Title: Unobstructed Views
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: Teen Wolf
Genre: Drama, Episode Related, Family, Paranormal, Pre-Relationship, Shifters
Relationship(s): Gen, (hints of future Derek/Stiles)
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Dark Themes, Death-Minor Character, Discussion-Torture, Discussion-Murder, Hate Crimes & Hate Speech (Hunter vs. Werewolf type of hate), Kidnapping, Racism/Specism (against werewolves), Torture, Violence-Canon-typical
Author Notes: I make up a lot of stuff.
Challenge: Posted in June for the 2019 Quantum Bang.
Beta: Thank you, Keira & Ladyholder
Word Count: 63,800
Summary: Stiles refused to leave Erica and Boyd behind in the Argents’ basement, setting off a series of events that brings the pack together and builds a family.
Artist: The incomparable ChestnutNOLA. Thank you for everything.
“Mr. Argent?” one of Gerard’s henchmen called out, interrupting the epic beatdown the old man was giving Stiles.
The epically embarrassing beatdown. Stiles couldn’t believe he was getting his ass handed to him by someone who was literally old enough to be his grandfather.
The guy with the timely interruption looked like the same asshat who had thrown Stiles down the stairs into the Argents’ basement of murderous mayhem a short while ago. Stiles had been grabbed off of the lacrosse field when the lights had gone out. There had been chaos and screaming, and he hadn’t even been able to figure out what had happened before there’d been a gun pressed to his spine.
It fucking figured that he would finally get to play in the game—not to mention score the winning goal—and he’d get kidnapped before he could even enjoy it.
Argent gave one last kick to Stiles’ ribs then turned away. Stiles rolled closer to the wall, wanting something solid at his back, then spit out a mouthful of blood from when his teeth had cut into the inside of his cheek.
He focused on catching his breath while trying to come up with a plan. Any plan would be good, but a plan that got them all out alive and without further injury would be great. He didn’t look toward where Erica and Boyd were still strung up from the ceiling, steadily being electrocuted.
Stiles wondered how they were going to get out of this, and then it struck him how many times in the last five months he’d had that thought. How do we do this… How do we survive this… How do we outrun… How do we not get caught… How do I protect Dad…
He pushed himself to a seated position just as Gerard turned back around, creepy smile utterly freaking Stiles out.
“It seems young Mr. McCall is going to be a good puppy,” Gerard said with an unpleasant grin. “I may not need you to be a message after all.” So, Scott was somehow being manipulated by Gerard, and yet he hadn’t bothered to tell Stiles anything—no warning or heads up. Again.
“I’m crushed,” Stiles snarked. “I do so like being a message. Or a harbinger. Cautionary tale, perhaps?”
Gerard’s smile faltered slightly, mouth looking pinched. “Always something to say, Mr. Stilinski. Perhaps you should contemplate the expression, ‘silent as the grave.’”
“Is that supposed to be ominous? I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to monologue your evil plans in more detail before you rise to even the level of a stock Bond villain.”
“I have other matters to attend to for the moment, but I’m willing to spend the time necessary to see if I can raise myself in your estimation.” Gerard paused by Erica and Boyd to drop a locking cover over the generator controls, shooting a smirk Stiles’ direction as he pocketed the key. “Wouldn’t want you to get any more clever ideas about letting the dogs out.”
Stiles now got why the dog jokes weren’t funny. Especially coming from a speciest asshole like Gerard Argent.
Grandpa Serial Killer practically sauntered up the stairs, obviously confident in his ability to keep three teenagers captive in his murder basement. Fucking murder family.
Stiles’ whole body ached and his face throbbed, but he forced himself to ignore the physical discomfort and focus on the problem at hand. He glanced up at Erica and Boyd and nearly choked. They both looked…resigned. As if they had reconciled themselves to dying tonight.
Boyd was barely seventeen and Erica was still sixteen, and yet they both thought they were going to die. They looked like they had accepted it.
Stiles felt his world view shift sharply.
Over the past few months, he’d often thought that they were all barely treading water, but now he had a moment of clarity that they’d been in way over their heads the whole time. Stiles had been so focused on Scott and getting Scott through all this stuff—and keeping it away from his own father—that he hadn’t spared a thought for how desperate this had become for a bunch of kids.
He really wanted to believe that Derek and Scott were a minute away from breaking down the door and rescuing them, but his gut said that was a pipe dream. Something else was going on. Something probably worse than whatever was happening here, and Derek and Scott likely had no clue about their predicament.
If they got out of this—when they got out of it—they had to start doing things differently. He didn’t know what yet, but it had to be something. What they’d been doing so far clearly didn’t work. But, first, he had to get them all out of this fucking basement.
Slowly, he pushed himself up off the floor, favoring his aching ribs. “There’s got to be a way to turn that damn thing off.” He didn’t make eye contact with the other two again as he began searching the basement. “I suppose it’s too much to ask for a handy pair of wire cutters with a rubber grip? I’d even take a pair of garden shears; I can do a lot with hedgers.”
He found a couple of locked cabinets that did him no good. There was one unlocked that contained a few sharp, torture-looking implements that he’d electrocute himself with if he tried to use them free Erica and Boyd. It was a fucking tragedy that the most useful thing in the basement was a fucking pen. Well, needs must. He took the damn pen and tried to open the locked cabinets again.
“Dammit!” He kicked the cabinet when he failed to get it open. He could pick an unsophisticated lock with parts from a pen, but not the ones at hand.
“Language, Mr. Stilinski,” Gerard called from the top of the stairs as he slowly came back down. “I should give you detention for that.” The big dude who’d been the chief manhandler followed Gerard closely.
“I’m feeling pretty detained already.” Stiles crossed his arms over his chest, trying to look defiant. He stood in front of the generator, a feeble attempt to keep Gerard from the controls.
Gerard grinned with way too much teeth. “Your friend has come through in fine form, so it seems our time together must end. Mario will see you back to your school. Do try to behave yourself, Mr. Stilinski. I wouldn’t want to see you suspended.”
“Nice wordplay. A-plus for evil puns.” Stiles jerked back as Mario reached for him. “I’m not leaving without them.”
“Is that right?” Gerard scoffed. “And what makes you think you have any say in the matter?”
“Yeah, it’s like you hear the words I say but you never quite seem to comprehend them. So I’ll try it slower.” Stiles had always had a lousy sense of self-preservation. “I. Am. Not. Leaving—” He was backhanded—again!—by Gerard with such a strong blow it knocked him to the floor.
“Then it seems you’re not leaving.” Gerard massaged his hand. “Letting you go was the smarter thing to do—to appease my bleeding-heart son if nothing else—but I find myself eager for us to have some more quality time together so we can see if there is anything that actually makes you shut up.”
“Joy,” Stiles mumbled, mouth filled with blood again. He spit it out just before he was roughly hauled up. He found himself on the floor in the corner with his back against some pipe, hands cuffed behind him.
Gerard shot him another supervillain grin. “We’ll have to wait for our little encore. I have more important business to attend to at the moment. Now, don’t go anywhere. Oh, that’s right, you can’t.” Gerard gave him a parting kick to the ribs, causing Stiles to scream out in pain as he doubled over. It felt like Gerard had kicked into his damn lung. Then he and Mario were gone.
Stiles groaned and tried to move, but agonizing pain from his ribs kept him still. “Dammit!”
He forced himself to take shallow breaths and not think about the pain. He counted off a full minute before he retrieved the pen he’d stuck into the tank top under his lacrosse jersey. “I’ve been able to pick a handcuff lock since I was four, asshole,” he muttered. The pen cap had a metal tab he thought would fit the handcuff lock. He didn’t spare any attention for Erica and Boyd as he tried to manipulate the lock.
After a couple minutes, he blew out a breath, wincing at the screaming pain in his right side. “Of course, I’ve only successfully done this with my hands behind my back once.” That time he hadn’t been stressed, and his hands had been steady. None of that was true now.
He took time to make himself calm down and go through the process methodically. He dropped the pen cap once and hand to feel around behind him, wiggling around in ways his ribs did not like but, eventually, the lock gave way. The surge of adrenaline left him lightheaded for a second. It could be their only opportunity to escape.
“I’m going to have to up my game when it comes to the methods of escaping from an evil not-so-mastermind,” he muttered as he got to his feet very carefully. He looked around, taking everything in. “Well, since they didn’t oblige me with a nice pair of hedge clippers, I’ll just have to improvise.”
Erica made a high-pitched sound, obviously trying to get his attention. With some reluctance, Stiles stepped close and pulled the duct tape off. He realized that he hadn’t really wanted to interact with them until he could find a way out. He was determined to save them all, but he didn’t want to give her false hope.
“Stiles, what are you doing? Why did you stay?”
“We’re all getting out of here.”
“Stiles!” Erica pleaded, sounding like she was about to start sobbing. He swallowed thickly, hating to see someone as fierce as Erica torn down like that. “Get yourself out. You can’t help us. Go and try to send someone back.”
Stiles braced his hands on his hips. “So you became werewolves and suddenly you can’t be helped? You’re resigned to letting the biggest creeper to ever enter a high school—and that is a damn high bar—torture and kill you?”
“Stiles,” Boyd said softly. “You gotta get yourself out.”
“Yeah, no. Not without you guys.” He resumed looking around, trying to find some inspiration. “How did they get you? Derek must be freaking out right now.”
“No,” Boyd said firmly. “He won’t even know.”
Stiles looked back at them. “What happened?”
“We ran away,” Erica admitted.
“Tell me what happened…everything. Just keep talking. It’ll help me focus.” People so rarely got that about ADHD. He also wanted them to concentrate on something besides assuming they were going to die.
He kept looking for some way to free them, taking in the story as they took turns telling him how they wound up in the Argent Basement. It hit him again how they were so unprepared and overwhelmed that running away seemed like the only option. They were so scared of the damn Argents that they’d run from their alpha, the only real shelter and protection they had. They’d been lured into the trap the Argents had set by none other than Allison, who had then proceeded to mercilessly shoot them both repeatedly with arrows.
“Scott didn’t tell her,” Stiles muttered, wishing his hair was long enough to fist his hands in it and pull. Because pulling his hair out seemed like the only reasonable reaction to Scott hiding the truth about Victoria’s attempt at homicide that wound up with her getting bitten. “That idiot.” He was about ninety percent certain that Allison wouldn’t have turned into a full-on psychopath if Scott hadn’t hidden the truth about Victoria from her. Fucking love-blind fool.
And now their best chance of rescue, Derek fucking Hale, wasn’t even looking for them because he had no idea they were in danger.
