Please see the main story page for summary, warnings, and links to additional chapters.
* * *
Stiles was pulling into the hospital when the phone rang. He waited in the Jeep while he talked to Noah’s attending physician, explaining that, yes, he really did want to move the sheriff and that he’d be upstairs in a couple of minutes to sign the paperwork. He didn’t plan on suffering any delays.
He knew he ran the risk of running into Melissa if he went through the ER, so he went in the main entrance and straight up to the floor he knew Noah was on. He spotted Erica, Boyd, and Isaac first. They were all in the waiting room, sitting close together like they had back when they were part of the same pack.
Erica bounced to her feet as soon as Stiles appeared and threw herself at him. Her eyes were shiny with tears, and she hugged him fiercely before pulling back and giving him a once-over. “You look so different.”
“We’re all grown up now.” He tried to smile, but it fell flat. He nodded to Boyd and Isaac. In truth, Stiles thought he was the one who’d changed the most. Isaac seemed older, but it was in his bearing and confidence more than his looks. Erica and Boyd threw off more insecure vibes than the last time he’d seen them. Erica wasn’t as brash in her appearance, still sexy but less in-your-face. Boyd looked basically the same.
“Peter and Cora are setting up the house to get ready for Mr. S,” Isaac offered, “but they’ll be here soon. Derek and Jordan are in his room now.”
“I’m gonna go…” He jerked his thumb toward the direction of Noah’s room. “You’ll still be here?”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Boyd said as he slung an arm around Erica’s shoulders.
Stiles headed down the hall and was waylaid briefly to sign paperwork even though the doctor tried to talk him out of it. He was immovable and insisted that they’d be taking Noah as soon as the ambulance arrived, whether the paperwork was completed or not.
He entered Noah’s hospital room a minute later. It was just Parrish and Derek in there. Both were on their feet, and Derek had been watching the door. He’d obviously heard Stiles arrive and the subsequent conversation with the doctor. Stiles stopped to pull Derek into a hug, which Derek returned after a moment’s hesitation, taking a moment to scent Stiles.
Then Stiles pulled away and went to the bed. He didn’t know what he expected, but it wasn’t this. “He looks…asleep.” He’d expected injury, blood, or something catastrophic, but Noah looked normal except for an IV and some bandages on one side of his head.
“The attack was entirely magical,” Derek murmured from right behind Stiles. Stiles hadn’t heard him move closer, but he could feel him for some reason. Something about being in Beacon Hills was amplifying Stiles’ magic and his awareness of anything supernatural.
He let his magic reach out to Noah. “I can still feel the dark magic on him.”
“Can you do something about that?” Parrish asked, stepping closer.
The cautious part of Stiles said to wait until they were out of the hospital, but his gut said he needed to get the destructive magic off Noah now. They didn’t need anything screwing with him changing into a werewolf. “I think so. Don’t let anyone in.”
Parrish nodded sharply. “I’ll watch the door from the outside. Let me know when it’s clear and then I’ll go speed the doctor along. The ambulance we arranged for is already waiting.” With that, he stepped out of the room.
“What are you going to do?” Derek asked, moving a fraction closer.
“At this stage, my magic is difficult to direct without a focus of some sort. Even if it’s just a symbol or some berries or a few chanted words. Make up a ritual and believe it will work and it does.”
“It’s also a safety valve. If I feel it’s important to use a focus, it helps prevent me from doing crazy stuff without meaning to.” He shrugged.
“What are you trying to say?”
“That I’ve never learned any healing spells to focus my spark with. Just believing he’ll be healed isn’t enough.” Stiles leaned forward and let his hands hover over a few inches from Noah’s head. “But I do know how to strip away dark magic.” He hummed under his breath as he concentrated on his father. “Okay, I’m feeling something… Can I read you?”
“I think what I’m feeling that’s unfamiliar—beyond the dark magic—is his bond to you. I mean, I know what lycanthropy feels likes, but I’ve never been in the company of an alpha and one of their betas since I learned how to read magical energy.”
“Do whatever you need.”
“I just don’t want to mess with the bond when cleansing the dark magic, and sparks are a little…”
“I get it, Stiles. I imagine that much power can be like trying to perform surgery with a chainsaw…you’ve got to figure out how to turn it into a scalpel.”
Stiles found himself smiling faintly. “Right.” He turned and really registered for the first time that Derek was in uniform still, and it was such a different look for him. But a good look—it made him seem more settled and grounded than what Stiles remembered. He let his hands hover over Derek—one at the head, one at the chest—and let his magic reach out. “Wow,” he breathed, eyes closed.
“What?” Derek said, sounding worried.
“The Hale alpha spark is…lovely. It’s nearly in harmonic resonance with the magical currents in the area.” He blinked his eyes open and stared into Derek’s changeable eyes. “It must have been hard for your sister to stay away—your family’s spark was birthed here, and she must have been fighting the pull to come home.”
Derek swallowed heavily. “I…” he trailed off and shook his head. “Remind me to tell you about it another time.”
Stiles let it go and turned back to Noah to repeat the magical scan he’d done earlier. The dark magic was hindering the bond forming properly from what he could tell. He decided to use a dark-magic cleansing ritual to focus his magic. He’d use the words without any of the other ritual or preparation needed for other practitioners. He visualized what he wanted to cleanse, what he wanted the outcome to be, began to chant, and believed.
Dark energy began to pool on Noah’s skin before being pulled up into a purplish ball of light with flecks of green that hovered in the air above his forehead. Stiles contemplated it for several seconds.
“What will you do with it?”
“I’m not sure yet. Maybe I’ll save it for now.” Stiles reached into his pocket and pulled out a single rowan berry, drawing the magic into the berry, willing the berry to become hard like a diamond. He slid the not-berry into his empty pocket and turned his attention back to rescanning Noah.
“The bond is stronger already,” Derek murmured.
“Mm.” Stiles sat on the edge of the bed and contemplated Noah. “Did you see the colors?”
“That was my doing—willing a visible color onto the magic. I wasn’t sure, but it felt like some of the darker magic on my dad was…older.”
“Older,” Derek repeated flatly.
“Yeah. It’s hard to tell these kinds of things sometimes, plus I’m stressed right now.” He sighed. “The colors are about my own cliché visualizations of magical energies. I believe when I see the magic that it will be colored according to the affinity of the person who cast it. Magic doesn’t actually have a color. Anyway… In my mind, I see magecraft as red, shamans are blue, witchdoctors are orange, and so on. I admit that witches are the clichéd purple…”
“And what’s green?”
Derek sucked in a breath through his teeth.
“That’s the oldest magic…the druidic magic on my father had been there a long time, and it wasn’t benevolent.”
“I’ll know when I next see him.” Stiles shook his head, pushing all his anger in a box and slamming the lid shut. He couldn’t afford to indulge in it right now.
Stiles sat on the edge of Noah’s hospital bed, holding his hand, and stared up at Derek. “Thank you for doing what you promised.”
Derek stared at the floor for a second.
“Derek, you’re not to blame.”
Derek shrugged one shoulder.
Stiles pursed his lips and decided to tackle a subject that would distract Derek from his overwhelming and inappropriate guilt. “My dad has been acting like Switzerland for Erica and Boyd—a safe place for them.”
Looking up, expression blank, Derek replied, “I’m aware.”
“I need to know where you stand with them because I feel obligated to continue to be that for them in my father’s stead. I’m still in your pack, but I’m not going to send them packing back to Scott.”
“Are you asking me—”
“I’m not asking you for or to do anything. I just need to know. I can send them to our place to hang until we know something.”
Derek looked away, staring out the window. “They left me twice.”
“I don’t trust them.”
“I completely understand.”
Sighing, Derek met Stiles’ gaze again. “But they defied their alpha and told us about Scott letting the witches go.”
“You know why they left the second time, right?”
Derek’s brow furrowed, and he shook his head.
“I understand why you kept them at arm’s length after they ran off the first time—I really do understand, and I think any alpha would have done the same. But they didn’t understand what it was about. They didn’t get that it wasn’t punitive. It was…” he trailed off and searched for the word. “Watchful, no?”
Derek nodded tightly.
“I’m not saying that you should take them back, I’m just supplying information. They probably thought they’d never be fully accepted again, so they went to where they didn’t have such an obstacle to overcome. Where they thought they’d be on an equal footing to everyone else.”
Frowning again, Derek asked, “Weren’t they?”
“I don’t think so. They didn’t say anything to me, but some of the stuff they let slip to my dad… I think the fact that they were from your pack ultimately worked against them. But more than that, they fundamentally preferred you, and they didn’t like Scott. I also think Scott tried to lure them into his pack and then treated them shitty.”
Derek stared at his feet again.
“Just think about what you want, okay? They can’t go back to Scott’s pack, but I’ve got some contacts with other packs who would accept them. They could negotiate to remain in your territory while they finish school but not risk becoming omegas.”
“You’ve got contacts in other packs?”
“Me or Aunt Tess.” Stiles smiled faintly. “A story for another day, I think.”
After a long silence, where Derek was obviously brooding, he asked, “What did you mean about the true alpha thing being bullshit?”
Sighing, Stiles tried to decide how to explain. “My dad wanted to know more about the whole true alpha thing since the information we had seemed more lore-based than fact, and I get that a lot of the supernatural community runs on lore, but we just wanted to know.” Stiles squeezed Noah’s hand, thinking of all their conversations since he moved to San Mateo, wondering if they’d ever have them again. “The only part of the supernatural community that really buys into the true alpha mythos are werewolves, and that should have a certain amount of weight since it affects them, but not all werewolves buy into it.”
