Walking Shadow – Part 2
Fandom: Teen Wolf
Series: Shakespeare in the Preserve
Series Order: 1
Series Content Warning: NC-17
Series Warnings: Character Bashing, Dark Themes, Death – Major Character, Death – Minor Character, Explicit Sex, Hate Crimes, Kidnapping, Murder, Racism, Mention Rape/Non-con, Violence – Canon – Level
Genres: Alternate Universe, Fantasy
Relationships: pre-Derek Hale/Stiles Stilinski, pre-Peter Hale/Noah Stilinski
Word Count: 35,788
Author Note: So many to blame. Thanks to Keira for helping me brainstorm an April Rough Trade idea…and landing me on one that is too big for a single challenge. This will be a three-story series I will be working on all year. I’m thinking of calling the series Shakespeare in the Preserve because it starts with a fucking tragedy. Thank you to DarkJediQueen for help with ripple management; it made a big difference in the plot. And, yes, there will be character death in here. But guys, keep in mind…the endgame is time travel. I believe in a happy ending.
Summary: Peter willingly gave Derek the Alpha Spark once his family was avenged. Stiles was the only one who noticed that he gained a mark at the moment Derek became Alpha. Now Derek is trying to rebuild a pack while Argents are sweeping in to cause trouble. Stiles just wants to know what is this soul mark and why does all of the weird stuff all over town keep happening to him? When the Nemeton demands Stiles fulfill his role, can Stiles survive Magic’s Call without a soul anchor?
Peter settled into the seat next to Derek and forced himself not to roll his eyes at the dark, brooding stare Derek was giving the Argent Patriarch as he absently rubbed at his chest. With a heavy sigh, he gave Derek a nudge. His patented expression to behave like an adult, not a child, while muttering under his breath, “are you an Alpha or a spoiled brat,” got Derek’s attention.
He smiled when Derek glared at him and then proceeded to ignore his nephew while getting the temperature of the room. Argent looked smug, and that didn’t bode well. The man had an agenda, and the few late-night meetings between Noah and Peter had made it clear the man was looking for a way to control the town. Peter had been spending a lot of money to make sure that didn’t happen, but at this point, he was only sure that forty percent of the Council was in his pocket. The question was, how many of the others had Argent bought?
Noah was working the situation from the legal angle, but there were times when his hands were tied as an elected official. He looked over the Sheriff and noted the perfect press on those pants went all the way up, and those pants were quite snug. Derek nudged him and gave Peter a disgusted stare. Well, pardon him for appreciating the good Sheriff’s…assets.
Peter pointedly looked away toward Christopher Argent and his wife. The perfect little picture. Too bad Peter could smell the sour stomach from across the room. Daddy’s little boy isn’t too happy about the situation.
So many of the local citizens looked excited about the outcome. Others just here to hear an argument. A few kids from the High School with note pads in hand. Either school paper or American Government, if he had to guess.
His eyes caught on the slightly spastic movement from the back shadows and allowed himself to hone in on the image without his eyes flaring. Stiles was sitting in the rear-most seat near the door. His body was moving rhythmically like he was jiggling his leg while his right thumbnail was grasped tightly between his teeth. The boy looked…tired. That look one has when they get some sleep, but they don’t actually achieve rest. Occasionally he would rub at his chest as if in pain.
It was unfortunate that Noah and Derek were adamant about leaving the boy out of all things supernatural. They thought they were protecting him, but Peter knew better. The boy had a mind that would not quit. Removing him from his source of information would not stop the questions. They would just force him to take risks to get answers.
Peter had seen the drive the boy had to understand and protect. It’s one Peter shared. Perhaps once Argent moved on, he would convince them to relax their stance and allow Peter to share some books with Stiles to give him a more balanced understanding.
Derek shifted in his seat and rubbed at his chest lightly. He had noticed that nervous tick several times over the last week. It was an odd little move, but Peter couldn’t pin down when exactly it started. There was nothing wrong with his nephew, so it might just be stress related to Argent. Derek tensed again as the doors in the back were pulled shut, and the meeting called to order. Now he was back to looking constipated and uncomfortable.
It was unfortunate that Talia had never forced the children to attend city council meetings, even when she served as mayor. While normally mundane and boring, there was much to be learned about manipulating the political climate in something as stilted as a public meeting.
They sat through the first two hours of the meeting, listening to the previous minutes and the usual business of the council. Old business was opened and either denied, approved, or sent back for further review. Funds approved from the budget for whatever given expenditure, studies ordered, and points of order debated.
Eventually, they put in the call for new business and started working their way through that portion of the agenda. Finally, Gerard Argent was called to speak.
“We have before us a petition, signed and confirmed with the appropriate number of citizens, requesting authorization for the formation of a Citizens Protective Initiative within Beacon Hills. This group is to exist completely of volunteer citizens of Beacon County who will train and patrol the streets of Beacon Hills. Argent Arms International has offered to sponsor and train the volunteers who will take on the duties of patrols, escorts, and public safety.” The item was read out in a monotone. “Mr. Gerard Argent is representing the Initiative and would like to make a statement.”
Argent rose and walked up to the microphone in front of the Council. “Mr. Mayor, Honored Councilmembers. Thank you for your time and consideration today. Time…it’s what we all hope to have. A lifetime’s worth. Unfortunately, too many lifetimes are cut short. Too many people left to walk alone in the dark. To walk alone in the shadows. To walk alone. That is the purpose of the Citizens Protective Initiative—to ensure no one must walk alone.”
Peter noted the man had excellent oratory skills, his voice rising and falling in an almost hypnotic beat.
“Once established, we will begin training volunteers who have the moral strength and physical aptitude to stand between our normal citizens and the darker side of Beacon Hills. Now, I want to assure everyone that we don’t seek to take the place of our fine law enforcement officers. But, as our own dear Sheriff was telling me just a few weeks ago, he doesn’t have the budget to assign deputies to watch everyone. This is the chance for the people to show we support our local sheriff and his dedicated deputies. We will be a physical presence to report trouble and to provide protection in numbers against the feral animals that roam our streets. And, I’m sure we can all agree that our citizens are up to the task.”
Argent held the eye of several Council members, and Peter’s stomach dropped. Damn, the man was able to buy more of them than he thought. Locking eyes with Noah, he noted the subtle shake of the head. Yeah, the Sheriff was well aware of who had been bought.
“Sheriff Stilinksi, your thoughts?”
“The Sheriff’s Department does not support this initiative. There is no standard of training that our citizens can rely on. Argent Arms has offered training and support, but no details on the training that will be provided. What oversight will they have? Since they will be out on our streets encouraging the public to trust them, how do we know they are trustworthy? Protection, escorts, and patrols are all available to our citizens now. We don’t need an organization backed by a weapons dealer to provide that.”
“What of the statement that you don’t have the budget to perform these duties?” one member asked.
“Every time our budget is reviewed, I request more funds to add eight more deputies to the force, and each year that is denied. That’s public record. Of course, I would like the manpower to increase patrols around the county. But I want vetted and trained manpower that can be trusted to respond consistently and with appropriate force when needed,” Noah pointed out. “That isn’t something I expect or even desire from our average citizen.”
The debate raged on, with people speaking back and forth, for and against. It all started to blend together into noise. He stopped paying attention because Peter could read the council, which was all that mattered.
“Why should we trust you to run this when it was your own daughter who murdered the Hales?”
The silence following that shout from an unknown party was thick, and Peter saw just a hint of deadly anger in Gerard’s eyes before he morphed into a sad man.
“No, it’s ok. I’ll speak to that. I know my daughter, may she rest in peace, has been accused of doing horrible things. I’m an old man who lost his sweet little angel. I don’t know that I will ever believe she did any of that. But, I wish with every breath I take that there had been a Citizens Protection Initiative in place to catch her before she fell. Someone that could have seen the danger signs and gotten my poor little angel the help she needed before violence marred her world. I may never know what she went through, but I am dedicating my life to seeing that innocence is protected from the monsters of our world.” He bent his head, and Victoria Argent moved to embrace him quickly and lead him back to a seat between herself and Chris.
Peter reached over and put a hand over Derek’s before his nephew ripped off the arm of the chair. “The sun, the moon, and the truth,” Peter whispered softly over and over until Derek relaxed and nodded. “There is no reason for us to remain here. It is quite clear he has bought the council; the rest is a play put on for public sentiment.”
Derek nodded, and they both stood and left. They were almost to their car when a familiar pounding of feet approached. Derek sighed before turning to face the runner.
“Stiles, go home.”
“Derek, are you just going to let that happen. You know what this means. He can put as many of his hunters as he wants on the street watching you.” Stiles waved his arms widely as he spoke, his hands never stopping.
“Which is why you should be as far away from us as you can,” Derek pointed out. “You’re just a human. They should leave you alone, but that doesn’t mean they will if you get in the way. Hunters don’t care how insignificant someone is if they are in the way.”
Stiles flinched like he was slapped. “I’m not insignificant. I can help.”
“No. You can’t help. You don’t stop to consider the consequences. We would end up getting someone killed trying to protect you. Now go home.” Derek opened the door and got in. “Peter, in, or you’re walking.”
Peter opened the door and gave Stiles a last look. The kid was rubbing at his chest like it was a wound, and he looked brittle, untethered. Stiles looked like a wolf cut off from the pack. Peter opened his mouth and, realizing that for once there was nothing he could say, closed it and got in the car. The view in the mirror as Derek sped out of the parking lot could only be described as lost.
Stiles pushed his cart into produce and looked around for the garlic and onions. Why in the world they wanted to reorganize the produce section every other week was beyond him. The fresh garlic looked terrible, so he moved toward the jarred stuff. He checked the list on his phone and sighed when he realized he forgot the chicken broth on the other side of the dang store. He really didn’t have the energy for this today.
Every night was the same. Go to bed exhausted, wake up somewhere else. He tried to hide the worst of it from Dad, but he should have known better. The man was worried enough to install a security system with motion detectors to alert him to Stiles’ wanderings.
Stiles was hesitant to throw a wrench in the works and spill about the tattoo and the pulling he felt. With everything his dad had on his plate between the supernatural, the Argents, and the CPI teams on every corner, it just didn’t seem as important.
He had documented the pull and came to a few conclusions. The first was that whatever was pulling him toward the Preserve was stationary and strong. He could ignore it for the most part during the day, but when he relaxed his guard at night, it just seemed to force his body to respond. Which was totally no bueno. He had considered trying to find the source, but he had this bone-deep feeling that he wasn’t ready yet for what he would find. But there was an urgency telling him to get ready.