“Stiles, go,” Erica pleaded again. “Try to get yourself out. Beat on the door. Tell them you want to go—that you changed your mind.”
“We’re not having this discussion. We’re all leaving together, and then you guys are coming to my house. Everyone is going to sleep and get better and, when we’re not high on adrenaline, we’re going to figure this thing out. We’ll figure out a plan for Romeo and fucking Juliet and the tragic figure that is the big bad alpha, okay? And if we do get separated, don’t you dare give up. You do whatever you have to do to get out of here then you come find me. No more running around in the woods where the Argents can do whatever the hell they want. You stay on public streets, and you find me. Got it?”
Erica and Boyd just gave him sad, resigned looks.
“Got it?” he hissed. “I’ll repeat it and repeat it until you two stop giving up!”
“We got it,” Boyd finally replied.
“Fan-fucking-tastic.” Stiles kicked at the area rug, trying to think of a solution. “Who puts area rugs in a torture basement? Are there throw pillows in the iron maiden?” The backing of the rug caught his eye. “Well, well, well. Rubberized back. New plan! I’m going to get that rug up and wrap it around the wires and then rip them out of the generator. Okay?”
“Yes!” Erica said, suddenly seeming a little more with it.
Getting the rug out from under the piece of heavy furniture was no small task. Stiles tugged and pulled, his ribs giving alarming warnings, and then he finally yanked it free. He fell on his ass, rug in hand, and bit back a scream of pain.
“Stiles!” Erica called out.
“I’m good,” he managed to get out. “Just gotta catch my breath.” It took him a couple minutes, but he got to his feet and started toward Erica and Boyd.
And then there was a very distinctive click of a gun being cocked.
Feeling more than a little pissed off and tired of things always going wrong, Stiles dropped the rug and turned around, hands raised. He continued to stand between the two werewolves and whoever was coming downstairs.
When Chris Argent came fully into view, his mouth dropped open, and the gun wavered. “Stiles?”
“The innocent act. How cute,” Stiles bit out. “But I’ll never buy the good guy routine from an Argent again.”
Chris’ mouth snapped shut. He looked Stiles over from head to toe, swallowing heavily. “This isn’t our way.”
“It sure the hell seems like this is exactly your way!” Stiles snapped. “It seems like this is all your fucked up family does.”
“Did Allison…” He gestured to Stiles with the gun.
“Did she put me down here? No.”
Argent had the fucking gall to look relieved.
“All she did was shoot a quiver full of arrows into her sixteen and seventeen-year-old classmates. Innocent kids. But no big, right? Just another day with the Argents, slaughtering innocents and giving pompous speeches.”
“You don’t understand—”
“You’re right, I don’t understand. And you have no fucking right to ask me to. And in case you’re in the dark too, because my best friend is apparently a fucking moron, your beloved wife tried to kill Scott. She was bitten by accident when Derek rushed in to rescue his ungrateful ass.”
Chris shook his head.
“Don’t shake your head at me! That’s exactly how it went down. When everyone should have been dealing with the kanima, Mrs. Argent strayed from the mission—you know, the mission to protect and save innocent people from a rampaging murder lizard—and went after Scott instead. And then Derek also had to take his eye off the scaly ball to go save Scott, exposing himself to the same aerosolized wolfsbane your lovely wife was using to simulate a deadly asthma attack in Scott.”
Chris didn’t look like he was in denial anymore, he just looked gutted.
Stiles took a risk and took a step forward. “The kanima should have been dealt with that night. And let us not forget that it wasn’t only your wife who was off task. I seem to recall that you and yours were overly focused on shooting Derek rather than working with him to deal with the actual threat.
“So I blame the Argents for every death since that moment at the hands of the kanima’s master. Every. Single. One. Every deputy that my father is torn up over is your fault!” he screamed. “Some of them I’ve known since I was a kid. So don’t you fucking pretend like you’re innocent or righteous. Not when your wife tried to murder Scott, your father kidnapped and beat the shit out of me—a scrawny, human teenager—and your daughter helped hunt, capture, and torture two innocent teenagers who had done nothing but be on the wrong side of your family’s epic bigotry.”
“The Argents owe this town a blood debt!” The air felt thick and heavy, and Stiles’ breath came in heavy pants, the adrenaline coursing through his veins made his hurts bleed away. “If you actually believe in your so-called code, if you’re going to be true to it and avoid even more blood on your family’s hands, you’ll let us go. All of us.” Stiles realized he was risking his own life and probably Erica and Boyd’s to taunt Chris, but he couldn’t help it. Too much had been left unsaid.
Chris looked some weird blend of angry, disbelieving, and devastated. “I’m not going to hurt you, Stiles.”
Stiles turned around, picked up the rug, and threw it over the dangling, electrified wires. With a sharp pull, he yanked the wires out of the generator, causing sparks to fly.
Erica and Boyd broke their bonds and dropped to the ground, both shuddering and gasping for air, eyes flaring gold. They were slow to get to their feet as their muscles spasmed and twitched. Chris had his gun raised, aim steady as he backed off, leaving the stairs clear.
“There’s no one else in the house,” Chris said quietly. “You’re free to go.”
Stiles watched him suspiciously as he herded Erica and Boyd toward the stairs.
“Stiles…” Argent began.
“What?” he snapped, not feeling in a chatty mood.
“I’m going to go help Scott. I won’t let my father hurt anyone else. I swear it—I’ll make this right.”
Stiles wanted to tell Argent just what cactus he could fuck himself with, but he bit his tongue. “I hope you do. I hope you can make up in some tiny way for the blood of innocents you assholes have spilled. And if you manage to be a decent human being and everyone survives, be sure to come clean to Scott and Derek about what happened down here. I shouldn’t have to do your dirty work.”
Argent’s expression was stiff, but he gave a short nod.
Stiles backed his way up the stairs, refusing to take his eyes off of Chris. He was aware of Boyd and Erica ahead of him. As soon as they were at the top, he grabbed them by the arms and led them through the kitchen and out the front door. No one saw them or tried to hinder their departure. Stiles in particular probably looked more than a little rough around the edges, so it was a damn good thing that it was nighttime.
As soon as they were outside, Boyd and Erica were even more tense, like they were poised to run away again.
“Oh no,” Stiles said firmly, keeping ahold of their arms. “At the end of the block is Mrs. Brisbane’s house. I used to run errands with her when I was younger.”
Her RA prevented her from walking very well, but she’d drive Stiles to the store, and he’d do her grocery shopping while she sat in the car and read bodice rippers. It was how Stiles got their own grocery shopping done. She’d let him drop his groceries off first then he’d go home with her and unpack everything for her. She’d always feed him like he was one meal away from starvation, and then he’d walk the two miles home.
Once grocery delivery was now a thing, and she didn’t need Stiles’ help quite so much, so he only went by to check on her occasionally and get a metric ton of cookies.
“She’ll give us a ride to my house.” While two miles home might not be too far for Stiles normally, he knew he’d never make it today. “You two are not running off again.”
“Stiles, we can’t— I don’t—” Erica swallowed heavily looking panicked. The darkness worked for them in that no one could see their condition, but it also made them more vulnerable because it would be easier for hunters to get to them unseen.
Stiles understood why they were scared. “Look, I don’t know how many more of these assholes are out there. We’re staying together, we’re staying in plain view. I’m so done with these cat and mouse games. The hunters count on us running off into the woods or making sure people don’t see—they fucking exploit it. No more.”
“We can’t tell people!” Boyd said, looking appalled.
“Maybe not about werewolves, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use the fucking system to your advantage instead of letting them use it. Pretend like you’re not werewolves; ask for help. It’s not like the Argents are going to scream werewolves to get people to stop helping you. To the public of Beacon Hills, we’re a bunch of fucking kids. They’ll be on our side, not the side of the middle-aged assholes with guns and SUVs with blacked-out windows who get their jollies by chasing teenagers in the woods. And it’s time we started exploiting our advantages—because there sure the fuck aren’t many!”
Erica and Boyd just stared at him.
“Move it.” Stiles huffed and continued pulling at them. “It’s not far.”
“You don’t have to keep dragging us,” Erica said after they’d passed a couple houses.
“I literally can’t make you guys do anything, and I know that, okay? But I want to know if you’re taking off.”
“We won’t,” Boyd said.
Stiles stopped tugging them along and took the opportunity to wrap his arm around his middle, supporting his ribs a bit more. This was going to hurt like a motherfucker when the adrenaline wore off. Maybe he’d be lucky enough to sleep through that.
“You okay?” Erica asked.
“Eh.” He focused on putting one foot in front of the other. He could feel in their body tension how they wanted to run, but Stiles needed to get them all to a place where they were actually safe—and that sure the fuck wasn’t running around in the preserve at night. Which meant getting off the streets and getting back home.
“You really told off Mr. Argent back there,” Boyd said, surprising Stiles with how he sounded impressed.
“Yeah, well, being mouthy is my superpower.”
“Where is it?” Erica glanced around furtively as they got to the end of the block.
He wanted to tell her to stop glancing around like she’d committed a crime, but he kept his mouth shut for once because he understood why she was hyper-vigilant. “First house after we turn the corner.”
Stiles kept expecting them to try to take off, but they stayed with him as they walked up the ramp to the Brisbane house. There was no answer when he rang the bell.
“Maybe she’s not here,” Erica said nervously, glancing around.
“She’s here—her car is in the drive. But she’s got bad rheumatoid arthritis, so she moves slowly when she’s hurting.”
“I hear someone coming toward the door.” Boyd’s head was cocked to the side.
The door swung open slowly. “Stiles!” Mrs. Brisbane looked shocked as she took in their appearance. “What happened to you, baby?”
He opened his mouth to make an excuse about a rival lacrosse team but, suddenly, he was so very done with hunters taking advantage of their fear.
“Someone grabbed me after the game and did this.” He gestured to his face. “They grabbed my friends too.” He felt Boyd and Erica stiffen, so he latched onto their arms to keep them in place. “We got away just a few minutes ago. Your house was close, and I was going to ask if you’d drive me home or even let me borrow your car, but I think maybe…” He trailed off and bit his lip, wincing at how it reopened the split. “Can I call my dad?”
“Oh, honey, of course. You poor things. Come in, come in.” She stood back and ushered them inside. Mrs. B gave Erica a quick hug, ignoring how she tensed up, before getting situated again with her walker and leading them into the house. “Come in and sit down, and I’ll go get my phone.”
Stiles’ mind was racing, trying to figure out how to play this. “Would you mind maybe, um, could you call Dad? He’s going to freak out, and maybe he’ll be calmer talking to another adult.”