Before Derek could say anything, Stiles plowed ahead. “Even the lore within the werewolf community that I could find is conflicting. I talked to every source I could get my hands on, trying to sort out what part of the lore was real, and outside of werewolves, they all said it was not real. Every single reputable source on the supernatural, from shamans to fairies, say that it’s a myth. That there are ways for an alpha spark to be bestowed on someone, but it’s not based on the elements in the true alpha myth. I did get one concession from this witchdoctor in Mississippi, and he said that if it were to happen, that if there were a germ of truth in the legend, that it would happen to a born wolf, not a bitten one. That a bitten wolf ascending to alpha based on merit was utter nonsense.”
“But my mother knew a beta who just suddenly became an alpha. She had first-hand experience with it—she’s the one who taught us, and she was taught by her mother. And isn’t Scott proof?”
“There is a ritual,” Stiles began, carefully choosing his words, “that can transfer an alpha spark.”
Derek’s eyebrows drew into a fierce scowl. “Transfer,” he repeated dangerously.
“Mm-hm.” Stiles watched him for a few seconds. “Didn’t a couple of twins mysteriously lose their alpha spark and skip town around the time Scott became alpha?”
Derek drew in a sharp breath. “Oh my god.”
“Right. And, honestly, I think Deaton intended to take the Hale spark. I mean, that’s just a theory, but his behavior towards you makes me think he was grooming Scott to take the territory.”
Looking confused, Derek cocked his head to the side. “Explain.”
“An alpha of the territory, not just a pack, needs to have a bond to the land because a ley node sits here.”
“Yeah. Ley nodes draw good and bad alike, but if your alpha spark is in harmony with the magical energies, it allows you to detect any disturbances. It also prevents the chaotic nature of a ley node from causing upheaval in the pack bonds.”
Derek looked startled.
“While any alpha could attempt the territory-bonding ritual, magic would probably reject it because the Hale spark would magically take precedence because it’s considered to be nearly fact that the Beacon Hills’ nemeton bestowed the alpha spark on the Hale line. And while I’m not sure the nemeton directly granted it, as I said before, I now know the spark was born here. Which may be why the supernatural energies are more chaotic here than even could be accounted for by a ley node…the Hale spark was born and bonded to the land for a reason, probably to help stabilize the nemeton, and then the Hales were…” he hesitated and shot Derek a sympathetic look. The murder of the pack could have negatively affected the nemeton. “Your sister never bonded to the land the way your mother had.”
Derek blinked a few times, not looking more upset than usual. “How come I don’t know any of this?”
“I honestly don’t know why your mother wouldn’t have told you this stuff. I’m sure Peter knows about the theory of the Hale alpha spark, and I’m positive he knows about the territory bond.”
“He’s never mentioned it to me.” Derek sighed. “But we don’t talk as much as we should.” He suddenly reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, frowning at whatever he saw. “Chris Argent is here. He’s waiting in the parking lot for you.”
“I didn’t tell him where we were. All I said is that we needed to meet as soon as you got here, and I’d be in touch, but to not mention to anyone that you were coming to town. I hadn’t called him back yet.”
“Great.” Stiles scrubbed his hand over his head. “Text him that I’ll be down as soon as I can be, and to please wait. It won’t be long. Actually, tell him to wait at the park across the street. I’m not talking to him in the hospital parking lot where we can be observed through dozens of windows. Not to mention that the people who work here know me.”
Derek tapped away at his phone then looked back at Stiles. “He’ll wait.”
“Good.” Stiles watched Derek, waiting for him to get his thoughts together.
Said thoughts were obviously troubled based on the scowl. “The twins shared an alpha spark.”
“That’s not healthy. Not really.”
“No, probably not. If that fractured alpha spark were to be passed on in any natural way, there’d need to be some serious ritual around it. But I’d think it’d be safer to let earth take it back.”
“Is that supposed to make sense?”
“It’s just a theory I’m working on, but it follows that if magic can grant an alpha spark, it can take it back. Or cleanse it.”
“We really need to talk.” Derek made a disgruntled face. “In-depth talk.”
Stiles almost laughed. “I agree, but we don’t have the luxury of in-depth explanations right now.” He wished they did. Since they’d cemented their friendship through email, his secret wish was that they’d some day be able to comfortably talk to one another.
“Yeah.” Derek glanced away. “I need to think about everything, but, for now, I think Erica and Boyd should stay out of things until we know what’s going to happen. They need to avoid drawing attention to themselves.” He squared his shoulders. “In the short term, I’d like to send them to the pack house to help contain your dad if anything happens, but once I can be there full time, if you’re okay with it, I’ll have them go back to your house. Take care of the place, water the plants…”
Stiles smiled faintly. “You know we don’t have plants.”
“You do, actually. Erica bought them for your dad. I think there are five, and Boyd has been working in the garden.”
Stiles blinked. All of that was news to them. “Yeah, okay. I know I should talk to them myself, but I just can’t focus on anything else right now.”
“And no one expects you to.” Derek hesitated briefly then reached out and ran his hand along the side of Stiles’ face and neck, obviously scenting him. It was a new thing for them, but it was comforting to Stiles in a way he hadn’t expected. “I’ll be back to help take your dad down to the ambulance.”
When Stiles was alone, he pulled out his phone and called Aunt Tess to give her an update. He also needed an opinion about the things he’d learned.
– – – –
Fifteen minutes later, they were in the ambulance bay and the back doors opened to reveal Peter and Cora. Stiles only knew it was Cora from a pack picture Noah had sent him a few weeks ago. Although, it wasn’t like the Hales didn’t all have a striking familial resemblance.
Peter gave Stiles a quick nod, but neither of the Hales left the ambulance, helping from inside as Parrish and Derek loaded the gurney. The EMTs were already in the front.
Derek’s hand rested on Noah’s ankle as he looked to Peter. “I’ll get there as soon as I can. Until I can be there, Erica and Boyd are going to come to the pack house as backup, and then they’ll move to Noah’s place. I’d prefer they not go into basement, but Noah knows them well, so if you need them, let them down.”
Peter gave him a flat look. “I can handle one newly bitten wolf.” The two exchanged a look Stiles couldn’t interpret before Peter sighed. “Fine.” He glared at Erica and Boyd who were hovering in the background. “Follow us.”
Derek stepped back and slammed the door shut, and Stiles watched as the ambulance left. He wanted nothing more than to follow, but he needed to talk to Argent first. He couldn’t do anything else for his dad until Aunt Tess got there, so he needed to focus on all the other problems. Like Chris Argent.
Erica and Boyd disappeared to head out to the pack house. Stiles stood at the edge of the ramp with Isaac, Parrish, and Derek at his back, watching until the ambulance was out of view.
He turned around and looked between Parrish and Derek. “What’s happening at the station?”
Parrish, who had seniority, replied, “Noah and I were both on duty, Derek was technically off, but he picked up that one missing person’s this morning. Many of the people at the station, the first responders, and some hospital staff know your father was hurt, but they’ve all agreed to keep it as quiet as possible—we’ve told them that we don’t think all the members of this ‘cult’ that attacked the kids have been apprehended, and we don’t need to draw attention to Noah’s condition. The cover story is holding. For now. Technically, I’m taking point on investigating what happened to the kids, so any time I spend here or helping you round up these witches, I’d consider functioning in my role as lead investigator.”
Stiles shot him a considering look. “You’re a bit more comfortable with the lines being blurred than my dad is.”
“Yeah, well, the line stomped all over your father this morning, so I’m not sure I see the line anymore.” Parrish was obviously seething with suppressed anger that he’d been keeping tightly under control.
Stiles nodded an acknowledgment. “Let’s go talk to Argent. Then I need to get into the investigation myself.”
Parrish stared at him. “You.” He squinted a little. “I assume this has to do with magic?”
“Okay. And you want us with you to talk to Argent?”
“I need to find out where he’s at with this whole mess. Whether he’s a resource or a liability, but I’m not going to talk to him without Derek.” Stiles realized he was making choices he didn’t have the right to make. “I don’t have any say about you one way or another.”
“Argent will likely be a resource,” Derek offered. “He’s not going to be happy about what happened.”
Stiles internally winced and decided he needed apologize to Derek before they met with Argent. He looked to Parrish and Isaac. “I need a minute with Derek. Can we meet you there?”
They both looked to Derek, who nodded his assent, and they went to Parrish’s patrol car. The park wasn’t far, but Stiles didn’t plan to walk it either. He didn’t want to have to come back to the hospital and risk running into anyone from Scott’s pack—especially Melissa, who likely wasn’t at all involved, but who could easily emotionally manipulate Stiles about how he handled Scott.
As soon as they were in the car, Stiles looked to Derek. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sort of taking over and being bossy?”
“You’re being you, you mean?” Derek’s lips twitched.
“Harsh.” Stiles sighed. “I just mean, I know you’re the alpha here, but I can’t—”
“He’s your father, Stiles. I get it. You saw how they confirmed your orders with me, and that’s probably going to keep happening unless I tell them to listen to you.” He hesitated. “Do you want me to do that?”
