Please see the main story page for summary, warnings, and links to additional chapters.
* * *
Stiles could feel the dark magic taint as they approached the clearing where the ritual had been interrupted the night before. “Let me go in first. I need to get a sense of things without any other energies messing with it.”
“Energies?” Erica asked. She was back to looking composed and fierce. Derek had gone to change after eating, and Stiles had given her and Boyd some privacy to get themselves together after the emotional storm of being invited back into Derek’s pack. Then they’d left to peruse the ritual sites. Derek and Stiles in the cruiser, and Erica and Boyd in her car.
“Werewolves are giant balls of supernatural energy,” Stiles explained. “Alphas particularly so.”
When Stiles took a step away from the werewolves, Derek reached out and grabbed his arm. “Stiles…”
He shot the worrywart alpha a reassuring look. “It’s a clearing, Der. Nothing is going to pop up and eat me.”
“You know you just jinxed us, right?” Erica said, crossing her arms and glaring.
Stiles chuckled. “If it helps, there’s nothing alive out there bigger than a bug.”
“How can you know that?” Boyd asked.
“The dark energy left by the ritual is repelling most animals, and even most insects.”
“There are spells to hide a witch from a werewolf’s senses,” Derek cautioned.
“True, but there aren’t any spells that can hide a witch from me.”
“You’ve got that much magic?” Erica’s brow was furrowed.
“Something like that.” He waved Derek off and stepped into the clearing. He specifically wanted to come here first to try to track the witches who’d performed the rituals in this space—the witches Scott had let go. If they were the witches who had been at the house, two would be dead and one in the hospital. Stiles hoped it was different parts of the coven who had done the ritual murders this morning. If Scott had let them go and they’d turned around and killed two children, Stiles didn’t know how he’d be able to keep from destroying Scott. Scott’s abdication of responsibility was bad enough without there being a direct link between Scott’s actions and the death of children. The indirect link was already more than he could stomach.
The magical residue was rank. It felt oily and disgusting, but also powerful. He didn’t know what they were trying to do, but it would have been a major working. Each witch’s magical energy was a little different. He walked to the location where he distinctly felt the energy from just one, closed his eyes, and tried to feel for that energy.
With the nemeton boosting him, it was easy enough to track her energy the general vicinity of the hospital. Stiles felt bile rise up in his throat. The witches Scott had let go killed kids.
He felt like he had his answer, but he knew he should check the others to be sure they didn’t come together in some other configuration even though it was uncommon for them to switch out who was in which ritual group once they’d started a major magical working.
At the next spot where he felt a clear magical signature, he let his magic travel out over the ley lines and got the same result. Near the hospital. He opened his eyes and blinked a few times. That didn’t make much sense. He went back to the first location to double check that it was a different person, and it definitely was.
Perplexed, he moved around until he could get a clear read on the third signature, and came up, again, with the hospital.
“Derek, you sure those two witches died?”
“Why would the three witches who were here last night all be at the hospital?”
“Because the morgue is in the basement?” Erica offered.
“I’m not talking about dead witches. These people are definitely alive. I wouldn’t be able to track them if they were deceased.”
“How are you tracking them?” Boyd asked.
Stiles waved the question away. He couldn’t really get into it right now.
Derek had his head cocked to the side. “So, the witches from last night weren’t at the house. But why are they at the hospital?”
“Or near it. Precise locations aren’t easy when you’re following magical currents. But you agree the reasoning is sound?”
“Have to be. The two witches at the house definitely died, and the third was in critical condition.” He rubbed the back of his head. “But why the hospital?”
“They could have a safe house in one of the places nearby, right? Or could they be trying to see their injured sister?” Stiles shook his head at his own thought. “No, that doesn’t make sense.”
“Why doesn’t it make sense?” Erica asked.
“She’s unconscious so they can’t get information out of her, not that they really need any. They’ll feel through their magical bonds that their most recent sacrifices were complete.” He shook his head. “It’s just confusing.”
“If we get close to the hospital, you can track them?” Derek asked.
“Yeah, and while we can figure out where they are, I’m not proficient in combat magic, so confronting the witches should be a last resort until Booker gets here.”
Derek made a face.
“I know. An ambush attack might work, but you’d have to go in prepared to kills as fast as you could because the amount of dark magic I sense in this clearing? They’re high on dark magic and flush with power right now. I’m sort of surprised they didn’t just wipe out Scott and the pack last night.”
“Gee thanks, Stiles,” Erica said dryly.
Stiles shrugged and moved to join them. “You guys may all be good fighters, but I think the only person who’s probably immune to their powers completely is Parrish. An alpha would fare okay for a bit, but you guys would be toast.”
“So why didn’t they fight back?” Derek asked.
“I dunno. Maybe to avoid drawing more attention? If Scott’s pack had been wiped out, that’d bring hunters to town. Hunters who are fine with using sniper rifles. Scott gave the witches the opportunity to fly under the radar a little longer?”
“Speculating isn’t doing anything for us. Let’s get to the next location.”
Stiles pulled a rowan berry from his pocket then hunkered down and picked up a handful of dirt. He figured he could surround the clearing with four berries, but why waste them? His will was sufficient with just the dirt, but the rowan berry was such a powerful focus that it was just easier to infuse his will into the handful of earth with the small amount of mountain ash present.
He closed his eyes and willed the juice to separate. Then the ash and earth swirled up in the air, mixing in a tight spiral before shooting out around the clearing, surrounding it. He made sure the barrier would fall within a week if he didn’t come back to remove it.
“What the hell was that?” Erica breathed.
“Sealing the clearing until we’re ready to do the purification rituals. Which cannot be done while the witches are still here.”
Boyd pressed against the barrier. “That was mountain ash.”
“Sort of, but not entirely. But it will keep anyone out, not just werewolves.”
“How?” Erica asked.
“I’ll have to explain some other time. Time to go.”
In the car, Derek shot him so many side glances that Stiles finally snapped, “What?”
“Sparks work on belief, right?”
“I’d always heard that sparks take time to grow into their abilities because it takes time for them to learn to believe.”
“I think that’s why Aunt Tess didn’t tell me I was a true spark. Lack of belief can be crippling, so she didn’t tell me what I was. She just told me I was probably a mage and pointed me at stuff to do. When everything worked out, she’d tell me that I could probably leave off parts of the rituals because my magic was pretty strong, and so the magical boosting elements of a ritual didn’t need to be done.
“And I didn’t know better, so I took her word for it that if I infused enough will into things that the rituals would work fine.” He laughed at his own naivete. “She never even told me that my manipulation of rowan berries was unusual, just said that you need a strong personal magical store like a mage to make it work. So by the time I knew I was a true spark, and what exactly that meant, I already have proof that I could work big magic. In theory, I could create a barrier just based on will, but I’m so used to working through a focus that it’s easier. And I’m not clear-headed enough to be experimenting with my magic.”
“I trust you, Stiles. I was just curious how you have such control when you haven’t even been doing magic for two years.”
“Because I didn’t know I shouldn’t be able to until I was already doing it.”
“So, you’re saying that when it comes to magic, giving you a reality check is probably not helpful?”
Stiles barked out a laugh, stupidly charmed by Derek’s sense of humor. He sort of wanted to hug Derek and then do a lot more, but he knew the timing wasn’t really right. “Can I text Cora? I’d like to find out how my dad is doing?”
“Sure.” Derek rattled off her number and Stiles set to texting.
He’d wanted to be comfortable with Derek, but he was surprised at the level of ease they already had with each other. He felt like they were a unit, which he didn’t really get. Was his magic guiding him to be Derek’s emissary? Or was there something else?
Whatever it was, being around Derek made it all easier.
– – – –
Stiles carefully walked through the remains of the house. The structure was still sound, so there wasn’t danger in that way, but the feel of it was atrocious. The scorch marks made it clear that the building should have had more damage, but Stiles suspected that Parrish subconsciously pulled the flames in to prevent Noah from being hurt.
A hellhound releasing his powers had a huge magical resonance, so it was taking a lot of focus to pinpoint the witches. Stiles was kind of grateful for Parrish’s resonance because it prevented him from feeling the full magical residue of the ritual sacrifice. The place still felt ugly, but he didn’t want the death of those kids burned into his brain. The other crime scenes he’d visited had been more than enough. Even a week or more old, the taint had been strong.
A while later, he went back outside and found that Parrish had joined Derek. Erica and Boyd had gone back to get clothes for Noah and take them back to the pack house.
“Deputy Parrish,” he acknowledged.
“Jordan.” Stiles smiled though it felt like a sad effort. “Sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk earlier.”
Jordan waved it away. “No apologies necessary. Your father was hurt.” He glanced to Derek briefly. “I’m still running point on the investigation. So far, all anyone knows is that your father was hurt, and that you had him transferred to a private hospital. People are assuming Sweetland, but I’m not confirming because it’s too easy to check.” He looked painfully insecure for a moment. “How’s he doing?”
“Better, I think. Last I heard from Cora, right before I went in there, he was managing full sentences. Still simple sentences, but more than the one or two syllables we were getting out of him earlier.”
Jordan looked nearly floored by the relief. “That’s…really good.” He ran his hand over his face, blowing out a breath. “Okay. I, uh, came out here to let you know that a Mr. St. John and Ms. Madson arrived at the station looking for you. They’re waiting for you at the Holiday Inn.”
“Beacon Hills answer to a nice hotel. Right.” He looked back at the house. “Thank you for protecting my father. I can’t express—”
“No need, Stiles. He’s my friend and packmate.”
Stiles nodded then looked to Derek. “Nothing new there. Different than the woods for sure, and two of the magical signatures died here, so… I can confirm nine so far.”
“Do I want to know how you can confirm that?” Jordan asked.
“Probably not,” Stiles replied with a faint smile. “It’s a long story.”
“Are we headed to the Holiday Inn?” Derek asked.
“Probably not.” Stiles pulled out his phone. “St. John won’t want to negotiate in a hotel.”
“Negotiate,” Derek and Jordan echoed.
“Yeah. Well, he’s not known for doing stuff out of the kindness of his heart.” Stiles pressed SEND on his phone and waited for Aunt Tess to answer. “He owes me a favor, but what I’m asking is more than he owes me.”
– – – –
Derek put the car in park at one of the day parks at the edge of the preserve. Since it was a weekday, it was pretty deserted. “I’m not comfortable with you meeting with him alone.”
“Yeah, I got that the first few times you said it.” Stiles shot Derek a reassuring smile. “He’s not going to kill me, Derek. Or even hurt me. He’s here to repay a favor. Mages don’t pull a double-cross when a magical debt is involved. It would backlash on their magic in a really bad way.” Stiles unbuckled his seatbelt. “You need to talk to Aunt Tess, make sure you’re okay with her going to the pack house.”
Derek nodded, looking unhappy.
“Be prepared for me to put up a silencing ward. St. John won’t talk without it.”
“I won’t be able to hear you?” Derek growled.
