Peter entered his office silently through a door only he knew about. His lips quirked as he observed a small dark-headed boy precariously perched on a chair by the desk. He winced as the rubber-soled tennis shoes squeaked over the polished wood seat. Not that there was much of the foot in contact with it anyway – like most pups, the boy’s spatial understanding and balance requirements wasn’t fully developed. He was barely gripping the edge of the chair with his toes while the rest of his body stretched across the gap and his weight was all on the palms of his hands held up by two locked arms while he gazed at his goal. Peter observed that the chair was sliding backward by degrees on the rug. Just as he noted this, the boy lifted one hand to reach toward the forbidden prize. Weight distribution now disturbed, the chair slid out from under the feet and a yelp escaped the boy as his upper body headed for a painful meeting with the desk-edge. Eyes squeezed shut in anticipation of impact; it took a minute for the boy to realize he wasn’t falling. He peeked with one eye and found Peter looking down at him, a very unamused expression on his face.
“Hi, granddad,” he offered weakly.
Peter snorted and hooked the chair with one foot. Pulling it back to the desk, he deposited the boy on the seat and leaned against the desk edge, arms crossed. The pup chewed on his lower lip.
“Where to begin, young Derek?” Peter said solemnly. “You’re in my office, which you know is off-limits to pups. You were after something on my desk which is definitely off-limits to pups and you nearly hurt yourself badly in the attempt.”
Defiant green eyes looked up. “I woulda healed!” Derek seemed to consider his statement and offered a concession. “It woulda hurt but I would’ve been ok.”
“Would you?” Peter asked. He sighed as the boy frowned in confusion. “Derek, the wolf gives our bodies the ability to heal faster and better than humans, true … it doesn’t make us invincible. You can be hurt badly enough to not recover, pup. And as thick as that skull of yours is, werewolf healing won’t help if you crack it open on the edge of a solid mahogany desk.”
Derek’s face fell. “Sorry, granddad.”
Peter ruffled the despondent pup’s hair. “No harm done … this time. I understand how much the wolf drives you to push yourself … Lord knows, your namesake was constantly testing his limits.”
“Yes … my nephew. He was just as willful as you are sometimes. You remind me a great deal of him, as a matter of fact,” Peter said fondly.
“Did he die? Mommy won’t tell me … she says I’m too young to understand,” Derek asked. His lip-chewing morphed into a pout, arms now crossed indignantly across the small chest.
Peter chuckled. “You’re six now?”
“I’ll be seven in two weeks!” Came the instant qualifier.
Peter nodded gravely. “Seven … my, my. Well, I think that’s old enough but for now let’s keep it our little secret, hmm?”
Derek nodded gravely. Peter picked up the glass domed container from his desk and placed it in front of Derek. Inside, a single crimson feather floated in the center. The edges curled and winked with spots of orange deepening to red and back again like a charred log in the fire, perpetually burning and renewing. The shaft was the deepest blood-black. A nimbus the color of late summer sunset amber surrounded the feather. It was almost hypnotic to watch it bob lightly under the glass. He lifted the dome and let the feather settle on his hand. It was warm. He held toward Derek.
“One finger only and gently, pup,” Peter warned.
The boy stared in awe before extending a single pudgy digit to stroke the vane. He inhaled sharply at the warmth but realized that it did not hurt. A giggle escaped the boy, lightening the solemn moment.
Peter pulled the feather away with a raised eyebrow. He set it carefully back over the base and returned the dome to cover it. The feather rose to bob in the center air again. He put the container back in its place on his desk and regarded his youngest grandson.
“Tingles, eh? Well now … maybe you and your long-departed cousin have more in common than I know.”
“Did I – did I do something wrong?” Derek asked, looking at his fingers guiltily.
Peter shook his head. He walked over to one of the large windows in the room and motioned for the pup to join him. Derek scrambled up on the cushioned windowsill and looked out where Peter pointed.
“Do you see the large boulder there?”
Derek nodded. “Mommy said it’s to remind us of people who died a long time ago.”
“Family who died long ago,” Peter gently corrects. “Two human members of the Hale pack who were killed when Hunters set fire to our home and trapped us inside.”
Derek looked up and fear spiked his scent. “H-hunters?”
Peter sat down and let Derek clamber into his lap. He gently rubbed circles on the boy’s back while the youngster inhaled deeply, little uneasy tremors ran through the small body. Derek knew well-enough about Hunters who only desired to kill those with supernatural abilities. Even in this day and age, it was still a frightening topic.
