Gifset Prompt Here: (X)
Derek rolled over in bed, groaning into his pillow at the unfortunate realization that he was not asleep anymore. Before he thought about it, he was groping around on his bedside table with one hand. But when his eyes adjusted to the painful glare enough to make anything out, his phone showed no texts or missed calls.
He frowned at the display. It was 2am; of course there was nothing. Barring emergencies, no one in the pack would dare call him in the middle of the night. Why had he been expecting that?
He tossed the phone back on the beside table where it belonged at this time of night and turned his back to it, ignoring the nagging feeling that there was something he should be doing right then. The town had been mostly quiet lately, and there wasn’t much solid evidence on the latest mishap that could be followed up on as of yet. There was certainly nothing that would need his attention past midnight.
Yawning, he tried to reassure himself with an internal promise to run the territory line in the morning, just as a precaution. It still took him a long time to get back to sleep.
Lydia opened her locker to pull out the only binder she would need for the day; bless advanced courses for leaving her with one lone class for the semester amid a sea of special projects. Distantly, she heard her name called. Snapping her locker closed, she turned around with a comment about her oh so busy day already on her lips to find—
“What?” Malia asked, frowning. “Do I have something in my teeth?”
“No,” Lydia said quickly, hugging her binder to her chest. “I was just expecting…”
Allison, she thought. She had just forgotten for a second that the other girl’s locker was on the far side of the school this semester instead of right beside hers like it used to be. Last year they had shared most of their classes and always walked together. She was still accustomed to that little ritual of theirs, that was all.
“Expecting who?” Malia seemed jumpy. Her eyes roved the crowded hallway and her thumb tapped out a rhythm against her bare thigh.
Lydia put a smile on her face and said, “No one. Come on, I can help you go over your notes before class starts.”
Malia started to explain the trouble she was having in the latest chapter, but Lydia didn’t catch more than the first few words. There was a noise, low but building, that seemed to echo in the back of her head, blotting out her high school environs. Some kind of whistling? No, too low for that, with a rhythmic sort of pulse to it.
They’d already reached the calculus classroom without her noticing. She turned in her seat, ready to pretend she had been listening to Malia’s problems attentively like she’d intended, but she caught sight of someone over her friend’s shoulder: a doctor. A grown woman wearing hospital scrubs and a white coat, sitting at a desk and staring blankly ahead of her. The noise swelled louder and louder, clanking and groaning and pounding through Lydia’s skull until it felt like it was rattling her bones.
The woman turned to look at her, slowly and without any recognition in her slack face.
In the next blink, she was gone, the seat empty and the noise completely absent.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Malia asked.
“Fine,” Lydia said faintly. “Just...didn’t sleep well last night.”
Or barely at all. She’d woken up a half dozen times, sure that she was supposed to be going somewhere. The last time she had made it all the way to her front door before determining that the tug in her stomach wasn’t actually a banshee vibe pulling her toward a corpse. It was more like the anxious, irrational conviction that she’d missed a deadline even though the essay was already handed in. Like she was missing something important.
“Me neither,” Malia said, knee bouncing. She had the edge of her desk in a white-knuckled grip, claws digging into the fake wood. She let go with a start when Lydia said her name in warning, claws pulling back in like she hadn’t even noticed they’d been out. She didn’t sound entirely convinced when she said, “Maybe it’s the full moon coming up.”
Lydia pulled out her notes rather than admit to how unlikely she thought that was. Or to the stray thought that, as much as she missed having her best friend by her side every minute of the school day, she had a feeling that Allison’s wasn’t the face she’d been looking for earlier.
Scott wasn’t at his best today. He’d slept like shit, which didn’t usually affect him that much but this time he was jumpy and scatterbrained and all-around unfocused. He’d already been called out by two teachers for not paying attention in class and his notes were full of half-hearted chicken scratch instead of his usual carefully organized lists and diagrams.
Erica, Isaac, and Hayden had all commented on his preoccupation. Jackson had punched his shoulder and said he’d better be more focused on the field later or he’d get his ass kicked, co-captain solidarity be damned. Scott had punched him back and reminded him that Liam would cream them both anyway, mostly to cover up that he’d forgotten they even had lacrosse practice that day.
At least there was nothing pressing for him to ignore during lunch, just a tray of cruddy cafeteria chicken nuggets and a pudding cup. Only he didn’t even like pudding. Why had he picked that up? He didn’t have too much time to question the odd impulse before Boyd snatched the cup off his tray with a pleased noise.
Scott’s eyes skipped across the room restlessly as he ate, searching for nothing in particular. They fell on an underclassman wearing a Star Wars t-shirt and he smiled. He had his phone in his hand, opening up his most recent thread in his texting history, before he remembered that Liam hadn’t even seen Star Wars. Neither had he, come to think of it. There was no reason for him to be so tickled by a cartoon Yoda logo. He put his phone away without sending anything.
“What’s wrong with you, McCall?” Erica asked again, crunching into an apple. “You’re acting super weird.”
Scott gave himself a shake and said, “Nothing’s wrong. Or nothing more than usual anyway.”
“Is this about that kid from yesterday?” Isaac asked.
Allison, sitting close beside him, frowned around her bite of sandwich. “The one with the empty house?”
“You mean the house that got even emptier while I was in it, and the kid who disappeared out of a fully staffed sheriff’s department?” Scott said wryly. “Yeah, there’s definitely something wrong with that.”
“Kira said she thought Lydia had an idea,” Boyd said around the pudding spoon in his mouth. “Something about the cowboy dude from that kid’s memories.”
Allison snorted at that description and Boyd threw a soggy french fry at her that he swiped from Erica’s tray. Erica made a noise of protest and stole a chicken nugget from him in retaliation. Isaac happily munched on his bag of chips, holding it protectively against his chest so no one else could get to it.
Scott ignored the minor food fight. “I’ll talk to her after school,” he said. “For now, everyone just chill out and take a breather. We’ve got the full moon tonight and Liam and Hayden still need some help.”
“Don’t worry about the puppies,” Erica said with a fond roll of her eyes. “With all of us plus Derek and Malia? We’ll have plenty of muscle to keep them under control and not running naked through the streets.”
Scott wanted to protest that that was one time and totally not Liam’s fault, but he ended up just snorting instead. He found his phone in his hand again, half a text about Liam’s streaking habits already typed out, but he couldn’t think of who he’d been planning to send it to.
When he looked up, Allison was watching him, bottom lip caught between her teeth. She raised an eyebrow in silent question, which was at least more tactful than the rest of his friends had been over the course of this day. He didn’t have an explanation for her though. He just shrugged, and she nodded back at him before turning to hook her chin over Isaac’s shoulder so he would feed her his chips.
With a hard shake of his head, Scott switched over to another text thread and asked Derek if he could check out that abandoned house, see if there was anything Scott, Mason, and Liam had overlooked. He had the most sensitive nose of all of them, after all, and Scott really felt like they were missing something. He just couldn’t put his finger on what.
The territory was clean of anything suspicious all the way to the county line. It had taken him the entire morning at a steady run, but there were no red-flag-raising scents anywhere as far as Derek could tell. No reason for the low-key itchywrong feeling he’d woken up with in the night. No reason for the way he kept glancing back over his shoulder.
He stopped to lean on the Welcome to Beacon Hills sign, dragging the hem of his tank top up to dab the sweat off his forehead as he caught his breath. He dug his phone out of the pocket of his shorts and found a text from Scott with an address. Nodding to himself, he put the phone away and set off back toward town; it wasn’t like he had anything else to do, and the rest of the pack was too busy with high school to do much of anything productive during the daylight hours.
The house in question looked every bit as abandoned as Scott had described the day before, run down and dusty and very empty. A few scents lingered in the air, sunk into the boards of the house too deeply to be gotten rid of, but they were old and faint, nothing to indicate recent habitation like that kid had claimed.
The kid’s room was empty too, just as Scott had said it would be, but the state of the door was more unexpected. There were holes in it that Derek was all too familiar with: bullet holes. The wood was splintered and cracked, and there was some kind of blue-green-ish residue around the most damaged sections. With some trepidation, Derek leaned in close to see if he could catch a scent off of it.
Smoke and sulfur, he thought, and something else. Something acrid, like...fear? A charged sort of scent that tugged at his gut with its primality. Scott hadn’t said anything about shots fired, or a shooter at all. He’d said that he had been checking out the house alone until Mason and Liam had turned up in the course of their own, unrelated investigation, and that the kid’s room had been furnished one minute and bare the next.
But that fear was recent. More recent than anything else in the house, Derek was certain of that. It seemed almost familiar, but that didn’t make any sense—though, to be honest, nothing that had happened in the last two days made any kind of sense at all. It wasn’t the scent of anyone he knew, so maybe it was just that he’d scented so much terror over the course of his life that it had started to feel commonplace. It wasn’t this specific iteration of it that he recognized, just the chemosignal in general.
The creak of wood was followed by the sting of splinters in his fingertips and Derek was surprised to find that he had been gripping the doorjamb hard enough to shatter it. He let go immediately, shaking new sawdust off his clawed hands and staring as the tiny wounds closed up. He hadn’t really been that frustrated by the mysterious scent, had he? When was the last time he had let his claws out without realizing he was doing it? He usually had much better control over himself than that.
The buzz of an incoming call made him jump and he cursed himself for being so easily startled. A candid of Boyd was on the screen, blurry and indignant because Erica had taken it without warning him. Derek swiped to accept the call, eyes darting back to the door before he’d even brought the phone to his ear.
“Just checking in,” Boyd said. “You at the house?”
“Yeah,” Derek said. Even he could tell his tone was off, so he wasn’t surprised when Boyd caught it too.
“You find something weird out there?” he asked, voice pitched low to avoid being overheard. There was the babble of a high school hallway behind him, so he was probably between classes.
“Not sure what I found,” Derek admitted. He reached out a hand to trace one of the bullet holes, following a crack in the wood over to the next. The back of his neck prickled uncomfortably and he drew his hand back, clenching it into a fist. Claws pricked his palms. “It’s as much a feeling as anything else,” he said. “Might be nothing.”
“How often is it nothing around here?” Boyd said with a snort. “Any idea what’s going on?”
“No,” Derek said through a dry mouth. “Just that whenever I think about it, I feel like someone’s behind me—” Or like they should be. “—but when I turn around, there’s no one there.”
Boyd had nothing to say to that. His silence was interrupted by the beep of an incoming text.
“We’ll figure it out,” Boyd said, calm and sure like he always was. “We always do. I gotta get to class though.”
They said their goodbyes and Derek let him go. Then he pulled up the text. It was from Allison, also asking if he’d gotten anything at the house. He texted back his findings—the busted door and the faint scent, minus his own weird reaction to them—and forwarded the text to Scott and Lydia as well for good measure.
Derek lingered at the end of the hallway, squinting back toward the damaged door as if that might let him see something different. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t. He took one more deep breath of that strange, fear-laden scent, wanting to cement it in his mind in case he came across it again later. Something about it made him shiver.
Maybe he’d run the town line again, just to be safe.
It was a train. The noise she had been hearing, Lydia had decided that it was the steady chug of a train, two-tone whistle occasionally blaring through her like an alarm.
She would’ve been pleased about solving the mystery if it had made things any clearer, but it didn’t seem to mesh with their other problems. They had a disappearing family, a mysterious man on horseback, and now a train? Was it even related at all? What were the odds of two unrelated supernatural happenings cropping up in town at the same time?
And the figures. Three times now Lydia had seen people who clearly were not there in reality, all of them blank-faced and unresponsive to her overtures. They gave Lydia the creeps.
“Do you think they’re like that kid’s family?” Kira asked in a whisper, darting cautious glances around them as she adjusted her lacrosse jersey even though there was no one else on the bleachers within earshot of them. Not even Jackson and Liam were paying attention to them, running passing drills down on the field before practice started in earnest. “Like they just...disappeared? And you’re the only one who can still see them?”
“Why would that be, though?” Malia asked, much louder. “Banshees sense death, not disappearances. As far as we can tell, they’re not dead, right? They’re just gone, and all their stuff with them.”
“They’re somewhere,” Lydia said. “Some other...plane. All my feelings, the voices and the visions, have to come from somewhere. If I’m seeing them, it stands to reason that these missing persons are ending up in that same place.”
“But they’re not who we’re actually looking for,” Kira said, seeking confirmation. “The kid and his parents, they’re the only ones we know about for sure. Has anyone else been reported missing or anything?”
She frowned when Lydia shook her head, but a smile chased it away as Scott’s hand came down on her padded shoulder. He leaned down to kiss her cheek as he straddled the bench in the row above them, crosse laid out across his knees.
“Hey, guys,” he said as he let his bag plop down between the risers. “Lydia, Boyd said you had something about the horseman?”
Lydia pulled a book out of her purse, one of the old reference books she had liberated from the Argents’ personal library during one of her many sleepovers there. She had found herself returning to it the night before, after waking up for the third time and feeling so sure that there was something she needed to know. Further research had seemed like a good plan, though she couldn’t remember what had inspired her to seek out this particular book or this particular chapter.
She balanced it on her knee and flipped it open to the bookmarked page.
“The Wild Hunt,” she said grimly. “Ghostriders. Fae spirits who ride in on storms, snatching up souls to join their hunting party. The lore says that whoever sees them is lost, which fits with that boy’s memory. He saw them when they took his parents, and then they came for him.”
“Ghostriders,” Scott repeated. “Hunting souls. Okay, well, I guess I can understand them taking people, but why take all their stuff too? They took a little boy and emptied all the stuff out of his room in like an instant. What’s the point of that?”
“And why is Lydia getting visions of random people if none of them have been reported missing like that family?” Malia added.
“The family wasn’t really reported missing either,” Kira reminded them. “The kid didn’t even remember what took his parents, and he watched it happen! He wasn’t in the sheriff department’s records even though he’d been there all day, and no one seemed concerned that he was suddenly gone. It’s like they didn’t even remember him ever being there.”
“And have any of you realized,” Lydia said, a chilling thought striking her suddenly, “that none of us have called the little boy by his name this whole time?”
Judging by the stunned faces around her, they hadn’t.
“I...I can’t even think of what it was,” Scott admitted hoarsely, eyebrows pulled tightly together as he wracked his brain for information that was no longer there.
The other girls echoed his words and Lydia felt a thrill of fear down her spine, a conclusion building that she didn’t like at all. No matter what the evidence suggested or how strong the implication, she didn’t want to admit to what she was thinking, not when it was so vast and not when she hadn’t the slightest inkling of how to fix it. It wasn’t often that she was truly intimidated by a threat, but if she was right then—
Scott’s concerned voice pulled Lydia out of the whirring of her thoughts. He was half out of his seat, frowning down at the field where Liam had stopped play halfway through a drill, much to Jackson’s annoyance. Then, without any warning, Liam took off running across the field, back toward the main building of the school.
The rest of them scrambled to follow; they had long since been conditioned into a herd mentality of “if one person is running, then everyone should run because there’s probably something worth running from.” Or in this case, running toward. Lydia, as the only human and also the only one of them in heels, was the last to make it to their destination, which was apparently the strangely empty school library.
