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Beacons and Groves

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Scott was walking down the path that connected the animal hospital with the various other buildings of the veterinary school. It had been a long day (and the week was not even over!), and he just wanted to get back to his place to enjoy some peace and quiet. Perhaps enjoy the longest day of the year (it was late June, after all) sat home doing nothing for a while. He fancied an ice-cream, now that he thought about it. In any case, he’d certainly have to ring his mom and find out how the week was going for her, if Chris Argent was going to be around (two years on and he still had to get used to the idea of those two being together), and let her know he was planning to go home for the weekend. He was really looking forward to a calmed weekend in Beacon Hills.

His last weeks had been hectic, but it was all college related: readings, labs, animals, assignments, all the usual but increasingly concentrated because of the imminent arrival of the summer break. He had had all his exams already, but somehow he was still working around the hospital and doing extra work after them. Scott had had no time to complain about the lack of supernatural activity during the last months of his life, which thankfully he had managed to avoid somehow. He didn’t know how or why, but he knew that the less he thought about it, the happier he would be. In fact, he was actually very glad there had been no poorly-understood but somehow ever-present and blood-thirsty shapeshifter roaming around his part of California in the last months. To be fair, after the weeks in which Ms Monroe and her fanatic hunters had shot, knifed, and arrowed him and his pack, all seemed to have got much quieter. (God, that’s nearly two years ago! It’s been quiet for too long…). He immediately knew he had jinxed his luck by simply thinking that and shook his head while pulling tighter his backpack’s straps. All these thoughts vanished when a small group of people leaving the small animal clinic bumped into him (sorry, sorry, I was miles away, didn’t see you coming out!), bringing Scott back to the world of the fully conscious of their surroundings.

He kept walking, making a short mental list of his to-do things for the evening while heading towards his car. His Jeep. Stiles’ Jeep. He added calling him to his list, but first of all came ice-cream. Driving along the road, heading to the shops, Scott felt his phone buzz once. This was followed by various buzzes in quick succession, his phone vibrating non-stop in his back pocket. He looked at his watch and guessed it must be either Liam or Stiles in the Pack group chat. By the furious sequence of buzzes he reckoned Stiles had something to say. Not necessarily something important that required his immediate attention (he would have called), but something which required to be explained to lots of different people who were not in front of him at the same time. In short messages. With the occasional gif to further express his meaning when words were lacking. Scott really liked the way the pack somehow always kept in touch, even if they were spread all across the country. Lydia had gone to the MIT when he had begun in UC Davis; Stiles had gone off to become an FBI agent and was still going out with Lydia. Haley had left Beacon Hills for good by the time Scott and his year group had finished school and positively cut all connections with the pack, although Liam heard back from her from time to time. Liam himself had finished high school last year and the following autumn he got himself a lacrosse scholarship and was in Denver (majoring in “archaeology, or anthropology, or something like that” he kept saying, not having really decided yet). Mason was definetly doing anthropology and mythology (intense), and very serious about it although he had gone down to UC Santa Barbara. Corey went with him although he had not gone to college and preferred to get himself a job there so they could be together.

Their group chat conversations kept them in touch and updated. They all knew about each other, even if it was mostly Stiles texting, Mason always ready with a reply or more information, consciously giving Stiles more to talk about. Lydia had always time for a sarcastic and witty remark, while Liam always appeared to check his phone too late, finding himself having to go through 78 messages simply to find out why Stiles had sent a picture of a cat sitting on top of a racoon. Scott was not completely happy with this arrangement, but it was the best way to keep his pack actively in touch. With most of them, at least. Malia would seem to be simply reading, hardly ever adding anything more than a thumbs-up or an “ok”. But at least she was in the chat, not like Derek, who left every time anyone dared add him. She really did not take Scott going off to college well; and, while she was the only one still living in Beacon Hills other than Derek, she had almost fallen back to her lone coyote ways, always planning to work with the sheriff, but never actually making the first step in that direction. Scott did not think about her that often any more. He obviously cared about her as a member of his pack, but their near-relationship never really properly developed, which probably preserved their friendship.

By the time Scott was out of the car and walking into the shop, he had a chance to read his messages. As he thought, Stiles had a very complex theory about the true relationship between Rey, Kylo Ren, Luke Skywalker, and the ewoks, based on the layout of the latest film’s poster and something about the key change in the soundtrack and … Scott quickly jumped over the backs and forths between Stiles and Mason, the occasional chipping in of Corey and Lydia’s virtual eye-rollings. Eventually Stiles shouted in block capitals at Scott for not having seen any of them yet, despite the many threats to sit him down for a movie marathon. He was on the queue with two litre-tubs of double chocolate ice-cream when his phone buzzed again, although this time it was not the pack chat. It was an unknown number, and the amount of digits in the number suggested it was foreign. He read it:

 

<unknown> 00335 72 28 35 70  22/06/2019 17:58

Hey scott pls you need to see this we need to do sthg about it

<unknown> 00335 72 28 35 70  22/06/2019 17:59

[image201902214][download]

<unknown> 00335 72 28 35 70  22/06/2019 17:59

I think it could happen there too

<unknown> 00335 72 28 35 70   22/06/2019 18:00

[….]

 

The last message did not appear to have been sent. It still said that the other person was typing. But nothing came through. Scott got to the till and paid, waiting to see if something else came through, but suddenly it said that the person at the other side of the phone had gone off line. He got to his car and sat at the wheel. He tried calling the number, his curiosity stronger than his concern at this one moment, but a recorded message replied in French. Scott decided for an alternative route, and quickly asked his pack:

 

<Scott> 22/06/2019 18:06

Guys, not Star Wars related

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:06

There is nothing not Star Wars related

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:06

In fact, I’m sure that whatever you’re gonna say can be linked to SW

<Mason> 22/06/2019 18:07

Not everything can

<Scott> 22/06/2019 18:07

Where is 0033 from

<Scott> 22/06/2019 18:07

?

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:07

OMG don’t you dare say that Mason

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:07

You’ve lost sooo many points there

<Lydia> 22/06/2019 18:07

Stiles…

<Lydia> 22/06/2019 18:07

What do you mean Scott?

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:07

0033?

<Corey> 22/06/2019 18:08

Is it a post code?

<Scott> 22/06/2019 18:08

It’s a phone number

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:08

You need more numbers for a phone number Scotty

<Scott> 22/06/2019 18:08

No, I know, I mean a number that starts with 0033

<Mason> 22/06/2019 18:08

That’s France

<Lydia> 22/06/2019 18:08

A French number

<Lydia> 22/06/2019 18:08

Who’s calling you from France at this time?

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:09

How do you know?

<Mason> 22/06/2019 18:09

How many hours ahead is France?

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:09

Wait Scotty

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:09

Who’s ringing you from France

<Scott> 22/06/2019 18:09

It’s not a call, I got a very cryptoid message

<Lydia> 22/06/2019 18:10

Cryptic

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:10

Who do you know in France??!

<Corey> 22/06/2019 18:10

Just let him explain

<Mason> 22/06/2019 18:10

The argents

<Lydia> 22/06/2019 18:10

It’s whom Stiles

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:10

Some of the argents?

<Liam> 22/06/2019 18:10

Stiles I havnt seen it yet, pls don’t spoil it for me

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:11

Not helping lyds

<Mason> 22/06/2019 18:11

Catch up Liam ;)

<Scott> 22/06/2019 18:11

I tried calling but it wont work

<Scott> 22/06/2019 18:11

Some automatic message in French

<Scott> 22/06/2019 18:11

I just received this from an unknown number

 

Scott did a screen capture and send the short conversation with the French number to the group chat, while noticing he had not actually downloaded the image yet. When he opened it he saw a moved, grainy, and dark picture but he would  be lying if he said he recognised what it was. It certainly looked like a tree being hit by lightning in the distance. But it was a bright green and completely straight lightning, and the tree was illuminated by a circle of small fires surrounding it. The fires also gave the impression that the tree was surrounded by trees and people, both simply blurry shadows in the picture. He forwarded the picture to the pack and waited for the inevitable discussion.

 

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:13

I told you it was SW related!

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:13

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:13

IT’S A TRAP!!

<Mason> 22/06/2019 18:13

Yes!!!!!!

<Scott> 22/06/2019 18:14

??

<Lydia> 22/06/2019 18:14

Don’t get them started Scott

<Liam> 22/06/2019 18:14

What’s that green laser coming out of the tree?

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:15

It’s not coming out of the tree

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:15

It’s hitting down into the tree

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 18:15

Trees don’t spit lasers

<Mason> 22/06/2019 18:15

Why isn’t the tree burning?

<Scott> 22/06/2019 18:15

Let me get home first my icecream is melting

 

Without checking for replies, Scott put the Jeep in gear to get back to his place, dreading the prospect of having to read through the entire conversation his pack was having as he drove (and of which he was aware because of the constant buzzing of his back pocket). As he drove down the road his mind was racing. (I’ll have to ask Argent. And I’ll have to tell Derek. And who in France knows my name and phone number?) The only people he could think of that he knew abroad were Ethan and Jackson and they were in London – and he had their numbers. He quickly jumped over that subject, leaving it aside as something he could deal with later. Scott decided to focus on the picture he was sent, trying to remember it in detail so to understand it better. He immediately pushed aside the mental image of an evil Christmas tree (there was no denying that a glowy tree was evil, and Stiles would definitely agree on that) and tried to think more in perspective. Fires, and trees, and a green beam like the one the aliens had in Independence Day, which Coach loved to quote. If werewolves were real, maybe aliens were the next great revelation of his life – but Stiles had never been very keen on them (and now he was in the supernatural know and crawling his way into the government cover-up know). He filed aliens mentally into his “perhaps” folder. The creepy human shadows and the fires around it did not give a better mental image, as only weirdos went out in the forest at night. Well – he might have been convinced to do that himself, but he was in High School, and it never involved dancing around fires in trees. As he was getting to his place and parking the Jeep he was more and more convinced that the tree rather than the green light was the important thing. It was the flipping centre of the picture after all. Scott was running up the stairs to his flat, with the chocolate ice-cream tubs tucked under his left arm, his right hand fishing his keys out of his pocket, and his left hand quickly dialling Stiles (speed-dial 1).

“Hey, man!” Stiles answered nearly immediately. “How’s the ice-cream?”

“It’s the nemeton, Stiles!” interrupted Scott. “The tree, the shadows dancing around it, the fires, the ceremony. Druids! It’s the nemeton!” At the other side of the line Scott only got silence. “Stiles?”

“Yes, Scotty, we all got there,” came the reply. “You haven’t been reading our messages, have you?”

“No, Stiles – I was driving and trying to think about the picture,” Scott insisted.

“Well, great minds think alike! We all got the nemeton reference.” In the background, Scott could hear Lydia saying “it was Liam who said it first!”

“Yes, Lyds,” Stiles said, and Scott could hear his friend’s eyes rolling. “Liam for once was up to speed. Scott, he’s a great guy, you know. Especially now he’s over his anger issues. And over Hayden. And he is now the people of Colorado’s problem. But bless him can he be slow at times. He fell into a hole, you remember?” Stiles continued ranting. Scott was already home, collapsing on the couch, and having a cheeky spoonful of ice-cream straight out of the tub (Thank god Mom is not watching). He tried to interrupt his friend: “Stiles…,” but to no avail. Stiles went on about Liam’s most recent heroic/comic accomplishments, although this time it was Lydia from Stiles’ side of the line yelling at him to focus. Scott couldn’t help to grin at the mild domestic bickering between his two friends.

“Could you just rewind to the point when you were telling me about the nemeton, and how you are summarising the hundreds of text messages you have exchanged on the chat while I was on the road?” Scott managed to ask. Stiles took a deep breath and explained.

As far as they all could tell, the image showed a tree – an important tree – surrounded by people, in some sort of circle lit by fires. It looked vaguely located in a clearing within a forest, and if the human shadows were not just hippies tripping in some sort of deep-forest, mushroom-induced orgiastic frenzy dance (and Stiles remarked that Mason was very specific about what these people did), it must have been some sort of druidic ritual. Or wiccan. Scott had to interrupt Stiles again after he went on the slight differences between both the neo-pagan cult (‘charade’ was the exact word used by his friend) and the actual occult-supernatural druidic knowledge of the Deaton type. Overall, witches, hippies, druids, or urban middle classes who got bored from their office jobs and preferred to frolic in the woods on alternate weekends.

“OK. Makes sense. Sort of. That much I could have imagined myself” was Scott’s reply. “What about the Green light?” And he really enounced the capital G.

“Oh, well. That we don’t know. The money is on a consequence of whatever ritual was taking place. Which is not good – just so you know,” Stiles mockingly warned him. “It could be a laser. It should be. I hope it’s a laser. Everything else is just too weird and potentially scary.”

“It’s not a laser, Stiles.” This was Lydia, it was evident from how her voice sounded that she had moved closer to her boyfriend. She sounded so close that she might have just snatched Stiles’ phone from his hands. “A laser would not behave in that way. It would not have glowed from within the timber as it seems from that picture. We know it’s not a laser. That’s what we know. Oh, and it isn’t a bolt of lightning either,” Lydia continued. “So, yeah, every other option is a certain possibility.”

Scott sat silent for a second, digesting the few bits of information they could be certain of, the handful of things they could sensibly guess, but the amount of unknown actually made him a bit dizzy. The pendulum was swinging away from the good times. Uncertainty loomed in the horizon. Scott would not go as far as claiming that it was chaos, doom, and gloom. But something was bound to happen. And probably the proverbial would hit the fan again in Beacon Hills.

“Thanks, Lyds. I’ll try to go to Beacon Hills as soon as possible. See what you can find out on your end, will you? I need to ring my Mom. And I need to tell Derek.” After a few good-byes and promises of updates (the pack chat was going to be busy), Scott hung the phone and his hand in his hands. Feet apart and elbows on his knees, Scott was trying to think about the course of action. He went to his phone again and saw the long list of unread messages (87 in total) that had been exchanged by his pack while he was driving, and then slowly continued by Liam, Mason and Corey while Scott has talking to Stiles. Without reading them all, and knowing the summary of what had been said, he could still sense the tension. It was an odd feeling which came from within. He had always been able to feel his pack (he had certainly felt their weakening bonds when Theo had tried to snatch it away from him), but now it was different. It was a sense of foreboding, a preparation for something unknown, but which was definitely not a large stack of pancakes for breakfast. Whether it was something wrong with the telluric currents or just the general feeling of his pack, he knew in his gut something was wrong, and it was not going to get better any time soon.

With this in mind, he rang Derek, without any luck. He quickly wrote a few messages condensing the recent developments, and hoped to get a phone call as soon as Derek read it. Scott then had a thought and texted Stiles.

 

<Scott> 22/06/2019 19:07

Can’t get to Derek, but explained him the gist.

 

He began to write a second message but deleted it without sending. He sighed, looked out of the window for a second, and then collapsed on the couch. He started texting again:

 

<Scott> 22/06/2019 19:08

Could you ask Malia if she has noticed anything weird back in Beacon Hills?

 

The reply came after a surprising while:

 

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 19:14

Surprise surprise, sourwolf being all mystery man

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 19:14

And yeah sure can do

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 19:14

Chin up man, you’re the alpha

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 19:14

You can have a normal conversation with Malia

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 19:15

Ignore that

<Stiles> 22/06/2019 19:15

You CAN have a pack conversation with Malia

<Scott> 22/06/2019 19:16

Thnx bud

 

By the time Stiles rang him back, Scott had ploughed through half a tub of ice-cream, and wasn’t feeling very well. He shouldn’t really be on eating-autopilot when thinking, but he couldn’t help it. Malia had been reading most of the messages that were sent, even if she did not feel the need to contribute. They all could do the thinking and she couldn’t come up with anything relevant. She also told Stiles (who was telling Scott), that she had not noticed anything unnatural in the preserve, but that only God knew about the nemeton. “She also said” Stiles continued, “that you should be stop being weird after two years and that you should just ring her if you wanted to.”

Scott obviously knew that. It is not that he still had feelings for Malia (that good ship sailed long ago), it was simply the awkwardness of having to sit and talk with her trying to ignore the fact that he basically packed and left to go to college. Especially knowing what had happened when they finally killed the Anuk-ite. It had not been very much like him to do that, which is why he felt so bad. The fact that he kept postponing having ‘the talk’ with feeble excuses (‘oh, but I’m in college now’, ‘I’m just back in Beacon Hills to see my Mom’, ‘I’m just in Beacon Hills for our pack meeting’). It was evident that Malia was over whatever might have happened, and she certainly had embraced (or they thought she had) her slow and lonely routine in Beacon Hills. The more he thought about it, the less Scott knew about why he just didn’t go for it and talk to Malia, even if simply to explain what had happened and why he did what he did. He’d have to give a lame excuse, but it was the only he could give: he’d been lame.

“Thanks Stiles,” said Scott, finally. “We can’t do much for the time being, and whatever it is, we don’t know how imminent the threat to Beacon Hills is. I’ll go back home for the weekend and have a look around myself. I’ll have to sit with Deaton and mention it as well…”

“Well, good luck with that! I doubt you will get much of use,” Stiles said jokingly. He knew well that the retired-emissary-turned-vet always said useful things. He also kept many other things quiet, though. “But if it is evil druids again, he’ll certainly be able to tell you. Maybe it will simply be a case of weird bankers prancing around the forest at an orgy that got out of hand.”

“GROSS” chuckled Scott. “I very much doubt that will be the case”

“A man can dream, bud. If only it was just that… In any case, this weekend we will get some first hand information and, in the mean time, your Chief Executive Researcher, which is yours truly—“

Scott interrupted him there, “I don’t know what Mason would say about that. Or Lydia!”

“Don’t you dare question my credentials or my role in this pack, McCall!” He just imitated Jackson there, making Scott laugh. “Whatever it is, we will find out soon enough. Scotty, just remember that when the time comes, we trust you. You’ll make the right decision…”

Stiles continued talking on the phone, but Scott was not listening anymore. Something was clenching his stomach; realisation slowly setting on him. They had been discussing the message and the content for so long that he almost had forgotten something key. They still did not know who the sender had been – who was trying to warn them about a glowing nemeton in France. Stiles’ last sentence had triggered something in Scott, reorganising suddenly his proprieties and his train of thought. He had blanked his phone call altogether. Only one word resounding in his head: trust. Trust. France. Message. Trust. We trust you. Pack. France. Argents. Allison. At this point Scott was beginning to feel anxious, as if the walls of his room were collapsing on him. Positively claustrophobic. Claustrophobic. I trust you. France. Pack … I’m not telling you—I’m asking you. I’m asking for your advice …  Because I trust you. He knew who had contacted him. He knew who was warning them. And he felt dreadful about it, because it had taken him too long to link the dots. The penny dropped. “ISAAC!”

Chapter Text

Beacon Hills, three years ago

Isaac was at the Argents’ apartment (this used to be Allison’s apartment…). He had followed Chris Argent back, and walked in through the door with him. Allison had just died. She had been murdered by the Oni. The sheer weight of grief and the pain he felt inside kept growing, until he did not know what to do but to follow the hunter home, who had just last her daughter. Isaac shut the door behind him.

“I appreciate your concern, but you don’t have to stay,” said Chris in the dark corridor, not looking back at the blond teen. “I’ll be alright.” Isaac wasn’t sure Chris was. He definetly was not going to be alright any time soon. “I’ve dealt with this before,” continued the hunter, still in the gloomy corridor. “I-… I have a capacity and…” the older man was pacing now around Isaac, “an ability to compartmentalise my emotions.”

Isaac couldn’t do that. Not yet. He was still in shock and scared. The fact that neither of them actually dared look at each other highlighted how much Chris Argent was keeping a stiff upper lip as a façade, hiding his true feelings. Isaac turned around, facing Allison’s dad, “I don’t,” was all he managed to say. They hugged each other for mutual comfort, for reassurance, so neither Chris nor Isaac would have to face the following hours on their own.

***

Later that night (earlier next morning), the Nogitsune had been expelled from Stiles and trapped in the triskelion urn. Aiden was dead. The pack’s world was turned completely upside down, as if by a massive earthquake. The pack was in shock, Scott even more than Isaac. Lydia wasn’t in a better place, and Stiles was just trying to come to terms with what he (or, rather, his evil alter ego) had done. Ethan disappeared – or so Danny told them with a sad wink in his eye. And Isaac had a lot of time to think.

He avoided being in the McCall’s house (being… home?). Something in the back of his head (that small bit which stayed cool enough to focus away from Allison) told him that he and Scott would end up in a shared pit of tears and sorrow, which would not be good for either of them. Also in his mind, but somewhere else entirely, Isaac’s wolf was most definitely pushing him directly towards Scott, looking for consolation and comfort in his pack, a basic instinct to be with his own family. But Isaac’s head was too busy overthinking, and he was trying to make cold, logical decisions.  He took a decision to put a few clothes in his backpack and sneaked his way out of the house. Thankfully, Scott had not really left his room, so it was easier for Isaac to head back to the Argents’ apartment unnoticed.

There he stayed with Chris for three days, both of them silent, deep in thought, digesting the recent events, and avoiding talking – especially about Allison. Chris appeared to be holding remarkably well, considering he had all of his family in the last few months, but the tall boy thought that was only the outside. Stiff upper lip. Stoic, like a Roman. Seeking comfort in his family code, compartmentalising his feelings. Isaac at first had that gut feeling telling him to stay around Allison’s room, fearing to forget her scent, or her smile, or the sound of her voice. He needed some alone time without really wanting to be on his own, and Chris had accepted his company, because it really reflected what he also needed. Isaac thought this was the hunter’s way of silently acknowledging that he also needed him there.

What Isaac got out of those days was, above all, thinking time to understand and sort out his feelings. Isaac couldn’t help feeling the loss of Allison as the loss of a friend. A very close friend. And that was something that will ever be with Isaac. He had long ago forgiven and nearly forgotten when she had stabbed her repeatedly with knives. But just as Scott appeared to have shifted away from her, Isaac managed to gain her attention and affection. A crippling doubt now sat inside him, however. It emerged after he had seen how Scott had held Allison for that one last time, and how they had looked at each other, talking tons without saying words. Worth making a film about it, Isaac allowed himself to think with the tiniest of sad smiles. Isaac fought the occasional thought that he had been just a rebound for her when he remembered all the kind words he got from Allison, and the kissing. And the naked body painting. But still, he was understanding that the first-love effect that Scott and Allison had had was something he would never share with her in the same way. It hurt, but he had convinced him that he could and would move on. At least from their short romance.

Then he stepped back to look at the wider picture. To think about his place in Beacon Hills, and those thoughts led Isaac back to a dark place where he had thought he would never return. It all revolved about his family. He had lost his family. His mum died of cancer. His brother Cam in the war. And his dad… His dad had killed a part of him, almost completely snatching way his feelings and memories of a happy childhood with mum and Cam. He had given him many other things in exchange, which still made him shiver. Punches. Kicks. Insults. All sorts of verbal abuse (you’ve destroyed this family, it’s all your fault, your brother couldn’t stand being around you moping all the time, you’re weak, you’ll never be anything in life). He was pushed down the stairs. He was thrown into the wall. He had been locked him in the freezer… heal that time Isaac had the feeling that he was worthless ground into him; that it was his fault that his brother had abandoned them for the army. That his mum had got sick. That he should be thankful for what little he had because he did not deserve better. That his homework was never right. That his grades could be better. That the house could be tidier. That he’d never get far in life. That nobody would care for him... He got to believe all of that. All the kanima and Derek business simply removed his dad from the equation, but it did nothing to convince him that he wasn’t as worthless as he had been made believe. Derek had actually kicked him out in the rain. How could I deserve a family if even my alpha doesn’t need me? He didn’t have a family. He didn’t have a pack. He didn’t have a place in Beacon Hills.

His inner wolf argued against this: they had a place in Beacon Hills. They had a pack and a family. They had Scott. But logical, level-headed Isaac replied that the weeks he had been in Scott’s pack had been a break from his usual life, from what he deserved. He couldn’t stay. It wasn’t his place. Allison had been his friend, and she was gone. Derek had been his alpha but had used him to make him more powerful and to fight the Alpha Pack. Scott had pitied him and taken him in, and… an had actually cared about him ever since he was turned… and that last thought was the one that weakened his resolution, he decided to ignore it and stick to the previous ones. The harsh and certain ones. He only had a family (which was all dead) and he didn’t deserve a new one. I can’t have a new family like the McCall’s. I don’t fit. It’s not my place. It’s not for me. I can’t burden them with me. This did nothing but harden his decision to move on and move away, pushing his anguished wolf deep inside him, keeping him quiet, ignoring him, and bottling up all those thoughts that told him to stay. He also had to remind himself to stop thinking about Scott… again.

Thinking about Scott was very difficult for Isaac. He had always known him from school, much in the way he had known Stiles, Danny, or Lydia. They had been classmates for a few years, but they had hardly talked at all – not until he became a werewolf at least. Isaac had had few friends at school, partly because he had been too shy to go and play with other kids. He had always preferred to play with his brother, whom he adored. Matt had become his friend because both their mothers worked together, so they had been basically paired up. Jackson had been his neighbour since they were only little, and they had used to go to each other’s place to play. But since Mum had died, Isaac had further retired into himself. Matt and Jackson noticed something was not right and they moved on and stopped really talking to him. Besides, the fewer people he spoke with, the less likely it was they would notice his bruises – even those he could possibly claim were from lacrosse. It only led to uncomfortable silences and questions. Perhaps that is why he had always envied Stiles and Scott, who were always together having fun, backing each other, and usually up to no good. He also had a fixation with Scott McCall because he was adorably cute and handsome, and he fancied him so much. Isaac had always liked the way he smiled and his big brown eyes. He loved how his face beamed when he was happy. Isaac was very conscious that for the last couple of years he had had a big crush on him, and would have loved to get to know him better, but he was absolutely terrified of what Dad would do to him if he even ever suspected he liked a boy. Besides, Scott had never shown any interest in him like that. As far as he could tell he was obviously into girls, so Isaac had decided to give up on his Scott crush, which had sucked and hurt (and he wasn’t even sure if he could really do it) – but he somehow managed it. Becoming a werewolf helped because he could become a new Isaac; a confident and cool Isaac who got new friends and had no time for Scott. He might have been on a mission, but he got to dance with Erica and with Jackson, which had really turned him on. It was annoying that since he got the bite he ceased to be invisible to Scott, but at that point he didn’t really care that much. Things had turned for the worse when the Alpha Pack appeared (what, with him being kicked in the rain and so), but even when Scott had taken him in Isaac was too busy worrying about things other than moving in with his old crush. Then Allison came along, and after being thrown into the wall that one time, his relationship with Scott normalised. But now that Allison was gone Isaac was not sure about he and Scott living together. It was better not to think about it at all.

On the fourth morning, Isaac was more willing to accept the situation and what seemed to be his upcoming new life. He forced himself out of his sorry state and slowly walked to the kitchen, his eyes still red from tears, his head pounding from overthinking, and his voice raspy from not having really talked to anyone in what seemed weeks. Chris was looking out of the window, one hand in his pocket, the other arm pressed against the window. He hadn’t changed clothes since yesterday (or were those from the day before?), and by the looks of the now cold coffee on the island, he had obviously been trying to busy himself in the kitchen without success. Isaac knocked quietly on the door frame, not wanting to startle the hunter: “morning.”

Chris turned around and looked at him without saying anything. He just simply indicated the teenager to come over with a nod of his head and then faced out of the window again. Isaac moved to the window and looked out into Beacon Hills, not really focusing on anything in particular, just staring into the distance. “Isaac,” Chris slowly began to say, “there is nothing I can do now in Beacon Hills. There is no one – nothing— for me in Beacon Hills, and will be going back to France.” As he said this, Isaac turned to him and crossed his arms on his chest, keeping now his head low, looking at his feet. “I still have some family there. I’ll have a purpose again. Y-… You have your pack here. Your school. You have Scott and Melissa…” Chris left his unfinished sentence floating between them.

“I don’t think I can stay.” Isaac was serious, even if he did not sound as confident as he wanted. “Derek is my alpha, and he does not want me. Scott…” Something churned inside him at the thought of Scott, and he had to pause. He really really wanted to avoid Scott-related discussions. His inner wolf disagreed, but Isaac was pass caring about what he whined about at this moment. He decided to ignorethat Scott had welcomed him into his home, that his mother had virtually adopted him, that Scott was (and had been for a while) his real alpha, and that Lydia, Stiles, Kira, and… and Allison—they were his pack now. Chris Argent was offering him an easy exit. Cowardly exit, some would say, but Isaac never had a high horse. To his advantage, he felt that their pack feeling was at a low minimum: he knew that the death of Allison was affecting everyone, but Isaac and Scott in particular. The hollow feeling in his chest, which he knew Scott also felt, was weakening their pack bonds, which made it easier for him to move away. He also had Dad’s voice echoing in his head, they are not your family, you’re not worth their time, you don’t deserve their pity, who would want you in their family?. It was now or never, and he made the decision in that instant, not wanting to think too much about it. “Scott will be better off without me. They all will. I’m coming to France.”

Chris turned to face the taller boy, who was still looking down. He put a hand on his shoulder and the other under his chin, so they looked each other in the eye. “You don’t have to rush up a decision, you—“

“Please,” Isaac interrupted, “please, Chris. I-… I need to go. I do not feel like belong here any longer.” The blond boy left out a sigh and walked away to Allison’s room, where he sat one last time, thinking about the short period of his recent past when he felt truly loved. He sat at the edge of the bed until he fell asleep with his head against the wall, hugging tightly a pillow against his chest.

***

Later that day it was all decided between Chris and Isaac, and while the hunter prepared everything on the California side (passports, tickets, suitcases, crossbows), Isaac slowly walked back to the McCall house. Despite all of his recent thoughts, he had to admit that at the very least he owed it to them. As he passed shops and restaurants, and trees and benches, Isaac tried to bring to mind happier memories from his own past that could be linked to those places. After all, he thought, I will always be from Beacon Hills, somehow. He wanted to take a few thoughts and memories from Beacon Hills with him. The very thought of not belonging anywhere was more frightening that whatever his dad could have threatened him with. Isaac walked by  a couple of sweet shops where he used to go after school to buy chocolate bars for him and Cam, standing quietly outside them trying to remember how his big brother always gave him a hug and ruffled his hair, thanking him for the chocolate. There was the comic book store where he had spent many Saturday mornings with Matt, arguing endlessly about what comic book they should buy next, or if they should start playing Dungeons and Dragons, or Runequest, or any other role-playing game where they could be someone else for a while, and confront and defeat their fears. There were places he remembered going with his mum, like that shop where he and Cam had been bought those hideous and itchy woolly jumpers, or the barbers where they got their hair cut at the beginning of every school term.

He avoided going by the school and his old house (Dad’s house), so he took a longer detour until he finally got to Scott’s street. He saw the McCall house at the end of the block and slowly made his way to the front door. As he approached, he could smell Scott, he could smell Melissa, and he could smell grief. He could also smell himself, a faint reminder that this had been his home, but again he pushed that thought aside. Before he managed to knock, Scott was already there, opening the door up for him. Isaac didn’t have a chance to say anything as Scott brought him immediately into a hug, his face buried against his shoulder and his arms tight around his back. Isaac did not know whom for was Scott doing it, but he guessed that both really needed it, and he hugged him back. At that point a warm and homely feeling grew in his chest, his wolf comforted and content, feeling cared for, but Isaac’s cold head pushed that aside: he did not want to make it more difficult for himself than it already was. He had taken his decision. It was best for everyone. He could not let Scott see how he truly felt, because it would make it worse.

“Hey, Scott,” Isaac managed to say. “I-… I came to see you. You and your mum. If she’s around.” As he said this, Isaac tried to look over and beyond Scott, into the house.

Scott looked up at the taller boy with his brown eyes and broke their embrace. He let him in. “Yeah, Mom is upstairs. She’s not working until later this evening. You ok?” He was genuinely concerned, and he could smell that Isaac was nervous. Scott decided to let it go for now, as he was beginning to feel something was about to happen. “Mom!” Scott called without breaking eye contact while Isaac stood by the stairs, fidgeting with his fingers and looking down. This is going to be tougher than I thought.

Scott dragged him in further inside the house until Melissa appeared. She was not looking her best, a worried face framed in dark curls looking towards Scott (who was not looking any fresher either), but her face lit up when she saw the blond teen. “Isaac, you’re here!” and she hugged him as well. “Isaac, where have you been? I’ve been worried sick about you! My boy…” Isaac found himself hugging her back, breathing in her familiar scent, enjoying this moment of true peace and comfort. All is well here. All is fine. If only I could stay her-… Isaac stopped that and gently pushed away from Melissa. He sat on one of the kitchen chairs, elbows on his knees, head down, and holding his own hands.

Isaac didn’t even dare look up as he said with a small voice “I’m leaving Beacon Hills. I’m going with Argent…” He lifted his head and eyed at what had been his family during the last weeks. “I’m sorry, but I can’t stay. I- I… I have to thank you so much for all you have done to me. You’ve been like a family, but—“

“What? No! Isaac?!” Scott jumped in. “You can’t leave. Not now. Not on your own. Not after what just happened.” His brown eyes, far more expressive than he was eloquent, were terrified and sad, making Isaac’s heart reconsider his options (stay! Stay with him), but he kept a cool head.

“It’s because of what just happened Scott… I think I need some time… on my own” Isaac was really trying to convince himself of his words as he looked up at Scott, who stood still, not knowing whether to lean towards Isaac or to seek support from his mum.

“Sweetheart,” this was Melissa, but she was talking to Isaac, much to Scott’s surprise. “If you need open fields and fresher air, or to go to the far corner of France to clear your mind, then that’s what you need. And that’s it.” After a short pause, she added: “ You know you can always come back to us.”

“Mom! You can’t be serious! Isaac can’t… not on his own” (Not away from his pack!), Scott managed to say.

“I’m sorry,” Isaac mumbled again.

“You don’t have to be sorry, Isaac,” Melissa was soothing him now, a hand on the tall boy’s shoulder. “You’re a young man who has been through too much, and it is normal to feel that moving away will give you a new start.” Scott could not quite believe his own mum was siding with Isaac. He really did not want his beta to leave. To leave the pack. (To leave me!). But he also knew that there was nothing he could do. Not right now. And, who knows? Mom is usually right – she might be right about Isaac needing a new start.

Isaac was still not used to being cared for and being treated with such empathy (especially from an adult), and this nearly brought him to tears—“I am sorry; you’ve been nothing but nice to me and I’m just abandoning you…” (I don’t deserve this. I’m not worth their caring).

“Isaac Lahey,” said Melissa pulling the blond teen up on his feet, “ –and if I knew your middle name, I’d have said it—you don’t get to say that, God only knows really, and I may not be a supernatural mom, but I can see into your head. And you better stop thinking whatever it is you’re brewing under those curls of yours.” Isaac smiled at this, while Scott managed to briefly smile, knowing very well how Mom was and how she could read teenage boys as open books.

“She’s right Isaac,” admitted Scott, who had seen Isaac’s blue eyes darken as he had apologised, “you… you deserve a fresh start. Even if it is in France.” Scott was not sure about how he felt saying those words. He was only saying this because his mum had said so, and he wanted to convince himself about it. His wolf did not feel that happy with letting pack go, though. But after the last events with the nogitsune, he could not really blame him.

“Thanks Scott. I did- … I really needed your, erm…, blessing? You know I trust you, and erm. Yeah. It was kind of important… for me.” Isaac was surprised he had managed to put his feelings into words – he had never managed to do that. The lump on his throat kept him from saying any more embarrassing things, so he trailed off with this as he walked to the front door, Melissa and Scott close behind him. “Will you please tell, erm, the pack? Please? They’ll understand it better if it comes from you…”

“Yeah sure.” Scott’s big brown eyes were sad, looking straight into Isaac, but he did not dare look back.

“Well… Thanks. Again. Thanks for all. I’m sorry, erm. Mrs McCall, I’m sorry. Thanks. Yeah. Bye.”

“Bye,” Scott finally muttered when Isaac was already on the street. Melissa held her son in her arms and brought him back into the house. Round the corner, and with a knot still in his throat, Isaac could hear the door clicking shut, and he questioned himself why this felt so wrong, and why he felt like if a lead ball was weighing him down from within. Then the dark thoughts straight from his past smacked him into his new reality. I don’t belong here. This isn’t my family. They don’t care about me.

***

Back in the flat, Chris was on the phone, talking in French, and when he saw Isaac coming through the door, he pointed towards and quietly mouthed instructions to go to his room. As Isaac went to the master bedroom, he passed by Allison’s open door, and he felt a big sob forming inside him as he saw that it had been largely packed away. Meticulously and surgically, boxes with clothes, books, and other items were cornered by the bed, which gave the rest of the room an eerie empty feeling. He went on to the end of the corridor where he saw two large suitcases full of what he could only guess was Chris’s stuff, and two empty pieces of luggage: a canvas bag and a medium suitcase. Isaac was so deep in his own mind that he didn’t hear Chris walking towards him.

“Get what you need from my room,” he said covering his phone with his hand while nodding towards the wardrobe. “We’ll be heading to the airport in an hour.” With that, Chris went back to his phone conversation, now yelling instructions down the corridor while Isaac grabbed whatever he think would fit him. None of the shoes or boots would do, but some of the tops (including a couple of flannel button-up shirts) and a few jumpers fitted him. In Allison’s room he knew he had left some clothes, which had been already put in the suitcase for him (a few white t-shirts, two scarves, a zip-up sweater and, more embarrassingly, a bunch of boxer shorts). There was even one of his scarves, which he had given to Allison and on which he could still smell her. He sighed and stuffed everything carelessly into the suitcase. He pulled his stuff to the corridor and sat on the floor, waiting.

Chris hung up the phone. He looked completely exhausted as he passed his hand s over his head, taking a deep breath. He went to the kitchen and came back with a wooden cylinder. Isaac was not sure what it was, until he saw the lid with a triskelion. A cold sweat began to form on his forehead, knowing very well what was captured inside that box. Memories of being possessed by the evil spirit and of him nearly killing the twins swiftly crossed his mind. Isaac swallowed and managed to ask, “why do we have that here?”

“It cannot stay in Beacon Hills, and cannot be destroyed just yet. It needs to go to an active nemeton. It needs powerful magic, and we will not find it here. Deaton came along and gave me some… instructions.” Chris was not sure either about what the veterinarian wanted him to do, but he had a contact, and a few indications, and he was happy with that. For the time being. “Are you going to be ok?”

“Yeah, sure…” Isaac replied, not really believing his own voice.

Chris left the box on the floor by Isaac and went back to the kitchen. Isaac was very softly touching the wood when he felt the power within. The pure evil and mischief of the fox. He could just think of Stiles, in growing admiration as he had the will and the strength (in the end) to fight the spirit out of him. If leaving for France was the way of ridding the world of this boxed evil, then his trip would be worth it. Chris came back again with a glass of water for Isaac, who silently thanked him.

“Listen, Isaac,” Chris began, “You can still stay back, you don’t need to do this for me, and you can continue being a normal teenager here in California. I can deal with the urn. I can deal with… Allison…”

“No,” was Isaac’s short reply. After a pause, he continued “I need to do this. For me. For us. I am not as strong as you, Chris.” Isaac admitted and felt that he would start crying again, thoughts of Allison, his home, his family, and his pack heavy on his heart. I don’t deserve them, he corrected himself. “I-… I’m coming with to France. I don’t belong here … not any more.”

Chris did not know what to think about what Isaac had just last said, but still he knelt down and put his hand on Isaac’s blond curls, making the teen look up. After a few seconds, and with a quick nod, Chris stood up again and grabbed his bags. “Then let’s go. All is being sorted in France. Someone will…” Chris Argent stopped for a fraction of a second, staring into the distance, but soon his eyes focused and hardened again, “someone will come here and store all our things.”

With these reassuring words and a helping hand from Chris, Isaac stood up. They took the heavier suitcases down to the car and came back up one last time. With his bag across his shoulder, Isaac looked back into the empty flat one last time, while he and Chris shut the door behind them for the last time.

Chapter Text

It was a long and uneventful flight, or so Chris told him: Isaac had never really left California, and had never been on a plane. He was lucky he had a passport. While on the plane, Isaac did enjoy the chance to pick the film he wanted to watch on the flight entertainment system. He wasn’t impressed by the food, but he had to admit that it took skill to arrange those tiny portions on the tray, as if it had been a game of tetris. All these novelties and the prospect of leaving for a new country and a fresh start  kept Isaac’s head busy and away from thoughts about his pack or Allison. Or Scott. And for the first time in a few days, Isaac fell asleep out of pure emotional exhaustion.

From San Francisco the flew all the way non-stop to London, and from there they jumped on a second plane for a much shorter flight to Paris. As they left the terminal with their bags (Isaac at that point not knowing what time or day or which day of the week he was living in), Chris walked through the gates and walked straight to someone who had to be a hunter. Isaac knew instantly. It was like looking at a French equivalent of Chris Argent. As they approached the man in a thin grey pullover and aviator shades, Chris said “bonjour, Andrew.” (Andrew? That’s not very French…).

“Hey, Chris,” replied Andrew, taking his sunglasses off. “I’m sorry, about Allison. We all are sorry,” he added as he grabbed Chris’ upper arm and looked him in the eye. “There is little else I can say, really.”

“Thanks, Andrew, don’t worry. I know what you mean,” Chris curtly replied. Isaac could clearly see these two men knew each other – they had a past. Before he could awkwardly cough to make himself noticed, Chris was talking again: “Andrew, this is Isaac.”

“Hey,” was all what Isaac managed to say, while readjusting the bag across his shoulder, and tending him a hand.

This Andrew hunter was… looking at him. Measuring him up. He looked straight into Chris’ eyes, asking the obvious werewolf-related question with his eyebrows. “Yes he his, Andrew,” Chris reassured him, “but take it from me that him we can trust.” He added extra emphasis on this last word, and without any more words, he began to walk towards the car park. With a second judging stare but, this time, with a knowing smirk, Andrew took Isaac’s hand and shook it firmly.

“Come on, lad,” said Andrew as he turned around, following Chris, and talking over his shoulder “we’ve got a long drive and a long talk about that urn you’re carrying with you.

They jumped on the car, and they left the airport. Over the long drive Isaac remained quiet, not quite listening to the conversation of the two men catching up while looking out the window. France was definitely not like Beacon Hills. The roads, the landscape, the service stations were different. He was also dreading the moment when he stepped out of the car and had to face his new life in France with only the bare minimum French he had taken in high school. He was brought down from his thoughts to reality by Chris asking him if he was listening.

“Erm, ah…” was all that Isaac could mumble. (What time is it now anyways. What’s the time here?).

“Isaac, listen.” Chris sounded serious, but Isaac couldn’t smell anger. “Andrew is a distant relative of ours, and they have come over from Britain to help us out with our situation. We are meeting with the French Argents near Toulouse. There’s a small town much like Beacon Hills, with a nemeton.”

“And a druid!” added Andrew from the driver’s seat.

“We hope that she can help us with the… the fox,” and as Chris sad this he looked at Andrew, who snorted and shook his head.

“Am I going to be alright… I mean, surrounded by…” Isaac waved his hands, pointing at the two men at the front of the car.

“Yes, Isaac, you’ll be fine amongst hunters,” Chris confirmed, nodding with a smile. “I’d actually be more afraid of the locals. They can be… odd.

“Wait,” Isaac asked, leaning forward so he stood in between the two front seats, “you’ve been here before? And what’s wrong with the people? Are they angry villagers with pitchforks and torches?” Isaac was already picturing a throng of angry peasants welcoming them, throwing rotten turnips at him. Stiles would have approved of his mental image. No Stiles. No Pack. Just focus on the present. Look forward, Isaac.

“It’s not that. Just that they like to keep to their own business. And don’t like outsiders poking their noses around,” explained Chris.

“Nutjobs, them lot. And they all have this… odd smell,” added Andrew.

“Well, we need to go there anyway. That’s where the druid lives.”

“Do your relatives live there as well?” said Isaac to Chris, wondering if the French argents moved around as much as the American ones, or if they were fine examples of the pitchfork and torch local kind.

“Not really. They live further north, towards Brittany, facing the Ocean. There are more supernaturals to keep eyes on.”

Isaac did not feel very comfortable with the way the conversation was going – the memories of Gerard and a very different Allison not that distant in the past. He did not fancy himself being in the crosshairs of hunters any time soon. He diverted the conversation: “What will we exactly do in this nemeton village?”

“You have the instructions from your druid, right? We’ll let her deal with it. We will just supervise.”

Seeing he was not going to get much else, and still not completely adjusted to the French time zone, Isaac accepted Andrew’s explanation and sat back, drifting into sleep soon after.

He was waken up abruptly by the car turning off the motorway into smaller and bumpier country roads. After an extra hour in these smaller roads, they arrived to a small village. Isaac didn’t check the time, but it must be in the early evening. He didn’t have to ask to know that they had arrived to the nemeton village. There was an electric feeling in the air, as if it were full of static. The streets were lined with knotty trees with benches in between. Shops of all kinds opened into the street, with the odd café and restaurant serving early dinners. There was a main square, cobbled with rounded rolling stones, and there was at the far end a yellow stone church. A large fountain separated the main road from the square. The houses were small blocks of apartments, two or three stories high. In fact, Isaac was not sure why this place was a village and not a town. It certainly did not look anything like what he had imagined. No villagers with pitchforks in sight, which was probably good. The place looked extremely normal. It seemed quite nice, in fact. Isaac could not see why the locals would seem odd, and certainly didn’t notice any odd smells – even with his werewolf senses.

They drove pass a few hotels, a sports hall, a theatre (these people have a different concept of what a village is) until there were more fields. Eventually they took a turn to the left, and arrived to a house surrounded by a large garden. It had a gabled roof, white walls and a red tile roof. The corners of the house were of grey stone, which was not painted, and the door was painted green. There were a couple of large black SUVs (hunters…) parked on the gravel path.

“I take this is our final stop?” Isaac asked as they stopped. Without waiting for an answer, he got out of the car and stretched and yawned. He had been sat for way too long and could not wait to walk around. Or run. He was feeling the urge to wolf out, but it was not as if he were out of control – it was more subtle, as if his wolf simply wanted to go out and explore. As he was thinking this, he stopped still, looking around, until he saw Chris getting out of the car.

“You’ll get used to it, Isaac. It’s just the telluric currents linked to an active nemeton,” Chris told him.

“It’s different from Beacon Hills, I’ll grant you that.”

The front door open, and a blonde woman with short hair and a small nose. She was wearing jeans and a light green top under a black cardigan. “Welcome to Bégnan-du-Chêne!” She spoke perfect English, although with a slight leftover of an accent.

“Ah, Christine,” this was Andrew. “Long time no see. You surely remember Chris?”

“Of course, how could I not? Welcome, Chris – always reassuring to have Argents around”

“Surely my family is here already?” Chris said as he pointed at the parked cars with his head. He didn’t come any closer to the woman.

“Well, they are. But it is not that often we get visitors from America,” the woman replied. “Especially when they bring such interesting presents.”

Timeo Danaos, etiamsi dona ferentes” came a voice from behind. “And who’s blondie over there?” Isaac saw a young man, leaning against the door frame, with very short brown hair, in a grey woolly jumper, black jeans and chocolate suede boots. His accent was not from anywhere he recognised, but sounded definitely British. Or so he thought. In any case, he didn’t like the way he had singled him out.

“Excuse him,” was Christine’s short apology. “He’s… my apprentice.”

“I’m Isaac. And what did he just say?”

“It’s Latin: I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts,” translated Chris. “He think’s we’re bringing in a Trojan Horse.”

“You’re certainly bringing in something which is not welcome in a wooden casing, you are,” was the man’s reply. “Oh, and hello Isaac. Croeso.” With this, the man went back in the house, and with his wolf ears he could hear him telling the other people in the house that they had arrived.

“Forgive him,” said Christine, “he’s nervous about what we need to do. It’s not our usual thing to return to oblivion Japanese fox spirits.”

“I for one don’t blame old taffy there,” said Andrew, grabbing his bag and walking into the house.

Isaac looked at Chris with an open mouth, asking a voiceless question, but Chris just shook his head and pointed him towards the house. They walked in and they were pointed to a couple of rooms in which they were to stay, Isaac sharing with Isaac, and Andrew getting his own. Knowing who else was in the house, Isaac was glad to have a hunter on his side close at hand. After dropping their stuff they went downstairs, where they met an entire crew of Argent hunters (the French Argents), who introduced themselves, although Isaac couldn’t remember any of the names. He would remember the way in which every single one of them looked at him, which had the hairs on the back of his head on end and that made him want to wolf out and run away. Thankfully Chris was there to calm him slightly – enough at least to keep him in the room.

When Christine had gathered everyone, she asked Isaac to show the triskelion urn and to explain what had happened. Not that the hunters there did not know already what the nogitsune had done, but the story was different from an eye-witness. By someone who had been (briefly) possessed by the fox. For his and Chris’ sake he left the death of Allison out of his story, although he suspected that Chris’ relatives knew. As the wooden box sat in the centre of the room, Chris stepped forward and handed Christine the instructions Dr Deaton had given him, explaining that it was their intention to destroy the… contents of the urn. Everyone seemed to agree. Nobody wanted to let the box or its prisoner exist, although nobody was sure if it was possible to get rid of an ancient fox spirit.

“It can be done,” clarified the druid. “It can and we must do it. We have enough knowledge, if we combine what we know and what Dr Deaton has wrote us, to bury it back in the nemeton.”

This was received with surprise and a few nervous laughs from the youngest hunters, whom Isaac reckoned were not much older than himself. Playing with the nemeton and the telluric currents in that way did not sound easy. (Or safe – Isaac heard Scott’s voice in his head). Isaac had to shake his head and focus, forcing his wolf to remain quiet, and remembering why he had to go and how he could not go back.

The plan seemed pretty straight forward: place the urn into the tree, chant an incantation, “and Bob’s your Uncle” added the apprentice druid, which made Isaac laugh. That still did not explain why there was the need to have eight hunters around. Isaac didn’t even notice he had asked that aloud.

“The nemeton is a like a light house, a beacon,” added Christine, to which everyone nodded knowingly. “We know there are no wolves in these parts, but we do not know what else there might be, what could be attracted by the beacon when it is producing enough magic energy to obliterate an evil kitsune.”

There wasn’t much Isaac could add, although this confirmed his suspicions that beyond kanimas, banshees, and werewolves, there were many other supernaturals out there. He was in no hurry no make their acquaintance, and if it took a family of hunters to keep it that way, he was happy to be surrounded by heavily armed people.

With all things said, the meeting was called to an end, and everyone went to their respective rooms. Chris and Isaac stayed a bit longer in the living room, as Andrew and the apprentice druid came back from the kitchen with some leftovers from lunch for them to have. Isaac suddenly realised he was ravenous. He learned that the apprentice was called Iestyn, and he was from Wales. He explained how he had come to this town a few months ago to train as a druid so he could be the emissary for his pack back home. “I do have a thing for werewolves, you know? A soft spot,” he said, and winked at Isaac, “it’s just hunters and evil demon spirits trapped in boxes that I am largely against.”

Andrew and Chris were not very impressed at this, so they just focused on the food, but Isaac chuckled at that. The rest of the evening was uneventful with small talk and Chris explaining his and Andrew’s ‘adventures’ in the ‘old days’ (which boiled down to a series of close encounters with feral omegas in different parts of the globe). Knowing that all would only kick off tomorrow night, they allowed themselves to have some proper rest and headed to bed.

***

The following night they all drove to the forest clearing where the nemeton was located. It was a thick forest with patches of high bushes alternating thickets of trees, most of which were oaks. That is why it felt much more surprising to find, at the end of a narrow trail, a clearing. It had a couple of hills on either side, but the area was otherwise flat, and covered with rocks, moss and a dew smaller plants. In the centre of it stood a massive oak, which had ‘nemeton’ written all over it. Although Isaac’s concept of a nemeton had been first defined by the unimpressive stump in Beacon Hills, he could see why these humongous trees would be considered sacred, even without the telluric currents criss-crossing underneath.

The first thing that the druids did was to trace a large circle of mountain ash around the area. Isaac was not sure of which side he wanted to be: either outside, in the open, with all the potential creatures that may try to reach the nemeton while the druids did their thing or inside, trapped with the nogitsune and whatever he may try to do or summon. It was a tough choice. But thankfully Iestyn decided for him: “just stay out there mate, and keep an eye open.”

With that, and another cheeky wink and a thumbs up, Iestyn and Christine stepped inside the circle while the hunters spread themselves around it, crossbows ready. Chris stood close to Isaac, and he silently thanked him for it.

“Don’t they have to wait for a full moon, or an eclipse or something like that?” asked Isaac. “Just turning up on a Tuesday morning in a forest for druidic magic doesn’t feel right…”

“If you want to wait around with an ancient trickster spirit trapped in a small wooden box until the next eclipse, please be my guest.”

Isaac couldn’t argue with that. He wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible but he secretly had expected a bit more drama. He was beginning to think that all druids lacked that bit of performance magic. But then again they have kept hidden for centuries and showing off wouldn’t have helped.

At one point, Isaac felt the mountain ash barrier go up; he felt the static powered just behind him and tentatively tried to push his hand through just to double check. Nope, still can’t cross it. As he did that he saw Christine place the box in a hole she had just dug with a trowel under the roots. The air began to stir and the ground rumbled. Iestyn and Christine began a chant, nothing he could understand but the meaning was clear: go away and bugger off. The sky seemed to darken, not with clouds, but as if a dark blue filter was screening the sun. The hunters held their crossbows tightly although a couple of them stood uneasily on their feet looking shifty. Isaac’s wolf begged to be let out, feeling trouble ahead. The worst thing, however, was the smell. It wasn’t anything Isaac had felt before but it was wrong. It was really evil. And it came from everywhere. Chris sniffed and Isaac realised it wasn’t only him noticing the stench. By Chris’ look of concern Isaac noticed he had actually shifted. He had been so busy trying to understand what was going on that he hadn’t even noticed. Isaac panicked but Andrew, of all people, can to him and have him a reassuring nod.

Inside the circle, the chanting was still going on. Louder. Trying to compete against the sound of cracking wood and splintering branches. Isaac turned around to look, but Chris held him: “keep your eyes on the tree line. There is something there.”

Isaac couldn’t see anything and the evil stench covered everything. But then he noticed something.a movement in the trees. But way up in the canopy. That felt very wrong. If fucking ents come out of that forest, I’ll just quit and become a werewolf monk in the mountains. A couple of the French hunters heard his involuntary growl and saw the same movement in the trees.

“Do not break the circle!” barked Chris as one of the hunters was stepping back into the mountain ash perimeter. “Whatever comes out of those trees we don’t break our line. We need to give them time.”

Isaac was already picturing himself in an epic battle in the Lord of the Rings when he actually saw what was in the trees. It was big. Tall. Huge. Head by the treetops. Long brown hair and long beard, with furry arms and legs. Walking barefoot, but dressed in what seemed bedsheets sown together. The multi colour pattern would have seen comical if it had not been for the large stone axe that was held by the creature.

“Is that a giant?” Isaac said in utter disbelief.

“That’s a basajaun,” said one of the French hunters. “He’s one of the carver of mountains. They live further south, by the Spanish border. But they’re not unusual. They’re a primeval forest spirit.”

“That’s no fairy.”

“No it’s not. It’s a protector of the forest,” added Chris, “I never thought I’d see one. He knows what we’re doing.”

“How can you tell?” asked  Isaac, not at all convinced.

“Because we still have all our limbs attached.”

“How very cheerful,” muttered Isaac to himself. He kept an eye on the forest creature who was, to Chris’ credit, not moving any closer. Even if it let go a deep rumble like stones rattling inside a huge hollow tree.

A moment later he felt a second of strange calm as the druids stopped their chanting and breathed heavily. The air stood still and the whole area around the tree went eerily quiet. As the hunters and the werewolf turned to look at the nemeton, the tree itself started humming and drawing air into it. The branches shook and a yellow glow faintly appeared from underneath the roots.

“Oh shit. Oh shit!” Cried Andrew.

“Chris…?” Isaac was getting very worried, “Please tell me you know what is going on.”

But Argent didn’t have a chance to reply as Christine began chanting again with a very deep voice. Her apprentice was kneeling with his hand in his ears, and Isaac saw two other hunters bent in pain on the ground. Behind him the basajaun was rumbling again, but attuned to the chant of the druid. Isaac’s wolf wanted to run and get away from there. His instinct won and he started to run but Chris tackled him to the ground.

“Isaac wait!” Chris was shouting into Isaac’s ear. The noise and the chanting were deafening. The blond werewolf was surprised the entire village and the French army hadn’t turn up yet. The ground kept trembling and shifting under his body. Isaac was clawing the turf he was lying on and Chris was covering his ears, shouting in fear or pain, until they heard Christine’s loud screech high above everything else, after which all went silent. The trees. The nemeton. The druid. The entire forest. The sun shone bright again. The usual chirping and tweeting of birds filled the forest meadow. The breeze blew again. As far as Isaac could see (and not really understanding what had happened), they had succeeded. The nogitsune was gone.

***

Back in the house, Christine and Iestyn were drained and knackered. The collapsed on the couches and slept for hours. In the mean time, Chris had some time to talk to his relatives and catch up, avoiding the talk about Isaac, which even if some of them wanted to bring up, they trusted Chris’ judgement and said nothing about the tall teen.

 Not all of them seem convinced that the nogitsune was vanquished. Their hunter training made them weary and dubious. They did not want to go without confirmation, yet they didn’t know how to confirm that their problem had been solved. The question of whether they could trust the work of the druids was also raised, but soon dismissed. The discussion got heated, with plans and alternatives being proposed until Chris said that if needed, he’ll keep an eye.

“I have no reason to go back to the States. I came to France to help out the family I have left. If it takes to sit here and keep my ears on the ground for nogitsune returns, then that’s what I’ll do.” As he said this he pointed at Isaac with a nod, “plus I’m sure that four eyes will be better than two.”

The other hunters stood still at this suggestion, as the presence of Isaac had not been fully explained, but they considered the options. A werewolf around a nemeton with druids might not be ideal, but they had Chris overseeing all. They silently accepted. The atmosphere relaxes after that, as all the serious business were discussed already, so they went to get some wine and turned on the radio to celebrate a somehow successful mission. Christine and Iestyn walked in soon afterwards, feeling better.

As the evening advanced and everyone relaxed, Chris found Isaac and took him to the kitchen.

“I know I didn’t consult you when I threw you in the offer,” Chris said as an apology, “but it was the best way to get them off your back.” He was holding a glass of red, although Isaac hadn’t seen him drink. He looked tired, but Isaac really thought that this was a real opportunity for him to start anew. For them to start anew.

“Yeah, well, don’t worry. I didn’t have any other plans when we left. I’m happy to tag along and be helpful.” Isaac was being completely honest. “I… I really want to thank you for all this.” Isaac said this looking down to his feet, the source of all wisdom at that moment, while he vaguely waved his hands.

Chris got another glass of wine and pushed it to Isaac. “Isaac we didn’t run away from Beacon Hills. We were not running from our past. We came to continue our job. We came to survive, and to make sure Allison did not leave us in vain,” Chris had tears in his eyes, the tension of the last few days finally catching up with him. “We guarded a nemeton back home. We will do that here.”

Isaac lifted his head while he held the wine glass in both his hands. As Chris downed his, Isaac followed suit, pulling a face after he drank wine for his first time. Chris managed a smile, “you’ll get used to it. To all this.” He patted him on his shoulders and turned around, walking into the living room, leaving Isaac to think on his own.

***

The following morning the French Argents left in their cars, after saying their goodbyes to everyone, including Isaac, whom they saw with different eyes after he had shared their wine-fueled evening. Andrew stayed until lunch, as his flight back to London was not until later that day. In the end, it was only the two druids and the two Americans.

“I take no offence in your lack of trust in my abilities,” began Christine. And before Chris could interrupt she continued: “having extra eyes to watch this sacred grove will not be rejected, however. Especially when it is evident you two need time to heal.” Isaac felt his soul was being inspected and tried to look away, while Chris could only sigh at this. “It’s all ok,” she was more welcoming in her tone now, “my role as a Druid is not only towards my grove. You can stay with me until you find a place of your own. I imagine starting up a life can’t be easily be done as a houseguest…” and with this she went back into the house.

“Don’t worry, she can be like that at times.” Iestyn was trying to be comforting. “This place is as good as any to start again.”

Chris put his hands in his pockets and walked off to the village to think and process what his life was like now. Iestyn sat by Isaac, who was sat at the front steps of the house looking at the distance, playing with his hand in his hair. “Whatever it was, it can only go slowly better now, boyo. Trust me on that!” He patted Isaac’s knee and stood up again, walking into the house.

Isaac was now on his own, enjoying the late evening breeze, looking at the thin high clouds pass by. Slowly, Isaac felt the emotions that he had accumulated in the last week and all the thoughts he had managed to push aside out of dire need hit him back like a sledgehammer. (God, how many things can happen in a week! I was still in Beacon Hills last week. I had a pack. I had Allison…). But he also thought about new starts, about what Chris had told him, what he felt he had sworn with him to Allison’s memory. He also let some of his dad’s comments slip through. This is where he had to start again. Thousands of miles away from home. Alone.

Chapter Text

The weeks after arriving in France were a reality shock for Isaac. His new life in France with Chris Argent (Chris Argent of all people!) implied not only the hunter responsibility of watching the nemeton, but also the inconvenients of moving to a new country without really knowing the language. Chris, Christine and Iestyn helped him out, but Chris paid for him to have private lessons with one of the local school teachers, who gladly helped him week after week. Isaac’s French was not good enough to rejoin high school, and trying to fit into the French system at this stage was a nightmare, so he had to take extra classes. Chris told him that he’d lose a year like this, but he’ll be able to get his school diploma eventually (and he was happy to pay for that too). Without a pack around (without a pack, full stop), going back to normality required finishing school.

It also required getting a job, he decided, not wanting to have all paid for by Chris, and later that summer he was hired in one of the bakeries. He worked only during the mornings (some times way too early for his liking), but this helped him to improve his French slowly and to get to know the locals better. He remembered what Andrew had said at first, that the locals were odd and had a smell. But to Isaac they all seemed perfectly normal. He had never met any French people before, so he couldn’t say that they were odd or weird. Some were, obviously, but that was just the normal share of the population. There were far worse people in Beacon Hills. And more of them.

Chris had relocated for the time being the family weapons business to France, and by the end of the summer he got a large flat for him and Isaac to share. Living with Chris Argent was not the same as living with the McCall’s at all, but they soon got into an easy routine for both of them, which gave Isaac a feeling of grown-up normalcy he had never had. Not with Melissa. Not with his dad. Somehow, it was what he thought living with his mum might have been like if…. In any case, running around the forest in the morning before work, having his lessons in the afternoon and spending the evenings home was something Isaac wanted to get used to. Chris also mentioned something about adoption papers and his dad’s insurance money, which Isaac didn’t want to think about too much and was happy to have Argent lawyers deal with that. He’d still be a Lahey, for better or worse, even if his guardian for the next couple years was going to be the man who few months ago would have happily shot him with a crossbow.

He still thought about Beacon Hills every now and then. Especially at nights, when he left the window open and could stare into the starry sky. He still felt a pack bond; it was distant and faint but it was a constant one, which gave him a fuzzy feeling that all was going ok. It was probably for the best. They were doing well without him, and he felt it. He doubted they could feel him back, and they never tried to contact him while he still had his American mobile. They would have moved on, and so he should. His rational side told him repeatedly to do so, sickeningly digging into memories of his dad to reassure him. He was better away. Didn’t deserve them, they didn’t want him. Isaac had to fight  back bitter tears as he fell asleep more than once. He didn’t think about Allison that often, or at least his feelings for her had changed. He had accepted that she was gone. He accepted that what they had was never really meant to be, although he remembered her fondly. He didn’t think that they had been really in love, but she had been the first person he had ever been with.

Surprisingly enough, he found himself thinking about Scott the most. Whether if he was still his alpha or not was his most usual thought. But he also wanted to know, in those fewer moments when he dwelt in the recent past, if he had disappointed him when he ran away. Isaac really wanted to know what Scott thought of him, if he still cared about him as he had done before. Other than his mum and Cam, nobody had really shown the same concern for Isaac as Scott, and this gave him mixed feelings of reciprocating the care and concern and of being actually worthy of that care. That love. It was just more than deserving the other boy’s approval. Isaac genuinely missed him, and his wolf appeared to miss him even more. A couple of times Isaac wished to know if Scott missed him too.

But these night thoughts were all gone by the morning as he got in gear for his new summer activities. And while he was glad to have some regularity in his life, it was also got boring. There was so much French tv he could endure in one go. And Chris was not great at conversations. He started reading comics again, ordering them online. He went to see Iestyn often, who was only a few years older than Isaac, because he spoke English and he was more entertaining than Argent. He teased him whenever Isaac got too excited about his comics, but Isaac knew it wasn’t in a mean way. When late in the summer Isaac complained that the village was getting too normal and too calm for him, Iestyn told him he should come to practice football with him. Liberate energy and tackle people and stuff.

“I don’t like soccer,” was Isaac’s reply, knowing the Welsh man didn’t mean American football: “never’ve been good with my feet.”

Wow, firstly, I totally agree with you. I don’t like association football. Second,” said Iestyn with a grin, “there is only one type of real football and that is rugby football.” Isaac wasn’t very impressed, and didn’t really know much about rugby to start with. “You need something to get you run around and hit people. We don’t have lacrosse here, but we have rugger. It’ll be fun, promise.”

Isaac theatrically pretended to be deep in thought for a few seconds. Iestyn rolled his eyes at him, “you muppet.”

Isaac laughed so loud at that he nearly fell over. “Don’t worry, mate,” he pretend an accent, “I’ll come along.”

When he turned up to training the first night and tried on the kit he’d been lent, Isaac wasn’t sure if Iestyn was pulling a prank on him. The shorts were short. And tough cotton. And tight! Nothing like what he had worn at lacrosse. The jersey was also made of a very tough cotton, but it was baggy, long-sleeved, with thick horizontal stripes of three different colours, a buttoned neck and a white collar.

“I’m sorry the top is a bit old school,” apologised Iestyn on the side of the pitch, “but it’s the only one I had that could fit you. It suits you, though.” And with this he put his hands on Isaac’s collar and popped it up. “Much better now,” and he jogged off to where the rest of the team was. Isaac smiled and followed him.

After training and learning the basics and the game’s lingo (ruck, maul, tackle, touch), Isaac had to admit he enjoyed it all. It was a different type of contact sport, a more controlled violence than in lacrosse, but he could get used to it. Rugby training became one of the things he looked forward to in his new French life. He told Chris it was a good way to practice his French, especially in a context where he did not have to ask old ladies how many loaves they’d want. But he didn’t hide the fact that he enjoyed the chance to run into people and pin them to the ground.

***

By the end of the Summer, Isaac had already adapted to his life in France — and he liked it there. He prided himself in having a small group of friends from rugby. They were not close friends though, and Iestyn was perhaps the closest, but he nevertheless liked having a circle of people he knew in the village. Compared to Beacon Hills, it was definitely not that exciting, but it was also far less dangerous. Best of all, neither he nor Chris noticed anything abnormal around the nemeton, which Christine insisted was all normal.

In the autumn the rugby season started, which became Isaac’s main focus. He still was working and taking his catch-up classes, but the training evenings and game Saturdays made it all so much better. He played for the club’s junior side, and was immediately told to play second row. He sometimes took advantage of his wolf strength, especially in the toughest scrums, but he preferred to think he was playing fair. He scored a couple of tries, but it was the  heaving and rucking  he liked the most. Or almost. Being part of a welcoming team was definitely what made him feel settled in his new home. It was very pack-like.

All this changed that one evening when Chris received a text message. Isaac had just got back home from his lessons and was just jumping on the couch when Chris called him in to his study.

“Isaac, I’ve received a text. It’s from Scott.”

Isaac did not know what to think. He could feel so many things inside he could not process. His wolf was over the moon, and if it could waggle his tail, he would be doing it. He also fell hurt because Scott had not texted him. Not just now but at all, never ever. The dark thoughts in the back of his mind took advantage to get a firmer home on him. They don’t care about you anymore. His pack bond told him that something was wrong, and from deep in his heart he felt worried and afraid.

“What’s wrong?” He had to bite his tongue lest he said something stupid like did he ask about me?

“Kate is back.”

Isaac had not been there when Derek had killed Kate, but he remembered the story from the newspapers (roughly around when he got the bite), and from bits and pieces from what Scott and Derek had said, he knew she had been responsible for the Hale house fire.

“I… she… Wasn’t she dead?” (Tactful as ever, Lahey…)

“She was… turned. By Derek’s claws.” Chris was dead serious and Isaac could not read him, but he could smell the anger. Isaac wished a bit it was aimed at Derek, but he was not sure.

“Is she a werewolf now?”

“She went to an abandoned Aztec temple,” Chris explained, “she didn’t turn into your kind. She’s a different type of shapeshifter. A jaguar.”

Isaac had immediate mental images of spots, claws and fangs. He also pictured a tail like Jackson’s. And a big gun, for old hunting time’s sake.

“So… what are we doing about it?”

“I’m going back, Isaac. I can’t leave my sister loose with such power in Beacon Hills.” This Isaac was expecting. It still didn’t answer his question.

“What do you want me to do?” Isaac felt he knew the answer and he didn’t like where this was going. “Are you going alone? What about me?”

“I can’t make you come with me, and I need you here,” Chris confirmed his fears. He continued before Isaac could say anything: “I don’t know what your old pack is going through or what they’d want you to do, but we’re here and now, and we’re in this together. We promised to keep an eye on the nemeton.”

“So it’s ok then for you to break your promise, but I am the one who has to stay to keep it up?” Isaac was getting angrier by the second. He felt betrayed by Chris. He felt ignored by Scott, of all people. That had hurt. It hurt so much he was beginning to shift. “You’re abandoning me here,” Isaac felt his last months of peace crumble. His hope for a new life gone. It made him dizzy. His mum. Derek. Scott. Now Chris. Nobody really cared for him. He was never anyone’s priority. Maybe it was for the better.

“Isaac, listen,” Chris was also angry now. Isaac couldn’t care less.

“Just leave me alone. That’s what you all do anyways,” and Isaac stormed out, eyes flashing yellow. He jumped out his room’s window and began to run. He went off to the nemeton forest, not knowing if he needed to cry for an hour, rip something to pieces or just run until he couldn’t stand any more.

***

Isaac was woken up by a hand on his shoulder. He looked up with crusty eyes and saw it was dark, and someone was flashing him with a torch. His whole body ached as he slowly stood up from the awkward position in which he had fallen asleep. He was also wet, muddy, and cold, and didn’t really want to remember the previous night. He sat up and heard Iestyn’s voice: “morning.”

“What are you doing here?” was all Isaac could say.

“Well, you ran away. We couldn’t let our local werewolf leg it, could we?” Iestyn gave him a hand so he could stand up. “Plus, you cannot just abandon your team. You boys have a game this weekend and you can’t let them down.”

Isaac looked at him incredulous and taking his hand stood up. “You have an odd approach to the whole emissary thing.”

“That’s just ‘cause you haven’t met that many Welshmen. Come on, let’s get going.” Isaac could smell the young druid was relieved but the way he spoke was just his normal tone. “You had us worried there, mate,” he finally admitted. “Are you ok, though?”

Isaac sighed: “yeah, don’t worry.”

Iestyn stopped abruptly, “I call bullshit on that, butt. Chris explained us what happened, but I know he hasn’t told us all the story. You went missing for hours, so you must be pretty upset.” After a pause, he looked into the taller boy’s blue eyes. Isaac avoided his look. “It’s ok if you’re not right. Just so you know.” Iestyn turned around and kept walking.

Iestyn headed towards the car and opened the door. He turned round to see Isaac walking slowly towards the car. “You don’t have to go home if you don’t want to,” Iestyn told Isaac . “You can come to mine if you prefer, but you will still have to go and see Chris later. You really should see him before he goes.”

“Did he tell you when he’s going?” Isaac asked him as he got slowly into the car.

“Not really,” Iestyn replied, “ but not for a couple of days. Certainly not until he has spoken with you.”

They both got into the car and Iestyn drove off. Isaac happened to look at the clock and he noticed that it was nearly five in the morning. It was nearly ten hours since he had left their apartment. Ten hours in which he had just run into the forest; running until he couldn’t any more and then crying himself to sleep. He had time to think about the new family (what he had begun to think of as a family) he was starting, and about the new life he was getting in France. He cursed at how it was all coming to an end. Again.

It was a quiet drive to the druids’ house, where Christine was waiting for them.

“I told Chris we’d found you, but made him promise to wait at your place until you are ready to see him.”

“I don’t want to see him,” was Isaac’s short and sharp reply.

“You’re being unfair,” said Iestyn with patience . “We can have a quiet talk over a brew.”

Inside the house Iestyn put the kettle on and sat at the kitchen table. Christine got some mugs out, and invited Isaac to a chair.

“Isaac, do you know about the Lahey name?” Christine asked softly.

“It’s Irish. What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Your family—“

“You know nothing about my family,” Isaac cut in, eyes flashing. “I have no family! I don’t need one.” He knew this was his way to say he didn’t deserve one, and his eyes went back to blue an he started to cry.

Christine was suddenly besides Isaac and slowly placed a hand on his shoulder. Isaac flinched at the unexpected touch but relaxed when he saw the druid looking at him with caring eyes.

“Isaac, your family spreads beyond your parents and siblings. Lahey is an old Irish name taken by those descending of the early Irish heroes. Your father didn’t live up to his name, Isaac, but you can be a laoch.”

Isaac shook his head. “That’s not me. I’m not Scott.” (What the fuck, Isaac!? Where did that come from?)

“Is Scott your alpha?” Iestyn asked, putting the milky tea in front of Isaac. Isaac, in turn, blushed and didn’t answer. Iestyn made a mental note.

Christine continued: “What I mean, Isaac, is that you are stronger than what you think. And deep inside you know what is right and what needs doing.” To Isaac this sounded like cheap psychology, but his wolf was pacing inside him, nudging him supportingly. She sat down and looked at Isaac eye to eye: “Why did you run away?”

Isaac didn’t look back. He grabbed his tea and looked into it, hoping an excuse or an answer to come up, but nothing came out.

“You understand what is happening here, and you understand what Chris needs to do about his sister.” Christine added as she finished her drink. “He will come back. He’s not abandoning you. You have been as important to him as he has been to you these last months. Just remember that.” She stood up, placed her hand on Isaac’s back for a second and left.

Isaac had not thought about Chris in that way, and he suddenly felt dreadful. His head sunk, but Iestyn was suddenly sat by him.

“Listen, Isaac: I am not your emissary but I’d like to think that we are friends. You need to process all your thoughts with a cool mind, and not dwell in whatever it is that you brings you down.” Isaac was about to say something but Iestyn didn’t let him. “No no, that’s something for another day. Now just finish your tea and go have a shower. I’ll go get you a towel.”

Iestyn left the kitchen and Isaac was again staring into his tea.

***

After a while he went upstairs and found the bathroom with a new towel and a change of clothes ready for him. He took a long while in the hot water, getting the chill off his bones and the mud off his skin. He also bit his lip as he munched his thoughts. He lost the track of time and decided to get out of the shower in a cloud of steam. After getting changed he went to Iestyn’s room and knocked on the door.

“Come in, it’s open.”

Iestyn was on his bed wearing a hoodie and his pyjama bottoms, going through his phone. Isaac sat at the edge of the bed, making the druid sit up next to him. Iestyn waited, knowing that Isaac needed his time to explain what was going on in his head. Eventually, he started speaking.

“I thought that coming here would let me leave all my past behind… but then Scott texted Chris and all of it is coming back. He is going back. Without me. I’m being left alone.” Iestyn remained silent, and he saw Isaac was struggling to put words in his mouth. He had a big knot in his throat and teary eyes. “I was beginning to think that it would all work, me and Chris here, with a mission and…” (and no pack). “But- but…” here Isaac was obviously willing the words out in between sobs, because he knew that saying them aloud would make it all better in the end— “but a voice… my dad… just tells me I am not worth it. That I don’t deserve to have a pack. That I was the reason my mum died. That Cam left. That I matter to nobody.” And Isaac could not say anymore. He had never really spoken about it; not even with Scott or the pack, who sort of knew what his dad had physically done to him. Isaac couldn’t bring himself to tell it to Iestyn anyways. The punches, the kicks, be bruises and cuts, the freezer…

And then Isaac noticed Iestyn’s arms around him in a hug. Isaac had not expected it but he immediately felt the contact making him feel better and safer. He hugged Iestyn back, crying with his head on his shoulder. After a few moments Iestyn pushed Isaac away from him and looked at the blond boy’s blue eyes wet and reddened.

“Isaac, you know that is not true at all, right? You are an amazing young man: clever, tall, honest, kind, loyal, tremendously handsome, and a fucking werewolf!” Isaac had to laugh there. He knew that Iestyn liked him, in a way, and didn’t mind. He always had known he liked guys, but he had never had a chance to really express it to anyone; He didn’t have anyone close enough to even talk about it. Even if he had tried to talk it with Danny or Ethan, he didn’t know where he’d start. He was too ashamed to even voice it, I like girls, but also boys. He never had a chance to tell his mum, and he should have been more careful in keeping his dad from finding out. The scar by his elbow where he hit the concrete steps outside his house were proof. But Isaac felt that with Iestyn was different: he was older and close to him, and he listened and he was new in his life. He didn’t have to explain anything and he could introduce himself as he was. No embarrassing explanations or uncomfortable chats. Just first-hand acceptance.

Iestyn continued, “I’ve known you for a few months and I already know this. And now, with my emissary hat, I’ve got to tell you: your friends in the States know it too. They’re your pack. Chris knows it. Scott above all most certainly knows it.” Iestyn took his hand and gently squeezed it; “But life is different and difficult for everyone. Don’t be too harsh on them. Don’t be harsh on you. You’ve only been away a summer.”

Iestyn stood up. “I’ll let you mull over it.” But as he was leaving Isaac grabbed his hand: “can you stay? Please.”

“Yeah, course.” Iestyn ruffled Isaac’s hair. “Come have a cwtch.”

The young druid sat on the bed by the werewolf with a soft smile, and gave him another hug. He pushed them down on the bed, Isaac curled around him with his head on Iestyn’s chest. Iestyn in turn had his arms around Isaac and kept a hand on his curly hair. They were both exhausted but none fell asleep.

Isaac felt safe and comforted, and chewed his cheek and bit his fingers without letting go of their hug. And he thought.

***

Later that day Isaac went back to the flat. He hadn’t got his keys with him as he had basically jumped out the window in his pyjamas, so he rang the bell. Christine has driven him back to Chris, and he thanked her for her help. She had offered him to stay with her at her place if needed, but Isaac didn’t want to decide on that until he had a chance to talk with Chris. As he was thinking about the offer, Chris opened the door and Isaac didn’t dare look up.

“Erm, Christine brought me back, she umm… Iestyn found me in the forest. You know. After I sort of… jumped out of the window. I- I’m sorry Chris.”

“Come in, Isaac,” was all Chris said, but the werewolf sensed relief radiating from the hunter, which was a feeling he still was not used to get from adults. He had feared to smell the disappointment, but there was none. Iestyn had been right. “Have you had dinner yet?”

“Erm, no. Not really,” Isaac was following Chris to the kitchen. “Listen Chris, I just-“

“Isaac don’t-“ Chris cut him, “you don’t have to be sorry. I should apologise.” That caught Isaac by surprise. “Please, listen,” Chris put a home made hamburger in front of him. Chris couldn’t cook Mexican, but man, he could do a mean burger. “I just need you to understand, please, I’m not leaving you behind.”

Isaac took a couple of seconds to reply, but eventually he said it: “I know.” He looked at Chris and saw all the tension in the hunter evaporate. A weight lifted visibly off his shoulders.

“Look, Isaac, I cannot let my sister roam around like that. It’s my first responsibility. But I will not avoid our duty here. And once we’re happy nothing odd is going on… well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Isaac didn’t say anything at that, and Chris just nodded and grab his own burger. They ate in silence, both focusing on their own plate. When they finished Isaac did the dishes, and went to the living room, where Chris was sitting at the comfy chair, hands crossed on his lap. Isaac stood in front, leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets, looking everywhere but at Chris.

“Chris, I understand why you are doing this.” Isaac was remembering his talk with Iestyn earlier that day. “I’ve never had many people I could trust, but you are one of them. I… I can stay here and guard the fort.”

Chris stood up with a timid smile, and put a strong arm in Isaac’s shoulder: “Just remember that you are not alone. We’re in this together. For Allison.”

Isaac stayed in the room, looking out the window, listening to Chris pack his stuff and make the necessary calls. It seemed to him that, after a short summer of peace, his new life was about to begin.

Chapter Text

Chris left. Autumn passed. Isaac continued his new routine, and nothing suspicious happened once. Despite having a nemeton, this was nothing like Beacon Hills. Isaac approved. It had been difficult to accept the fact that he had not been abandoned, although this cold logic of his had a long battle against deeply-ingrained instincts derived from his previous experience. He felt that the days his past crept up on him were the fewer, but he thought he would never totally get rid of those feelings.

