasn’t leftover from the portal,” he said, sounding worried. “That was something else. Come on; let’s get this job done so that we can get you back home. Maybe it’s the stress of being thrown around, and you just need some rest.”
“You have the best ideas,” Stiles muttered, giving his head a shake. All that did was make him feel sicker. He opened himself up slightly to get a feel for where the node he’d set up in a different age was located, and found himself physically staggering as the nausea increased overwhelmingly. He gagged again, his stomach rebelling at the decay that he could sense.
“That’s disgusting,” Derek said, sounding horrified. “I can feel that through you. Is that the corruption that Gaia talked about? How can we have been living in this and never noticed it?”
“Hot frog,” Stiles gasped, between dry heaves. “We have to get there now.”
“You can’t walk like this. Come on, I’ll carry you. Just point the way,” Derek said gently, picking him up.
“Stop!” Scott commanded. “If Stiles needs to go somewhere, I’ll take him! You’ve done enough, he’s not going anywhere with you! Give him here!”
Derek’s threatening growl was enough to get Stiles to intervene.
“Oh my god, this is not the time! I can’t be dealing with your desire to turn everything into a pissing match right now, Scott!” he said angrily. “I make my own choices, and my choice is that Derek is going to help me get to where I need to go! Now you can either come with us to help make sure that we make it there safely, or you can leave!”
There was a brief silence, broken only by the sound of Stiles loud breathing as he recovered from the latest bout of nausea.
“We’re wasting time,” Derek said abruptly. “Cora, Peter, Isaac, Boyd, I would be grateful if you would come with us. Stiles and I will be vulnerable, and I’d appreciate the backup.” With that, he adjusted his grip on Stiles. “Which way?”
It was a relief not to be in contact with the ground any more. “North-east,” Stiles said after a rapid internal calculation based on the sun’s position in the sky and Peter’s earlier assertion that it was afternoon. One had to become used to using an internal compass a lot more when you were living in a time without roads or GPS.
Derek nodded and set off in that direction.
Stiles had to give most of his concentration to guiding Derek, as the closer they got the worse the corruption felt. He was vaguely aware that everyone who’d been at the weird gathering in the woods was accompanying them, but was unable to spare that knowledge anything but a fleeting thought.
When they reached the site—marked by the stump of a huge tree that seemed to be the centre of the contamination—it was almost unbearable.
“That’s the nemeton,” Peter’s voice came sharply, getting Stiles’ attention. “The original Beacon that Beacon Hills was named for. Whatever you plan to do here, nephew, you must be very careful. Especially if the area is as corrupted as you claim.”
“This is where I found Paige,” Derek murmured, and Stiles could feel his shock all the way through the bond. “She was dying, so I killed her.”
Stiles ignored the uproar that followed that revelation and concentrated on where he needed to be. “Put me down on the west side of the stump,” he directed. “I’ll need your strength to do this, Derek. The corruption is draining me, and I won’t be able to concentrate enough do it on my own.”
“Anything you need,” Derek replied, lowering him to the ground at the point that he’d specified.
Stiles felt the corruption increase again, and prepared to do what he’d come here to do.
The sudden cessation of all ambient noise coupled with a simultaneous reduction of the horrible feeling that he was getting from the nemeton stump was easily enough to catch Stiles’ attention.
He looked to Derek, and was relieved to see that his mate was looking as spooked as he felt. When he turned to check on the others he began to get an idea about what was happening.
Scott, Peter, Cora, Isaac, Boyd, Allison and Chris were all frozen in place like waxworks. Allison’s hair was defying gravity, she’d obviously been flicking it behind her when time stopped.
“Well, that’s not something you see every day,” he muttered, more to have something to say because he felt it really needed to be said.
“I’m sorry if you find this unnerving, but I must speak with you,” Gaia said from where she’d appeared out of nowhere.
Stiles jumped, feeling his heart pound in reaction to being surprised like that when he was already on edge.
Derek sighed. “What is it?”
“I’ve been considering your words,” Gaia said, looking uncharacteristically uncertain, “and I have come to see that they were correct.”
“You’ll have to remind us,” Stiles said. “That was quite a while ago for us, you know.”
Gaia nodded. “Of course, forgive me. It has no doubt been years for you, while for me it has been less than two days.”
It was weird for Stiles to think of it like that, that he and Derek had been yanked about in time and through universes for almost a decade while at home nothing had changed. He’d known it was going to be this way, of course, but it was still strange to experience it.
“You made some strong arguments for the importance of being given a choice,” Gaia said, looking as anxious as an anthropomorphic personification of a planet could look. “I have taken your wishes on board, and that means that before you complete the task I set you, you will need to know all of the ramifications.”