Mason and Corey were there, the former with Liam’s hands tight on his shoulders and the latter white-faced and hanging back.
“What happened?” Liam was demanding. “Something happened, I could feel it! You know I always know when something’s wrong with you.”
Mason, looking nearly as shaken as his boyfriend, turned to point upward to the balcony on the second floor. “There were these guys,” he said. “They looked like...like cowboys or something, with the big hats and the boots and everything, and they had these giant whips.”
“Ghostriders. The Wild Hunt was here,” Lydia said, and the widening of Mason’s eyes told her that he’d read his fair share of lore on the subject too.
“What were they doing? Where did they go?” Scott asked, obviously trying to keep his voice steady and reassuringly authoritative in the face of three young pack members who looked ready to bolt.
“I don’t know,” Mason told him haltingly. “We didn’t see them when we came in. I didn’t see them at all until Corey turned us invisible.”
Liam rounded on Corey, who flinched back. “You did what? Why the hell would you bring him into this?”
Before Mason could step in, Jackson reached forward with a roll of his eyes to yank Liam back by the jersey and said, “Chill out, kid. We have more important things to worry about than your drama.”
No matter the irony of that statement coming from him, Jackson was right. Scott gave Liam a warning look to quell the growing rebellion on his face and turned back to Corey, still half-hidden behind Mason.
“Corey, why did you go invisible in the first place?” he asked evenly. “Tell me what happened.”
Still shooting the occasional nervous look toward Liam, Corey told them about the extra credit science project they had been working on in the chemistry classroom. He told them about Mason leaving his phone inside and going after it, and about some sort of flickering lights, wind blowing doors open, a general bad feeling about things.
He told them about going invisible in the hallway outside, seeing the riders, and texting Mason to stay away. About running into the library to hide, and pulling Mason down with him when he ignored the warning text and came to find him anyway.
What he didn’t tell them was what the riders had actually done.
“They just jumped down and left,” he said at the end of it all, but there was a look on his face that made Lydia think he wasn’t certain of that.
“That’s it?” Kira asked them. “There wasn’t...anybody else in here?”
“There’s almost always someone in the library after school,” Malia said.
Mason shook his head. “No, we were the only ones here.”
“Or you weren’t,” Lydia said, that flutter of fear in her chest growing into something strong enough to make her hands shake. She clasped them tight around the strap of her purse to still them and raised her head against everyone’s questioning looks.
“Someone was here,” she said, certain of that. “You just can’t remember them. That’s what the Ghostriders are doing. They’re not just taking people; they’re erasing them.”
Derek pulled up in front of the Sheriff’s station, internally congratulating himself once again on his decision to invest in an SUV. He’d never have been able to fit four teenagers in his Camaro. Not that he usually needed to transport four teenagers at once considering most of the pack had cars of their own, but now he had all Scott’s youngest pack members (plus Corey) piled in with him because, as the only true adult in the pack, he’d been appointed chaperone duty.
Liam was still radiating angry pheromones in Corey’s direction. Corey hadn’t said a word since Derek had picked them up from the school and looked ready to go invisible just to escape from Liam’s glare. Mason looked like he was seriously reconsidering his choice of friends. Hayden was playing on her phone and pointedly ignoring the boys, except for when she reached over once to flick Liam in the ear for being a dick.
Sometimes Derek wondered if his brief time as an alpha had left a mark on him, like when four recalcitrant teenagers file obediently out of the car and follow in his wake like ducklings. It was either that, or they could just sense his bad mood. Derek was feeling tense and snappish and had been ever since from his unaccountably interrupted sleep. The bullet-riddled door and strange scent at the house had only made it worse.
Whatever it was that was keeping the kids in line, as long as it made sure that no one threw a punch in the next half hour, then he was grateful for it. No matter how unlikely it was that this avenue of investigation would yield anything, they still needed to cover all their bases, and it was never a bad idea to check in with the local law enforcement.
Parrish was hunched over a filing cabinet, stuffing manila folders inside with less care than he usually showed them. He looked up when Derek called his name and gave him a hurried, if genuine, greeting before catching sight of his underage entourage. Derek wasn’t sure if the look Parrish gave him then was more exasperated or betrayed, like he couldn’t believe that Derek of all people would bring the children to his doorstep with more supernatural problems for him to deal with. Derek couldn’t blame him.
“I know,” Derek said before Parrish could even voice his complaint. “It’s nothing illegal, I swear.”
“You guys’ definition of ‘illegal’ and the law’s definition of ‘illegal’ are very different,” Parrish pointed out.
“We just want to ask you a few things,” Mason said earnestly. “Really important things. Like, life or death kind of things.”
Parrish was already rolling his eyes, file cabinet drawer clanging shut as he moved on to the next one in the row with more folders to sort through stacked on top.
Derek fell back as Mason launched into his interrogation, which was admirably thorough. Hands in his pockets, he glanced around the busy station and his eyes came to rest on the Sheriff, visible through the glass panes of his office wall. He had his head in his hands as he stared down at a desk that was, for once, void of papers. That wasn’t a good sign; usually the Sheriff was the busiest person in the joint, always hands-on and involved in every case he could be.
He jumped when Derek rapped his knuckles against the door frame.
“You alright, Sheriff?” Derek asked. The man had bags under his eyes, which took a minute to focus properly, like he hadn’t slept in a while. He looked older than he usually did.
“Fine,” the Sheriff said gruffly, heaving himself out of his chair with a huff. “Up late doing some paperwork, is all. Had a busy night.”
His stomach growled audibly and Derek raised eyebrows at him.
The Sheriff made a face at him. “Don’t give me that look. You werewolves and your super-hearing. I swear, you’re a menace.”
“I didn’t need super-hearing to hear that,” Derek pointed out, arms crossing in an ironically authoritative stance considering who he was talking to. “When’s the last time you ate something?”
“I’m fine,” the Sheriff insisted again. He was looking down at his desk like it’s emptiness confused him, or like he was mad at it for not giving him something to do with his hands to avoid meeting Derek’s chastising gaze. “So I forgot breakfast. Not the first time that’s happened. And I just… Well, I had it in my head that someone was bringing me lunch.”
“Who?” Derek asked.
“No one. Maybe…” The Sheriff broke off with a sigh that seemed to come all the way from his toes. “My wife used to come eat lunch with me sometimes, back when I was a deputy. I guess I just...forgot.”
All Derek’s reprimands dried up on his tongue.
From across the bullpen he could hear Mason still pestering the beleaguered Parrish (“No one is unaccounted for? Does your hellhound intuition sense something wrong with the supernatural?”) and Hayden with her sister digging much more subtly for similar information, but he was more concerned with the way the Sheriff sagged when he braced his hands on his desk, head hanging with exhaustion.
“You should take a break,” Derek said, not bothering to be gentle about it. There was nothing that would get the man’s back up quicker than feeling like he was being coddled. “Take a day off. Go home, take a nap or something. Parrish could handle things for a while if you needed him to.”
“No,” the Sheriff said immediately. “No, I couldn’t. There’s too much to do, and besides, the house is just so empty. I mean, it’s always empty. I guess I’m just...feeling it more, recently.” He swallowed hard and then shrugged, pulling an unconvincing smile onto his face. “It’ll pass. Always does.”
Derek was less than convinced. He had known the Sheriff for years now, and he couldn’t remember ever seeing him look so strung out, not even in the middle of crises. He looked almost lost, staring around the room like he had misplaced something but couldn’t remember what or when.
The grief on him tickled at Derek’s nose and made his chest ache, the ever-present hole of his own loss yawning open yet again. It took more effort to shut the feeling down than it usually did, enough so that he felt his eyes flash blue with it. It was a good thing he was facing away from the main room.
Parrish was getting very tired of the inquisition he was facing. It wouldn’t be long before he sent the kids packing, and it didn’t seem like he’d had anything of import to tell them anyway.
“You still need to eat something,” Derek finally said. “And I mean a real something, not just some greasy—”
“Yeah, yeah, no curly fries for me,” the Sheriff cut in, waving a hand dismissively. “I know the drill.”
Derek frowned; he was fairly certain he had never told the Sheriff that he wasn’t allowed to have curly fries before. The Sheriff didn’t seem to have noticed that he’d said anything strange though, just gathered up his belt and holster and prepared to leave, so Derek didn’t question it.
The Sheriff clapped him on the shoulder as he led him out of the office. The grip was as firm and reassuring as it always was, and there was something about his scent. Warm and woodsy, with a bit of spice to it. It was oddly soothing, and more familiar than it had a right to be considering how rarely Derek actually spent time with the man.
Mason looked very put out when he finally gave up on Parrish and returned to Derek’s side, but at least the tedium and frustration of a fruitless endeavor had drained the aggression out of Liam. Now he was just sulky. Between Mason and Hayden, they had determined that there were no missing persons that fit the pattern started by that boy and his parents, at least that they could find. No leads at all, not even from their resident hellhound.
As Derek led the kids back out to the car, trying not to think of himself as the world’s strangest and most reluctant soccer dad, he thought maybe he would come back later and bring the Sheriff some dinner. The man was clearly lonely and in need of some looking after. It was a miracle he’d made it this long on his own.
Scott paced around the back room of the clinic, even more full of restless energy than he had been that morning. And it wasn’t because of the coming moon, he was almost certain of that; he’d been a werewolf long enough by now to know the feel of the moon’s pull, and this wasn’t it. There was definitely something else going on here and it was just tugging at him in the most frustratingly vague way possible. It was like every little thing around him was wrong just a tiny bit.
The eyes on him weren’t helping.
Lydia was seated in a rickety rolling chair by the exam table, hands folded together in her lap as she followed his progress from one end of the small room to the other over and over again. She was tight-lipped and a little pale. She kept flinching at noises Scott couldn’t hear, and sometimes her eyes would dart to the side and stay there for a long minute, transfixed on nothing, before she came back to herself.
It was always unnerving when she did that, but this time it seemed to discomfit her as much as it did him, and that was worrying.
Deaton stood by too, watching him with that calmly detached manner he adopted when speaking with nervous pet owners. He’d been waiting patiently for Scott to actually get around to telling him the reason he’d wanted to talk for the last several minutes. With a monumental effort, Scott made himself stop pacing and face his boss directly. It took even more effort to get the words out of his mouth.
“I keep having this feeling,” he said, “like there’s pieces missing. Holes in my memory. Like this—”
He pulled out a glass shard from his pocket, blue-ish green and warped at the edges. He held it up and Deaton took it from him, squinting at it carefully.
“I took that from a windshield at the Sheriff’s impound lot,” Scott told him. “But I can’t remember why I was there.”
“Me neither,” Lydia put in. “It was the middle of the night. What compelled us to meet in an impound lot that none of us have a key to, to look at a car that none of us thought was suspicious until we saw that?”
“Exactly,” Scott said. “It just doesn’t add up. There’s something wrong here, I can feel it. Like I’ve forgotten something really important.”
Deaton made a humming sound. “The subconscious can be a conduit for our memories,” he said. “Dreams and waking dreams can be powerful tools to help us remember.”
“Lydia thinks it has something to do with the Wild Hunt,” Scott said, leaning back against the exam table and crossing his arms to keep from setting off on another loop of the room. He manfully resisted the urge to start jiggling his knee just to work off some of the tension in him. “She thinks that, when these Ghostriders take someone, they take away all memory of them too.”
Deaton frowned slightly. “The Wild Hunt are drawn to war and mayhem,” he said. “Granted we’ve had our fair share of mayhem around here in recent years, but I’ve never heard tell of them doing anything to anyone’s memory.”
“If they had, would anyone remember it?” Lydia asked with a delicately raised eyebrow, and Deaton nodded to her to concede the point. “What if they always do this, and most people just don’t realize? Even if they felt the absence, most people don’t have any knowledge of supernatural forces. They would never make the assumption that someone had magically altered their memories. They would just live with the empty feeling without questioning it.”
“It’s almost like you have a form of phantom limb syndrome,” Deaton said. He saw Scott’s questioning face and handed him back the glass shard. “It’s common in war,” he explained. “Amputees can have the sensation of an itch they can’t scratch, or a pain that couldn’t possibly be there. The missing limb is so important, the brain acts like the limb is still there.”
“Yes!” Scott said immediately. “Yes, that’s it exactly!” An itch he couldn’t scratch was right, just like Scott had been looking over his shoulder all day for someone that wasn’t there, expecting to make a joke and hear familiar laughter, getting halfway through text messages to some phantom friend before remember that he didn’t remember them. It was awful and frustrating and it hurt.
“So our subconscious is trying to tell us what we’re missing?” Lydia asked.
“It certainly sounds that way,” Deaton said.
Scott made a noise of frustration, blunt human nails digging into his palms. “How the hell do we figure out what it’s saying?”
“Well, normally I would suggest something like what we did with Isaac the year before last,” Deaton said. “Lower the core body temperature until you reached a stasis that would allow you to access those repressed memories.”
Scott shuddered, forcibly reminded of the agonizing chill of the ice bath, so cold it felt like burning as it closed in around him. He had never experienced anything so unpleasant in his life, and that was saying something considering the minor hell he’d been through since getting the bite. The crushing blackness of...whatever had happened after, in those sixteen hours of being mostly-dead, was something that still haunted his nightmares.
Deaton smiled at him reassuringly, no doubt aware of just how much Scott did not want to go through that again. “Luckily, it doesn’t sound like that will be necessary now,” he said. “From what you’ve described, it sounds as though the memories are already trying to break through to your conscious mind. Dreams should be enough to let them through.”
“You want me to...sleep?” Scott said, more than a little skeptical.
“Go home,” Deaton told him firmly. “Take a nap. Try to leave your mind open and you might be surprised by what comes through.”
It was less than an hour until moonrise. There were only a few of them in the Martin’s lakehouse basement so far, some waiting upstairs, with the rest on their way.
Most of them wouldn’t stay in the basement all night anyway. By now, the majority of the pack had pretty firm control of their shift, even under the influence of the full moon, and those people were more likely to lounge around upstairs or go for a run outside. And, of course, humans and kitsunes and banshees weren’t affected by the moon at all.
Currently, Scott and Mason were working on restraining Liam and Hayden, who were the newest beta wolves and therefore the most unstable, while they waited for the rest of the pack to arrive. Corey wouldn’t be making an appearance, mostly because he didn’t have a true shifter’s powers and also because his mere existence seemed to upset Liam, who didn’t need any sort of extra trigger when the moon was high.
Normally Derek would be helping them set up, talking the kids through the control exercises one more time. Tonight he found himself staring out the small window, set high in the wall, watching the stars wink into existence one by one.
He should be listening, at least. He knew that Allison and Kira had talked to Noshiko after school to see what she knew, and that was the sort of report he should pay attention to, but his head felt a little fuzzy and clogged up. His fingers stung with the bite of claws that snagged against his jeans with every anxious motion of his hands. The rumble of so many voices seemed louder than it usually did somehow, pounding in his ears and making his head throb with the noise.
He turned away from the window with a low growl, trying to make himself focus on the conversation around him in spite of the way his skin felt too tight. Chris was by his daughter’s side and remarkably lightly armed for a hunter in a room stuffed with werewolves on the full moon, but he still looked stone-faced and grim.