The job at the bakery and the lessons helped him to keep his focus. In fact, he consciously concentrated on those two activities to keep his mind on the present rather than the past. As a result, his French improved day by day, to his great surprise. The locals where understanding with him, and they called him Californien, which he didn’t mind as it was never meant to be mean. They spoke clearly to him and would repeat what they had said if he asked (he long ago gave up on the idea of asking them to speak slowly), and by the beginning of the winter he could even understand people on the radio that was constantly on at the bakery. The French curriculum was so different to what he had done in the States that he felt that he would never catch up and finish school, but his tutor was very encouraging and kept telling Isaac that he would be ready for the next academic year. Rugby trainings continued to be his main highlights. Despite his almost embarrassing lack of tactical knowledge not really knowing how to read the game, it was by sheer force of enthusiasm and commitment that he gained a secure position in the starting 15. They trained with the senior side occasionally, and during that autumn he managed to impress the seniors’ coach, and was smuggled into a couple of their games, despite being 17. After trainings, he’d stay at the club house for the unavoidable starch-full bowl of carbs with greens that got cooked in the evening. He’d and usually stay with Iestyn and some other players talking much about nothing in particular for a bit longer, and sometimes Isaac would produce a bag of contraband to share with everyone (usually croissants or other pastries he’d sneak from the bakery), which always got him a big cheer.

Chris sent him emails every now and then, keeping him updated about the comings and goings of Kate. Isaac found out about the dead pool and about the Hale vault. He also was told about how Scott’s pack was doing, including new additions. That email had made Isaac felt replaced and unwanted. Especially considering that he had not received a text or a message from any of his old friends. But Isaac just reported back, with no news about the nemeton, and not showing his disappointment with Scott and the rest. He promised himself that he’d keep the promise he made to Chris, but he also kept in mind Iestyn’s advice and tried not to think bad about the pack, which was hard.

***

By Christmas it was darker and colder and Isaac had to ask Iestyn to take him to the city to buy for some warm clothes and waterproofs. On the way back, and with a good collection of woolly jumpers and fleecy jackets in the boot, Iestyn asked Isaac about his holyday plans.

“I had nothing planned,” Isaac admitted. “I… I never really celebrated Christmas back home.” (Not since mum died).

“Well, I imagined so,” Iestyn was smirking. “How about you come and spend it with Christine and yours truly? You just said you had no plans…”

“Ah, well,” Isaac replied with a mirroring smirk. “I might have been bluffing. I might have a secret Christmas plan.”

“Well, if it involves your sorry arse having a bowl of cereal in your p.j.’s you can forget about it. You’re up for a proper treat,” and he jokingly punched Isaac on his shoulder as he laughed.

Isaac agreed to go for the Christmas dinner, and the young druid warned him to be at Christine’s place for Christmas eve with a change of clothes (so he could stay over) and as many pastries he could carry off from work. He also warned him that wearing a Christmas jumper was compulsory. On the evening of the 24th, Isaac knocked on the door with two bags of pastries and a nervous smile. He wasn’t really sure of what to expect – all this was new to him. Not that he didn’t enjoy the general concept of Christmas, but he had not had anyone to properly celebrate it with in years. He hadn’t even put up any decorations in the flat. Definitely he had nothing to celebrate with his dad, whose idea of a Christmas dinner involved anything he could heat in the microwave for 5 minutes and two or three bottles of booze to wash it down. So, overall, Isaac was very impressed with the reception he got. He had thought that it was going to be only Christine, Iestyn, and him, but there were seven other people in there, some of which he recognised from the village, while others were completely unknown. Christine introduced Isaac to two women that definitely bought bread from him, who happened to be retired druids. Or not technically druids (they lacked any magic abilities), but who had been guardians of the nemeton in the past. Isaac shook their hands politely. The rest were relatives of Christine (her cousin Jacques, and her brother Adrienne with her wife Marie) who had come from elsewhere in France (Isaac was told where exactly, but his geography was not that good). Isaac felt panicky and out of place, but Iestyn came to him when he saw Isaac begin to fluster.

“Hey butt, thanks for coming!” He whispered into Isaac’s ear, “I don’t think I could’ve made it on my own with Christine’s relatives and Barbara and Sandra over there.” This made Isaac chuckle. Iestyn handed him a large glass of something fizzy and yellowy. “Have a cider. It’s good for you. Proper Christmas-y. We’ll need a few tonight.” Isaac was not very keen on alcohol, with all the incapability of getting drunk and all, but he took it and drank.

The house was not heavily decorated, but it had a large tree and various ornaments in the living room and wreaths on each door. To Isaac’s surprise, the evening was not as tense as he had thought – he enjoyed it a lot, in fact. They had a good lough when Julienne and Hélène (not Barbara and Sandra) told a couple of dirty village stories which Isaac would have never expect to listen from the mouth of two seemingly respectable old ladies. They sat down for a four-course dinner (soup, starters, fish, and steak!) on a large table with a white and green festive cloth, followed by sweets, more drinks, and a few songs. Hélène and Julienne went to midnight mass and said their goodbyes as Christine drove them to their parish, while the rest pulled out various board games, which they played until nearly three, when everyone went to their respective guest bedrooms. Isaac was about to say he’d be happy to go home.

“Nonsense, butt,” called Iestyn from the kitchen when Isaac mentioned he might go. “You need to stay here with us to have a Christmas morning. We’ve set up a bed for you.” Isaac had had such a great night that he was not difficult to convince.

Christine pulled out a few blankets for him, and a towel, and said her goodnights. He was not surprised either when he saw that his bed was in Iestyn’s room. Isaac stood still at the door confused, until Iestyn turned all the lights off downstairs and came up to his room.

“Not coming in, are you?” asked with a yawn. “There’s something wrong with you and doors, really…”

“Are we sleeping, like, together?”

Iestyn looked him up and down. “You doughnut…” and he pushed him inside. Closing the door behind him with a soft click. Inside Isaac saw that there was a second bed, which had obviously been pulled from under Iestyn’s. “Bring your teen wolf hormones down. We’re mates, right? I want us to be friends. So get them silly ideas off your head.”

Isaac shook his head and nodded. He didn’t really know what he had imagined there. Well, he did. But he wouldn’t admit that an image of sudden hugging, kissing and general frolicking had flashed through his head. He looked at Iestyn, who was wearing a t-shirt which read ‘as far as we beat the English, I don’t care’ and his pyjama bottoms, and smiled. He was glad to have a friend who cared for him, and jumping on the first gay guy who was nice to him was not the way to keep a friendship. He went to the bathroom to brush his teeth and put his own pyjamas on. When he went back to the room, Iestyn was already in his, so he turned the lights off. Isaac slipped into his own bed.

Nos da,” Isaac showed off the one bit of Welsh he had learned. ‘good night’.

“Night night, butt.”

They had a late morning, and by the time Isaac was down, it was almost 11.30. Iestyn was not in the room. Christine and her cousin were cleaning sorting out last night’s mess. But when Christine heard the werewolf come down the stairs she shouted at him to stay upstairs and not to come down until she told him. Iestyn added that he had to wear his Christmas jumper. Isaac was confused about this, but he sheepishly obeyed. He heard a lot of shuffle downstairs followed by Iestyn’s voice, instructing him that he may come down with his jumper on. He saw that everyone was waiting for him in the living room, all wearing Christmas jumpers.

“What’s going on?” Isaac asked wearing his own jumper as instructed.

“Merry Christmas!” said Christine and her family.

Nadolig llawen – that’s another one for you to learn” Iestyn winked and smiled.

Isaac smiled back. He somehow had expected something like this. “Merry Christmas. Thanks. I feel like in a film,” he said as he walked into the living room and kissed Christine and hugged everyone else.

“We were just waiting for you so we could open the presents,” Christine explained with a smile, also wearing a Christmas jumper (a cold shade of blue with snowflake patterns), which was not as ridiculous as the one Isaac was wearing, with reindeers and mountains in greens and reds. “But we did line up to see you blush,” she teased him. Isaac had to chuckle.

“But I haven’t got presents for you…” suddenly Isaac felt embarrassed. He hadn’t had Christmas presents in years. His dad had never expected one, and had clearly not been bothered about getting him any, so Isaac had not got used to exchanging presents. And in the weeks leading into Christmas he had managed to be oblivious of the relentless advertising bombardment.

“Don’t worry – we don’t do big present exchanges anyways,” Christine explained, but that didn’t improve Isaac’s sense of awkwardness.

They all sat around the sofa and took turns to exchange presents. Christine’s relatives all got presents to each other: books, shoes, clothes, and Adrienne got a ridiculous patterned tie which he anyways liked, to everyone’s amusement. Christine got Iestyn a leather-bound journal, which turned up to be an unfinished bestiary (so you can add to it and expand it). Iestyn was very happy with it and gave Christine a hug and a kiss. She then gave Isaac two small wrapped boxes.

“One is from me, and the flatter one is from Chris – he gave me very precise instructions.”

Isaac had not got Chris anything either (oh God – I’m an ungrateful git). He opened Chris’ present and saw that it was a new scarf, and Isaac had to laugh. The old hunter had a sense of humour after all. But it was a very nice blue-grey scarf, and he mentally reminded himself to ring him. The second box, Christine’s present, was much smaller, and inside there was a simple brown leather strip, from which three small stone rings hang, so he could wear it around his neck. She explained that they were three interlaced rings of green, purple and black porphyry; stones which would remind him that he was not alone or abandoned, that he will always have someone. Isaac felt a pleasant warm feeling inside, and he gave her a hug before he blushed. After a moment, Iestyn handed him over a box.

“Open it!” he said with a big smile.

In the wrapped box, Isaac found a pair of rugby boots which had his name embroided on.

“It has your name, in case you forget it when you get concussed,” was the explanation. Everybody laughed, and Isaac (with a wide grin on his face) gave him a big hug and kissed his forehead.

“Thank you all, really. I hadn’t had a Christmas like this in… a long time.”

They all had a small breakfast with Isaac’s pastries and, to his surprise, they all went off to the kitchen, where the Christmas day dinner was being prepared. Isaac wasn’t sure he had fully digested the previous day’s dinner and seeing two large birds getting stuffed and thrown into the oven churned his stomach, but by the evening he was ready for it.

After the dinner, Christine’s relatives were getting ready to leave, Isaac had a chance to go ring Chris to wish him a merry Christmas while he put his stuff back in his bag. He was in Mexico still looking for Kate, as part of some dodgy deal with another hunting clan, on which Isaac hadn’t been fully briefed. He thanked Chris for his present, and Chris told him he hoped to go back to France soon, which made Isaac happy. After hanging the phone, Isaac went down through his contact list, stopping when he saw Scott’s number. He really wanted to call and hear from him. His wolf agreed, and urged him to do it, growling and howling inside him. But the shadowy side in him came back, insisting that it would be for the worse. Isaac shoved his phone into his pocket with a sad sigh and put a hand on his neck, as if that would help him think better. He heard an ‘I’m-going-to-let-you-know-I’m-here’ cough and saw Iestyn in the corridor behind him.

“Have you got your bag ready?” Isaac nodded and forced a smile. “Ok, then I’ll drive you home.”

Once they said all their goodbyes, Iestyn and Isaac jumped into the car. They went through all the food they had eaten and laughed when they remembered how Christine’s cousin had stood up at one point and stuffed a whole slice of bread dripping in sauce in his mouth. They also sniggered at the very rude stories which the older ladies had told. Isaac wasn’t sure if he’d be able to look them in the eye with a straight face again when they walked into the bakery. Iestyn pulled the car by the  lock where Isaac’s flat was.

“Last stop.”

“Thanks for the ride, Iestyn.”

“Ah, don’t you worry. Any time.” As Isaac was opening the door, Iestyn casually added: “Oh, and one of these days, when you feel like it, we’re going to have a chat about this Scott of yours.” Isaac froze on his seat, not really understanding what his friend meant. “Don’t look at me like that. Just get off my car,” he said with a smile, “but I mean it. Just when you feel like it.”

Isaac slowly nodded and got out of the car. “Ok, I will. See you around?”

“Yeah, sure! Night, Isaac.”

Isaac entered the building and he heard the car drive away. He finally got to his flat and went for a glass of water. He sat on the sofa and turned the telly on. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and looked at Scott’s number, biting his lip. He dropped the phone on the coffee table and lied on the couch, staring at the ceiling, hands crossed behind his head.

***

The rest of the winter was samey and uneventful. It was colder than California, but it was a nice change. By spring, Chris came back after his time in Mexico (and Belize, and Panama, and Venezuela – Kate had been moving up and down apparently). They had lost track of her sister, but they were certain that she didn’t have any more berserkers, especially after the battle at the temple of Tezcatlipoca. Apparently Derek now could fully transform into a wolf (great, just what everybody needed, a giant grumpy wolf). Chris evaded talking about Scott and the new members of the pack, although he couldn’t avoid mentioning Liam, Scott’s new beta. Isaac’s wolf gnarled, and he himself for a second felt jealous (what’s wrong with you Lahey?). Chris asked about how lessons were going, and about the rugby season, which was about to end. Isaac told him that all was going well – especially the nemeton, where there had been no activity to report whatsoever. Chris nodded at this, but he was still unsure about it. After the catch up and the mutual briefing, Chris allowed himself to relax for a couple of days. Isaac could feel that, even if Chris didn’t say it in words, that he was glad to be back, and that their flat in France felt like home.

As the spring turned into summer, Isaac was told that he had caught up really well with the school curriculum and that he would be able to finish High School next year. He was extremely proud of it and he and Chris went with the two druids to celebrate it with a dinner in one of the local restaurants. A few weeks later, however, Chris received another call from Scott, asking him to help them out in Beacon Hills. Isaac had half-expected it, and said nothing when the hunter packed and left. Isaac had a sulk for a couple of days, but he was determined to stick to his mission. Their mission.

Early one morning, a few days after Chris had left, and as he was getting ready to go to work, Isaac felt an intense pain inside him. His wolf howled in pain and fear. Isaac had to sit down, tears coming down his cheeks, not really knowing what was going on. Then he noticed it: the warm glow he always felt inside as his pack bond suddenly faded. He didn’t understand why, but he knew something bad was happening. At one point it went completely dark and cold, and he felt extremely anxious. He felt as if he was having a panic attack, and a feeling of loneliness engulfed him. His wolf was howling in despair, completely lost. Scott! Oh fuck. It has to be him! What has happened?

For a few moments, that dreadful feeling clutched his heart, and he cried in big sobs, not fully understanding why. He found his phone and he rang Scott. He rang Chris. He rang Melissa. He rang Stiles. And got no answer from any of them. Isaac had never felt this bad before, so lonely, so low. So defenceless. He curled himself up, trying to ring them again, with the same result. He then called Iestyn.

“Isaac, what’s wrong, it’s way too early.”

“Iestyn, please, come,” Isaac sounded completely helpless. “I don’t know. He’s dead. Something has happened. I- I… I can’t. I don’t know.”

“Ok, calm down. Just breathe.”

“But he’s gone. I can’t feel it. Him. It’s dark… my… my wolf knows it.”

“Isaac, just wait. I’m coming, now.”

Isaac hung up, trying to put his thoughts in order. And then, out of the blue, he felt him. He could hear Scott howling. Roaring in rage. But alive. The pack bond was brighter than ever, and the relief that inundated him made him smile. His wolf was all over the moon. It was all too confusing, he didn’t understand what was happening. And nobody was ringing him back. Five minutes later, Iestyn was knocking on the door. When Isaac opened the door he pulled Iestyn in and gave him a hug.

“Don’t worry, butt,” Iestyn hugged him back, but slowly pushed him away. He lifted Isaac’s head so the taller boy would look up. “Now, you’ll need to tell me more about what just happened here. Is this about Scott?” Isaac nodded and they walked into the living room.

Iestyn rang the bakery and told Isaac’s boss that he would not be going to work that day. He came back from the kitchen with two cups of milky tea.

“Ok, now. From the top. What has happened and what did you feel?”

Isaac told him how everything had happened very quickly, and how he had felt how Scott was dead and then he was not within the space of five minutes. How he felt him come back. How he heard him. He also explained how his wolf had felt, describing briefly that his wolf was always odd whenever he thought about Scott. He mentioned only very briefly that he had had a crush on him before turning, but he very quickly insisted that he had got over it, that this was something irrelevant from his past, although he was not sure about it any more. Iestyn remained quiet, listening carefully, only talking when Isaac had finished.

“Well… Now this is high-level emissary stuff there,” he said arching his brow. “But now, seriously. Talking as a druid, but also as your friend, I need to tell you two things. First, whether you admit it or not, you are part of Scott’s pack, and he’s your alpha.” Isaac pulled a face. “You are still connected to them. I don’t know what happened exactly, but if you felt him die, he… he might have. But he is evidently back, right?” Isaac nodded. “We’ll find out how and why, don’t worry. Second, you clearly miss him. Probably you still have more feelings for him than you are admitting to yourself. And yes, your face changes every time anyone mentions him.” Iestyn put a hand on Isaac’s shoulder. “There’s nothing wrong with that, you know right?”

Isaac was silent for a few seconds, just thinking about what he had just been told, not knowing how much truth there was behind those words, but accepting that his friend was probably right. “I don’t know. You haven’t seen how he cares about people. About everyone – not just me. He has this… hero complex. It’s so easy to trust him. Who wouldn’t like Scott McCall?” Isaac snorted. Iestyn didn’t say anything, hoping Isaac would develop.

“But he was so into Allison, it was unreal. I knew I’d never have a chance with him. Anyways, he’s just… he’s… Well, he’s always there,” Isaac was now staring at his feet, but his mind was miles away, just remembering how he saw Scott. “He took me in, like… when Derek kicked me out, in the rain – Derek’s the one who bit me,” he clarified, although he had probably told Iestyn this already. “But even before that, when I was bitten first, he noticed me at lacrosse practice. He hadn’t really noticed me before – which kind of sucked, you know, ‘cause I really wanted to know him better. But nobody really did. Notice me, I mean. But then he found out what I was, and he wanted to help me. Right there. He warned me about Derek. I might have been a bit of a dick to him those weeks,” Isaac smiled sadly and sat back on the sofa. He was now staring at the ceiling. “And then there was this party, and he looked at me. There was this kanima, and he grabbed me. And looked at me. He has these huge brown eyes you can’t avoid, you know. And… and, he told me to be careful, but he meant me to be careful not to get hurt. Nobody had really acted like that with me. Not since my mum… And then, I was trapped in this small closet with Allison, as in trapped. Locked in. And I started to freak out. I don’t like small spaces,” Isaac admitted, and while the druid guessed what the reason might have been, he didn’t ask. “I shifted, I was panicky. And he came in and pulled me out and stopped me. I could have...” Isaac trailed off. He was going through all of his memories with Scott, and in all of them he felt safe and better. He felt accepted and cared for. He felt loved. His druid friend saw again that change in Isaac’s face.

“He sounds like a great alpha, this Scott of yours.” The druid grinned at him.

“Well, he’s a flipping true alpha, ent he?” (He’s my true alpha) Isaac was smiling.

“And did you ever had a chance… you know. To tell him?”

“Tell him what?”

“Well, this stuff. How you feel. How he’s important for you. Is he your anchor?” At this, Isaac blushed bright red.

“Oh, erm. No. He’s not… I didn’t…”

“What’s this about your inner wolf then?” Iestyn changed topic, giving Isaac a short respite.

“Oh. Well. I feel that my wolf side is, erm, like living in me. With me. We share ideas, but sometimes he just acts weird. I can feel when he’s scared or nervous. Or when he doesn’t want to do something. I try to ignore him when he’s too whiny.” Isaac tried to explain himself, although something told him the druid knew more about inner wolves than he was letting him know.

“And what did your wolf do today when you felt Scott?”

“He was… not happy,” was the only way Isaac dared put it. “He was besides himself in panic. A mix of fear and panic. And anger. He… We felt cut off. Alone.”

“You know your wolf is not independent of you, right?” Iestyn leaned forward, and finished his tea.

“What do you mean?”

“It means that when you were bitten you inner and primal instincts were taken up by this wolf of yours. But they are you.” Isaac pulled a face, clearly not understanding. “This was your emissary’s job. Or your alpha’s,” said Iestyn, slightly annoyed. “As a werewolf, right? As a werewolf you can control and visualise your instincts. That’s your wolf. Normal people have those inner instincts so buried inside their minds that they have little control over them. But you lot can see them and understand them better. You interact with them. I’m not saying that your instincts or hunches are always right, but when you get these signals about Scott you can’t go along denying that you still feel something for him, mate.”

Isaac blushed again, deep purple this time. He didn’t like hearing these sort of truths from his friend. Deep inside he knew he really liked Scott. Everything was better with him, and he wanted to be with him. Fucking know-it-all inner wolf. But Scott had always been very clearly into girls. Even when they had lived together, Scott had never shown any hints towards liking guys. And the concern he showed towards Isaac was the same he had for the rest of the pack. He made everyone feel special for him, but Isaac knew he wasn’t special for him. You aren’t special to anyone! Isaac couldn’t help those feelings creeping from within. Isaac’s smile faded, as he grabbed a cushion from the sofa and hugged it tightly, resting his chin on it, staring into space.

“Ok, listen. I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” Iestyn sat by him on the sofa, shaking him out of his thoughts. “Scott is alright. He’s definitely alive. And Chris is over there. So we’ll find out soon enough from him what’s going on. And then we’ll have time to think about what you want to do about you and him. Do you want a cwtch?”

Isaac smiled and nodded. Iestyn put an arm around him and squeezed the tall werewolf gently, which made all of his bad feelings and tension disappear for a while. That’s some real magic there.

“Now,” the druid added after they both sat back, “show me a pic of this Scott. I need to give you my thumbs up before I let you do anything else about him.” Isaac chuckled and all seemed to get better.

***

Isaac didn’t talk much about Scott with Iestyn after that. The bond pack was strengthened and the blond werewolf was reassured that all was back to normal. He then decided that he was in France on a mission. He had made a promise, and Scott was miles away, and obviously they had all forgotten about him, which he still kept telling himself that it was for the best. He pushed his ideas and feelings away, locked them up, and saved them for rainy Tuesday evenings and other unpleasant moments when he was low. Then he would indulge a bit in how it was all better now with them far away and with Scott without him. Inner wolf was usually pushed away at those moments. Overall, all very healthy. Iestyn hadn’t raised the issue again, but Isaac could tell he didn’t approve of what the tall werewolf was doing.

Months passed without any changes. Chris returned to France and was called back by Scott during the summer, and didn’t come back until the autumn. By then, Isaac was starting his last year of high school at the local school, so he had to quit his job at the bakery (his boss had been sad at this, as he had really liked having the tall American working for him, and Isaac had had a great time in the small shop). But with the starting academic year, the rugby season started too, and this year he was old enough to play with the senior side, for the big games. He didn’t play as often, as all the other players were bigger and more experienced, but Isaac didn’t mind. He had his minutes and he scored some tries. Now that he was 18 he could stay for drinks after games and trainings, even if he could not get drunk as the others did – he didn’t mind. He just enjoyed the company and being part of a team.

When Chris left again, Isaac felt an extremely weird feeling, as if his pack bond was unexpectedly weaker, but he could feel everyone still. Something was off, but he couldn’t put his finger on what exactly. But Scott was there always, so he didn’t think much about it. Only when Chris told him what had happened (Ghost Riders?! Fuck knew what they were) and that Gerard was up to no good he got a clearer picture. He also told him about him and Melissa, and that he may be spending more time in California hunting down a rogue hunter. How things change— hunters hunting each other. Chris didn’t return for Christmas, but Isaac was happy to do the Christmas double-whammy food-fest with the two druids and Christine’s relatives again. This time, though, he had presents to give.

In the new year things stayed the same. Isaac’s regular runs around the forest kept being uneventful, and he and Chris felt more confident about the nogitsune having really been banished for good. At school Isaac was doing well, but he still struggled with his written French, which always brought his marks down. He still was particularly proud of his literature essay on local legends. His classmates were ok. There were a couple he spoke more with, and a few others he knew from rugby, but he wasn’t too inclined to make new friends. He didn’t feel like going out with anyone either; there were a couple of guys he really fancied but they were straight. So there. He could take good care of himself.

By the summer he graduated high school with good enough grades. Chris came to celebrate and congratulate him. They went for dinner and Argent asked him what he wanted to do now. Isaac has thought much about it and he wasn’t confident enough in going to uni in France. He could talk well enough but writing was way to hard and he made mistakes often. Iestyn has suggested him doing a degree on the Open University, which was in English and he could do it from France online. Chris had agreed and he matriculated in Earth sciences, which he had always found interesting.

A few months later Chris has gone again, but Isaac was used to that. He had left Isaac in charge of part of the family official business, which Isaac has already been helping with in any case, and he was happy about the increased responsibility (and the juicy pay check). He was very sad however when Iestyn told him he had to go back to Wales.

“I need to go back to my pack, you know,” the druid was apologising. “Plus, I have been told there is an urgent business that I need to attend in England first. You know I ent leaving leaving you. You know where to find me, right?”

Isaac had driven his friend to the airport in Iestyn’s car — which was now his. He knew this day had to come, but still wasn’t happy about it.

“Yeah, I understand,” Isaac said with a sad face. “I’ll come visit you when I can.”

“You better!”

They hugged for a last time and they parted ways. Now he was alone again, but this time trouble loomed in the horizon.

Chapter Text

England, a few weeks before

“This isn’t supernatural. This is a bunch of freaks running around the forest in bedsheets,” Jackson was angrily whispering at Ethan. They were both lying on the ground under some bushes at the Wittenham Clumps – two small hills near the Thames with some trees and remains from Iron Age hillforts (It’d be fun, and you always choose what to do on Sundays). Jackson was wearing a tight short sleeve check shirt, and he was livid that he was on the dirty floor with it. His boyfriend was in a camel coloured light jumper, under which Jackson could see all the hard muscles of his arms and shoulders. That made Jackson hard, despite the tense situation, so he had to readjust his pants, while still looking at the morons in the sheets.

Ethan smelled Jackson’s arousal and noticed his hand shifting briefly to his groin, and he rolled his eyes. He still gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “We didn’t know. And we were here anyways.”

They had left their place that morning, going for a quick walk in the countryside, having lunch in one of the local pubs, and then decided to climb up the hills. Ethan had seen a few coloured ribbons hanging from some trees, but he didn’t know what they meant. On a couple of trees he had seen markings which he though were runes. Jackson had dismissed them as kids running loose, scratching trees. Ethan had ignored him and had them both crawl under the branches until they heard voices and smelled a bonfire. Before Jackson could complain, they were face down, pulling themselves closer.

“I find it very suspicious that you decided to come here for a day out,” Jackson was still sulking but focusing on the people dancing around the fire—“just to find weirdos singing to the moon. Whatever hero complex McCall has it rubbed on you while you were with him.”

“Jackson, please,” and he pointed at a group of people chanting around a large fire in white robes.

“And what are they singing anyways.”

“Oh, so you are curious now? I don’t know. Just shut the fuck up and we may find out!” At this, Jackson shushed Ethan, and Ethan shushed him back. They then began to gesticulate furiously without saying anything. There was lots of pointing at the people by the fire and accusing fingers aimed at each other. Eventually Ethan rolled his eyes and Jackson went back to his sulking.

The chanting was getting more intense and then both werewolves stopped their argument. They felt someone walking around the bush behind them, and both went completely still. Ethan was expecting the cocking or a gun, or a witty hunter pun, but nothing came. Whoever was walking behind them didn’t seem to notice the two boys hiding badly under a bush. At the same time, a smell, indescribable but sickening inundated the air. The person behind them walked away. Ethan pulled a face.

“Where’s this stench coming from?”

“What did that guy eat?” was Jackson’s comment. Ethan punched him in a way that clearly meant ‘be serious’.

Jackson tried to be helpful, and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, hoping to find out what the smell was or if he could pin the point where it was coming from. The smell was bad and getting worse by the second: Jackson nearly wretched when he took it all in. To make things worse, he couldn’t really define where the pungent and putrid reek originated. Jackson was confused and sickened, but his wolf was beginning to panic, walking in circles with his tail under his belly. Jackson had never experienced his wolf behaving like this, and it made him uneasy. As he focused more on the smell and the slight vibrations of the air around them, he sensed something was going wrong. He could sense evil around then. His wolf was positively terrified now, begging to run away. Jackson instinctively reached with his hand to Ethan to get a grip over his emotions, his eyes still shut. When he found his boyfriend’s hand, he squeezed it. It was then that he realised the smell was coming from underneath, out the soil around them, as if the turf and the grass were burning with sulphur.

“Babe, I think-“

Ethan interrupted him in hushed tones: “Jackson, look.”

When Ethan spoke, he sounded as terrified as his wolf felt, which was disturbing enough, but nothing could have prepared Jackson for what he saw when he opened his eyes. The fire at the centre of the forest clearing was extinguished, and the smell of human blood hit his nostrils. A handful of the cultists around the fire had visibly slit their palms, bleeding over the burning logs. But still, Jackson couldn’t believe that a few splashes of blood could put down a fire so quickly, and without any smoke. Ethan later told him he saw the flames recede back into the embers, as if they had been sucked in. Jackson realised also that the chanting had grown louder and higher in pitch so that it was nearly impossible to hear. The words had all melted into a cacophony of hums. More worryingly, the sky had turned a purple hue of blue and the sun’s light appeared as if polarised by a lens. Not five minutes ago Jackson would have sworn that they were in the middle of Oxfordshire on a Sunday afternoon, near a village. This shouldn’t be happening.

“What the fuck is going on, Ethan?”

“Look! Shit! Look, Jackson…” Ethan pointed but he couldn’t finish his sentence. Jackson followed the finger and saw it.

Where the fire pit had once been, now there was a bubbling pool of black ooze flowing out of the logs and charred wood. Shiny and thick, and it was contained within a circle of a white powder. That liquid brought Jackson enough bad memories to make him slowly stand up back away, despite Ethan’s attempts to hold him back.

“Jackson, what are you doing?”

Jackson did not listen. He struggled out of his boyfriend’s grip and kept walking back, eyes fixed on the black ooze. After a few yards, he hit a barrier of mountain ash. Now they were trapped.

“Ethan…” Jackson was focusing his shock and fear into anger, his eyes flashing blue, realising that this was, after all, not just about freaks in bedsheets. This shit was serious. And they had just walked straight into something they didn’t really understand, and that was getting dangerous by the second. When Ethan turned around and saw the barrier, he also shifted. Before they could discuss what to do next, a low rumble shook the floor underneath them, and the background chanting stopped, quickly turning into maniac laughing, cries of pure terror and generic screams. From the centre of the pool of ooze, a large amorphous bubble was forming. Long thin gelatinous tubes were growing out of the main bubble, and those tubes created a pipping noise, loud and terrible: tekili-li, tekili-li. Multiple eyes of many sizes and shapes developed out of the bubbling black goo, and while the whole … thing… was not more than a foot high, it was beyond horrific.

“Jackson, what’s that?” Ethan was in shock, and had fallen to his knees, eyes wide open.

The men in the sheets were now all running away and screaming. To Jackson they appeared as if they had suddenly gone completely insane. Some were clawing at their eyes, drawing blood, as if they were trying to rid themselves of what they had just seen. A few others were pulling their hair, shouting incoherently about the horror they had summoned. Some sounded repentant and were apologising to the skies for their folly. Two or three were clapping and giggling, while on their knees, welcoming the “Crawling Chaos” and the “Faceless God”. One had his guts spilled on the ground where he had stood too close to the bubbling ooze, which now had a spike-like appendix protruding out of it. On top of blood and gore, the werewolves could also smell charred flesh. The only cultist that did not seem completely insane was a taller on, standing by the creature, ad continuing the chanting, with hands up in the air and the eyes all white.

“Hell knows, but I blame him,” and he pointed at the chanting figure. He was off.

“Jackson, wait!” Ethan tried to stop him but his knees wouldn’t obey. His wolf was whining in panic and wanted to dart away. He swallowed hard, willed himself steady and howled.

The lunatics in the sheets began to run away from the forest and away from the hill when they heard the werewolf howl. Luckily, some tripped over and broke the mountain ash seal. When Ethan looked down, Jackson was a few yards away from the chanting figure, not seeing that a blob of goo coming out of the ooze creature was slowly forming into an arm-like appendix. The arm was full of eyes and sharp bones that looked like starfish with teeth. The arm was going to club Jackson down so Ethan jumped at it.

“Watch out!”

Jackson dodged the tentacle-shaped arm and rolled on the grass, which was scorched and blackened where it had been in contact with the creature. Ethan, however, jumped at the arm, trying to stop it from hitting Jackson, but tackling it was like hitting a concrete wall. He felt a few of his bones break upon impact, and he bounced back, falling on his back. While the pain was bad, it was worse on his skin, because it was charred to a crisp from touching the creature. The blobby arm was now turning and raised again, about to slam down on him. Ethan saw his face reflected on the slimy surface of the creature. He didn’t think he would survive being crushed by it, but he was in too much pain to roll away. Before he was hit, however, Jackson had stood up again and jumped into the evil priest person, pinning him down. As the chanting man lost his concentration, the half-summoned being evaporated, filling the air with the smell of ozone and sulphur. The pool of black still remained there though.

Ethan was slowly healing, but he couldn’t stand up without help, still in excruciating pain. As he looked around, he noticed the sky returning to its original colour, the evil smell dissipate, and the remaining sheeted men scatter away. Jackson was about to punch the man he had pinned down but he stopped half way through. The man’s eyes had gone black, and white foam came out of his mouth. Jackson stood up and backed off, not knowing what was going on. Ethan rolled to his side to see his boyfriend slowly walk away from the man who was twitching, and evidently in pain. He heard bones breaking and he saw a black ooze flow out of the man’s ears and nose. A yellow froth came out of his mouth, mixed with white balls.

“Is that...?”

“Mistletoe” Jackson said.

The black ooze had by now disappeared into the ground, leaving no trace but the scorched earth and the logs of the bonfire. The sorcerer was very clearly dead. Ethan heard police sirens approaching, and asked Jackson to help him to stand up.

“Let’s go home, shall we? I’ve had enough of our day out. Can you move?”

“Not yet, babe.”

Jackson looked concerned, and pulled Ethan up, holding him by the shoulders, sitting him carefully down by one of the benches at the edge of the trees.

“Hold on. Don’t move.”

“Jackson, don’t!”

Ethan saw Jackson extend his claws, scales forming on one side of his face. The police officers at the bottom of the hill were rounding up the cultists who were trying to run away, and a handful of them were climbing up to see what had happened. What they couldn’t see was Jackson sneaking behind them and paralysing them with his kanima venom. When they were all on the ground, Jackson darted towards the bench where his boyfriend was slowly recovering and picked him up.

“Now, we can go to the car.”

“Was that really necessary?” Ethan asked, rolling his eyes.

Jackson huffed: “Well, they can’t ask us questions now, can they?”

By the time they got to the near side of the village, where they had parked the car, the policemen were far behind and out of sight. Ethan could walk unaided now, but Jackson still would not let him out of his reach until they got to their car.

“We need to tell someone.”

“Deaton?”

Jackson nodded, and they got into the car. “Come on, handsome. I’ll drive.” When they were inside the car, Jackson leaned over and gave Ethan a kiss. As they drove away, Jackson had to have the last word: “Oh, and by the way, you’re not picking a day out plan ever again.”

***

At this time, Jackson and Ethan had been dating for nearly two years.

Jackson had left Beacon Hills soon after he had been killed by Peter and Derek. Well, he had come back to life as a werewolf-kanima hybrid, but he had been technically dead. A few weeks after that, and despite having sorted everything with Lydia (he had been a dick, after all), he came to the conclusion that Beacon Hills was too small and too supernatural.  He decided to leave for London, where his parents got him to an American school. There it seemed that the previous months hadn’t taken place at all: he could go back to be a popular jock in high school, with girls queuing up to make out with him, and he was soon captain of the lacrosse team he joined. He didn’t even had to use his werewolf abilities, which was always an ego boost. He was still largely unsupervised by his parents and had all expenses paid for (plus a generous allowance). The only thing that had changed was his need to hide in a cellar during the full moon, which made him miserable and moody for a week a month. Jackson had troubles finding an anchor, and knew no local druids to ask for advice. A few times, much to Jackson’s disgust, he had to text Scott. But, overall, Jackson was loving life in England.

By the end of his first school year in London, Jackson had had a few months to think about the way he felt, and he was becoming more confident with the idea that he was not totally straight as had tried to convince himself back in Beacon Hills. While he had been flirting with some of the girls in his class, he had been eyeing a few of the college guys that lived in his block. And he was liking more the possibilities they offered. If he was completely honest with himself, he had also liked the way boys had checked him out at school, even if he had never given them any hints. Back home Jackson was going out with Lydia Martin, he was the captain of the lacrosse team. He was not one to come out: he had a reputation to uphold. But after all the kanima incident, after the things he had done, and realising what a part of him was (the benefits of hindsight!), Jackson believed he had been putting up a persona. He now wished he had discussed this with Danny – of all people he would have understood. Jackson felt bad that he had to discuss all of this over the phone and skype. Danny, obviously, had known all the time, and Jackson hadn’t been happy about it, but he just told him that everyone needs their own time to figure things out.

During that summer, Jackson gather enough courage to make a move on one of his college-boy neighbours, when he met someone he had never expected to meet. He was walking down the street going back home from lacrosse practice, when someone just stopped dead on his shoes.

“Hey sorry, but it’s a long while since I’ve seen that top,” Ethan said with a charming smile pointing at Jackson’s Beacon Hills lacrosse hoodie. “Did you play lacrosse at Beacon Hills?”

Jackson was very surprised that anyone in London even knew about Beacon Hills, but he had loved getting the attention of a tall and muscular boy. He also bit his tongue before he made any puns with the other boy’s choice of words. He decided he was going to be embarrassingly obvious and direct in his flirting. Today was going to be his day – no need to wait to get home.

“Well, yes. I was captain of the team,” Jackson looked into Ethan’s eyes, with a side smile matching the other boy’s. “Do you like lacrosse?” and he got closer, putting a finger on Ethan’s chest, following the line of his pecs, “or do you just like lacrosse players?”

Ethan laughed and pushed him slightly away, but still smiling. “Well, I’ve had one already— I thought I might check another one out.”

Jackson’s face and pose changed, straightening up. “Did you go to Beacon Hills? I don’t think I know you.” Jackson then looked dead serious, “were you with Danny?”

“Err… yeah. I imagine you know him?”

Jackson tensed as he suddenly noticed the smell. Werewolf. His eyes glowed as he grabbed Ethan by the shirt and pinned him against the wall.

“So you’re Ethan?

“Er… do I know you?” It was Ethan’s turn to be surprised now.

“You scared Danny away from Beacon Hills! And why are you here?” Jackson kept asking as he put an accusing finger on his chest. “Has McCall sent you?”

“Wow, wow. Easy tiger,” Ethan was serious but he kept his hands up in surrender, sensing Jackson’s anger. “Are you… Jackson?” Slightly calmed down, Jackson let go of his shirt and took a step back.

“Why are you here?”

“Shall we sit down and I’ll explain?”

They went to a coffee place nearby, and had a long chat.

Ethan had left Beacon Hills a few weeks ago, after the nogitsune affair and the death of his brother. He couldn’t stay in Beacon Hills around with Danny, or with the McCall pack, and didn’t want to go with Isaac and Argent to France. He couldn’t stay elsewhere in California either, as there was a long list of people who would be glad to see him hurt or worse. He had moved to Canada for a couple of weeks but, even there, there were people who knew him, so he decided to put an ocean in between and landed in England. While he was not keen on living a completely human life, he didn’t fancy the prospect of drawing attention to him and being shot at with cross-bows either. London seemed like the best place where he could go unnoticed.

After Ethan explained how and why he was in London, and that he had not been sent by Scott in any shape or form, Jackson seemed to relax. He had heard about Ethan from Danny, although he had never mentioned he was a werewolf. After Ethan’s story, Jackson understood how much Danny really knew about the supernatural – which also explained why he had left their home town. With the first obstacle surpassed, and both now at ease with each other, Jackson allowed himself a smile, which Ethan complemented, as it suited him better than his dead-serious face. Jackson laughed at this.

During the rest of the evening Ethan and Jackson just exchanged stories and points of view on Beacon Hills and its supernatural community, which happened to be their circle of friends. They talked about Derek and his moody eyebrows, and about how he had tried to teach Jackson about being a werewolf. Ethan laughed at how this had involved creeping behind trees and sneaking into the high school showers. They talked a lot about Scott and Stiles (yeah, left and right testicle I called them). They talked about Lydia, which obviously both had much to say about. Jackson had to admit his part in that side of the story, how he felt responsible for her being bitten and how he had thought she had made him immune to the bite. Ethan to this added his brother’s romance with her, and that Aiden had really liked her. Ethan managed to talk about Aiden, still trying to accept that he was gone (that’s how I ended up here. I needed to get away). Jackson didn’t blame him. He had roughly done the same. Eventually they ended up talking about Allison. Jackson knew that she had died (he was not completely cut off from Beacon Hills), but he was surprised when Ethan told him about her and Isaac (I never knew he played for that team). Ethan then told Jackson that he had gone off with Argent around the time he had left California. Jackson wondered how Isaac was doing. He had been friends with his neighbour once, but when his mum died everything changed, and Jackson stopped seeing him. He had also hit puberty at that stage and had become an arsehole, but with hindsight he was ashamed about how he had behaved with him.

They fell silent for a few seconds, and Ethan just changed subject dramatically, back to lacrosse and life in London. By the end of the evening they both had been holding hands and smiling at each other (which Jackson had never thought he would have done in public just yet). They went for pizza and ended up in Ethan’s flat in Clapham, kissing all the way up and shirts flying the moment they crossed the front door, throwing clothes on the floor and tripping over furniture on their way to the bed. The morning after, while Jackson was still loudly snoring, Ethan booked tickets he had been dying to go to watch ever since he got to London. The next available tickets were exactly a year from that day. He bought two.

They met nearly every day for the next three weeks and, by the end of the month, Jackson had fallen for Ethan completely. While at first sight Jackson had only seen a fit guy to have a fun night with, he never thought he would connect with Ethan at so many levels. To start with, they had the same sense of humour and the same banter, and they always had a great time together. Jackson soon found out that they both had an arrogance that matched each other’s, which deep down he really liked, and turned him on a bit. They were more different in other things. For example, Ethan was more calmed than Jackson: he was not into sports in the same way that Jackson was, and he was not as competitive either. Jackson didn’t mind, he was just happy that Ethan would come to do things with him. He also liked to have someone who could slow him down, someone who would stop and reflect before he could charge forward without thinking. Jackson saw that they complemented each other. He had never connected with anyone like that – except for Lydia, obviously. Jackson knew was the best sign he would get. Since he left Beacon Hills (since leaving Lydia), he had not really been intimate with anyone. With Ethan, for the first time, he felt he could really be with someone.

The twin felt the same way. He avoided all comparisons, but Jackson and Danny had been best friends for years and were very similar in character, which explained why he had found it so easy to talk to him in the first place. True, Jackson could be an arse, but Ethan didn’t necessarily take it quietly, and gave him a piece of his mind as a corrective, when necessary. Besides, he had proven Ethan that he was completely committed. For him, that was the closest thing to get a pack together, to be part of something. He knew that he would not be alone again, or in the need to hide and run away – Jackson gave him confidence and security. He felt wanted and cared for. He felt truly loved. Together, both of them could be just themselves, they could drop whatever high school personas they had been upholding. They made each other happy, which was all either of them asked for.

Three months later, they were moving in together to a brand new apartment overlooking the Thames and the Houses of Parliament.

A year after they started dating, both Jackson and Ethan had a suspicion that things were turning a turn for the worse. The few supernaturals they knew in London had disappeared or else were lying low. Even those who were close friends were in hiding, telling about increased hunter activity. Nobody mentioned the name Gerard Argent, but Jackson (who had had first-hand experience with him) was fearing it might be him. Ethan and Jackson had been very cautious, so they wanted to believe they were safe. So, to celebrate their anniversary, Ethan went ahead with what he had planned. He had acquired at a high cost two tickets for both of them to go to a theatre show. When Jackson had not turned up on time, Ethan got really pissed off, but he was positively fuming when his boyfriend was late. His mood was not improved by having their door kicked down by hunters (who also threw a tied-up Jackson on their floor), but it explained the tardiness.

After that, they went back to Beacon Hills looking for Scott, and ended up captured by the Gerard and his hunters.

When they returned from Beacon Hills, they decided to move to a different place, ideally with not that many hunters around, and with sufficient countryside in case they wanted a bit of wolfing out. Also, Jackson wanted to go to university (his parents agreed with him), even if Ethan was just happy to get a normal werewolf-friendly job. They moved to Oxford, where Jackson was about to start college (boringly enough, Philosophy, Politics and Economics), and Ethan had enough time to house hunt and get the perfect terraced house for them. Jackson had to endure two full weeks of decoration and furniture selection, but Ethan simply ignored him every time he snorted or huffed, or rolled his eyes. Obviously, Jackson got on the University’s lacrosse team, and Ethan went to see them play every weekend (cheering from the bleachers whenever Jackson scored).

For a whole year, they enjoyed a quiet life in Oxford. During the summer, Ethan nudged Jackson to take advantage of the lack of lacrosse on the weekends to go on excursions. Despite Jackson’s sulking and complaining, they both enjoyed their days out. That is – until Ethan had decided for them to go to visit the villages of the Whittenam Clumps, and hell broke loose.

***

Back home, Ethan collapsed on the sofa, and pulled his shirt up, his skin almost completely healed. Jackson was on the phone, trying to reach Deaton while going through the bathroom cabinet for something Ethan could put on his skin.

“Hello?”

“Deaton? This is Jackson.”

“I feel this is not just a social call.”

“Ethan has been hit by a burning monster of black ooze.”

“You’ll have to explain that again.”

“He’s burnt! He isn’t healing! A large fucking monster of black ooze came out of a fire, summoned by freaks in sheets.” Jackson masterly summarised the situation.

“I’m feeling better…” Ethan shouted in the background.

“Jackson, why don’t you calm down for a second, and start from the very beginning.”

***

A few days later

The drive into Oxford took longer than Iestyn had expected. Dr Deaton had given him a very precise second-hand description of what had happened in the Whittenam Clumps and, after he had asked for his expert opinion, his American colleague had given him his own interpretation of what had happened.

Iestyn had never faced cultists before, especially ones who appeared to know what they were doing. Random groups of people playing with Ouija boards were harmless. Mostly harmless. The dangerous ones were those who came across books. These usually found themselves facing true supernatural powers without any preparation. Or even worse – being so arrogant that they thought that by having read the one book they knew what they were getting into. Iestyn didn’t know what these people in Oxfordshire had been up to, or what book they had come across, but they had summoned what any book of the Occult would describe as a shoggoth: a formless creature created by preceding civilisations to be their slaves. It had all been mumbo jumbo and legend even for people who dealt with the supernatural until now. There was little Deaton knew about shoggoths, other than they could adapt their amorphous oozy bodies to whatever shape they needed. But they also lacked a will, apparently, and they had to fulfil whatever their masters ordered them to do. In any case, had it not been for two random werewolves walking up in the forests when the summoning was taking place the creature might have been left loose. And Iestyn didn’t even want to think what could have happened.

Deaton had given him an address to go and visit, with two precise instructions: make sure the two wolves were ok and that the book in question was located and retrieved. His pack was not happy about this, but needs must, and eldritch horrors summoned from the depths of the past took precedent over new betas who could control their shift.

Iestyn parked his old car in front of a nice terraced house in one of the western suburbs of Oxford. There was a nicely kept lawn in front, with a few window boxes full of cooking herbs and spices. On the driveway there was a shiny new black Audi A3 convertible. He pulled his bag out of the back seat, tidied his hair a bit, and shut the door. Before he could knock on the door, a student, only a few years younger than him, opened the door. He had sculpted cheeks and an angled jaw, with very short-clipped hair and incredible blue eyes. He was wearing an Oxford Uni lacrosse hoodie.

“Are you the druid?” the younger boy said, without further introduction.

“Are you the one who came across a shoggoth?”

Iestyn was eyed carefully by the man standing by the door. When he appeared to be satisfied, he moved to the side, and nodded him with his head to walk inside.

“Come in, I’m Jackson.”

“I’m Iestyn, nice to meet you.”

They walked in and shut the door behind them.

Chapter Text

The three of them were sat at the living room, and it was a bit uncomfortable. Jackson and Ethan had decided that they could trust the young druid, even if it was just because Deaton had sent him over. But still, they did not really know him – he had just turned up at their doorstep with a thick Welsh accent and a canvas bag with a few clothes and a laptop. Besides, neither of the werewolves knew what was going to come out of this meeting – they hadn’t expected Deaton to do much about what they had told him, and they had just hoped that by telling him they had fulfilled their werewolfic duty. As far as they knew, whatever the cultists had done, it had come to an end when Jackson tackled their main priest down. The local newspapers had covered the affair very thoroughly, talking about satanic cults in Oxfordshire who had ritually sacrificed one of their members, while the apparent leader had died of an overdose of whatever hallucinogenic they had been high on (the same unknown drug with which they had paralysed four police constables). The werewolves knew better than those stories, of course, but the reporters seemed to be content with that explanation. Whatever the cultists had tried to do, they had been stopped. The evil bubbly creature had disappeared, after all. And yet, a druid had appeared at their doorstep. Jackson was hoping this meeting was going to be simply Deaton’s explanation of what they had encountered. Ethan, however, he had a hunch which told him that this was just the beginning of something very wrong. He had spent too much time with Scott McCall, he thought.

At first, Iestyn had asked for their side of the story, which, unsurprisingly, matched what Deaton had told him. He nodded in acknowledgement and then filled them in with what Deaton and him thought: that they had interrupted a group of cultists who were summoning of a shoggoth.

“A what?”

Iestyn was ready for this. Shoggoths were not like werewolves or vampires, which people knew (or thought they knew) about. He even had brought a few photocopies with texts and diagrams.

“A shoggoth is a creature from the pre-human past.”

“That was no dinosaur,” Jackson snorted.

“Jackson, nobody likes a smartass,” Ethan shushed him, who was now really interested in what the druid was saying.

“True. Still, this is a creature created millions of years ago, apparently by an ancient race of aliens.” Jackson rolled his eyes at this.

“Jackson!” Ethan punched his boyfriend on the shoulder, causing him to turn around and open his mouth in a silent expression of faked pain. It kept him quiet, though.

“They are creatures that can adapt their bodies to whatever needs they have, so they form arms or legs or mouths, depending on the task they are created for. It’s a forced evolution of a primeval… erm… liquid.” Jackson and Ethan would have had a hard time believing any of this if they hadn’t seen it themselves already. After a pause, he continued, “Now, cultists. They found somehow a way of bringing a shoggoth here. From God knows where. Probably with a book. There are two types of cultists, you know: those who know, and those who have no clue. I don’t know which kind is most dangerous, I don’t, but I don’t like either. The amateur ones never really know what they are doing. They just read cheap books on the occult, and dance around fires in the forests. Most of them are completely useless, but from time to time they get lucky and manage to get an invocation right. Normally they just want to summon some creature to carry out revenge against people who have wronged them.”

Jackson shifted uncomfortable on the sofa when hearing this. He himself had been used in such a way (by Matt and then by Gerard), even if he hadn’t been conscious about what he had done. Jackson was trying to supress these thoughts of him being used, but Iestyn noticed how his faced had changed and stopped. “Err… sorry – have I said something wrong?”

Ethan grabbed his boyfriend’s hand and squeezed it, while leaning to kiss him gently on his temple. Jackson seemed to relax down a notch and managed to look up, taking a deep breath. Ethan explained: “Jackson was, well… a kanima when he first turned, and well… did kanima things.”

“I was an instrument of revenge,” Jackson had his sight fixed on the wall opposite, jaws clenched as he said this. In all honesty, Jackson’s introduction to the supernatural had not been easy. It had been easy to find out about McCall, but it had been far more complicated to get himself involved. There had been a wild alpha, an unhelpful Derek, and menacing hunters. But he had wanted so much to become a werewolf: the power, the strength, the speed – plus, he couldn’t let McCall be better than him. Finding out that he was adopted had done no good to his self-esteem, perhaps that’s why he tried to over compensate by pretending to be the successful high school jock he felt he should really be. Becoming a werewolf appeared, to Jackson, the real way to change who he was. But he did not get what he wanted: he got a scratch from the alpha, he got no help from Derek, and then his body rejected the bite. Lydia and Scott had sat with him after his kanima had been killed (after he came back as a proper werewolf), and filled him in. They explained to him what a kanima was (he had overheard Stiles already bout it, but it was good to get all the facts straight), and that a dark part of his own self had prevented him from becoming a true werewolf. That had been a hard pill to swallow. He knew that he had not been a model son or boyfriend, or classmate, but becoming a murderous lizard had been a wake up call. Coming back to life as a real werewolf (or rather, a hybrid), was a literal second opportunity, and Beacon Hills was too full of his recent past to be comfortable. Moving to England had been, overall, a very positive experience (and Ethan was much to blame for his overall improvement), so vicious cultists appearing out of nowhere trying to carry out revenge made him feel uneasey.

Iestyn could only guess half of the story (Deaton had not told him much of the two werewolves he had come to see), but Jackson’s face was expressive enough. “Well, as far as I know and from what I can see here,” he was trying to sound reassuring—“you are not a summoned demon from hell.” Iestyn wasn’t sure he was fixing this, but he continued nonetheless. “You are a werewolf, you have it in you. You are still a person, and a clever and fine young man from what I see.”

Jackson relaxed a bit more at this, and Ethan rubbed his boyfriend’s head, trying to force the thoughts about the kanima out of his head. He lost no time diverting the conversation to where it had started though: “So, if those are the part-time cultists, what do the organised ones do?”

“Ah…” Iestyn did not know how to put it. “Well, to be honest, I don’t really know – I don’t. But, from what I gather, and what Deaton has hinted, they tend to be behind large-scale demon summonings. Let them lose on the world. Put an end to it. That sort of shite.”

Jackson and Ethan were silent for a couple of seconds. Iestyn raised his eyebrows. He then quietly put his hands on his knees, not really what else to add.

“So,” Ethan was trying to understand and to put his thoughts slowly in order, “you are suggesting that we have either encountered a handful of lunatics seeking bloody revenge or an organised cult who want to destroy the world. Are those your two options?”

“Oh, no. No, no. Maybe. I’m quite new to this as well, you realise?”

“I thought you said you are an emissary!” Jackson snapped, raised an eyebrow and a menacing finger.

“I am! I’m an emissary to werewolves! I’ve got a pack and all. But cultists are a completely different thing,” the young druid was arguing back, not liking Jackson’s tone. “Anything you want to know about your pack, or your anchor, or wolfsbane poisoning, I am sure I can give you a couple of lessons on, mate!” Jackson sat back. Iestyn sat back too, “But you’ll be surprised how many cultists we don’t have as regulars down our pack house in Wales.”

“Right, we know,” Ethan was again trying to be conciliatory, after elbowing his boyfriend in the ribs. “I think that the question now is, what exactly needs doing? I’m sorry, but I have to tell you that when Deaton drops these bombs it normally means Scott has to save our town.”

“Scott? Is this Scott McCall?” Iestyn asked with a knowing smile, putting two and two together and remembering what Isaac had told him.

“Yes – do you know him?”

“Oh, no, no. Just heard of him.”

“Well, he has this hero complex in him.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“So what needs doing?” Jackson repeated Ethan’s question. Iestyn took a while to think: in part for dramatic effect, in part because he was not really sure either.

“We would need to find out if they have any links outside Oxfordshire and we must get our hands on whatever book they were using.”

“Why the book?” Jackson was still not feeling collaborative.

“Without the book they can’t do much else; that’ll be the end of this lot and their summonings. Plus, those kind of books are better kept safe.”

They all fell silent, nobody really sure about what to do next. Ethan and Jackson understood why it was important to find that book, although Jackson could not see the urgency: all the looneys were already arrested or dead. It was not as if they had taken the book with them to the station. Iestyn was not sure about what the werewolves were ready to do: Deaton had not really told him what they needed to do beyond retrieving the book. He had given no instructions on the how or when. It was Ethan who was slowly brewing a plan.

“So, I imagine the cult leader had the book, right?” The other two looked at Ethan, unsurprised that he was taking the initiative. “We just need to find out who he is – was— and where he lived. Then break in, and find the book.”

“You really have spent too much time rubbing against McCall… And we haven’t got a Stilinski here who can get us into the police station. And I don’t think the police here are as understanding as the sheriff back home.”

“It’s the best idea I’ve got.” Ethan threw his hands behind his head and leant back. “You think of something else. But in the mean time I say we do this.”

“I can see Jackson’s point,” Iestyn added while nodding. “I don’t think we can just walk into the police station and check their records.”

Ethan’s face widened in a smile as he heard those words, and if you looked carefully, you might have seen a lightbulb shining over his head. Jackson immediately understood his boyfriend’s face.

“No.”

“Jackson, it’d work.”

“No! I’m not asking him.”

“He could do it. And he’s in the know.”

“He clearly doesn’t want to know any more.”

“Who?” Iestyn was equally excited and confused.

“You don’t know that!”

“He doesn’t really ask particular werewolf questions, you know?”

“Still…”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Danny. He’s my best friend. And Ethan expects me to ask him to hack into the police database.”

“He knows about the supernatural.”

“Because of you!”

Iestyn could see that this was an old argument they were having, and he tried to ignore it. “Could he check the police records for us?” He was looking at Jackson, and so was Ethan. Jackson put his hands up.

“No. No way.”

“It’ll work, babe.”

“No!”

Both Ethan and Iestyn were staring at Jackson with puppy eyes. He had to give in, because he could not think of a quickest way of getting over and done with this cultist shit.

“Ok, I’ll ask him. Politely. But cannot promise anything.” Ethan and Jackson were still looking at Jackson; neither had moved an inch. “What? Now? You want... Are you saying… Do I have to call him now?”

“Please, babe,” Ethan asked – he was clearly enjoying all this situation with the cultists and the enchantment book hunting.

Jackson stood up, huffed and straightened his shirt. He pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Right. Ok.” He started texting.

<Jackson> 2/9/2018 19:21

Hey morning. You there?

 

“You’re going to text him?” Ethan snorted.

“Well, it’s early in the morning there. I don’t see the need to wake him up with this.”

“It’s slightly urgent, you know”

The phone buzzed before Jackson could reply.

 

<Danny> 2/9/2018 19:22

Hey you ok?

<Jackson> 2/9/2018 19:22

Yeah all good

<Jackson> 2/9/2018 19:22

We have a situation here

<Jackson> 2/9/2018 19:22

And we need a favour

<Jackson> 2/9/2018 19:23

Pls x

<Danny> 2/9/2018 19:23

Werewolves??

 

Jackson looked up from his phone. He was fuming. He looked at Ethan.

“I told you it was not a good idea.”

“Just ask him already.”

“What did he say?”

Jackson turned back to his phone and began punching a message.

 

<Jackson> 2/9/2018 19:24

Sort of

<Jackson> 2/9/2018 19:24

We need an address…

<Jackson> 2/9/2018 19:25

From a police file

 

“Happy now?” Jackson snapped, but before Ethan could say anything back at him, Jackson’s phone began to ring.

“Are you going to answer?”

Jackson looked down, and saw it was Danny facetiming. He took a deep breath, still looking angrily at Ethan.

“Yes?”

“Well, hello to you too. What’s going on?” Jackson could see Danny’s face. He looked sleepy and not fully awake yet.

“Hello Danny!” the twin shouted behind his boyfriend.

“Hey Ethan. So, is this a werewolf business?”

“Erm… Sort of?”

“I had enough werewolf business back in Beacon Hills,” Danny was rubbing his eyes now. “I thought you had too.” Jackson looked angrily at Ethan, mouth shut to a thin line, mouthing a silent ‘I told you so’ to Ethan. “Jackson, you remember I can see you, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. Well… this was not expected. It just happened, and we just need this one address.”

“So we can retrieve a spell book,” added Ethan from behind.

“Not helping there!” Jackson turned around again.

“You need to get a book? For spells? Is this Harry Potter now?”

Ethan was really enjoying this, giggling in the background, while Iestyn still did not fully understand the dynamics between them three.

“Well, we don’t know. Yet. These are… druid’s instructions.” Danny looked more confused than he had been until now, but he shook his head, not really wanting to know anymore.

“In any case, you know I don’t do that. Not anymore – I told Stiles already.”

“What did Stiles ask you to do?” Ethan asked.

“That’s a whole different story. And I’m not doing it. Period.”

“Wait! Wait, please!” Ethan snatched Jackson’s phone off his hand. “Please, we really need to. It’s important. Do it for your two favourite werewolves?” Ethan tried to open his eyes pleadingly and pouting his lips, with a very comic result.

Danny laughed at this sight. “Is this for Scott now?” he said with a smile, knowing well the reaction that would have on Ethan and Jackson, and both of them now had the same face of disbelief mixed with shock: mouths open, angry eyes, and raised eyebrows.

“What?”

“I like to chat with other old friends from high school, you know? My world is not just you two.”

“Anyways,” Ethan was bringing Danny back to the point, “will you help us? I’m sure this is more exciting than your usual course work.” Ethan knew Danny was doing great at college, but also that he was bored because it was all quite basic for him.

Danny rubbed his eyes again, and when he opened them he was looking at Ethan’s big wolfish grin on his screen. “I hate you two.”

***

After that, Danny had been easy to convince, although before he finally agreed, he demanded to know everything. Ethan and Jackson had to explain all over again what they had come across in the woods on their day out. Danny also met Iestyn, who explained about the shoggoths – they decided that if they were going to pull the blanket, they might as well go the extra mile. Danny sat throughout the entire explanation without saying a word, just nodding every now and then. At some point, he appeared to be taking notes, which was disconcerting. Ethan felt that Danny was getting way into the supernatural while Jackson pretended that none of that was actually taking place.

It was surprisingly easy to find the list of addresses, Danny told them the day after: the main suspect was already dead, and the coroner’s system was less protected from hacking than the actual police database. Plus, various of the papers had already released various names, which made the whole business easier.

“No biggy,” Danny told them, on the phone as he emailed them the list of cultists.

That very day, Ethan and Jackson jumped on the car to check the address of the suspected cult leader, whom the news had identified as one of the senior researchers of the University. The house was located on a quiet street in one of the villages that surrounded Oxford, with identical houses lining the road. The house of the cultist did not look any different from the others: nothing screamed ‘demon cultist’ or ‘enquire within to summon creatures from the depths of time’. The lawn was manicured, the trees were well kept. A bike was chained to the side of the driveway, but there was no car – it was probably still parked at the clumps. There was even a small clay gnome on the corner (I knew this guy would be a perv Jackson thought). Before stepping out, Ethan and Jackson checked the surrounding houses, but saw and felt no nosy neighbours. As they opened the door, however, Jackson’s hair stood on its ends, his inner wolf sensing that something was wrong around this house. Before he could realise what it was, Ethan told him to smell the air, and it was there. Very thin, very diluted and subtle, but they both could smell the same odour they had first encountered a few days before up on the clumps.

When they got to the front door, it was not only the smell, it was the same uneasy sensation they had felt. Jackson shook his head to steady himself and knocked on the door.

“Why are you knocking?” Ethan demanded.

“I’ve never broken into a house to look for books, but it may be difficult to break in if there are people inside.”

“I can’t hear anyone.”

“Still, better to be sure.”

He knocked again, and neither could sense or hear anyone in the house, so they went back to the garden and tried the back door, where they got the same lack of response. Jackson heaved the door until they could push it open, and they walked in. The weird smell intensified, and they were surprised none of the neighbours had complained about it already.

“Let’s just find whatever books we can and go,” Ethan said, his voice betraying his nervousness. Jackson nodded and they split.

The house was big enough, but there were only that many rooms that could be checked. Ethan went upstairs, where the smell was less intense. The bedroom was tidy, except for a cup of tea on the bedside table which was now mouldy. There were no books there. There were no books in the bathroom either, but there were in the second bedroom, which had been turned into a study.

“Babe, could you come up here, please?” Ethan said as he opened the study, taking all in. Two of the walls were covered in shelves, floor to ceiling, and packed with books. The third wall had a desk with a laptop, and a few notebooks. Ethan pulled his phone out and began to take pictures of everything.

The first group of shelves, to his left, appeared to be mostly literature. English and German books. Poetry and novels, mostly. Ethan recognised a whole collection of Shakespeare, and he saw a few other authors he thought he knew from high school reading lists. The second set of shelves contained manuals and other text books, all related to literature and literary theory. There were a few dictionaries, a few journals, and a couple of framed photographs of people who Ethan could only guess were the owner of the house and his family. The desk under the window had a laptop and a couple of notebooks.

“Baabe!” Ethan instinted.

Downstairs, Jackson had been looking through the living room and the kitchen, which had nothing supernatural he could identify. The smell still lingered but, as in the clumps, it appeared to come from under the floor boards. The cupboard under the stairs was also completely normal, and he avoided the bathroom altogether. It was only when he got to the fire place that he felt something was there. As he kneeled down and put his hand forward, he heard Ethan calling him. Before he could double check what had bothered him from the fireplace, he stood up and went upstairs, his wolf inside thankful for this.

Up the stairs, Jackson walked up to the study door and saw the books, eyes widening from the threshold, not really wanting to walk inside, where Ethan was waiting, both hands crossed behind his neck.

“Is any of these the book we want?” Jackson pointed with a finger in a vague gesture towards the shelves.

“I don’t know,” Ethan put his hands down with a sigh, “there are too many. But most seem legit.”

“I think we should take the laptop.”

I think we should take the notebooks.”

“Let’s get them then. Ring Iestyn then, I still want to check that fire place downstairs. It gave me the creeps.”

As Ethan pulled his phone out and looked for the druid’s number, Jackson went back to the fire place. He squatted down in front of it, keeping his hands on his knees, not really knowing where to start looking. His wolf began to feel restless again, grawling and hairs on end. The evil smell appeared stronger here, and the moment Jackson ventured a hand towards the fire place, he felt it.

“Mountain ash…” he said to himself as he sensed a barrier keeping him from actually reaching into the soot-covered brickwork. He looked carefully and saw that the fire place and the mantelpiece were brick and plaster, but it was framed in wood, which now he realised was mountain ash, forming a supernatural barrier: either to keep supernaturals out, or to keep something supernatural in.

“Ethan, come here?” Jackson said in a hushed voice over his shoulder, knowing that his boyfriend could still hear him. As he stood up, he noticed that the carpet by the fire place was not properly fitted, which in this house was suspicious enough. He kneeled again and carefully pulled the old, musty, green carpet, and saw something. He could not really tell what it was, as looking at it gave him a sharp headache and watery eyes, but he recognised a circle carved on the floorboards surrounded by symbols. “Babe, please? Hurry will you?”

But Ethan was already behind him, hands full of notebooks and laptop. “What’s th.. wow!” Ethan had to cover his eyes with his elbow, trying not to drop anything. “That… hurts?”

“Erm, yeah. This is too fucking weird – let’s get out now.”

“Wait – what about the fire place?”

“There’s mountain ash- We need Iestyn to come and have a look himself.” Jackson’s wolf was urging them to leave that place, and he felt Ethan’s wolf whining too, begging them to dart away. “It feels wrong here.”

“Yeah, come on.” Ethan was about to leave when he pulled his phone out and took a picture of the floorboards, before covering it up with the carpet.

But before they could reach the back door both Ethan and Jackson froze on their feet as the floor began to vibrate. It was not the same vibration from an earthquake, which they could recognise because they had lived in California – it was much more localised, as if something or someone was pummelling the floor from underneath. The stench that engulfed the house intensified, and before they could think of what to do, both werewolves shifted, eyes glowing blue. The temperature in the room began to raise unnaturally, accompanied by a high-pitched noise coming from the living room. Ethan looked at Jackson with worried eyes, and Jackson nodded. With that, Ethan bolted through the back door, followed close behind by Jackson, and they ran towards their car, shifting into gear and driving away as fast as they dared.

***

“So you want me to go and check inside that fire place?” Iestyn was sitting at the werewolves’ kitchen table, finishing his meal, while Jackson and Ethan stood opposite him. They had just explained what they had seen in the house of the lead cultist. “You want me to go there, walk over a glyph which you may have activated, and put my mitts into a fireplace lined in mountain ash?” The young druid was obviously not comfortable with this idea, but the two werewolves in front of him looked quite shocked.

Jackson looked at Ethan before turning back to Iestyn. “We’ll come with you,” he finally said, pointing and himself and his boyfriend with his thumb in one quick gesture.

“It’s the last thing we need to check,” Ethan added. “We have everything else. We have the laptop and the notebooks.” He looked at his boyfriend, who nodded his head in support. “And I thought this was all your idea?”

“Well, yes,” Iestyn admitted. “It’s just that I’ve never faced anything like this. I always hoped I would just have to help my own pack with their daily shite. This still feels above my paygrade.” The Welsh druid passed his hand through his short hair, and scratched the back of his head as he continued: “Is this the kind of stuff this Scott you keep talking about gets into?”

Jackson chuckled and Ethan just dropped his head to conceal a smile. Yes, that’s exactly what he does.

“Ok – but you two are coming with me, right?”

Later that day, they were back at the house, although there were three of them this time in the car. However, before they could turn into the street where the house was, their way was blocked by the fire crew who were putting down a large fire visible from where they were being diverted.

“Sorry, constable,” Jackson asked from the driver’s seat to the policewoman diverting them, “what number house is on fire? My auntie lives down there but cannot reach her on her phone.”

“I think it’s number 26, but cannot tell you for sure. What’s your aunt’s house? I can go and check.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Jackson quickly said, “she lives on the other side of the road then. Thanks anyway.”

Jackson waved good bye and put the window up. As they drove back the way they came from, Ethan asked.

“That’s the house we were at this morning. I can smell that evil stench within the smoke.”

“Yeah,” was the only thing Jackson said, with a set jaw and a flat brow.

“I guess we can’t go and check what was there, right?”

“No.”

The three of them were silent for a few moments. The situation had changed dramatically, and there were still to many things unanswered for their liking. After a while, Ethan broke the silence.

“We better work on those notebooks then.”

They all nodded, but nobody said a thing.

The drive back home was tense. Not only because the last clues they were hoping to find had been cremated to cinders, but also because they did not know how the fire started – they would have to wait to hear the local news. Hopefully, it had been just an accident (fat chance, Jackson had said to this). Their worse-case scenarios included the remaining cultists coming to the house and torching it or the weird glyph having spontaneously combusted. They had ruled out self-summoned fire demons, but only on the thin basis that Iestyn thought that it could not be. Ethan also secretly hoped that nobody would link two people walking into the house that morning with the fire in the afternoon, even if they were sure that nobody had seen them. They hoped that whichever book on the occult hidden in the house was now charred beyond use but, again, they hadn’t got close enough to see the extent of the fire damage.

Once they got home, they heard on the local radio that the fire had been the result of an overheated appliance, which had been set to a timer by the resident who had tragically died before he could change the settings. The radio presenter didn’t specify how the person had died, but they knew what had happened to him. They were not sure if they could believe that it had been an electrical accident, but it ruled out arson by fellow cultists.

They ordered some take away and sat by the kitchen table (which was covered in the notebooks and the laptop retrieved from the cultist’s house) while they tried to think what to do next. Eventually, and in almost total silence, they began to read through the notebooks as they ate their curry. Jackson gave up after a while, and went off to bed saying something about lectures in the morning, and he kissed Ethan good night, asking him not to be too late to go to bed. By midnight Ethan and Iestyn were convinced that the notebooks contained no useful information – only notes on comparative literature, which seemed all too mundane to be related to demon summoning. Even skim-reading through the neat handwriting failed to discover any of the buzz-words they had set themselves: demon, shoggoth, vengeance, revenge, justice. At 1.30 Ethan went off to bed, while Iestyn continued reading through until he fell asleep.

In the morning, Jackson came down topless in his loose lacrosse shorts, one hand in his crotch and the other covering his mouth as he yawned, until he came across the druid asleep on the kitchen table, lights still on. He shook his head as he turned the kettle on, which woke Iestyn up.

“Morning,” the druid said as he stretched his back.

“Coffee?” was al Jackson managed to say that early in the morning. He had early practice before lectures but he needed coffee before he could get ready for anything.

“Tea will be lovely, please.”

As Jackson poured water in their mugs, he turned round and asked again.

“Did you find anything interesting?”

Iestyn sighed. “Not really. It all seems very straight-forward literature. Motifs and characters, and analysis. I’ve given up on the things in German, so that is one thing. The only cryptic thing I found are all these number-and-letter codes at the back of this one. There is a handful of pages ripped after the list, but I can’t think to save my life what these are. Hopefully books. Maybe voucher codes for spa treatments. Dunno.” Iestyn shook his head as he put two lumps of sugar in his tea, while Jackson sipped his coffee.

“Let me see?” He had a look at the notebook. “Well… I’ve got to say that you’re right. Those are books. In fact, those are library codes for the Bodleian,” Jackson added in reference to the central university library. “We can check what those books are online. Have we checked the laptop at all?”

“Not yet… that’s a completely different story there…”

“Oh well. Have my library card,” he said as he took it out of the wallet that was on the kitchen counter, “you can go check the books with that, and as far as they don’t ask you to see the picture on the card, you’ll be fine.” Jackson downed his coffee and went upstairs to get ready. “I’m going to be off in a bit, but make sure Ethan goes to work in time!”

As he went upstairs, Iestyn pulled his laptop out and finished his tea, making another one as the computer turned on. A few minutes later Jackson was darting out the door while the druid was going through the online library catalogue, typing in the codes of the notebook. It was evident that these were weeks worth of research, and the search was getting tedious. After a while, he took a break and had a shower, and when he was out, Ethan was awake, making himself breakfast. Iestyn was relieved to see that the twin at least had the decency of coming to the kitchen with a top on.

“Morning.”

“Morning. You slept ok?”

“Well, I’ll survive. Jackson told me these codes are library entries, so I’m checking them.”

“Any luck?”

“Nah…”

“We need to check that laptop then.”

“Yeah, well. Let me go through these last ones.”

By the time Ethan had finished his breakfast, Iestyn had only six more to go, not having any hope to come across anything remotely connected to the occult, and wondering if they had got the wrong address (despite the evil stench, the demonic glyph, and the mysterious fire). Then, he got an interesting result.

<RSec.Ms1407.55hb. Cthäat Aquadingen. Anon. – 1 found – 1 in place – 0 recalled>

“Cthäat Aquadingen” was a 11th or 12th century Latin version of a pre-historic alien manuscript, technically linked to underwater creatures and sleeping gods from beyond time space and reason. The next entries were equally unsettling. “Mysteries of the Worm”, an uncensored version of “The King in Yellow”, the “Thesaurus Chemicus” of Roger Bacon, Remigius’ “Daemonolatreia” and, perhaps best (worst?) of all, the untranslated version of the “Unaussprechlichen Kulten”. All this was serious shit. These were books definitely linked to the occult, some of them allegedly translations of pre-human texts, and all were in the confined section of the library, which Iestyn soon found out that was strictly non-lending. The druid was terrified and excited on equal amounts. Those books should not be easily accessible to anyone, and yet they were on the library for anyone to read. It also could explain where the cult had started, and it may possible that it was just contained to this library.

He explained all of this to Ethan as he accompanied him to work, with the clear intention to go into the library to find out himself about these books. Ethan agreed silently with him, and only told him to keep him and Jackson updated on whatever he found out.

After parting ways, Iestyn walked into the library, which was easy to find: a beautiful gothic building built in yellowish-brown stone, with pointed arches and vaulted ceilings by the side of the Radcliffe Camera. Once inside, he asked for directions to the restricted sections. Before he got there, he had to go through various controls where they scanned his card (thankfully, without paying much attention). Before he entered the vault where he could consult the manuscripts, a helpful librarian took away his ball pen and gave him a recycled paper notepad and a soft pencil to write with, so to protect the valuable manuscripts from any permanent damage. Iestyn was surprised to see that Jackson’s undergraduate card enabled him to access this area. At that point, he also had to fill in a ledger, declaring the books he was going to check. He surreptitiously had a look on the list, and saw that the cultist-in-chief had been in this same library two weeks ago. It was the last name on the list before Iestyn wrote Jackson’s down. After this, the helpful librarian guided him to a solitary desk with a single lamp at the bottom of a staircase, and told him that she would bring him the books he had asked for.

Iestyn was sweating like a pig. He could not believe he was about to check on books he had only heard of – some of which he even doubted that had actually existed. Books which could confirm that humans are only one of many civilisations that had existed on Earth. And, if recent events were considered, books which could allow him to summon a shoggoth, if not something worse. After a while, the librarian came back with a pile of books, looking very suspiciously at Iestyn this time, now that she knew what he was consulting.

“Are these the books you were looking for?”

“Yes, they are.” Iestyn had to swallow hard trying to keep a straight face. “For my final research, you know?”

The librarian was not very pleased with this answer, but said no more. She nodded and turned around. As she left, Iestyn anxiously read through the spines of the books. It was slightly disappointing to see that the gloomy titles were not embossed on them with golden Gothic letters – they only had the library code. But once he opened them, carefully and with a mix of fear and respect, he could read the various titles. “Cthäat Aquadingen, “De Vermis Mysteriis”, “The King in Yellow”, “Thesaurus Chemicus”, “Daemonolatreia”. And that was it. A book was missing from the list he had asked for. He stood up and walked to the librarian.

“Excuse me, sorry, but one of the books is missing?” Iestyn was trying not to sound too concerned.

“Oh dear, which one is it?”

“78K… UK?” Iestyn was trying to remember the code off the top of his head, not daring to say the name of the book aloud.

“Oh… let me have a look,” was all the librarian said as she disappeared into the vault. Iestyn checked quickly on his phone: he went to the library catalogue, and introduced the book code (he knew he would get nothing if he typed the actual title). He saw that it said 1 found—1 in place—0 recalled. The book should be there. It’s not as if it could have been taken away, right?

A few minutes later, the librarian came back with a pale face.

“I’m sorry, but the book is not… there.” She was clearly dreading the situation. She was pulling the collar of her shirt, as if it was suddenly very tight. She was also sweating in the cold vault. “I’m afraid that it has been… misplaced.”

Iestyn looked into her eye, and he saw that they both knew what it meant. They both knew what this section of the library contained, and what the books were about.

“So, er… the Unspeakable Cults,” he said, lowering his voice, fearing someone would overhear him naming the book, “the Unaussprechlichen Kulten… is not in the library?”

The librarian swallowed and looked into his eyes. She looked completely terrified. She knew. This was bad. She nodded silently, all colour drained from her face. “The shelf… it was meant to be there, but… there… there’s… there is only the gap left.”

Iestyn took a couple of seconds to fully understand what had happened. This was not simply a book returned late. It was not just a stolen book. It was a dangerous book gone missing. He took his phone out and began to type.

Chapter Text

A few months later, in France

The new year proved to be quite different, in Isaac’s eyes, to the previous two he had already lived in France. The Christmas break, for example, he spent it with one of his teammates. Chris stayed in Beacon Hills with Melissa (and Scott, he thought), which Isaac had already expected. What he had not foreseen was Christine being busy with some other stuff Isaac didn’t want to ask about, and she told him that there would be no dinner at his place this time. Isaac had already bought her a present. He even tried to go and spend it with Iestyn in Wales, who had always told him to go and visit and meet his pack, but he was busy hunting down a dangerous book – or so he had told him in a few and short texts. Isaac had growled at that, and hadn’t even bothered to reply to his friend’s last text. Luckily André, a veteran teammate who played front row (and who could drink almost as much as Isaac before feeling a bit tipsy), kindly offered him to spend the holidays with him and his family when he found out the blond werewolf was going to be on his own. Isaac was extremely thankful, and was glad not to have to spend the holidays completely alone.

During the rest of the winter Isaac was busy with his course work, which was becoming harder than he had predicted. Thankfully, the Argent business had been quite quiet recently, which gave him more time to focus on his studies. In those weeks, an unusual cold wave brought heavy snowfall for a couple of weeks, during which rugby had to be stopped because the pitch froze. In those days of biting cold (cold even for a werewolf), Isaac kept his forest runs to a minimal check of the nemeton before heading back for the warmth of his flat, where he could curl under his duvet and keep up with his reading list. One of those days, Isaac noticed that the nemeton tree had a large dent into it: a large blackened hole into the core of the tree, the size of Isaac’s head had appeared on one of its sides. This was the first time he had noticed anything going wrong in the nemeton, and considering his whole purpose in France, this immediately drew his attention. He walked very cautiously towards it, taking his mittens off and shoving them in his parka pockets, feeling a cold sweat pearling his forehead under his woolly hat, and holding his breath until he reached the tree trunk. He looked watchfully around before peeking into the hole in the tree. Other than spiders and other bugs, Isaac saw nothing inside. He even dared touch the wood, a part of him expecting to feel some sort of electric shock, but he only felt the very gentle warmth and vibration which he had always associated with the magic he imagined buzzed within the oak. In the bleak silence of the snow-covered forest, Isaac heard some of the higher branches squeak under the pressure of the snow. He then looked down and let out a big sigh of relief when he saw that a large branch (of the same diameter as the hole) lied partly covered by the snow at his feet. Isaac did not know if this was usual tree rot, a lightning strike, or the sheer weight of snow, but he could not sense anything supernatural. Hoping he was doing everyone a favour, Isaac walked a few steps back and then ran into the large trunk of the nemeton, shaking it enough to shake most of the snow off the branches, making a padded thud noise when it hit the ground. This put a dopey smile on the blond werewolf as he put his mittens back on and walked away. When he and his brother walked back from school after the rain, Cam had sometimes done that: shake one of the youngest trees when Isaac was under it to bring all the water still on the branches and leaves on him. Isaac had never really liked when he had that done to him, but he had to admit now that it was quite satisfying. In any case, as he was walking away, he sniffed a familiar scent floating around and stopped to focus better. Christine? When Isaac got home, he rang Christine to ask her if the broken branch was something they should worry about – not mentioning that he had sensed her scent there, but she told him that she had already seen it earlier that day, and confirmed that it had just been the snow. It all seemed to make sense, but before Isaac could scratch any more at this he had an incoming call from the Paris office about the latest deal (which he had been expecting for two days), so he quickly said his goodbyes, dropped the issue, and answered the other call.