“I’ll try to make the barrier scent permeable, okay? Just trust me.”
“It’s not you I don’t trust.”
Stiles figured there wasn’t much more to say, so he got out of the car and crossed to the picnic table where Aunt Tess was waiting.
She pulled him into a big hug. “You okay?”
“All I needed to be all right was for Dad to be okay.” He bit his lip, still worrying that Noah wasn’t going to recover completely.
Aunt Tess held him at arms’ length. “If Derek’s okay with me going to the house, I’ll be taking the car. So, if Booker needs a vehicle of his own, you’ll need to take him to the car rental place, okay?”
“I love you, baby. I’ll text you after I see your dad.”
“Thanks, Aunt Tess.”
She tipped her head toward the trees. “He’s over there by the tree line.”
There was one group of picnickers, so Stiles figured the lone man the completely opposite direction was Booker St. James. “What’s he doing?”
“Just feeling the magical energies.” She shuddered. “The chaos of this place is dreadful.”
“You don’t have to stay.”
“Yeah, I do. I stayed away from here, always making you and your mom come to me because the nemeton is too harsh. Maybe if I’d been less worried about my own comfort, I’d have noticed some of what was going on with you.”
Stiles gave her an incredulous look. “That all went down in less than five months. Odds are you wouldn’t have been visiting during the school year anyway, so cut yourself some slack. I saw you at Christmas before all the shit started.”
“But if I’d come to Beacon ills, I could have noticed that the nemeton had been damaged and called for cleansing sooner.”
“Which probably wouldn’t have stopped anything that happened when it comes to Peter, Scott, Derek, or any of the rest of us. So just don’t, okay? You’re not a seer, and you’re allowed to avoid a place that makes you uncomfortable. I never minded visiting you and I know mom didn’t mind.”
She smiled faintly and pulled him in for another hug. “Go. Talk to Booker.”
He watched Aunt Tess head off to join Derek then took the gravel trail to where St. John was sitting on a picnic table, staring at the trees. Stiles couldn’t tell how tall he was, but he had short dark hair with a tight curl and was wearing a leather jacket with a scarf. It’s like he and Isaac were scarf-bros.
“You’re younger than I expected from my conversations with Elizabeth,” St. John said when Stiles got closer.
Stiles often forgot that Aunt Tess’ given name was Elizabeth. Everyone called her Tess. “You can tell how old I am while staring into the trees?”
St. John hopped off the table and turned around, eyebrows shooting up above the line of his mirrored aviator shades. “Much younger. You look like you’re in high school.”
“And you look like a rock star. What’s your point?”
“Just how old are you?”
St. John’s lips pursed. “We need a privacy ward. Would you like to cast it, or should I?”
“I’ll do it.” Stiles pulled a rowan berry from his pocket. “I’m still working with a focus.” He internally huffed at himself, annoyed that he felt the use to justify how he practiced magic. He pulled the juice from the berry, sending it into the earth and flowers sprang up in its wake. He thought the closeness of the nemeton accelerated how quickly the earth reacted to the magically extracted rowan berry juice.
He threw the miniscule amount of ash in the air, willing the barrier to be about fifteen feet in diameter and that it be scent permeable for the sake of Derek’s sanity. He also wanted outside sound muffled but not silenced.
St. John was still for several seconds then touched the barrier. “Clever little spark.” He slid his sunglasses to the top of his head, his dark eyes intense. He looked to be about forty, but Stiles had heard he was well into his seventies. “You knew you’d be revealing yourself with that stunt. Rowan doesn’t bend to even my will that way.”
“I figured I’d be revealing myself just by meeting you. I doubt anyone’s magical nature escapes you.”
St. John dipped his head. “But, then again, I already knew you were a spark. Your ward stones gave it away.”
Stiles just quirked a brow.
St. John actually gave a half smile. “No one’s ward stones should be that much stronger than mine. You infuse a lot of will into your work.”
“Isn’t that the point?”
“You need to learn to modulate how much you pour into something as simple as a ward stone.”
“Is this free advice?” Powerful magical users didn’t do things out of the kindness of their hearts in Stiles’ limited experience.
“It’s me not wanting to get on your bad side.”
Stiles frowned. “And why is that?”
St. John stared at Stiles for a long time. “Let’s get back to that. Do you mind if I ask how you are in such control of your powers already?”
After considering all the angles, Stiles relayed the same information that he’d given to Derek.
“Clever,” St. John conceded. “It’s a good approach to countering self-doubt budding sparks struggle with.” He put his back to Stiles, staring out at the trees. “What do you know of the magical hierarchy, Mr.…?”
“Stilinski. Stiles Stilinski.”
“The good sheriff’s son. How interesting. And how is your father?”
“Recovering, I hope. Aunt Tess is going to see if there’s anything that can be done with magic.” Stiles hesitated. “Our alpha bit him to keep him from dying, but he’s not all there yet.”
“My sympathies. I’ll be happy to assess your father as well. While elemental magic isn’t well suited to healing, I have enough experience and access to resources to ensure Elizabeth has the best chance of success.”
“Thank you,” Stiles said carefully, not wanting to prod again about the cost of that favor. “As to your question… I don’t know much beyond the basics in terms of the magical hierarchies—it’s pretty shrouded in mystery. I’ve heard some rumors about the nature of the white and/or black wolf. I know some of the magical affinities have councils and some do not.”
St. John continued to stare out into the woods. “Yes. The councils are useful for magical affinities that are willing to be governed. Shamans, Druids and the like. Other branches of magic are less likely to have governance.”
“Mm.” St. John felt the barrier again, and Stiles felt a tingle in his magic, but it didn’t feel harmful. “There is a high witch, but she’s not one much for cooperative magic. Light witches come together when they need to accomplish something and prefer to operate alone in their area of expertise. Dark witches only seek guidance from the head of their own coven.
“Witchdoctors acknowledge no leadership and yet there is still a high priest. Because that is the way of magic.”
“Yes. There’s always one that magic acknowledges as above the rest. The councils are an appointment by members of the order, but the high priest of any affinity is ordained by magic.”
“And how is that determined?”
“How indeed.” St. John turned around again, watching Stiles with those intense eyes. “You paid for a cleansing here, no?”
“Yeah, I guess the nemeton was poisoned and cut down at some point. I’m not sure why the druid who is responsible for this territory didn’t do anything about it or why the council hasn’t responded to our complaint in over a year.”
“Who reported it to the council?”
“One of the mages I hired.”
“Are you aware that the nemeton calls for you?”
“Yes, but how is that you know?”
“Why do you not answer?”
“Because my father was dying. I asked it to wait until I dealt with this threat.”
“These witches.” St. John looked like he was seeing something far away. “They’ll be no trouble, but do you know what they sought to do?”
“I really have no idea. While I’d like to know, stopping them has been a higher priority, which is why I asked for you.”
“Indeed.” St. John looked back at the forest again. “Is there a reason why the witches would need to corrupt the nemeton again?”
Stiles blinked. “Is that what they were doing?”
“Attempting to, yes.”
“I have no idea. I’d heard very little about the nemeton since the cleansing until recently when I found out that it’s been keeping people from getting too close. Like it’s created a barrier or is repelling them in some way.”
“Hmm.” There was a long silence. “Whoever was attempting to drain the nemeton in the first place no doubt hired these witches to break into the protections around the nemeton.”
“Jesus.” Stiles rubbed his hand over his head. “Why?”
“Whoever is behind this is no longer getting their fix, I would think. A coven of dark witches is ideal for this kind of work. They can’t tap a nemeton directly—no, that wouldn’t be the goal—but the working of the ritual on this land would be a rush like you cannot imagine.”
“So, we don’t just need to find the witches, we need to find who hired the witches?”
“Not really the point, young spark.”
“Don’t patronize me, dude.”
“It’s no patronization, child. I’m nearly a hundred years old. I’ve lived with the fullness of my magic for nearly eight decades. To me, you are a child.”
Stiles scuffed the dirt with his sneaker. “Always heard you were closer to seventy.”
“Rumors about us are often unreliable.”
“Right. So, what is the point here if it’s not to find the witches.”
“These magical leeches are an easy enough task.”
“The difference between balanced versus corrupt magic. These witches take from magic but give nothing back.”
“Are you saying dark magic is selfish.”
“Dark. Light. A fairly modern way to interpret magical intent. I blame the Harry Potter fandom.”
Stiles nearly choked.
“Most of what you call dark magic is magic that is out of balance, it corrupts that which it takes from by giving nothing back.”
“But how to do you give back when you’re, say, performing an act of elemental magic?”
“If I summon a storm to defeat an enemy, the effect of the storm goes into the earth. And my intent is to never take more than nature can spare. Corrupt magic leeches away with no regard to how much nature can afford to give. Our goal is to use magic within limits, and those limits are felt by each of us based on our affinity and our intentions.”
Stiles cocked his head. “Are you the high-whatever for the mages?”
“We call the high mage the archmagus, and, yes.”
“Wow. So, you’re the top banana of the magical users.”
“I am. And coming here… I understand the upheaval we felt more than a decade ago.”
St. John looked back at the trees. “This is the oldest nemeton on Earth.”
“And someone damaged and destroyed the vessel so that they could leech power from it. An intact nemeton could resist a magical leech.” He met Stiles’ gaze again. “It pains me to feel the trauma this nemeton has suffered, but things will be righted now that we know where the wound is.”
“Now that you know? The druid council was informed a year ago!”
“I’m sure they’re acting on it. The druids move at their own pace, but you should not let that deter you from answering the call of the nemeton. It seeks you.”
“Yeah, I got that, but what does it want?”
“I don’t know. That’s between you and the nemeton.”
“Wonderful.” Stiles rubbed his hand over his face. “I’ll get right on that after—”
“I will tend to these witches. They gather near your hospital to be close to their fallen sister. They still have seven and seven is what is needed to complete their work. I’d imagine they’ve gone in, pretending to be hospital workers, and left runes in her room to link her into their circle. She’s bonded to the coven. They can use her energies even while she’s unconscious. It’ll kill her, of course.” He shrugged negligently.
“We can call the deputies and have them check.”
“No. The markings will be invisible to the eye, likely left in the oil from the leaves a yew tree.” He pinned Stiles with a look. “These witches are no match for me. I will meet with the hellhound and handle the matter. You must tend to the nemeton.”
“I can’t just traipse off into the woods!” He gestured around. “I need to—”
“You need to attend to your duty to the land, Spark.”
Stiles mouth fell open. “My duty? What the hell does that mean?”
“Have confidence in the path that magic has put you on.”
“Gah. Don’t speak in riddles. It sounds like you’re saying there is literally a higher power.”
“There’s…something. What may be is for you to discover like it is for all of us.”
St. John smirked. “What is your intention with the witches?”
“I don’t…” He blew out a breath. “Derek said that it’s the duty of the living to seek justice for the dead. My personal goal was initially vengeance, but I think justice is a better aim.”
