Please see the main story page for summary, cast page, warnings, and links to additional chapters.
“Are we going to talk about this?” Derek asked abruptly as Stiles was figuring out how to get comfortable on his bed.
Stiles froze at the sheer Twilight Zone-level absurdity of that question. “You mean about that bad touch just now?”
“It wasn’t touching, it was exposing.” Derek rolled his eyes. “And your father asked for the picture.”
“It’s not like he doesn’t have a whole camera full! And you really need to learn the art of withholding what someone wants until they tell you why.”
“I’m not going to interrogate the sheriff.”
Stiles huffed, wincing a bit and wiggled around a little more. “And are you really asking to talk about something? You, the original grumpy cat and silent, furry lurker?”
Derek sighed and pulled his desk chair close to the bed. “Stiles, you went out on a limb for my pack. I just don’t get it.”
Stiles shrugged. “Do you need to get it?”
“Yeah, I do. I don’t trust things when I don’t get the motive.”
Stiles threw up one hand because he was lying on his other arm. It was annoying that he couldn’t gesture properly. Stiles talked with his hands, dammit. It was half of how he communicated. “I told you… When Scott got bitten, I was just trying to get him through. I had tunnel vision, and I know that. You were kind of a dick sometimes, but you also tried to help us. And you sure as hell saved us on more than one occasion.” He pointed at Derek. “Not that I haven’t done my fair share of saving people!”
“I never said you hadn’t.”
“Oh.” He adjusted his pillow for the fiftieth time. “I guess I couldn’t see that I was scared and overwhelmed. It sounds stupid now, but I thought if I could get us through it—get Scott through it—without my dad knowing, that everything would be fine and life would go on like usual. And I didn’t know how to fit you or adoptees from the island of misfit toys into my plans, as poorly thought out as those plans may have been.
“But, Derek, it never stopped. It was just one thing after another, and I was scared. And the more scared I got—for Scott, my dad, me—the less I noticed everyone else. And then I was down there wondering if Gerard was going to kill me, and I knew what that would do to my dad, and I just…I really looked.” He stopped and stared at the wall.
“At Erica and Boyd?”
“They’d given up,” Stiles said, easily able to play that moment over and over in his mind. “They’re not even legal to vote but they were reconciled to dying at the hands of monsters who claim to be superior simply by virtue of being human.” Stiles scoffed. “I just couldn’t let the world fail them, you know?”
“The way I did?”
“I’m not blaming you, Derek. Jesus! And I never would, so please don’t put those ugly-ass words in my mouth. I’m not going to lie to you and say I think you did a great job as alpha but, you know what? No one else did a great job at whatever the hell they were doing either. So we all fucked up. And now we can all fix it. So, please let us fix it, okay?”
“But it’s not your responsibility.”
“What does that have to do with literally anything? Shouldn’t my desire to help matter more than an obligation to do so? Don’t you think me wanting to help means something? Why does it have to be someone who’s forced to help? Why would you want help from me if I didn’t have a choice. I mean, really, that’s kind of ugly when you take it apart. It’s like the only people who can do things for others are those who are compelled. That’s an ugly-ass world, Derek, to go with those ugly-ass words that I don’t want in my mouth.”
“Stiles. Shut up.”
“And there’s the shut up.” He sighed and closed his eyes.
“That’s not—” Derek sighed. “I’m just trying to get you to stop talking for a second. And it does mean more than you want to help—want to be here. With us.”
“I do.” Stiles shifted, feeling the persistent ache start to turn to sharp pain as his werewolf pain-drain faded.
“Here.” Derek moved closer. They’d done this enough times now that Derek didn’t even pause before sliding his hand under Stiles shirt. The pain almost instantly went away.
Stiles heaved a sigh of relief and cuddled into his pillow, relishing in taking a deep breath without pain. “Thanks, Der,” he mumbled. After a few seconds, he found himself asking, “Do you think I broke my relationship with my dad? Will he forgive me?”
There was a long pause before Derek answered. “You and your dad are going to be fine. Your father loves you…that’s all that matters.”
“Do you want to be pack, Stiles?” Derek asked softly.
Stiles blinked up at him. “Course I do. Wasn’t that obvious?”
“I didn’t want to…assume. But you’re pack if you want it, so go to sleep. We’ve got your back.”
Stiles smiled faintly, feeling sleep pull at him. “Pack,” he mumbled, imagining a warm, solid connection settle between him and Derek.
He registered Derek making a sound of shock, but Stiles was too sleepy to figure out what was going on.
– – – –
Noah pulled his cruiser up to a coffee shop in Sweetland. It was a small place, nearly deserted in the mid-afternoon. He had no idea who he was looking for, but he had been informed that the man would find him.
He ordered some coffee, knowing it was a bit too much in one day, but he was too exhausted to think extra caffeine was going to keep him awake tonight. A few minutes later, a man approached his table. At a generous estimate, the guy was about 5’5 and looked to be in his mid-twenties, but he had strong Asian influences in his features, which made guessing his real age difficult.
“Hello, Sheriff Stilinski,” the man said in a soft tone, offering his hand.
Noah got to his feet and shook the guy’s hand. “And you are?”
“Jason Chen. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Stephanie Morris has nothing but good things to say about you.” Chen took the seat across from Noah, setting his cup in front of him.
“And you’re the, um…”
“Pack alpha? Yes, I am.” There was a brief flare of red eyes, and Noah blew out a breath.
“Well then, pardon me while I check my preconceived notions at the door,” he said with a self-deprecating smile.
Chen shrugged. “I’m quite used to it. I’m hardly what anyone would think of as a typical alpha. Especially if the only member of my pack one has met is Lucas.”
“Lucas is built like a tank.”
“Precisely. And people tend to assume his alpha must be even more so, no? As if mere physical strength is what is required to keep a pack strong and healthy. Though an alpha, even one of my smaller stature, has quite the strength advantage over any beta.”
“Fair enough, and if I say anything ignorant or insensitive, please call me out on it. I found out about all this less than a day ago, and I admit that I’m still reeling a bit.”
“I was sorry to hear about what happened to your son. Though we’ve known for years that many hunters don’t truly adhere to their so-called code, for one to take a human child and hurt them in such a way is so far beyond the pale.”
Noah nodded, considering. “Is that why you agreed to speak with me? I was surprised to get Lucas’ text, to be honest.”
“It’s part of it. The situation in Beacon Hills quickly escalated beyond all control. That you are personally a victim of the supernatural and yet haven’t lashed out against werewolves was a very strong indication of the sort of man you are. Such a man I am pleased to help.”
“Did Lucas explain our dilemma?”
“He did, and I would feel more comfortable discussing that particularly gooey issue in other environs. But there is another matter he brought to my attention that we could discuss now if you’re amenable.”
“I will do my best to hear whatever you have to say with an open mind.”
“And what more could I possibly ask for?” Chen took a sip of his drink. “Lucas mentioned your troubles with young Mr. McCall.”
“Ah. Yes, that’s a difficult situation. We’re not exactly sure what to do for him.” Or with him.
“Lucas said he’s beginning to show some signs of instability?”
“Yes. He’s illogical, borderline irrational, and overly fixated on this girlfriend of his.”
“The hunter girl.” Chen tapped his fingers on the table in an erratic rhythm. “She’s his anchor, correct?”
“According to him, yes.”
“To stabilize, he’s going to need a pack, you understand that, I assume?”
“Yes, but we’re short on packs as far as I know.”
“Indeed. It would be unconscionable to ask Mr. Hale to attempt to bring Mr. McCall into the fold—again. And I’m not prepared to risk our pack—which takes part of its strength from being virtually unknown—on someone as volatile as Mr. McCall. It would be risking too many lives.”
“I can understand your position, Alpha Chen.” More than many people who were covering their own ass, Noah got Chen’s reluctance. Scott was too fixated on Allison, and the risk he posed to an entire peaceful pack due to his ignorance and self-righteousness was unacceptable.
“There is one possibility, but it doesn’t allow for Mr. McCall to stay in Beacon Hills.”
Noah was surprised that there was any option at all. He certainly hadn’t expected anything so soon. “Oh?”
“Lucas pled Mr. McCall’s case, and though he’s a security risk now and his recent actions were reprehensible, we can all understand that, ultimately, this was brought on us by the Argents. Ensuring the Argents don’t claim one last victim seems like a worthwhile effort.”
“I wholeheartedly agree.”
“With that in mind, I reached out to a friend who is affiliated with a farm in Idaho. It’s a working farm that serves a very singular purpose.” Chen hesitated. “It’s where we sometimes send our troubled youngsters.”
Noah blinked. “Like rebellious werewolves?”
“Precisely. Werewolves may not have as many issues with their teenagers as humans do, but when we do have a problem, it’s often quite serious. Three alpha pairs run the farm, handling different aspects of it. So there are effectively three packs working together. The kids who go there tend to gravitate toward one alpha pair eventually, and they let that happen as organically as possible.
“For the kids who settle down, work, and do their studies, it’s almost idyllic. For those who continue to fight and rebel… Well, discipline can be quite harsh by human standards because werewolves are stronger, faster, and can be very dangerous when they lose their temper.”
“Can you give me an example of harsh discipline?”