“It was a long time ago, pup … before all humans were aware of the supernatural. Now we have an understanding with the Hunters that remain in Beacon Hills -- as long as we don’t harm humans indiscriminately, they will not harm us. It’s easy enough to keep that pact now that humans know about our existence and don’t see us as only ‘monsters’,” Peter explained.
Once the boy was calmer, Peter leaned back and looked at the trees that still formed the Preserve.
“It was a long time ago but in my head it’s truly like it was yesterday. In the middle of a moonless night, the Pack woke up and found the house on fire. Derek, my nephew, had been lured away from home and came back in time to see flames shooting up into the air but he couldn’t reach any of us because the Hunters that had set the trap were canny and knew how to hurt werewolves. They’d carefully laid mountain ash throughout the house and around it. The fire was set with torches filled with wolfsbane so it made smoke that was thick and poisonous.”
Derek whined and his familiar moss-green eyes swelled with tears as a lower lip trembled. The door to the office opened suddenly, making the little wolf yelp in fear and throw his arms around Peter’s neck. Peter held his grandson firmly, murmuring softly. His daughter stalked over to them, eyes blazing with all the protective force of a she-coyote protecting her pup. She practically wrenched Derek from his grandfather’s arms, sighing as the little boy whimpered against her neck.
“Peter,” Malia growled. “What have I told you? He’s too young.”
“He was old enough to seek out the feather and ask the question, daughter dear,” Peter replied but he let her walk out of the room carrying Derek. Moss green eyes watched Peter until they disappeared behind a door.
It was late that night when Peter heard bare feet on the polished wood main floor. He had been at the window for the remainder of the day, refusing even dinner as memories weighed heavy. The only light in the room was the steady amber glow of the feather in its glass cage.
The doorknob turned slowly and the heavy door was pushed open just wide enough to allow entry to a small form wearing pajamas patterned with sharks. The door was closed again just as slowly with the handle turned to keep it from clicking shut. Peter allowed the tiniest uptick of his mouth at that.
You are more like him than you know, pup, Peter thought to himself.
His grandson padded across the room to where Peter sat. The elder werewolf regarded him sternly.
“I’m going to assume your mother doesn’t know you are here,” he stated.
Derek chewed on his lower lip and shook his head.
“And why are you here, pup? You proved you weren’t ready for the tale this afternoon. Even at nearly seven,” Peter added.
Derek frowned and approached his grandfather. Even at six, almost seven, Derek understood pack hierarchy and dynamics. As Alpha of the Hale pack, Peter ruled with a tight hand. His anger was not something anyone wanted directed at them. Derek certainly didn’t. Yet he’d never really felt fear around his grandfather. Even if Peter had punished him this afternoon for his trespass, Derek wouldn’t have been afraid. Upset, but that wouldn’t have lasted. Peter was one of the few adults who didn’t talk to Derek like he was ‘just a pup’. And Derek was determined to prove himself brave enough to hear the story he’d been dying to know since he first saw the feather. His mom didn’t believe him but he could remember the day exactly. He’d only been eight months old and riding in his father’s arms. The minute he saw the lovely burning plume, Derek had been in love with it and its mystery. He never missed an opportunity to peek when the office door was open. Today was the first day he’d had the nerve to try and touch it alone.
Standing in front of his grandfather, their faces illuminated by the soft roiling light, Derek swallowed and straightened his back to look defiantly at Peter.
“I’m not afraid, granddad. I wanna hear the story. I wanna know where it came from.”
Peter shook his head. “No, I think your mother was right. You are too young for it yet. It doesn’t get any easier from where we left off.”
Derek shook his head and managed as close to a growl as he could at his age. “I don’t care. I’m big enough. I can take it.”
A hand tousled his hair while Peter chuckled. Fingers tilted Derek’s obstinate chin up until he could see his grandfather’s eyes gleam red. Derek grinned then. He knew he’d won. Peter sighed and patted his thighs, pulling his grandson close and wrapping his arms securely around the little boy. Instinct told the pup to tuck himself close and enjoy the warm safety of Peter’s embrace. The older werewolf smiled as his chin rested on Derek’s head. His nephew would never have allowed this even when he was as young as his tiny doppelgänger … Peter took a deep breath and began talking as if he’d never stopped the story. He kept a firm grip around Derek to reassure the pup that he was protected.
“The house was full of wolfsbane smoke and because of the ash, Derek couldn’t reach us. He tried and tried to break it but he wasn’t strong enough. The trap herded us into the basement. It was so hard to breath. I was trying to break out one of the windows when both Derek and I saw something we would never forget for the rest of our lives . . . . ”