The second pull wasn’t as strong, and it seemed to move all over the damn place. That one was constantly changing direction during the day. It was distracting as all hell. It was also thin and kinda felt like it was being choked out by regret. Stiles let out a sigh. Regret or resignation.
A tug on the leg of his jeans brought his attention down to a cute kid who looked so serious. “Hi there.”
“You smell sad.”
He looked around quickly to make sure no one was close enough to hear, then squatted down next to the boy. “I suppose I do, but it’s not safe to tell people how they smell in public.”
The kid seemed to consider it. “Cause the bad people don’t like when we’re different?”
“That’s right. Some people don’t understand, and that can make them scared and mean. So we have to be safe.” Stiles looked around for an adult. “And you shouldn’t speak to a stranger unless your mommy or daddy say you can.”
“Caleb Mitchum!” The woman moved quickly toward them. “You know better than to wander off.”
“Sorry, momma.” Caleb looked down at his feet and scuffed them against the floor.
“I don’t know what possessed you.”
“The man smelled sad, mama. I wanna make it better.”
Her expression froze for a moment, and she gripped a hand on his shoulder as she looked at Stiles.
Softly he responded, “He didn’t mean any harm, and I explained to him that it’s not safe to tell people how they smell; they might take offense.”
She nodded very slowly in agreement while her eyes darted around before returning to Stiles’ face. “Thank you…”
“Stiles. Stiles Stilinski.”
Her face suddenly morphed in understanding and pity. “Tell the nice man goodbye, Caleb.”
“Why? He’s still sad, and he feels like pack,” The boy whispered, just a hint too loud.
Stiles felt the tightness grip his chest, and he swallowed hard because he had been assured that pack is something he will never be.
“Good…Goodbye, Caleb. It was nice meeting you. Remember what I said about staying safe.” Stiles turned and left his basket as he walked out of the store. He made it to his jeep before the tears came, and he put the vehicle in drive to just get away…to be anywhere but here.
He’s not sure how long he drove around before he spotted it and pulled off the road, throwing the jeep in park and just staring at the empty playground. On a whim, he turned off the engine and got out. He walked across to the merry-go-round, sitting down and laying back to stare at the sky. He looked up at the underside of the handles where Stiles – Scott BFF was scratched deeply into the metal. Flakes of new paint were stuck in the letters showing the bars had been repainted at least once.
He reached up to touch it. This was the exact spot where they had met. Two lonely kids staring up at the sky as the world seemed to spin so fast around them. It felt like a lifetime ago. As long as he had Scott, he didn’t need anyone else. That was the lie he had told himself over and over again.
The truth is, he needs so much more. He needs friends, family…pack. He needs pack. His chest seemed to throb with loneliness. That barely-there second pull had vibrated near Caleb. Caleb was pack. Hale Pack. Derek’s Pack. He rubbed his chest and squashed down on that feeling. Derek made it clear that Stiles wasn’t welcome near his pack. This stupid childish dream of being part of that needed to go away before it drove him crazy.
Voices approached, and Stiles sat up to see who was here. Two adults and six teens were crossing the playground. The adults in the Silver and Black shirts that were the standard uniform of the Citizens Protective Initiative. The CPI in the logo artistically arranged to look like a bow and arrow if one knew what they were looking at. The teens wore the white and black of the Junior CPI. All with the CPI standard beret.
They were headed straight toward him. Either to give him trouble or possibly just crossing to get to the coffee shop a block up in that direction. Stiles considered getting up to leave to just avoid any issues or recruitment spiel. A familiar giggle caught his attention, and he looked back to the last two junior members and froze.
Allison was to be expected, considering her grandfather was the founder and the family company was sponsoring this mess. It was inevitable that she would have to toe the line for PR, if nothing else. But Scott? What the fuck. Why would he willingly work with someone who wanted all werewolves dead?
The group approached and kept walking by, so the coffee shop was a good guess. As the end of the group reached him, Stiles held up a hand and waved at the two of them. They ignored him…of course, they ignored him.
“Guys, you got a minute?” He called out to them as he stood up in front of them.
They ignored him and kept walking by, even when he waved his arms around in frustration. “Fine. I didn’t want to talk to you either.”
Stiles spun back toward his jeep, wrenched the door open, climbed in, and then slammed the door shut. His stomach felt hollow as he looked back to see Scott and Allison disappear across the far street. Stiles started up the jeep, just wanting to go home and forget about this entire day.
He put the jeep in reverse before glancing at the rearview mirror and slammed the gearshift back into park, his heart hammering in his chest. He adjusted the mirror so that he could see himself…and saw only an empty seat.
What the actual fuck?!?
Stiles looked around quickly to see if anyone was around and then looked back at the mirror and took a deep, relieved breath to see himself staring back. Shit! That’s it. No way should he be driving around town. Checking the mirror a few more times…nope, still here. He carefully backed up and got on the road, headed for home. Luckily it was only a mile away, but it was the most careful mile he had ever driven.
At home, he set the security and locked himself in his bedroom. Shit, sleep deprivation was ridiculous. He looked at the bed, then headed for the computer to google everything he could on insomnia, sleepwalking, symptoms, and treatments.
Peter sat at the counter while Miss Jo packaged his order. The Perpetual Sunrise was his favorite hole-in-the-wall deli in Beacon Hills. The current owner, Miss Jo, was the fourth Miss Jo to own the shop. On paper, she was the granddaughter of the last owner, having inherited the business and moved to town following the retirement of the previous Miss Jo. The Hales had never discovered what exactly she was, but who cared when she could make potato salad that was practically ambrosia.
There was magic in her, of that he was certain. She would age with the shop and then leave for a month to return young and remade. Her scent, however, never changed. He reached over the counter to grab a cherry from the ice cream station and felt a slap across the back of his head.
“Don’t think you’re too old for me to give you a proper whooping, Peter Hale. You best be leaving my cherries alone.” Miss Jo gave him a pseudo-stern look.
Peter smirked at her, “But your cherry is the only one in the place worth taking.”
She glared at him this time. “You’re momma raised you better than that. I have children in here.”
Peter glanced around and blushed, “My apologies, Miss Jo, for the crassness. It was meant in jest.”
With a nod, she turned back to finish the last container and slid it into the sack. Before Peter could reach for it, she grabbed two small cups and put a scoop of cherry vanilla ice cream in one and pistachio in the other. Peter raised an eyebrow at the pistachio because the only person he knew that would eat it is Noah. How did she know?
He took the bag and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Take care and let us know if you need someone to walk you home tonight.”
She gave him a half-grin, “You think the CPI will be too busy to escort little ol’ me?”
Peter rolled his eyes and headed to his car. If he timed this just right, he should be able to intercept the good sheriff before he started his afternoon patrol.
He glanced at the CPI volunteers waiting at the corner for the light to change. The leader of the little group met his eyes. His expression went cold before he took his sunglasses out of his pocket and placed them on his face. The hunter leaned back against the pole with the flashing don’t walk symbol. He kept his attention on Peter’s car until the light changed, and his group headed for the crosswalk.
Peter stretched the muscles in his neck and forced his attention back to the road as his light turned green. He wasn’t going to let them get to him, but he wasn’t stupid enough to ignore the blatant attention he and Derek were garnering.
Pulling into the Sheriff’s Station, he grinned when he saw Noah’s cruiser in the spot labeled County Sheriff. Right on time. Peter grabbed the bag of food and started whistling a happy tune as he strolled up to the front door. The damn scent of gunpowder and wolfsbane that screamed Hunter was strong here, but that was becoming normal if irritating around town.
He reached for the door when it suddenly swung open, and he found himself face-to-face with Christopher Argent. He was the only Argent rarely seen in a CPI uniform. He was carrying an ammunition case that he quickly swung away from Peter.
“Christopher.” Peter kept his tone light.
“Oh, please. I think we can be a bit more familiar than that.” Peter looked him up and down. “A bit out of uniform, aren’t you? No little old ladies to terrorize or students to intimidate?”
Chris ground his teeth for a moment before letting out a breath. “Keep your nose clean, and I have no problem with you. We still have a treaty. I haven’t broken that.”
“So true. Somehow I don’t think all Argents agree.” He raised an eyebrow, and Chris let out a long breath through his nose.
“I don’t control my Father.”
“I’ve heard the man is not happy with you upholding the Code. How sad that he worships the memory of the psychotic murdering daughter over the honor of the living son. Makes one wonder who the monster is in this town.”
“Gentlemen, I hope there is a good reason why the two of you are blocking the entrance to my Sheriff’s Station?” Noah’s Sheriff Voice came from behind Chris.
Chris and Peter didn’t flinch or look away until Chris murmured, “No problems here, Sheriff.” He stepped aside and let go of the door before he moved away. “Hale.”
As the man marched straight to his car, Peter turned back to put an innocent grin on his face. Noah’s face countered that with his I smell bullshit face.
“Lunch?” Peter held up the bag with a half sun and the words Perpetual Sunrise in a semicircle over the sun. Noah kept staring him down, so Peter pulled out the big guns, “And Pistachio Ice Cream.”
The Sheriff’s eyebrows shot up, and he turned to march inside. “Hale, with me. Marks! I’ll be in a meeting, no interruptions unless they are burning the city down.”
Peter smiled and followed Noah to his office. He handed over the ice cream first and then unpacked the bag while Noah cleared off space. Settling in with his own BLT, Peter held his breath over the sex-like sounds coming from Noah when he took the first bite of his burger.
“How the hell did you make it out of there with a burger? Stiles has half the town blackmailed to not give me beef.”
Peter knew that which is why he had ended up at Sunrise. “Well, that’s not beef.” Noah froze, and Peter grinned, “Don’t panic; it’s buffalo. Tastes just as good but fewer calories and fat. You’ve just never asked her for one.”
“Why do I feel like a victim of a conspiracy?”
“Because you are, and Stiles is just that good.” Peter opened his own bottle of water and took a drink. “How is Stiles?”
Noah sighed, “Still sleepwalking. He’s really got me worried. Do you think he’s just upset that Derek and I decided he can’t associate with the Pack?”
“It is possible. No matter how much Derek may come off as strong in this decision, he is also the one calling in most of Stiles’ sleepwalking adventures. I think he honestly misses having the kid around. Between you and me, I think Derek is just a little smitten. But, I assure you, given his own history, Stiles’ underage status will keep him from giving the boy any opportunity.”
Noah sighed, “I realize Stiles is seventeen, and I trust Derek to keep his distance. It might just be a bit of infatuation, but Stiles has a tendency to fixate. He hasn’t said anything about Lydia Martin in a while, and I guess I always knew that was a smokescreen. But it was one that he was invested in. Hell, if it were just a crush on Derek, I could live with that.” He seemed to consider something. “Maybe I should loosen it up. Give him a goal?” Noah reached for his own water bottle.