“It’s nothing like you might be thinking. There are no beatings or formalized corporal punishment, but werewolves are strong, and it’s not uncommon for the more rebellious kids to physically fight against the farmhands—the pack betas—who manage things. Broken bones, claw marks—these are common injuries. Fortunately, they are usually inflicted by betas since the beta wolves supervise the kids when they’re at work, so the injuries heal quickly and subsequent discipline would be something along the lines of restriction to their bunkhouse or loss of privileges.”
“Broken bones.” Noah rubbed his hand over his face. “I’m so out of my depth.”
“You have to understand that it’s not uncommon for even an experienced beta to break a bone in training. As long as the alpha doesn’t inflict the injury, it heals within minutes. As proficient in hand-to-hand fighting as Lucas is, he still occasionally breaks an arm or collarbone when he spars with Rene.”
“She’s the other deputy under Sheriff Morris?”
“Yes. Rene was in the Marines and was exceptional at unarmed combat long before she ever got claws. Becoming a wolf just made her doubly dangerous.”
“So not a born wolf?”
“No. Most of my pack are, but Rene was bitten by an alpha named Ennis many years ago. That’s a whole other story, but Ennis best watch his back if he ever shows his face in this part of the state again. As much as Rene has adapted to and accepted being a wolf, she will always hold a grudge for having that choice taken from her.”
“Okay, so broken bones sounds harsh to me, but it’s probably not that bad considering…werewolves?”
“It’s harsh, and some kids pick fights so often their first couple weeks that broken bones are an almost daily occurrence. But it’s certainly not what anyone actually wants.”
“So you worked at this farm?”
“No.” Chen smiled faintly and chuckled a bit. “I was sent there by my family when I was fourteen. Quite the hellion I was—flashed my eyes at a kid at school, hint of fang trying to intimidate him. I wouldn’t stop. Believed werewolves hiding was stupid and what harm could come from it. But, as you can see, I’ve come through it just fine.”
“And what did you think of your time there?”
“When it was my time to leave, I honestly didn’t want to go.” He looked far away, lost in some memory. “Once I accepted and embraced the pack there, I loved the connection to the land that I felt. I loved the pack bonds that I developed in my years working the land. But college beckoned, and they can’t keep every kid who wants to stay. I was lucky in that I became close to my alpha and she arranged for me to stay at the farm until I was eighteen, but I should have gone home when I was fifteen. While it’s a permanent placement for some, it’s intended to get kids through their behavioral problems and then return them to their packs.”
Noah sensed there was more to the story, but he also knew it was none of his business. “So you think this is a good place?”
“I think almost no kid sent there thinks it’s anything but horrible until they embrace what’s offered. But most learn to love it. The majority don’t want to leave. I spoke with two of the alphas and explained that young Mr. McCall has two years of school left and that even if he settles down and accepts a pack that he has no pack to come home to. They’re willing to take him in and try to help. When he’s ready for college, they’ll network with the packs near his college of choice to try to find him a new place to go.”
“That’s incredibly generous.” He tried to think through what Mel would have to say and what she’d want to know. “What about Scott’s mother?”
“They don’t allow humans to live on the farm, it’s too dangerous because some of the kids are tough cases and wouldn’t hesitate to hurt a human. There are some human pack members who live in town, which is about forty-five minutes away. When Mr. McCall is settled, they’ll let him have visits with his mother. There’s a small guest cottage on the property for such purposes. His phone calls will always be supervised, however, because it’s a security risk. They can’t have him telling people where he is or having his GPS tracked—which means no cell phone either.”
“What if she wanted to live closer, like move to this town you mentioned?”
“I’d recommend she wait to uproot her life until she’s sure he’s going to succeed there but, yes, as a nurse, she could easily secure work in town.” It wasn’t surprising that Chen was well versed on the situation and all the players.
“Are there any kids that don’t make it?”
“On occasion. If they’re part of a stable pack, it’s up to the pack how they’re handled. Sometimes, there’s no pack to come get them and they continue to devolve. It didn’t happen in my four years there, but the year after I left, one of the seventeen-year-olds went completely feral. One of the alphas had to kill him.”
Noah flinched. The reminders of how brutal this world could be was difficult for him.
“If it helps, Sheriff, I do think Mr. McCall would fit in well. I understand that he loves animals, and it’s a rare werewolf that can settle an animal down. Animals tend to see the apex predator in us and run in fear. There aren’t many animals on the farm, but there are some, and they would certainly leverage Mr. McCall’s expertise and fondness for animals to help him settle in. I do think he could be happy there. He could connect with a pack to see what that’s like and what he’s been missing.”
“I, of course, have to discuss this with his mother, but I can’t express my gratitude enough for looking into this. I don’t suppose there’s any information I can show Mel?”
“I can send you a link to see some pictures. They are very particular about their privacy and security, so it’s important that you keep any information you come into confidential. And though I’m willing to talk to you and answer any questions you may have, you’ll have to act as the go-between with the McCall family. I will not meet them in person nor will I allow any of my wolves to reveal themselves to them.”
Noah knew there were things he wasn’t really getting, but he didn’t even expect to, and Chen had been more than generous. “That’s perfectly acceptable. I won’t reveal your identity to anyone.”
Chen held up a hand. “If there is urgent need, you may direct Alpha Hale my way. It would be wise for he and I to meet eventually, though this is not that day. He needs time to settle into his role, but I will help where I can.”
“Thank you, Alpha Chen.”
“You may call me Jason.”
“Noah,” he agreed.
“Now, how about we go for a drive. I would normally be willing to extend faith and ride in your vehicle, but I’m not certain that a ride in a sheriff’s cruiser would be in any way subtle.”
“Agreed.” Noah had a good feeling about Chen, so he went with his gut. “I have no issue riding with you.”
In a few minutes, they were on the road. “It’s difficult, but not impossible, for wolves to keep track of what’s being said in another car. But they would have to be close.” Traffic was light and they were headed into a quiet suburban area—an easy location to spot if someone was following too closely. “I’m not terribly concerned about werewolves, of course, but I don’t want to risk any chance of us being overheard discussing the problem of Gerard Argent.”
“It’s probably worth noting that I’m trying to keep a level head about all this, but there are moments when this is so surreal, I worry that I’m hallucinating.”
Chen shot him a quick look. “I think you’re doing quite well considering not only how long you’ve known but under what circumstances.”
“It’s…difficult to realize the danger my son has been in while I was wondering if he was getting involved in drugs or something.”
“Do you find this worse?”
Noah carefully considered his answer. “Considering what I’ve found out, and what my gut says, I certainly don’t think drugs would be better, but the danger…that’s worse. And it doesn’t really have anything to do with his friends being werewolves.”
“Werewolves can be dangerous, Noah. There’s no point in thinking otherwise. But, like most humans, we just want to live our lives and be left alone.”
“I have no problem believing that. But people like Argent are the issue.” Noah sighed. An issue that was challenging his ability to walk the line between the human justice system and the supernatural one.
“Before we discuss the situation with Argent, I did want to mention another player in Beacon Hills that should not be discounted. Has anyone mentioned Dr. Deaton to you?”
“In passing. I gather he had some kind of connection to the Hales, and I know Scott’s around him a lot. I know he’s aware of all this, but not exactly what his role is.”
“Dr. Deaton is one of the many types of magic users. A druid—”
“Wait. Lucas mentioned that the Hale emissary was a druid and something about failing to put up wards…?”
“Yes, Dr. Deaton was the Hale pack emissary. He had a moral obligation to them, but druids make terrible emissaries.”
“Because of this commitment to what they call balance?”
“Precisely. When their oaths come into conflict with each other, they always choose their idea of balance. And the bigger issue for you in terms of Beacon Hills is that Deaton’s notion of balance is more…inscrutable than I would like.”
“Why let the Hale pack die? Why not counsel Laura into being a better alpha? Why did he not care for Peter Hale in the six years he was in the hospital. And perhaps the most salient point of all is how could a nemeton rot in the town under the care of a druid? It defies comprehension.”
“A what now?”
“A nemeton is a magical node. A natural structure that forms at the confluence of ley lines.”
“It’s like you’re speaking English, because I understand all the individual words, but it’s all gibberish when put together like that.”
“Shall I give you a short tutorial on magic?”
“I was hoping to hold off on knowing anything more about magic for at least, I don’t know, a lifetime, but it sounds like my reprieve is at an end. By all means, tell me about magic.”
The conversation took a good hour, and Noah had enough questions to talk for another four hours. But he did get enough information to know there were even more problems in Beacon Hills, and that Deaton should have been able to prevent a lot of this shit. The fact that he hadn’t made him implicitly untrustworthy in Noah’s eyes.
Even more reason to get Scott to that farm—he needed to be away from Deaton’s influence as well as the Argents.
“Okay,” Noah finally said, rubbing his hands over his face. “That’s all good to know, but it sounds like that’s all part of problems I don’t need to deal with today. So let’s talk about Argent. Because we can’t just keep him under guard in a warehouse.”
Chen easily accepted the conversational redirect. “My opinion is that Argent cannot be allowed to live. The resources he could bring to bear are…extraordinary. He comes from old money and has hundreds, if not thousands when you consider allied families, of paramilitary-trained men and women at his disposal. The best advantage we have right now is that his son can disseminate the information that he sought the bite to cure him of cancer. That is so taboo amongst hunters that he’d be disavowed for all eternity.
“But if he’s given the opportunity to spin the tale, to try to blame werewolves for attacking him, the supernatural war could be beyond anything I’ve ever seen. And the victims would never be confined to the supernatural.”