Stiles considered for a second. “No. I need you to rein me in. I’m furious, Derek. In a way that could be really destructive, and if people are acting on my orders without sanity checks…” He rubbed his hand over his face. “I’ll try not to overstep, but I can’t promise that I won’t screw up.”
“They understand. I understand.”
Stiles nodded tightly and turned to head to the jeep
Derek’s hand closed around his arm. “Just how much do you want me rein you in here? Because I’ll do it if you ask me to, but I’m not feeling a lot of impulse control myself.”
“I guess…” He blew out a breath, considering. “Don’t let me kill anyone who isn’t in the coven?”
“Is that really an issue? Are you planning to kill them?”
“The anger is simmering in me in a really dangerous way, and I’ve got the magic of the ley node available to me. So, yeah, I need you to keep me from doing something I’ll regret.” He paused. “Or at least something I’d be terribly ashamed to have to admit to my father.”
Derek snorted. “Stiles.”
“No, seriously. I can be more morally grey than I think my father is comfortable with sometimes, and I don’t want him to be ashamed of me.”
“But the witches?”
Stiles shot him a sharp look. “We find them, we eliminate them.”
“As the voice of reason, I feel like I should point out that you could probably bind their magic.”
“And how many might they kill trying to get the binding broken?”
“I’m fine with them dying, Stiles. I just wanted to be sure you’d thought through all the angles.”
Stiles stared at the ground, trying to get his thoughts in order. “Domitus Ulpian said, ‘Justice is the constant and perpetual will to allot to every man his due.’” He looked up and met Derek’s gaze. “I’ve never been short on will.”
Derek frowned. “Contextually, that sounds more like vengeance than justice.”
“I’m okay with that too.”
“Hmm.” He cocked his head to the side. “I’m going to counter that with a quote from a sci fi writer I like. ‘The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them.’”
Stiles felt like he’d been sucker punched, and his eyes felt hot. He crossed his arms, holding on to himself.
Suddenly, Derek enfolded him in a hug. “I’m not criticizing you. I’m saying you’re better than revenge, though you may not think so right now. Figure out what’s just, not what’s punitive. It’s what your dad would want.”
Stiles relaxed and let himself be hugged for a few seconds, enjoying being held by Derek. “You’re already doing a good job on reining me in.”
“Whatever you need, Stiles. I mean that.”
Stiles pulled into the park right behind Derek, parking next to his cruiser. Argent was leaning against his big, black SUV and watching Isaac and Parrish as they stood off a ways, not truly approaching. Argent’s attention snapped to Stiles and Derek as they got out of their vehicles.
Derek led the way to where Chris was standing. Stiles stayed back a step on Derek’s left with Parrish mirroring him on the right. Isaac brought up the rear. From what Stiles had heard from Noah, Parrish usually took the right position with Peter on the left as pack enforcer. Scott’s hierarchy was apparently a lot less structured with Kira floating in either position or not at all. Lydia would take the right-hand spot if she was there, though Noah had theorized that only Lydia knew what the positions meant, not Scott. Various other members of Scott’s pack took left or right spot depending on the circumstances, but it was never Erica or Boyd.
Scott’s pack structure was reported to be a hot mess, and it was obvious to Stiles that he had no idea what the left and right hand meant. But he was pretty sure that Scott was deliberately keeping Erica and Boyd in the back. Which was also dumb as fuck because Derek would never put pack members he didn’t trust at his back.
When they came to a stop about ten feet from Argent, Derek asked, “How’d you know where we were?”
Chris cocked his head to the side, giving Derek and then Stiles a thoughtful look. “A contact let me know Noah had been injured. I figured if Stiles was coming to town it was pretty serious, and the hospital was a logical spot. I wasn’t sure why Stiles wanted to meet with me, but it seemed likely he’d be here. I’m not good about being told to stay home.”
Stiles inferred that Chris had an in with either the paramedics, the doctors, or, and more likely, the sheriff’s department.
“Did you tell anyone about your conclusions?” Derek pressed.
“I assume you’re specifically referring to Allison.” Chris’ eyes narrowed. “And, no, I didn’t. She’s still in school. In fact, I haven’t seen her since I got back at about four this morning.”
Derek had mentioned that Chris had been gone during all the stuff around the murders, hunting down an actual rogue alpha with a couple other reputable hunter families. Derek looked to Stiles and gestured for him to step forward and take over.
Stiles stepped up, but not ahead of Derek, not wanting to send that message to Chris. “I understand enough about hunter families to know that Allison is the head of yours, no?”
Chris stared at him for several long seconds. “Yes, the Argents are matriarchal. About half of the hunter families are, which you probably also know. And I’m sure Derek has kept you informed that Allison didn’t want to be fully in charge until she’d finished college, that she didn’t want to be responsible for all of this. She wanted a voice in how the Argents were reformed, but not to lead us yet.”
“She made you regent,” Stiles stated.
“And is that in name only? Or do you actually have the final say?”
Chris glared. “Regency is never in name only. Not when my father was regent while Allison was a child, and not now that it’s me.”
Stiles felt like Chris was implicitly blaming some of the Argents’ atrocities on Gerard’s regency. Like Chris had no choice but to do what his father said. Like he wasn’t a grown-ass man with the ability to walk away. “So, then, I assume Allison, respecting your regency, informed you that a coven of witches had taken up residency in Beacon Hills and were engaging in ritual sacrifice?”
Chris pushed off the SUV where he’d been leaning, straightening up, and looking alarmed. “There’s a dark coven in Beacon Hills?”
“You’re so sure it’s dark?” Stiles countered.
“I’m pretty sure you know that a light coven wouldn’t be caught dead here.”
“Yeah, I’m fucking sure, Regent Argent, but there’s been a little druidic voice in Scott’s ear telling him that the witches might be light and that everyone should be cautious. And Scott still seems to have some pull with Princess Argent because she didn’t see fit to inform her regent and get real intel.”
“I…” Chris ran his hand over his face, looking frustrated. “Once she was in the know, we focused on supernatural creatures since that’s the bigger threat in Beacon Hills, rather than on magic users.”
“I think the darach would say otherwise,” Stiles countered dryly.
“My point is that she’s still learning. It’s why she wasn’t ready to be matriarch yet, which is a sign of her good judgment.”
“Judgment so good that she neglected to tell her regent about the children who have been exsanguinated by dark witches. Right.”
Chris pressed his lips into a thin line. “You know and I know that it’s a dark coven, which means there are at least seven. Did you call me here for a hunt? Because I’m in, we don’t need to drag this out.”
Stiles could feel that Chris was telling the truth about not knowing. “We’re here because I needed to assess your intentions and find out if you were going to be a help or a hindrance.”
“Hindrance,” Chris repeated.
“Since I wasn’t here for it, I’m going to let one of the others tell you everything that’s happened.” He glanced at Derek. “I’m not sure who had the most first-hand view of events…?”
Derek started by explaining the ritual sacrifice cases and the subsequent joint pack meeting. What they agreed to do and how to search, including that Deaton and Scott kept insisting that they had to give the witches a chance to explain themselves, that Derek opposed the idea of “friendly conversation,” but that Allison came down on Scott’s side. Parrish then took over as he’d heard the account of Erica and Boyd’s actions directly from Noah himself.
Chris flinched at hearing that Allison went along with letting the witches go.
Parrish then went into what happened when they went to the witches’ house this morning and subsequently finding the two dead children.
“Oh my god.” Chris full-on paled and looked like he wanted to pass out.
Stiles took the reins again. “My father was dying because Scott decided to let murderers walk away to be someone else’s problem.”
“We can’t know that,” Chris quickly countered. “There have to be seven. He let three go, and three more were at the house. It wasn’t necessarily the same three.”
“Does deluding yourself really make you feel better about the situation? Would you be sinking into such crazy logic if your daughter wasn’t complicit in what Scott did?”
Chris looked like Stiles had slapped him and then he looked angry.
“Don’t glare at me, Argent. We all know that there were at least ten hours between Scott finding the witches in the middle of a sacrificial ritual and the next two deaths. And then my father got attacked for doing his job! Ten hours. How much intel could you have gotten from them in ten hours? Could you have gotten them to admit their home base? Could you have gotten the rest of the coven? What could you, an experienced hunter, do with ten fucking hours?”
Chris looked away. Eventually, he replied, “You’re not wrong that I’m inclined to defend what happened because of Allison’s involvement.”
“Let’s be real. Allison is compromised. She sees her family legacy as one of death and violence, and she doesn’t want to be a part of it, but she also feels it’s her duty to step up to the plate. But she still irrationally hates Derek, which makes me wonder if that’s the only reason she still tries to keep a hand in. All that combined together makes her judgment suspect as hell on a good day, and you know it. She’s so busy trying not to be a ‘killer,’ herself,” Stiles made air quotes, “that she let murderers walk away as long as they promised to be someone else’s problem. And she planned to keep the information from you because she had to know that if she came clean, you’d be hot on their trail, and the Argent family would be tacking more on to their epic body count.”
Saying nothing, Chris’ jaw muscles clenched.
“Right.” Stiles shook his head in disgust. “Whatever. We’ll revisit the topic later but, right now, we’ve got six more witches to find.”
“Six?” everyone echoed.
“Stiles,” Parrish began, “three left town, two were killed, one is in intensive care in a coma. That leaves one and then finding the three Scott let go.”
