Duty of the Living – Chapters 1 – 3

Title: Duty of the Living, Chapters 1-3
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: Teen Wolf
Genre: Paranormal/Supernatural, Shifters, AU, Slash
Relationship: Stiles/Derek, other minor pairings
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Canon-typical violence. Death of a minor canon character. Discussion of: kidnapping, murder, and the murder of children. See Notes tab on main story page for additional information and spoiler for who dies.
Author Note: Please see main story page for casting, notes, and challenge information.
Word Count: ~50k
Beta: None
Summary: Stiles leaves Beacon Hills after the events with the kanima. It was supposed to be for a summer, giving him time to get some perspective, but perspective means that Stiles isn’t interested in going back. Not until he’s forced to.

Inspiration Art by TKBenjamin

Inspiration Art by TKBenjamin

* * *

The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them.”
—Lois McMaster Bujold

­* * *

Prologue

May 2011

Stiles pulled up to the burned-out Hale house where Derek had arranged to meet him. Derek wasn’t in sight, but the Camaro was parked in front of the house, so he took it as a sign that the sourwolf was wandering around somewhere. Stiles didn’t think it was really all that healthy the way Derek kept lurking around the shell of his family home.

He parked and hesitated before getting out of the Jeep, needing to collect his thoughts. So much had happened the last few days, and he was mentally exhausted. Physically exhausted, too, but that was secondary to how his brain felt overloaded.

The front door opened, and Derek appeared on the porch, arms crossed over his chest, looking as surly as it was possible for a human being. Wolf being. He was still hot like burning, though. Why was it always the grouchy ones who were so fucking hot?

Promising himself he’d be patient with the grumpy alpha, Stiles carefully eased himself out of the Jeep. He’d woken up sorer than he’d expected after Gerard’s ministrations in the basement. He’d thought he was pretty much okay, but that might have all been the adrenaline of the day. This morning made him suspect he had a couple of cracked ribs.

As soon as Stiles came around the side of the Jeep, Derek’s grumpy expression shifted to grumpy-confused—the difference between the two expressions being the degree of eyebrow furrowing. He stepped down off the porch, head cocked to the side, obviously sniffing the air.

“Before you say anything,” Stiles offered before Derek could speak, “I want you to know that I didn’t know about Scott’s dumbass plan.”

“No?”

“No.” Stiles glared. “You and I are not exactly friends, I get that, but there’s some foundation of trust, isn’t there? I mean, we have the whole mutual-saving thing going on even if we don’t always get along.”

He waved his hand, already frustrated. “Never mind. I’m not sure I even want an answer, and it doesn’t even matter at this point. I just wanted you to know that not only didn’t I know, but despite whatever issues we’ve had, I’d have told you if I had known. I mean, I don’t really care if you think I’m an asshole, but I’d prefer that you think my assholery is my natural god-given charm and not stupid plots that deprive people of their bodily autonomy.” He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling self-conscious. “Well, except for that whole trying to contain a murder lizard thing. But that was totally an exception.”

“Stiles!” Derek bit out.

He jumped. “What?”

Derek sighed. “What happened to you?”

“Gerard. Last night, before he happened to you, he happened to me. And that’s kind of why I wanted to talk to you.” After Lydia and Jackson had had their moment of true love, Stiles had taken off. He’d hit his limit, and he’d been furious with Scott, so his immediate departure had been the best option before he’d given into his impulse to tell everyone just what he thought of them. With Allison and Chris Argent being at the top of the list of people he most wanted to tell off.

“Are you okay?”

Stiles blinked. Scott hadn’t even bothered to ask how he was, but Derek was going to? That was pretty messed up, and Stiles was starting to see Noah’s point about Stiles’ lack of perspective. “Mostly bruises, probably a couple cracked ribs. It’ll heal. But, uh, when the school principal kidnaps and beats me up to send a message to Scott—not that Scott was receiving any messages—it creates some, well, let’s just call them complications.”

He scuffed his ratty sneakers in the dirt. “The thing is, I wasn’t the only one being beat up in the Argent basement yesterday. They had Erica and Boyd too.”

Derek’s eyes immediately shifted to red, and he growled lowly.

“Okay, put the eyes away. They’re fine. When Gerard ran off to enact his latest supervillain plan, he told his henchman to release me somewhere so that I could find my way home. I was kind of out of it at first, but as he was escorting me out of the house, I started kicking up a fuss about Erica and Boyd. Turns out Chris Argent was still in the house.”

Derek’s eyes flashed again.

“Slow your roll, dude. He didn’t know…” He cocked his head, considering for a second. “Hmm. Actually, I don’t know if he knew about Erica and Boyd being down there or not, but he sure didn’t know that I’d been down there. And he was pissed. Anyway, long story short, he sent the guy out to meet up with the others, promising that he’d see me home. He released Erica and Boyd then dropped us all at my house before going to find Gerard. I insisted they come to my house because they were planning to run back out into the woods. Which, I get, you know? They weren’t exactly rational what with having been tortured for hours and all.”

“Tortured,” Derek repeated around his growling.

“They’re fine, Derek. Except for being freaked out that you won’t take them back.” He held up his hand when Derek looked set to reply. “Let me get it out, okay? Then you can tell me off or go back to your surly silence.” Stiles blew out a breath. “They were scared, you get that, yeah? They were freaked the fuck out about hunters and the kanima. Well, mostly the hunters. And they’re kids who are such loners with such shitty support systems that becoming werewolves, with the possibility of a side order of death, seemed like a good idea. So they ran. But it wasn’t really about you. And getting caught and tortured by the Argents pretty much confirmed all the things they were afraid of. But when it was all said and done, they really just wanted you.

“And I don’t know how these things work in the world of werewolves with the whole pack dynamic and whatever, but they’re scared, and them thinking you’re going to reject them is just making it worse.”

“So, you’re here to plead their case?” Derek’s tone was wooden.

“Sort of. They didn’t ask me to if that’s what you’re thinking. Think of it as my last good deed.”

“Last?” Derek’s brows drew together in an even deeper frown.

“I couldn’t really keep this from my dad anymore, you know? I mean, look at me. He and I talked a lot last night, and maybe I shouldn’t ever have kept it from him. He wants to talk to you, by the way. Not like arrest you kind of way, but more… I dunno. I think he wants to understand, but he’s definitely on the side of werewolves and not hunters in this mess. And he’s pretty pissed at Scott.” Stiles was pretty pissed at Scott too. “I think he just wants to be in the loop. He’d be a good ally, so please don’t surly yourself out of an important resource okay?”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” Derek retorted as he crossed his arms again. Great. The defensive body language was back.

“Anyway, uh, Dad’s read on this whole situation is that me keeping him out of the loop, not to mention a whole lot of the decisions that were made, are evidence that I lack perspective.”

“Perspective,” Derek repeated as if it were a new word to him.

“Yes, perspective. His terms for me being allowed to be in any way involved in the supernatural is that I have to spend the summer away from Beacon Hills. And while I kind of hate the idea, I also don’t hate it. If that makes sense.”

“Not really.”

“Whatever.” Stiles huffed and shot Derek a glare. “So, I’m leaving this afternoon. Gonna stay with my godmother in San Mateo—Aunt Tess was my mom’s roommate in college. I haven’t seen her since Christmas, but I do usually see her a few times a year. So, I’ll do the last couple of weeks of school remotely. Dad’s gonna work it out that I can get my assignments.” Stiles shoved his hands into his pockets. “On the one hand, it feels like an awful time to leave but, on the other, it’s probably good. The kanima situation is sorted, and Gerard is handled. Although, Peter being back feels like a step in the wrong direction, but Dad had some opinions on that subject, so I’m trying to just keep my murderous thoughts to myself.” Noah had a lot to say about Stiles being so desperate and in so much danger that he’d help kill someone. He also thought Peter Hale needed all the therapy. It was easy for Noah to make the assumption that Peter had come out of the coma utterly, and Stiles obstinance on the subject and gotten him raised eyebrows and mutters of, “perspective.”

“So you’re leaving?”

“For the summer, yeah. But, uh, Erica and Boyd are at my place. It’d be good if you sorted things with them. And my dad wants to talk to you. Probably best not to avoid that because if he has to go looking for you, you’ll probably get a nuisance ticket or something as penance for making him hunt you down.” Stiles winced. “Sorry, poor choice of words.”

Derek ignored Stiles’ indelicate phrasing. “Am I going to get shot if I go talk to the sheriff?”

“No. I told you, he’s on the side of the wolf in all this, but try to be communicative and present yourself like a good guy, okay? Because you actually are the good guy. At least compared to the hunters. And Scott, apparently.” Stiles blew out a breath, still feeling gutted over Scott’s behavior. His next stop was to yell at Scott for as long as it took for Stiles to feel better, assuming that were even possible. Then he had to go home and load the Jeep in time to get to San Mateo before dark.

Derek uncrossed his arms and mirrored Stiles by shoving his hands in his jeans’ pockets. “That it?”

Stiles threw up his hands. “Sure, Derek, that’s it. Go back to brooding. Catch you later.” Stiles turned to head back to the Jeep.

“Wait.”

Stiles turned back around and then flailed back because Derek was much closer than he was expecting. “What?” He’d been going for sounding irritated, but it came out more squeaky and breathless.

“Thanks. For coming to tell me in person.”

Stiles bit back all the snarky comments and just nodded. After a long silence, he said, “My dad wants me out of Beacon Hills, but I’m not cutting communication. If you need anything…” he trailed off and held his hand up to his ear, miming a phone. “Research or whatever.”

Derek nodded but seemed at a loss for how to communicate like a real boy.

“Or you could text or email or whatever. Maybe just let me know if things are okay.” He blew out a breath. “Never mind. That’s not your problem.”

“I don’t have your email address,” Derek said quickly.

“Oh, uh…” He pulled out his cell phone and fired off a text to Derek with his email address. “Now you do.”

“Thanks.”

“Sure.” Stiles scuffed the dirt again. “Take care of yourself, Derek.”

Stiles got into the Jeep, weirdly feeling like he’d just said goodbye.

 

Chapter One

May 2012

One Year Later

Stiles kicked the door shut, juggling the bags in his hands.

Aunt Tess stuck her head around the kitchen doorway. “What in the world is all that?”

“I got an order for some ward stones from this pack in North Dakota.”

“Stiles.” She sent him a disapproving look. “You’ve got one week of high school left. Should you be taking on a big project like ward stones right now?”

Stiles had never made it back to Beacon Hills after the Argent and kanima shenanigans because one of the first things he’d found out upon arriving at his godmother’s house was this his “Aunt” Tess was a freaking witch. She’d immediately noted that something had happened to Stiles to cause his magic to awaken. She’d taught Stiles all about being a budding magical user.

