Please see the main story page for summary, cast page, warnings, and links to additional chapters.
Stiles paced the living room, unable to relax. He was still stiff and sore, and his dad had said to expect that to get worse for another day, but he couldn’t sit still no matter how much he ached.
“Stiles, lunch is ready,” Derek said from the kitchen doorway.
“I’m not hungry,” he replied absently.
“Try to eat.”
“Not hungry,” he snapped then came to an abrupt halt in his orbit around the couch when there was suddenly a large, alpha-shaped body in his path. He huffed. “What?”
“You need to eat.”
“I’m. Not. Hungry.”
Stiles glared back.
Derek’s eyes flashed red.
Stiles’ mouth fell open. “Oh my god! Did you just try to alpha me?” Part of him was delighted. Derek had tried to alpha him! The rest of him was peeved.
Derek crossed his arms over his chest. “Yes. You said you’re part of my pack, and taking care of my pack is what I do. Especially the injured ones. So march your ass to the table and try to eat.”
Stiles huffed again then stomped into the kitchen, not letting on that he was sort of charmed. “I just want it to be clear that I’m only giving in because I’d rather wait to challenge you over something meaningful.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say, Stiles.”
The betas were all seated around the table, and none of them were saying anything, though Erica looked more than a little amused. “Wait, how come they’re eating burgers and I get… Is that soup? It’s May! Soup in May? What kind of heathen are you?”
“You’ve barely eaten in two days,” Derek said right in his ear, and Stiles fidgeted at having Derek that close. “Do you think I want to explain to your father why you passed out from the pain while you were puking up a burger?”
“You would. And there’s only so much we can do for your pain when the injury is actively being aggravated.”
Stiles knew he was pouting—and probably being a little bratty—but he reluctantly started eating the soup. And then moaned in happiness. “Oh my god this is good. Where did you get it?”
No one said anything and Derek’s back was to him, stirring something at the stove.
“Derek made it,” Boyd answered.
“He cooked all afternoon,” Erica said with a little grin.
Derek turned around, arms crossed, glaring at everyone, but there was a faint flush on his cheeks. Stiles privately found it completely adorable.
He figured he shouldn’t make a fuss about the fact that Derek cooked if he ever wanted him to do it again. “This is really good. I’m totally keeping you.” He licked the back of the spoon and went in for another bite.
Giving a vague affirmative grunt, Derek turned back to the stove.
Stiles had more appetite than he expected, but he still ate much less than he usually would. When he finished, the betas were already in the backyard, unpacking the storage sheds that the hardware store had delivered a couple hours ago.
He took his bowl to the sink where Derek was staring out the window, watching his betas fool around while they worked. “Sorry I was being bratty.”
“I get it. You’re worried about Scott.”
“Still. I’m old enough to not act like a petulant kid when someone tries to do something nice for me.”
“Mm.” Derek turned his head to meet Stiles’ gaze. “And your dad mentioned that you’re older than I thought you were.”
“Huh? Oh, you thought I was the same age as Scott?”
Stiles shrugged. “I guess. It’s not like it’s a secret that I repeated third grade.”
“I would have thought that kids would give you hell over something like that.”
“The ones who try get shut down hard. Even by Jackson, the giant douche,” he mumbled the last, having enough of Jackson for an entire lifetime. But Lydia called earlier and wanted to meet, so they’d have to deal with Jackson’s epic issues it seemed…eventually. Derek had put her off for a few days at least.
“My mom was one of the most active parents at the school. She always volunteered to chaperone field trips and came to every school thing imaginable. All the kids loved her.” He sighed, feeling the welling of sadness. “My dad had to put limits on how many kids could come to her funeral.”
He shook his head. “Anyway, no one ever teased me about repeating third because of why. Plus, I think they all knew Scott was like my emotional support animal, and everyone knew I hadn’t caught up with my class on purpose. There was only one time in junior high where someone new to the school made a comment about my age. Didn’t find out for weeks that Jackson was the one who punched the guy. But Jackson had been extra douchey since doing that one nice thing, so I didn’t let it soften me too much.”
Derek was just watching him.
“Do you want me to try to get Scott to join the pack?”
“Would you stop asking me that? No. For his sake and yours. You don’t need to get over what he did. I don’t think Scott could ever settle into this pack—maybe someday, but he doesn’t trust anyone, so how would that even work?”
“He trusts you.”
“Not like I thought he did.”
“What would you have done if he’d told you the plan?”
“Well, I’d have told him he had to get your permission and then I’d have tried to talk you out of going along with it because anything conceived by Dubious Deaton isn’t to be trusted in my not so humble opinion.”
“Mm.” Derek looked back outside. “I’d have probably done it if he’d asked me.”
“I’d have wanted to better control the environment. As much as I hate using the bite as a weapon, it’s a method of getting rid of Gerard that wouldn’t bring any reprisals down on us. But I’d have wanted to get the damn thing on film.”
“Well, look at you being strategic.”
Derek shot him an annoyed look. “I’m not an idiot, Stiles.”
“I never said you were, or even thought it. I may have even hacked your school records from when you attended Beacon Hills High, and I know you were a straight-A student.”
Derek rolled his eyes.
Stiles nudged Derek’s shoulder. “But I also know you’ve been struggling to handle the alpha powers, and I’m not sure how that feeds into clear, rational thought. I legit have no idea how impulsive it makes you.”
“More than I would like,” Derek admitted, sounding like it pained him to say it. “Adjusting hasn’t been…easy.” He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. “The general wisdom is we shouldn’t be alphas before we’re thirty. I get why now. Though it’s been easier lately. You and your dad…round out the pack energy in a way that’s really good for me.”
“You know, it’s not weak to admit a vulnerability. To let us help you…”
There was a long pause. “I know it here.” He tapped his head.
“You’ll get there. We’re all a work in progress around here.” He wrapped his arm around Derek’s shoulder giving a side hug. Impulsively, he kissed Derek’s cheek. “Thank you for lunch, Alpha.” He felt his own cheeks get hot at his daring and turned away.
He halted and waited. Derek stepped closed, hand sliding under his shirt in a familiar move that felt suddenly more intimate. Stiles swallowed heavily as whatever ache had risen in his ribs faded away. “Thanks,” he whispered.
“I hear your dad’s cruiser and another vehicle approaching. I’m going to stay in here, but I won’t be able to help but listen. You’re pack, and he’s not…it feels like a threat.”
Stiles nodded. He was already working on accepting the lack of privacy involved in being part of a pack, and he mentally added overprotective alpha instincts to the list of adjustments. The sense of belonging, the connection he felt to the others was worth it.
Stiles stepped out back, noting that the storage shed was already half built and looked like it fit well. Everyone had carefully avoided his mom’s flower garden, which Stiles took care of religiously. He’d have to figure out which of them had the least black thumb to help him until he could get down on the ground to handle weeding and pruning again.
Erica gave him a careful hug before she disappeared back into the house. Isaac nodded, smiling a bit, but Boyd just parked himself by the sliding doors, arms crossed over his chest.
“Derek can’t be out here or Scott would never talk to you, but he’s not comfortable with you being alone while you’re injured with someone who’s not pack. And neither are the rest of us.”
Stiles huffed. “I’d already reconciled to you guys hearing, and Derek said he’ll be listening.” He made a shooing gesture.
“And I can get to you quicker if I’m right here in the back yard. I won’t interfere or make a sound unless he gets aggressive.”
This felt like an overreaction, and Stiles opened his mouth to say so, but Boyd cut him off.
“He’s an omega, Stiles. We’re not taking that chance.” He cocked his head to the side. “In all his time as a werewolf, has he ever gotten aggressive with you?”
He wanted to deny it, but he couldn’t.
Boyd pushed it. “Gotten physical with you?”
Stiles looked away.
“Can you afford for him to slip for even a moment and push you around?”
Stiles unclenched his jaw enough to say, “I get your point.”
Boyd didn’t rub it in, he just propped up the wall by the door, well in the shadows of the porch.
Stiles sighed and moved out into the sunshine and sat on one of the lawn chairs. He figured everyone would be less freaky about the damn thing if Scott couldn’t even get to his ribs. He’d just have to fight his impulse to get to his feet when he was in the mood to gesture expansively. Which he usually was when he was having a serious conversation.
It was only a minute later when the gate at the side of the house opened. They’d removed the lock earlier for just this purpose. His dad came around the side with Scott following. Scott looked subdued.
His dad gestured to the other lawn chair then went to prop up the wall next to Boyd. Stiles shot them both a glare but figured it wasn’t worth arguing over.
“You okay?” Scott said when the silence had stretched on too long.