“I can’t say I know much about the Wild Hunt beyond what’s in mythology textbooks,” he was telling Scott. “I’ve got some information on other kinds of fae, but I don’t figure there’s too much crossover there.”
“And it’s better to assume things don’t work against them than to assume they do, rely on them in a fight, and have them not work,” Allison said. “That’s how people end up dead. Or, you know, disappeared into thin air.”
“My mom wasn’t much help either,” Kira admitted. “She knew about some of this stuff, like how the Hunt ride around on lightning and storms, but not about the weird brainwashing thing going on. You said what Deaton did actually worked on you? The repressed memory thing?”
“I definitely repressed something,” Scott said, though he didn’t sound pleased by that. “I took a nap at home like Deaton said to and woke up in the middle of the woods, out by where I got bitten, like, two years ago.”
“What?” Derek asked, attention caught fully for a moment. “Why?”
Scott shrugged, tugging on one of Hayden’s manacles to make sure it would hold. “I don’t remember why I was out there,” he said. “I mean, I know I was looking for a body—”
Laura’s body, he didn’t say, though he did throw Derek an apologetic grimace. Derek clenched his jaw, fighting an unexpected flair of aggravation the likes of which he hadn’t felt toward Scott in over a year. He shoved the irrational emotion down. Thankfully, Scott didn’t seem to notice and just kept talking, looking troubled.
“—but how did I even know it was out there in the first place? I don’t watch the news,” he said, “and I don’t have a police scanner or anything. And how did I get out there when I didn’t have a car and couldn’t run that far because of my asthma?”
“You think someone brought you there,” Allison guessed, “and you don’t remember because the Ghostriders took them.”
“That has to be it. The Sheriff knew I would be out there too,” Scott said. “I remember him calling for me by name. Why would he have known me at all? It’s not like I was ever in trouble with the law before I got bitten.”
“The way Melissa talks,” Chris said, by way of agreement, “it doesn’t sound like you were exactly a run-around-the-woods-at-night kind of kid.”
“Wait, the Sheriff?” Derek said. Something nagged at the back of his mind. Something about a scent and a missing lunch, a police scanner Scott didn’t have, how they all seemed to know the man better than reason said they should. Derek had certainly never cared about anyone else’s diet before, and the Sheriff treated Scott like a second son most of the time.
A door banged open, and then there was the pounding of feet on the stairs. The noise sent Derek into a half-crouch, instincts on high alert and ready for a threat even though he was surrounded by friends and pack. Malia burst into the room a second later and practically threw herself at the pile of restraints in the corner. Lydia followed right after her, long hair flying as she tried to keep up.
“Malia,” she was saying, “is this really necessary? It’s been months since you needed to be locked up.”
“Well, now I’ve got a problem,” Malia snapped without looking back at her. She pulled out a pair of padded manacles attached to a long, sturdy chain, giving them a considering look before standing up with them. “I’m growling at people in class,” she said plainly, already trying to latch one manacle around her own wrist with minimal success. “I’m clawing at my desk. I tried turning the floor of my bedroom into a coyote den last night.”
Derek unclenched his own hand to find his palms covered in blood, claws slick with it for the third fucking time in one day. He couldn’t seem to make them stay in, and he was almost certain his eyes were flickering blue without him meaning them to. Half an hour until moonrise, maybe less. Clearly Malia was feeling it too, twice as strongly as usual, just like him. Everyone else seemed fine.
“What happened to your anchor?” Kira asked, hands twisting worriedly. “You’ve been doing so well lately!”
“I don’t fucking know,” Malia growled, eyes flashing. “I can’t even remember what I’ve been using! Nothing I try is working, alright?”
She calmed a bit when Scott put a hand on her arm, taking over the task of locking her in alongside Liam and Hayden without argument. Hayden, though, leaned away, eyeing Malia warily.
“Does she really need to be locked up down here with us?” she asked, sounding apprehensive. “I mean, she’s been fine before now.”
“Well, that was before,” Malia bit out, restraints groaning already. “Right now, it’s either that or someone puts a bullet in me.”
“Whoa, there,” Chris said, stepping forward with one hand outstretched. “No one’s getting shot tonight, you hear me?”
Contrary to his words, his other hand strayed almost unthinkingly to the holster on his hip, which held the only obvious gun on his person. There was definitely wolfsbane in it, Derek could smell it from across the room. A scent like that was impossible to forget, much less the agony of it blazing through his veins like black ice, poisoning him from the inside out. His arm throbbed in sympathy even now, years later, and he couldn’t help but grab at where the wound had been when he had almost had to sacrifice a limb for the sake of his life.
Malia was yelling something, but Derek couldn’t hear her over the rushing in his ears and the tangle of his thoughts. They didn’t add up.
“I was shot,” he said without thinking, hardly realizing he’d said it aloud until Allison said his name. “I was shot,” he reiterated. “Wolfsbane. I almost cut my arm off to stop the spread.”
“You didn’t have to though,” Scott said slowly, clearly not understanding why Derek was bringing this up. Derek wasn’t quite sure himself. “I got to the clinic in time so you could cure yourself of it. Remember?”
“Dude, are you okay?” Mason asked, tentative as any human would be in a room full of volatile creatures with super-strength. “You don’t look so good.”
All eyes were on him then and Derek barely had the presence of mind to wonder what sort of picture he made. He was breathing hard, jaw and fists all clenched. The waxing moonlight was hot where it was just starting to peek through the window to fall across the tops of his shoulders, lighting up every inch of him from the inside out. He shook his head, trying to dislodge the pressure of fangs that wanted desperately to come out.
Jesus, he hadn’t had this much trouble with control since he was fifteen years old. What the hell was going on with him? He shook his head again, hard.
“Kate shot me,” he said, the name coming out on a growl, “in an alley. Not the clinic. I wasn’t in any condition to run that far. Someone drove me there. Someone was with me.” His hand clenched reflexively around his forearm hard enough to hurt, the buzz of a bonesaw loud in his ears. He didn’t remember holding it.
Now Scott’s confused expression collapsed into a frown as he thought back through the timeline of events, trying to connect points A and B. “But I was at the Argents’,” he said, “getting the wolfsbane bullets needed to cure you.”
“Then who drove me to the animal clinic?” Derek demanded, slurred around his fangs. “I was already there when you got the bullet.” There was blood on his arm on where his claws were digging in, burrowing through jacket and shirt sleeve to meet flesh. He hadn’t felt the sting of the cuts beneath the pounding of his head, the strange panic of half-formed thoughts and blank space where crystal clear memory should be.
There were voices all around, their words indistinct. He thought Chris might be shouting, and it was either Allison or Lydia shouting back, and there was definitely some snarling that sounded like Malia. So many voices, but something about it still felt hollow, the empty space of it ringing in his head.
That was Scott, approaching him with a hand raised, like he might try to gentle him like he had Malia. Derek jerked back out of reach, squeezing glowing blue eyes shut and searching for his own anchor. Anger, he thought. He tried to call up the anger he had used to tie himself to humanity ever since the fire, that ironic burn of rage that he could always cling to.
Only it wasn’t there. In the pit of his stomach where it had always been, there was hurt and grief like old scabs but nothing that he knew how to grab onto. The softer emotions slid out of his metaphorical hands so much faster and left him scrambling for something else, but what?
He could smell fear. He couldn’t tell who it was coming from, the non-wolves in the room or the new betas who had never seen one of their elders really lose control, much less two at once, but it caught his attention. He remembered abruptly the abandoned house, the door with the bullet holes, that blue-green residue and the scent of gunpowder and fear.
He had known that scent. Even now as he pressed his back to the solid concrete of the basement and folded in on himself, trying to hold himself together as growls rolled out of his chest beyond his control, he was sure he was supposed to know that scent. He clung to the memory of it—memory, he should remember, where had that memory gone?—long enough to bare his wrists to Scott for manacles of his own.
Scott was even more exhausted than he had been yesterday. He also had a newfound appreciation for how much Derek had struggled with getting his betas through their first full moons all at the same time. Keeping four betas of his own, made blood-thirsty by the moon, contained? Not exactly a cakewalk.
The sophomores had turned out to be the easiest to control, even though Liam had always been abnormally strong for his age and had actual diagnosed issues with uncontrolled rage.
It was fucked up for Malia and Derek both to go off the rails all of the sudden. Malia at least had struggled with her human side before, which was understandable after spending so long in animal form, but Kira had been right to say that she’d been doing much better. She’d really gotten a handle on herself in the last year or so.
Derek, though, had always been the epitome of self-restraint. He had ultimately been Scott’s proof that being a werewolf didn’t have to make you a monster, that he could still be human through everything. Seeing him of all people lose himself to the animal…
Scott was more shaken by that than he wanted to admit.
But if Derek was having issues, it just made it even more important for Scott to keep it together. He had a whole pack to look out for and he couldn’t lean on Derek like he usually did if he needed extra support. He had to be strong enough for all of them right now.
With the excuse of letting them rest after a difficult night, he had put the sophomores on research duty. Mason especially had been tasked with compiling all the information he could find that might be even marginally useful against the Wild Hunt. Really, he just wanted to keep the more inexperienced pack members out of the way so they wouldn’t see how freaked the senior members were, not just by the sudden full moon-induced instability, but by the gaps in their memories. Better to let the kids focus on a concrete problem that they could actually make progress on.
By lunchtime Mason had come back to him with a library card, one that apparently hadn’t existed until Corey had found it in whatever weird dimension he went to with his invisibility and brought it back with him.
“It has to be from the guy the Ghostriders erased yesterday,” he had said eagerly. “The one we don’t remember seeing at all. Corey found this up on the balcony where the Ghostriders were. It’s proof that this kid existed here at some point but was taken there instead.”
“A relic,” Lydia had said, holding the card by its edges by thumb and forefinger, squinting at it thoughtfully. “A leftover from a reality that doesn’t exist anymore. Between worlds, not fully present in either until it’s witnessed.”
“Schrödinger’s library card,” Mason had said with a dramatic flourish of his hands, “if you will.”
Lydia had mustered up a smile at the joke, which had Mason preening; even as thoroughly gay and taken as he was, Scott was pretty sure Mason was in love with Lydia’s brain.
Not that Scott could blame him for that. Lydia’s brain was a thing of miracles, which is why he was only too willing to trust it when she handed him the card and told him to find out anything he could about who it belonged to while she went in search of other relics. Relics of the person they were missing, she meant. Scott had no idea where she expected to start that search when they had so few leads on who that person was, but if anyone could figure it out in the course of one school day, it would be her.
So now Scott was heading to study hall with the impossible library card in hand and the first generation of betas at his side. They found who they were looking for at the farthest table from the front, laptop open and fingers flying across the keys as usual. Scott let Jackson have the seat next to Danny and took the one across for himself as Erica, Boyd, and Isaac filled in the rest.
Danny looked around at them all with lips pursed, typing momentarily suspended, and said, “Why do I get the feeling you guys are about to get me arrested?”
Erica made a noise of protest. “Rude!” she said, kicking her feet up onto the table to show off her long legs, which of course had no effect at all considering who they were talking to. “Danny-Boy, when have we ever availed you of your less than legal skill set?”
“I don’t think this is really that illegal anyway,” Scott jumped in. He tried to look trustworthy and reassuring, but either he failed or Danny was too used to that face to believe it anymore because his unimpressed expression stayed firmly put until Jackson punched him in the shoulder.
“Dude, we need your help,” he said. It was more of a demand than a request, but that was just how he was and Scott had long since given up on trying to teach him how to be polite. “There’s really weird werewolf shit going on right now and there’s information we need that none of us can get by ourselves. You know you’re gonna cave and help us anyway, so you might as well give up on playing hard to get. You’re way too easy to pull that off anyway.”
Danny shot back, “And yet still not easy enough to sleep with you,” like they’d had this conversation a thousand times. They probably had.
Jackson just rolled his eyes, leaning back in his seat with his hands behind his head, and said, “Please. If I liked dick, you’d be all over this and everyone knows it.”
“Can we move on with things before Narcissus here falls in a lake?” Boyd asked tiredly, jerking a thumb in Jackson’s direction. Jackson flipped him off, and then the other betas too when they didn’t bother muffling their laughter. At least, not until the librarian shushed them.
“Look,” Scott said in a whisper. “All we need is access to some school records. It’s not like we’re asking you to hack the Pentagon or even change someone’s grades. We just need to know what there is in the system on this guy.”
He slid the library card across the table. Danny hesitated another few seconds, eyeing it warily.
“The last time I helped you guys on something like this,” he said, “I was in the dark about what I was doing and why. I stayed there for a long time and it put me in a lot of danger.”
Scott cringed, remembering Danny paralyzed on a stretcher, getting hauled out of The Jungle after the kanima’s rampage. And later, in the hospital for mistletoe poisoning, legitimately almost dead. Granted he had known about werewolves by then, but none of them had known he did and they’d left him completely without protection like the total assholes they were. Danny deserved a real explanation this time around.
But before Scott could start at the beginning and work his way through all the issues at hand in an orderly fashion, Isaac said, “Fairy cowboys are smiting people from existence.” Then he looked around at all their disbelieving faces, shrugged, and said, “What? I’m not exactly wrong, am I?”
Scott closed his eyes with a sigh. “Depressingly enough, no, you’re not actually wrong.”
He turned back to Danny, who looked like he thought they were all on a lot of very expensive drugs, and tried to make that sentence make sense. He wasn’t entirely confident in his efforts, if only because his brain was a little fuzzy from tiredness and he had the persistent feeling that someone was about to interrupt him even though no one ever did. But by the end of it, Danny wasn’t laughing or accusing them of pranking him or anything. He frowned, looking down at the card in his hand.
“So you think we’re...missing someone?” he asked slowly.
“It’s the only thing that makes sense,” Scott said. “And maybe if we can figure out what’s left behind of this guy—” He pointed to the tiny ID photo on the library card. “—then we can know where to start looking for ours.”
With a nod, Danny handed back the card and pulled his laptop toward him. For a long minute there was just the soft clicking of the keyboard. It was sort of soothing in a weird way and Scott found his eyes drifting closed again. Between his snarling betas and that awful phantom-friend syndrome he had going on, he hadn’t gotten more than an hour of sleep the night before, on top of the restless night before that. He could’ve fallen asleep right there at the table if Erica hadn’t made a considering noise.
She was tapping one long fingernail against her bottom lip as she watched Danny work. When Scott raised an eyebrow at her, she swung her legs down off the table and leaned across it, tapping on the back of the laptop instead.
“What did you do for us last time?” she asked Danny.
He barely glanced up at her, absorbed in his work. “What?”
“A few minutes ago,” she said. “You said something about the last time you helped us with something like this. When was that? I don’t remember you ever hacking into anything for pack business. We’ve mostly left you out of it because Jackson’s wildly overprotective and chews us out every time we consider it.”
Danny stopped typing then and turned to his best friend, who was pink-cheeked and glaring at Erica fit to set her on fire. “Do you really?” he asked. “Aw, Jackie, that’s sweet. I had no idea.”
“Shut up and type, hacker-monkey,” Jackson snapped and Danny laughed. “And you losers,” Jackson said to the rest of them. “You shut up and let the man work. He’s doing us a favor and you’re lucky I even let you ask in the first place.”