Stiles dove headlong into the world of magic, feeling like he’d finally found his thing. He still wasn’t fully sure about his affinity, but he thought it was probably magecraft. Aunt Tess was certain he’d have a handle on his affinity by the time his magic fully matured, which could be literally any day since Stiles had turned eighteen last September, and magical maturity could happen anytime between sixteen and twenty.

“I’m ahead on my assignments. I just need to turn up for the finals, and then I’m done with high school. I can totally knock out some orders this weekend.” Stiles was graduating, which put him a year ahead of his friends back in Beacon Hills. He’d repeated the third grade after his mother died, but he’d been so happy to be in the same year as Scott that he didn’t catch up to his grade level. He was always only a couple of classes shy of moving back to his proper year, so he’d taken those classes right after moving to San Mateo and then done this past year in a home study program to finish out high school. He had to go to the education center to take tests but, otherwise, he worked at his own pace.

He’d wanted to just be done with school within a couple of months, but Aunt Tess convinced him to spread it out of the year and pace himself. He watched some lectures online and managed to complete his classwork in a couple of hours a day. The rest of his time was left to learn about magic and help with the business.

Aunt Tess ran the supernatural equivalent of an Etsy shop, selling various remedies—both topical and oral—for a variety of conditions and tailored to more than humans. Her type of witchy powers were well-suited to what amounted to potion making, but Stiles’ powers were better suited—after a little training—to amulets, ward stones, and various other things that required more magical strength than your average witch could provide.

Tess had always been careful about protecting her identity and even where she was located, making sure people couldn’t track anything back to her—witches weren’t rare, but they could still be a target—but she was doubly careful once she started adding higher-level magical items to her shop.

Stiles had his own section in Aunt Tess’ store, and went by the name William Kane, which was an amalgamation of the names of the creators of the original Batman. Bill Kane was the preferred choice over Bob Finger. His part of the shop was called Bat Magic, and his handle was @batmage.

The supernatural community was willing to pay handsomely for what Stiles could do. After barely more than a year, Stiles had a bank balance in the mid six figures. It was dizzying to think about, so he just didn’t think about it most of the time.

He was always keenly aware that there was something looming on the horizon. He knew there were things he needed to know, things Aunt Tess was waiting to tell him, but he was oddly happy being ignorant of what might come next. He wanted to learn and explore, and he could sense responsibility looming on the horizon, and he wasn’t ready for it.

He planned to go to college, though he knew those plans could easily get changed by the reality of knowing about the supernatural. He’d already been accepted to Santa Clara University and Berkley, though he was requesting a year deferral. He wanted more time to really delve into magic and think about what he wanted for his life before he set himself down some new educational path.

He waved to Aunt Tess as he charged toward the stairs. “I’m gonna get started!”

“Don’t skip dinner!”

– – – –

Stiles finished etching the last rune in the smoky quartz then sat back with a sigh. He took off his gloves and rubbed his forehead. Warding took a lot of focus because he had to infuse the crystals with his intent the entire time he was working on the runes, and it was such a long process that he always wound up with a headache.

His very first set of ward stones was created for his own family home. The second set was for Derek. He’d sent both to Derek, asking that Derek bury them around the Stilinski house and then use the other set as he saw fit. Within a day, Derek had confirmed he’d taken care of the first request, but Stiles hadn’t heard anything about the other set for nearly four months. He’d actually heard from Erica that Derek had rebuilt the Hale house on another part of the property, creating a memorial for his family at the site of the old house—which had been Noah’s suggestion. The ward stones had been buried around the new house.

Stiles had immediately sent off a new set of ward stones for the memorial so that it couldn’t be easily desecrated by hunters. He’d also included some extra fireproofing talismans to put around the exterior of the new house. Derek had immediately written him with sincere thanks.

He cracked his neck as he set the finished stones aside, making mental note to pack them for shipping in the morning. If he got going early enough, he could get them to the post office in time for the limited Saturday hours. Everything he shipped went to a reshipper in Chicago to obscure where they lived.

Leaving the workroom behind, he went to get ready for bed. Aunt Tess let him work at his own pace provided actual spellwork happened in the warded work room and he didn’t shortchange his sleep—except for emergencies, of course.

“Night, Aunt Tess,” he called out when he was finished showering.

“You finished?” She stepped out of the library where she usually spent the evenings reading and plotting world domination.

“Yep!”

“That was fast—nice job. Call your father before you go to sleep. He called while you were working.”

“Right.” Unless it was urgent, Tess wouldn’t interrupt him while he was in the workroom because a lapse in concentration could ruin the work, depending on the type of project.

He crawled into bed and dialed Noah. It went to voicemail, so Stiles sent a follow-up text, letting Noah know that he’d be awake for another thirty minutes or so. It wasn’t all that strange for Noah to need a few minutes to be able to talk.

Noah hadn’t been thrilled that Stiles had decided not to come back to Beacon Hills, but he’d understood. And he’d admitted that part of him approved of Stiles staying away from the crazy that had become their hometown.

The whole magic thing had knocked Noah for a serious loop, but as long as they were careful, he’d decided that there were far worse things Stiles could be getting up to besides helping run a successful magic business. Not that Noah had any idea just how much money Stiles made. Stiles was sneaking payments on their mortgage, but he’d have to come clean about that soon because Noah was about six payments from paying it off. If Noah wasn’t so busy all the time, he’d have probably noticed the rapidly dwindling account balance.

Also, Stiles had turned eighteen four months after he’d moved in with Aunt Tess, so Noah didn’t really have a say in the kind of work Stiles did. But Stiles wasn’t about to say that, so he consulted with Noah about all his choices.

While he waited to see if Noah called back, he pulled up his mail app. He had a new email from Derek, catching up on everything going on back home.

Stiles had learned something interesting after moving away—Derek Hale could communicate like a normal person via email. It wasn’t all surly silences and glares; it was full sentences and explanations and rational thought. Who knew all that was going on under those murder brows?

They’d gone from using email to exchange information to really talking to one another, and it had caused a complete transformation in their relationship. Stiles would call them friends now. Texting was better than talking, but email was a gold mine of communication when it came to Derek Hale. Sometimes, they’d exchange multiple emails in a night, just talking about stuff.

The change between them was why Stiles was even able to consider staying away—and if Stiles had known all he needed for clear communication with Derek was email, he’d have been only emailing Derek from day one. But Derek was still in Beacon Hills and he was looking out for Noah, and that was everything to Stiles.

Stiles didn’t know what dark magic Noah had used on Derek, but Derek had started taking advice, began communicating, had was making good decisions. It had knocked Stiles for a loop so many times that he’d felt punch drunk for the first few months.

Derek went to Noah for advice, for help, kept an eye on him, and helped him with cases. It was everything Stiles wasn’t able to do—for Noah or for Derek. At first, he’d felt a little wounded and bit jealous over that, but then he’d just been grateful.

Noah had been the one to suggest that Derek go to the police academy and become a deputy. The part-time program Noah had gotten Derek into had taken six months, and the drive was an hour each way, but Derek was now a Beacon Hills County Sheriff’s deputy, serving and protecting and all that jazz. It made Stiles feel better to know that Derek was able to look after Noah at work, too, considering how the supernatural seemed to flock to Beacon Hills, usually with murderous intent.

Derek’s current email was mostly an update about what was going on back home and with the pack. It was easier for Stiles to stay in San Mateo if he had real information about what was going on. His father wasn’t going to tell him all the nitty gritty, thinking it would make Stiles run right back home. Lupa knew that Scott wasn’t going to be forthcoming. Which left Derek to keep Stiles updated on current events.

It was pretty much par for the course for Beacon Hills, though Stiles read a fair amount of tension between the two packs. Derek tried not to outright complain about Scott, but Stiles could appreciate what a Herculean effort that was considering what a pain in the ass Scott could be.

After Scott became a “true alpha,” Stiles had tried to walk the line between the two packs, hoping they’d be able to work together. Two alphas running the same pack was rare, but it wasn’t unheard of. Derek had been willing to try, but Scott had not.

Scott had drawn lines he had no business drawing. Stiles had had to knock him down a peg and remind him that he didn’t own Beacon Hills, and he had no business dictating to Stiles or Noah, and certainly not to Derek.

For a bit, it had seemed like Scott might listen, but he’d been so unreasonable about working with Derek that everything inevitably blew up. Scott had accused Derek of misleading Stiles, but Stiles had gotten his information from Noah. Which had shut Scott up for all of a minute during what Stiles now called the Group Skype from HELL.

Ultimately, the packs stayed completely separate, only coming together for Serious Problems. Derek’s pack was initially just Boyd, Erica, Isaac, and Peter. Then Cora Hale had turned up alive and was rescued from the alpha pack by Derek.

For reasons Stiles still didn’t understand, Boyd and Erica had eventually asked to join Scott’s pack instead. It was one of the few things Derek refused to talk to Stiles about, and Stiles knew it was an open wound even after all this time.

Lydia and Jackson had also joined Scott’s pack, though both tried to stay out of pack business as much as possible. Stiles had talked to Lydia at one point before Christmas, and she had only stated that she refused to be in a pack with Peter. Stiles understood her reasoning even if he thought she was being shortsighted. Also, her and Jackson under Scott’s leadership was a terrible idea.

Scott had subsequently bitten two other kids at the school, Liam and Mason. Stiles had been epically unimpressed, and the argument with Scott had gone on for nearly an hour.

Then Scott made the Worst Decision of all Bad Decisions: He’d told Stiles to choose.

Stiles had opted for a long-winded rant that ended in, “kiss my ass,” and then promptly joined Derek’s pack. Noah had gone where Stiles had gone. Eventually, one of the other deputies, Jordan Parrish, who was a hellhound of all things, had also joined Derek’s pack.

Derek and Stiles had never discussed the position of emissary as it pertained to Stiles, but Derek had never filled the role. But being Derek’s emissary would require Stiles to go back to Beacon Hills, and Stiles didn’t want that. At least, not yet. He knew in his bones that he’d go home eventually, but he didn’t know when that would be.

Stiles’ phone ringing startled him out of his reverie, but he answered quickly. “Hey, Daddio.”

“Hey, kid. I was driving home when you called. How are things?”

“One more week till finals and then high school is done forever!”

“I’m proud of you, Stiles.”

“Thanks, Dad.” He smiled faintly and traced his fingers idly over the laptop keyboard. “How are things at home?”

“About the same. Derek is more militant about my diet than you are. I try to remind him that I’m his boss, but he just gives me that annoying little smirk and hands me my lunch.”

Stiles smiled, always touched by how Derek looked after Noah. “I thought you said Derek was a good cook.”

“Exceptional, but a man can only eat so much turkey, kiddo.”