Stiles thought about claiming to be fine, but, instead, he pulled up his shirt. Maybe something would get through to Scott. Stiles couldn’t even look at his own body in the mirror after that first time.
Scott sucked in a breath and looked ill. “Stiles…”
“I’m really mad at you.” He lowered the shirt.
Scott looked away.
“And I’m doubly mad that I’m denied yelling at you for being a fucking idiot because you have to go away, and now I’m sad. And I don’t want to yell at you before you go away for who knows how long.”
“I messed up.”
“Do you even know what you messed up?”
“I should have told you that Gerard was threatening my mom.”
Stiles huffed. “And…?”
Scott’s whole posture changed. “Are you expecting me to be sorry that I didn’t tell Derek?”
“Yeah, Scott, I am. Because that’s what you did wrong. We don’t even have the option of trying to work it out in Beacon Hills because of what you did.”
“And now Derek is forcing me to leave my mom behind and go away!”
“No, he’s not. And I know my dad explained everything to you, so you repeating that just means you’re being stubborn. And how did I never know you were this damn stubborn!” Stiles took a breath and forced himself to calm down. “You had no right to do that to Derek.”
“Why do you care? It’s not like he’s been nice to us. He’s been a complete dick!”
“And we weren’t? I’m not the nicest person on the planet, Scott. I know my own character flaws, okay? Do you know yours? I can’t fault Derek or his pack for assholery when I’ve taken a fucking master class in the subject and made sure they damn well knew it!”
Scott’s jaw still had the stubborn set to it.
“Scott…why? Why would you do that to him? To anyone?”
“He’s not my alpha!” Scott yelled, eyes flaring yellow.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Boyd push off the wall, but his dad put a hand on his shoulder, weirdly able to rein him in.
“Is that it works, Scotty? You only have to get someone’s consent to violate their bodily autonomy when they’re personally connected to you in some way? I mean, is that the way consent works in general? Like consent to have sex only matters if it’s actually your girlfriend.”
Scott jerked like Stiles had slapped him. “That’s not the same!”
“Except, to a werewolf, it kind of is. I’m not even a werewolf and I can see that!”
“I never wanted to be a werewolf!”
“Boo fucking hoo! My sympathy for your poor circumstances has run its course! Instead of trying to learn to adapt, you just keep railing against fate. The injustice done to you does not allow you to hurt others! And you crossed the line, Scott, when you forced Derek to make Gerard fucking Argent part of his pack. For however long that bond existed between them, it was obscene.” Derek would have eventually been able to snap the bond, but bonds to new wolves were apparently more tenacious. Some sort of werewolf mojo Stiles didn’t really get.
“Stiles, you don’t know what this is like!”
“That’s becoming a tired old excuse.” He held up his hand when Scott seemed set to defend himself. “I’m not going to say a fraction of the things I’d wanted to say. Things I would definitely say if you were staying in Beacon Hills. But Dad said he persuaded you to try this other pack.”
Scott looked down again. “Well, I wasn’t sure about it, but he brought Mr. Argent over to explain why it was a good idea, and I can see his perspective.”
“Mr. Argent…” Stiles was so fed up. Scott had his mother, his surrogate father, and his best friend trying to help him, but he listened to Chris Argent. The guy who’d threatened and shot at Scott for no reason other than Scott was a werewolf.
“Yeah, he explained about how I owed it to myself to try to explore pack bonds, and the place sounds like it could be nice. I’ll get to work with animals still. Allison is going to France for the summer, so…” he shrugged. “She said we could email.”
“I see.” Stiles wanted to rant and rave, but that would be about making him feel better. It wasn’t going to help Scott and, weirdly, Stiles suddenly saw how on the edge Scott was—how close to losing his grip on reality. It was disquieting and more than a little alarming. “I’m glad he could talk you around.”
“It’ll be hard being away from my mom all summer.”
“I figure I’ll be able to show the alpha there that I’m doing okay on my own, that I’m not at risk of being feral or anything. Then I can come home and do junior and senior year with you and Allison.”
Jesus, Scott was so fucking deluded. “Back into Derek’s territory?”
Scott scoffed. “He doesn’t own the town, Stiles.”
Stiles rubbed his hand over his face. “Right.”
“Will you write me? I can get emails, but I’ll have to send paper letters to reply, I think. I’m not sure how it works completely, but mom said she’d get you all the information.”
“Yeah, of course I will. Did you say goodbye to Deaton?”
“Mr. Argent said I should write him a letter, and he’d deliver it personally tomorrow.”
“That’s nice.” And good that Scott wasn’t going to be getting manipulated by Deaton before he left.
“Yeah.” Scott rubbed his hands over his jeans. “Mom’s waiting to take me to the airport in Sacramento. I should probably…” He jerked his thumb toward the gate.
“Right. Don’t keep your mom waiting. Tell her I said hi.”
Scott got to his feet, looking awkward, then he moved close, leaned down, and gave Stiles a hug. Stiles patted his back, feeling like there was an insurmountable chasm between them. “See you next year!” Scott said with a bright smile.
Stiles faked a grin and waved as Scott left through the gate. “Goodbye, Scott.”
Stiles got to his feet and walked right into his father’s arms, choking back tears. Another set of arms came around him and then he felt more touches. Then a large warm hand settled on the back of his neck, and he felt the connection to his alpha. Stiles felt like his world was falling apart and being reformed at the same time.
– – – –
Noah carefully closed the door to Stiles’ room, hating how much his son was hurting right now.
When he got downstairs, he found a much bigger flat-screen being set up by Derek where his old TV had been. The faint sounds of video games drifted up from the basement.
Noah smiled. “I think it’s killing Stiles that he’s not well enough to be down there with them. He needs the distractions, but he also needs to get some rest.”
Derek made an affirmative noise as he continued to work at the back of the TV. “He okay?”
“I heard.” Derek pointed to his ear. “Only time his heartbeat is semi-normal is when he’s asleep.”
“Heartbeat. Right.” Noah shook his head and collapsed on the chair, feeling exhausted. “It’s going to take some time to fully adjust to all the things you kids can do.” They’d discussed hearing if someone was asleep from rooms away just this morning, but it still hadn’t sunk in yet.
Derek came out from behind the TV, adjusted it so it was facing the right way, and then set the remote on the end table next to Noah. Derek clearly had something on his mind, so Noah waited it out as Derek took a seat and went through the various stages of looking uncomfortable.
“If Scott gets settled with a pack and gets his head screwed on straight, I’m not going to deny him coming back to Beacon Hills.”
“That seems very generous of you,” Noah said cautiously.
Derek lifted one shoulder. “If he’s really unstable today, and probably has been for a while, I wouldn’t feel right about holding a grudge if he gets better.”
“Except that I’m not sure Scott’s actions have to do with his instability. He seems to have a blind spot that is…morally indefensible. Even if he gets stable and has good pack bonds, he might not stop being a dick.” Noah rubbed his hand over his face. “There’s a saying…something about not crossing an ocean for someone who wouldn’t jump a puddle for you.” The saying that had first come to mind was not to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm, but that seemed colossally insensitive.
“But I wouldn’t be doing it for Scott.”
“Ah.” Noah saw something looming on the horizon that he really didn’t want to put a lot of thought into. He was pretty sure that Derek wasn’t really thinking about it yet, either, which made ignoring the pink elephant in the room a little easier. “Wait and see how he feels about it when the time comes, okay? If you’re going to make a grand gesture, Derek, it’s always important to make sure it’s the right one.”
Derek looked like he was considering it, so Noah decided to let it drop until it needed to be discussed further.
After what felt like several minutes of silence, Derek said, “I’ve been trying to decide what to do about a pack house.”
“Oh?” He wasn’t sure what to do with that since his gut reaction was that this was the pack house, but he really didn’t have any right to make that decision.
“It feels like we’re taking over your home.”
“Hmm.” Noah considered exactly how to reply so there’d be no misunderstandings. “I can honestly say that I don’t mind.”
Derek shot him a quizzical look.
“I can’t promise that I’m going to like it every single day, but what I do know is that it’s been too quiet here since Claudia died. I found more reasons to work, and as soon as Stiles was old enough to escape the dreaded babysitter, he didn’t want to be here alone, locked in with all the memories.” Noah rubbed his hand over the back of his neck.
“I understand,” Derek said softly.
“Yeah, probably better than most. So don’t make the decision thinking you’re working on a timeline. Because it feels good to have life in the place again. Besides, if I’m part of the pack, then this is implicitly the pack house if we’re all in it.” He blew out a breath. “So, bearing in mind that there’s no rush or even need to do anything else, what are your options?”
Derek shrugged. “We still own the land even if the county condemned the actual structure.”
“We can get the deed to the house reverted back to you, but the safety issue will have to be addressed,” Noah cautioned.