“No.” Peter shook his head and picked up his spoon and the cup of potato salad. “Argent is up to something with this CPI organization. Some of it is blatant, but his endgame is hard to determine. It’s not safe for Stiles to be near us.” He took a bite and closed his eyes in pleasure. If he could just figure out what that ingredient is.
They ate in silence a minute before Peter continued, “Derek is feeling the weight of Alpha and the responsibility of the Pack. As long as there is danger, he won’t allow any of us near Stiles. He has a history of those he cares about dying tragically, so he won’t take the chance with Stiles.”
“I understand, and I’m thankful for that. Hopefully, Stiles will one day forgive us for cutting him out.” Noah took another bite and moaned.
Peter shifted uncomfortably in his chair at that sound. “The important thing is that Argent and his Hunters forget Stiles exists. The last thing we need is him drawing their attention.”
“Preaching to the choir. Any clue what Argent’s next move is?” Noah opened his ice cream and smiled.
“Not yet, but I have people trying to figure this out.” Peter opened his own and hid his own grin as Noah made the most amazing sounds while eating his ice cream.
Derek double-checked his list as he moved through Lowe’s. He stopped at the garden tools and smiled when he saw the kid-sized tools. Caleb was going to love these. He made sure to throw in a selection of gloves, because as Peter repeatedly reminds him, appearances matter. Besides, Caleb’s healing hasn’t really kicked in yet. It’s still better than a human, but a crying four-year-old is not fun.
He checked on his phone to verify the time. The contractor should be delivering the supplies for the greenhouse in about two hours. Joannie was at home alone with the kids, and he wanted to be there when everything arrived. The thought of strangers at the Pack House with the kids just set him on edge, even if Peter vouched for them. Derek rubbed at his chest; his worry over Pack always felt like pulling at the bonds.
They were lucky that Craig Mitchum’s job allowed him to work from anywhere. But twice a year, they pulled him in for meetings at the main office in San Jose. The beta was thrilled that he could drive it again, but it still meant a two-night stay. Joannie was taking a break before finishing her Masters. The latest pregnancy and the move had derailed her plans, but it was her choice. He wasn’t the kind of asshole alpha that would step into the middle of a woman’s life choices.
For now, the only thing she had asked him for was a greenhouse and raised garden. He figured he could handle most of it on his own. Well, the Pack could because Derek got the feeling Joannie was going to claim this spot. But, they made an early decision to leave the structure to the contractors.
The slightest jingle of a chain with tiny bells alerted him to someone approaching. He took a deep breath to cover a sniff and listened. Five coming from different directions. He turned his attention back to the fancy labels and garden stakes. Oh, and colored spools of twine, they could color code the plants.
“Ahem, Mr. Hale?”
Derek hid the grin at how the Mr was stressed as if the speaker had wanted to say Alpha. He turned to face the speaker. The faintest rustling of leaves seemed to follow as her hair was swept to the side off her face. Nymph.
“Yes, I’m Derek Hale.” He didn’t flash his eyes, but he allowed the presence of Alpha to be felt.
“We became aware that the Hales have returned to the territory.” The male beside her was blonde hair, blue eyes, and smelled ever so faintly of recent sex. His whole body seemed to glow with a tan that offset the hair just so. His voice melodic, and his lips perfectly formed.
Derek looked away and then glared back at the man who smirked at him. Incubus…great. Derek let his gaze travel over the others, acknowledging the witches. “How can I help you?”
“We are concerned about the recent development of this Citizens Protective Initiative,” the younger witch spoke when no one else seemed willing. “The movement is catching on, and they are recruiting heavily. They have done nothing wrong, but it feels like they are watching. Always watching. It feels invasive.”
“The Argents are Hunters. No matter what they call this thing, I have to believe it’s a screen for hunting. You can’t trust an Argent.” Derek made himself calm down. He wasn’t a child to lose control.
“Exactly. Honorable Hunters are few and far between. What can we do?” the Nymph looked around to make sure they weren’t overheard.
“We blend in. Follow the law. Don’t give them a reason to bother you. Any time you see them record it. The Sheriff knows about us…well, he’s learning. He knows the CPI is a cover for something, but we don’t know what they want to accomplish with it. Maybe they just want to scare us into doing something stupid, so we won’t.”
Derek glanced around before modulating his voice with a touch of alpha. “But we document where they are watching, when they are around, and what they are doing. If we can prove they are acting inappropriately, if we can catch them doing something illegal, then we can give the Sheriff the ammunition he needs to get rid of them.”
“We’ll spread the word in the community. It’s good to have an alpha here again.”
They broke up in ones and twos and wandered off, ostensibly shopping. Derek watched them go before turning back to finish loading up the cart and headed for the checkout. Suddenly he was supremely uncomfortable having Joannie and the kids alone at the house. He felt a pull when he thought of someone else who was alone but reminded himself that Stiles had Scott watching out for him.
Stiles let his fingertips drum across the counter of the Beacon Hills Veterinary Clinic, waiting for someone to respond to the bell on the door. Normally, he would just walk back and bug Scott, but he freaked out the dog owner in the exam room last time he did that. Who knew Doc Deaton could be so scary when the man put his mind to it. Stiles could see the door to the exam room was closed, so he tried to be patient. Well, as patient as he ever was.
Scott has been ignoring him for the last who knows how many weeks, and he seriously needs someone to unload all this sleepwalking tattoo business. Stiles leaned over the counter to flip back the appointment book. Mrs. Coolidge, damn…the biggest gossip in Beacon Hills. Also known as the Cat Lady of Juniper Lane by the deputies. If she wasn’t spying on her neighbors, then she was calling in complaints or misusing the fire department to rescue Mr. Buttons.
With a sigh, Stiles took a seat and pawed through the magazine stack to find something worth reading. Deaton seriously needed to get some new material in here. 1993? Was he even open in ‘93? Throwing aside the magazines, he spotted the Where’s Waldo book in the corner. Scott was always the worst at spotting Waldo. He flipped the pages one after another…there…there…there. Jeez, he didn’t remember it being that easy.
His phone dinged, and Stiles scrambled to drop the book and pull out his phone. Who was it? After almost a month and a half, someone was trying to reach him? He looked at his messages and…nothing. What?
Stiles scrolled back to the notifications page and saw his full moon reminder. Right…reminders. He scrolled back through his social media accounts, but no one has tagged him in a while. Beacon Hills Gazette? Oh, CPI is running a fundraiser. Joy. Why don’t people donate to the Sheriff’s Fund? Maybe get them some new protective equipment? Nope, you wanna pay a homicidal geriatric to preach his crazy.
The door to the exam room opened, and Deaton stepped out, holding the door for Mrs. Coolidge, cat carrier firmly in hand.
“No, Mrs. Coolidge, I’m sure that your neighbors did not plan their gardens just to poison Mr. Buttons. His sensitivity should pass as long as you keep up the pills, make sure he has plenty of clean water, and keep him in the house so he can’t get into Mr. O’Healy’s garden.” Deaton moved forward to swing open the counter and allow the woman to leave.
“I still think if you would write a report for the Sheriff that he would take this more seriously. They refuse to even investigate the man. I bet there are all kinds of evidence in his house about how he’s planning to murder poor Mr. Buttons.” Mrs. Coolidge continued mumbling to herself about the attempted feline murderer as she left the office.
“Between you and me, Mr. O’Healy is totally trying to kill Mr. Buttons. That cat has cost him the Society Championship for the last four years because it keeps using his flower beds as its litter box,” Stiles grinned and shook his head.
Deaton dropped the folder he was filing and spun around to look at Stiles. “Mr. Stilinski.” He looked between Stiles and the door with a small crease between his eyebrows. “When did you arrive?”
“Oh, about twenty minutes ago. I stayed out here, promise. I seriously don’t want another of your lectures about mentally scarring your customers with horror stories.” Stiles stood up and leaned over to look around the man. “Can I go back and talk to Scott now?”
Walking past Stiles to the door, Deaton ran his hand up along the connection for the doorbell before opening and closing the door. The chimes could be heard coming from the back of the veterinary office. Deaton ran his hand on along the door frame, though what else he could be feeling for Stiles didn’t have a clue.
He turned to look closely at Stiles, “Mr. McCall is not working today. He requested the day off to attend the Junior CPI training session.”
“Training session…right.” Stiles sighed and rubbed at his chest, suddenly uncertain what to do.
“Are you alright, Mr. Stilinski?” Deaton was staring at him as if he were a puzzle.
“Yeah, sure. Never better.” Stiles gave a half-smile, and the man just continued to stare at him. “Yeah, you don’t buy it either. Hey, look, you know about all the werewolf and weirdness that is Beacon Hills. Maybe you can help?”
Deaton stared another moment, then turned and walked through to toward the back, “Why don’t we speak someplace a bit more private.”
Stiles nodded and followed along. Deaton led him into the back surgery area and then just waited patiently for Stiles to begin.
“So I know you know about werewolves. Scott says you know about a lot of this stuff. So…have you ever heard of someone just suddenly getting a tattoo or a mark? I mean, not like they went to a tattoo parlor, obviously. Just a mark that suddenly just appears for no reason.”
“When you say a mark, I’m assuming you don’t mean an inexplicable wound or scar?” Deaton asked as he reached for a book.
“No.” Stiles rubbed his chest. “Though it might have hurt like hell when it first appeared…theoretically.”
“Theoretically?” Deaton sighed, “Would this be related to the rumors that your father was going to disown you for getting involved with a motorcycle gang and being covered in gang tattoos?”
“What? Seriously? Where did you hear that rumor?” Stiles waved his arms around while he spoke. “So, maybe Dad grounded me because I wouldn’t tell him where I got a tattoo, but seriously? Gangs? Heck, I don’t even know where the damn thing came from, but at least Dad didn’t immediately go to gang. I mean, he thought maybe the wrong crowd, but I think he was more concerned with stoners than crime.”
“You don’t know where the tattoo came from?” Deaton questioned, moving closer to Stiles.
“What? Oh, did I say that?”
“Yes, you did.” Deaton’s voice became firm, “The supernatural world is dangerous and not something to be played with as if it were a toy. There are energies that you have no hope of understanding, much less controlling. Stiles, if something has happened to you, it is unwise to hide it.”
“I’m not playing with anything. It just…happened. One moment Peter Hale killed Kate Argent, then Derek and Peter were talking about oaths or something. Suddenly Peter was on his knees, and Derek was the alpha, and my chest felt like something was being branded into it.” Stiles rubbed at his chest with the memory. “Hell, I didn’t even know there was something really there until the deputy wanted to take photos of bruises.”