“I can do that. Give me a minute to get Noah nice and calmed down. I’ll call him in my bedroom. Besides, I need to get some better shoes on if I’m going to be cavorting about the house. Do you kids want to sit in the living room?”
“Maybe the kitchen? Can we get some water?” Stiles really was desperately thirsty, but the kitchen was close to the door and farthest from Mrs. B’s bedroom, so she wouldn’t overhear them talking.
“Help yourself, sweetie pie, you know where everything is.” She gave him a sympathetic look and patted his shoulder. “I need to be able to tell your dad who took you.”
Stiles fidgeted with the hem of his jersey, trying to project insecurity, which wasn’t all that far off of the truth of how he felt, but he’d never usually show it. False bravado was practically his mutation. “I don’t want him to— I mean, they have a lot of guns, and I don’t want him to get hurt charging in without all the information. Maybe it should wait until he’s here?”
Mrs. B’s eyebrows were making for her hairline. “Guns? What—” She cut herself off and shook her head. “Take whatever you need—food, water, anything. I’m going to call your father. Don’t you worry about a thing.”
As soon as she was out of the room, Stiles straightened up and headed for the kitchen.
“Was that all an act? And what are you doing?” Erica hissed.
“Getting some water.” Stiles reached for the cabinet to get glasses, winced at the sharp pain in his ribs, and switched to use his other arm. “We’re going to tell the truth,” he said so softly no one but a werewolf could hear.
“The truth?” Erica growled. “How is that going to work?”
“Yeah, the truth,” he said sharply. “We leave out anything about werewolves, obviously, but we tell the truth. Feign ignorance about anything you can’t account for.” He filled up glasses and passed them around. The other two drank when prompted then seemed to realize how thirsty they were and drank four glasses in a row. Stiles went a little slower, his aches and pains getting worse with every passing second. That last kick to the ribs was the smelly cherry on the shit sundae that was today.
“What about Allison?” Erica whispered as she sipped at her fifth glass of water.
Part of Stiles wanted to protect Allison for Scott’s sake but, really, Scott had done a shit job of protecting Allison when he’d failed to tell her the truth about how her mother was bitten.
“That’s up to you guys.” Stiles stared into the glass like it held the answers. “She didn’t hurt me.”
There was a long silence, and Stiles didn’t look up. Eventually, Boyd said, “We’re gonna say she was there. Leave out the arrows. If she wants to throw her grandfather under the bus, that’s up to her. We wouldn’t be able to refute any claims she made that he was behind it all since we’re not mind readers.”
Considering that Boyd and Erica wouldn’t show any sign of injury, Allison likely wouldn’t be in any real trouble, especially if she made out like she was doing everything at her grandfather’s behest because she felt she had no choice. But that wasn’t Stiles’ problem. He couldn’t let someone who would turn to torture and murder so damn easily be anywhere on his concern matrix.
“So what do we say?” Boyd asked, sounding uncharacteristically hesitant.
Stiles drummed his fingers on the side of the glass. “That you two were hanging out in the preserve, making out.”
They both looked away from each other, Erica with bright spots of color on her cheeks.
“Oh, is that the way of it? Good for you and all that jazz. Something new, I gather?”
Boyd cleared his throat, not looking at Erica. “We haven’t really talked about it.”
“But there’s something,” Erica said softly, watching Boyd closely.
Boyd looked down at her. “Yeah, there is.”
“Mazel tov,” Stiles said deadpan. “Anyway, people on four wheelers started chasing you, and you were scared. They corralled you and then shocked you with something until you passed out. You woke up and found yourselves tied up in the basement. Gerard threatened you with torture, though you don’t know why or what he wanted. Then they threw me down there…”
“That’s basically what happened,” Erica said slowly, obviously thinking it through.
“Exactly. You leave out the running away because you can’t explain why, and you don’t talk about the arrows because you’re not hurt.”
“What about the howling?”
“Make it part of why you were scared. You were running because you heard howling and you thought there were freaking wolves in the woods—there aren’t supposed to be wolves in California. Everyone says so, right? And there were all those animal attacks earlier in the year… And you were just so terribly frightened. Why the Argents were doing all that, you just can’t imagine. What they wanted with you, you don’t know. Why Allison was there, you have no idea.”
“Wow,” Boyd murmured. “We’re going to trap them with the truth.”
“Yes. Play up being scared kids and say you just don’t know when anyone questions you.”
“And when they ask why you were hurt and we weren’t?” Boyd pressed.
Stiles scoffed. “Just tell my dad that I was mouthing off and drawing Gerard’s attention. He’ll have no problem believing that.”
“But it’s the truth.” Erica cocked her head to the side. “That is what happened.”
“It’s easier to mislead with the truth. Especially when you’re talking to a cop.” He gave them both pointed looks. “However, we’re going to have to tell my dad the truth later. I can’t bring him this far in, expose him to the Argents’ bad acts, and not give him the information he really needs. So I need you guys there. I need you to help explain and prove what’s really going on.”
They both looked wary then seemed to relax almost simultaneously—some sort of freaky werewolf mind meld—and they nodded. “Is he still going to help us?”
“My dad? Of course he will.” Stiles had complete faith in his father even if Stiles had done a shit job of showing it. “He’s going to see you guys, rightly so, as the victims here, and he’s going to protect you. So, get set for a stay at casa Stilinski.”
“Why are you doing this, Stiles,” Erica whispered. “We aren’t exactly friends.”
“So what? We have to be besties for me not to leave you to be tortured in Gerard’s murder basement? We have to be all up in each other’s Facebook for me to try to help you? Do I have to like your Instagram full beat face to not want to see you slaughtered?” He set the glass down. “And it’s not like we couldn’t be friends, we just…aren’t.” He went to the island, sitting gingerly on one of the barstools.
A few seconds passed before Boyd and Erica sat on either side of him. “I think we’re friends now,” Erica whispered, leaning into him gently. She took his hand. “We just have to stick together, right?”
Boyd’s hand closed over his arm, squeezing gently.
“Yeah,” Stiles muttered. “We’re friends.”
“We’re pack,” Boyd corrected.
Stiles felt like his heart was being squeezed. Since this whole thing began when Scott was bitten, he’d felt like he was on the outside looking in, fighting to be accepted and failing no matter how much he tried. He figured Derek might have something to say about the three of them deciding to be pack. But, then again, Derek wasn’t here.
“Pack.” Erica let her head rest on his shoulder.
He wondered if he was making a mistake with all this. He felt like he was putting his dad in the line of fire, and it tore him up, but he’d acknowledged down there in that basement that his father was never safe being ignorant. Stiles had just wanted to believe that he was—that ignorance would save him from claws and bullets.
He’d thought he could handle it on his own. A building full of dead deputies should have gotten through to him sooner. And his father certainly wouldn’t have been safe if Stiles had died in the Argents’ medieval fun house because he knew his father would never have let that go.
“Pack,” he agreed, and it felt like something resonated in him. Derek had always said humans couldn’t feel pack bonds, but Stiles’ thought that he could. It was just his imagination, but he liked the illusion.
They had plenty of warning of Mrs. B coming back as her walker rattled down the hallway. She carefully looked them all over. “Your father is on his way, sweetie. He said Deputy Graeme might get here first. I need to go finish taking care of my feet and take my pills, but then I’ll be out here to cluck over you like a mother hen. Do you kids need anything first? Should I call any other parents?” She glanced at Boyd and Erica.
Boyd shook his head, but it was Erica who replied, “No, we’re both fine. They hadn’t gotten to us yet.”
“Your parents will still want to know,” Mrs. B chided gently.
“We’ll call them later,” Erica said firmly.
“Probably not a good idea to bring more worried parents down here,” Stiles interceded. “I know Dad will make sure they’re called.”
“Good point.” She patted his shoulder. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
As soon as she’d rounded the corner, Stiles whispered, “Let’s work on the cover story while we can. Remember, stick close to the truth. Our stories can’t be too rehearsed, or it comes off as fake. The actual truth and the words ‘I don’t know’ are your best friends right now.”
“You’re scary, you know that, right?” Erica said, not sounding scared in the slightest.
“It’s a gift.”
Mrs. B was in round two of hovering and trying to feed them when there was a knock at the door. Erica and Boyd had accepted a snack in round one, but Stiles was feeling like dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe, and food hadn’t seemed like a good idea.
Erica went to answer it. Stiles was hoping it was his dad—because he really wanted to see his father—but Tara came into the kitchen behind Erica.
“Jesus, Stiles,” she breathed. “What happened?” She came around the island, and Boyd moved away so she’d have access. She cupped his face and prodded his cheekbone, apologizing when he winced. “Everyone has been looking for you.”
“Gerard Argent and some guys grabbed me after the game. They decided I was too pretty the way I was. Hence…” He gestured to himself.
“Your school principal kidnapped and beat you up?” she asked incredulously, hands falling away.
“Not just me.” He gestured to Boyd and Erica. “They were there too. But, you know me, I’m mouthy…”
Her expression softened briefly. “Meaning you drew his attention to protect your friends.” She shook her head. “And if it’s the Argents, I understand your concern about their firepower.”
“It’s not just that they sell firearms, Tara, it’s that… Well, something is really off there. They have these guys who seem more like mercenaries, and there are some things that looked like medieval torture implements down in their doom basement.”
Tara’s brow furrowed. “Why’d he kidnap you kids?”
“I have no idea. He said something about leaving me bloody in a ditch as a message to Scott.”
Tara sucked in a startled breath.
“But, as far as I know, the only thing Scott has done is date Allison. The whole freaky family seems to hate that, but it doesn’t seem bad enough to inspire all of this. It certainly doesn’t explain why beating me up would have anything to do with the loverly duo.”
Tara’s eyes were narrowed, but she didn’t look suspicious of what he was saying, more like she was thinking things through. “What about you two?” she directed to Erica and Boyd. “Any idea what’s going on? Were you taken from school too?”
Erica crossed her arms over her chest, making herself look smaller and more vulnerable. “No. Boyd and I were walking through the preserve when we were chased down by these guys on four wheelers. They stunned us with something—like shock batons or maybe cattle prods?—and we woke up in the basement. Then Stiles was thrown down the stairs. He tried to get us loose, but Principal Argent arrived and just started whaling on him for no reason.”
“How’d you get free?”
“Principal Argent got a phone call,” Erica offered. “He was going to take Stiles with him, but Stiles refused to leave without us, so he beat him some more and then cuffed him to a pipe. Stiles picked the lock on the cuffs and started trying to get us free, but then Mr. Argent—Chris Argent, I mean—came down. He seemed shocked we were there, said he wanted no part in whatever crazy thing his father was doing, so he let us go. He said he was going to stop his dad from doing something worse, but I don’t know where he went or even what worse might be. I mean, what’s worse than kidnapping three teenagers?”