“I just hate how hunters use my family’s home as their base of operations every time they roll into town.”
Noah just stared, eventually managing to compose himself. “That’s not acceptable. Okay…” He considered for a second. “Seems like your options are to tear it down and rebuild in the same spot with doors that lock and much added security. Or you could tear it down and build a memorial. When you’re ready, build a new home elsewhere on the land. Or buy a house closer to town that abuts the preserve. But you’d still have to tear down the existing structure to appease the county.”
Derek’s brow furrowed. “Memorial?”
“It all depends on your preference for honoring your family. Some people would prefer to honor their family by living in the same place they had. Others might not want the constant reminder. I think a memorial is a fair and reasonable thing to do if you don’t want to live where your family all died.”
“What would you do?”
“I can’t imagine living in the same space where my loved ones had been murdered. Even if it was torn down and rebuilt, it would— I just couldn’t.” He swallowed thinking about living in this house if Stiles and Claudia had been murdered here.
“It’s…upsetting.” Derek paused. “Being there.”
Noah figured Derek was the absolute master of understatement. “I’d imagine so. And if you never wanted to set foot in that part of the preserve again, I’d understand completely. But we should tear down the existing house and block off the tunnels. Hunters should not be allowed to continue to desecrate your family’s memories.”
Derek nodded, looking overwhelmed.
“I’ll talk to the county about it, okay?”
“Yeah.” Derek cleared his throat. “Thanks.”
“Was there something else on your mind?”
“I should probably get a better car. Bigger one, I mean.” Derek gestured awkwardly. “With the pack and all.”
Noah thought Derek just needed someone to bounce ideas off of. “Seems reasonable. You attached to the Camaro?”
“It was Laura’s car,” he said with a shrug. And that could be good or bad.
“Are you holding on to it out of obligation or sentiment?”
“Well, there’s no reason you can’t have two cars while you decide which of those two things holds more weight for you. You’re not always going to be shuttling a pack of teens around. And if you go to school elsewhere, you could take the Camaro for your commute.” He watched Derek carefully as he said the next bit, “But if you need permission to let go of some things—some reminders—of the past, then you should give it to yourself. Laura loved you, not her car. She’s not going to think your love for her is measured in whether you keep the Camaro.”
Derek stared at his lap, brows knitted together.
Noah propped his feet up. “I have something to run by you.” This idea had been rattling around in his head all day. He’d planned to give it some time before approaching Derek with it, but he thought maybe Derek needed something to focus on that wasn’t so deeply entrenched with his lost family.
Derek finally looked up, brows arching in inquiry.
“How would you feel about being a deputy?”
Derek’s sputtering and obvious shock was totally worth it. “What?” he finally gasped out, though it sounded like he was being strangled.
“Well, I was considering how hard it is to tell which crimes are supernatural in nature, and having an expert could be useful. Also, your degree program would tie in well with you being a community service officer until you had time to fully complete the police academy.”
“Think of it as an a police officer that doesn’t have full police powers. There’s some training required, but they don’t issue citations and usually don’t arrest people. They work with the community and the police to help uphold the law.”
Derek just stared at him.
“It’d be a way to get you into the department sooner rather than later so I could consult with you and even dispatch you to certain crime scenes in your area of expertise. There would be some training required, of course, but it could be part time while you finish your degree. And if you like it, you could go through the full police academy. There’s one about an hour away that’s favored by smaller departments in Northern California and isn’t run by any one city. They have a part time program that would allow you to go three days instead of five.”
Derek finally broke his silence. “You want me to work with you so I can deal with supernatural threats?”
“No, that’s a bonus. I could just consult with you if that was all I wanted, but I think you’d make a fine deputy, and it’d be a good way to get you more settled in the community. I’m just giving you some options for ways it could be accomplished. You could do it as quickly or slowly as you were comfortable with or that let you work around the needs of the pack.”
Derek frowned, glancing toward the door that led to the basement.
“They’re teenagers. They’re going to be at school like it’s their job because it is. I’m simply suggesting that you consider what you want for yourself because you deserve to have a life too.”
“And you think I’d make a good cop?”
“I don’t see any reason why not.”
“I don’t get along with people.”
Noah made a so-so gesture. “Only you can say if it’s that you truly don’t get along with people or you just don’t want them getting close to you. Because if it’s the latter, being friendly isn’t going to cause you to be overrun with people vying for your attention—carrying a badge effectively keeps people away. Oh, sure, there’ll be some people who will fawn over you, but it won’t have anything to do with whether you’re friendly or not.”
Derek’s brows were still knitted in a confused frown like he couldn’t conceive of why Noah would want to work with him. “But what if—”
Noah held up a hand. “I can’t predict the future or give an answer to every eventuality. A badge is a layer between you and most people, so I don’t think you have to be worried that people are going to suddenly try to hug you at random times. And you can say no—you can always say no. This is just an option for you, and if it doesn’t suit, we’ll figure something else out.”
“I’ll…think about it.”
“Good.” He got to his feet. “Now I’m going to get a beer. Want one?”
“Werewolves can’t get drunk.”
“Which has absolutely nothing to do with my question since I have no intention of drinking enough beer to get anything approaching intoxicated. The question was if you’d like to have a beer?”
Derek shrugged and got to his feet. “Sure.”
Stiles woke up so stiff and sore that he could barely function. He didn’t even react to Derek’s touch on his ribs other than to be insanely grateful for werewolf superpowers.
“You’re in more pain than usual.”
Stiles blinked blearily until Derek’s face swam into view. “You’re extra grumpy looking.”
“Your expression…it’s extra grumpy.”
“Why do you hurt more?”
“This is like rubbing it in my face that you’ve never had to deal with the third day being the worst.” Stiles let Derek help him to a sitting position. “Damn werewolves.” He gingerly stretched out what kinks he could. “Human frailty, dude. Except for the ribs, everything should start feeling better now.”
“You don’t have to get up yet.”
Stiles shook his head. “I want to see everyone before they leave for school.”
Derek cocked his head to the side, brow arched in obvious inquiry.
Stiles huffed, not wanting to admit to being as pathetically insecure as he was feeling.
Sniffing faintly, Derek’s expression shifted to concern. “Stiles…”
“Gah! I hate how you guys can smell every damn thing.” Stiles rubbed the back of his neck. “We’ve been together since this all happened, and now they’re going back to school without me. What if something happens?”
“It won’t. I’m going to drop them off and pick them up. They’ll be at school or here.”
“Stiles,” Derek said gently, “they’re not going to forget you in half a day.”
Stiles scoffed. “Of course not.”
“Nothing is going to change other than you guys being separated from seven to three five days a week for the next two weeks.”
Stiles bounced his toes against the carpet, hating himself for feeling this way. “I just worry.”
“Okay.” Derek backed off. “We’ll be leaving in ten. Come down to say goodbye.”
He was grateful that Derek had let him off the hook. When he got downstairs, he tried not to hover or act neurotic, but he was stupidly grateful the way all three betas scented him before leaving.
“You okay, kid?” his dad asked from where he was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading the paper.
“Uh huh.” He nudged a chair with his foot. “Get in here and keep your old man company.” A few minutes passed before his dad brought it up again. “Want to tell me what’s going on in that head of yours?”
“I’m just feeling unsettled. Everything has changed so quickly.”
“Seems like there’s been a lot of change this year.”
“Yeah, but I always had Scott, you know?”
“I know, Son, I know.” His dad squeezed his forearm. “But everything is going to be okay. Now, there’s some stuff I didn’t tell you about Scott because I wanted to do it when we had some privacy.”
Stiles’ eyebrows shot up. “Something wrong?”
“Not a bit. I just want to tell you about the place he went, and I think you’ll understand why it’s important that as few people as possible know the truth of what’s going on.”
He listened attentively as his father explained about the farm. In some ways, it sounded ideal for Scott—provided Scott could unbend enough to be a part of a pack. But it could be disastrous if Scott persisted in being so stubborn. When Stiles expressed those fears, his dad pointed out that the bad outcome could have happened no matter where Scott went.
“He has to want it, Stiles.”
“I’m just usually really good at bullying him into wanting things,” he said without any real humor.
“You guys are going your own way. For now, at least. Let’s hope for the best for everyone involved, okay?”
“Yeah.” He nudged his dad’s foot. “Thanks, Pops.”
“Anytime, kiddo. After Derek gets home, I’m going to make a trip to see Erica and Boyd’s guardians. I need to get some more tangible permission for them to be here so frequently.”
“What are you going to say?”
“Not sure yet, but I’ll figure it out. I’m pretty sure most people see me as upright and responsible.”
Stiles snorted in amusement. “I feel like I need to apologize for something.”