Noah glanced over sharply. “Do you think that’s a concern for me? That my decision would be affected if there was a guarantee that humans wouldn’t be harmed?”
“I don’t know,” Chen said evenly. “Would it?”
“No.” Noah took a breath and made himself calm down. “I don’t want to see what happened to the Hales happen to anyone else. The first werewolf I saw yesterday was a scared sixteen-year-old girl who wanted to be bitten so she wouldn’t have to live with the epilepsy that was ruining her life.”
“It does rather set a context that many who find out about us don’t have.”
“So our options are to kill him or risk them getting a lot of people killed?”
Chen was silent for several long moments. “There is one other possibility that I feel I should disclose in the interest of furthering trust between us, but I don’t actually consider it a viable alternative.”
“There’s a supernatural ward in the sub-basement levels of Eichen House.”
“It’s a supernatural prison of sorts.”
“You’re telling me there’s a supernatural prison under the mental hospital in Beacon Hills.” Noah figured he’d better get used to being surprised all the time.
“It’s there, but I’ve heard things…troubling things.”
“Torture, unethical experiments. Things of that nature.”
Noah rubbed his hand over his face. “Wonderful. You know I’m not going to be able to let that slide.”
“I mean it. A secret supernatural prison is fine since this world polices itself, but experiments and torture? I don’t think so.” He rolled his shoulders. “I get that I may not be able to do much about it now but, when we get Beacon Hills settled down, that place is on my list.”
“You surprise me, Noah, and I’m happy to be so. Few truly shock me any longer.”
“Even if we could guarantee this supernatural prison was ethical, I gather there’s a reason not to take Argent there?”
“His influence cannot be neutralized while he lives. There is too much greed in the world to assume he couldn’t bribe his way out.”
Noah thought through all the things he’d learned about what Gerard and Kate Argent had done, and he assumed what he knew was only the tip of the iceberg. “So, he has to die. The question becomes how. Do I need to be preparing myself to go execute him?”
“In this matter, Noah, I would suggest that you let werewolves handle it. Gerard Argent is something between human and wolf, and it’s an abomination to us. Lucas said he felt driven to try to wipe it out of existence. Then we burn the body and scatter the ashes. We cannot risk a man like that returning.”
“That feels like passing the buck.”
“I assure you, it’s not.”
Noah made a face. “And what werewolf would handle this? I’m not sure how I feel about asking Derek to do it.”
“I think you underestimate Mr. Hale.”
“Underestimate? Perhaps I’m not understanding something, but I’m just thinking he doesn’t need to be asked to kill someone. He had to kill his own uncle to stop Peter’s bloody rampage. Which was after losing his sister, the only remaining pack he had, which was after being abused by the Argents, which was after losing his pack, which was after the initial abuse by the Argents. I just think it’s a lot to ask of someone who’s barely legal to consume alcohol.”
“I see your point, though, as an aside, werewolves cannot become intoxicated through any normal methods.”
“Noted,” he replied dryly.
“What Mr. Hale also is, that must be factored in, is an alpha who no doubt feels the stirrings of a beta bond with a man he detests. A man who abused him terribly. He may relish the idea of killing Argent himself.”
“I’ll concede that I don’t know how an alpha werewolf would respond in this situation. I’m just saying maybe it’d be okay if the world took care of Derek for once.”
“Hmm.” Chen seemed to consider the matter. “Mr. Hale is fortunate to have found a mentor in you. I still ask that you inform Mr. Hale that I am going to personally kill Mr. Argent.”
“And if he wants to be there?”
“Then he can be.”
“I thought you weren’t going to reveal yourself to Derek yet…?”
“I wasn’t, not right away, but I also hadn’t anticipated that Argent would be captured so easily. Perhaps I should have since he’s suffering from a prolonged bite rejection.” Chen chuckled mirthlessly. “Truly poetic justice. If only young Mr. McCall could have achieved it with the alpha’s consent.”
“That is an issue.” Noah sighed, considering how he still needed to talk to Scott about that in more depth. “I would like to be there, and I need to run this by Stephanie. None of this sits right with me, but I do feel that it’s not right for me agree that someone should be executed and then just sit it out.”
“It will be as you wish then, Noah. Shall we head to Beacon Hills, then? You can call Sheriff Morris en route. We can tend to the matter now, and then I can return you here to pick up your cruiser.”
The time had truly come for Noah to make a very uncomfortable decision. “Let me call Derek. Be vague with him and see if he’s okay with this.”
“I applaud that you’re not disregarding his role as the alpha of the pack.”
Noah made a face as he dialed. There was a part of him that wanted to just steamroll right over Derek and take over, but he’d known from the first moment that pack hierarchy was explained to him that that would be the absolutely wrong tactic. Just like leaving Derek out of the loop would be.
“Sheriff,” Derek answered before the phone had even rung.
“Try to get used to calling me Noah, Derek.” He sighed. “I need to run something by you. Of necessity, I have to be vague. I’d prefer yes or no answers if you can.”
“There’s been a, uh, lingering problem we’ve been trying to locate. Do you understand what I mean by that.”
There was a long pause. “I think I do.”
“Well, we’ve found it. And the decision has been made that it should be removed from the playing field.”
“I agree,” Derek said quickly.
“Something that destructive shouldn’t be able to be put back together again, so that’s a factor in how we’re going to dispose of it.”
“Your, uh, well, let’s call him your counterpart in another town is going to handle it, and I’ll oversee it. If you’re amenable, of course. He suggested that you might feel like you needed to handle it yourself.”
“I don’t—” Derek took a deep breath. “I’m ambivalent.”
“Would you like a recommendation?”
“Stay there and take care of the kids. I’ll be home when things are done and we can talk.”
The silence seemed to stretch on forever. “I feel like that’s not fair…to you.”
“None of this is fair to anyone. Least of all to you. That’s my recommendation, but I’ll respect whatever you decide to do.”
“I’ll be here protecting the pack.”
“Good. That’s great, Derek. Thank you.”
“I’ll see you soon, Noah.”
Noah blew out a breath as he hung up. “All right, let’s go to Beacon Hills.”
Noah stared at the display on his cell phone, trying to decide if he was going to attempt to deal with even one more problem today.
Everything with Argent had happened quickly—almost too quickly. Alpha Chen hadn’t given Gerard time to do anything, not even pontificate. He’d just walked in and ripped his throat out. It was over and done almost before Noah had the door shut. Then the two deputies had put the body in a body bag, and they’d all gone off to a crematory that was typically closed on the weekends. They’d all stayed and witnessed as the body burned.
Lucas and Rene had taken the box of ashes to scatter outside of Beacon Hills, and Noah had gone back to Sweetland with Alpha Chen to pick up his cruiser.
Now he just wanted to go home, but Mel had texted saying she was at her wits’ end with Scott and didn’t know what she was going to do.
Sighing, he sent off a text that he’d be over shortly then advised Derek that he’d be a little later than expected.
When he pulled up in front of the McCall house, he gave himself a minute to box away his emotions and push aside his exhaustion. It was hard for him not to be upset with Melissa, though he reminded himself that she’d only known for less than two weeks herself, and the terror she’d experienced had been very real. Argent and his pet kanima had paid her a personal visit, which had to have cemented her fear.
The only problem with his attempt to justify her behavior was that he couldn’t understand how talking to him, telling him what was really happening, wasn’t a better solution than just being terrified. But he had to let that go. In a way, Melissa was getting the worst end of this. Scott was at much more risk than Stiles right now. Even if the farm thing worked, Mel would be cut off from her son for the majority of the next year—possibly longer if Scott couldn’t adapt. Noah would be heartbroken if he were in her position.
Mentally prepared, he finally got out of the car and headed to knock on the door.
“Scott’s out,” she said the minute she answered the door.
“I thought he was grounded.”
“He is. He just wouldn’t listen to me. Said he had to see Allison.”
Noah rubbed his hands over his face. “Do you want me to go find him?”
“No. I…I assume he’s safe for the moment, but I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, I may have something of a solution, though I don’t think you’re going to think it’s a great one.”
“Noah, I’ll take anything I can get at this point. It all feels so hopeless right now. I’m scared of my own son because I know he’s not truly stable, and I can’t live that way. And he shouldn’t have to live that way either.”
He felt a pang of sympathy and knew for certain that Scott going to this farm was the right solution. “Let’s sit and I’ll tell you what I found out.” He was careful to leave out names, not wanting to expose Alpha Chen in any way, but he told her about the farm and what it would mean for Scott. Patiently, he answered every question she had, which was considerably less than he expected.
In the end, she just seemed relieved. “I think this is as close to an ideal solution as I could hope for. And I can visit. If he does well there, I’ll move to be closer to him. I just…want my son back. I don’t care that he’s a werewolf. I did, but I don’t now. But him being this omega thing…it terrifies me.”
He squeezed her arm. “That’s understandable, Mel. And I really do think it’s the best thing for Scott.” He was starting to think he was going to have a harder time making Stiles understand this than Mel, which was throwing him more than a little. For all that he knew that Stiles was angry with Scott, he also knew that Stiles hadn’t given up either. The solution being so far away and outside of Stiles’ influence would be a hard blow.
But, in that way, it would probably be good for Stiles too. He needed to learn the life lesson that he couldn’t control everything.
“My only worry,” Mel added, “is that he’s going to refuse to go, and I don’t know how to persuade him. Maybe we can ask Dr. Deaton to have a talk with him?”