Thankfully before Erica could snipe back at him—those two could go at each other for hours if no one stepped in to mediate, and had done so on numerous occasions—Boyd frowned and said, “No, really though. When was that? I don’t remember it either.”
“I think it was back before any of you guys got the bite,” Danny said vaguely, already distracted by his work again. “I just did a quick trace for—” He trailed off. His fingers slowed and then stopped completely. His eyes went distant, like he was thinking really hard, and his forehead wrinkled over a frown of his own.
“For who?” Scott asked, but a prickle on the back of his neck made him think he already knew what the real answer would be.
“For...for Derek,” Danny said. “Only I didn’t know his name then. At least not the real one.”
“Then why were you helping him?” Isaac asked.
“Yeah, he didn’t exactly know how to ask nicely back then,” Jackson grumbled, fingers finding the column of small scars on the back of his neck.
“It wasn’t—” Danny stopped, shaking his head in frustration. “I don’t know. I don’t remember how or why I tracked that text for Derek,” he said. “This was before I knew about werewolves, remember? So I didn’t even have any context or anything. I didn’t know that it was life or death. And I wouldn’t break the law for some random guy, no matter how hot he was.”
“So he was your friend too,” Scott said, breathless with the confirmation. “Whoever it is we’re missing. That’s who asked you to do it. It wasn’t an illegal trace for some random hot guy; it was a favor for a friend.”
Danny looked every bit as shaken as Scott had felt the day before, waking up in the middle of the woods, looking around himself and finding only half of a crucial memory. The betas were looking back and forth between them, unusually quiet and subdued. Even Boyd looked pale.
“You said ‘he’,” Isaac pointed out. “You don’t remember, but you still said ‘he’.”
Scott hadn’t even noticed, but it didn’t feel wrong.
“You don’t have to come with me,” Lydia said as the smart clack of her heels echoed around the hallway, empty now with everyone else in class. “I’ll be perfectly safe where I’m going. And even if I weren’t, Derek is already meeting me there. Malia wanted to as well but she’s got a math test to make up, and Scott can’t afford to miss any more classes.”
Allison shrugged and bumped their shoulders together. “It’s not like I actually need to go to French class,” she pointed out, rightfully so considering she’d been largely fluent since childhood. “And with everything being so weird right now, I feel better with the buddy system in place anyway.”
Lydia hummed noncommittally. She drew to a stop in front of her locker, depositing her binder inside. She snapped the locker shut and turned to face Allison head on, eyes narrowed.
“Is there any chance that this about you not trusting Derek alone with me after last night?”
Allison looked gratifyingly shocked by the question. “What? No!” She actually sounded a little wounded by the insinuation. “No, of course not. I know Derek and I haven’t had the best history, but all that was a long time ago and I trust him as much as I do anyone else in the pack.”
Satisfied, Lydia nodded and hoisted her purse over her shoulder, leading the way toward the entrance of the school. Allison fell in beside her without saying anything, but the way her bottom lip was caught between her teeth spoke volumes all on its own. It only took one look from Lydia to make her stop again with a huff.
“It’s nothing to do with not trusting Derek,” she insisted. “But last night was crazy, wasn’t it? I mean, Malia is one thing, but Derek’s got a lifetime of experience with the full moon. For him to go nuts like that?”
The thing was, Lydia couldn’t even blame Allison for being so disturbed. The night before had been perturbing for everyone, especially those who had known Derek the longest.
“He lost his anchor,” she said. “He and Malia both did.”
“At the same time though?” Allison asked, skeptical. “Practically overnight? Without realizing they had?”
“It’s our missing person. It has to be,” Lydia said. “They both must have been really close to him, and now with him gone, the rug’s been pulled out from under them. That’s the only logical explanation.”
“Him?” Allison repeated, head tilting with intrigue. “You think it’s a guy we’re missing. What makes you say that?”
Shifting on her feet, Lydia tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear and said, “Just a feeling.”
But Allison wasn’t convinced, which Lydia couldn’t bring herself to be surprised by after more than two years of friendship. They knew each other too well for evasions like that. She sighed.
“I went to see Deaton,” she admitted. “Early this morning, before the clinic’s regular hours.”
Allison’s brow furrowed and she shifted closer, glancing around them like she expected someone to be eavesdropping them. She sounded worried when she said, “What for?”
“These visions,” Lydia said, frustration seeping into her own voice no matter how much she tried to suppress it. “The glimpses I keep getting. I feel like they’re getting stronger. I just wanted to see if he could help me control them or interpret them.”
“Did it work?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Lydia said wryly. “We tried a form of hypnosis paired with automatic writing.”
The shard of glass from the impound lot, warped and glowing with the light Deaton had set up underneath it, taking up her whole field of vision despite its small size. It had felt like it was growing larger with every breath she took, each beat of her heart, until there was nothing else. She shivered with the memory of it.
“And that was supposed to open your mind and your body to whatever the...other side is trying to tell you,” Allison guessed correctly. “What got through?”
Darkness. An open void full of echoes, waves of silent sound that buffeted her like an ocean tide. The grasp of some primordial fear like a speck of dust in the face of the sun’s heat. The sensation of knowing and unknowing all at once until there was nothing left behind for her to hold onto.
“A word,” Lydia said instead of any of this; she didn’t know how to explain it anyway. “Mischief. Written over and over again.”
Allison made a face. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know, but that wasn’t all,” Lydia told her. Her fingers tightened their hold on her purse strap reflexively as she remembered the paper, covered in her own hand, the same word scribbled ad nauseam into an unmistakeable pattern. “There was… I think it was a name. His name.”
“Lydia!” Allison said, chiding. “That’s huge! Why didn’t you say something?”
Lydia started walking again, the creeping tension she couldn’t get rid of lately making her steps heavier than usual. “It’s only a first name, I think, which doesn’t help us when no one will remember knowing anyone by that name,” she said briskly. “And it didn’t jog any actual memories in me, so I don’t know how much good it really does us at this point. If I could just—”
She pushed open the school’s double doors and stepped out into darkness. Cold wind blew around her, dry leaves dancing along the pavement at her feet, and a waxing moon hung in the sky. A phantom touch took her by the hand. She stumbled forward with a gasp, pulled along as the distant clack of hooves resounded from every direction, closer and closer and yet nowhere at all.
She ran, dragged on inexorably by something—someone—that she couldn’t see, a whisper of a voice in her ear begging her not to look, not to scream, or they would take her too.
A blinding flash of sunlight. A tight, solidly real grip on her arm, yanking her backwards. The blare of a horn as a car swerved past her. Suddenly, jarringly, Lydia found herself standing on the sidewalk halfway across the brightly lit parking lot, still half full of students getting back from lunch.
Allison took her face in her hands, looking her over frantically. “Okay, what just happened?” she demanded. “You went all distant and took off running straight into traffic! What the hell were you doing?”
Lydia could barely feel the warm touch of Allison’s fingers on her cheeks, chilled by an unnatural wind that was no longer blowing. She could still feel the ghost of other fingers around her wrist. Her voice shook when she spoke.
Derek was waiting outside the Sheriff’s house when the girls pulled up. Truthfully, he had been there for over an hour, just waiting and thinking. He had plenty to think about and he wasn’t sure what to make of the conclusions he was coming to.
He had lost his anchor. That much had been made excruciatingly clear the night before, when he’d lost his shit like he hadn’t done since he was fifteen. But that raised so many questions, the kind that gnawed at him because he simply didn’t have answers to them. When had anger stopped working to ground him? He had known objectively that he was in a better place now emotionally than he used to be, but he had no conscious memory of shifting his focus or of what it had shifted to.
He read Scott’s text again.
[we’re pretty sure it’s a he. Danny’s missing him too. we all are.]
A breeze carried in through the open car window. It brought with it hints of the Sheriff’s unique scent, which calmed and aggravated Derek in equal measure.
Last night, at the height of the moon with all his senses at their peak, he had remembered that scent. It had come to him out of the blue, a desperate grasp at anything that might keep him under control, but it hadn’t been the only one. He found himself coming back, over and over again, to the faint scent from that abandoned house. He clung to it instinctively, sure now that it was a remnant of the person they were missing.
The person that Derek was missing. The person that he was close enough to to let steady him in times of stress and yet could remember absolutely nothing about. It scared him that something that fundamental to him could have been ripped away. That he could have lost yet another person he cared about without even realizing it.
Now that he had found one distorted memory, now that he recognized the feel of it in his mind, he kept finding more. Thinking back over the last few years, he stumbled over gaps in so many of the critical moments, so many series of events that couldn’t possibly be explained away as they presented themselves. He and Malia had talked about it the night before, murmuring to each other in the dark of pre-dawn after the pull of the moon had abated and the others had fallen into an exhausted sleep, comparing memories.
“Someone used to chain me up under the school,” Malia had said, as blunt and matter-of-fact as she always was. “Back at the beginning of junior year, when I was still half feral. Someone was teaching me how to be human. Everything I know about...about friendship and all that junk? I learned it from someone. And now I can’t remember learning it at all.”
Derek had frowned. “You think you’re forgetting how to be human?”
“I don’t know. It’s just that all the coping mechanisms, all the techniques I’ve used to anchor myself? I feel like they’re fading away.”
She had sounded smaller than Derek had ever heard, and so painfully uncertain. Malia had always been a very confident person. Even when she didn’t know something, she was confident about the fact that she didn’t know it. But her hand had been shaking when Derek had taken it in his own and her scent had held the bitter tang of fear.
“You’re not going to forget how to be human,” Derek had said. “You could never forget that. You’ve always known.”
“I didn’t back then,” she’d argued. “I would have left Lydia to die with the Calaveras without a second thought, remember?”
“I don’t, really,” Derek had admitted, grinning wryly into the dark. “I wasn’t exactly myself then, was I? I was reliving puberty and having Chinese takeout with Scott’s dad.”
Malia had snorted, but Derek’s tired mind had gotten snagged on that image.
“Wait,” he’d said, reaching for the memory and rubbing at his temple when it throbbed with the effort. “That’s not right. You guys wouldn’t have just left me alone with him, of all people. I had a babysitter, I know I did. So who stayed with me and Agent McCall?”
As he’d feared, Malia had said, “None of us. We were all out looking for Kate or trying to figure out what she did to you.”
“Someone else was with us.”
Insisting hadn’t done any good, and talking about it hadn’t filled in the blanks. Malia hadn’t had any answers for him, nor he for her. In the end they’d passed out together just as the sun started to rise, her head on his shoulder and the both of them taking comfort in the faint scent of family. She’d already been gone by the time he had woken up next and dragged himself home to wash off the terrible night.
The slam of a car door pulled him forcefully out of his thoughts and made him jump, too close and too loud when his nerves were already so frayed. With a noise of frustration, he shook off his claws and got out of his own car to meet Lydia and Allison as they came up the driveway.
Lydia seemed dazed, face slack and eyes unfocused. Derek was glad to see that Allison was the one holding the car keys. As he watched, she put a hand on Lydia’s back, gently steering her in the right direction. Lydia was rousing though, pulling herself out of whatever fugue state she’d been inhabiting and blinking herself back into the present. Both girls offered up smiles when they reached him.
“Hey,” Allison said. “No offense, but you kind of look like shit.”
Derek gave her a flat look. “Rough night.”
“If it helps,” Allison said brightly, “you’re doing better than Malia today. Erica called. She said Malia had a meltdown during her makeup test. Stress got to her and she went full-shift in front of Lydia’s mom right there in the classroom, then ran away to hole up in the basement.”
Derek blinked at her. “Oddly enough, no, that doesn’t make me feel any better about the situation,” he said. “Is she alright? She didn’t seem too bad last night, once the moon set.”
“Isaac talked her down,” Lydia said. “She’s shifted back now and holding steady for the time being.” She nodded toward the house. “Is he here?”
Derek nodded. “Got back from the station about half an hour ago. Parrish had to threaten him to get him to leave, but he’d been there almost twenty hours straight and the other deputies backed Parrish up. I haven’t heard much movement inside but his heartbeat says he’s not asleep.”
“Then let’s go have a chat.”
Lydia led the way to the front door, knocking sharply. It took a while for the sound of footsteps to reach Derek’s ears but eventually the door was pulled open. The Sheriff looked even more exhausted than he had the day before when Derek had seen him at the station. He was out of uniform now, barefoot in sweatpants and a t-shirt with holes along the hem, and there was the unmistakeable whiff of whiskey about him. He wasn’t drunk, but as soon as he saw who was at his door, he looked like he wanted to be.
“Aw, hell,” he groaned. “House calls from you people are rarely good.”
“You say that like you’re not glad to see our shining faces,” Allison said with a wide, hopeful grin, batting her eyelashes at him exaggeratedly. It got a reluctant half-smile out of him; it was hard for anyone to stay mad when Allison brought the dimples into play and she used that to great advantage at every opportunity.
“Right,” he said, sarcasm personified. “Well, as shiny as your faces may be, I’m currently off duty and for good reason. Whatever supernatural crisis you’ve got on your hands this time, I’m sure Deputy Parrish can handle it until I—”
“Actually, Sheriff,” Lydia interrupted. “We’ve got something more personal to talk to you about.”
Wariness crept into his face, the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth drawing tight as he stared around at all three of them. Derek tried to look reassuring, or at least less tired and worn down than he actually felt, which was probably a losing battle. Finally the Sheriff scrubbed a hand over his face and fell back a ways, clearing the doorway for them.
“What does my personal business have to do with your magical shenanigans?” the Sheriff asked as he led them into the living room. He collapsed into an armchair with a groan. The motion knocked it into the side table, which held a half-full bottle of Jack and an empty tumbler.
“Has Scott been keeping you apprised of the situation?” Lydia asked as she settled herself on the couch. Allison sat beside her, their knees touching.
Derek was too unsettled to even consider sitting down. The whole house smelled strongly of the man in front of them, which made sense considering he had lived there for decades, but there was something else. It was a scent sunk so deeply into the wood and plaster that it couldn’t be moved, and Derek had smelled it before.
This scent, and its similarities to the Sheriff’s own, was why they were here. That and the points Scott had brought up the night before, the story he’d told about the night he was bitten and the part the Sheriff had played in it. Lydia agreed with Derek that too many things led back to him for them to ignore the connection.
“Scott’s told me a bit,” the Sheriff said. “Sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, but so did everything else when I first heard of it. Guess I should be used to it by now. Something about fairy ghosts and brainwashing?”
“Ghostriders,” Lydia corrected him. “Fae spirits that make up the Wild Hunt.”
“Right, right,” he said flatly. “Of course, how could I forget?”
“It sounds unbelievable, I know,” Allison said sympathetically, one put-upon human to another in the face of all this werewolf weirdness. “But we’ve got enough witnesses by now to be pretty convinced that they’re real. And extremely dangerous.”
“What do they have to do with me?”
There was a pause. Lydia smoothed out a wrinkle in her skirt and said, carefully, “You mentioned brainwashing. I wouldn’t put it in exactly those words myself, but there is reason to suspect the Ghostriders of being responsible for a certain kind of...memory modification.”
The Sheriff raised a disbelieving eyebrow at her. “Is that so?”