His dad shot him a curious look that bordered on worried. “Not if you’re going to apologize for something we’ve already covered. Because that’s not necessary.”
“No, it’s… Well, I think I underestimated how well you’d handle all this. You’ve been amazing, and I feel like kind of an idiot for thinking otherwise.”
His dad was quiet for a long time. “I think I underestimated you too, Son. Because you’ve been going through so much more than I ever could have imagined, and you held up so well. I’m really proud of you.”
Stiles managed to smile even though he felt like emotion was choking him. “Stilinskis are pretty awesome.”
“Yeah we are. Though you get extra awesome from your mom.” His dad’s cell chimed, giving Stiles a moment to collect himself. Dad sighed after reading it. “Apparently Ms. Martin approached Derek when he dropped the kids off. She wasn’t content with his previous commitment that he’d get back to her with a good time to meet. He’s asking when is good for us.”
Stiles felt a little prickle of annoyance, which was weird considering it was Lydia. He made grabby hands for his dad’s phone then quickly shot off a text. He made a mental note to text Boyd and ask him to check Stiles’ locker for his phone and other stuff.
—it’s stiles. don’t let her boss you around. bad precedent, dude.
—tell her you’ll call after you coordinate a time with the SHERIFF.
—You boss me around.
—Don’t call me “dude.”
—really? quotes around dude? ugh. it’s like i don’t know u.
—besides, i’m pack.
—Yes, you are.
—I have to deal with them eventually.
—yeah but assuming they want to be in the pack it’s not good to let them start calling the shots.
—tell her you’ll be in touch.
—like you already told her to begin with!
There was a long pause before he heard back from Derek again.
—She finally accepted that I’ll call her tonight to arrange a time.
—how u get her to back down?
—Crossed my arms and pretended like I was mute.
Stiles laughed then texted back.
—( ¬‿¬)═ɜ ɛ═(–‿– )
—What the hell is that thing?
—fist bump emoji
—I have a hunch you know what it looks like.
—i have no idea what you’re talking about.
—I’ll be back soon, Stiles.
Stiles laughed and handed the phone back to his dad.
“Everything okay, then?”
“Well, Lydia is used to people doing what she wants, when she wants. If Derek sets the precedent of her bossing him around, it’ll be a cluster if she and Jackson wind up part of the pack.”
“Thought you had a crush on Lydia?”
“Well, sort of…? But having a crush on someone doesn’t make you blind to their faults.”
“It often does, actually.”
“What do you mean by sort of?”
Stiles fiddled with his glass.
“It hasn’t been much of a real crush for a few years now,” he admitted with a shrug. “It was just easier to pretend, so people wouldn’t…”
His dad waited a few seconds before prompting, “Wouldn’t what?”
Stiles huffed, not wanting to talk about this but also not wanting to go back to not talking to his dad about stuff. “It was easier to keep the crush going than admit that she wasn’t…”
His dad was quiet for so long that Stiles finally looked up and met his dad’s gaze. “Are we revisiting the conversation we had at Jungle?” his dad finally prompted.
Stiles flushed and stared at his hands.
His dad reached out, covering both of Stiles’ hands with his own. “I didn’t take what you said seriously then because I knew you were trying to distract me from what was really going on. Hard to tell with you if you’re deflecting with a lie or the truth,” he said gently.
Stiles shrugged. “More truth in that case.”
“And you know I don’t care, right? Well, I care because I care about everything about you, but you telling me you’re gay doesn’t change how I feel about you even a little bit.”
He met his dad’s gaze, finding only sincerity. “Really?”
“Of course, Stiles. Did you really think it would matter to me?”
“Not…” He swallowed. “Not really. Not in my head anyway.”
“I’d pull you into a hug right now, but I’m mindful of all your werewolves being out of the house and unable to help with your pain.”
“Guess I’ll have to just have to do the work.” Stiles got to his feet, stepping into his father’s arms. His dad was careful to only squeeze him around the shoulders. “I love you, Dad,” Stiles whispered.
“I love you too, Son.”
– – – –
Noah didn’t understand the ease with which Erica and Boyd’s families were willing to basically let them go to live with a virtual stranger, even if said stranger was the town sheriff.
Erica’s parents had weirdly jumped on the chance for Erica to stay with friends for the summer so they could go on holiday until September—some kind of world tour. They wanted to see her before they left, but it was shocking to Noah how they took his word for it that she was fine. They asked very few questions about what had been going on over the weekend, obviously grateful she was okay but completely lacking in much curiosity about the situation.
Boyd’s grandmother, on the other hand, had just seemed…ambivalent. She’d said Boyd could stay where he wanted or come home but to let her know which it was going to be.
Noah hadn’t wanted to pry into either kids’ situation at home, but both had volunteered their perspective on it when he’d seen them after school. Erica believed her parents were reveling in their lives not revolving around Erica’s epilepsy and constant visits to doctors and hospitals. That it was a relief not to have responsibility for her for a while. Erica didn’t seem pleased by their actions, but she didn’t seem overly hurt by it either.
Boyd just quietly suggested that his grandmother couldn’t forgive him for the abduction of Alicia, but that he thought she also hated herself a little because of how she felt.
Noah found it all heartbreaking.
As difficult as the emotional aspects of the situation were, the logistical part of talking with the families has gone so smoothly that it had set the expectation that things would go easily with Jackson and Lydia.
And that wasn’t turning out to be the case.
The meeting was a train wreck from Noah’s perspective.
He was more than a little put off by how Lydia kept asking for information but then trying to tell Derek—and everyone else—how things were going to be going forward. Noah easily recognized that two people in the pack were about to blow their top—Stiles and Erica. Derek was handling the whole thing with a lot more patience than Noah would have expected from anyone.
Jackson had surprisingly been quiet, apparently not sure what he wanted to do but content to go along with Lydia for now. Noah wasn’t sure what to think of the young man. He was a victim in all this, like most of the kids, and had been terribly used by Matt and Gerard but, at the same time, he’d known something was wrong and had done nothing significant to try to figure out what. He hadn’t asked for help with his memory lapses and waking up covered in blood. Noah found it hard to excuse that. It left him uncertain how to advise Derek—should Derek ask.
He did get Jackson to agree to let Noah come back to his house with him to talk to his dad. Explain about Gerard’s bad acts, and that Stiles had thought Gerard might target Jackson. They worked out a narrative to feed David Whittemore to get the restraining order dropped.
Lydia was now making another go at telling Derek how to run his pack and how she and Jackson would be involved when there was a knock at the door.
“It’s Deaton,” Derek said, getting to his feet.
“Oh, I’ve got this,” Noah said sharply. “You kids all stay here.” Noah tried to be mindful about ordering Derek around, especially in front of the pack, but this was still Noah’s house. He was going to have a really hard time not punching Deaton, but his best chance of keeping his cool was to keep Derek and Deaton apart. Because what he’d heard about how Deaton had treated Derek completely infuriated him.
He opened the door, stepping out rather than leaving the door open. “Dr. Deaton,” he greeted neutrally.
“May I come in?”
“No. What can I do for you?”
Deaton’s lips pressed into a thin line before he replied, “I got a letter from Scott today—delivered by Chris Argent.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes, but there was no mention of how to contact him. I feel a grave mistake has been made, and I’d like to ask your son for Scott’s contact information.”
“You can’t contact Scott.”
“Excuse me, I—”
“That’s straight from Scott’s mother. His legal guardian and the only person who gets a say in the matter. A woman who is more than a little upset with you right now and has asked me to tell you to stay well clear of her son or she’ll have a restraining order slapped on you. I’d be more than happy to help her with the paperwork and see it expedited through a judge.”
Deaton blinked in shock. “I don’t know what you’ve been told about me, but—”
“The accounts have been pretty consistent from all sides. Even Scott agreed with the series of events even if he didn’t see them the same way the rest of us did.”
“I’m going to cut you off because nothing you have to say is going to defuse my anger. It might just make it worse, and we really don’t need that. You were directly responsible for Scott’s actions that mean he can no longer live in Beacon Hills. You chose to set him on a course that made his involvement with the local pack impossible. Scott has to live with his own choices and behaviors, things that are pretty unforgiveable in my eyes, but you have to live with setting Scott on that path. Unfortunately, it seems to me that everyone is paying for your actions but you. So I would suggest that you think long and hard about trying to justify yourself to me. And you definitely don’t want to be making demands of me or my son.”
“And, in case it’s not already clear, stay away from Derek and his pack.”
Deaton’s jaw clenched. “You don’t understand the forces you’re interfering with.”