Deaton’s face changed. It went from tense inquisitive to lax contemplation or something for a moment. “Can I see this mark?”
“I guess. Do you know what it means?” Stiles asked as he unbuttoned his flannel shirt to allow him room to pull up the T-shirt.
“I have speculation.”
Stiles pulled up the shirt and turned so that Deaton could see the shape.
Deaton’s eyes widened, and for a moment, there was a flash of anger/consternation/frustration; Stiles wasn’t sure. But then it was gone as if it never existed. “May I touch it?”
“Umm…yeah, I guess.”
Stiles felt a sense of wrongness as Deaton ran his fingers over the mark and twitched back before pulling down his shirt. “So, any ideas?”
Deaton turned back to his books and pulled an older volume, the spine cracked leather. He flipped through it until he stopped and started reading.
“This is very important, Stiles. Was the mark the only symptom you have been having?” His stare was intense.
“You mean besides being tired all the time and the sleepwalking into the Preserve?” Stiles grimaced as Deaton continued to stare. The tug in his chest increased, and he rubbed at it. “So maybe I feel like something is trying to pull me apart? I mean, it’s like there is a line that wants to take me to wherever Derek is, at least I’m pretty sure it’s Derek, and then another that is yanking me toward the Preserve.”
“Which is stronger?”
“Does that matter?”
“Yes, it speaks to affinity. These impulses can be dangerous if not managed.”
“When I’m awake, I’m pretty sure it’s Derek, but he’s the Alpha, so maybe it has something to do with that? But when I fall asleep, I think it’s the one in the Preserve.”
Deaton glanced back at his book before closing it and leaning on the exam table. “There are those who believe that nature seeks a balance. You can see it in the world around us. Too little rain and the plant shrivels up and dies; too much rain and the plant rots. The supernatural world exists on a narrow edge of this balance and must be maintained rigorously.”
Stiles stared at the vet as he just stopped talking. “What does that have to do with this mark on me?”
“You have placed yourself at a junction between supernatural forces. You have, in essence, made yourself a fulcrum for the balance.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means, Mr. Stilinski, that there are consequences to every action or inaction. You played with a world you did not understand, and now that world has latched onto you.” Deaton put the book away and turned away.
“Whoa, no. You have to tell me what I’m supposed to do because Derek and Dad just keep telling me to stay out of it.”
“That is surprisingly sound advice. That pull you are describing results from two opposing forces that cannot be allowed to interact. The pull to the Pack is attempting to tip the balance in their favor. It might seem harmless, but I assure you it is not. It is best if you avoid Derek Hale and his pack completely.”
“So you’re saying I should just leave the supernatural alone?” Even the thought of it made Stiles ache deep inside.
Deaton shook his head slowly, “This isn’t a world from which you can just walk away. The balance demands you make a choice. You can’t serve two masters. Sooner or later, you must decide which path to follow.”
“Dude. You just told me that I need to avoid Derek, and then you tell me I have to make a choice? So, you’re really telling me I need to go to the Preserve to figure out what is out there?” Stiles pointed out in the direction of that pull.
Deaton nodded his head but said, “No, I am merely explaining your options. You must make this decision on your own. You can choose to serve the Pack, or you can choose to serve the Balance.”
Stiles watched as Deaton turned and walked to his office before closing the door. He turned around and banged his hands against the exam table before kicking it. “Ouch. Damn.” With a last look toward the office door, Stiles headed out. “Well, that was helpful.”
Stiles shifted his blue spiral notebook out from under his red spiral while cross-referencing the page on his yellow spiral. Grabbing the pink highlighter, he made a star next to the passage on pack bonds he had taped into the book. He flipped to a new page in the blue spiral and started a chart: bonds to Alpha vs. Territory.
Reaching for his coffee cup, he took a drink and tipped the cup up and up before he looked down in the cup, confused that it was empty. He raised the cup up to get the attention of a passing waitress in the only twenty-four-hour diner in this part of Beacon Hills. He froze when she passed by without acknowledging him.
Stiles glanced up into the convex mirror mounted in the corner to cover the bathroom and emergency exit doors. He breathed a sigh of relief that he was staring back at himself. He sat the coffee cup down and stared at it. If only the answer to all his questions could be found in a cup of coffee.
The sudden stream of brown liquid pouring into the cup jerked him back to the present, and he sat up.
“Hon, whatever you’re looking for, I guarantee you’ll not be finding it in there. From the look of you, the last thing you need is this coffee, but I don’t think you’re going to make it home without it. But this is it, Stiles. I’m cutting you off.”
“Harsh, Emma.” Stiles tried to put on his most innocent sad puppy expression. Too bad Scott isn’t here because Emma always buys his sad puppy eyes.
“Oh, no. Don’t even try that, mister. I take one look at you, and I know you haven’t had a night’s sleep in over a week, have you? Don’t even try to lie to me. You are going to drink this cup, pack up your gear, get yourself home, and crawl into bed.” Emma gave him that same stern look she gave him and Scott when they unscrewed all the salt shaker lids.
It made Stiles feel guilty and chastised at the same time. “Fine, but I’m doing it under protest. This is a 24-hour diner. That means 24-hour coffee.”
“Protest away,” Emma motioned with the coffee pot. “But while you’re protesting, you might remember that Deputy Marks will be here in about ten minutes to pick up a tray of coffee and the night shift’s order. Since I know there is no way you are here unless your father is covering a night shift, then you might want to consider what report he’s taking back to the station with that order.”
Stiles glanced at his watch and noticed the time. He shoved everything he had into his backpack and slipped the laptop into its pocket. He chugged the coffee and stood up. It was only a moment’s hesitation before he headed for the bathroom instead of the front door. No way was he making it home without the stop.
He rushed to finish before slinging the backpack over his shoulder and throwing open the door to run out. “Have a good night, Emma!” Stiles called as he rounded the back corner and came skidding to a halt in front of the counter, almost colliding with the four CPI goons surrounding Emma.
“…think you should reconsider, kitten.”
There was fear in her eyes, along with the slightest tinge of lavender. Stiles didn’t hesitate to step between her and trouble because this was Emma who had introduced him to curly fries and milkshakes, slipped him detective novels, and doubled his orders when Mom had died and Dad was too drunk in his grief to cook. It didn’t matter what she might be because this was the person who let him and Scott sweep up the parking lot and paid them in comic books. This was Emma.
Emma lifted her chin in defiance through the fear, vibrating slightly. One of them pulled out his baton and wrapped the strap around his hand.
“You sure that’s the decision you want to make?” He took a step closer.
Suddenly Jake came charging out of the kitchen, a knife in one hand and a pan in the other.
Baton goon swung the baton, hitting Stiles in the chest and knocking him over the counter and into the stack of plates. Stiles curled into a ball as the dishes came crashing down on top of him. He was hit on the head and back by several of them, and try as he might, he couldn’t quite catch his breath from where the impact had knocked the air out of him.
“Stiles!” Emma shouted in fear.
“Where the hell did he come from?”
There was the sound of a scuffle that was interrupted, “BEACON COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT! EVERYONE ON YOUR KNEES AND DROP YOUR WEAPONS!”
Stiles had never been so glad to hear Deputy Marks in his life. He would have felt better if he could just breathe.
“On the ground!” Marks continued to give orders.
Emma must have ignored Marks because suddenly she was kneeling next to Stiles. “Stiles? Can you hear me?”
“Who’s over there, Miss Emma?” Marks called.
“Stiles. They hit him with the stick. Stiles, honey, can you talk to me?” Stiles tried to open his eyes, but everything was blurry with dark spots. His ears were ringing, and it was getting louder. He tried to pull in a breath, but nothing was working. The voices were fading in and out.
“Sheriff’s…here soon…bulance on its way.”
Stiles moved slowly, trying to put on his shirt without pulling on his cracked rib. He was supposed to wait until he had help to dress, but the sooner he was ready, the sooner he was out of here. He tried to tell the doctors he lost consciousness because he couldn’t catch his breath, not because of the concussion. But it’s not like they were listening to him anyway. Twenty-four hours observation when all he wanted was to get home, shower, and sleep in his own bed…with his pillow.
Twenty-four, more like thirty-six since he was brought in at night, and it was almost one pm now. Stiles stood up to reach for his jeans and grasped ahold of the bed as a small wave of dizziness swept over him. Once it passed, he tried again and was able to slowly maneuver his legs in. Next, shoes…joy. He spied them across the floor and debated if shoes were necessary.
“What are you doing up?” Dad’s voice had him spinning around before thinking. Only quick reflexes on Dad’s part kept him from face-planting. “Stiles!”
“No startling the patients, Dad.”
Dad had him up and in bed before he knew what he was doing. “Are you trying to earn yourself another night in the hospital?”
“Just want to be ready to go. Can you hand me my shoes?” Stiles forced himself not to reach toward them so he wouldn’t give away how dizzy he felt from all the movement.
“We’ve got a minute before they get here with the discharge papers.” Dad sat down in the chair and stared at Stiles until he was rubbing his chest uncomfortably.
“You going to explain to me what you were doing at Jake’s Diner at one in the morning?”
“Getting a snack?”
“Stiles…” Dad trailed off and then leaned forward and rubbed his face. “You’re not sleeping again; you’re sneaking out of the house at all hours, keeping secrets from me. Miss Emma told me you were obsessing over your research all night. Scott said he had no clue what was going on with you because you weren’t talking to him.”
Stiles sat up, “No. N.O. Not talking to Scott? Scott’s the one avoiding me. Won’t answer my calls, doesn’t return texts; if I do see him, he’s got to go because he’s meeting up with Allison. And, apparently, you and Melissa ordered him to not talk to me about anything supernatural, so he doesn’t have anything else to talk to me about.”
“Ok, calm down.” Dad drummed his fingers on the side of the bed. “I didn’t know he was avoiding you. I’ll give you that one. But you are hiding something from me, and I was hoping we were past that. I’ll give you some time, but I need you to come clean with me.”
Stiles rubbed at his chest again as he felt the pull increase a moment before relaxing. “I’ll think about it. Is Miss Emma and Jake ok?”
“Yes, they’re fine. But I need you to stay away from the Diner for a while.”
“What?!” Stiles started to shake his head then rethought it. “They weren’t doing anything wrong, Dad. It was Gerard’s Hunter goons masquerading as CPI.”
Dad nodded, “yes, I know what Gerard is up to. But it’s a volunteer organization with no oversight. We can prosecute the ones who were threatening Emma and hit you. Still, CPI is passing it off as mistaken identity and gung ho spirit to protect citizens. But this just proves my point. I need you to stay out of this. You stepped between the Hunters and Miss Emma, and you are the one who ended up in the hospital, Stiles.”