“No, I’m pretty sure we need to find six.” He decided to just lay it out there. “I consulted with an expert and we’re agreed that they’re working in three teams of three for the preliminary rituals. Then they’ll come together as a full coven for whatever their final ritual is. You found three in the woods, three at the house. There’s no way one was working alone. And it’s naïve as fuck to assume the witches in the woods left town just because they pinky swore with Scott to do so—assuming it’s not the same three witches in both places. Seven is the minimum and the most common but, honestly, nine is more powerful number magically. It’s why the significant light rituals require three covens of three.”
Chris nodded, looking thoughtful. “That tracks with what I know about dark covens—that they don’t work alone, and that seven is typical but more is possible.” He looked between Derek and Stiles. “Where do we begin?”
Stiles answered before Derek could say anything, “I need to revisit the two known ritual sites to get a feel for their magic, and then I’ll need Derek’s help with something before we can hunt. Question is, what are you going to do, Regent Argent?”
After a long hesitation, Chris asked, “You’ve learned magic.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yeah, a bit.”
“I see. And can you contain these witches, or do we need to call for reinforcements?”
“I’ve already handled the call for reinforcements.”
Derek shot him a look but didn’t say anything.
“And who is coming?” Chris pressed.
“There’s an elemental mage who will be in Beacon Hills in about four hours.” Aunt Tess had used Stiles’ accounts to charter a private plane to get St. John to the airport a half hour away to cut way down on his travel time from the East Coast.
Chris’ expression was complicated. “I only know of one elemental mage in the United Sates.”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“I…see. He’s rather temperamental.”
Derek stepped forward a bit, more into Stiles’ direct eyeline. “Is this one of the people you sent to cleanse the nemeton?”
Stiles shook his head. “Different guy. He wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing, but he owes me a favor.”
Chris choked. “The strongest magical user in North America owes you a favor.”
“It’s complicated.” Stiles’ ward stones really were the best, and when the top magical banana in the US asked you to put them at the head of the line for a custom ward package in return for a “favor,” you didn’t say no. Of course, calling in the favor meant revealing exactly who he was, and Stiles’ magical nature would be obvious to the mage. But Stiles was less vulnerable now that he was back in Beacon Hills. He knew the nemeton needed work, but it would help protect him.
“In any case,” Stiles continued before anyone could push harder on how Stiles was getting Booker St. John there, “I need to do the groundwork to figure out what kind of ritual they were trying to enact. I’m not interested in trying to keep the witches alive.”
Chris’ eyes narrowed.
“I’m not being callous, just realistic. If their magic is bound, which, yes, St. John could definitely handle, how many would they kill trying to break the binding? Dark witches are dark magic addicts. And these ones are murderers. They’re not sacrificing goats and getting off on the death magic rush. They killed children.”
“I don’t disagree, Stilinski, I’m just reassessing you.”
“Well, I have no fucks to give when it comes to your opinion of me.”
Chris opened is mouth, but Derek held up a hand and cocked his head to the side. “Scott’s here.”
“Ah, shit!” Stiles fisted his hands in his hair and yanked. The last thing he wanted to do was talk to Scott right now.
“He’s at the hospital with a bunch of his pack. And…” Derek was concentrating. “Yeah, he heard me talking. They’re all heading over.”
“I think it’s the whole pack except Erica and Boyd. And I think Kira is still out of town.”
“Even Lydia and Jackson?”
Derek nodded. “Not Deaton though.” He flashed Stiles a questioning look.
“It had to happen eventually. Can you,” he hesitated over his phrasing, “check on things at the house?” Stiles figured they had about two minutes. Good thing the park was relatively deserted. He had a feeling this was about to get ugly.
Derek nodded and pulled out his cell phone. There was some quick back and forth, but by the time Stiles heard the other vehicles pulling into the parking lot, Derek murmured, “He’s settled in, and no change so far.”
Stiles took a deep breath, reminding himself that there were four werewolves protecting Noah right now and there wasn’t a damn thing Stiles could do for him. Aunt Tess knew a few healing spells and, despite her discomfort with the nemeton, she was coming up and bringing books for Stiles. If Noah woke up feral due to brain damage, Stiles was going to do everything he could to find a solution so that Noah didn’t have to be killed.
Argent shot Derek and Stiles a look. “Hale did you—”
“That’s none of your damn business!” Stiles bit out. “All aspects of my father’s healthcare were discussed in advance and his wishes were followed to the letter. I’m his next-of-kin and Derek held his medical proxy since I was so far away. The only people who have a right to know anything already know.”
“My apologies.” Chris’ expression softened. “I’m sorry about your father.”
“He’s not dead!”
“What happened to the sheriff?” Scott said from behind him.
Stiles took a deep breath and turned slowly. Scott looked much the same as always. His pack fanned around him, Allison on his left and two teens Stiles didn’t recognize on the right. Lydia and Jackson hung back, but Lydia looked pale and unsettled. He figured she’d screamed for a couple little kids this morning.
“Stiles?” Scott questioned. “Wow, dude, when did you get back? And you look so different.”
“How did you know to be here, Scott?”
Scott blinked a few times. “Um, I had a text from my mom. She said that when she came on duty that someone confided in her that the sheriff had been brought in unconscious, but she hadn’t been able to find out anything and no one was talking. I called the pack and we figured we’d come down here and try to sniff out what was going on.”
“This place leaks information like a fucking sieve,” he groused under his breath. He met Scott’s gaze. “So, my dad got a lead on these witches you guys have been looking for.”
“Nah, man, that’s all taken care of.”
“Is it?” Stiles asked softly, edging forward. Parrish and Isaac fell back to be behind Derek as Stiles stepped to the front of the group. “So, if I said that two children were abducted this morning, and my father was concerned it was the same group so he followed up on it, you’d say it wasn’t the witches?”
Scott’s jaw had that stubborn set to it. “I told you, it was taken care of.” Allison shot Scott a look, her expression wary.
“Uh-huh.” Stiles took a step forward, but Derek’s hand closed gently around his forearm, preventing him from getting too close to the other group. “How was it taken care of, Scott?”
“You don’t have any right to question me,” Scott snapped.
“Don’t I?” Stiles cocked his head, feeling his magic pooling in him in dangerous ways. The lid he was keeping on his feelings was in danger of popping right off. “Did you run them out of town?”
“Yes, if you must know!”
“Did you tell my father you ran them out of town?”
“No, I didn’t. Because you and your dad chose to be loyal to him!” Scott pointed at Derek.
“That’s not why, and you know it. Even if my dad wasn’t affiliated with either pack, you know he wouldn’t be okay with you setting murderers free.”
Allison winced and stared at the ground, pointedly not looking her father’s direction.
“You don’t have the right to question me, Stiles. You left,” Scott barked at him. “You abandoned us and then you chose Hale over me.”
“I abandoned you?” Stiles repeated incredulously. “Months of you taking off and ignoring your phone so you could moon after Allison, and your rationale for all this is that I abandoned you? That’s some fine-ass gaslighting, Scott. Nice work.” Stiles would have given him a slow clap, but Derek still had a hand on one of Stiles’ arms. “I left because Gerard Argent kidnapped me and beat me up in his torture basement.”
Allison’s gaze shot up to meet Stiles’, and she looked tormented.
“It was a message to you, Scott. But you never got that message because you stopped getting messages of any kind once you got bitten.” He looked at Allison. “And definitely once your dick got involved, anything but moral superiority and Allison was pretty much gone. So, you don’t get to play the abandonment card because I disappeared that night and when I turned up, I was beat to hell and then you didn’t even ask.”
Scott’s expression was closed off. “You could have told me.”
“Spoon fed you the right thing to do, you mean? Even if inappropriately take the blame that my absence had something to do with your shitty decision-making skills, past experience proves that not to be the case. Because you decided to cooperate with the fucking devil and bite rape Derek rather than get any kind of counsel when I was right fucking there.”
“He was threatening my mom!”
“Cry me a river, McCall. All of our parents were in the line of fire because we chose not to get grownups involved. And it wasn’t just us. Your mom chose not to tell my father. Oh, but wait! You told Deaton, right? So clearly you could tell someone.”
“I knew I could tr—” Scott broke off, a look of consternation crossing his features.
“Right. You knew you could trust the druid who let the nemeton rot and be cut down on his watch. Bonus points on that one, Scotty.”
Scott just looked confused, and Stiles decided he didn’t want to dredge up any more of the past crap. There was plenty in the present to destroy all of them.
“My father wasn’t okay with you making murderers someone else’s problem. And don’t give me that look. We all know that you let them go without any penalty or even a magical binding—not that you’d be capable of that.”
“Wait, what?” Lydia asked dangerously.
“Those traitors,” the teen on Scott’s right said.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You mean you didn’t tell Lydia and Jackson how you found three witches in the woods last night trying to sacrifice a kid? You didn’t tell your whole crew how you were being all moral and shit and let them go if they’d promise to stop? With three dead bodies on their hands already…just that we know of? You didn’t tell everyone about how you let them go if they promised to leave Beacon County?”
“What?!” Lydia nearly screeched.
Stiles flicked his gaze to Allison. “I’m sure you were forthright with your father even if Scott was holding back.”
She just looked away.
“No? That’s sad.” He looked back to Scott. “I mean, I’m sure you told everyone the truth, Scotty.”
“You don’t know anything about it,” Scott snapped, the angle of his jaw mutinous.