With the coming of the spring, Isaac felt uneasy, to the point of being frustrated and eggy, and he could not put his finger on the reason why. Rugby was going great: they had qualified for the territorial cup final. His uni work was finally making sense, and he was very proud of his latest essay. Work was also going well, or so he gathered. A part of him thought it was the result of being trapped in that village. Isaac was living on his own, but he was not lonely. On the one hand, his teammates were becoming like his second family. He spent most evenings in the rugby club either training or just waiting for anyone to turn up and have a chat and a pint. They cared about him, but they were not in the know about the supernatural malarkey. The people with whom he could be his werewolf self and discuss those things appeared to have cut him off. Iestyn was gone and still looking for that cursed book, apparently too busy to have long text-chats as they used to. Chris hadn’t come back at all this year, too busy with Mrs McCall. As for Christine, Isaac had been in contact with her but always on the phone, never in person. She was too busy with the village fête committee, which sounded like the most boring thing in the world and something was not the job for a druid, or so he thought.

That bloody fête. What the fuck is a fête anyway? – Isaac couldn’t help but notice how the whole town appeared to be devoting all of its time to that thing. After weeks of hearing fête this and fête that, Isaac was finally explained by his neighbour that they were preparing a summer festival, a centennial of some sort, commemorating a local legend. It had something to do with the construction of a church: centuries ago, one of the local farmers was so badly affected by a crop blight that he had to leave his home. He ended up traveling across the world, to the far corners of Asia and Africa. He might have been a pirate at some point. God knew and Isaac did not really care. The man had done absolutely everything and had returned minted and loaded with treasures to his home place, where he built a new chapel. Ever since his return, the village holds a summer fête to commemorate this event every now and then. Isaac could not remember it happening any of the previous summers, though. It just happened to be that this summer it was the 400th anniversary, which explained the large scale of the operations. The fête involved flowers everywhere, in all colours and types. The neighbours were planting them on window boxes, and hanging them from baskets. The council was preparing beds on every square and roundabout. Worse of all, which he had never expected (and really annoyed him) was that he was getting hay fever, which he had never had when he lived in Beacon Hills. His eyes were watery, had fits of sneezing, and sometimes he even felt dizzy. He blamed the local flowers, which were every fucking where. Isaac just wished it was over soon and that all the flowers burned in hell. He went to the chemists to get anti-histamines last week, and he had managed to survive on a double dose a day.

Isaac thanked every time he could go to rugby because none of the plants there made him cry. Games away every other weekend were a complete blessing. In fact, Isaac was at this stage extending his forest runs just so he could escape the village festive hysteria. He always visited the nemeton on his way in and when he came back from his run (he had a mission there, after all), but now he sometimes ended up running all the way to the next village over, stopping there for breakfast and running back. Every time he was outside Bégnan he could breathe better and was, generally, in a much better disposition. His inner wolf really enjoyed the new runs and the longer periods in the woods at the same time that inner wolf was also more whiny and restless in the village. This never did nothing to improve Isaac’s mood.

When the rugby season came to an end, Isaac still spent most of his evenings in the gym at the club. He didn’t do it for the bulking up (although he secretly liked that his t-shirts now felt tighter, and was proud that there were a few of his button-up shirts that couldn’t do any more), but it was just a way of being away from the village, which appeared to be completely obsessed with that fucking festival. The municipal band was practicing songs, the kids in school were rehearsing dances, the bakery was making a special flowery bread. It was getting all out of control. (Just a few more weeks, it’ll all go back to normal).

By mid-June Isaac was with no more course work and no more rugby. He was climbing up the walls. He needed to vent his frustration on someone. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and rang Iestyn.

“Hey Isaac! You ok, butt?”

“I can’t stand this place any more. It’s driving me insane.”

“What’s wrong?”

Isaac bit his tongue. It’s just for the last six months you’ve completely ignored me, you twat. I’ve been writing to you telling you about this fucking village and it’s festival and the broken nemeton and the rugby cup, but you’re still looking for that fucking book. He took a deep breath. “Oh, just the usual. These festival preparations are getting to my tits,” Isaac gritted his teeth, “and the fucking flowers. They’re everywhere, making my life a misery. Christine is so up her arse in them she’s going to fart petals next time she sneezes.” That got Iestyn laughing.

“Oh, butt, I miss you.” Isaac had to relax at this, a smile now fixed on his face.

“Well, you’re too busy hunting that book of yours.”

“I know, I know,” Iestyn admitted this sounding sad. He felt he had let his friend down, and was not really sure of how to fix it, but he tried. “I’m so sorry. But it’s all your mates’ fault.”

“What mates?” Isaac was now confused.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you? I bumped into two of your chums who came across some crazy cultists. They were helping me track this book. Jackson and Ethan they’re called. Nice couple.”

“Er… Jackson. And Ethan?” Isaac’s brain was at full capacity trying to process this. He knew Jackson had gone off to England, but he had no idea about what Ethan had done. He had left the pack for sure, because he had never really felt him, but with Jackson?  Isaac could sort of picture them together – both were matching arseholes, really.

“Yeah, them.”

“I see… I danced with Jackson once. Like very close and very heated dance. But I thought that was just my imagination and my pants doing the thinking.” (Why did you just say that?! Of all things you blurt that, you muppet).

“Wow,” and he laughed, “didn’t know that was your type?” Isaac could feel Iestyn’s smirk. “Maybe that’s what you need, boyo. Go find yourself a nice bumboy for the weekend.” Isaac was shocked both at the choice of words and at the overall suggestion. At the lack of response, Iestyn laughed at the other end of the line. “Sorry, sorry. But you just brought that on yourself. Have you been thinking about Scott though?”

That caught Isaac off guard. Isaac had been thinking about Scott even though he didn’t want to. It had been three years since he had convinced himself that he should give up on his crush on Scott. He had lived many months happily convinced that he had managed that – he even had lived with him without making it too awkward or evident. He had moved to the platonic sphere, and he had been happy. But, much later, he felt Scott dying, which turned many things inside him upside down. That day he had a chat with Iestyn. Now he had to face an annoying know-it-all inner wolf who kept nudging him about Scott and who begged to go back to him. Inner wolf never listened to what Isaac had to say about Scott not being interested; inner wolf just prodded him on the crotch and gave him a stiffy while he was asleep, just as a reminder that he didn’t care about what Isaac thought or said. It was fucked up, because somehow that was keeping him from trying to meet someone new. Scott ticked all his boxes, including the supernatural one. Fucking Scott McCall!

Isaac didn’t say any of this. He might have in person, but he could not bring himself to say it on the phone. “Meh…” was the unconvincing noise that came as an excuse for a reply. Iestyn, however, knew his friend and could translate that into English.

“Right… You’re a tough one, you now that, right?” Isaac didn’t answer to that. “Whether you want to go and find yourself a boy or a girl it’s up to you. But what I think you need is a break. Go somewhere. Wolf out for a weekend. You still have my camping gear, right? That might help…?”

“Would you come?” Isaac asked hopingly. That would help.

“You know I’d love to, butt. But I can’t.”

“Yeah, right. I know.” Isaac was pissed off again. He didn’t even know why he bothered to ask. Why he bothered to ring at all. “You can’t,” he added bitterly.

“I’m truly sorry, Isaac. I promise we’ll meet up during the summer.”

Isaac snorted, “Don’t make promises if you aren’t going to keep them.”

“I swear on Leigh Halfpenny’s kicking boot,” Iestyn solemnly promised, making Isaac laugh, all animosity gone.

“Ok, ok. I’ll keep you to your word. I may come and visit you over.”

“That’ll be brilliant. Are you going to go camping out this weekend then?”

Isaac thought about it for a second. It was not his ideal option (running away – again), but it would get him out of that place for a few days. He’d have to tell Chris he was leaving the nemeton for a few days, though he doubted he would mind. “Yeah, I guess… I may go to the sea side. I haven’t been to the beach here yet.” Isaac had not left the village since he first arrived. He had not been to the beach in years either. They used to go on holidays to this place in southern California where her mum had some cousins, but that had been years ago.

“There you go. Throw your bike in the car and go for a few days. The sea breeze will do you wonders.”

After saying their goodbyes, and renewing the promises to talk more often, Isaac sent an email to Chris explaining his plan. He also searched for camping places online by the sea and booked himself in for three nights in the one that looked the most remote. With a big smile on his face, he began to pack his stuff while he hunted for Iestyn’s camping gear (which he knew he had left somewhere). By the evening he was all sorted and after a fit of sneezing (for which he cursed the fête for a millionth time), he drove off.

***

A few days by the seaside did, indeed, do wonders for Isaac. His hay fever was completely gone while he was there, he wolfed out in the forests and ran up and down for hours. He also biked from village to village, and went to the beach every morning. Isaac had been taught to swim from a very early age, but he hated swimming in pools with all his guts. The sea was something completely different, and rather than swimming, he preferred to float around and jump over the waves. He had always been quite pale (pasty white he told himself), so he had always been aware of how easily he got sunburnt – but not any more. He could feel his skin being mercilessly irradiated by the sun, but he immediately healed. For the first time in a very long time, Isaac Lahey got himself a tan rather than embarrassing patchy combination of strawberry pink and nuclear white.

On his way back, he rang Iestyn again just to let him know that he had survived his trip to the beach and that, to his friend’s disappointment, he hadn’t got himself laid. He hand’t even tried, to be fair, and nobody in where he had camped had really tickled his fancy. When he thought it was a decent hour back in California, he also rang Chris to let him know that he was on his way back.

As he approached the Bégnan, something inside him began to irrationally fear that as he drove closer he would find the village ran over by crazy hunters or evil fox spirits. A part of him also wondered if all he would find would be a large smoky crater where the village had been, with only the nemeton tree surviving. He held the steering wheel tightly, bit his lip and drove faster, until he got to the bend of the road where he could see the village in the distance. Nothing horrible had happened, and Isaac left out a breath he hadn’t realised he had been holding.

He did notice a couple of things the moment he drove into the main street. His hay fever was back, to start with, which already soured his mood. But there was something else in the air. Something new. It was something that Andrew (the English hunter who had come to help them with the nogitune) had said, that the villagers were odd and had a peculiar smell. He noticed it then. He couldn’t really tell when it had began, because he could swear it had not smelled like that when he first arrived. It must have been very gradual, and only after he spent a few days getting unaccustomed to the weird odour he could tell that it was there. He had been driving with the windows now until that moment.

He got home and unloaded his car. He put the washing in and stood in the middle of the kitchen while the washing machine churned his clothes around, staring out of the window. Against his better knowledge, he decided to go for a walk, but he took a couple of anti-histamines before walking out the door, for good measure. Down in the street the smell was everywhere. It was deep and unsettling, like nothing else he had smelled before: mostly sulphurous, but combined with deep-sea rotting mud, ozone, and something else. He couldn’t tell where exactly it came from, which was very confusing. He was certain that it was not the people as Andrew had hinted: it wasn’t a collective case of enhanced BO. He was beginning to think that it was coming from the ground. Whatever it was, it was giving him an evil vibe. He wasn’t sure if it was the same smell that he had noticed when they were at the nemeton with the nogitsune, so he went there to check, but there was not much of a trace of the smell in the forest.

On the way back home, he went the long way, stopping by Christine’s place, hoping to have a quiet word with her. That was, of course, if she was not arranging flowers or planning the festival still. How big is this festival going to be? They’ve been preparing it for months.

Isaac was lucky, and he saw her car by the door, so he parked his car and went straight to the house. He knocked on the door, and Christine opened the door.

“Oh, hello, Isaac. How have you been?” She said with a smile. “I’ve been terribly busy, I know. I hope you can forgive me.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Isaac lied. “I’m ok. It’s just this awful hay fever. All those flowers for the festival are killing me.” And it’s all your fault.

“Ah, yeah. People have been complaining about the pollen. They are normally not that bad, these flowers. It must be the absurd weather we’ve been having.” Isaac knew very little about gardening, but it was true, as far as he know, that pollen varied from year to year, according to the weather.

“Is there anything you needed?” druid asked rather abruptly. Isaac was taken a back for a second, feeling that he had interrupted something.

“Oh, well. It’s just… I don’t think it’s anything important, but – I’ve just noticed this smell, all over the village. It is, well, odd. Never ever smelled something like this.” Isaac did not know how to express smells, but he was trying to convey his urgency and concern. “It feels… wrong? Dunno if that’s how I should put it. It’s a smell that doesn’t…” Isaac pulled a face and gesticulated with his hands, tracing wide circles, and pointing, before shutting his mouth.

Christine couldn’t make much sense of that explanation, but did know about the smell. “I know what you mean. We don’t notice it anymore. It comes out of the ground. Something about the composition of the soil and the weather. It is stronger in hotter years.” Isaac was studying geology and this did not make much sense to him, and he could sense Christine’s heartbeat becoming slightly irregular. That’s a load of bull and you know it. Isaac frowned but said nothing, and Christine continued. “It may have to do something with the telluric currents as well.” Isaac knew that was true.

“Is this something we should worry about?” Isaac said lowering his voice, and looking around suspiciously. He was getting worried at this. Nothing that had to do with telluric currents, in his experience, was good.

“Not just yet,” Christine tried to calm the tall werewolf, lifting a finger. “This is something that happens every now and then, and nothing has happened in decades.”

“So things have happened?” Isaac interrupted, not really liking the way this was developing. They were having this conversation at the door – Isaac hadn’t been even invited to come in. “I think we should tell Chris.”

“Nothing has happened yet, and there is nothing that Chris can do right now.” Christine was being conciliatory, and put a hand on Isaac’s arm. He wished they would discuss this sat down, all cards on the table. None of this cryptic druid waiting game.

Isaac suddenly cocked his head when something made a noise inside the house: a large muffled buzz and the noise of someone shifting on a chair. Isaac opened his mouth to ask, but the druid explained before being asked: “Isaac, do not worry just yet. I am having a meeting now about the fête. The inauguration is three days from now, I’m sure you know. I’ll bring a few books around to your place if you want to start looking into this. I’ll come and help after the festival.”

Isaac put his hands in his pockets and put his head back, exasperated at the waiting. “Ok,” he finally added with a nod.

Isaac could hear another muffled buzz and, at a normal human-hearing volume, what seemed like a polite cough but distorted by static, as if it was a voice coming from a radio transmitter. Christine dramatically rolled her eyes and gave Isaac an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry Isaac. I’ll bring those books tomorrow, and we’ll sit down seriously next week.”

Without saying a proper good bye, Christine turned around and shut the door almost on Isaac’s nose. The tall werewolf turned around and walked back to the car, shaking his head. The French can be so rude…

***

Christine did not come the day after with any books, but Isaac was not surprised at all, and could not be asked at all to remind her. He was partially convinced about what she had said. It’s too early to bother Chris with anything. Nothing has happened. It just stinks. He dwelt on his post-vacation blues by staying home for two days, playing on his Xbox in his boxer briefs, and eating cheesy snacks, avoiding the outside world. Eventually he decided he needed to have a shower and go to the shop, on the simple basis that after eating that tin of peaches he had run out of real food in the house. He came back from the shop with a runny nose, itchy eyes, and a bagfull of highly-processed snacks and chocolates (and more tinned peaches), still hating his smelly neighbours and their summer floral obsession.

The night before the fête the village was bustling as the final details were getting sorted and the last garlands were set up. Isaac couldn’t care less. The bulbs and flowers that had been planted in the last months were about to bloom: somehow the gardeners had managed to time it perfectly so they all flowered on the day of the fête, and his hay fever was now nearly crippling. Despite the late June heat, Isaac slept with all the windows shut to keep out whatever those plants were bombarding him with. He had a massive headache on top of everything, so he went to sleep.

In the morning, Isaac felt like absolute death, and even his wolf was drowsy and slow. He was not even sure if he was seeing blurry or not. He had three anti-histamines with his breakfast. The radio on the background said something about road blocks and the summer fête, so he turned it off. He had a look out of his window and he saw a window box. With flowers. He had never put that window box there, and he would definitely not have planted it with flowers. How did that get there? Had the committee just come with a cherry picker? Or was it just the fucking neighbours with a ladder. He opened the window ready to push the box into the street when he saw the flower. It was purple, and he had seen it before, long ago. In Beacon Hills. Wolfsbane. He pushed the box out in the street and saw it fall, breaking with a very satisfying crack. Burn in hell, Isaac thought with a side smile. With half his body out of the window, he could now see that all the flowers across the village were purple and yellow. They can’t all, be… can they? It would make sense – his hay fever. A werewolf with hay fever? Seriously? He should have known better, and if his brain had not felt like a wet sponge he might have figured it out earlier. Were all the flowers they had planted these last weeks aconites? Was there really wolfsbane everywhere in his town? What kind of festival were they preparing? Out on the street he could see a small procession of people.

It seemed as if the entire village was walking down the street, wearing grey hoods over their heads. And torches? And they were singing. Or, rather, they were chanting, which was far more unnerving. A low and discordant chant, without a clear melody, but evidently coherent in some sort of weird musical scale Isaac had never encountered. The song went in recurrent ups and downs but the higher and the lower voices sang different cycles, not in canon, adding confusion to the chanting. When both cycles coincided the resulting harmony gave Isaac goose bumps, and put all his hairs on end. They were not singing in French either. It was not English for sure. It might have been Latin or Russian for all he knew, but it gave Isaac a very bad feeling.

As the crowd advanced forward along the next street over towards the edge of the forest, Isaac saw figure clad in a blue cloak in the middle of the procession. The person stopped for a second while the crowd continued marching, eerily splitting into two throngs that avoided the figure in blue before merging back together. That person then pulled down the hood, and Isaac saw that it was Christine of all people. She had a knowing smile and she spoke in the distance, knowing very well that the werewolf could hear her.

“You and Chris had made a massive favour to our community. I hope you like the flowers. Consider them our thank you present.” She put the hood back over her head and continued to march with the crowd.

Fuck. Fuck-fuck-fuck.

Isaac heard an electric bang, and all the lights in his house went off. He heard people down the stairs, probably cutting his electrics off. He darted for the front door but stopped a few inches away from it. He sensed something was very wrong now, agreeing for once with his wolf. He carefully brought a hand to the door knob, half-expecting it to be electrocuted, but nothing happened. He opened the door as silently as possible and tried to step out, just to hit a barrier of mountain ash. FUCK. This is not good at all. He was trapped in his flat, in a village filled with blooming wolfsbane, and with a crowd of bat-shit crazy people in grey hoods led by a druid he had trusted to be a friend. Shit.

Isaac tried to jump against the barrier, just in case this one time mountain ash was not effective. He failed. He was trapped. Couldn’t get out. It wasn’t a confined freezer but he was still trapped. His hands began to shake and he fell to the floor, curling against his knees. Breathe. Think. Isaac managed to calm himself down, and passed his hand through his curls. He pulled his phone out.

“Argent,” Chris had obviously just woken up, and Isaac could tell in his voice: it was the middle of the night in California.

“Chris,” Isaac had no time for pleasantries like apologies. Chris knew this call would be serious. “Something is very wrong. As in, fucked-up wrong. I’m trapped with ash and surrounded by wolfsbane. Can’t leave the flat,” Isaac’s voice trembled a bit at this, but soon regained his cool head. “Christine is up to something. She’s arranged all this, and it has something to do with the nemeton.” Those were the facts. He knew Chris would not want any theories just yet. They had a protocol for these situations and Isaac was eternally thankful now for the crash-course into hunter behaviour he got as part of his job.

There was a silent pause, but Isaac could hear Chris rubbing his eyes and taking a deep breath. “I’ll send help. Remember the procedure?” Isaac knew what that meant: lie low, observe, be undetected, gather intel, wait for back-up, and wait for further instructions. There was a list of rendezvous points and safe houses if things got bad. “Are you safe there?” Chris asked as part of their standard procedure, but his voice sounded genuinely concerned.

“Erm, yeah. For the time being. The wolfsbane is just in bloom out in the street, I am not being shot at, and everyone seems to be heading towards the forest.” Isaac avoided to mention how increasingly claustrophobic this situation was becoming. “I think they just wanted me out of the way.”

Isaac could hear Chris moving around the house. “I have no idea of what is going on. I’ll ask Deaton, you try Iestyn.” After a few seconds when there were the noises of zips being pulled and the unmistakable noise of weapons being shoved, Chris continued. “Help will come Isaac. Please,” the hunter emphasised, “please, don’t rush things, and don’t play hero.”

“Don’t worry – that’s not like me.” He hung up and went around the house trying to see what he had that could help him in this situation and began to think how to get out of that fucking village.

Chapter Text

Isaac phoned Iestyn, but he was not answering. Come on. Pick up.

“Yes?”

“Iestyn! God, it’s Christine! She’s up to something,” Isaac was less calm now that he was not reporting to Chris. “She’s turned the village into cultists, and…” Isaac stopped there. He heard a large electric buzz going up loud, and then coming down to a steady hum. It was all very confusing until he walked to the window and saw three men in the kind of black gear that screamed ‘hunter’. The hum came from a small gadget with a large aerial, which they were taping on a lamppost. “Shit.” Isaac looked at his phone, his call had been cut and he had no signal. “Fucking hell!” He tried ringing and texting, but to no avail.

Trapped and cut from the outside, surrounded by hunters. Isaac didn’t know how to feel. He was terrified of being trapped, and his claustrophobia was creeping back. He was also very angry at the treachery of Christine and frustrated at his impotence. Above all, he was mad at himself for not realising that something was very off in that place (A fucking werewolf with hay fever! Christ!).  Anger won. Isaac shifted and ran against the front door, only to bounce back all the way to the living room after hitting the mountain ash barrier. He roared in exasperation.

He sat up on the floor, back against the sofa, thinking. He took a few deep breaths, eyes closed, slowly shifting back. Ok. Breathe. He managed to balance his emotions enough to calm down and think with clarity. First: Christine. She’s a traitor. She’s an evil druid. Another evil druid. Isaac had flashing memories of the last darach he had encountered in Beacon Hills, although there had been no ritual sacrifices here. Yet. He stood up shaking his head, and started pacing up and down the living room, biting his thumb. She’s planned all this, right? She must have. She was in the committee for this fucking feast. She put all those fucking flowers there. She wanted me slow and dim. Isaac looked out the window again. The hunters appeared to be just keeping guard on his front door, which was a small mercy. Nothing indicated that they wanted to burst into his flat. He also noticed that all the eerie chanting procession had passed by, heading, as he feared, towards the nemeton. What is she even doing there? Nothing good. Isaac did not know much about the supernatural, but it had to be something evil. Stiles would have loved this. Focus!

He was biting his nails and pacing around the house for well over an hour, trying to understand what the fuck had happened. As far as he could gather, Christine was going to liberate the nogitsune. Either that or something equally unpleasant related to sacrifices at the nemeton. Isaac was not sure if the village was in it voluntarily or if they were under some sort of large-scale hypnotic spell, but he feared it was the former; Andrew had warned him before they even got to Bégnan that the villager were weird and that they smelled. In the last weeks he had finally noticed both. He was on the fence still on whether the fête was an excuse to fill the city with wolfsbane or if this whole centennial shit had to do with the nemeton ritual. Of course, this led him to wonder if the wolfsbane across town was just to get rid of him or if part of a larger scheme to keep any other other werewolves away. But there weren’t any werewolves nearby. Or were they? Isaac could not think straight. Fuck. FOCUS! She had obviously received help from someone, because earlier that week he had interrupted her in the middle of what appeared to have been a radio conversation. Isaac added ‘Who would have a radio conversation?to his list of unanswered questions. Every time he tried to figure one out, more questions appeared, which was maddening. Frustration began to creep in, overpowering his claustrophobia and his hatred towards Chrsitine. Frustration finally brought him down to the floor again, on the verge of tears. Frustration gave way to fear, and his own Pandora’s box of supressed thoughts took over.

Isaac hadn’t heard Dad’s voice in years – not since leaving California. Not even moving to a different continent would rid him of his past. You good-for-nothing useless piece of shit. This is your end. You failed everyone. You failed Chris. You failed that fag friend of yours. You’ll die in this freezer and nobody will care. Thank God your mother didn’t live to see the end of your miserable days. Isaac curled into a ball, covering his face with his arms, and holding his tears back. He was going to die there. He had failed everyone. When he opened them he was in the freezer in his old basement, and started panicking and hyperventilating. Isaac forced fingernails to extend and turn into claws with his last shred of willpower, and before he lost control to his panic, he dug them in his hands. Pain gave him focus, and dug his claws again, deeper this time. He roared, shaking the walls. He yelled himself out of his panic, eyes flashing gold, hands covered in hot sticky blood.

I need to get the fuck out of here.

He was now completely hyped up on adrenaline, with a very clear purpose, ignoring everything else. He would get out of there or it would most probably be the last thing he would ever do. Before he could stood up he heard steps coming up the stairs. He heard hearts beat fast in exertion. He peeked out the window, but he couldn’t see the hunters, so he guessed he had howled too loud for their liking. Or they got tired of waiting and decided to get rid of him. Isaac had not time to check if they were followers of the code or not, and assumed they weren’t. He had to think fast, so to gain time he put all the bolts on the door – Chris Argent does not live with a door that could be kicked down easily. He had enough time to put on a pair of shorts and his walking boots (he was still in his pants, and didn’t fancy a fight just in his underwear) before he heard the banging of something big on the door. Shit. He could hear three heartbeats, which meant he needed to even out his odds before the fight started. Out of the blue, his wolf made him feel how much he wished Scott were there with him – he’d know what to do (For fuck’s sake… Not now!).

There was another crash against the door. The door itself was reinforced steel, but it was only the door to a flat after all. Isaac searched through the office. There weren’t any weapons in the house, because Isaac’s job was just to keep track on the contracts and deal with costumers (all the hardware was in a storeroom in the main Paris office), but he had a few samples he took to show new potential clients. He hadn’t taken them out in a few months, and wasn’t sure of where they were. He head another loud bang on the door. Isaac think! After opening three different drawers with paperwork and office supplies, he found it. In a display case there were various types of bullets with small labels. Underneath that case there were three metal ones, each containing a different type of non-lethal grenade protected in foam. There was an ever larger bang on the door, and Isaac knew he was running out of time. He got a stun grenade, a smoke grenade, and a sting grenade, all Argent made. There was a tear gas tin rattling behind the grenades, but he dismissed it quickly. The door finally gave way, crashing on the corridor floor with an ominous sound.

Isaac stood quietly by the office door, listening how the three hunters walked into his home. He heard someone walking into the bathroom, which was at the end of the corridor, while two other sets of footsteps went along it. He heard one of the hunters walk into the kitchen while the third one entered through the next door into the living room. Isaac took a deep breath, and steadied himself. He was going to have only one chance to get his plan right, and if he knew what the hunters were doing (Isaac would never stop thanking Chris for the Argent crash course into the family business), he just had to wait. Hunter number one had long left the bathroom, finding nothing and had gone down the corridor, turning left towards where the rooms were, going into Isaac’s room. Immediately after, hunter 2 was coming out of the kitchen, following 1 into the back part of the house. The office’s door was the one net to Isaac, so he was going to have a visitor soon enough.

The office door slowly opened, and a gun appeared, soon followed by a hand and an arm. When he saw the elbow, Isaac pushed the door with his shoulder as hard as he could. Within milliseconds Isaac heard the gun drop to the ground, the snapping of the hunters forearm, the splintering of the door as his shoulder dented it and, last, the scream of pain of the hunter. Now that surprise was gone, he had to be quick. He pulled the hunter into the office with all his strength, throwing him against the wall, and shutting the door immediately after. He had no time to check if this hunter was completely out: the other two hunters were on the other side of the wall. A gun was fired through the wooden door, but thankfully Isaac was lying low, and managed to avoid being hit. He took the pin out of one of the grenades, without checking which one it was and held it in his hand, counting mentally (one). The hunters behind the door had stopped shooting at him, but were now trying to kick the door down, which Isaac was keeping shut with his back, sat on the floor, and pressing with his feet against the book case to his left, hoping to oppose enough resistance (two). Isaac was sweating, using all his body to keep the door shut while still holding a life grenade. He felt another kick on the door, which pushed him a few inches before he heaved it shut again (three). He had to use all of his werewolf senses and reflexes to pull this one out. As the hunters attacked the door again, Isaac let them kick it open only a few inches (four), and as soon as he felt the gap he put his hand behind the door and dropped the grenade, hoping not to blow his hand off (five).

There was a very loud bang behind his back, and he felt the door break against his back and unhinge at the top, so half a door fell on his head. He heard the cries of the two hunters behind the door, who for all their protective gear, they still had a grenade explode on their faces. His ears were still ringing, but the lack of smoke and of the distinctive smell of the stun bomb told Isaac that he had thrown the stinger. It’s not going to be pretty... Before he could check, the hunter he had thrown into the office was turning around, groaning in pain. Isaac managed to scramble to his feet and knocked him out with a well-aimed punch. Isaac quickly went through the door to look at the corridor: the rubber pellets had flown in all directions, denting the walls and the doors of his and Chris’ room. There was also a small, burnt crater on the floor. Two hunters lied on the floor passed out, covered in quickly-blackening, pellet-sized bruises. One had a bloody nose and a swollen eye. But they were still breathing, which made Isaac feel slightly better.

He walked to the flat entrance to see the front door down on the floor, but also saw that the hunters had stepped over the mountain ash barrier, giving Isaac a chance to escape. He was about to dart out when he slowly turned round and ran back into the house. He was not new to the supernatural, but he also had played enough Dungeons and Dragons to know better than to run out into the wild unprepared. While the hunters were still out, he looked around his apartment, where he had a chance to start from zero. Oh, mate… I’m going to miss this place. He headed for his bedroom first. Isaac grabbed a top and his backpack. He briefly checked out the window and everything seemed calm. He nodded to himself and then he opened his eyes widely: scarf! After getting one that Melissa had brought him out of the wardrobe he grabbed his phone and wallet. He went back into the office and got the list of protocols – he didn’t want any hunters tracking him down later. He bent down and nicked one of the hunter’s radios. Quickly searching their pockets, Isaac took their keys, but didn’t bother with the guns – he never learned how to use them to start with. On his way out he got his car keys, the two remaining grenades, and his water bottle. And he off.

Isaac went down the stairs slowly, not wanting to draw any attention, but after reaching the second floor he noticed that he couldn’t feel anyone. All his neighbours had left, and Isaac could only guess that they had gone with Christine. He ran down after that, trying to get as far away from the hunters as possible. He got to the front door and carefully checked around, but it was still all calm and quiet. Too much for Isaac’s liking, but he needed to get out. He went to the lamppost opposite his window and smashed the frequency blocker with his fist. After checking that he had signal again (he had a string of missed calls from Iestyn and Chris), he went to the hunters car which was behind the corner, but before he could cross the street his eyes were watering and was about to sneeze. This fucking village is a trap. He remembered there was a reason why he had pulled a scarf, and wrapped it around his face, hoping it would keep the worst of the wolfsbane pollen out. He had read that during WWI soldiers without gasmasks were instructed to piss on a cloth and wear that, but he would be dead before pissing on Melissa’s present and then having to smell his own piss. In the car Isaac made sure to jam all their weapons, breaking all the moving parts he would, and threw all the spare ammunition and the wolfsbane extracts into a sewer. He clawed all four tyres for good measure. He was a bit disappointed there wasn’t a red binder with all the details of the operation, labelled “Grand Evil Plan”, so he moved on.

***

Isaac was not sure about where to go from there. His eyes still itched and he had a pounding headache, but he had to plough through. He had Chris’ instructions: observe and gather intel, wait for further instructions. But he did not know where to start. The last thing he had tried was ringing Iestyn, but he needed to find a secluded place where he would not be spotted by hunters, if there were any looming around. Walking around the village with a backpack full of gear and his face covered with a scarf was not the most inconspicuous of looks, but being the only person out in the street would be very indicative for anyone with a pair of eyes.

He walked down the street until he found the bakery where he used to work, which was ‘closed for the day’ as the rest of shops in town. He found the back entrance, broke the lock and walked into the back room, pulling his scarf off his face. The moment he shut the door behind him he had to sit on the floor, exhausted after realising that he had been running on pure adrenaline for the last half hour. He stood up to down his bottle of water and then put his face under the tap, feeling immediately much better as the pollen washed off of his face. He then watchfully walked to the counter, where he stuffed his face with pastries. While refilling his bottle, he pulled his phone out and rang Chris, who answered immediately.

“Isaac!”

“Chris,” Isaac was alone in the bakery, but was still talking in a low voice. “They trapped me in the house with mountain ash and blocked my phone signal. They tried to get in but I neutralised them.”

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah, yeah. For now. The entire village is deserted. This is beyond creepy.”

“Did you speak with Iestyn?”

“Yes. Well, no. I did but I didn’t have a chance to explain.”

“Patrice and his team are on their way there,” Chris was referring to his relatives, who were the only hunters they could trust right now. They had trusted so much on Christine that her treachery could cost them dire— “but they won’t be there until the evening. I need you to gather information for us.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m on my way to the airport with Deaton. We’ll be in Paris in fifteen hours. We’ll reassess when we’re there. But Patrice is in charge until then – ring him now.”

“I’m going to go and stop Christine.” (What? Am I Scott now?)

“No, Isaac!” Chris said. He sounded furious. “Don’t try anything.”

“I have to agree with Chris on this,” Isaac heard Deaton speaking over the phone now. “If she has all those cultists with her she may channel them into the nemeton and the telluric currents.”

“Would that be enough to bring back a nogitsune?” Isaac was dreading the answer. But he got only silence. “Deaton? Chris?”

Deaton coughed politely. “If the nogitsune is there still, yes. But there are other things which can be brought to such a beacon of power.” Fucking great. Isaac had enough with one direct encounter with a nogitsune, who even possessed him and forced him to try and kill Ethan and Aiden. He didn’t want to think of a creature worse than that. Deaton continued, “We need to find out exactly what Christine is after.”

“Can you go and check her place first?” Chris asked.

“Yeah, yeah. Course.” Isaac was biting his knuckles. This was getting way beyond out of control.

“Is there anything else we need to know?”

“I don’t think so. Not yet,” Isaac dismissed the question. He needed to find out more.

“Ok. Be in contact with Patrice, and stay out of danger.”

“Will do.”

He hung up the phone and dropped his head, his free hand scratching his neck. He went through his contact list until he found Patrice, and rang while he stuffed a bag with croissants to keep for later.

“Oui?”

Isaac switched to French, “Patrice, it’s Isaac.”

“Thank God you’re ok. We’re on our way with gear and equipment, but if it is an entire village we may have to get the gendarmes involved.”

Isaac was not sure if involving the French police was a good idea, but this was above his paygrade. “There are three unconscious hunters in my place. No tags or any identification. Can’t confirm if there are any more – haven’t encountered any yet.”

“Right. Well, we don’t know who these people are but do we know what they want? Chris couldn’t tell me.”

“Erm, well. Something to do with the nemeton, I imagine but…” Isaac stood still, when the hunter’s radio began to buzz, and a voice came through.

“Isaac? Isaac are you there?”

“There’s more hunters,” Isaac was whispering now. “I’ll be heading for Christine’s place and ring you when I know more.”

“Stay safe.”

Isaac put his phone back in his pocket and took out the radio. Someone was trying to contact the three hunters, but getting nothing back. It didn’t sound like Christine, but Isaac couldn’t tell. After a few more tries of getting no reply, the person on the radio stopped after a loud merde. That was Isaac’s moment of calm gone. He had to get moving, and now he knew there’d be people looking for him soon enough. He peeked out the front door through the shutters and saw nothing. He walked back to the back door, fitted his scarf again, took a deep breath, and got out.

As he was walking down the streets, he tried to be as silent as possible. Isaac’s inner wolf was completely in his element now, and Isaac was tempted to let him take control while sneaking around the village with his ears open to any hint of a sound – he had decided to give up on his sense of smell for the time being. True enough, after five minutes he heard vehicles approaching, and dared to go and look who was coming. It was the freaking festival day, there was bound to be tourists and people from nearby villages. It was not as if the fête had been kept a secret. Isaac vaguely remembered something about road blocks being mentioned on the radio earlier this morning (that was only this morning?!), and the fact that they had managed to keep all outsiders… well… outside, added extra weight to Isaac’s fears about Christine’s entire operation. Sure enough, he heard two vehicles coming down the main street and heading in the direction of his flat. (Small mercies, Isaac. Small mercies). He darted down the road towards Christine’s place, hoping to find any clues about what was going on.

***

As Isaac reached the outskirts of the village, where the houses were more widely distributed and there were more trees and fences, he felt slightly safer: it was easier for him there to jump over a hedge or dive into a ditch if he heard something suspicious. There were far fewer flowerbeds there, which was a small blessing, and Isaac’s eyes were barely crying. He got to Christine’s road and he hid behind a bush, focusing his hearing, but his phone buzzed as a text came in.

<Patrice> 22/06/2019 12:01

ETA 16.30. Confirm

 

Isaac texted back acknowledging the message and informing that he was about to enter Christine’s house. He looked over the neighbour’s hedge, and was surprised by what he saw: nothing. Or more precisely: nobody. Still laying low and looking furtively around him, Isaac walked towards the front door. He listened carefully and heard nothing, and all he could smell was that rotten stench that engulfed the village, perhaps more intensive there at this moment. There was an unexpected lack of wolfsbane, so Isaac could pull his scarf down.

Once inside the house Isaac had four different levels to check: two of them he knew from his visits and, unless there was something blatantly obvious, he was not expecting to find anything suspicious in either the ground or the first floors. That still left the loft and the basement.

Walking around the ground floor, where he had been for many meals in the last years (and had even spent a couple of Christmas), he couldn’t help but thinking about he had been fooled. Everyone had. Christine had been pretending to be a druid – and she might have been a legitimate one when he met her, bus something had changed in the last months. It all started when he was left on his own. It all started when Iestyn left. A shade of doubt crossed his mind, wondering if Iestyn had planned all this long ago; if he was the brains behind all this. But he quickly shook his head, knowing that that could not be the case, and his wolf agreed with him. He quickly had a look around the living room and the kitchen on his way up the stairs. He walked by Iestyn’s room and quietly opened the door. He walked briefly into in his friend’s room, breathing in the familiar smell, even if all his things had long ago gone. Christine had turned it back into an ironing room, as far as he could gather: there was the board and the iron, and a neat pile of pressed and folded clothes on top of the bed. Isaac found nothing more out of place than in the other bedrooms, so he pulled down the stairs to the loft, feeling uneasy about climbing up into such a small space. He put his head through and had a quick look, finding nothing interesting but a few abandoned boxes all covered in dust. Isaac was happy to declare that nobody had gone up there in years. That left only the basement to check, which Isaac was dreading the most.

Isaac had never been happy about basements. He had never been happy about many things, but ever since he got the bite he had slowly learned to like other things that made him uneasy. He was happier about his personal space and people actually touching him. He didn’t flinch anymore at anyone trying to pat him in the shoulder, and he didn’t look suspiciously when he had to shake hands with someone. He had learned that there were people (and that eventually included some adults) whom he could trust and talk to. He even managed to joke about he had spent half of his childhood in a freezer or how his parents were both dead – although that was still a dark defence mechanism he still needed to work on. Occasionally, especially in stressful or potentially traumatic situations, his insecurities and fears came back. But he had still got to get over his deeply-rooted gut terror of basements. It was not just a confined space, it was a confined space, at the bottom of a painful flight of stairs, which was cold, damp and dark, and usually had freezers. The basement at Christine’s house had a functioning light on the stairs, and he could see that the bottom was illuminated from the outside through some windows, but somehow that did not make it any better. He walked slowly down the stairs, cursing at every squeaky step.

From half way down he could see that there was a wine rack all along one of the walls, and the rest of the space was divided into two by a wall; each of the small rooms illuminated by a window. He had to stop there because the smell was stronger there, which was unsettling enough, but also because he could hear a buzzing, which he could have sworn was not there before. He checked the radio he had taken from the hunters, but nothing was coming out of that one. Isaac’s guess that there was another transmitter down there – after all, he had interrupted some sort of radio conversation earlier that week when he was last at this house.

He forced himself down the last few steps, overriding his immediate urge to leg it to the open air. As he got to the base, he saw that one of the basement rooms had been turned into some sort of weird druidic study. All sorts of books, papers, herbs and flasks were spread over a desk, various shelves and even on the chair. There was so much stuff there that something was bound to be incriminating. Isaac didn’t have time to read all of that, but he could take pictures with his phone. On the chair there were various notebooks, all in what he had to assume was Christine’s neat handwriting. There was some sort of diary, and Isaac snapped the pages that corresponded to the last few weeks. Of each notebook he took a picture of the cover and three or four pages, and he uploaded everything to a shared file he had with Chris. Under the notebooks there were a few maps (snap, snap) and lists of stuff (snap). He felt like a spy in one of the old James Bond films, recording everything in the evil villain’s lair. He moved on to the shelves, and took photographs of the book spines, just to have an idea of the titles. There were a few ancient-looking books there too, and Isaac dutifully took pictures of the first pages. Some of these were in French, some others in what he thought was Latin. They had pictures, which he could admire, and guessed that they were bestiaries (hur, hur, bestiality… oh God Scott, he thought with a warm smile) like the one he had been reading with Allison. The desk had also a pile of notes and other stuff, but Isaac focused only on the main book that was resting there. He moved his hand above it because it looked like some very strange leather, and when he sniffed a bit he began to wonder if it was not bound in actual human skin. (This is so gross and so evil). The first page had a very plain title in Gothic writing. Isaac snapped it first thing, and then tried to actually read the title.

“Unau… Unausspr…. Un. Aus. Sprech. Li. Chen,” Isaac had to syllable-it out (bloody Germans)— “Kulten.”

When he said that, the buzzing from the radio in the next room went up, screeching like claws on a blackboard. Isaac dropped his phone as he had to put his hands flat on his ears. When it finally stopped, Isaac checked the radio in his bag, expecting it to go off again with hunter chat, but it was still silent. He got his phone back and decided that that book was too weird to be left there unprotected, so he put it in his backpack. The metallic beehive-like sound started again. Isaac left the study for a second to check on what he now thought of as the radio room. All the calm that he had mustered to actually stay down in that basement was slowly evaporating, as he approached a dust-covered table where there was a something covered with a sheet. It looked square, but as Isaac walked around he noticed it was actually cylindrical. The hum that came from it was like the noise a metallic beehive would make through a dodgy radio. Something felt extremely wrong about this place, and his wolf was certain that nothing good was going to come from that. Isaac swallowed hard and cleared sweat off his forehead, completely terrified now. Nothing could have prepared Isaac for what he saw under the sheet.

As he pulled the sheet, the buzzing started again, going from low to high in pitch and volume. The cylinder was metallic and a shiny black. It had various thin tubes connecting the top with the sides and the base, criss-crossing each other in patterns that made Isaac dizzy just to look at. Occasional blue and purple lights glowed at the intersections. The most disconcerting thing of all was the polished glass screen that covered one half of the cylinder. Behind it, Isaac could see a brain floating in an amber thick liquid and attached to two purple rods. Out of the screen, the buzzing came out again, but this time Isaac could make out words in the noise.

“Hand over the book. Hand over Christine. Orders must be obeyed without question at all times.”

Isaac didn’t even think of replying. All colour drained from his face. His mouth was open, but Isaac couldn’t articulate a sound. He could not even scream. It was all too much for him right now. Especially in a basement. He turned around and ran straight back to the stairs, away from that unnatural freakish jar. Zero fucks given about the remaining documents on the desk. He was getting out of there. He had been involved in the supernatural for a few years now, but nobody had mentioned brains in jars.

Isaac had been so on edge and petrified downstairs for the last minutes that he had not heard a car pulling by the driveway. He had climbed up the stairs like a bull in a china shop, so it was not surprising that he had two hunters already aiming at him, but he didn’t care. He needed to get out of there now, so he charged into the first hunter he saw (the one blocking his way to the front door). Both of them fell on the floor, but Isaac had enough time to punch somewhere where he heard a loud and satisfactory crack. He rolled over only to be shot at by the other hunter, who got him in the shoulder. Luckily they were not using wolfsbane this time. Isaac had no time to think if that was by choice of by accident, and he jumped into that other hunter, head-butting him on his chest. Both hunters were down for the moment, but more were coming – he could hear voices and steps outside. He quickly kicked one of the hunters who were down as he went for the kitchen. He put his hand in his bag until he pulled a grenade out. He jumped out the kitchen window, but managed to land gracefully outside. He threw in the smoke grenade and ran away towards the fields.

Chapter Text

Fucking brains in jars! Are you kidding me? Shit.

Isaac was running through the fields, looking for cover. His shoulder wound was still healing, but it still hurt. He got to a field ditch and fell in it. He knew if he followed it he would eventually get to the river, where there were far more places where to hide. He sat down for a second to reassess. His shirt was covered in blood from his wound, which was a bummer because he actually liked that navy blue v-neck t-shirt. He couldn’t hear anyone behind him just yet, but he knew that a smoke grenade could only gain him so much head start. He checked the radio and, as expected, the hunters were now gathering to find him, but at least he knew what they were saying between them (minor advantage, but there’s that about teeth and horses). He mopped the sweat off of his forehead with the back of his hand and had a gulp of water. He also checked his phone: all the files had been uploaded, but he knew Deaton and Chris were still in the air, so they won’t see it until the landed. He rang Patrice.

“Oui.”

“Patrice. I’m being pursued,” he bit his tongue before he could say ‘hunted down’. “Four hunters that I know for sure. Two out of action, two behind me. Plus an unknown number around the village. I’ve got a radio so I can track their movements.” Isaac took a pause to breathe—“I have collected evidence and sent files to Chris.”

“Good. Are you ok though?”

“Yeah, yeah. Fine. Was shot, but I’m healing.”

“Good.”

“Patrice, there some very weird shit going on in this village. There’s a brain in a jar in Christine’s basement. It…” Isaac wasn’t sure if they would believe him. He was not sure if he believed it himself. “The brain, erm. Sort of talked. It was conscious, and talked to me.” He was going to get nightmares.

“Did you just say a brain?”

“Erm. Yeah. It talked.” (Frigging brain in a jar talked to me). Isaac focused back the conversation; this was not a social call— “When will you get here?”

“Hopefully two hours.”

“The roads must be blocked. I heard something on the radio.”

“Yes, we are also expecting company there. There’s no way this whole thing is being kept silent without shutting the entire village out.”

“Ok. Got to go now. I’ll stick to the plan.”

“Stay safe, Isaac. No matter what, you’re one of ours.”

Patrice hung up, and Isaac was left staring at his phone. Was he an Argent after all? Allison must have made a big change in the family Code. Isaac had not been fully trained, but he was sure that if he wanted Chris would teach him. He may end up casting his own silver bullet one day. He fancied having a sniper rifle with a suppressor. That’d look awesome. He smiled to himself, staring over the edge of the ditch: Isaac Lahey. Werewolf sniper at her majesty’s secret service.

He came back to reality to put his bottle back in the bag, and saw the book inside. Crap – I forgot to mention I ran away with a spell book. Before he could think any more about it, the radio buzzed, which made Isaac flinch. This time it was a normal radio buzz, coming from his own receiver. A group was coming down the fields, another was blocking the road, and some other was going back to Therese. Not knowing who Therese was or what she did, or how many people were per team, Isaac was more worried by the hunters coming down the fields. He packed everything away and went down the ditch, lying low, until he got to the river.

He got to the banks, which were thick in reeds. He heard far behind him the two hunters that had ran after him from the house, shouting over the radio that they had spotted him. Confirmation came from the radio: he had also been spotted by someone on the far side of the river. Walking along the bank was slow and tiring, and he had no time to waste, so he jumped up to more solid ground just as two crossbow bolts flew pass him. One exploded with a flash of light when it hit the ground, and Isaac fell to the ground, rolling back to the reeds. While he was out of sight, the hunters on his side of the river were drawing closer, so he needed to move quickly. He crawled back to the top just as he regained his vision, and saw one of the hunters aiming his rifle at him. Isaac ducked, but was beginning to feel cornered. Another bolt hit the ground besides him, so he darted down river away from his pursuers, but back towards the village. The moment he got to solid ground he ran as fast as his supernatural speed allowed him, soon getting out of range and out of sight. He was back at the fields and the disperse houses of the outskirts. Perhaps he could break into a house and stay hidden until Patrice arrived, but for the time being he needed to stop and think, so he jumped over the first solid wall he saw, and landed in the graveyard (Brilliant. All this werewolf shit started in a graveyard, might as well finish in another one).

With his back against the wall, Isaac walked down to one of the corners, from where he could see the main entrance and the point from which he jumped into the cemetery. If the hunters were going to catch up with him, they’d be coming through either of those ways. He sat and checked the time; he still had to wait two hours for Patrice to arrive. He pulled the radio from his bag, and heard the barking of instructions. They knew where he had run towards, but nobody had mentioned the cemetery. He hadn’t lost them for good, but this was a place as good as any to wait for Patrice.

Isaac pulled the book out of his backpack, and his skin began to itch and crawl the moment he touched the skin-bound volume. His inner wolf was warning him against that book – do not touch! Do not touch!— But his curiosity was stronger. He could not wait for Deaton to explain to him what was all that about. He wanted to know first hand what Christine was doing in reality. And wasn’t Iestyn looking for a spell book of sorts? He rang him as he started flicking through the pages.

“Isaac! Is it you?” Iestyn answered almost immediately, and sounded absolutely terrified.

“Yes, yes. It’s me. I’m ok”

“Oh thank God!” there was a loud sigh of relief. “Please, don’t do this to me again – telling me you’ve been kidnapped and then going off like that. Chris rang me and explained briefly, but that was before they jumped on that plane. You sure you’re ok?”

“Just being hunted down by Christine’s associates. Nothing new there,” Isaac said smugly.

“Oh, yeah, big bad wolf with an attitude and a mysterious past,” Iestyn was oozing sarcasm, which made Isaac chuckle. “You git.”

“I’m still being hunted, but I had a quick question about your book.”

“Mate, this is not the time, I think? Shouldn’t you be, you know, hiding? Or clawing at people?”

“I’m safe here for the time being. It’s just that Christine had this book at her place, which I took with me—“Isaac ignored the brain in the jar. After all he was being hunted right now—“and I was wondering if you knew anything about it?”

“Really? Just go and hide! I don’t want you to get shot!” He was really concerned, Isaac could tell. But he just needed to know what all that book was about. He couldn’t understand a thing that was written in it, the pictures were unsettling at best, and the circles and drawings gave him a headache if he stared at them.

“Just listen, will you? Please,” Isaac pleaded, and he heard a sigh of resignation from his friend.

“Ok.”

“It’s called Unasp… Unaspich… -something Kulten.” There was a gasp, and then a silence. “Iestyn? It’s all alright?”

Iestyn was whispering now, and Isaac instinctively crouched down to hide himself better. “Isaac, that is the book I’m looking for. It is a very dangerous book.” The werewolf looked at the book on his lap, and closed it carefully, as if it may magically explode. “It was written by a German called von Junzt. It has information about the past. The very distant past. Before us humans. It has spells, or keys, that serve to open up certain places.” It was only because his friend was saying this (and considering what he had seen in Christine’s house) that Isaac was willing to believe that. “You need to bring it over. We need to hide it back.” Iestyn was now very serious. “Do not let anyone else get their hands on it. Do you understand? Burn it or rip it to shreds and bury it if you can’t keep it safe. But do not lose it.”

Isaac had never heard his friend talking like that: completely serious, but not fully hiding the fear from his voice. “Ok, I will not let go of it.” Isaac thought he heard something rustling in the bushes behind the cemetery wall, so he lowered his voice. “I’ve got to go. Tell Deaton when he lands.” He hung up before his friend could say goodbye and shoved his phone back in his pocket.

He couldn’t hear anything now, nor could he smell any hunters, but he had spent too long at that cemetery and decided to make a move. After checking the radio and getting a rough idea of where the hunters were he put his scarf back over his face, jumped over the wall and was on his way.

He ended up breaking into one of the old apartment blocks. He could have a good viewpoint from the top, controlling the main streets and looking into the road where Patrice should be coming from. He could also jump to the next block and make a hasty escape if needed. Once he got to the roof Isaac ate his croissants and had another sip of his water while he thought about the shit he was sinking into (evil book included) and played the waiting game.

***

The first bit of good news came almost two hours later. A text came in from Patrice telling Isaac that they were near the village and were about to engage with the hunters at the road block. Hopefully the hunters will be drawn there and Isaac would have a chance to go to the nemeton. Christine and the villagers had been there most of the day, as far as he could tell. Nothing good could come out of that. Isaac texted back, and waited for the proverbial to hit the fan over the hunters’ radio.

He did not need werewolf hearing to notice the explosion coming from the road. Isaac didn’t want to think about the strange fact that he knew how a car hit by an Argent-made grenade sounded, but that blast was signal enough for him. He heard the hunters call for reinforcements on the radio as the Argents had ploughed through the road block and were arriving into the village. Isaac could see at least three vans coming down the road, and hope that was enough back up. He flew down the stairs to the street level, and waited until he could confirm that the outside was clear before running out towards the forest. He luckily came across no hunters by the time he got to the forest edge. He sent a quick text to Patrice telling him before running towards the nemeton.

Isaac had to cross the industrial compound (which consisted only of a few large workshops and storage yards) as he approached the edge of the village. One of them drew his attention immediately: every shop and house he had seen in the village had been shut down, but this place was wide open. Or at least the gates were wide open. Isaac saw tyre marks, and he could sense petrol fumes even through his scarf – the hunters must have been waiting there. He walked in out of pure curiosity when he heard heartbeats. Dozens of them. (What now…). Isaac saw that this was the sausage factory, which didn’t bode well. He was almost certain he was not walking into a trap, because all the hearts inside that building were beating abnormally fast, and he could get a dull scent of distress over the smells of blood (pig’s blood), meat, and hunter’s gun oil. He approached one of the windows and he saw tens of people inside – Isaac couldn’t count them. They were tied and gagged. A few of them were unconscious and Isaac was beginning to wonder if these people had been trapped here ever since all began in the morning. That was some eight or ten hours ago. (Fuck).

He ripped the door open and saw twenty faces turned scared at him. He looked around and his own heart beat began to rocket in anger. They’ve been trapped here for hours – he could smell it. Amongst the faces there were a few he recognised. There were a handful of his old customers, there was the chemist and the doctor, and there were three of his teammates with their girlfriends. He reached for Guilhem, one of their front rows with a bushy ginger beard and a pot belly to match it. They called him Gimli.

“Cal!” He was still Californien in the rugby team. “Thank God! They got us in the morning,” he was saying quickly as Isaac cut his ties with his claws, hoping nobody would notice. “The neighbours came around with their freaky cloaks and drugged us somehow. Then we woke up here.”

So much Isaac could see. There were some people with black eyes, who had obviously not been very willing to collaborate, or who could not be drugged right. But it did not make sense. His theory that the entire village was made up of evil cultists was falling apart. “Are you ok, though?”

“I am. But some other people are injured.”

Fuck. This was getting worse and worse. And Isaac didn’t know what to do, and he didn’t have time for more delays. He didn’t want to think about the nemeton. “Let’s get everyone out of here.”

They began to untie people and pulling their gags out. Some people were unconscious, and they all looked dehydrated. But as he was cutting the ties, and got to see all the people and it was not all as random as it seemed, he began to see a pattern. There were entire families here, parents and kids. There were young couples and old men. There were even three or four foreigners who had come to help working in the farms. The people he knew personally all had one thing in common: they had not been born in the village, or were not related to any of the locals. To Isaac it all was getting freakier by the second.

“Gimli,” Isaac called his teammate to a corner, the one he freed first. He was from Carcassone, further to the south. “I can’t explain why, but I know what’s going on.”

“What are you talking about? Where’s the police? Who were these armed men?”

“Please, trust me. I can’t tell you just yet, but there are people shooting in the streets. I need you to take these people away.”

“You haven’t told me yet what’s going on, and why should I trust you on this?”

Isaac had no time for this. He put a hand over his friend’s shoulder and brought him close: “Guilhem,”—this was serious: they were using real names now—“I’m your friend. You’ve known me for three years now. I’m begging you please, trust me on this one.” Isaac had always wished he was a trust-worthy person. He had always tried to be it. Just like Scott.

There was an unsettling pause as Guilhem pondered his options. Isaac was about to flash his golden eyes at him and try Derek-style approach to dialogue with people, but he did not have to. Guilhem crossed his arms in front of him and nodded. “Fine. But because it’s you.” Isaac felt actually very touched at that. “You owe me a very big explanation, and a big crate of beer.”

Isaac kissed his forehead. “Thanks.” The other player shook his head and pretended to push him away. “You have to get the back road to Gaillac. There are shots on the main road, and do not go towards the forest. Stay by the edge of the fields.”

“What? You’re not coming?” Guilhem was again shouting while he whispered.

“There is one more thing I need to do.”

Guilhem sighed and nodded again, and Isaac patted his shoulder once again before dashing off. He heard his friend gathering people around, and hoped he could convince them to follow him. But Isaac had no time check. There was a tree he needed to be at.

***

As he ran through the forest, Isaac began to notice the evil, pungent stench that had previously been surrounding the village. The trees and the ground felt ill, an unnamed corruption spreading invisibly all over. He could see how some trees were already affected by this supernatural rot, as crawlers and other small insects crept out of them at speed. Isaac touched one of these trees, a once healthy oak, and he felt the inside being magically tainted, causing its resident spiders and beetles to storm out. A couple of dead birds and a few squirrels had already fallen from the branches to the ground. Isaac took a few slow steps backwards, walking away from the tree in barely-controlled fear.

As he approached the nemeton, Isaac became more careful. He laid low, hid behind trees and bushes, always alert to anything suspicious. But all he could hear were some frantic chanting coming from the nemeton. He took a longer rout around it towards the hill that gently rolled on the opposite side of the tree. The small bits of the nemeton area he could see through the foliage and the branches he was hiding in was enough to make his blood run cold. He had mental images of Isengard after Saruman had turned it into an industrial wasteland in the second film of “The Lord of the Rings”. The green meadow appeared black, but he could not tell if it was burnt or simply corrupted. He also remembered more trees growing around it, but now it seemed as if they had been uprooted.

He could smell the villagers-turned-cultists. He could smell sweat, and exertion. He could smell blood, both human and not-human. He was overwhelmed by the sweet and sour scent of confidence. He didn’t know if madness had a particular smell –his memories from Eichen House had too many mixed scents inside—but he was hoping that the place retched of it, because the alternative was that his old neighbours were willingly taking part in this ritual. He could not really see Christine amongst the mass of grey hooded figures, but she could hear her chanting non-stop whatever spell they were performing. He tried to step closer to have a better look, but he sensed the mountain ash barrier before he could touch it. Christine had surrounded the entire area of the nemeton, much in the way she had done when they had destroyed the nogitsune. Great.

When Isaac finally got to the cusp of the hill, he got a better view of the area around the nemeton, and it was far worse than he had glimpsed. The nemeton tree itself was standing grotesquely in the centre of a large circle of black grass and overturned turf. The roots around the base were splattered with blood, pooling in the holes and crevices of the ground around it. From the tree itself a large spiral furrow had been dug, which went around the tree at least four times. In this ditch there were various bodies in grey hoods. Isaac did not need a reminder of what human sacrifices looked like, but he got a double dose of terrifying memories regardless. What was perhaps more disconcerting was the lying body of a basajaun, the forest giant protector that he had seen when they came to the nemeton for the first time. His chest had been cracked open, and Isaac suspected that the large lump of gore that sat on a flat boulder near the nemeton tree was the giant’s heart. He had to swallow hard to keep himself from running away as fast as he could. Inner wolf was giving mixed signals: he was both completely terrified, but also extremely angry – like a cornered wolf facing an enemy. All this was beyond supernatural. All this was wrong. He reminded himself to think of the wider picture. He had to observe. He had to report. He had to stop this madness, but he could not do it on his own. He retired wide-eyed deeper into the bush, and walked away from that hellish scene. When he was deeper in the woods and was certain that he would not be overheard, he pulled out his phone. It was almost 7pm. Chris and Deaton would not due to land until 2am. He also saw that he had one missed calls and three texts from Patrice asking for an update. Isaac rang.

“Patrice,” Isaac said before the hunter could answer. Even if he knew there was nobody within earshot he didn’t dare talk louder than in whispers. “Where are you?

“Isaac! We’re at the industrial estates. Are you ok?”

“Patrice you need to come here,” he said looking furtively over his shoulder, towards the nemeton. “Christine is doing something major.”

“Isaac, listen.”

“No!” Isaac insisted. “Please, listen to this first.” He explained what he had just seen at the nemeton. The blood. The corpses. The altar. The chanting. Everything. Before he could finish, the ground began to shake. “Oh no…”

“Isaac! What’s going on?”

“Oh shit. Can you feel that?”

After a couple of seconds came Patrice’s reply. “Merde!

“Hold on.” Isaac hung up the phone as he walked back to his viewing point, crawling on his belly to get as close as he could.

From the hill Isaac saw that the cultists were now forming a circle around the tree, from which Isaac could sense the tremor of the ground was coming. The tree was vibrating in very quick pulses, and it was beginning to shine fluorescent green. It was very faint, but clearly there. Isaac’s phone rang but he ignored it; he was too absorbed in the monstrosity he was witnessing to answer. The light began to grow stronger, and so did the vibration. Isaac was unconsciously clawing at the ground under him, tensing his shoulders, while his wolf had crawled into a ball and whimpered. The nemeton’s vibration reached a level that it turned into actual sound (at least for his werewolf ears), tuned to the continuous chanting of the cultists. Christine was standing by the boulder holding a knife in one hand and the enormous heart of the basajaun in the other. As the pitch and tempo of the chanting advanced, Isaac was bracing himself for the worse, but there was nothing he could do. He was paralysed in terror, none of his limbs responded, and his mind was completely entranced by the magic being performed.

Before the chanting reached its climax, Isaac heard a few screams of terror and a handful of cultists breaking the circle, loosing all concentration. The blond werewolf thought he could see their eyes, completely white, bleeding as the ran in complete terror. The tree began to shine only intermittently and the ground vibration came to a halt. Those cultists who had broken the circle fell on the floor in spasms and, one by one, Isaac heard their spines clearly and loudly snapping.  The tree stopped glowing. The forest became unsettlingly silent. Isaac crawled backwards towards the safety of the bushes, hands shaking and mouth still wide open. After ten yards he stood up and walked slowly to the other side of the hill, where he managed to get a grip of himself and ran away from the forest towards the village in utter terror.

***

It was almost 9pm when Isaac got to Patrice. He had not stopped running since he had left the nemeton, and had he had anything in his stomach he would have vomited by now. But even sweaty and gasping for breath through his scarf (again) as he was, he went straight to the veteran hunter and gave him a hug. It was more for his own comfort than anything else. He needed (and his wolf desperately needed) some reassurance that the nogitsune was not going to come back, or that the ground was not going to open and swallow them. Patrice eventually pushed him away from him and gave him a bottle of water and something to eat.

“Will you just tell me what happened?” Was all Patrice had to ask.

Isaac told him.

After twenty minutes of explanations (brains in jars, imprisoned neighbours, spell books, blood sacrifices, desecrated nemetons, glowing trees, broken spines), Patrice summarised their own story so far: they arrived, had a few encounters with hunters at the road block, but managed to plough to the village. They had been shot at, but Isaac had managed to injure enough hunters to minimise their numerical advantage. Heavy fire had been exchanged (bullet holes across the fronts of buildings of the main square attested to it) but no deadly casualties. Christine’s hunters had fled, but before they could get too far and regroup, the Argents had cut them off and rounded them up. They were all tied and gagged. They were still expecting enemy reinforcements to come, but they could not wait all evening for them to turn up. They had gone to Christine’s place and collected all her papers and notebooks, which were now safely stashed in one of their vans. Patrice failed to mention the brain in the jar, and Isaac had not asked why, but the hunters had walked into that basement and seen no metal cylinder at all. Lastly, their contact in the gendarmes had been informed, but also warned not to come until the situation at the nemeton had been dealt with. Which led him to a final question.

“What do we do now?”

“You’re in charge, Patrice. You tell us.”

“Isaac, you’ve seen what’s going on there,” Patrice pointed towards the forest before crossing his arms on his chest again. “You can give us an idea of what can be realistically done.”

Isaac mulled this over. He was not the one to think plans. He was not even the one for the witty comments! He managed to put forward a suggestion. “I think that they require absolute concentration to carry out their spell. When the cultists sort of, erm… lost it, the whole thing stopped. There’s also…” Isaac stopped. He had been thinking as he spoke, but now he really needed to ponder carefully. Killing Christine would do the trick. Sniper rifle and boom. Done. But he was not like that. Not anymore. He was not in Derek’s pack anymore, and he was not new to the supernatural. He was Scott’s beta, and he had learned from Scott. They don’t have the last word on anyone’s life, regardless of what an easy solution that might be. It wasn’t the correct one. On the other hand, Isaac was almost an Argent by default. Eliminating the main target would solve everything.

“Isaac… we’re pressed on time.”

Isaac sighed. He washed his hands. It was not his decision to make. But nonetheless Isaac hoped that Scott would understand, if he ever asked him. “Eliminating Christine might solve it all. But she’s a powerful darach, and I don’t know what ammunition you have got on you.” Isaac looked down to his feet, clearly uncomfortable with this option.

Patrice nodded thoughtfully. He brought a hand up to his face, and messed with his moustache as he thought. “Ok. We’ll go for that. Come on lads” he told the rest of the Argent squad. “Load up the gear. Etienne and Jeanne, stay here and keep constant radio contact with me and Henri. Be ready for an evacuation. The rest of you, get going.”

They jumped on the vans and drove to the dirt track at edge of the forest, from where they continued on foot. Isaac took them the long way around to the hill he had kept watch from. The core of the hunters were waiting behind the hill, while Isaac showed Patrice the hell around the nemeton. The hellish scene did not appear to move the veteran hunter, but he was brought close to tears of pure rage when Isaac pointed at the partly butchered corpse of the basajaun, that the Argents had told him were protectors of the forests. Not much had changed in the last hour, otherwise, although Isaac had noticed that a large star or pentagram had been marked on the floor with something white like chalk or salt. A few fires had been lit, and more were been built at what Isaac assumed were strategic points tapping into the telluric currents, but he didn’t really want to know.

After studying the terrain, Patrice distributed the hunters at key points around the circle of mountain ash, and instructed them to wait for the signal. When everyone confirmed that they were in position, the hunter leader instructed everyone to wait until the ceremony started. It was risky, but if Isaac was right, it would be the best moment to attack, as they all would be in a trance. They waited and the chanting began. They waited as the ground began to tremor. They held when the tree began to glow its eerie green. Christine rose her arms.

“Time to play Old Harry’s game. Go.”

Isaac heard the first shots being fired at the cultists. They were normal human beings, but their hands were literally and metaphorically drenched in blood. Isaac knew it was pass the time for moral judgements, and he would have to live with this. The concentration was broken and the spell, again, began to fail. Patrice and Isaac looked at each other with mirroring side smiles – a trade mark Argent gesture Isaac now believed. Fred, one of the youngest hunters there today, got a nod from Patrice and pulled out an Australian AW-SR98 sniper rifle. Isaac could have drooled over his favourite weapon in the Argent arsenal in any other circumstance. But before Fred could set the crosshairs on Christine a loud screech was heard through the night.

A flying creature came out of the sky towards the beam of light, making a noise that was like a thousand angry metallic bees distorted through a radio. Isaac’s memory jumped at this, because he wasn’t sure if that was the noise he had heard coming out of Christine’s living room or if it reminded him of the sound that the brain in the jar had first made. A shiver went down his spine as se creature landed behind the hunters and began to lash at them with its claws. Patrice stood up and headed towards it at the same time that a few of the cultists (and a couple of the hunters) turned on their heels and ran in terror at the sight.

Everything went silent for Isaac. The alien-looking being had serrated leathery wings, which were standard nightmarish monster, and Isaac could have coped with that. Isaac might have been able to deal with the pairs of articulated arms terminating in pincers. The tail, thick and part-shell part-scale he could also accept. But the bulbous pinkish head was beyond anything he could have conceived. It gave the impression of an overgrown brain, but itself laminated like the bottom part of a mushroom’s cap. And it was covered in small appendices, a cross-over between tentacles and antennae. Isaac could not put a name to the thing because it had no resemblance to any monster he had ever encountered of heard of. When he saw the alien punch one of the hunters in the air and knock another with his tail, the noises of the fight came back to him, and he shook his head to bring himself back. Besides him Fred was frozen still, unable to move or react at the sight of the creature.

“Shoot it, Fred. Shoot it!”

Fred would not respond. Isaac howled at him until he reacted. Fred probably didn’t deserve that, but right now it was what he needed.

“Shoot it, for Christ’s sake!”

The hunter training kicked in, and Fred aimed his rifle. Isaac covered his ears, knowing well what was coming next. There was a loud bang as Fred shot the creature, which was hit, but was not down. Fuck-fuck-shit! Fred was about to panic again.

“Fred, listen. Look at me,” Isaac did the werewolf trick again, putting his face in front of his, and flashing his golden eyes. “We need to regroup. Fall back to the first meeting point. You know where to go?” Fred just nodded. He nodded a second time with more determination, but still speechless. “Off you go. Call out on the radio to fall back.”

Isaac didn’t bother to look back as he ran down to where Patrice was, but even as he ran there he could see black shadows emerging from the corners of the forest, and a quick glance at Christine told him that there was more magic attacks to come.

“Patrice!” Isaac yelled, avoiding cultists, who were running around like headless chickens, scared by the creature and the gunfire of the hunters. “Patrice!” Isaac shouted again.

He got to the side of his friend, who was shooting at the alien. “Patrice, we need to pull back!”

Patrice gritted his teeth as he kept shooting. Each bullet pushed the creature back, but it seemed it only slowed it down. His eyes were full of fury, but he knew that Isaac was right. He called to pull back, but even as he said this, the black shadows conjured by Christine were actually entering through the eyes and throats of the hunters and within seconds of that happening the hunter would turn around, crying of pure terror, and fleeing into the forest.

“Shit! Isaac, take this,” Patrice barked as he handed him over a .45. “Get Christine! Now!”

Isaac had no time to think. He nodded and turned around. He was thinking how he hoped that his lack of accuracy could be compensated by being at close range when he felt four pincers clamp his left side, digging into his flesh. He closed his eyes in pain and the next thing he saw was the ground far below him. He could see the circle around the nemeton, the spirals, the salt patterns, the bodies. The pools of blood. The fucking alien was taking him into the air, but before they could reach the tree tops Isaac used the gun and shot the alien in the belly. Two of the pincers let go of him, and they began to nose dive. Isaac dropped the gun and lashed with his claws at it, and the creature released him. Isaac fell on the bushes over the hill and rolled down, away from the nemeton. He kept rolling through the undergrowth and the brambles, until he reached the bottom of a ditch, and everything went black.

***

The moment they were through the passport control, Chris Argent ran outside the terminal closely followed by Alan Deaton, where one of his distant cousins was waiting for them with a car at the ready. With a simple nod as a ‘welcome to France’, she led them to the car.

“Any updates?”

“I haven’t heard anything in hours.” Chris’s cousin sounded concerned, even if her face showed none. “They had an encounter with a creature after they failed the assault.” She didn’t dare look at her relative in the eye. Chris heard Deaton sit uneasily at the back seat.

He pulled his phone out and rang Patrice, but got no reply. He rang Isaac, and got the same result. He tried each of them three more times, frustration building up and turning into anger.

“Damn it!” Chris cursed as he slammed his fist on the glove compartment.

“I am afraid that there are far worse things to worry about,” said Deaton with his usual levelled tone, as he passed Chris his phone. Chris looked at him and then at the phone before taking it and looking at their shared file. He saw Isaac’s pictures but had to stop when he got to the last one.

“Is that the Nameless Cults?”

The veterinarian nodded and took his phone back. “I think that Christine’s activities go beyond the nogitsune, and that other forces still unknown are actively at play. And not on our side.”

***

Isaac felt something small warm and wet gently poke his finger. He heard some gentle sniffing, but his head was telling him to keep his eyes closed and keep sleeping. This was soon followed by a rasp and wet prod on his finger, followed by a sharp pinch. That woke him up. (Ouch?) He opened his eyes as he pulled his hand back and saw a tiny bite on one of his fingertips quickly healing. He rolled to his side, realising how uncomfortable it actually was to be lying on your back on the forest with a backpack still behind your shoulders. Isaac rolled just in time to see a hedgehog scurrying away from him, back into the thick of the brambles.

“Hey! You little git!” Great! Am I going to turn into a were-hedgehog now?

Isaac looked up and saw the trail he had created through the brambles as he rolled down. His clothes were shredded, his top caked in blood and mud from the many cuts he got, even if they had all healed by now. He checked his bag and saw that somehow he had managed to keep the book, which was a small relief. He pulled his phone out and saw Chris’s calls – and also saw that he’d been out for over an hour. He sat up and returned the call.

“Argent.”

“Chris,” Isaac was again whispering and completely terrorised. “Chris I just came around. We managed to interrupt the ceremony, but er…” Isaac didn’t know how to explain it—“but it this flying monster came out of nowhere.”

“Are you ok?” (How many times have I been asked that today?)

“I’ve healed. But I’m alone – and I don’t know where Patrice is.” Isaac was getting panicky again. He was at least well hidden.

“I can’t get hold of them either.” (Shit-shit-fuck)

“Isaac,” Deaton called from the background—“that book you saw at Christine’s place. Iestyn told me you took it with you. Do you still have it?” He had almost forgotten about it. The thought of the book mysteriously calmed him down. A book felt too mundane in comparison to what he had just experienced. Isaac also noticed that Deaton spoke with the same worry and apprehension as Iestyn when talking about that book, and the last time he had the veterinarian talk about something in this tone was when the nogitsune was still possessing Stiles.

“Yeah, don’t worry. I’m keeping it safe. And will destroy it before losing it.”

“I rather you didn’t have to put yourself in that predicament,” which made Isaac think if the veterinarian was actually more concerned about the book than about him.

“I’ll try?”

Chris came back. “Isaac, listen. We will not make it to Bégnan until the morning. We can’t get hold of Patrice. For all we know they have not made it back and the ritual has been completed. We need you to get the hell out of there. I am taking control of the operation, and setting up a rendezvous point at Safe House 4 – do you understand?”

Isaac was physically and mentally exhausted, and the idea of running for safety was very appealing, especially when it involved putting 200 miles between him and that creature. But something inside him wondered if he had done all he could. If there was something still that could be done to save the day. Definitely, Scott McCall had been a very bad influence in his life. He hung his head. “Yeah. I understand.” He hang up.

Inner wolf growled at him, and barked. Not for making that decision, but for having so blatantly lied to Chris.

He began to crawl up the brambles to assess the situation. It hurt going through all the thorns, and it was maddening that no matter how quickly the cuts healed, more barbs lacerated his body. By the time he made it up, the ground was vibrating again, and something deep inside told him that this time he would not be able to stop it. He ran all the way to the top of the hill, and this time he didn’t even bother to hide: the entire grove was glowing green, the cultists were chanting while the flying creature was carving markings on the tree. Christine was shouting loudly, over the chanting cacophony and the vibration of the air. Isaac clenched his fists. He had failed his French home. He had failed his friends there (the ones who weren’t evil cultists, at least), and he began to fear that whatever these flying creatures that Christine had summoned wanted they may want more. If they needed weirdly powerful nemetons, they would end up in Beacon Hills.

Isaac didn’t know if he would survive the night now that he had lost a good twenty-minute advantage to admire his failure at the nemeton. Not with a flying alien monster and a throng of angry villagers and their treacherous bitch psycho leader. The worse thing is that he couldn’t take his eyes off the grotesque invocation and run away. He fell on his knees, crying, although he didn’t really know why. Inner wolf was howling. Isaac knew it was worse than frustration: he was crying out of pure impotence and despair. Why at this point he could only think of Scott was beyond him and, really, by this stage, he didn’t give a fuck. He took his phone out. There was one last thing he could do to redeem himself.

 

<Me> 23/06/2019 2:58

Hey scott pls you need to see this we need to do sthg about it

<Me> 23/06/2019 2:59

[send_picture]

<Me> 23/06/2019 2:59

I think it could happen there too

<Me> 23/06/2019 3:00

I dont think I’ll make it after all but I just had to […]

 

The phone went black as the battery finally died.

It was in that moment when he felt all was lost that a warmth grew inside him. His eyes were still crying as he shifted and looked at the phone and it turned all his frustration against it, but he put it away before it snapped in his hands. He looked at the circle in the forest with its gory tree, its unnatural light and the ceremonial fires. He saw Christine, and saw the flying creature. He could only see red, but those two figures were still visible through his wolf filter – perhaps clearer than they were before. Isaac let wolf take control, and he howled.

Isaac ran down the hill slide, the mountain ash barrier broken long ago by the hunters, until he got to one of the smaller boulders. From there he leapt into the air, over the circle of cultists, and landing besides Christine. She was so deep in her trance that she did not notice the werewolf rolling over and face her directly. The cultists were similarly oblivious of their surroundings. Only the flying creature with the fungoid head saw him. He charged with all his strength against Christine, pushing her to the side, knowing well that various of her bones had broken upon impact. She collapsed on the floor, not properly unconscious, but still in the state of trance. Isaac cursed briefly when he saw that he was too late, and that the nemeton continued to glow green, sending a large beam of light into the sky. But the winged creature saw him and flew a few meters above Isaac, preparing to dive down into him. Isaac was ready to roll away, and at the moment when the being made its move, the blond werewolf jumped towards it claws first, which caused both them to bounce in different directions.

Isaac hit the floor hard, sensing his own ribs either bruising or snapping; either way it hurt like hell. The flying monster crashed into the cultists a few metres away, like a moth that had hit a light bulb. Isaac had fallen for the shortest distance, so he had just enough time to jump back to his feet and attack the creature. He managed to slice through one of its wings and the lower part of its body, splashing the floor with his orange ichor. Isaac saw a metallic flash briefly emerge from a cavity on one of the flanks of the monster, and stepped on it with all his strength before whatever weapon that might have been could be activated.

Wolf alarmed him at that moment that the cultists in his peripheral vision had recovered conscience and were getting back to their senses. Some of them were running towards Christine and helping her up. The glow of the nemeton was subsiding at the same time that its canopy and branches began to explode from within, filling the night with the noise of snapping timber. Wolf nudged him urgently. Now we run. Isaac darted over the alien, that lashed with his claws at him, missing by a few millimetres. His feet splashed in various pools of blood, disturbed salt lines, and jumped over ditches, until he shouldered the one cultist that was blocking his way, sending him five yards back into a tree. He legged it towards the village, a throng of angry villagers wielding tools and torches hot on his heels.

Isaac outran them easily, and yet when he got to the edge of the village he needed to stop for a breather. He had no time to spare, but he had been running on pure adrenaline for the third time in twenty hours and was feeling exhausted (Torches and pitchforks, fucking hell!). He only needed to get to his car and get out. He was about to start running again for the last mile, when out of the blue he felt his wolf getting over excited. He began to feel a low growl inside him. It got louder and his wolf started jumping in joy and relief (and a hint of arousal). Before he could think on that, Isaac felt more than a growl. A howl. A pack bond. Renewed strength to get him going. To save himself and to get back. His alpha was calling.

“Scott!!”

Chapter Text

Scott dropped his phone, Stiles still at the other end of the line. He felt nauseous and had to sit down. His brain went through fifty thoughts a second, none of which he could process; his whole body began to search for his pack bond, realising that he couldn’t feel any link to Isaac. That made him feel far worse. He could hear the voice of Stiles calling for him from his phone on the floor, but Scott was not listening, shutting itself to the outside until he could understand what was going on.

After the nogitsune business and the death of Allison, Isaac had left, but everyone was too down to organise a proper goodbye. He had just vanished, much in the way that Ethan had a few weeks later. The moment Scott was recovered, Beacon Hills had been under attack again by Kate and her berserkers. He had to save Liam and teach him to be a werewolf. And there had been a trip to Mexico and a fight against Peter. Then Theo turned up out of the blue and had killed him. And Dread Doctors. And Ghost Riders. And season after season there had been something keeping his mind away from the past. And now Isaac was coming back into his life, shaking all up – a swing of the pendulum for the worse, countering the last years of peace and relative quiet.

His mind shifted gear, and focused on bringing back all the memories he had of Isaac. Isaac had been Scott’s first beta. True, Liam had been the first one he had bitten, but Isaac had come to him. He had wanted him to be his alpha. Isaac had come to him when Derek kicked him out, and he had had lived in his house (How could you, Scott! He had lived with us, with Mom! Home!). When he had nowhere to go, he had put all of his trust and hopes in Scott, and the moment he had turned his back to Isaac he let time and distance erase what they had once shared. Because Scott remembered the day Isaac came to say goodbye, and remembered that he did nothing to stop him. To keep him with him. To keep him for the pack. (To keep him with me). So much for a True Alpha.