“It’s not like I planned it that way!”
“Stiles, this is what I’ve been talking about.” Dad gave him that look that was halfway between worried Dad and disappointed Sheriff. “You need to stay away from any supernatural situations. Every time you get involved, you get hurt. I know you think it’s exciting, but what it is is dangerous.”
“I know that, Dad. You think I don’t know that? I’m the one who figured out what was happening with Scott and helped him learn control.” Stiles huffed, “You can’t expect me to stay out of this forever. Beacon Hills is like supernatural central. Gerard Argent is using the CPI as a cover for his hunter operations.”
“Yes, he is. The last thing I want is you caught in the middle. Because every single time you run toward danger instead of away from it.”
“They were going to hurt Miss Emma. She’s never done anything to anyone.”
“How long have you known she was supernatural?”
“I didn’t.” Stiles felt his gut twist when Dad gave him that look of complete disbelief. “I didn’t know. How long have you known Emma and Jake, Dad? Did you know? I’m not lying to you. Most supernatural I’ve found just want to live their lives. You never had a problem with going to Jake’s Diner before. Now that you know they’re not completely human, are you going to abandon them to the Argent’s?”
“No, I’m not. And I’m sorry for accusing you of hiding it from me. But this whole incident just demonstrates how quickly you can get in over your head and how questionable your decision-making is. I don’t doubt you jumped in with the best of intentions, Stiles.” Dad reached out to put a hand on Stiles’ jiggling knee and squeezed gently, “Your intentions are never in question. But you didn’t once stop to think about calling me, or the department, or even 911 for help. Did you even think what it would do to me to walk in there and see my son unconscious on that floor?”
“Daaaaad,” And now with the guilt. Stiles felt the tears building in his eyes as he saw that moment of heartbreak on his Dad’s face.
“I can’t lose you, Stiles.” Dad stood and leaned over to envelope Stiles in a hug that felt so good. “I can’t just have you disappear from my life. I don’t know what I would do. You have to promise me you will stay safe.”
“I promise, Dad. I swear I didn’t go looking for trouble.”
They were interrupted by the doctor who checked over Stiles one last time before signing the release and giving Dad the after-care instructions. Dad left to pull up the car while Stiles waited for a nurse to bring a wheelchair. He wanted to protest, but honestly, he was worried he would fall down before he made it out, and they would just shove him back in the room another night.
Dad was leaning against the cruiser, talking on his phone when they arrived. The nurse helped Stiles into the vehicle while Dad finished his conversation and got in.
“OK, slight change of plans, kiddo. I have to go in for a little while. I’m going to take you home, and Scott will come over and check on you. I don’t want you climbing the stairs without help today.” Dad pulled out and took a left toward home.
“Scott’s coming over?” Stiles looked at his father in disbelief. “How much are you paying him to do it?”
“I understand you boys are having issues. Maybe now is the time to let him know how you feel.”
“There was a time he didn’t have to be told.”
“I won’t be long. I will deal with this situation I have….”
Stiles perked up and opened his mouth.
“A situation I won’t be discussing with you.” Dad shook his head and slid on his sunglasses. “I will deal with it and come home. Until then, just relax on the couch and take it easy.”
Stiles slouched back and held his tongue for once because it was evident that Dad wouldn’t budge. That was ok; it wasn’t like Scott would show anyway.
Dad helped him into the house and settled him on the couch with the remote, his cell, a glass of water, and some snacks before heading out. Stiles channel surfed before landing on an episode of Ancient Aliens. He just heckled the guy on the tv who talked about how the dog-faced statues were representations of aliens in ancient Egypt. Obviously, they were werewolves.
A knock on the door woke him, and he saw some search for buried treasure show on the tv. He must have dozed off. The knock caught his attention, and he slowly stood and then made his way to the front door. “Who is it?”
“Stiles, let me in,” Scott called out.
He unlocked the door and then started back, calling out, “It’s open.”
Scott came in and dropped a backpack and helmet next to the front door. “Wow, you look awful.”
“Impressive powers of observation, there.” Stiles stared at the helmet a moment and blamed the concussion for the time it took to put two and two together. “You got a bike?”
Scott looked confused, “Ummm, yeah. Are you sure you’re ok? I got the bike about two or three months ago. You know that.”
“No. No, I don’t know that. You never told me you got a bike.” Stiles returned to the couch and sat down, muting the tv. “What the heck, dude? When Dad gave me Roscoe, you were the first one I told.” It hurt. Getting your first car/bike/whatever was like a big freaking deal. It was something you shared with your best friend.
“It’s been months. I thought you knew. Everyone knows.” Scott gave him that confused, sad puppy expression.
Stiles slouched down, “Not like anyone’s willing to talk to me about anything.” Stiles unmuted the tv and turned up the volume. He didn’t really care about the treasure hunters, but this kind of thing annoyed Scott, and Stiles felt just a little vindictive.
They sat quietly, making stilted small talk around nothing for about an hour, and Stiles was just tired. He got up and headed for the stairs. “I feel gross. I’m going to take a shower and go to bed.”
Scott popped up, “Mom said you aren’t allowed up the stairs or in the shower without help to make sure you don’t fall.”
Forcing out a breath, Stiles nodded and kept going. He grabbed a towel on the way to the shower and ignored the mirror because the last thing he needed was to know he looked like shit. Scott came in and jumped up on the counter to have a seat while Stiles started to strip.
“Whoa, dude! That is some impressive bruising.”
Stiles glanced back and caught the sight of his back in the mirror. It was covered in bruises from the flight over the counter and the plates that fell. He shrugged and then got into the shower and took his time to scrub out the diner and hospital.
He let the hot water soothe aching muscles until the water started to cool off. Scott tossed the towel over the curtain, and Stiles mumbled out a reluctant “Thanks” as he began to dry off. He wrapped the towel around his hips before he slid the curtain open.
Stiles sighed and glanced down at the bruising across his cracked rib and up into his chest. Yeah, that asshole didn’t pull his punches.
“I know. Trust me, I feel it.” Stiles stepped on out and headed for the bedroom.
Scott chased after him and stopped him just inside the room. “What the hell, Stiles?”
Stiles made it to his drawers to find underwear before moving to his bed to sit down. “Yeah, the asshole wasn’t pulling any punches.”
“I heard you got a tattoo, but I thought it was probably the Bat Signal or Spiderman or something.” Scott sat down on the desk chair. “I was a little jealous even though Mom gave me a two-hour lecture on the dangers of going someplace that doesn’t sterilize their equipment. And man, she has a lot of horror stories.”
“Well, sorry to disappoint you, but no horror story here.” Stiles considered telling Scott the truth, but if Deaton hadn’t mentioned anything yet, then there was no way he was telling Scott.
“Yeah, but seriously, Stiles, if you had to go and get a tattoo, why did you get one to match Derek’s?”
Wait, what? “What do you mean, match Derek’s?”
Scott rolled his eyes, “Don’t try to play dumb. You know that’s a perfect match for the tattoo on Derek’s back. Mr. Argent said it was the symbol of the Hale Pack.”
Stiles was stunned into silence, a million thoughts racing through his head.
“It’s seriously creepy that you got that done. Does Derek know? Wait, are you getting stalkerish about Derek like you did with Lydia?” Scott sounded disgusted. “Or did he make you get that? Did he, Stiles? You need to stay away from Derek. Mr. Argent doesn’t like the Hales at all, and for a good reason.”
“I haven’t seen Derek for weeks,” Stiles mumbled as he rubbed at the mark.
A buzz caused Scott to jump, and he dug into his pocket quickly. His scowl turned to a sappy grin. “Good, you shouldn’t see him. I can let Mr. Argent know that he’s bothering you.”
“Nope, not needed,” Stiles watched as Scott when from angry/confrontational to distracted/infatuated in just a moment. “No problem with the Hales. You can leave the Argents out of it.”
“Look, Stiles. I know you just want to be liked, but you need to cool it. You’re just not that interesting, and the only reason people are nice is to get to your Dad or try to get to me. It’s for the best that you just leave it all alone and let those of us that know what we’re doing handle it. Hey, you’ve had your shower, and you are just going to bed now, right. I’m going to take off. Allison wants to meet up. You know how that is. Right?”
Stiles considered the expression and the fact that Scott was already trying to make his way to the door. “Yeah, just gonna take a nap until Dad gets home. Nothing here to see.”
Scott was off and down the stairs before he finished the second sentence. “See you around, Stiles,” was the absent reply.
Stiles felt a sharp tug in his chest and rubbed at the mark, trying to think back to Derek and his imagination of how that mark would look on Derek’s back.
Stiles spent an uncomfortable day and night dealing with his headache and thankfully diminishing dizziness while trying to think of every scenario where his spontaneous tattoo could match Derek’s. He thinks back to the few times he saw Derek shirtless. Granted, he was usually focused on Derek’s arms…or his abs.
Honestly, he can’t remember seeing Derek’s back. Front, side, he helped hold him up the night Kate Argent died, but he approached from the side and was pretty freaked out while everything happened. Nope, no memories of that back.
But it’s got to mean something, right? He researched what he could, but the light from the laptop was giving him a headache, even on dark mode. He slept when he was able. The tug to Derek had grown exponentially overnight, while the other pull was starting to feel insistent and sort of frantic.
Dad didn’t leave for the station until mid-morning, but Stiles convinced him he was a big boy who didn’t need a babysitter. He waited long enough to be sure the man wasn’t going to turn around and come back before he grabbed his keys and took off in search of Derek Hale. It seems it’s easy to find the man when you have an internal homing beacon pulling you straight to him.
The tug led Stiles to the big nursery on the south side of town. Derek had his new truck half-filled with an assortment of plants, soil, and pots. He turned off the engine and just watched Derek load up the truck for a minute before making his decision and got out.
Derek continued without stopping even though Stiles knew the man was aware he was approaching. He stopped behind Derek and waited as he focused on that pull that now felt like a heartbeat pulsing between them. He was so focused on that feeling that he didn’t notice when Derek finally stopped and turned to face him.
It was the sigh that broke Stiles out of his focus. “Why are you here, Stiles?” Derek growled.
“Look, I know everyone has been avoiding me, but I think we need to talk.” Stiles looked around to make sure there was no one within hearing.
Derek leaned back against the truck and crossed his arms, “So, talk.”
“Things have been happening. Crazy things. And I think it’s all connected. Well, we’re connected somehow. I don’t know how to explain it, but do you feel a connection between us? Between you and me?”