“Maybe not. But my father did. He wasn’t okay with you letting them go just to murder in someone else’s town. Because, unlike you, he’s actually a decent human being. So he went after them. But in the ten hours since you cleverly drove them out of your territory, two more children died. Bled out in ritual this morning, probably a mere hour before my father found them. My father who has no supernatural defenses and was attacked by juiced up dark witches.”
Scott looked stricken then his expression cleared, and he shook his head. “No.”
“Your denial is bullshit!” Stiles yelled. “Your morals and your superiority mean nothing in the face of what you’ve caused. They said my father was going to die. They tried to turn his brain to fucking pudding, Scott. Massive bleeding in his brain.”
Scott’s eyes were wide and alarmed. “I can, I mean, is it too late to try the bite?”
“I wouldn’t let you get your teeth anywhere near my dad, you raging asshat!” Stiles took a deep breath.
“But if he’s going to die—”
“Oh, save your fucking concern! Where was your worry for the kids who died? Not just here, but in the next town? Or the one after that? Where was your worry for their families?”
“I don’t kill people, Stiles!”
“Yes, you do, you flaming hypocrite! You spiked Gerard’s cancer meds with mountain ash, planning to ensure Derek bit him, knowing it would kill him from bite rejection! You helped us kill Peter, you planned to do it yourself. You’re perfectly willing to kill when it’s your mom, your ass, or your girl on the line. You flounce around Beacon Hills, claiming to be some sort of holy alpha, telling everyone what they should think and how they should believe. Thinking you have some mystical calling!”
“I’m a true alpha!” Scott exploded.
“There’s no such thing!” Stiles screamed. “I’ve researched and researched and only werewolves believe that crap, and if it were true, it would be a born wolf, never a bitten one.” He panted for breath. “I can see by your stubborn expression that you don’t believe me, but Argent knows. He’s known all along that this true alpha thing was a load of crap. But in classic Argent fashion, he’s not going to intervene unless you’re a danger because he was brainwashed from the cradle to think that whatever supernatural communities do to themselves isn’t his problem. He only has to hunt the fallout.” He shot Chris a sour look, but Argent’s expression was blank.
“Dad?” Allison asked softly.
Chris sighed and rubbed his jaw. “It’s a myth, Allison. There’s no such thing. McCall likely became an alpha through some magical ritual. And, at the end of the day, hunters tend to not care how an alpha comes to be, only if they’re stable.”
“I did not become an alpha through a magical ritual!” Scott snapped.
Chris looked momentarily confused.
Stiles snorted derisively. “Oh please, Argent. Tell me you didn’t really think Scott knew or deliberately participated in a magical ritual.” At Chris’ expression, Stiles laughed meanly. “Wow, you’re more gullible than I thought.”
“I had no reason not to think that. He needed to be part of a pack, and his antipathy towards Hale is no secret.”
“Right. The villainous Derek Hale, somehow responsible for everything that’s gone wrong in Scott’s life. I mean, Derek didn’t bite Scott, he didn’t kick Scott’s dad to the curb—”
“—he didn’t cause Scott’s asthma, didn’t make him popular or unpopular at school. He tried to teach him and protect him at every turn, so it makes perfect sense that Scott would feel negatively toward Derek.”
The two teen boys Stiles didn’t know exchanged looks. “Oh, wait. You guys really bought into Derek’s evilness? Seriously? Did Scott ever give you any concrete examples? I mean, I’m sure Scotty resented how Derek tried to rein him in when he was showing off his wolfy powers at school a bit too much, and Scotty really didn’t like being told what to do by Derek—daddy issues, don’tcha know,” he faux-whispered. “But I’ll bet there wasn’t any specific incident he could point to. And Scott probably didn’t tell you the truth about Gerard. And we all know Lydia’s antipathy is solely rooted in how much she hates Peter because the logical side of her knows Derek is a better choice. But, then again, Lydia has never been about logic, she’s all about her wounded feels and looking popular.”
“How dare you!” she snarled.
“Oh can it,” Stiles said dismissively. “Your boyfriend is hanging on by a fucking thread because he lacks solid pack connection, but you kept him away from the pack that could have helped him. I get why you don’t want to be in Derek’s pack, but you chose your own well being over Jackson’s.”
“Jackson,” Lydia whispered, looking over at him.
Jackson looked away, arms crossed.
“Your love might have been enough to push back the kanima, but love doesn’t replace a bond to an alpha. You’re not an alpha, and Scott is a shitty one. In fact,” Stiles looked between Derek and Jackson, seeing the truth of it in the magical energies. He raised an eyebrow at Derek, whose expression was neutral.
Stiles laughed shortly. “Jackson’s pack bond is to Derek. He never connected to Scott. Nice one. You’ve kept him away from his alpha all this time.”
“Jesus Christ,” Chris muttered.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Stiles,” Scott snarled. “You don’t get to come back to town after a year and a half and dredge up all this shit.”
“I didn’t come to town to dredge up this shit, Scott. I came to town because my father was dying. Something quite a few people here were complicit in, but none more so than you.” He took a step forward, but Derek kept hold of him, keeping pace with Stiles. “I came to town to deal with the witches that you sent out of town to murder other people’s children.”
Scott flinched, and Allison whimpered, taking a step away.
“We’re out of here,” Lydia snapped, taking Jackson’s arm.
“You don’t get to exempt yourself from this now!” Stiles snapped. “These witches are running around and an untrained banshee and a nearly omega werewolf could be easily exploited by them.”
“You don’t tell my pack what to do,” Scott snarled.
“I don’t want to be part of your stupid pack, McCall!” Lydia yelled, taking several steps back. “I never wanted anything to do with any of this. I didn’t ask for this.”
“Peter didn’t make you a banshee, Lydia. That was going to happen no matter what. A lot of us were thrown into this world in a way that really sucks, but you can either make the most of it and take charge of your own fate, or you can pull a McCall and just bitch and moan about how you never asked for it. You and Jackson couldn’t stand to not know, but you don’t take any responsibility for your own choices.”
Scott looked murderous, but Allison was trying to rein him in.
Lydia kept shaking her head. “I don’t want this.”
“Then go home and stay there. Don’t get involved. You’re so entrenched in being a victim that you’re not any use to us.”
She looked furious, but Jackson put a hand on her arm and whispered something Stiles couldn’t hear. Then she pinned Stiles with a look. “I’m leaving, and I’ll go home until this is over, but I expect to talk to you when this is over. I want to know what the hell is going on.”
Stiles raised an eyebrow. “Wow. History repeats itself…Lydia Martin is demanding answers. Who are you going to blame this time when the answers you demanded aren’t palatable?”
She flushed. “You think I don’t have a right to know what’s going on?”
“I think you’ll have to take it up with my alpha,” Stiles challenged.
Her gaze flicked to Derek and her jaw clenched. “Jackson needs a pack.”
Derek growled lowly, and all the werewolves tensed. “Then Jackson needs to talk to me and stop pretending.” When Jackson looked away, Derek made that rumbling sound again. “Stay with Lydia and stay out of this. I don’t have time to deal with either of you when there are witches killing children.”
“You don’t tell my pack what to do,” Scott said again.
Stiles ignored him and stayed focused on Lydia. “Go home. I mean, you look tired. Screamed a couple times this morning, did you? That was those two kids who were sacrificed. The situation Alpha McCall decided not to tell you about.”
Lydia looked gutted, but Stiles didn’t have it in him to be sympathetic. She’d chosen to be blind because of her hatred of Peter. He didn’t fault her for not wanting to be around Peter, but Derek wouldn’t have forced that issue, and she hurt her and Jackson in the process.
Scott took an aggressive step forward, but none of his pack moved. “What makes you think you have a say in any of this? This isn’t your problem anymore!” He looked Stiles up and down. “And what are you going to do, flail at them.”
Something in Stiles snapped. Thunder boomed and heavy rain clouds suddenly rolled in, the park going dark in less than a minute. Everyone was looking around, expressions filled with alarm. Stiles made a show of reaching into his pocket and flung his hand out. People probably thought they saw something, but the ash was so miniscule an amount that even a werewolf wouldn’t be able to see it.
“I think I can contain anything I want to contain, Scotty boy.”
Scott took an aggressive step forward. Or tried to. He felt at the invisible barrier. “What did you do?”
“Oh my god!” Allison yelped. “I can’t move. Why am I affected?”
The whole pack tried to take a step and realized they were all affected by the barriers.
“What did you do?” Scott roared.
Thunder rang out again.
“Stiles,” Derek whispered, stepping close, shifting his hold to be both of Stiles’ upper arms. “I know you’re angry, and I understand, but you asked me to help, and I’m trying to do that. Don’t lose it now.”
Stiles closed his eyes and pulled his emotions under control. It wasn’t him affecting the weather, it was the nemeton responding to Stiles’ frenzied anger.
Dropping his head, he took deep breaths and focused on soothing the nemeton and calming the magical energies in Beacon Hills. He flicked his fingers, removing the barriers from around Scott’s pack.
There was a snarl and then Derek pushed Stiles back, getting between Stiles and Scott, who had charged at them. Derek shoved Scott away, who hit the ground then immediately bounced back to his feet.
Then Chris Argent was there, gun in hand, pointing it at Scott. “Get it under control, McCall!”
Scott’s expression was a study in betrayal. “Me? You’re pointing that at me when he did that? I mean, what kind of dark magic has he been messing with that he can control the weather?!” The thunderheads were already dispersing, the sun starting to peek back through.
“That wasn’t me, you nimrod. It’s the nemeton.”