“Perhaps, but I kind of doubt you do either. So why don’t we agree to disagree. You’ve made it more than clear what you think of Derek and his pack. Your only interest, which is disturbing by the way, was in Scott. Scott is now out of your reach. So your presence on my doorstep is both futile and perplexing.”
The door opened and Stiles stepped out, pulling the door shut behind him.
Noah sighed, and stared up at the sky. “Why do I even bother?” He glared at Stiles. “What part of ‘stay inside’ was unclear?”
Stiles gaze was fixed on Deaton. “I heard you, Pops, but I…” He briefly met Noah’s gaze. “I need to ask something.”
Noah crossed his arms and nodded tersely, but he made sure to be standing slightly ahead of his son to give no opportunity for Stiles and Deaton to get within touching distance of each other.
“I’m trying to figure out what your game was,” Stiles began.
“I had no ulterior motive, Mr. Stilinski, and I think if you’ll allow me to talk to Mr. McCall, we can set the record straight.”
Stiles scoffed. “There’s no way you talking to Scotty is going to make anything clearer. You just want to fill his head with misdirection.”
“You have judged me harshly and unfairly, Mr. Stilinski.”
“Have I?” Stiles said in a soft tone that actually made the hair stand up on the back of Noah’s neck. “I’ll tell you what, you explain something to my satisfaction and I’ll consider telling you how to get in touch with Scott.”
“Very well. Ask your question.”
Noah was surprised Deaton had agreed so readily. Why was he so invested in a sixteen-year-old boy?
“I don’t believe for a second that Scott came up with the plan for Gerard,” Stiles began. “I don’t think he thought of the mountain ash, and I really don’t think the secrecy was his idea. So why? Why did you want Scott to do something so heinous?”
“Heinous, Mr. Stilinski? That seems exaggerated.”
“No! You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to act like everyone is overreacting in the face of your benevolent serenity. I’m done with that crap! Even if Scott didn’t get the significance of the bite to born wolf, you knew. You were the Hale emissary, so you knew exactly how a werewolf would feel about being forced to give the bite to an enemy. And not just an enemy, but a Nazi-esque psychopath who killed nearly every living Hale.
“You knew what that would do to Derek, and you set Scott up to become an enemy of the Hale pack. You didn’t even tell him what the consequences would be.”
“I’ve yet to hear a question,” Deaton said in a tone that almost conveyed boredom.
“You set Scott up to be at odds with the alpha who controls this territory. And I tend to think that wasn’t your actual aim since you’re so creepily invested in him. So what were you trying to do? Explain that.”
Deaton was quiet for several long moments. “The Hale alpha spark is bound to this territory that’s true, but Derek isn’t fit to be the alpha to carry that spark. There can be no balance while he flails about pretending to be an alpha.”
“So were you planning to set Scott up to kill Derek? Or were you hoping Derek and Gerard would both die—Derek at Gerard’s hand and Gerard, basically, at Scott’s because of the mountain ash? And then Scott would be the only werewolf left standing to be alpha?”
“Scott would make a fine alpha.”
“So, that’s not a no. You self-righteous prick, thinking you know what’s best for everyone else. How dare you! The thing you failed to account for in your machinations is that Scott has no bond to Derek. None! Isaac would have been alpha by proximity and strength of the bond. I mean, what the fuck is wrong with you? How morally bankrupt do you have to be to arrange for a sixteen-year-old to participate in some sick bite…well, it’s like a fucking rape, and then make him complicit in someone’s murder?”
“I gather you’re not going to be giving me Mr. McCall’s contact information.”
“You’re damn right I’m not!” Stiles nearly yelled. “Scott’s life will forever be marked by the path you led him down, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about that now. But what I can do, what my pack can do is put you on notice that this is Hale territory, and you don’t get to decide what balance is on our land.
“You stay away from me, you stay away from Derek, and you stay away from our pack. If you don’t, I’ll make sure you regret it.” Stiles slammed back into the house, leaving a furious-looking Deaton standing on their front step.
“Well,” Noah drawled, leaning against the porch rail. “I think you might have made him a bit angry.”
Deaton spun on his heel and strode away.
Noah called after him. “As sheriff, I’m officially warning you that Melissa McCall doesn’t want you near her home or her son. I will arrest you if you push me on this. And I don’t want you near any of those kids or Derek. Take that how you will.”
Deaton stilled briefly then got into his car and drove away.
Noah stepped back inside to find everyone watching him pensively except for Stiles and Derek. He could hear faint voices from the kitchen, so he inferred they were talking about what Derek had just overheard.
Erica caught his gaze and gave him a thumbs up and a bright grin. She was a terrible enabler, and he was becoming increasingly fond of her.
Derek stepped back into the room and cleared his throat, looking at Jackson and Lydia. “I think we’re done for tonight.”
Lydia looked irritated. “No, we haven’t agreed—”
“Not giving in to your demands is not the same thing as not agreeing,” Derek snapped with a rare—in Noah’s brief experience—display of temper. “You are not part of my pack, and Jackson’s bond to me is thin, so neither of you have any right to make demands of me or anyone in my pack.”
“You bit him!” she yelled.
“He practically blackmailed me into it. I’ll accept some responsibility for him, but that’s because he’s effectively a new wolf in my territory. As I already said, Jackson can attend training sessions to help learn control and see if he even wants to try to join my pack. You can attend as well and ask questions, but I don’t take orders from you. This conversation is over.” Derek gestured to the betas, who all got to their feet. Stiles appeared right behind Derek, expression cold, but Noah had faith that the pack would help him sort out how he was feeling.
Derek exchanged a look with Noah, and Noah nodded. The whole group headed for the basement, leaving Noah with Jackson and Lydia.
She gestured to where Derek had disappeared. “He owes us!”
“And why’s that?” Noah asked softly, taking a seat.
“He bit Jackson. He thought about killing me.”
“While I certainly can’t condone that, he obviously didn’t kill you and, as I understand it, they thought you were the kanima at the time.”
“Which doesn’t mean they had to kill me!”
“From what I’ve heard from multiple sources more experienced with the supernatural than anyone in this house, it pretty much does mean exactly that. I am greatly relieved that you and Mr. Whittemore were able to pull off what amounts to a miracle when you cured him, but it’s so rare an occurrence that it’s considered a myth.”
“They should have tried to fix the situation!” she nearly screamed. “Not just go around killing people.”
“As I understand it, they’ve killed absolutely no one. But how many people have died at other hands?” He shot them a pointed look.
Jackson winced, and Lydia looked furious.
“I feel deep sympathy for what was done to you, how you were used against your will, Mr. Whittemore,” Noah offered sincerely. “And while I am grateful you are alive and free of anyone’s control now, if I had known about the supernatural world then, I would have called in someone to help hunt you down and end you. I’m sorry if that seems callous, but it’s nothing less than the truth. Expecting anyone here to pay in some way for their intention to see the kanima killed is a fruitless endeavor.”
Lydia looked like she was going to explode. Whittemore reached out and put a hand on her arm. “He’s right. It sucks, Lyds, so much, but not as much as thinking about all the people who died at my hands.”
“No, not your—”
“Yes! Literally my hands. It doesn’t matter that someone else was at the controls. The hunters had an opportunity to stop me and they didn’t. And how many more people died?” He got to his feet. “You’re trying to make everyone else be wrong so you can feel better and have someone to blame, but it just…sucks. For everyone, not just you and me. And this…it’s awful, and I can’t keep doing it.” He looked to Noah. “I’ll meet you at my house in a couple hours to talk to my father.” With that, he walked out, leaving Lydia staring after him.
“No.” She shook her head. “He came back from that. It wasn’t his fault!”
“Then whose fault was it? The people who used him are dead—at least, we assume Gerard is dead. So it seems like you’re now blaming Derek since the real culprit is beyond your reach. You’re treating Derek and his pack like they owe you personally.”
“Is a completely different issue that has nothing to do with the kanima, and one you haven’t raised before right this moment. If you want to have a conversation about Peter, that’s fine, but don’t try to deflect.”
Her eyes welled up and she put her hands over her face. “I feel so lost.”
“You’re not going to find your way by alienating everyone who could possibly help you.”
Lydia sniffled once then crossed her arms, looking small and vulnerable. “Allison wasn’t in school, but she called me this weekend. Told me what had happened.” She shot Noah a pleading look. “She’s my best friend.”
“Which will put you in an awkward position with the pack.”
“Can’t they all just let that go? Can’t we move on?”
Noah was appalled at her callousness. “Allison actively tried to kill four of the five pack members. And her grandfather nearly killed my son.”
“They were going to kill me!”