Scott tried to focus on his pack bonds. Isaac’s bond had not popped into existence in a day, as it had been with Liam. It was neither as it had been with Stiles, Lydia or Allison, which have always been sort of there. Isaac’s had built over time. Every small action had added a thread to the rope that bound them together, although it might have even began before that, perhaps when Scott had seen the freezer in Isaac’s old basement (or rather, when he saw the nail marks). He had got so angry at that time that in pure rage his wolf had howled a promise to keep him safe and protected. But in the same way that Scottt had felt the bond grow, he did not remember Isaac’s bond break, and he had always felt them breaking. He felt it when Kira left and when Hayden went off to her sister (he even felt Liam’s bond with her break – that had been weird). He also remembered clearly when Lydia had been taken to Eichen House, which had weakened their bond because of her own isolation. Scott still felt cold sweats when he remembered pack bonds snapping violently, like when Theo tried to kill him, when Theo killed him, or when the Ghost Riders had snatched his friends away. So what had happened to Isaac’s pack bond? Going through his memories, Scott could not help but think that they had all been in a very dark place after Allison’s death, and had understood why his beta had gone. But was he still in his pack? Hadn’t he gone to start a new life in France working for Argent? He surely would have began from scratch and found a new pack. Why would he still be anchored back to Beacon Hills like that?

The thought that Isaac might have been loyal to his friends and to his pack (to him) all through these last years added a massive weight to his shoulders. What kind of alpha was he? What kind of friend? He held his head in his hands, steadying his breathing to keep him from hyperventilating, his eyes wet with tears, a big sob stuck in his throat. Scott’s inner alpha was furious and confused, a perfect mirror of his human self, but the wolf was demanding action. He was jumping and pacing, walking in circles, sniffing and growling. Scott’s eyes shone in bright red. He started tugging at all pack bonds, looking for a trace of Isaac’s wolf. He pulled and felt every single one of them. Liam, Stiles, Lydia, Mason, Malia, Corey. He even searched for his bond with Derek. They were all there, but there was something else. Scott suddenly noticed a force inside, so buried under his alpha spark that he had always thought it was a part of him. Yet the more he thought about it, and the closer he looked at it, the more evident it became that it was a different pack bond, one which had always been there apparently. It felt golden and shiny; it wasn’t the earthy brown that linked him with his human packmates, or the deep ice blue that chained him with Lydia. It was a werewolf bond. In fact, as far as Scott could remember, that was the source of the strength which had kept him barely alive for long enough for his mom to bring him back after his fight with Theo. But it was not just part of his alpha strength, it was a pack bond. It was one which had formed so steadily over time (and at the same time when his own alpha power had developed) that he had assumed simply that it was him. But it was clear now that his alpha spark and this bond had grown together, and they had grown intertwined. It could only be Isaac: the one werewolf who had shifted towards him as he was becoming an alpha, and both had grown stronger together.

Realisation was too much for him. His fists were so tight that his knuckles were white, and his claws were beginning to draw blood from his palms. He cleared his eyes with the back of his hand and knew what to do. He didn’t care about it being inside his flat in college. He didn’t care what would people would say or think. He had to do it. He couldn’t help it. He had to. For Isaac. Scott howled in frustration.

Soon enough, Scott felt a warmth and a glow inside. He felt Isaac’s pack bond tugging at him, calming down his alpha. He fell to his knees, still crying, but now for a completely different reason. He bent over, hands now also on the floor, and began to breath in deeply, now with a hopeful smile on his face.

Besides him, his phone rang. He also heard neighbours knocking on his walls to stop the noise that had shaken the walls. He picked it up: “hello?”

“Scott!! Oh my God Scott!! What’s wrong? Are you ok? I- I- I heard it. I- I-… I felt you. As in… well, the bond. You were tugging. God. Please be ok. Scott? Are you there?”

“Liam, yes,” Scott replied, “I’m ok. Calm down.” It was easy for him to say that. It was a case of do as I say not as I do, because Scott could not calm down. “I know who’s in France. I don’t know what is happening but something is wrong. But he’s ok. Ring Stiles, tell him it’s Isaac. I need to ring Chris.”

“Scott, wait!” Liam was nearly panicky, and Scott also could tell that he had been crying, even if Liam himself did not know why. “The feelings you sent through the bond. They just… I- I felt them. God. I can’t help to feel the relief now, but before that... before… you were in pain!”

“Liam, please, I’m ok.”

“Ok-Ok. But, please, Scott, you know you got me. We’re pack, we’re... we’re… Scott I love you, right? You’re my brother, you know it?” Scott silently nodded, immensely comforted momentarily by the support of his slightly panicky beta. “Please don’t make us go through this again?”

“I promise. Now, please, ring Stiles. He’ll know what to do.”

Scott hung before Liam could say goodbye, but the moment he did it, his phone immediately rang again.

“Oh my God, Scott, what did just happen?”

“Stiles?”

“Suddenly Lydia stares into space and drops her fork and says ‘he’s tugging the bonds, he’s finding him’, and now she’s going through books and telling me to ring you and to shut up, and I try calling you, and you’re not answering me. Scott! Why did you drop the phone? You just yelled Isaac and ignored me, and I told Lydia, and then you started reining us to the pack?” Scott was used to Stiles anxiety and was not surprised at the weird order in which he explained himself.

“I found Isaac, Stiles. He’s pack! He never left us.”

“Yes! We know. And I know that you are not very observant at times, Scott, but Isaac and his scarves went off to France. I don’t think that counts as not leaving the pack.” Stiles apparently still had a grudge on Isaac. Or maybe it had just re-emerged. Scot hoped he could put it aside for the time being. “Oh, hang on—tell him I can’t right now!” Stiles yelled away from the phone. “Gee, and now Liam?”

“Stiles, please. Just let me explain.”

Scott heard his friend let go an exasperated sigh. “Ok. I’m listening, oh Alpha, but. Are you going to tell me, perhaps, that you have felt Isaac’s pack bond, and that he is in some kind of nemeton-trouble in France that implies us doing something about it because he’s pack?”

“What? Wait – How?” Scott couldn’t articulate anything else, completely speechless.

“Because I know you, Scotty, and because in this apartment you have the two thinking brains of your pack.”

“How long have you known this? Why didn’t you tell me? What do you know about Isaac?”

“Whoa. Relax, Scott. We just realised now, with the picture and you yelling ‘Isaac’ and Lydia’s sensing of the bond tugging, which, by the way, I’m slightly disappointed you didn’t er... tug my… nevermind, that sounds gross. And no, I do not know anything about Isaac Lahey other than he went with Chris to France and never bothered to write a postcard.”

Scott was about to protest that he was being harsh, but he had to acknowledge that Isaac hadn’t been in contact with them either. But why would he keep himself tied to use then? There was obviously something going on there but this was not the time for that.

“We need to ring Argent, and we need to find what’s happening.”

“Have you tried phoning back to Isaac’s French number?”

“Not since I tried earlier.” He had reached it, but got an automatic reply in French, which he couldn’t understand. Scott trailed off and didn’t add anything else.

“O-kayy…?” Stiles was hoping for something else.

So was Scott. “Well?”

Scott now could hear the eye rolling. “Scott, thanks for indicating that you appreciate my planning skills, because we all know your plans suck, but I don’t think there is much else we can do three thousand miles away from him.” Scott could not face doing nothing. That would consume him from within until he knew that Isaac was safe. Thankfully, Stiles could translate his friend’s nervous silence and continued his plan. “Ok, listen. We’ll ask Deaton and Argent. He will definitely know.” It was a start, Scott thought, getting a to-do list started. It was not a plan yet, but it was better than doing nothing. Stiles continued: “If we’re desperate you can contact Jackson. Or Ethan better. Jackson's still a dick. They are relatively closer.”

“Hmm.. Ok.” It was all reasonable, although perhaps not that sensible considering the circumstances. Scott had already been thinking about how much last-minute flights to France could cost, but he’d give Stiles’ idea a go. He mentally added ‘check flights’ at the bottom of the list nonetheless. “Oh, wait! Can you tell Lydia to get on the phone for a bit, please?”

“Yeah, sure…” Stiles sighed. He didn’t completely understand why Scott was suddenly so concerned about Isaac, who had ditched them to go to France. He gave his phone to Lydia as he opened his laptop and started typing. “You ok Scott?”

“Lydia, please,” Scott knew Lydia would understand him better, and she may be able to tell him what he was fearing most. “Have you… Is Isaac ok?”

“Scott,” Lydia was dead serious, and she was talking in a low voice, as if to keep it away from Stiles. “I don’t know how Isaac is. He is alive, because we can still feel his bond, which you just pointed out. But he’s too far away, Scott. And I don’t know yet if my powers have a range, or if I can touch Isaac’s bond and find out, or what. But besides that,” now she was almost whispering—“what you just shared? The feelings that inundated us coming from you when you found Isaac? You two are going to need a very serious talk.”

“Is that a new banshee thing? Are you having a vision?” Scott was quite lost with what Lydia had just told him.

“Scott, trust me. It’s not a banshee thing. It’s called having a mature emotional intelligence, and it’s not new.” The alpha werewolf still didn’t understand, so he remained quiet. “You don’t need to be a banshee to read Isaac Lahey like a book, Scott. So finding his bond tightly anchored on you is no surprise.”

“Lydia, please, I don’t understand? Do you mean that Isaac hasn’t got a bond with the rest of you?”

“Scott, don’t go off the tangent. And don’t worry about it now,” Lydia hoped that would be the wisest thing to do right now. “Isaac is still in our pack, but his bond to us is through you. Do you remember how he used to look at you?”

Scott was positively lost now. When had Isaac looked at him? “What? When?”

“You’re almost as bad as Stiles sometimes,” Lydia scoffed. “Ok, trust me, don’t think about it right now. We’ll have time to explain this later. Let’s just focus on getting him back home.”

Scott understood that, and could not agree more.

***

Before Scott could phone Chris, he had a minute to go through the pack chat, where everyone had freaked out and they all had tried to call Scott. They texted furiously until Liam mentioned that it was about Isaac. This was followed by a torrent of questions about this Isaac, and how come they all could feel him as well. Stiles explained who Isaac was, and what had happened, and Lydia corrected her boyfriend and explained it again without the antagonistic sarcasm. Even Malia had chipped in, saying that Isaac was not that bad. Scott stopped reading when Stiles and Malia got into a texting argument about scarves. He looked through his contacts and found Chris.

“Argent.”

“Chris! Do you know what’s going on with Isaac?”

If the veteran hunter was surprised at Scott’s sudden interest for his beta, his voice didn’t show. It was obviously no coincidence that soon after Isaac found himself in danger his alpha was (finally) ringing him about it. “He was overseeing the nemeton of Toulouse when the local druid turned out to be a darach involved in summoning demons from beyond time and space.” That was not much of a surprise, considering the little evidence he had to start with. The demon stuff was unsettling enough, though.

“But is he safe?” Scott wanted explanations, but the safety of his pack came first. “We need to get him. And why did nobody tell me about this earlier?”

“Scott, we’re currently going to our safe house in Bordeaux. That’s where Isaac is instructed to go in this situation. It’s the emergency protocol.”

“Wait- what? You’re in France?” This is going to be an expensive call. “And why did nobody tell me about this? And who’s with you?

“Deaton came with me. This links to something bigger we have been tracking for a few months. We did not need to worry you with this – it has nothing to do with Beacon Hills.” Chris was not evading the question, but the answer was in a tone that clearly said ‘this was none of your business and we can take care of it’.

“I could have helped?” Scott could not help but feeling affronted at being kept out of the loop on all this issue. Especially if it involved Isaac.

“Scott, you need to understand that this is what the Argent family does. Your mother wanted to give you a chance to have supernatural-free college years. And as for Isaac – that’s his choice. You’ll have to discuss it with him.”

He could understand all the reasons, but that did not mean that he agreed with them, and he was caught off guard, so he couldn’t come up with any counter arguments in reply. (And why does everyone keep telling me that I’m going to have to talk to Isaac? Of course I will!). He also noticed that Chris had avoided his earlier question.

“Chris – is Isaac ok? When are you meeting him at the safe house?”

Chris’ voice was now sombre. “We lost contact with him a while ago. His phone is not responding.”

“Right.” Scott’s frustration was building up again. “He sent me a text almost an hour ago, with a picture of a tree surrounded by shadows, and hit by a green bright light.

Deaton’s voice came through the phone. “Scott, Isaac has come across some very powerful magic. This may be connected with an incident that happened in England a few months ago. I trust the Argents are going to keep it all under control, and we all need to trust Isaac to follow his instincts to keep him safe.” That was not very reassuring, but Scott knew better than to get Deaton say anything else.

“You are just asking me to stay here and wait!”

“Scott,” Chris was back on the phone, “we will keep you updated. There is not much we can do to help Isaac until we reach the rendezvous point. There is nothing you can do from there. Trust us to do our job.”

Scott grit his teeth, but had to accept that there was nothing he could do. Yet. “But what happened in England, and what has that to do with Isaac?”

“Various groups of cultists have been using an old German spell book to summon creatures at the intersections of various telluric currents. Until we hear back from Isaac we can’t tell you more. Scott, trust us. Just wait.”

“Ok. But please call me.”

“We will.”

As he finished the call, Scott was up on his feet, pacing around his sofa, phone held tightly in his hands. It kept buzzing as the shared chat boiled in conversations back and forth between his packmates, but Scott was ignoring it. There was still one thing he could do.

***

Earlier that day

“Do we really need to?” Jackson asked as he stopped before they walked into the photography studio, looking at Ethan, eyes flaring blue.

“Don’t you pull that on me, mister, and yes, we do. You agreed. I remember it clearly,” Ethan said with a warning finger. Jackson rolled his eyes and dropped his head. Ethan then grabbed him by the lapels of his light summer jacket. “You wanted us to behave more like a normal non-werewolf couple, and you wanted to do something for the pack back in California. Taking a Christmas picture to send them a card is as normal as it gets.”

“I think you’re confusing normal with tacky, and tacky with revolting.” Jackson was still not happy about this whole idea. “And it’s June, for fuck’s sake!”

“Last warning, Whittemore.” Ethan turned around and walked into the shop, followed soon by Jackson, who put up his best smile for their picture.

The rest of the day they spent it in the city centre, having lunch and a couple of pints by the river, until it began to get late. They cycled back home, where they had dinner and then cuddled together on the sofa to watch whatever was on Netflix that they hadn’t seen. It turned out to be an American show called Teen Vamp, about this teenager who gets bitten by a grumpy vampire. The actor playing the main character was hot, but Jackson wasn’t really that interested. He silently thanked that they were not watching anything like The Notebook. They saw three episodes in a row before going to sleep.

Jackson and Ethan were in bed, sleeping. It was 3:30 in the morning. A phone buzzed, and it kept buzzing. Ethan growled. The buzzing stopped. A while later, it started buzzing again. More growling. It stopped, eventually. A second phone started buzzing on the opposite bed-side table.

“Oh my God!” Jackson shouted into the pillow.

“Must be your other boyfriend, ringing you at this time,” Ethan said in the same pissed off tone.

Jackson opened his eyes and clenched his jaw. The phone started going off again. Jackson face palmed, growling even more with an indeterminate werewolf swear. He looked at his phone, and looked who was calling. He nearly decided to throw the phone against the wall, but he didn’t want to face Ethan telling him off for denting the house – again.

“What is wrong with you, McCall! What now?” Jackson finally answered. “Do you have the faintest idea about time zones? Your spastic friend lives four hours ahead of you – I’m sure you can do the maths when it comes to ringing people on the far side of the bloody ocean.”

“Hey, Jackson, sorry, I know, sorry, but this is important.”

“What in hell do you need us doing now?” Jackson sounded very pissed off, but Scott was sounding very worried, which is the only reason why Jackson did not hang up.

“We’re coming your way, we need to go to France.”

“God, McCall, I knew you were thick, but you remember England and France are-“ Jackson couldn’t continue his rant.

“It’s Isaac.”

Ethan stood up when he heard Isaac’s name. Jackson turned the lights on, fully awake now, mind racing about what could be happening. “What… how… here?”

“Listen, Jackson. I’m sending you Chris Argent’s contact, so you can meet with him in Bordeaux.” Jackson nodded, even if Scott could not see him. Ethan, who was listening to everything and seeing his boyfriend’s worried face of concern, opened his laptop and started looking for trains to Paris; a better option than the plane. Scott continued: “Argent says Isaac should be meeting them there if all went ok; they had a protocol.”

“What are you talking about? What is Isaac doing with Argent?”

Ethan murmured something on the lines of ‘I told you ages ago…’. Jackson silently shushed him so he could hear Scott.

“Just trust me, will you? I’ll explain everything when we get there. Don’t wait for us: we’ll go meet you in France.”

“Who’s coming to France?”

“Us. Me. We’re still planning.”

Jackson didn’t like the sound of that. McCall was obviously not thinking straight. He pinched the bridge of his nose and then massaged his eyes. “Scott – have you spoken to Lydia about this? Or are you going to make me do it? Because you are sounding out of your flipping mind.”

Scott knew his friend was right, but his inner alpha would not let him simply sit down and wait. Not being able to do anything about a member of his pack (long forgotten and re-discovered, but painfully loyal) in danger. Scott sat back and let out a sigh. “I can’t just do nothing, Jackson! You don’t understand what Isaac has done for us. For me.”

Jackson did not know what he had done, but he knew Isaac. He had known him for a long while, and if he remembered correctly how Isaac had once been as a kid, he could imagine what he might have become as a werewolf. Jackson did not know either what was happening to Isaac, and what kind of danger he was in, but he promised himself that after not having been there for Isaac when his dad beat him up, he would help him now. No matter what. Partly for old times’ sake, partly to redeem himself, partly because he couldn’t stand Scott McCall crying over the phone.

“Listen, Scott,” Jackson sounded understanding – almost caring and empathic. “Just ring Lydia, ok? Do what she says. You know her almost better than I do.” Jackson heard Scott snort on the phone, which was good. “We will go to France, and we will help in what we can. I’ll bring Isaac back to Beacon Hills.”

Ethan looked at his boyfriend with a surprised look – he had never heard him talking like that, vowing to go and find an old friend of his and Scott’s.  He leaned over to kiss his boyfriend’s bare shoulder as Jackson ended the call. He saw him leave the phone by his side, legs hanging off the side of the bed and head held in his hands, looking at the floor.

“What’s wrong with Scott? And why do you care this much about Isaac all of a sudden?” That came out far more accusingly than expected. He was not the jealous type, but all this came up quite out of the blue.

“Scott is beside himself because of Isaac. Isaac is in France, deep in some shit with the Argents. And I…” Jackson fell back on bed again, grabbing one of the pillows tightly and staring hard at the ceiling, not wanting to look at Ethan. “I was his friend when we were little. But after his mum died, he stopped coming out, and I just… I let him drift away. And when it was obvious that his dad was beating him up regularly I didn’t say a thing.” Jackson was usually too proud to admit when he was wrong, but the fact that he knew what happened at the Lahey house and that he had done nothing about it had bugged him since he had found out about why he had become a kanima rather than a werewolf. Ethan just looked at his boyfriend struggle to face his past, and did not push him – he knew he needed his own time to voice his emotions. “If I had had the balls to say something. If I had actually cared about him back then. Then… well. Then Isaac would have never been beaten up, and he would have not been turned into a werewolf. And he wouldn’t be risking his life in France.”

Jackson had never been good at verbalising his feelings or his worries, and putting all his thoughts on Isaac together had taken quite an effort. But now that he had told Ethan it felt as if a weight had been added to his shoulders. Guilt and remorse settled on the pit of his stomach, but this only served to steel his determination to go and find Isaac. He sat up again.

“Well. Let’s go to save Isaac then,” said Ethan. “Have you got Argent’s contact yet?”

Before Jackson could reply, Ethan’s phone began ringing. Both werewolves stood very still for a second, until Ethan checked who was ringing and answered.

“Iestyn? What’s wrong?” After Scott’s call, and at this hour in the morning, this was not a social call.

“Hey boys I hope I didn’t wake you up?”

“No, not really. We got a call from Scott about an old friend of ours.”

“I know! Isaac’s got himself into some nasty shit. That’s why I’m ringing. I’m coming to pick you up.”

“What?” Ethan was not sure if he was more surprised about Iestyn knowing Isaac, about Iestyn knowing about the problems in France, or the fact that he was already on his way to them. Jackson had heard that too, and was looking at Ethan with a puzzled face.

“Yeah. You two pack up. I’ll be there in an hour or so.”

Chapter Text

It was only by pure supernatural strength that Isaac got to his car before any of the villagers could catch him. When he got into the village at first, Isaac had a fit of sneezing, and felt dizzy again. He looked for his scarf, but he must have lost it at some point. His eyes were teary in hay fever, but the sob that was forming in his throat had nothing to do more with losing Melissa’s present than the reaction to the wolfsbane flowers. His shirt was in rags, so he had nothing to cover his face. He cleaned the tears off his face and kept on running despite the groggy feeling and the occasional nausea. As he jogged through the deserted streets, he saw the traces of the fight that had taken place between the hunters earlier that evening. Bullet holes on façades, burnt cars, the occasional grenade crater. In usual hunter fashion, all the shells and cartridges and other incriminating bits had been collected. It felt like walking through a battlefield museum.

It was very worrying that there was no trace of the Argents around – have they just packed and gone? The last thing they had seen was probably him being taking up in the air by the flying creature. The last he had seen of them was general panic while Patrice tried to get them to fall back in order. He wouldn’t blame them if they had given up, but that was not how the Argents did things. If anything, abandoned dead comrades eventually led to questions. Isaac also knew what the protocol for these situations was (regroup and reassess). But he needed to get hold of the rest of the Argents, because as far as Chris was concerned he had run away from the nemeton almost an hour ago. Without his phone he’d have to wait until he got to the car before he could find out anything.

When he finally got to his old place, Isaac was not surprised to see that someone (he suspected the hunters earlier that day) had slashed the tyres of the car. He growled in frustration and kicked the next car over. Thankfully, there was still “the Shed”. Chris Argent had prepared soon after they settled down a shed a few kilometres out of town, with a ready get-away car and a few essentials. Part of Isaac’s job was to make sure it was all properly stocked and ready for use (petrol, water, rations, a change of clothes). He had always thought that it was a bit excessive, but now he couldn’t be more glad about it. If only he didn’t have to run all the way there. Isaac grabbed the straps of his backpack tight and got himself into a fast jog.

Luckily, the existence of the Shed had been kept secret, even from Christine. When he finally got there, Isaac shoved his bag on the passenger seat, got the spare keys from the nail by the gate, and jumped in the car. Isaac was completely exhausted, and was very tempted to simply crash there and then, have a power nap, and hope for the best. But he couldn’t. He needed to get away, and get to Chris. Before he jumped in he remembered something important though – Charger! Isaac made sure that the cable was there and then plugged his phone, got the car into gear and drove away into the dirt track. He kept his lights off: it was getting close to five in the morning, and at that time in June sunrise was not that far away. He drove through a few country lanes until he finally got to a main road, where there were more cars around, and Isaac felt immediately safer. Only then did he ring Chris.

“Isaac?” Chris shouted.

“Chris, I’m ok. I’m on my way.”

“Isaac, thank God,” Isaac could hear a sigh of relief. “What happened?”

“Oh, phone died. Can it wait until I get there?”

“We would appreciate some rough explanation at this moment, Isaac. I gather you didn’t run away as instructed. Plus, we are still working here so any pointers will be welcome.”

Isaac was very tired. The last thing he wanted was to give an entire explanation of what he had done last. He avoided looking down at the clock as he rubbed one of his eyes while grabbing the steering wheel harder. That should wake him up enough. “Ok, erm. A large flying creature, half lobster, half mushroom with tentacles on its head appeared to help Christine carve runes onto the nemeton. Patrice and the rest were dispersed by the villagers. I lost consciousness when I was dropped into the brambles by the flying monster, but I rang you when I came round. I went to check what was going on just to see that, whatever they were trying, I think they succeeded in their summoning. Then, I ran away. I think that sums all up pretty nicely.”

A muted snigger came from the phone. “That’ll do. How far are you?”

“I just got to the A62. Hope to be there in two hours. Still house 4?”

“Yes. I’m here with Deaton already. We’re expecting guests later today, but just make sure to come here.”

“Ok. Where’s Patrice?”

There was a tense silence. “We still have no contact with him.”

Isaac nodded silently. “Ok. Ok. I’ll see you in a bit.”

He was about to end the call when Deaton came through: “Isaac, wait! Have you got the book?”

“Yeah, it’s sat here with me.” Isaac couldn’t avoid a quick glimpse at his backpack, where the book that had started all of this was kept. “I promised to keep it safe.”

“That’s a great relief.”

“Ok then. I’ll ring you when I’m getting close.”

He ended the call. He might have punched the wheel as well and gritted his teeth trying to stop tears coming from his eyes. Patrice and his team were missing and the veterinarian was still concerned about that fucking book? Isaac snorted at that. He was biting his thumb again, and when he realised that he was doing it, he stopped it and scratched the back of his head. They had left the village, hadn’t they? They had cleared the scene. He hadn’t been able to smell them with all the killer flowers out in the streets, but he was certain that they had left. What happened to the prisoners? What happened to the neighbours he had set free, Gilhem and the rest? Had the flying monster caught them? Isaac nearly turned around at the next exit just to go and find them. He had been under the assumption that he was the one missing, but now it appeared he was the only one coming back. Shit. His training kicked in again, despite the lack of sleep and the tiredness: report back, regroup, and reassess. He couldn’t go back on his own to the fight, not when he was carrying the book of doom.

He was still thinking over this when his phone rang. He rolled his eyes when he saw the caller ID, but a smile formed on his lips as he answered on the speaker phone.

“Good morning. Sleepless werewolves on the run, how can I help?” He was relatively safe now, so he could indulge in some sass.

“You absolute twat! You did it again. I told you not to scare me like that ever in your life. I told you this fucking afternoon. And you still did it!”

“I’m ok Iestyn.”

“I bloody well know now, don’t I? And not because of you! Deaton had to tell me.” His friend sounded agitated, but Isaac could tell he was not really angry. Not any more at least.

Isaac’s voice went low. “I’m sorry.” He really was. He was quite comfortable now with the idea that other people cared about him, so failing to report felt like letting them down – and Isaac did not want to risk letting any of his friends down.

“You will be when I see you later. Oh, by the way, I’ve got a pair of werewolves here who want to say hello.”

“What?”

“Hey Isaac!” Two voices came out on the phone.

“Wait – what?” Isaac was not sure if he had lost his mind after all or if he was hearing right. “Jackson, is that you really?”

“Oh, I see who’s your favourite now.”

“What? Ethan?”

“Don’t get them started, butt. They’ll get all domestic.”

“What?” Isaac could not really say anything else. He was stunned. Jackson Whittemore with Ethan. He could easily see it, though: they were perfect for each other. It was more the fact that they had ended up together. What a small world… And why were they with Iestyn?

“Don’t worry boyo. We’ll catch up later.”

“Wait!”

“Lahey, I knew you were thick, but I’m sure you can say more than those two words.” Jackson hadn’t changed that much, Isaac noticed.

“Sorry, it’s just too much to process after a very long day.” Last night Isaac had been playing Dragonage on his Xbox in his pants while munching on bacon crisps. Now he was on the run, fleeing a winged alien monster and a throng of angry villagers. “What’s that you keep saying about later today?”

“We’re about to get on the Channel Tunnel train. We’ll be there by lunch time,” was Iestyn’s own explanation.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, well. We are that awesome and we miss you that much.” Iestyn said this, and it was immediately followed by a muffled ‘ouch’ by Jackson and a ‘don’t you start’ by Ethan.

“You boys know I can still hear you, right?”

“Just ignore them. Get to Chris first, and we can catch up later.”

“Bye Isaac!” Ethan shouted.

“Bye, bye, bye.”

That was an unexpected turn for Isaac, which was left with a smile on his face but still completely shocked by the news. He shook his head and checked the next road sign. He still had a good two hours until he reached the house, but his eyelids were feeling heavy. He rolled down the window and changed gear. He clicked on the radio buttons until he noticed that there was a CD in the car. Now he remembered that he had burnt a CD for the car (it was quite an old car, but completely reliable) with runaway songs – and he had completely forgotten about that. It was a mix of songs  (from Bon Jovi to Dion), which had only one thing in common: the word runaway in them. The combination of songs was awful, even if individually they might have been ok, but Isaac had a laugh listening to the list.

After a while, thinking about letting people know that he was ok, Isaac wondered if he should ring Scott. He had tried to ring him earlier that night, but that was when his phone had died. He did not want Scott to worry about him anymore, he was ok now, but he knew Scott, and he knew that he could not get away with just saying that he was fine and safe. There was going to be a long conversation (Why did you leave? How did you get into that? What happened? Why didn’t you call us before? Why did you text me today? Are you coming back?). Isaac was not good at long conversations, especially ones with Scott, and he did not like keeping things away from Scott, especially those that his wolf was begging him to tell. But he could not face that just yet. Not on the road, not while exhausted. Maybe tomorrow. There’s always a tomorrow.

Eventually, Isaac arrived to the suburbs of Bordeaux, and re-set his satnav to take him to the safe house, which happened to be not in Bordeaux proper, but actually on a small resort by the ocean near Arcachon. He crossed the flat coastal lowlands until he got to a wind-swept area of sand dunes covered in grass. There were there a few holiday bungalows separated by fences and gardens facing towards the open Atlantic and the never-ending sandy beach. There wasn’t even a shop around. It certainly made for a good hiding spot, and Isaac only hoped they would not be too remote if they were cornered. As he pulled in, Chris came out of the front door, hand on his holster even if he was almost sure that it was Isaac. When Isaac stopped the car and stepped out, he saw Chris’ frown turn into a thin smile and he was right by him hugging him close. Isaac was definitely getting used to caring adults.

Chris eyed him from head to toe when they broke their embrace. “You’ve been hiding in a ditch?” Isaac looked at himself and saw that he was in his shorts and a loose white t-shirt with his old bakery’s logo on the front, but the shirt was in shreds and he was covered in a dry mix of blood and dirt.

“It was comfortable enough. I was also bitten by a hedgehog,” Isaac said with a wide smile, despite the tired eyes. He was safe for now. He was home, sort of. He grabbed the backpack from the passenger seat and opened the boot to get the emergency bag he had left prepared there. After shutting the car he walked into the house followed by Chris, who had a quick look around to make sure nobody had followed him.

Inside the house Isaac could smell coffee brewing, and he saw Deaton waiting at the kitchen table. The house was a small holiday bungalow, with a large kitchen-living room and a few bedrooms, which Isaac could not immediately see.

“Isaac, I’m so glad you are ok.”

“I’ve got a present for you, doc,” was all Isaac said, as he slid the backpack to the druid with an immediate sense of liberation. Isaac wondered if this was what Frodo felt when he threw the One Ring into the volcano.

“I don’t know how much you know about this book, Isaac. Or if Iestyn mentioned any of it to you.”

“He told me the basics,” Isaac explained briefly as he walked straight to the fridge and pulled out the milk, drinking straight out of the carton. He had not had a proper meal in 24 hours and he had finished the bottles of water that he kept in the car a few minutes after he started driving. He helped himself to half a baguette and grabbed a jar of jam. Deaton was not going to explain much more, nor did he ask for further details. The vet soon began to eye through the pages, which gave Isaac enough time to wolf down his meal.

As Chris walked into the kitchen, Isaac looked at him seriously, leaving his bread on the plate. “Any news about Patrice?”

“Nothing yet.” Isaac bit angrily his bread and drank the rest of the carton while Chris continued. “But I have been in touch with an old contact of ours. We have men heading there now to check.”

“Did I explain about the winged monster that was helping the crazy bitch and her armed peasant minions?”

“That,” Deaton interjected, “is no simple monster. That is what in the arcane lore is called a mi-go.” Chris and Isaac turned at him simultaneously. “They are an alien race from a planet called Yuggoth who are known to have had dealings with humans before. They are not usually interested in humans themselves – they just need them in order to secure objects, or metals. Relics from the past.”

Isaac gulped down, and had to fight off a coughing fit. Thankfully he had not been drinking, or else he might have sprayed the kitchen in milk.

Chris raised a hand to Deaton, “We know what we are dealing with, and there is nothing we can do until we get to analyse the intel that you secured for us.” He nodded towards Isaac. “So until we get our reinforcements, or hear from our contact, you can go and have a lie down.”

Isaac finished his meal and nodded. His head was busy in thought, but none of it was clear. His eyes kept closing down, and the thought of a bed was too appealing. He was feeling safe, fed, and comforted – at least for now. That was all he could ask for. Allowing himself to let go of his worries for a while, he walked to the first empty room he found and collapsed on the bed without even taking his clothes off. He was deep in sleep by the time his head hit the pillow.

***

Isaac woke up when he sensed five different heartbeats in the house. He then noticed that he was face down on a pillow wet with drool. He could also sense that he was in a place which smelled both familiar and different. He rolled on his back and rubbed his eyes, slowly remembering that he was on the safe house by the sea, that he was with Chris and Deaton, and that he had just fled an alien monster who was allied to an evil treacherous druid. (Ah yes. It must be Tuesday. I never liked Tuesdays). He stood up and he began to hear voices, all of them familiar, even if it was very weird to listen to all of them together. He walked up to the kitchen, still rubbing his eye, and leaning against the door frame. Two heads turned immediately towards him.

“Look who’s finally up.”

“Hey everyone.” Isaac sounded still raspy. Iestyn went straight to him and gave him a hug, followed by Ethan, who also hugged the tall werewolf.

“You stink, Lahey,” noted Jackson with a smile from the table. Isaac hadn’t seen Jackson smiling at him in years and was taken aback.

“It’s great to see you’re ok, Isaac. We’ve just been told about what happened,” Ethan said.

“You still need to tell us the entire story, Isaac.” This was Chris. They were all standing around a table with a couple of laptops, the Nameless Cults, and a map.

“What time is it?” Isaac asked, and then his face changed completely, “Where’s Patrice?”

“On that we have some good news finally,” Chris was calming him down, both hands up. “We had contact with Patrice, they are mostly ok. We are in no rush right now, so you can have a shower and some food before you care to explain us your side of the story.” Isaac knew when he was being given orders, even if he did not understand how come they were not in a rush to burn that old village with its flowers and aliens down.

“Yeah, sure I, erm. I’ll be back in a second.”

Isaac walked to the bathroom and stepped into the shower. Under the cool water, Isaac scrubbed all the mud and blood off his skin and from under his nails. He washed his hair while thinking that it might be time for a haircut, and then scrubbed himself again until he looked pink. He lost all notion of time and, when he got out, he felt like a new person. He reached for his bag and saw what he had packed for emergencies: two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, a woolly jumper, a light raincoat, toothbrush and toothpaste, two plain t-shirts, his rugby shorts and his team’s long-sleeved heavy cotton jersey. He got changed into his shorts and a forest green top, which was now a bit tighter than it used to.

When he walked into the living room again, Chris indicated him to take a seat on the central armchair with everyone else sat around. Jackson handed him a ham sandwich with a quick wink, and Isaac could only nod with a surprised face. Who is this person and what has he done to Jackson? He briefly looked at Ethan with a confused expression, that he nonetheless could understand, and the twin just silently mouthed that he’ll tell him later. When he was finally sat down, he took a deep breath and told his story. Isaac told how it had all started weeks before, in preparation for some local centenary, or so he was told. He described how he woke up to a village taken by cultists and wolfsbane; how the hunters had tried to kill him but that he managed to escape; how he walked into Christine’s house and found the book and the brain in the jar. At this point, Deaton interrupted.

“I may be able of some assistance here,” Alan Deaton only gave information he was completely certain about, but Isaac could feel that he was not completely sure about what he was going to say next. “It is usually said that the mi-go have advance enough technology to preserve a human mind active even when physically removed from the body. That is the only way they can take their collaborators to their planet.”

“Well, Christine was not the brain in that metallic tub.” Isaac argued defensively.

“No, true. But that could have been the mi-go intermediary.”

Ethan frowned. “How does a brain in a jar act as a go-between humans and aliens? Surely there must be another person at least to carry it around.”

“That escapes me for now,” admitted Deaton. “But what I can say is that we may be facing two different adversaries, who just happened to have a common goal. We have Christine and the people of Bégnan obtaining power from the nemeton in their ritual on the one hand. On the other it could be the mi-go trading with Christine information or technology in exchange for something else unrelated.”

“The brain said that it wanted the book,” Isaac clarified. “It also wanted me to hand over Christine.”

Chris interrupted. “But then that would not make sense. Why would the brain demand the book and Christine while the mi-go was helping in the ritual?”

“I haven’t got to that bit just yet,” said Isaac, who had summarised this already but had not explained it in full. “But maybe I could finish the story before we throw more elucubrations in?” Isaac said the last words smugly, proud of finally being able to use ‘elucubrations’ in a conversation.

“Please, do,” Deaton said gracefully, extending his arm, palm facing up.

Isaac continued with his story, telling how he ran away with the book after the brain demanded it from him, and then how he hid through the fields until he got back to the village. He told them about the fight after Patrice arrived, about how he liberated the prisoners of the hunters (Isaac also explained that he thought that all the non-native who lived there had been captured), and how Isaac saw the first failed attempted ritual. He explained how they had tried to disrupt the second ritual, but the mi-go had flown down and disbanded the Argent crew. Isaac finally told how he managed to get back to the edge of the nemeton to see the last and successful ritual with the alien carving runes on the bark, and how he fought his way out to the village. Everyone was silent for a few seconds while Isaac looked at them, not knowing if they wanted more information.

“I can add now what happened to Patrice and the rest,” Chris added once it was clear nobody else had anything to add. Isaac’s eyes immediately light up in hope – he really wanted to know what had happened to the rest. “They all managed to regroup back in the village. They shot at the mi-go when it took you, but they were pushed back by the villagers. They did not,” and with this he stared at Isaac in the eye, “and I repeat it, they did not leave you behind, Isaac.” Isaac knew this was true, despite of the appearances. He was just glad that they had made it out of that fucking place. “They got to the village but could not contact anyone, so when they regrouped they made an attempt to go and find you. But at that time the nemeton threw a green beam to the sky and they had to go for plan B.” Chris said this though a clenched jaw and a fist pressed hard against the table. Isaac knew what a plan B was – it was a failed mission gone very wrong. It might have involved contacting the authorities in the know for a major clean-up operation. That was a big failure for the Argents, but it might have saved the day after all. Chris continued with his narration.

“By the time you were arriving here, Patrice had gone to our contact in the gendarmerie and explained the situation. The armed police has already corded the village off under some excuse of mass intoxication because of the poisonous flowers. The cultists have been arrested for various charges of murder, and the hunters on charges of terrorism of some sort. That’s up to them to cover up.” As far as cover ups went, these were actually very accurate, with only the slightest omissions. It will have to be downplayed a lot to keep the press from nosing around however. “Your kidnapped neighbours are all ok, but they seem happy not to talk about this ever again. I imagine they will be moving homes soon, though.” That was a shame, Isaac thought. Gimli liked living in Bégnan, he was an engineer, and his girlfriend worked in one of the restaurants. Isaac never asked why they ended up there, but they seemed to enjoy their village life.

“Patrice and the others will be here tomorrow morning to bring over the documents retrieved from the basement.” And that seemed to be it. They all looked around nervously, in case anyone else had any extra bit of information to share, but nobody said a thing.

 “So,” Ethan surprised them by talking first. “You came across a village, led by a druid. They were preparing a centennial ritual at the nemeton. We do not know why.” Everybody seemed to nod at him. “They needed the power of the nemeton, and—”

“A nemeton where the nogitsune had been destroyed,” interrupted Isaac, who was still certain that it had to do with the fox spirit.

“—they needed the help of the aliens. The darach had been in contact with them, probably through a mysterious brain in a jar. But also, this darach is using the same book that was used by the weirdos back in Oxford last autumn, right?” the two druids nodded at this, but Isaac had not been told anything about it. “But they did not summon a shubbuth—“

“Shoggoth,” corrected Iestyn.

“—Shoggoth. They summoned the mi-go? Or would have she had a contact before hand?” Ethan looked around. Nobody knew.

“We can’t be sure if the book allows you to contact with the mi-go, but it is a possibility,” Chris was also trying to make sense of all they knew.

“Ok, so,” Ethan continued. “The druid has been in contact with these aliens at least for the last six months, right?”

“Yes,” clarified Iestyn. “I was living there until your lot began doing summoning in the woods. I moved out then, and never noticed any alien contacts before.”

“So are the two human sets of cultists related?” asked Jackson, who was getting a bit lost.

“They have the book in common…” Ethan replied.

“But it is all circumstantial. The Oxford cult and the France cult appear to have been after completely different things.”

“Yes, but…”

They were discussing theories and possibilities back and forth for over an hour. They soon realised that what they didn’t know was far more than what they knew. It was concerning and depressing. They were only getting a clear picture of the game now, but it was obvious that they were a few moves behind. Isaac stood up and asked to have a break. Chris thought it was a great idea for all of them to have one, seeing that they hadn’t reached any conclusions.

Deaton and Iestyn sat at the table, going through the pictures that Isaac had taken and reading with worried faces what Christine had been doing so far. Thankfully, Patrice had emptied the basement of Christine’s place when they had secured their position in the village. Now they had an idea of where to start their research, but with Isaac’s pictures they could only guess at Christine’s original intentions. Chris pulled his phone out and went to the front porch to call someone. Isaac decided to go out through the back door, and he was faced with an enormous beach, miles wide and over 200 yards long. Jackson and Ethan went out behind him and sat on one of the hammocks that hung from the veranda.

“So! What an adventure you’ve had, Isaac.” Ethan said with a big smile.

“Well, yeah. It seemed that you two had one as well?”

“Oh, it was just a day out in the forest.”

There was a short silence and then Isaac asked as he pointed. “So… you two. As in you two?”

Jackson had a wide smile. “Yes, Lahey. Us two.” He grabbed Ethan by the shoulders only to be pushed away by the twin. Jackson rolled his eyes and continued with a smirk. “To be fair I was equally surprised when I was told about you and Allison.” This made Isaac blush.

“Well, I tried to hit on you at that club, but you broke my heart and went off to find yourself a girl.” Isaac said lightly, but then realised that he was treading on thin ice. He should not have joked about Jackson being a kanima, and immediately regretted saying that. He sensed Ethan tensing as well, but Jackson laughed it off.

“You weren’t my type. Sorry darling.”

“What,” Ethan said dramatically offended, “you mean werewolf is not your type?”

“Oh, don’t you start.” Jackson barked back in good humour.

“Jackson, do you think you can go out and have a walk on the beach?” Ethan asked suddenly.

“Oh, you are joking. You really meant it?” Jackson was clearly not happy about this and it was evident that they had discussed something which implied him talking to Ethan alone. Isaac just watched without saying a word, not knowing what was about to happen.

“Come on. You promised.”

“Alright…” Jackson huffed. He stood up and walked towards the beach, taking his top off and hanging it behind his necks, both hands still grabbing the shirt. “See you in a bit.” That he said to Isaac in particular, who now felt he was being led into a trap.

“O-key…”

“Isaac,” Ethan asked once Jackson was out of sight behind the dunes. He could smell Isaac was tense and alert, so he tried to calm him down. “Relax, I just wanted to talk to you.”

“You know nothing good ever comes from a conversation that starts with that.”

“I think you’ll find out that’s when someone says ‘we need to talk’.”

“Ah, yes. Of course. Sorry pardon.” Isaac smirked as he sat against the veranda, hands in his pockets. “What did you want to me about?”

“It’s actually two things.”

“Oh. The infamous twin double-whammy.” Fuck. “Erm, sorry Ethan. I didn’t mean to…” didn’t mean to somehow talk about your dead brother.

But Ethan looked at him with a smile: “Don’t worry. He would have appreciated that.”

“Erm. Well… ?”

“I just wanted to say that Jackson wants to talk to you.” Isaac looked at him with suspicion. “I told him he should talk to you, because I know there are a few things he wants to tell you.” Isaac didn’t say a thing, because he had no idea what would Jackson want to tell him that was so important that needed his boyfriend warning him in advance. “He might close shut like a clam, but he knows that he really needs to do this, so prod him if necessary.”

Isaac just nodded. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to have a conversation with Jackson at this moment. So he changed topic. “And what is the second thing?”

Ethan stood up and put his hands softly on Isaac’s shoulders. “We were told you texted Scott, you told us it was the last thing you did before losing contact, and Chris told us that he spoke with him. And I remember you and him back in Beacon Hills,” Isaac saw where this was going to, and was blushing bright crimson by the second. “I think that you should call him.”

Isaac was focusing on his shoelaces, always the source of all knowledge in these situations. With a sigh, his shoulders slumped and nodded with his head. He knew this had to come, but did it have to be today? He felt a pat on his shoulder, and Isaac looked up.

“That’s just my advice. I haven’t spoken about this with anyone else,” Ethan was saying this in case Isaac thought he and Iestyn had been gossiping about him, which was not true anyways. “Go find Jackson first, though. And just come find me if you need me.”

With that he went back into the house, and Isaac slowly went off to the dunes looking for Jackson; the quickest way of getting Scott out of his head. Isaac found him sat facing the sea, with his legs crossed and playing with some shells in his hand. Jackson turned his head when he noticed the other werewolf approaching and lobbed the shells away. Isaac walked down to him and sat by his side, arms around his knees, looking into the ocean as well.

“How is life in London then?” Isaac began casually.

“It’s not bad,” Jackson was staring at the horizon as well. “The pubs are great, but there’s too many people around. Love Chinatown.”

“What about uni—“

“Listen, Isaac,” Jackson interrupted, but both of them kept staring at the blue horizon. “I just wanted to say that I was not a good friend.”

“That’s an understatement.”

Jackson turned at Isaac with furious eyes, “You’re not helping.” Jackson then went back to look at the sea. “I mean, when we were little and you used to come at my place, we were alright. But after your mum died, and I found about the adoption… I just let you drift off.” Isaac hung his head for a second before turning his head to look at Jackson, who wouldn’t look at him. “I let us grow apart, and never invited you back to my place. We should have stuck together… And I didn’t say anything about your dad.”

“Why do you bring this up now, Jackson?” Isaac was genuinely puzzled, this came out of the blue. He had never blamed Jackson for anything, he had just isolated himself from everyone back then.

“I just have had some time to think, you know?” Jackson was now fidgeting with his hands, but still would not look at Isaac. And then he was stuck.

Isaac could hear Jackson’s cogs in his head. He clearly wanted to say something, but he was struggling to put it in words. Isaac could relate perfectly to that feeling, and was beginning to feel anxious himself by the sheer waves of inner conflict that Jackson was irradiating.

“Jackson…”

“Wait. Just- just let me, will you?” Isaac said as he was told, and gave Jackson time to finish. “I’ve had time to think, and wonder if only I had been braver. If I could have just got over the fact that I was adopted.” Jackson snorted. His eyes were getting wet, and he was clenching his fists tightly. “I might… We could have still been friends. And you would not have had to suffer your dad, and I would not have become a murdering monster.”

“In some other life, Jackson. That would have happened.” Jackson wiped his eyes and looked at Isaac for the first time. “I’m not blaming you for anything.”

“I blame myself enough for that. It took me to die to realise what I had been like.”

Isaac was no psychologist or druid, and he had too much baggage himself to be giving any sort of advice he thought. But if explaining himself would help Jackson to feel better, Isaac was happy to listen and accept whatever he wanted to say. He did not think about those days anymore to be fair, and he had never thought Jackson was to blame. Himself was to blame, but that was something for some other therapy session.

“Listen, I never blamed you for anything, as I said. Though I did think you were a massive berk,” which made Jackson chuckle, lightly lightening the mood. “You should not be feeling like that for me. We can’t change what happened, but I don’t think I have to forgive you. We just were kids with real life thrown at them.”

That was not any real explanation, but did help them understand each other better. They sat silent for a few minutes, neither of them knowing what else to say, looking at the seagulls and the high clouds. Jackson spoke first.

“I feel responsible. I feel guilty. I don’t care what you say. So, what I really wanted to say is, well… that you can count on me. If you want. If you need to. I erm… I will be there next time.”

Isaac turned again to look at Jackson.

“Because we’re pack?” Isaac teased. It backfired.

“Oh, you want to trade McCall for me?” Jackson said with a smirk, but his joke was quite bad timed, and he could tell from Isaac’s face, who suddenly became sombre. “Wow, hey, sorry, Isaac, I didn’t mean anything by that.” Isaac knew, and he silently nodded, but said nothing. “I said it and I mean it. Because we can be friends again.”

Jackson went back to stare at the horizon, while Isaac nodded silently while burying his feet in the sand. After a few seconds, and without looking at the other werewolf, Isaac said in a low emotional voice, “Thank you Jackson.”

Jackson left out a breath he hadn’t noticed he had been holding. He then stood up and put his top on again. “Ok, well. That’s it. I erm. That was it really. I’ll see you back in the house Lahey.”

He ruffled Isaac’s hair as he walked by and went on his way. Isaac smiled at that, and he saw Jackson walk away through the dunes. He had never in his life had expected Jackson Whittemore to have such a conversation with him. Who would have thought? Maybe a leopard can change his pants. When he was almost out of sight, Isaac wolf-whistled at him, and Jackson gave him the finger without turning around. Isaac laughed at that and stood up, heading towards the house as well.

***

During dinner they all kept exchanging theories and possibilities, but it was now a much more distended situation. They appear to agree that, until proven otherwise, there was no reason to link the French and the English cultists. How the book got from the latter to the former was unknown, unless the mi-go had been involved. Other than that, the druids believed that Christine had exchanged something for the book, because it would have played a role in the centennial ceremony, which they believed it was not as irrelevant as Isaac thought at first. But it was still all in the air. They’d wait until Patrice arrived with the remaining documents before they settled on a conclusion.

After dinner, Isaac walked out of the house and went off to the beach as the sun was going down towards the horizon. The Atlantic breeze was chilly at this time of the evening, despite being late in June. Isaac walked further into the dunes until he could see the ocean. He kept on walking until he was knee deep in the waves before heading back to the sand, where he sat staring at his phone. In his mind there were a hundred scenarios in which he rang Scott and all went wrong: where he was blamed for Allison’s death, where he was confronted for abandoning the pack, where he was told never to come back. An almost forgotten voice from his past emerged in between those thoughts, reminding him how unworthy he was of Scott McCall, and how useless he was as a hunter – and a traitor to his werewolf kind. There were a hundred other scenarios where Scott ignored him, where he did not want to know anything about Isaac. But Isaac knew all this were his own insecurities: when they had parted ways in Beacon Hills Scott had never blamed him for anything, and had never behaved like that. But what if he has changed? There were other mental scenarios where everything went ok, and Scott thanked him and asked him to come back. Isaac put all of them off his mind.

Isaac stared at the red sun sinking in the waves. He had read somewhere that in those places facing the ocean to the west (like California, or like there in France maybe), the last ray of sunshine of the setting sun would be diffracted by the water, creating a green flash of light. Why he suddenly remembered that he had no idea, but he waited to see if he could see it, postponing the moment in which he had to ring Scott. It was meant to be quite magical.

The sun set, and there was no green flash. Isaac was not one to take weather phenomena as signs of the universe aimed directly at him, but at this point he was ready to take this as a bad sign. He stood up, and pulled his phone out. With his other hand in his pocket, he began to pace the beach up and down, his thumb hovering over the green icon to ring Scott. He closed his eyes and pressed it.

Chapter Text

Isaac waited for two tones and then ended the call. What are you doing? It’s too late now, he’ll see it. What’s the time in California? I can pretend I didn’t hear it. His own phone started ringing. Isaac saw Scott’s name on the screen. Fuck-fuck-fuck. I can´t do this. Isaac panicked. The phone kept ringing and vibrating in his hand, until it stopped. Oh fuck, why did I do that? Isaac rang again. He had not time to backpedal, because Scott answered almost immediately.

“Hello?” Isaac knew Scott’s voice. He heard it in his dreams sometimes. He began to feel a warm feeling in his chest, and he felt his inner wolf waggling his tail like a puppy, jumping up and down, and figuratively licking him from the inside. Why hadn’t he called before? Just to hear him. Isaac, you’ve not answered yet.

“…” his mouth was completely dry, and only a small gasp came out. He had to cough a bit. Great start- Oh God. “Hey, Scott.”

“Isaac!” The way Scott said his name aloud melted Isaac’s heart. I can’t believe I’m going through this again. “Isaac, are you ok?” How many times have I been asked that now?

“Yeah, yeah. I, um, I’m ok. Has Chris told you what happened?” It wasn’t really a question; Isaac imagined that Scott was now in the loop and just wanted to avoid having to tell again his story about last night. Although on the other hand that would have been a much comfortable conversation than the one they were meant to be having.

“Well, he has, mostly. There is much they don’t know about why all this is happening. We just know that there are secret cults and aliens doing things around nemetons.”

“I’m sure Stiles is loving this,” Isaac tried to stall.

“Well, I haven’t really told him this just yet… That has to wait for a second—” Oh God, here we go “—I, um...I have to ask you Isaac,” Isaac was considering the option of throwing his phone to the sea and become a hermit in a cave, never to be seen again. “How did you know I had died?”

That was not what Isaac had expected. ‘Why did you leave’, ‘why didn’t you call’, ‘why did you bother to warn’, and all those he had feared and half-prepared, but Scott was just bringing up something that happened years ago already.

“Oh, erm. Well. I felt it inside,” Isaac was staring into space, reviving that morning. He had not prepared an answer for that, so he could only tell what he remembered. “I was getting ready for work. I was working at the bakery, right? And, and then… It’s difficult to explain, but I sensed it. You were dead. You were not there anymore. I couldn’t feel you anymore.” Isaac was surprised at how painful the memory was still. He swallowed. “Scott, you… I- I have always felt this connection with you, and feeling it fade away was…” Isaac didn’t finish the sentence.

“Isaac,” Scott didn’t let him say more. “That was your bond. You are the reason why I’m still around and alive. You kept me going on until my mom could bring me back.”

That didn’t make sense, and it is not how Isaac remembered it. “No? Scott, I didn’t. I couldn’t. I just… I just…” fell on my knees and cried.

“Isaac, you have always kept your pack bond with us. With me! During that week everyone else had been pushed away, so I was alone. I had been poisoned, I was weak. And after the fight with Theo I had been left to die. The pack was gone. Except for you.” The inflection on the ‘you’ was not lost on Isaac. “Isaac I have to thank you for that now that I understand, and I know mom will want to speak with you.” The blond werewolf had stopped his pacing, not really knowing how to react.

“I didn’t do anything, Scott. I just felt you leaving…”

“You did, Isaac. You felt me – you searched for me. You were my last strength.” Nothing of this made sense to Isaac. “I am so sorry about so many things, I don’t know where to start.” Hang on. This was not going the way Isaac had feared. This caught him completely unawares. Scott is apologising to me?

“Scott, why…”

“Please, listen. I let you go to France, and I was happy to accept that you were gone for good. I never reached out for you, and I can now understand why you were mad at me,” (Wow, wow. What? Wait…) “because of Allison.”

“Please, Scott. Don’t go there,” Isaac pleaded immediately. He would not go there, not right now: that would be just extra mutual torture.

“Let me finish,” Scott asked softly, and Isaac had to let him continue. “You went with Argent, we never asked about you, and still you were bound to us. Isaac, Stiles of all people had left the pack, he left me alone. You went to another country and you wouldn’t let go of us. If I hadn’t been so absorbed in fighting Theo I would have noticed so much earlier. You… you have been loyal to us all these years. And then when you face an evil space invader and you still warn us about it?”

The silence that followed was proverbially uncomfortable. Isaac was confused. He could not fit in his mind what Scott was doing. The alpha was tormenting himself and feeling guilty because of him? He had kept him alive? He was thanking him? Where’s the anger and the accusatory questions? Where’s the disappointment? Where was the third grade inquisition? Isaac could still not articulate a word, so Scott continued.

“I know becoming an alpha is a learning process, but I never guessed I could have failed so miserably at understanding my pack. I just took at face value that you had left us. I assumed you had moved on, that you had started anew. I never knew… I never felt that you were anchored back. That you were still pack.”

As Scott spoke, Isaac remembered very clearly how Scott’s brain worked: Scott creating his own view on a subject and holding to it to the ultimate consequences, even if he was getting only a partial view. Isaac bit his lip and closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. He couldn’t contradict him because, even if it hurt, Scott was not wrong. But he was not seeing the entire picture. He would not listen to Isaac’s story, and that was more frightening because Isaac was not ready yet to tell all of his side. Not on the phone, not under the current circumstances. Ideally not ever.

“Scott, why are you bringing this up now? The unhelpful one is usually me.”

Scott was not sounding like himself. He was speaking low, and completely ashamed. “I just found our pack bond. It had always been there, I thought it was part of my alpha thing, but it’s not. When you sent that last text, it all came to me. I howled; I needed to find you again.”

“I felt that,” Isaac remembered with a shy smile on his face.

“And I felt you back. It made me so happy. I knew you were all right, even if we could not reach you on the phone. But then, it all downed on me. I finally saw how important you had been for the pack. For me. And how I had just ignored you.”

He could not take any more. It was driving him insane. He wanted to grab Scott by the shoulders and shake him until he stopped blaming himself, and then just hug him until he listened to his side of the story. “Scott, please, listen.” Isaac sighed in frustration. “Stop tormenting yourself like that. It’s… it’s just not right. You don’t have to blame you for anything. I am the one who left, the one who could not stand being around Beacon Hills anymore. I was the coward who abandoned you all.”

“Wait-no!”

“Yes, Scott, yes. I was. I can never be the perfect Scott McCall, the true alpha. I could not sit there and live surrounded by the past. I just couldn’t, Scott. I had to. I had to go…”

“Isaac,” Scott could have been angry, but he wasn’t. He was being understanding as usual, which for Isaac was encouraging and frustrating at the same time. “You went away, but you never truly left us.”

“So… Do you still want me in your pack?” Isaac was still expecting Scott to snap and get angry.

“Course I do, Isaac!”

“Are you not mad at me because I never texted?”

“No! Well, none of us contacted you either. So we’re all to blame.” Scott tried to say this lightly, but to Isaac it still implied that none of them had wanted to know about him. Isaac had always felt that way, which is why he had begged Chris not to talk about him when he went back to the States, and the hunter had understood that, and respected his decision.

“But…” Scott made an unnecessarily long pause. He sighed. “Well, erm. Isaac. Can I ask why? What did we do to make you feel you that you couldn’t… Why only now?” he trailed off.

Isaac knew the answer to that. Because I had to warn you about the nemeton and the mi-go. Because I thought I was not going to make it. Because you’re my alpha. Because you’re my anchor. Because you’ve been part of my life since before we became werewolves. Because I should have known better back then than to leave you. Because I still wish you would see me like I see you. Because I miss you. Because I love you.

The blond werewolf got his feet in the water again, and thanked that Scott would not smell him over the phone. His inner wolf saw Isaac’s conflict, but his advice was to say all that aloud. He bottled all up and picked up a shell, touching the soft pearly inside with his thumb – as if rubbing that shell would give him an answer.

“Isaac?”

“I don’t know.” LIE. You know, Isaac! “Well, it’s just difficult to explain over the phone,” hopefully that’d buy Isaac some time.

“What gave you the impression that you couldn’t count on us?”

“Scott, it’s just that… I could not stay in Beacon Hills. I needed time to think,” that was true, and was hopefully something that Scott could understand and let him off the hook. For now. “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, hey, Isaac. Don’t worry. I just hoping that, well, that you would keep in contact with us. Lydia told me that we needed to talk. I mean, us two, not erm. Well. You understand. I’m happy to have you back.”

Scott was happy to have him back? That warm feeling in the chest returned to Isaac. But what was that thing about Lydia? Isaac filed that under ‘more things about Lydia to be scared of’, because something inside told him that she also knew about what he felt. It might be a banshee thing. A big wave Isaac had not seen coming broke against his ankles and was sprayed all over with water.

“Oh, come on!”

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m wet!”

“Where are you?”

Isaac was walking back to the dunes, getting his legs full of sand that stuck to his skin. “Oh, I was just walking down the beach.”

“Sounds nice,” Scott said with a chuckle. The mood was lighter now, and Isaac was thankful. “I thought you were on a dangerous mission with aliens, not on a beach holiday?”

“Ha! We are, actually – thank you very much. But the Bégnan episode is closed. We still do not know what is going on and the nemeton is cordoned off.” Isaac was now taking the tangent deliberately. “What are you going to tell Stiles?”

“I guess I’ll give him a call now and explain. I don’t know what he’ll make out of this, but he’ll get knee-deep into this now that he has the summer off.”

“That’s very convenient. Off from work?”

The conversation went on from there to various topics, both werewolves catching up with ease. College courses, summer jobs, lacrosse, rugby, holidays, new pack members, Derek, Peter, music, hunter training. There were surprises and jokes. All daily stuff, hardly any supernatural talk. As it got dark, Isaac walked back across the dunes towards the house. When he could see the light porch, Isaac had a smile all across his face simply because he was talking with Scott, as if nothing had happened. As if they both were in Beacon Hills. He was happy with that. His wolf was happy with that. He looked at the time, and saw Ethan and Jackson sat outside the house with mirror wolfish grins.

“Hey, Scott. I, erm. I need to get going now. It’s quite late over here.” And I’m about to be interrogated.

“Oh, shit. Sorry Isaac!”

“Nah, don’t worry.”

“Ok, ok. Well, then. I, um. We’ll talk later when we know about the aliens and stuff?”

“Yeah sure. Anytime.” Isaac really meant it literally.

“Cool. Great. Night then.”

“Night.”

Isaac was sure by looking at the other two werewolves that he was blushing deep beetroot when he walked into the porch. Jackson moved to the side of the bench and Ethan pulled him down so he would sit in between them – just to make things more comfortable.

“So? You and McCall had your little chat?” Jackson said smugly.

“Have you two been listening? ‘Cause that’s just rude, you know.”

“We were not listening,” Ethan explained. “I was just explaining to Jackson here what I thought was going on, because bless him he is useless at reading people and had no idea.”

“And what do you think was going on?” Isaac knew perfectly, but was not willing to concede an inch.

“By the size of your smile, the colour of your face, and,” Ethan checked the time on his phone—“the time you were talking…”

“You smell sickeningly sweet right now, Lahey.” Jackson interrupted with a smirk. Ethan frowned at his boyfriend, but Jackson put his hands up in surrender.

“Ok. I’m going to go now,” Isaac began to stand up, but he was pulled down by the two werewolves at his sides.

“Hang on. Isaac, we’re sorry.”

“We just wanted to help.” Isaac looked with disbelief at Jackson, who looked back at him offended. “We do!”

Isaac shook his head and held it in his hands. Behind his back Ethan gave his boyfriend a death stare before putting a hand on Isaac’s back. He flinched at first, but Ethan rubbed him gently and Isaac seemed to relax. Isaac’s pocket buzzed once.

“Is it a heart-heart-kiss emoji from Scott?”

“Jackson!” Ethan barked. He turned to Isaac. “He truly wants to help, but he can’t keep his gob shut.”

Isaac looked at his phone.

 

<Scott> 23/06/2019 23:14

Hey I’m gonna add you to the pack chat :)))

<Pack!> [Scott added you to group chat] 23/06/2019 23:14

 

He quickly turned it off.

The taller wolf was deep in thought. He had reconnected with Scott, which was beyond great. But he had not told him all the truth, which was not that good. But it didn’t appear to be that bad just yet. He had been welcomed back into the pack, but the moment he went back Scott would be able to smell him all… sweet? And then he’ll find out about feelings and Isaac will be screwed. But hadn’t noticed before. Maybe now he’s an experienced werewolf he can. Or worse…

“Isaac!” Isaac sat up. “Easy, mate, you’re getting too anxious,” Isaac was surprised to see Jackson giving him advice. It was going to take a while for him to accept this new reformed Jackson. “Too anxious too early.”

The back door opened and Iestyn peeked his head out. “Oh, you’re back!” he said looking at Isaac, who promptly covered his face with his hands, as he blushed again.

“Oh no... not you as well?” Isaac looked at Iestyn. “Are you in with these two?”

The druid strolled towards the hammock and lied on it, hands behind his head and feet crossed. “No! No. Not at all. Of course not. Well. Yes.”

Isaac stood up but didn’t leave. He just stood against the veranda, where he could see his three friends in what now seemed a pre-planned intervention.

“Are you all really saying that you want to discuss me and Scott here?”

“I just wanted to tease,” Jackson said putting his hand up but, surprisingly enough, Isaac heard that he was lying.

Isaac rubbed his eyes. “You nosy gits. I hate you all.” He did not said that seriously, and they all knew it. He was surprised at how easily they had all got on his side. True, Iestyn had been his friend for long enough, and Jackson and Ethan were not in Scott’s pack, and they were making an effort. Isaac suddenly had his own werewolf gay support group.

“We love you too,” Ethan put up a fake smile and stuck his tongue out. “Now. What exactly did you talk about with Scott,” the twin put the conversation on track, as was usually the way, Isaac was learning.

“We talked about, erm. A bit of everything. The bakery, his lab work, dunno. I told him about that time when I almost burnt a whole batch of loaves and I sold them as Californian bread.”

“And…?”

Isaac crossed his arms over his chest and turned around, staring at the moon. He summarised the chat he had with Scott. They didn’t interrupt him, and even Jackson appeared to be paying attention. When he finished, he slid down and sat on the floor, back against one of the porch posts, and hands on his knees.

“So that. I didn’t say anything else. There no reason why to. I mean. He’s never been interested in… well… boys.”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Jackson said.

“Yeah, he could be like grumpy here,” Ethan pointed at Jackson with his thumb.

“I just think that the pack bond that you share is quite intense. That is very telling, butt.”

“Well, he’s still in California. So there is little I can do.” Isaac was messing his hair with his hand. “I just don’t want to have a conversation like that over the phone.”

“Don’t worry,” Ethan said. He and Jackson were reclining back on the bench, while Iestyn lulled himself on the hammock. “You have a pack now, which is always cool. But you also have us. And we are here with you now. So, we are going to have a chilled night by the beach and not think about Scott McCall.”

Jackson stood up and went into the house. He came back with tubs of ice-cream and spoons for everyone. They sat back and laid back while listening to the distant roar of the waves.

***

Scott hung up the phone feeling strangely warm inside. He had never expected that re-connecting with his beta would have make him feel so good. He had a chance to get his thoughts off his chest and apologise to Isaac for the way they had ended up growing apart. He was thrilled by the thought of having him back in the pack. His inner alpha was delighted, happy like a puppy, and begging him to bring Isaac home. The thought of having him back filled his chest with a fuzzy feeling and his face with a wide smile. He was still laughing at a few of the things that Isaac had said about his live in France when he pulled his phone out again. He texted Isaac and added him to the pack chat.

He was back in Beacon Hills. He had driven back home the previous day the moment he had realised it was Isaac who had warned them about the nemeton. The night he got home, he had a chat with Melissa about he felt he felt about Isaac, and how bad he felt with himself for having simply abandoned him. His mum mentioned briefly that she knew about Isaac, because Chris had secretly told her a few things about him, but she had been asked not to mention anything. Scott nearly snapped at his mum, but she explained that Isaac had been clear to Chris, that he needed time to think about him and the pack, and they had to respect his privacy. Scott was not most pleased with that, but he could not argue, and now that he had had a chance to talk things over with the taller werewolf he felt he understood better. It all felt like water under the bridge between them two, and he was secretly wishing for Isaac to return to California.

There was still the issue of the alien-worshiping cultists and their rites at nemetons, but that could wait for the time being.

Melissa had gone to work, so he was home alone. He intended to go and see Malia and Derek. He went into the kitchen and made himself a sandwich, which he was eating as he was about to go out the door, but his phone rang before he got there.

“Hello?”

“Scott McCall,” he was in trouble now with Lydia, and he didn’t even know why. “What have you talked about with Isaac?”

“Weird. How did you know?”

“You just added him to the group chat.”

“Yes, I did. But everything is ok! He does not know much more than what Argent and Deaton already told us. They’re waiting until they get all the documents before deciding on the next step.”

“That’s what I want to know, Scott. I mean, what did you talk about your mutual bond.”

“Oh. We were just catching up. He told me about his life in France. I talked about the pack. I explained about our pack bond, and told him I wanted him back in the pack.”

Scott heard Lydia exhale loudly. “I don’t want to say that was premature, Scott, because we all want Isaac back, but—”

“Wow,” Scott interjected, “did Stiles say so?”

“Not the point, Scott! We want Isaac back, but we don’t know if he will really want to stay.”

Scott felt hurt, and he frowned. His wolf refused to believe that, and growled as if that would male Lydia take that back and convince Isaac to stay. “Lydia, what are you talking about.”

“This is not something to discuss on the phone—”

“Lydia…”

“Scott,” Lydia paused. She still was not sure if spilling the beans was the right course of action. She was not sure about how Scott would react; although, knowing him, she guessed that he would go into denial alternating with long periods of silent thought. Lydia wished she could tell Melissa first, but she was not one to go behind her friend’s back. He might as well know now and have a hissy fit while Isaac was still in Europe – hopefully by the time he came back Scott would have made up his mind about how to deal with his old beta. “Ok, listen. And you need to think very carefully about yourself and about the pack.”

“Lydia, what’s going on?”

“Just think about Isaac.”

“What about him.”

“Do you remember Isaac before he became a werewolf.”

“Um. No. Not really.”

“Right.  He had always noticed you, even back then.”

“How would you know?”

“I have eyes Scott. It’s you the one who does not seem to see.”

“What has that got to do with Isaac?”

“Isaac has a massive crush on you. Or had, as far as I remember. But that special pack bond you two share would tell me he still does.”

“…”

“Scott, listen. You two are old enough to sort it out yourselves, so I trust you will think carefully before you say anything. Think about him, about you, and about the pack.”

Scott was mentally reviewing all his memories of Isaac. Was Lydia right? He did not remember anything self-evident. And they had been living together, so he would have noticed, surely? He snapped back into reality.

“What?”

“You’re worse than Stiles sometimes,” Lydia said frustrated.

“He was with Allison!”

“I’m going to ignore that comment. You know it’s not as simple as boys or girls, Scott. And just remember what he had been going through until then. Think about why he would still be attached to Beacon Hills.”

“… Um. Erm. No… Can’t be. Should I—”

“And the penny drops… No, Scott. You should not whatever it is you were going to say. You need to think. You need to talk with your mom. Maybe even Derek. Don’t you ask Stiles, you hear me?” While the previous bits had been suggestions, the last statement was a direct order, and Scott knew better than to ignore Lydia Martin, True Alpha or not.

“What about the aliens and the nemeton?”

“You literally have a team in France looking into it. Let them do their bit. Stiles is doing his. Just make sure Beacon Hills is not a cultist hub.”

Scott was frowning. Waiting for supernatural things to happen was never a good idea, but they were completely blind as to what was coming. If it was coming. But what Lydia had said about Isaac was completely unexpected. Despite of what Lydia had said, Isaac had been with Allison. And they were happy together, weren’t they? Isaac had lived with him, ever since Derek kicked him out. But he had been always partial to him, even when he was Derek’s beta. But surely that was because he was the only other werewolf alternative? When they had first searched for the nemeton, Isaac had drowned Allison because they shared a connection. Was he their link?  But why would Isaac never say anything about it? Why hadn’t he ever even tried to hit on him? Is this why he had left Beacon Hills? Was he the reason keeping Insaac anchored to his old pack? Oh. Oooh… crap. Surely it’s not… Scott’s chain of thought was interrupted by Lydia.

“Scott, are you listening?”

“Yeah. No. Sorry.”

“Good, at least you’re thinking. Don’t rush anything, and don’t act weird. Promise?”

“Promise.”

“Ok, do you want to talk to Stiles?”

“No, no. Tell him I’ll ring him later.”

“Ok. Scott,” Lydia added before he could say goodbye. “Remember we are a pack. All of us, and that includes Isaac.”

“Yeah…”

“Bye, Scott.”

“Bye, bye.”

Scott sat on the couch in the living room, phone in one hand, and half-finished sandwich still in the other. Was his bond with Isaac a special one? It certainly had seemed so – it did look different from the rest, and it was entangled with his so tightly he could hardly tell them apart. Was he that blind? But he had been either with Allison or with Kira when Isaac had lived with him, so he might not have actually noticed. Scott had always been curious about being with other guys: his late-night internet history could attest partially to that. But it was not something that had ever bothered him much. He had never had an opportunity to go out and had never felt the need to come out. But now that the chance presented itself, he was feeling more insecure, to the point of being anxious. This was not so much because of the novelty of the situation but because it was someone he knew. Someone whom he considered a friend despite the circumstances. On top of all, as Lydia said, this someone was a pack member.

He left the sandwich and his phone on the coffee table, and instinctively he began to rub his bicep where his double band tattoo was. The relief he had felt when he found out about Isaac was understandable, but the happiness and warmth he had felt when they had spoken on the phone had been unexpected, and only now he was trying to understand that. His inner wolf was extremely pleased that Isaac was back in the pack. But surely, this was only the joy of reconnection with a long-lost beta?

Scott kicked his shoes off, and laid on the couch, hands crossed on his stomach, thinking about Isaac Lahey, the tall, blond werewolf with curly hair and blue eyes, had in under a day turned his life upside down. It was yet to be seen if it would be for better or for worse.

Chapter Text

Lydia had been walking back to the apartment with Stiles after a steak dinner out in Cambridge when Scott had shared with them the message sent from an unknown French number. They were back home when they realised that Isaac Lahey, their old classmate who had left for France three years before, was not only still over there, but he was also in danger, and he still thought himself as a member of the pack. This had been a great surprise to both of them and most of the current pack had not even met or even heard of him, which showed how little they had really spoken about him. It actually showed that they had largely moved on and let him go, which he had not done. Scott had also revealed, quite unknowingly, that Isaac had a very strong connection with him. Lydia had not seen this news about their exceptional bond coming, but it had not been a surprise either. She remembered Isaac well enough, and it all made perfect sense to her, even if it was on the corny side of things. She was not sure about what to tell Scott regarding the evident attraction his beta had for him. She had decided it was not a problem to resolve immediately, so she just briefly warned Scott.

It took a while and a few calls and messages between Deaton, Chris, Scott and Lydia until they could get a clear idea of what was going on in France. It was obvious that there was some sort of grimoire going around that when it combined with the power of a nemeton caused the green light display they had seen from Isaac’s picture – which was obviously not good. There were also cultists summoning creatures. Stiles slowly began to wonder about what relation there might be between this ritual and the nogitsune which was meant to have been destroyed there. The possibility of a return of the evil fox tortured him, although Lydia managed to convince him for the time being that it was too early to know that, and that they had been told in very certain terms that the nogitsune had been destroyed. They should have asked Kira’s family about this, but they had not heard from them ever since they moved back to New York.

It had been close to midnight when Lydia and Stiles received the phone call from Deaton telling them what had happened at the nemeton in France, as had been briefly summarised by Isaac – who was ok and on his way to safety. It had been a massive weight off their shoulders. They both had let a heavy breath out simultaneously. Stiles and Lydia had been on the edge of their seats all night, worried sick over Isaac; partly because they knew he had thrown himself into some deadly danger (as it happened with people who spent too much time with Scott), partly because stress that Scott had radiated every time they had talked with him in those two hours. Partly also out of shame for having forgotten about him so easily. Out of pure instinct Lydia had searched for Stiles’ hand until he had gently squeezed it. They rang Scott, who also knew about this, and they both felt their alpha’s relief in his voice.

Now that they were both more calmed about Isaac, Lydia sat in front of Stiles on their grey sofa. He was staring into infinity, while tapping his foot and fidgeting with his fingers, and it was only because his girlfriend had her hands on his shoulders that he was not pacing around the apartment.

“Stop thinking about it Stiles.”

“I cannot help it, Lyds.” Stiles was struggling to remain calm. He passed his hand over his hair and then itched his nose. “I can’t help it. I can’t. Because, you know what? Fucking Isaac and his fucking scarves had one job to do. Just one. And he’s cocked it up. And you know what else?” He stood up now. “And now it’s his fault that there is a nogitsune is roaming around! And he will want to come back and he will whine until Scott brings him home again.”

“Wow, Stiles? Are you listening to anything you’re saying?” She stood up as well and stopped him from walking around. “You have seen one picture and we’ve had like five phone calls. Aren’t you jumping to conclusions too early? Didn’t your dad teach you to collect evidence before passing judgement? Look for patterns?”

She was right. Of course she was right. But Stiles could not help feeling cold sweats whenever he remembered when he was not himself. When he was taken over by a millennium-old evil fox spirit. The fact that it somehow involved Isaac made it easier for Stiles to blame him.

Something clicked in Lydia’s mind, and she cocked her head: “Stiles, are you jealous of Isaac again?” She remembered well how snappy Stiles had been with Isaac when they all were back in Beacon Hills.

Isaac did have a skill to make Stiles snap, and he clearly enjoyed doing it with (always with a snug smile and a charming voice stating the obvious at unnecessary moments), so he was also to blame. But it was petty teenager jealousy what Stiles had displayed every time Scott had shown concern for Isaac, and every time that he saw that he had to share Scott’s attention with the blond boy. She had seen her younger cousin reacting similarly when her little brother had been born because she was no longer the centre of her parents’ attention. But she was four. Stiles had been seventeen.

“It was not jealousy,” Stiles was trying to justify. “He was shifty, turning up mysteriously in a leather jacket like a tall, wiry version of Derek, and then weaselling into the pack. You remember shady Isaac going around with Erica and Boyd?”

“Stiles, you know that is not true.” She said seriously while she grabbed both his hands and put them carefully together. Stiles huffed and rolled his eyes before dropping down his head. “Listen to me. I concede that Isaac Lahey was not a saint—“ Lydia remembered that he could have a short fuse, especially with the twins and when Scott was not around— “but you need to get over this animosity, because you’re being unfair to him and it’d be unfair to Scott.”

Stiles was thinking hard, because he had to listen to Lydia, because she was right and he knew it (and she knew he knew). He had been jealous – in the past. The darkness inside him was probably to blame, but his gut feeling now had been to jump in suspicion. He knew jealousy could not be ignored or turned off with a switch, but it had largely disappeared during the last three years of the tall werewolf’s absence. He was not feeling jealous now, it was only a reflex. A memory. And that could be rationalised and disregarded.

Isaac Lahey, aka Mr Unhelpful. Characterised by blue eyes, curly dirty-blond hair and being freakishly tall. (What shoe size does he have?). Usually seen wrapped up in a scarf and/or with a knitted cardigan. Most notable for being the person who had ditched the pack just to disappear after… after… well, after Allison... Stiles huffed. He could not hate him so much over that, if he was completely honest with himself, but he rather go back to his internal rant about Isaac. This was the same Isaac who had gone away to France, not bothered to text them once (which Stiles was hypocritically offended by) to help Chris Argent – and had gone there to destroy the nogitsune. He had not done that for Stiles, but… Again, why is this guy end up doing the right stuff? Aha! Isaac had been quite happy with the idea of killing Jackson when he was a kanima. And yet, Stiles could not antagonise him that much on that account either because he had shared similar thoughts. Stiles begrudgingly had to grant him that as well. Ah, well, but: he had been so snug about helping them with the twins when they were in the alpha pack and… and he had actually been on his side when the twins tried to join. Oh, come ON! The more he thought, the less he could justify his dislike towards Isaac. Because even if he had moved in with Melissa and Scott and spent more time with Scott than he had it was because Derek had kicked him out. He was just dodging Social Services, but still… Damn you Isaac! If only he had remained the dark and sketchy person that had suddenly rocked up to school in a leather jacket! Stiles would have been happy with that, because all his concerns would have been justified. But Scott had shown him that the annoyingly tall and blond werewolf had actually turned up to be a nice person inside, even if he had a short fuse. A person with a terribly tormented past that not even his dad had been willing to discuss with him at first. Fucking annoyingly over-the-top loyal werewolves!

Stiles slowly sat down, hands still in Lydia’s.

“…” he mumbled positively, admitting defeat. After a short pause, he spoke louder, dragging the words, as if it were a struggle to accept defeat: “Perhaps Isaac deserves… um… a second chance. He still beat up Greenberg to get us those tickets, though!” 

“Oh, thank God,” Lydia exclaimed, ignoring the last commentary. It had been less tiresome than she had expected: Stiles could be stubborn to say the least, but she could live with Stiles thinking of Isaac as a frenemy rather than an antagonistic friend-thief. “That’s one thing done,” and the way she said ‘thing’ clearly implied ‘battle’, and by ‘done’, she meant ‘that’s the last I want to hear about this whole thing Stiles, and you know it’.

She stood up and went back to the room to put her pyjamas on, because she was still in the dress she had worn at the restaurant, and this promised to be a long night. When she came back they sat on the sofa again, hands together, waiting for further news, not really talking.

Later that night they got a message from Scott, saying that Isaac had made it safely to the safe house and that he was now with Chris and Deaton. Short of jumping on a plane to France and check themselves (which Stiles had to talk him out of doing, again) there was not much to do until the next day, when hopefully there would be more details on what had happened and there would be leads they could research into. It felt as if they had been dismissed for the night, so they tried to go to sleep, but both their minds were running every single scenario of what had happened and what might happen next. It was late June, so sunrise came barely three hours later. It found Lydia lying in bed staring at the ceiling deep in thought while Stiles had given up all pretence and had pulled out two boards, pens, post-it notes, tacks, and coloured string. He was typing at speed on his laptop trying to find his own files on the powers of nemetons. When it got too light outside, Lydia gave up on getting any sleep and went to the kitchen for some much-needed coffee, which Stiles had already been gulping down by the gallon. She approached her boyfriend, caringly took the mug away from him, and gave him a hug from behind his back. She also planted a kiss on the top of his head. Stiles immediately relaxed four notches and turned around to face her and give her a quick kiss.