Stiles and Derek exchanged a glance. “We’re purging the contamination and saving the world,” Stiles said hesitantly. “Aren’t we?”
“Yes,” Gaia nodded firmly. “But when I asked you to do so, I didn’t tell you what that would mean for humanity. I thought that you would prefer not to know, that it would be better if you could place the responsibility for it fully on my shoulders. But you spoke so passionately on the necessity of choice that I see that it was wrong of me to decide that for you. So I’ve pulled us in between moments so that I may enlighten you. If you wish me to.”
Stiles wondered if you could still get stress headaches when you were essentially outside the time stream. “Go on then,” he said, wishing this whole thing could just be over and done with. He wanted a plate of curly fries, a hug from his dad, and to sleep in his own bed. Not necessarily in that order.
“The new network that you’ve laid down, it will be far stronger than the one it’s replacing,” Gaia said. “It will allow me significantly more control over all in my sphere than I’ve had in the past. As the old reservoirs empty and are filtered into the new network, the amount of ambient energy available will increase exponentially. All latent supernatural genes will be activated. There will no longer be anyone that could be classed as mundane anywhere on earth.”
Stiles closed his eyes tightly, imagining how that was going to go down. “Some people aren’t going to be able to deal with being supernatural all of a sudden,” he said, feeling like the king of the understatement. He reached for Derek’s hand, wanting the familiar comfort of his touch.
He opened his eyes to see Gaia nodding solemnly. “Yes,” she agreed. “That did occur to me. I asked the Divines to delay your return for as long as possible so that I might prepare the population of earth for what is to come.”
“How do you go about ‘preparing the earth’?” Derek asked blankly.
“Every person who is facing a change has been having dreams,” Gaia explained. “When the moment of change comes, they will have a choice. They can choose to go forward into the unknown as something other, or they can reject that path, and they will quietly die.”
“What?!” Stiles exclaimed, his mind flicking immediately to his dad. What he was about to do might kill his dad? What the fuck? No way! Not happening!
“What?!” came Derek’s voice beside him.
“That is not all,” Gaia said determinedly. “Many of the nodes in the old network were destroyed or made vulnerable long before humanity’s rise—mostly through foreign objects impacting with my surface. Indeed, at least twenty were defunct and their connections withered before I became aware of them, and—”
“Wait,” Stiles interrupted her. “If they were defunct and the connections withered, then how did I travel to them?”
Gaia smiled. “A great deal of magic revolves around belief,” she said with the hints of a mischievous smile. “The magical memory of the lines coupled with your belief that you could use them was enough. I made sure that the nodes nearest where you were placed had connections that were in good working order so that by the time you came to use the missing ones your belief would be strong. The nodes were still there, after all, and you had the ability to feel them.”
Stiles grimaced. He’d used similar tricks on Dilko, so he couldn’t really complain. It was very annoying to find out that someone had done it to him though. “Right,” he said with a sigh. “Carry on.”
“I have never had the experience of a fully functional and undamaged network and I can only speculate on the level of control that it will allow me to wield.” Gaia paused for a moment, either to let that sink in or to choose her next words carefully, Stiles didn’t know.
“The upheaval will change the nature and strength of belief in me,” she said, her tone growing firm and resolute. “I spoke to people in their dreams and then they will discover that those dreams have come true. The scope of my abilities will expand as that belief spreads. I will no longer be a helpless bystander, able only to watch as those with no knowledge of what they do desecrate the pillars that hold this world steady. I will have the power to stop them. And I intend to use that power.”
“What are you saying,” Derek whispered.
Gaia’s eyes were blazing with determination now. “I am saying that the ‘free will’ that humanity has enjoyed for so long is coming to an end.”
Stiles was horrified. “But—”
“I have endured much,” Gaia stated. “No more. That way led us down a path of destruction that was only able to be diverted at the last possible moment by an unforeseen and unlikely chance. No. I do not intend to become a dictator or an overlord, but this cannot happen again. I will ensure the safety of the network; I will ensure my own continuation. I will ensure that technology that is inimical to life cannot proceed. Humanity had their chance. Now it is my turn.”
“This is what will happen if I follow the plan,” Stiles said, wondering what the hell he was supposed to do now.
“It was always part of my plan,” Gaia replied simply.
“But if I don’t—”
Derek was grim as he supplied the rest. “Then we all die within the next hundred years anyway.”
“Oh my god,” Stiles said, trying to wrap his mind around it. “So that’s my choice. Either wipe out a good portion of humanity while effectively enslaving the rest, or have my inaction lead to the death of all life on the planet.”