“Then justice is shall be.” He cocked his head to the side. “And for the one who began all this?”
“Is justice not sufficient?”
“If it’s the same person who tried to destroy the nemeton, justice could be a very taxing price.”
“And how will we know if it’s the same person?”
St. John’s lips quirked up. “I have my ways.”
“You didn’t need ward stones from me, did you?”
“Of course not. I’d learned about them while visiting a pack in Wyoming. Lovely warding they had, and I wanted to push it, give you a difficult task. I suspected you were a true spark, but I needed to be sure. And then I tested you with that absurd request to see if you were injudicious as well as powerful.”
“That was you? Jesus. Did I pass your dumb test?”
“It was more a test of your defenses to see how ready you were to enter the magical world as a spark. To see if you’d keep your counsel. In my youth, I was eager to take on anything, no challenge was too big, and I revealed too much to the wrong people. There are already people who suspect a spark works for your shop, but the change you made, to ‘reveal’ that multiple people do the work is a good misdirect. Still, any high-level magic user who comes in contact with your items will know they’re the work of a spark, but the number who are capable of that level of discernment are few, and none of them would pursue you.”
“Well, I guess that’s a relief.” He stared at St. John for several long moments. “You really want me to traipse off into the woods and let you handle the witches?”
“Is that not why I am here? Did you not call in your favor because you are not yet at the point in your magical training to handle this sort of situation?”
Reluctantly, Stiles had to concede the point. “Yeah.”
“The nemeton is the root of these problems. Find out what it needs and tend to it. Then the witches have no purpose here. I will stop them, and they will face justice. Once I’m on their trail, they could leave Beacon Hills, but I could track them anywhere.”
Stiles reached into his pocked and pulled out the rowan berry he’d used to store the dark magic he’d pulled from his father. He tossed it to St. John, who caught it readily.
St. John’s eyebrows shot up. “Interesting.”
“I stored the dark magic I pulled from my father in that. Most of it was from the witches, but there was older magic, druidic magic, I think, in there as well.”
St. John turned the berry over in his hand. “Very interesting. I’ve never seen rowan used for magical forensics. I won’t eve have to find their magical scent now.”
“Good.” Stiles was glad he’d thought to keep the magical residue. “I’ll go to the nemeton and let you handle the witches, but I’d like to ask for a favor in return.”
“And what would you like for me to do?”
Stiles explained the whole situation about Scott, including how he theorized that Scott became an alpha and the fractured alpha spark he probably had. And concluded with how Scott had let the witches go if they promised to leave town.
St. John’s expression was nearly blank, but Stiles thought he looked furious. “And what is it you’d like done with an alpha who would send someone out to murder other people’s children as long as they do not live in his back yard?”
“I want his alpha spark removed. No more pack, no more power.”
Lips pursed, St. John appeared to be considering it. “I will do as you ask, but an appeal for justice would not exempt him. Nature may require more.”
“I really want to know what an appeal for justice even means, but I sorta doubt we have the time to discuss it.”
“It’s a simple concept if not simple in the execution. When I’m called on to act for justice, I’ll feel when justice is satisfied.”
“You mean like a formal appeal to justice?”
“For justice, but yes. The supernatural world has its ways, and the head of any of the magical orders can be asked to stand in judgment when justice is called for. People appreciate the difference between justice and retribution less often than they should.” He scratched his chin. “Though I’d say the magical leadership hasn’t done well in this regard in quite some time. And I’m not exempting myself in that statement.”
“Did I inadvertently make an official appeal for justice?”
St. John just smirked.
Stiles sighed, wondering if he was about to unleash something he’d regret. He was used to controlling all the angles, but he couldn’t do that anymore. “I can’t say that I want him permanently harmed or dead. He’s a stupid teenager and he used to be my best friend, but I don’t really think it’s my place to stand between him and whatever consequences he brought on himself. Though…”
“I do think he’s been manipulated by Deaton into how he thinks. I don’t know that he’d be so unreasonable if that damn alpha spark hadn’t been shoved into him.”
“When justice is sought, and not vengeance, these matters are considered. You need to learn to place your faith in magic, Stiles. Calling for justice is the most balanced and noble course in this situation. You could fairly call for retribution, but you have not. You have not asked for restitution, simply for justice. Let that be enough and tend to the nemeton.”
Stiles waved his hand and dropped the barrier.
St. John smiled faintly. “I’ll see you soon.”
Stiles stayed where he was as St. John walked away. A few seconds later, he felt Derek move close. “He picked this spot because it’s fairly close to the nemeton,” Stiles muttered.
“Yeah. I think there are closer places, but not ones he could easily get to.” Stiles rubbed his hand over his face.
“What’s happening, Stiles?”
“Do I even want to know how he got out of here?”
“He asked for me to call for someone to come pick him up. Said I needed to come with you…?”
“Stiles, what’s wrong?”
He shook his head. “I just feel like something’s about to happen, and I can’t avoid it anymore.”
Derek put his hand on Stiles’ shoulder and turned him so they were face to face. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I kind of think I do. Or never come back to Beacon Hills.” Stiles looked away. “I needed to be away from the shadow of whatever the nemeton has become in order to let my magic grow, but this is my home. I can’t just walk away from it.” He met Derek’s gaze. “Or my dad, or the pack.” He hesitated. “Or you.”
Derek’s jaw clenched briefly. “Stiles,” he whispered.
Stiles swallowed. “I’m glad you’re coming with me. I’m glad it’s you.”
“Then let’s go.”
It was easy enough to find the nemeton because it was pulling him so strongly that he simply had to point his feet in the right direction and walk.
The massive stump was shocking to Stiles. He’d heard about it, but the reality was something else. He felt the barrier around the clearing, and while he was pretty sure he could force his way through, he didn’t think he should.
Derek put his hand out and touched the invisible barrier. “I’m surprised you can’t pass either.”
“Me too, actually. The nemeton freaking called me, you’d think it’d let me through. I mean, I can even feel how pleased it is that I’m here.” He cocked his head. “Or maybe relieved is a better word. Though this ward feels deliberately cast, and I’m not sure the nemeton’s magic would feel like a casting.”
Derek made a vague affirmative sound as he looked around, obviously casting his senses out. “There’s someone else out here, but I couldn’t even detect them until we were almost right on top of them.”
Stiles reached out magically and felt a strong magical presence that had been difficult to distinguish from the nemeton, like it had somehow been keeping itself masked. Or maybe hiding in the nemeton’s aura. “Yeah, very powerful too.”
“Look there.” Derek pointed directly across from where they were standing. From the far side of the nemeton, coming through the trees, was a huge white wolf.
Well, damn. All things considered, it seemed like this had to be the white wolf, but he supposed it could just be a white wolf. Or a white werewolf. Or a figment of his freaking imagination.
The wolf had no problem passing through the barrier and circled the nemeton before coming to stand just a few feet from them. The wolf cocked its head, giving them both a careful once-over.
“Is that a werewolf?” Stiles whispered.
“I’m not sure.”
“You’re not sure?!”
“It doesn’t really feel like a werewolf, but it’s not a literal wolf either.”
The barrier, which had been invisible, suddenly took on a shimmer. Then Stiles felt the barrier fall, and the nemeton’s pull on him was so much more aggressive.
The wolf seemed to waver, like Stiles was viewing it through water. Smoothly, the wolf morphed into a petite, elderly woman. She smiled warmly at them. “Welcome, child.”
Stiles felt like he was in the presence of someone very special. He knew the legends about the white wolf being the true leader of the magical world was true. “Um, hi.” He cleared his throat. “I’m Stiles.”
“Speak your real name in this sacred place.”
“Mieczysław,” he said without hesitation.
She nodded her head and looked to Derek. “I feel the Hale alpha spark in you, child.”
“My name is Clara, and I am the head of the council of druids.”
“Oh.” Stiles blinked at her. “I thought maybe you were the, I mean, I thought the legends about the white wolf were true. About you being the head of all the magical disciplines.”
She smiled. “That legend is true, but the white wolf comes from the pool of existing leaders. Before me, it was a shaman.”
“And you’re the one who put the barrier around the nemeton?”
“Yes. It was still vulnerable and needed protection. Once you arranged for the area to be cleansed, the nemeton would quickly gain strength and begin to reach for you very aggressively. I knew you weren’t ready.” She smiled wryly. “Not you specifically, but I could tell whomever the nemeton had chosen was young. You needed time, so the barrier was both protection to prevent another magical leech, but also to blunt its pull so that you could come into your own when you were ready, Mieczysław.”
“In that case, I’m grateful, but I don’t really understand what I’m doing here. And have you really been here for a year?”
“Yes, I have been. I’ve learned much about what has happened, and I felt it my duty to see the oldest of nemetons through its final days. Especially since one of our order caused its early demise.”
“Deaton,” Stiles surmised.
“Yes,” she said sadly.
“I could choose to stop him or tend to the nemeton. In the natural order of things, protecting and shielding to the nemeton was more important, I think, considering its sheer potential for destruction. Once I’d cast my protections around it and bolstered it with my magic, my magic was committed to this effort and not handling the errant druid.”
Stiles privately thought the dead might disagree about which was more important, but he had a feeling druids came at things from a different perspective. “Why not just call in someone to deal with Deaton?”
“It’s not quite that simple. Deaton may have abandoned his oaths to balance, but I cannot abandon mine. I felt protecting that which he had most wronged would be in the best interest of my oath.” Her smiled turned sad. “I did not anticipate the lengths he would go to in order to break my wards. For that, I am sorry.”
“He brought in the coven to break down the wards?”
“Yes, and it’s likely a similar tactic was used to poison the nemeton. A druid can only go so far in their own actions before they become darach. We must be ever vigilant lest we lose ourselves to darkness.” She made druids sound like the magical versions of the Jedi and Sith.
“So, as long as he doesn’t get his own magic involved in the dirty deeds, he can just leech of the nemeton as much as he wants?”
“That’s a simplification, but it’s accurate.”
Stiles appreciated that she thought she was doing what was right, but he found druids super annoying. “Deaton’s on the to-do list, I get that. Why are we here?”
“The oldest nemeton on Earth is at its end, Mieczysław.”
“I don’t know what that means.” He took a breath and made himself be patient. “I’ve read about nemetons. They’re ley nodes that connect the web of ley lines that allow life to exist on the planet. I didn’t think you could just take one out of the web.”
“You’re correct that there cannot not be a nemeton at this site, but it doesn’t have to be this nemeton.”
“So, you’re just going to bring in a new nemeton? Are those easy to come by? Get one at Home Depot? Or is it more like a subscription service? Magical-tree-of-the-month club?”
“Stiles,” Derek hissed, nudging him with an elbow.
“Right. Sorry. I’m kind of stressed, but that’s no excuse for acting like an ass.”
Clara smiled. “You’re young; these things are to be expected.” She looked back to the stump. “When you cleansed the nemeton of the poison keeping it weak and open, it was able to regain enough of itself to prepare for its end. When I came and cast protections around it, I communed with it to find out what it needed.”