“Which has nothing to do with Allison’s actions. They planned to kill you if you were a creature so powerful that you’d have been almost unstoppable—one that had already left a trail of bodies. But a plan to do harm isn’t the same thing as having multiple arrows shot into your body. It’s not the same thing as have daggers stabbed into your kidneys, leaving you to nearly bleed to death. It’s not the same thing as her repeated attempts to murder Derek for the high crime of trying to save an innocent kid who was nearly the victim of a hate crime.”
“Was a bigot and a murderer. Allison may not want to accept that, but it doesn’t make it less true. And grief isn’t an excuse to torture and kill; I’m not going to entertain that kind idiocy being spewed in my house. If you want to defend her actual violence while condemning Derek for planned violence, I don’t really think much of your reasoning abilities, and I’m going to decline to hear any more of it.”
Lydia looked both affronted and hurt.
“I think you need to take a few days to consider the facts and let some of the emotion die down. If you need to talk things through, I know someone who can recommend an in-the-know therapist.”
“But I can’t talk to the pack,” she said woodenly.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, do you? You’ve all been hurt beyond what anyone should have to endure. All of you are victims in this situation. But I can’t in good conscience let you compound their hurt so you can deal with yours. You’ll have to get a therapist to vent to—especially if you want to in any way defend anyone even remotely associated with an Argent. I can’t offer myself as a sounding board since, of everyone involved, the person who came the closest to actually dying was Stiles. My son.”
She looked startled and then a little ashamed.
“So I’m not inclined to listen to your one-sided view of things, and I’m definitely not interested in encouraging you to share any further pro-Allison propaganda with people she’s tortured.”
Lydia looked like she’d been slapped. Noah felt for her, he really did, but she was handling her grief and anger by making things worse for everyone else and refusing to see anyone’s viewpoint but her own.
She swallowed heavily. “All right. I’ll leave them alone. I’ll have to think about whether I’ll come with Jackson when he comes to see Derek. I’m not sure I could…withhold my opinion right now.” She gave him a pointed look. “I do want to know what Peter did to me. I want to know what the hell happened and if anything like that is going to happen again.”
“I’ll talk to Peter on your behalf. I don’t think he’s even in Beacon Hills right now, so I can’t promise a turnaround time on that. But I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
She nodded stiffly and got to her feet, then she hesitated. “I’m sorry about everything that happened to Stiles.”
It wasn’t lost on him that she still couldn’t bring herself to care about what happened to everyone else. “Gerard did terrible things. Probably to no one so much as Jackson. I hope Jackson will let Derek help him.”
Not saying anything further, she left the house.
Sighing, he sent a text to Alpha Chen asking for a some names of supernaturally aware therapists he could start pointing people to. The pack seemed to be doing the best in the whole situation, and he thought the very fact of being pack—being family—was helping them all recover. But Lydia, Jackson, Mel…even Allison—none of them had an easy path to that kind of healing. He’d offer them what he could.
He went into the kitchen to get the kettle on. He figured Derek would be up in a few minutes to talk about everything that had happened today.
Noah found it peculiar how quickly he had adapted to being part of Derek’s pack considering how little time had passed. It hadn’t even been a week since the lacrosse game, but he was already used to a house full of teenagers and an alpha werewolf who looked like the original bad boy but who was secretly a complete marshmallow.
The betas all called him Papa S now—even Boyd as of last night—which, with every utterance, was sounding more like “Pops.” He found it cute and endearing, even if he also thought it sad that three teenagers were that desperate for a father figure. They were all relaxed and happy, more so with every day that passed, a shocking turnaround from how they all tended to be wary and nervous at the slightest provocation as recently as this past Monday.
The changes in Derek were less obvious but more striking to Noah’s way of thinking. In just a few days he went from tensing when touched, to accepting casual affection, to actively seeking physical contact with his pack.
Noah had walked in on the forewarned puppy pile once. It’d been startling to come home to find everyone piled on the living room floor, curled around each other and watching TV. Stiles had been lying on the sofa cushions which had been placed on the floor in deference to his ribs, but everyone else had been lying sprawled over each other and cuddled up with blankets and pillows. It hadn’t escaped his attention that every single one of the betas were touching Derek and Stiles.
He’d later congratulated himself for simply blinking a few times, saying hello, and then going to his office to put his sidearm in the gun safe. Back in the living room, everyone was in the same position, but they were watching him, so he’d just sprawled out on the cushion-less couch, rubbed his hand over Stiles’ head, and then told Derek to put on the game. Because he might be willing to adapt to a pack of wolves cuddling his son, he might have adjusted to an entire house of rampaging teenage hormones, but he was not now, or ever, watching a movie named Kick-Ass.
Despite how well things were going at home, it was a relief to be at work. Riding herd on his deputies and the entire town of Beacon Hills was significantly less work than four teenagers.
There was a tap at the door and he looked up to find Parrish. “Sheriff, Christopher Argent is here.”
The only person Noah was less interested in seeing than Chris Argent was Alan Deaton. He sighed. “Send him in.”
Argent looked tired, but Noah didn’t comment as he gestured for the other man to have a seat.
“Sheriff Stilinski.” Argent nodded as he sat. “Before we begin, Allison asked after Scott. Per our agreement, she does not know where he’s gone, but she does want to make sure he’s all right.” Argent’s expression was a bit sour—no doubt he’d been hoping Scott was entirely out of his daughter’s life. Noah thought it would be fitting if Allison and Scott wound up back together, forcing Chris to deal with his deep-seated bigotry.
While Noah didn’t particularly care to indulge Allison, he was trying not to be petty. “He’s adjusting. I haven’t spoken to him directly, it’s too early for that, but the first report was that he’s enjoying the place and settling in well, though he’s doggedly convinced that he doesn’t need pack bonds.”
Argent sighed and shook his head. “I’m sure he’ll come around.”
“And I’m sure you wouldn’t come here to ask about Scott no matter how much your daughter might ask. What did you need?”
“Is privacy guaranteed?”
Eyes narrowing, Noah pulled out the audio distortion device Sheriff Morris had given him and flipped it on. “Is there a problem?”
“Despite what you think, Sheriff, I bear you no ill will. I know you were acting in the best interests of your son when you—”
“And my town,” Noah interrupted. “I’d have taken the same action for any civilian in Beacon County. That my son was targeted enrages me, but I’m mindful enough of my position in this community, not to mention the rule of law, that I stayed away from the investigation no matter how much I might have liked to smack your father in the face with a brick.”
Argent’s jaw clenched. “Be that as it may, I’d prefer to work with you as much as possible rather than us winding up on separate sides. As proof of my good intentions, I’m coming to you with my… Let’s call it my conundrum, rather than seeking help through my other contacts.”
Noah leaned back in his chair, arms crossed. “I’m listening.”
“As you know, Allison agreed to a form of community service with Sheriff Morris over the summer. Allison hasn’t wanted to go back to school, and the interim principal was agreeable to her finishing out the year from home rather than making it up in summer school—much like Stiles.”
He nodded, not interested in drawing out additional details because he fundamentally didn’t care where Allison went to school as long as she wasn’t shooting people. Also, he found Argent comparing Allison and Stiles in any way to be offensive. Stiles was a victim of the Argents’ bigotry and sociopathy while Allison a criminal who was getting off with barely a slap on the wrist.
“I asked Sheriff Morris if we could postpone Allison’s time with her until the end of the summer so that Allison could spend some time in France—allow us to get away and get some…perspective about everything that’s happened.”
“And that’s where the problem came in. Morris readily agreed as long as Allison was back a month before the start of school, so we’d planned to leave yesterday.”
“And I take it something went wrong that’s related to your conundrum?”
“Yes.” Argent shot him a pointed look. “We couldn’t leave.”
“What stopped you?”
“I don’t know, but I have to assume it was some kind of magic.”
Noah stopped breathing. “Excuse me?”
“We made it barely outside of town before I felt like I had to come back. The urge to return to Beacon Hills became overwhelming.”
“What are you saying?”
“I think a spell was cast on me, and possibly Allison as well. Perhaps on our whole bloodline.” Argent shot him a speaking look. “Perhaps accidentally.”
“Accidentally,” he repeated slowly.
“I thought back over what might have tethered us to Beacon Hills, and something happened recently that seemed the likely source. But, if that was the moment it happened, it had to be accidental. And accidental magic of such power as to bond an entire line to a territory could only come from someone with a significant amount of raw magical potential.”
“Is that right?” he asked tonelessly.
“Yes. Nearly a week ago, someone called a blood debt down on my line.”
“Yes, I think we both know who might have done that.”
“Assuming what you’re saying is the truth and that someone is magically compelling you to stay in Beacon Hills—accidentally or not—what is it that you want me to do?”
“Get him some help, some training, before there’s an accidental catastrophe.”
“And, I assume, get you out of this bond?”