“They’re taking people,” Allison said earnestly. “And we think they’re taking all the evidence of those people too, including other people’s memories of them.”
“Putting aside for a moment how ludicrous that sounds,” the Sheriff said, “—and that is very, by the way—I still don’t know what you think all that has to do with me. Why are you here telling me this?”
“Because,” Lydia said, “I think you had a son. And I think the Ghostriders took him from us.”
Silence rang for a long moment as all of them looked at her in shock, but she kept her eyes steadily on the Sheriff. He had gone pale and still.
“That’s insane,” he said, voice hoarse. “That’s— How could you say something like that? If I had a son, I think I would know about it.”
Lydia leaned in toward him, intensity in every taut line of her. “But that’s just it,” she said. “With the Ghostriders’ interference, you wouldn’t. It’s what they do: they erase people, even from the lives of the ones closest to them.”
“That’s not possible,” the Sheriff said, hands clenching at the arms of his chair until they went bloodless. “Why the hell would you even think that?”
“Your scent,” Derek said without thinking. Lydia looked at him with eyebrows raised, and slowly, Derek nodded to her, more convinced by the second that she was right.
“My scent?” the Sheriff asked, more dubious than ever.
“Every person has a unique scent,” Derek explained. “It’s chemical and no two persons’ are exactly alike. That being said, there tend to be strong similarities among family members. If I had met Melissa McCall in the grocery store without knowing who she was, I probably could have guessed she was related to Scott just by her scent.”
“So something about your scent has been bothering me,” Derek told him. “I smelled something yesterday morning, a scent that I couldn’t recognize, but it was so close to your scent that it can’t be anything but a close relative.”
“I don’t have any relatives,” the Sheriff insisted. He was starting to go red in the face, the flush overtaking the pallor of disbelief. “I’m an only child and a widower and I don’t have any kids.”
“Not that you remember,” Allison said, not unkindly.
“Goddamnit, I don’t have a son!” The Sheriff’s fist came down on the side table, hard, and the empty tumbler tipped over with a clatter, drops of leftover whiskey dotting the wood and dripping over the table’s edge to the carpet. The sound of it was harsh in Derek’s ears, and both the girls started in their seats, wide-eyed and shocked. The force of it hung in the air for a long moment.
“If I had a son,” the Sheriff said, tightly controlled after the outburst, “I would never forget about him. I couldn’t.”
“But Sheriff—” Lydia tried, but he wasn’t listening anymore. He was on his feet now, breathing hard as his hands clenched and unclenched at his sides.
“I’m not gonna hear any more of this,” he said. “I want you to leave now.”
Allison was the first one off the couch, her purse clutched in her hand as she muttered an apology. Lydia hesitated, jaw clenched stubbornly and ready to push her theory further, but she gave in to Allison’s tug on her arm after only a few seconds. It was clear to both of them that more reasoned arguments weren’t going to get through to the Sheriff when he was so angry.
Only he wasn’t. Yes, there was some anger there in his scent, drifting around him in the thundercloud of chemosignals, but underneath it was something else. The omnipresent grief, clear as always, and fear. An overwhelming, all-encompassing fear wrapped around him like a cloak. In that moment, it was almost identical to Derek’s mystery scent.
“You haven’t,” Derek said. The girls, already halfway to the door, stopped and turned back. The Sheriff gave him a dark warning look, but Derek ignored it. “You haven’t forgotten him.”
“How many times do I have to tell you—” the Sheriff said through gritted teeth, but Derek cut him off.
“You know something is missing. You can feel it in your gut that something isn’t right here.”
The Sheriff didn’t argue that, but the slight concession did nothing to ease the strain in his shoulders, the tension in his neck. If anything, it wound him tighter. Derek stepped forward cautiously. He couldn’t catch the Sheriff’s eye.
“You’re losing sleep,” he said. “You’re looking over your shoulder all the time but not sure what for. You’re avoiding your own home because it’s too empty even though it’s been that way for years now. You’re missing meals because you’re used to someone bringing them to you.”
“I told you, my wife—”
“Died eight years ago,” Derek said bluntly and the Sheriff flinched. “She used to bring you lunch at the station, I know. But you’re not missing her.”
“How dare you,” the Sheriff said, the anger in his scent and on his face growing tenfold in an instant. He advanced on Derek, jabbing a finger at him. “You can’t tell me— You don’t know a damn thing about—”
The bold question and every unspoken word behind it brought the Sheriff to an abrupt stop. Derek stood his ground, not giving an inch in the face of the man’s stifled rage, that burning, impotent, directionless feeling that he had carried in his own chest for so many years.
“I know damn well what it is to miss someone who’s dead,” he said into the silence. “I know what it feels like to...to hear their voice in a crowd. To expect to see them around every corner even though you know you never will. To forget just for a second that they’re not waiting for you in the car with the radio on your least favorite station just to annoy you. To miss them so badly you can’t breathe with the pain of it.”
His chest ached with it now, the familiar hollowness where his family had once been. It throbbed, pulling at him with the need to let go, to escape into the soothing mindlessness of the shift, but all around him was that scent and it grounded him. There was a hitch of breath behind him; Allison was crying. She had plenty of grief of her own, he remembered. The Sheriff had tears on his cheeks as well, but his were silent.
“I know that feeling as well as you do, Sheriff,” Derek said, taking another step closer. “I know that it never goes away. You never stop missing them, not completely. But you know that this is different.”
The Sheriff shook his head, once, almost reflexively.
Derek didn’t stop. “This isn’t old grief,” he said, firm. “It’s not echoes from the past. It’s a gaping hole, here and now. It’s everything feeling wrong because something isn’t there that should be. Someone.”
“It— I can’t—” The Sheriff was shaking his head again, eyes distant as the tears wet his cheeks. “I can’t have forgotten,” he said weakly. “I couldn’t just—”
“You haven’t,” Derek repeated. “This is you remembering him.”
The Sheriff’s knees gave out underneath him. Derek caught him by the shoulders before he hit the ground so that they went to their knees together on the whiskey-dotted carpet. The man’s hands clutched at his arms with bruising force, but he didn’t pull away.
“How could I forget my son?” the Sheriff choked out. He was shaking. “What kind of father could ever forget his son?”
“It’s not your fault,” Derek told him past the tightness in his own throat. His hands on the Sheriff’s shoulders weren’t entirely steady either. “You still feel him. No magic, no matter how strong, could ever take him from you completely.”
“Last night,” the Sheriff said. “Last night, in the dark, I kicked a baseball bat. And I said something, without thinking. A name.”
Lydia, kneeling down beside them, reached out to cover one of the Sheriff’s hands with her own. She said, “Stiles.”
Derek’s heart kicked hard in his chest, reacting to the name even though his conscious mind didn’t recognize it. Something in him did.
The Sheriff stared at her, mouth open. “How did you know that?”
Lydia gave him a thin smile. “I know a lot of things,” she said, “and I can’t honestly say that I know how I know them.”
“How do we—” The Sheriff swallowed hard, visibly forcing composure onto himself. He let go of his hold on Derek, pushed himself from the floor to the couch, and cleared his throat. “I want my son back,” he said with all the determination and authority of his position.
“We’ll get him back,” Allison said, sitting beside him on the couch and squeezing his shoulder. “I promise.”
“We’re still working on that,” Lydia admitted. “But there is somewhere we can start.”
The whole house felt like a mirage. It seemed to flicker just the slightest bit before Lydia’s eyes, like the air over hot pavement, as if it didn’t want to come into perfect focus. She may not have been able to smell Stiles here like Derek could, but she could sense him. She could feel him.
The Sheriff could too, in his own way. It was there in his every movement, in every brush of his gaze over the old photographs on the walls of him and his late wife, eyes skating over the empty gap between them just big enough for a toddler to have occupied once upon a time.
He seemed to have fallen into some kind of shock, the heavy realizations too much for him to process all in one moment. He had pushed them away, stood on shaky legs, and set about cleaning up the overturned drink as if a mundane task would be enough to return him to a world where things made sense. When Lydia had asked if she could look around a bit, he’d nodded silently.
There was nothing on the first floor that piqued her senses. She ran her fingers over everything in her path, trying to leave her mind as open as she could, but none of it triggered any of the hallucinations she sought, either visual or auditory. She could hear Allison talking lowly in the kitchen, keeping the Sheriff company with mugs of freshly brewed coffee. Derek was a steady presence at Lydia’s side, apparently just as intent on their exploration.
As she came back around to the living room, completing her circuit of the ground floor, she caught sight of a tiny flicker of motion at the corner of her eye. When she turned to look, there was nothing there.
“Did you see that?” It came out a whisper, though she couldn’t have said why.
“What?” Derek asked, just as quietly.
Lydia blinked at an innocuous shelf of knickknacks, sure that there had been something in that direction just a second ago. Admitting defeat, she faced the living room proper again and there!
A woman, very old and wearing some kind of uniform, shuffling calmly across the room. As Lydia watched, the woman stopped where she was and turned toward them, though she didn’t seem to actually be seeing them there. In a croaky voice, she said, “The following stops have been cancelled.”
A train whistle sounded, distant but clear. The woman continued on her way, passing through the wall toward the hallway.
Derek moved closer to her side, alternating between eyeing Lydia with concern and scanning the room warily. “Lydia, what is it? Do you sense something?”
Lydia followed the old woman out of the room. She was nowhere to be seen. On some instinct, Lydia crept toward the stairs to the second floor. She kept her eyes wide open as she climbed, searching. The staircase led to another hallway, mostly plain with only two doors toward the far end of it. The stretch of wall between there and the landing was empty of even the old photographs that characterized the rest of the house.
Another flicker of movement. The old woman came into focus, standing in the middle of the hallway, facing that long blank wall. She didn’t move, nor did she speak again.
“Excuse me,” Lydia said after a few long seconds, inching forward. She didn’t blink. She hardly dared to breathe. “Who are you?”
“What are you seeing?” Derek asked, close behind her still.
Lydia ignored him, focused entirely on her vision. Everything around her wavered and just for a second, she could have sworn she saw the outline of something large. Her lungs were tight in her chest, like she couldn’t get enough oxygen, and every beat of her heart resounded through her like a drumbeat. There was a ringing in her ears.
“What are you looking at?” she asked. “Are you trying to show me something?”
The woman turned to face her, as expressionless as every other figure she had seen. She opened her mouth and instead of a voice there was a train whistle, blaring all around them loud enough to shake the walls, and the growing shriek of metal wheels on a track. The train’s headlight appeared at the end of the hallway, blindingly bright, barreling toward them at lethal speed.
The Sheriff’s voice cut through the clamor and, in a second, everything was gone. Derek was suddenly right in front of her, his hands tight on her shoulders and his eyebrows pulled down into a deep vee. The Sheriff and Allison were at the top of the stairs, looking equally concerned. Lydia felt a wave of lightheadedness; she hadn’t been breathing. That was probably why Derek was so worried.
“I’m fine,” she said, once the breath had returned to her. “I’m okay.”
Derek didn’t look convinced, but he released his hold on her. “What was—”
A hissing noise, like a leaking pressure valve, faint and yet somehow taking up every bit of Lydia’s hearing. Her gaze was drawn back to the wall almost against her will, to the same spot the woman had been staring at so intently. The wallpaper was old and starting to unstick from the plaster underneath. One spot in particular had come undone, the edges peeling. Lydia found herself right in front of it, fingers reaching out to take hold of the paper and pull.
The Sheriff’s hand closed on her wrist. “What are you doing?” he asked, sounding more baffled than angry.
Lydia couldn’t look away from the wall. “There’s something here.”
After a long moment of hesitation, the Sheriff released her, stepping back with a grumble that Lydia couldn’t make out over that hissing. The wallpaper gave way under her methodical hands, peeling back to expose the drywall, but that wasn’t enough. Her hand, flat against the barrier, prickled with phantom sensation.
Then Derek was there, pulling her back and flicking his claws out. With quick economical motions, he tore the drywall apart with his bare hands, ripping chunks from the area Lydia delineated for him and setting them aside. At first there was nothing but plaster and wooden beams, and it seemed like maybe Lydia’s vision had been wrong, like they had destroyed this hallway for no reason. And then—
The Sheriff swore. The hissing grew louder.
It was a room, empty and with a boarded up window. It looked as though it hadn’t seen the light of day in years, and yet there wasn’t a speck of dust to be found. All four of them filed inside, peering around in disbelief. Derek took a deep breath that shook when he let it out.
“Did you know this was here?” Allison asked the Sheriff, trailing her finger along the boarded window. She leaned close to peer through the cracks. “This looks out over the front yard. It should’ve been visible from the street.”
“I don’t know,” the Sheriff said weakly. “I don’t remember… It has to have been here the whole time, but…”
“It smells like him,” Derek told them. “More than anywhere else.”
“His bedroom,” Lydia said.
The longer she looked, the more she saw. One minute there were bare floorboards and what tiny streaks of light could make it through the planks over the window, and then suddenly there was a bed, tucked into the corner and messy from recent use. Another blink and there were shelves, cluttered with childhood participation ribbons and earmarked books. A desk strewn with gnawed-on writing utensils. A ball of red yarn and a box of push-pins.
“Lydia?” Allison asked. They were all watching her.
Lydia looked around once more at the room she was seeing, filling in around her with every glance. “You don’t see it?”
“There’s nothing there,” the Sheriff said, though it sounded like it hurt to admit.
But there was. It just wasn’t on a plane the others could perceive. Lydia could feel again that wavering, shimmering sensation of the mirage. Present, and yet not. Schrödinger’s bedroom. She thought of Corey and the library card, the one that he had found in whatever other dimension he inhabited. It hadn’t existed to anyone else until he had brought it back with him.
There was a lacrosse jersey thrown across the back of the desk chair beside her, number 24. Her hand shook when she reached out, but the fabric was solid and real when her fingers made contact. She picked it up.
The others were quiet and still, watching her with identical expressions of mingled doubt and hope. As she turned to him, the Sheriff was already shaking his head.
“There’s nothing there,” he said again. And yet, when Lydia tossed the jersey in his direction, he reached out and caught it.
“This is weird and I hate it.”
Jackson sat heavily on the riser beside Scott, knocking their shoulders together. He had his shin guards in one hand and threw the rest of his stuff on the ground with a huff so that he could set about pulling them on.
“What’s weird and why?” Scott asked, hunched over and lacing up his own cleats. He almost took one of Jackson’s elbows to the face and when he jerked back out of the way, he ran right into Isaac on his other side. Isaac just rolled his eyes, too used to Jackson’s douchebaggery to bother commenting, and went back to talking shop with Boyd. Liam and Kira were already warming up on the field, Malia and Erica pretending to do homework on the riser above them.
“This whole situation,” Jackson said. “With the Ghostriders and the missing dude you’re so obsessed with.”
“And why do you hate that?”
“Because now I can’t stop thinking about it!” Jackson bit out, and he really did sound supremely irritated by that.
Malia leaned forward between them to say, “Doesn’t that make you obsessed with it too?”
Jackson shoved her back, knocking her into Erica, who flipped him the bird.