She stepped closer and placed a hand on his forearm. “A new nemeton germinates, waiting to emerge. Think of what’s left here as a dying mother seeking a protector for her child.”
Stiles took an involuntary step back. “What?” he croaked.
Clara’s smile was sad. “You needed the time to come into your own, to find your path and your magic without this obligation. And it could be that the nemeton would have stunted your magical development as you poured your magical energy into fending off its pull.”
Stiles frowned. “Are you saying it’s been pulling at me for a while?”
“It was desperate and seeking help. You were the brightest magical beacon for many hundreds of miles. I’d imagine you started having cognitive issues when the nemeton began to try to summon you.”
“When was the nemeton cut down, Derek?”
“That’s when my ADHD got so bad that I had to be medicated.” Stiles rubbed his hands over his face. “I’d always been a litter hyper, but suddenly I couldn’t focus, and I was bouncing off the walls all the time. After moving to San Mateo, I forgot my meds a few times and didn’t seem to miss them, so I thought I was growing out of the ADHD.”
“The medications you took likely helped blocked the nemeton’s call, or blunted your perception of it,” Clara supplied
“So, I don’t have a choice about this.” He waved toward the stump of the nemeton. “About being the protector of this…tree baby.”
“There’s always a choice, child.”
Stiles wrapped his arms around his middle, holding onto himself as if he could ground himself that way. “I… It means staying in Beacon Hills?”
Derek sucked in a breath.
Stiles quickly turned. “No, it’s not like that. Please don’t misunderstand. I want to come home, to be part of the pack, but I also wanted to go to college, you know? I wanted to be normal.”
“Stiles…” Derek stepped closer. “You don’t have to do this.”
“Your life isn’t a prison,” Clara said. “Yes, you’ll need to be here while the young nemeton matures, but a spark of your strength bonded to the newest nemeton will draw magic users wishing to learn in what will become a sacred place, filled with sacred energy. And you will know their intent by the feel of their magic. In time, you’ll be able to leave, to entrust the territory to another for days a time. You will eventually form your own personal conclave, perhaps one of the strongest the world has seen in many hundreds of years. As long as you always return, you will not be bound here.”
Stiles blew out a shaky breath. “And if it’s not me, then what?”
“I would hope the nemeton will be strong enough to call another, but that is not assured. It is very…attached to you. I can feel that your spark came into this world here in Beacon Hills. The magic within you is in harmony with this land.” She shot Derek a look. “Similar to the way the Hale Alpha should be in harmony with the land.”
“He just needs to complete the bonding rituals.”
Clara arched a single elegant brow. “Then he should do so.”
Derek looked closed off. “I’m not…”
“You are worthy, Alpha Hale. The land calls for you. Do you not hear it?” She glanced around. “The call of nature is so clear to a druid that I forget how deaf the rest of the world can be.”
“I hear it,” Derek said defensively.
“Then you should answer. Magic does not seek the unworthy, Alpha.”
“I need to talk to Derek for a minute.” He grabbed Derek by the arm and pulled him away. There was a little thread of distress from the nemeton, but Stiles sent what passed for mental reassurance.
When they were out of hearing distance, Stiles faced Derek. “It looks like we’re both being asked to step up.”
“You don’t have to.”
“And neither do you,” Stiles stressed, “but do you want to? Do you want to honor your family’s legacy by truly taking this territory the way it should be? This is Hale land, but it doesn’t feel like it.”
“You don’t really fight fair.”
Stiles glanced away. “I guess not, but I’ve wanted this for you for a long time.”
Derek stepped a little closer. “Tell me why.”
Stiles met his gaze without hesitation. “Because you deserve it. I know you’ve been through everything and then some, Der, but you’re still here. You’re still trying when so many others would have just walked away. Your pack loves you, they see you as worthy. I wish you could see it in yourself.”
“What about you?” Derek edged a bit closer.
“Me what?” But Stiles knew exactly what Derek was asking. Stiles stared at a fixed point on Derek’s chest. “We’re good friends now, and I never thought that would happen. Our email conversations were so good, and so comfortable, and I really wanted us to connect that way in person too.” He hesitated. “And we did. So, it’s rough that along the way I kind of fell for you, and that’s my problem, and I’ll—”
Derek’s mouth was on Stiles, effectively shutting him up. The kiss was just a press of lips, but Stiles felt like his whole being came alive and reached out for Derek. And then he literally reached out, holding on with everything in him.
Derek accepted the embrace, holding Stiles close. After a few moments, he broke the kiss, looking dazed. “Wow.”
Stiles blinked at him. “Yeah. I mean, can you imagine how good that’s going to be when we can get some tongue involved?”
Derek blinked then started chuckling, pulling Stiles into a tight hug. “You’re insane.”
“Because I really would like to kiss you? Like, a lot?”
“No, the kissing is fine.” Derek dropped a quick kiss on his mouth. “But we should deal with this whole mess first. There’s an ancient druid watching us, and I’m not interested in putting on a show.”
“Well, what about another kind of show?”
“What do you mean?” Derek loosened his embrace so they could more easily speak, but Stiles stayed in the circle of his arms.
“I don’t want to do this without you. If I’m gonna say yes to being this territory’s guardian, I’d like the alpha of the territory’s permission and protection. For that to happen, there has to be an alpha of the territory. Right?”
Derek huffed a laugh. “You have my permission.” He leaned in and gave Stiles a light peck on the lips. “I’ll do the bonding ritual after this is all handled, when my pack is here. It’ll make us stronger.”
Steeling himself, Stiles returned to Clara, secure in having Derek at his back. He stopped at the edge of the clearing and looked at the stump of the nemeton. He rubbed his hands together and blew out a breath. “Okay, what do I need to do?”
“You accept this charge? To become guardian to the new nemeton?”
“I do.” He should probably try to find out the fine print, but he felt this was right even if he was wary of the sheer level of responsibility. He’d been walking the path to this point for over a year.
She gestured to the large stump. “Simply sit in the middle and open your mind and magic to the nemeton. It will guide you.”
Derek made to follow Stiles, but Clara shook her head. “Some journeys we must take alone. Stay with me, Alpha Hale.”
Stiles hopped up onto the stump of the nemeton and looked back to find Derek had offered Clara his arm. She leaned against him, smiling faintly as she watched Stiles.
He folded himself down into a half-lotus and took a few deep breaths before closing his eyes and deliberately opening himself up to the magic he could feel all around him.
The nemeton immediately met him, asking Stiles if he would take charge of and protect its child.
Stiles agreed, and the nemeton asked for something from Stiles. It was hard to decipher what the nemeton needed, but he eventually intuited that the nemeton wanted the organic matter the new tree would come from to not be in any way connected with the tainted tree that had been poisoned. Even though it had been cleansed, it was unsuitable for the new child. The existing nemeton would provide the seed of magic, but Stiles needed to provide the physical matter. And maybe some magic too, but it was hard to tell about how much of his magic would be needed for the actual germination.
Stiles mentally floundered for something plant-like. Would he need to go get a twig from the forest?
The nemeton mentally nudged him. It had to be something that was deeply connected to his magic, apparently.
He had the proverbial ah-ha! moment and reached into his pocked for one of the last rowan berries. Whenever he got a new bunch of berries, he’d carry them around so they became steeped in his magic. Then he’d will them to be stronger so that he could keep a few in his pocket without them squishing.
He contemplated the berry in his hand. He’d gotten this batch a couple of days before his magic had fully matured. He’d had the bunch of berries literally by him when his magic had surged forth, fully awakening.
He wasn’t sure if having the new nemeton be a mountain ash was a really good idea…or a really bad one.
Mentally, he offered the berry to the nemeton, and it guided him to place it on the stump.
An intense magical wave surged up and engulfed him, and his own magic rose to meet it. The world exploded in white and the feeling of new life.
– – – –
Stiles blinked, feeling sluggish and confused. He continued to blink, trying to clear his vision and make sense of what he was seeing. He realized he was staring up at a canopy of leaves. Rowan leaves, his mind supplied easily. He’d harvested flowers, leaves, and berries from a rowan tree enough in the last couple of years to know the leaves on sight. But they seemed so far away.
“Stiles?” Derek called, voice sounding hoarse.
“Yeah?” His voice came out like a croak.
“Oh thank god you’re okay.” Derek sounded wrecked.
“Okay?” Stiles echoed, fingers twitching, and he felt dirt under his hands.
“Please, Stiles, you’ve got to drop the barrier.”
Stiles didn’t remember putting up a barrier. He wasn’t even sure where he was, but it was nice that Derek was close. He closed his eyes again.
“Stiles!” Derek called again.
“It’s time to wake up, Son,” his dad said strongly.
Everything came crashing back. “Dad!” Stiles jerked to an upright position. “Oh my god!” He stared in astonishment at the fucking enormous rowan tree that filled the clearing. It was bigger than a grand sequoia. “Holy crap,” he breathed. He scrambled to his feet, staring up…and up and up.
“Stiles,” Noah called again, “drop the barrier.”
Stiles whirled around, feeling a surge of dizziness and braced himself on the tree. Noah was indeed standing at the edge of the clearing. Further along the clearing, at the tree line, were a fuckton of other people.
He didn’t even try to make sense of his father’s presence, he just raced across the distance and threw himself at Noah, choking on a sob. “You’re okay…”
Noah caught him easily, holding him tightly with so much more strength than he’d ever had before. “I’m fine, Son.” Noah pressed a kiss to his head. “Just worried about you.”
“How did you get here? How are you so much better? What’s happening? Oh my god, how is it sunset?”
“Whoa, slow down, kiddo.” Noah held him at arms length. “From my perspective, Tess came to visit and was working on some healing spells. I was doing better, but things definitely weren’t right yet. Then there was this sharp surge of what we now know was magic, and we all felt the urge to go into the woods. You were laying on the ground when I got here, and no one could get to you.”
Stiles looked away from Noah to find Derek hovering right at his shoulder, looking freaked. “You okay?”
“Me?” Derek rasped. He reached out and pulled Stiles away from Noah, yanking him into a rough embrace. “Don’t ever do that to me again.”
“I don’t even know what I did.” But Stiles obligingly held on to Derek, patting his back in reassurance.
“You vanished. There was an explosion of light and the earth just opened up and swallowed the old nemeton. And you with it.”
Derek’s arms tightened. “You were gone. I couldn’t see you or smell you. Gone.”
“I’m fine. I’m here.” He patted at Derek’s back and strong shoulders some more. Such nice shoulders. “Um. How exactly did there get to be an enormous tree here if it all vanished?”
“I wanted to try to find you, but Clara insisted we wait. It was nearly an hour before the others started arriving, and then a tree suddenly started to grow. God, Stiles, it grew so fast. It grew to that height in an hour. And then there you were, you just appeared out of the ground, but we couldn’t get to you.”