“I’d prefer it, yes. I don’t disagree, in theory, that I owe a debt here for the actions of my family, but being compelled to fulfill that debt isn’t what anyone wants,” Argent said carefully.
Noah could concede that, and he had a hunch that Stiles would be horrified that he’d unintentionally put the whammy on the Argents. “What kind of precedent is there, supernaturally speaking, for blood debts?”
“Blood debts exist all the time, I’m sure, but them being magically bound and enforced tends to be a spiteful act, one that doesn’t foster good future relations.”
Noah wanted to ask how a blood debt could even be levied. Surely Stiles’ own magical ability was insufficient to bind a whole family like that. It seemed logical that the blood debt would have to be judged as being valid—by someone or something—otherwise, wouldn’t magical people just be slapping magical debts on each other all the time? But he had to concede that he knew next to nothing about this sort of thing. Magic tutor was becoming a pressing issue. He had another surreal moment, feeling again like he was in an episode of the Twilight Zone.
“So you want out of this blood debt…” he said leadingly.
“I doubt it’s so straightforward. As I said, I agree some degree of reparation needs to be made, but I’d prefer to negotiate what that is rather than be stuck in a town where the local alpha may not even want me or my family to reside long term.”
“Fair point.” He drummed his fingers on his desk. “It may not be something that can be easily or quickly taken care of.”
“All I ask is that you try with the intention to succeed. As I said, I’d prefer to work with you—to prove that I’m not a threat to the Hale pack—but considering this geas was placed on me with no skill or deliberation, it could wind up having detrimental consequences outside of the inconvenience factor of not being able to get out of town. If I think mine or my daughter’s safety might be at risk, I’ll have no choice but to pursue magical intervention through my old contacts, and I doubt any of us want that kind of scrutiny coming from those sources.”
“I’m trying to decide if you’re threatening me.”
“I’m promising you that I’m not going to see my daughter or myself irreparably harmed. It would be unreasonable of you to expect me to. I’ll wait, for now, but either work with me to resolve the situation or tell me now so I can see what can be done about getting this handled.”
Noah didn’t like it, but he had to concede that Argent was being reasonable. “I’ll start working on the problem right away but, as I said, the fix might not be quick. There might be some training involved.”
“As long as you’re working the problem, I’ll be patient provided there’s nothing jeopardizing our safety.” Argent hesitated. “I don’t actually want to make enemies out of your family or the Hale pack, no matter how things might have appeared.”
“I’ll get on it, and I’ll keep you informed of our progress.”
Argent nodded then left.
Noah rubbed his hand over his face, feeling worried. Dealing with Stiles “accidental” magic had been on his to-do list anyway, but now it might be job one.
He checked the time and realized the betas should all be home from school and well into their homework by now. He grabbed his keys and headed out, telling Tara that he’d be back in a couple hours.
– – – –
Noah pulled up in front of the house, and Derek was already waiting for him. He’d called while driving and confirmed that Derek could leave for a few minutes.
Derek slid into the passenger seat and cocked a brow. “What’s wrong?”
“Let’s get driving first.” As soon as they were moving, Noah volunteered, “The other alpha I talked to said driving in a moving car was a pretty good method to ensure you weren’t being overheard.”
He caught Derek’s nod out of the corner of his eye. “Is something wrong?”
“Not exactly, though it’s certainly not right. I had a visit from Chris Argent today. Stiles’ magical abilities are becoming a serious issue that we need to come up with a plan to deal with.”
Noah spent several minutes going over the visit with Argent while he drove through the neighborhood.
“That’s not good,” Derek said slowly.
“In which way?
“Almost every way. Stiles is doing significant magic without meaning to. Emissary bonds, blood debts… From everything I know, that’s serious magic.”
“Couldn’t the danger and urgency have affected what happened with the Argents?”
“I suppose. It’s not how I’ve ever heard of magic working, but it’s not something I ever studied. There’s not an easy way to find him a teacher. I worry that Deaton suspects something already. And now Stiles has drawn the Argents’ attention.”
“Which is the last thing I want. Well, maybe Deaton’s attention is the last thing I want, but Argent is close.” Noah sighed. “How big of a problem is this?”
“It’s…” Derek hesitated. “I don’t know. With a little training, he might be able to get control easily and lift the…well, geas is as good a word as any. What Argent described sounds more like that than a compulsion.”
“A compulsion would rob him of his will, which it doesn’t sound like it has. But the debt is placing a burden on him that is so heavy he can’t leave the area.”
“If he leaves, he can’t fulfill the debt.”
Noah guessed that made sense—in the nonsense of the whole week kind of way. “Okay, so I have to get in touch with the other alpha and try to find a resource who can handle this without painting a target on Stiles’ back.”
“I could ask Peter,” Derek offered. “He had more contacts in the magical community than anyone I knew.”
“Let’s see what Chen says.”
“Okay.” He could practically feel the question lingering in the air.
“Say whatever’s on your mind, Derek.”
“Do we talk to him about it before we find a teacher or not?”
Noah had to consider that from several angles. “Probably better not to spring the news and a teacher on him at the same time. Plus, he’ll be pissed that we knew and didn’t tell him. I’ll talk to him this weekend. In the interim, we just keep doing what we’re doing. This is just something we have to deal with, it’s not a catastrophe.”
“Okay. Um, would it be okay if I took him out of the house for a while tomorrow?” Derek asked, sounding hesitant.
Noah shot him a quick look. “Of course. You know I trust you to keep him safe.” He considered. “He driving you crazy?”
Derek’s long silence was telling. “He’s…bored.”
Noah winced. “That’s never good.”
“Did you have something in mind?”
“There’s something I need to do in the afternoon, and I thought,” he hesitated, “that he could go with me.”
Derek quickly spelled out his plans for tomorrow, and Noah made a mental note to get off work early so he could join them for at least part of it.
– – – –
Stiles was bored out of his fucking mind. He’d logically known that his dad would be going back to work and the betas back to school, but he hadn’t really thought about what that meant for him. Physically limited and stuck all day with Derek, who was turning into the original mother hen. Grumpy mother hen. Like grumpy cat but different, and much more likely to shove food at him.
The first day the betas had gone back to school, his dad had stayed home, but he wasn’t able to take more time off considering the manpower shortages. Even with Stiles getting his assignments every night, he was losing his fucking mind and it had only been five days.
He hadn’t personally heard from Scott, but Melissa had talked to him twice. She’d relayed that he was doing well and seemed to enjoy the farm. Mel got to talk to Scott on Tuesday evenings and once on the weekend unless Scott was on restriction, which apparently hadn’t happened, so that was all good news even if Stiles still felt like a part of him had been cut off—it felt like the wound was still bleeding sometimes.
The farm seemed like a good solution for Scott, but it didn’t help much with the best-friend shaped void in Stiles’ life. Though, if he were completely honest, that void had been there for a while, he just hadn’t wanted to admit it. Stiles had found that he had more in common with their scarf-wearing pack member, was most comfortable around Boyd, and talked easiest with Erica. But he wasn’t trying to fill the best friend spot yet. And when he was, he had a hunch that a certain grumpy hen was going to be it.
“What are you doing?” Derek asked, probably sporting the grumpy hen expression as he came into Stiles’ room.
Stiles was laying on his back, sideways on his bed with his head hanging off. “Seeing if the change in perspective might alleviate my boredom.”
“And did it?”
“No. But my apathy levels are high and I’m not sure I care.”
Derek made a sound that might have been amusement. “You done with your homework?”
“Two hours ago,” Stiles whined.
“Want to go for a drive?”
“What?” He quickly tried to sit up, but instantly regretted all his life choices.
Sighing, Derek, crossed the room and levered Stiles off the bed, draining Stiles’ pain at the same time.
“Am I really getting out of here? Don’t mess me with me, Derek. This would be the worst kind of tease.”
“I talked to your dad and said you were losing your mind. He said we could go out as long as I stayed under the speed limit.”
“But!” Derek grabbed Stiles’ hand to stop the joyous flailing. “Peter will be there for part of it.”
Stiles wished he cared. “I can’t seem to find my pro forma objection amidst all the anticipation I feel at the prospect of getting out of the house!”
Derek’s lips twitched, not quite a real smile, but Stiles would take any light-hearted emotion coming from his sourwolf.
“What’s with the lawn chair?” he asked as he maneuvered himself into Derek’s brand new mom mobile. It was really a huge SUV, but Stiles liked to tease Derek about getting all domestic.
“You’re going to need somewhere to sit when we get there. We’ll stop for lunch on the way.”
“Curly fries?” Stiles asked eagerly. He’d finally gotten his appetite back and was eating semi normal meals over the last few days.
“A small order,” Derek countered.