Stiles was sort of stunned at Erica’s performance.
“Are you kids hurt too? You seem to be moving okay…?”
“We’re fine. They kept zapping us with these tasers and the things that were like cattle prods or whatever. And they used these wires with electricity running through them to keep us from trying to move or run away.”
Stiles was fucking proud of Erica. She’d taken to using the truth as a weapon like a fucking pro.
“Oh my god,” Mrs. B said, sounding horrified. “You poor kids.”
“Stiles got the worst of it,” Erica insisted. “I was shaky for a bit, but I’m feeling better now.”
Tara shook her head. “You kids are all going to the hospital. We’ll need to photograph any injuries and, even if there isn’t anything visible, you’ll need to get your hearts checked after being repeatedly shocked. Especially if it was with something like a cattle prod. Good lord,” she said under her breath.
“Okay,” Stiles agreed, taking Erica’s hand and putting a hand on Boyd’s arm. Getting an EKG wasn’t going to hurt them. “But…” He swallowed heavily, trying to look vulnerable. “Can we stay together?”
“Of course,” Tara quickly assured him. “We’ll need formal statements eventually, but that’s not important right now. We need to get you kids checked out while I work on handling the Argents. Do you think they’ll have removed the evidence?”
“The torture equipment? Probably not, but maybe,” Stiles conceded. “But my blood is all over that basement, so… It seems unlikely that they’ve handled crime scene clean up considering all the pseudo-military goons went with Argent the elder. And Chris Argent is out chasing after his creepy ass father and his overly muscled minions, so when would they have found the time?” He swallowed thickly. “Uh, what about my dad?”
“He can’t be officially involved when you’re a victim, Stiles, you know that. But I’m going to take his direction about how to approach this, so don’t worry.”
Mrs. Brisbane set a hand on Stiles’ shoulder, addressing Tara, “After the sheriff gets here, how about I take the kids to the hospital? That way they get seen to and we’re not underfoot while you deputies work. Since we’re only a block from the Argent house, you can use my house for whatever you need.”
“Mrs. B!” Stiles protested. “You can’t be sitting at the hospital like that. What about your hips?”
“But I can stay with you for long enough for a deputy to come look after you kids.”
Tara’s lips pursed briefly, and she gave Stiles a searching look. “Will Argent come after you? I want the truth here, Stiles.”
“Maybe,” he admitted. “It’s not like I know what his deal is, Tara. I don’t know why he’s so bent out of shape or what he wants from Scott. But if he doesn’t get what he’s after? He might…try again?”
“Okay. We’re going to need a deputy at the hospital with you guys—they can meet you there. But we wait for your dad before we make any move. He might veto the plan or go with you himself.”
Stiles glanced over at Mrs. Brisbane. “You sure this is okay, Mrs. B? I know we busted in on you—”
“Stop that,” she chided. “You bet your cute little butt that you should have come here. If I need to take you kids, I can handle a hospital chair for a bit. If your dad takes you, I’ll stay here and ply the deputies with muffins and boss them around.” She smiled and then pointed behind Stiles.
He turned and saw his dad hovering in the doorway. “Stiles,” he whispered, sounding and looking more than a little wrecked.
“Dad…” He got to his feet but then winced and cradled his ribs. He let Boyd guide him back onto the bar stool.
His dad crossed the distance and carefully wrapped his arms around Stiles. “I was so worried. Are you okay?” he whispered.
Stiles closed his eyes, finally feeling safe. “Yeah, I’m fine, Dad.”
His dad pulled back, resting his hands on Stiles’ shoulders, his gaze taking in every aspect of Stiles’ appearance. “Liar,” he said with a faint, sad smile.
“Well, I’m better than I was…?”
“You’re failing to reassure me.”
“And this is my best reassuring expression too.”
His dad’s face became serious. “Who took you?”
“Gerard Argent.” Before his father could ask anything, Stiles pointed to Tara. “Maybe let Tara fill you in? I don’t want to say it again.”
Eyes narrowing, his dad nodded and stepped back with what looked like a lot of reluctance. He and Tara disappeared into the next room, and Stiles buried his face in his hands, feeling a sudden, overwhelming doubt and near panic about letting his father get anywhere near this.
Erica’s arm came around his shoulders. “We got you,” she murmured in his ear. “And we’ll look out for your dad, too.”
Stiles took a shuddery breath, in part because of emotion but also because it fucking hurt to breathe deeply. “Yeah. Okay.” He looked up. “I can’t lose him.” He stared after his dad. “But we can’t keep going on like this,” the last was murmured so softly he knew only Erica and Boyd could hear.
Mrs. B moved closer. “You were thinking about not telling him, weren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Stiles admitted. “Some story about the rival lacrosse team…?”
“Stiles…” She huffed a bit. “Your father was an Army Ranger. He puts up a good front of a mild-mannered, small-town sheriff, but he’s really a badass. Don’t tell him I said that though. I prefer to remind him of when he was a scrawny-assed little klutz.”
Stiles huffed out a laugh. “Don’t make me laugh.”
“No embarrassing stories,” his dad said with mock severity as he came back into the kitchen. He was making a good attempt at a smile, but Stiles could see the tightness around his eyes and mouth. He stood in front of Stiles, meeting his gaze squarely. “You think Gerard Argent has gone after Scott?”
“I don’t know. He wants something or thinks Scott has something. Or maybe he just hates Scott for boning his granddaughter. I just don’t know. He seemed fucking crazy, Dad.”
“Language,” his admonished absently. “Scott and Isaac were out looking for you after the game. I tried to call him after Patty called, to tell me you were here, but he’s not answering. I’ve issued an APB for him and Isaac. Not to mention the Argents.” He sighed. “Lydia Martin stopped by, looking for you. She waited for a bit then took off like a bat out of hell after she got a text on her phone.”
Stiles just stared. “Why would she come to see me?”
“She wouldn’t say.”
Stiles opened and closed his mouth several times. “I got nothin’.”
“It’s a minor mystery we don’t need to solve now.” His dad gave him a pointed look. “You were right to be worried about the situation with the Argents, considering their access to firearms. Tara is calling in for a warrant and requesting backup from other nearby police departments. We don’t have the manpower for this kind of thing.”
“You hurting, Son?”
“Yeah,” Stiles agreed, covering for his reaction to the problems he had brought into his father’s life. “Could be worse, I guess.”
Dad looked concerned. “I’m taking all of you to the hospital—”
“You don’t have to—”
“Stiles, you’re my son! I’m going to the hospital with you. Until I hear that you’re going to be okay from an actual medical professional, I’m not letting you out of my sight. Deal with it.”
“Okay, Pops. Message received. I’m prepared for overprotective-parent mode to begin.”
His father rolled his eyes and huffed a small laugh. “Let’s get going. Tara is going to take Patty up on her offer to work from her kitchen since it’s so close to the Argents’ house.” He looked to Erica and Boyd. “You two care about riding in the back of the patrol car?”
“That’s fine, Sheriff,” Boyd said for both of them.
His dad pointed at Stiles. “And I have a few questions on the way there.”
Stiles felt a knot form in his stomach. “Yeah…” Stiles stared at his hands, wondering how he was going to field whatever his father was about to throw at him.
A few minutes later, they were in the car after Stiles had painfully lowered himself into the front of the sheriff’s cruiser with Boyd’s help. The break at Mrs. B’s house had given him time to stiffen up in an awful way.
His dad’s expression radiated concern, but he didn’t say anything for the first couple of minutes. “Stiles, I have to have know if tonight was an extension of whatever’s been going on this year.”
Stiles went rigid, feeling the accusation in his bones.
“No, that’s not what I meant,” he said sharply. “I’m not saying you brought this on yourself. I would never say that!”
He relaxed a little, not sure what he’d have done if his father had blamed him for this.
“Just tell me if it’s all connected.”
“Yes? Maybe? I don’t know.” He shrugged one shoulder.
“More secrets?” His father’s eyes flicked to the rearview mirror, no doubt checking Erica and Boyd, but they were silent, letting the conversation happen.
“No,” Stiles said immediately. “God, Dad, I was so scared tonight, and I knew that we were in so far over our heads. And I kept thinking, ‘Oh my god, we need an adult.’ Which is kind of crazy because I don’t generally think I need adults.”
His father sighed. “What’s going on, Son? I need you to talk to me. Really talk for once.”
The fact that his father’s focus was on the road and he wasn’t looking right at Stiles made it a little easier. “I decided to tell you all the crazy stuff that’s been going on this year, but I honestly don’t know what Gerard wants from Scott or why he wants to send him a message. I don’t know why he thought beating the crap out of me would even be an effective message, but that’s what he said. And I definitely don’t know why he grabbed Boyd and Erica and trussed them up like Christmas geese down in his murder basement.”
“Murder basement? Jesus, Stiles. Did you really think he was going to kill you guys?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I don’t know!” Stiles snapped then bent over, trying to protect his ribs. “But his basement was full of fucking torture implements.” Stiles breath was uneven, and he felt close to panicking.
“Slow your breathing down, Stiles,” his dad said, reaching out and taking his hand. “Just listen to my voice and take slow, steady breaths.”
Stiles let his dad talk him down from the impending panic attack, which had more to do with his dad getting involved in all this than anything that happened today. Or maybe he was deluding himself about how much Gerard working him over had affected him.
“They think they can do whatever they want,” Stiles finally said, “and that no one is going to stop them.”
“I’m going to fix this, Son, you have to trust me.”
Stiles nearly panicked again.
“Mieczysław,” his dad said sharply, startling him. “Calm down, and tell me what’s freaking you out.”
“Right there in front of all those people they just took me,” Stiles blurted out. “Who does that? They’re so confident in their ability to do whatever they want that they’re willing to kidnap the sheriff’s son in front of a hundred potential witnesses.” He made himself breathe deeply despite the pain because he was getting lightheaded. “They actually hunted Erica and Boyd out there in those woods, and who knows what they planned to do to us. They don’t fear anything, Dad. Nothing. And they have big ass guns, and I’m so scared you’re going to get hurt.”
His dad blew out a breath, and he squeezed Stiles’ hand. “Son, I am going to approach this as the threat you fear they are and that I hope they aren’t because I don’t want anyone else getting hurt. But people like this have to be stopped. I’m damn good at my job, Stiles. But I know what my limitations are and, right now, it’s manpower. And not just bodies, but bodies with experience.
“As much as I’d love to go after the Argents personally, it’s not practical or even legal. Which is why Tara is calling other PDs to help handle this. Several of the nearby towns were already prepared to help in the event of an emergency because of all the deaths, and they know we don’t have the trained bodies to handle anything out of the ordinary. We’re going to be careful every step of the way. I promise.”