“Go have a shower, and put your ‘jamas on.”

“I’m- I’m not going to bed now, Lyds.” He looked at her as she was insane, waving his arms towards the laptop, clearly indicating that he was, indeed, very busy. “I’m in the middle of research!”

“Well, now you’re not,” it was not a request, just stating a fact, because Lydia had that power over Stiles, which he accepted because he loved her and knew she was right. “Plus, you are still in your jacket and tie.”

Stiles looked down and saw. He had not even taken his shoes off. He had been too focused on (or too distracted by) Isaac, his scarves, and the nemeton to notice how uncomfortable he was. He sighed in resignation and headed for the bathroom while Lydia tapped him on the shoulder before taking over the laptop. She closed it down, because all Stiles was finding would eventually become red herrings and headaches. She put two slices of bread in the toaster and poured coffee in a mug. After a while, Stiles appeared in wet hair, a t-shirt and jogging bottoms, and took one of Lydia’s pieces of toast off her plate.

“Why would it be unfair to Scott?” Stiles asked, still munching on the toast. Lydia stood still, her mug half-way to her mouth, not knowing where he was coming from.

“Prompt?”

“I can see why I might have been, perhaps, being slightly unfair towards Isaac,” Stiles was still getting used to that idea, but was slowly getting there—“but, you said it would be unfair to Scott?”

Lydia carefully put the mug back on the kitchen table.

“Isaac has a minimal bond with the rest of the pack,” Lydia could sense it, and had also sensed it through Scott, “but he has a strong dependent bond with Scott.” They had discussed this already, and they had pretty much agreed. “Stiles, you have training in being an emissary and a druid, and you know about pack bonds as much as I do, but just think about it.”

Stiles put more bread in the toaster. He grabbed the orange juice out of the fridge. He poured himself a glass and slowly drank from it. Only then he replied, slowly, as if putting together the delicate pieces of a complex piece of machinery.

“Isaac has a strong emotional connection with Scott?”

“And he has kept it all these years…”

“So, what?” Stiles still could not see the point. He had a strong emotional connection with Scott. Borderline emotional dependence at times, but only a bit. And they were not discussing him. “Isaac did not learn much from Derek, did he? He always had gravitated towards Scott. I’m not even sure Isaac was not the one who kicked him in the right direction to step up as an alpha. You remember the lacrosse game with the kanima? Scott really upped his all-protective proto-alpha game after that. So they’d have than in common if they remember. Or if they see it like that.” Stiles was finishing Lydia’s toast, leaving a trail of crumbs all over the kitchen. “Besides, Scott is a… logical, reliable and solid figure to have as an anchor?” He had not intended that last sentence to become a question, but he was not sure about what he was saying.

Lydia left out a noise of pure frustration, and took away one of Stiles’ pieces of toast out of the toaster.

“Hey!”

“You’re worse than your friend.” Lydia angrily buttered the slice and dropped on it a spoonful of jam.

His friend who had in those days been quite naïve and innocent and oblivious to many things. He had changed with the years and had matured in many ways, but he had to admit he sometimes needed a prod in the right direction, especially when… “Wait—what? Isaac? But he was, like. Wow. No. But. He was with Allison?”

“Stiles, can you try and remember the way he always looked at him? At lacrosse practice? Or at meal times?”

“But… Allison?”

“I hope I don’t have to explain Kinsey Scales and Klein Grids. You can ring Danny if you need more details, but Isaac Lahey was not subtle. And do not say scarves again!”

“But…” Stiles was trying to understand. Yes, Isaac had always been very keen in being around Scott, and yes, he had always been looking at him for guidance. But that could not be attraction, surely? Did he find me attractive too? I should perhaps ask…

“I am not saying that Isaac was with Allison purely for appearances.” Lydia snapped him back to reality. “I know it from her how he cared.” This was true, and Lydia could not help to indulge in a warm and fond millisecond remembering Allison. “But was it not a sudden and big u-turn in the way he behaved around Scott the moment he began to go out with Kira?”

“Why are you trying to rationalise this, Lyds?”

“Just so you don’t come up with more questions and just take my word for this once. What could he have done, if he was living with Scott, and Kira suddenly turned up? What would he have thought when Allison died in Scott’s arms?”

Stiles’ face was changing as he warmed up to the idea that Isaac might have human feelings. He began to bite his fist when he was ready to accept Lydia’s suggestion that those feelings were aimed at his best friend. And, then, his mouth dropped open in realisation and surprise. “But- But. No! But Scott… He doesn’t…” Stiles didn’t finish: he only waved his last piece of toast around his face and his chest.

“Precisely, my dear.” Clearly reassured by the fact that Stiles and her were on the same page on this, Lydia continued with her breakfast. “Well…” she was now looking at her coffee mug with a slight smile and arched eyebrows—“Scott doesn’t dot-dot-dot. But also: there is no such thing as werewolves.” Stiles gave Lydia a horrified look as she finished her coffee and waved her mug demanding a re-fill.

By late morning, Scott rang them and repeated Isaac’s debrief, as described by Chris Argent, and their subsequent discussion on what might have happened. Stiles got worryingly excited about the idea of an alien race making secret deals with humans and asked if mi-go was their own name or the name given by humans, but Lydia shushed him down. At least they had something to work on while Deaton and whoever was helping him went through the papers and files used by the renegade druid.

Lydia was soon clearing the table so she and Stiles could spread the print-outs and photocopies that Stiles had not managed to tape to his corkboard yet. She had her hair tied up and had got changed into a grey MIT jogging top, sleeves pulled up to her elbows with a pair of blue shorts. They had a quick sandwich lunch so they could go back to their various readings.

They had started with their pdfs and the reference books on the supernatural that they kept on the shelves camouflaged with dust jackets from duller books. That did not take them very far, but Lydia wrote down a list of possible books to go and consult from the library. Deaton had sent her the names of two contacts in Providence and one in Arkham, in case they wanted to go and consult those university libraries. Both places were close enough to Cambridge, but Lydia much rather go to the former than to the latter; she knew Miskatonic had an incredible library (in many aspects, better than those at Brown), but the few times she had been there she had felt unnervingly uncomfortable. Stiles had been searching through the internet for information about the mi-go. All the stories he could gather were incoherent and uninformative, and he had learned not to trust them. There were, however, repeated references to a Miskatonic University 1931 polar expedition report, and something related to an impressive flood that same year in Vermont. This last story was closely connected to an Albert Wilmarth, who had been a reader in literature also at Miskatonic. When he told this to Lydia, he saw his girlfriend shiver only slightly and hanging her head down while resting both arms on the desk in resignation.

She shook her head as she mumbled and incomprehensive curse. As she was putting a red binder on top of her neatly organised shelf, the phone buzzed, and saw a notification

<Pack!> [Scott added Isaac to group chat] 23/06/2019 17:14

It had been less than a day between Isaac’s first cryptic message and now he was officially welcomed back to the pack.

“Your friend is an idiot,” Lydia grunted. “Well-intended, like an iceberg drifting friendlily into a major shipping line, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes completely oblivious of his surroundings.”

Stiles looked at his phone, where he found the same notification. He looked at his phone and then at Lydia.

“Is this… wise?” Stiles voiced his concern, not because he did not trust Isaac anymore (he was still on the fence on that one), but because of the implications this may have later on.

Lydia told Stiles to wait for a second while she rang their alpha.

***

Chris and Deaton had come out and stayed with them for a while to have some ice-cream with the rest. They had been discussing all sort of mundane things, from constellations (which Isaac had always wanted to know more about) to Ethan’s favourite restaurant in Oxford. Despite the seriousness of the situation, they really could do nothing until the morning, so they had to enjoy the few hours of calm that the universe had granted them. Not much after midnight, Deaton and Chris went to their rooms, leaving the werewolves and the young druid to stare at the sky and listen to the ocean, but Iestyn stood up with a mischievous smile and disappeared into the kitchen. He came back with a bottle of pastis he bought when he and Isaac went to see the Roman ruins in Arles on the one hand, and a bucket of ice with some glasses held in the other. Under his arm he had a large bottle of water.

“Hear up, ice-cream is not going to do the trick tonight, I’m afraid.”

“Hey!” Ethan scoffed. They had done very well in keeping all conversation away from Scott, even if Isaac’s eyes were not really giving that impression. He saw the bottle and pointed at it with his head: “As if that is going to do any difference.”

“There is where you are wrong, boyo,” Iestyn was distributing the glasses with ice in them and pouting the thick, cream-coloured booze in them. “This may be regular pastis, but I have something to give you three a special kick,” he added with a mock-serious nod. “This, my lupine friend,” and he produced what appeared to be a salt shaker, “is a unique Welsh blend of herbs.”

“Alright, colonel Sanders,” Jackson chuckled.

“Now, now. It is not wolfsbane, mind, but it numbs your werewolf healing enough for you to feel the alcohol kick.”

“Why do you keep it in a salt shaker?”

“Because mixed herbs in plastic bags look suspicious when crossing borders, you muppet.”

Before anyone could say anything else, Iestyn had put a sprinkle of green-blue salt in each of their glasses and then he topped all of their glasses with water. The pastis mixed with the water, turning it a cloudy cream colour. Isaac sniffed at it, and it smelled like normal pastis – very much like sweet anise.

“Cheers, lads!”

“Cheers!”

They all sipped and for the first time in their werewolf lives they could feel the warmth of the alcohol again. Jackson looked at Iestyn with eyes wide open and an incredulous expression and asked him if he could buy a sack of that when they got back to Britain.

The werewolves were so impressed, and so unaccustomed that they quickly finished their glasses had a second. And a third. They moved further into the dunes so they would not disturb the two men in the house. Ethan ran to the back of the house as Jackson played some music on his phone, and yelled at Isaac to come and give him a hand. A few minutes later they both had brought to the beach a brace of wood each to light a bonfire.

“Why don’t we could cook some sausages or something.” Isaac said as he dropped the branches near Ethan, who was already trying to build the fire.

“How are you hungry?” Jackson asked. “I saw you eat an entire tub of ice-cream all by yourself!”

“I have more sorrows to bury in ice-cream today.”

“You just jumped out of a bad rom-com, Isaac,” Ethan said after he managed to get the fire going, not even looking at his friend, because he could hear the mocking in his voice.

“Enough of that,” Iestyn said. “I only bought one bottle of pastis, and we’ve gone through half of it already. If we are going to do this, we’ll need another bottle of something.”

“I’ll go!” Isaac quickly shouted, and disappeared.

“I think we’re doing a great job,” Jackson congratulated himself when Isaac was out of earshot.

“Nothing has like happened yet, you dumbass,” Ethan corrected him. “They haven’t really like said anything. They’ve just… they’re talking again. You just wait, Jax.”

Isaac came back with a small bottle of something transparent, a frying pan and a packet of sausages.

“You’ve done it!” Jackson couldn’t believe what he saw, but he was smiling.

“Can someone help me please and bring bread or forks or something.”

“You absolute, beautiful legend!” Iestyn had a wide smile, pointing at the sausages. “I will, don’t worry.” As he walked towards the house, he grabbed Isaac’s face, pulled him down, and gave him a loud-sounding kiss on the cheek before walking away. Isaac couldn’t help by smile as he handed Ethan the fire pan.

“You know we need to wait for the fire to come down before we can fry anything, right?” Isaac nodded while Jackson poured four more glasses of pastis. “So… Have you two…?” Ethan smirked and gently elbowed Isaac. Jackson rolled his eyes as he handed them their drinks.

“No! Ethan! I- I couldn’t. We’re friends,” which was the truth. “He’s been like… He reminds me of Cam, I don’t know why. The way he behaves around me. It’s very familiar.”

Ethan looked at Isaac in the eyes and nodded with a smile. He left the pan on the sand and gave the blond werewolf a hug, before nuzzling him with the nose. I’m here. We’re friends. You can also count on me. Isaac left a quick smile and returned the hug in acknowledgment and confirmation. They quickly separated after that, only to see Jackson looking at them. His face was not showing jealousy or anger. It just showed conflict. He stared at them and clenched his fists tight, his eyes showing his internal struggle. Isaac walked around the fire towards him and gave him the same hug and the same nose rub against his head. It felt right. It convinced Jackson that their talk earlier that evening had not been just talk. That he was earning his own personal redemption.

“He’s a big softy for a cwtch that tall one, he is!” Iestyn said as he got by the fire and saw Isaac and Jackson. “I’ve got supplies,” and he lifted his arms with bags of crisps, a bottle of mustard and the bag of sliced bread. “Turn the music up!”

They finished the pastis. They finished the sausages. They looked at the bottle of schnapps Isaac had brought (“I don’t want to drink Chris’ wine”) and drank it. They danced with stupid moves to stupid songs. They took turns to pick songs, wooing every now and then (“Classic!”, “This one is so bad it’s good”, “I haven’t heard this one in aaaages!”, “We must listen to this one now”, “I can’t believe you just played that”). Every trashy pop song created after 1980 was played, each laughing at the other’s hidden and embarrassing music choices. After a while, they settled down from jumping into each other and began to tell stories. Iestyn and Isaac told Ethan and Jackson about their rugby club, both laughing loudly. They explained how they had managed to play ‘there’s only one on the chair’ until they were nine of them, all holding to each other on one of the clubhouse’s stools. They told how on his birthday Isaac had to down a jug of beer because he was pennied while holding it (“and he downed it like a champion, and everyone cheered!”). Jackson and Ethan told, in turn, about the halloqueen cross-dressing party the university students organised every year and what they had worn, Isaac rolling on the floor, getting covered in sand. Pictures were shown, causing even louder laughing (“I had glitter on my face for two days”).

They took dozens pictures of them that night, and promised to print a handful. They had only two bottles of booze between four of them, three of which were werewolves (despite Iestyn’s help), so none of them got really drunk – they were on the cusp, euphoric and happy. And everything was ok. And nothing else really mattered. After some insisting, received with big smiles, and followed by overly theatrical pleads, Iestyn convinced Isaac and they both began to sing, arms around their shoulders:

O! Mor drwm yr ydym ni. O! Mor drwm yr ydym ni. Y mae yma alar calon, ar ôl claddu’r mochyn du!” Iestyn had managed to teach Isaac enough Welsh for them two to sing along the chorus. Ethan and Jackson could not understand a word, but the melody was catchy enough. They were completely embezzled by the various verses Iestyn sang, always followed by the rowdy chorus where Isaac joined in.

After finishing the song, they got an applause and Isaac bowed and blew kisses as if he were in a concert hall. Iestyn looked at the time and decided it was time for bed. He and Jackson threw sand on the fire, which was almost nearly dead anyways, and started to gather everything. Isaac walked to the edge of the dunes until he could see the dark blue sky dotted in stars which merged with the black sea, the horizon only a deep grey blur. There was just the roar of the sea, which fascinated Isaac above everything else. Ethan walked to him, carrying a bag with empty bottles and a dirty pan.

“You ok there?” he asked softly.

“Yeah,” Isaac turned around. “It´s just… I just can’t wait to see him.”

Ethan smiled. “Come on, let’s go.”

***

The morning after, Isaac woke up with only a hint of a hangover. He went to the bathroom first and heard that Chris and Deaton were up and in the kitchen. He said his good mornings and went to get showered and dressed. He could hear Iestyn through the door of his room, still asleep, and he could hear Jackson and Ethan in theirs. He could also smell what they were doing, so he shook his head and shouted a “good morning” through their door, which was received with a “shut up Lahey.”

He only had a quick shower, and he got back to his room to get changed. He sat on the edge of the bed when he put his shorts on, and turned on his phone. It was almost 10 in the morning. The moment his phone got signal 78 messages came through, all of them in the pack group chat, and most of them from the people he didn’t know asking about who this Isaac was and why he was suddenly in the pack. Isaac read how the discussion had evolved from surprise to the inclusion of an apparent stranger to Stiles’ long winded explanation (including the mention of scarves – he was obsessed with Isaac’s scarves). Malia had laconically put that he had been there before and now he was back, which for her was all the information needed. Lydia had said that she’ll explain everything later on. It was a bit overwhelming, but he felt obliged to do something, so he jut texted “Hey, I’m Isaac” and then spent three minutes thinking if to send another text or just to send the wolf emoji. As he debated internally about what was the pack chat group etiquette, Jackson walked pass his open door. He knocked anyways as he popped his head in.

“Breakfast, Isaac?”

“Yeah, sure.” He put the phone away and followed Jackson to the kitchen.

Chris walked to the kitchen door without coming in. “You boys ok?” was all what Chris asked. He had obviously been up much longer than they had.

“Yes, Chris.” Isaac went straight to the fridge. “Are we still waiting for Patrice?” His phone buzzed.

“We are. He should be arriving soon, though.” He went back to the living room with Deaton.

He could hear Ethan getting into the shower and Iestyn walking down the corridor. They all had slept long enough, and their meeting with Patrice was crucial to understand what was going on. He pulled his phone and saw the message.

 

<Scott> 24/06/2019 10:12

Hey finally!

<Scott> 24/06/2019 10:12

Just wanted to check you’re ok

<Scott> 24/06/2019 10:13

I can go to bed now

<Scott> 24/06/2019 10:13

It’s quite late here

<Scott> 24/06/2019 10:13

Night night!

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 10:13

gnight!

 

“You’re kidding me…” Jackson said, bringing Isaac back to reality.

“What?”

“Get that smile off your face and finish your breakfast.”

Isaac just pulled his tongue out, but he did as he was told. He put the phone away and ate his cereal. As Ethan walked into the kitchen, he asked for the coffee, and Jackson pointed at the pot. He was filling a mug when they all turned towards the front door: a van was just arriving.

Chapter Text

Patrice did not have time to knock on the door, because Isaac was out by the van to welcome him. Chris had told him the previous day that Patrice and the rest of the hunters that had been at Bégnan were ok, but it was only when Isaac saw the hunter himself that he truly believed it.

“It’s good to see you alive, Isaac.”

“Yeah, well. A flying monster is not going to stop me, is it?”

Patrice walked to him and gave him a quick hug, before pushing him aside in good humour. He pointed at the back of the van with his thumb as Chris came out to embrace his distant cousin. Isaac opened the boot of the van, which was full of boxes. He peeked into one of them and he recognised the books and papers that he first saw in Christine’s basement before he encountered the brain. He grabbed a couple and took them inside. Isaac saw Patrice shaking hands with Ethan and giving a big smile to Iestyn, before pointing them to the van as well. As he carried the boxes into the living room he asked where the rest of the hunters were, and Patrice simply told that they were on stand by around the Bégnan forest. Isaac didn’t press the issue and went to pick up more boxes.

In a few minutes all the boxes were emptied in the living room, with all the contents organised into different piles (loose papers, notebooks, printed books, manuscripts), which Deaton and Iestyn were observing and cataloguing, trying to arrange chronologically and thematically. Sat on the sofa, Chris was having a quiet conversation with Patrice about the remaining hunters, asking for those few who were still in hospital and about the instructions given to those who were keeping guard.

“What is going to happen now?” Jackson asked Isaac quietly. They were both standing by the kitchen door, having some water after unloading the boxes and distributing the contents according to Deaton’s arrangement.

“I don’t know just yet,” Isaac replied, arms crossed, “but I think that we will not get any answers until we go through these.”

“Ah, then we have a surprise. There’s more,” Jackson added without looking at the taller werewolf, who turned to look at Jackson.

“We brought this just in case!” Ethan came down from the corridor. He had obviously heard what Jackson and Isaac had been talking. The twin walked into the living room carrying one extra notebook. Iestyn and Deaton turned around, and the younger druid nodded in agreement with a smile as he took it and read briefly before placing it on a pile independent from the rest.

“We found that in the house of the lead cultist, back in Oxford,” Jackson explained before Isaac could ask. “It could be one more piece of evidence to tie together the French and the English cultists.” Currently they only shared a weird connection through the Nameless Cults, despite their gut feeling that it was too much of a coincidence.

“I think that with this we can begin to understand what exactly we are facing,” Deaton announced as he conferred with Iestyn, who was piling the last papers on separate piles. They all stopped their conversations and turned at the senior druid who, in turn, looked at Chris. The veteran hunter just nodded at him, giving him the privilege to lead this meeting.

“I believe we all know the details of what happened in Bégnan with the nemeton. And we also know about the cultists in Oxfordshire and their failed attempt at summoning a shoggoth.” Patrice leaned over to Chris, who just nodded.

“I,” he interrupted, in a slightly accented English, “could cast some more light on the aftermath of what has happened in the village in the last hours. If I may.”

Deaton had anticipated it, and he just held his hands out, welcoming him to add his story to the discussion.

“I imagine you know the story up to the point when Isaac was taken by the monster—“

“The mi-go?”

“The mi-go.”

“Well,” Chris chipped in, “I have summarised what you told me. You had to regroup, you fell back to a safe location, and you contacted the authority.”

“Yes,” admitted Patrice, “roughly. We shot at the monster when we tried to get to you,” he was now pointing at Isaac. “We were pushed back, though. We needed to find out where you were before we could get you back. We regrouped in Bégnan and tried to re-establish coms, but all the kit was fried. When we were ready to go back and find you, the whole forest glowed with a green light. We heard a loud screech and we felt the ground shaking. We had to call plan B.” His face showed the same frustration and anger that Chris had when he had told Isaac this. The same contained fury mixed with resignation. “We loaded the vans with the prisoners and we drove away from the nemeton on the road to Toulouse. On the radio we managed to reach out contact in the gendarmerie, which we then learned had been already alerted by Chris.” Chris nodded. “It took an hour for us to reach the house, where there was already a small team waiting for us. We handed over the mercenaries and described what had happened. It took only half an hour for them to prepare a cover and get the regular police to assist them in the operation. We were instructed to lay low until the situation settled, and by the morning we managed to re-establish contact with Chris. The rest you probably know: the village was surrounded, the villagers were rounded up. There was a bloodbath around the nemeton, the tree had fallen and exploded into hundreds of pieces. Christine was nowhere to be seen, nor were there any traces of the winged alien. The neighbours you freed were soon found by the gendarmes, and were driven to the station to have their statements taken. There is little else to add…”

Isaac looked at Chris, who again nodded without speaking a word. Iestyn had clenched his fists when he heard about what had happened to the nemeton. His knuckles were still white. Isaac could smell his anger on top of that, which sharply contrasted with the other druid. Deaton had keep his usual pose, his face revealing nothing of his thoughts. He did have a question to ask, nonetheless.

“Has anyone been back to the nemeton since the gendarmes cordoned it off?” Patrice shrugged his shoulders – he had given precise orders to stay away from it. “We may want to have a look ourselves then more closely.”

“What do we need to look for?” Chris asked, going to the point, scratching his stubble.

“I can sincerely not tell. I have never encountered a magical destruction of a nemeton.”

“Has it been destroyed? Like the one in Beacon Hills?” Isaac wondered.

“The physical manifestation, the tree, has. But as in California, the convergence of lay lines is still there, so the power is still flowing. The difference now is that the tree is not there to channel it or to rein it. How this is going to affect the magical balance of the region is the real question.”

“We do not know where Christine as gone,” underlined Chris.

“If we are putting all the questions out, we don’t know where the alien is either.” Everyone turned around to look at Jackson, who had made a very clever point, but that nobody had expected him to make. When nobody said anything else, Jackson uncrossed his arms: “What? We do not know. And it could be important.”

“Mr Whittemore is right,” Deaton acknowledged the contribution. “There is much about these mi-go we ignore. Most of all their whereabouts. Considering the amount of reading we have here it might be wise to split our efforts. Chris,” and he turned to face the hunter directly, “would you agree to stay here with Iestyn and myself to process Christine’s archive? I think that Patrice and Isaac could go with Ethan and Jackson to investigate whatever is left in Bégnan that the authorities might have overlooked, but that would be useful for us.”

Isaac and Ethan quickly agreed. Isaac also wanted to go home and collect some of his stuff, because he was running out of clean pants. Jackson looked at Ethan and Isaac for a few seconds before giving them a side smile. Patrice raised his hands in surrender, deferring to the senior hunter for this decision. Chris was not happy with splitting their forces, and said so, but he could not think of any reason why not to send a party to inspect the village.

After a pause that seemed never-ending, Chris finally spoke: “Fine. That could work. But Patrice, make sure that at least two more people come and help you out.”

“They are waiting for us there already. It will not be a problem.”

Ethan stood up and rubbed his hands together, clearly enjoying this far more than what he should be. “Right then, when shall we leave?”

The rest of the morning they spent setting a series of objectives, in order of priority, for them to inspect on site. They pulled out some local maps, and planned in advance how to comb the terrain. By lunch time they were loading up the van with their essentials and basic kit from the safe house – the rest they could get from Isaac’s place. Chris gave them a few last-minute instructions, and grabbed Isaac by the elbow, bringing him closer to him, and made him promise he would pull back before doing anything stupid. Isaac just gave him a side smile.

“I mean it, Isaac.” Chris stared into Isaac’s eyes with a furrowed brow.

“I know, Chris. I’m sorry. I mean it too. I will.”

Chris let him go and Isaac affectionately squeezed his shoulder. They all jumped on the van, the doors shut close, and they were off.

Back in the house, Chris saw Iestyn standing in the middle of the living room, hands behind his head, and eyeing around at the amount of material, while Deaton was squatting by the first pile of papers, trying to make sense of where to start.

“I’ll make coffee – we’ll need it.”

***

It was unexpectedly cloudy and windy for a late June morning. Stiles and Lydia had left Cambridge early in the morning and were approaching Arkham, where they had an appointment with the senior librarian (an old acquaintance of Deaton’s) to go and have a look at the restricted section.

“Are you sure you want to do this today, Lyds?” Stiles asked from the wheel as they drove through Arkham’s city centre, on the main street which was parallel to the river. “I know you don’t particularly like it here. I could have come on my own.”

“Stiles, I said I’d come, I got in the car, and we’re here already.” She kept staring at the end of the road, to the top of the hill where the Tudor Gothic buildings of the old university could be seen. “If I had wanted to stay back home I would have done so.”

Stiles didn’t push the issue. He just looked briefly at his girlfriend with a big smile and nearly drove pass a red light. They had booked themselves into a hotel, because even if Arkham was not that far from their own place, they intended to do long library hours in order to maximise their time there. The hotel itself was easy to find: a remodelled colonial house with impeccable reviews and highly recommended on the internet. After checking in and dropping their luggage, they got their library bags with their laptops and went to the old library, which was only a fifteen-minute walk away on a side of the main campus.

After a couple of years in New England they were used to the brick-and stone architecture that characterised Massachusetts: the gabled roofs, the spires, and the pointed arches. But as opposed to most of the buildings in the area, Miskatonic University had an extra patina of old age which advertised that this was not all part of a nineteenth-century revival. It was a set of buildings closer to four than to three hundred years old: the moss now endemic to the darker corners, the evident patches of repair in the brickwork, the small window panes, the marks of ancient ivy which had grown long ago over the walls only to be removed. For most of the early twentieth century, the University had been one of the leading research centres in the East coast, and while the funding now did not match that of other large Higher Education establishments, Miskatonic still had the prestige and the tradition. It also had the infamously well-stocked library and a few museums with objects found nowhere else.

They walked into the main library building, and while Stiles was eyeing a few of the undergraduate prospectus, Lydia approached the main desk.

“We have an appointment with Dr. Flemming?”

The assistant librarian, a thin man in his mid-twenties with black short hair and a check short-sleeve shirt nodded briefly. He gave them two weekly passes and let them through the turn-style. Once inside, he pointed them down a side corridor, where they eventually found a door with a sign, ‘Alistair Flemming, DPhil (Cantab)’. They knocked on the door and a voice invited them to come in. Inside the office they saw a man with short blond hair, thinning at the front, with a strong jaw line covered in thin stubble, a sharp nose, and deep blue eyes. He had his sleeves rolled up and wore a pair of round shell specs.

“Please, take a seat. You must be Ms Martin and Mr Stilinski, right?” They nodded and sat as instructed. “Dr Deaton told me of, er, what you were planning to read from our closed stacks?”

Stiles checked that the door was closed before leaning forward. “What are we planning to read, as far as you know?”

“Oh, I haven’t got the faintest clue, yet. But knowing Alan, I can only guess that you want to use the closed stacks and the restricted section. He did write a recommendation letter, which even if he is not an, um, standard academic, I am willing to accept. Have you used the Miskatonic library before?”

Lydia nodded. “I have used it before.”

“Ah, then,” Alistair continued, “you know the drill. Books from the open stacks you can consult and borrow over night, books from the closed stacks you need to request through the system and then a librarian will bring it to the reading room within an hour. Those books you cannot borrow.”

“What about the archive and the restricted section?” Stiles demanded.

“The university archive works like the closed stacks: you apply for a document and we bring it out. Do you know how to use a microform reader?” Stiles’ jaw dropped in surprise, while his eyebrows rose in excitement. He had to grab the armrests of his chair to stop him from jumping. Who uses microfilm in these days?

“No, but how cool is that!”

“It’s not as exciting as it sounds, believe me. Plus, not that many documents have been stored in microfilm. But Jenny our archivist will help you if needed. But yes, archive material stays in the archive room, which is not the reading room. You can bring books from the open stacks to the reading room, but archive material stays in the archive.”

“As for the restricted section,” Alistair’s face went solemn and serious. “I am afraid you will want to use the actual restricted section, and not the general restricted section. Only one person can walk in there, you will be given a soft pencil and a pad of paper, which are the only copying and note-taking equipment you will be allowed to use. You will ask for a volume at a time from me directly and you will consult it while I am in the room. Is that understood?”

Stiles looked at Lydia, who was already assenting.

“You will need to fill these forms regardless,” Alistair added handing them a pair of sheets of paper each. “And once I’ve got your signatures we can go!”

Now with a smile, the senior librarian took Stiles to the reading room and pointed him towards the archive. Lydia and Alistair left him there as he pulled out his (many) notebooks, pens, highlighters, and his laptop, and both walked towards the back corner of the building, and up through a concealed stairwell. Lydia could feel that they were entering an area protected by mountain ash, and she would not have been surprised if there were other druidic barriers. At the top of the stairs, Alistair produced a surprisingly large iron key and slid the heavy door open. What Lydia saw was a sizeable room with shelves on three walls, the fourth one being covered by large windows that let the warm light through. There were more stacks perpendicular to the walls, some of them with large books chained to the railings. In the centre of the room there were three desks, one of which was obviously the librarian’s: a jar full of pencils, a pile of notepads, a pencil sharpener. There was also a heavy safety box.

“Ms Martin, I am going to need to ask you to put your phone and any other photographic, copying or writing equipment in the safety box.”

“Of course, let me send one message.”

“No problem.”

She texted Stiles, Deaton and Mason, letting them know she was about to start her research and with a few extra, last-minute instructions. She then handed Alistair all the things he asked for, and sat down at her desk.

“So, do you know what exactly—“

“Here is the list,” Lydia interrupted, handing over a piece of paper to the librarian, who had a quick look over his glasses. He had only read the first four titles when he looked at Lydia with a mixture of fear and concern. “Please.”

***

Ever since they had found out about this long-lost member of the pack and that there was a group of cultists trying to do shit around the nemeton, Mason had been over excited. The situation offered a new area of research, a new challenge. Furthermore, this investigation was relevant to the pack, it was relevant to his degree (he was sure that in a roundabout way it will end up being helpful), and would protect Beacon Hills (potentially), so he felt it was completely justified for him to spend most of his waking hours looking into it.

Corey, however, feared what would come with it – not only a completely focused Mason who would forget to pick him up from work, but also a potential return to Beacon Hills (which he was dreading) and the likelihood of an actual fight with supernatural creatures (which he wanted to avoid). None of those things he was particularly happy about, which kept him tossing and turning in bed that night. Corey did not want to go through any of that again; he had had enough with dying, coming back to life, and then being kidnapped by cowboys from beyond time and space. The last months had been peaceful enough for him to feel comfortable again, leaving old fears behind, but all this was now uncertain. He knew in his heart that Mason would jump at the opportunity to help out. He was fully pack. He was too attached to Liam. But Corey never felt that way. And now that there was danger on the horizon, he could not help it: he feared that he would have to weight all of these fears against what he felt for Mason.

A phone vibrated. Mason slowly checked it and read Lydia’s message. He was up before he finished reading it. The main disadvantage Mason was finding of being at UC Santa Barbara was that they were too many hours behind from Deaton in France and from Lydia in the East Coast. It was difficult to coordinate research in that situation, but he made do. Also, the available resources at his university could not compete with the libraries Lydia was consulting, especially when dealing with the occult and the supernatural. He was hoping he could do his graduate studies there, but he was stuck in California for the time being. In her text Lydia was telling him that she was getting into the restricted section and would update him later, but to contact Stiles if needed. He also saw that she had sent him an email with research ideas and possible leads. Mason went back to bed and gave Corey a quick kiss before he jumped out and rushed to the shower.

Corey smiled and sat up. He opened the curtains and looked outside, into the distance, where he could see the ocean. He heard Mason turning the radio on in the shower, for some obscure reason tuning to the campus’ own station. Corey looked at his own phone and looked at their pictures together from the previous weekend when they had gone to a barbecue on the beach. He could not hold back a big smile. Mason still outweighed any fears for the supernatural. For now.

***

Chris had never been one for books, even if he had had a stern education as any other Argent. This had included languages, lore, law, and psychologies of the supernatural. But he had never really enjoyed it in the same way that Allison seemed to have liked it. Or, for that matter, Victoria. He knew, nevertheless, that he had to help; that there was simply too much material to go through. So every morning they woke up at the crack of dawn to read the daily summaries emailed by Stiles, Lydia and Mason. That took a good two hours as they drank coffee and ate their breakfast, before they discussed what they had just read. This was a necessary exercise to make sure that the entire research team was on the same page, or at least aware of what the others were finding. After that, he would contact Patrice or Isaac for a quick status update, before he and the two druids went back to their own piles of material.

They had not found anything directly incriminatory because Christine had not left a written confession in her diary explaining every detail of her plan. But they were gathering enough information to establish a timeline of events from the weeks before the ceremony (including receipts for hundreds boxes of wolfsbane bulbs) all the way back to the origins of the Bégnan cult which was interesting to say the least. This was a painstakingly slow process. Most of the texts from Christine’s archive were in French, which Chris could read, but there were bits in Latin and German, which took longer to decipher and to understand. There were some which were so imbedded in magic and runes that Chris could not go through four pages without getting a headache. They had divided the material into three, so each of them could go through a share, but they still needed two-hour lunch breaks to discuss and confer with each other what they had been reading and asking questions. They only allowed themselves a respite at dinner time, when no shop talk was allowed, and this was simply to ensure they did not lose their sanity. After that, they would do some more reading before sitting down in front of their laptops to write their respective summaries to forward to the other members of the team. They were never in bed before midnight, and despite the temptation of pulling all-nighters, Deaton had instructed everyone to get enough sleep to be functional in the morning.

By the end of the fourth day, they had a clearer idea of what had been going on in that forgotten corner of France. Patrice and the werewolves were due to arrive during the evening, but Chris and the druids had some good news, and were happy with the timeline they had managed to reconstruct.

During the last years of the sixteenth century, the village of Bégnan had been ravaged by the Wars of Religion that had shaken most of France. The village had been on the border between the protestant Huguenots and the Catholic League, and even twenty years after the end of the war the fields had not recuperated from the blood bath. The nemeton does not appear to have suffered any damage during the conflict, but its guardians (which appear to have been a clan of werewolves) had been burnt on the stake for heresy, by one side or the other (the documents were not clear). This meant that, on top of war, wandering supernatural creatures had caused havoc among the villagers. In 1619, one of these farmers, Antoine Gartzes, had seen his family die of starvation and his fields attacked by blights, draughts and marching armies. Completely desperate and dispossessed, he left for the coast, where he enrolled on a corsair ship even if he had never seen the sea until he got to the port. Against all odds, Antoine survived the various trips and the few armed encounters during the wars with Spain and the attacks on Dutch and English ships. He visited the Americas, and stayed one winter at the newly founded town of Quebec. He was under the service of various captains on various ships, until he ended up smuggling Chinese contraband into the Philippines. One day, as they were loading up the boat on shore, a Spanish patrol found them and dispersed them into the jungle.

Antoine escaped unharmed, but the rest of the crew was either captured and hanged or shot as they fled. He walked across the jungle, avoiding the roads and the villages of Spanish colonists. After a week of hiding in the dense bush, he was dehydrated and ill. He eventually collapsed at the foot of a statue carved in a type of stone he had never seen before, and which represented one of the winged ancient demons the locals worshipped when the Spanish priests were not looking. He stayed there for two nights, shivering despite the tropical heat, drinking dirty water from a pool, eating whatever maggot-infested rations he still had, and vomiting his insides at the foot of the statue. As he felt himself die, he repented from all his sins and called for Christ and the saints to come and help him to see his beloved Bégnan one last time. When one of the Lord’s angels asked him what would he give to see his homeland one last time, he could only offer the cross he had around his neck, which was made out of the metal and stones dug from their mountains. The angel took pity on him and, taking the cross as a payment, flew Antoine’s soul back to France, where his neighbours heard his voice speaking from the belfry, proclaiming that the angels had granted him his last wish, and that in exchange for their forest and mountains, the angels and the saints would protect forever the village of Bégnan.

Or so the local tradition explained. Much of this was recorded and repeated across various nineteenth-century books and travel guides that describe the village and the centennial celebrations. Records of the first centennial in 1719 already specified that monkshood was to be hung in garlands around town to keep away the spirits who had failed to protect the village and their tree from war in the past. A document was attached, with a census of families who had been visited by the angel in 1619. This paper showed that the same lineages had grown and multiplied into the eighteenth century, and the same names and surnames appear in the 1819 celebrations. Various other documents confirmed that the same families had been flourishing through the centuries, benefitting from the angel’s favour, becoming recurrently majors, magistrates, judges, bailiffs and any other position of power. It all seems to have stopped in 1919, just after the Great War. There is no record of any ceremony being carried out that year, but there was an inexplicable high incidence of Spanish influenza in Bégnan which very nearly wiped the entire village out. During the 1920s and 1930s there were recorded attacks by large packs of wolves coming down from the mountains. The first records of Christine’s family appear right after the second war, and they already act as the druids in charge of the nemeton. A few notes seem to imply that they came with the particular intention to restore the centennial celebrations. These last bits at least coincided with what the Argent family archives had to say. With the restauration of the druids as guardians, it is evident that the centennial celebrations were restored successfully. Because the Bête du Gévaudan was only slain in 1767, the Argent family did not become involved in the Toulouse nemeton until the twentieth century, when the wolf attacks happened. The secrecy around the pact and the centennial together with their late arrival might explain why they knew so little about the previous history of the area.

Another document, far more disturbing, was an ancient seventeenth century notebook, which had been updated regularly every ten or twelve years. There were different hands writing in it, in dark cursive ink at first, down to the round handwriting of Christine herself, who had made the last two entries with an ordinary biro. The book contained not only a list of the local families and their lineages, but also marriage plans. And not just records of marriages – it had instructions for future generations. It was frightening to see it: very clear descriptions of who should marry whom, how many children they should have, and how much time in between them. The families of the village had been pre-arranged, in a monstrous long-term plan that spanned over generations and centuries. A twisted eugenics project to ensure some sort of local purity of blood and avoid contamination from outsiders’ bloodlines. Chris had to read the ledger two times, and he asked Iestyn and Deaton to read it too, as he would not believe what he had seen in those ancient paper pages. It was so detailed and meticulous that the families for the mid and late twenty-first century had been already arranged. The most sickening of all was the recurrent crossing of various family lines over and over again, effectively breeding families out of distant cousins, trying to bring out whichever recessive gene or family trait the minds behind this scheme saw fit. In a few instances there were even plans of marriages between families on the condition that the offspring would be generated out of wedlock between siblings. It was sickening. Worst of all, after reading this realisation hit Chris like a brick wall. He could now see the family resemblance across the old families of the village. What made them weird. The same weird villagers that, according to Isaac, had been directly involved in the centenary celebrations. The same ones who had excluded and kidnapped the foreigners and outsiders, including his adopted son.

The afternoon they deciphered that census of horrors, Chris opened a bottle of armagnac, and downed two tumblers with Iestyn and Deaton while they all digested these news in silence. At that stage they could not see the complete picture, but it was crystal clear that the centennial celebrations had a very twisted relationship with the village’s past. They could infer a pact between the Antoine figure and the mi-go, although the true terms were blurry, but it was only one option. Access to ores and other mineral resources imbued by the telluric currents was Deaton’s proposal. Viable subjects for mi-go experimentation was another possibility. The reference to the voice on the bell tower rather than the actual presence of Antoine himself suggested that his brain might have been put in a cylinder and transported there – after all, from Isaac they knew that the cylinder spoke. It could make sense, Chris conceded, because Antoine appears to have been the first intermediary, but that would mean that he had been a brain in a jar for four centuries. They still did not know what had happened in 1919, but they guessed that, as in many other parts of France, the male population would have been decimated in the trenches. The druid and any acolytes might have died then. It was a wild guess as any.

What they found about the actual ceremony did not help much. From reading the more arcane tomes, it appeared that it required blood (a specific type of blood, from specific individuals, which gave Chris shivers) and that it called for the power and protection of the Faceless God – which Iestyn knew had been mentioned by Jackson and Ethan. This gave them another link between the two sets of cultists, even if the outcomes of their rituals had been very different. Whatever this god had been, it had evidently kept his part of the bargain, keeping the inhabitants safe from war, famine and disease until the Great War. But the strange glyphs described by Isaac did not appear in any of the books or incantations. They might have been new additions, and might have been the reason why the tree had exploded. Deaton needed more time reading through the Nameless Cults to find more clues. Iestyn had proposed that those runes might have been either a way to counter the power of the nogitusne or a way to bring him back. It was his opinion that the destruction of the tree had been the result of the reaction between the ritual they had originally performed to destroy the trickster spirit against the glyphs carved by the aliens. But he could not be sure.

Chris got a phone call from Isaac; letting him know that they were already passing Bordeaux and that they would get to the house soon. With this, Chris told Deaton to get ready, and between the three of them they began to neatly and orderly stack the documents they had read, making room in the living room for the incoming werewolves.

When the door opened next, Jackson walked in just to see a large screen set up at one end with a projector on one of the shelves.

“You are arriving just in time.”

***

Lydia and Stiles stayed in Arkham for four days before heading back to Cambridge. Lydia spent most of her time in the restricted section, trying to read through long passages in Latin, French and German. She had to give up with the glyphs and symbols she secretly hoped were cuneiform rather than any other sort of non-human script. The worst part was that, if all what she had been reading was correct, there was a chance that those writings were neither Sumerian or Akkadian, but some sort of Hyperborean pre-Historic advanced human civilisation. She came across books which she had thought were either lost or fictitious, like the Necronomicon, by Abdul al-Hazred. She did not dare consult the original edition (and Alistair the librarian did not allow her to see it anyways), but she dared read the abridged English translation edited by the British Museum and a rare example of the Spanish translation by Miguel de Cervantes, written while he was captive in Algiers. She had access to an original edition of the Unaussprechlichen Kulten by von Junzt, so she could compare notes with what Deaton was reading in his copy. She even had a quick glimpse at the very fragmentary French edition of the Book of Eibon.

Lydia had to steel her determination to focus only on the matter at hand, looking for particular information about the mi-go, the summoning cults, and the shoggoths. Everything else she considered diversions and red herrings. But the temptation was enormous: having access to those books was the opportunity of a life time. The arcane lore in those dusty tomes could give her clues not only about the true origin of her powers, but also about how they connected with the powers that came before, and to those that still existed beyond the wall of sleep. She had done enough advance mathematics, hyperbolic topology and Euclidean geometry to see that they contained but mere hints towards folds in time and windows to other dimensions. She also knew enough geology to understand the chronological implications of the descriptions of creatures and landscapes she read. As an afterthought, she could not help but wonder what would be (if any) the geological impact of humans four million years from now. If her will had been weaker, or her curiosity stronger, she might have lost herself in those volumes, finding truths about the universe that perhaps humans were not ready to accept, but she cherished her sanity too much to get side-tracked. A comforting voice deep down in her mind said that she could always come back and read more, sending shivers down her spine.

In the meantime, Stiles had spent his time reading archive material, going through old newspapers, personal diaries, and university reports from various expeditions. Most of them were quite mundane and boring, but there were a few bits of information which he forced himself to accept, despite his logic telling him not to believe. Besides, there were a few things which he could not trace back to the original source because they were still classified seventy years after the events. He wanted to ask Danny for help, but he knew roundabout ways through Federal archives to get what he needed.

Every lunch time he would get Lydia out to the fresh air of late June and sit out on the grass. Neither of them discussed much of what they had read then. At nights, and back in the hotel, they would write summaries and reports. Stiles missed his board, which was back in their flat, but he was writing enough material in his notebooks to flood it with post-it notes when they got back.

Lydia had no access to her phone most of the time, so Stiles ended up being the one who coordinated with Mason their information exchanges. It appeared that the two areas they were researching overlapped quite nicely. What was most unnerving of all was Scott, asking him every now and then for updates. It was difficult enough to summarise what Stiles was doing, not to say to put everything the rest was doing in perspective. Scott was very frustrated whenever Stiles told him that he had nothing definite or final to report. He could understand why the alpha was so on edge – trying to confront the supernatural blind was never good, but he had to remind Scott that partial information was no better. After two days of constant nagging, he managed to convince Scott that he would explain everything in a few days, when he had a chance to compare notes with Lydia and Deaton. That appeared to do the trick.

In terms of results, Lydia and Stiles reached some conclusions on their own, although Mason’s research helped them clarify various things that did not make much sense. It is clear that in 1930 a Miskatonic expedition went to Antarctica, led by Dr William Dyer. The expedition was a complete disaster, including the death of most of the crew and the internment in a mental asylum of one of the graduate assistants (one Danforth, whose record Stiles did not manage to track). Attached to the report there was an appendix, a cautionary note, advising against another expedition planned for the following year. From Dyer’s note and Lydia’s own reading, the shoggoths had been created by an ancient alien race, who had concocted life on Earth as an experiment or a joke gone out of hand. The shoggoths were a mass of protoplasm which could help the original aliens in the construction of their cities (one of which was visited by Danforth and Dyer in their expedition) by changing shape, but they went feral and had to be subjugated. This was, apparently, 250 million years ago, but there were still ways and forms to summon them through rifts and folds in space at the correct places. A hundred million years later, the mi-go landed on Earth searching for obscure minerals modified by telluric currents. They are mentioned by Dyer as appearing on one of the sculpted reliefs of the alien Antarctic city, but they also appear in Vermont in the 1930s. According to Lydia they flew in from their planet Yuggoth, which must be somewhere in the Kuiper belt.

The Vermont affair was described in the diaries of Albert Wilmarth, a lecturer at Miskatonic. His diary describes how he went to Vermont after receiving stories of flying creatures abducting people after some large floods. Because Wilmarth’s area of research had been folklore in that region, he became naturally interested. A Henry Akeley, a local of that area, sent him various letters (which Stiles could read stapled to the diary) claiming that he had proof that the stories were true, and that the creatures were collaborating with a cult of Nyarlathotep. Wilmarth ended up visiting Akeley when the latter invited him over to actually meet the creatures and learn directly from them. Up in Vermont, Wilmarth was terrified to discover that the mi-go were prepared to extract his and Akeley’s brains and to put them in a canister to fly them to their native planet. Wilmarth fled that very morning, but his diary mentions how he heard hushed, metallic conversations during the night, all of which fitted with what Isaac had reported back. The diary also mentioned that the mi-go had not only extracted the brain (most probably), but also that when Wilmarth met Akeley in person he might have not been himself, but rather an impersonator wearing a wax-like articulated mask for a face.

It was clear that the mi-go had no problem in collaborating with humans in order to obtain the resources they needed, as they knew from Deaton and Argent. It was also evident that they were happy to use independent and subjugated agents, one of which could be the brain in the jar and another could be Christine. The fact that they seemed to be at odds when Isaac found the brain suggested treason of one form or another by the former druid. They could not tell what had happened. Otherwise, while the French cultists were getting protection from the mi-go (and some obscure and bizarre genetic modification programme), Christine’s behaviour did not fit the pattern of precious mi-go encounters or interactions. She had obviously changed the terms of the agreement, and they could only guess that in exchange for information or technology she had bargained with the nemeton. Or, to Stiles secret horror, perhaps with the nogitsune.

There were two points of connection between the mi-go and the shoggoths, but both were very circumstantial. That the former worshiped Nyarlathotep – one of the names of the Faceless God- and the latter could be their blind servants was the first one. The second was the meddling of humans using arcane books to summon them in exchange for favours. According to Mason, the French and English cults were not behaving in similar patterns, even if using the same books, which was disheartening, because it dismantled any connections that they had built to link them. Nyarlathotep was a much more mysterious figure, and the information they came across was too contradictory to make any sense of it. He was a demon, a pharaoh, a magician, a god, and a messenger of gods. For all they knew, he had been Nicola Tesla as well. Only a very broad understanding (or else, a purposeful lack of understanding) could make sense of all those descriptions. It was repeatedly stated that he sought followers, but nowhere specified why or what for. This was what Lydia feared the most.

All this they reported back to Deaton, hoping it would be sufficient for the moment. They were still waiting for the last bits of information from the team who had gone back to search amidst the ruins of the nemeton in any case. The more evidence they could gather, the clearer the picture would be.

On the morning they were driving back to Cambridge, Stiles got a message from Deaton. Lydia was driving, and he read it aloud so she could hear it. She responded simply with a nod. They were going to fit the final pieces.

***

On the evening of the 27th the werewolves and Patrice returned in good humour to the safe house in Arcachon. They seemed mostly unharmed, and came back with a handful of boxes. When they walked into the living room they were welcomed by Deaton and Iestyn wiring up a projector to a laptop. They were told that they were nearly ready, so they could go and have a shower if they needed. Ethan dropped the boxes in the kitchen before going to the bathroom. Most of the boxes’ contents were Isaac’s stuff, but to Chris’ surprise there were a few elements which appeared to have been ripped from trees or dug from the soil. Isaac was about to ask Iestyn about the a/v display, but he silently shook his head with a smile and sent him to his room to unpack.

By the time Isaac was back in the living room, everyone else was already sitting around the screen, facing a high-definition camera, and looking at what seemed to be a four-way video call. Two of the screens were grey, one showed them in the living room.

He heard his name being called from the speakers. “Hey Isaac!”

Isaac looked with a goofy grin of pleased surprise at the bottom-right corner of the screen, where he could see one smiling Lydia Martin and one smirking Stiles.

Chapter Text

“I know, Chris. I’m sorry. I mean it too. I will.”

Chris let him go and Isaac affectionately squeezed his shoulder. They all jumped on the van, the doors shut close, and they were off.

***

Patrice drove the van with Isaac at the front and Ethan and Jackson in the back. Isaac and the hunter spent most of the ride explaining to the two other werewolves about the layout of Bégnan, the forests and the roads. Ethan was holding a map, and he and Jackson were listening carefully to all the descriptions, trying to match them with the points that Chris had marked for them on the map. Jackson was particularly focused, staring at the map with a furrowed brow even after Isaac finished his explanations. Ethan could not help but look at his boyfriend’s blue eyes paying so much attention to the layout. He would have sworn that he could hear the cogs clicking in Jackson’s head. He leaned over and gave him a small kiss on the shoulder, bringing Jackson back to reality. He looked at Ethan and gave him a smile, grabbing his hand and kissing it.

“Welcome back.”

“Sorry babe. I was just thinking.”

“That’s never good news!” Isaac said from the front, making Ethan snigger.

“I know,” Jackson conceded with a smile, “but I was just looking at the way the lay lines converge at the tree. There are other points up in these hills where they intersect. Not all of them, but two or three at a time.”

“Let me see?” Isaac asked. He had never seen a map with the telluric currents. Or, rather, he had seen one but never paid much attention. “Oh, I think I know where those are. I’ve never been there. It was too steep to go for runs. And it’s not close to any of the paths that lead to the other villages.”

“So we have a rough hilly area with minor intersections of telluric currents away from the beaten tracks?”

“If I were an ugly flying alien,” Ethan added, “that’s where I’d hide.”

“Check the geological layer map,” Patrice suggested from the wheel. “Might be caves or karsts there.”

“Lemme see,” Isaac asked Jackson, who was opening the binder and pulling out the map from the plastic sheath. He had finished only his first year in Earth Sciences, but he could read that map better than Jackson. “It’s a border zone really. Potentially yes, but this map is too general.”

“We’ll have to explore then.”

With that, they all went quiet as they kept driving in the hot afternoon sun.

It was close to 4pm when Patrice took one of the side country roads that led to the back way to Bégnan. Jackson was having a nap, face against the window under the warm sunlight. Ethan was just staring at the landscape. Isaac was thinking. They were not driving down not the same route that he had taken when he had fled the village only two days before, but the tall werewolf could not help to feel uneasy. Patrice had assured them that the village had been cleared, that Fred and some other hunter would be waiting for them, and that none of the Argents keeping guard had seen anything relevant. But still. He had not seen anything in Christine or the forests, and he had lived there for three years. What else had he missed? Isaac’s phone vibrated, a welcome distraction from his worries.

They were some replies to his message last night. It must have been still early morning in the States, because only a few were coming in through the pack group chat. The new members he didn’t know were saying hello back, they were asking about the alien encounter, and Isaac replied to the questions. Stiles had already sent a couple of pictures of him from back in high school (where did he get those from?), labelled ‘not-quite sourwolf’ and ‘scarf-boy’. These were followed by a quick ‘don’t worry, I like you now’, which made Isaac chuckle. Stiles’ photos were not blurry or grainy, but evidently cropped from larger pictures, so not best quality. Isaac looked at his old self in those pictures; he was much thinner and paler than the person he saw in the mirror now. His hair was clipped shorter back and sides now, but he had to smile at them – he did not have many pictures from Beacon Hills and it was nice to see that someone had some. There was another buzz from his phone, but this time it was a new conversation with a single number.

<Lydia> 24/06/2019 16:04

[image2015112214][download]

<Lydia> 24/06/2019 16:04

Ignore Stiles

<Lydia> 24/06/2019 16:04

I thought you’d like this one better

<Lydia> 24/06/2019 16:04

Be careful out there x

 

Isaac opened the photo. He did not remember that picture being taken at all, but it made him smile. It was actually a proper picture of him, Scott and Allison, all standing by his locker, and obviously posing for Lydia. An unexpected and confusing mix of emotions flooded him, and he completely forgot to reply.

“Hey, you ok there?” Ethan, who was sitting behind him, was now suddenly poking his head by his side, with a hand on his shoulder. Isaac guessed that he had smelled him getting emotional, and he had nothing to hide anyways.

“I was… Yeah. It’s just that Lydia sent this,” Isaac showed him. “I was not expecting that.” Not from Lydia, definitely.

“Oh, God. Look at you. All happy and enjoying high school,” Ethan teased him in good humour.

“That’s because none of you had turned up yet,” was his riposte with a big grin.

“Oh, I see, and I thought we were friends,” Ethan sat back on his seat, feigning indignation.

“Love you too.”

They hit a slight bump as they turned into a dirt track, waking Jackson up, who saw Ethan with his arms crossed over his chest and pouting and Isaac with the same wide grin on his face. “I don’t even want to know…” He put his head against the window and tried to sleep a bit more.

Isaac’s phone buzzed again.

<Scott> 24/06/2019 16:07

Morning

<Scott> 24/06/2019 16:07

You ok?

<Scott> 24/06/2019 16:07

What are the plans for today?

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 16:07

Hey, g morning

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 16:08

What’s the time over there?

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 16:08

We’re coming over to the village to have a look

<Scott> 24/06/2019 16:08

Just after 7am

<Scott> 24/06/2019 16:08

Woah ok

<Scott> 24/06/2019 16:08

Just mind the flying monsters this time

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 16:09

I wont be easy to catch

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 16:09

Plus we’re a full team now

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 16:09

Its way too early for you there. Go to bed. Its summer

<Scott> 24/06/2019 16:09

I’ve got to see Derek and Malia

<Scott> 24/06/2019 16:09

We’re having a catch up and nemeton chat

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 16:10

Sounds fun…

<Scott> 24/06/2019 16:10

Don’t I know!!

<Scott> 24/06/2019 16:10

Keep us posted tho. Gotta go now

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 16:10

Will do. Bye

 

Isaac kept staring at his phone, a warm feeling inside, just from knowing that Scott had texted him first thing in the morning, just wanting to know how he was. Back in Beacon Hills Scott had done the same with him, but they were living under the same roof. This felt different – especially when he felt Scott gently tugging and nudging their bond (I’m here – take care) after his last text. Isaac wondered if he was being over protective to compensate for the years of silence. Scott could be like that.

“Oh, what does he want now?” Ethan suddenly asked with the biggest knowing smile he could pull. He must have sensed Isaac’s change in mood again.

“Oh, nothing,” Isaac shoved his phone back into his pocket. “Just checking what our plan was.” Isaac was definitely trying not to read more from that brief exchange.

“How very thoughtful.”

“Oh, stop it you two,” Jackson complained, still with his eyes closed. Ethan patted Isaac’s shoulder and went back to admiring the landscape.

Isaac looked out and rolled the window down. The surroundings looked increasingly familiar. The air was hot and dry, but they were now in the area in between the cultivated fields and the bushy hillsides that lead up to the mountains, and he wanted to smell the air. There was the usual mix of dried clay, thyme, wild lavender, rockrose, and holm oak which he had become used to during the last years. He saw big fat bumblebees buzzing around. Up ahead, Isaac could now see a car hidden behind some tall bushes, and two people standing in the middle of the road.

“We’re here,” Patrice announced. Ethan sat forward again, trying to get a better look through the windscreen, while Jackson rubbed his eyes and fished for the water bottle that was rolling at his feet.

The car came down to a halt and Patrice got out to greet the two hunters that were waiting for them. Isaac saw that Fred was one of them, so he walked out to say hello. Ethan and Jackson stepped out of the car, but did not come forward. Jackson was too busy stretching his back and arms with a big yawn while Ethan waited by the open door. Patrice did the introductions in English, pointing at the two werewolves.

“Ethan and Jackson,” Ethan gave a quick hand wave, “these are Fred and Louise.” The hunters waved back.

“So, what’s the plan?”

“We either go to check the nemeton first, or else we go and check the hills. I do not particularly mind,” Patrice was explaining as Ethan and Jackson walked closer to the Argents. Ethan could not help to feel uncomfortable around hunters, but Isaac being there served as a constant reminder that these he could trust. “Fred here just said that the scientific police are focusing on the village now, and that the last they saw was them finishing their documenting of the nemeton area.”

“Do they know about Christine?” Isaac asked.

“She was the visible leader of the cult, so they are looking for her. We haven’t approached her house, but before we left we made sure to tale all documents with us,” Louise quickly answered.

“Yeah,” Fred added. “They’ll find few useful things there.”

“I was more concerned about finding or sensing traces of the alien.”

“We haven’t seen anything, sorry.”

“Let’s check the nemeton first. It will get dark quite late tonight, so we’ll use that to our advantage. We can park on the further firebreak,” Fred and Louise nodded.

“Are we staying, erm… home?” Isaac asked scratching the back of his head. He really wanted to go back to his apartment.

“It’ll be too risky for all of us to head there,” Patrice shook his head.  He then pointed at the werewolves. “But you three probably can sneak there during the night, if you keep it quiet. I know you need to go and get stuff.”

Isaac made a small fist pump, making Ethan and Jackson snigger.

“Ok then. Shall we follow you?” Patrice asked, and Fred quickly nodded as Louise jumped behind the wheel.

***

Ten minutes later they were driving down the crudely ploughed firebreak, up to a point where three large boulders were marked with white and yellow paint, indicating a hiking path. They parked there and walked it down towards the nemeton. Isaac felt overwhelmed by the thought that that time last week he had been jogging down that path enjoying the fresh air, and now his quiet and settled life in France was all gone. Louise and Patrice walked ahead, discussing whatever updates from the other hunters in the area were, Fred was only a few steps behind them, rifle hanging across his shoulders.

“You’re lagging behind, Isaac” Jackson called him. Oh, I’m not ‘Lahey’ anymore?

“Coming.”

“So,” Ethan asked when Isaac caught up, “this is your part of the woods then?”

“Yeah, technically. I mean, there have been no werewolves around here for generations. It’s not as it is claimed by any pack, so I guess it makes it my own forest. I pissed against a few trees, if that helps.”

“Thanks for that,” Ethan replied oozing sarcasm. “You know it well then?”

“I came for a jog every day. Sometimes twice. Even in the snow. So yeah, I know this area quite well. The areas close to the paths and roads, at least. I liked to jog to the next village for breakfast, down this way, and then sort of left,” Isaac indicated with his hands while turning around briefly to emphasise direction. “It’s very different from the Beacon Hills preserve. Denser with bushes, and the holm oaks are not as tall as the trees in California. It feels wilder, less like a park in that sense. There are these boulders from time to time. And small ravines. But yeah. Dunno. I like it.”

He went on after that, mentioning particularly nice spots, curious rocks, and other things and stories he came across throughout his daily walks around. Isaac had been describing their surroundings without really noticing them. He knew them well enough, so he had just picked a stick from the ground, looking at it with intensity as they walked, not giving much importance to the countryside. Jackson and Ethan were amazed at the details and descriptions that Isaac kept giving; they could see that their friend felt attached to that corner of France. And Isaac really thought of it as his small bit of nature, where he could go and run, and be on his own with his thoughts, looking at the bees, or sitting at the shade of the rocks. He had had so many moments there, that it was now weird that it was home to an evil alien invader.

During the hike, Ethan asked Isaac about the name of every different plant they came across (Who knew he had an interest in plants whatsoever? And when did I learn them all?), while Jackson only mumbled complaints through his teeth about the heat, the sweat, the sticky or thorny plants that got stuck to his legs, and every single buzzing insect that flew across his path. Eventually, they began to climb up a slope, and Fred indicated everyone to be quiet and careful. By the time they got to the cusp of the hill, they were squatting by the bushes, from where they could see the meadow where the nemeton was. Or had been.

All six had the same expression of horror mixed with disbelief. The hunters had seen the nemeton at its splendour, when it was a magnificent tree (just as Isaac). Patrice, Louise and Fred had been there when they performed the ritual to banish the nogitsune – back when it was a magnificent tree balancing the power carried on the telluric currents. They had also seen it during the midsummer night incantation, but their focus then had been on the cultist, not necessarily the environments. The hellish scene they were seeing now, in the warm sunlight of the afternoon, was shocking them in the same way that it was shocking Isaac. They had not seen the results of the night of the summoning in daylight, and the ghastly scene was enough to make them shudder. Ethan and Jackson had never been there, but they could appreciate how wrong the entire view was. The old sacred meadow was a chaotic mess, desecrated and violated in too many ways. Isaac was glad Iestyn was not there to see it in person – he would have been most affected by the sight. The collapsed remains of the tree were still there. It was so big that it would have been impossible to move without sawing it into various pieces and then loaded with a crane. There were branches and splinters all over the floor, testimony from the explosion that had fallen the oak. The stump in the centre was not neatly cut as the one in Beacon Hills, though it was as wide if not wider. It was a split tree, part standing, part uprooted, with a great gash across it, going deep into the hub of the roots. It was blackened at its core, as if it had been struck by lightning, which in a tortured and wicked way it had. The pools of blood had long ago dried up, but the smell still lingered around. Jackson and Ethan noticed the smell immediately, and looked at Isaac, who just nodded

“How much blood was spilt there?” Jackson asked in hushed tones.

“Plenty.”

“But it was not all human,” Ethan said without a hint of a question. He knew it. His inner wolf was horrified at the spectacle, and whining in a mixture of terror and vengeful indignation.

Isaac could remember the corpse of the basajaun, the forest giant, the protector of the trees. He could still see it collapsed at the foot of the tree, its pure blood corrupted by the rites of the darach. “No, not all of it,” he managed to say after a few silent moments.

The spiral furrows where the blood had pooled and flowed were barely recognisable, trodden by the boots of the police officers who had come to investigate. The fires had left nothing but smudgy charred marks around the fallen tree. The altar stone did not seem any different from the rest now, so Isaac had to point it out to his companions.

Isaac briefly turned around, trying to remember the events of that night. To their left he could see the ridge where he had been hiding at first. Behind that was the ditch covered in brambles where he had rolled down after being dropped by the mi-go. Dead ahead was the flat area with the main path that lead back towards Bégnan. He could not remember where the flying alien had come from. It had simply turned up from above, but he pulled the map which Jackson had been looking at earlier with the lay lines. Isaac identified the spots with the hilly terrain and the concentration of telluric current crossings. He stood up to get his bearings and identified the steep hills towards the north-east, some with sheer rocky outcrops as faces. That will make an interesting trek.

“Isaac!”

The tall werewolf turned around to see that Patrice and Louise were descending to the meadow, followed by Jackson. Ethan had called him, and pointed him to follow. Fred stood where he was with a pair of binoculars, keeping guard.

At the bottom of the meadow, in the centre of the old clearing, Isaac suddenly stood still, and looked at Ethan and Jackson, who were staring at him. The smell. They did not need to say anything, they just nodded. All three recognised the stench from beyond, which was unpleasant enough to describe, but that it was ingrained in their brains now. It made their inner wolves growl. No smell had the right to be so strange, so unnatural.

“Where were those glyphs you mentioned?” Patrice asked as he looked at various bits of bark and charred tree remains. “And can you remember where Christine inserted the triskelion box?”

“The glyphs were in front of the altar, sort of shoulder height. I think. Should be somewhere there,” Isaac waved his pointing finger vaguely to his left, where the tree had fallen on its side. “Hang on, we’ll give you a hand.”

Isaac nodded at Ethan and Jackson, who followed him to the point where he thought the altar had been, and tried to recreate which part of the tree had been inscribed.

“We need to roll it,” Isaac said, looking at the massive tree, hands resting on his hips. Jackson laughed, and Ethan just gave him a look of disbelief, arching one eyebrow while frowning the other.

“You’re joking, clearly. All that gym work has affected your brain.”

“Come on. We can but try.”

Jackson was actually enjoying this and tapped Ethan lightly on his bum. “Let’s give it a try, darling,” he added with a big grin. Ethan rolled his eyes.

The three werewolves found a convenient place to push and heave, hoping to turn the tree while Patrice came closer, photo camera at the ready. It took them five attempts, changing positions, grips and footings. The three had wolfed out by the end of their first attempt, but they finally made it. It took a considerable effort and sweat, but the three werewolves managed to roll the tree enough for Patrice to see some markings which should not have been there and take some pictures. When he gave them the thumbs up, they carefully held the tree as it rolled back to its position.

“That was decent,” Isaac said panting, while Jackson massaged his lower back and Ethan rubbed his hands and pulled splinters out.

“If you say so.”

Louise handed them over her bottle of water, which they thanked enormously.

“Should we send these to Deaton?” Isaac said moping sweat from his forehead with his shirt after handing the bottle over to Ethan.

“I would not bother just yet,” Patrice replied. “I believe they have, how you say it. Um, too much on their plate.”

“True,” Isaac would not want to be in Iestyn’s or Deaton’s place, trying to go through all the boxes of documents retrieved from Christine’s house.

“Great. And the box?”

“Oh, that I can’t remember.”

“Let’s keep an eye open, just in case. Everyone,” Patrice did not shout, but made sure everyone was listening. “The police will have taken mundane incriminatory things. We must now search for anything supernatural which could be helpful.”

Everyone nodded, and they went on with the task at hand. They took pictures of the burnt patterns in the fallen tree. They drew a sketch of the spirals and the altars. Jackson had watched too much CSI-like TV shows and wanted to collect dirt from the hollow in the roots. Patrice gathered a handful of fist-sized splinters, which Deaton had instructed specifically him to get. Isaac went up the slope and down on the other side, towards the thicket of brambles, where he could still barely sense his own scent, and traces of the stench of the flying beast, but he found nothing particularly relevant. As he was about to turn around, something caught his eye.

On top of the brambles, and almost within hand reach, Isaac saw a familiar piece of soft, hand-dyed, two-tone blue, light cotton fabric he immediately recognised as his scarf. Melissa’s scarf. He managed to pull it away with the help of a stick and without ripping it to shreds. It had a few tears, true, but Isaac needed to get the scarf back. Once it was in his hands he put it against his nose an smelled it. It was dusty and dry, but it had some hints of soap and softener. Of home. He shoved it in his backpack, where it would be safe.

It was closer to 8 than to 7pm when Patrice called them back to Fred’s viewing point. The walkie-talkie the young sniper was carrying informed them that the police was leaving the village for the day, apparently. The occasional burst of static over the radio gave Isaac shivering memories of the metallic muffled speech of the canister-holding brain, but he shook those thoughts away from his head. He informed them that that was their cue: the werewolves could sneak back to the village while the humans would head back to their camp. They agreed on a meeting point early the following morning and each party went its separate way after a quick good-bye.

***

Crossing the forest was easy enough. Entering the village was a completely different experience. Most of the garlands of wolfsbane had died out, but (to Isaac’s liking) too many of the flower beds and potted plants in window boxes still clung to live, despite the days without being watered. The air was still full of pollen and other annoying particles. Before walking into the central streets, Isaac had pulled his scarf out and wrapped it around his face, and told Ethan and Jackson to fish out a t-shirt from their backpacks and do the same.

Isaac already had been in Bégnan as a nearly-abandoned village, but neither Ethan or Jackson had encountered such a situation before. It felt like a film set. Even if they were sure it was abandoned, they were all on full alert, looking over their shoulders every time they crossed a street, waiting at the corners trying to make sure that they were, in fact, alone. Luckily, they did not encounter anyone or anything. There was police tape in front of some houses, and various other traces of police intervention where officers had marked things on the ground with spray paint. They did not do much exploring in any case, and went straight towards Isaac’s place.

It felt strange to walk back in his old building. As he walked up the stairs and pulled his scarf down he searched for his keys, but when he reaching his floor he remembered that his front door had been rammed down. Seeing it like this made him sad, and once they were inside the apartment he tried to prop it back up, to make it feel closer to what it had been: his home. They did not dare turn the lights on, in case they would be seen from the outside (the entire village was in complete blackout) until they pulled the shutters down and drew the curtains.

Ethan and Jackson sat on the couches in the living room while Isaac asked them to wait. They had smelled blood, but it was old and dry, and Isaac knew he had not killed any of the hunters who had come after him. He walked down the corridor, and it was still the same: pox-ridden with holes and rubber pellets, the few pictures that had hung from the walls were now broken on the floor. Chris’s room had been ransacked, which made Isaac angry. Even his bedroom had been turned inside out. His laptop was gone (great…). He stood there in silence, frustration, sadness and impotence boiling in him until he heard a gentle knock on the door. Two friendly werewolves were looking at him.

“Your room is a mess, mate,” Jackson said with a gentle smile.

“Don’t worry about it,” added his boyfriend. “Why don’t I make you some dinner and then we help you clear this.”

Isaac took a couple of seconds before silently nodding and following Ethan to the kitchen. Jackson waited for him to get out of the room and walked behind the other two wolves, patting Isaac with both hands on his shoulders. Isaac was getting used to this new Jackson – most definitely.

Sadly Isaac’s kitchen was as empty as he had left it. There were a few bags of cheese balls and BBQ tortilla chips. There were four milk chocolate bars. There were rice crispies. There was a tin of olives and four tins of peaches.

“Man, you need to reconsider your diet.”

“Those,” Isaac feigned indignation, “are my cheat treats. Last week had been a cheat week. I stayed in most of it. Playing. In my shorts.”

“You know, werewolf or not you’ll still go blind it you spend a week playing in your shorts, right?” Jackson said pointing at Isaac’s crotch with a wolfish grin, which made Isaac chuckle and caused Ethan to punch his boyfriend on his shoulder. That did not stop him. “Ouch! And do not try to deny it, because I can tell when you lie.”

Ethan rolled his eyes while the two other werewolves laughed loudly. “What’s with the peaches?” he tried to stop them.

“I like peaches. They’re good for you.”

“Not in syrup they’re not,” Ethan shook his head with a smile, while Isaac kept laughing. “Thank God I brought some rations.”

“We’ll just go gather food from shops and houses like in surviving zombie apocalypse films.”

The banter and the jokes made Isaac feel better. He felt more at home now with them in the apartment, even if the bedrooms and the corridors had been invaded and sacked by the thugs hired by Christine. Ethan rustled up an impressive dinner out of the packets he had brought with him, showing off what he had learned to do during the year he had been at the cooking school in one of Oxford’s community colleges. After they finished, Isaac came back with a tin of peaches, and all three wooed and laughed loudly before opening it.

In better spirits, Isaac led them to his bedroom, where they took some time tidying it up. They put the clothes back in the wardrobe and slotted the drawers back into their rails. Isaac put the desk back up while Jackson fitted the shelves and Ethan set the mattress on the bed. While they did all this, Isaac explained and told stories about his life in France. He showed them a shirt he used to wear in the bakery, his French and college course books, his comic book collection. He even gave Jackson one of his old rugby jerseys (you have no excuse living in England and not having tried it). But despite the comment, the shorter werewolf was touched by it and could barely say ‘thank you’ as he held it in front of him, staring – he was used to getting presents (and lots of them), but very few times he had got something so personal and so unexpectedly. So undeservingly. Jackson felt really touched by Isaac’s true gesture of friendship.

From the bottom of the wardrobe Isaac pulled a sports bag, in which he quickly threw in enough underwear and clean clothes to last him for a week. Then, out of the linen cupboard, he pulled out a couple of bedsheets and some pillows for Ethan and Jackson, so they could sleep on the sofas. They could do without blankets in the middle of the summer – in fact, they had to open a few windows once they turned all the lights out.

“It’s either that or all in my bed.”

“Threesome? Or puppy pile? In either case, keep dreaming Lahey.” It sounded like the old Jackson, but there was no arrogance in the way he said it. Isaac smiled. He told them where the bathroom was and said his good-nights as he walked back to his room. He took his shirt off and trousers off and got in his bed.

Isaac plugged his phone and checked it quickly. He had been too busy to do that at all. He wanted to text Scott, but was not sure what to say. Just because he had reconnected with his alpha he did not want to seem to eager or needy – that was the last thing he wanted—even if they had returned to an easy conversation last night on the phone. He decided for a quick update report.

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 23:44

Hey alpha.

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 23:44

We visited the nemeton today. Its all completely ruined

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 23:44

[image201906244][image201906245][image201906246][upload]

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 23:44

But we found some interesting stuff.

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 23:45

We’ll go look for the alien den in the morning

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 23:45

Hope all was ok with Derek

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 23:45

No need to say hello from me

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 23:45

Gnight

 

Isaac left it there and collapsed on his pillow. As he was winding down in bed, his phone alerted him of incoming texts. He rubbed his eyes and checked that they were from Scott, and quickly opened them.

<Scott> 25/06/2019 00:03

Hey beta!! :)

<Scott> 25/06/2019 00:03

That all sounds cool.

<Scott> 25/06/2019 00:04

You still up?

<Scott> 25/06/2019 00:04

It all seems ok over here anyway

<Scott> 25/06/2019 00:04

Ow and mom says hello

<Isaac> 25/06/2019 00:04

I’m still up

<Scott> 25/06/2019 00:04

Hey Isaac you ok?

<Isaac> 25/06/2019 00:05

Yeah, just in bed trying to sleep

<Scott> 25/06/2019 00:05

OK ok don’t worry then – just checking ;)

<Scott> 25/06/2019 00:05

Just be careful tomorrow

<Isaac> 25/06/2019 00:05

Yeah, always am

<Scott> 25/06/2019 00:06

Ok ok just in case

<Scott> 25/06/2019 00:06

Good night isaac

<Isaac> 25/06/2019 00:06

Night!

 

He left his phone on the bedside table, and closed his eyes. He felt again Scott gently tugging their shared pack bond, and he got the same warm feeling inside. His inner wolf was rolling all over the place, paws up in the air, and jumping in excitement. Isaac could get used to this, not wanting to think about the future, content simply with having Scott back in his life. He grabbed one of his pillows in his left arm, and pressed it against his side. He soon was asleep with a smile on his face.

***

In the morning, after a quick shower and an even quicker breakfast, the three werewolves refilled their water bottles and went off to the meeting point they had arranged with Patrice. They passed by Christine’s place, where they had to cross a police line so Isaac could briefly show them the basement where he had seen the brain in the jar. Or rather, he waited at the top of the stairs while telling them that it had all happened down in the basement. Isaac still got a cold sweat from looking at the dark room under the house. Jackson ventured down, while Ethan kept an eye at the front door, noticing a few bullet holes. Isaac had an idea, and after asking Ethan to stay alert he climbed to the first floor to check Christine’s bedroom. She had been in there, probably after the events. Half of her clothes were gone, and had obviously packed them away. Isaac guessed she had fled, although could not guess why or where. His stomach churned thinking she might have gone to a different nemeton, like the one in Beacon Hills.

He came down the stairs saying these things aloud, knowing well that Ethan and Jackson could hear what he was saying. A few seconds later, Jackson was coming up the stairs with a concerned look.

“It’s the same smell. The same from the Oxford cultist, the same we smelled in the clumps, and the same we noticed at the nemeton.”

“If anything,” Ethan said, “that’s the main thing in common we have identified.”

“Was there anything left there?” Isaac wondered.

“Well, yes,” Jackson was nodding and counting with his fingers. “There were some jars of herbs, there was a broken window, there was a circular burnt mark on the table, and boxes full of shit you normally find in basements. I’d say the Argents were very thorough in their register.”

Isaac stood there in silence, hands behind his head, thinking if there was anything else they could do there. He huffed and put his hands down. “Ok, let’s go meet Patrice.”

They made it to the rendezvous and were only a few minutes late, and were greeted with a nod by the three hunters. While Isaac explained what they had seen in Christine’s house but Patrice had already extended a map and was circling areas for them to focus in their search.

“We need to find any traces of the mi-go. We do not want to confront it, so we’ll do our best to avoid it, but we want to know how many are there, where their den is, and… well. Anything really. Deaton and Iestyn may be doing their research, but we are all mostly in the dark when it comes to these creatures. Any questions?”

Nobody had anything to ask, so they split into three pairs, hunter and werewolf: Louise and Jackson, Ethan and Fred, Patrice and Isaac. The werewolves could howl to each other if needed, but the hunters carried radios just in case.

Throughout the morning, the three teams walked up and down the forest hills. They were doing a wide survey, but they tried to avoid walking beyond sight from each other (or, at least, beyond werewolf sight). The map with the lay lines was not very precise of accurate, so the areas of intersection were only broadly defined. They encountered the first of the intersections just before noon. It had been a difficult hike, without any clear paths, and they had to jump over a few boulders and cross over a creek which was running dry.

At one point, Jackson could feel something in the air, and he could smell water, even if they were in quite a dry patch of sturdy vegetation and bare rock. Louise radioed for a halt, until Jackson found a crack in the rock, at the bottom of which there was a pool, even if it was hidden by a giant fig tree. The water hole was too narrow to get in, and the tree was blocking it completely. They waited for the rest to arrive, but a quick survey of the area around the tree revealed nothing unnatural or supernatural. They took pictures, Jackson insisted in taking a sample (by which he meant, bringing a branch), and marked the correct location on the map with Patrice’s GPS but, after forty minutes on that spot, they decided to move on with their search.

They had a lunch break and continued searching. They hit a second intersection in the afternoon, where the werewolves could also feel a tingle inside them, and again found nothing relevant in the surroundings. If anything, there was a curious stone alignment, but they were not sure if it was a curious set of rocks or a man-made (alien-made?) stone marker. They kept searching until the sun was getting too close to the horizon for their liking (especially because they had to walk back to Isaac’s place to stay the night), so they called it a day near 8pm. Everyone was completely exhausted, but Patrice would not let them go until they had planned their following day. They had covered half of the area they expected to survey, but they had only collected branches and twigs which Jackson insisted could be useful and Patrice had no arguments to convincingly disprove him.

The werewolves did not make it to Isaac’s place until nearly 10. They were too exhausted and sweaty, so they headed for the shower while they prepared dinner. They sat at the table not in silence, but not having a big conversation either. Every now and then they made a few comments on what they had seen during the day. Ethan, however, wanted to push some ideas, knowing that now they were in a better position to digest what they had come across, but Isaac and Jackson convinced him to wait until the following day.

That night in bed Isaac could not wait to send Scott a few more texts, even if it was just to tell that they had not found anything interesting. He waited for twenty minutes, but Scott did not text back. Isaac began to worry, but he was too tired to stay up, and dozed off. Almost twenty minutes later, Isaac woke up just to check his phone, and still no replies from Scott. He quickly texted the pack chat asking about Scott. He could feel his worry extend through his pack bond, but immediately after he got a reassuring pulse he knew was from Scott – everything is ok, don’t worry. Isaac left his phone on the side, held his pillow against his chest, and managed to go to sleep.

The morning after, Isaac saw that Scott had sent him a message, which left him feeling he had perhaps been too clingy.

<Scott> 26/06/2019 04:51

Hey Isaac! Sorry I didn’t text earlier. It’s all ok. I could feel you worrying, but srlsy no need! Hope you have more luck tomorrow

 

(Great, Isaac, you’re a needy puppy now)

Cursing himself, he walked into the living room, where Ethan and Jackson were getting ready and noticed immediately Isaac’s mood.

“What have you done?”

“Ugh, nothing.”

“Ah, one of those,” Ethan said. “It’ll be fine, don’t worry.”