Scott snarled again. “Deaton warned me that you couldn’t be trusted, that you’d go dark if you started messing with magic.”
Stiles’ anger morphed into disgust. He rolled his eyes straight into another dimension. “Stick a sock in it. Deaton stole the alpha spark from the twins and shoved it in your underage, uncontrolled ass. I can promise you that the twins didn’t volunteer to have their alpha spark ripped away, so that’s some dark-ass magic, Alpha McCall. But, by all mean, keep casting aspersion and blaming everyone but yourself for what’s happened. Keep trusting Deaton who has been manipulating you since day one. I don’t care anymore because I am so done.”
“So that’s how it is?”
Stiles stepped closer but not passing Chris or Derek. “Your self-righteousness could cost me my father, and two more children are dead. Others could be dying. This isn’t on me, it’s on you. Consequences are a thing. You better buckle up and get ready for a rough ride.”
“That a threat?” Scott’s eyes glowed red.
“It’s a fucking promise. Justice is going to leave track marks on you. Go do your homework and stay the fuck away from this investigation.” He looked at the rest of Scott’s pack. “All of you. I’m not fucking kidding; you’ve done more than enough.”
The two teens looked devastated, Allison had tears in her eyes but was staring at her father, Jackson and Lydia were standing close together, arms crossed, but not interacting anymore.
“You can’t stop me from protecting this town.”
Scott lost control of his shift, and his claws popped out.
Chris took another step forward. “Put the claws away or this is going to get ugly.”
“Why the hell are you taking his side? He hasn’t even been here. He doesn’t know what’s going on,” Scott asked in a tone that bordered on whiny.
From the corner of his eye, Stiles saw Derek pull out his phone and check it.
“But Hale does, and so does Deputy Parrish—I’ve heard the whole story. Allison deliberately left me in the dark on your say-so, abdicating her responsibilities to this town and the people we protect, so I’m not feeling very charitable toward you right now, Alpha McCall. You need to calm down and back away.”
Almost panting with the force of his emotion, Scott reined in his shift and took a step back. “You’re taking his side.”
“I’m taking the side of the innocents. You’re fully aware of the new code Allison wrote for the Argent line. We protect those who cannot protect themselves. I’m on the side of the five people who have died. You dropped the ball. Now back off and go home.”
“Dad,” Allison began.
“Not now, Allison. We need to discus this, but it’s neither the time nor the place. Right now, you need to decide if you’re coming with me or leaving with McCall and his pack. Because they are going to leave, and they’re going to leave now.”
Looking upset and reluctant, Allison stepped away from Scott and moved over to be by her father.
“Allison?” Scott whined.
Stiles stepped back, deciding to let Parrish and Chris deal with getting Scott’s pack out of here and getting assurances that they weren’t going to meddle and make things worse. He figured Parrish would issue some colorful threats about arresting them or something. But if Stiles kept engaging with Scott, this would never end. He slipped behind Isaac, trying to stay out of Scott’s eyeline. Derek was typing furiously on his phone while obviously keeping an eye on Scott’s pack.
“Are you seriously hiding behind me?” Isaac whispered.
“Yup.” Stiles shifted a bit more behind Isaac. “If I don’t disengage, we could be here for hours, and I have shit to do.”
“Full-on rainstorm this time?”
Stiles snorted. “That really wasn’t me. I connected to the nemeton when I got into town, so it’s aware that I’m upset.”
“The nemeton is aware of you,” Isaac repeated. “Well, that’s not terrifying.”
Stiles checked his phone, seeing several texts from Aunt Tess. She would be there in about an hour and a half, though if needed, she could wait in Sweetland and pick up St. John. Sighing, Stiles replied to several more texts and engaged Isaac in banal conversation.
“Derek’s looking over here,” Isaac murmured.
Derek was physically positioned to backup Chris and keep Scott’s pack away. All the pack save Scott were waiting near their cars, most of them looking miserable. Scott was talking to Chris, and Allison hovered nearby.
Stiles moved closer, and Derek leaned down so that his lips were almost pressed to Stiles’ ear. “Noah’s awake,” he murmured.
Stiles’ whole body tensed, and he stared at Derek, hoping for good news.
Derek shrugged. “I have no idea.” He extended his phone. “Be prepared for the weirdest thing you can imagine.”
Stiles frowned and took the phone. Derek had already scrolled up to the start of the most recent conversation.
3:10 Cora: Mr. S seems to be waking up.
3:11 Derek: Keep me posted.
3:14 Cora: Whoa. He’s awake. Disoriented. Not feral so far.
3:15 Cora: Not fighting the chains. Seems more confused by them. Nonverbal.
3:16 Derek: Peter with you?
3:16 Cora: He went upstairs to get some food and water for mr s.
3:18 Cora: Whoa! D, mr s attacked uncle p.
3:19 Cora: Wait! Not attacking.
3:19 Cora: OMG. Kissing!!!!! OMG. OMG. OMG!!!
3:20 Derek: What???
3:21 Cora: Whoa nelly. Full on makeout session going on.
3:21 Derek: Tell Peter to stop!
3:23 Cora: Slow your roll. Uncle p is keeping it sorta PG. When he tried to leave mr s lost it. Started howling. Kissing seems better than mr s losing it and hurting himself.
3:24 Derek: I can’t…
3:24 Derek: Nothing more than kissing!
3:25 Cora: Well…there’s some definite groping. Mr s has got a handful of uncle p’s p.
3:26 Derek: Do not tell me anything else! Jesus. Tell Peter I will eviscerate him if they have sex.
3:27 Cora: Mr s snarled at me when I said that. Uncle p promises to keep clothes on.
3:28 Cora: Mr s just ripped uncle p’s shirt off. So much for that!
3:29 Derek: Go upstairs.
3:29 Cora: Come on d.
3:30 Derek: Cora!
3:31 Cora: Spoilsport. Going. Still have to check on them from time to time. Make sure uncle p is following orders.
3:31 Derek: Cora!
The phone nearly fell from Stiles’ suddenly nerveless fingers, but Derek grabbed it in time. “We have to go. Now!”
“Can’t this car go faster?”
Derek side-eyed him but didn’t speed up. He’d refused to let Stiles drive, so Isaac was following the Stiles’ Jeep. “I’m already going fifteen over the limit. We’re only ten minutes out. Just relax.”
“I can’t relax. Peter is mauling my dad!”
“Sounded like your dad was mauling Peter,” Derek muttered.
“Okay, what is your issue?”
“What is my issue?” Stiles made a strangled sound and fisted his hands in his hair. “My dad’s a werewolf now, I don’t even know if he’s all right, and the first thing he does is jump Peter?”
“Stiles.” Derek sighed and shook his head. “Look, I can’t say I was expecting this, but it’s not really shocking either.”
Stiles crossed his arms defensively. “How’s that?”
Derek tapped the side of his nose. “They’re attracted to each other. Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Neither ever made any overtures that I noticed, and I never scented them on each other, so they’re not actually having physical contact. Attraction is…what it is. Your dad is a healthy man, and I’ve smelled attraction on him around multiple people. And Peter, I’m pretty sure, is attracted to most things that move.”
“Who is Peter—or my dad—attracted to?”
“I’m not telling you that.” Derek sounded indignant. “I only mentioned the thing about Peter because they’re mauling each other. In packs… That’s not… Jesus, Stiles. There’s not a lot of privacy in a pack, so we learn early on to not talk about who’s had sex with who or who’s attracted to who. It’s rude, and I respect Noah, so I’m not airing his secrets.”
Stiles huffed and stared out the window. After a minute, he blew out a breath. “You’re right. I’m sorry I’m so…” he trailed off and made a vague gesture.
“It’s fine. It’s not like you could have predicted that. It’s better than the alternative.”
“You mean violence?” Stiles concluded.
“Yeah. It’s actually a good sign that Noah’s first reaction to being a werewolf is to try to get laid rather than eviscerate someone.”
Stiles couldn’t help but laugh. “So, you’re saying this is a good thing?”
“I mean, as long as they don’t have sex.”
“Yeah, cause Dad’s not really in the right frame of mind for informed consent.”
“Right, but when he is, if they want to get it on, you’re gonna need to let this go.”
“I guess.” Stiles fiddled with the seatbelt and tried to get his thoughts in order. “He may be upset about even the kissing.”
“Maybe, but as long as Peter keeps it above the belt, I think them making out is better than your dad hurting himself.”
“I suppose.” He contemplated Derek’s profile. “Do you think he’ll recognize me, or try to attack me?”
“My best guess is both, assuming his mental faculties are all there.” Derek frowned. “He’ll likely react first, lashing out, but the side of him that’s your father will hopefully assert itself quickly.” Derek shot him a quick look. “We’ve got a few more minutes to the house. Want to tell me what’s going on?”
“Don’t play dumb. What’s happening with you and the nemeton?”
Sighing, Stiles turned a bit in the seat, so he could watch Derek easily. “I’ve had this feeling since I left that I shouldn’t come back, at least not right away. But that feeling started lessening when my spark…” Stiles made a vague gesture. “Came of age, I guess?”
“You came into your full magical inheritance over the summer.”
“Right. Good way to phrase it.” Stiles rubbed his hand over his face. “After that, I started feeling like I should come home. I figured it had something to do with the nemeton, but I wasn’t sure what, so I did some research. There are times when a nemeton will bond with a magical user of some power, selecting the magical person as its guardian, as it were.”