He lifted his arm and noticed he was free of dirt, and he didn’t feel particularly dusty. Nice of the nemeton to release him all cleaned up.
Noah added, “Clara put up a ward to keep everyone else together over there, and they stopped asking questions when we just ignored them, but we still couldn’t get to you.”
Stiles pulled back enough to look into Derek’s eyes. He looked destroyed. “I’m fine. I think the new nemeton put up the barrier until I was awake and could protect myself. Its consciousness is very young. It’s very binary right now. Protect. Keep Away. That kind of thing.”
He could feel the tree in the back of his mind and sent it reassurance. Then he took a second to really absorb that literally everyone involved in this situation was here. The witches were all lying on the ground. Stiles could tell they weren’t dead, but they weren’t conscious either. Scott seemed to be arguing with St. John over the witches, but Chris Argent was getting between them, arms crossed over his chest, unimpressed expression firmly in place.
“What in the world is going on?” Stiles whispered. “Why is everyone here?”
Clara stepped forward. “In part, this is because you had a pressing need to see justice done when you merged with the nemeton. I believe this has translated to a formal appeal for justice, and those involved were summoned.” The smile she gave him had an air of sadness about him. “And I suspected that a new white wolf would be chosen today.”
Stiles blinked at her. “What?” he said weakly.
“Magic has chosen you.”
“Oh my god, no!”
“Be at peace, child. You’ll do fine. I was younger than you when I was chosen.”
“I don’t know what happened when the old nemeton pulled you deep into the Earth to germinate the next nemeton, but I can tell you that you made choices. You decided what would happen and how much of yourself to give to the new magical node. The experience of being directly connected to magic in such a way is so overwhelming that your mind has shielded you from the memories.”
“Then we can’t know what happened.”
“No, we cannot know, but we can observe the outcome. You gave so much of yourself, Mieczysław, that this fledgling nemeton has hundreds of years of growth. She is so powerful that it almost burns to be in her presence.”
“Do you not feel it?”
Stiles could indeed feel a feminine energy about the nemeton, so he nodded.
“True earth magic from the first earth spark in thousands of years.” Clara looked to the nemeton and smiled. “She’ll be a force for life.” She met Stiles’ gaze again. “You’ve done so well, and I can think of no better successor.”
“Can I say no?” Stiles whispered.
“Yes, you may deny magic if that is truly your wish. But I am no longer the white wolf, and it may be a long time before magic finds another it deems worthy.”
“I don’t understand any of this…”
“The mantle moves when the time is right. Magic has been urging and preparing you for your test—which every white wolf has had. Your willingness to nurture the new nemeton was yours.”
Stiles looked to Derek. “Der?”
“Whatever you want, I’ll support you.”
“I feel like this has all been leading to this moment, but I’m terrified.”
He felt Noah’s hand on his shoulder. “We’ll all be with you, Son, whatever you choose.”
Derek pressed a kiss to Stiles’ forehead. “It’s supposed to be you—I can feel it. Just reach out and grab it.”
Stiles knew he’d been moving towards this, but it didn’t lessen how nervous or scared he was. “Yeah.” He let his forehead rest against Derek’s as the magic surged up in him, hot and fierce, connecting him to everything.
The world physically shifted, and he found himself blinking way up at Derek. He tried to take a step and immediately tripped. He stared at his paws and growled.
“You’re not a werewolf as such,” Clara said, “but you’ll be able to shift as you will and run with your pack.”
That was a really cool…he’d be able to join is father and Derek on the full moon and run as a wolf. But he couldn’t run around like a wolf now, there was shit to do. He stared up at her and growled again, but she seemed to understand because she laughed.
“Just focus on being back like you were.”
He did and was suddenly on his hands and knees in the dirt. “You made that look much more elegant. And, yay! I’m not naked.”
“Since your shift is magical and not rooted in lycanthropy, your clothing is part of your shift. When you initiate the shift back to human, focus on being on your feet and you will be.”
“Silver linings.” He blew out a breath, got to his feet, and took in all the people staring his direction from around the clearing. “I’m feeling so overwhelmed.”
“No one heard what was being said here, and before I leave, I’ll place a magical geas on all who saw that they cannot reveal the identity or location of the new white wolf,” Clara promised
“Yeah, thanks.” Stiles latched onto Derek with one hand and Noah with the other. “Did the nemeton heal Dad?”
“The birth of a new nemeton is a powerful force, so, yes, I do believe it did. I think there may be quite a few mysterious healings in Beacon Hills from today.” Clara stepped closer. “What is the primary value of your reign?”
“Every one of us chooses our focus for the magical world. Mine was balance, my predecessor’s was protection, and so on. I think my mistakes here in Beacon Hills cemented why it was time to pass the mantle to someone else. I let the druidic notion of balance interfere with my duty to true balance. In fact, I think I always have. I’d so often distanced myself, assuming balance meant letting nature take its course.” She sighed sadly. “I’d never before seen how far off the path the druids have become. But I remain the high priest of the druidic council, and so I shall see us set to rights.”
Clara smiled sadly. “But that’s my problem, and my mistake to tend to. What will you strive for, Mieczysław?”
Stiles met Derek’s gaze again. “How did it go again? ‘The dead cannot cry out for justice…’”
“‘It is a duty of the living to do so for them,’” Derek finished.
“Justice,” Stiles said softly.
“Justice,” Clara intoned, and the earth shuddered. “Like all the magical heads, the white wolf may sit in judgment when called. Someone made an appeal for justice.”
“Whoa, what?! I made that appeal, though it wasn’t even a fully formed appeal. I can’t judge things fairly.”
“Magic will guide you.” Clara hesitated then added, “You can appoint a proxy to judge in your stead, but it’s customary for the highest-ranking magical leader present to preside, and there is no one higher ranking than you.”
“I can’t,” he whispered. “In the mundane human world, I’d have to recuse myself for having a conflict of interest. My own father was hurt.”
“Conflicts of interest rarely come into play. You’re deeply connected to magic when judgment happens, and you must satisfy magic with your judgment.”
Stiles shook his head. “It doesn’t feel right for me to sit in judgment on this.”
Clara didn’t look disappointed, but she did look concerned. “Who would you choose to be your proxy?”
“Wouldn’t it make most sense for it to be you?”
“I’ve made many mistakes in my time as the white wolf, child. Perpetuating those mistakes seems unwise.” She had a faraway look. “I mistook what balance was, and it was the entire focus of my time as the wolf.”
“Or you could think of this as an opportunity to redeem those mistakes.”
She pursed her lips but nodded. “If that is your wish.”
He nodded fervently.
“You will sit with me when the time comes and share in the information magic provides. Normally, a proxy is set, but you are the white wolf. You can overrule me.”
Stiles huffed. “Let’s just keep that on the downlow.”
A dark shadow emerged from the trees and Stiles gave a start of surprise, hand pressed to his chest at the appearance of a huge black wolf. “Gah! Have you been lurking back here the entire time?”
Derek growled at the appearance of the wolf, but Stiles somehow knew the wolf wasn’t a problem, though he had no idea how this guy had hidden from him.
The wolf shifted into a man who appeared about the same age as Clara. If they’d been human, he’d have thought they were both in their seventies, but he’d guess they were probably double that if not older.
“I’m never far from Clara,” he said in a deep voice, moving closer to Clara then pressing a kiss to her temple. “Hello, my love.”
“Marcellus.” She returned his embrace.
“My last moment as the black wolf,” he murmured, hugging her tightly. Marcellus looked to Stiles. “The black wolf even more than the white wolf feels part of nature. It would be difficult to locate or detect me if I were trying to hide.”
Stiles felt somewhat reassured by that.
Clara looked between Derek and Stiles. “The black wolf is the anchor and protector of the white wolf. When a new white wolf is chosen, their companion comes to them in time, but I believe your companion is already with you.”
“Yes,” Stiles said immediately, reaching out for Derek’s hand. He hesitated. “Unless you don’t want that…?”
Derek pulled him close and pressed a kiss to his brow. “I’m with you,” he whispered.
Clara gestured to them. “Derek Hale, the alpha of this territory, will be your successor.”
Marcellus nodded. “The very first black wolf was also a werewolf.” He pinned Stiles with a look. “And the first white wolf was an earth spark.”
“Please don’t tell me that’s a portent of doom or something. I can’t deal with the planet self-destructing right now.”
Marcellus arched a brow. “It’s symbolic of rebirth. The cycle has begun again.” He looked at Derek. “We’ll tend to that when we have privacy, and I can explain the nature of your calling.”
“For now,” Clara began, “let us commence with justice.”
They returned to the large, empty part of the clearing, It was well into twilight and visibility was diminished.
Stiles was still floored by the sight of the huge rowan tree. It felt so deeply personal, and he could feel the resonance of his own magic in the nemeton. He suddenly realized that he’d magically contributed to its creation, so it was literally his kid. His tree baby!
His knees felt a little wobbly at the thought, and he made note to share his conclusion with Derek when they had time alone.
Stiles didn’t want to let people get too close to the baby nemeton, but the big part of the clearing could accommodate everyone and would allow Stiles to keep the nemeton at his back and keep a protection ward around it.
He hesitated about moving forwards and grabbed Noah’s arm, falling into a moment of self-doubt again. “This is so big, Dad,” he whispered urgently.
Noah pulled him into a hug, properly scenting him. “You said you were overwhelmed but felt like you’d been on this path for a long time…?”
“Yeah. I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be, I guess, but even thinking I’m supposed to have bonded to the nemeton and become the white wolf doesn’t make it less surreal or absurd to say out loud!”
“Son, all along, you’ve had faith in yourself. Just keep doing that. You’ve got people willing to give you counsel if you need it. You’ve got your proxy, and she seems like a good choice to me. Let her drive, and take the opportunity to learn. It’ll be okay.”
Stiles pursed his lips and then took a deep breath. He wrestled the self-doubt into a little box and slammed the lid shut.
He crossed to the clearing where the Hale pack was waiting for him. Waving his hand, he willed lights to appear. On the first try, he managed orbs of soft light that hovered about twelve feet off the ground. The lighting was soft and easily illuminated twenty feet in every direction.
He stood in the middle of the space he’d chosen and looked around at everyone gathered at the edges of the barrier. Feeling nervous and a little ridiculous, Stiles poured his intent into the words, “I come to sit in judgment, and I invite Clara to be my proxy as I am personally involved with one of the victims.” He’d also sort of made the appeal, which seemed to him like an attorney adjudicating their own case.
The earth rumbled and vines shot up from the ground, quickly forming into what could only be described as a moderately sized throne, but it was wider like a bench. White flowers immediately bloomed along the vines.
Taking a deep breath, Stiles took a seat. Clara had made it clear he had to sit first. He held out his hand and she took it, sitting next to him.
There was a weird infusion of magic and awareness of everyone present. He considered everything for a long time, trying to decide how to approach the whole mess.
Stiles dropped the ward that was keeping everyone contained, and a cacophony of noise immediately assaulted him.