Stiles finally glanced over. “Doesn’t their arrogance freak you out? I mean, just a little?”
“More than a little, kid. I worry Gerard Argent and whatever hired muscle he has might be willing to kill a cop, but I can’t afford to let that stop me.”
“You’ll wear a vest, right? All the time?”
“Right now I’m with you but, yes, I will wear a vest if I’m out in the field.” His dad looked over briefly. “I’d wonder if you were ducking my question, but you seem legitimately freaked out.”
“I am freaked out!”
“I’m so sorry, kiddo. I’d give anything to rewind time and make this have not happened to you.”
Stiles’ throat felt tight. There were so many times when Stiles could have made a different decision. They all could have. “I know, Dad. And I wasn’t intentionally avoiding your question, but…can I spill my guts later? I’ll tell you anything you want to know when there aren’t people around and when Gerard isn’t trying to find Scott for who knows what nefarious scheme.”
“Nefarious scheme?” He sounded faintly amused.
“He’s practically a stock villain. I’m pretty sure all his schemes are nefarious.”
“Point.” His dad continued to maintain the tight grip on Stiles’ hand. “And there’s nothing in these secrets of yours that I need to know before we execute a warrant and get a crime scene team in there?”
Werewolves, Stiles wanted to say but swallowed the urge.
“No.” He hesitated. “I don’t know. I can’t think of why anything I might tell you would change your course of action but, Dad, I honestly don’t understand any of this. I think maybe Scott knows something, but that’s only because he’s been keeping secrets from me lately, and then Gerard does this. I can only think there’s a connection.”
His father shot him a sharp look then focused on the road. “Okay. That’s enough for now. But we’re having a long talk later. And I want to know everything that’s going on with you, all right? No more secrets.”
“Yeah.” Stiles rubbed his hand over his face. “When we’re done at the hospital, can Erica and Boyd stay at our place tonight?”
“Won’t their parents be worried?” His gaze flicked to the rearview mirror again.
“They’ll be fine with it,” Erica said.
“My grandma won’t care,” Boyd replied.
“Something you’re not telling me, kids?”
No one said anything.
His father’s brows were drawn together.
“Okay,” Stiles said huffily, “we’re all a little freaked out and worried that Gerard might try to…finish the job.”
The grip on his hand tightened painfully for a few seconds. “That’s not going to happen. And, yes, they can stay as long as they call their parents and let them know where they are. Since we have to have a deputy on you guys anyway, keeping you in one spot is the better choice considering our manpower issues.”
They were getting close to the hospital, and Stiles felt like he had to drive home the warning and caution. “Dad, you know Kate Argent killed the Hales?”
“Yes,” his father drew out, sounding concerned.
“I think Gerard is maybe worse.”
His dad shot him another look. “Worse,” he repeated deadpan.
“Yeah, like, maybe Kate became the way she was because of him.”
“I see.” He didn’t sound like he really did see. Not yet anyway.
“And she didn’t hesitate to kill whole families.”
“And I may have been doing some digging that I didn’t tell you about.”
“And I may have found two other towns that Kate lived in where whole families died.”
His dad made a funny little sound.
“One was written off as a gas main explosion. Twenty-three people died. The other was her go-to house fire like the Hales.” He hesitated. “I think there’s probably more. But maybe they’re not just hers.”
“Jesus, Stiles, why—” He cut himself off.
But Stiles knew what his dad had stopped himself from asking. “I just didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“And I don’t want you to get hurt, and yet you are hurt. So what we’re doing isn’t working.” He pulled the cruiser into a short-term parking spot near the ER doors then turned to face Stiles. “I hear what you’re saying, and I’m going to try to be careful. As careful as I can possibly be. But I need you to let me be the adult here, okay? And not even your dad, but the sheriff of this town who was also a Ranger and did two tours. One who can handle any firearm put in front of him.”
Stiles tried to smile, but it felt weak. “Please don’t get hurt.”
His dad blew out a breath and leaned over to give Stiles a careful hug. “Please let me take care of this. Take care of you. Later, we’ll talk and you can try to negotiate again for who’s in charge.”
“Any chance I’m gonna win?”
“Not a chance in hell.”
Stiles laughed, but it sounded watery and flat to his own ears, and it caused agonizing pain to radiate from his right side.
His father checked his phone then he shot Stiles a considering look. “Okay, I’m going to keep you in the loop because I know how you are, but do not make me regret it.”
Stiles made a show of crossing his heart. “I think I’m down for the count anyway, Dad.”
He got another concerned look. “Yuba City is sending help, including their SWAT team, but they’re an hour out. We should have the warrant by then. The sheriff from Sweetland is on her way. She’s going to take command since I can’t do it and Tara isn’t prepared to lead this kind of action.”
Stiles felt relief settle in his bones at knowing his dad wouldn’t be out there trying to catch deranged hunters. “Okay, that sounds good. SWAT sounds amazing even. I love SWAT. Considering all the firepower those nutbag Argents have, SWAT seems like an appropriate and measured response.”
His dad snorted. “I have a new deputy that’s going to be in charge of looking after you three if I’m not around. His name’s Parrish. The three of you are not to give him a hard time.”
“Are you going after Gerard yourself?”
“Depending on how things go here, I may join Sheriff Morris eventually. Oversee things even if I can’t be directly involved in the investigation. But if we have a chance in hell of putting Argent in jail, I can’t go after him. So, no, I have no plans to go after him myself. Even if I’d really love to punch him in the face repeatedly. With a chair,” his dad mumbled the last.
“Tara told you that Chris Argent didn’t know, right? That he let us go when he found out?”
“And I’m grateful, except as a responsible adult he should have called the police and an ambulance, not shown you the door and let you run around on the street with no viable way of getting help. He’s not in our proverbial crosshairs, but he’s going to have to answer for what was going on in his own damn house.”
Stiles thought to try to defend Chris, though he really had no idea why. He snapped his mouth shut and let it go. It wasn’t his problem.
“Let’s go, Son.” He got out and let Erica and Boyd out of the back then Boyd had to help Stiles get out of the car. He tried to move normally, keenly aware of his dad watching his every move with mounting concern, but he just couldn’t quite straighten up anymore.
– – – –
Noah talked to the director of the ER about the security situation, keeping an eye on where Stiles was seated in the triage chair having his blood pressure taken. The Reyes and Boyd kids hovered nearby, watching Stiles closely.
Something about the interaction of the three kids spoke to something Noah couldn’t quite put his finger on but, then again, Tara had made it clear that Stiles had drawn Argent’s ire to protect the other two. Which was incredibly brave and not a little bit stupid. Noah was both proud and half wanting to throttle his kid. His exasperating, too smart for his own good, frustrating, talkative, secretive, hyperactive, completely loveable kid.
The doctor left to get things ready—Noah had made it clear that the kids had to stay together because they were in protective custody, and the department didn’t have the manpower for three guards.
His son was in protective custody because of something going on in this town, and Noah’s instincts said it was all tied into the sheer weirdness happening here since January. Something he was sure Stiles knew more about than he was saying. Previously, Noah hadn’t wanted to push so far that he’d alienate Stiles, but that was when he thought it was some sort of teenage angst thing. Stiles being kidnapped and beaten—being afraid he’d be murdered—wasn’t a teen anything. It was a very real, very adult problem that he was done not knowing about.
He worried about Scott, who was like another son, and wondered if Gerard Argent had him even now. He had deputies trying to find Scott and the Lahey kid, but there wasn’t much else he could do right now. Scott wasn’t answering his phone, and the warrant to track his location wasn’t in yet. Stiles could track Scott’s phone, Noah was pretty sure of that, but it was pretty clear that Stiles had no idea where his phone even was.
He turned to find his new deputy, Jordan Parrish, hovering nearby. The man was in jeans, T-shirt, and a jacket. Not surprising since it was his night off. “Thanks for coming in, Parrish.”
“No problem, sir.” He plucked at his T-shirt. “My uniforms were in the wash.” Tomorrow was Parrish’s day off, so it wasn’t surprising that it was laundry day.
“It’s not a problem. I’ll make sure the director of the ER knows you’re in plain clothes. Just be sure your badge is visible, and try to keep your sidearm under your coat. No point in freaking people out.”
“Of course, Sheriff.”
“You got the camera?”
“It’s in my bag.”
“You’re going to work with the doctor to document any injuries the kids have. I’ll be in the room because Stiles is my son, but I can’t be involved in the gathering of any evidence.”
“I’ll introduce you after they’re in a room.”
A nurse walked by with a wheelchair and headed right for Stiles. By the time Noah got over there, Stiles was in the middle of protesting, but the minute he tried to stand, he gave in to the idea of the chair, letting Boyd help him move.
Noah had seen a lot of broken ribs in his life, and he’d eat his hat if Stiles didn’t have at least two. The thought caused him to need to stop and push back a black rage that he couldn’t afford to let consume him.
He walked back with Stiles, aware of Boyd and Reyes following like quiet little ducklings, and Parrish brought up the rear. The kids were in narrow exam spaces, side by side and divided by curtains. Reyes immediately threw open the dividing curtains, so the three cubicles made a larger space. He watched closely, noticing how the kids always stayed in sight of each other.
Noah hunkered down in front of Stiles where he was still sitting in the wheelchair and looking at the bed like it was going to bite him. “Kiddo, we need to document your injuries before they do much more. I figure you want to move around as little as possible, so how about you hang tight in that stylish chair until we’re ready to take the pictures.”
“Yeah, sure, Dad.” Stiles seemed a little listless, and Noah could practically feel his son’s pain and exhaustion.
He squeezed Stiles’ knee. “Just hang in there for a second. I assume you’re gonna want some privacy…?”
“Nah. It’s not like Boyd hasn’t seen it all in the locker room. And Erica… Well, it just doesn’t matter. I’d rather be able to see them.”
Noah frowned but nodded. Something still seemed odd to him, but it wasn’t the right time to confront a bunch of traumatized teens. And it could just be the trauma making them act like this.
He stood and looked toward the other two kids. “The doctors are going to want to look you over so we can document any injuries. Whatever privacy you want, you’ll have it.”
Reyes shook her head. “We’re not really hurt. They mostly used electricity on us. It wasn’t much, you know? Just enough to be this constant low-level pain. I don’t think there are even any marks.”
Noah was absolutely horrified, but he tried not to let it show. “They’re still going to need to check so we have a complete record. You can say no, but it would be better if you let them examine you.”
Boyd added, “Whatever you need to do is fine.”