“Remember how much you hurt the last time you overate?”
Stiles pouted, but couldn’t refute the charge.
“But, if you’re still in the mood, we’ll get a second order on the way back.”
After a couple minutes, Stiles asked, “So are you going to come clean about whatever you and my dad seem to know that I don’t.”
Derek shot him a look then sighed. “How’d you figure it out?”
“Please.” Stiles blew a raspberry. “It’s cute how you both think you’re subtle.”
He could practically hear Derek rolling his eyes. “Yes, there’s something going on, but your dad wants to talk to you himself this weekend.”
“Come on, Derek, give me a hint. I’ve been trying to figure it out, but the picture isn’t coming together.”
“No. And don’t ask me to circumvent your father’s wishes. It makes me…” His hands clenched on the steering wheel. “I don’t want to do that.”
“Yeah, okay,” Stiles said softly, not really wanting to push Derek to do something he was uncomfortable with. He decided to change the subject. At least he knew he’d get the truth out of his father this weekend. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
Derek glanced over again, looking wary. “I suppose.”
“Have you forgiven Erica and Boyd?”
“For leaving you mean?” he asked after a brief hesitation.
“Yeah. They haven’t said anything directly, but I’m pretty sure that’s what their hesitation around you is about…wondering if you’ve forgiven them for taking off.”
Derek’s lips pressed into a thin line for a moment. “Yes and no. I don’t usually see myself as separate from the wolf in me, but there’s a…difference sometimes. I’ve forgiven them because I understand why they were scared, and I know I wasn’t the best alpha. But the part of me that’s wolf wants them to prove their loyalty to the pack. It’s not really lack of forgiveness, but more…waiting for them to prove they deserve…”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“Sort of like the alpha wolf in you isn’t faulting them, but they’re on a probation or something?”
He lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “That fits as well as anything. I just know the wolf side of me is…watching, evaluating them.”
“I think they’re going to prove to you and your wolf that they deserve the second chance.”
“Yeah. I…I want that.”
“Me too,” Stiles said softly.
Derek pulled into the diner. “You let me stay between you and anyone.”
“This is gonna get so old,” Stiles groused.
“Uh huh. I suppose you’d prefer the novelty of someone bumping into you?”
Stiles made a face. He’d bumped into the doorjamb a couple days ago—nothing major, just Stiles being himself—and nearly wound up in tears from the pain. “Okay, use Derek as a werewolfy shield. Got it.”
The curly fries were like manna from heaven. Stiles was pretty sure he’d never tasted anything so good. Derek kept shooting him strange looks as he ate, but Stiles just ignored him. He was getting really good at ignoring Derek’s strange looks and sometimes stranger noises.
Stiles wasn’t thrilled that Derek had been right about how much he could eat, so it wasn’t long before they were leaving again. They got back on the road and it only took Stiles a few minutes to figure out where they were going. He shot Derek a questioning look but didn’t say anything out loud. He wasn’t sure why they were going to hell house, but it didn’t seem like it was a fun outing.
“Whoa,” Stiles breathed as they drove down the private road leading to the Hale property. “What is going on?” Construction equipment was everywhere.
Derek parked and draped his wrist over the steering wheel, not immediately answering as he stared at the work crew milling around.
“Are you rebuilding?” Stiles noticed the silver Mercedes parked well away from the equipment. Peter was leaning against it, wearing slacks and a lightweight sweater, sunglasses making him impossible to read. “Figures he’d drive a pretentious car,” Stiles muttered.
“I’m not rebuilding. Not exactly,” Derek said. “Something Noah suggested… Putting a memorial up. Blocking off the tunnels and preventing anyone from using my house again.”
Damn hunters. Stiles would like to spork them all to death.
“It might take a while,” Derek continued, “which is why I brought you the chair.” He shrugged. “I’ve talked to Peter a few times this week, and I felt like he deserved to be here for this.”
“I’m fine with Peter’s presence, Der. It was his home too.”
“Yeah.” Derek finally looked over at him. “And I wanted you to be here.”
Stiles felt a flush of pleasure that Derek found having Stiles around to be in any way comforting.
“I doubt we’ll be done by the time school is out, so I asked Boyd to join us here when they’re done.”
“Ah. Which would be why you let him take the Camaro.” Derek normally dropped the betas off at school. The day before, he’d taken Stiles Jeep—without Stiles’ permission!—for service, and then surprised everyone by sending the betas off in the Camaro this morning.
“They wanted to be here,” he said so softly it was almost a whisper.
“Of course they did. They care about you.”
Derek gave an infinitesimal nod before climbing out of the car. He came around and watched closely as Stiles got himself out. It was much easier handling the slight drop to the ground from the seat of the SUV rather than trying to lever up from the low-slung sports car.
“See, Ma, no hands!”
“Idiot,” Derek muttered, but his lips were twitching with amusement. He set up the chair and gestured to it. “I need to go talk to the foreman.”
“Have fun storming the castle!” Ignoring the chair, Stiles went over to where Peter was watching everything and everyone. He propped himself against the shiny car a foot away from werewolf Lazarus.
“Don’t scratch the paint,” Peter said without looking at him.
“Hello to you too, Zombiewolf.”
Peter side-eyed him. “Original.”
“Well, I’m not at my best. I’ll try to be wittier next time.”
“I see you’re in the putrid-color state of healing.”
“That’s just the visible bruises. The real fun is still black and blue. It’s a whole riot of color going on under here.” Stiles gestured to himself.
Peter raised a brow. “Is that an invitation.”
“And…Creeperwolf makes his appearance.”
Peter’s lips twitched, and he shrugged one shoulder.
“Look,” Stiles began, feeling like he needed to take the opportunity while it was in front of him, “I need to apologize.”
“For?” Peter wasn’t even looking at him, just watching the house.
Stiles swallowed. “I don’t regret killing you.”
“I never thought you would.”
“But I regret the way we did it. There were better options—like so many better options—than to do that to you again. And I’m sorry. So I’m going to threaten you with that apology in mind.”
Peter’s head moved like it was on a swivel as he shot Stiles an incredulous look.
“Derek cares about you, I can tell, even if he’s all conflicted and emo about it. And my dad tried to explain some pack stuff to me so that I’d understand that Derek’s emo might not be about what I thought it was about.”
“Was that supposed to be intelligible?”
“Yes. Now shut up and listen. So, like, if you’re around more, I’d be okay with it, you know? And I think Derek would like that…let the betas get to know you and try to gel as a pack. But if you fuck with him,” Stiles said evenly, “I won’t hesitate to go after you again. But I promise no fire, okay?”
Peter just stared at him.
“That’s it. I’ll still kill you if you lose the plot again, but I won’t be such an asshole about it.”
Peter’s lips twitched and then he pressed his lips into a thin line, obviously trying not to laugh. “I do like you, Stiles. You’d have made a magnificent wolf.”
Stiles scoffed. “A new werewolf with poor coordination and ADHD? Are you sure we’re reading from the same script?”
Peter shrugged and actually smiled.
“Also, uh,” Stiles rubbed the back of his neck. “I was going through some photo albums and I saw a picture of my mom at the county fair the summer before she died. She was talking to you and Sonya. You were holding Olivia.”
Peter was as still as a statue.
“And I’m kind of a dick because I’d never put together who all you lost in the fire, so I just wanted to say that, um, I’m really sorry for everything that happened to you, and, uh, I wish someone had been able to help you more when you needed it.” Stiles blew out a breath. “Okay. I think I’ve made us both sufficiently uncomfortable, so I’m going to just…”
“I would like a copy of that photo. If that’s possible,” Peter said stiffly.
“Sure, dude. I’ll get right on that.” He made a vague gesture then headed away as fast as he could reasonably move, feeling Peter watching him the whole way.
A few minutes later, Derek joined him, squeezing his shoulder briefly. “Thank you, Stiles,” he said softly. Stiles just nodded.
After another few minutes, they started tearing the Hale house down.
The construction crews were half done when the Camaro came roaring down the drive. The betas spilled out of the car and crowded around Derek and Stiles, scenting both of them. Erica wound up perched on the hood of Peter’s car, and Stiles could see her actively engaged in conversation with Peter though he had no clue what they were talking about. Isaac stayed close to Derek while Boyd hovered closer to Stiles.
A few minutes later, the distinctive sound of the sheriff’s cruiser was heard. His dad accepted hugs from all the betas—they hadn’t seen him last night because he’d worked a double. He rubbed a hand over Stiles’ head before he stood shoulder to shoulder with Derek as the crew continued to tear down the last physical remnant of the past.
An ending and a new beginning.
Stiles looked around at everyone, even creepy Uncle Peter, and thought it felt a lot like a family.