“Guardian,” Derek repeated slowly. “What does that mean?”
“I’m not sure. The thing is, there are only accounts of this happening with a young nemeton. Like within the first couple years of its life. But the nemeton in Beacon Hills is old. Like way old. There are theories that it’s one of the oldest in the world.”
“Is that why it rotted?”
“No, nemetons don’t get sick like that. Someone poisoned it.”
Derek glanced over quickly. “Who?”
“I don’t know for sure, but Deaton had to know and apparently didn’t tell anyone.”
After a long pause, Derek offered, “He’s the one who advised my mom to have it cut down. He said it was ill and as long as it stood, it would create problem—throw off negative energy and draw dangerous creatures. That the energy that drew them would affect them negatively and cause problems.”
“Which makes me think Deaton was an accomplice in the poisoning if not outright doing the deed himself.”
“I have no idea, but I do know that he lied about the effect. A full conclave of druids could have healed the nemeton. But cutting it down just caused the energies in Beacon Hills to become chaotic. That’s why I arranged for the cleansing when that darach thing was going down. One of the mages I hired followed up with the council of druids about the whole thing.”
“There’s a council of druids?”
After his conversations with Noah in the spring, Stiles had done a lot more investigation into the magical affinities and their hierarchies. Getting reliable information was extremely difficult. “Yeah, like nine of them. I guess nine is their mystical number. And three…everyone works in threes to some degree.”
“No.” Sparks could boost the power of the other affinities if they were included as part of their ritual circle—or ritually sacrificed in one—but they otherwise worked alone. “Anyway, the council should investigate, but they move slow as molasses, and it’s impossible to get information out of them. I don’t even know if they’ve started to look into it and it’s been nearly a year. Disgustingly, nemetons are the purview of the druids, though other branches of magic can leverage their power in ritual. And, as you know, they can certainly help cleanse them.”
“Okay. So, what does this have to do with you coming back to town?”
“I was still about forty miles outside of town when I felt the pull of the nemeton. It was very…insistent.”
“Are you saying it was calling you?” Derek’s grip on the steering wheel was so tight, his knuckles were white.
“Sort of. I had to pull over and, well, I guess soothe it is as good a way to explain as any. I promised I’d get there when I could.”
“Are you saying the nemeton is sentient or even sapient?”
“It’s definitely aware, so, yes to sentient. The degree of reasoning is pretty minimal, so I’d say limited sapience.”
“And you think it wants you as its guardian?”
“I don’t think so. The nemeton does not feel young to me at all. It feels…old. Ancient even. Like a diamond. I’ve done a ton of investigation into nemetons and old ones don’t bond that way. So I’m really not sure what it needs.”
“But you’re going to go?”
“As soon as we deal with these witches, yes, I’m going to go. I promised.”
“You promised,” Derek repeated, voice glacial.
“Derek, just…please. I know I should talk to you about this stuff ahead of time, but I was sitting by the side of the road, trying to get it let up on the pull so strong that I was tempted to wander off into the woods.”
“I’m not mad, Stiles.” Derek blew out his breath. “I’m worried.” He glanced over again. “I want to go with you.”
“Yeah, okay. That’s what I’d prefer.” Stiles decided to broach the other topic he’d been holding back on. “If you go with me, it’d be a good time to take care of your bond to the territory.”
Derek was silent, jaw clenched tight.
“Why are you hesitating? Not only do you have the right, you’ve earned it.”
Shaking his head, Derek kept his attention on the road, and Stiles let it go until they were turning onto the road that led to the knew Hale house. It was the same turn as the old house, but there was a new drive that went about a hundred yards in the opposite direction from the old house, which now had a memorial park of sorts for the lost Hale family.
When Derek parked the cruiser, Stiles undid his seatbelt and slid closer rather than getting out of the car. He let his hand rest on Derek’s arm. “This is important. You deserve to be the alpha of this territory.” When Derek didn’t reply, Stiles added, “You’re a good alpha, and you’ve earned the right to carry on your family’s legacy.”
Derek finally looked over at him, eyes filled with emotion. “How can you say that?” Stiles could tell that Derek was uncomfortable with the conversation, but Stiles needed their friendship to move forward. They were both so forthright in email, and Stiles didn’t want to slide back just because they were in person.
“You’ve got to stop blaming yourself. Think of your family and what you know about them. I know they’d want you to be happy, and your mom would want you to carry on her legacy.”
“She never picked me to be the alpha.”
“No, but do you think that means that she’d be disappointed that it’s you?” He squeezed Derek’s arm. “Be honest.”
Derek shook his head. “No. She’d just try to make the best alpha I could possibly be. But I made so many mistakes.”
“Who around here hasn’t screwed up, Derek? You stayed, you fixed it. Being the alpha isn’t about being perfect, and you know that. Because I know your mom wasn’t perfect.”
Derek smiled faintly.
“You sister wasn’t either.”
Derek winced this time. Stiles had an inkling of what Laura’s failures were, and whatever imagined failures Derek had, it was nothing on how his sister had fucked up in her short tenure as the Hale Alpha.
“Your pack respects you and loves you. And you need to accept that you’re the Hale Alpha now. However you got here, it’s you, and you’re doing such an amazing job now.”
Derek huffed but looked more affected than Stiles would have expected. “You haven’t been here in a year and a half.”
“Yeah, but I listen, and think about how much we’ve talked through email. Also, I’m in contact with a lot of your pack. Not to mention my dad keeps me apprised of your progress. So I know exactly how far you’ve come.” Stiles gave Derek’s arm another squeeze. “Let’s go see my dad. But please think about what I said.”
Derek nodded shortly and got out of the car and Stiles followed.
Isaac was hovering on the porch, waiting for them, and Erica and Boyd were standing awkwardly a few feet away, like they’d been waiting outside.
Derek gave them both a nod. “If you could wait here. I need to check on Noah, and I’d like to talk to you.”
They both looked apprehensive but readily agreed.
Turning to Stiles, Derek said, “Do not come down until I assess the situation. I don’t want to chain him up more than necessary, so if he’s calm, I’ll call you down. But do not move past me. Keep me between the two of you at all time.”
“Right. Avoid being mauled by my father. Check.” The joke fell flat, and even Stiles wasn’t really feeling it. He was too worried. He’d managed to distract himself for a few minutes, but now all he could think about was wondering if his father was still his father, or was he a crazed, horny werewolf who only wanted to climb Peter Hale?
Feeling his face twist up in displeasure, Stiles followed Derek inside. He took note of the large spacious house but concentrated more on the feel of the wards. They were rock solid, and Stiles was proud of his efforts. He figured he’d have the opportunity some other time to pay attention to the house.
The door to the basement was in the back of the house. And Derek hesitated at the door, giving Stiles a concerned look.
Stiles tried to smile encouragingly. “It’s better if we just find out.”
Derek nodded and unlocked the door. “There’s a more secure door at the landing. You can wait on the landing until I call you.”
Stiles followed then watched as Derek entered a security code to a heavy metal door, then disappeared down into the basement, leaving the door open. There was silence as far as Stiles could tell.
Eventually, Stiles could faintly make out the soft murmur of voices, but there was no roaring or growling, which was probably a good sign, he thought. Stiles was starting to get nervous, and then Cora came up the stairs, a smirk firmly in place. “Everything’s fine. Your dad is trying not to cuddle Derek even though he really wants to.”
Stiles facepalmed. “Just cuddling?”
Cora chuckled. “We all want to be close to our alpha. It’s a particularly strong desire in a young wolf. But the only person he seems to want to suck faces with is Peter.”
“Ugh. Gross. Go away, you terrible troll.”
Laughing again, Cora went up stairs. “We’ll keep both doors open for now in case Derek needs help for anything. If he says to leave, you need to leave.”
“Gotcha.” He cleared his throat. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
She stood in the doorway at the top of the stairs. “You too, Stiles.”
Stiles felt Derek approaching. He still wasn’t sure what to make of the magical awareness of Derek, but he’d take it over being startled by Derek’s sudden appearances all the time.
Derek’s expression wasn’t giving anything away.
“Well,” Stiles prompted impatiently.
“He’s not exactly feral, but he’s not all there either. I think there is damage to his brain that is slowly healing. Peter said he’s more verbal now than he was even ten minutes ago. But it’s one- or two-word sentences.”
“Can I see him? I really need to see him, Derek.”
“Yeah, you can come down, but don’t expect to much. Keep your movements slow and deliberate. Don’t get too close, and remember—”
“To keep you between us. I remember.”
Derek seemed to be assessing Stiles’ sincerity, but he nodded and headed downstairs.
Stiles followed slowly, keeping about ten feet behind Derek. It was a full basement, so it was huge considering the size of the house. Stiles couldn’t even take in the whole space and what all it might be used for because he was focused on the area that seemed way too much like a BDSM dungeon. There was an odd mix of soft pillows and cushions, blankets and throws. And then heavy-duty chains and manacles. There was a large cell that was clearly designed to hold a werewolf, and Stiles was incredibly grateful Noah wasn’t in it.
Instead, in a heap of cushions and pillows, Noah was curled up against Peter Hale. Stiles felt some relief that they weren’t making out, but Peter was definitely without his shirt, while Noah was still in his hospital pajamas.
Noah was watching Derek’s movements, tracking him as he moved closer. Then his gaze flicked to Stiles, and he sat up quickly, head tilted up, sniffing the air.