“That’s what he told me.”

“Isaac,” Jackson rubbed his eyes, “please it’s too early in the morning for this, don’t you think? Have some breakfast.”

On cue, Ethan placed a bacon sandwich in front of him. Isaac grabbed it and gave it a big bite, which, actually, made everything better.

The second day of their search of the hills proved as fruitless as the first one, in Isaac’s opinion. Patrice was increasingly frustrated. They recorded all the characteristic features of the intersections they identified, and plotted them on their GPS. Jackson grabbed bits of bark, and odd-looking stones that meant something for him (but not necessarily for anyone else), but for the rest there was nothing special to them. Ethan wanted to say that he felt observed at some points during the day, but he never saw anything when he turned around (obviously there is nothing behind me) and, even if he tried, he could not smell anything unnatural. With that in mind, Ethan suggested to stay one more day around, rather than heading back to the safe house first thing in the morning, and Patrice was happy to stay – he also felt that something did not make sense just yet.

They headed back home earlier than the previous day, with the intention of visiting three particular spots in the morning before heading back to the safe house. But on their way there, Isaac’s phone rang. A French number.

“Oui?”

“Cal!” It was his team nickname, so he was a bit surprised, but he immediately knew who it was.

“Gimli?”

“Please tell me you’re ok. What happened that night? We’ve been held by the gendarmes. They just let us out. Where are you? We’re worried, mate.”

Isaac stopped walking, and signalled the other two werewolves to wait for him and listen to the conversation. “Yea, mate, don’t worry. I, um. I managed to escape.”

His teammate was whispering on the phone now. “I saw that, but I also know you’ve been up to no good,” it was not accusatory, just teasing. “I haven’t said a thing, but can’t say for the rest. The gendarmes may be after you, though.” That might be worrying – he had to tell Patrice.

“Well, I’ll stay away from trouble.”

“I’ve seen you play, and you can’t,” Guilhem added dryly. For all he had improved in many aspects, Isaac still had a violent glitch. “Anyway, I thought I’d let you know, that we’re allowed to go back home now, but Laura and I may be moving away.”

“I don’t blame you,” Isaac thought about living in a village where most of the people were convicted murderous cultists was reason enough to leave.

“I know you basically work from home for your dad, and that you’re doing distance uni, so why don’t you come with us?” he was being completely honest, Isaac could tell. The entire ethos of his club had been that they were like a big family. “You don’t have to live there alone, and you know I can’t play without you.”

Isaac chuckled, but felt also touched at the invitation. Guilhem knew that since Iestyn left he was largely alone in France. “That’s very kind, Gimli. I will seriously think about it.”

“Well, anyways, from what I’ve overheard, the old families of the village were all knee-deep in some sort of cult, making suicide pacts to ensure that the village would survive. They had been doing this for centuries if tradition is right. Father Thierry is the main leader, if you ask me. Or anyone else in the fête committee, like that Christine witch. They both are missing, apparently.” That confirmed Isaac’s suspicions, but he knew nothing about the priest. Isaac was technically a Catholic, and he had taken his first communion when he was little at his gran’s insisting, and had got his first bike as a present then, but neither his mum (and far less his dad) had been practicing Catholics. He seemed to remember the priest from the bakery, though, but he could remember him only because of the outfit, nothing particular about the actual person. “Cal!”

“Sorry, Gimli. I was thinking.”

“I noticed. That’s what scares me. Do I want to know what have you been up to?”

Isaac thought about this seriously. He wanted to be certain that he could trust him, but he was not ready to throw his friend into the supernatural. “Not just yet.”

“You stubborn git. As you please, but please take care. You know we care for you.”

“I know, I know. I’ll get back to you, I promise.”

They said goodbye and Isaac called Jackson and Ethan to come closer.

“I don’t want to be nosy,” said Ethan, “but… Cal and Gimli?”

“Not the point, Ethan – but did you hear about the priest?” Ethan and Jackson nodded. “I think we need to go on a detour on our way home tonight.

Isaac quickly rang Patrice with their intentions and, knowing there was no way to stop them (and that there was no way the hunters could get into the village unnoticed), he let them do it.

***

Isaac had never been inside the church – not even out of touristic curiosity. It was certainly an old building, and the plaque at the entrance said it was a late twelfth century Romanesque church dedicated to Saint Michael, with a late Gothic tower and a Baroque altar and choir. The three werewolves had their faces covered in cloth and stood outside the front door in the pink light of the early summer dusk. It seemed that the police had been looking for the priest, and the door had police tape across. Hopefully, they thought, there would be something interesting for them inside. Ethan had a look around and found a back entrance which seemed barred but that was not police taped. He whistled them to come where he was and heaved against the door. When it finally gave way the three werewolves walked into the cool inside.

Chapter Text

Once inside the church, everything was dark but they would not dare turn the lights on. Through the door, the last beams of the setting sun gave them enough second-hand light for them to make out forms and shapes until their werewolf eyes grew accustomed to the gloom. They had walked into some sort of storage room with mops, brooms, paper towels, and cleaning chemicals that inundated their noses and almost burnt their sense of smell off with a whizz of lemon-scented bleach. When they opened the door into a corridor they were already more comfortable in the dark as their eyes had adjusted to it, but they still welcomed the light that came through the windows of the adjacent rooms. They were obviously in the sacristy and the various church offices which were not part of the actual church building.

“So, we broke in. What now?” Jackson said as he gently left the door ajar. And even if they all shared the assumption that the church (as the village) was empty, somehow they found themselves whispering.

“I am not sure,” Isaac admitted honestly, and Jackson huffed. “The priest is another potential Christine.”

“Do you know him?” asked Ethan.

“Father Thierry.”

“But do you know who he is? Or was?”

“No.”

“Do you know how he looks like?”

“He wears a dog collar?”

Ethan and Jackson crossed their arms simultaneously.

“So we just know that there is a priest who has gone missing.”

“He was part of the fête committee. So he’s deep in this invocation malarkey. Must be.” Isaac tried to defend himself. “And you two agreed with me in coming here,” he pointed emphatically to make his point clear.

“We were working on the assumption that you knew something else, not that we would have to comb through a church which the police has already searched.”

“Looking for nothing in particular and anything in reality.”

Isaac opened his mouth to argue, while pointing with a menacing finger. But he had nothing to say, and he brought the finger down and shrugged his shoulders. “Well… that’s the plan, unless we can think of anything else.”

Jackson looked at Ethan, still arms fold, and Ethan finally nodded. “Fine. Let’s have a look around first and then we can decide where to go and what to focus on.”

“You see?” Isaac asked with a big smile, but still whispering. “We make a great team all together. Like an LGTB Werewolf Society.” Ethan and Jackson stood there unamused, looking at Isaac, who was still smiling. “What? Sounds better than Gay Wolf Club...” Jackson giggled at that one; Ethan simply rolled his eyes.

“As far as we don’t get name tags and club cards.”

“We’ll decide that in the next general meeting. Which is tomorrow morning, by the way,” Isaac said already leading the way into the church. “Now come let’s have a look.”

They walked along the corridor, and passed the priest’s office and the parish archive on the left, still illuminated through the windows that opened to the street. To the right there were two more storerooms for clerical cloths and shiny silver. Not that this church was particularly rich, but it had a few treasures that had survived down the centuries. There was a small staircase which they guessed went to the living quarters. They checked the ground floor rooms first.

Ethan walked into the archive room, which had a small desk by the window and stacks and shelves full of record books. He pulled a few out, just to be nosy, because they were all in French. Some of them had very old-fashioned hand writing, and some of the oldest ones were not even made out of paper but of parchment, and had medieval-style writing on them. The neatly-printed ones of the 1840s he could at least attempt to read.

“Isaac,” Ethan said in a low voice, knowing well Isaac could still hear him from the room next door, “what are these ‘Certificat de décès’?”

“Those are death certificates,” came Isaac’s voice through the wall.

“And ‘Certificat de baptême’?”

“Erm… baptisms.”

“So this is the list of births, deaths, and marriages?”

“Pretty much.”

Isaac soon appeared through the door. “Any luck then?”

Ethan turned around. “Well, we can sit here and read through these,” he added signalling around. “Some light reading…”

Isaac pulled a volume from a shelf while Ethan put the one he had back into its gap. “So, 1638. This one is not even written in French.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s written in Occitan, which is what the old people here still speak amongst themselves, when nobody is around to listen. They’re afraid people will laugh at them for speaking it,” Isaac trailed off as he read with difficulty through a few of the pages. He stopped on one particular page, and Ethan noticed it.

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s just curious?”

“What is curious, Isaac? In this place nothing is curious by accident, I’m beginning to believe.”

“It’s just… the same surnames on this ledger are the same that people have around the village still today. ‘Depuy, Gilbert’,” Isaac was reading aloud, “’married Margot Vidal on the 23rd of April’. Marcel Depuys is my neighbour. Was…”

“Put it back,” Ethan pointed at the register. “We can’t go through all this tonight. It’ll soon be too dark to even walk around. Did you find anything in the other office?” the twin asked as Isaac put the heavy book back on the shelf.

“Yeah, actually. There is a diary,” Isaac twisted his body and patted the back pocket of his shorts, where a small, black, leather-bound diary was. “It may be useful, and won’t go amiss. There was also a pile of parish bulletins on a corner, but nothing else really useful.”

“Jacks, what have you got?”

Ethan and Isaac heard a drawer being shut, too loud for their liking, but it might have been their heightened senses and the tension of the situation.

“Not much, it’s too dark in here. Anyone has got a light?”

The two werewolves went to find Jackson, who was trying to have a look with the light of his phone. Ethan turned his on too, and so did Isaac. They were in a cloakroom, with various pieces of religious garments were stored. On the hook behind the door there was a hooded cloak, which Isaac remembered well – it was the same that the villagers had been wearing the day of the invocation. He dramatically coughed and pointed at it while keeping his eyebrows arched.

“I believe this is when I say something which rhymes with ‘I bold you go’.”

Jackson and Ethan were unimpressed at the comment, but Ethan came closer to smell the cloak itself.

“It does not smell.”

“Must have been cleaned.”

“No, it’s not that. It just hasn’t got any smells. Doesn’t smell like a human, or a supernatural, or clean or dirty. It just smells of old dusty cloth.”

“It looks quite new,” Jackson was frowning, and his tone was not sarcastic – he was simply stating a point.

Isaac also had a quick sniff at the cloak. He looked into Ethan’s eyes and nodded, confirming what his friend had just said.

“Let’s check the next room and the upstairs,” Isaac suggested, not really knowing what to do about this just yet.

Ethan and Jackson went upstairs, to where they presumed the living quarters were. As they ascended the narrow stone-lined staircase, the same smell of old dust invaded their nostrils. At the top of the stairs there were three rooms: a small bathroom, a kitchen-dining room, and a small bedroom. They windows in all of these were closed tight and the shutters down, so when Ethan looked at Jackson with his hand on the light switch, his boyfriend gave him a quick nod. As the light flooded the bedroom they could see that it was not just that it smelled dusty, it was covered in dust: the floor, the bedside table, the bed. Dust accumulated like that had to be weeks if not months old. Nobody had slept in that room in a long time. There were a few footprints disturbing the grey layer, but they guessed they must belong to the police. They saw the same in the dining room and in the bathroom: unlived, unused, abandoned. Jackson went back to the bedroom and carefully opened the wardrobe, trying to leave as few footprints on the floor as he could. The inside was also empty. With a quick nod, he indicated Ethan to go down the stairs.

As they were coming down, Ethan was calling for Isaac: “Isaac? Are you sure this priest—“

“Look,” Isaac interrupted Ethan. He was at the bottom of the stairs holding up a small silver bowl: half a sphere with a small curved lip and a narrow foot at its base. It had a decorated band with various figures around it, but Isaac was purposefully pointing at the inside. “Or rather: smell.”

The two werewolves had stopped at the middle of the stairs, and from that distance they could smell the ferrous smell of old blood.

“Are they taking the whole ‘this is my Blood’ thing too literally?”

“I don’t know, but we might as well take it with us.”

“Do you remember, you know, a silver bowl at the nemeton?” Jackson asked as he gently nudged Ethan to walk to the bottom of the stairs.

Isaac bit his lip as he looked down into the bowl. “Not really. But there was much going on that night.”

“We’ll take the bowl with us,” Ethan said, who had taken up Jackson’s enthusiasm to gather clues and evidence. “As we were going to say, I doubt the priest is going to miss this. There was nobody living upstairs.”

“What?” Isaac was puzzled.

“Yeah, empty,” Jackson said. “Nobody has lived there in months. Did you say he is a new priest? When did he move in?”

“I don’t know. He came around the bakery I remember. That’s over two years ago.”

“And are you sure he lived here?”

“Or are you sure it is the same priest?”

“Hey, easy on the interrogation!” the taller werewolf had suddenly felt cornered with questions he had no answers for.

“Sorry, Isaac,” Jackson put his hands up and offered him a smile. “We’re all trying to figure things out.”

“Let’s sort this first,” Ethan marched to the office where Isaac had already been. They had to get some answers. He came back with a parish newssheet. He pointed at the back of it, where there was, in fact, a picture of a priest. “Is this your priest from the bakery?”

“No,” said Isaac. “He’s way too young. Must be the new one. This father Thierry – let me see?” Isaac grabbed the newssheet from the twin, and had a read through the back of it. “Yes, that’s him. Must be a new one.”

“No, he isn’t,” Jackson deadpanned. Ethan and Isaac looked at him.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean what I said: that person is not your priest.”

“And how would you know?”

“Because that is Dr. Matthew Langley,” Jackson said with a smug. “He was in Oxford giving a guest lecture series. He’s from a college in the states –cant’ remember where-. He was talking about the immediate future of science and technology, and about how close we are from making a major leap. As in ridiculously close and world-changing technology. I did not get most of it but, mate, can he deliver a lecture.”

“Twins?”

“Mistaken identity?”

“That picture,” Jackson insisted, “is not grainy enough to convince me otherwise. It is the same man.”

Ethan and Isaac knew Jackson was not lying to them, but they had no way to find out if he was wrong.

A thought occurred to Ethan. “When were those lectures, babe?”

“Oh, during my first year. It was… before the…” Jackson’s face changed. He swallowed and looked straight into Ethan. “They were on the term before we went to the Clumps.”

“And when did this priest arrive to this village?”

They went straight to the office to check the various parish newssheets in the dying light of the evening. Isaac pulled his phone out to use its light. They went through the various back issues until they found one which showed the old priest (which Isaac recognised from the bakery) and the new one, in an evident pose signifying the latter taking over the church.

“This is from last September.”

“Last September as in around the time when we came across the cultists in Oxford?”

“Last September,” Isaac clarified, “as when Iestyn left and Christine began preparing the fucking summer fête.”

The three werewolves were looking at each other nervously, not wanting to jump to conclusions. “Coincidence?”

Isaac’s question was left unanswered. They really did not want to think about that right now.

“Should we—“ Ethan began to ask, but Isaac cut him short.

“No,” Isaac was firm in his answer. “We are not telling anyone just yet. Let’s go and check the rest of the church before it gets too dark.”

“I thought it was too dark already.”

Isaac’s eyes flashed golden. “We might have a few more minutes with these,” he added with a smirk.

***

The left the corridor, which ended in a larger room illuminated through high windows. This appeared to be a combination of a classroom with a few desks, a small library, sheet music and a guitar, and an all-purpose storage room. A single door opened at the far side. As Isaac opened it, he got a clear view of the main altar at the apse of the church with the baroque choir opposite.

While he and Ethan walked into the church, quietly studying the building and its layout, they missed Jackson pulling out his phone. They also got startled by his low voice resounding across the building, like an echoing whisper.

“The church of Saint-Michel of Bégnan-du-Chêne was built in the mid-twelfth century by Robert d’Oily who was also earl of Oxford, and founder of Osney Abbey. It is a fine example of south French Romanesque, yada yada yada… ah yes,” Isaac and Ethan turned around to see Jackson reading out of his phone. “What? Wikipedia is very useful, and Ethan always wants us to do more sightseeing. And it might be relevant!” Ethan ventured a smile, which Jackson returned blowing him a kiss, as Isaac kept walking around, looking at the various elements of the church. “So, where was I? Ah, here. The church itself measures so and so… and a tower later in Gothic blah blah… barrel vault… The church is famous for its one relic of Visigothic silver, suggesting that it was built on top of a sixth-century structure of which nothing is preserved besides the archaeological crypt, and the curious cult statue of Saint Michael slaying the Devil. Oh, and there are Gothic wall paintings somewhere on the transept wall. What do you think babe?”

“Very impressive all. Still don’t know how this is supposed to help, Jackson.” Ethan had a no-nonsense tone which annoyed Jackson, who huffed and shoved his phone back in his pocket.

Isaac ignored them as he looked at the various elements described in the Wikipedia article. The church had an impressive barrel vault covering the main nave, true, although the side aisles had nerved cross-vaults. There were a few stained-glass windows with scenes which Isaac could not identify, nor could he read the descriptions in the dim light. There were carved capitals, but he could not make out the details either. The stone was carved in great detail, and it was incredibly well preserved for a building which was over seven hundred years old. He slowly walked to the front of the church, hoping to get a view of the greater picture across the nave. From his new viewing point, Isaac could appreciate the symmetry of the design, the sober and reassuring architecture that inspired humility. The last light of the day shimmered golden reflections from the Baroque altar pieces. They caught his attention, but before he headed there, something more immediate drew his eyes to the floor. Isaac pulled his phone out and turned the torch on.

The nave had relatively few benches, so he was able to notice that most of the floor was covered with large flagstones, some of them grave markers with inscriptions in which he could see the same handful of surnames repeated generation after generation from the 1560s. François Depuy, knight. Alain Depuy, knight. Jacqueline Depuy, widow of Matthieu Gartzés. François Gartzés, soldier. Thoma Gartçes, priest. Depuys, Gartzes, Fabré, Sardou, Vidal, some in French, some in Latin, varying spellings, but those same surnames repeated over and over again. Isaac could remember that those same surnames were the most common in the village nowadays – the same he had noticed in the register in the archive. Vidal were the woman who ran his accounts at the bank, the man at the hardware shop, and a few of his old customers from the bakery. Fabré was the baker himself, his old boss, and the car mechanics. This village was built on only a few families, extended families, with various branches, but holding a few names in total. They were all related, and they were all relatives, which made him feel a bit sick, but one thing was certain: these inhabitants went a long way back, nearly to the Middle Ages.

He walked slowly towards the altar, reading the inscriptions, until he finally got to the end. Jackson and Ethan were looking at other things, including a partially hidden door which apparently led to the bell tower, and a larger door which was the entrance to the archaeological crypt (although this one was actually labelled). Isaac turned his light off, and finally put his eyes on the altar, where he could see the statue of Saint Michael that Jackson had read about. It was curious. It was more than that. There was something very wrong about it.

“Boys,” Isaac called them. “What’s the story with Saint Michael?”

Jackson took his phone out again. “Well… Wikipedia says that during the apocalypse he will lead the armies of God to defeat Satan, and that he is traditionally seen as a healing angel.”

Isaac could see that in the statue. There were two figures, one standing on top of the other, the one on the left wings wide open, standing in some sort of cloud, pointing with a sword at the second figure, that was kneeling down, one hand extended, as if begging for mercy. But that was only the larger picture, and heavily conditioned by the way it had been painted (or, probably, repainted). The carvings seemed to tell a different story, and Isaac had to pay attention to the detail from quite close up. The sword was painted like a sword, but the actual carving was of something broader and with spikes radiating out of it. The angel’s wings were smooth, as if leathery, rather than feathery, and the edges were clearly serrated. The torso had been painted in gold, to make it into a cuirass or some sort of armour, but it gave the impression of being two pairs of arms folded over his (its?) chest. And were those pincers? It was so wrong, but it made so much sense.

“Guys,” Isaac called. “Guys, please.” Isaac was staring at the statue, calling at his friends too loud for his liking. “You need to see this.” A lump was forming on his throat. Suddenly Isaac did not want to be there at all.

Jackson smelled Isaac’s fear, and Ethan did the same a millisecond later. Both turned around and ran to their friend, who was now close to tears.

“Isaac, you’re scaring us.” Jackson said while standing by his friend’s side.

Ethan began to look around nervously, the church spinning around him, nearly making him dizzy. Then he saw something that called him, on the far wall, leaving his boyfriend with Isaac.

“Isaac, talk to me. What’s wrong.”

Isaac was now pointing at the altar statue, laughing silently in hysterics. Jackson stepped back to look at what Isaac was pointing at. He saw the statue, but didn’t understand. He was getting nervous, and very worried because Isaac seemed unresponsive. He tried to hear and to smell around them, but he was sure they were alone.

“Isaac, please, you’re freaking me out. Come back,” he clicked his fingers in front of his friend.

“Jackson…” Ethan was now calling at his boyfriend, eyes fixated on a different wall, voice sounding distant. “Jacks… look.”

Torn between his friend and his boyfriend, nerves edging to panic by the second, Jackson grabbed Isaac (who was still giggling fretfully) by the collar of his t-shirt and dragged him away from where he had frozen still towards Ethan.

“Will someone tell me what the fuck is going on?” Jackson was on edge now. He did not understand what was wrong with that church. He did not know if Isaac had suddenly lost his marbles, or what he had seen in that statue that had reduced him to a giggling imbecile. And now Ethan was behaving like a delusional lunatic.

Jackson let go of Isaac, who fell on his knees crying. “It’s them! Again! It has been them all the time.”

Jackson still did not understand. “Who?”

“The mi-go,” Ethan answered, still looking at the wall paintings with an open mouth and a lost look.

Jackson finally understood. He turned and looked at the altar statue. The paint told a story, but the original carving carried a completely different meaning. Under the pretence of a standard Christian image lied a monstrous figure with a bulbous, eye-less head (how could that pass for angelic curls?), serrated wings, multiple pincers and a tail camouflaged as a cloud. A mi-go. It was threatening with a weapon (or perhaps offering something that glowed?) to a kneeling figure, that looked like a normal human, even if it had been painted over like a demon. But the carving lacked horns, or wings, or a malicious face. It was kneeling and giving gladly something to the alien. Not begging for his life, and not defeated, but offering an exchange. A treaty. A perverse agreement carved centuries ago and preserved in the church as a reminder.

“Fuck.” Jackson kneeled down in front of Isaac, and shook him by the shoulders. “Isaac, listen, come back. Isaac!” Somehow he did not dare speak aloud and was yelling in hushed tones. “Isaac, mate, come back. We are in this together. You’re not going to be taken. Do you understand?”

Isaac did not respond until Jackson growled at him, half shifted. The taller werewolf seemed to snap back to reality, hands curled in fists and eyes glowing golden. He blinked quickly twice and his usual deep blue eyes were staring at Jackson’s.

“Are you ok?” Isaac looked down, but Jackson held his chin and kept their eyes level. “Isaac?”

“I- I- I’m not,” Isaac admitted. He was scared. He was terrified. They had just come across something which had been centuries in the brewing, and they hadn’t got the faintest clue what it was all about.

Jackson put his forehead against Isaac’s, and then brought him into a tight hug, giving him reassuring human contact as best as he could, Isaac slowly brought his hands around Jackson and finally gave in and hugged him back. Over Isaac’s shoulder, however, Jackson could see Ethan still staring at the paintings.

“Babe?” Jackson tried to move, but Isaac was not ready to let go. Jackson stood up and forced Isaac to stand with him, which calmed him down. The taller werewolf was slowly getting back to his usual self, and was eventually ready to let go of Jackson. When Jackson looked at Ethan again, he actually noticed what the wall paintings were. “Oh, FUCK.”

Three panels, painted high above the arches were framed by pilasters within the wall, under the window, showed three different scenes, with the same character in the three of them. The first one showed a priest, or a monk, with a golden halo surrounding his head, wearing a black and white robe. He was standing in between an angel and a group of villages, clustered around a leading figure wearing a special type of hat. The priest had a ribbon of red coming out of his mouth, with writing on it, although it was too dark to make any sense of it, His hands were down, palms extended to the sky in a conciliatory gesture. The oddly disfigured angel held down a sword and the villagers pointed at the forest and the mountains that formed the background.

“Saint Theuderic of Bégnan consecrates the forests to the protection of Saint Michael.”

“What?” Jackson asked, and Isaac had sobered up enough to react to Ethan’s story.

“I’m reading the touristic leaflet. Saint Theuderic is the key figure in these three panels. He is the one who had the church built, says here. In the second panel, Saint Theuderic expels the unbelievers from the town.”

The second panel showed the same Saint Theuderic pointing towards the forest, outside the village, while a group of figures covering their heads with their hands ran away. From the windows of the town houses are shown wearing blue and grey hoods, pointing and laughing at the people who leave, and even one of them is kneeling at the feet of the saint, hands together in prayer. Flying over the scene, the same angel appears wielding a sword, and pointing away from the town.

“The third panel,” Ethan kept reading, “shows the ascension of Saint Theuderic, who drove away the beasts from the hills, and the Lord called him to Heaven.”

Jackson took his eyes to the last panel, this time Isaac by his side, slouching still, but steadying himself. The last panel, under which Ethan was standing showed the villagers and the angel kneeling at either side of the saint, while a neatly painted grey wolf and a deep-red fox ran away from the scene at the bottom corners. In the centre, Saint Theuderic appeared high above the trees, surrounded by a green background, and looking up to a black cloud glowing in gold.

Ethan turned around and looked at Jackson and Isaac, who was still behind him. “I’ve had enough. Let’s get out of here.” He walked by Jackson and passed Isaac, but then he had to turn around.

“Wait!”

Jackson and Ethan were surprised to see Isaac calling them.

“Wait,” Isaac appeared to be struggling to put his words together, but his determination was pure steel underneath. “We can’t go just yet. We need to keep looking. We need to photograph these paintings. We need to take a leaflet.”

“Are you kidding?” Jackson walked back to Isaac, who flinched a fraction when Jackson approached that quickly. Jackson regretted it immediately, and raised his hands, showing he was no threat. “We have seen enough in this crazy church of Our Lady of the Aliens.”

“We have to find this Visigothic silver thing...”

“The bowl. The silver bloody bowl,” Ethan snorted. He opened his backpack and looked more carefully at it.

It now made much more sense. The figures showed a king or a noble, with curly hair and a diadem, wearing a military cloak with a brooch pointing at a cross. From this central motive, and going around the side of the bowl in a frieze, there were a series of hideous winged figures and a series of soldiers or hunters with spears on horseback, which met at what was a tree full of fruits and birds, at the diametrically opposite end to the figure of the king. There was an inscription in square capital letters, slightly wobbly, but clearly legible.

“EVRICVS·REX·VASUM·OFFERET·TRIVGVMAKVNDORUM·THEODORICO·EPSCPO – What the hell is that?” Ethan said after reading it aloud.

“Seems Latin.”

“Latin, anyone?”

“Let’s just leave that for later,” Jackson interjected. “Can we go now?”

Isaac looked at him with a terrified look, but breathing deeply to steady himself. “We have to go down the crypt. And we need to find about fath… father Thierry?” he didn’t finish the sentence, and stared into the distance.

“Please don’t tell me he’s behind us,” Ethan suddenly said.

“Thierry is the same as Theuderic.”

“Thierry is the same as Derek. Could it be just a coincidence this time?” Jackson pleaded, knowing well it was a lost cause.

“I would not put any money on it. Not today, not here. Not after all this,” Ethan added. He walked back to Isaac and put a hand on his shoulder. “Isaac, listen. Jacks and I can go down to the crypt, you don’t have to come down there.” After the nervous shock Isaac had had with the mi-go sculpted as Saint Michael, Ethan was afraid of what would happen if Isaac went down to what was, in all probability, a basement full of further unwelcome revelations disguised as archaeology.

“I’ll come,” Isaac nodded, trying to convince himself that he could actually do it. He gave a few cautious steps, and then led the way to the door that led down to the archaeological crypt.

The crypt was accessed through a side door that led out of the side nave to a small room, from which the steps led down to the old cellar. Isaac began to talk in hushed tones, hoping that the more he talked, the less his brain would have to think about, which should keep him away from unwelcome memories.

“So, Jackson. What does your Wikipedia say about this crypt? Or maybe it says something on the leaflet…”

Isaac nearly jumped when he heard the flicker of the light bulbs when Jackson turned the lights of the crypt on.

“Isaac, you don’t have to come,” Ethan insisted.

“No, no… I’m ready. I can do this.”

Jackson led the way down the flight of steps until they reached something far more welcoming that any of them had expected. Ethan read aloud from his leaflet that in 2015 there was an archaeological excavation that resulted in the preservation of the remains under the church as a crypt. It was well lit, with various panels and a reconstruction, which showed what the original Visigothic church might have been like, and the location of the burials. The walls had posters and pictures of the archaeologists at work, and it was all quite attractive. It certainly was nothing like the grotty dark and low-ceiling crypt that Ethan had feared.

Isaac felt quite at ease once they saw the archaeological remains, which consisted of a few display cases with pottery, some walls, marble decorations, a reconstructed altar and a mosaic floor. He was much more relaxed and breathing easily until the tables turned: he smelled Jackson’s fear.

“Jacks?”

Ethan had also noticed it. “Not you now…”

“Very funny,” Jackson snorted. He was coping better, but still was frozen where he stood. He slowly took his phone out, swallowed hard, and approached the reconstructed altar. He took some pictures of the mosaic floor in front. “That decoration. That glyph… I’ve seen this before.”

“In Oxford?”

“Hidden under the carpet, on the floorboards of the house that burned down.”

“Does it look like the ones on the tree?” This was a question for Isaac, who had only very cautiously approached the archaeological remains.

“I can’t tell right now.”

“Are you happy now with what we’ve found? And can we please go?”

Isaac nodded without moving his eyes away from the crude symbol drawn on the mosaic. This place has demonic or alien glyphs from the sixth century? With a silver bowl with winged aliens that held blood? And a church dedicated to the mi-go five centuries later? With a mysterious priest that is also a lecturer in Oxford and that has vanished in thin air? The questions kept piling on Isaac’s head until Jackson and Ethan nodded at each other and slowly began to walk up the stairs, dragging their tall friend with them.

Back in the church it was way too dark to see anything properly, so they carefully made their way back to the door they had come from. It was only when they had reached the door to the sacristy that they heard the noise. Like fingers tapping repeatedly on a piano, followed by the distant buzz of a muzzled radio, coming from the near-hidden doorway that they guessed (and hoped) led to the bell tower. Isaac turned around, and a memory of him being dragged into the sky by a frigging alien flashed across his eyes. He let his claws out and was half shifted when he felt four hands grabbing his arms. He turned around to see Jackson and Ethan with pleading eyes shaking their heads. Isaac stood there for a couple of seconds before turning around. They left as quickly and as quietly as they could in the dark church, heading towards the back exit. Once outside, they could see the thin waning moon. The smell of wolfsbane hit their faces as strongly as the bleach had hit them when they walked in, and they had to stop for a second, hidden behind a corner opposite the church, to pull their assorted items of clothing over their noses before any of them vomited.

When they were all capable of breathing again and were certain that no alien monster had escaped the church looking for them, they ran across the dark streets, following Isaac, until they reached home.

***

When finally they were home, and after Isaac placed the door back against the frame (they hadn’t really fixed it properly yet), the three werewolves let out a sigh of relief. Jackson and Ethan collapsed on the sofa while Isaac headed to the kitchen and downed a large glass of water.

“That was… erm. Eventful?” Isaac said scratching his head as he walked into the living room.

“That is one way of putting it. Fuck me!”

“What next?” Ethan asked Isaac as he sat on the other sofa and kicked his walking boots off.

“Well,” Isaac began, “we need to tell Patrice. We need to get everything ready for tomorrow, and we need to make sure that alien does not creep into my flat during the night.”

They waited for a few silent moments as they thought and processed about what they had encountered in that church and its implications. Eventually, Isaac rubbed his eyes and pulled his phone out. He had three texts from Scott, which made his inner wolf jump to attention, but he had to ring Patrice first. It was late, but he had promised to report back, so Patrice would be waiting for the call. Ethan stood up to make them some food while Jackson got up to pack the few things they had brought with them to be ready for the morning.

Isaac explained everything to Patrice: from the abandoned living rooms to the crypt, including the mysterious dual identity of the so-called priest, the freaky statues, and the myth described on the wall paintings. And the noises –the metallic whispers- coming from the darkness of the unexplored door to the tower. Patrice at once offered to drive there to pick them up now, knowing that the police had left the village hostages return to their homes – at least now they would not seem suspicious if they appeared there. Isaac said that it would not be necessary, and that they would meet as agreed in the morning. Before hanging up the phone, Isaac did ask if he could drive in later in the afternoon, so they could put in the van a few boxes and bags before heading back to Bordeaux. Patrice agreed, and they said their good-nights.

Ethan came back with three werewolf-sized bowls of tuna and pasta salad, which they ate in silence. After they finished, Isaac went back to the kitchen to wash the dishes while Ethan and Jackson cuddled up on the sofa. Isaac took his phone out to check what Scott had texted once he finished cleaning.

<Scott> 26/06/2019 19:17

Hey beta! Hope all is ok cos I didn’t get your update today

<Scott> 26/06/2019 19:17

Not that you have to send one, it’s just that I want to know you are doing ok ;)

<Scott> 26/06/2019 21:23

Isaac I just felt that – you ok??

 

Isaac thought that last one must have been sent when he realised about the statue in the church. He went bright red just at the thought that he had been scared shitless out of a statue, trying to ignore any PTSD-related flashbacks of his encounter with a mi-go. He quickly texted back.

<Isaac> 26/06/2019 23:17

Hey Scott, yeah all good now, we found a creepy af church but we got all we needed

<Isaac> 26/06/2019 23:17

We’re packing up and will be leaving the village tomorrow

<Isaac> 26/06/2019 23:18

Sorry for that!

 

Texting Scott had make him feel so good the last few days, but today his head was too busy thinking about the alien living in his village and all the fucked-up shit they had come across in the church. He walked back to the living room with a furrowed brow and sad eyes, which he couldn’t do anything about because his head was thinking on overdrive and his wolf was scared and jumpy. He waved his friends good night and went to his own bed.

His phone buzzed. He knew it would be Scott, but he ignored it. He just turned around and faced the window. A while later he turned again, face down. He grabbed his pillow. He kicked the sheets. HE jumped and changed position. He was thinking too much, and could not stop it – and there was the background fear that a mi-go would crawl up his window and take him away (Jesus, Isaac, not at your age!). And no matter how hard he tried to think that it could not happen, he really could not convince himself about it. He had his eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling, he did not know what time it was, but he suddenly heard foot steps on the corridor. Isaac sat up like a spring and turned towards the door, where he saw Ethan and Jackson walking into his room.

“Shush and budge up,” Jackson said, clearly annoyed.

“What’s going on?”

“You need to stop worrying like that. You’re driving us crazy, and it’s not good for you. We can’t be bothered to talk you out of it tonight, so we will just come and sleep in here,” Ethan clarified as he jumped in bed and laid on his right, by the bedside table. “Your pack is not here, so you’ll have to make do with us.”

“And please stop turning and tossing, and go to sleep,” Jackson said as he jumped over him to his left side, by the window.

“What?” Isaac was sitting up, and still did not know what was going on, but his wolf certainly felt better now that he had other wolves to comfort him – even if only for the night. A hand pulled him down to bed.

“Why do you have so many pillows?”

“You two. Shut up. Now,” Jackson growled and turned away from them, facing the window.

Ethan politely coughed, and Jackson huffed, turned back facing them, and grabbed Isaac’s arm in the crook of his elbow, bringing it close to his chest. Ethan also turned face down, placing his arm across Isaac’s chest, and bringing one of his legs in between Isaac’s. Tangled as they were, Jackson and Ethan fell asleep in a matter of seconds while Isaac, trapped between his two friends could not really understand what was happening. His wolf felt relief and secure, though. In any case, he did not have much time to think about any of that, because he dozed off himself.

***

In the morning, Isaac woke up in a tangle of arms and legs. Jackson’s head was on his upper arm, but he was now facing the window, still clutching Isaac’s hand against his chest. Ethan was attached to him like a needy koala, arms around his waist, head on his chest, and legs wrapping his knees. They all woke up simultaneously, and Isaac felt as if he had the best night sleep in years.

“Morning,” Ethan said, sitting up, and stretching his entire body.

“What was that all about?” Isaac asked, still completely baffled.

Ethan replied with a smile as he got out of bed, scratching his elbow. “I know Derek was a dick, but you really need to learn more about pack life.”

“Don’t bother with the lecture, babe,” Jackson said, rubbing his eyes but still by Isaac’s side. “It just works. There will be time for that. And you,” he said now gently elbowing Isaac on his side, “you are stupidly tall, but very comfortable.” He sat up and jumped out of bed. He kissed Ethan before the twin could leave the room, and then he turned to Isaac. “But don’t you get used to this,” he added with a stern look, which he changed after a second to a small smile, and then he was off as well.

They had a quick breakfast, and made sure everything was packed before going off to meet Patrice. That morning most of the wolfsbane flowers were dried or dying, and walking through the village was bearable for the werewolves. On the distance they saw a few people driving their cars back to their homes, people Isaac recognised, and they recognised him. He waved hands in the distance, and his neighbours waved back, but none made an effort to come and see him and his friends, or to talk. Isaac was hoping he would bump into Gimli or any of the other teammates, but he had no luck on that aspect.

As they got to the meeting point, Patrice welcomed them and asked them a whole round of questions about the church, so they gave him the full detailed debrief. The veteran hunter noted everything mentally, but a few things he asked Fred to scribble down on a notepad. They showed him the leaflet and the pictures they had taken, and briefly mentioned that they had the silver bowl back home. Whether Patrice thought that was wise or not was impossible to tell, because his face did not betray any emotions.

They headed towards the two places that they had decided they would revisit in the heat of the day. Isaac found himself looking over his shoulder far more often than he would like to, and had to shake his head to dismiss the thought that there was an alien waiting behind every tree or every rock. Ethan noticed this, and made a point of walking a few steps behind, so Isaac could always see him when he turned around, hoping that would reassure him.

At the first places they found nothing relevant, but later that day Louise called everyone to see something he had noticed on the rock. It might have been a trick of the light, or it might have been precisely because the sun was at the right angle this time, but on one of the rocky outcrops that they had marked on their GPS there were some interesting shades. When they looked carefully, and when they pressed their fingertips against the worn grooves, they all noticed that the shades and the grooves were organised in a pattern. It had an outer circle and then various straight lines forming something similar to a star, with smaller circles inscribed at random places. The entire motif was almost half a metre in diameter and, to the werewolves, it was a pattern they had seen already.

“It’s that fucking glyph again,” Jackson said.

Patrice checked the pictures he had taken of the nemeton tree, and then Jackson pulled his phone out to show the mosaic from the crypt. The same geometric pattern that they had in their cameras was inscribed on a rock where the lay lines intersected.

“Do we want to know how old this is?” Isaac ventured. Jackson and Ethan looked at him, throwing daggers. “Nah, I didn’t think so.”

Louise had been oblivious to this exchange. “Out here and with this type of stone, it could be anything really. Petroglyphs could be Medieval, could be Roman. Could be from the Bronze Age, four thousand years ago.”

“How fantastic,” Ethan said, oozing sarcasm.

Patrice remained silent as he took pictures and sketched on the notepad. “Right,” he added triumphantly, “I want to believe we are done with this goddamned forest. Are there any other spots we needed to double check?” Fred checked on the map, and shook his head – they had visited all the places they wanted to visit. “Then I have no intention to be around here for any longer.” He signalled everyone to go down hill to the path.

***

On the evening of the 27th, the werewolves and Patrice returned in good humour to the safe house by the Ocean.

The werewolves had gone straight to Isaac’s flat while the hunters went to their cars. By the time Isaac had packed all he wanted and brought their stuff to the street, Patrice was already there, with the van ready to be loaded. Louise and Fred were there too to say good-by before they went off to the church to place some surveillance equipment and with precise instructions to avoid the bell tower.

The drive back was tense, mostly because the werewolves could not stop thinking about what had happened the night before at the church and about the creepy omni-presence of the glyph, but Patrice insisted that they should not worry. They had a complicated mission; they had gone to look for clues and had come back with boxes full of evidence. They all laughed at the way Patrice made air quotes when he said ‘evidence’ and looked at Jackson through the mirror. That broke the tension that had been accumulating since they loaded the van. From then on, they were roaring in laughter at the never-ending repertoire of dad jokes Patrice knew (some in English, some translated by Isaac), fully aware that humour and laughing were their best way of coping with the unnerving and unsettling discoveries they had made in the last hours.

As they pulled by the house, Isaac decided to leave his big back pack in the car, but he did carry a few of the boxes they had brought with them, shouting their hellos. When they walked into the living room, they were welcomed by Deaton and Iestyn wiring up a projector to a laptop.

Chapter Text

Beacon Hills, a few days before

“Really?” Derek asked. Scott had just told him about Lydia’s revelation.

“Erm, yes. Apparently. Our bond seems to be quite strong,” Scott tried to explain. It was actually stronger than with any other of the pack’s wolves, but he would not say that aloud.

“And you never noticed it before?”

“Notice Isaac? Or notice the bond?”

“Well, that Isaac was very fond of you… I could have told you that. I didn’t realise it was so intense, though. I might have been not focusing much on that in those days,” which was an understatement. Derek had been busy trying to fight off the Alpha Pack, saving his sister, and defeating the darach who was actually his girlfriend. It had not been a good time for him.

Scott looked at Derek with an open mouth in surprise. Had everyone known but him? At least Stiles definitely had not, because otherwise he would have jumped, ranted about it for a day, flagged it in front of Scott, and interrogated Isaac about his intentions towards his best friend. He recovered from the shock admission, and focused on the question. “I noticed the bond! Sort of…? But it’s just that it felt as if it had always been there. It was so slight at first, and it grew over time… and it coincided with me becoming an alpha. I always thought it was part of my true-alphaness or whatever.” He ended up telling him how Isaac’s bond had kept him alive when Theo had otherwise separated him from the rest of the pack.

“You know that you are his anchor, right?”

Scott sighed. “Yes, I gather as much.”

“Ok. Now then, what’s your question,” a quizzical eyebrow rose above the other one on Derek’s face.

Scott was not expecting that. “I don’t know?”

“Why are you here, Scott? Is it because you do not know how to deal with a member of your pack who has feelings for you? Or because you do not know if you have feelings for him?”

Scott was on one of the couches at Derek’s loft. After his long catch-up with Isaac and the short but revealing conversation with Lydia, Scott needed to think. There were too many things in his head. He obviously wanted to have Isaac back; his inner alpha was happy about the prospect, and his human self wanted somehow to make up for the years they had all ignored him. But he did not know what he was going to do about Isaac’s feelings towards him. He hoped that talking to Derek would help him put his ideas in order.

“I- I don’t know…” Scott fell back on the couch, staring at the ceiling. “I have always seen him as… well. As Isaac. He’s pack. He’s my friend. I have never seen him in any other way.”

“Ok, let’s start again. Do you like men?”

“Blunt!”

“Don’t dodge! Answer the question. That’s the first thing we need to settle.”

Scott sat up and looked at Derek. “I guess. I’ve never had a chance to, erm, give it a try; but it’s been always something I’ve considered an option.” Scott was blushing at the admission. It was the first time he had confessed about his curiosity to anyone – not even Stiles.

“Well, Scott, that is the first thing you need to figure out. If you don’t want to be with a guy then that is fine. That will make everything easier. Isaac is an adult, and he will cope with it. Somehow he has been doing so for the last years. But if you have curiosity, what have you done in college these years?”

Scott blushed even more. “I have been busy with course work.” Derek raised an accusatory eyebrow. “What? I have been with a few girls. I really didn’t know where to start with boys. So I just left that on the side…”

“Do you need us to ask Danny?” Derek suggested lightly, but Scott took it seriously, and was pondering about it for a short moment.

“I think I’ll pass on that.”

“Ok… But do not just use Isaac to find out. As you said, he is pack. It would not do any good for you to go toying with him like that.”

“I wouldn’t—Derek, I would not use Isaac like that. For that!” The alpha felt really insulted at the mere suggestion that Scott would entertain the thought of having a fling with Isaac just to figure himself out.

Derek put his hands up, “I’m not saying that you would, Scott. Just needed to make sure that you understood that.”

“We are not sixteen anymore, Derek.”

“I know you’re not. But you are worried enough about you and about him to come and ask. I just had to make sure.” Derek paused for a second, before firing another question right to Scott’s flotation line. “After establishing that you do like men—“ Scott was about to interrupt, but Derek raised a finger with a grin, “Oh, no, Scott. You have avoided a straight ‘no’, so I’ll take it as a broad ‘yes’. Next important question: do you like Isaac?”

Scott was silent for a few seconds. “I think it’s more the fact that I’ve never have been attracted to Isaac in that way. I’ve always seen him as a friend.”

“And?”

“I don’t see why I would have to… see him differently now.”

“Well, you two have changed and matured. Hopefully. You have been apart for a few years. He will not be the same person you knew. And returning to my question, you may find out that the new Isaac rocks your boat: tall, blond, blue eyes, dresses well, can cook, speaks French…” Derek gave Scott a smirk. “Too much of a smartass for his own good at times, as far as I remember. And has a short fuse at others. But nothing you can’t work around or get used to.”

“Even if it was like that. I’ve always known him as a friend.”

“You barely noticed before he turned, and then you shared only a few months. Very intense few months, but not that many.”

“I feel it would still be weird, Derek. Won’t it? What if you suddenly realise you like Stiles after all these years, or that he has been secretly pining for you?”

Derek looked amused. “Pining? What sort of fan-fic alternative universe would that be?”

“I don’t know! It was just an example.” Scott’s face changed into a cheeky grin. “And since when are you an expert on alternative universe fan fics? Have you been reading Teen Vamp fictions, Derek?”

Scott only got a glare framed by eyebrows as a reply, which clearly expressed that Derek would never ever in his werewolf life indulge in such things. It was also the reason why Scott knew Derek was, in fact, reading such wonders of modern literature.

“Alright, alright. Don’t worry, Sourwolf1989,” Scott teased him making air quotes with his fingers when he made up Derek’s alias. “But now, really, Derek. Please.”

“You are still deflecting my questions.”

Scott huffed. “Well. I’m not sure.”

“That’s something.” Derek gave the alpha a couple of nods. “Scott, you are anxious because of all the current circumstances, including aliens and nemetons, which you will need to explain in more detail later,” Derek’s eyebrow re-positioning indicated that it was urgent, but that it somehow could wait for a few minutes. “But what would you do if this was a handsome young man who openly comes to you and shows some interest?”

That left Scott dumbfound. “Well, I’d… Dunno?”

“You’re not being very eloquent today, Scott.”

“You’re not being very helpful today, Derek.”

The alpha collapsed on the couch again, hands by his side in frustration, and a worried, pensive expression on his face. Both werewolves sat in silence for a while. After a while, Derek started talking again.

“Scott, let me put all I’ve seen in perspective. See if that helps. You have at no point given me a definite ‘no’ to Isaac. You are beating around the bush, but that’s all in your head. I can smell your anxiety and your curiosity: you are really considering what would be your best way to approach Isaac about it, but do not know where to start or how to do it.” Scott blushed at the way the older werewolf could read him like an open book. “If you came here for me to give you the final push, I can do that: go and find Isaac and try it with him. But you need to convince your conscious self of what your subconscious seems clear about. Otherwise you could screw things badly between you two, and for the pack as a whole. And Isaac had already had to leave a pack once.”

Derek swallowed hard when he said that. He had bitten Isaac, so he had always felt responsible for him, especially ever since he had found out about what Mr Lahey was doing. Then he had been the reason why Isaac had been left without a pack and had to go to Scott (Derek would never forgive himself for actually throwing a glass at his former beta). He had not been happy at first when he had left with Argent, but as he got to know Chris better he felt more comfortable with Isaac having gone with him. He had never gathered the courage to ask Chris about Isaac, so when he found out that Isaac was alive and well (and seemingly coming back) Derek was surprisingly relieved. He could not wait for him to come back and, hopefully, get a chance to apologise.

Scott stayed quiet, biting his nails. He did not like being so easy to read, especially when he had not got to terms with the idea himself yet. He really wanted to know Isaac better, but he was worried of how it would go. It was all new to him. Not only the boy-boy part; it was also the finding out what he felt when the other person already knew it clearly. As far as he could tell, he had never been anyone’s crush, although apparently he had been completely oblivious of the fact that Isaac had one, and they had lived in the same house. Knowing he could have that effect on people was flattering. Knowing that he could be completely oblivious was worrying. Knowing that it was someone whom he had thought of as a friend was worse. It was far more tempting to back pedal and deny everything. But, somehow, he could not bring himself to do that. Not without trying first.

Derek sighed; he stood up and sat by Scott. “It will all be fine. You just wait.”

“How would you know?” Scott said, still thumb in his mouth, while rubbing unconsciously his two-band bicep tattoo.

“Ah, well. Nobody knows. It’s a mystery.”

Later that day, Scott was sitting at the kitchen table, with an untouched plate of re-heated leftovers which had gone cold, thinking of what he had talked about with Derek during the afternoon. He had not realised the time it was until he heard Melissa’s car pull in, and he barely lifted his head as he heard her walk into the house. Melissa was surprised to see Scott up way after midnight with an untouched plate of food by the side.

“What is your college brain mulling over?” she said tiredly as she kissed Scott on the top of his head.

“Hm?”

“Oh, not this again,” Melissa sat by her son and pushed the uneaten dinner to the side. “Is this about Isaac, sweetheart?”

“Yeah. No. Partly. It’s just…” Scott sat up, scratching his elbow and passing his fingers through his hair. “Do you remember when Isaac moved in with us, mom?”

“Of course I do, Scott,” Melissa said with a smile. “It’s that moment when I suddenly needed to feed two growing teenage werewolves.” She added as a joke to lighten her son’s mood.

“But mom, do you remember him, and how he was?”

“Scott, it’s difficult to forget him,” just as she said this Scott felt a guilty pain, because it seemed as if everyone had largely forgotten about him the moment he went to France. “He was unnecessarily tall, and way too thin for a boy at that age. And for all the things that were going on, he was definitely a much healthier, confident and happier boy than the one who came to hospital every now and then when he was younger.”

Melissa remembered bitterly how Isaac had been in hospital when he had needed x-rays and casts. It had only been a couple of times, but there had always been something suspicious about the old bruises and healing cuts, which Mr Lahey claimed it was just the result of having a clumsy child. She should have known better, but nobody in the nursing staff knew enough of the Laheys or saw enough of Isaac to ring all the alarms. When Noah Stilinski had told her after all the kanima business, everything fitted into place – but by then it was all too late.

“I do not think that Derek was being responsible when he bit him,” she added with reproach, “and he was certainly not a good alpha to him, but he gave that kid a new opportunity. And I also think that you helped him overcome many of his problems. It comes with being a true alpha, I guess.” She kissed her son again.

“But mom, I… I mean, he… Do you think Lydia is right?” Scott did not know if he was ready to have this conversation with his mother, but after his discussion with Derek he felt marginally more confident with opening up. “Do you think he…”—Come on, Scott, you can say this to your mom—“Do you think he liked me?”

“Oh, darling, that boy adored you.”

“No, but, mom. I mean. Lydia said it was more like,” Scott swallowed again as he blushed, and he felt his voice go lower (Why is this so difficult?)“he liked me?”

Scott turned to look at his mother, who gave him only the tiniest of knowing smiles and threw her arm over his shoulders.

“Oh not you as well!” Scott brought his head down to the table, not daring to look up.

“Honey, you were never focused on him in that way, and were at many different things going on at the same time. I was surprised when he got with Allison, but you should not beat yourself up because of that,” she was rubbing her son’s shoulders, comforting him. “For all your supernatural senses, you are your father’s son when it comes to this.”

Scott was positively glowing bright red now. Melissa continued.

“But Scott, son, listen: that does not change things. That was years ago, he probably has moved on. And even if not; now that you know you will be able to let him know when he comes back that…”

At that moment, Scott just lifted his head a fraction and looked at his mother with a mix of guilt and confusion, which Melissa recognised immediately.

“Oh. Oh... I see.” Scott hit the table with his forehead again while Melissa brought him into a tighter hug, while she bit her lip while smiling and shaking her head. “Don’t worry, darling. I won’t go all Queer as Folk mom on you”—Scott lifted his head for a second to give Melissa a blank stare framed by confused eyebrows, signalling that he did not understand a thing of what she was saying—“Don’t worry, it’s an old TV show. Now, don’t take this the wrong way Scott, but are you sure?”

“Sure of what, mom?” Scott was so nervous he did not know if he wanted to cry or to storm away and avoid his mother altogether.

“Sure of the step you are mulling over. You are obviously questioning yourself now that you know how he feels.”

Scott sunk his head again, not wanting to look at his mother, but conscious that he needed to finish this conversation. “I am not sure mom. But there is something in me that makes me wonder. Something that says it sounds right. Something that says that I maybe owe it to him for letting him go.”

“Scott, listen. Look up.” Scott obeyed. “If you want to go for this, do, honey. But do not do it because you think it is something you have to, even for Isaac. It has to be because you want to.” Scott sighed loudly at this, and brought his head up, resting his chin on his hands, which were crossed and resting on the table. “And now, young man, we are going to bed, because it’s very late, and not all of us are on holidays. And tomorrow you are going to make pancakes and then we’ll go into town like mother and son.”

Melissa binned the cold dinner. She turned the lights off and grabbed her son’s upper arm, physically dragging him to the bottom of the stairs, where she just pointed upstairs, clearly indicating ‘bed’.

Once in bed, Scott checked his phone, which he had left charging upstairs, and he saw that Isaac had finally answered back in the pack chat, even if it was a simple hello. He ignored most of the questions texts, and decided to text Isaac directly.

<Scott> 24/06/2019 01:12

Hey finally!

<Scott> 24/06/2019 0112

Just wanted to check you’re ok

<Scott> 24/06/2019 01:13

I can go to bed now

<Scott> 24/06/2019 01:13

It’s quite late here

<Scott> 24/06/2019 01:13

Night night!

<Isaac> 24/06/2019 01:13

gnight!

 

That last message, short and simple as it was, was all the Scott needed to see, suddenly feeling much better after all the thinking of the day. With a smile, and for now, Scott managed to forget all his worries and drifted off to sleep.

***

The following morning Scott woke up late after a restless night. He had gone to sleep comforted by Isaac’s message, but at some point before he was fully asleep his brain started ticking, and a voice inside began to question if he was really sure of what he was doing, or if he really meant what he was thinking. The voice at times echoed Derek and, at times, it mimicked his mum’s. Most of the time it sounded like Stiles, even if he had not spoken with him at all. In the morning, he was lying in bed when he heard Melissa walk down the corridor to the stairs. He heard her rumbling around the kitchen while mildly cursing. She then stomped angrily up the stairs and knocked on Scott’s door.

“There is nothing to eat in this house for breakfast. So you and I are going into town, have pancakes, and then you are coming with me to the brand new bookshop which has just opened.”

Scott had no chance to argue, because she was already on her way to the shower, and when the werewolf dared to voice a ‘but…’ he was silenced by an imperative ‘utt! Pancakes!’ and the noise of a bathroom door slamming shut. With resignation, Scott walked into the shower and got ready for a morning with Melissa.

The new Beacon Hills bookshop was called Terry’s Corner. Beacon Hills was not a cultural backwater, but it was perhaps an unusual spot for the opening of such a modern and big bookshop. Scott was shocked when he saw that the shop was absolutely packed with people.

“Why are we here mom?” he asked before opening the door for Melissa.

“Oh, I have heard so many things about this shop at the hospital. From doctors and patients. I just wanted to be nosey.”

Scott had been in a few bookshops, if he counted the old comic book store and the campus bookshop, but this shop was that and more. Despite being advertised as a generic bookshop, Terry’s Corner had a very thorough scientific section, which ranged from anthropology to zoology, and was stocked with university handbooks and specialised volumes printed by universities and academic publishers from all over the world. The scientific collection was on the top floor. The ground floor was entirely devoted to novels: fiction and non-fiction. The basement was covered with table top and board games, comic books and a young adult section. There was a handful of busy shop assistants helping customers. Melissa walked inside, followed close by Scott, who suddenly felt like a small kid, afraid he might get lost in such a large shop. She stopped by one of the pillars, where there was a large poster announcing a series of general-public scientific talks and lectures that were going to be held in the shop that month.

This is what all the fuss is about,” Melissa said as she looked around, and read lightly over the talk topics. “Now, Scott, these look far more interesting than those given at the community college.”

“Ah, I am glad that you appreciate our efforts,” a man was standing by Melissa’s and Scott’s side. It was a young man, who spoke in a polite tone. He had a slightly receding hairline, his hair so black it almost seemed a hue of blue. His strong jawline contrasted sharply with his soft and big eyes, which were a light shade of brown. “I am Terry. Please, welcome to my Corner,” he added with a smile.

Scott was immediately on alert, although this was out of force of habit. In the few seconds that it took Melissa to engage in compliments to the shop and her surprise at the lecture list, Scott’s senses told him that nothing weird was going on. Nothing smelled out of place, nothing seemed odd. It was just a bookshop. And still. A gut feeling had triggered his alarm, even if he could not point his finger on what.

“Scott!”

“Oh, what? Sorry. What were you saying?” Scott had no time to think more on that, as he focused back on what his mum was saying.

“I was just saying that you should have a look at this lecture list. I know you’d be bored to death with them at university, but you can still come with your dear mother to do something while you’re here and Chris is away. And we don’t have a planetarium to go and hear people talk about planets and colonising Mars.”

Scott looked around and he saw that Terry had gone to attend some clients, but Melissa had a leaflet with the list of talks. She handed it to Scott, who unfolded it carefully and had a quick look. His mother asked him if he wanted a book to read while he was home for the summer, and Scott nodded vaguely. They wandered around the shop for a while, and although they did not buy anything in the end, they kept the leaflet.

They were about to leave the shop when Melissa held Scott’s arm. “So… now that we are in town, you can help me with the groceries.”

“What groceries?” Scott asked suspiciously.

Melissa gave her son a cheeky grin as she gloated about her evil plan to lure Scott with pancakes and bookshops while the real plan had been all along to do the monthly shopping that very morning. Scott moaned with a grunt as his mother laughed, while she linked her arm with his. It was not until they were out of the shop that Scott realised just how noisy the bookshop had been with all the hub-hub of the customers and especially the low-but constant and annoying white noise and humming of the shop assistants’ walkie-talkies. What Scott did not notice was the large circular motif with straight lines almost but not quite in the shape of star that decorated the carpet at the centre of the shop.

After unloading over a dozen bags of groceries (mostly carried by Scott), mother and son had lunch, before Melissa had to go back to work. Scott offered to drive her, and when he got back home he realised that he had a string of messages from Isaac, telling him about what they had seen at the nemeton (he even sent some pictures and Scott saw to his surprise that Ethan and Jackson were there with him). He quickly read through them with a smile on his face before texting back

<Scott> 24/06/2019 15:03

Hey beta!! :)

 

Isaac was already in bed. Scott could guess they had had a busy and intense day in France, so he kept the conversation short. He told him that Melissa sent her bests, and asked him to make sure to take care tomorrow, when they were going to explore the hills looking for the alien.

During the rest of the day, Scott nagged and bullied Stiles to tell him something about what he was researching, but his friend would not budge an inch. He tried Mason and Corey, who were more helpful, but even after their explanation, he still did not understand much of what was going on. Eventually he rang Derek and asked him to meet in the morning to (finally) go and check the nemeton. The former alpha warned him that it might be difficult with the new State Park, of which Scott knew nothing, but they still arranged to meet. Scott even steeled himself enough to ask Malia to come with them tomorrow, and she also agreed.

In the evening, he texted Liam quickly to find out when he was planning to come back to Beacon Hills, and his beta replied almost immediately saying that he was hoping to be there tomorrow afternoon. With little else to do after that, Scott sat on the couch and saw the lecture list at the library, and started looking through them, thinking about what his mum had said earlier.

***

Scott texted Isaac first thing the following morning. By chance, he managed to coincide with his beta, who texted back immediately. Apparently they were going back to the village now to check something or other (what time was it there? Scott could not think straight that early in the morning). Scott asked him again to be careful with the flying aliens, but Isaac just teased him saying that he ‘won’t be easy to catch’, and that he had a full team for support now. He even joked and told Scott to go back to bed, which made Scott chuckle. After asking him to send an update, he let him go on with his business. After a heartbeat, and just to make sure, Scott sat up and closed his eyes, he focused on their shared pack bond and gently tugged it, trying to show his concern and reassurance – he really did not want anything bad to happen to Isaac. He hoped that that small gesture could convey more than what he had briefly texted.

He had his breakfast and got ready, leaving a note for Melissa, who was still asleep after a double shift, and he jumped on his car. On his way to the preserve, Scott could not help but notice how many police cars were around these days in Beacon Hills that day. Or maybe they were ambulances, or fire engines. However, he was not sure what exactly they were, because he did not manage to see any of those vehicles. Scott could only hear the distant buzzing of their radios.

As he drove into the Beacon Hills preserve, Scott saw for the first time what Derek had only told him in passing the other day: a large gate have been installed, regulating the access, and fence posts were being set up all around the edges. Workmen and their vans were busy setting up a perimeter around the preserve, and Scott knew that this was being done also at various other adjacent tracks of forested land. The new Beacon Hills and Range State Park was being established, which involved a higher level of protection, a wider protected area, and the establishment of a ranger service. As Scott approached the gate, a young woman with fair skin, dark hair held in a ponytail, and a park ranger jacket stopped him. He pulled by her and rolled his window down.

“Good morning sir, where are you going?” the ranger asked. Her nametag read ‘Barret’.

“Oh sorry, I didn’t know I couldn’t come through, I just wanted to drive into the preserve, to the old Hale house.” Scott tried to explain.

“Are you Mr Hale?” she looked quickly on her clipboard. “Peter or Derek Hale?”

“Oh, he’s with me,” Scott heard a familiar voice behind the ranger. “We are meeting my cousin inside.”

“Ah, ok, Ms Hale.” Ranger Barret seemed happy enough with that and left back to her temporary cabin.

Malia approached Scott’s car, waving with her hand, and then proceeded to sit down at the front.

“Hello, Scott.”

“Hey, Malia.”

“Scott, before you say anything, just drop it.” Scott hadn’t managed to say anything yet, but his mouth was already open. “We can be normal around each other. We are both over that kiss. You are still the alpha, but you’re now a college boy. Can we go back to being normal friends?”

Scott had postponed this for way too long, but he was glad that Malia had done this for him. He could only nod and smile.

“Good. This tension you were creating was getting beyond ridiculous,” she punched him not-so-gently on the shoulder. “And unnecessary. Now, drive,” she added while pointing at the gate.

On the short drive, Malia explained to Scott that the State had been planning to enlarge the protected area around Beacon Hills for years, but they needed the Hale lands which apparently Peter and Derek had only now decided to cede to the state. They were hoping the nemeton would be more inaccessible in this way, which made Scott frown, because they had not consulted with him. It was still a good idea, he thought and nodded silently as Malia continued with her explanation. The park authorities were preparing to fence off the preserve wherever it was close to inhabited areas. They were also setting up designated parking spaces and hiking trails, and they were going to build the ranger’s headquarters and visitor centre for the park at the place of the old Hale house. It had been demolished long ago, but Derek and Peter still owned the land and the house. It was complicated, and Malia had not understood it all.

“But that’s all in a nutshell,” she added finally as they approached their destination.

Derek was standing outside the nearly-finished ranger HQ that occupied the space that had once been the Hale family house. He waved at them as Malia and Scott got out of the car.

“So the house is gone?”

“The house was gone long ago, Scott. It’s just that Peter and I decided to hand it over to the state to create the park rather than having anyone else build their house here.”

“But why a park?”

“Don’t you think the nemeton deserves a protected status?”

“If anything Isaac has said is true,” Malia interrupted, “then yes. And give the rangers guns as well.” She started walking off towards the trail that led to the nemeton.

“They have guns already!” Scott tried to say, but she was off already. He looked at Derek, who shrugged his shoulders and started walking after his cousin. Scott shook his head and walked after the two Hales, just as behind him the builders hauled up a large radio antenna to the roof.

After a short walk, and letting Scott use his True Alpha powers to find the way, they finally arrived at the nemeton. They spent most of the morning looking and sniffing around. They even tried to have a look at the collapsed root cellar, but they could not identify anything out of the ordinary. It was a small respite to see that nobody had been here in a while. In fact, Scott felt that nobody had been there since he had been there last.

They began a wider sweep around the nemeton, looking for any other hints of supernatural activity, but they found nothing.

“Are we done with this yet?” Malia moaned.

It was nearly noon. They had been out searching for hours and had not noticed anything suspicious. Derek also stopped and looked at Scott with inquisitive eyebrows. The alpha nodded silently, and they all headed back towards the car. Scott gave Malia a ride back to the gate while Derek went off in his own car. At the new park entrance, they were saying goodbye as the ranger came to Scott’s car.

“Was it all ok over there?”

“Oh, yes,” Scott said with a smile. “We were just seeing your new building.”

“Ah, yes,” Ranger Barret continued. “It should be ready and operational in a few days. The plan is to inaugurate the park on July 4th. No fireworks, though,” she added with a smile. “We’re protecting the wildlife.” She was interrupted by a loud and continuous buzz on her radio. “Oh, sorry, got to go now. Hope you come and visit the park once it’s open!”

With that, the ranger turned around. Malia brought Scott in for a tight hug, gave him a reassuring nod that they were all ok, and then she went off her own way. Scott was left there thinking about what to do, and decided to go and visit the Sheriff, in case he had noticed anything out of the ordinary.

The Sheriff was glad to see Scott, and gave him a welcome hug as he walked into his office. For some unknown reason, it was being a quiet month for the Beacon Hills Sheriff Office and with Stiles out of State, the Sheriff could indulge on his Tuesday fry-up, so he took Scott for lunch with him to the local diner.

“So, how’s college life?” said Noah while munching on his third rasher of bacon.

“Well, this year has gone quite fast, with all the lab work and all that.”

“That’s good. Will you be coming back to Beacon Hills after you are done?”

That was the question the Sheriff always had for him, and Scott always gave him the same answer. “I am still thinking about it.”

“Your mother would love you to stay around. And I can always welcome the opinion of an expert veterinarian. Especially in this town,” he added with a knowing smile as he attacked his mountain of curly fries.

“Speaking of experts,” Scott went of the tangent. “Has there been any unusual animal activity?”

The Sheriff looked at the werewolf who was sitting opposite him and left his fork on the table. He slowly chewed his food and swallowed it, cleaning his mouth with a paper napkin. He left a sigh out before asking quietly, “Scott, are we expecting anything that I should know about? It’s just that now with that preserve park upgrade it’s not just us”—the Sheriff tapped at his badge—“we have state rangers in town now. God knows why the Hales finally accepted the deal over their land, but if things… happen… it’s not going to be just me trying to deal with things.”

“Sheriff, we don’t know. I mean,” Scott sat forward now and spoke lowly. “Isaac has come across something in the nemeton in France—“

“Wait,” Noah interrupted. “Isaac, the Lahey boy?”

“Yes, him. He had been on a, errm, long-term mission with Chris. And now we were worried that something might happen at our nemeton as well.”

The Sheriff pushed his plate away, having lost suddenly his appetite. “I’m getting too old for this… Does Stiles and the rest of the pack know?”

“Yes – everyone is working on it. Derek and Malia came with me to check on the nemeton this morning and we didn’t notice anything unfamiliar. But I don’t know if something had been reported which a normal agent might have overlooked?”

After the affair with the Anuk-ite the people of Beacon Hills seemed to have returned to their period of ignorant bliss regarding the supernatural. The Sheriff nodded his head and asked for the bill. As they left the diner, Scott turned around hoping for a second to see more deputies at the restaurant, because he had heard a non-stop low radio hum while he had his lunch with the Sheriff but, to his surprise, he saw none. Noah called him to hurry up, and Scott followed him to the station.

After collecting a pile of recent cases and shutting themselves in the office, the Sheriff and Scott spent most of the afternoon looking for evidence of supernatural activity. It was close to 5pm when suddenly he felt worry and fear extending through his pack bond with Isaac, clutching his guts, and Scott checked his phone which he had kept silent. Only then he saw Isaac’s chain of messages, detailing what they had found, and asking about how he was doing. There were also messages he had sent to the pack chat asking if anyone knew what had happened to Scott after he had received no reply. The alpha could not help but smile at the concern shown by the tall werewolf, and he concentrated in sending him reassurances that everything was ok over their bond. He immediately felt Isaac calming down.

“You ok, son?” the Sheriff looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, yes. It’s nothing. Just Isaac. Pack stuff.” He quickly put the phone away and focused back on the paperwork.

“Oh, really...” The Sheriff said no more, but he kept a grin on his face as he opened up another folder.

It was close to half-past seven when Noah Stilinski decided to call it a day. They had spent all afternoon revising cases and, thankfully, he had not been interrupted more than a handful of times with forms that needed signing and a few phone calls. Scott stretched his arms and yawned as he stood up and left with the Sheriff. They both were happy to say that there was nothing supernatural going on in Beacon Hills (or, at least, nothing more than the usual werewolves and werecoyotes living in town).

By the time Scott got home, Melissa had gone off to work (another night shift), but she had left him dinner ready. As he put the plate in the microwave to reheat the casserole, Scott pulled out his phone and sent a quick text to Isaac, just to reassure him that everything was ok.

<Scott> 25/06/2019 19:51

Hey Isaac! Sorry I didn’t text earlier. It’s all ok. I could feel you worrying, but srlsy no need! Hope you have more luck tomorrow

 

After this he began to text Stiles asking for more details about what he was reading, but his friend would not tell him a thing. Eventually he forced him to promise to give him a summary when he had a clear idea.

***      

Scott woke up the following morning from a dream in which he came back home from college to find that Isaac was living there, with Melissa and Chris, as if they had been a family all their lives. None of them knew who Scott was, and he had to convince them that he was Melissa’s son, but Isaac only said ‘it can’t be true, because I can’t go out with my brother’. He woke up immediately with a cold sweat and went to grab a glass of water.

He had nothing planned for the following morning. Stiles and Lydia had told him to stop nagging them for updates, that they would tell him when they had a clear idea of what was going on. He felt like a caged bear in the zoo, knowing that things were going on but that he could not help. He was really reconsidering if he should have bought a flight to France after all, seeing that the Beacon Hills nemeton was all ok. He realised that he had not heard from Isaac either. Thankfully, Liam was back in town and he agreed to meet him later.

By mid-morning he could not wait any more and pulled his phone out to text Isaac.

<Scott> 26/06/2019 10:17

Hey beta! Hope all is ok cos I didn’t get your update today

<Scott> 26/06/2019 10:17

Not that you have to send one, it’s just that I want to know you are doing ok ;)

 

He knew now that France was nine hours ahead, so he was unsettled by the lack of news from Isaac, and by the fact that he was not replying, but he was out doing research with Jackson and Ethan, so he knew they were busy. Scott put his phone away, he got ready and went out to meet Liam.

They met at Liam’s house, so they could sit by the swimming pool. They had a nice catch up about college and how life was outside Beacon Hills, although Liam definitely noted how Scott was fidgety and edgy. He also noticed that his alpha had deflected and avoided all questions about Isaac, so he stopped after a while. They were enjoying the lazy morning doing little else when suddenly Scott sat up. He felt Isaac’s terror. Something wrong was going on, and Scott did not know what to do. He rushed for his phone and texted.

<Scott> 26/06/2019 12:23

Isaac I just felt that – you ok??

 

“What’s wrong, Scott?” Liam was beginning to panic himself seeing his alpha evidently worried.

“It’s Isaac. I think that they must have found something.”

Scott tried ringing him, but didn’t get through. Before he tried calling Chris, Scott felt how Isaac calmed down through their shared bond. Scott managed to calm down himself, only to be faced by Liam.

“Alpha or not, you have to tell me what’s going on with this Isaac who’s suddenly a member of the pack and who is obviously giving you a hard time.” Scott sighed as Liam tapped the floor with his foot, and crossed dramatically his arms on his chest, expecting an answer. Liam changed his tactic and sat by Scott. “I just want you to trust me with this, Scott. We’re pack.” Liam rubbed his nose against Scott’s shoulder and neck to make more of a point.

Scott sunk his head and told him.

After a couple of hours of Liam listening carefully to Scott’s internal conflict (after explaining it to Derek and his mum Scott was getting more confident discussing this) Liam remained quiet. He only added that he did not know who Isaac was, so he could not give any insightful comment, although he was anxious about letting an apparent outsider getting that close to his alpha.

They were silent for a while, and Liam jumped in the pool. Scott was about to follow, when his phone vibrated. He checked and saw Isaac’s texts, confirming that he was all ok. Scott felt a million times better now. After a few moments he texted back.

<Scott> 26/06/2019 14:20

Don’t scare me like that, beta! Glad that all is ok. Stay away from churches :P

 

Liam saw the dopey smile on Scott’s face as he texted and he rolled his eyes just before splashing him all over. This brought Scott back to reality, who left the phone on the table and jumped into the pool with all the healthy intentions an elder brother could muster in that situation.

In the afternoon, Melissa asked Scott over the phone if he would attend with her one of the lectures at the new bookshop. That evening it was on the real actual possibilities of landing a crewed ship in Mars, which she found fascinating. Scott had nothing else to do that day, so he agreed, even if it was just to spend some quality time with her mum outside the house. When they got there, they were surprised to see that there was a small wine reception before the talk and that the lecture was given by the storekeeper himself. Neither Scott nor Melissa were experts in astrophysics, but the lecture was delivered in plain language, and so expertly explained and exemplified, that they could believe every single word. Scott never thought he would enjoy a lecture as much as he did. They were both surprised at how really close it all seemed, and how plausible it was that in the imminent future humans could achieve this. They were already discussing which one to go next (space elevator was their favourite) on their way out of the shop, and this time Scott did not even notice the low and muffled metallic-sounding voices apparently coming from a radio somewhere around the shop. Not even when one of said voices actually mentioned his name.

***

The next day, early in the morning, Scott received a text from Deaton, telling him to be ready to have a four-way video call later that morning. He had to ring Liam and Derek to see how and where they could organise one, because he did not know where to start. Derek told them to come to his loft, and that he would set everything up.

Scott was there on time, but Liam was slightly late than the agreed time. But it didn’t matter – they were still early for the video call. They plugged Derek’s laptop to his TV and, once they had it all sorted, made the call.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Isaac!”

“Hey, you two!”

It was clear that the rest of the people in the room had already had some time to chat with Stiles and Lydia, because they all left them to have a short conversation while they waited for the rest.

“Long time no see! Where’s your scarf?”

Isaac had to laugh at that. Obviously Stiles would only have that to say after years without seeing each other. He had already mentioned the scarves on the chat group, but he had to say it aloud. Despite that, Isaac was surprisingly pleased to see that he and Lydia were finally together. And they looked good together. Deep inside his wolf told him that if they could there was no reason why he could not get Scott, but Isaac told his wolf to belt up and shush. He coughed for a second.

“I left it in the freezer where I sleep now. You know, for old times’ sake.”

Because, of course, Isaac also had to. Especially with Stiles. But before Stiles could say anything to up that, he was interrupted by Lydia.

“Very funny. Now, tell me what have they been feeding you in France, big boy?” she said with a voice too admiring and suggestive for Stiles’ liking, who opened his mouth in a big ‘O’. Isaac felt his cheeks begin to blush and he lowered his head with a shy smile.

“I know, right?” Jackson said, popping his head up, looking at the camera. “Ethan and I said the same.” Isaac turned to his side to the werewolves on the sofa, with an incredulous look. “What? Don’t you look at me like that. It’s true! You fit your shirts extremely well, Lahey.” He added a wink while still keeping his arm around the twin’s shoulders, and Ethan gave him two thumbs up, nodding emphatically. Isaac sniggered as he blushed.

“Enough of that!” Stiles managed to say finally. “We’re not here to discuss Isaac!”

“Who are the two other screens for?” Isaac managed to ask to no one in particular. Ethan and Jackson looked at Deaton, but Iestyn answered first positively beaming.

“They’re for the two other research teams in California, one for someone called Mason and the other for a certain Scott McCall, which I don’t know if you’ve heard about; have you, Isaac?” Iestyn was definitely grinning.

Isaac felt various pairs of knowing eyes staring at him, as if everyone in that room and on the screen had been waiting secretly for this moment to see what Isaac’s reaction would be. Isaac turned around and was relieved to see that Deaton was being his usual mysterious and calm self. Patrice was certain that he was missing some vital piece of information, but said nothing. Isaac was most surprised when he saw Chris of all people suppressing a giggle.

“Chris?!” Isaac felt betrayed, and he started to blush.

“Isaac, you’re an Argent now, and I’m a concerned parent,” he was smiling still. “We don’t need to have a talk, but I still care about you. And I’ve already scared Scott before warning him about dating a daughter. I can’t wait to do it for a son.”

Isaac blushed a deep maroon. Isaac sat on the couch with a smile, though. He was always happy when Chris joked, and especially when he expressed his feelings towards him (a son)—which happened only in few and counted occasions. It reminded him of the days when they both lived together in France. Isaac also knew that he would never substitute Allison, but it was moving to see that Chris could care for him in the same way he had cared for her.

Jackson was about to speak when the screen beeped and showed that a new camera was on. Deaton clicked on the laptop and one of the grey windows turned on, showing two people that Isaac did not know, but everyone else seemed to. Chris walked into the camera angle and sat by Isaac. He waved hello while the rest joined in a cacophony of ‘hellos’ and ‘his’. Eventually, the two figures noticed Isaac.

“So, you must be the famous Isaac! Hello I’m Mason. And this is Corey.”

“Hi.”

“Hey.”

“Are we still waiting for Scott?” Mason asked.

Deaton was the first to reply, “yes, it’s only him that we’re waiting for.”

“I’ll give him a ring,” quickly added Stiles from his screen.

Isaac was beginning to think that this four-way video call was going to be a nightmare if everyone started talking at the same time. There were already four people on the screen and seven in the living room in France.

After a few seconds, the window that remained blank beeped and, with a blink, three more people appeared on the screen. Again Isaac experimented the same roar of people saying hello at the same time while he remained silent staring at the screen, conscious that it was the first time that he was looking at Scott in over three years. It took him a couple of seconds to realise that everyone had gone quiet. He then felt as if the people in the room were waiting for him to say something, but Isaac’s brain was not sure of what.

“Hey Isaac!” Scott finally called and waved, when he noticed the tall beta sat on a corner of one of the couches. (Oh, yeah, this is when you say hello, Isaac). “It’s good to see you in one piece man!” Isaac was more than happy to see Scott again. He looked very much the same, although he might have clipped his hair shorter, but everything else seemed the same: the big brown eyes, the warm smile, the slightly uneven jaw. He had a nice summer tan. Isaac could only put a hand on the back of his neck, rubbing it.

“Yeah, well. Told you I could take care of flying monsters.”

“Hey Isaac.”

That was Derek, who was waving shyly, even if he had a smile on his face.

“Hi Derek. You ok?” He had heard many things that had happened to Derek, and did not know where to start asking. Plus they didn’t have the time, and he wasn’t sure he had completely forgiven him.

“Yeah, not bad. I’m also happy to see that you were not kidnapped by those aliens.”

“Hi,” the person next to Scott added dryly, barging in.

“Oh, sorry. Isaac, this is Liam,” their alpha introduced the younger wolf. Isaac could have sworn he was growling at him.

“He’ll kick your arse hard, Lahey,” Stiles added at this moment.

“Nice to meet you Liam,” Isaac said gingerly, even if Liam was giving him a death stare, as if he had personally offended him somehow. The fact that Stiles was grinning was reason enough for him to feel a bit concerned.

“Now that we are all here,” Deaton said over the general murmur. “Let us start our meeting, so we can understand what exactly we are facing. I suggest we speak in turns individually, summarising what he have put together so far and leave the questions to the end of each intervention.”

Everybody agreed.

“May I?” Iestyn stood up, holding a pad.

“Only if everyone is already familiar with Isaac’s version of the events of the midsummer’s night?” Deaton asked in general. Everyone nodded. Everyone had heard (first or second hand) about what had happened at Bégnan only a few days ago. Deaton anyways gave a very schematic summary and Isaac nodded at each main point the druid made, so as to confirm his version of the events.

When he finished, Deaton sat down, opening his own notebook. With a gesture, he invited Iestyn to present their research.

***

Iestyn summarised what Deaton, Chris and himself had understood from Christine’s confiscated material. There had been a treaty between the locals and the alien mi-go, probably in exchange for natural resources around the nemeton. There was a commemoration ritual every hundred years at the tree. He added a long warning that there was still much material they had not gone through, that they would need a few more weeks to process all, and that they would require access to a better library. Lydia and Stiles, and Mason and Corey all nodded their heads. They had all been coordinating their research already, so not much of that was new to them.

Scott and Derek asked a few questions, but these were more to clarify points and extend their summary more than anything else. Scott seemed the most concerned of all with the arrangements between the mi-go and the humans, although Liam and Scott had pulled an appalled face when they learned about the selective breeding project. Jackson, Ethan and Isaac looked at each other with confused faces at various points, because the timeline of events did not appear to match with what they had come across in the church. With a combination of nods and hand gestures they decided to wait their turn to explain what they had seen.