“I keep thinking,” Jackson said, pointedly to Scott and only Scott, “that if even Danny’s forgetting shit because of this guy, then I must be forgetting shit too, and that is so not cool. So now I’m running over everything that’s ever happened in my entire freaking life looking for moments when the Ghostriders could’ve fucked with my head.”
“You say that like you haven’t always been fucked in the head,” Erica put in helpfully. Isaac groaned and, sensing an all-out bitchfest in the making, escaped to the field with Boyd in tow.
As much as Scott would’ve liked to jump ship too, he had to admit that Jackson had a point. He’d been doing the same thing ever since that nap he’d taken on Deaton’s advice, that first memory with obvious pieces missing. Honestly, it was hard for him to find a memory that did feel whole. Even sitting on the bench alone didn’t feel right.
“Did you think of anything specific?” Scott asked before Jackson could decide he was in the mood to actually claw Erica’s face off.
For a minute Jackson just chewed on his tongue, glaring vaguely in the direction of the net, uncharacteristically fidgety and restless. Then:
“Remember the winter formal sophomore year?” he said.
“The dance where you took Allison because I had academic suspension?” Scott did remember that, and it wasn’t a particularly pleasant memory.
Jackson rolled his eyes. “More like where Lydia got mauled and almost died, dumbass,” he snapped. “She only didn’t die because I carried her from the field back into the gym to get help. But…”
“But what?” Malia asked when he hesitated too long.
“But how did I know Lydia had been attacked in the first place?” Jackson asked. “I wasn’t there. I wasn’t out looking for her or anything, I was sloppy drunk and getting menaced by Argent in the woods. How did I know to find her on the field?”
“Our mystery guy told you, you think?” Erica asked.
“Makes sense,” Malia said. “This is really bugging you though, isn’t it?”
Jackson didn’t even shove her back again or say anything rude, which was pretty definitive proof that she was right. His jaw was clenched tight, fingers twisting together in his lap. He smelled more anxious than Scott could ever remember him being.
“Dude, are you okay?” he asked.
Jackson gave him a dirty look. “Fuck off, McCall,” he said. “Maybe I have a problem with people screwing around in my head. So sue me.”
People like Matt Daehler and Gerard Argent, Scott realized. When he had been the kanima, Jackson hadn’t realized until weeks later because he’d always blacked out when he shifted, hours and hours of empty space in his timeline that he couldn’t account for. He could never remember where he had been or what he had done. No wonder this was bothering him so much.
Scott put a hand on Jackson’s shoulder, half expecting to have it shoved off. Surprisingly, Jackson allowed it for once.
“We’re gonna fix this,” Scott told him bracingly. “We’re gonna get him back and all the blanks will be filled in again.”
Jackson made a disbelieving noise. He snatched up his crosse, dislodging Scott’s hand in the same gesture, and followed Isaac and Boyd onto the field. Scott let his hand fall with a sigh. Almost in the same instant, he saw Allison coming around the far side of the bleachers from the direction of the parking lot. He waved to her and she set off toward him at a jog.
“Hey,” he said when she was within human hearing range. “You went with Lydia to look for relics, right? Did you find anything?”
“We found a lot of things,” Allison said. “His entire bedroom, for one.”
“Wait, seriously?” Erica asked incredulously. “Jeez, you guys work fast.”
Allison nodded. “Our missing person is Sheriff Stilinski’s son,” she said. “And his name is Stiles.”
The name felt like a gong had been struck in Scott’s chest. It fell into place like it had always been there, like it had never been taken away. It didn’t bring anything else with it, and there was nothing explicitly remembered, but the name itself felt so right. There was no doubt in Scott’s mind that this was who was missing from his life.
“Stiles,” he said, breathless with how familiar it felt.
A smile spread on Allison’s face, and Scott could see the relief in her too. “Yeah. Stiles,” she said. “There’s more, though. Lydia and Derek are in the parking lot. You should go meet up with them. And Derek says you should bring Malia with you.”
“Me? Why?” Malia asked, but she was standing up anyway.
Allison took her vacated seat beside Erica and said, “You’ll see. Go, I’ll fill everyone else in.”
Scott gestured for the rest of the pack to stay on the field and continue with practice, and led the way toward the parking lot. Malia was quieter than usual at his side, a half step behind when normally she was speeding past him, too impatient to follow his lead if she already knew where they were going. She didn’t look like she wanted to talk though, and asking before she was ready to answer didn’t always end well, so Scott kept quiet too. She would talk if she needed to.
Derek and Lydia were indeed in the parking lot like Allison had said, but they weren’t by either one of their cars. Instead they stood together by a powder blue Jeep Scott couldn’t recall ever having seen before. There was a tow truck there too, but it looked like it was leaving empty-handed.
“What’s up with the hunk of junk?” Malia asked. Then, before they even drew up alongside it, she stopped in her tracks. She sniffed the air and her eyes went wide.
Scott sniffed too, confused by the strong reaction. There was nothing out of the ordinary. He could smell all the usual scents of the packmates that were present, the stink of asphalt in the sun, the waft of generally unpleasant chemosignals from the direction of the school. Nothing unfamiliar.
“I saw it from across the lot,” Lydia said, both hands flat on the hood. “They were about to impound it, but I knew… I don’t know how, of course, but I knew I couldn’t let them take it.”
“Which means I had to put up $150 for the drop fee,” Derek said, arms crossed but not sounding as annoyed as he could’ve been. “It was worth it though.”
“Why?” Scott asked. Derek and Malia both looked at him funny. “What? Am I missing something?”
“Don’t you smell it?” Derek asked.
“Stiles,” Malia said, like the answer was obvious, like they hadn’t just learned that name for the first time two minutes ago. “This is Stiles’ car. That scent, it… I know that scent.”
Scott stared at her, then at the Jeep. He sniffed again. Nothing new stuck out to him. He clamped down on a wave of strange jealousy. Malia was leaning against the Jeep now, taking deep breaths with her eyes closed, and it wasn’t fair that Scott wasn’t sensing the same thing. He missed Stiles too! He should be able to catch his scent just like the others.
“You really don’t smell that?” Derek asked. “What do you smell?”
With an impatient flick of his claws, Scott broke the lock on the door. He climbed into the cab and settled himself down on the stained pleather of the passenger seat. He breathed.
“I smell...me,” he said, frowning. “I’ve definitely been in here before.” He breathed in again, following his nose over his shoulder toward the backseat. “And Malia. Liam. It sort of smells a little like the whole pack in here, really, but mostly it just smells like me.”
Derek was still looking at him weird, like that wasn’t what he was smelling. And Derek’s nose was pretty damn reliable after a lifetime of practice with it, so Scott sniffed one more time, eyes closed and really thinking about it this time. Two years and an alpha upgrade and he could admit that scenting still wasn’t his biggest strength, but he could usually pick things apart pretty well if he really, really tried…
His eyes flew open. “Oh my god.”
“What?” Malia asked, leaning in through the open door.
“It is Stiles!” Scott said, marveling.
“That’s what we literally just told you,” Malia said.
“No, I know, that’s not—” Scott had to laugh, mostly in relief. “I didn’t even notice it, really,” he said. “I thought it was me because...well, because it’s everywhere I am! This scent is all over my bedroom, my house, even most of my clothes. Jeez, we must have lived in each other’s pockets.”
“No wonder you couldn’t fully forget about him,” Derek said. “If he was that deeply embedded in your life. The Sheriff couldn’t either. There are just too many holes left behind to fill in.”
“He’s my best friend,” Scott said, without a shadow of a doubt.
“And he’s definitely my something,” Malia said. She hauled herself into the Jeep, crawling over Scott until she could fit herself into the backseat. She collapsed there with a sigh, in a boneless sprawl. “Just his scent and I’m already feeling better than I have in days.”
“Me too,” Derek admitted. “Being in the Stilinski house, I was almost completely back to normal. The scent was everywhere.”
“Allison said Stiles is his son?” Scott asked, and Derek nodded. “That makes so much sense. Man, I can’t even imagine. Like if they took my mom, I don’t even know what I would do.”
“It wasn’t easy to convince him,” Derek said. “Wasn’t pretty either. But he believes it now. He wants Stiles back more than any of us.”
“At least that explains our personal connection to him,” Scott said. “Like, as more than just the local Sheriff, or even a friend of my mom’s. The gaps in my memories go back years. Stiles and I have been friends for a really long time. If Stiles is the one who dragged me into the woods that night, then it’s no wonder the Sheriff assumed I would be there too.”
Derek nodded. “And look at this.” He reached through the open driver’s side door to point to the contraption on the dashboard that Scott hadn’t noticed, too caught up in scent to focus on any other sense. “Stiles has a police band radio, probably to keep track of his father. Which is no doubt how you two heard about Laura’s body in the first place.”
“What’s up with Lydia?” Malia interrupted them, leaning forward between the seats to peer through the windshield.
Scott followed her line of sight. Lydia was still braced on the hood, but now her eyes were closed, head tilted to the side like she was listening intently. She was very still and didn’t seem to have been hearing their conversation at all.
“Lydia?” Derek asked, rounding the car toward her and speaking softly like he didn’t want to startle her. He stopped moving when she shushed him.
“Do you hear that?” she asked.
Scott almost said no. But then there was something. It sort of felt like a dog whistle—as much as he hated making the comparison—just a buzzing, squealing sound that was almost too high-pitched to hear.
“What is that?” Malia asked, wincing and rubbing at her ears.
The sound grew by the second, building into something like static or white noise. It got so loud that Scott had to cover his ears, but that didn’t do anything to block it out because it wasn’t coming from an external source. It felt like it was being broadcast directly into his skull.
“I think it’s—” Derek started, barely audible.
“The radio.” Lydia’s voice, on the other hand, cut through the buzz with no problem. She was in the driver’s seat in a second, pulling the police scanner’s handheld receiver from its plastic hook.
As soon as she touched it, the noise cut out. Nothing else happened. They all looked around at each other, sure that all that had to have been a lead-up to something. But the car wasn’t on, so neither was the radio, no lights, no signal, no nothing.
“We need to get this radio on,” Lydia said.
“We don’t have the keys,” Scott reminded her. “How are we supposed to—”
“I got it.” Derek leaned in alongside Lydia, nudging her legs to the side so he could access the steering block. With a few deft tugs and some neat claw work, he had wires in his hand, and then the wires were sparking. The engine roared to life.
“Dude,” Scott said, torn between impressed and scandalized, “why do you know how to hotwire a car?”
Derek gave him a flat look, the kind that made it really hard to tell if he was joking or not, and said, “Believe it or not, I was kind of a troubled teen.”
He stayed where he was, halfway in the cab with one foot propped on the wheelwell and his arm on the back of the driver’s seat, as Lydia flipped the radio on and began fiddling with the dials. It made the same squealing, crackling sound, though thankfully not nearly as loud. Bits of words and sounds popped in occasionally as she surfed past frequencies in use locally but Lydia scanned past them all, head tilted again, listening for…
“—lo, is anyone there? Can anyone hear me?”
“Stiles,” Lydia said, fumbling with the receiver until she found the right switch. “Stiles, we’re here!”
The sound of that voice sent a chain reaction through Scott’s entire body, a visceral kind of relief flooding through him and unlocking every too-tense muscle until he felt like he might collapse from it. He knew that voice better than he knew his own. How could he have ever forgotten what it sounded like?
“It’s me,” Lydia said, her voice shaking. “Stiles—”
“What was the last thing I said to you?” Stiles asked, urgent, desperate.
Lydia had to swallow twice before she could answer. “You said, ‘remember I love you.’ You begged me not to forget you.”
Stiles’ sigh of relief was audible even over the staticky connection. It was so familiar, something Scott had heard a million times before. He remembered at least that much now.
“We didn’t forget you,” he said, leaning across the gearshift to speak into the receiver himself. It felt absolutely critical that Stiles know this, that he was too important to be erased.
Fuck, hearing his name in that voice was something else. It seemed to shift everything in Scott’s world a centimeter to the left, or shift it back to where it was always supposed to be.
“Hey, buddy,” Scott said through a throat suddenly tight with emotion. “We didn’t forget! Well, we did. But not completely! And I think it’s coming back.”
“We’ve been looking for you,” Malia said, her face appearing over Scott’s shoulder so she could be heard. “Like, non-stop.”
“Stiles, where are you?” Derek asked, practical as always. “What can you tell us about where you are now?”
“Is that Malia too? And Derek?” Stiles asked with a shaky laugh. “Jesus, it’s good to hear all your voices again.”
“Stiles, tell us where are you,” Lydia reiterated. “We need to know where you are so we can find a way to bring you back.”
“I don’t know how—last, it’s not a—thing,” came Stiles’ voice again, interrupted with bursts of harsh static. A chill ran through Scott, dread dumping his heart into his stomach.
“No, no, no, no,” Lydia muttered, examining the dials as if they might somehow make the signal stronger, but she didn’t dare actually touch any of them in case it messed up the connection instead and they lost him completely.
“Stiles, you’re breaking up,” Derek said. His jaw was clenched and the steering wheel was squeaking under the force of the grip he had on it, but his voice was steady and calm. With Stiles’ scent all around him, he was in control.
“Shit,” Stiles said. “I don’t know where the hell I—kind of train station, everyone says they’re waiting to board but—never—all like zombies, man, it’s freaky weird.”
“Is there a way out?” Scott asked.
“All the doors lead right back here,” Stiles said, frustration obvious. “Following the tracks is a no-go too. There’s—stical portal thing that the Ghostrid—ne guy tried but he—very dead, so I don—”
“We’re gonna find a way to get you out of there,” Malia said. “You hear me, Stiles? We need you here.”
There was an extra loud blast of static, making all of them flinch. Then Stiles: “Shit, they’re com—gotta—they can—”
“Wait, Stiles!” Derek called, but the connection had already gone dead, just a flat buzzing again. They all stared at the radio, lost for words.
“Now what?” Malia asked. She turned to Lydia, then to Scott, eyes wide and lips pressed tight together. She was upset, that much was obvious, but over that was determination, the stubborn drive to get the job done no matter the odds. Derek’s face was carefully blank and shuttered, but he was watching Scott too, ready to follow whatever directive he gave.
Scott looked at Lydia, but she was still staring at the dead receiver in her hands, mouth open around words she hadn’t gotten the chance to say. He swallowed hard, breathing in the scent of Stiles all around him.
“We’ll all meet at the loft,” he said. “We have research we need to do.”
The loft was crowded with everyone in it. There hadn’t been enough places for them all to sit down back when there were five people in the pack, much less sixteen (with the pack-adjacent Danny, Corey, and Chris included). Now there were people laid out on the floor, sitting two deep in each other’s laps on the lone couch, leaned up against the support pillars. Lydia was perched on the couch’s arm, Allison’s hair tickling her arm and Isaac’s shoulder in her side.
Everyone was tense. It was hard not to be with the specter of their missing friend hanging painfully between them.
The sophomores were the least affected. They, for the most part, were more concerned with the Ghostriders themselves and the threat they posed than they were with getting Stiles back. More people had gone missing, said Hayden. Frequency of storms and lightning strikes was up by a frightening amount, said Mason. They needed to do something to stop them before the whole town was gone, said Liam.