“Your arteries appreciate your sacrifice.” He hesitated before asking, “You still drinking the tea?”

Noah sighed. “Yes, Son.”

“I worry.” Stiles worried so much about how the supernatural would affect his father that he’d eventually tracked down the strain of wolfsbane that diminished the risk of bite rejection. And then he’d gotten Noah to agree to the bite if it would save his life. Derek was on board if Noah were ever in jeopardy. Stiles grew the wolfsbane himself in Aunt Tess’ small greenhouse and sent the dried “tea” to Noah every week.

“I know you do, but I promise I’m careful. Between Jordan and Derek, I’m covered.”

“Good.”

“So, you, me, and San Francisco. Next weekend, right? Celebrating your timely graduation from high school?”

“Yep. Looking forward to it.” Stiles was reluctant to go back to Beacon Hills even for visits. He wasn’t sure what that was about, but Aunt Tess had told him his magic was trying to tell him something and to just go with it. So, he had. He thought it was good for Noah to get out of town on occasion, too, and they met up in either San Francisco or Sacramento at least one weekend a month. They’d spent the weekend that Stiles turned eighteen in San Francisco, and he’d had to endure the “yes, you’re legal to start having sex, but wait until you’re ready” conversation of doom. Noah had also taken the week after Christmas off and they’d gone to Disneyland.

“You make any headway on that research I asked about?”

Stiles huffed. “Yes, but also no.”

“And if that isn’t a typical Stiles’ answer, I don’t know what is.” Noah had asked him to look into the “true alpha” mythology to sort out fact from fiction, but he hadn’t been willing to go into why. Not that Stiles hadn’t done some research nine months ago when the true alpha stuff went down, but he’d eventually dropped it because Derek had been pretty solid about the basic information.

“I’d like to know why you’re pushing this, though,” he pressed before answering the question.

“Stiles—”

“No, Dad, come on. I’ve stayed out of the crazy, right? When the ritual murders were happening at the start of the school year, did I run home and get involved?”

“I’ll give you that you’ve been good about not diving in.” That had been a big issue between them for several months. They’d had to rehash all the events and what Stiles had done and why. And Stiles listened through Noah’s perspective/lecture on the things Stiles Absolutely Should Not Have Been Involved In. Which was a bigger list than Stiles was happy with, but he ultimately had to concede to a lot of Noah’s points.

“Right. I researched the problem from here and then sent a mage and a shaman to Beacon Hills to figure out what was going on.” The mage-shaman duo had worked out the whole darach thing with a side order of cleansing the nemeton. The magical backlash so weakened the darach that Derek was able to take care of it. “And when the alpha pack was at their worst, who talked Chris Argent and Derek into a reasonable alliance to deal with it but kept his ass in San Mateo?”

“You did.”

“Uh huh.” Chris Argent had taken out Ennis and Kali with his sniper rifle while Derek had been fighting Deucalion. Which left the twins, who had initially run from the fight, but then somehow “lost” their alpha powers. Subsequently, they disappeared from Beacon Hills.

Noah sighed, and Stiles knew he was giving in about relaying more info. Finally. “Scott’s been pushing the ‘true alpha’ thing lately. A lot.”

“In what way?”

“That it somehow gives him more authority than any other alpha because he’s somehow ‘better.’ I don’t know where he’s getting his information from—”

“Deaton,” Stiles interjected. He had really started to hate Deaton for the way he doled out information in useless little drabs, and those little dribs and drabs were so rarely helpful. But Scott trusted him completely.

“Fair, but if Scott really were in any way better…” Noah sighed. “I find his decisions in many instances…questionable.”

“Which means…?”

“I’m not going to get into the details, Stiles. It’s not even the point. I’d just like real data to be able to counter his argument.”

“You don’t buy into it, do you?”

Noah snorted. “Hell no. Derek’s a work in progress, but his bad decisions are usually made out of fear but because he cares. While his good decisions are based on experience and because he cares. Scott…” Noah sighed. “It all seems to be about some sort of arbitrary moral superiority. And I’m not sure where he’s getting some of his information from.”

“Well, Lydia should be good at research…”

“Erica admitted to me that Lydia doesn’t come around the pack much. Only when Scott calls a full pack meeting.”

“Erica talks to you, huh?”

“She and Boyd aren’t really happy in Scott’s pack. I don’t see much of Boyd, but Erica comes by sometimes on my day off and hangs around. She seems miserable, so I don’t want to turn her away, but, when he smells them, Derek gets this expression…”

“The pinched one?”

“Yeah, that one. Every time they’ve visited me, he looks like that. I wish I understood werewolf politics better.”

“It’s…” Stiles sighed. He felt like he understood pretty well, but talking about it felt like exposing Derek for some reason. But Derek had never actually confided in Stiles on this subject, so Stiles’ opinions were all inference based on observation and research into pack life, so he wasn’t betraying anything. “I don’t want to talk about Derek like the wolf part of him is separate, but… Hmm. It’s sort of like how you’re a dad and sheriff, and sometimes those roles mean different things, right?”

“I get it—I’m just one person, but there are different facets depending on what I’m doing. Not a difficult concept, kid,” Noah said wryly.

“So much sass. I guess I get it from you.”

“You get it from your mom.”

Stiles smiled, happy they could more easily talk about his mom these days. “Anyway, the rational human side of Derek understood why they left the first time, and probably even the wolf in him did as well. But the alpha in him likely saw it as them abandoning their pack when they were needed. And it doesn’t matter that Derek gets it, the alpha side of him was waiting to see if they would prove themselves.”

“And that could explain the way he was keeping them at arms length.”

“Yeah. And we know from learning about the alpha pack’s origins that packs who don’t trust each other can be ruthless with one another. I can’t imagine that the alpha side of Derek would want them close if he didn’t fully trust them.”

Noah made a vague humming noise.

“Derek’s a grumpy sourwolf and we’re not trying to change him or anything, but clear, in-person communication isn’t his forte, so he probably wasn’t explaining what was going on.”

“They just assumed they weren’t forgiven and weren’t going to be?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Stiles blew out a breath. “Is that why they jumped ship?”

“That’s what I’ve inferred from the things Erica has let slip. But they regret it. Do you think I should talk to Derek?”

“God no. Don’t put that on him, Dad.”

“Why not?”

“Because they’ve abandoned him twice. I ran interference for them last time, and if you do it again… It’s just not right. They need to wolf up and talk to him directly if they want back in his pack. But he may not allow it because it’s too raw and he doesn’t want to feel like people’s backup plan all the time. Also, he looks up to you. He’d say yes just because you asked, and that’s not fair.”

Noah sighed. “I just hate to see these kids unhappy.”

“But why are they unhappy? And what does this have to do with you asking me to look into ‘true alpha’ lore?”

“Where did Scott manage to acquire such a high horse?”

Stiles burst out laughing. “Sorry, that’s just perfect.” He got himself under control. “Is it that bad?”

“Worse. He’s started talking about this true alpha thing like it’s some sort of divine calling. Like he was actually werewolf Jesus or something.”

Stiles giggles started up again. “Come on, Dad.”

“It sounds absurd, but I’m not joking. I’d swear he thinks he’s some sort of werewolf messiah. Erica said she and Boyd can barely tolerate the whole Christ-like mien he’s got going on. Melissa can barely talk to him because he apparently knows better than her about everything. It seems like the only person he actually listens to is Deaton.”

Deaton. Again.

Stiles scowled at nothing. Scott’s mentor set Stiles’ teeth on edge. That the nemeton fell into such a sad state under Deaton’s watch was wrong on so many levels. A druid not able to keep a mystical tree cleansed? That was their whole thing. When Stiles had asked the mage who’d cleansed the nemeton about Deaton, the guy had started swearing in what Stiles thought was probably Serbian. Stiles had never gotten a straight answer other than that the mage promised to report it.

He tried to keep his magical contacts to the internet or occasional phone calls because he didn’t need to paint a target on his back, and he hadn’t cultivated the kinds of relationships yet where he’d trust someone with his location. Which meant he’d never been able to follow-up on just what was wrong with Deaton or how the nemeton had gotten so messed up. He’d also never told anyone how much he’d had to pay to get the nemeton cleansed because it wasn’t really important.

Stiles took a deep breath and prepared to dive in. “Well, from what I’ve been able to find out, the whole ‘true alpha’ thing is bullshit.”

“Language. And what do you mean by bullshit?”

“It’s a pretty common and even popular myth amongst many wolf packs. The degree to which werewolves believe it varies, though more do than don’t. But when I researched in the magical community, I got ‘what a crock’ from almost every single person. I recently had a chat with a source I find the most credible, and she said there are only a few ways to get an alpha. The first being, of course, for a beta to kill an alpha and take their spark. Next would be for an alpha to pass the spark along.

“This typically happens in packs that have been established for a long time—like the Hales. The Hale alpha spark has been passed along in their family for so many generations that there’s speculation that someone who wasn’t a blood Hale wouldn’t even be able to absorb the spark. That it’s intimately bound to the family line. But, like I said, speculation.”

He checked over his notes. “The next way is magical grant.”

“Magical grant?”

“Or gift or whatever you want to call it.”

“I just want to know what it means. Practically speaking.”

“A beta wolf can sometimes be given an alpha spark as a gift, I guess. Because they’ve earned it or something.”

“Given by whom?”

“Accounts vary. I’ve seen or heard mentions that there have been nemetons or other magical nodes that have generated an alpha spark. There’s speculation that the Hale alpha spark came from the nemeton in the preserve, granted when the first Hales settled in California—back before California was even a state.

“Other instances have been nymphs of some sort granting alphahood to someone. Alphaness? What’s the right term?”

“If there’s a lexicon, I’m certain I don’t know it.”

Stiles laughed. “There’s also the legends of the white wolf and the black wolf.”

“Explain.”

“These huge wolves that appear at times of great change or something. Some speculate it’s the same wolf, but others say it’s different. Some speculate it’s Lupa, others think maybe Skadi. A couple people who I think would know say the white wolf is the leader of the magical community.”

“What does that mean?”

“Remember how we talked about affinities?”

“Mage, witch, shaman… Yeah, I remember.”

“Each affinity has its own governance structure though it’s hard to wade through the rumors to find the facts since some groups are really not keen to explain things to outsiders. Anyway, if you think of each affinity as having their own leader, the leaders, in theory, are all accountable to this white wolf. Maybe. Like I said, no one wanted to be real specific.”

“What’d Tess say about that?”

“She said she was brought up in magic believing in the white wolf, but also that no one has reported interaction with the white wolf in more than a hundred years, so it might be more legend than not.”

“And what about the black wolf?”

“Less information even than about the white wolf. Someone suggested that the white and black wolves are just different aspects of the same person.”