Derek uncrossed his arms with a sigh and turned to pick up another pallet of plants to load in the truck. He responded with his back to Stiles, “No, Stiles. There isn’t some mystic connection between us. You’re just a fragile human kid who wants to believe he’s part of something bigger than his own little life. But you’re not.”
Stiles felt like a knife was hacking into him, but he wouldn’t give up so easily. “I’m not trying to be part of something. I am a part of this. I’m the one who dragged Scott out into the woods that night. I’m the one who was risking my life to keep him from going off the rails and killing people. As I recall, I’m the one who dragged your dying ass over to the Vet’s office and convinced my best friend to go into the middle of Argent-Central to retrieve a bullet to save your ass.”
The anger and frustration of the last few months were bubbling over, and Stiles just let it out. “I’m the one who figured out it was Peter cleaning house. So I’ve been hip-deep in this before you ever returned to Beacon Hills. And, by the way, asshole, I’m not going out of my way to be one of you. I turned Peter down when he offered me the Bite, and I would turn you down, too. I don’t need to be supernatural or a wolf to be a part of this world.”
Stiles marched over and jabbed Derek in the chest. “I am part of it. There is this connection between you and me. I can feel it, and I know you can, too.”
Derek stepped forward, chest to chest, jaw clenched and eyes blazing with just a hint of red. “There is nothing between you and me, Stiles. Nothing! There will never be anything between us. Pretend all you want, but you’re just a human boy who gets his ass beat every time he sticks his nose into this. It’s bigger and scarier than you can imagine, and you are too stupid to keep yourself safe. I’m the alpha here. It’s my job to protect this territory. That includes the humans who are just young, foolish boys who aren’t smart enough to save their own lives. So this is the last time I’m going to say it. You will stay away from me, away from my pack, and away from everything supernatural in my territory.”
Stiles felt like that tether between them was choking and dying. He rubbed hard at his chest and tried to blink back the tears forming because he wasn’t going to give the asshole the satisfaction.
Turning back to the last two pallets of plants, Derek loaded them and then slammed shut the tailgate before turning back for a last look at Stiles. “I mean it, Stiles. Whatever connection you think there is between us, well, I choose not to allow it. I choose to keep you safe from yourself. I choose to keep myself safe from you.”
Stiles felt the last of the connection rip until it felt like only the smallest stretched string connecting them. The pain throbbed in his chest. Stiles could hardly breathe as Derek climbed into his truck, started it up, and drove away.
He just stood there and watched until Derek was out of sight, then turned back to his jeep and crawled in. The tears came silently, and he did nothing to stop them as they streamed down his face. Stiles just leaned his forehead against the steering wheel and focused on breathing and his heartbeat.
The heartbeat throbbed against his chest wall, trying to overpower the pain. With each beat, the pull toward the preserve seemed to swell and grow. He could barely feel the connection to Derek anymore. It was no longer there to balance him. Instead, there was an itch growing to an insistent demand for attention.
He was driving past the gas station and out toward the Preserve before he even realized he was moving. The pull was overwhelming, and he gave only the slightest thought that he shouldn’t be out here alone before he let that thought slip away. He was needed here. There was no more time, and there was someplace he had to be very soon.
When he could drive no more, he pulled over on the side of the road and walked away from the jeep into the Preserve.
Peter complained good-naturedly as he helped Derek and Craig Mitchum unload the plants and bags of soil Joannie had requested. She was excited to get the backyard garden started, and her happiness bubbled over onto the rest of the pack.
Well, onto most of them. Derek was in a sour mood. He was doing well hiding it from the Mitchums and little Caleb, but Peter has a Master’s degree in reading Derek. Something happened while Derek was out. Peter figured he would give his nephew some time before he cornered him. Preferably without Caleb around.
They were almost finished when Noah’s cruiser pulled into the drive. The man rarely dropped by unannounced, so Peter handed off his flat of seedlings to Craig and reached into the truck’s passenger seat to grab a rag for his hands.
Noah had that tight, pinched look that said he was worried. Considering the recent trouble around town with the CPI, he wasn’t surprised. “Peter, Derek,” Noah acknowledged them.
Peter glanced over his shoulder to see Derek approaching, wiping his hands down the front of his shirt. Rolling his eyes, Peter tossed the rag at Derek. “Do try to pretend to be civilized.”
Derek gave a little growl as he stepped up next to Peter, “Sheriff. Problem?”
The sound of a motorbike approaching cut the man off as they turned to see Scott McCall pull up beside the Sheriff’s car. He turned it off and set it on the kickstand before pulling off his helmet and heading for their group.
“Did you find Stiles?” McCall asked, looking around as if the boy would materialize out of nothing.
“I just got here. From that question, I take it you haven’t seen him, Scott?” Noah asked.
Scott shook his head, “No. I haven’t heard from him since he got home from the hospital.”
Derek crossed his arms over his chest and looked uncomfortable. “I saw him today. He tracked me down at the nursery and wanted to talk.
Noah turned to face him. “What did he want to talk about?”
“He believes the two of us have some kind of connection. He’s upset that we are cutting him out of any supernatural activity.”
Peter thought cursing from Noah showed a decent vocabulary, and was that one Polish?
“I’ve ordered him to stay away.”
“I told him he should stay out of it, too.” Scott shrugged his shoulders, “but you know how Stiles is when he becomes obsessed. I mean, look at his tattoo.”
Noah looked at Scott, “What does his tattoo have to do with the supernatural?”
“Well, it’s not exactly supernatural. Not really.” Scott motioned toward Derek. “It’s just that he got one to match Derek’s. Mr. Argent said Derek’s is the Hale Pack symbol. I told Stiles that it’s really creepy and stalkerish to get the Hale Pack symbol tattooed over his heart.”
Peter stepped closer. “Did you say over his heart?”
“Yeah, that’s the sort of creepy part.” Scott shook his head. “I love Stiles, but sometimes he gets obsessive.”
Peter just stared at the boy because that was the pot calling the kettle Argent. Peter ignored Scott and grabbed Derek to turn him around while lifting up the back of his nephew’s shirt. “Stiles’ tattoo looks like this? Exactly like this?”
“That’s what I said,” Scott huffed.
Noah swallowed and took off his sunglasses before answering. “It looks exactly like that, even the color.”
Derek ripped away from Peter’s grasp before tugging down the shirt and stalking away. Peter followed after him. “You said the boy isn’t Pack. You said nothing was connecting him to us.”
They made it into the backyard, past Craig standing guard, to where Joannie and Caleb were emptying bags of dirt into the raised garden before Derek stopped to grab a bag and pour it in. Peter noted that Noah and Scott followed them. He ignored them in favor of getting an answer.
“You can’t run from this, Derek. If you have a connection with the boy, we need to know,” Peter insisted.
“There’s no connection,” Derek insisted between clenched teeth, and every werewolf turned to stare at him.
“Alpha Derek fibbed, Mama,” Caleb’s eyes were saucers staring up at Derek.
“Hush, Caleb.” Joannie pulled her son back against her leg. She locked eyes with her husband before turning to look at Derek.
“Caleb has very good hearing, don’t you, Caleb. You’ve been practicing, just like your Alpha has been teaching you.” Peter cracked his neck then stepped back in front of Derek.
“Oh, no, Alpha mine. You’ve felt it this entire time. I should have seen it. You have been seeking out the boy ever since you got to town. Injured and dying, your instinct was to find the boy for help. Your wolf knew he was yours, didn’t it? How long have you denied the truth?” Peter demanded.
“Wait one second!” Noah pushed his way forward. “What the hell are you talking about? Have you and my son…”
“No!” Derek jerked his eyes up to meet the Sheriff’s and held his hands out in front. “I wouldn’t…I couldn’t…Stiles is underage. I would never do that to someone else…never.”
Noah nodded slowly, “OK, I believe you. But someone better start explaining to me what is going on. My son is driving around somewhere out there with a concussion. He couldn’t even walk a straight line yesterday, so I don’t have time to waste here.”
Peter glared at Derek then turned to explain. “I know we explained to you that werewolves are either Alpha, Beta, or Omega. Omegas are wolves who have lost their bonds to the pack. Betas can be either born or bitten. Alphas are betas who inherit an Alpha spark either through natural succession, combat, or through magical gift. Any werewolf can become an Alpha, but some are born to become one.”
Joannie picked up Caleb and held him close, “I was only eleven when Derek was born, but I remember how excited everyone was. Laura was born with the Alpha mark. It was a relief for everyone to know that Fate had chosen our next Alpha. When Derek was born with the mark, too, we celebrated. It was assumed that the Pack had grown strong enough to split. My parents were excited because it meant one day we might be full pack instead of pack adjacent.”
Scott looked confused, “What does that mean, pack adjacent?”
Craig stepped over and took Caleb away from Jeannie. “Traditional Packs are often made up of only blood relatives and those that marry in. Those that receive the Bite from the Alpha are taken in as junior members of the pack. But those of us who come from a different line and move to the territory are usually considered Pack Adjacent. We have to earn our place in the pack. If the Alpha calls, you respond, but you aren’t always welcome for Pack gatherings or runs.” Craig looked around and smiled softly at his wife, “Pack adjacent is never trusted to live in a Pack House.”
Noah had that look like he was solving a puzzle, but all the pieces didn’t quite fit. “So, Derek and Laura had some magical mark that showed they were meant to be Alpha. Laura inherited the power, but then she died, and it went to Peter instead of Derek?”
Peter looked down at his shoe before taking a deep breath and looking up. “I wasn’t quite in my right mind when I came out of the coma. The overwhelming desire to protect the territory and avenge my Pack took over. The two overlapped quite a bit in my mind. I regret my actions the night Laura died. I only sensed an Alpha on my territory where one had not set foot before I awakened. It was not until days later that I had healed enough to understand what I had done. I blamed the Argents for her death as well.”
“Why did you become Alpha and not Derek?” Noah asked.
“Right of conquest. Any Alpha that can’t protect himself has no business leading a Pack. It’s one reason why Packs are slow to trust newcomers. There is a lot of trust in allowing an unknown into your home while you sleep.” Peter sighed, “But it was a struggle to maintain the Alpha power. I was never suited to the position, and only in my madness did I want it. When I approached Derek for willing help in ending the Argent threat, he only agreed if I would relinquish the power once we were victorious. In the end, it was a relief to let it go.”
“So what does all of this have to do with my Son?”
“When, Derek?” Peter asked instead of answering.
Derek gave Peter that recalcitrant look he had perfected as a teenager.
“This is important to the safety of the territory, Alpha. When?”
“After I became Alpha, I could feel it then.”