They were right. Of course they were right, and it was good and responsible of them to focus on that. Lydia would have joined them in their research, would’ve set up shop in front of the two dozen books they had laid out on the floor and applied herself to crafting the most ingenious plan she could possibly have come up with, but she couldn’t focus no matter how hard she tried.
She could hear the squeal of the radio frequency sometimes; Stiles reaching out maybe, trying to get through to them again. They hadn’t connected the one time that she had rushed down to the Jeep, now parked in the loft’s lot. There had only been more dead air. Still, resisting the urge to run back to it every time the radio crackled in her ear wasn’t easy.
A man she’d never seen before was sitting, still and expressionless, on a fragment of a bench by the loft’s heavy metal door. He wasn’t really there. No, he was in the train station, eternally awaiting his train on that other plane. It had only taken a few minutes for Lydia to realize that these figures weren’t appearing before her like such things usually did: as portents, as symbolic representations, as a means of guiding her to the information she sought. These visions of the other realm, still coming to her with growing frequency, weren’t her own visions at all: they were his. She was seeing through Stiles’ eyes.
Every once in a while her sight blurred completely, momentarily overlaid with shapes and colors of another place, the place Stiles was inhabiting. She had caught a glimpse of tall stone arches once, of a dark tunnel with tracks disappearing into it, of a dusty board of departure times where everything was delayed. She had turned her head and seen an entire row of people all lined up beside her, absent and dull, waiting patiently for their train to come in.
“This is really freaking me out,” Erica said to the room at large. She was lounged out on the floor in front of the couch, hair fanned out around her and feet propped up in Boyd’s lap. “I found an old diary of mine at home that I swear I used to write embarrassing shit in all the time. Now it’s practically empty.”
“What, were you drawing hearts around Stiles’ name or something?” Jackson asked from where he was sitting against one of the support pillars. Danny was on the adjacent side of it with his omnipresent laptop on his knees, contributing to Mason’s statistical analysis of storms in the area that he hoped would be able to track the Ghostriders’ movements.
Erica didn’t rise to the bait. “Maybe I was,” she said. “Why else would all that stuff be gone? Along with, like, at least half of freshman year history class. I had to have been crushing hard on Stiles, but now I can’t remember any of it. Really freaky.”
“You think that’s freaky?” Malia asked from around the couch where she’d been sitting, leaning back against the opposite side from Lydia. “I can’t remember having sex for the first time. That’s definitely something I should remember, but I don’t, which probably means it was with him.”
“TMI, Malia,” Isaac groaned, letting his head fall back into Lydia’s lap.
“Well, it’s true,” Malia protested. “I mean, I went into Eichen House as a virgin and came out not a virgin. I’m definitely missing something crucial in the middle there.”
As Lydia was jostled by Isaac’s half-hearted attempts to kick Malia with Boyd, Erica, Kira, and Scott all in the way, her eye was caught by a flicker of...something. For a second, she had thought she’d seen a light, somewhere just past Malia’s head, but there was nothing there. Probably just a reflection off the glass of the window. The man by the door was gone. There was a stone-faced family of four in the far corner now, unknowingly facing the wall.
“Eichen House,” Allison said, once she’d gotten her seat to stop squirming underneath her. “Wasn’t that during the nogitsune debacle?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Malia said. “Why?”
“That’s one of those moments for me, you know?” Allison said. “The ones that are just a giant question mark.”
“We’ve all got a few of those,” Jackson said unhappily. “Or more than a few. It’s disturbing. Fucking Ghostriders…”
“Disturbing, exactly,” Allison said. “Even before we all knew for sure we were missing someone, I’d had the thought. Like: why can’t I remember who it was the nogitsune possessed? That was kind of a big deal for us, wasn’t it?”
Chris nodded from his spot, shoulder braced against the other support pillar. “Derek practically threatened me over it,” he said, turning to the man in question. “You really didn’t want me to kill the nogitsune.”
Derek looked up from where he sat on the edge of his bed, elbows on his knees. “I was protecting someone,” he said.
“But who were you protecting?” Chris asked, as if they didn’t already know the answer.
Derek still frowned like he was really thinking about it, wracking his brain, digging around for some scrap of concrete evidence when he knew as well as the rest of them that he wouldn’t find anything. “I don’t know,” he said, frustration clear.
“Because it was Stiles,” Isaac said. “God knows, we wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to save the host if we hadn’t known them personally.”
“Yes, we would have!” Scott protested.
“Speak for yourself,” Jackson said with a snort. Danny paused in his work to pinch him.
“It really is weird though,” Kira put in. She was on the other arm of the couch, her legs over Scott’s lap and her chin propped on his head, his arm around her waist. “I mean, we know who’s missing now, but that doesn’t actually make it feel any better. The hole is there and it’s like poking at a sore tooth, you know? Even if I know the answer objectively, I still can’t stop torturing myself with the question. Like with the nogitsune.”
“The mountain ash line,” Boyd said. “Back when we were trying to catch the kanima. Everybody had a job to do that night, but who made the mountain ash line? The one that trapped you guys by the rave?”
“And who did I try to attack on my first full moon?” Isaac asked. He leaned around Lydia to address his former alpha. “Derek, you roared me into submission in the holding cell, but you only did that because you were protecting someone.”
Another flash of light made Lydia’s breath catch. Brighter this time, behind Derek. It hovered just for a split second before it disappeared, but Lydia was sure it had been there. It was the wrong angle for a glare. No one else seemed to have noticed it though.
Derek nodded and said, “Who worked Scott through how to control his shift? We know my teaching methods weren’t exactly effective. And speaking of the kanima—” He pushed himself to his feet, coming to lean against the table instead. “What about the time it trapped me in the pool at the high school? Erica was out cold, and I was in there until you came to help, Scott. Question is, how did you even know I was there? I certainly didn’t call beforehand. More importantly, I was paralyzed when I fell into the pool.”
“But Scott was with us for two hours,” Allison put in.
“Then how was I still alive by the time he pulled me out of it?” Derek asked, hands spread wide. “Someone else had to have been there or I’d be dead.”
“Stiles,” Scott said earnestly. “It was all Stiles. Everything we’re missing was him.”
Lydia couldn’t hide the gasp that escaped her when the light reappeared, accompanied by a faint sound like velcro, or like paper being torn. It hung in the air behind Scott, shifting, larger than ever and growing. Lydia could feel it: a sort of sucking sensation, a push and pull that buffeted her even from a distance, and for a moment she couldn’t form a single thought.
It was gone the next second, but everyone had noticed her reaction.
“What? What was that?” Hayden asked, distracted from her books.
She tried to blink away the afterimage, to get a hold on her disordered thoughts. She felt like she had learned and forgotten something all in an instant, like...like with Deaton’s hypnosis. The void she had borne witness to then, the one that had given her Stiles’ name. It had felt the same.
Allison’s hand was on her knee. “Lydia?” she asked, wary.
“I think that was—” A peek beyond the veil. A window into the other side. Maybe more than a window.
“Don’t go all nonverbal on us now,” Erica said, pushing herself up from the floor to a sitting position. “You know you gotta use your words when you see weird shit!”
“Give her a second,” Scott said. He shifted Kira’s feet off his lap and rounded the couch, crouching down to be on a level with Lydia. “You saw something just now,” he said, far less impatiently than Erica. “What do you think it was?”
Lydia didn’t get a chance to answer. Before she could, all the were-creatures in the room turned toward the door, catching some sound the rest of them couldn’t hear. A moment later the heavy door was shoved open and Sheriff Stilinski came stumbling through, something red clutched in his fist. It was Stiles’ lacrosse jersey, the one Lydia had brought onto this plane to prove his son’s existence to him.
“I have a son,” he announced, and it sounded like he was saying it for the first time, or maybe like it was the first time he truly believed it. “His name is Mieczysław Stilinski, and I remember him.”
The room exploded in motion as everyone scrambled to their feet, pressing in around the Sheriff, talking over each other, nearly trampling the sophomores and their books in the commotion. Lydia stayed where she was. She felt a little faint, like all the air had gone out of the room, like everything was just a bit bigger and closer than it should be. When she closed her eyes, she could almost feel that pull.
Malia’s voice won out in the end. “How?” she demanded. “How did you remember everything?”
“I don’t know,” the Sheriff said, the jersey held tight to his chest. “I was in his room and I just started seeing things. There was this ball of yarn, and push-pins. I started stringing them up all over the place like he used to on that board of his and everything just...came back. And then—”
He hesitated, forehead creased.
“Then what?” Scott pushed. “Sheriff Stilinski, we need to know. We need all the help we can get if we want to bring Stiles back to us.”
The Sheriff nodded slowly. Then he unwound the bundle of jersey and pulled out a photograph.
“This is Stiles and my wife, in the hospital,” he said hoarsely. “Her last good day. Stiles spent the whole day with her, just talking and talking. I found this in his room, pinned up on the wall, and when I looked at it… God, it sounds crazy, but I could’ve sworn I saw…”
It came out of Lydia’s mouth before she’d thought to say it. Everyone turned to look at her. The Sheriff’s eyes were wide.
“Yes,” he said. “This bright light. It opened up in the middle of his room, just for a minute, then it was gone again. I almost thought I’d imagined it.”
“You didn’t imagine it,” Lydia told him. The crowd parted for her as she came forward. Gently, she took the photo from his hands. It was Claudia Stilinski, as he’d said, in the standard issue flimsy gown on a hospital bed, her dark hair spread around her. The little boy sitting beside her had dark hair too and a smattering of brown moles across his cheeks.
Lights shone distantly at the edge of Lydia’s vision, just disparate sparks, not large enough to coalesce into a whole. But nearly.
“I know what we need to do,” she said. “I know how to get Stiles back.”
The photograph felt familiar. Not so much for its own sake but for the child in it, the thin little boy covered in freckles. He felt familiar, even if Derek doubted he had ever seen a scrapbook of Stiles’ childhood even before he was erased. He couldn’t form an image of the grown up Stiles in his head, but the dark color of his eyes, the curve of his cheek, the upturn of the nose were all things that Derek’s eyes knew.
Beside him, Malia had Stiles’ jersey in her lap. Every few seconds she brought it to her nose, reminding herself of his scent, anchoring herself with it. The photograph carried his scent too, strongly, like he handled it often. Derek was very careful not to hold it too tight or crinkle the delicate old material, no matter how much he wanted to cling to the evidence that Stiles had had a life. That he had always existed.
Lydia was on his other side, cross-legged on the loft’s concrete floor, her hands folded in her lap and her eyes open, distant. Scott sat across from him, his thumb tapping anxiously against his knee, and the Sheriff beside him.
Between the Sheriff and Lydia was Deaton, as calm and serene as always despite the strangeness of his circumstances. Maybe he had been involved in stranger things in his life; Derek had never managed to wheedle much of a backstory out of the man, not that he had tried all that hard. He had decided a long time ago that it was better not to ask questions where Deaton was concerned.
The rest of the pack was milling around them, standing outside their seated circle of six and watching. The lights were dimmed, bedsheets hung up as impromptu curtains to block the last of the evening light from the wall of windows. They could have found another place for this ritual, somewhere darker and quieter, but Deaton and Lydia both seemed to think having the whole pack in attendance would be most effective, and there weren’t many places that would fit sixteen people.
Even with the susurration of so many people breathing and shifting in an enclosed space, the dull thump of so many heartbeats at once, it was quiet. Hushed, almost muted. On the floor in the center of them Deaton had set up a small light, directed upward to illuminate the shard of glass that Scott had collected from the impound lot. Just an arbitrary focal point, he said.
It had the same blue-green tint to it as the ruined door in the abandoned house. Derek imagined he could smell the sulfur and gunpowder from where he sat.
“Focus on the light,” Deaton said, his voice pitched low. He didn’t need to project when most everyone in the room had advanced hearing. “Try to relax.”
This wasn’t quite hypnosis, Lydia had told them. It wasn’t a real trance they were aiming for here; all they needed was to let down their guards just a little bit. Enough for the memories to sneak in, like they had in Scott’s dream.
“They’re there,” she had said. “All the memories are still there in our subconscious, right under the surface. Stiles’ dad broke through and got his back, and the act of truly remembering Stiles was enough to punch a hole in the fabric of reality, if only for a second. Just imagine how much more powerful it would be if we all remembered at once.”
So here they sat, the five of them with the strongest connection to Stiles: his father, who overcame a magical mindwipe for the love of his son; his best friend, the two of them so close their scents were almost inseparable; the banshee literally seeing through his eyes to another realm; his ex-girlfriend, at least, who felt her return to humanity had been integrally linked to his presence in her life; and Derek.
Derek didn’t know what he was to Stiles, really. A packmate, obviously, and certainly a friend. He just knew that the scent on the photograph in his hands settled somewhere deep in his chest and sent warmth and security radiating through him. They were something.
“I want all of you to think of Stiles,” Deaton told them. “Not just of the name or the description you’ve been given. Think of the negative space. Think of the outline his absence has left behind, the irrevocable impact he has had on your life. When one looks at a light,” he said serenely, “its brightness leaves an inverse impression. The same can be said here in reverse. And the longer one looks, the clearer the afterimage.”
Derek breathed deep. The shard of glass twinkled in its spotlight, twisting a bit on the string that held it aloft.
He thought of the pool, of lapping waves closing in over his head and the suffocating helplessness of immobility. He thought of breaching the surface and coughing out water. Of being held up, buoyed and supported. There had to have been arms around him then, a chest against his back, a heartbeat in his ear.
“Let yourself float,” came Deaton’s voice. “Let yourself sink into the memories and be pulled along by the tide. Look for the shadows of what you cannot see.”
The glass shard twisted on its string.
Derek had come back for someone. He had been out of Beacon Hills, but he had come back because someone—Stiles—was in trouble. The wicked glint of the nogitsune’s teeth, too blurred around the edges in his mind’s eye. He had searched for days without stopping, too afraid to even sleep for fear that someone—Stiles—would be lost when he awoke.
“The memories are there,” Deaton said. Derek almost didn’t hear him. His pulse was loud in his ears, beating in time with all those around him, one communal throb of life. “Even if you cannot find them, the memories are there. Let them come to you.”
Derek felt the echo of a gunshot, the punch of a bullet in his stomach, his own hot blood on his fingers. A chilling white smile and tanned skin that rippled into blue fur. Days of nothing, stretches of emptiness where he had clung to anything but reality, seeking the refuge of that scent—Stiles—his anchor—Stiles—his safety when everything else was fear.
The shard twisted and gleamed. The hearts beat. There was a chill in the air, skittering along Derek’s overheated skin like static. Like lightning. Malia’s knee against his was trembling. Lydia’s breath hitched on every inhale.
“Breathe,” Deaton told them, soothing and steady when everything else was unmoored. “Let go of thought. You don’t need it here. Stiles exists beneath the conscious mind. You can feel him.”
The beating of Derek’s heart hurt, too big in his chest. His whole body moved with the force of it. Darkness crept in at the edges of his vision, tunneling until he couldn’t see anything but the light, flickering in front of him.
The glint of pale light on water. A heartbeat against his back, panic-quick but steady.
“Would you just trust me this once?”
The curve of a cheek, a familiar arrangement of moles.
“It’s my house, my rules, buddy.”