“Enough!” Derek roared. “Judgment has been called. You will be silent and wait.”
Stiles closed his eyes and let magic lead him. “I request that Booker St. John and Elizabeth Madson act as our counsel.”
St. John and Aunt Tess moved to stand in front of Stiles but off to the side.
“We’ll begin with the Hale pack,” Clara said sternly. She’d warned him that magic would evaluate everyone who’d been even peripherally involved in the events.
Clara gracefully rose to her feet and stepped up to Noah, taking his hands in hers. Stiles knew everything she knew, and it made him want to cry. “Noah Jonathan Stilinski, magic has nothing to judge you for, but I feel that you’re judging yourself.”
Noah took a sharp breath and looked to Stiles.
“You need to let it go, whatever it is. Don’t take this burden into the future.”
“I failed my son,” Noah whispered.
“Not hardly,” Stiles replied, and his smile felt wobbly. “No one’s perfect, and no one needs to be. I can feel the currents of debts between the people here, and there is none between us.” He wished he could hug is dad, but he had to stay in this seat. “Please let it go.”
Clara moved to Peter. There was an odd duality in Stiles’ mind. He knew things he shouldn’t know, and he had impressions of how past events had affected magic. His own views and opinions mattered in how this would go, but ultimately magic had to be satisfied with the outcome more than Stiles personally, which was a relief in its way. Or it could really suck if he wanted to let someone off the hook but magic wouldn’t let him. But that was part of the reason to have a proxy when he was so personally invested in everything.
In the matter of Peter, magic was already satisfied. But Peter didn’t believe that, and it seemed important that they get Peter on the right track.
Peter’s expression was stiff and gave nothing away as he waited. And Stiles noticed that Noah looked tense and uncomfortable.
“Peter Hale,” Clara intoned, “in the depths of your pain and madness, you cried out for vengeance—for your family and for your wife and child. You also cried out for vengeance against the alpha who abandoned you.”
Stiles could feel how hard that hit Derek. Laura hadn’t been a good alpha, and if Peter had issued a petition for justice against her, magic could have punished her very harshly. And yet she was Derek’s sister.
“While you have achieved some level vengeance, there has been little justice. However, in the matter of your own actions, justice is fulfilled. You have paid a higher price for your misdeeds than magic would have exacted, and so we are satisfied.”
Peter’s shoulders sagged.
“What?” Scott screeched. “How can you let him off the hook? What the hell, Stiles?! Stop her from letting him get away with this.”
Stiles waved his hand and Scott was quiet. It wouldn’t last long. Every time the magic shifted to call new people forward, the spell would break.
“However,” Clara continued, “a debt remains between you and Lydia Martin.” She looked to Lydia, who stepped forward, looking wary. “Adjudicating debts is not the function of judgment, but if you wish for me to judge the matter, you will be placing yourself under magic’s authority and you will be judged to determine the true balance of the debt between you.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Meaning, I could wind up on the hook for some other offense? No thank you.” Her eyes flicked to Peter. “I’ll work out details with Peter.”
Clara’s look was severe. “Be warned that unreasonable demands that make it impossible for him to satisfy the debt between you would allow him to appeal to magic to release the debt.”
Her lips pressed into a thin line. “Then I request that Dr. Deaton manage the negotiations between us.”
“No,” Clara said sharply. “However, I am the head of the druidic order, and I would be willing to handle this matter.”
Lydia agreed and stepped back.
Clara moved on to Parrish and considered for a several seconds. “There is nothing to judge.”
Parrish nodded his acceptance of her judgment.
The same basic thing happened with Isaac, but Isaac was so painfully relieved as if he expected to be damned or something.
Cora was tense as a bowstring when Clara stepped in front of her. “Magic is glad to have you home, Cora Hale,” she said softly. “There is nothing to judge.”
“I ran,” she whispered.
“You survived,” she countered. Really, the burden of responsibility had been on Laura to find Cora and bring her home, but Cora carried the guilt of running away even though she didn’t know any her pack had lived. “Welcome home.”
She stepped up to Erica. “There is no burden of injustice here, and I feel you worry about the balance of debt with your alpha. Do not repeat the mistakes of the past, and no debt will exist.”
She looked a little misty and nodded.
Boyd was much the same, but Clara encouraged him to let go of the guilt that was holding him back and for which there was no foundation. Stiles got the impression this was about Boyd’s sister.
Finally, Clara stopped in front of Derek. “There is nothing to judge, Alpha Hale. But if it helps you to move on, there’s no imbalance or debt—nothing that magic needs to rectify.”
Derek looked a little choked up but just nodded.
Clara returned to the seat. Marcellus moved to stand at her left shoulder, and Derek stood at Stiles’ right. The rest of the pack stood on either side.
Jackson stepped forward before Stiles or Clara could say anything else. “I should be judged.”
Stiles immediately got way more information about Jackson and just how fucked up he was about everything that had happened. But justice wasn’t needed.
Clara seemed to be on the same wavelength because she got to her feet and moved to Jackson.
“Magic doesn’t require anything from you, Jackson Whittemore. There are some minor debts that could be called on, but there’s no justice to dispense that’s going to punish you the way you are hoping.”
Jackson looked away, blinking rapidly.
“Do you want a suggestion for how to handle the debts and ease your own mind?”
Jackson’s jaw muscles worked furiously. “Yes.”
“Join a real pack, whether with Alpha Hale one in another town. Seek therapy from a supernaturally aware therapist. Then fight to protect people. Whether here or wherever your pack may be.”
Meeting Stiles’ gaze, Jackson stared for a long time then stepped away and walked to the edge of the clearing to stand with Lydia.
Clara returned to sit next to Stiles and wait for him to decide who to handle next.
Derek’s pack was the softball, but there were four big issues to deal with, and magic wasn’t pushing him to deal with them in any particular order.
“Argents,” Stiles called.
Allison looked miserable, but Chris looked blank. They stepped into the clearing.
All the different and conflicting magical impressions made him sigh, and he nodded to Clara.
She immediately said, “Regarding the matter in the woods last night, magic demands justice. Not everyone who was present for those events will be held responsible, the same cannot be said for Allison Argent. Justice has been called for and is warranted in this case.”
Scott started growling. “You leave her alone.”
The glare Stiles sent his way caused Scott to stumble back. “You will be silent and stop interrupting my proxy. Your lack of respect before the most ancient magic on the planet is making magic herself upset with you.”
Chris waved Scott back, expression still blank. “Stay out of this, McCall.”
Clara looked at Allison again. “You appointed your father regent so that you could focus on your education, yet you’ve failed to truly surrender to his rule over the hunting activities of your family. You are an adult, unlike some of the members of Alpha McCall’s pack, and you knew the witches should not be released to go kill elsewhere.”
“That’s not what happened,” Scott snarled.
Stiles glanced at Booker, who nodded and cast a quick spell, silencing Scott and preventing him from moving.
“Allison Argent,” Clara said firmly, “my judgment is that you will never take up the mantle of head of the Argent family. The title may pass to one of your children, but not you. You have proved yourself incapable of the responsibility that comes with leadership.”
Chris’ expression became even tighter, but Allison’s eyes were filled with tears.
“Once your education is complete, you will spend a period of at least ten years in the protection others—both human and supernatural. You have admirably rewritten the Argent code, and you will adhere to it for the rest of your life. You will only hunt to protect, and you may never seek vengeance.”
Clara looked to Chris. “There is no matter for justice as it pertains to you regarding the events in Beacon Hills. However, the sheer debt owed by the Argent family is bordering on becoming its own form of injustice.”
“How do I resolve that?” Chris asked immediately.
“You devote your life and your line to upholding your new code. Despite your code, you’ve continued to stay out of matters that don’t concern ‘humans.’ You knew the true alpha myth was false. Yet you said nothing because you continue to believe what werewolves do to one another is a werewolf problem.
“Consider what might be different if you’d spoken up sooner? Would Allison have been in the position to make the terrible choice she made last night? Also, you continue to tolerate Allison’s hatred of Derek Hale rather than pointing out the flaw in her thinking.”
“Which flaw?” Chris pressed.
“She knows there’s nothing wrong with being a werewolf, but you still believe that there is. You ‘understand’ why Victoria Argent would rather die and leave her family rather than exist as a werewolf. If you wanted your daughter to heal, you’d have ensured she received help to enable her to grieve for and accept her mother’s flaws and the sheer selfishness Victoria showed. Allison deserves to be angry at her mother for choosing to leave her. Instead, you’ve condoned her misdirecting her ire towards Derek Hale. Which also contributed to the events of last night. I doubt she’d have agreed to support McCall’s decision if the supposed ‘opposition’ wasn’t Derek Hale.”
Chris was silent for a long time then finally said, “It’s all I’ve ever know.”
“Learn something new. Truly uphold your new code. Protect all those who cannot protect themselves. The newest nemeton on Earth is now in Beacon Hills. Do your part to protect this territory and rebalance the scales so that justice will not come to your door.”
Chris nodded shortly and reached out and took Allison’s arm, leading her out of the circle. She seemed devastated but wasn’t saying anything.
“McCall pack,” Stiles called, deciding to deal with them all at once.
Scott tried to go right up to Stiles, but magic repelled him, keeping him about ten feet back. “What the hell are you doing, Stiles? You have no right!”
“McCall pack,” Stiles snapped, his voice reverberating around the clearing as if it were being said by five people.
Hewitt, Dunbar, and Jackson stepped up behind Scott. Deaton came forward too.
“You’re not part of the pack,” Stiles said sharply.
“He’s my emissary,” Scott snarled.
“No, he’s not. He may be acting as your emissary, but there’s no actual bond to your pack. Step back,” Stiles ordered Deaton.
Derek took a step forward, reinforcing Stiles’ order with a glare and a growl.
Stiles ignored Scott’s posturing and sputtering and looked to Lydia. “You’re not exempt.”
“I’m not in his pack anymore.”
“You were by your own choice when the events in question occurred. You will join your pack.”
Mouth pressed into a thin line, she stepped up.
Stiles looked to Liam Dunbar and Mason Hewitt and got basically the same things from them. Liam looked miserable, but Mason looked kind of stubborn, but they weren’t Stiles’ problem.
Clara shared a look with Stiles and then patted his hand. “Mr. Dunbar and Mr. Hewitt, whatever happens, do not let yourselves become omegas. You chose to be werewolves, and you’re responsible for integrating into a pack for the sake of others as well as yourselves.” She paused for a moment and then nodded. “Magic needs no judgment in regard to either of you because neither of you were responsible for what happened, but I’d remind you that following an immoral order is a matter of choice. Seek real mentors and choose better next time.”
Neither of their expression changed much, but they readily stepped away and back to the edge of the clearing.
“Our matters are settled, Mr. Whittemore,” Clara said softly. “I have nothing to add except that I will remain in Beacon Hills for one week to assist Mr. Stilinski. I am available to speak to you during that time if my counsel would be helpful to you.”