“No, I think having Deaton involved could have the opposite effect.” He wasn’t sure exactly why he thought that, but his gut said it was a bad idea, and he didn’t want to rely on Deaton for anything. “This pains me greatly, but I have a feeling we’re going to need Chris Argent to say something to Scott. We can’t really explain the farm to Argent, because the alphas on the farm would be unamused, but we can say a temporary pack has been found for Scott. Argent will understand the necessity better than anyone.”
Mel swallowed heavily. “Then I’ll go talk to him and ask him to intercede.”
“Let me take care of it.”
“I can’t ask you to do more. I already feel like I completely failed by not telling you what really happened at the station.” Her eyes flooded with tears. “When Gerard showed up here… I told Scott to give Gerard whatever he wanted. I didn’t even want to hear what was going on or even what Gerard was asking for. Part of me knew he was going to hurt people, but I just told my son to make the problem go away by giving in to that man, who was the real monster. I look at myself in the mirror and I feel nothing but shame.”
Part of Noah really didn’t want to take care of anyone else right now. At least, no one who wasn’t in residence at his own damn house, but he ruthlessly pushed that side of him away and helped Melissa deal with the situation.
And as much as he didn’t want to, Chris Argent was now on his to-do list for tomorrow.
– – – –
Noah sat in the driveway, feeling mentally exhausted—physically exhausted too, but it was the mental and emotional toll that was keeping him in one spot.
He was startled by a tap at the passenger window then the door opened and Derek slid in. He immediately handed off a sandwich and stuck a glass of iced tea in the cup holder.
Noah blinked at it a few times then took a bite. “Thanks.” He noticed Derek had an odd expression on his face. “What?”
“You smell like death and ash.” He hesitated. “And another alpha.”
Damn sensitive werewolf noses. “We should talk about that some other time, but he’s no threat to you, of that you have my word.”
“Is he the one who…” Derek swallowed heavily. “I felt him end.”
“Yes, he handled it, and I witnessed it in your stead.”
“So it’s over.”
So softly that he could barely hear himself, Noah said, “He died of bite rejection and the body was never found.”
Derek looked over sharply, and Noah met the stare head on. That was the story and those few who knew differently could never say otherwise. Gerard dying as a result of his own misdeeds should prevent any reprisals. Anyone knowing he died at the hands of a werewolf could be an issue.
Derek finally nodded. “Thank you. For everything.”
“You’re welcome, son.” Noah tore into his sandwich, only now realizing how hungry he was. “I have to go see Chris Argent tomorrow.”
“Oh?” Derek said with obviously forced casualness.
“Need him to help me persuade Scott that joining a pack in another state is the right idea.” He’d tell Derek more about the farm some other time when there weren’t sensitive werewolf ears inside the house.
Silence greeted that, and Noah looked over while continuing to devour the rather large sandwich. Derek looked conflicted.
Noah took a guess at what was going on. “No one blames you, and it’s not your responsibility to fix the situation.”
Derek shook his head. “Peter bit him. His wolf was the result of the Hale alpha spark, which has been part of our family and this land since before California was even a state. I am responsible. It’s probably not fair that I wish I wasn’t.”
“Okay, then, try to look at it this way… You empowered me to act on your behalf, and I’m taking care of it in your stead.” Noah polished off the sandwich and started on his tea while Derek’s facial expression shifted through several complicated emotions.
“What about Stiles?” Derek finally asks.
“You mean in regards to Scott?”
“Even though he’s angry at Scott right now, he’s not going to like that Scott is being sent away, but he’s going to understand the necessity of it.”
“Pretty sure. It’s going to be difficult, though. Those two have been living in each other’s pockets since before preschool. They were so hard to pry apart that it was almost a relief to everyone that Stiles repeated the third grade.”
“Huh?” Derek looked confused.
“Stiles refused to deal with school after his mom died.” Noah thought back on those days, too many of them a blur due to alcohol. The three months after Claudia’s death would always be one of his biggest regrets because he’d forgotten his own son while wallowing in his grief. “He could have easily made up the classes he’d missed, but he didn’t want to. Scott was his emotional support after Claudia passed, and being in the same grade was what he wanted, so I didn’t fight him on it.”
Noah hesitated for a second. “Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I didn’t particularly want to fight him on it.” He’d done a terrible job of being there for Stiles emotionally during that year. “Stiles is mostly in AP classes, and I’m pretty sure he’s keeping himself just one class from moving up a year.”
Derek blinked at him a few times. “So Stiles is older than all the others?”
“Yeah, by quite a lot in some cases. I think Reyes is one of the younger kids in their grade, while Stiles’ birthday is in September, making him one of the oldest kids in the year above.”
“Sometimes, he’s more level headed than I’d have expected…” Derek trailed off and shrugged one shoulder. “He’s still an idiot sometimes. He calls me grumpy cat.”
Noah bit back a smile at the surly tone. “Eh. I doubt that’s a function of age. He just looks at things differently, and he has no filter. He gets that from his mom. She once called a woman in the grocery store a hag reject. Sort of. It was more like a rant that ended with Claudia’s pronouncement that a harrow of hags wouldn’t even let her ‘ugly, frigid ass’ in.”
“What’d she do?”
“Ah.” Derek’s lips twitched. “But how did your wife know that a group of hags is called a harrow?”
Noah whipped his head around so sharply that he nearly sprained something. “What?”
“That’s the actual name for a group of hags. Not even all werewolves know that.”
Utterly befuddled, Noah wasn’t even sure how to respond. He eventually cleared his throat. “I don’t know how or why she’d know that.”
Derek’s expression showed a lot of hesitation. “Stiles’ magic had to come from somewhere…?”
Noah just shook his head. “I’ll investigate that, but it’s pretty low on my list right now.” He both did and did not want to have an answer. He wasn’t sure how he’d feel if Claudia had known about the supernatural but had been hiding it from him.
“Okay.” Derek obviously had more on his mind.
“Just say whatever’s on your mind.”
“Stiles is worried he’s ruined his relationship with you.”
Noah swore. Grabbing up the detritus from his meal, he got out of the car and headed inside, aware of Derek following.
“He’s in bed,” Derek murmured as soon as they were in the house, taking Noah’s food trash and disappearing into the kitchen.
Noah stopped by his office to grab something then jogged upstairs. He found Stiles lying in bed on his better side, talking to Erica, who was curled up on top of the blankets, laughing at something.
“Hey, Mr. S,” she said with a bright grin.
“Kids,” he acknowledged. “Erica, can I have a minute with Stiles?”
“Sure.” She dropped a kiss on the top of Stiles’ head and nearly bounced out of the room.
“Hey, Pops,” Stiles said sounding a little subdued, but looking more alert than Noah had seen him so far.
“Hey, kiddo.” He sat in the desk chair that had been rolled up to the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Erica did my pain-drain about twenty minutes ago. Feel fine.”
“I know they’re not taking all your pain, so try again.”
“Just sore. It’s not that bad. Kind of dreading being like this for weeks though.”
“Other than that bad rib, most of your aches will subside in a few days, which will make moving around easier. Right now you’re one big bruise and your muscles are stiff, which is going to get worse for a couple more days.”
Stiles sighed. “But I have the patience of a toddler on a sugar high.”
“You really think you have that much?”
Noah smiled faintly. “You clear headed?”
Stiles’ brows shot up. “Yeah. Haven’t even had any of the narcotics today. I mean, I got a little loopy earlier cause Boyd was working on the control with his pain-drain and…whoa! Let me tell you, that was weird. I couldn’t even feel my toes!”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Noah leaned forward and took Stiles’ hand. “I want you to listen to me, and I want you to hear what I’m saying rather than what you think I might mean.”
He frowned, looking worried. “Okay, Dad.”
“I love you more than anything in the world, and there is nothing I fear more than losing you. No,” he said sharply when Stiles opened his mouth, “no talking yet. You’re going to listen. I’ve been kind of letting you micromanage me for the last few years because I thought it was helping you. I thought letting you boss me about when it came to my diet and my sleep was helping because it was letting you indulge your need to take care of me.
“But, in retrospect, I think maybe it was feeding into your anxiety, making you think if you weren’t there to hold the line that I’d fall apart.”
“Dad…” Stiles’ eyes were wet.
“I did fall apart after you mom died,” Noah said softly.
“So did I.”
“And we were both allowed that, Son, but I was responsible for you, not the other way around. And I’m not sure if it was that I flaked out on being a parent for three months that set this up or if it was losing your mom that made you so territorial over my health and well-being, which then sparked this anxiety you struggle with.”
“Mostly the latter. I can’t lose you too.”
Noah reached into his pocket and pulled out the paper he’d picked up from his office and handed it to Stiles, breaking the contact of their hands so Stiles could look it over.
Stiles seemed confused for a few seconds then his expression cleared as he looked over the page. “But your cholesterol is fine now.”
“Of course it is. I promised you after I saw the doctor that I was going to make sure I took care of my heart so I’d be around a long time.”
“But I know you sneak red meat and bacon!”
“Very rarely and only within the guidelines the cardiologist gave me. I even told you my cholesterol had improved. But, like I said, I thought the fussing was something that was helping you. And I’m so sorry I misjudged that.”
Stiles swiped at his eyes and sniffled. “No, Dad—”
“Yes, Son. Being the parent is my job.”
“But we’re family. We look after each other.”