“I should call your families,” he prodded gently.
“Not yet,” Reyes said quickly. “It’s just… It’d be more people here, and I don’t really need them here, right? I can consent to my own medical treatment can’t I?”
He nodded slowly. “You’re over fourteen, and the state of California says you can make your own healthcare decisions, including declining care if that’s your choice.”
She nodded sharply. “I’ll let them examine me, but I don’t want my parents called yet. They’d honestly be in the way.”
“I have to call your parents at some point. That’s not negotiable, but while there’s a manhunt underway, it’s probably better if we keep this group small, so I’ll accede to your wishes for the time being.”
Boyd just nodded as if he agreed to the same thing, but he didn’t offer anything further.
The doctor came in a few seconds later and began asking the kids questions about how they were injured.
Stiles used dismissive phrases like, “he smacked me around a bit,” to explain his injuries, so Noah was relieved when Erica and Boyd chimed in with what really happened. Boyd was able to recount an approximate number of times that Stiles was struck and kicked by Gerard. Stiles glared at him for his efforts, though the effect was somewhat reduced by Stiles’ pinched expression and pallor.
“You’ve got a nasty bump on your head,” Dr. Abrams observed to Stiles after running careful fingers over his cheekbones and moving on to his skull.
“I think that was from when they pushed me downstairs.” The delivery of that was so blasé that it took Noah’s breath away. How could Stiles’ affect be so flat about someone throwing him down a set of stairs?
“No signs of a concussion,” he concluded after finishing his exam. “But we’ll get some X-rays to make sure your cheekbone isn’t fractured. You’ll probably have headaches for a few days regardless.”
“’Kay,” Stile said a little listlessly.
Noah pressed his lips together, forcing himself to focus on his son and not his own anger.
Stiles was in so much pain trying to get his shirt off that Dr. Abrams ordered pain medication first. While Stiles was getting an IV, Noah noticed that Erica and Boyd were sitting side-by-side on the same bed just watching Stiles, both of their expressions tight with obvious worry.
The morphine didn’t help Stiles’ pain as much as Noah was expecting, but he was able to carefully help his son out of his lacrosse jersey. Getting him out of his T-shirt was trickier, and they resorted to cutting it off. As soon as it was pulled away, Noah sucked in air through his teeth.
Stiles’ entire torso was littered with bruises. Some of them nearly black. There was a particularly dark area where Stiles had been holding his ribs since this all began, low on the right side of his chest.
“Stiles,” he breathed.
“It’s okay, Dad.”
“It’s really not, Son, but we can have that conversation later.”
Noah stood in the hall outside the cubicle where Stiles was resting with Reyes and Boyd watching over him. Parrish was propping up a wall farther down the corridor, keeping an eye on everything and everyone.
It had been difficult to contain his emotions and reactions while Stiles was examined and his injuries were photographed. They’d done an X-ray of his chest, and now Noah was waiting to hear from the doctor.
“Sheriff,” a nurse got his attention. When he looked up, she gestured down the hall where Dr. Abrams was standing near an X-ray illuminator.
Noah immediately joined him.
“Three broken ribs,” Abrams began then tapped a section of the X-ray. “But this one on the right concerns me. It’s a serious fracture even though it’s not displaced at this time. My guess is that it’s sheer luck that it isn’t. Should he suffer any hit to that area before there’s some significant bone fusion, that rib could wind up in his liver.”
“School is probably a bad idea then,” he concluded.
“I’d say so, yes. It’d be risky to be in an uncontrolled environment like that for the next two to three weeks, and I believe there are only two weeks left in the school year.”
“Yeah.” Noah rubbed his hand over the back of his head.
Abrams shot him a look. “It won’t be a problem on the school’s end. They’ll allow him to take it from home, I guarantee it.” His jaw muscles twitched. “Especially since his principal did that to him.”
Noah’s hands curled into fists, and he had to force himself to relax. “What else?”
“I’d like more X-rays. Get other views of his chest and also do his head. I’m also going to order a higher dose of morphine. If it doesn’t control the pain enough for him to breathe, we may have to do an epidural and see how he progresses.”
They talked through the logistics of getting Stiles down to radiology. Rather than taking everyone down there, he’d escort Stiles personally, leaving Jordan with the other two kids. Noah was armed, after all.
– – – –
Radiology had taken it out of Stiles, and his expression was tight and pinched with obvious pain by the time they got back. Noah sat by his bed, holding his hand and waiting for the nurse to come back with the additional pain medication Abrams had ordered.
Reyes and Boyd had gone through their own exams and gotten their EKGs while Stiles was in radiology, though they had no results yet. Both continued to watch Stiles with pensive expressions.
Noah rubbed his hand over Stiles’ head. The buzzcut always made his hair look bristly, but it was really incredibly soft. “How you doing, kiddo?”
Stiles’ mouth pulled into a frown. “I’m sorry, Dad. About the lies…the secrets.”
“Don’t worry about it now. We’ll work it out.”
Stiles was watching him closely. “Are you disappointed in me?”
“No, Son. I’m…confused and worried. That’s all. Never disappointed.”
The nurse came in and injected the morphine into his IV line. Stiles blinked a few times and then seemed to relax.
“Oh, that’s better,” he said softly, eyes slipping shut.
Noah blew out a breath and watched Stiles drift off.
Dr. Abrams came back in with the test results. Boyd and Reyes were in the peak of health apparently, and Noah was glad they weren’t likely to suffer any long-term physical consequences from what happened. Though the psychological effects of the experience could be severe. He’d have to have a serious talk with their parents about keeping an eye on them for signs of PTSD and getting them some counseling.
Abrams then went over everything about Stiles. Mostly, Stiles was fine other than the contusions and broken ribs, though his blood pressure was lower than they wanted. Abrams didn’t think there was any internal bleeding, but he couldn’t rule it out yet, so he wanted to keep Stiles overnight. It would also allow them to monitor Stiles’ breathing.
Noah wasn’t terribly surprised, but he’d been hoping Stiles would be able to go home. In deference to the protective custody issues, Abrams had arranged for a private room. A couple cots had been ordered for the kids and a recliner for Noah—all would fit easily in Stiles’ room.
He stepped out briefly to check his text messages and voicemails and then get an update on the investigation from Sheriff Morris and Tara. They were executing the warrant on the Argent home when he called. The crime scene team had confirmed the scene in the basement was exactly as Stiles had described it.
Noah practically twitched with wanting to be there. To figure out what happened and why, but he knew he needed to be here with Stiles.
And then it was only an hour before they were able to transfer Stiles upstairs. Stiles got another dose of pain medication right after they settled in the room. Noah expected him to drift right back to sleep but, instead, he reached out and grabbed Noah’s hand.
“You should go.”
“No, I should be here.”
“I’m just going to sleep, Dad. Boyd and Erica will watch me with those tragic, soulful expressions they’ve been sporting all night, and maybe we’ll all get some sleep.”
“Ass,” Erica muttered, sounding amused.
“You don’t need to watch me sleep,” Stiles pressed. “Go give ‘em hell.”
“Stiles,” Noah said gently, “What I’m actually going to do at some point is run home and get you some clothes, and then, yes, I’ll call Sheriff Morris and get an update while I drive. I’ll also get something for Eric and Boyd to change into so they don’t have to wear scrubs. Then I’ll bring them back some food. After that, I’m going to happily sit and watch you sleep. I’d feel better about the world if I know in real time that you’re okay.”
“Yeah, but I’m in the hospital, and there are literally hundreds of people here paid to make sure I’m fine.”
Noah’s eyes narrowed. Stiles sounded kind of out of it, but he knew never to underestimate his kid’s mind. “Okay, what’s really going on?”
Stiles huffed then winced a little, hand twitching toward his ribs. “I want to talk to Erica and Boyd.”
“And you need privacy for that?”
Parrish had already taken statements from all three kids, separating them briefly. Noah had seen the interview notes, and all three accounts were similar while not being exactly the same—Stiles being the most notably different since he was abducted separately from the other two. Even though they hadn’t signed official statements yet, there was no reason not to leave the three alone if it’s what they wanted. Except that it felt like more secrets.
Stiles seemed to get what was going on. “I’m gonna tell you everything, Dad, I promise. I’m too tired or I’d spill my guts now. And maybe less morphine would be good so you don’t think I’m delusional or hallucinating.”
Noah’s eyebrows shot up. “And that’s not worrying.”
“Go,” Stiles insisted. “Let me talk to my fellow kidnappees, whil you go make sure they’re catching the Argents.”
Noah wondered if Stiles was really all there. “You know I can’t work the investigation, Stiles.”
“Yeah, but you can stand there and look intimidating.”
Noah huffed out a laugh. “Son…”
“You’re a badass. I’ve seen you intimidate people with an eyebrow.”
“It never worked on you.”
“I inherited Mom’s immunity to your glower.”
Noah felt that pang of sadness every time Claudia was mentioned. “Yeah, you did. All right, I’ll do exactly what I said I’d do and go get you kids some clothes, but I’ll check in on the investigation too. And you kids can talk. But—”
“There’s always a but.”
“—you will not try to leave the room—”
“Dad! Of course I won’t leave.”
“—and you won’t overdo it. Parrish is going to be out in the hall, but if he hears anything, he’s going to send a nurse in here to put you kids to bed like you were toddlers going down for a nap with some graham crackers and milk! But I’m cutting you off at an hour. Then you’d better damn well be going to sleep.” Noah privately thought there was no way Stiles was going to stay awake that long.
He leaned down and pressed a kiss to his son’s forehead. “I love you, Stiles.”
“Love you too, Dad,” Stiles whispered.
“We’ll make sure he rests, Mr. S,” Erica said from where she was sitting cross-legged in a recliner. The nickname struck him, but he smiled his thanks then headed out to talk to Parrish.
Stiles watched as the door closed behind his father. He waited a few seconds before looking to Boyd and Erica. “I’m too fuzzy-headed to properly interpret those hand signals you were giving me earlier. It’s like you two were trying to land an airplane.”
“Derek and Isaac are here,” Erica immediately said.
Stiles blinked a few times, trying to process that. “Uh…”
“They’re in a little alcove around the corner. He said Argent mentioned something about them having us, and he wants to know what’s going on.”
Stiles was too tired and he hurt too badly to try to manage this situation and everyone in it. “Tell him to just come to the damn door.”
“It’s late, Stiles,” Erica hissed. “And we’re all in protective custody.”
“Yeah, but we’ve got all kinds of leeway here since we’re the victims, not criminals. When Derek gets close, stick your head out in the hall, look pathetic, and say that Derek is a family friend and Isaac is your bud, and you’d feel a lot better if you could talk to them for a few minutes. It wouldn’t go amiss if you could scare up a few tears.”