“Which is interesting but not really the point. However it comes about, this grant thing is confirmed?”

“Yes, I found multiple people who had been witness to someone being granted alpha status. It’s rare, but not so rare that it’s considered mythical or anything.” It had taken Stiles months to finally get on the forum for the real magical community. They were cautious as hell and very wary of outsiders.

“And you think that’s what this true alpha business really is?”

“Oh hell no. When nature, in whatever form it takes, decides to generate a new alpha spark, no one is confused about what’s going on. Apparently, it’s a very Big Deal. It wouldn’t just mysteriously happy with no explanation. Most instances of supposed true alphahood are found to be a beta hiding that they’d killed an alpha until the opportune time to reveal the information and then boom! Divinely granted alpha powers.

“However, the source I find the most credible said that if there was no obvious trickery involved, and we were certain Scott didn’t murder an alpha, that it was likely done by magical ritual. Which is the last way to get an alpha spark—transfer through magic, but the ritual requires more power than most magic users are capable of, plus you have to have an alpha on hand to take the spark from. But Scott wouldn’t even have had to participate—or not much, and he might not know he was doing it.”

“But what does ‘magical ritual’ mean?”

“It means that there are some very obscure rituals for removing an alpha spark. If a strong enough magic user were able to remove the spark, they could force that spark into someone. I’m not sure what’s involved in the ritual, but my source says that while it’s complicated it could be disguised as something else. Just get the supposed future true alpha to do a certain thing, in a certain place, and say the right words, and voila! Instant alpha. Just add hot water and stir.”

There was silence for a long time, such that Stiles got worried.

“Dad?”

“It’s okay, kiddo. I was just thinking.”

“You think Deaton took someone’s alpha spark, probably the one from the twins, and shoved it into Scott, don’t you?”

“How’d you know that?”

“Because that’s what I’m thinking. The thing is, Dad, that I’m not sure the twins were a good source for an alpha spark.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because they shared a single spark. Maybe Scott’s weird behavior is just what happens to Scott when he gets a little power after Deaton has been enabling him—lord knows that Scott was an ass from the moment he got wolfed. But from what I’ve learned, the alpha spark evolves over time depending on who has it. The spark adapted to be shared between two. If it was passed along in an unnatural way, what state might it have been in when it was shoved into Scott? And what might that be doing to his mind?”

Noah sighed. “I have no idea. But you’re sure being a true alpha isn’t real?”

“Not as far as I can tell. Werewolves are the only ones who seem to think so, the rest of the community says no. But werewolves might not want to admit they’ve been duped. I was planning on sending all the information I have on to Peter—”

“Why Peter?”

“Because he was Talia’s pack protector, and he’s filling in that role for now since Derek hasn’t made any of his hierarchy official. He’s also exceptional at research. He might be able to find sources I can’t. I’m going to copy Derek, too, because I’d never do an end run around him. But, Dad, you can’t do anything about Scott. You gotta leave that up to Derek, okay?”

“Son—”

“No! Don’t placate me about how you’re an adult and the sheriff and you can handle this. Our deal was that you wouldn’t go around confronting werewolves!”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll let Derek take point on how this is handled.”

Stiles sagged against the headboard in relief. “Thanks.”

“On another subject, are you still going to therapy?”

“Yeah, of course. I told you I would keep going.” Part of their deal had been Stiles get some help for everything that had happened, but when he’d gotten knee-deep in magic, Noah had wanted him to keep going to help him keep perspective.

“Son, I was reviewing my EOBs last night, and there haven’t been any charges in at least six months.”

“Oh! No, Dad. I switched therapists. I found one in the know about supernatural stuff, but she doesn’t take insurance.”

“Uh-huh.”

Stiles bristled. “I’m not lying.”

“Whoa, Stiles, slow down. I don’t think you’re lying; I’m just wondering how you’re paying for it.”

“Oh.”

“And I got to thinking, putting that well-trained cop-brain to use, you know? Which led me to wondering if you know anything about the error I’ve been having the bank investigate on my mortgage balance.”

“Oh.”

After a beat, Noah prompted, “That’s it? ‘Oh’?”

“I may have been paying down the mortgage.”

“Stiles.”

“What? Dad…” He rubbed his hand over his face. “I’ve got the money. I can pay for my own therapy and, yes, I paid down the mortgage, but I didn’t finish paying it off because I wanted to talk to you about it first.”

“Stiles, where are you getting all that money?”

“I told you about Aunt Tess’ magical Etsy.”

“Son,” Noah huffed, “you sell magical doodads and jewelry. I see how that could pay for your therapy, but how does that pay over 200,000 on my mortgage?” Noah’s voice rose toward the end.

“Um, well, you know those ward stones I had Derek bury around your property?”

Noah sighed. “You mean the ones I didn’t even know about until one of my deputies couldn’t enter the house? Those ward stones?”

“Okay, seriously, if he was wishing you ill to the degree to kick off the wards, aren’t you glad you found out about it?”

“Stiles.”

“I should have told you sooner about the stones and what they did, we’ve already had this conversation.”

“Stop deflecting. Tell me about the money.”

“So, that ward set I did for you and the ones I did for Derek are like my A-game, you know?”

“You always do your best, kid, but, in this context, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I imbued as much protection in them as I could, right? There are more basic warding stone sets, but if someone wants the full deal like what you and Derek have, I charge about fifty.”

“Fifty dollars?” Noah asked warily.

“Fifty thousand dollars.”

Noah made a choking sound.

“I did a basic set tonight that was thirty.”

“Stiles!”

“I’m not ripping people off, Dad! I’m actually charging under what Aunt Tess says is fair market for the items. But not by much.”

“Please help me understand.”

“It’s like super easy for me, okay? And the whys and stuff I can explain some other time, but I can do in a night what it would take some magic users more than two weeks or even a month to accomplish. I just have a lot more power, I guess, so I can get it done much faster. I thought about charging like way less, but she told me not to. For starters, it’d bring too much scrutiny into how I can produce them quickly and for so much less money. And I don’t want the scrutiny. But it would also undercut the people who do this for a living, and I don’t want to hurt people’s livelihoods with something that’s easy for me. So, I don’t sell more than two ward packages a month.

“But my protection amulets and stuff sell like hotcakes. And some of those are ten grand a piece.”

“How much money have you made in the last year?”

“A lot…?”

“Is that a question or an answer, Stiles?”

Stiles huffed. “Gross was over a million—”

Noah choked.

“—but I’ve spent a lot of money on supplies. The crystals for the wards on the new Hale house were like eight grand, but I wanted to be sure I imbued all the protections I could, you know? But, uh, anyway, I also got the Jeep totally rebuilt under the hood, and I paid the mortgage down, and that’s it. Well, there was that amazing leather jacket…”

“Jesus, Stiles.”

“That bad?”

“No, of course not. Did you feel like you couldn’t tell me?”

Stiles picked at his blanket. “I just worry you think I’m irresponsible still.”

“I don’t— Okay, I did for a while, but I thought we worked past that?”

“We did, I was just…nervous.”

“How do you even pay taxes on that?”

“Oh, um, I’m not even sure I can, really. But we funnel some of it through Aunt Tess’ nursery, and she pays me as an employee, so I can file taxes like a real boy.”

There was silence again for a long time.

“Dad?”

“I’m here. I’m just…processing. I think we have a lot more to talk about on this subject because I’ve been okay with you exploring magic under Tess’ guidance and within the boundaries we agreed on, but now I feel like I’m missing a big part of the story. So, I’m going to call Tess tomorrow and try to figure out what I don’t know and then we can talk about it some more when we see each other.”

“Are you mad?”

“Of course not. You’re obviously skilled and talented, but I worry. It’s my right as your dad to worry as much as I like. It was difficult letting you live away from home this last year, but you’ve been thriving. I wanted to let you delve into things that make you happy, but I feel like I’ve been a little too hands off in this magic stuff.”

“Dad…”

“Don’t worry, Son. You’re already an adult. Hell, you’ll be nineteen in a few months—I’m not going to try to redirect your life, but I’d like to understand what you’re up to. So be prepared for lots of questions when I see you.”

“Yeah, I can do that.”

“And get us a nicer hotel room.”

Stiles laughed. “Deal.”

 

Chapter Two

July 2012

Two Months Later

Stiles entered the house, late for dinner and still contemplating the email he’d gotten earlier in the day through the business website.

Aunt Tess came in from the back. “You’re late. Fortunately, it was a take-out kind of night. I had plant emergencies. There’s Thai in the refrigerator.” She halted in her tracks and cocked her head to the side. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing wrong per se…” He pulled out his phone and opened the troubling email, passing the device over.

Aunt Tess read then read again. She sighed and gestured to the kitchen. “Go heat up some food. I think it’s time we had a talk.”

Stiles felt a little sick to his stomach. He’d known since he got here that there were things he’d need to know some day, but he’d really wanted to avoid it for as long as possible. Aunt Tess had supported him avoiding the issues, so the fact that she wanted to talk now worried him.

The food seemed tasteless, but Stiles was almost finished with it when Aunt Tess came in with some rowan berries and handed them over to him. “Cast a circle for me, sweetie. I’d like us to be sure we have complete privacy.”

Stiles crushed a couple red berries in his hand, willing them to turn to ash. He loved working with rowan berries. Everything about them was so magically receptive. Much more so than the wood or traditional wood-based ash that the supernatural community used to form barriers. He had several clusters in his workroom that he let steep in his magic when he was working. He’d infuse them into some of his amulets and talismans. Not anything designed for werewolves, of course, but the magical properties were so amazing.

He opened his hand, a tiny amount of ash all that was left of the few berries. He preferred to send the juices back to the earth, but it wasn’t feasible indoors. He visualized the circle he wanted and what he wanted it to do and then blew on the ash. It swirled up in the air, spinning up toward the ceiling before settling in a perfect circle that wouldn’t budge until Stiles wanted it to. The line of ash was so thin, it was invisible to the naked eye.

Aunt Tess tapped his phone. “Tell me why this troubles you. I know why it bothers me, but I’m curious what set you off.”

“Well, it’s impossible. A magical artifact that would render mountain ash and wolfsbane inert for the wearer? Those are supernatural laws. If there were a paranormal branch of physics, those would be foundational rules.”

“And the request bothers you because…?”

“Well, why would someone ask for something impossible and offer so much money. It’s like they’re asking to be scammed. Or…”

“Or?”

He frowned and traced the small square pattern on the tablecloth. “Or they know something I don’t.”

“You’ve been taking on a lot of difficult work, and the supernatural community is taking notice. I’d been thinking for a while now that we should announce a fake partner or two to help explain the volume, but I guess I got cautious a bit too late. And I’ve been waiting for signs of…” She sighed, giving him a pensive look. “Remember our discussion about the disciplines of magic?”