“Yeah, but somehow you got it into your head that I wouldn’t look after myself if you didn’t do it, and that there wasn’t room in my life to look after you. And I shouldn’t have let you go on thinking that I needed you to take care of me that way.”
Stiles was staring down, looking upset. “You think I lied to you because I somehow think I’m the parent in this relationship?”
“No, I think you lied to me because you think I’m not good at taking care of myself.”
Stiles eyes shot up, wide as saucers.
“I think you were afraid that I’d go rushing into things that I wasn’t prepared for and get myself killed.”
Stiles choked back a sob.
Noah reached out for Stiles’ hand, holding it between both of his while wishing he could hug his son. “I know that I’m human and woefully unprepared for this world. I also have a modicum of common sense. I’m not going throw myself at a feral werewolf when I know I’m going to lose. The thing is…that situation was more likely to occur when I was ignorant that werewolves even existed.”
There was another sob, and Noah moved to the bed, carefully maneuvering Stiles up and into his arms. “I’m sorry, Son. I promise to do better.”
Stiles whole body shook. “Not…not your fault.”
“Yeah, kid, it is my fault, and you need to let me take the blame here.” He pressed a kiss to Stiles’ head, feeling awash in grief at every shudder as Stiles tried to suppress his sobs. “When you’re better, we’ll talk more about all the lying, but I needed to clear up this point. And I am not disappointed in you. I may be disappointed by the lying, but that’s an act, that’s not you. I am and always have been proud of you.”
Stiles held onto him tightly, and Noah waited, letting Stiles ride out whatever emotion he was dealing with. “I’m so sorry, Dad.”
“It’s over, kiddo. Let’s just not repeat our mistakes, okay? And if you’re owning that you made mistakes, you need to let me own mine.”
Noah pulled back and held Stiles by the upper arms, staring into his eyes. “Don’t ever feel like you’ve lost me or done something to damage our relationship.”
Stiles looked away. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I am. I love you…more than anything in the world.”
Stiles hugged him again. “I love you too.”
Noah still needed to talk to Stiles about Scott, but he needed to give them both a bit of a break from any more emotional topics. This discussion was more important right now than Scott.
– – – –
Noah looked around the basement, more than a little impressed with what the kids had gotten done in a single day. He wondered how much money Derek had had to shell out to get same day delivery on all this furniture.
Derek was presently upstairs reading while sitting by Stiles’ bed as Stiles took yet another nap. The other three teens were showing Noah around.
The basement had always been an odd collecting ground of random stuff, but now it looked like a warm and cozy dorm room. “It looks great. You guys did an amazing job.” Boyd, Erica, and Isaac all looked inordinately pleased by the simple compliment. There were five extra-long twin beds in the basement with dressers and armchairs spaced out around the beds.
“The five beds are in case the whole pack wants to be together,” Erica said quickly. It only took him a few seconds to realize that Stiles was one of the five. She pointed to the folding screens that had been set up. “Werewolves don’t tend to be particularly modest because our clothes get destroyed a lot, but we set up a changing area just in case.”
He smiled faintly. “I gather that was to cater to my delicate, paternal sensibilities?”
She nodded, expression serious.
“Appreciated. I’ll get used to all this, but it’s good of you kids to break me in easy.”
Unexpectedly, Erica hugged him. “You’re the best.” Then she whispered, “Are you sure this is okay?”
He’d started to return the hug out of habit, but then he wrapped both arms around her and squeezed her hard. “Yeah, I’m sure. It’ll be good to not have the house so quiet.” He made a mental note to get in touch with Boyd and Erica’s guardians and make sure they were okay with the kids being here more often than not.
She pulled back, grinning, and bounced around the room showing him everything they’d done. Including that they’d replaced the washer and dryer with an extra-large, front-loading, modern set.
He thought about objecting because he didn’t need Derek buying him appliances, but Boyd softly offered, “We tend to generate a lot of laundry. We’ll probably have to do the wash every day to keep up.”
So a newer, more efficient set was warranted. Noah smiled and nodded. “Seems like a good plan.
“Derek also ordered a bigger refrigerator, but it won’t be here until tomorrow,” Boyd added.
“Okay.” Werewolves ate a lot it seemed
It was like Noah was on a runaway change train, and all he could do was try to keep up.
Isaac, shuffled from foot to foot. “We figured we’d move the current one down here as a backup and for, you know, snacks.”
He started to ask why they hadn’t just gotten a backup freezer, but then he realized who he was talking to and was glad the words hadn’t gotten out of his mouth. He had a suspicion that a freezer like that would never be in the Hale pack house—temporary or not.
“Sounds like good thinking.” He scratched the back of his neck, wondering how to ask questions without seeming like he was disapproving. “So, where’s the stuff that was down here?”
Erica took that one. “Stiles suggested that we put up some storage sheds out back. We found a really nice big one that will blend in well with the tree line, but it won’t get here until tomorrow. And Stiles found another one that’s smaller that will be closer to the house—he said something about getting more of the gardening stuff out of the garage. They’re completely waterproof and have a deadbolt lock built in. These models are better than the normal household stuff. They’re usually difficult for homeowners to put together, but we’ll have that knocked out like that.” She snapped her fingers.
Werewolf strength. Convenient.
“Right now, everything that was down here is all in the garage,” she added. “We packed it neatly in boxes and everything is labeled. Stiles made a spreadsheet with a box inventory.”
Noah smiled. “Of course he did.” He figured he’d put off looking into Erica and Boyd’s home situation. For right now, it was good to see them all happy and relaxed. Let them have a few days before he stirred things up. “You guys did great.”
“Would you mind—”
“Erica!” Boyd stopped her.
“It’s fine,” Noah said gently. “You kids are welcome to ask me anything. If I don’t want to do it, I promise I’ll say so. I’ve been a sheriff for a long time, so I’m not much of a pushover.”
“The TV in your living room is the perfect size for down here,” Erica said in a rush. “Derek said he’d be willing to get a bigger one for the living room if you were okay with moving that one, and we could set up the gaming systems down here instead. But then we didn’t want you to feel like we were taking over your whole house and taking all your stuff.”
“Don’t worry about it.” He couldn’t say he objected to finding out that Call of Duty marathons, with all their associated cheese dust and soda spills, might no longer be taking place in his living room. “As long as my bedroom and office are left alone and you guys run it by Stiles, that’s good enough for me.” At their perplexed looks, he added, “Stiles can be very particular about certain things that belonged to his mother. The stuff of Claudia’s that I’m concerned with are in my room. As long as Stiles is okay, just figure out how to make it home, okay?”
“Yeah, we can do that,” Erica said brightly. She threw her arms around him again. “Thanks, Papa Stilinski!” With that, she darted up the stairs, not even noticing how she’d shocked him to his core.
Boyd shrugged and smiled, going after her.
Isaac continued to stand there, looking hesitant.
“Did you need something, Isaac?”
“I don’t want to upset the others, but I was wondering about Scott.”
Noah’s brows shot up. “Are you two close?”
“Not…” He cleared his throat. “Not exactly, but I think we were becoming friends.”
“Hmm.” He considered what he should say. “Scott needs to be part of a pack, you get that, right?”
“Yeah. Derek has explained the dangers of becoming omega, but Scott hasn’t been part of a pack all along, and he seemed like he was doing okay.”
“Maybe, maybe not. The thing is, from what I’ve heard from other sources, Scott was probably deriving some stability from Derek’s pack just by being adjacent to it. Derek was stepping in and saving or trying to help Scott as much as possible. But then Scott explicitly betrayed Derek and denied Derek being his alpha.”
Isaac flinched, staring down at the ground. “Yeah, that was bad. And he should have told Allison the truth about her mom.” His hand drifted to his back as he winced. Noah had heard about what Allison had done to Isaac, and even though Isaac was healed, it had clearly left a lasting impression. Noah knew that if he’d been nearly filleted with a pair of ring daggers, no matter how quickly he healed, he wouldn’t forget that kind of pain or forgive the attack easily.
“If you look at it in the right way, I think you’ll find that Scott isn’t as stable as people have thought. You’ve given some examples of his poor decision making process in what little you said.”
Isaac blinked at him a few times. “You think he’s already unstable?”
“I think he’s getting close. I think he’s having a hard time with anything that doesn’t agree with his emotionally driven outlook. And I say emotional because there’s not a lot of room for logic with him. And it could be that denying a pack for so long is why he made so many poor choices.”
“But what’s going to happen to him?”
“He needs to be in a pack. That’s the only outcome I’m willing to accept because Scott devolving and having to be killed like a wild animal is not going to happen while I have anything to say about it.”
“Can you just find a good pack like that?”
“It’s not quite that easy, no. In terms of finding him a temporary pack, well, we’ve worked that out, but we have to get him to agree.”
“Is there a reason he wouldn’t agree?”
“The pack certainly wouldn’t be here in the place he’s lived his whole life. And it wouldn’t be close to Allison. I imagine the latter is going to be quite the sticking point.”
Isaac winced. “Yeah.” He sent Noah a beseeching look. “Will you tell me what you can when you can?”
Noah didn’t envy Isaac the position he was in. He obviously cared about Scott, but it was in conflict with his pack loyalty. Because Noah seriously doubted that Erica, Boyd, or Derek wanted to talk about Scott and how Isaac felt about him being sent away.