Gaia nodded. “I have already made my choice. Now you must make yours.”
Stiles shuddered. “I can’t do this without you,” he said to Derek. “I mean, I literally will not be able to complete the plan without you. So whatever choice is made, we need to make it together.”
“You will also need to make it soon,” Gaia informed them. “I cannot keep us here between moments indefinitely, and the corruption is almost at a critical point. If you delay too long, the opportunity to choose will be taken out of your hands and the energy that maintains us all will begin to haemorrhage, and disperse beyond recall.”
Stiles turned to Derek, hoping desperately for an answer that would mean he didn’t have to deal with this.
Derek pulled him forward, and rested his forehead against Stiles’. After a moment he let out a sigh. “You know what our answer has to be,” he said quietly.
Stiles gave a laugh that sounded perilously close to a sob. “It’s not really a choice at all,” he answered. “Anything is better than assured annihilation, right? It’s just—why does it have to be us? Why do we have to make this choice?”
“Remember what Gandalf said to Frodo, when Frodo wished that ring had never come to him? He said that it’s not for them to decide. ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.’”
“You have to stop quoting movies to me when we’re in life-threatening situations,” Stiles said with an attempt at a smile. “It’s going to be awkward if I start developing pavlovian boners to peril.”
They were silent for a short time.
“It could kill my Dad,” Stiles said in a whisper, getting the words out through the block in his throat. “I don’t know if I can—”
“You can,” Derek said firmly, looking him straight in the eye. “What do you think he’d tell you to do if he was here?”
Stiles took a deep, shuddery breath and then let it out again. Derek was right. His Dad would tell him that it had to be done. And when he thought about it, perhaps the only thing worse than making the decision that lead to his Dad’s early death would be facing his Dad and having to explain that he doomed the world and everyone living on it because of the possibility of his early death.
Stiles nodded. “Then we’re agreed,” he said, slightly surprised by how steady his voice was. “Let’s get it over with.”
Derek kissed him briefly, and then lifted his head.
“We’re ready,” he said to Gaia.
Gaia clapped her hands, and time came rushing back.
The reality of what needed to be done was actually a little anticlimactic. With Derek bolstering him, Stiles set up a linkage between the old system and the new. The difficult part was beginning the syphoning process. It took a lot to start the initial movement of energy, although once it began it gained momentum like an avalanche. Now it was just a matter of time before the process would be complete. There was nothing they could do to stop it now, and nothing more they could do here.
“I need to see my Dad,” Stiles said as soon as he got his breath back.
“Are you finished?” Scott asked with a frown. “I didn’t see you do anything. What actually happened?”
“Come on,” Derek said, ignoring Scott. “We’ll find him right now.”
“I asked what’s going on!” Scott said more forcefully.
Stiles just looked at him wearily. “I need to find my Dad,” he repeated, turning away with Derek at his side. He glanced over to the two Argents, both of them watching and frowning. He looked away again. Their choices were their own, and he didn’t owe them anything. Least of all his time when it was so important that he reach his Dad as soon as possible.
“Don’t walk away from me, Stiles,” Scott said, getting angry now.
Stiles vaguely heard Allison suggest that he talk to Stiles later, when Derek wasn’t around, but he was already on his way. He was soon out of earshot. His step grew lighter as the feeling of corruption drained away, and soon he was running as fast as he could, with Derek running beside him, keeping step as he always did. There were footsteps behind him, but he didn’t even care enough about who it was to look around to find out.
He was halfway home when he felt what seemed like a tsunami of energy rush past him. He somehow managed to go faster, hoping against hope that he wasn’t going to get home too late, that he could warn his Dad in time.
One moment Melissa was taking a routine blood pressure, and the next she was standing in front of a door. Somehow, she knew that the choice she had dreamed about for the last two days was here. Through that door was change—she would become something new and strange, something supernatural. Or she could stay standing where she was, and fade into nothing. She thought of her son, and strode confidently through the door.
Allison Argent was walking back towards the SUV with her father when it happened. She hadn’t told her father about the dreams that she’d been having, not wanting to worry him. The door appeared, just like in her dream. She knew that this time the choice was hers, and that her choice would be forever. There would be no going back. She stayed where she was. She couldn’t bear her father’s reaction to her becoming a werewolf. She would lose him anyway, better for it to be like this.
Between one stride and the next Chris Argent found himself in front of a door. He knew that going through that door meant becoming that which he had hunted all his life, but the alternative was leaving his daughter alone in the world, and she was more important to him than anything else. Even being a werewolf. He opened the door and walked through.