Derek froze and held up both hands. “Easy, Noah.
Peter sat up as well, keeping his arms around Noah’s waist. “Everything’s fine,” he said softly in Noah’s ear. “It’s just—”
“Son,” Noah said sharply. “My son.”
Stiles’ eyes burned, and he felt his throat get tight. His dad recognized him. “Hey, Dad.”
Noah held out a hand. “Want.”
Derek moved closer and crouched down in front of Noah. “He can come a little closer, but I need you to understand that you’re not really in control yet, and you could accidentally hurt him.”
Noah’s face crumpled, and he looked both angry and sad. “Not hurt.”
“You could by accident, Noah,” Derek said softly. “You guys can talk, but let’s wait a bit on the touching, okay?”
Noah seemed to get it and nodded even though he didn’t look happy. He relaxed against Peter and tried again to reach for Stiles.
Derek motioned him closer. “Do not get within touching distance, Stiles.”
Stiles moved up behind and to the right of Derek, and then he dropped down to his knees and smiled at Noah. He knew his eyes were swimming with tears, and he tried to blink them back, but Noah made a mournful sound.
“I’m relieved and worried, Pops. You were hurt so badly, and I thought I’d lose you.”
“Fine. Get better.” There was a bit of growl in there, and Derek and Peter exchanged concerned looks, but Stiles thought he understood what his father was trying to say.
“You will get better, but be patient, okay? You were really hurt, and it may take some time for the wolfy changes to fix everything.”
Noah’s brow furrowed. “Werewolf now.”
Stiles laughed, but it sounded more like a sob. “Yeah, and I’m so sorry this happened.”
Noah shook his head. “Not fault.”
He managed a weak smile. “If you say so.” He looked to Derek, who was obviously concerned, but he thought it was more directed at Stiles than Noah. “I need to go with Derek to look at where these crimes happened, and—”
“No!” Noah lunged up and Peter barely grabbed him in time, holding him tightly. “No!”
Derek growled, eyes flashing red, but Stiles stayed still, waiting to see what would happen. “What are you saying no to, Dad?”
Panting and struggling against Peter’s hold, Noah seemed more frustrated than angry. “Son get hurt!” he finally managed.”
Stiles saw his mistake. He shouldn’t have brought up continuing to investigate the witches to Noah right now. “Dad, I’m not going to go after them directly. I called in a mage from the East Coast to handle them. I’m just going to see where they’ve been to try to give him a head start on finding them.”
Noah stopped fighting Peter and stared at Stiles. “Not find them?”
“I’m not looking for them directly. I just want to assess where they did their rituals so that I can save Booker some time, okay?”
“Booker St. John?” Peter asked, expression blank.
Peter whistled lowly as he stroked his hand over Noah’s hair. “You have nothing to be concerned about, Noah,” Peter said softly. “Booker St. John is the strongest magical user in North America.” Peter shot Stiles a look. “Who’s not a spark anyway.”
Stiles shot Derek an unimpressed look, but Derek’s expression gave nothing away.
“St. John can handle these witches, Noah. I promise you,” Peter murmured.
Noah’s eyes narrowed and seemed to pin Derek in place. “Protect.”
“With my life, Noah. You know that,” Derek said earnestly.
Noah watched him for several long moments then collapsed against Peter, looking tired. “Sleep.”
“Yeah, you should rest, Pops. Need you back to your normal self. Think of all the cheeseburgers you can have now that you’re all wolfy.”
The smile on Noah’s face was genuine. “Fries.”
“That too.” He so desperately wanted to touch. “You okay with this thing with Peter?”
“Smells good.” Noah nuzzled Peter’s throat.
Stiles sighed. “Things I never wanted to know.”
“I’ll have you know that I smell fantastic.”
“Of course you do.” He glared at Peter. “But if you—”
“I will not have sex with Noah while he’s not in his right mind. I would never,” Peter growled.
Stiles held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “If I don’t threaten you, I’m not doing my job.”
Noah stroked his hand over Peter’s arm. “Want sex.”
“When you’re more yourself.”
Stiles glared at Peter and slowly got to his feet. “You two better behave.”
Peter just shot him a cocky grin.
Rolling his eyes, Stiles edged backward and then headed up the stairs, waiting for Derek on the landing.
Derek closed the security door. “Cora will be back down in a little bit.” He stared at Stiles for a beat. “You okay?”
“Yeah, of course.” The words were barely out of his mouth before Stiles was choking back a sob. A moment later, Derek stepped close and enfolded Stiles in an embrace.
“He’s going to be okay.”
Stiles latched on to Derek like a lifeline. “What if he isn’t? What if he can’t string together sentences or remember our last day in San Francisco? What if he only remembers me as ‘son’?” He tried to hold back the emotions, but it all came pouring out of him.
Derek just held him, whispering words of reassurance as Stiles fell apart. “It’ll be okay, Stiles. I think we got to the damage before it was unhealable. It’ll take time, but you’re not going to lose your father.”
When the storm passed, Stiles pulled away, feeling vaguely embarrassed. He swiped the moisture off his face and took a deep breath. “Okay, then. I need to go to as many of the ritual sites as you know of.”
“We’ll need Erica and Boyd to lead us to the one in the woods, but I need to talk to them for a few minutes if we can spare it. Also, I know you haven’t eaten recently, so why don’t you grab something from the kitchen while I handle them?”
Stiles nodded, grateful for the time to get himself together before he had to put it all back in a box.
When they got upstairs, Cora was waiting for them, an odd expression on her face. She looked between Derek and Stiles. “It started raining. Like abruptly. And then just stopped. Clouds disappeared in a blink. Isaac said you might know why.”
“Oh my god, really?” Stiles huffed and rubbed his hand over his face. “The nemeton is connected to me, and it’s reacting when my emotions get out of control.”
“It needs something, I’m just not sure what, and I don’t have time to deal with it right this second. But it’s very sensitive to my…moods.”
Lips twitching with obvious amusement, Derek cupped the side of Stiles’ neck before heading outside to talk to Erica and Boyd.
Cora gave Stiles an assessing look. “Mr. S is doing okay, you know that, right? I’ve been around more than a few newly bitten wolves while in South America. Without exception, they wake up violent. He’s in control of the wolf side of him even if his inhibitions are low.” She smiled faintly. “Like epically low.”
Stiles groaned and buried his face in his hands. “Thanks for that.” He met her gaze. “But, seriously, thanks for that.” He really needed the reassurance right now.
She nodded. “I’m gonna head downstairs.” She had a book in hand along with several bottles of water. “Isaac is waiting for you in the kitchen.”
In the kitchen, Isaac had everything already laid out. “Turkey and bacon?”
Stiles frowned. “That’s a remarkably good guess.”
Isaac shrugged. “I’m pretty sure every time you brought your lunch to school that it was turkey and bacon. Always smelled good too.”
Stiles had no idea what to make of that. “If you’ve got carrots and sliced almonds, I can make it the way I always do.”
Isaac blinked a few times. “Seriously? You put almonds on your sandwich?”
“Do you want to try it or not?”
Isaac went to the cabinet and pulled out some sliced almonds and then grabbed a carrot from the fridge. He waved it at Stiles. Now what?”
“Shred that while I put the rest of this together.” He went to the fridge and swapped out the yellow mustard for brown and ranch dressing instead of mayo. The tomatoes were underripe and he didn’t want them overpowering the sandwich, so he left them off. “Should I make one for Derek?”
“Um, maybe everyone? I don’t think anyone’s eaten. Peter got me from school right before lunch.”
“Shred a second carrot. Maybe even a third.” Stiles adjusted his course to make a mountain of sandwiches. He didn’t think they had enough French rolls to accommodate a house full of werewolves, so he made some with regular sandwich bread for round two. Thank fuck for giant packages for pre-cooked bacon from Costco.
Isaac got the first sandwich and eyed it dubiously. “You sure about this?”
“Please.” Stiles took a big bite, smiling happily at the taste. This was how his mom always made turkey sandwiches.
Isaac took a small bite and then a bigger one. “Huh. That’s really good.”
“If you’re feeling adventurous, you can add some thin slices of tart apples.”
“Now I know you’re bullshitting me.”
Stiles grinned and grabbed the stack of sandwiches for Derek, Boyd, and Erica. “I figure I shouldn’t go anywhere near the basement without letting Derek know. Can you get those down to them?”
“Yeah, I’ll call Cora up to the landing. Thanks, Stiles.”
Stiles hesitantly went out to the porch. Erica was crying against Derek’s chest, and Boyd was pressed against his side, head resting on Derek’s shoulder. Derek had his arms around both of them. Their backs were to Stiles, so Derek looked up and met Stiles’ gaze.
“Everything okay?” he mouthed.
He nodded, looking sad, and gestured for Stiles to come closer. “Looks like Stiles made us lunch.”
Boyd pulled away and flopped into one of the porch chairs, looking overwhelmed. Erica sniffled and wiped furiously at her face. Stiles passed her a napkin. She muttered a, “thanks,” and sat too. He set a plate of sandwiches and some bottles of water on the small table, taking one of the sandwiches and handing it off to Derek.
“Figured you hadn’t eaten today.”
“Yeah. Thanks.” Derek’s expression was pretty inscrutable, but Stiles could tell he was pretty overwhelmed. He took a bite of the sandwich and then blinked a few times. “Are there carrots on this?”
– – – –