Erica blinked at him for a few seconds. “Wow. Manipulative much?”
“I’m in pain. I’ll try to be more subtle in arranging the chessboard some other time,” he snarked. “Break out the crocodile tears and get grumpy cat and Sir Scarfs-a-lot in here.
Boyd’s lips twitched.
“And why do I have to cry?” Erica asked with her arms crossed.
“You think Boyd is going to convincingly shed tears for Parrish?”
“No,” Boyd said flatly.
Erica’s shoulders slumped. “We messed up so bad, Stiles. We should never have run away.”
“Just tell him that,” Stiles encouraged. “Derek seems all, ya know, Derek with the murder brows and the leather and the grumpy cat impersonation, but he really cares about you guys. He’s your alpha. He just wants to know you’re okay. Especially considering his mortal enemies were torturing his betas all night.”
Erica pressed her lips into a thin line and seemed to be considering it. Finally, she nodded. “Derek, just come to the—” She broke off and sighed. “Yeah, he already heard me.”
It seemed like he blinked and everything was different. He stared at where Boyd and Erica were both wrapped around Derek, who was rumbling lowly and hugging them tightly, and Isaac was standing close, hand on Boyd’s back. He realized he must have fallen asleep.
“What happened?” he mumbled.
Everyone turned to look at him. Boyd and Erica peeled themselves off Derek with what seemed like a lot of reluctance.
Derek moved next to the bed, watching Stiles closely. “With what?” he said tersely.
“Can we not?” Stiles said, feeling bone-deep weary. “I don’t want to do our usual tap dance, Derek. The one where I talk and you don’t. I just want to know what’s going on. Could you communicate, please? Just this once? Tell me why you and Isaac are skulking around like you’re cosplaying The Outsiders.” When Derek just stared, Stiles sighed. “Okay, fine. Why was Gerard after Scott?”
Derek’s brows drew together into even more of a frown. Stiles hadn’t even known that was possible. “You didn’t know about Scott’s plan?”
Stiles blinked stupidly. “Scott had a plan? That’s…terrifying. What’d he do?”
Derek looked away. “Gerard was dying of terminal cancer.”
There was so much in there he wanted to ask about. “Was?”
“He wanted the bite to cure him.”
“That fucking hypocrite.” Stiles hissed in a breath then cradled his ribs again. He took a second to digest that. “And you’re the only alpha in the area…” Stiles swallowed heavily. “What happened?”
“Deaton and Scott came up with the idea of replacing Gerard’s medicine with capsules filled with mountain ash.” Derek’s tone was practically wooden.
“Not a bad idea, I guess. Were you okay with it?”
Derek looked back at him, gaze intense. “He didn’t tell me either. Supposedly Gerard threatened to hurt his mother if Scott didn’t deliver me to him.”
“Scott turned you over to Gerard?” Stiles felt bile rise in his throat.
Derek watched him for several long seconds. “The kanima was there. I was paralyzed and Scott…” Derek looked away.
“That fucking idiot,” Stiles gritted out, feeling nauseated at Scott’s callous and cruel actions. “He had no right, Derek. None. I just…” He swallowed heavily. “I’m sorry for what he did.” In another moment of blinding clarity, Stiles realized he didn’t even recognize the person Scott had become.
“You don’t have to apologize. It’s not like you did anything.”
“Exactly,” Stiles muttered, feeling like he was fading. “I was so busy taking care of Scott that I didn’t do anything. And I’m so sorry.” He closed his eyes, wondering how to fix this.
Someone touched his arm, and Stiles blinked his eyes open. Derek was frowning as he stared at where his hand rested on Stiles’ skin. “Gerard hurt you badly.”
“How can you tell that?”
“I can feel your pain.”
“Well, don’t do that.” Stiles twitched his arm away. “You don’t need to feel this.”
Derek growled and grabbed Stiles’ arm more firmly. “It’s like a shadow of your pain—it doesn’t really hurt.” All of a sudden, the pain started to ebb like it was being sucked out.
“Whoa,” Stiles breathed. “Are you…”
“Yes,” Derek said tersely.
Stiles closed his eyes again and took a deep breath, getting only a twinge for it. “Oh my god, you’re the best ever.”
“How are you doing that?” Erica asked, and Stiles half listened to Derek explaining to Boyd and Erica while he drifted along, grateful that every breath wasn’t so painful.
“Thanks, Der,” Stiles mumbled.
“Go to sleep, Stiles.”
– – – –
Noah’s phone rang as he was exiting the hospital. The display read Sheriff Morris. “Stilinski,” he answered.
“Noah, we’re just about done at the Argent residence. Crime scene team have about another twenty minutes.”
“Any word on Gerard Argent?”
“None. Christopher Argent arrived with his daughter about half an hour ago. I’ve detained them both based both on the victim statements and the things we found in the house. Scott McCall was with them. He’s unharmed but refused to answer any questions. I’ve had him escorted to the station as well.
“Both Argents claim they don’t know where Gerard Argent is, so we’re still looking for them. Four men arrived in a separate SUV shortly after Christopher Argent, but Argent managed to wave them off, and they fled the scene before we could detain them. The SWAT team is in pursuit.”
Noah blinked a few times. “SWAT was necessary?”
“The weapons cache we found in this house was—”
“It was alarming. Based on that alone, I want to question anyone who had ever been in this house. Plus, the passenger of the vehicle matched your son’s description of the man who threw him down the stairs.”
“Also—” she hesitated.
“Just say it.”
“Your son wasn’t wrong about torture implements. I can only describe what we found in the basement as something a serial killer would have.”
Noah forced himself to unclench his jaw. “Anything else?”
“Preliminary tests show at least four blood types in various locations throughout the basement. The freshest samples match your son’s blood type. Also, many of the implements tested positive for blood trace. But most of it looks old; we probably won’t even recover usable DNA. There were also a lot of poisons, of all damn things, down there.”
“So this wasn’t a new activity for them,” he stated woodenly.
“These tools aren’t new, Noah. If they truly all belong to Argent the elder, he’s been doing this for a long time.”
Noah really couldn’t be alone with an Argent any time in the near future or he was going to shoot someone. “And Scott refused to say anything?”
“He was angry and telling us we had no right to be here. It didn’t quite make sense since, by all accounts, Gerard Argent was primarily after him. I sincerely doubt he’s going to talk to me, but we’re going to hold him at the station. I figure you can talk to him. Since you’ve known him for a long time, he may open up to you.”
“Oh, he’ll talk to me. That kid has spent half his life at my house, and he can’t lie for shit.”
“He’s hurting. Several broken ribs, but one is in terrible shape. Risk of liver puncture if he brushes up against something wrong, which, knowing Stiles, is a serious concern. He’s got a high risk of pneumonia. They’re keeping him at least overnight.”
“Damn. You okay?”
“No. I’m furious.”
“Of course you are.” There was a pause. “Listen, Noah, I think we need to talk at some point soon. In an unofficial capacity.”
Noah’s brows shot up. “Okay. I was going to head to the house and get Stiles some clothes, I can meet up with…” he trailed off, staring at a familiar car in the parking lot.
The black Camaro had to belong to Hale. Derek Hale who was often seen around Noah’s son, and now he was at the hospital at the same time as Stiles. Noah turned on his heel and headed back inside. “Stephanie, let me call you back in a few minutes. I need to check on something here.”
He made it back up the fourth floor quickly, finding Parrish in the same place he’d left him. Parrish was attentive and immediately spotted Noah heading down the hallway. Noah raised his finger to his lips, asking for silence.
Parrish made a few gestures that Noah interpreted as two new people were inside. The instructions were that no one could come in other than the one nurse assigned to Stiles’ room unless one of the kids specifically said otherwise. He’d left that vague order because he wanted to allow for Scott or Melissa to come by, or for Erica and Boyd to ask for their parents.
Slowly, he entered the room, trying to be as silent as possible, but four of the occupants had heard him and were turned to face the door. He walked into find Reyes, Boyd, Lahey, and Hale all staring at him with varying degrees of trepidation. He also noticed how close all the kids were standing to Hale. Especially Reyes and Boyd.
“Mr. Hale,” Noah said blandly.
When nothing further was forthcoming, Noah closed the door and moved closer to the bed to check on Stiles, who seemed to be sleeping peacefully, the lines of pain around his eyes smoothed out.
“And why are you here?” he asked tersely but as softly as possible.
Hale shifted his weight from foot to foot then stilled. “Chris Argent told us that Stiles, Erica, and Boyd were here. We, uh, Isaac wanted to check on them.”
“And why would you be in a position to help Mr. Lahey with his wish to visit his friends?”
“He’s been staying with me.”
“I see.” Noah wasn’t sure what to make of that. Lahey was almost seventeen, so he had a lot of say in his living situation, but Noah found it odd that child services would allow an orphan to stay with Derek Hale.
“Hey, Dad,” Stiles slurred, reaching out.
Smiling faintly, Noah took Stiles’ hand. “Hey, kiddo.”
“Derek came and made me feel all better.” Stiles sounded…drifty. Much driftier than he had when he’d had been pressing the button for his morphine.
“And how did he do that?”
“Some sort of magic. I liked it.”
Noah’s eyebrows made a valiant attempt to escape his forehead. “I think you’re pretty stoned, kid.”
“Maybe. Really feeling those pain meds now.”
“Dad?” Stiles whispered, crooking his finger, beckoning Noah closer.
“What’s up?” he whispered back as he leaned down to talk to his son.
“Can I adopt a pack of wolves?”
Hale drew in a sharp breath.
Noah ignored him and petted Stiles’ head, hoping it would lull him back to sleep. “Wolves, Stiles?”
“Yeah. A whole pack, Dad. They’re supposed to be a family, you know? But they’re kind of broken. I was being me and trying to make it work for Scott, but it wasn’t working for anyone else. It wasn’t even working for Scott, really, or he wouldn’t have turned into some bite rapist. And I should have noticed, Dad. I want to fix it.” Stiles’ eyes kept drifting closed then popping back open, like he was fighting sleep.
“Son, you’re high as a kite and not making much sense. You should rest.”
“I always make sense, Daddio. It’s just that you don’t always know it…until you do.”
“And that made no sense.”
“I know, but it will.” Stiles grabbed onto his hand, eyes barely open. “Talk to Derek, ‘kay? Get him to tell you everything. You can talk to Scott too, but don’t really listen to him, you know? Scotty seems to think his life would be perfect if it weren’t for Derek, but it’s just not true.”
Noah frowned. “I’ll talk to Derek then.”