“Yeah.”

“And remember when I said that ‘spark’ was a generic term used for magical aptitude in any of the disciplines.”

“I remember. Does matter whether witch, mage, necromancer, druid, shaman, witchdoctor or whatever…if they’ve got natural ability, people call it a spark.”

“And I told you that your affinity would reveal itself with more time?”

“Yeah…?”

“There’s an affinity we didn’t discuss because it’s so incredibly rare. That’s the true spark.”

Stiles frowned. “But I’ve read about that. A spark, idiomatically, just means you have a magical affinity. A true spark is magic. But the books weren’t really clear what it meant. Are you saying…?”

“That you’re a true spark? Yes. True sparks—sometimes called a pure, deep, or profound sparks—have a pure connection with magic that is difficult to describe.” She blew out a breath. “I told you to work on adapting rituals to suit your needs.”

“Yeah, and it works great.”

“It doesn’t work at all, baby. Rituals are the way they are to let magic users tap into magic along lines that suit their affinity. Witches can’t easily use rituals designed for mages because mage rituals use elements that fill in for where they’re weak magically, and vice versa. The ritual materials and words tap into the magics you need.

“But you don’t need rituals at all, though they do help you with focus. Meaning, it’s easier to snap your fingers and make something happen than to just have it happen. So, if you’re only learning rituals to help with focus, why should the ritual be more onerous than you need? Why use exotic ingredients when you can use mountain ash berries for everything?”

Stiles was stunned to the point he could barely even process it. “But you said that the berries are more magical and could take the place of other ingredients.”

“Remember how we talked about how everything in nature has degrees of magical availability?”

“Like how roses aren’t used in many spells because they’re not conductive to magic.”

“Precisely. Mountain ash, as you know, is very available to magical manipulation. The berries are too available.”

“What does that even mean?”

“When we infuse magical will into something, it’s like writing instructions to a flash drive. It’s not a great analogy, but there have to be compatible file systems in order to write to memory, yeah?”

“I get the analogy.”

“Well, with the berries and flowers of the rowan tree, only someone with a pure connection to magic could write to that flash drive because there is no file system.”

Stiles shook his head. “I don’t understand why you didn’t tell me this.”

“Stiles… You can do anything if you believe you can. You could create a magical artifact that ignores supernatural law. The world will bend to your will.”

Stiles crossed his arms over his chest. “No, that’s not… No one should have power like that.”

“But you do have it. And you’ve spent all your time here creating objects that help people and keep them safe. I planned to talk to you soon because I’ve felt some magical surges when you’re working that make me think you may come into your full potential soon. You’ve been somewhat limited by the fact that your connection to magic isn’t as deep until you’re an adult.”

“Um, I’m already eighteen.”

“You know exactly what I mean. Magical adulthood isn’t legal adulthood. Though eighteen is fairly common for magical maturation, though not because there’s anything special magically about being eighteen. It’s because it happens when your mind makes the shift to adulthood. And we’re so prepared to believe we’re adults at eighteen that it’s common for magical users to come into their full ability at that age. Although…” she trailed off and scratched her head.

“What?”

“I’ve wondered if it’s not your mind that’s the issue with your magical maturity but more your body.”

“Say what now?”

“Remember how much better your magic flowed when you stopped the ADHD meds?”

Stiles made a face. It had been harsh to learn that a lot of his ADHD was just unexpressed magic making him antsy. “Yeah.”

“There’s not a lot of study about magic and medications, but I wouldn’t be surprised if your magic was slower to come to full maturation because of the medications. But there’s also the fact that your magic is driven off belief, and you strongly believe that you’re not ready for…something. Whatever it is that’s keeping you from going back to Beacon Hills.”

Stiles frowned and nodded. That made sense to him. If he believed he wasn’t ready, his magic might go along with it. “You said something about surges…?”

“Your magical output has stressed the wards a time or two. You’re tapping into magic at times without even using the rituals as a focus, which means you’re moving past needing that focus. I tend to think your magic has started to push at you. Preparing you, if you will, to bear the full burden of it.”

Stiles had felt a little different lately. “But what does this mean for me?”

“A don’t really know. From what I’ve read, true sparks usually have a calling—”

“A calling?” he repeated dumbly.

“You’re the most powerful type of magic user that exists. Of the human variety, anyway. Nymphs have a very pure connection to magic as well, but they’re rarely seen anymore. So, you have to ask yourself…why? What are you supposed to do? I don’t know if it’s fate or if you’ll have a moment of choice or what might happen, but I have to think something will happen. The paths that sparks walk in life are poorly understood by most of the supernatural world.”

“Why not tell me? I don’t understand.” Stiles felt adrift. He’d been working all this time thinking he was probably a mage, albeit a very gifted one. But now he was something else.

“You mean about you being a spark?”

He nodded.

“Because your power is based in belief. Your ward stones work so well that we have a six-month waiting list because you believe in what you’re creating. You needed time to see, to truly believe that you could do magic so you wouldn’t psych yourself out. Can you imagine if you’d been told ahead of time that all you had to do to make something work was believe hard enough?”

He made a face.

“Exactly. But if I tell you to follow this ritual to the letter and it will work every time, you believe it and so it does. And then I tell you that you can adapt it and it will still work, and it does because you have no reason not to believe. Sparks can be crippled by self-doubt, baby. Which can make them more target than anything else. Considering everything you’ve been through and what’s happened in your hometown, I played a bit of a long game to build your confidence in your ability.”

Part of him wanted to go to his room and hide in bed for the next week, but he knew they needed to talk this out, and his mind was starting to put together the pieces. He tapped his phone. “Someone is speculating that I’m a true spark, and they’re testing me. There’s too much pop culture in my section of the shop, so they had to have speculated that I’m fairly young. They think the challenge and that obscene amount of money will be enough to get me to try. And maybe prove their suspicion.”

“That’s what I think, yes.”

“But you’re saying I could actually do that, right? I could create something that would make someone immune to wolfsbane.”

“Yes, you could. It’s probably inadvisable, but you could.”

Stiles stared at the table. “Because wolfsbane is part of the natural order?”

“Every apex predator has weaknesses—werewolves fewer than most. I’m not saying there might not be someone you’d want to do that for, I’m just cautioning you that werewolves with no weaknesses aren’t generally a good thing.”

He could see her point, but part of him thought that the hate crimes hunters carried out against werewolves that they couldn’t even demand justice for was tipping the scales of balance in a bad way.

“I don’t know what to do about this,” Stiles admitted.

“There’s nothing to do. It’s more important for you than most that people not know about your abilities.”

“I’ve told Derek and my dad that I’m a budding mage. Dad won’t know the difference if he ever sees me do magic, but I’m pretty sure Derek will.”

“You consider yourself part of Derek’s pack, right?”

“Yes.”

“And you trust him?”

“Yes.”

“No reservation?”

Stiles cocked his head to the side and considered. “None.”

“Then telling your alpha shouldn’t be a problem. He’ll understand the need for secrecy. In fact, he’ll probably encourage or demand it.”

“And exactly why is there need?”

“People have tried to compel a true spark to do magic for them, but those more in the know have some inkling of how badly that could backfire. More importantly, the darkest of magic users can use sparks to fuel dark rituals.”

“Are we talking like ritual sacrifice here?”

“Yes. Pretty much that and only that. Because a conscious spark will probably be able to get away. An unconscious one…” she trailed off and shot him a meaningful look.

“I need to think about this.”

“I understand, sweetie, but please, please remember that now, more than ever, secrecy is vital.”

“I get it. I guess no talking about this without casting a circle, eh?”

“It’d be better if you didn’t.”

Stiles blew out a breath. “I’m gonna go login to the site and tell this dude that what he’s asking for is impossible. Then I’m going to crawl into my blanket fort and not come out until I feel better about life.”

– – – –

August 2012

Six Weeks Later

Stiles paced around the garden, waiting for Derek to get there. He’d arrived way early, so Derek was hardly late, but Stiles was nervous and hadn’t been able to handle being at home anymore.

He could have had this conversation with Derek at Aunt Tess’ house, but he’d felt strongly that this needed to happen on neutral ground. When Stiles had sent the email requesting a meeting, Derek hadn’t even questioned why it had to be in the Bay Area and not Beacon Hills—Derek was used to Stiles being adamant about not coming back to Beacon Hills. Stiles had picked the Japanese Gardens in the East Bay to make it a little closer to Derek. It was quiet during the weekdays, and there were lots of private areas for them to talk.

He’d waited to reach out to Derek until after his magic had done its thing—full maturity or whatever. He’d wanted to have the whole issue settled one way or the other, and Aunt Tess had been right about the journey to magical maturation being underway. His magic had surged in weird ways, and he’d felt a pull. Toward what, he didn’t even know yet. He’d also spent a lot of time talking to Aunt Tess and trying to accept the idea of some sort of magical destiny. He wasn’t quite there yet, but it wasn’t such an anathema as it had been at first. He just hoped he’d be able to rise to whatever challenge he’d have to face.

Full magical ability had happened two weeks ago. Magic had surged up in Stiles in an unsubtle way, yanking him out of sleep. He’d wanted to talk to Derek right away, feeling a deep urge to confide in his friend, but he’d spent the whole week learning how to control his magic again. The first few days had been like starting his training all over again, but he’d settled in eventually. Then he’d written Derek and asked for a meeting for as soon as possible.

“Stiles.”

“Ahh!” Stiles screeched, clutching at his chest. “Why are you always creeping around?” He panted and tried to get his heart rate under control.

Derek’s eyebrows tried to mate with his hairline, and Stiles’ mouth fell open as he took in Derek’s appearance. With a little distance, Stiles was able to admit that he’d had more than a little crush on Derek. The guy was hot like burning, but his bad-boy inspired assholery had enabled Stiles to keep his infatuation in check. Distance had helped with the crush thing as had building an actual friendship with Derek. The feelings had deepened beyond crush, and the issue of Derek’s physical looks hadn’t been on Stiles’ mind.

But now…

Stiles practically felt his hormones doing an appreciative dance. “Holy shit, dude, look at you rocking the mountain man vibe. How come no one tells me these things?”

Derek scowled.

“Don’t give me that look, sourwolf. It’s a compliment. You look hot.” And he did. Derek had always been stunningly gorgeous, but there was something about moving beyond the bad-boy scruff to full-on beard territory that was really working for him.

Derek blinked in astonishment then blushed to the roots of his hair. Stiles pressed his lips together and tried not to laugh.

When Derek seemed to have recovered his equilibrium, he cocked his head to the side and stared at Stiles. “Something is different about you.”

Stiles buried his face in his hands and groaned. “I can’t believe it’s that obvious. I’m so glad it happened well after my eighteenth because that level of societal brainwashing into the magic of turning eighteen would just be embarrassing.”