Stiles knew he’d be fucked up if he’d been through what Jackson had, but he’d never really bothered to consider it from Jackson’s perspective. Now he was feeling a painful amount of empathy for him.
Jackson didn’t have much of an expression, but Stiles thought he seemed grateful as he stepped back to the tree line.
“Ms. Martin,” Clara began with a sigh, “you are difficult for me. You were not involved in the events of last night, so the appeal for justice does not truly involve you, however, the druid in me feel the imbalance in you and the debts you’ve created due to your own need to try to control. We should speak further about how the imbalances you’re creating are going to affect your own magical growth. Please step back.”
Lydia looked unhappy, but she did as requested.
Clara sat up straighter. “I’m not gonna draw out the first part of this because this should never have been yours.” She reached out and summoned the alpha spark to her, whispering a blessing and sending the spark to the nemeton.
Liam and Mason made wounded noises. Scott made a strangled sound and dropped to his knees.
“You are not fit to be an alpha, Mr. McCall.” Clara’s tone was severe. “You sent murderers out to kill the children of others because you consider yourself above killing.”
“I’m a true alpha!” Scott clutched at his chest.
“No, you’re not.” Clara sighed. “There is no such thing. Alan Deaton stole the spark from the twin alphas and used ritual to push the spark into you.”
“What? No!” He looked to Deaton, whose expression was stiff. “Tell them you didn’t do that!”
Deaton’s gaze flicked to Clara but he said nothing.
“He can’t lie in front of the head of his order, and he knows it would be unwise to lie in front of the white wolf,” Marcellus intoned gravely.
Stiles felt something in him break and couldn’t help but ask, “Why, Scott? How could you believe it was okay to send someone out to murder other people’s children?”
“They promised they wouldn’t!”
“They promised, did they? Do you know how absurd you sound?”
“You don’t understand, Stiles! I can’t become a killer!”
“As you say.” Stiles closed his eyes and considered. “Being a werewolf is a gift. A gift of longer life, vitality, strength, and the bonds of pack. You treat it as a curse and the responsibilities that go with it as a burden. I just can’t with you.”
Clara squeezed his arm and said, “Magic’s judgment will be difficult for you whatever the outcome of your decision, but decide now if you want to be a werewolf or not. The consequences will be difficult either way.”
“You can unmake a werewolf,” Scott snapped. Which was true, and Stiles wasn’t sure where Clara was going.
“You’ve railed against the bite and Peter Hale,” Clara replied, “and blamed everyone but yourself for the things that have gone wrong.”
“I didn’t bite myself!”
“No, an insane person did. He’s suffered for his mistakes. Will you own yours?”
“What was I supposed to do?”
“Magic has shown me that you aligned yourself with a murderer and then engaged in an attack on Derek Hale that was akin to rape. You knew your actions would possibly result in the death of Hale, and definitely result in the death of Argent. I’ve seen that you planned to kill Peter Hale on the false premise that it would reverse your lycanthropy. You are willing to kill when you are affected personally. But when other people’s lives and their children’s lives are at stake, you claim to be too moral to kill. Either be a werewolf or not.”
Scott was nearly panting, glaring between Stiles and Clara. “How could you do this to me?”
“I’m offering to give you what you want,” Clara said serenely, and Stiles forced himself not to interrupt.
“My asthma would come back.”
“Yes, which would have been a consequence all along. When you foolishly believed that killing Peter Hale would cure your lycanthropy, you were prepared to accept having your asthma return, but it was not a concern because you knew it was the only way you could gain the approval of Allison Argent’s parents.”
“If you have so much power, you could fix my asthma and let me be human.”
Clara was unmoved. “Choose.”
Scott crossed his arms and got a stubborn tilt to his jaw.
Clara crossed her legs and picked a bit of grass off her knee, flicking it to the ground.
“I’ll stay a werewolf,” Scott snapped.
“Lycanthropy isn’t a disease, so there’s nothing to cure. I knew you’d make this choice because it’s been an improvement in your life.” Clara gave Scott a disappointed look. “Two children died this morning, Mr. McCall. They were bled to death in a ritual circle to fuel a dark spell. While the deed wasn’t committed directly by the witches you released, it was committed by their coven. The witches you released did return to Beacon Hills with the intention of killing more people, they did rejoin their coven planning to finish the ritual sacrifices. Tell me, Mr. McCall, what responsibility do you bear for what happened to those children?”
Scott glared, jaw firm. “I didn’t hurt those kids.”
“But you could have prevented their deaths, and you chose not to. You put yourself in a position of authority and then freed murderers. You tolerated them killing as long as they didn’t kill in your town.”
“That’s not true. I’m not okay with them killing, but we can’t just kill all the bad people.”
Clara shook her head. “The judgment has been made. You’re a werewolf but will never again be an alpha. Even should you kill an alpha yourself, the spark will return to magic, not to you. However, you are not permitted to be an omega werewolf. Magic will not tolerate you being a threat to anyone, and you’ve shown that you take no real personal responsibility for the safety of those around you.”
“Are you saying I have to join his,” he pointed sharply at Derek, “pack?”
“No. You’ve wounded this territory, and Alpha Hale will have to do the work to heal the land from your mistake. And so my final word is that you must leave Beacon Hills. Arrangements will be made for you to stay with another pack where you can learn the true nature of pack bonds and be allowed to finish high school. You must remain a member of a pack or you will be struck down by magic. You will be ready to leave within forty-eight hours, and you may not cross into this county again without Alpha Hale’s explicit permission.”
“You have no right! I’m not leaving my home!” Scott tried to lunge at Stiles but found himself unable to move. “Stiles! You can’t do this to me!”
Stiles shook his head but left the matter to Clara. He kind of wanted to cry, but he couldn’t deny that it was fair.
“The judgment has been made,” Clara said forcefully.
The magic of the proceedings forced Scott to the edge of the clearing and muffled his anger. Allison was watching him with a mournful expression on her face. Stiles wanted to roll his eyes at their persistent star-crossed lovers thing.
“Witches,” Stiles said softly to Clara.
She called out all seven names—five female and two male.
St. John gave a negligent wave of his hand and all seven were dragged into the clearing. For the first time, Stiles realized they were all awake and aware, just magically bound and silenced. One of the female witches was the burn victim. She was awake but obviously in a lot of pain.
“Your dark coven is responsible for the deaths of nearly one hundred people,” Clara snapped.
Stiles felt nauseated as the reality of their crimes played out in his mind.
“You will be cleansed of every shred of stolen magic, of every bit of power you have. If you survive the cleansing, and most of you won’t, your magic will be bound and you will spend the rest of your life in prison after you confess your crimes. This is magic’s judgment.”
All seven looked panicked. A moment later, they disappeared into the Earth.
Stiles looked to Booker. “How long?”
St. John shrugged. “The burned one will die in the magical purge. At least half the others. Normally, the cleanse would kill them all, but you left the option open for survival, so magic may try to slow the magical purge in order to satisfy the spirit of a balanced judgment. You’ll get a warning from the nemeton when it’s ready to return them. A few days at least.”
Scott looked horrified but couldn’t express his displeasure because of the muffling spells.
“Alan Deaton,” Clara called, her anger bleeding into her tone.
Glaring, Deaton stepped into the clearing. “I had nothing to do with the events last night, so I do not recognize your authority over me in regard to this call for justice.”
Stiles rolled his eyes but then concentrated on the information magic was giving him.
Clara was incensed. “You arranged for the nemeton to be poisoned and then manipulated Talia Hale into having it cut down to reduce its defenses. You then fed on its energies for years. A Hale taking back this territory was not in your plans, so you arranged for Mr. McCall to become an alpha and helped manipulate events, hoping he’d drive Alpha Hale from the territory. You wanted the Hale alpha spark, but you had to settle for the one from the twin alphas.”
Stiles’ hand curled into a fist.
“And when you could no longer drain energy from the nemeton because the head of your order blocked you—”
Deaton shot a sharp look Clara’s direction.
“—you lured a coven of witches to break through my protections so that you could continue to leech power. I was operating under the assumption that you were doing something with the magic you were taking, that the nature energy of the nemeton was feeding your personal rituals. But you’re a death magic addict. You’ve been feeding on the slow death of the nemeton.”
Stiles’ eyes widened. He’d been getting information from magic the same as Clara, but he didn’t have the experience to be able to interpret it the way she did.
“You’ve been using your magic to manipulate people in this town for years, keeping them from noticing your behavior. Including Noah Stilinski. And there was no purpose because all these machinations and so many deaths have all been about you being a… a junkie wanting your fix. I now believe you failed to put up sufficient wards around the Hale house because Talia was looking into having the nemeton cleansed. Were the chaotic effects of the nemeton worrying her to the degree that she was considering outside counsel?”
Derek started growling, but Deaton just glared.
“You’re already a darach, and I fault myself for not noticing. We could choose to do nothing to you, and your withdrawal from the former nemeton’s magic would slowly drive you insane. And while I think that would be a poetic way for you to die, other people could easily be hurt.”
Scott looked gutted, shaking his head like he couldn’t accept what he was hearing.
Deaton continued to glare.
Clara looked at Stiles “Does anything of the former nemeton remain? Physically?”
Stiles stood and moved closer to the new nemeton. He cast his magic out, connecting profoundly with his new charge and asked if there were any physical remains of the old nemeton. The answer was no. The old nemeton had destroyed all aspects of itself as it gave its magic to its daughter. Stiles felt glimmers of memories suddenly of the new nemeton’s birth, but they were hazy.
But as he stood there, the nemeton began to change. It began to flower, and berries rapidly formed. Thousands upon thousands of berries. More than Stiles could ever use.
He stood back, staring way up, watching the berries form. A branch fell, landing right in Stiles arms. It was about four feet long and could easily be a walking stick. The berries fell off in five large clumps, and Stiles gathered them into a pile to get later.
Taking the stick back to Clara, he noticed everyone was staring in astonishment at the nemeton’s changes. He just shrugged. Nothing he could do about it.
Clara held the branch, running her hands over it. “This will do.” She gestured to St. John who came and took the branch, moving to set it on the ground in front of Deaton.
Stiles wasn’t sure what direction she was going, but St. John seemed to understand.
“You will give back everything that you have taken, Alan Deaton.” Clara’s voice resonated like multiple people were speaking. “When all your stolen magic has been returned, we will discuss the matter of your future.”
Deaton suddenly lashed out with magic. So much more magic than Stiles could have anticipated.
St. John and Clara immediately reacted, but the blast of magic was intense, and it was Stiles who was able to contain it with a thought and his will.
Clara blinked at him. “Nicely done.”
“No!” Deaton yelled. “You have no authority over me!”
“Magic says I do. The judgment stands.”
Clara waved her hands as she murmured for several seconds. Then Deaton collapsed and grabbed his stomach.
The next ten minutes were awful, but Stiles thought it was something everyone needed to see.