“And don’t listen to Scott. Except maybe listen to how little sense he makes. I don’t know how to help him anymore, Dad. He kept so many secrets from me because all he cares about is Allison.” Stiles’ eyes opened wide again. “How can he care so much about her and not care about what happened to me?”
Noah felt his heart break a little. “I don’t know, Son.”
“I messed up because I was trying to save Scott. I really want to help them all, but I need your help.”
“Okay.” Stiles’ eyes slid shut, but then his grip tightened again. “Derek will try to make it sound like he did everything wrong, but he’s really trying. Look past the murder brows, ‘kay? He’s a good guy. Making the best of a bad situation, and he lost so much… I can’t imagine losing everyone. It’s why I didn’t want to tell you.”
It felt like something was squeezing Noah’s chest. “Go to sleep, Stiles. I’ll handle it.”
“’Kay.” Stiles hand suddenly went lax.
Noah turned to find Hale looking wrecked. “Is there something we need to talk about?”
Hale glanced away, swallowing heavily, and he took a minute to compose himself. “I guess…” He met Noah’s gaze. “I’ll explain what’s been going on.”
“Is this going to explain all the crazy going on in this town this year, or is Stiles just drugged out of his mind.”
“I took Stiles’ pain. It left the opiates in his system with nothing to really do, so he’s getting all the side effects and none of the pain to counter it.”
“Is that supposed to make some kind of sense?”
Hale extended a hand, reaching for Noah. “May I?”
“Knock yourself out.” He held out his arm. Hale closed a hand over his wrist, and Noah stared in astonishment as black veins began creeping up Hale’s arm at the same time the headache Noah had been ignoring completely vanished. All the muscle soreness caused by hanging out in the hard ER chairs was gone too.
Noah stared but didn’t move. He glanced back at Stiles, focusing on the thing that was most important to him rather than the how of it all. “You did that for him?”
“Yeah,” Hale said warily.
“So he’s in no pain right now?”
Which had to be why Stiles was breathing so much easier. “How long does it last?”
“A couple hours.”
“I see.” He considered for a second. “And can you keep helping him? He seems to want to adopt you, after all.”
Hale’s brows shot up. “Uh, yeah. Any of us can. I showed Erica and Boyd how, and Isaac already knew. We’ll want to focus on the worst injury in the future rather than taking all pain.”
“Humans, uh, when people have no pain for prolonged periods, normal aches and pains start to seem like agony. It’s best to leave the minor stuff alone except for occasionally.”
Noah nodded as his mind spun. “So…how are you able to do that? Because I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Hale looked wary, and Noah noticed how all the kids seemed tense. “I’m a werewolf.”
Noah cocked a brow. “Is that right?” He wasn’t completely disbelieving yet, just mostly disbelieving. “All of you?”
“But not Stiles?”
Noah’s eyes narrowed. “Scott?”
“I see. I don’t suppose you have proof? Other than the weird black veiny thing, which has never been part of any werewolf lore I’ve ever heard of.”
Hale glanced at Reyes and nodded his head as if giving her permission. “Might be easier coming from someone you perceive as less threatening.”
Then Reyes’ features abruptly shifted, and he was looking at wolf-like ears, fangs, a ton of new facial hair, and glowing gold eyes.
Noah managed to stay still and not step away, his mind rapidly processing this new information. “What happened to your eyebrows?”
Reyes shifted back as she snorted in amusement. “You sound just like Stiles.”
“Well, he had to get it from somewhere.” Noah shrugged then ran his hand over his face. “So, werewolves… Anything else?”
“You mean supernatural creatures?” Hale clarified.
“Most creatures of myth actually exist.” Hale watched Noah as if he were an unpredictable explosive.
“Hmm. Well, that explains more than a lot. Except for the actual timeline of events.” Noah grabbed a chair and pulled it up near the fold-away cot Boyd and Reyes had been sitting on earlier. “Everyone sit. I have a feeling I’m going to need to be sitting down for this, and I’m not too fond of people looming over me.”
While everyone got comfortable, he fired off a quick text to Sheriff Morris letting her know that he’d be later than expected, and he’d send her an update as soon as he could.
Slowly, with some help from the kids, Hale described what had been happening this year. The kids chimed in from time to time, filling out the picture, though there were some things related to Scott and why some events had happened that Noah figured he’d need Stiles for. But werewolves were real, and that explained everything that had been going on in his town.
He noticed that Hale remained tense, as if he were waiting to be yelled at or condemned as a bad person or something. “I’ve never been in the habit of blaming the victims, Hale, so relax.”
He didn’t think it was possible, but Hale got even tenser. “I’m not a victim.”
Noah shook his head, feeling sad. “Yeah, son, you are. Just because you’re the alpha now doesn’t mean that the Argents haven’t unfairly targeted you and yours and taken nearly everything from you. I may not like what my kid has been involved in—and I like even less that he’s been keeping secrets from me—but you aren’t to blame for what the Argents did.”
“If you want to talk about it, kid, you can, but I already read between the lines there. It’s not your fault.”
Hale glanced away and blew out a breath. “We’ve just been trying to survive, but Stiles is right; it isn’t working.”
“Seems like the Argents have stacked the deck against you, and you’re all so caught up in keeping your secrets that it allowed them to exploit your fear.”
“That’s kind of what Stiles said,” Reyes chimed in. “He said the Argents were using our fear of discovery to keep us from getting help, but no one is going to believe werewolves anyway, so why not use the system to our advantage. He said people would be on our side.”
“Stiles is a master of manipulation.” He rubbed his hand over his jaw, feeling the stubble burn. “But he’s not wrong. Letting the Argents drive you into hiding and making you fear discovery, which no one is going to believe anyway, is a masterful stroke on their part. Going to the police was always the right solution.”
Hale didn’t look convinced, as if it had been knocked into him to not let the authorities handle things.
“Look, Ha— Derek, the Argent family isn’t going to use werewolves as their defense for their acts. They’d look like lunatics. So there was never any real reason not to let the law protect you. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen.” He blew out a breath. “There’s a lot I still need to know, obviously, so the question and answer portion of this program isn’t over, but Sheriff Morris is waiting for me, and then I need to go talk to Scott and find out where the hell his head is in all of this.”
Noah jerked his thumb toward Stiles’ bed. “You’re in charge of your betas, if I got that term right…?”
“Good. Then, right now, you’re in charge of him too. I expect you to keep him safe and do your pain thing so that he can breathe easily enough to keep from getting pneumonia.” He got to his feet and pointed at the three teens. “I’m going to arrange for them to bring in another bed. You three all look like you’re running the ragged edge. Get some sleep.” He jerked his head toward the door. “Walk with me, Derek.”
Looking like he was going to his own execution, Hale followed Noah outside the room.
Noah clapped Parrish on the shoulder. “All the kids are going to stay because it turns out the Argents were after Mr. Lahey too. We’ll get his statement tomorrow. I’m going to arrange for another cot for Lahey. Mr. Hale is going to stay with the kids all night, cover things in the room. I’ll arrange to have you relieved in a few hours.”
“Good man.” He gestured for Hale to follow him until they were in a small alcove. “I want to explain something to you.”
Hale tensed. “All right.”
“I became a deputy right before Stiles was born—didn’t re-enlist when I found out Claudia was pregnant and went to the police academy instead. Anyway, whenever I had a day shift, I’d come home, Claudia would give me a beer, and I’d sit at the table distracting our hyperactive son while Claudia finished getting dinner ready. I was always more the making breakfast sort than dinner.”
His smile felt sad, thinking and talking about Claudia. “So, that was our evening ritual when I was home. And then when Stiles was about two, just before he turned three, I came home one day after a man had shot his entire family and then himself.”
“I was late getting home, and I’d called Claudia earlier to let her know what happened. I remember sitting on the couch and just staring at the walls, wondering if I could keep doing the job.” He smiled faintly in remembrance. “Claudia was standing in the kitchen doorway, watching me, and Stiles was strapped in his booster seat in the kitchen eating dinner. Or so we thought.” His smile grew a bit as he played that moment over in his head. “All of a sudden, Stiles slips past Claudia—how he got out of his booster seat we never could figure out—and he had a damn beer in his hands. Carefully holding it with both hands as he toddled into the living room.
“He comes to me, hands me the beer, and then climbs in my lap. He gives me a big hug and whispers, ‘Feel better, Daddy.’” Noah takes in Derek’s seemingly reluctant smile. “Claudia and I talked later, and I said he was going to be a nurturer through and through, but Claudie said ‘I’m not so sure.’ And she was right. Stiles can be downright mean to people he hasn’t decided are his. He’s always slow to let people in, but once you’re his, he’s so much worse than a mother hen.”
Derek blinked a few times, opening and closing his mouth, but then just shrugged.
“The thing is, Derek, what made me feel better was the hug. But Stiles has always tried to give the people he cares about what he thinks they need, often not recognizing that what they really need is him. And, for whatever reason, if my son’s stoned ramblings are anything to go by, Stiles has decided that you’re his now. All of you. It rarely goes well for anyone to get in Stiles’ way when he’s set on a course of action.”
“You can’t really be okay with him adopting,” Derek’s voice dropped to a whisper, “a pack of werewolves!”
“There are worse things my kid could be doing than trying to take care of people, so I’m going to take it and be grateful. Just suck it up and accept it. Stiles has decided you need a metaphorical beer, and you’re going to get a beer. And probably a hug at some point because Stilinskis tend to hug it out.”
Derek looked appalled.
Noah clapped him on the shoulder. “Man up, kid. You’ll survive.”
“I’m twenty-one,” Derek said stiffly. “Not a kid.”
“Now I feel doubly old,” Noah muttered.
“You can’t really be okay with this whole wolf thing. No one is this okay with it…” Derek suddenly swallowed.
Derek just nodded.
“Look, I’m going to have questions, and I’m probably going to be more than a little pissed off about some stuff when I’ve had time to digest everything. I may even freak out when all the adrenaline wears off and I’ve had some sleep. But, at the end of the day, I’m the sheriff of Beacon Hills, you’re a citizen of my town, and the Argents broke the law. In fact, considering the circumstances, I’d charge them with a hate crime if I could get away with it.”
“You really think we can just hide behind the law like this?” Derek sounded more than a little incredulous.
“I don’t see why not. And it’s not hiding. It’s expecting to be treated like every other citizen, so stop demonizing yourself. Now, I have to go meet with Sheriff Morris and then try to talk a modicum of sense into Scott. While you will be riding herd on four teenagers. One of us is going to need lots of luck and it sure as hell isn’t me.”
He walked away, leaving Derek looking more than a little flabbergasted and remarkably young for all of his assertion about not being a kid.