Joannie stepped over and turned Derek around before she slapped him. Derek jerked back in shock before Joannie leaned in and hugged him hard. “That poor boy has smelled like pack and misery since we came to town. The stench of it is everywhere we go. Why, Derek? A true mate is a gift from Leto. And he is marked? Why would you reject such a gift?”
“Every time he gets near the supernatural, he gets hurt. Every time I try with anyone, someone dies. It’s the only way to protect him,” Derek insisted.
Peter shook his head, “He’s Marked, Derek. Did you know he was marked?”
“No. Mate marks are legends, Peter. Fairytales Grams told us when we were children. And even then, it’s only between wolves. Stiles is human, so he can’t be marked.”
Peter turned his back to them, staring at the garden plants while thinking. He spun back around and pointed at Scott. “You’ve known Stiles longer than any of us. Has his scent changed?”
“What?” Scott jerked back and wrinkled his nose and his brow equally. “How am I suppose to know?”
“Please just use that minuscule pea you call a brain and try to remember. Right after you turned, Stiles was trying to help you a lot. What did he smell like?” Peter sighed at the confused puppy. “Close your eyes and think back to that time. Right after you were turned, your senses were overwhelmed. Things would spike without control. But you were the first near him. Think about it.”
Scott huffed out a breath and then reluctantly closed his eyes. He cocked his head to the side and then twitched his nose as if breathing in. “Two-day old clothes, coffee, axe body wash, meds, and rosemary?”
“And the last time you saw him?”
“The same but also pain and peppermint.”
Peter turned toward Derek, “Well?”
“His base scent is medication, rosemary, and peppermint,” Derek conceded. “But the peppermint comes and goes. It’s not a constant.”
“Which explains why I’ve caught hints of mint but not associated it specifically with Stiles,” Peter noted.
Noah stepped forward, “What does it matter what my son smells like?”
“It matters because some scents have meaning. Any supernatural with a sense of smell will tell you a wolf has a hint of cinnamon in our base scent. It’s a defining characteristic, if you will.”
“Stiles?” Noah shook his head, “How would that be possible?”
Peter considered. “He certainly doesn’t come by it through your side of the family. You are about as human as humans can be. The thing is, every living thing has at least a tiny spark of magic. Some have a natural affinity, and others can be taught. But some…some are like a can of gasoline just waiting for a flame to ignite it all.”
Joannie nodded, “You think he is a Spark?”
“It’s the only kind of magic user I know that can reciprocate a mate mark,” Peter responded with a shrug. It wasn’t like he had first-hand knowledge to judge.
Noah was looking frustrated, “What does that mean?”
“When did Stiles get the tattoo?” Derek asked suddenly.
Scott and Noah exchanged looks before Noah responded, “The last time I saw him without a shirt was about two weeks before the Martin girl ended up in the hospital.”
With a shake of his head, Scott disagreed, “He didn’t have it when we were getting dressed in the locker room the day before the dance.”
Peter nodded, “What it means, Noah, is that Stiles didn’t get a tattoo. How much does everyone want to bet that Stiles received his mark when Derek became Alpha?”
“Why would that matter?” Scott’s tone was grating on Peter’s nerves.
“True mates are a gift from Leto, the original Wolf Goddess, and Fate,” Jeannie jumped in. “It is a gift for those who have met their fate.”
“That doesn’t really make sense.”
Peter sighed, “What she means is that Derek was born with a Fate mark. A mark that proclaimed he would someday be alpha. When I surrendered the Alpha power to him, he accepted that destiny. It stands to reason that would initiate a preliminary mate bond.”
Craig was just looking between them all, “I know I never really paid attention, but bond or not, I was pretty certain that humans can’t receive Fate marks.”
Peter just grinned. “Humans can’t, but peppermint. Young mister Stilinski is a Spark. I would be willing to stake everything I own.” He looked at the disbelief surrounding him. “Legend says the only human that can receive a visible fate mark is a spark. And the only legends we have of Sparks all have them mate-bonded to an Alpha.”
Jeannie nodded, “The legends say a Spark is only born near a Nemeton. Once awakened, they have the power of a nemeton coursing through them and only the anchor of their mate-bond to keep them grounded in the real world.”
Peter glanced at Derek before turning back to Noah. “We need to find him. I don’t know if his power has awakened, but when it does, it could be explosive without an anchor to his Alpha and the Pack.”
Stiles stumbled through the woods, only the insistent tugging his guide. There was no trail, no path to follow. He crashed through the underbrush, tripped over rocks, fell down hills, and in one painful incident, ran into a tree. Nothing in his path mattered, only reaching the source of that pull.
For weeks he has ignored it or avoided it. He has pushed it away and allowed the balance between this and the pull toward Derek to keep him from succumbing. But now that balance is gone, and there is nothing to counteract the pull to the Preserve. Whoever is there, whatever is there, it is the only thing that matters.
He stopped at the top of a rise and looked down for a path, but the ground shaking sent him tumbling for a large formation of rocks. He tucked in and covered his face and head with his arms to protect himself and closed his eyes just before the collision…and rolled on until he stopped. Stiles looked up, and he was on the other side, unscathed, the signs of his fall traveling to where he stopped as if he just rolled right through the rock. He reached out to touch, and it was solid.
A sharp tug pulled him away, and he felt as if the world was contracting and expanding in circles. It was breathing, a heartbeat, the surge of tides, ripples of thunder from a storm. It was a deep sense of pressure from inside his core that started a desperate tempo.
Standing, Stiles started to move forward and spotted his phone on the ground. He reached for it, and his hand passed through. Stiles made a fist, the ground and phone visible through it, and fought back a cry. Suddenly his hand was solid again. He flexed once, twice, then reached down to pick up the phone. Halfway up, a burst of lightning in the palm of his hand caused the phone to explode.
“Fuck!” He shook his hand out, and his mind went blank as his feet started traveling once more to his unknown destination.
How long he traveled, he could not say. Finally, he stepped out into a clearing, a clearing alive with lights dancing and phantom fire. There was sound and color, life and darkness, there was power, and it thrummed from the very earth. And in the middle, there was an enormous stump.
“I see you’ve made your choice.”
Stiles whirled around to face the familiar voice and fell.
“Oh, we can’t have you ending here when you are so close to where you should be.”
“Doc Deaton?” Stiles’ vision was blurring as it was overwhelmed by the images of power floating through the clearing. “What’s happening?”
“The nemeta of the world act as magical filters and relief valves. When the pressure builds, they cleanse the magic as they release it into the world. If you plan and prepare, it is possible to harness that magic. Of course, that is difficult to do with a healthy nemeton. But with a damaged one, you can interrupt the process. Why it latched onto you instead, I do not know. It is a conundrum. Luckily for me, it is one that I do not have to solve. Without a proper anchor to this world, it is unlikely that you will survive the experience intact.”
The words flowed over him slippery, and he struggled to grasp the meaning. A well-honed sense of danger warned him to escape, and he tried to move away as the hand reached for him. Unfortunately, the surge and crash of the power was pulling him toward the tree stump even as he tried to move away.
Deaton grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him toward the stump. Stiles kicked out and forced Deaton to release his grasp, and it sent Stiles sprawling on the ground. He felt himself move backward, and he dug his hands into the dirt, trying desperately to find something to stop his movement. He saw the slight smile on Deaton’s face as the power surrounding the stump pulled him inexorably toward the center. It did not stop until he was curled up on the stump, and then a beam of pure power surrounded him and shot up into the sky.
“Well, he wasn’t trying to hide his trail,” Peter remarked as they raced through the Preserve.
Derek didn’t bother to glance back; he left it to Peter to keep the Sheriff moving with them. Surprisingly the man was agile and surefooted in the woods. Scott stayed between them and Derek, wanting to race forward but obviously lacking in his tracking skills and woodcraft.
“Why would he be running out here?” Scott asked as he jumped the fallen log and kept moving.
“If it were anyone else, I would say he was upset and wanted to get away,” Peter responded. “But this is Stiles, so I would guess he was drawn here.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
Noah was breathing a little hard while keeping pace, “The sleepwalking.” He stopped talking while climbing over the log. “Every time he sleepwalks, Stiles heads for the Preserve. Always the same direction.”
Derek paused and closed his eyes, focusing on that barely-there string connecting him and Stiles. He raised an arm and pointed toward the source. “Uncle Peter, what is in that direction?”
Peter cocked his head to the side in thought as he stepped next to Derek and locked in on the direction. He looked around and at the sky through the trees before looking back. “Damn it to the bloody depths of Hell. That, if my tangled memory serves me right, is the direction to the Nemeton.”
Derek looked at Peter, his eyes wide with worry and fear. “We need to get there. Is there a faster path?”
“Yes. Not as straight but fewer barriers if you know where to start.” Peter turned and headed out, “This way.”
“What is a Nemeton?” Noah asked as they ran.
“That is a loaded question.”
“Peter now’s not the time,” Noah started.
“I merely mean that the true nature of Nemeta is not completely understood. In the simplest form, it is a natural growth, usually a tree, that exists at a nexus of ley lines. It becomes a focus of the power that pools. Think of it as a battery, perhaps. There was a time druids and others practiced rituals near them, believing they could empower the rituals. That power can also act as a beacon for the supernatural.”
Derek glanced back toward the Sheriff, “It’s why my family named this place Beacon Hills when we founded the town.”
“That explains a lot. How long have the Hales lived here?”
“Our ancestors found this land before the territory was colonized. The family histories say that we were drawn here. When we had proven our worth as protectors, the Nemeton gifted the Pack with an Alpha to lead us.” Peter laughed, “Who knows what is true.”
They moved in silence to save their breath, moving as fast as Noah could. Derek considered out-pacing him, but he had a deep feeling that Noah needed to be there. They were close when the ground rumbled, and the trees shook before a burst of energy lit the sky.
Derek put on speed and burst into the clearing only to see Stiles wrapped in a circle of pure energy. He was on hands and knees on the Nemeton’s stump, his head slumped down and his body shaking.
“Stiles!” Noah emerged next to him and took off for the Nemeton. Derek and Peter raced to tackle the man before he could go further.
“No. We need to see what it is first,” Derek insisted. Derek nodded at Peter that he had Noah as Peter stood to move closer.
“Stiles, can you hear me? Stiles!” Peter waved an arm in front of Stiles, but he didn’t respond.
“I’m afraid he is beyond our reach.”
Derek turned to look at Deaton, who came from the other side of the Nemeton to face them.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was checking on the status of the Nemeton. There were fluctuations of energy today emanating from this vicinity. I felt it judicious to find the source. I was here when young Mr. Stilinski entered the clearing and headed for the tree. Unfortunately, I was unable to dissuade him from his course of action. I believe he might have been influenced by an outside source.” Deaton motioned toward the tree stump.