Danny Māhealani saw the door and sighed. The dreams that he and his family had been having were coming true. It was time to choose. He walked through the door, hoping the rest of his family would choose the same option.
Natalie Martin frowned as the door she had been dreaming about appeared. She knew by the dreams what it meant, but had no intention of walking through. She was too busy to go through such drastic changes right now; she was just getting her life together. Perhaps later, when things were in a better place financially. With the ease of long habit, she ignored the part of the dream that she didn’t like and stayed where she was.
Bobby Finstock was driving to the butcher when he felt an overwhelming urge to park his car. As soon as his vehicle came to a stop, he was thrilled to see the familiar door appear. He walked through without a second thought.
Noah Stilinski was at his kitchen table, staring at a map of the area and trying to figure out where his son could have gone when his surroundings disappeared and he was faced with the plain wooden door that had been starring in the small amount of sleep he’d managed to get in the last two days. He stared at it for a moment, knowing exactly what it meant. The dreams couldn’t be more clear. The choice was easy; it was the same one he’d made every single day since Claudia died.
His breath felt like fire in his lungs, his legs burned, his heart felt like it was going to beat out of his chest, but Stiles ran on.
There were signs everywhere that the events Gaia had spoken of were already taking place. Cars were parked haphazardly in the middle of the road; strange looking people were staring at themselves and each other in shock. One or two others were shaking their companions, distressed that they were getting no response.
As he ran the achingly familiar streets that he hadn’t seen in a decade, Stiles couldn’t spare more than the time it took to notice what was happening. His whole being was concentrated on getting home.
The cruiser was in the driveway.
As he ran towards the front door, it opened from within. Framed in the doorway was his Dad, still in his uniform, only…
Stiles’ heart leapt with joy even as his steps faltered.
His Dad was only wearing his uniform shirt. And that was because below the waist he had a horses body, with horse’s legs. His Dad was a centaur.
Deciding it didn’t matter one way or another so long as he was alive, Stiles barrelled right into his open embrace.
“Oh god, I missed you so much,” Stiles said into his Dad’s shoulder, which was higher than it used to be thanks to the addition of the horsie parts. A stray thought had him snorting with laughter, and he decided to never tell his Dad he was contemplating the saying ‘hung like a horse’, because that would be so weird, considering it was his Dad and all.
The hug went on for a while, with neither Stiles nor Noah in any particular hurry to stop. Eventually, Stiles remembered that he needed to introduce Derek as his mate, and slowly disengaged.
It wasn’t until after Stiles had turned around that he realised that Derek wasn’t the only one to witness his reunion with his Dad. Peter, Cora, and Boyd had tagged along and were standing beside Derek, watching the scene with interest.
There was a moment of awkward silence.
“I suppose it’s up to me to confront the elephant in the room,” Peter said, when it looked like everyone was waiting for someone else to begin. “Or the centaur, as the case may be.” He looked Noah up and down with an assessing gaze, and Stiles was horrified to realise that Peter’s mind had gone to the exact same place that Stiles’ had.
Peter glanced over at Stiles and smirked knowingly, raising one eyebrow before giving him a wink.
“Peter Hale,” Noah said with a level of resignation that told Stiles that Derek’s undead uncle was well known to the local sheriff station. “Why am I not surprised to find you mixed up in all of this.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Peter demurred, his eyes flicking speculatively from Derek to Stiles to Noah and back again. “But it seems we’re all going to be one happy family, so it’s probably time to get acquainted…a little better, shall we say?”
Noah’s eyes followed the path Peter’s had made, from Derek to Stiles. His eyebrows raised in question as he stared silently at his son.
Stiles felt himself flush slightly. “Maybe we should all go inside,” he suggested. “We might as well get comfortable; Derek and I have quite the story to tell.” He looked at Noah’s equine hindquarters with a frown. “I wonder if you can change forms,” he wondered aloud. “At any rate, I’m pretty sure that you’d break the sofa if you tried to sit on it, so perhaps you’d better stand for the moment.”
“I’m probably needed at work,” Noah replied consideringly. “Still, I’m sure my deputies will be able to handle it. Right now I want to hear this amazing tale. Hopefully, it will include where you’ve been for the last two days, why you’re wearing that outlandish clothing, and how you’ve picked up so many healed scars since I last saw you.”
Stiles laughed nervously, rubbing the back of his neck as he waited for the four werewolves to make their way inside. This was going to be his new family, he realised as he shut the door behind them.
The whole world was going to be different now, there was going to be an enormous upheaval and a lot of people were probably going to panic.
But they’d pull through, the whole world would pull through. They no longer had a looming expiration date, and everything else could be dealt with given time.
It was going to be okay.
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