Magic was pulled out of Deaton in what seemed to be an endless stream. Deaton screamed once, but then seemed to have a hard time catching his breath.
Then Deaton collapsed and the oppressive feel of magic was suddenly gone.
“He’s dead,” Derek said softly.
“As I suspected, the loss of his stolen magic is more than his physical body could endure,” Clara murmured. “It was why there was no point in discussing his future when he likely wouldn’t survive this much.” She got to her feet and stood in front of the branch which was fairly glowing with magic. “The energy of the first nemeton, contained in the first branch of the newest nemeton.” She dropped to her knees barely a foot from the branch and Deaton’s dead body. “Deaton’s darkness taints the magic, but it’s still the powerful magic of a nemeton.”
Her hand hovered over the branch as she shook her head. “Such a waste.” She began murmuring in that language Stiles didn’t recognize, hands moving in specific patterns over the branch. While he didn’t know what she was saying, he knew a druidic prayer when he heard one.
“Let magic claim what it will,” Clara ended as she got back to her feet.
A second later, Deaton and the branch had been consumed by the earth, leaving no sign they’d ever been there.
Clara sat next to Stiles again. “Justice has been satisfied. May the dead rest in peace.”
– – – –
Stiles let his head rest against Derek’s chest, waiting for all this to be over. After Clara had completed the judgment, Derek had pulled him away to the other side of the nemeton, just holding onto each other while St. John, Noah, and Clara took care of ensuring the Argents and the former McCall pack left with the geas in place, preventing them from talking about anything that had happened. There would be some explanations given tomorrow to Melissa to explain why Scott was leaving town, but Aunt Tess had volunteered for that duty.
Scott had been shell-shocked by the revelations about Deaton and his subsequent death. He’d railed at Stiles, which was when Derek had taken Stiles to retreat to the far side of the nemeton.
Mason and Liam and made some murmurs about talking to Derek about joining the pack, but Derek had put them off for a few days. Stiles figured those discussions would actually happen tomorrow because Derek would feel too much sympathy for the young wolves who now felt adrift.
Stiles figured Jackson would be back in the pack as soon they had a sit down to talk about it. Jackson’s inner wolf wasn’t healthy, and after everything he’d learned about the inner-Jackson, he didn’t want him to suffer anymore, so he’d push to get that taken care of soon.
“You okay?” Derek asked.
“Sort of.” He sighed and pressed his forehead to Derek’s shoulder. “You feel so nice.”
Derek snorted but held Stiles a little tighter. “You do too.” After a moment, he asked, “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I’m so overwhelmed.” He pulled back enough to meet Derek’s gaze. “I’m nineteen, Derek! And now I’ve got a tree baby and I’m in charge of all magic!”
“Like my actual baby. My magic contributed to that…” He waved at the enormous rowan tree. “I made a girl tree baby with a dying ley node, and I’m so not ready for this.”
“It’ll be okay.”
“Derek! Did you hear a word I said? Enormous baby, in charge of magic, nineteen. How is any of that okay?”
“Your dad’s alive.”
Stiles’ eyes narrowed. “Point. But I’m not sure logic is allowed. In fact, I forbid you to use logic when I’m freaking out. Consider that the first rule of our relationship. No logic allowed.”
“And we have a relationship now.”
“Oh my god, did you miss the memo about the no-logic rules?” Stiles couldn’t help but grin and pull Derek into another hug.
“I have to say that your father is a ridiculous werewolf.”
Stiles snorted. “How so?”
“He’s as chill a wolf as he was as a human.”
“Did you really just say chill?”
Stiles sighed. “He and Peter are going to have sex, aren’t they?”
It was Derek’s turn to snort.
“Stiles,” Noah said as he stepped into view. “It’s clear. It’s just Clara and Marcellus along with our pack.”
“Thanks, Dad. Sorry for hiding.”
“It’s been a rough day, kiddo. Cut yourself some slack.”
Stiles pulled away from Derek and hugged his father. “No one’s had rougher day than you. I’m so glad you’re okay.”
Noah scented him briefly. “I love you, Son. Now get out here and let’s wrap this up. I may be a werewolf now, but I’m tired.”
“On that subject, may I just say that you’re doing remarkably well on the control front? I haven’t even needed a fire extinguisher.”
“Well, I didn’t really wake up out of control. Just confused. Maybe it’s that tea?”
“I guess.” He gave his dad another squeeze. “Whatever the reason, I’m glad.”
They joined the rest, and Marcellus immediately said to Derek, “Do you plan to be the alpha of this territory?”
Derek straightened his shoulders. “I do.”
“I cannot pass the mantle of black wolf until you do that. It will be difficult to add territory responsibilities after accepting the black wolf, but the reverse is not true.”
Finding another thing in this bleak night to smile about, Stiles stepped up to Derek. “It would be my honor to facilitate your bond to the territory, Alpha Hale.”
“We don’t have any of the ritual elements here…”
“I’m a spark, Derek. I don’t need the trappings of ritual magic. We don’t need blood or bites or Latin or blooming Brugmansia.”
“Then let’s do it,” Derek said with a genuine return smile.
The pack circled around the way Derek indicated for them to, including Noah. It still kind of choked Stiles up that his father was whole and well and able to participate in wolfy rituals in the woods.
Derek dropping to his knees got Stiles’ attention, so he focused on his magic and on the resonance of the Hale alpha spark.
“Make your vow, Alpha Hale.”
“Upon the earth, before the moon, I pledge my life and my spark to the protection of this territory. To seek peace but not shy away from war if it should serve my land.” The words resonated in Stiles’ very being as he reached out to the territory with Derek’s pledge, and waited for the land to accept.
With something approaching relief, the magical harmonics of the land subtly shifted to re-include the Hale alpha spark. Stiles felt the magic prod at the pack and looked around the semi-circle.
“Do each of you accept Derek as your alpha and vow to support him in his oath to protect this territory?”
Every single one of them said yes, including Noah, Erica, and Boyd.
The territory accepted Derek’s pack, letting their life energy reverberate through the magic of the land.
Derek’s eyes were wide. “Oh my god.”
Stiles took his hands and helped him to his feet. “Magic accepts your vow and your service, Alpha Hale. Name your right hand.” Stiles wasn’t even sure why he was pushing that because it wasn’t a normal part of the ritual, but magic was nudging him, so he went with it.
Derek looked worried.
“Go with your gut, Der. I’m not sure why I’m being prodded to ask that, but I’m going with it.”
“Noah Stilinski,” Derek said.
Stiles blinked and glanced at Noah, who looked utterly befuddled.
“Name your left hand.”
Stiles whispered, “Who was your first thought?”
Squaring his shoulders, Derek said, “Peter Hale.”
Stiles felt a weird awareness rise up in him, almost a second consciousness but not quite. Similar to how he got information during the judgement, but more subtle.
He gestured Noah and Peter forward, evaluating what he was getting from magic. What was left of Peter’s brain damage from the fire—and Stiles knew from what happened earlier there had been real damage—was healed by the emerging nemeton. Stiles wondered if Peter wasn’t running on confusion right now, if his viewpoint was different now that his brain was healed.
He looked to both of them. “Will you join your alpha in bonding to this land and this territory, knowing that Derek’s duty as the black wolf may necessitate his absence from the land and require you to act in his stead, to stand in his place and fulfill his vow?”
Peter’s eyes were suspiciously wet. “I readily make this vow to magic and my alpha.”
Noah glanced at Peter and smiled. “I make this vow to magic, my alpha,” he looked to Stiles, “and my son.”
Stiles felt his eyes burn as the magic of the land hummed with contentment. Taking a step back, he waited for magic to issue the symbol of acceptance. It was usually a flowering bush or a sapling from what he’d read.
Barely a few seconds passed before shoots started to emerge from the earth, quickly blooming into small pink flowers. There were hundreds or maybe thousands of them, and the pack jumped away from the flowers. It took Stiles a minute to realize they’d grown in the shape of a huge triskelion that was easily ten feet across. The Hale family symbol.
Erica hunkered down next to it. “I’ve never seen this kind of flower.”
“It’s called Magic’s Breath,” Clara said softly. “It is incredibly rare, full of healing and restorative powers. Including curing any wolfsbane poisoning.” She smiled at Derek. “Magic is well pleased with you, Alpha Hale.”
Derek looked deeply affected, so Stiles pulled him into a hug. Derek held on tightly until Marcellus came for him, taking Derek further into the woods to discuss the whole black wolf thing with him and transfer the power in whatever way that happened. Even though it was full dark, Stiles could feel Derek’s steady presence and knew exactly how far away he was. He also knew that he’d always be able to find Derek from now on.
Stiles looked around at the pack, who all seemed better. More content, more settled.
Cora was crouched down by some flowers, gently stroking the petals. “The land feels good again. It feels like home.”
Noah slung his arm around Stiles’ shoulders. “You did good, kid.”
Stiles hugged Noah. “I’m so glad you’re okay.” He pulled back. “But we’re seriously going to have to talk about how the first thing you did as a werewolf was start macking on Peter Hale!”
Stiles laughed at his father and nudged him toward Peter. “I’m not disapproving, but I don’t want any details.”
Noah nudged him back. “Ditto.”
A few minutes later, a truly huge black wolf emerged from the trees and bounded up to Stiles, nearly knocking him over. He knew it was Derek.
“Well, look at you.” He rubbed behind Derek’s ear. He felt this pressing need to be along with Derek. There was so much more to do, so many people to talk to, so much to learn, but it needed to be just them for now.
Clara seemed to understand immediately because she explained to everyone that Derek and Stiles would need the night near the nemeton to cement their bond as the white and black wolves.
Stiles accepted hugs from almost everyone, letting himself be scented by every single member of the pack. Aunt Tess planned to stay around for a few days. The new nemeton was difficult for her still, but not so jagged on her magical senses. Booker St. John was also going to hang around and help. Weird guy.
Derek stayed in wolf form but scented all of his pack before they trooped away.
When they were alone, Derek shifted back, and he looked overwhelmed. “I feel…so different.”
“Is that good?”
“Yeah.” He took both of Stiles’ hands and held them tightly. “When you came to see me at the old house to say you were leaving, I couldn’t see how any good would come from you being gone.”
Stiles frowned. “Why’s that?”
“Because you were kooky and crazy and yet made everything seem more tolerable. You made it all seem survivable.”
Stiles’ throat felt tight.
“I was glad we became friends. It’s hard for me to talk.”
Derek stared into his eyes. “Once we became friends, I worried you’d never want to come home, but I didn’t want to put any pressure on you.” He yanked Stiles into a hug. “I’m so glad you came back.”
“Me too,” Stiles whispered. They stayed like that for a long time before Stiles pulled back and smiled. “We need to spend most of the night near the nemeton, but want to go running in the woods for a little while?”
Derek’s smile was blinding.
– – – –
* * *
EndNote: I decided to have the nemeton be Stiles’ literal magical tree!baby as a nod to Keira Marcos because she’s awesome and has crazy good inspiring ideas.