“What?”

Stiles looked up. “What what?”

“I thought you were seventeen.”

“Uh, no. I thought I told you about falling behind in school when my mom died.” Actually, Stiles knew he had. Because he and Derek communicated like real people when email was involved. They were actual friends in cyberspace.

“You did. I just assumed you caught up…?”

“I mostly did. I was two classes away from moving back into my year group, but I wanted to stay in the same grade as Scott.” Stiles sighed, feeling the problems of Beacon Hills dragging at him.

Derek pulled a face but didn’t say anything about Scott. “Well, at least now I understand why your dad keeps muttering about not wanting to know if you’re having sex.”

“Oh my god! I’m not having sex! Wait. Rewind.” He pointed at Derek. “That’s not what I meant.”

Smirking a little, Derek crossed his arms over his chest. “Then what did you mean?”

“You are the absolute worst. I meant that I’m busy…” He huffed “There’s been stuff going on. I haven’t had time to get busy with someone just for the purpose of trolling my father. But that’s moving up on my bucket list,” Stiles muttered under his breath. He waved the whole thing away before Derek could say anything else. “My sex life—”

“Or lack thereof.”

“—is so not the point.” Stiles pointed and glared. Then he remembered why they were here and what he needed to talk to Derek about. His shoulders slumped as he blew out a breath. “You said I seem different?”

“Yeah. I don’t know what it is though…” He stared at Stiles intently, sniffing unsubtly. “You smell like rain and ozone.” His eyes narrowed. “How much magic have you been learning?”

Stiles opened his mouth then snapped it shut again, trying to figure out an approach. “Can I ask you something first?”

Derek made a go-on gesture.

“Do you consider me part of your pack? Like properly part of it?”

“Didn’t we have this conversation?”

“It was more an email thread, which lacks nuance, but we didn’t put a label on it, you know? Scott threw down his ultimatum, and I was all ‘If you’re gonna make me choose, I choose Derek.’ You didn’t say no, but you didn’t really say yes either. And my dad…is he properly part of your park? Is he pack adjacent? Where do we fit?”

“You’re pack.” Derek shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “If that’s what you want.” He glanced away for a second. “I wasn’t sure if you ever planned to come back. You’ve been…vague.”

The relief nearly made him feel faint. Stiles recognized the insecure-Derek tap dance, and he’d learned to read between the lines with Derek. He was certain that Derek both wanted Stiles in his pack and that it was important to Derek.

“I’m sorry I’ve been vague. Turns out there’s like a mystical reason why I hadn’t wanted to come back to Beacon Hills right away. And I should have clarified that it wasn’t forever. I just…” he trailed off and shrugged. “I didn’t even know how to explain it.”

“Mystical reason?”

“Yeah, and it’s something I need to talk to you about…if you’re my alpha.”

“But not as your friend.” Derek’s expression was blank and his tone almost wooden.

“You are my friend, Derek. But would I tell my friend this? No. I’m not telling my dad either. There are things you tell your family and friends, and things you keep to yourself at all costs.”

Derek frowned. “I thought you were trying not to keep secrets from your dad.”

Instead of answering that question, Stiles asked, “Derek, am I in your pack? Are you my alpha?”

Derek’s brow furrowed again. “Yes.”

Stiles blew out a breath. “Okay. That’s good.” He nodded toward the path leading deeper into the garden. “There’s a side path that’s not in visual range.”

“There’s no one nearby.”

“I know, but I want to be sure.” Stiles started walking, and Derek readily followed. When they got to a small clearing, surrounded by carefully manicured trees and flowers, Stiles pulled two berries from his pocket. “I’m going to cast a privacy circle. Is that all right?”

“Stiles, what’s going on?”

“Is it okay?” he repeated.

“Yes, you can cast a privacy circle.” He stared at Stiles’ hand. “Are those…?”

Stiles pushed his will into the berries. Since his magic had fully matured, his control had been even better. Manipulating mountain ash was nearly effortless. He pulled the juice out, leaving a small blob of reddish liquid floating in the air while the rest of the berries rendered down to a tiny amount of ash.

The ash began to swirl in his hand like a tiny tornado, then it shot up into the air and settled into an invisible circle. Stiles pushed the berry liquid into the earth, murmuring a soft blessing.

Derek stared at him wide-eyed. “Those were mountain ash berries.”

“Yes.”

“Those can’t be manipulated by magic. Except…” Derek swallowed heavily. “Stiles. You’re a true spark?”

“Yeah.” He glanced away, not sure how he felt about Derek’s pole-axed expression. Derek who so rarely let emotions other than anger show on his face. “I found out recently. Someone’s figured it out, I think. They’re testing me.”

Derek growled lowly. “What the hell does that mean?”

Stiles did a quick rundown of the email that led to this whole mess.

“Wait, you actually created those ward stones you sent?”

“Yeah. I told you I’ve been doing magic.”

“But—” Derek broke off and rubbed his hand over his face. “I figured your aunt made the ward stones. You’d only been doing magic a few months at that point. That’s— Peter said a true spark had to have made those ward stones, but I figured it was possible someone else had done them. They hum with magic. Stiles…”

“I know, okay.”

“How do I protect you?”

Stiles blinked a few times then just stared. “Um…”

“Someone is poking around, looking to see if they can find you.” He ran his hands through his hair, making it stand on end.

“No one is out to get me, Der.” He couldn’t help but smile at the baleful look Derek shot him in response. “But, seriously, my magic doing the full monty definitely did something, and I’m feeling the urge to come back home.”

Derek looked apprehensive. “You felt like you should stay away, and now you’re feeling like you should come back?”

“That’s the highlight reel, yeah.”

“But you don’t know why?”

“Flying blind here.” Stiles shrugged. “I just… I’ve been going with my gut on this since I left Beacon Hills. I’m not saying I’m ready to leave tomorrow—I’ve got so much stuff in process—but maybe soon…ish?”

Derek blinked a few times. “Are you asking me if you can come home?”

Stiles scuffed his sneakers against the grass. “I guess.”

“Stiles…” Derek huffed. “Of course you can come home.” He hesitated for a second. “I know you’ve got your room at your dad’s, but there’s also one set aside for you at the pack house.”

“Oh.” For some reason, Stiles hadn’t been expecting that. “Thanks.”

Derek shrugged one shoulder. “You’re pack.”

Smiling faintly, Stiles nodded.

“We need to talk about safety.”

“Safety?” Stiles made a face. “I can take care of myself.”

Derek shot him a speaking look. “I assume your aunt told you about the primary danger to sparks?”

Stiles huffed. “Yes, yes. Awful death by magical ritual. Sparks and goats—virtually interchangeable.”

“It’s not a joke.”

“I know it’s not a joke, but no one knows.”

Derek gestured to Stiles’ phone. “Someone suspects. Maybe more than one someone!”

Stiles wanted to insist that he could take care of himself, but he recognized that Derek’s alpha instincts were all stirred up. Perhaps Stiles digging in his heels might not be the right course of action.

After they’d talked for another thirty minutes, going over every minute detail about the security precautions Stiles would take and how and when he’d check in, Derek escorted him back to the parking lot.

As he stood next to the Jeep, he considered Derek and how he looked uncomfortable and ill-at-ease. Which was so at odds with the man Stiles had gotten to know through email. He wondered if part of Derek’s discomfort might be that he didn’t feel completely accepted.

It was a flash of insight, and Stiles wondered why it had never occurred to him before.

He stepped close to Derek and pulled him into a hug, quickly rubbing his cheek against Derek’s, obviously scenting him. “Thank you, Alpha.”

Derek froze for a heartbreaking second before he tightened his arms around Stiles’ waist, readily scenting him in return.

When he pulled away, Stiles could see and feel how much more relaxed Derek was. As he drove away, he made a mental note to call Noah to tell him and Jordan about scenting and how important it was for the pack.

 

Chapter Three

September 2012

Four Weeks Later

Stiles frowned as he read the email from Derek. People in Beacon Hills, primarily young people, were being murdered in ways that spoke to sacrificial ritual.

It looked like he’d need to accelerate his timeline on returning home. He’d hoped to be home by the beginning of November, which would give him plenty of time to settle in and then have Thanksgiving with the pack.

But now there were probably witches in Beacon Hills. Sacrificial rituals, especially multiples, generally spoke to witches, witchdoctors, darach and the like. Peter’s research indicated it was likely a witch coven doing some sort of major power amplification ritual, though what for no one could even speculate.

If it was witches, it was a dark coven because individual dark witches couldn’t handle the amount of power output from death sacrifice near a ley node. While there were plenty of good witches, Aunt Tess was a prime example, covens tended to draw dark witches as the power amplification aspects of a coven tended to appeal more for darker magic. A dark coven would be at least seven witches, which was a lot for the pack to deal with.

Scott was apparently saying that if there were witches found to be in Beacon Hills that they deserved the benefit of the doubt because they might not be responsible for the deaths. Deaton had pushed at how there were light covens as well dark and they couldn’t rush to judgment.

If Stiles didn’t know as much about magic as he now did, he’d have wanted to give the witches the benefit of the doubt too, but light covens were rare, and Stiles was pretty damn sure that a light one wouldn’t be drawn to the energy coming out of Beacon Hills.

He’d woken up with an itch under his skin like something wasn’t right and had gone straight for his email. As it was, the email from Derek about the sacrificial deaths was a day old. Stiles had been working like crazy trying to clear out his backlog because it would take time to get set up to work in Beacon Hills. He hadn’t even started to work out the logistics of warded workspace, not to mention finding the actual physical space. He’d done yet another two-day bender with only minimal sleep and food. He wished he’d read the email from Derek last night before crashing for twelve hours.

Stiles pulled out his phone and called Derek, not wanting to wait for the turnaround time of email. He needed to find out more detail about the actions of the coven.

The call went to voicemail after four rings.

Making a face, he stared at his phone for several beats then decided to call his father.

This time, it went straight to voicemail.

Feeling unsettled, but telling himself that they were just on a callout, Stiles called Jordan Parrish, who he’d talked to on the phone a few times and had heard a lot about, but he’d never actually met the most recent member of Derek’s pack.

The call rang through to voicemail.

Telling himself that the Sheriff’s Department could be handling a big case or a major traffic accident, he scrolled to Peter’s number and hit SEND.

Voicemail.

Stiles jumped to his feet and started throwing things in a duffle bag. Something was wrong. Way wrong.

His packing was haphazard at best, and it was only a few minutes before he was clambering down the steps, dropping his duffle by the door before heading out to the greenhouse.

“Aunt Tess, I’m going to Beacon Hills!” he called as soon as he entered.