“I promise I’ll tell you when I can, and if you need to talk about whatever conflict you’re feeling, you just come to me, okay? And eventually, Stiles will be a good ally in keeping up with Scott.”
Looking at the ground, Isaac just nodded.
Noah decided to change the subject. “Well, you kids did a lot today. Did you get enough dinner?”
“Yeah, but we usually have big snacks before bed. Werewolf metabolism is crazy.”
Noah nodded toward the stairs. “Go get a snack, Isaac. Play video games, be a kid, and don’t worry so much. Scott’s going to be fine. His mom and I will make sure of it.”
Once Isaac had bounded up the stairs like an overgrown puppy, Noah took a last look around the basement, smiling at the change. “This just might work,” he whispered as he headed upstairs himself. He deserved to make an early night of it.
Noah entered the kitchen barely after sun-up to find Derek seated at the kitchen table, hands curled around a cup. “Well, that’s not coffee, or I’d have smelled it,” he remarked around a yawn as he went to the coffee maker. He hadn’t had anywhere near enough sleep, but there was so much to do that it had made relaxing very difficult. He’d finally given up and decided to get a start on the day.
Derek lifted one shoulder. “It’s tea. A lot of werewolves, especially born wolves, don’t develop a taste for coffee. Too bitter.”
He stared for a second then clapped a hand on Derek’s shoulder, ignoring the way Derek seemed to startle under physical contact. “You have my sympathies, son. That’s…deeply unfortunate.”
Derek snorted, relaxing under Noah’s touch, so he gave a quick squeeze and took the seat next to him. “I like coffee ice cream, but you can’t tell me that it bears any real resemblance to that bitter stuff.”
“Don’t let Stiles hear you say that. According to him, coffee is life. He’ll be trying to convert you in no time.”
“Even Stiles isn’t going to convince me that bitter is tasty.” Derek took a breath. “Speaking of Stiles…”
Noah’s brows tried to climb into his hairline. “That’s ominous.” He considered all the werewolf ears. “Do we need to arrange to not be overheard.”
Derek shook his head. “They’re all asleep.”
“You can tell that?”
“Rhythm of their hearts, breathing patterns…yeah. A born wolf with practice might be able to fool me, but not bitten wolves. And not my own betas.”
“Okay.” Noah took a deep breath. “Well, lay it on me.”
“You know Stiles agreed to be in my pack?”
“He mentioned something along those lines, but I think it was pretty obvious.”
Derek looked surprised at Noah’s easy acceptance. “Humans are often in wolf packs—it’s not rare.”
“I’d put that together. What’s your point?”
“The alpha will eventually build a bond with the humans in their pack much like they do with their betas. In most respects, it is a beta bond except that only the alpha can feel it. The betas recognize humans amongst them as much by the saturated pack smell as anything else. They’ll scent with human packmates more often than they do the other wolves.”
“Is this your way of telling me to be prepared for a bunch of wolves to be extra touchy with my kid?”
“Not exactly, but also…yes? It’s—” Derek broke off and sighed, sounding frustrated. “Werewolves are very tactile. Especially so with the humans in the pack. There’s often a lot of, um, cuddling? But it’s not a sex thing.”
“I’m keeping an open mind here, Derek. And I’m not making accusations, so you can relax, okay? I appreciate the heads up that I might come home someday and find…? Are we talking like all of them in bed together?”
“When he’s better and not likely to be hurt? Yeah, sleeping together is pretty common.”
Derek tensed, but nodded shortly. “Not as much as they might tend to gravitate toward each other, but especially if there’s been danger.” He swallowed heavily. “It wasn’t uncommon for the whole pack to wind up in the den, my parents in the middle of a giant pile of pack members, after there’d been some kind of danger or if someone had been seriously hurt. Or if the alpha is hurt. In close packs, the betas will want to be close to their alpha to be reassured that the alpha is well. Packs that aren’t that close… Well, the alpha will keep the betas away while they’re vulnerable.”
Noah nodded, trying to anticipate how he might feel walking in on something like that. He’d like to think it wouldn’t bother him, but he realized it probably would. “I honestly can’t predict how I’ll react, but I’ll tell you that it’d be best if you guys behave as naturally as possible and don’t try to hide this kind of stuff from me. Let me get used to it, okay? Jumping apart like you were guilty or trying to hide it from me will prevent me from acclimating to pack life.”
Derek stared at him, eyes wide, then cleared his throat. “Okay. I can do that.”
“So you needed to warn me that the whole pack might be cuddling my kid but that nothing naughty is happening?”
“That was part of it…”
“Part,” Noah repeated dryly.
“It’s about pack bonds. Werewolf betas react differently to human betas than they would to another wolf. Acceptance can be slower because they have to build their own relationship and get used to the scent pile. But there’s been something odd about our pack situation. We all feel a bond with Stiles. It’s…profound.”
Noah’s brow furrowed. “Which means what?”
“I think it has something to do with his magic,” Derek said softly. “I didn’t know it was him at the time, but I first felt it during that whole thing with Gerard. When I compared timelines with Boyd, he guessed that it was while they were at Patricia Brisbane’s house. He said that he and Erica told Stiles that they felt like Stiles was pack, and that when Stiles realized they meant it, he agreed that he was pack. That they then felt an immediate bond with him. Because they didn’t know they couldn’t form true bonds—outside of a mate bond—with a human, they didn’t think it was weird.”
“But you’re saying you felt it too?”
“I didn’t really know what it was. I just felt something from them. I—” He scratched the back of his neck, looking uncomfortable.
“Whatever it is, you can tell me, Derek. Not just for Stiles’ sake, but for yours as well.”
“We’re not meant to be alphas at this age,” Derek blurted out.
“I’d heard something to that effect.”
“Laura was twenty when she became the alpha and,” Derek glanced away, “she didn’t handle it well. She became paranoid, and I understand why, but she turned on her pack. Except for me.”
Noah could hear a wealth of guilt in Derek’s voice that he couldn’t even begin to untangle. “You know her choices weren’t your fault, right?”
“Even if her choices were as the result of the fire, which was my fault?” Derek challenged, arms crossed.
“Now hold it right there, son. The fire was not your fault. We should probably pull that apart and talk about it some other day, but the blame for the fire rests only with the Argents.”
“No.” Noah was firm on that point. “I know why you think this, why you carry around this guilt that doesn’t belong to you, but I promise you that you did nothing wrong. You were a kid, and she was a serial killer. That’s the beginning and end of it. And if I didn’t think you needed to tell me whatever this thing is about pack bonds, we’d be having this out now, but the subject is not closed, it’s just delayed. I’ll say it over and over until you get it through your head that it wasn’t your fault. Because, Derek, letting go of the guilt isn’t the same as letting go of the grief. If you’re holding on to personal blame to keep their memories alive, there are better ways.”
Derek stared at the table top for so long that Noah wondered if he was ever going to say anything again.
After nearly a minute, Noah figured he wasn’t, so he reached out and touched Derek’s arm, ignoring the way Derek jumped. “I’ll say it as many times as you need to hear it but, for now, how about you tell me what you were leading up to?”
Clearing his throat, Derek continued, “I know Laura wasn’t a good alpha. Maybe even to me, but it’s hard to be objective about it. She was more like my sister just extra bossy, and I think she forgot sometimes that it became hard to say no to her. Hard to disagree with anything she said.” He lifted one shoulder, looking almost defensive.
Noah wondered if Derek realized how abusive that sounded. “So, alphas are to be obeyed?”
“It’s part of the pack dynamic, but it’s not supposed to be…oppressive? I never felt like my mom was overbearing. I wanted to do what she said, and I hated feeling like I’d disappointed her or my father. I don’t know how that’s different for humans. But it felt…loving, I guess, with my mom and dad. I don’t…” he paused and took a sip of his tea. “It was different with Laura. I didn’t like upsetting her but there was a…fear aspect that was new.” He looked up sharply. “I don’t want you to— I mean, I know Laura loved me. I never doubted it.”
“I know, Derek. That’s why you’re the only one she took with her.”
“That’s not accusatory. It’s just a fact. Her love for you outweighed whatever her instincts were telling her. And it sounds like the alpha power made her paranoid, and she wanted to hole up and figure out how to be safe.”
“Her actions wouldn’t be viewed well by other packs,” Derek admitted. “Even struggling to control her power, she was supposed to prioritize the pack, not her own safety.” He winced again. “I’m not explaining this well.”
“I think you’re doing fine. But set Laura aside for now. What was it like for you when you became the alpha?”
“I was angry,” Derek admitted softly, staring into his tea like it held the answers to the universe. “So, so angry. It felt like it was everything I could do to keep myself under control and not try to tear the world down.”
“Did that contribute to you making a pack so quickly?”
He nodded. “I’d heard, though I don’t know if it’s true, that the younger they are, the more likely they are to survive the bite. But…” He shrugged again. “That could be wrong. I wasn’t ever given any instruction about how to build a pack. Stiles and Scott were the metric I went by…they seemed mature enough to handle things.”
Derek’s lips twitched a bit. “Live and learn. I admit that I looked for loners who would be desperate for family, the kind of connection that they’d get from a pack. I thought it would make them more loyal or something.”
“I can’t say I fully understand what all you were going through, but from what I’ve heard, an alpha without a pack isn’t stable.”
“No. The alpha power needs to be at least partly channeled into maintaining the pack bonds. Even in an older alpha more adept at managing the power. The pack makes the alpha more powerful overall, but they also draw on the alpha spark, keeping the alpha from bottling all that up inside.”