Peter was examining Deaton like a bug. “You believe the Nemeton was controlling him?”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps it was using whatever tool it had available. The damage to the Nemeton has allowed power to pool. I believe it is using Stiles as a focus for releasing that energy.” Deaton’s heart never gave a blip of falsehood.
“How do we get my son out of this?” Noah demanded.
“Other than letting it run its course, I cannot say.”
Scott growled and then took off for the tree stump. He hit the energy, and it sent him rocketing back across half the clearing.
Deaton shook his head, “That was ill-advised, Mr. McCall.”
On the Nemeton, Stiles struggled to his feet and was looking around. He reached out as if to touch a barrier on the other side, banging his hands against it. It flared, and Stiles doubled over in pain before standing upright again.
“Stiles, can you hear me?” Derek stood in front of the boy, trying to get his attention. Nothing. He closed his eyes and sought that connection between them. The one he had been ignoring all this time in the ridiculous hope that distance from him would keep Stiles safe. He found it and started feeding it all the desire, admiration, and love he never allowed himself to express.
Stiles froze, then rubbed at his chest and turned. His eyes widened, and he reached a hand out toward Derek. Derek slowly pushed his hand against that barrier and tried to make contact with Stiles.
“You have to try, Stiles. You have to fight. Just hold on. I was wrong to push you away.” Derek kept feeding those feelings to the bond as he tried to push physically.
“Derek?” It was barely a whisper, but he heard it.
“Yes, it’s me. I’m here for you. We’re all here for you. We won’t let you go, Stiles. You are wanted. You are needed. You are Pack.” Derek fought through the pain of the energy and felt his hand move forward. For a moment, just a bare moment, Derek felt the palm of his hand connect with Stiles’.
“Take care of my Dad,” Stiles whispered.
Then Derek was thrown backward as the power surged, and Stiles screamed. Energy pulsed and flowed around him as he faded slowly from sight, only the last sparks of light floating away on the breeze.
Derek felt the bond within him burn and then fade away to nothing a moment before a burst of energy sent everyone back, and everything went dark.
Peter dragged himself over to Noah and wrapped himself around the man. He fought just a moment before collapsing in tears; the only sounds were the repeated calls for “Stiles.”
Eddies and flows of the power were drifting away as if it never happened. Derek, Scott, and Deaton were starting to twitch. He could hear their heart rhythms returning to consciousness. He would allow them to take their time before they were faced with the loss of their friend.
The damn boy had gotten to him. If he ever had a son of his own, he had hoped it would be one like Stiles. Intellect, loyalty, cunning, and ruthlessness wrapped in a snarky package of completely lovable boy. This was going to kill Noah.
There were no words to speak. What use were words to the loss of one’s family? The man was still in shock. Peter would give him all the time he needed before they had to move.
Eventually, the other three started to move. Derek’s alpha status allowing him to gain his feet first. Peter watched as Scott sat up and looked around, then made it to his feet to help Deaton up.
Scott looked from the tree to the clearing to the people. “What are we doing out here?” he asked. Followed immediately by, “Where is here?”
Derek shrugged, “That’s the Nemeton, so we’re in the Preserve. Don’t know why.”
Peter furrowed his brow and looked closely at them.
“What’s wrong with the Sheriff?” Scott was holding onto Deaton until the man got his balance back.
He opened his mouth once or twice before he could find his voice. “Stiles is gone,” Peter tried to make it gentle, but how could it be gentle when a hole had been ripped from his heart. How could Derek ever live with the knowledge that he had lost his mate?
Derek looked at him confused, “What’s a Stiles?”
Peter just stared, uncaring of the shock that painted his face. “You don’t remember Stiles?” Peter looked over at Scott, “The Sheriff’s son, Stiles?”
Scott was giving Peter a look like he was worried about his sanity. “Peter, the Sheriff doesn’t have any kids. You’ve been dating him for a few months now; I would think you know that.”
Peter looked at the two, then turned toward Deaton, “What about you?”
“Mr. McCall is quite correct. I assure you the good sheriff has no children. It is a well-known fact.”
Peter looked from one to another as Noah’s sobs continued unabated. For once in his life, he had no words. A bright and shining light had been taken from this world, and no one knew? No one knew.
“Seriously, why are we out here?” Scott asked, looking around like this was a new discovery.
“We should return to town. Perhaps the reason will come to us on the way.” Deaton stood up straight and started walking away.
Scott shrugged and started to follow. “Lead the way, Doc.”
As they left, Peter could hear Scott discuss his work schedule with Deaton to figure out how he could balance the Vet Clinic with his work with the CPI, though Allison’s name was fit in there someplace. Peter kept a gentle hand petting Noah’s head as he watched Derek.
Derek was looking around as if something was missing. Peter was hopeful it would come to him. There had been that moment right at the end where he thought they had connected. When he finished his circle, he paused with his eyes on Noah.
“Feeding a delusion doesn’t help him, Peter. Maybe a clinic could help him get back on the wagon.” Derek gave Peter a pointed look.
Peter practically growled at his nephew, “Use your fucking nose. He’s not drunk.”
He saw Derek sniff then wrinkle his brow in confusion. Finally, he shrugged, “Fine. Do you need help?”
“Can you bring back Stiles?” Peter closed his eyes and looked away. “No, I’ve got him.”
Derek gave one last look at the Nemeton and then shifted and left.
Peter pulled Noah up and wrapped his arms around him. “I’ve got you, and I won’t let you go.”
“He’s gone, Peter. My beautiful boy is gone.”
The wind whipped up and picked up leaves, twirling them around and around. It was like a dirt devil spinning around the Nemeton. When it stopped, the leaves formed a spiral unfurling from the center of the Nemeton. The symbol of vengeance.
Peter and Noah slowly turned, taking it in. Then the wind returned, wiping the clearing clean. As the leaves disappeared, the wind gentled to a soft breeze. It encircled Peter and Noah, drawing them together until they were holding one another. The impression of arms hugging them both ghosted around them before leaving with sparkles drifting on the breeze and the faintest hint of laughter.
Six Months Later
“You know, kidnapping the Sheriff’s underage son is not the way to a long life.”
“It’s not kidnapping when you invite someone out, and they agree, Stiles.” Derek smiled as he picked his boyfriend up and lifted him over the tree branch in the path.
“It is so kidnapping when you put a bag over their head and lead them out into the woods, Sourwolf.”
“You came with me into the woods, and the bag was necessary because there is no way you wouldn’t peek if I just blindfolded you.” Derek shook his head. “It’s a surprise, Stiles. Besides, you said you trusted me.”
“I trust! This is me trusting you. I don’t let just anyone lead me into the creepy woods at night, you know. Of course, I thought we were going on a date, so this surprise better be worth it.”
“It’s worth it.” Derek really hoped it was worth it. He spent half the day getting it set up. He saw the gentle glow through the trees ahead and had a moment of butterflies in his stomach, suddenly worried that Stiles wasn’t ready for this.
Derek moved into the clearing around the Nemeton, leading Stiles carefully to the center. He double-checked that nothing had been disturbed. The trees surrounding the clearing were laced with lights, while mason jars stuffed with battery-operated fairy lights were placed randomly all over the clearing giving it a soft, fanciful glow. A table and chairs were decked out for a candlelit dinner with the large picnic basket sitting beside it.
Derek let his attention wander last to the Nemeton, heaped with cushions, blankets, and pillows. The stump was surrounded by more lights, and a basket of lube and condoms was ready for use. Derek took a deep breath and let out the tension. He didn’t want Stiles to think he was pushing.
Derek turned Stiles, so his back was to the Nemeton. He didn’t want that to be the first thing he saw. “Ok, you can take off the hood.” He let go of Stiles and stepped back, anticipation and a little fear running through him.
“Finally!” Stiles reached up to remove the hood and froze, a look of surprise and then wonder flowing over the expressive face. “Wow, you did all this for me?”
“You said you wanted a romantic dinner.”
“I would say you nailed it. Derek, this is….” Stiles just turned slowly in place, taking it all in. “This is beautiful. I can’t believe you went to all this trouble.”
“I wanted to do it. You’re worth it.”
Stiles turned to face him but stopped when his eyes caught sight of the Nemeton. “Derek?”
Derek swallowed hard. “No pressure. Nothing will happen unless you want it to. I just wanted to let you know that I’m willing whenever you’re ready.”
“Ready? I’ve been ready forever. But I thought you had the underage rule.”
Derek laughed and shook his head, “Stiles, I know you’ve been studying like crazy, but you do know tomorrow is your birthday, right?”
“Well, yeah, I am aware of that. Tomorrow is my eighteenth birthday. Tomorrow.”
“Stiles, it’s nine o’clock. Tomorrow starts in three hours.” Derek watched as the light came on and a look of excitement spread across Stiles’ face.
“I’m legal after midnight. No more waiting, no more Sheriff’s deputies trolling us on dates, no more little Hales tagging along as chaperones. OMG, I’m going to have sex with my hot boyfriend!” Stiles turned and jumped into Derek’s arms for a quick dirty kiss. “Best birthday ever!”
Derek laughed out loud at Stiles’ antics as he jumped down and started dancing around the clearing. He ran over and ran his hands over the blankets, feeling how much cushioning Derek had built up for them.
Stiles turned and looked at Derek wide-eyed. “You remembered my fantasy. Holy shit, yes! I’m going to be a virgin sacrifice on the Nemeton!” Stiles ran back for another kiss. “If this is a dream, I never want to wake up.”
Derek frowned as light broke in.
“Derek, you need to wake up.” Cora’s voice was followed by a shake.
Opening his eyes, he blinked at Cora in confusion.
“Wow, you were really dreaming there. Sorry to interrupt something fun, but we need to get moving if we’re going to make the airport.” She tossed his clothes at him and turned to finish packing up her stuff.
“Right, airport.” Derek pulled on his shirt and then swung his legs out of bed to pull on the pants. He glanced toward the window of the apartment Cora’s pack had loaned him for his stay in Brazil. It was still dark, but if his time sense was right, they still had plenty of time before their first flight.
“So, what were you dreaming about?”
Derek paused. There was the impression of sparkling eyes and a happy smile. “I can’t remember. I was talking to someone, I think.”
“No idea. No one I know.”
“Whatever. I’ll take the bags out to the car.” Cora grabbed the bags and took off.
Derek slipped on his socks and shoes before grabbing his bag with their passports and Cora’s papers. He ran his hand through his hair and looked around to see if they had missed anything. Derek glanced in the mirror and, for a moment, saw the faint outline of long-fingered hands holding a mason jar full of fairy lights. He blinked, and the image was gone.