Next came Lydia, whose summary fitted nicely with that of Iestyn. She and Stiles had come across information about the mi-go; how they come from outer space, and how they pre-date humans on Earth. Lydia would not mention the books she had to read, but Isaac noticed how Deaton and Iestyn stank of anxiety when she was talking about ‘old volumes’ and ‘manuscripts’. She added lastly how the mi-go are connected to the cult of Nyarlathotep and how they are known to have human agents and intermediaries working for them – some of them remarkably were brains in canisters. Throughout her explanation, Stiles was constantly fidgeting and whispering things to Lydia, reminding her of extra pieces of information – he was obviously not comfortable with all the things they have been uncovering.

There were fewer questions after Lydia’s explanation, so they moved on to Mason, who could only add that he had been looking into the figure known Nyarlathotep. He had not found much, and most of what he had found was contradictory. He was some sort of deity messenger from outside our known time and space, who liked to mess human affairs apparently by pure whim. Deaton here interjected that Nyarlathotep was the only link they had between the mi-go (who worshipped him) and the Oxford cultists (who had requested their help). Derek and Scott asked about what had happened in England, and Ethan and Jackson narrated their encounter on the Wittenham Clumps.

When Isaac checked the time, he noticed that they had been sat there for over an hour and a half. It was all getting very complex for him. His exasperated sigh did not pass unnoticed, and Deaton called for a pause. Everyone stood up and stretched their limbs but nobody said much – everyone was thinking. Jackson walked to Isaac and pulled him to the side, and signalled Ethan to come with them as well.

“I don’t think this is making any sense,” said the former kanima.

“What do you mean?”

“Jacks is right,” explained his boyfriend. “It feels as if their side of their story and ours does not fit. Something is missing.”

“Do we need to go back to Bégnan?” ventured Isaac, not very convinced that he liked this idea.

Ethan and Jackson looked at each other, biting their lips. “We are not sure.”

“Just think about it, Isaac. They are talking about a freaky alien-human agreement four hundred years ago. That church we went to is five hundred years older than that – not to mention the crypt and the rock markings. And we have the freaky priest that suddenly goes missing in thin air.”

“And we have a missing darach,” murmured Isaac. He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, looking down at the floor. “What have we got ourselves into?”

***

After a short while everyone came back for a second round of disclosure and revelation. Deaton invited Isaac to explain what they had come across at the nemeton, and he stood and cleared his throat.

Isaac had not made a presentation like this since he was in high school, which made him anxious. He was also very conscious of Scott listening carefully (and looking directly) at him, which did not help. As a result, he was slouching slightly and fidgeting with his fingers, looking sideways to the camera, but whenever he looked on the corner of his eye he would see Iestyn or Ethan or Jackson smiling or nodding to encourage him. He explained what he had seen during the night and what they had come across during the day. He told everyone about their search around the hills and then he mentioned the symbol carved on the rock. Isaac asked everyone to wait briefly while he plugged the camera to the laptop, and in the meantime Jackson explained that they had found a glyph or a symbol at three different locations. When everything was set, Isaac shared the picture of the rock-cut glyph, which Jackson said it might be four thousand years old. Then Isaac showed the mosaic from the church, and Jackson said it was fourteen-hundred years old. The last picture they showed was the runes crudely carved on the nemeton tree.

“That symbol was put there five days ago. I don’t know if any of you has come across this symbol in your research, but before you answer – there’s more.”

Isaac explained what they had seen in the church, from the priest who did not live there, to the monstrous cult statue and the wall paintings. He mentioned briefly the noises coming from the bell tower and Jackson interrupted to add that he thought that the priest was the same lecturer he had come across in Oxford, and how he had seen that symbol on the cultist’s house. Lastly, he indicated Ethan to bring out the silver vessel and show it to the camera. He read the inscription as well as he could, and then asked Lydia if she could tell them what it was.

“Let me have a look?” Iestyn asked. Before Ethan handed it over, he looked at the druid with suspicion. “I had to do an hour Latin every morning for two years at uni, I’m sure I can read that.”

Ethan gave the silver cup to Iestyn and waited: “So, it goes something like ‘King Euric, offered this cup of the…’ hang on—what the…?, ‘of the triugumakundi to bishop Theoderic’. What is a triugumakundus?”

“I have another question,” jumped Patrice. “Sorry Iestyn, but before we get lost in solving that, I do have another question. You say that this Saint Theuderic expelled the wolves from the forest.”

“So goes the legend,” Ethan clarified.

“I think we all here know how to deal with legends,” Patrice sneered. “So we have a pre-historic symbol. The next time the symbol appears is with this saint, who kicks the wolves away, and brings the mi-go with him. But then we have wolves again protecting the nemeton in the sixteenth century, before they are all killed. Then, when there are no more werewolves, suddenly this pirate man appears out of nowhere, and the mi-go come with him. When the village fails to do the sacrifice one year, then wolves return, but we drive them away during the War. And then we come around, and bring a werewolf,” he said winking at Isaac, “and a strange priest comes along, kicks the wolf away, brings the mi-go, and carves the same symbol. I think there is a pattern, but it has many gaps.”

“Mind, this wolf went back and bashed those cultists bloody,” Isaac said aloud.

“And you almost did not come out again,” Chris said bitterly, and Isaac immediately regretted having said that.

The room and the windows in the screen were quiet for a second, which was broken by Jackson.

“I have another question,” Ethan and Isaac were getting used to Jackson’s inquisitive approach, but most of the people in the screen had a difficult time believing he was going to come up with a sensible question (although Lydia gave an approving side-smile). Jackson saw their faces and grew more serious, but only his rigid posture showed that he was offended by their doubt. “If Dr Langley from Oxford and this priest from the parish newssheet are the same person, then could he have nicked the spell book and handed it over to the French cultists?”

“I have a question as well,” Mason put a hand up on his window.

“Ut! Please! Give me a second!” Stiles shouted. “I’m trying to think and trying to write everything down. Jesus.”

“I still am gonna ask – what if it is always the same figure returning to the nemeton? What if the saint, the pirate, the priest and the professor are all the same person? What if it is an avatar of Nyarlathotep?”

“Are you saying that a god from beyond time and space is messing with the life of a French village so his little alien buddies can build their space toys with the charred remains of a nemeton?”

“Stiles! No, that’s not what I’m saying!” Mason tried to defend his question, but it was drowned by the voices of everyone else as they asked their questions.

The neat order they had kept disappeared, and Deaton could only hung his head and wait for everyone to calm down. They had hoped that sharing all their information was going to clarify the picture, but each fact they had presented only opened the door for more questions, which in turn generated more questions than answers. Isaac just sat with fear growing in his stomach at the magnitude of the mystery he had stumbled across. Maybe he should have stayed in Beacon Hills after all…

He was brought back to reality by Iestyn ruffling his hair. “Cheer up, butt.”

“Please!” Scott managed to make himself heard above the noise. “Erm. We haven’t had a chance to explain what we’ve found.”

Everyone could see Liam and Derek looking at Scott – they did not know if they had found anything relevant. Certainly nothing as shocking or revealing as secret societies organising a breeding program or aliens worshiping mysterious gods from outside known reality. Still, it managed to bring everyone quiet for a second. Scott coughed and unconsciously rubbed his tattoo.

“Here in Beacon Hills everything is quiet. The nemeton has not been visited, and we could not feel anything out of place when we were there. But I have a gut feeling that something is coming. I do not know if the nemeton is trying to warn me, and I can’t put my finger on what it is. But I sense something is off.”

Silence followed Scott’s warning.

“And now; I also have a question,” the alpha added. “Isaac you said that Christine was leading the cultists and that she was doing all of these sacrifices. But the brain in the metal can you described ordered you to hand over the book and Christine? I thought she was working with the aliens?”

“What if Christine is not Christine?” Lydia followed Scott’s questions. “We are willing to put into question that a priest is not a priest, and that a professor is not a professor – in fact, we are suggesting that they may not human. What if the Christine you last saw is not the Christine you knew?”

“Are you saying Christine’s brain is in a different canister and that they put someone else’s brain inside?” someone asked, Lydia could not see who.

“Yes and no. The mi-go can definitely remove brains and consciousness from a human living – it’s not beyond their capabilities to substitute one for another. But they would not have demanded Isaac to surrender her if they had her brain in a jar already.”

“So they don’t have their brain or her body. They just created a Christine costume and fooled Detective Inspector Lahey here.” That was Iestyn.

“Hey!” Isaac hit him with a cushion. He heard Scott laugh on the screen, which gave him that warm feeling in his chest he was getting used to.

“It makes freaky, sanity-shattering, and eye-twitching sense, Lyds,” Stiles added, jumping in front of her towards the camera and occupying all their space on their window. “It had always been about werewolves, nemetons, villagers, and Shit-hotep –whatever he’s called. Why did druids barge into that?”

“The presence of druids certainly disrupted whatever dynamic characterised this situation,” Deaton replied, his cautious voice irradiating authority and keeping everyone quiet. “I am not sure if we have been misreading the evidence here. I wonder if we rushed too much to brand Christine as a traitor.”

They continued asking questions and offering guesses and answers for almost three-quarters of an hour. When it got past 11pm, Chris decided to call it a night, with the promise that they would have another video meeting at 9am, California time. That would give everyone enough time to get some rest and a few extra hours of research. The French team was exhausted after a long day, both researching and out walking in the hills.

When the computer and the projector were all shut down, Iestyn and Patrice volunteered to prepare something to eat, while the rest set the table and cleared away the boxes and books under the strict supervision of Deaton. When they finally sat for dinner, everyone was too tired to talk, and it was unsurprising when one by one they slowly washed their dish and went off to bed. The house only had four bedrooms, so Isaac was sharing room with Iestyn, who was already there when the werewolf walked in after brushing his teeth.

“Hey roomie.”

“What sort of pyjamas are you wearing this time?” Isaac asked, remembering the ones he used to wear back in Bégnan when he had stayed with him on Christmas.

Iestin sat up from his bed and pointed at his t-shirt which read ‘Merthyr Tydfil Half Marathon 2014’. “Nothing fancy.”

Isaac laughed and collapsed on his bed. “Man, that was exhausting.”

“Yeah, well. That’s what you get when you kick a wasps’ nest. Metaphorically speaking.”

“What have I got us into?”

“You have not got us into anything, boyo. That shit would have hit the fan regardless of who was there. It just happened that you were along on the day of the centennial. Otherwise we might have found out about all this much later. Perhaps too late to do anything.”

“But can we still do something about it, Iestyn?”

“Not until we know what we have to do.”

Isaac’s phone buzzed.

“Now, I wonder who that’d be,” the druid said with a smirk, and Isaac nearly lobbed one of his pillows at him. “I’ll leave you to him. Just you turn the light off when you’re done.”

Nos da, Iestyn.”

Nos da i ti, Isaac.”

With that, Iestyn turned on back and put his headphones with his radio on, although he was asleep within five minutes.

 

<Scott> 28/06/2019 00:08

Hey beta!

<Scott> 28/06/2019 00:08

Just got back home from Derek’s

<Scott> 28/06/2019 00:08

Was awesome to actually see you!

<Scott> 28/06/2019 00:08

Youv been hitting the gym in France? :p

 

Isaac looked at the last text. The first ones were Scott’s usual over-excited self, with unnecessary exclamation marks. But the last one? Was he actually flirting? Isaac’s wolf was willing to believe it, and was nudging and begging him to tease back.

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 00:09

Hey alpha

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 00:09

I was happy to see you too :)

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 00:09

What was wrong with that new beta?

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 00:09

And what’s wrong with Derek cos he wasn’t frowning all the time

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 00:09

And yeah. Sortof had to cos of all the croissants I had from the bakery

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 00:09

Noone likes a chubby werewolf

<Scott> 28/06/2019 00:09

Lol I can’t imagine you as chubby werewolf!

<Scott> 28/06/2019 00:10

And your my beta

<Scott> 28/06/2019 00:10

I’d made sure you wouldn’t go chubby anyways

<Scott> 28/06/2019 00:10

Need you fit to fight

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 00:10

How kind

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 00:10

Personalised training program

<Scott> 28/06/2019 00:11

Yeah

<Scott> 28/06/2019 00:11

Just for you

 

Isaac read that and went through the last texts, not really sure of what to make of the last one. (Is that flirting? Is that just banter?). He was debating internally whether to up it up or not when Scott texted back, changing subject, telling him about Derek and Liam. Isaac was reading and replying, but he was not paying that much attention. In the back of his head he and his wolf were having an intense conversation of how to interpret Scott’s texts. Eventually Scott said he had to go and that Isaac should probably get some sleep, so they said goodbye, and Isaac laid in his bed staring at the ceiling. He was too tired, but his mind was still buzzing trying to determine if it was reading in between lines that were not there. He rubbed his eyes and growled. Damn you, Scott.

Isaac sat up and grabbed his two pillows under one arm. He left the room as quietly as he could and went down the corridor until he got to Jackson and Ethan’s room. He could hear that they were sleeping, but he didn’t care. He needed to get some sleep himself, otherwise he’d be overthinking until sunrise. The house did not have double beds, and the couple had just pushed theirs together, which might be uncomfortable, but Isaac could not care less. He took advantage that they were sleeping each on their side to jump in between them.

“Look what you’ve done,” Jackson moaned annoyingly, without even opening his eyes. “And I told you not to get used to it.”

“J’st ‘gn’r’ h’m,” mumbled Ethan, who quickly wrapped himself around Isaac once he lied down.

Isaac tried to appease Jackson by carefully placing one of his pillows in front of him, and Jackson begrudgingly grabbed it and cuddled it against him. After this and with a sigh, Jackson shifted in bed so he was physically touching Isaac.

“Thanks,” Isaac whispered.

Ethan said nothing; he just simply rubbed his nose against Isaac’s shoulder. Jackson grunted. They were soon all asleep.

***

By the time they all had their next video meeting everyone had had a full day of research. 9am in California was 6pm in France. They followed the same procedure they had the day before, taking turns for each ‘team’ to summarise the finds of whatever they had been thinking about or reading that day. While the previous days each of them had worked mostly in isolation, this time they had been far more proactive in texting and emailing questions and doubts back and forth, which facilitated the flow of information.

While it was night time in France, it was mid-afternoon in California. Scott had gone back home, but was meeting Malia and Liam later in the preserve to look for any signs of mi-go activity they might have ignored, while Derek checked in the Hale vault for any information his family might have on the topic. No matter how many times they walked around the trees, the pack could not find any traces of flying aliens in the preserve. Derek found nothing to do with the mi-go in their family collection or their own bestiaries either, but he received a very interesting phone call from ranger Barret, who wanted to see both him and Peter regarding the mining and gold-panning rights the Hales (apparently) still held over their share of the preserve. Derek found the old land deeds in the vault and, indeed, he found a reference dating to the days of the Gold Rush where great-great-great-great-grandpa Gregory Hale, as owner of the Beacon woodlands, had also sole rights to the mining wealth. If the Hales had made their money from that mining he did not know, but at least it showed that whether they were there already or not the mi-go may be turning up at their nemeton eventually. After consulting with Scott, and despite their better judgement, Derek rang Peter to tell him about the mining rights and to put him up to speed on what had been going on.

That afternoon Mason still had time to run to the library and look into the glyph. He found enough similarities with various symbols which appear in the esoteric and occult literature. They were generically referred to as elder signs and were usually connected to summoning cults. There was no specific glyph or sign for Nyarlathotep, but the more lore he read, the more he wondered what Nyarlathotep really did, other than mess with human affairs out of pure pleasure or some unfathomable plan that humans cannot foresee or understand. He was increasingly convinced that the so-called ‘faceless god’ and the ‘god of the thousand masks’ was using one of his human avatars to interact with the mi-go and the cultists, but if he wanted to read real first-hand descriptions and encounters he would need some of the forbidden books that Lydia had been consulting.

It was more of a problem for Stiles and Lydia to do any actual hands-on research, because by the time they called the meeting over it was early evening in Massachusetts. As Stiles set up all his notes on his board and pulled his lengths of yarn to link them, Lydia took advantage of her late access library privileges in Cambridge and managed to go and borrow a few specific volumes. They spent most of their evening trying to piece the information together, something both of there were very good at – especially with the accumulated knowledge they both had on the supernatural. They focused on the pattern that Patrice had presented, wondering when werewolves first came into the area. Their guess was in Roman times. If Saint Theuderic’s story was to be believed, then the expulsion of the infidels and of the wolves might have been the same event: a clan of local powerful werewolves protecting the nemeton and sticking to their old gods expelled by a mob and their Christian leader.

They also needed to find a moment between the Gothic wall paintings and the 1580s when the werewolves could have returned. Lydia suggested that it could have been during the Hundred Years War, but it was a wild stab in the dark. There were many interrogations and question marks an all these conclusions, as they did not have local history or archaeology books to start looking into this. Stiles also mentioned that it would be interesting to contact the pack that had moved into Bégnan before the war, if there was anyone alive (or if the Argents had any leads) – they actually would have known more about this.

This inevitably led them to the question of what were the druids doing there. Evidently they had been protecting the nemeton, and it did not look likely that Christine had betrayed the hunters or her druidic family. After all, Deaton and the Argents had trusted her and the aliens wanted to get her. If they ignored the fact that Isaac had seen her (was it her?) leading the rituals, it all made sense. They fell asleep on the couches in their living room with the lights still on (and Stiles with a post-it note on his forehead) before they could reach any conclusion. The last thing Lydia scribbled on her pad was ‘find the real Christine’.

Roughly at the same time, in the safe house in France, Deaton checked the few emails he had received from Mason and Lydia, and silently nodded at their suggestions. With seven people at his disposal, he was hoping that each could focus on one single task that could give them key information. He asked Patrice if he could find anything about the werewolves that the Argents had hunted away from Bégnan before the War, and the hunter immediately was on the phone giving instructions and checking on whatever digitised files he had access to from his laptop. He asked Jackson and Isaac to take advantage of their university libraries’ remote access to look into the history of Bégnan. In the meantime, he and Iestyn looked for clues about the real dealings of the local druids with their nemeton. Maybe Christine had somehow tricked or betrayed the mi-go, or perhaps she had simply refused to comply. They had to look for any information that pre-dated the arrival of father Thierry. Without enough laptops for everyone, and not willing to leave the house, Ethan and Chris hovered around being helpful when they could and talking things through with whomever needed their help.

By the end of the working day, as they prepared to have their video call, the French team had advanced only so slightly. Yes, there had been a Roman settlement in Bégnan, but they would need to go to the actual library to read the relevant books. And the same applied to the events during the Hundred Years War: an English army had marched into the region, but they needed a more detailed local history and more precise maps. It was all very frustrating for Isaac and Jackson. Patrice at least could boast to have found a connection to a werewolf pack which he thought was still active in France, but they would need to check personally. Iestyn had spent most of his morning working out what a triugumakund was, and could only conclude that it was old Gothic for ‘forest people’, which was as close a description to a mi-go as he was going to get. This fitted the weird flying creatures depicted on the silver vessel stolen from the church. As for the role of druids, Deaton had to reassess much of what he had taken for granted regarding their role as simple advisors. With this in mind, he and Iestyn wondered if all the material retrieved from Christine’s basement did not actually reflect her own research on how to stop the link between the mi-go and the village rather than the depths of her collaboration with the aliens. The mystery remained of why she kept it all quiet from them.

***

Isaac closed down the laptop he was borrowing from Iestyn and rubbed his eyes. He had read way too much for one day and he was feeling tired. He also had to fight the urge to groan and moan, because all this investigation was excruciatingly frustrating. He looked at Jackson, who was sat opposite to him, looking quite at ease, and even focused and deep in thought.

“How do you do it?”

Jackson shrugged as he turned the laptop off. “Dunno. Just got used to doing nothing all week and then panic the day before an essay is due. That gives you enough motivation to do all your reading and put two thousand words together.”

“Are those the joys of an Oxford education?”

“That and the college dinners.”

“They’re over rated,” Ethan called from the other side of the living room as helped Iestyn set up the screen. “At least in his college.”

“I guess you’re not invited anymore to come then!”

“Stop the domestics, you two,” Iestyn called. “And come and help me because I don’t know where this cable goes.”

Jackson stood up and went to help him, and Isaac pulled his phone out.

 <Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:48

You better be up lazy arse!

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:48

I’m still waiting for my training program

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:49

Or any other form of personalised attention

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:49

Otherwise I have to share you over the pack chat or the video screen

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:51

I’m up!

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:51

[image201906281][download]

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:51

You have all my personalised attention until the others arrive

 

Isaac opened the picture and he saw Scott in his mum’s kitchen in a dark grey tank top, with a massive grin and his eyes closed. Isaac had never expected that, and was left staring at his phone with his mouth open. (He is! Isn’t he? This was not just banter. This is proper teasing). Jackson and Ethan immediately turned their faces to look at Isaac, and the tall werewolf felt his cheeks blushing at the realisation of what they must be smelling in him. They left him be but not before they gave him a serious look that clearly implied that they would want details later.

 

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:52

So I’ve got you all for myself?

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:52

Yeah! But… You ve got like… 5 minutes

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:52

Not fair

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:52

But I’ll take it

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:52

:D

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:53

So what did you find out?

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:53

No shop talk beta!

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:53

Lol

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:53

Ok. Hows your mum?

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:54

She’s ok. She wants to know when youll be back

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:54

She has turned your room into Chris’ office tho

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:54

:O

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:54

But that’s ok – youre still staying with us when you come?

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:55

Wont your mum mind?

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:55

She wont

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:55

I wont :)

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:55

Oh, time’s up sorry

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:55

Liam’s here

<Isaac> 28/06/2019 17:55

That was NOT 5 minutes

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:55

[image201906282][download]

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:56

Sorry!

<Scott> 28/06/2019 17:55

See you in a bit on the screen

 

Isaac opened the second picture, and this one showed Scott actually pouting and displaying his sad puppy-dog eyes, which nearly made Isaac melt. He heard someone calling his name, and he looked up. He noticed that everything was almost set, and everyone was waiting for the video call to start. Isaac put his phone away.

***

The meeting that day went faster than the previous night, but everyone seemed to have a clearer idea of what they needed to look into. Within two hours they had explained what they had found and put forward more ideas and thoughts, which only served to underline how far more questions than answers they still had. Despite this there was a general mood of optimism – at least they had something to focus on. Where is Christine. Why the pattern. Why the mi-go.

Throughout the meeting, Isaac did not say much. Even when he had to explain what he had found, he let Jackson do the talking for him. He was too busy looking at Scott, and because he was on a large screen with many other people on it, it was not evident that he was staring. Scott was in full alpha mode: listening, paying attention, asking question, and looking concerned. But over their previous text exchange he had been different, closer to the slightly awkward teenager he remembered from Beacon Hills. Isaac was not sure if he was imagining things: maybe Scott was really reciprocating his interest, but it also might have simply been that he was being overly welcome because Isaac was safe and he was back. And even if he had been sure about his hunch that his alpha was flirting with him (as his wolf reassured him), with a cool, level head Isaac was having doubts.

Eventually, they called the meeting off, not before laying out their plans for the next few days. Stiles and Lydia were preparing to spend a couple more days in either Arkham or Providence consulting the libraries there. Hopefully they would be able to put more pieces together to understand the pattern first suggested by Patrice. Patrice himself and Chris declared their intention to go and trace the pack of wolves the Argents had expelled from Bégnan in the 1920s and 1930s. Isaac offered to go with them, but Chris refused on the grounds that it might trigger the wrong response if French pack thought the hunters were coercing or coaxing a werewolf to help them. Isaac tried to argue, but Chris was adamant. Iestyn and Deaton confessed, unsurprisingly, that they needed more time to go through Christine’s papers. They also wanted to wait for Chris and Patrice to return with the information about the French pack. It was Deaton who suggested that Ethan and Jackson could go back to England now, if they agreed to consult the library there. There was not much else for them to do there, unless they wanted to go back to Bégnan and look for more traces of Christine, but Patrice said he had a team trying to track her down already. Isaac at this point raised his hand like a schoolboy and asked if he could go to England with the other werewolves, to which Chris did not object.

Scott was worried because he had apparently nothing to do, other than wait and see what would happen. He had been the only one to shadow everyone’s incipient optimism by asking the question that nobody had thought aloud: would Beacon Hills be the next Bégnan? Rather than being either late or sorry, Chris proposed that once they finished their field research in Europe they could fly back too California. Isaac stood up straight with a small smile when he heard that, and he noticed how Scott’s serious expression eased a fraction. They promised to check flights, and decided to book their return four days later, on the 2nd of July.

Chapter Text

Patrice and Chris woke up early the following morning. The three werewolves were already gone by then, because they had left in the dead of the night so they could jump on the first ferry from Normandy. After breakfast with the two druids, the Argents made sure that Deaton and Iestyn were all sorted and ready, and agreed to be back within 48h. Patrice rang Louise and Fred, who were still around Bégnan and instructed them to meet them in Bordeaux, so they could all then drive to the last place their family records said the werewolf clan had been active. After the Druids promised to keep them informed of anything and checking that their van was properly equipped (emitters, tasers, wolfsbane), they drove away.

The first leg of the drive was short, but they did have to wait until their younger associates arrived. They were waiting by a service station, standing outside the car, standing each by one side and having a mid-morning coffee. Neither of them was particularly talkative, so they spent most of their time in silence. After receiving a text from Fred indicating when they were going to arrive, Patrice casually asked a question.

“So will he become an Argent?” He was obviously referring to Isaac.

“He is already one. Check his passport.”

“You know that is not what I mean. Will he forge his silver bullet?”

Chris took his time to answer. He had never pushed Isaac in that direction and had no inclination to do so. He had given him a crash course into being a hunter (which is perhaps the only reason why he was alive now), but it was not even an initiation. He had also instructed on what weapons they used because Isaac needed to know: it had all been part of his new job training for the company. Besides, Isaac had always seemed quite content with simply helping out like that. He had never shown any inclination towards learning how to use weapons (excepting, perhaps, sniper rifles) or the finer details of becoming an Argent.

“He has proven himself to be a real Argent. You have seen him in action at the nemeton.”

“He hasn’t done any of the tests or the training.” Patrice was not reprimanding, just stating a fact.

“I think Isaac would take only a few seconds to break free if we tied him to a chair,” Chris added in the same no-nonsense tone.

They were silent for a few seconds. Chris knew that there were other tests and other exercises Isaac would have to do, and that that there were many more lessons Isaac would need to learn to fully qualify as a hunter. But in the same way he had not wanted to push Allison into that world, he could not bring himself to do it with Isaac either. Chris did not doubt about Isaac’s abilities or his control (even in the full moon, although those nights it was better to give him some extra space), but he was worried about some of the tests. Especially those ones which involved being locked or being trapped overnight. He knew what kind of memories that could trigger in Isaac, and he was not willing to put him through that.

“He does not need protecting. He has proven himself already,” Patrice said, as if reading his mind.

“What is your point then?”

“It’s just the rites of passage. We all have done them. He would need further training. There would be some dangerous situations. The rest of the family needs to see that he goes through them as well if they are to accept him.”

“Who has a problem with him?” the American Argent was getting angrier now, personally offended that some of his relatives would have something against Isaac after all he had done at Bégnan.

Merde, Chris. You know that’s not it.”

“What is it then?” Chris was losing his patience.

“Chis, we want him to be a member of the family, not to be just a werewolf you’ve taken pity of. We know he is an employee in the company, we know he is committed to our cause. We know he believes in the new code.”

“What then!” Chris was almost shouting now. He had already thrown the coffee away. If they had not had a car in between them he might have pushed his cousin.

“Chris, listen,” Patrice was conciliatory, trying to calm his cousin down. “We all understand and respect the new code. We have welcomed Isaac into the business. But think of our family; as a token of our old traditions, as a way to link us to our ancestors. We would like him to complete the training. Properly. He can have a silver ring for all I care. Just think about our family tradition.”

“My father had very high ideas of our family traditions,” was Chris’s vitriolic reply.

“Gerard had a twisted mind who corrupted what being an Argent means.” All the Argents in France had heard about what Gerard had done, from the kanima to the Anuk-ite. Patrice looked hurt at Chris when he implied that the rest of the Argents were somehow still on Gerard’s page and not involved with Allison’s code. “And I don’t have to tell you about it. Perhaps because of that we need to start anew. We need to prove ourselves that we are better than that. The only way we know is to look back at what we once were, Chris. It’s symbolic and it’s visible.”

Chris sighed and walked away from the van. He understood what Patrice was asking, but something inside him rebelled against it. Something told him that he could not push Isaac to go through that.

“Chris,” Patrice was walking towards him. He put a hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “Come on, Chris. Sorry I brought this up. Fred is almost here, let’s get going.”

Chris turned around and sniffed. He put his sunglasses on and walked back towards the van. “You know it’s up to him.”

“Let us drop it, shall we? We really like the kid, and you know it. But please promise me you will think about it later. You know he will understand if it comes from you – that’s the only reason I wanted to mention it. We all are Argents.”

As he said that Fred pulled over and rolled down his window. He and Louise waved hello at their relatives. With a sign indicating them to follow their lead, Patrice and Chris jumped in their car and drove off. They had over three hours ahead of them before they got to the more forested areas between Poitiers and Tours, and Chris was hoping to be there in the early afternoon.

By the time they were in the general area, the hunters stopped for a late lunch and to plan their movements ahead. They had not had any contact with this pack since the encounter back in Bégnan at the time of their grandparents, but they had received intelligence from their local hunter contacts that the Picamoles were living in that area. That was enough for them to narrow their location, or so they hoped – they did not have the time to go around following false leads and red herrings.

Once they were sure about the whereabouts of the pack residence, they decided that the most civil (and lest liable to cause offence) approach would be to walk straight to the front door and knock. At least that would give them the chance to speak and declare their intentions. Patrice and Chris would go in (fully equipped), while Louise waited at the wheel of the van and while Fred waited out of sight by the second car with his rifle at the ready, as safety back ups. Patrice checked their comms, and everyone rogered. He gave Chris a nod and they rang the bell.

A short and stocky teenager opened the door and was already mumbling an apology about someone not being in when he stood still and very clearly sniffed the air. There was nothing the Argents could do to camouflage their hunter scents (gun oil, wolfsbane) when they were carrying that equipment, so Chris and Patrice could only stay back, showing their arms peacefully.

“Is this the house of the Picamoles pack?”

The teen nodded, and raised a finger, clearly indicating for them to wait, not inviting them in, but not shutting the door either.

“We would like to talk with your alpha,” Patrice clarified.

“Lise!” the boy shouted over his shoulder, not moving an inch from where he stood. “Lise tell nana to come down!”

A woman, probably in her mid-thirties came down the stairs, clearly annoyed, but she stopped dead halfway down as she saw and smelled the hunters at their doorstep. Lise (or the woman they reckoned was Lise) ran back up the stairs, while the younger man stood his ground by the front door.

“We can wait,” said Chris casually. He brought his hands down slowly, as the werewolf at the door measured him up.

They could hear a muffled argument coming from inside the house and, eventually, they saw an old lady walking down the stairs, in an old fashioned flowery summer dress and slippers. She was short. Surprisingly short, but she was also old – probably older than what she looked, knowing werewolves. Her grey hair was kept in tight curls, and her face was wrinkled. She also wore a small pair of pearl earrings and a thin gold chain with a medal. By the time she was in the vestibule, the younger wolf move to a side, and the other woman (Lise) stood by him.

“I am Gaëlle Picamoles. I am the alpha of my pack and the matriarch of the clan,” she said as a formal introduction. “I don’t know who you are, but you are evident relatives of Françoise Argent,” she added with a smirk. “You two have the same hairline and the same nose. It is very rare to receive the visit of an Argent, and it is worrying when it is actually four of them coming to my family home.” Neither Chris nor Patrice made a move or betrayed in any way their surprise when the matriarch revealed this information to them. “If you would be so kind as to instruct your nephew and niece to wait outside where we all can see them, you may come in.”

With this, the old alpha turned around and walked into their sitting room. Patrice looked at Chris, who nodded, and then called Fred on the radio to stand down and show himself. When the sniper was in plain sight, the two other werewolves moved to the side and indicated to Chris and Patrice that they could walk in.

***

The two hunters walked into a large living room, which was furnished with comfortable sofas covered in white sheets and flowery cushions. The walls were covered floor to ceiling by wooden furniture, with shelves on the top half and cupboards on the bottom. The shelves were full of books and small ceramic ornaments, while the top of the cupboards were covered with framed family pictures. Dozens of them. A small television set was on a corner, but the music that inundated the room came from a small radio, apparently in the kitchen. The windows had lots of plants in boxes and large pots by the sides. The coffee table had cork mats on top, and there was a tray with a jug of lemonade, and a few glasses.

Gaëlle was sitting on a large comfy chair, with her feet resting on a small stool, and with a fan lazily blowing on the floor by her side. She instructed the Argents to take a seat opposite her.

“I know enough about hunters to be able to tell when they just want to come to talk. Please, be assured that even if my grandchildren are nervous, they know that there is nothing to fear. Am I right in my assumption?”

“Most certainly, madame Picamoles,” confirmed Patrice. “We are here with some questions, if you would not mind them.”

“Please, ask all you wish. I can give you that. I will decide later if I can or if I should answer them.”

Chris shifted uncomfortably for a fraction of a second on the sofa. Patrice looked at him, but the American hunter slightly nodded.

“We do have a few questions about your family, madame. We know that you tried to take over the nemeton at Bégnan before the war.”

“Ah, yes,” she interrupted. “I believe we had a family disagreement at that moment, you and us.”

“I believe that was the case,” Patrice conceded, not going into specifics. “But we just wanted to know if you had a particular interest in that nemeton… and if you are aware of its connections with…” Patrice looked at Chris, not knowing how to phrase the question.

“I take that you are finally aware about the presence of the triugumakunds?” Gaëlle ventured. “Your great grandfather did not seem to know. Or to care. Nor did he ask. And eventually he decided that trusting the druids with the guardianship was better than trusting any werewolves.”

“Madame,” Chris cut in, straight to the point. “These mi-go… these triugumakunds… They are responsible for a secret cult in Bégnan. They have been taking advantage of the nemeton for centuries.”

“Monsieur Argent,” the werewolf matriarch said with a proud smug, “it is good to see that your family is finally catching up with what has been going on in this land in the last thirty centuries. But please do not dare come to my house to lecture me,” she concluded in icy tones.

“Has your family always known?”

“All the werewolves of France have always known, Argent. I would even say that half of the packs in Spain and Italy know as well. It is all well to slay the Beast of Gévaudan and begin a family crusade against the supernatural. But you have been playing vigilantes, justifying your killings with proud ignorance. You have been upholding a code without any interest in understanding what the role of the supernatural is.”

Chris and Patrice looked at each other. This was a general werewolf attitude towards hunters, but right now they did not have time to go through old arguments and discussions.

“Please, madame Picamoles,” Chris insisted. “We are running out of time. The cult carried out its ritual, but something happened and the nemeton tree was destroyed”—this caught the alpha’s attention. “We tried to stop the ritual, but we were pushed back by the alien. One of our… operatives… saw how they carried it out and how the tree eventually shattered. We know about the treaty, we know about the lineages, and we know about the interest packs have in protecting this nemeton.”

“You sure know about many things now, monsieur Argent,” the matriarch emphasised the ‘now’, clearly impressed at the turn of events. “Maybe you are more willing to understand that it is not only humans that care about other humans. We are all humans, after all, when faced with the forest people.”

This slight concession gave Chris enough hope. It may still be possible that they could leave this meeting with relevant information.

“I know that very well—and I know this first hand.” Chris did not have to mention Scott or the McCall pack at Beacon Hills for Gaëlle to get a glimpse of the hunter’s own past. She could see it in his body language, especially in his eyes; and she could sense his unease: a combination of regret and relief that comes from learning the hard way, and learning from loss.

“Monsieur Argent, I misjudged you,” the old werewolf nodded as she place a hand over her chest. “I do apologise for my earlier harsh tones, but hunters never seem to want to talk… they have a tendency simply to demand. I would like to believe that this situation is serious enough for you to understand what it is really at stake. I also want you to understand that a destroyed nemeton is too dangerous to be left unprotected. Why don’t you please begin your tale from the beginning, and then you can begin with your questions?”

She leaned forward and helped herself to a large glass of lemonade. Chris huffed in frustration – they really did not have time to explain what had happened—but Patrice gave him a knowing look and he began to relate how they became involved with the nemeton at Bégnan.

***

“You have been lying to me, monsieur Argent,” Gaëlle concluded after Patrice told the entire story, from the day of the destruction of the nogitsune to the day of the midsummer invocation. He had peppered it with facts from their research, although most of the backstory the old werewolf seemed to know.

“I beg your pardon?” Patrice knew he had not. He had perhaps omitted to mention a few things, but nothing relevant other than Isaac was a werewolf. And he had been trained not to give away any signals when lying through omission.

“Please, I thought we were friends now. And this is far more serious than we could have imagined. From what you say, the shadow priest has returned. And that means, Argent, that you brought a werewolf with you.”

Patrice knew better than to try to rebate or argue, so he just looked at Chris, who took up from there.

“We do not see how that makes a difference.”

“It makes a world of a difference, my dear boy. I do not want to know how you got a wolf to work for you, for the sake of our current friendship, but the dark priest only appears when wolves do.”

“Why would the… ‘priest’ have to worry about wolves?”

“Because, monsieur Argent, he is the judge of the balance. He lets us play for his amusement, but he is in control of the master plan. So let me tell you a story now. A story which your family should have known about back in 1920.”

She reclined back on her chair and her eyes shone bright red for an instant as she began to narrate her story.

“The nemeton of Bégnan sits at an intersection of lay lines. Very powerful lines. Only two or three other nemetons can compete with its power. Telluric currents shift through time, and it is unusual for an intersection to remain at the same point for more than a few centuries, but at Bégnan the tree has held the currents at the same spot for over two thousand years. We know this because when the legions of Julius Caesar first came to this territory, they were trying to destroy the druids of that nemeton. The Romans marched with their army and drove the druids away, and gave the sacred grove with its already-centennial oak to the soldier-priests of Mars. This is history. The story behind it,” the alpha added with a smile, “is not as widely known, but what Caesar called ‘druids’ were actually the worshipers of the forest people, the servants of the faceless god. And the priests of Mars were old Roman soldiers, all descendants of the cursed king of Arcadia, Lycaon. That’s how werewolves came to protect the nemeton for humankind.”

Patrice and Chris had no idea about this story. It was not part of the hunter lore which, as Gaëlle had pointed out, had not really looked into the why of the supernatural. She could read their expressions, and continued with her story.

“Be sure that werewolves were not the first humans to protect the nemeton and to hold it away from the forest people, but history gets confused with myth beyond that. There are stories about the basajaun of the mountains, and there are stories of bear shape-shifters and boar warriors from the Bronze Age, but we simply do not know with any certainty. The point is that there is always an alternation between aliens and humans, and that it is all set according to a grand plan that we cannot understand or even begin to fathom, because it is not a plan for us. The balance of power is dictated by the position of the stars: stars which burned and exploded long ago and stars which are yet to be born, a plan that only make sense outside our universal constrains of space and time. Here is where the dark priest comes in.

“The dark priest, the avatar of the god of the thousand masks, is the judge of the balance. He knows when it is right for humans or triugumakunds to control the nemeton. And he has to keep the balance because he is playing for two different sides. You see, the dark priest is the messenger of the Outer Gods but he is the protector of the weak and worthless gods of Earth. The forest people who worship him follow the designs of the Outer Gods, but the priest needs to yield also to the whims of gods of Earth. He needs to establish a balance between outer creations and us little humans, dancing to two different tunes played by two different deities.

“That is why he lets the nemeton shift from hand to hand. He accepted when the first werewolves took over. And then, when the stars were right some five hundred years later, he came back as a Christian bishop and handed the nemeton back to the forest people. Eight hundred years after that, Sir Richard O’Laohdey, a powerful alpha, marched in with his army of English knights during the Hundred Years War. He slayed the alien fiends and established part of his pack as protectors of the nemeton. The dark priest did not interfere then, but he did five hundred years later, when he hunted all the descendants down and appeared to return as the pirate figure of the centennial celebrations.

“Please understand that we cannot even begin to conceive when the stars will be right, but we can use our annoying free will to take every opportunity to push the stars in our favour,” Gaëlle was positively grinning now. “The first opportunity to claim it back came in the fields of Belgium, in 1917, where my grandfather was a captain in the French army. He was the leader of our clan, and a powerful alpha. Being a werewolf made it unfairly easy for him and his pack members to survive the nightmares of the trench war. The machine guns, the shells, the gas… I am sure you have heard enough about the horrors of the War. The thing is, that in the muddy and pitiful life of the trenches, my grandfather ended up in charge of a platoon which had been recruited in its entirety from Bégnan. You may not know,” the old alpha reclined to one side, as to emphasise that she was going off the tangent, “but politicians thought that men who grew together fought for each other, and fought better, so they encouraged the formation of these village platoons. They refused to acknowledge the conditions of modern warfare, where entire divisions would be wiped out in a single day. This condemned entire towns to lose a whole generation of young men in one go.

“So my grandfather found out that he was in charge of the townsmen of Bégnan. And he knew, like any other werewolf, what Bégnan had: a nemeton under the control of an unnatural and inbred village who bows and worships the forest people. My grandfather had the chance to claim that power back for humanity and force the stars in our favour. And, please, believe me that we include ourselves amongst humanity because we belong to this Earth as much as you do,” the matriarch interrupted her story to clarify this point. “It was a perfect chance, and my grandfather had the advantage that the platoon did not know about his secret. I am not ashamed about what my grandfather did when the next attack was ordered, for those villagers were traitors to us all: they were the same ingred cultists you have encountered and the ones who were planning the 1919 centennial celebration. When the artillery stopped and the officers blew their whistles, my grandfather led his Bégnan platoon over the edge into the thickest of the German fire, through the barbed wire and the shelling, straight into the machine guns. The same tactic that they had been following for three years and which the generals refused to change. For once that madness… that slaughter played in our favour, and all the men from Bégnan were mown down.

“By pure luck and supernatural powers my grandfather and others in his pack managed to survive and return home. We were in a perfect position to reclaim the nemeton, and the cultists had been decimated so much they even missed their centennial ritual. This angered the forest people, especially because they had been weakened. After we hunted down the last of the cultist leaders we went after the forest people and kicked them out. Then we made our move to claim the nemeton, but sadly this was when we came across François Argent.

Chris took advantage of the short pause to lean forward. “How did your grandfather know the stars were right for humans to claim the nemeton back?”

“Monsieur Argent, I thought I made it clear,” the old werewolf said with a forgiving and understanding smile. “We cannot tell, it is beyond our understanding. But we can take advantage of any situation and try.”

Patrice as more troubled by this, and asked a question himself. “If the plan is set, what has our free will got to do with all? Why bother to claim the nemeton back for humanity?”

“Monsieur Argent, I would have thought that a hunter would not need to reason why to keep supernatural power in the hands of humans was a good idea. I cannot give you a reasoned answer, because it is something that escapes human logic, but the ultimate consequence is that the forest people do not simply want the irradiated minerals. They want the power, and they can drain it. And they do not care if this planet implodes or is sucked into the rift. We all care, surely?” Even when stating the possibility of world destruction by unknown forces, the old werewolf was still an old lady, which Patrice found very unsettling – especially when she deadpanned and explained the consequences of breaking the balance in such terms.

“So are you trying to take advantage of it now?” Chris cut in.

“Well, certainly! I will make this very clear now, monsieur Argent,” the alpha werewolf straightened up, and looked at the hunters in the eye, “but I have all intention to claim that nemeton back for humanity. Especially now that the tree is shattered. The nemeton is weak, and so are the forest people. I am beginning to think that you may not be fully aware of what has happened at the nemeton, but when your druid friend destroyed the fox spirit in it and when you brought a werewolf into its territory you tipped the existing balance. In fact, I am sure that is why the dark priest decided to return: to judge whom for are the stars right.”

***

Patrice and Chris were far away the house, beyond supernatural earshot, discussing with Louise and Fred the conversation they had with the Picamoles matriarch. They had been in there for over three hours before the Argents had asked for a break to consult with their relatives. They came looking for information but were walking away with more revelations that they were ready to accept and more truths than they were capable of digesting.

“Are we letting them have the nemeton?”

“Believe me, Louise. They are determined and, put in perspective, they are right. They are preserving it for humanity, rather than for alien monsters.”

“Is this what you are going to suggest to Aunt Camille?” Camille was Chris’ aunt, and she was the leader of the French Argents, a determined but pragmatic woman who would be understanding if Chris explained her his reasons why to entrust a pack of werewolves with a nemeton.

“That is what I will try to do,” insisted Chris. Patrice simply nodded, with his arms crossed.

“And what is it that she said about the tree again?” Fred asked.

“The destruction of the nogitsune altered the way in which the tree controlled the telluric currents. Or so she guesses,” Chris was not sure about this theory, and had to ask Deaton first for his opinion. “We are not sure now if Christine did it all on purpose: modify the nemeton so the midsummer invocation would fail. We don’t know if the explosion was the final objective or not, but the Picamoles think that the mi-go may not be interested in a ruined nemeton any more.”

“And what with the balance?” the younger hunter asked again.

“If Isaac upset the balance,” Patrice chipped in, “then it means that it is time for humans to have the nemeton. Maybe. Nyarlathotep might have reappeared simply to judge if this new balance fits with the star-plan of the outer gods…” he trailed off there, not really happy with the idea that humans were just a minor part in a wider cosmic game.

“I still don’t understand, uncle.”

“You see, there is still one lead we have not followed.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know who has the real answers? The one who started all this without telling anything?”

Patrice understood. “But she’s gone. She’s disappeared. As far as we know, she’s been substituted by an alien clone.”

“We might want to go and check on her family. We’ve been chasing werewolves and alines, when we should have been chasing druids.”

Chris pulled his phone out.

“Chris?”

“Isaac,” Chris could hear a lot of noise in the background. “Isaac, can you hear me?”

“Yes, one second. OK, now I’m outside. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing yet. Listen, do you remember if Christine has any relatives or did she mention ay other druids?”

“You mean other than Iestyn?”

“If Iestyn had known anything, he would have told us by now. I would like to believe. Do you have any reason not to trust him?”

“No!” Isaac was stunned by the question. “No, never. Not Iestyn.”

“I trust you on this, Isaac. Now – do you remember any relatives?”

There was a pause. “I remember at Christmas dinner. She had a cousin and a brother. One was Patrice or Jacques or something like that. The brother I can’t remember. Name might have begun with an A? But she had a wife. I can’t tell you where they were from.”

Chris passed this information to Patrice. “That is not very helpful, but should be enough. We’ll follow that lead.”

“Is everything ok, Chris? What have you found out about the French werewolves?”

“We’ve found enough,” Chris replied dryly. “I have a lead for you to follow though.”

“Yeah sure, tell me,” Isaac asked keenly.

“Find out who Sir Richard O’Laohdey was. He was a knight in the 1340s.”

“Hang on, how do you spell that? Did you just say O-lahey?”

“Not quite.” Chris spelled the knight’s name out, while he heard Isaac call for Jackson and asking him for something to write on. “Not quite, but suspiciously similar. He was a knight and a werewolf. He invaded Bégnan and fought the mi-go away.”

“Are you saying it’s my family destiny to fight aliens?” Isaac asked cockily, only half joking.

“I hope it does not come down to that.”

Isaac promised to look into this in the morning, and asked Chris to take care, and to say hello to the other Argents. Chris promised to do so, said goodbye, and put his phone away.

“We do not have a link to the brother or cousin that Isaac mentioned,” Patrice and Louise had been on the phone looking for possible relatives of Christine and any other French driud they had on file, “but we still have a contact for the original agreement from 1945, when grandpa agreed to hand over the nemeton to the druids. That’s something.”

“So, where to next?”

Louise pulled out a road atlas from the car. She was still on the phone with someone following a road with her finger and nodding emphatically. She looked at Chris and nodded, while she pointed somewhere in the map. The veteran hunters looked at each other and nodded.

“Get everything ready. Call Deaton and let him know. I’ll go back to the Picamoles and say our goodbyes. We leave in thirty minutes.”

Chapter Text

Chris was on the phone with Iestyn as they were driving. He had explained his conversation with Gaëlle and mentioned in passing what he had told Isaac.

“I thought that was part of the plan already?”

“You would have thought,” Chris explained. “But the alpha of the wolf pack here has finally convinced me that our Christine can’t have been the one at the summoning. I think that she probably knew all along what was going to happen.” Why she would not have told any of the hunters, or Iestyn, or Isaac was a completely different matter.

“So you are trying to find her at her cousin’s place?”

“Do you know where they live?”

“Somewhere north. Couldn’t tell you for all the tea in China.”

“That sounds good enough. It fits with what we have.”

“You’ll be there tonight?”

“There’s no time to lose,” Chris added with determination.

“Ok, stay safe, though. Anything you want from us?” Iestyn added helpfully.

“Have you made any progress?”

“Not really, no. It’s just a big mess still.”

“Keep us posted. We should be back home tomorrow as planned.”

Chris put his phone away after saying goodbye and nodded at Patrice, who nodded back and kept on driving.

***

The address that the Argents had in their files about the druids who went to Bégnan was in the rural region that was the border between Normandy and Brittany. It was close enough to the French Argent family home, which was perhaps why they had had a story of collaboration in the past – even if they had not been involved in any common business since the druids decided to claim the nemeton in the 1940s. It took them over two hours to get there, which meant that it was still bright outside even at that time in the evening.

They had parked at the bottom of a dirt track that led to the house, and got out of their cars so they could have a better glimpse of the house, which was big. It was not a castle, but the word ‘manor’ immediately came to their minds. It was not really isolated from the town either but, just as in Bégnan, it was located in the outskirts. Definitely they were surrounded by more fields and orchards than they were surrounded by houses and buildings. As they stood there, Louise told the rest that her enquiries (including a few hacking into’s and other tips from her assistants) confirmed that, thankfully, that house was still Christine’s old family home.

As they approached the house they could see that the lawn as well kept and the path was neat and tidy. Someone lived there, which made it better. It could have been an abandoned house. The lights were all off, which was not encouraging, but they decided to check up more closely. As they approached the stone steps that led to the front door, Patrice put a hand on Chris’ shoulder to stop him, and took silently a finger to his lips, indicating him not to make any noises. Louise and Fred saw this and stopped to listen too. Chris cocked his head, and instinctively put his hand on his holster. It was not clear at first, but there was most definitely a noise coming from within the house. A cross between radio static and a metallic buzz. Fred took a few steps back and looked up, pointing at one of the upper windows which was clearly smashed in, and signalled the rest to look at it. Chris silently cursed and indicated everyone to pull back to the cars.

“Ok, what is going on,” Chris asked once they were behind the hedge and by their vehicles.

“That sounds like the noise that Isaac described,” Patrice swallowed. “And it’s like the sounds we heard at the nemeton before the mi-go appeared.”

Chris looked at Fred, who silently nodded.

“Shit!” Chris passed a hand through his beard and then rubbed the back of his head. After a few silent seconds, Chris continued. “We are about an hour and a half from home, we can call for back up,” Louise nodded at this and she pulled her phone and went into the car to call for help. “Fred,” Chris turned to the youngest hunter, “what kit have we got with us?”

“We brought two shotguns, and our .45’s. I also have my rifle, but that wouldn’t be useful if we go into the house. There should be a box of stun grenades still in the van, but most of the heavy gear was taken for the patrols around the nemeton,” Chris silently nodded at this.

“We have plenty of wolfsbane and emitters, and the tasers. But we were hoping to contain werewolves. We didn’t know we’d face that,” Patrice interjected, pointing with his thumb over his shoulder.

“How tough were these flying bugs?”

“I hit it with my rifle,” Fred intervened. “It didn’t do much.”

“Isaac said he managed to shoot it and then slice its belly. Maybe that’s the vulnerable spot.” Patrice added helpfully.

“That’s a start. We have now just got to wait for backup.”

A loud scream came from the house. It was definitely a human scream.

“No time for that – gear up and we storm through the gate.”

“You sure, Chris?”

“Not at all, but at least we have surprise on our side.”

In under a minute they had grabbed all the weapons and the four hunters were waiting by the front door. Before they could kick it down, however, the noticed that it was open. The moment they pulled it fully, the four Argents got a whiff of something odd – a smell so alien and so foreign to make it unmistakable: it was the hideous stench that they had got from Christine’s basement and from the nemeton on the night of the incantation. The metallic buzz was clearer now, but there were no more screams. The entrance hall opened up to two rooms on either side, a long corridor up in front, next to a staircase that led to the top floor. All the noise came from the central corridor, noises that now included breaking glass and the high-pitched hum normally associated with dentists’ drills.

Chris pointed at the corridor, which they guessed led to the kitchen, and signalled Fred and Louise to go with him. With another silent sign, he told Patrice to go around through one of the side rooms. As they approached the door to the corridor another scream of pure terror mixed with pain came from within. The humming became more intense. Fred opened the door, and let Chris have a first look. At the far end he could see light coming from a door to the left. The hunter had the impression that it was the light cast by a torch dropped on the floor, because of its warm colour, different from kitchen halogen lights, and because of the very low angle it came from. On the wall opposite, Chris could see shadows shifting in front of the light. The humming stopped for a second, and the metallic buzz was audible again. As they got closer, it was evident that there was a voice speaking muffled by the odd noise.

“Orders must be obeyed without question at all times. Hand over the book. Hand over Christine!”

“We haven’t got the book,” another voice, clearly human this time, said in between sobs. “And we haven’t seen Christine! She left!”

“Lies,” the radio-like voice stated. “Your efforts are in vain, and we have other ways of making you speak.”

“I am not lying, you disgusting traitor!”

“You are simply not ready to understand. Your morality is an obsolete concept which serves no purpose but to hinder the advance of the human race.” A loud metallic buzz came out before the voice continued. “You have not seen our potential. You haven’t seen what the future can be like.”

“You have betrayed your fellow humans and you have insulted the gods of Earth.”

“Desist in your arguments. This is leading us nowhere. Answer our questions!” the buzzing voice was demanding in angry tones.

Three short metallic buzzes were heard next. These were followed by a noise akin to impatient nails tapping on a table. Then, something blocked the cone of light that came from the kitchen, followed by a low muffled hum and another panic scream. Chris quickly glanced at Fred and indicated that he wanted the stun grenades, which the younger hunter quickly handed over. Chris nodded reassuringly, and Louise and Fred held their guns firmly understanding Chris’ silent instructions.

Chris pulled the rings and in two quick steps he was in front of the kitchen door, where he lobbed the grenades and then jumped sideways. As he threw the stunners in, he shouted ‘down!’ in French, hoping that the human in there could have a chance to duck. The image he saw in the split second it took him to jump across the door and land on the floor would be forever burned into his memory. In all his years as a hunter he had never even imagined he would encounter such a scene. On the floor, under a table there was a body. A human body, most definitely. On top of the table there was another person, but she was only partly visible, because on top her there was an alien creature with a fungoid head.

The creature fitted Isaac’s description of a mi-go perfectly. It was also quite different from the illustration that Lydia had found, which had shown something more similar to a flying hippopotamus. The creature in question was propped on the table with its serrated wings. Its pincer claws were holding something shiny and metallic, the size of a pen, aimed at the head of the woman (was it a woman? Chris was not sure). The creature’s fungoid head was held up, while the tail was visibly curled around the leg of the table. Behind it, Chris got a glimpse of yet another mi-go, this one awkwardly sat on its coiled tail, wings wide spread, but holding a suspicious metallic canister in its claws.

After that, there was a loud bang as the stun grenades detonated in the kitchen. Two loud and high-pitched screeches came immediately after that and, on cue, Fred and Louise barged in and opened fire. After the first two blasts of shotgun, Patrice kicked through the dining room door and began shooting again. Chris stood up and pulled his gun out, but by the time he was through the door he heard the loud crash of broken windows and found that the mi-go were gone.

“Clear!” he heard Patrice.

“Clear!” was Louise’s reply.

“Where are they?”

“They flew out the window.”

“Did you hit them?”

Fred pointed at the pools of orange ichor on the floor. “Might be enough?”

“I doubt it,” Chris said.

Patrice kept an eye on the windows while Louise and Fred secured the two doors. Chris then had time to take in the scene. The person under the table was dead. Very dead. The chest had somehow been turned into a pinkish-orange bubbly jelly, and he dared not look at the head, because he had briefly glimpsed at it and it seemed sunken. Thankfully, none of his injuries seemed to have been cause by the grenades – nothing in their arsenal could gelify human flesh. The person on the table was actually a man, not a woman as he had thought originally. He was held to the table with iridescent metallic clamps, which he tried to pry open without any luck. The man was now unconscious, and he had deep marks and cuts on his upper arms which Chris could only link to pincers. There was also a horizontal cut across his forehead, which was unsettling straight and precise. What made it worse was that even if it was an open wound, it was completely bloodless, against all logic. On the far corner there were three metallic, cylindrical canisters. One was tipped over and its gooey content had spilled all over the floor, leaving some nasty burnt marks on the furniture. The other two seemed intact, although one had a big dent on a side, and its lights were flashing intermittently. Chris approached these cylinders, swallowing hard, fearing what he might come across and turned them gently over with his boot. Right there, in front of him, he could see there were two human brains, one in each jar.

“Patrice, do you see this?” Chris demanded, seeking external confirmation that he was actually seeing two brains plugged to wires and suspended in a thick liquid, all contained in a metallic tube.

His cousin nodded and came closer to him, not really sure if he believed his eyes either. Without taking his eyes from the window, he crouched down and tapped the metallic jar with the gun. It made a noise from within.

“Is it working?”

A buzz came out, which soon turned into a loud cry. “Hello?! Anyone there? I can’t see.”

The voice came out in French, and sounded quite distraught.

“Who are you? We are looking for Christine.”

“I told you already – I do not know where she is?”

“The mi-go are gone, don’t worry,” for the time being at least. “My name is Chris Argent. We were helping Christine at the nemeton in Bégnan. We are trying to find out what she did at the nemeton that caused all of this.”

“Wait, you are Isaac’s friends?”

“You know Isaac?” Patrice questioned.

“Yes, yes! I’m Jacques, Christine’s cousin. We met him at her Christmas dinner. A few years ago. Oh, God – is he alright?”

“Yes, he is. What do you know about Bégnan?” Chris needed to bring the conversation to the point. They did not know when the aliens would come back. He would have time to freak out about the fact that they were talking to a brain in a metallic canister later.

“God. Where to start... Our family took over the nemeton. Well, you invited us to take over it. From the very beginning we knew about the dealings of the triugumakunds at Bégnan, and their collaboration between the locals. Ever since the village elders and the acolytes were all killed during the Great War the nemeton had not had any guardians. The locals were afraid of the return of the werewolves, who would expel the mi-go, which is why they contacted you. What they never suspected was that we were partial to their cause. The village priest mistakenly thought that we as druids were connected with the druids who worshiped the forest spirits and that were expelled by the Romans. I mean,” the brain explained, “we are in connection with the gods of Earth, but we have never aligned with… Nyarlathotep,” the last name was a hushed whisper.

The brain made a pause. Chris could not understand if it needed to breathe, if it was for emphasis, or if it was just a reflex inherited from the days when it had a body. In all honesty, Chris was not even sure if this person was conscious that he did not have a body anymore. Whatever it was, they did not have time.

“Jacques! Jacques, listen. Focus – we do not have much time.”

“It’s just that… I can’t see. And can’t feel my hands.”

“Jacques, we have no time, just tell us. What has Christine done – and where can we find her.” Patrice shook his head. They were running out of time. He looked at Fred and nodded in agreement with Patrice. They needed to go. The brain he was talking to remained silent, and the small lights on its canister dimmed down. “Shit!”

That seemed bad. They needed to discuss this anywhere else. Chris grabbed the two cylinders with the brains under his arm. He signalled to Fred and Louise, who moved to the table and tried to break the man’s manacles, which they had to do by shooting the table to splinters because the metal would not bend or open.

“What’s that? Where are you taking me?” Jacques came back, talking with his muzzled voice, but Chris just ignored him. They had no time to wait for back up.

Once they were ready they went through the corridor towards the exit. They go to the hall and were about to reach the front door when the top of the stairs exploded, raining the hunters with debris, splinters, and plaster. A light-blue coloured cone of light emerged from the dust, and the noise and the stench of the mi-go inundated the room.

“Shoot it down!” Chris yelled, letting the cylinders go and reaching for his gun.

The two monsters flew into the room. One of them targeted Chris directly, and it aimed a metallic square at him. Chris shot at the monster and managed to hit its soft belly, making it shudder briefly, but the alien managed to trigger its weapon. Chris was immediately pushed and pressed against the wall, from where he could not move. He was blinded by the bright blue light, and he felt every single cell in his body being pressed back, as if the light he was being aimed with had become solid that pushed him with a tremendous force. The strength of the blue beam was such that he was finding it difficult to breathe. But before he passed out he heard a loud shot, after which Chris felt the cone of solid light shift away from him. Once he could move again, he saw Patrice loading and cocking his shotgun and giving the flying monster both barrels. Orange ichor was spilled all over the floor, and the mi-go crashed against the balustrade of the stairs, claws protecting its belly.

Before they could celebrate, Chris was hit by a screaming solid which knocked him to the ground. When he looked at his chest he saw that Louise was lying on top of him, with her face contorted in pain. He tried to move her so he could stand up, but she screamed in agony, and Chris noticed that her shoulder was protruding in a way that a shoulder shouldn’t and had a few bleeding open wounds. The alien was whooshing over him before Patrice could reload, and he was bracing himself to be grabbed and carried by the flying creature as Isaac had been on the night of the invocation. Right then Fred managed to shoot from the far side it with his gun, giving the mi-go enough lead to make it change its trajectory, even if it was not itself hurt. That gave Patrice enough time to reload and Chris enough time to lay Louise carefully on her side.

The fist mi-go, the one which had been shot bloody through the balustrade, crawled to the edge of the steps and spread its wings. Had the creature had a face, it would have been really pissed off, but the laminated bulbous head simply pulsated in different shades of pink and purple. The buzz of an angry hive mimicked the pulsating colours, and the monster dived head first, fixated on Chris and Louise who were still on the floor. Fred and Patrice saw this coming and all but emptied their weapons trying to shoot it down. The creature was mostly dead when it hit the ground, but it still whipped with its tail at the two prone humans.

When it finally stopped moving the room was silent again.

“Where’s the other one?” Chris shouted. “Where has it gone?”

Patrice walked to him and grabbed his shoulder, “Chris! We don’t know. It flew up the stairs. I bet it’s lurking in the shadows up there.”

“Louise!” Fred kneeled by her, checking her injuries.

She was in clearly pain, and her eyes were watery, but she remained stoic and calmed. Chris instructed Patrice to ring and find out how long until the reinforcements would arrive, while he helped Fred as he patched Louise up. They had only had time to stop the bleeding before a metallic voice shouted from behind them.

“Comply and desist!”

This was clearly not Christine’s relative. Patrice and Chris turned around to look at the brain canisters that had been dropped on the floor. Fred kept applying pressure on Louise’s wounds.

“Who are you?” Chris demanded.

“That is inconsequential. You are disrupting our operations and threatening the viability of our plan. Cease immediately and hand over Christine. Hand over the book. Orders must be obeyed without question at all times!”

“Yes, I’ve heard that before,” Chris spat. “Listen you and your friends have run out of time. The nemeton is not yours anymore. And your inbred science experiments will not be going out of gaol any soon.”

“Your insolence is endearing. It is so infantile. It reflects how backwards humans still are. You do not understand our potential. You cannot see our role in the stars. There is an entire universe beyond what you can see and comprehend, and it is within our reach. We can bend space and time and rip the very fabric of our reality.” The brain was increasing the volume of his address, and the louder it got the more distorted it became with static and metallic buzzing, resulting in a threatening cacophony. Chris did not flinch or step back. “The gods of Earth have trapped us here for their monotonous amusement, blind to the possibilities of the universe, and incapable of protecting us from the dangers from beyond. But we can change this, and you do not understand. You are stuck with your diminutive views of the planet and petty human views of your surrounding and yourselves.”

“You resent having been human, but you have been tricked by this alien creatures. You are nothing but a puppet – so much of one that you need to be transported around by them,” Chris said as he approached the canister, very ready to shoot the brain quiet.

“I have seen what it is to be human. And I have seen what it is like not to be human. Who has the simple and pedestrian perspective here?”

Before Chris could reply, the second mi-go broke into the house, and landed right on top of the brain jars. With its tail it hit Chris and sent him flying into one of the corners of the room, breaking a few of his ribs and knocking the wind out of him. Patrice shot at the creature, but while it was on the ground the bullets simply ricocheted off his hard back. The creature grabbed the canisters with its pincers and turned around as Patrice tried to re-load, but he did not have enough time. The mi-go charged into him and gashed him with his free pincer before jumping up in the air and flying off into the darkening evening sky.

Fred lifted his head, and after double checking that Louise was ok (or at least not getting worse), he walked to Chris, who simply pointed at Patrice as he tried to gain his breath back. Patrice looked far worse than Louise. His gun was thrown on the side, and his shirt and face were covered in blood.

“No, no! Patrice! Please! No… Chris, help!”

Patrice was losing blood, but worse of all: he had already lost conscience.

“Shit!”

Chris crawled towards the younger hunter and also cursed. He saw that his cousin had a nasty cut across his forehead, going down to his cheek – a wound that continued towards his chest. On closer inspection, however, he could see that most of the blood came from the head wound, and that his chest was not badly clawed. It was going to have a hell of a headache when he woke up, and he would be black and blue for a month, but Chris could reassure Fred that Patrice was going to make a full recovery.

He told his younger relative to clean Patrice’s wounds while he rang for help. After hearing that the rest of the Argents were not that far away, he sat down and rubbed his eyes and pinched his nose. He looked at Fred taking care of Patrice and making sure that Louise was comfortable while help arrived. Fred gave him a thumbs up and a long, exhausted sigh, and Chris nodded. Then he rang Iestyn.

***

Deaton and Iestyn were sat at opposite ends of the table, each with a different pile of papers to go through. They each had a laptop, while a corkboard where they pinned up notes had been put up in between them. They had done some good ten hours of solid research that day, by which Iestyn understood reading through ancient files and private documents of Christine trying to make any sense and reconstruct what she had been doing behind his back while he was working as his apprentice. The mystery of how she had been replaced and why (and by whom or what) still loomed at large on his mind, but that was not their first point. They needed to know what she had been doing and hopefully Chris would find out where she had gone. It would all be easier if she just told them.

“Tea?”

Iestyn looked up from his notebook and stretched his shoulders. “I think I need something colder, and fizzier. Not necessarily alcoholic, but would not object. Too hot for tea today for me.”

Deaton simply nodded and headed for the fridge and pulled out a bottle of lemonade.

“I’m afraid that all the cold and fizzy alcohol was drunk at the beach – unless you want to go for Chris’ wine, which I would advise against.”

“This will do lovely, it will. Thanks.” Iestyn poured himself a large glass and drank a big gulp. “How far did you get?” Iestyn simply pointed: Deaton was going through the Unaussprechlichen Kulten, but from what Iestyn could see he was only managing to turn a page every thirty or forty minutes.

“That is a very challenging book,” understated the American druid as he turned the kettle on. “It is dangerous in the wrong hands, and I am not sure if I really want to understand or even to read all it says.”

Iestyn could relate. He had not even read it, but he had been dreading the moment ever since he went down to the basement at Oxford University’s library looking for it. He still did not know if he felt relieved or terrified that Isaac had retrieved it from the aliens. He certainly had been scared shitless for his friend knowing that he had it with him. They sat in silence while the electric kettle boiled. Its click brought them back to reality.

“But there must be a purpose to it,” Iestyn was trying to reason. “The villagers had access to it for months.”

“Von Juntz explains partly how the right invocations and rituals can serve as keys to open portals.”

“Why would the villagers or the aliens need a portal? Lydia’s last summary suggests that they can simply fly through space. It’s not as if they need spaceships.”

“That is still a very long commute to Yuggoth.”

Lydia had sent them a long text on her findings about these aliens and their home planet, which as far as she could tell, was either Pluto or perhaps Planet Nine. Both are extremely distant objects, and trips would have taken a very long time – unless some form of portal was created.

“Especially if you’re loaded with minerals taken from Earth.”

“The nemeton would be the kind of place that could be opened with the right key, according to the book.”

They reverted back to their silence, Deaton now stirring his tea carefully while Iestyn shut his computer down.

“That is all very fine,” Iestyn was thinking aloud again, “but the Kulten were not written until erm… the 1840s. The nemeton portal was active before that. Why would they need it now?”

Deaton’s eyes widened. “The knowledge was lost, Chris told us so much earlier, according to the French werewolves.”

“They could not perform the ritual in 1919.”

“And now they need the book.”

“But how did they learn about it in the first place?”

“The dark priest?”

“Hang on,” Iestyn was now going through some of his notes excitedly. “So the dark priest comes at various points in History and teaches the locals how to do the ritual. He comes as a bishop, he comes as a pirate, and he comes as a priest now. Blah blah, we know. But. Why is he not teaching the locals about it now? And why would he leave this knowledge only to humans and not to the mi-go, who are actually his worshipers?”

Deaton sipped at his tea, deep in thought and looking at Iestyn.

“Maybe it’s like the alpha said. Maybe the stairs are right.”

“So the faceless god is just playing werewolves versus aliens?” Iestyn was not happy with this option.

“There may not be more to it than that. We can’t comprehend what the plan is.”

“Is that why the mi-go are insisting on taking the book back?”

“They want to continue with their operations,” Deaton ventured, “but need to activate the nemeton for that, even if they don’t have the help of their human acolytes anymore.”

Iestyn went slightly pale as an idea slowly came to him. “But… what if…”

“Iestyn?” Deaton prompted after his colleague went silent.

“No, no, listen. The ritual we performed at the nemeton. In order to destroy the nogitsune we had to draw power from the nemeton. We tapped into the telluric currents, but we focused everything on the tree. The tree was meant to absorb and diffuse the evil spirit. Dilute a drop of evil into an ocean of telluric energy. It was an Adfail y rhych…”

Deaton knew little Welsh, but he understood of powerful druidic practices. An Adfail rite was a ruining one, intending to diffuse an energy until it was spread so thin it held no more power. Few other things could have damaged a nogitsune permanently (and Argent had been insistent on not simply trapping it for it to cause trouble centuries down the line). But combining that dispelled energy with the unusually high number of currents tethered to that particular tree could have side effects.

“Iestyn, are you suggesting that Christine hoped the dilution would spread?”

“It couldn’t!” the younger druid tried to defend himself, even if Deaton had not accused him of anything. “We double checked! We took the readings, she told…” Iestyn slowly sat down. “She told me the readings were still strong. That the currents still converged on the tree. She told me it was a minimal possibility…”

Iestyn did not finish his sentence. He just trailed off. Deaton, on the other hand, went straight to his bag and pulled out a series of quartz prisms and other rock-crystal objects.

“Iestyn, grab the map. We need to leave now and confirm the lay lines have not shifted.”

“Wait, wait! Alan! If the lay lines have shifted then the nemeton will lose part of its power. The village is safe. With the werewolves taking over and the end of the cult there is no chance the mi-go will return to that spot until the currents shift again. That could take millennia!”

“I know. I’m just afraid of what alternative nemeton they may target next.”

Deaton was in the car already, checking the satnav and calculating that they would get to the nemeton before eleven that night. He double checked that he had all the crystals to read currents and was waiting for his Welsh colleague to come with the map. However, when he looked at the door, and while he saw that Iestyn indeed had the map in his hand, he was also on the phone, and he had stopped dead on his tracks.

“Deaton, wait!” Alan got out of the car, looking concerned. “I’m on the phone with Chris. They’ve had an encounter with the mi-go. They even had a… well… a chat with them. They have also got Christine’s brother. He says that he might know.”

“Know what?”

“Know where Christine has gone. And what she’s done,” Iestyn offered his phone to Deaton.

The American druid walked back to the house and took Iestyn’s mobile.

“Argent, what happened?”

“We found Christine’s relatives, they had been interrogated by the mi-go. We have only been able to save her brother, but he may know what we want to know.”

“Can he speak now?”

“Not just yet – he is badly injured and probably shell-shocked.”

“We need to go back to Bégnan as soon as possible. We need to check that the lay lines have not shifted.”

“What do you mean shifted?”

Deaton explained the current hypothesis the two druids were working on, and how important it was to confirm whether the nemeton was still a main junction of telluric currents or not. He did not have to mention that one of the very few other nemetons with such a potential power was that of Beacon Hills for Chris to understand the implications of Christine’s ritual.

Eventually they decided that the two druids would come to them at the Argent château in Britanny, not only because they would be safer there should the mi-go track them for the book, but also they would have a chance to question Christine’s brother once he was better. Deaton insisted in confirming whether the telluric currents had shifted in Bégnan, so they agreed that they would drive there first thing in the morning, rendezvous with the remaining Argent patrols, check the lines and then drive back all together.

Alan checked the time, as he sat down again, massaging his temples. Iestyn went to his pile of papers and dug down until he found the list of preparations that he made before the ritual with the nogitsune and then handed it over to Deaton. Alan looked up at Iestyn and then looked down at the paper in front of him quizzically.

“There’s your homework. I know what I did, but if you look at it you might see what I missed or overdid, or what is off. I am going to make us a quick dinner, and then we are going to recreate the day when we brought a werewolf to the nemeton and got this rolling.”

   

Chapter Text

Much earlier that morning

Isaac was generally opposed to the concept of there being two four o’clocks in a day, a feeling which began when he started working in the bakery. It was way too late at night and way too early in the morning. But they wanted to get the ferry to Portsmouth, so they had to get to Caen as soon as possible.

They had been loading Iestyn’s car with all the things they had packed, and were almost ready to go, when Jackson looked at the driver’s seat.

“Babe, can you drive stick?”

“No,” was Ethan’s reply. “Can you?”

“No.”

“Boys,” Iestyn said with a sleepy voice as he dragged Isaac’s last bag with him. “Neither of you is touching my car. For some obscure reason I trust Isaac. He’s driving. Although it may be simply because he knows how to drive with gears.”

The taller werewolf was walking behind him with a thermos flask and a bagfull of food to keep them going. He flashed the other two a big grin when he heard the druid saying this.

“Shotgun!” Jackson quickly shouted.

“No, you can’t. I can’t seat on the back. I’m taller than you.”

“Just a few inches.”

“My legs are longer. Yards longer.”

Jackson stared at Ethan and walked slowly to his boyfriend, who was grinning. When he was close enough, he put his thumbs through the loops of the twin’s trousers and pulled him closer. Jackson gave his boyfriend a big, wet kiss.

“I called shotgun first,” he finally said when they broke their kiss, pushing the twin away, and poking his chest with his finger.

“Enough, you two!” Isaac called as Iestyn gave him the car keys. He then walked to the driver’s seat only to find that it had no wheel. Or pedals. Isaac was very confused. “Oi, Iestyn, your car is the other way round?”

Jackson and Ethan snorted when their friend said this. They were used to British cars, but evidently Isaac had never seen a left-hand drive car, with the wheel on the right. The druid shut the boot of the car after putting the bag he had been carrying in, and rolled his eyes at Isaac.

“Yeah, yeah. Funny Americans. Get used to it, you twit. And be careful with it. Just leave it in Oxford at their place. I’ll come pick it up… somehow.”

“It’s too early for all this,” Isaac rubbed the back of his head.

“Oh, shut up. Come here, give us a cwtch.”

Isaac went to his friend and gave him a tight hug, and ruffled his hair.

“Don’t summon anything with that fucking book of yours.”

“Don’t get yourself into a fight with an alien monster.”

“And you two,” Iestyn said to the two other werewolves after breaking the embrace, “take good care of my boy here. He’s too big for his own good.”

Ethan and Jackson promised they would and gave Iestyn a goodbye hug. They all got in the car and were on the road as the eastern sky began to turn a paler shade of navy blue.

***

Jackson was asleep before they got to the motorway.

“That’s why he wanted to seat up front,” Ethan told Isaac, who quickly glanced at Jackson sat there, arms crossed, mouth open and drooling, face against the window.

“Well, I rather have him like this than being annoyingly grumpy and eggy.”

“Yeah, well. Don’t get me started on that.” Ethan grabbed a croissant from the bag and had a cup of the coffee from the thermos. He offered some to Isaac, who gladly accepted a drink of coffee.

“Where did you get this from?” Ethan asked, holding the flask so he could see it.

“Oh, it’s part of my camping kit,” Isaac replied, keeping his eyes on the road. Ethan nodded.

“I didn’t take you for a camper.”

“Well, it got boring in France, with Chris coming and going, and Iestyn leaving me to help you two, and so. So I went camping. I went to the beach a couple of weeks ago, just to get away of that village which, by the way, was covered in wolfsbane.”

“Oh, really? I didn’t notice. My eyes were crying, so I couldn’t tell what flowers they were.” Isaac looked at Ethan on the mirror, and both shared the same grin.

When the satnav told Isaac to keep on the same road for 200km he moaned dramatically, making Ethan chuckle and Jackson to snore and shift in his sleep.

“So, how’s Scott?” Ethan asked as he handed Isaac a chocolate pastry.

“Well… we have been texting. Every day. Almost. Quite often.”

“Aham, yes. That I know. I’ve seen you and your stupid smile and your intense spraying of pheromones. What does he text you about?”

“That’s what I’m not sure,” Isaac kept his eyes on the road. “It seems like his usual old self, always enthusiastic and positive, and… well. You know him right?”

Ethan nodded but was not buying Isaac’s crap. He knew there was something juicier than that. “I do know Scott. That’s why I am asking.”

“Well… He is very keen in having me back. And then… I’m not sure if he’s actually flirting?”

“WOW. What have you been texting him?”

“Nothing particular, I’d think. Just trying to be normal. But he just texts saying, ‘oh Isaac, you’ve been in the gym’, or ‘you have all my attention’. But he says this like, dunno. Like he really wants spend time with me? And then he sends me selfies pouting and looking all cute. But then he’s all back to business and pack, and aliens. So I’m confused. It’s definitely like what we used to text each other back in Beacon Hills, umm… but like keener? Does that make sense?”

Ethan rolled his eyes and leaned forward.

“What are you doing?” Isaac asked worried.

“Just you let me…” Ethan reached forward and grabbed his phone. “What’s your code?”

“Wait what?”

“I need to see what you’re texting him, you doughnut.”

“No you won’t!”

“Isaac! Eyes on the road, give me your code, and let me help you. I thought we were the LGTB Werewolf Society, Chairman Lahey,” Ethan was teasing and Isaac chuckled and gave up. “Thank you. Now I can judge myself.”

Isaac blushed as Ethan scrolled down his messages with ‘mhm’s’ and ‘aha’s’, emphatically nodding his head.

“He is flirting with you,” Isaac just looked confused as he blushed all over. “He is not wolf-whistling and calling you beefcake because he’s not that kind of guy. But that’s how I translate this.”

“Shut up!” Isaac begged as he turned crimson.

“Well, at least you have a second opinion now!”

After a few silent moments, Ethan spoke again.

“You need to send him more pictures, Isaac.”

“No. Not a chance.”

“Ideally without your top on.”

“Shut up!”

That will send him the right message,” Ethan was enjoying teasing Isaac too much.

“Leave him alone, Ethan,” Jackson called from his seat, eyes still shut.

“It’s rude to listen to other people’s conversations, Jacks. Especially if you pretend you’re asleep.”

“I wasn’t pretending. I was trying. But between your teasing and Isaac’s embarrassment, which I can’t help smelling, it’s a bit difficult.”

“Well then help me out Jackson. You also want him to bone McCall.”

“Jesus,” Jackson finally opened his eyes and gave up on sleeping. “You were never a subtle one.”

“Oh, look who’s talking.”

“Boys, please,” Isaac was still bright red as he asked. “Can we leave this aside for a minute?”

“Yes he will,” Jackson said and Ethan rolled his eyes with a smile. “Just remember that we’re team Isaac and we’re biased. But we are here just to help.”

Jackson pulled his phone out and started texting.

“Who are you texting?”

“Don’t worry Isaac. It’s all for your own good. If only you had a flipping facebook you’d make this easier for everyone.”

“What are you doing?” Isaac was very aware that Jackson was now plotting something. He had that serious and focused face he only had on the lacrosse field. Isaac could also see Ethan smiling like a shark on his window.

“He’s on Instagram! I saw it on his phone!” Ethan jumped overexcited with this bit of information.

“Isaac, trust me.”

“Please don’t…”

“You’ll thank us. Eventually…”

“Isaac, give us your phone again. It’ll be easier like this.”

“Please stop,” Isaac begged. He was not just embarrassed now, he was getting anxious and scared. Jackson and Ethan sensed it immediately and they stopped.

“Hey, Isaac, I’m sorry. We just want to send him a picture of you in your rugby kit,” Jackson explained softly. “We want to help you, you know that, right? But we won’t if you really don’t want to.”

“Sorry we pushed you,” Ethan said from the back, rubbing gently Isaac on the shoulders. “We don’t like seeing you confused like that. We just wanted to see if he’s just overly excited to have you back in his pack or if there is something else.”

Isaac took a few deep breaths and rubbed his hands on the wheel. “I know,” his voice was low. “I know, and I really appreciate your help. But I don’t think I am ready to know the truth right now. I’m happy just getting his attention and talking to him again. It’s like when I first turned and he suddenly realised I existed, and he talked to me. I’m happy sticking to that.” Isaac rubbed his eye and sighed. “I am not in a hurry to find out the truth.”

“What truth would that be, Isaac?” both werewolves were now purposely keeping a hand on Isaac, making sure that he felt the contact, and letting him know that they would be there for him.

Isaac sniffed and kept staring at the road ahead. “That he does not really like me like I do.”