“So there were powerful urges at play. Are you trying to explain why you bit a bunch of teenagers because you think I won’t approve or something?” In truth, he didn’t really approve, but he didn’t think that would help the situation and it didn’t hurt that the kids all actually seemed better off. Plus, it was certainly preferable that Derek hadn’t gone completely round the bend with a bloody rampage through Beacon Hills.
“I don’t…” Derek made a face. “I wish I could go back and make more considered choices, but I don’t regret any of them.” He met Noah’s gaze squarely. “They’re my family now.”
“So it had to be difficult when Erica and Boyd ran away.”
“Yeah.” Derek stared moodily into his tea. “I don’t blame them. Then or now. I knew I wasn’t what I needed to be, but I didn’t know how to stop being what I was. So when they left, I didn’t snap the pack bonds.”
“I see where you’re going with this… When they formed pack bonds with Stiles, you felt it?”
“I didn’t know what it was, but the bonds I had with them had been thin and fragile because they’d left. And then they suddenly weren’t. They were vibrant and…strong. And I felt something else in there too. I didn’t know it was Stiles. But it was like it was through them to me, not to me directly.”
“That must have been confusing.” Noah was also confused now.
Derek nodded sharply. “I didn’t know what or why, but I knew the alpha power was suddenly easier to deal with. I was less angry. It was like…all the rough edges were gone.”
Noah’s brows shot up again. “You think that was caused by Stiles?”
“Yeah. I know now that it was. I think he’s unintentionally forming connections to the pack. He formed one with me earlier. Directly with me. I asked him if he was sure he wanted to be part of the pack and when he agreed, we suddenly had a bond. And I know he feels it.”
Noah rubbed his hand over his face. “This is the magic thing, isn’t it?”
“I think he has, completely by accident, formed a very strong emissarial connection to my pack. It’s something I’ve never felt before because Deaton wouldn’t form that kind of bond with my mother or her pack.”
“I have no idea what an emissarial connection is.”
“Emissaries can be pack adjacent or actually part of the pack. If they’re part of the pack, their magic bolsters the pack bonds.”
Noah stared. “And Deaton wasn’t part of the pack because he’s a druid.”
“And a druid’s commitment to balance is in conflict with allowing themselves to be bonded to a pack. The pack bond could sway them. Or that’s what they think, I guess.”
“I see.” He actually only saw a little bit. This balance garbage sounded like complete bullshit to him, but he was trying to be open minded about this world he knew so little about. “So your mother trusted Deaton even though he wasn’t truly part of your pack?”
“I don’t know why. Peter hated him, always did. But mom used to say Peter was naturally mistrustful of anyone adjacent to the pack who wasn’t properly one of us, and that Peter being suspicious was part of his job.”
“Peter was my mother’s third.”
“Third in charge or something, right?”
“The second is in charge after the alpha pair, they’re more of a public face. The third handles discipline issues, looks for threats, security… He used to always say that having a druid close to the pack made it impossible for him to do his job.”
“I hate to say it, but it sounds like that’s true.”
Derek nodded, looking miserable. “I used to think Peter was making too much of it. That if my mom trusted Deaton, there had to be a reason. But I think Deaton could have stopped what happened, and—” Derek cut himself off. “He disapproves of me as the alpha of this territory. He’s made that plain.”
“Is that right?” Noah said dangerously, mentally reclassifying Deaton as a threat. “If he thinks you’re wrong for the territory then he must think you’re against his so-called balance, is that a fair assessment?”
Derek’s brows furrowed. “I think so, yes.”
Noah started making a new to-do list. He’d have to make sure Alan Deaton couldn’t mess with the Hale pack. “So, right now, let’s consider Deaton fairly high on the threat level metric.”
“But the point of this is that you think Stiles has already stepped into the role of emissary? The role Deaton had with your mom?”
“Except for being part of the pack, but that’s not the problem.”
“I mean,” Derek hastily backtracked, “I don’t think Stiles being part of the pack is an issue, but the thing he did? Bonding to the pack? I’ve never heard of that being done by accident.”
“Ah.” Now, Noah got the issue. “So this is a big magical thing?”
“Yeah. Very big.”
“I see.” He blew out a breath. “So Stiles is…what? Gifted?”
“I think,” Derek’s voice dropped down to a whisper, “that he might be an actual spark.”
“Magic users are often referred to as having a spark.” Derek kept his voice soft. “But it’s sort of a blanket term used for magical aptitude and then they have to find out what their domain is.”
“I did hear something about the types of magic users. Like druids, witches, mages, shamans, witch doctors… But nothing about sparks.”
“Sparks are rare.”
“Rarer than the rest?”
“By a huge margin. Sparks have a pure connection with magic. They can will things into being if they believe it enough.”
“Ah damn.” Noah rubbed his hands over his face. “Stiles might be able to will things into existence? How sure are you?”
“I went to college with a guy in another pack. Their emissary was a witch. She spent two years working on the ritual and building her personal power enough to bond her magic to the pack.”
“Two years?” he repeated incredulously. “And Stiles did it by accident?”
“And that’s why I’m concerned. But I don’t know how to get him help.”
Noah had to set aside the issue of Stiles for a moment. “Okay, wait for a second. Are you okay with what he did? I know you said he’s pack, and I know it wasn’t intentional, but you didn’t exactly ask for him to do that.”
“Oh.” Derek sat back in his chair, blinking rapidly. “Of course I’m okay with it. I’m worried he won’t be.”
“You’re going to have to spell it out to me. Why aren’t you perturbed?”
“Packs who have a true emissarial connection in their pack bonds are the strongest and most cohesive in the world. It’s everything any alpha would want. I’m stronger and yet more stable at the same time. It’s like his magic burned away all bad parts of having that power. I can’t help but want it. But he didn’t know—he didn’t do it on purpose.”
“You didn’t either, kid, so stop acting like you took something from him. From what you’ve said, Stiles must have really wanted to be part of the pack. Hear what I just said. He must have really wanted that connection to the pack. Maybe he’ll freak out later, but I don’t think Stiles’ desire is in question here.”
Derek looked lost.
“Don’t worry about it now, Derek. Stiles and his unexpected magical ability—and I can’t believe I just said that—is high on my list of things to sort out, but there’s nothing we can do right now, and there are bigger problems in front of us. Let’s focus on the more exigent issues, and we’ll talk to Stiles soon—maybe after he’s a little more mobile. In the interim, don’t shoulder blame or guilt for this. It’s something Stiles did, not something you did. I promise, we’ll figure it out.”
Derek stared at him for a long time but nodded, though his expression didn’t convey a lot of confidence.
“While we’re here… You mentioned college.”
Derek blinked in obvious surprise. “Yeah…?”
“Shouldn’t you still be in college?”
“Oh.” Derek fidgeted a little, and Noah bit back a smile. “This was supposed to be my last semester, but…stuff happened?”
“Were you going to graduate early?”
“No, I started a year early. Laura didn’t want me going to high school, so I studied at home for the GED and the SATs. Then I started college right before I turned eighteen.”
“And what do you plan to do about your last semester?”
Derek shrugged. “What can I do? I have other responsibilities now.”
“Which don’t preclude an education and someday a job. What were you studying?”
Noah didn’t let his shock cross his features. It seemed like a really odd fit for Derek, but he realized that was based on his judgment of Derek’s demeanor. But it could play well into an idea Noah had for down the road. He didn’t think now was the right time to bring that up, however. “There are several schools within a 1-2 hour drive from Beacon Hills—the local community college doesn’t do you much good for finishing your bachelor’s. We should look into getting you transferred, and we can even focus on schools with a good online program so you can minimize the number of days you have to go in.”
Derek opened and closed his mouth. “But that shouldn’t be important.”
Noah was going to make it his mission to work on Derek’s self-worth. “But it’s not unimportant. And it won’t hurt anything to finish your education. Your pack has school and homework for a couple years yet—not to mention their own college years. You could be done by Christmas. Just think about it, okay? There’s no reason to give up on anything you wanted for yourself just because you’re an alpha now.”
“But I never wanted anything so much as to have a pack again.” He shrugged. “And I have that now. Stiles really made that possible.” He cleared his throat. “And you. You made it possible.” He scratched the back of his neck. “You don’t have to be in the pack but, uh, you can be.”
Noah really didn’t know about any of this, but the pack thing seemed the easiest part for him to get because he understood wanting a family. “Where Stiles goes, I go, and he seems to think you’re a good bet, and I haven’t seen anything to make me question him.”
Derek looked shockingly vulnerable for a few beats. “You know I wouldn’t try to tell you what to do, right?” He winced. “Unless it was like a pack safety thing.” He blew out a breath. “I’m bungling this, but you’d be like a pack elder—an advisor. Alphas don’t boss the elders around. I mean, my mom got too bossy with my grandmother once after Grandma surrendered the alpha spark, and Grandma broke Mom’s arm with a marble rolling pin.”
“I’m not saying I think you’d attack me!” Derek looked horrified, and Noah started to laugh. “I’m just saying that pack elders are highly regarded and considered almost outside of the pack hierarchy except for safety things.”
Trying to curb his amusement, Noah got to his feet and clapped his hand on Derek’s shoulder. “You’re a good man, Derek Hale, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I gladly accept a position in your pack, Alpha.” He gave a blink of surprise when he felt something warm bloom in his chest. “Oh.” He rubbed over his sternum. “Is that…?”