A rainbow of plaid. A graphic tee with a bullseye on the front.
Light flashing, brighter. Pulsing with the heartbeat. A high-pitched buzz of sound.
“We gotta get you out of here. The police are coming right now, and we gotta get you the hell out of here!”
The upturn of a nose. Eyes, brown, almost gold in the sun.
“I’m not afraid of you.”
White light, brilliant and growing. All around them, eclipsing anything else. Ringing in their ears, louder and louder. Lydia’s voice, words unintelligible but urgent, pleading.
A surge. Blinding.
The next breath Derek took felt like breaking the surface of the pool all over again, air rushing back into starved lungs until he felt lightheaded and dizzy with it. He folded over, panting, and rested his forehead on the cool concrete of the floor. He wasn’t the only one; Malia was on her back next to him, and Scott’s breathing was as labored as his own.
“Where is he?” Lydia was climbing to her feet already. Her eyes, when Derek could lever himself up enough to follow them, were fixed on the innocuous shard of glass, staring at the place where the portal had opened up. “I saw him,” she said, breathless and shaking. “Stiles, I saw him. I heard his voice, he was right there.”
“Did it not work?” Scott asked, fear spiking in his scent. “I...I remember. I remember everything, it has to have worked!”
Derek remembered too. Stiles, how could ever have forgotten someone as vibrant and memorable as Stiles? Someone who had been there with him through so much? He pushed himself to his feet, swallowing down bile at the thought that they might have failed. That Stiles could still be stuck in that hellish in-between dimension, alone and helpless and trapped. There had to be another way, something else they could try. Maybe if th—
A loud clank, and the grinding noise of the loft’s door being shoved open. The entire pack turned as one.
“Stiles!” Scott shouted.
He was already vaulting over the couch, throwing himself bodily at his best friend to wrap him up in a hug probably tight enough to break bone. Stiles gripped him back just as hard, saying his name over and over again.
The Sheriff was next and there were tears. A lot of tears, from both of them.
Lydia hugged Stiles around the middle and kissed him on both cheeks. She whispered in his ear that she loved him too.
Malia buried her face in his neck and wouldn’t let go until Erica pried her off.
It took a long time but Stiles was passed around the whole room, getting hugs from everyone in the pack, even Hayden and Corey, whom he barely knew. Even Jackson, who punched him in the chest first and called him a jackass for putting everyone through such an ordeal.
Derek hung back, just watching and taking in the sound of Stiles’ laughter ringing out over the babble of voices, the wave of ecstatic chemosignals from every person who cared about him. The loft would smell like happiness and relief and Stiles for weeks. Derek found himself smiling at that thought.
Finally, Stiles stumbled to a stop in front of him. His hair was a mess from all the times Isaac and Boyd had ruffled it. There was lipstick on his cheek from several of the girls. His eyes were bright with the relief of coming home. His smile was wide enough to make his eyes crinkle up at the corners, pressing dimples into both his cheeks.
Derek’s heart skipped a beat when that smile fell on him. He thought, oh.
“Aw, come on, big guy,” Stiles said, flapping his hands at him. “Don’t stand there all grumpy. You get a hug too, bring it in!”
Derek let himself be hauled forward. Stiles’s arms were as warm and strong around him as they had been in the pool, and twice as comforting now that he trusted them completely. He hugged Stiles back, trying to resist the urge that Malia had given into to bury his face in Stiles’ neck and just breathe him in.
Stiles let him hold on for longer than he expected before patting him on the back. As he pulled away, his hand trailed down Derek’s arm all the way to his wrist, the back of his hand, still holding tight to the photograph of young Stiles and his mother.
It took some effort for Derek to make himself release it, but he did. Stiles looked down at it, brow furrowed, then up at Derek again. Derek didn’t say anything and neither did he.
Isaac jostled into Stiles from behind, throwing an arm around his shoulders. “You missed four tests, just so you know,” he said, not sounding the least bit sympathetic.
“Wait a minute!” Stiles said, photo momentarily forgotten in his sudden alarm. “Four tests? How the hell long was I gone?”
“Less than a week,” Danny said.
“But it’s senior year,” Scott said with a grimace. “There’s tests, like, all the time.”
“Oh, that is bullshit,” Stiles groaned. “If they don’t let me make those up, I swear to god—”
In the end, Kira and Corey did most of the heavy lifting when it came to the final fight against the Wild Hunt.
As much as they all had wanted to spend more time celebrating Stiles’ rescue, the urgency of the larger situation at hand had reasserted itself with another rash of disappearances. Before long it seemed like half the population of Beacon Hills had been snatched up, whole neighborhoods of suddenly abandoned houses and busy streets completely devoid of cars. The pack couldn’t afford to wait any longer to make a move.
Kira worked the lightning, highjacking the Ghostriders’ primary mode of transportation to bring them to a place of the pack’s choosing for an ambush. Corey popped back and forth between the realms, dragging the Ghostriders fully into their world where they could be seen, and where they could be killed. Lydia’s banshee shriek seemed to stun and disorient them. Stiles guessed correctly that the Ghostriders’ own weapons would work against them where mundane weapons didn’t.
The fight was bloody, but it was quick. By the end of it, people had begun reappearing, fading back into existence and blinking around like they were just coming awake from a very long sleep. The Sheriff and Parrish, in their reassuringly authoritative uniforms, had rounded them all up, kept them calm, and fed them some kind of story that Derek had been too exhausted to care about before sending them all home.
It felt almost anticlimactic in a way. A good way, Derek decided. After many days of persistent disorientation and mounting anxiety, after all the damage the Hunt had done and the greater threat they had posed, it was a little surreal to realize that they had come out the other side of it without a single loss. No one was dead or even badly injured, at least not for long. This was a definitive, all-around win, and now everything could go back to the way it had been before.
A knock came on Derek’s door late that night, hours after the Hunt had been dispatched and the pack had gone their separate ways to rest and recuperate. Derek levered himself off the couch carefully—the gash along his side was closed by now, but still a bit tender—to answer it.
There was Stiles, loitering in the hallway, lopsided half grin on his face and hands stuffed in his pockets.
“Stiles,” Derek said, smiling helplessly. It felt so good just to see him, to have the confirmation that he was real. “What are you doing here? I thought you were helping your dad and Jordan get everything sorted out down at the station.”
“Ah, you know me,” Stiles said with a shrug. “Only so long I can stare at paperwork before my brain goes haywire and I gotta get out. Shredded all the incriminating forms I could stand and then staged a jailbreak.”
Derek hummed, unconvinced. “Your dad kicked you out, huh?”
“Parrish, actually,” Stiles admitted readily. “I’m pretty sure if my dad could have me surgically grafted onto his side right now, he would.”
As disturbing as that mental image was, it still made Derek laugh. The motion pulled at his healing wound. “Can you blame him?” he asked, bracing his shoulder against the wall to take some of the pressure off his side. “He’s glad to have you back.” We all are, he didn’t say.
“Glad to be back,” Stiles said. “Even if it does mean that I’m drowning in makeup work for an imaginary illness Melissa is forging documentation for.”
Derek chuckled again, swallowing back his wince. Even so, Stiles’ eyes followed the reflexive motion of his hand to his side. Derek cleared his throat, pushing himself fully upright again, suddenly aware that they were both hovering in the doorway.
“So what brings you by?” he asked. “Even if you’ve managed to detach yourself from your dad, I figured Scott would be next in line to hover over you. He was a mess without you, you know.”
“Sounds like everyone was,” Stiles said. He was fighting a smile, his scent undeniably pleased. “But, uh...I just kind of wanted to...check on you. You took a pretty solid hit there.”
Derek glanced down at his own torso where his hand still rested. He knew that, under the tank top, the skin there would be smooth and unbroken, if bruised for an hour or two more. Stiles knew that too. “I’m fine,” Derek said. “All healed up, just about.”
Stiles rocked back on his heels, nodding aimlessly. His hair was stuck up on the side like someone had been ruffling it again, or like Stiles had run his fingers through it a few times. He didn’t seem inclined to leave, despite having done what he had supposedly come to do, but Derek didn’t mind that. After so long with only faint echoes of the real thing, having Stiles’ scent so fresh and present was a little heady. Derek sort of wanted to sink into it and never come out again.
Instead he made himself step back out of the doorway and toward the couch, letting Stiles choose whether to follow. He did, shutting the door behind him. There was a moment of expectant silence as Derek sat on the couch’s arm, watching Stiles meander through the loft in the same general direction. He had the restless, fidgety air to him that usually meant he had something to say but wasn’t sure how to say it just yet.
“I could see you,” was what he came out with.
“See me?” Derek repeated. “What do you mean?”
“During the ritual thingy,” Stiles said with a vague gesture of his hand. “Through the portal as it opened up. I could see you all on the other side.”
“At least, I could see the five of you,” Stiles amended. His fingers combed through his hair, made a detour to the back of his neck, and then found their home in his pocket again. “The ones with the strongest connection to me.”
Derek felt heat in his cheeks, ridiculous as that was. “Oh.”
Stiles scuffed his heel along the floor, eyes on that motion instead of on Derek. “Scott said you and Malia both had a really rough full moon,” he said.
“Yeah, kind of.” That was an understatement, but Derek didn’t know what else to say. Another beat of silence.
“Were you ever gonna tell me?” Stiles asked, just before it went on too long. Derek couldn’t parse his tone.
“I—” Derek stopped himself. He sighed. “I don’t know,” he said, honestly.
Stiles chewed on the inside of his cheek. “Was there a reason you didn’t want me to know?” he asked. “I mean, how long has it been? You never said anything at all.”
Derek’s hands found their way to the couch’s arm underneath him, fingertips digging into the leather. “It wasn’t important.”
“Wasn’t important?” Stiles said, incredulous. “Dude, I’m your anchor. That’s kind of a big deal.”
“To me,” Derek allowed, unable to deny it no matter how much he may have wanted to. He was long past the point of deniability, especially with Stiles’ sharp eyes on him now, cataloging his every minute reaction. “It’s a big deal to me, but it doesn’t have to be to you.”
A werewolf’s anchor was important, intensely personal, an integral part of who they were. It wasn’t a two-way bond, though. The emotional connection didn’t need to be reciprocated, even when the anchor was a person. That wasn’t the point of it.
Stiles frowned. “What do you mean by that?”
“I didn’t want to put that onus on you,” Derek said, eyes downcast so he didn’t have to see Stiles’ reaction. The leather squeaked in his grip. “I didn’t want to make you feel responsible for me, or to make you uncomfortable by my fixating on you.”
“Why would that make me uncomfortable?”
Stiles sounded genuinely confused. Derek kept quiet, unable to bring himself to give voice to his reasons, his doubts. He didn’t want to point out that, of the werewolves in town, the majority of them had a romantic partner as their anchor. He didn’t need to.
A pair of worn Chucks appeared in Derek’s line of vision, toe to toe with his own bare feet. When he looked up, Stiles was looking back at him, his face inscrutable. From this close, his scent was a warm, almost tangible thing in the small space between them, and the quiet thump of his heart was clear. His was for once slower than Derek’s.
“It doesn’t make me uncomfortable that you care about me,” Stiles said, that heartbeat steady. “You have to know that I care about you too.”
“I know you do,” Derek said. They were pack, after all. They were friends, good friends even. “But…”
“Is this the part where you say something horribly noble and self-effacing about how I deserve better than you?” Stiles asked abruptly, and Derek’s next words caught in his throat. “Because I really think we can just skip over that and move on to the part where I say that I care about you more than you probably realize, and that when I was trapped in that godforsaken train station, I was missing you as much as you were missing me.”
Derek’s mouth opened and then closed again without releasing any sound. His heart kicked in his chest, tripping over itself in its haste to double its rate. Stiles was watching his face, dark eyes mapping his expression, waiting for a response.
“I mean, admittedly, I could be misinterpreting,” he said, when Derek took too long trying to process his last statement and marshal his thoughts into some kind of answer. He leaned back on his heels, shifting away, a spike of anxiety in his scent as he said, “But it’s just that the way Scott made it sound, it seemed like maybe… I just never realized that I was that important to you, is all. Not that friends can’t be super important, I mean, obviously they are. Malia and I are just friends now, and I’m still her anchor. I just thought—”
Before he could step out of range completely, Derek found himself reaching out without pausing to think. He caught Stiles’ hand on its way to run through his hair again and Stiles froze, breath held.
“You’re not misinterpreting,” Derek said. At least, he didn’t think so. Stiles hadn’t said it explicitly, but Derek was almost certain of what he hadn’t said. He grew even more certain when Stiles didn’t move away as Derek stood up, pushing forward into his space. He didn’t let go of Stiles’ hand, and Stiles didn’t pull it away.
“Yeah?” Stiles asked, voice hoarse.
His chest thrumming with an innocent sort of nerves that he hadn’t felt in many, many years, Derek lifted Stiles’ hand to his mouth and laid a tentative kiss to his palm. The spike in Stiles’ heart rate was loud and clear in his ears, the jump of the pulse beneath the delicate skin of his wrist where Derek’s fingers lay.
Stiles let out a shaky laugh, his lips tugging up into the beginnings of a real smile. “No martyrdom for the sake of my potential future with hypothetically more emotionally healthy romantic prospects then?” he asked. “Because really, I know you’ve got some serious issues, but so do I and I gotta tell you, that is not reason enough not to—”
“I am a lot of things,” Derek said. “But I’m not noble. And I’m definitely not that selfless.”
The smile bloomed into something wide and bright. “Both of those points are debatable,” Stiles said gamely, “but considering they are currently working in my favor, I’m not particularly inclined toward arguing them.”
“There’s a first,” Derek said wryly, and Stiles laughed.
The laughter faded as Derek tugged on his hand, pulling him in a few inches closer until they were almost chest to chest, but the smile stayed. So did the new notes in his scent, something spicy and sweet that felt like happiness. Stiles’ free hand came up to Derek’s waist, settling along the fading bruise of his healed wound, gentle and deliberate.
“You know it’s almost gone, right?” Derek asked as Stiles’ thumb swept over the worst of it.
Stiles shrugged. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “I still worry though—anxiety’s a bitch like that—and I just don’t like seeing you get hurt. Any of you.”
“I’m okay,” Derek said, warmth spreading through him from every point of contact between them. Then, with a squeeze of Stiles’ hand in his: “A bit better than okay, truth be told.”
“Aw, because of little old me?” Stiles asked, batting his eyelashes innocently.
Derek quirked an eyebrow at him. “Whatever could make you think that?”
“Hey, I have it on very good authority that you were a mess without me,” Stiles pointed out, swaying into him. Derek took his weight, letting Stiles rest against his chest. Stiles’ hand slipped from his and came to rest at the nape of his neck instead. It felt good there.
“Maybe a little bit.”
Stiles beamed at the confession. “You know, I’ve never been so popular,” he said. “Everybody suddenly wants to hang out with me! I’m gonna have to draw up a schedule to make sure everybody gets some Stiles Time and no one feels neglected. My calendar’s about to get very full.”
“You’ll pencil me in though, right?” Derek asked.
“I think I have a slot open in June,” Stiles said slowly, pretending to think about it.
Derek shook his head, biting back a persistent smile of his own. “It’s a date.”