She looked up from where she’d been repotting a rare strain of belladonna. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t know. I just woke up feeling like there was something wrong, and first thing I find is an email from Derek about ritual sacrifices in Beacon Hills, and they suspect a dark coven. Now, I can’t get anyone on the phone.”

Aunt Tess got to her feet. “I’ll get ready to go with you.”

“You’ve told me how uncomfortable the energies in Beacon Hills are for you.” Her magic was self-described as soft and almost nurturing, which Stiles could attest to after having felt her cast. She described Beacon Hills as jagged and sharp on her magical senses. He wasn’t sure if that was just the nature of being so close to a ley node, or if it was that the ley node was so damaged.

“Stiles, I can manage it.”

“A coven of dark witches would eat you for breakfast. Unfortunately, that might be literal.”

She considered for a few seconds. “You keep me in the loop, and I’ll get a couple of mages on standby in case we need to bring in some heavy hitters.”

Stiles hesitated. “I did that favor for St. John…”

“You’d call him in for this?”

“If my father’s in the line of fire? Hell yeah.”

“I’ll make contact and let him know that you might be calling in your favor.” She gave him a look. “You’re too new to your abilities to know how to direct your spark in terms of combat situations, so only tackle the witches directly if you have no other choice. And if it’s another damn darach, you need to wait for St. John.”

“Gotcha.” He surrendered to a quick hug. “I’ll be in touch.”

As soon as he was on the way, he tried to connect to other pack members, but got the same thing over and over. Voicemail.

After he’d been driving for half an hour and was past San Francisco, he decided to try calling Erica. She was in a different pack, but they’d kept the lines of communication open, and she might be able to tell him if anything catastrophic was going on. It was school hours, but it was worth a shot.

She answered on the second ring. “Stiles—” She broke off with what sounded like a muffled sob.

“Oh my god. What’s happened?”

There was what sounded like a scuffling noise. “Stiles,” Derek said softly.

Stiles frowned. “Why are you with Erica? Is she okay?”

“Are you driving?”

“Yeah. I’m on my Bluetooth, though, so—”

“Pull over to the side of the road.”

Stiles’ nature was to argue about that kind of order, but he knew something was wrong, and Derek apparently didn’t want him driving when he heard the news. The feeling of dread intensified. He pulled onto the shoulder and turned on his flashers. “I’ve stopped. What’s happened?”

“Stiles, I—” Derek broke off, sounding so wrong.

Stiles got a flash of insight. “Where’s my dad?”

His question was met with a faint sound Stiles couldn’t decipher.

“Derek! Where is my dad!”

“He’s in the hospital.”

Stiles’ hands tightened on the steering wheel. “What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s in a coma, Stiles. He— I’m so sorry. I had to bite him—”

Stiles slammed the Jeep into drive and pulled back onto the freeway, punching the accelerator.

“Stiles! Don’t drive like a lunatic!”

“Tell me what happened.”

“Are you speeding?”

“Dammit, Derek!” Stiles gritted his teeth. “Traffic is too shitty for me to be seriously speeding.”

“I’ll explain, but not if you’re weaving in and out of traffic trying to gain a few extra seconds. It won’t—”

“Are you trying to tell me getting there quickly won’t make a difference?”

“I’m so sorry.”

Stiles throat felt tight. “Is he going to die?”

“I don’t know. The bite might be able to fix it…”

“Wait, it’s not bite rejection that’s the issue?”

“No.”

“Derek.” Stiles blinked away the moisture in his eyes so he could actually see. “Don’t give it to me piecemeal. I’ll drive slower and stay in one lane but only if you talk to me.”

“Did you get my email about—”

“The suspected witches,” he cut in. “Yes. Did witches do this?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Short answer is Scott decided to let them go if they left town. They didn’t. Your dad was investigating the disappearance of a child, and they attacked him.”

Stiles’ grip on the steering wheel was so tight that it made his arms throb. “Okay, I’m gonna need the long answer, which I hope will defuse how angry I am right now.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Derek, unless it’s actually your fault, I don’t need you to apologize.”

“I should have—”

“Did you cause my dad to be attacked?”

There was silence.

“I didn’t think so.”

There were several muffled thumps then a new voice said, “It’s Boyd.”

“Okay. I assume why you and Erica are hanging with Derek is part of the tale?”

“Yeah.”

“I know you’re almost as allergic to full sentences as Derek is, but I need more here, Boyd! If you can’t manage it then put on someone who can!”

“I’m just moving to a more private location.” There was a long pause then Boyd said, “When we found out about the sacrifices, the two packs met to discuss it. This was two days ago. Peter shared research he’d done about what rituals involving exsanguination could be used for and who might perform them. Witches being the most likely. Scott and Deaton started talking about not all witches are dark witches, which wasn’t even the point. Because if they’re killing people, they’re dark witches, right?”

“Yes.”

“Scott kept talking about how we have to ask questions first and not kill. Derek countered about the people who had already died and that while we needed to investigate, we needed to be aggressive about it. We didn’t want to give them more time to gather victims. Your dad wasn’t at that meeting, but Derek and Parrish were. The sheriff does sometimes temper Derek’s approach, but he still supports him more often than not.”

“I’m aware,” Stiles said tersely.

“So, there was an argument about how to approach the whole situation, but ultimately Scott and Derek agreed that if we could figure out who was doing this, or suspected of doing this, we could capture and interrogate. We figured they had a ritual spot in the woods, and the nemeton obviously couldn’t be it.”

Stiles frowned in confusion. “Why’s that?”

“Since it was cleansed, it’s been keeping people from getting too close.”

“It has?”

“Yeah, every time I’ve been there with Scott, it won’t let us get near it. I think it’s the same for everyone”

“Hmm.” Stiles would have to look into that. “Go on.”

“The packs split up to search. We didn’t make much progress on the first day, so we met up again yesterday after school to try again. Peter and Isaac were searching in town. Jackson and Lydia were the in-town pair for Scott’s pack, trying to catch sight—or scent—of anyone who smelled like magic or blood.”

“They’d have to be pretty incompetent in a town with two packs to not do spells to cover their scent, but go on.”

“Yeah.” Boyd sighed, and he sounded tired. “In the woods, it was me, Erica, Scott, Liam, and Mason—Kira went out of town with her parents for a few days. But Allison was along too.”

“Allison?” Why the hell would Allison be involved with either pack?

“Yeah, the Argents are trying to do right by the town, their words. Chris is more likely to work with Derek’s pack, but Allison’s still irrational about Derek in regard to her mother’s death even though she knows the truth about what happened. Which you’d think would make her angrier at Scott for keeping the truth from her, but I’m not the logic police.

“So, our group stumbled on the ritual circle by chance, and the witches were there. And, Stiles—” There was a long silence. “It was so messed up. They were preparing to sacrifice someone. A boy about twelve years old. It was obviously urgent, so we busted in and got the three witches—”

“Three?”

“Yeah. Deaton said it was the minimal number for a coven when we talked to him later.”

“Ritual activity implies coven for sure, but three is the minimal number for a light coven. A dark coven is at least seven.” Deaton should know that. Light witches gravitated to smaller numbers because they weren’t trying to harness the huge amounts of magics that came with dark rituals. Light covens often came together to get the small boosts needed for bigger healing rituals.

“Shit.”

“Go on.”

“We got the witches secured and made sure the kid was okay—he was just unconscious, not hurt. So, we figure this is proof that it’s witches and a dark coven behind the murders, which had been the sources of contention between the two packs. But then Scott takes the leader aside and they talk and talk, and Scott gets them to agree to leave town.”

“What?!” Stiles screeched.

“We argued with him, Stiles, please believe me.”

All Stiles could manage was to keep breathing. When he felt like he could speak again without wrecking the car, he replied, “I’m not blaming you and Erica, Boyd. Or anyone else in that idiot’s pack. So, his solution to murderous witches was to send them out of town to murder people elsewhere?”

“I guess. He said we don’t kill unless there’s no other choice.”

“That fucking hypocrite! So, he makes them someone else’s problem? Lets more people die so he can…what? Remain morally pure?”

There was silence.

“Never mind. I’m pretty sure there’s no moral purity to be found there. I take it my dad wasn’t okay with this?” How could he be?

“Well, Scott didn’t want us to tell Derek’s pack. Said they wouldn’t understand or something. But I didn’t understand. And he didn’t want us to even tell Jackson and Lydia.”

“And Allison was okay with this stupid?”

“No, but she ultimately agreed to go along with it.”

“Did she agree to not tell her father? Because I’m pretty sure Chris isn’t gonna be okay with that bullshit.”

“No, you’re right, he wouldn’t like it, I don’t think. But she agreed to keep it to those who were there and promised not tell her dad.”

“But you guys decided to tell Derek?” Stiles guessed.

There was a long pause. “Scott forbade us from telling anyone what happened.”

“But you did it anyway.”

“Yeah.” Which had to be painful for them. Defying a direct order from your alpha wasn’t impossible, but it wasn’t comfortable for beta wolves. Especially ones who probably felt as insecure as Erica and Boyd did. “We went to your dad’s last night and told him. Neither of us were in a good place, so he promised they’d handle it and he sent us to bed. He was gone when we got up, but we were at school this morning when Peter showed up for Isaac and Cora.”

“Because…?”

“I don’t know what all happened this morning at the sheriff’s station, but what I do know is that Derek was on duty last night and was wrapping up the department’s side of house fire that looked like it was probably arson.”

Stiles winced. “Never easy for him.”

“Your dad was off duty and didn’t even know. If Derek had called him, Mr. S would have sent someone else…”

“But Derek would never make that call.”

“No.” Boyd sighed. “So, Derek was having a rough night, I think, and I don’t think your dad told Derek that he planned to try to arrest anyone he could find.”

“Oh Jesus.”

“But he took Parrish with him, which is the only reason he survived.” Boyd paused for a second. “I pieced all this together in the chaos, so some of my facts may not be right, but as Derek was finishing with the house fire this morning, when he should have already been off-duty, there were two calls about missing children. One girl, one boy, both under ten, but I don’t know their ages. Derek took one even though he’d already done a double, and the other went to Parrish. I think Mr. S has been working conventional law enforcement angles all along, and while we were searching the woods last night, your dad was trying to figure out their home base. When the missing person’s cases came in this morning, he got a lead on the house they might be renting.

“He and Parrish went to check it out. They found the witches. And the kids.” Boyd paused again. “The kids were already dead. They’d been bled out in the basement.”

Stiles felt bile rise in his throat and swallowed convulsively.

“One of the witches hit your dad with some kind of magic, and he collapsed. Parrish did the whole hellhound thing. The fire department got the fire under control pretty quickly though, so they were able to identify the kids.”

“Was my dad burned?”