Derek sighed. “Stiles’ magic. Yeah. It’s part of the pack bonds now. So anyone I accept as pack is going to feel…that.”
“Well, okay, then.” He decided to think about it all later. He was pretty much at his saturation point, and he still needed to deal with Chris Argent and Scott today. Lord help him. “Pack Elder Stilinski needs a shower because I can only take a couple more days off and there is much to do. I’ll be back down later.” He paused. “Unless you needed anything else?”
Derek shook his head fervently, like he was also at his limit for conversation. “Not right now.”
– – – –
Noah watched from the doorway as the kids talked around and over each other while eating the biggest breakfast he’d ever seen. Derek was propping up the counter, drinking tea and watching Noah.
He nodded at the young man, not wanting to interrupt the happy chaos. Still, he needed to get on the road soon, and he needed to talk to Stiles first.
“You got a minute for your old man, kid?”
Stiles looked up, mouth full of pancakes, and nodded, pushing back from the table. Before he could get too far, Derek’s voice halted him.
“It’s almost time, Stiles.”
Still paying attention to what Erica and Isaac were arguing about, Stiles detoured to stop in front of Derek, seeming to barely notice when Derek slid his hand under Stiles’ T-shirt and black veins started racing up his arm.
“Thanks, Der,” Stiles said almost absently as he joined Noah.
“Do you need breakfast, Papa Stilinski?” Erica asked before they left. The honorific still threw him even if he thought it was incredibly sweet. “I think you should have breakfast.”
“If there’s something I can take with me, that’d be fine. Otherwise, I’ll grab some coffee and get breakfast on the road.”
“Where are you going?” Stiles asked with a frown.
“Just come on…” Noah put a hand on an area of Stiles’ back he knew to be fairly bruise free and guided him down the hall to Noah’s office. He made Stiles sit in the more comfortable chair.
“What’s wrong?” Stiles asked urgently.
“Nothing, but I need to go take care of some things, and I wanted to talk to you first. Did Derek tell you that he felt that nascent connection he felt to Argent break?”
Stiles nodded vigorously. “And thank fuck for that!”
“Stiles…” Noah sighed.
“Right. Language. Sorry, Pops. Trying again… Thank all the deities that might exist or ever exist that Derek isn’t feeling a connection to that douchecanoe any longer. I can’t believe he had to endure that for even a day. It’s just disgusting.” He fidgeted a little. “It means he’s dead, right?”
“Yeah. Some of those in the know about this are still looking for the body, but we’ll have to keep the APB out on him because I can’t very well say he died of bite rejection.”
“So, that’s Gerard dealt with. And now my top priority is to deal with Scott.”
Stiles full-on flinched. “He messed up so badly, Dad.”
“Yeah, he did, but I think it’s worse than you realize.”
Stiles stared, wide-eyed and obviously worried. “What now? Because I’m seventeen, and I’m not supposed to be worried about my heart giving out.”
Noah laughed, though it was more a release of emotion than any actual humor. “I talked to Scott that night at the station, before he went home with his mom, and he can’t see the logical flaws in his thinking, nor does he see anything wrong with his actions. Also, anything said against Allison makes him particularly irrational, and he defends her acts no matter how egregious.”
“She’s his anchor,” Stiles said slowly. “And he’s overly fixated, which must mean…” He cocked his head, looking like the was thinking things through. “He’s not as stable as I’d thought.”
“If he’s been hiding things from you, I doubt there was any way for you to notice.”
“Except that him hiding things from me was the clue.” Stiles ran his hand over his head. “How do we fix this?”
“Stiles, it’s not all on you. Actually this isn’t on you at all.”
“He’s like my brother, Dad! I know he screwed up, and I get that he can’t be part of this pack, but—”
“Stiles, stop and listen. I’m not saying you can’t be worried about Scott, I’m saying that the onus for fixing this is on Melissa’s shoulders and mine. And to a degree even on Derek’s since he’s claimed some responsibility for Scott since a Hale bit him. And, as I understand it, Derek is responsible for this territory, so an omega in his town is implicitly his business.”
Stiles was drumming his fingers on his thigh in obvious agitation. “I don’t know how to just sit this one out!”
“If you’d let me explain, you’d hear that we’ve come up with a plan.”
Stiles blinked several times, mouth opening and closing. “What’s the catch?”
“Scott is going to have to leave Beacon Hills.”
“Dad,” Stiles said on a breath, the one word full of devastation.
“It’s as much because he’s not quite right anymore as anything else. He needs time to heal. Time to learn how to be a werewolf in a real pack. You did so well to get him this far—from what I’ve heard, without you, he’d have gone insane and probably hurt people and then been killed by hunters. But you can’t fix everything, kiddo. We found a good place for Scott. A good pack that will help him.”
Stiles wiped furiously at his eyes. “I’m so mad at him, Dad, but I feel like he’s being exiled.”
“He’s being sent where he can heal.”
“And in the meantime, we get Peter Hale, a freaking zombie wolf, who caused all this in the first place, and Scott has to go live with strangers? Has to leave his home?”
Noah knew how Stiles had a tendency to lash out when he was upset, so he decided to nip this issue with Hale in the bud. “Wait here.” He was back in a minute with a photo album, pulling his chair next to Stiles’ and plopping the album in Stiles lap.
“Really? We’re going to do family photos.”
“The thing is that I know, deep down, you know that the person who started this was Kate Argent, not Peter Hale. And Gerard caused Kate. Peter and Scott are both victims of the Argents. I would never ask Scott to forgive Peter or expect him to play nice with the man. But Peter can have wronged Scott and still be a victim himself. And we have to be compassionate to everyone, yeah?”
Stiles’ arms were crossed more than a little defensively.
Noah opened the photo album, flipping through, looking for the image he only vaguely remembered being here. He finally found the shots from the county fair the year before Claudia had died.
Stiles sucked in a breath as he looked the first of the twelve pictures spread out over the two pages. It was a picture of Claudia kneeling down next to Stiles, both of them smiling at the camera.
Noah let Stiles have a moment to trace the picture of his mother before pulling his attention by tapping on a photo low on the next page. The pictures were of various moments throughout the day with different people—friends and acquaintances. That last photo, though…
“Oh my god. That’s Peter!”
“Yeah.” Noah pointed out who was in the picture. “Mel had just taken you and Scott to go ride the Ferris wheel, and your mom was talking to Sonya Hale, Peter’s wife.”
Stiles was utterly still. “And the baby…?” he pointed to the girl Peter was holding as the couple talked to Claudia.
“Peter’s daughter, Olivia. I heard from a source who would know that both Sonya and Olivia were human. Not that I think it matters one way or the other whether human or werewolf. I say it only to illustrate that the Argents don’t care about collateral damage. But the point here, kiddo, is that if I’d had to hear you and your mom burn, and then been stuck reliving that moment for six years, I’d have been more than a little unhinged at the end of it.”
Stiles snapped the album shut. “I didn’t want to feel sorry for Peter, dammit!”
“It’s not about feeling sorry, Son. It’s about understanding. I’ve talked to Peter, and I believe he was insane when he bit Scott. That’s not an excuse, but it is a reason. It makes Scott and Peter victims. I wouldn’t put Scott in Peter’s path because he shouldn’t have to deal with the werewolf who bit him without his consent. That’s me protecting Scott. But I have to protect Peter, too.”
Stiles swallowed heavily. “And he lost his whole pack. Not just the ones who died.” His gaze was full of understanding. “His alpha left him,” Stiles whispered, sounding horrified.
“I’m not asking you to go out of your way to be nice to Peter, Son, he hurt you and Scott, and it’s perfectly fair to want to stay away from him. But it’s not fair to approach one person in this mess with compassion and understanding and not approach the other as well. It’s not fair to put the burden of dealing with Peter on you or Scott, so I’ll take it. Derek can shoulder it, too. That’s our jobs, okay?”
Stiles nodded, looking miserable. “But Scott still has to go.”
“You make it sound like Scott’s getting the worst end of the stick, but I’d take Scott’s burden long before I’d want Peter’s. I wouldn’t survive what he did.”
“Ugh.” He rubbed his head again. “Okay. That’s…” he blew out a breath. “Okay. I get it. So where is Scott going?”
“We’re working on getting him to agree, and I have to be a little sketchy on the details, but I’ll fill you in completely later. Right now, I need to go and try to persuade Scott that this is what he needs to do.”
“What about the rest of the school year?”
“Minor consideration at this point. He’ll do extra summer school or do makeup work. I don’t know, but we’ll work it out. He will graduate high school.”
“I still need to talk to him, though. He can’t just vanish from my life.” Stiles plucked at a loose thread on his sweats. “This is Derek’s den now, so I can’t just invite him in.”’
What a weird way for him to be thinking of their house. “While I’m gone, why don’t you check with Derek and see if he’s okay with you and Scott meeting in the back yard. If he’s not, I’ll drive you over to Mel’s, and then you boys can have your goodbye.” It’d be better to do it here where there was a werewolf on hand to deal with Stiles’ pain if it should come back, but he couldn’t deny Stiles the right to say goodbye to Scott any more than he could foist Scott on Derek after what Scott had done.
Noah saw the coming months being a juggling act, but the warmth he felt in his chest made him even more okay with whatever tradeoffs were needed to protect this budding family.