“No. I don’t really know what all Parrish did. The fire sounds like it was pretty minimal, but two of the witches died. One is in intensive care with severe burns. When we got here—having followed the others from the school—the doctors were talking about catastrophic bleeding in Mr. S’s brain and that he didn’t have long. They said they’d drained the blood, but there wasn’t any hope.”

Oh god. Someone had drilled into his father’s skull.

“They said there was nothing they could do. They were just talking about how you needed to be contacted as his next of kin. Derek has his medical proxy, I guess…?”

“Yeah,” Stiles choked out. “Since I’m more than two hours away, it wasn’t a good idea for me to hold it.”

“I’m so sorry, Stiles.”

“But Derek bit him?”

“Yeah, when they heard there was no chance, Derek and Parrish went in there. But I heard Derek saying that it might not be enough or in time.”

“Oh god.” Stiles realized he was crying. He swiped at the moisture on his face. “I want to talk to my dad.”

“Stiles, he’s—”

“Go into his room and put me on speaker. I want to talk to him.”

“Yeah, okay.”

It took a couple of minutes while Stiles heard thumps and muffled conversations. Eventually, it was Derek who said, “You’re on speaker now, Stiles. The phone is right by Noah.”

“Who else is there?”

“Just me.”

“Okay, good. That’s—” Stiles swallowed heavily. “That’s good.” He blew out a breath, not even sure how to do this. “Hey, Pops. I want to state for the record that this is a terrible way to get me to come home. We were supposed to have one more big weekend in San Francisco, but now we’re going to have way less fun while you’re learning how to control your inner puppy. Because that’s what’s going to happen, okay? I refuse to accept any other alternative. You’re going to heal because Derek did just what we discussed if anything life threatening should happen to you. So, you’re gonna wake up and find you have a shiny new bond to Derek. And you’re gonna run around in the woods and do things I don’t want to know about. I mean, if you bring home a dead dear on the full moon, I’m not cleaning—”

Stiles choked back tears, and it took him a second to continue. “Please be okay, Dad. I need you to get through this. I’m so sorry I didn’t do something about Scott sooner.”

“Stiles—”

“Derek, don’t. I knew Scott was a problem. I knew the true alpha thing was bullshit, and I let it slide.”

“What?”

“I’ll explain later. Just take care of my dad. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Stiles had sent his “true alpha” research to Peter, and he’d copied Derek saying he had some magical research he wanted an opinion from Peter on. It wasn’t too surprising that Derek wouldn’t have delved too deeply into the email, probably thinking he was respecting Stiles’ privacy.

There was a long pause. “Please drive safely. If your dad pulls through, he’s not going to be happy to find out that you got in a car accident.”

Stiles blew out a breath. “I can’t promise to obey the speed limit, but I’ll try not to be reckless.” He mentally promised he’d keep it within ten of the speed limit, which was tame compared to some other drivers. “Dad, I’m gonna go, okay? You just make nice with your inner wolf, figure out how to accept that part of you. I swear that the problem these puppies have with control is that they don’t really accept the change. But you’ve got lightyears more life experience, so I know you can rock this wolfy thing.” Stiles swiped at his eyes again. “Derek, I’ll come straight to the hospital.”

“If we have to move him, I’ll let you know.”

“Why would you have to move him?”

“If the bite truly takes and he starts healing, it may be necessary to get him out of here.”

“Right.” Stiles’ forced his hands to unclench from the steering wheel. “I know you have his medical proxy, so you should be able to do that without my consent, but if they need to talk to next-of-kin, just call me.”

“I’ll keep you posted.”

“Calls would be better. I know…” Stiles sighed. “I know you prefer written communication, but I can’t read texts and reply, but my headset is in, and I’ll answer no matter what. Unless there’s no cell sig—”

“Stiles, I’ll call,” Derek said softly.

“Right. Yeah, I mean, of course you will.” He wanted to beg Derek to make sure Noah made it, but he knew Derek didn’t actually have that power, and it was bullshit to heap more burden on his shoulders. “I’m gonna— Wait! Does Scott know?”

“No. School is still in session, and we’re keeping the attack and the one arrest quiet for now. We’re trying to figure out if the ones who were in the house were the ones Scott let go and how many more there might be.”

“There’s at least seven total. I explained it to Boyd, so he can fill you in. I don’t want anyone associated with Scott’s pack to know any more than necessary, and they get nowhere near my dad. Not even Melissa.” Stiles knew Melissa was frustrated with Scott, but she was still his mother and would always take his side.

“Okay.”

“I’ll call you when I’m about a half hour out, and I’d appreciate it if you’d set up a meet with Chris Argent, and only Chris Argent, but not anywhere near my dad.”

“Why do you want to meet with Argent?”

“I want to sound out where he’s at. I need to figure out where the lines are going to be drawn.”

“What lines are we talking about here, Stiles?”

Stiles hesitated. “Let’s talk face-to-face.”

There was a long silence. “I’ll see you soon.”

Stiles pressed the button on his headset to terminate the call.

– – – –

Stiles was still twenty minutes out from the hospital when the pull on his magic got to be something he couldn’t ignore any longer. He knew exactly what it was now—the nemeton was reaching for him. He didn’t know what to do about it or even what it meant, but he knew this was why he’d been waiting to return to Beacon Hills.

When he was still about a half mile from the Welcome to Beacon Hills sign, the pull not only couldn’t be ignored, it was messing with his ability to think straight. He pulled over on the side of the road and shut off the car, feeling the direction he was being called to.

Closing his eyes, he took a few centering breaths and let his magic reach out to the nemeton, feeling it eagerly accept his touch. “Listen, I hear you, and I will come, but my father is hurt, and I need to take care of him first. Please wait just a little longer.” He knew the nemeton wouldn’t understand what he actually said, but the words allowed him to focus the intent and the emotions he was sending.

The pull on him abruptly lessened, and he imagined he could feel a magical touch that was almost like a hug. He tried to return the sentiment, not even sure what the nemeton wanted, but this part of the encounter was reassuring. Despite needing to get to the hospital, he took a minute to feel the way magic flowed in Beacon Hills. There were several dark points in the magical eddies that were laid out in his mind’s eye. But nothing that couldn’t wait.

He picked up his phone and dialed Derek. “I’m at the city limits,” he said as soon as the phone was answered. When Derek was silent for a second, Stiles added, “I know I said I’d call when I was a half hour out, but the…” he trailed off and made a face. “Well, let’s just say the reason I’ve been avoiding Beacon Hills caught my attention in a way that wasn’t conducive to talking on the phone while driving.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, we settled it. At least temporarily.”

“Is that supposed to make sense?”

“No, but it’s better if I explain it in person.”

“I’ll see you soon. Stiles…” Derek paused.

“Is Dad getting worse?”

“No,” Derek said sharply. “I— I didn’t want to get your hopes up, but I’m feeling a bond forming with Noah.”

Stiles let his head rest against the steering wheel. “The bite took.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, that’s good. It is, right?”

“I think so, but his brain was very damaged. I don’t know how long it will take to heal.” He paused. “Or even if it will completely.”

“So, he could be a brain-damaged werewolf?”

“It’s possible. I just don’t know.” Derek sounded grief-stricken, and Stiles didn’t know what to say.

“Start making the arrangements to have him discharged. Tell them we’re going to move him to another facility or something.”

“We’d already started preparations. Parrish knows a couple EMTs who are aware of the supernatural, and they can help with the show of loading him in an ambulance, ostensibly to take him to take to a hospital in Sweetland.”

“Does the doctor need to talk to me in order to get this going?”

“He’s reluctant to go forward on our say-so even though I have medical proxy.”

“Have him call me. I want to be ready to move Dad as soon as possible after I arrive.” Stiles glanced at the clock and swore. He mentally gave the nemeton a departing “pat” then started the Jeep and pulled back onto the road. “School’s going to be out soon, and I’d like this done before Scott hears and shows up.” Stiles had to deal with Scott, but he didn’t want it to be right now. He was too angry to be rational, and he needed to make sure Noah would be okay. Because nothing was going to protect Scott if Stiles’ father had to be killed. Because that’s exactly what would happen if he woke up a feral, brain-damaged werewolf.

“All right,” Derek agreed softly. “We’ll be ready when you’re here. I’ll try to get the doctor to call as soon as possible.”

– – – –

Main Page | Chapters 4 – 6

8 Comments:

  1. Seeing this notification just improved my long weekend like 1000%. Your Teen Wolf stuff is my favorite. Off to read!

  2. The thing is, I’m not a Teen Wolf fan. Oh, I have read a few stories by authors I respected and enjoyed them, including yours, but in general it’s not for me.

    BUT you I trust completely so, of course I’m reading this eagerly. You ALWAYS give us a great story, a human story, an ADULT story.

    Thank you, Jilly. I am delighted with anything you write. I know I am going to love this.

  3. I love this this so far. I’m a big fan of Magical Stiles, and Nemeton cleansing is a big plus. 🙂

  4. Stunning story.

  5. I’m totally in love with you right now. I just got home, collapsed on my couch, and was too tired to dig through the TW fandom to find something new but good to read, so I figured I’d just read some Jilly fic. Then I find that, not only is there NEW Jilly fic, but that there’s new TW fic. You just made my night!

  6. Holy. Crap. You’ve packed so much into this and so many relatable people.

  7. This is fantastic and that ARTWORK, it’s the perfect fit to your delightful story. Thank you so much to the both of you for sharing it with us! I’m going to go back to giggling over his dragonfly-wing beard, it suits him!

  8. Rereading this again (the third time already I think, it’s that awesome :D), and wanted to comment on what in particular I liked in each part.

    I loved how deep the thread of perspective-leading-to-adulting you wove into the story. For instance, one of the first things I thought of when Stiles mentioned how much he was earning through magic-Etsy was “I wonder how he would report that on his taxes,” but figured you would never mention taxes since that’s a factor rarely mentioned in stories, but then you brought up that exact fact!! It brought real world issues adults have to think about into the young adult/supernatural world, and really emphasized Stiles having to be a real adult with real world ripples of supernatural actions.

    I also loved the “I give permission to be bitten if in life-threatening circumstances” discussion. It’s such a legitimate concern, and I only ever saw in addressed in one other story, which was an AU-Werewolves are Known. Yay Noah/for making sure his wishes were known ahead of time!

    I also adore how you had Stiles and Derek’s relationship flourish through writing rather than talking. I can totally understand how Derek would do better by getting the chance to carefully consider/edit his thoughts and how it could help Stiles from going off on tangents that could confuse the point. Probably also helps that they have to be more direct about emotions and tone rather than subconsciously relying on scent/heartbeat/werewolfiness indicators.

    Thanks for such engaging fic, Jilly! I love your work, and wanted to show my deep appreciation for it <3

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