“Lahey, listen to me,” Jackson was very serious, and he kept his hand on Isaac’s shoulder as he turned around to look at him. “We’ll have his guts for garters if he hurts you. And I’m sure Lydia would be with us on this.”

“And if he really is playing with you like this, then he is not the Scott McCall that I know,” Ethan tried to add a positive note. “We know how much he cares about you. And trust me that there is more in those texts he is sending you than you want to see.” Ethan leaned further forward and kissed Isaac’s shoulder.

They were silent for a few minutes after that, Isaac deep in thought, and Ethan and Jackson giving him time and space to think. The sun was clearly out over the horizon when Isaac finally spoke.

“I’ll choose a picture,” he confessed with a small smile.

“Yesss!”

“No, no. You pick a few, and then we chose one.”

Isaac snorted but nodded his head with a smile. “Fine, fine!” He put one hand up in mock surrender. “But now that you’re all up, we get to listen to Iestyn’s amazing music collection.”

“No!” Jackson complained. “We had enough of that on the way here. There so much stuff in Welsh I can listen to.

“My car my rules, Whittemore!”

“God, you’re insufferable now that we’re friends.”

“Ethan, please give him some breakfast. Your missus is in a morning mood.”

While the twin gave the remaining pastries and the coffee flask to his boyfriend, Isaac pressed on the radio. Isaac recognised the tune immediately as the piano started playing ‘Werewolves of London’. With a big smile he told his friends: “This one is for you two boys!”

***

The queue to get on the ferry was not as long as they had expected, but that was only because they arrived there early in the morning. The line quickly built up behind them. At first Ethan had suggested going on the train through the Channel Tunnel, but Isaac was not happy with the idea of being trapped in a train in a tunnel under the sea, so they opted for the ferry. They had hotdogs and a few beers during the crossing, although Isaac also decided to take a much-needed nap. Four hours later, they heard the announcement that they were finally approaching Portsmouth. Driving off the ferryboat, Isaac prepared himself to the ultimate test: driving on the left. After a few stressing miles of Jackson furious co-piloting and indications, Isaac pulled over and stopped at a petrol station to swop places, so Ethan would sit in the front and Jackson was forbidden to give any more instructions. The drive from Portsmouth to Oxford was not that long in comparison, and twelve hours after leaving France they pulled into Jackson and Ethan’s driveway.

Once they unloaded the car, Jackson and Ethan went upstairs to prepare the guest room for Isaac. Before Isaac could give them a hand, his phone rang.

“Chris?”

They had a short conversation about Christine’s relatives – apparently, they were going to try find them. Chris also asked him to look into a one Richard O’Laohdey, a knight and werewolf from the Middle Ages. Isaac knew his surname was Irish. Christine had told him also that it mean son of a hero, a laoch. The name O’Laohdey was definitely Irish, and suspiciously similar to his own surname, but Isaac did not want to jump to conclusions. Especially ones that may lead him to find long-dead heroic ancestors he was not ready to live up to.

Jackson came down the stairs with wet hair (he had obviously had a shower), and saw Isaac sat at the kitchen table lost in thought staring at his phone.

“What has McCall done now?”

“Oh, nothing,” Isaac snapped back to reality. “It was Chris. He has a lead for us to follow.” Isaac told Jackson about the medieval knight. Jackson told him to wait as he went to grab his laptop, and once he was back they began to investigate.

“Ok, a quick internet search gives little information. He was a knight with the Black Prince who was the Prince of Wales. Although before that he went off to attack Toulouse, so it all makes sense. He certainly was around that fucking nemeton in the fourteenth century. But I think that it’d be more useful if we go check the library tomorrow. These sites give us at least three books and articles that may be useful – although I think none of those will mention any connection to the supernatural.”

“Which is the kind of stuff we want to find, right?”

“Yeah… We should ask Lydia. She’d at least give us a pointer.”

Isaac looked unsure at Jackson, who arched an eyebrow not understanding why Isaac was looking at him like that.

“Or do you know much about medieval werewolf literature?”

“What’s the time there?”

“Must be almost noon. Which means you can text Scott good morning,” Jackson concluded with a big grin and a wink.

Isaac stood up as he rolled his eyes, and announced he was off to shower himself. He really needed one, especially after twelve hours of driving because his friends were incapable of driving with a gearstick. Looking into medieval werewolves was not his top priority right now, but texting Scott certainly was in the top three. He decided to text quickly before jumping in the shower.

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:12

Hey alpha! We just got to Oxford. We spent the whole day travelling. Jax has promised us a pub dinner tonight whtever that is. Any big plans for today?

 

He debated internally for a millisecond whether to send a topless picture before jumping in the shower, but he was still not ready for that. He put some music on and proceeded to wash all the travelling stench and tiredness away, scrubbing himself until he was glowing pink. He got out of the shower and into his room to get changed, when he realised he had got a reply from Scott.

 

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:18

Hey beta. Just a boring day ahead today

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:18

Not much to do really

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:18

Meeting malia liam and derek later to see If we can find the hale gold field

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:19

Then I’m taking mom to a lecture

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:22

Hey sorry I was in the shower!

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:21

Gold mining sounds exciting?

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:22

Shower huh?

 

(God – is he doing it again?)

 

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:23

Lol yeah we had them in California too in my days

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:23

I know I know!

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:23

Joking ;)

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:24

Oh mom wants to know your french number so I gave it to her

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:24

send me a picture of you guys later

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:24

I wanna know what a pub dinner is

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:25

Sure

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:25

O btw will Lydia know anything about medieval wws?

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:26

Dude!

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:26

Shell give you a lecture!

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:26

Chris has a lead for us to follow

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:26

A medieval wwlf knight who bashed the aliens

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:27

Sick!

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:27

I know. And he’s my ancestor

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:27

Your kidding!!!!

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:27

Lol maybe… same name

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:28

Thatd be cool

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:28

But your not fighting any more aliens are you??

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:29

Nah, not yet. They’re still recovering from my last thrashing

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:30

Of course they are ;)

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:30

Gotta go now. Liam’s here

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 17:30

Ok. Text me later!

<Scott> 29/06/2019 17:31

Always!

 

Isaac smiled and put his phone away. For a brief moment he cursed that fucking Liam who always turns up when he was texting with Scott, but then he thought that he should not be jealous of the other beta. He shook his head and headed back to the kitchen with Ethan and Jackson.

“Feeling better?”

“Yeah. Much better.”

“We had a chat with Lydia,” Ethan was downstairs as well now. “She has sent us a list of things we may want to check in the library here, but she said that tracking down one single werewolf in the past would need to be done through cartularies and family archives, and that will take more than a few days,” Jackson explained.

“Great…”

“But, thankfully we’re in Oxford and the colleges here have insane resources,” Jackson pointed at a notebook in front of him with a satisfied smirk on his face. “So there is a book on the ‘Great Lineages of þe Bleidyn’, which is, and I quote her here: ‘all your Saxon and Celtic werewolf families’.”

“How does she even know about all these things?” Isaac deadpanned.

“Don’t ask,” Ethan said. “It’s just too scary.”

“Ok, so what now?” Isaac said leaning against the doorframe. “Someone promised me a pub dinner.”

“Don’t get overexcited,” Ethan said. “It’s just a normal dinner, but in a pub.”

“Ignore him,” Jackson exclaimed shutting his laptop and standing up. “I know the right place.”

It was a long way from their place to Jackson’s pub of choice, so they had to go in their car. Isaac was not sure if it was worth the extra car trip just for dinner (having lived in a small town in France had spoilt his perception of distances), but all credit to Jackson: he chose a very nice pub by the river. Even if it was quite full, they still managed to get a table outside. Jackson proceeded to lecture Isaac on the various types of beer they served there, followed by an explanation of the food options. Isaac was intrigued by the ham and leek pie, Jackson decided that was a fantastic choice, and went to order.

Once the food arrived, Isaac pulled his phone out and sent Iestyn a picture of his dinner, because he knew he’d appreciate it, and then remembered what Scott had asked him.

“We need to take a picture. Scott wanted to see what this dinner was all about.”

Ethan and Jackson looked at each other knowingly, who then looked at Isaac with grins like that of a cat who had learned to use a tin opener. Both moved on their benches so they were close to Isaac and while Jackson fixed Isaac’s hair Ethan was rolling Isaac’s sleeves up.

“What are you two doing?” Isaac flustered.

“We are simply showing our friend off to the man he likes, which can’t hurt,” said Jackson.

“And remember you still have to show us your rugby pictures,” Ethan reminded him.

Isaac rolled his eyes hard, but he did not complain.

“Why are you two so keen?”

“Isaac, enough of that. Because you are our friend, and we want you to be happy. Right, dear?”

“Yes, darling,” Jackson said with a smirk.

Once the two werewolves were satisfied with Isaac’s looks they sat together to take a selfie, with the food in front and the garden by the river behind them. Ethan took a few extra of Isaac on his own, after which he asked again to see through his rugby photos, which Isaac accepted to do. They picked a couple and then they nudged Isaac to send them all to Scott: their dinner selfie, the one with only Isaac, and the two game photos they had selected.

“Happy now?” Isaac asked once the photos had been sent, blushing noticeably.

“Yes,” both agreed in unison.

They finished their dinner and had a few more drinks, even if they could not feel the alcohol. They did not mention Scott (who had not seen yet the photos Isaac had sent) or the aliens or anything related. They discussed any topic that would put their heads away from their current worries and mission. They ended up explaining Ethan the very complex and exciting adventures Jackson and Isaac had lived when they were eight or nine and played to be explorers in Jackson’s back garden, visiting jungles and temples and arctic barrens full of polar bears. Isaac even talked a bit about his brother Cam who pretended not to like playing that but always ended up joining them.

All this was interrupted at almost nine, when Isaac’s phone rang.

“Chris, is everything ok?”

***

Back in the house Isaac could not stop pacing, even if he knew there was nothing he could do all the way in England. They thought that they were safe, and the moment they started pulling threads and looking into what was going on, they come across not one but two of those disgusting flying creatures. And, on top of that, Louise and Patrice got badly hurt.

“Isaac, they are hunters, they are trained to fight these things,” Jackson tried to calm him.

“I know. It’s just… I still feel that all this shit started because I could not tell what Christine was doing.”

“Listen, you know that’s not true. Iestyn told us: he had not noticed anything either, and he lived with her.”

Isaac finally sat down on the sofa and huffed.

“Calmer now?” Ethan ventured.

“Not really. I’m still worried about them, but I can accept that there is nothing I can do here.”

“Wrong,” Jackson cut in. “We can do what we came here to do: become a bunch of library nerds looking for clues about medieval werewolves and evil alien cults.”

“Can we print that on a t-shirt?” Isaac joked.

They sat on the living room and had a short chat. They had only three days to stay in England before they flew back to California, so they needed to make sure they did as much research as they could. Jackson had his own library card, so he was ok. Isaac had a student card from a different university, so he could easily get a library permit to go with Jackson. They needed to get Ethan a permit as well, although the twin also wanted Isaac to do a bit of sightseeing, especially as it was his first time in England. Isaac was not completely opposed to the idea, and Jackson begrudgingly accepted to give him a tour at lunch time – but only a short one.

Once the plan had been decided Isaac decided to go to bed, as it had been a very long day and napping on a ferry was no real substitute for proper sleep. When he was in bed, he saw that he had a handful of texts from Scott, mostly replies to the pictures he had sent him earlier that evening.

<Scott> 29/06/2019 21:26

Ow wow look at you three. That dinner looks nice

<Scott> 29/06/2019 21:26

Is the pub just that garden area?

<Scott> 29/06/2019 21:26

And yeah, you’re looking very good in those too

<Scott> 29/06/2019 21:26

;););)

<Scott> 29/06/2019 21:27

Didn’t know rugby was so muddy

<Scott> 29/06/2019 21:27

And your wearing no pads or helmet?

<Scott> 29/06/2019 21:27

Looks fun tho. Youll need to teach me !!

<Scott> 29/06/2019 21:28

We’re still up in the preserve looking for gold

 

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 22:36

Lol yeah. Muddy and no protection. Tons of fun!

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 22:36

Find a big nugget for your mum and buy her sthng nice

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 22:36

I’m absolutely exhausted. I need sleep. I’ll text you tomorrow

<Isaac> 29/06/2019 22:36

Have fun xx

 

Isaac put his phone on the bedside table and rolled on his side. He was asleep in seconds.

A knock on the door woke Isaac up the following morning. The unknown smells, in combination with the unfamiliar room he woke up in briefly disorientated him, but Jackson’s wake-up shout helped. I’m in Oxford, with Ethan and Jackson. We have to find the book about this possible ancestor. Patrice and Chris fought the mi-go and had a chat with the brain in the jar… We were in the pub, and those two pricks made me send Scott those pictures. And then I… no I didn’t. Isaac checked his phone and there they were. At the end of his last message to Scott there were two x’s. Or rather, two kisses. Fuck… After palming his face and growling in embarrassment Isaac gathered enough courage to continue reading what Scott had replied.

<Scott> 30/06/2019 04:09

Hey Isaac! Youll be asleep now

<Scott> 30/06/2019 04:09

Just got out of this lecture with mom. sorry

<Scott> 30/06/2019 04:09

Sadly no gold to find. Were still poor :(

<Scott> 30/06/2019 04:09

But it was fun still

<Scott> 30/06/2019 04:10

We’re going out for Mexican without you :P

<Scott> 30/06/2019 04:10

Anyways sleep tight

<Scott> 30/06/2019 04:11

[message deleted]

<Scott> 30/06/2019 04:12

See you soon!!

 

Isaac sat up in bed re-reading Scott’s texts. He had not freaked out, apparently, even if he had replied six hours later. He read them again: he had been in the preserve looking for gold with Derek, then he went to a lecture with Melissa (why a lecture??), so he probably had to go and pick her up from work, and then only texted him after he got out. Isaac was running scenarios where Scott had been staring at his message for hours deciding what to reply, although he also thought that he would have been too busy to check until the lecture finished. Was Scott avoiding him? Was he pretending Isaac’s last message didn’t exist? What was that deleted message all about? Isaac had not even had breakfast and he was already getting an anxiety headache.

He went down to the kitchen in his shorts with a worried face, and immediately smelled pancakes.

“Do you want eggs and bacon too, Isaac?” Ethan asked as he heard him walk down the stairs.

“Erm. Yeah. Scrambled?” Isaac said in a low voice, still processing Scott’s texts.

“Scrambled eggs then.”

“You didn’t have a shirt to put on this morning, Lahey?”

“I…” Isaac had not noticed that he had just walked into the kitchen with what he had rolled out of bed.

“Don’t worry,” Jackson took a picture of him and winked. “This we can send to Scott later.”

At this Isaac went red and walked back to his room to find a t-shirt to wear. When he came back he had a massive plate of pancakes, eggs, and bacon ready for him.

“Thanks.” After a silent pause, he added “I might have cocked it up.”

“Oh you drama queen,” Jackson snapped. “What have you done?”

Isaac simply slid his phone to him for Jackson to check his messages.

“What?” Jackson read through, but could not see anything special.

“Oh, let me see,” Ethan turned the hob off as he gave Jackson his breakfast and took the phone off of his hands. “Oh. Oh. Isaac, don’t worry, you haven’t. Scott was just caught unawares. Don’t think about it.”

“What?” Jackson said with a full mouth, still not knowing what was going on.

“Your friend here likes to overthink. He sent two kisses on his last message.”

“I was exhausted,” Isaac tried to defend himself. “I didn’t mean to. And Scott is just like as if I hadn’t sent them. I’ve just… Dunno! No way he doesn’t know about me now!”

“Isaac, relax. He’s texting as if nothing has changed between you, right?” Isaac slowly nodded. “Then I suggest you just keep your text flirting as usual.”

Isaac was still red, but now his mouth was open, horrified at the suggestion.

“Don’t you look at us like that,” Jackson intervened, still chewing. “You don’t see McCall texting us that much, do you? Not that he texts at all unless he needs something. Or do you think he texts Stilinski like that as well?”

Isaac looked at Ethan, who nodded positively. The couple were convinced that Scott was flirting back at Isaac, even if their friend could not bring himself to believe it.

“So what do I do?”

“Finish your breakfast,” Jackson kept instructing. “Then get ready, and then text Scott something for him to read when he wakes up.”

“And stop overthinking, you muppet.” Ethan concluded, drinking his coffee.

Isaac stared at his breakfast. Maybe he was ready to concede that their friends were, after all, right.

***

Isaac texted Scott. Just a quick message with a ‘good morning’ and telling that they were going to be all day in the library. No x’s. No smiley faces or winking emojis. Definitely no pictures. They got the bus down to the city centre, which during the summer was jam-packed with tourists visiting the colleges and the other various university buildings. They went to the library office first to get permits for Ethan and Isaac, which was easy enough to do before they walked down to the old Bodleian library. Ethan insisted in showing Isaac the Divinity School, one of the medieval lecture rooms that had been used in the Harry Potter films. Jackson rolled his eyes, but Isaac really liked it and took several photos.

They headed straight to the reading room and Jackson told them to wait there while he got the books out. A few minutes later he came back with an assistant librarian who gave them the books they needed. Jackson explained that the werewolf families book was in a college library and that they had an appointment to go and read it in the afternoon. So most of the morning they spent it reading about the Hundred Years’ War, although they did not learn anything new or relevant. There were a few mentions of Richard O’Laohdey, but all referred to his mundane life. Born in the late 1330s, either Irish or Welsh nobility who sided with the Normans. Went off to France and fighting in the most unexpected places, that even if they were never close to the main fighting areas, always ended up helping the English cause. That was the closest reference to his attack at Bégnan. He then returned to England, and died before 1380.

By lunch time Jackson and Ethan took Isaac to their favourite sandwich place in the covered market, and showed him around a few of the central colleges, before they headed to their library appointment at All Souls. At the library they indicated they came to read the book, and the librarian questioned the need for three people to read a book. Because they just looked at her sheepishly and Jackson simply said that he needed help reading, the librarian did not question any further. She just rolled her eyes and led them to the back reading room. Isaac had been amazed by the old medieval library they had been earlier, but this other one was even more spectacular, with its high ceiling and the carved stone decorations – not to mention the old shelves full of ancient books.

The librarian had the book ready for them, but she pulled in a third chair for them. The famed book of werewolf lineages had been compiled by an Albert of Saint David’s, and it was printed in 1536, or so they could read on the front page. The lettering was thankfully legible, even if the English was a bit more complicated than what they were used to. They hoped that the three of them reading it at the same time would help them make sense of it. It had a very detailed index and, eventually, they came across the O’Laohdey family entry.

Once they figured out that ‘bleidyn’ (or, as google suggested, bleidd-dyn) was the key word used by the author to imply ‘werewolf’, the text made much more sense. The O’Laohdeys began as a family of ‘bleidyn’ in Roman times: a powerful clan that lived in the western mountains of Britain around the fortress of Segontium. At one point, Irish pirates took part of the family away, and Cantior (the head of the clan) launched a revenge attack on Ireland, where they recovered their relatives. In the battle the werewolves obtained the nickname laoch, or heroes, because of their mighty strength and the courage they showed crossing the sea to defend and protect their family. That was all entertaining enough, more for Isaac than for the other two, but it did not help much, so they jumped up to the entry that described Sir Richard.

They found a long account of his life, which roughly matched what they had read already. More interesting were the few paragraphs that described the events at Bégnan, which Ethan quickly scanned with his phone. It was clear from the text that Sir Richard had received information from renegade villagers about the powerful tree controlled by the spirits of the forest. Sir Richard saw the chance for his family to take possession of the tree. He used his human retinue to enter the village and disband them, taking particular care to capture their priests, who communicated with the tree spirits with an ‘enchanted metalle bucket that spoke the word of the spirits’. Having seen a brain in a flipping jar, Isaac was sure he understood what was going on. After these priests and their villagers were rounded up and, apparently, burned on trees and their heads displayed on pikes, his trusted ‘teulu’ (which were either knights or werewolves, or probably both) circled the forest people and slew them. The text did not give any information as to how they managed to do it, which was unhelpful, but it was clear that after slaying the forest people and burning their hideouts and their human priests, his werewolf-knights settled in that village, ‘where to this day they rule the magick tree’.

As stories go, it was not a bad one. Isaac wanted to believe that he had a family connection with Sir Richard, but knew that was a long shot – especially since he was not a born werewolf. He could not see how that would help them defeat the mi-go, but Ethan pointed out that maybe the only way the mi-go could communicate through their human minions was through intermediaries, like priests and brains in jars. Priests in medieval Bégnan had been the collaborators, who communicated with the aliens through brains in jars. The story about Antoine Gartzes also included a voice heard from the church, and then when the mi-go had tried to re-establish the cult, a brain in a canister and a mysterious priest appeared again. It was as much as they could gather from the book, and after making sure they had scanned all the relevant sections, they decided to call it a day.

When they returned the book, they realised that the library was closed already. The light in the librarian’s office was still on, so Jackson politely coughed so the librarian would come out.

“We are returning the book now.”

“Oh, thank you. Was it useful?” she added with extra emphasis.

“Oh, yes,” Isaac replied with a smile. “Very illustrative.”

“I thought it would be,” she added with a smirk as she took it from Jackson and placed it on a shelf behind her. “That’s why I let you stay after hours. You seemed very focused, and didn’t want to interrupt.”

“That’s very kind, thanks. We’ll be on our way now, if you could buzz the door for us?”

“I don’t think you’d get very far away even if I buzzed it open. I doubt any of you three gentlemen would be able to push our solid mountain ash door…”

The three werewolves suddenly realised that they were trapped inside the library with a librarian who knew very probably what they were.

“Oh, but don’t worry. It’s just a usual precaution. You see, there are very few people who consult this book in particular. Most of them are either hunters, druids or werewolves. You don’t like at all like hunters, and I would have known you already, had you been druids. So it was easy.”

Isaac was getting nervous, not knowing where this conversation was leading to.

“Um, may we, er… leave now?”

“By all means, Mr… You’re Mr Lahey?” she said as she checked a form from her desk. Isaac nodded. “Did you find your relatives in the book?”

“I, um. Yes. But… they can’t be,” Isaac explained. “I, well… I was, um, a bitten werewolf.”

“Well, young man. The reason you took the bite is because some distant ancestor of yours was once a werewolf. Not all children of werewolves and humans become wolves, but they preserve the cursed genes of Lycaon regardless,” the librarian explained as she walked in front of her desk and towards the door. “People without the gene don’t survive the bite.”

“Am I actually related to those Laheys I read on that book?”

“Yours is a very specific surname, Mr Lahey. I cannot promise, but I would be very inclined to believe so.”

As she opened the door and broke the seal, the librarian led the three young men out.

“Oh, and Mr Whittemore,” the librarian added before they walked too far. “You are one of our students, so I imagine you are a resident here in Oxford. My name is Rachel Artley, in case you need any supernatural guidance on University business in the future.”

With this she shut the door behind her, and the three werewolves were left out on the cobbled street, overlooking the Radcliffe camera, looking at each other. Isaac pulled his phone out to check the time, and saw he had a pile of texts: a few from Iestyn, some from Chris, but most from Scott. Nothing urgent must have happened, because he had no missed calls.

“Let’s get a drink, sir knight,” Jackson teased him.

Chapter Text

That same evening, in France

“Is he up?” Chris asked massaging his temples, his voice tired.

“I’d give him a few more hours,” Patrice replied hopefully.

“He’s been out for more than a day.”

Deaton, Iestyn, Chris and Patrice were standing outside the sick bay of the Argent house, where Christine’s brother Adrienne was. One of the family’s medical assistants was taking care of him.

“He almost had his brain sucked out of his skull by an alien, and he probably saw his cousin tortured by the mi-go.”

“Can we wake him up?”

“That would not be advisable,” Deaton cut in. “I am no medic, but it does not sound like a good option.”

“We are running out of options,” Chris was growing impatient by the minute.

The previous day, the Argents had visited the house where Christine’s relatives still lived, and found it taken by the mi-go. There they managed to rescue Adrienne (Christine’s sister), who was being tortured by the aliens when they got into the house. Jacques, (Christine’s cousin), had already been dealt with, and his brain had been extracted from his skull and placed in a metal canister. The former had been out since the Argents got there, but the latter had time to explain how their druid family had planned to expel the mi-go from the nemeton at Bégnan since the first day the Argents handed it over to them. Knowing this, Iestyn had hypothesised that Christine had taken advantage of the destruction of the nogitsune to cast a diffusion spell, one that would dilute the power of the nogitsune into the lay lines, eventually destroying the fox spirit. A consequence of this (and now clearly an intended one) was that the telluric currents that converged at the nemeton tree had been forced to shift.

Earlier that morning Deaton and Iestyn had packed everything and left the safe house by the ocean. They had then gone to Bégnan to meet with the remaining Argent hunters and to take readings of the telluric currents. After they finished their suspicions had been confirmed: The two main currents had shifted and they crossed some eight hundred metres away from the tree. A few minor ones had disappeared, sunk deep into the soil or had shifted  so they crossed at a different angle. The point was that the tree was not a main node where all of them intersected. The area of Bégnan still had a powerful connection to the lay lines, and the arrival of the Picamoles werewolf clan would be necessary to protect it, but it was doubtful that the location of the nemeton (especially with a fallen tree) was powerful enough now to attract the mi-go.

“If the mi-go can extract the information out of Jacques’ brain,” Iestyn ventured, not really comfortable with the whole idea of alien torture, “then they probably will find Christine.”

“Which is why we need that man there to tell us sooner rather than later,” Chris insisted, pointing at the door of the sick bay.

The four of them fell silent for a while until Chris eventually walked away, heading back to the library where he knew his aunt Camille would be. The matriarch of the Argent family was sitting at a desk in the library, running through various reports that piled high by her side. Most of them were weapons and security business. Some were ongoing hunts.

“Aunt Camille?” he politely interrupted.

“My dear nephew. Has your guest woken up yet?” Camille was a woman in her mid sixties. She kept her dark blond hair at shoulder length and neatly parted on her left side. Her face was thin, framed by two thin, dark, and expressive eyebrows. Her fierce eyes painfully reminded Chris of Allison.

“Not yet, which worries me.”

The older woman left her paperwork aside and invited Chris to sit down. “Why is it that you need to talk with this druid? As far as I understand -from what you have explained to me- you already know what Christine did and why. I am sure the other druids can fill you in with the how. And you have fought off those flying aliens already, so you can do that again. Why the hurry to talk with this man?”

“We need to know where Christine is. She knows more about the mi-go and their dealings with the cultists of Bégnan than anyone else,” Chris paused briefly. “I am afraid that without her help we might be too late to stop them from taking over a new nemeton,” Chris was now looking down, going over a nagging frightening idea that had been building up in his mind over the last hours. “And I’m afraid that they may target the one at Beacon Hills.”

“Have you mentioned this to the guardians?” Camille Argent knew very well what had happened at the Beacon Hills nemeton, and she knew what Scott McCall, the True Alpha, and his pack had accomplished. It was only because of his actions, and in the light of Gerard’s last stunt, that she had acknowledged and accepted Allison’s new code. Chris also liked to think that Isaac’s collaboration had also helped.

Chris shook his head in response. “We cannot be certain that they will target that particular nemeton. We do not know when it may happen, or if it will happen anytime soon. Or if they will target one of the other main ones.”

“Withholding such key tactical information away from your operatives is never a wise line of action, Christopher.”

Chris knew he had to tell Scott, but he did not want to alarm him without sufficient proof. He had not told Isaac yet either, knowing well that his adopted son would forward all the information to his alpha eventually. He even had asked Iestyn to keep this from Isaac too. But it was all still a theory, they could not know where would the mi-go go next. And even if they came up with a contingency plan in case the aliens tried to activate the nemeton in Beacon HIlls, they still needed to know how the aliens interacted with the cultists, or how was the cult started. Any fight would be a failure: they needed to stop the cult before it got to act. They must nip it in the bud. And for that they needed Christine. After a few silent moments, Chris put all of his concerns in words, and explained his thoughts to her aunt.

“If we fight the mi-go away, regardless of the result, it will still be a defeat,” Chris eventually concluded. “They play the very long game, and if the cult starts, then they can lay low and make a come back years from now. We need to stop the cult before it takes hold.”

“Then that’s what will be done,” she placed a reassuring wrinkled hand on Chris’ own, and then gently nodded him to go and talk to the druids about his concerns.

Chris stood up and waited there for a few seconds, still thinking about his next step before nodding heavily and heading back to Deaton. As he walked there, Chris sent a text to Isaac summarising what had happened in the last twenty-four hours. He sent the same text to Scott, and asked him to look for evidence of cult activity. As he was approaching the sick bay Patrice bumped into him.

“Chris! He’s awake.”

***

It was late evening in France, but it was mid-morning in Beacon Hills. Scott was home reading (again) through the texts he had been exchanging with Isaac, and he had to smile. He could not help it. His inner wolf was also happy. They had only been texting for over a week, but it felt much longer. The reconnection made it seem more important. More relevant.

Scott enjoyed re-reading the messages. He could remember the moment he received every one of them. As he read through the texts, each one triggered an emotional response and brought back a memory: from the feeling of helplessness and anxiety when Scott received Isaac’s first text, to the rolling laughs when Isaac made a sassy or a snarky comment. He cherished all the pictures that Isaac had sent him, and he wanted more. Scott had to admit that his beta was a very good looking man, with his unbelievably blue eyes, his perfect jawline and chiselled cheeks, his short blond curls and, best of all, his cheeky smile, which was a rare sight. Of the snaps he had sent, Scott liked the one of Isaac having dinner at the pub the most. It might have been the evening light or the garden setting, but in that photo he really looked happy, and Scott loved to see Isaac like that. He had already promised himself to make sure Isaac was always as happy as in that picture. But what Scott treasured the most was, perhaps, when Isaac had sent him those two x’s the other day.

It was obvious that Isaac had not sent them on purpose, that he had been exhausted, and Scott was sure that it had been more of an impulsive reaction. But it had been, however, the first time Scott had seen any direct display of affection from Isaac. His mum and Lydia would cry out loud, saying that he had been blind to all the signs Isaac had been sending before, but those good-night kisses suddenly made it all more real. The truth is that Scott at first had not known what to do about them. He had a first moment of doubt, when he saw that Isaac’s feelings were real (despite of everyone else telling him so) and he was not sure if he wanted to go ahead with whatever was starting between them. He was tempted to metaphorically step back and bring everything down a notch. But the truth was that those letters had really touched something inside him. It had been a long time since Scott had had similar feelings for anyone, and it was awkward enough that these were developing towards his beta, but inside him, his instinct, his wolf, were yelling at him that this was good. That he really needed it. That he wanted it. That only his rational mind was questioning his feelings towards Isaac. So he stopped to think.

He went through their previous conversations, seeing how little by little their banter had got flirtier. Scott knew he was teasing Isaac. He was not sure if that was what he should be doing, but it felt good. It brought them back together, and Scott really appreciated having that connection back with his beta. He remembered fondly the friendship they had had when Isaac had lived with them, but this was even better. He wanted more. He knew he made Isaac blush –he could feel it—and he loved that sensation. Scott was ready for more: He itched to physically nuzzle and cuddle him, an urge which he had never felt before (or perhaps he had never acknowledged). He could not wait to have him back in Beacon Hills.

Scott eventually decided to pretend that he had not noticed the x’s and just texted back as he would usually have done – telling him what he had been doing that day, and how they had found no gold. He even sent Isaac a message with three good-night kisses, but he freaked and changed his mind. He deleted the message: he wanted to tell Isaac how he felt in person.

So there was Scott, reading over and over again his text exchange with Isaac, a goofy smile on his face, when he received a message from Chris. In it, he explained that he feared that a cult may try to use the nemeton in Beacon Hills to connect with the mi-go, so Argent suggested that they looked for traces of cults, rather than for evidence of alien activity. Cultists were humans and should be easier to track and identify.

Scott sat up and bit his thumb whilst reading it. He decided to forward it to Stiles, because he would know more about cults. Within thirty seconds, his best friend was already calling him.

“Hey, Stiles.”

“What does he mean that there is a cult?”

“Whoa! Easy. Chris just said that it might be easier to find cultists than to find aliens.”

“Well, he would say that. Is he certain that the cult is coming to Beacon Hills?”

“He hasn’t said that,” Scott clarified. “He’s just fearing that the mi-go may target a new nemeton now that theirs in France is not as powerful, and that finding a cult should be easier than locating aliens in the forests.”

“I knew this would happen,” Stiles rambled. “I knew that the nogitsune had something to do with it. That flipping Isaac could not destroy it without causing an alien invasion back home—“

“Stiles.”

“No, listen. They should have just hid the box. In a vault. With spells and mountain ash. Under a castle. With laser sensors and booby traps…”

“Stiles…”

“But they had to try and destroy it and disrupt the lay lines.”

“Stiles!” Scott finally made him stop. “Just imagine how much you’d have moaned if they had not destroyed it.” He let the idea sink. “And it was not Isaac. It was the druid, anyways.”

“Ok, sorry… I’m sorry Scott,” Stiles apologised. “I know it’s not Isaac’s fault. It’s just that everything seemed fine in Beacon Hills for a change. My dad hasn’t had to file a ‘wild animal’ attack in years. It just seems as if home could be a small quiet California town for once…”

“I know what you mean, Stiles,” Scott agreed – he shared his friend’s feeling. He was happy that for once his mum was not living in a supernatural hub. “But how do I find a cult? Don’t they have like hidden sanctuaries, and cloaks and an evil cackling leader?”

“Well, yes. In the same way that werewolves dwell in cave dens and can be killed with silver bullets—“

“We could have turned Derek’s old house into a pack den!” Scott interrupted, out of the blue.

“Is that in the alternative universe where I marry Derek?”

“Have you been talking to Derek about it?” Scott questioned, remembering how he had used that same example.

“Wait-what? No! It’s just… an example! We cannot use the old Hale house! It’s under the new Rangers office.”

“I meant the you and Derek stuff.”

“No, Scott,” Stiles deadpanned. “We don’t discuss that. We just plot to get Liam and Theo together. Because that’s what everybody really wants. Theo and Liam smooching.”

Scott visualised that and got a shiver down his spine. He was getting very lost now. “Can you just answer my question?”

“About alternative universes?”

“About cults!”

“Oh, well—hang on, no… Lyds, wait. I can,” Scott could hear Stiles and Lydia arguing on the other end of the line. “Yes, I know… No… Ok, fine! Hang on, Scotty. You’re on speakerphone now.”

“Hi, Scott.”

“Hi, Lydia.”

“What’s this about cults?”

Scott explained what Chris had briefly texted him, which wasn’t enough, according to Lydia, and she said she would ring Chris or Deaton directly.

“But as for cults,” Lydia continued, “you may want to ask Mason. He’s been looking more into that. You need to keep an eye for a charismatic leader: someone who draws crowds to a meeting place he or she controls. They normally attract people to the cult with promises or prophecies. They would have ceremonies, symbols or some other way to mark those who have been initiated into the cult and those who aren’t. Most people who join cults do not notice they are in one until it’s too late. And those who are conscious about it deny any existence of the cult – usually because they are guilty of controlling people.”

“Beacon Hills is not such an exciting place for a cult,” Scott tried to argue. “I don’t even know where to start?”

“Don’t worry Scott,” Lydia soothed him. “Just get Derek and Liam and Malia to help. Try to look for cult-like patterns. And ask Mason,” Lydia was adamant. “We’ll be back home tomorrow evening. I’ll regret saying this but, what difference can a day or two make?”

***

“Why are we here again?” Malia asked impatiently.

“Scott, I’m finally on holidays. And you’re not making any sense,” Liam also moaned.

“Derek?” Scott looked at the older werewolf hoping he would side with him.

“Ok,” Derek spoke after a pause. “It might be easier to find human cultists than alien monsters. Beacon Hills is still quite large, and this people will be hiding. I still do not understand what Argent thinks we can do.”

“Or Lydia,” Liam added.

Or Lydia,” Derek concluded.

Scott was frustrated, but he understood completely. Every single time they had faced something in Beacon Hills in the past it had been as a result of something happening. This was the first time they had to do a pre-emptive search. Which meant, he had to concede, that they did not know where to start or what to look for.

“I understand that it may be difficult, and I am not saying that we have to find something. It may be the case that we will not find anything. But that should not stop us from trying, right?”

“Trying is the first step towards failure,” Malia said casually.

“What?”

“I read it on a t-shit,” she defended herself. “Just saying that we cannot just sniff a cult. Not until they commit mass suicide or sacrifice a baby.” Derek rolled his eyes, but Liam and Scott looked at her with a degree of fear they could not really hide. “What? That’s the best way to find a cult. Follow the blood.”

“It would be too late then,” Liam exclaimed.

“And we are stopping people before they kill anyone. Or summon anything,” Scott concluded.

“Scott,” Malia insisted, “we haven’t got any leads. It’s not that we don’t want to help. It’s that we do not know how to.”

They were silent for a few seconds.

“Can I go to my swimming pool now?” Liam pleaded.

Derek looked at Scott with quizzical eyebrows, transmitting a message that translated roughly as ‘you picked him as a beta?’, but Scott could only huff.

“No!”

“Where do we start then?” Malia was crossing her arms now, clearly agreeing with Liam that they could be somewhere else. Anywhere else.

“Churches?” Scott ventured. He was thinking as he spoke. “The French cult had started in a church. Maybe we should look into churches and other, erm… cult sites. Places of worship.”

Liam looked at Scott expecting he would answer his own question. Malia nodded dryly. Scott looked at Derek. Derek face palmed, but he nodded.

“Ok. Where do we start?”

“We can just type Beacon Hills cults in google,” Liam added helpfully. They all looked at him in disbelief. “Or not…”

“Shall we start by searching for churches?”

They checked the town’s maps. Scott had never been religious, and neither had been Melissa, so he had little idea of how many religious communities existed in Beacon Hills. They found two Catholic churches, three small Orthodox churches for different communities, a synagogue, a Methodist chapel… And the list continued. It was evidently a bad idea, and there was no way they could supervise all those places with any degree of success. They gave up on that plan.

Liam and Malia badgered Derek into ordering pizzas for lunch, and once they were all fed with greasy and cheese food they continued brainstorming ways in which to identify a cult.

“If it has anything to do with the nemeton,” Liam suggested, still chewing on a cold left over slice, “it may involve people walking around the forest. Is there a hiking club?”

“Coach took us out there for cross country,” Malia remembered. “And he’s weird. I’d bet his deep in it.”

Liam nodded emphatically – someone was finally on his wavelength.

“Or it could be the rangers,” Liam came up with another idea. “A government office, working in secret collaboration with the aliens. Stiles would support me on this.”

“Conspiracy theories anyone?” Derek raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, excuse me. So aliens and werewolves can be true, but our government collaborating with a highly evolved extra-terrestrial race through a secret agency and keeping this information away from the public can’t be?”

Derek rubbed his eyes. “When was the last time you heard of the government managing to keep something secret?”

“How can we know, if it’s a secret?!” Liam insisted.

“Don’t you think that if the government knew about the supernatural,” Derek kept arguing, “we supernaturals would know about it?”

Liam scoffed, resolute that he was onto something.

“They do have 24/7 access to the nemeton,” Malia added. “That’s suspicious at least.”

Scott could not believe he was going for this, but it made some freakish and disturbed sense. He looked a t Derek who put his hands up in the air, giving up any logical arguments for the rest of the day.

“Stake out outside Derek’s old house then?” Scott said this aloud, not really convinced that it would work. Liam and Malia nodded. Derek turned around and walked away. “Well, I’m meeting my mom later for the lecture, but we can meet outside the preserve after I drive her home.”

***

Chris walked into the room, Patrice fast on his heels. Iestyn and Deaton were sitting on two chairs as one of the Argent’s medics finished checking Adrienne.

“Everything ok?”

“He is up and stable,” the doctor said. “I have stitched his forehead and dressed his other wounds. He should be ok now.” He left after Chris nodded.

“Adrienne?”

The druid looked up with a frightened face. “Where are they?”

“The mi-go are gone.”

“They are never gone. They lurk in the shadows. Waiting. Listening… Buzzing.” The druid looked around suspiciously, fearing the aliens would creep out from each crevice and corner.

“We are sure they are not here.”

“Yet…”

Chris crossed his arms. “Adrienne, please understand we want to help, and we want to prevent that the mi-go take over another nemeton. We need to contact Christine.”

“You’ll never find her! She left! We don’t know where she’s gone…”

“Adrienne, please. We are truly trying to help. We were with Isaac and Christine at the nemeton when they destroyed the nogitsune. You surely remember Iestyn?” Chris pointed at the Welshman, who nodded his head in acknowledgement.

Adrienne took a deep breath. “I cannot promise that she will still be doing what she told us she would. We last heard of her soon after the faceless god returned to the village. The family plan had always been to neutralise the nemeton to drive the aliens away. When you turned up with a nogitsune gave us the perfect opportunity.”

“It worked too well. The nemeton is not what it used to be.”

“We know,” Adrienne conceded.

“Did you consider that Nyarlathotep would come back?”

“It was…” Adrienne was silent for a second. “It was always a small possibility,” he finally acknowledged. “But then you brought the Irish wolf.”

Chris looked at Deaton who looked at him, clearly not knowing what that h ad to do with anything.

“You mean Isaac?” Iestyn asked, standing up.

“Yes. He’s… well. Let me make this clear: there is no such thing as a ‘chosen one’, but Isaac comes from a werewolf lineage with a strong connection to this nemeton.”

“The O’Laohdey?”

“Yes. Them.”

Iestyn walked forward, getting close to the bed, worried about the possible implications this would have for his friend. “What has Isaac got to do with this?”

“We do not know. It’s all part of the plan in the stars we cannot understand,” Adrienne said with a tired voice, clearly struggling to explain this. “It was… Just… It was a significant coincidence. Christine took it as a good omen. She knew that when the priest came, they still would not succeed.”

“But they may be trying to establish a cult elsewhere. They may be heading towards another nemeton. We need to stop Nyarlathotep and the mi-go from establishing a new cult. We need to find Christine to stop them from doing that.”

Adrienne looked at Chris in the eye.

“As I said, I do not know.” He paused. Chris hung his head down. Iestyn sat back on the chair. “But she left when the dark priest arrived. We last heard of her when she rang us to tell us about it. She then said that she was going to stick to the plan.”

“What was that plan?”

“Find the other nests. The other colonies.”

“What nests?”

“The mi-go. Their hide-outs. Their cities on Earth.”

“Do you know where they are?” Patrice asked.

“She was doing all the research. But wooded areas. Wooded and hilly. Colder climes. During their war against the Old Ones they were expelled from the southern hemisphere.”

“That does not narrow it much,” Chris complained, who already was thinking about one particular place with hilly woodland in the cooler part of California.

“But we have all her research papers,” Deaton pointed from his corner. “We just need to follow her lead. We were searching blindly. Now we have a lead to follow.”

***

“Come on, Scott. We’re going to be late!” Melissa called from the car, sounding the horn for emphasis.

“Coming, coming!”

Scott rushed back to the car. He was really looking forward to going to this lecture. That night was going to be about the neutron and other atomic and sub-atomic particles. He knew nothing about it, and nor did Melissa, but it did not matter, because Terry always delivered the lectures in a comprehensive and engaging way. Mother and son had never thought that a series of lectures on popular science could be so interesting, but they were completely enthralled. After the second lecture, Melissa had signed them up to the entire program, which was now oversubscribed, to make sure they would not miss one. Melissa’s boss and Liam’s father also attended, as well as a handful of the sheriff deputies, and almost all of the high school teachers (although perhaps unsurprisingly, not Coach Finstock). With the subscription Melissa and Scott got membership cards, which secured them a seat – many people who turned up late ended up standing up at the back of the bookshop.

They parked as close as they could and then walked briskly to Terry’s Corner, where there was a queue forming to get in. They got to the entrance and showed their cards to one of the assistants, who welcomed them in. They quickly headed towards their favourite seat, but they bumped into Terry himself.

“Ah, the McCalls! Welcome again. It is great to see you here again.”

“We would not miss this, Terry. We are completely fascinated by your summer lectures, aren’t we, Scott?”

“Yeah, definitely. I mean, if only our high school classes had been this interesting or engaging!”

“You flatter me, Mr McCall. I just try to do my best. We are living exciting days! Science is advancing so quickly… I don’t believe scientists should be the only ones to feel the thrill of new discoveries.”

“Well, thank you for having us here. And again, congratulations,” Melissa concluded.

“Oh, Mr McCall,” Terry called Scott as they approached their chairs. “I know you are a scientist as well.”

“I would not say that… I’m only studying to become a veterinarian!”

“Well, that’s more than I can say myself. I would love if we could have a chat some day – I would like to invite you to give some lectures for our little group. More on the biology side of things, perhaps? I’m sure it would be fascinating, a nd it would look great on your CV.”

Scott was shocked, and felt immediately attracted by the idea. “That… That would be awesome, Terry!”

“Good. We are in no hurry. This would for the future. I just wanted to see what you thought of this idea.”

“Yes, of course. Thank you so much!”

“Fantastic. I must let you go now. I need to check my slides are ready.”

Scott went off to tell his mother about what the bookseller had suggested, and Melissa nearly choked her son in an overenthusiastic hug.

As the main area of the bookshop filled up, the attendees took their seats which were arranged on the carpet with the circle and crossing-lines design. At one point, the lights dimmed down, and for a second Scott could hear a radio buzzing and the noise of static. But he quickly ignored it. The lecture was about to start, and at the same time his mind was racing, excited at the prospect of him being soon the one giving the lectures there.

***

The queue at the border point was long, but the people there were patient, and used to it. The line advanced slowly but at a steady and constant rhythm. Most of people crossing the border were a mixture of Canadians and Americans: Alberta was not an internationally acclaimed tourist destination, so the customs officer was surprised to see that the next person handed him a French passport. He checked on his computer, and immediately saw something wrong. A warning popped up indicating that the French police was looking for this person. However, he could not bring himself to do anything about it. The perfume this woman was too distracting. The border agent looked at her and saw a blond woman with short hair, dark bags under her eyes, and a small nose. But the smell! It was the scent of rosemary and rockroses, it had traces of honey and other strong herbs. Thyme? Oregano? It had something else which he could not identify, but he had never been one for spices. And he could not stop staring at this woman with this particular scent.

When he blinked his eyes she was gone. Another person stood in front of him, handing him a passport. A Canadian one this time. But the other woman had been real, right? He could remember, but it was a vague and cloudy memory. He h ad processed her. A red French passport, a short blond woman. That incredible smell! He had asked his questions, surely… He had checked for the ESTA visa and stamped her passport. Dupont, Christine. That ringed a bell, but he was not certain. It had been a long day after all, and his shift was not even close to being over. He let the Canadian man through and another person approached his desk. He got their passport, asked his questions, checked his screen. It all went back to his usual mechanic routine. He let them through. It was the same with the next person. And the next one. He was back on track. He had a long day ahead.

“What is your final destination while in the United States, sir?”

“California.”

It was funny… He seemed to remember that French woman with the flowery smell was also going to California.

Chapter Text

For their last two days and a half in the UK, Isaac, Jackson and Ethan repeated the same steps each day: library search, sightseeing, more reading, and then a few drinks. After their breakthrough on the first day (with the information about Isaac’s ancestor and the connection between aliens, cultist, and intermediaries) they did not find much more that was either relevant or that had not been pointed out already. They were in constant communication with Lydia, who was masterminding their contingency plan, and she welcomed any bit of information regardless of how minor it seemed, of even if it was a fact they already had.

Isaac texted Scott every day, mostly to express his frustration because they were not finding anything visibly useful. But Scott was, as always, encouraging and supportive. He was also teasing, making Isaac laugh and blush on equal measures. They exchanged pictures more often in those two days, including a couple of shameless library selfies. Every night Isaac would lie in bed waiting for Scott to send him a good night text, and every time he would gently nudge at their pack bond, to thank Scott simply for being there. He did not send any more x’s, though. He would immediately fall asleep afterwards, almost certain now that Scott felt something for him as well. Jackson and Ethan kept telling him so, and insisting on it, but Isaac still had a doubt, fearing that once he got to California this illusion would shatter.

At noon of their third day in Oxford, the three werewolves went back to Jackson and Ethan’s place to pack and get ready to go to the airport. While Isaac had not much to pack, the other two were in a packing frenzy, arguing about what to pack and what to leave. Isaac waited in the living room while the couple argued and huffed. Eventually, and with only five minutes to spare, they left the house and got ready for the long day of travel ahead.

***

The flight took eleven long hours. Jackson, Ethan and a very nervous Isaac left Heathrow airport at ten in the evening – London time. When they landed in San Francisco it was midnight – again. That was annoying enough. Jackson was already in a foul mood by then, which was only worsened by the long passport check queue, and then the extra waiting time to collect their luggage. Eventually they were out in the terminal and they all seemed to relax.

Ethan and Jackson were bickering about something or other as they pushed the trolley with their suitcases; Isaac silently walked behind them with his backpack on his shoulder, not paying much attention. But then he felt a scent which was very familiar, and also very distant. His inner wolf was immediately alert, ears and tail up, and it was about to leap and jump out of pure excitement, even if he could not exactly identify the person he associated with that smell. When Isaac lifted his head, he tried to locate where the familiar scent came from, but before he could locate it, he heard it. A loud and overexcited high-pitched scream.

“Weeeeeee. My boy!”

Isaac was immediately assaulted by Melissa McCall, who threw herself on Isaac, giving him a tight hug, hanging from his shoulders, and covering him in motherly kisses like he had not seen since he was a little boy.

“Hello, Mrs… Melissa,” Isaac managed to say as he hugged her back. “Didn’t know you were picking us up.” Jackson had said he had arranged everything, and that they would rent a car at the airport. When Isaac looked at him, and he winked (That sneaky little shit).

“Oh, Isaac. Look at you!” Melissa held him at arm’s length and looked at him up and down with a hugs smile. “What happened to the thin and lanky boy who used to live with me?”

“I think he got a lot of fresh air and too many trays of French pastries,” Isaac said smiling.

Melissa pinched his cheeks, “just wait until Scott sees you.”

“Wait, wh… He’s here?” Isaac involuntarily popped his head up like a meerkat and started looking around, hoping to see his alpha.

A polite cough interrupted their moment. Melissa looked and saw Ethan and Jackson standing there waiting. She left Isaac to welcome the two other werewolves, who also received motherly comments on how good they looked as they got their hugs.

“There he is! Scott, honey, we’re here!” Melissa called Scott when she saw him walking towards them.

Scott got to Ethan and Jackson and gave each of the werewolves a big welcoming hug, shoulder pats, and a few short comments. But Isaac simply stood there, not moving, completely frozen. All the sounds and noises of the airport disappeared for a brief second, and all he could hear was the thud of his accelerating pulse in his ears. All his other senses were focused on Scott, who was finally there. And, unbelievably, Isaac was there too. He knew (and he knew he knew) that now there was something else between them. This was not going to be simply a ‘welcome home’ encounter. There was more depth. That is why it turned immediately awkward the moment Scott moved on to welcome Isaac. The alpha advanced towards his beta but seemed to stop just in front of the taller werewolf, not really knowing what to do. Both of them simply stared at each other in the eye and had mirroring goofy smiles. An invisible barrier formed between them which neither seemed to know how to cross.

Isaac rubbed the back of his head, not moving any further, his feet rooted to the floor. “Hey alpha.” (Jesus, Isaac. Well done. Great start…).

“Hey Isaac,” thankfully for Isaac, Scott seemed as confused as he was. “How… was your flight?”

Isaac saw Jackson, who was standing behind Scott, rolling his eyes while Ethan simply smiled encouragingly. “Oh, well. Um… ‘twas… Long. Too long. Exhausting really.” (Eloquent as always. God, Isaac, DO SOMETHIG!).

“Ah, well…” Scott was fidgeting with his fingers.

“Have you… been waiting long for us?” (Isaac, for crying out loud! Why doesn’t a fucking flying alien take me out now!). Isaac knew exactly what he wanted to say and do: he wanted to hug Scott and tell him how happy he was to see him, but the instructions that left his brain never reached his mouth or his arms. He was dying inside.

“Yeah, well… Not much,” Scott and Isaac were still a few feet apart, neither taking a step to bridge the gap that separated them. “Well. Mom came with me. So she got out first to find you I erm… I was just parking. Are you tired then?”

Jackson palmed his face and even Melissa felt the waves of awkwardness emanating from the two wolves. Before Scott or Isaac could embarrass themselves any further, Mrs McCall decided to interrupt. She marched towards them and linked her arms to both her boys, breaking their moment. She announced that it was time they all went back home, especially because they still had a long drive back to Beacon Hills, and led them to the car.

They loaded the car, and Scott sat at the wheel, his mum in front with him, and the three other werewolves cramped in the back of Melissa’s car. Isaac was not very happy at first with the idea. It looked suddenly like a very small car, but he was going to be sat by Jackson, who was now a person who surprisingly helped him keep calm (who’d have guessed!). Furthermore, he was going to seat behind Scott, which made his inner wolf happy. The car smelled reassuringly of him, and Isaac sat back and looked out of the window. They soon left the airport and were on the road.

Scott had the radio on, but not very loud because Melissa was talking as they drove. She was explaining all the things that had changed ever since they had last been in Beacon Hills, like the new food court of the shopping mall, the new bookshop which she loved (and Scott nodded his head at this, adding that it was really good), and a water park with the biggest sea-water pool in California. She clarified that she had not gone, but she thought that seeing that the boys were there for the summer, they might as well know about it.

After her explanation, Melissa asked the three werewolves about their lives in Europe, where she had always wanted to go, and was waiting for Chris to take her there. Both Scott and Isaac tensed for a second at the reminder that Melissa and Argent were a well-established couple now – even if they were not teenagers any more they still did not like being reminded about the idea that their parents were having sex. Isaac blurted out about his life in France, leaving all the supernatural aside, and hoping to move on from discussing Melissa’s and Chris’ relationship. Melissa wanted to know more about his French baking skills, which he discussed in quite a detail, although he admitted that he just rolled croissants, kneaded bread, and put all on the trays. At one point when the conversation briefly stopped, Jackson politely (but very knowingly) asked Scott if he had seen Isaac in his rugby shorts and tight jersey. Isaac blushed at that and looked at him with daggers in his eyes. But when Scott said that he had seen only one of those and that he wanted to see more, Jackson smirked and gently punched his friend’s shoulder.

Before Isaac and Jackson could start a muted fight in the cramped back of the car, Ethan began to explain about his life on London and Oxford, mentioning all the things that Melissa might be interested in: the historical buildings, the best places to go for a walk, the massive department stores, the trendy restaurants, the theatres and the musicals. Jackson jumped in and began to add more comments of nice small places that she should visit when she had a chance to go. The three of them were deep in their conversation, Isaac saw. He also noticed how Scott was only partly listening, focusing more on the road. The beta took advantage from the fact that the focus of the conversation had shifted momentarily to the other three people in the car to lean forward, pressing his arms against Scott’s headrest. The alpha was very aware of this, but he said nothing – he simply swallowed and hoped that Isaac would say something, because at that very moment his mind was completely blank. After mustering the courage and scratching his elbow a couple of times (and knowing that Scott could hear him perfectly), Isaac finally managed to whisper.

“Scott, thanks for coming to pick us up.”

“Oh, no worries, Isaac! I really wanted to come and see you.”

This made Isaac smile. “There was something I wanted to say earlier, Scott. I couldn’t wait to be back. I’ve, erm…” Isaac swallowed, and looked down. He needed to say this, “I’ve really missed you.”

In the same hushed tone, but after a couple of moments, Scott replied. “I’m very happy you came back, Isaac.”

Scott then took his hand and brought it behind his seat, reaching for Isaac. He found Isaac’s leg first, and he gently squeezed his calf. Isaac at that moment felt a warm feeling inside his chest and closed his eyes. He felt the warm sensation radiating out of his heart and filling him entirely. Nothing else mattered now. His inner wolf was rolling on the floor and figuratively licking him all over, nuzzling him from within. Before Scott’s hand was back on the wheel, Isaac brought his own hand down and held Scott’s, tracing circles with his thumb on Scott’s palm, before the alpha squeezed his beta’s fingers and focused on his driving again. Isaac then sat back, beaming like a small sun.

When Isaac came back to reality from his Scott-shaped cloud, he could still hear Melissa talking about the musicals she would like to go and see in London. But he saw Jackson and Ethan glaring at him with twin smiles, making Isaac blush. It was difficult to have discreet emotional moments when you were trapped with werewolves in a small car who could smell you. Ethan pulled his phone out, texting something while keeping an eye on Isaac. After a second, Isaac felt his own phone buzz.

<Ethan> 3/06/2019 02:26

TOLD YOU

<Ethan> 3/06/2019 02:26

#TeamIsaac <3<3<3<3

<Isaac> 3/06/2019 02:27

Fuck OFF

<Isaac> 3/06/2019 02:27

xxx

***

After a very long drive, they got to Beacon Hills. Melissa was soundly asleep, and so was Jackson, who Isaac had to admit has an incredible capability to fall asleep in cars. He was leaning against Ethan, who held him in his arms, and looking out the window. Scott stopped the car.

“First stop!”

Jackson woke up and he and Ethan got out. Scott also got out and stretched his legs before he opened the trunk and got the suitcases out. Meanwhile Jackson and Ethan said goodbye to Melissa, who had stayed inside. Isaac suddenly realised where he was and stared across the street to his old house. Absentmindedly, he opened his door and walked four steps down the drive to get a fuller view of his old home, completely zoning out from his friends in the car behind him. It had been abandoned for the last three years, but it was still technically his. Isaac suspected Chris through his lawyers had been paying for the property taxes and doing all other bit of official paperwork.

There were too many memories coming back at once, and Isaac tried to supress the later ones. He actively wanted to remember the early ones: how he had played on the grass with his brother, and how they would rush to the front when they heard the ice-cream van. He tried to remember the birthdays and other happier occasions, when his dad was still a caring parent. But the shadow of his last years in that house loomed large, including his dad’s drinking, the violence, and the freezer. Isaac was stronger now, though. He would not let his father’s voice come back and whisper abuse; he would not be struck there frozen in fear of the memories of his dad shouting at him. He had clenched his fists and his knuckles were white, but he did not relapse. Then he felt a hand on his shoulders.

“Isaac, we were calling for you,” it was Jackson, he had a smile, but his eyes showed that he was worried, a concern Isaac could also smell. “Now, come and say goodbye and make sure you snog McCall later today.”

That snapped him back. “What?”

“Come say goodbye,” Jackson squeezed his shoulder and led him back to where Ethan and Scott were, not letting go of him.

Isaac hugged Ethan and Jackson goodnight. They would see each other in the morning, so it was all quick, and they were all tired. Ethan still whispered a ‘go tiger!’ as Isaac walked towards the car.

“Are you ok, sweetheart?” Melissa asked with a sleepy voice, but a concerned face. She had seen Isaac staring at the house across the road.

“Yeah, it’s just that… I hadn’t been like, erm… home in a long time.” Isaac said ‘home’, but that old house was full of conflicting memories. ‘Home’ could not properly describe it. ‘Home’ was his apartment in Bégnan. ‘Home’ had even been the McCall’s place.

“Well, you’re coming home now,” Scott said purposefully, adding extra emphasis. He had felt Isaac’s emotions through their special bond –which now that they were close was much more intense, and did not want Isaac coming close to that house any time soon.

There had been a time when Isaac would have snapped at that; a time when he would react because he did not need other people’s protection or care. But Isaac did not say a thing now. He had learned to take people’s kindness and accept their help. It had taken time, but he was now ready to accept that some people really cared for him.

When they eventually arrived to the McCall’s house it was painfully close to 4am. Scott dragged Isaac’s suitcase into the house and Melissa opened the front door. Isaac had a very strange feeling of homecoming when he walked into the house. He noticed that in a few details: Chris’ smell was very present, there were a couple of new pictures, and a new sofa. The house had changed, but it was still the same. Everything was surprisingly familiar.

“We’ve put a spare bed in Scott’s room,” Melissa explained. “I’m afraid we turned your room into Chris’ office.”

“That’s ok. Scott told me.”

“Told you what?” the alpha asked as he walked through the door.

“Sleeping arrangements.”

“Oh, yeah. I told him.”

“Ok, so if you boys know what you’re doing,” she bore her eyes into Scott as she said this, making her son somehow feel guilty and blush, “I’ll be off to bed. Don’t stay up too late: I imagine you have a lot to do tomorrow… later today.”

She kissed them both good night and disappeared up the stairs.

“You need a hand?” Isaac pointed at his suitcase.

“I’ll be fine.”

They walked up to the bedroom where, as promised, there was an extra mattress on the floor.

“It’s only temporarily,” Scott apologised. “Only until we get you a real bed.”

“So am I staying here for long, then?” Isaac asked as he sat down on his new bed, patting it with his hand.

“Yes, well… if you want to. We can rearrange the room. But… well. You don’t have to…”

Scott was still standing and flustering. Isaac looked at him with a smile, and Scott looked carefully at his bed and then to Isaac’s. Slowly he turned around and sat next to his beta on the lower bed. He sat there but remained silent.

“Isaac, listen—“

“Scott,” Isaac interrupted. He was still not sure if he wanted to have a conversation that night. Somewhere inside him, Isaac still feared that Scott did not like him back, and he preferred to live one more day in the bittersweet expectation that he might, rather than risking and finding out. “Let’s just go to bed. I don’t really know in what time zone I am right now.”

Scott smiled and nodded as he stood up. He went into the bathroom and Isaac took his chance to strip down to his underwear and pull out an old t-shirt to sleep in from his bag. When Scott came out he was in his pyjama bottoms, but with no top, and he still had toothpaste on the side of his mouth. Isaac giggled quietly and pointed at Scott, who wiped it with his hand, and let his beta go into the bathroom. When he came out, Scott was standing in between both beds.

“I… um… there’s no reason why you have to sleep on the floor, Isaac,” He said with his head low, but still looking at his beta. “You can sleep in my bed...” Isaac raised an eyebrow as Scott made a pause, before he finally added. “Um, erm... with me.”

Isaac beamed and nodded silently as Scott got in bed and smiled. When they were both in, Scott turned the light off. They were facing each other, staring into each other’s eyes and with small smiles. They laid there looking at each other’s features for a long while, until Scott tried to suppress a yawn. Isaac laughed silently.

“You’re tired, Scott.”

“I’m dead today, Isaac. I’m sorry. I think werewolves need sleep to be functional,” Scott said as he closed his eyes.

Isaac nodded before Scott turned around, turning his back to Isaac. Isaac bit his bottom lip as he debated internally, but he finally whispered: “Werewolves need cuddles too.”

Scott turned around to face Isaac again, with a sleepy smile and his eyes only half opened. He got closer to Isaac. He slowly brought his hand to Isaac’s face, and then gently drew his fingers through his hair, and then down Isaac’s neck and around his shoulder. Then he pulled him towards him and hugged him gently. Scott then rubbed his nose on Isaac’s neck, scenting him and memorising his smell. His inner wolf almost purred. He continued nuzzling Isaac, going down to his chest, and then his shoulders. He also brought his nose to Isaac’s cheek before turning around, grabbing Isaac’s hand, and bringing his body towards his beta, feeling Isaac’s heartbeat racing against his back, but slowly calming down as both werewolves fell asleep. Their shared pack bond never felt stronger or brighter. It was extremely comforting, and it radiated heat and calm from their chests. Their inner wolves were thrilled with their human selves, and Scott felt, for a fraction of a second, that their wolves had circled and nuzzled each other – he felt Isaac’s wolf in him and his wolf in Isaac.

Isaac brushed his hand against Scott’s bare chest, feeling the hard muscles in his chest and he dared to bring his hand down to Scott’s abs. He could feel through their bond how happy and comfortable Scott was. But he could also sense that he was almost asleep, so Isaac stopped. He then put his legs in between Scott’, just in case he decided to run away in the middle of the night. Content with that, Isaac laced his fingers with Scott’s and pressed him tight against his chest. He sniffed gently Scott’s hair and he rubbed his own nose against his alpha’s neck and shoulders. Lastly, Isaac gave his alpha a small and light kiss on the back of his head. With a big smile he fell asleep.

***

It was bright outside when Isaac woke up. He was still not sure of what time zone he was in, but he had slept enough on the flight. Scott had somehow managed to untangle from Isaac’s firm grip overnight, and was dozily drooling on his pillow. He could hear that Melissa was also awake, so he decided to leave Scott sleep and get some breakfast. He also had an embarrassing hard-on and he was not sure he wanted to cuddle against Scott with it. Not just yet at least.

He successfully managed to straddle over Scott and not wake him up. For a second he stood by his side staring at him, not really believing he had spent a night with Scott McCall (in the same bed!), before shutting the door softly behind him.

Down at the kitchen he found Melissa drinking coffee.

“Good morning,” he said stretching his shoulders and yawning.

“Hey, Isaac, why are you up so early?” Melissa left her coffee on the table. “You’re not the one with a morning shift.”

“I slept plenty on the plane,” Isaac justified.

“Well, we have some bacon in the fridge if you want to have breakfast.”

Isaac found himself facing Melissa and looking at his feet, much in the way he had done three years before. “Mrs McCall, thank you for letting me stay here visiting Scott. It’s good to be back.”

“Isaac, darling, you are not only visiting, are you?” Melissa was confused. “I thought you were coming back.”

“I… I don’t know yet.” (It’ll depend on Scott.)

“Well,” she said finishing her coffee. “I know you have things to do and people to talk while you’re here. But I still have a box with a few of your things.”

Melissa indicated Isaac to sit down while she brought a cardboard box from her room. Isaac did not dare to even open the fridge, sitting quietly, still feeling like a guest in what used to be his house.

“I had it stored in the attic. I…” she pushed the box lightly to Isaac, who carefully opened it as she sat by his side. “When you left Scott was not in a good place. He was devastated by Allison, and suffered simply from seeing Lydia and specially Stiles tormenting themselves.”

Isaac opened the box. Inside there was his old lacrosse kit, textbooks, a couple of old trousers and a handful of shirts. He did not say a thing as he looked through the items as Melissa continued talking.

“I put all your things away because seeing them around the house hurt Scott too. He would never say, he was too overwhelmed, but I thought it would help him.” Isaac would not look at Melissa. He was still staring at his old things inside the box. “Isaac, I knew back then and still think that you really needed your time away. You remember what I told you when you left?” She placed a hand gently on the werewolf’s arm.

He could remember. Clear as if it had been the day before. “You said that if France was what I needed, I should go to France,” Isaac was getting emotional remembering the day he had left. “You said that I needed a new start.”

“I said also that you could always come back to us. Isaac, sweetheart,” she paused for a heartbeat as Isaac looked at her, “you are a part of this family. And not only because of Chris,” she added with a smirk which made Isaac chuckle.

“I didn’t want to come back,” Isaac explained. “Well, I wanted, but I could not face it. I didn’t want Chris to talk to Scott or the pack about me, but I really wanted to know what was happening. Am I making sense? I wanted away, but I missed…” Isaac paused, measuring his words, “…them.”

“Isaac, you don’t have to feel bad for leaving or for needing some time on your own. Chris told me about you, and I have secretly been kept updated, but I knew you didn’t want to tell Scott or the pack.” She held Isaac’s hand, “Don’t think they had forgotten about you… They never really did, even if they were too busy with other things.”

“I don’t blame them. I… I can relate. I was not talking to them either. It’s natural when people move away… they lose contact. It happens.”

“There is always time to come back. And here you are now.”

Isaac looked at Melissa again and smiled; she beamed at him and stood up.

“I have to get ready for work. You, young man, make sure to have some breakfast. Now that you’re here I get to mother you again!”

She walked up the stairs as Scott walked down. He kissed his mother and then, with a puffy face and sleepy eyes, he walked to the kitchen.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Why are you down here?” Scott was rubbing his eye.

“I could not sleep any more. It’s well passed lunchtime for me. I think. What are you doing up? You’re the one who’s had a very short night.”

“I… I turned around and you were gone. That woke me up,” Isaac was confused and delighted seeing how Scott was actually blushing.

Isaac still did not know if what had happened the night before between them had been an emotional welcome, a weird dream, or if Scott had just been overly pleased to have him back. Isaac remembered everything through his cloudy pink Scott-shaped filter: the airport, the car, the bedroom. All seemed perfect indicators that Scott actually liked him, and still Isaac felt the impulse to think that maybe his need to see Scott had distorted his perception of reality. Perhaps the last eight hours had not really been like he wanted to remember. His inner wolf insisted that all was fine, but the nagging doubt still gave him cold sweats and made him shiver, thinking that it was an over protective Scott just excited to have his beta back.

 “Do you want breakfast…?” Isaac asked cautiously, arching an eyebrow.

Scott nodded and sat on one of the kitchen stools, right next to Isaac. But before Isaac could turn around and grab something for them to eat, Scott brought his arms around his beta’s waist and rested his head against Isaac’s chest. In the bright daylight, in that homely and domestic context, and in that embrace with Scott, Isaac’s doubts melted and vanished.

***

“Where are we going again?”

Later that morning Scott and Isaac had gone to pick Ethan and Jackson up. The latter two immediately saw that Isaac was beaming, even if Scott was acting normal. They did not say a thing but Isaac knew that his two newly-found best friends were dying to grill him with questions.

“We are going to Derek’s loft.”

“And what are we doing there?”

“I don’t really know anymore…” Scott muttered as he drove.

They soon got to Derek’s building. Isaac could not remember the last time he had been there, but he did not have many good recollections of that place. He remembered the night he got kicked out. He could remember the day when Kali and the twins forced Derek to kill Boyd. There was also the day Cora died (you can sit here and perfect the art of doing nothing). Even when he went there with Allison to the party that the twins organised it all ended with an attack by the Oni. All the memories came to him at once, and Isaac was not very willing to walk in. Scott, who could sense what Isaac was feeling, nudged him and with a warm smile asked him to go inside. Shaking his head, Isaac followed.

The four werewolves walked in to a full house of Hales. Peter, Derek and Malia were there already, waiting. Even if none of them had seen Ethan or Jackson in a long time, they had seen them when they last returned to Beacon Hills to fight off Monroe. But none of them had seen Isaac in years. They were exchanging greetings when Isaac walked in.

“What is he doing here?” Isaac pointed at Peter the moment he crossed the threshold.

“I feel hurt, Isaac. We have always been on good terms.”

“I thought we agreed that we didn’t like him,” Isaac looked at Scott for support.

“He has spent enough time in Eichen House.”

“Does that help his case?”

“Yes, it does. And my newly discovered parenthood suits me nicely. I am a new man,” Peter theatrically bowed and then placed his arms around Malia, who shrugged him off.

“It’s good to have you back, Isaac,” Derek cut in, preventing their arguing from going any further. “How was France?” he asked dryly, arms crossed, eyebrows wiggled in a questioning expression.

Isaac chuckled at the surreally simple question. “Well, you know the part with the village full of angry cultists that tried to kill me by putting wolfsbane all over the place? That bit was fine until they summoned an alien to cut me open.” His former alpha lowered his head but smiled. When he looked up again, Isaac was smiling at him. Despite all the bad moments they both shared, they had become friends after all.

After that they all fell back to small talk, everyone waiting for the rest of the pack to turn up before they discussed more serious items. While Isaac was busy talking with Malia, Derek looked at Scott, and silently pointed at Isaac with his head. Scott could only open his eyes wide, which together with the small smile and the reddening ears gave Derek all the information he needed. Isaac sensed this change in Scott and looked at him briefly, but by then the silent conversation between Scott and Derek had finished.

When the door opened next, Lydia and Stiles walked in. She purposely ignored everyone in the room and walked straight with a stern face towards Isaac, who was scared enough by this sight to stand up immediately. When Lydia was a mere three feet away from Isaac, she broke into a big smile and gave the tall werewolf a big hug.

“Stop groping him!” Jackson said jokingly. Lydia ignored him as she broke their embrace.

“Are you ok, Isaac?” Lydia looked so intently into Isaac’s eyes that he knew this was not an idle question.

“Yeah, yeah. All good for now,” Isaac replied honestly.

“Good. You can come and find me if you need to.”

Lydia patted him gently on the chest with one hand and then moved on with a big smile to hug Jackson and Ethan. Isaac was not sure how, but he felt that she knew something about him and Scott. Before he could dwell much on that thought though, he saw that Stiles was standing in front of him, coughing politely.

“Hey Stiles,” Isaac said with a smile. He was genuinely happy to see Stiles again.

“Hi Isaac. I, umm… It’s good that you came back. And…” Stiles looked at the floor, while fidgeting with his fingers. He looked at Isaac, and then at Lydia, passing his hands through his hair. He bit his thumb once while Isaac waited, and finally spoke again. “Thank you for all what you did in France. With the nogitsune and all. And… And thanks for saving Scott.”

Isaac had not expected that. Not there, not then, and not coming from Stiles. He opened his mouth but could not say a thing. Stiles was fiddling with his hands again, and tapping his foot. Isaac saw Stiles debating internally, and before he could say anything, his fidgety friend gave him a hug. It was quick, but Isaac could feel all the intent behind it.

“No scarf jokes? No accusations of negativity?”

“Your five minutes of welcome home charm are over now, Lahey,” Stiles said in good humour.

“Are we done with the high school reunion yet?” Peter said impatiently. “You’re not emotional teenagers any more, you know?”

“Liam is still not here,” Scott answered, acknowledging Peter’s point, but ignoring his question. “Mason and Corey haven’t come back to Beacon Hills yet.”

As if on cue, Liam opened the door. He walked in cautiously, going first to Scott, and then saying hello to all the people he knew already, leaving Isaac for last.

“Hi, I’m Liam. I’m Scott’s beta,” he introduced himself unnecessarily, looking up at Isaac, who was half a foot taller.

“Yeah, I remember from the video calls,” Isaac extended a hand. “I’m Isaac. Nice to finally meet you in person.” Isaac was smirking, Liam was glaring. Isaac did not know where the animosity and the anger came from, but looking down at Liam made it all slightly comical. He knew better than to underestimate a werewolf, but he could not help himself. Lydia had carefully been watching this and slowly stood up.

“Oh no. Not this again.” Surprisingly, Malia beat Lydia to it, standing up in between the two betas. “I’m not having this again. You,”—she pointed at Liam—“you don’t get to play all jealous over Scott. We’ve had that already. And you,”—she prodded Isaac with her finger—“you don’t get to tease him.”

Isaac smirked, clearly indicating that he was definitely going to tease Liam, and Liam huffed and sat down. Peter rolled his eyes and Scott and Stiles looked at each other and giggled.

“Are we all done with the banter?” Peter asked exhausted. “Some of us have better places to be.”

“Ok, ok. I… well,” Scott mumbled. “It’s really Lydia who called for this meeting. I just have to say that there is a chance that the mi-go want to use the nemeton in Beacon Hills for their dealings. So far, we haven’t found any trace of them. Then we were told that they normally need to collaborate with a group of humans, which usually form a cult…” Scott trailed off after that.

“We haven’t found any shred of evidence pointing towards a cult,” Derek added. “Yet.”

“But Lydia had something else to add…” Scott looked at the banshee.

“Yes we have,” said Stiles standing up and addressing the rest of the people in the room while Lydia elegantly stood up and positioned herself by her boyfriend. “We have been talking with Chris and the druids back in France. Apparently the druid who is not a traitor, Christine, went to look for the places where the mi-go may live after destroying the nemeton in Toulouse. We have put together a map.”

Stiles looked at Lydia, expecting her to produce the map, but she had no map on her. After a very short and muted argument between the couple (which involved silent yelling, finger pointing, and very menacing eyebrow wriggling) Stiles huffed and went to find a rolled-up world map.

“So we’ve downgraded from inter-continental online meetings to colouring maps?” Isaac commented. The twin stares he received from Liam and Stiles were worth it, even if Malia clipped him round the ear. So worth it.

The map was rolled out on the coffee table around which everyone was sitting. The map showed three big stars, one in the Appalachians, another in the Himalayas, and a third one in the Taurus mountains between Iran and Turkey. There were a number of smaller squares (the only ones Isaac could name were Toulouse, Vermont, Siberia, and Wales, but there were a few others). There was a big circle in Antarctica and two similar circles in the southern Ocean. Scott looked intensely at the map, studying the distribution of the marks and trying to see if there was a pattern. The only thing that Isaac could notice is that there were no marks on the Pacific coast, which was a small relief.

“So this map shows all the locations where we know of mi-go activity. We have mentions of cities at the stars and evidence for more activity around the squares,” Stiles explained.

“What are the circles for?” Liam wondered.

“That’s for something different,” Lydia said quickly. “Trust me, you don’t want to know,” she added looking straight into the younger beta’s eyes. Liam swallowed and nodded.

“So there is no mi-go activity in California at all?” Scott asked.

Everyone in the room felt reassured by their alpha coming to this conclusion. For a fraction of a second, it seemed as they were all going to be safe. But then Lydia and Stiles looked at each other. Slowly, both turned to face their friends.

“There is a problem here, because we haven’t got any reliable information for California before the Spanish missions, and most of the documents that collect local myths and legends were collected after the gold rush.”

“What Lyds means is that we haven’t got enough information to confirm. We just can say that there have been no mi-go in the last century in the entire Pacific area…”

“But we can’t say they haven’t been a round before, or that they are simply lying low.”

“Or that they will not come here,” Stiles concluded. Everyone fell silent.

“So let me get this straight,” Peter asked from his corner. “Dear Isaac here had a nasty encounter with aliens, but he’s safe and sound, and finally here. Everyone is happy – especially Scott,” Peter added with a grin. Scott and Isaac simultaneously blushed. Liam looked puzzled at his alpha, but Peter continued talking as he slowly wandered around the room. “And now we all have to come and gather together because there might be aliens coming over to use the nemeton. But they might be using any other nemeton. We haven’t found any trace of said aliens here, and there is no historical record of them being anywhere around.” Always one for dramatics, Peter stopped, posed with his finger on his lips, and then turned around, circling slowly. “Now then; these aliens need a group of desperate human minions to help them out. And yet, surprisingly enough, after two whole days of pack-bonding camping trips to the preserve, there is no evidence for cults.” Peter stopped again and faced the pack directly.

“Why is he even here?” Stiles demanded from Scott.

Peter ignored the interruption. “Aren’t you all, perhaps, being a bit paranoid? I can understand that after activating a nemeton, and the Dread Doctors, and the Beast, and the Hunters, and the Raiders you can feel that our nemeton is a supernatural beacon, but that’s where you are all wrong.” Peter was enjoying the sound if his own voice so much he continued with his lecture. “With an adequate guardianship the nemeton is stable enough. For generations the Hales had no major supernatural disasters around it. Not since the wendigo incursion in the time of great-grand-pops Martin Hale. Can’t we simply accept that after the last hunter stunt we are finally enjoying the good, calm days? Can’t you see that you all have done an amazing job and that there is no supernatural emergency here?”

“He has a point,” Derek said supporting his uncle.  All the younger pack members turned to look at the former alpha in surprise. “We have no hard evidence, or historical precedents, for either aliens or cults; we have only suspicions.”

“Thank you, nephew. Tell them to have some common sense.”

“There’s one more thing,” Lydia announced. “The mi-go need an intermediary, but the intermediary cannot start the cult without access to the arcane lore that allows the cultists to activate the nemeton.” She was giving Peter’s argument more weight, but it needed saying.

“And, pray say,” Peter exclaimed, “where can that knowledge be obtained?”

“They would need a book on the occult.”

“Well,” Peter was now gloating, oozing sarcasm “thankfully Beacon Hills, despite of all its amenities, is not a research hub for the occult. We have a community college.” After a long pause when nobody said anything, Peter continued. “If that is what you all paranoid young people have to say, I’ll go. I’ve got a date. Isaac,” Peter looked at him directly, “it is really good to have you back. Don’t get me wrong, I mean it. But take a breather and enjoy your holiday with Scott.”

After that he left, shutting the door behind him.

Everybody remained silent, thinking about all the valid points that Peter had highlighted in his soliloquy. Not one to be impressed by soft-voiced lecturers, Stiles was the first one to snap out back to reality. “Can we have our real discussion now that he’s gone?”

Chapter Text

“We can’t just sit and, and… and wait for something to happen!” Scott insisted.

“But Scott, that’s what we normally do… We react to bad stuff happening,” Liam was arguing with alarm. Malia and Derek seemed on his side. “I don’t know what else we can do!”

“Scott, you’ve also heard what Peter said. I hate to say this but he is partially right. And at least we believe that there is a chance the mi-go may be targeting Beacon Hills,” Malia said. “It’s just that we tried looking for cultists and we found nothing.”

“Maybe we need to think more,” Stiles snapped. “Or look harder.”

“Maybe keep looking for cultists is enough for now?” Jackson was getting eggy with a discussion that had been going on for too long.

“And where would you start?” Malia asked, almost asking for a fight.

Ethan grabbed Jackson by the collar and pulled him down before he could fully stand up. After that, their conversation stalled and everyone went quiet. They had been arguing for over an hour. They knew that they had to do something, but Peter’s points had divided the pack’s opinions.

“It does not hurt to be ready,” Isaac eventually muttered in a low voice. Nobody disagreed, but nobody elaborated further. He had seen what aliens and cultists could do. He had been caught unaware once, and he had faced them unprepared – and he did not want to go through that again if he could help it.

After another pause, Lydia spoke.

“Ok, we have two things that need doing. Confirm whether there is a cult or not, and confirm whether there are aliens around or not, right?” Everyone assented – those were their two main issues. “Once we have any hints on either of those problems we can act and plan accordingly.”

“But…” Liam began to argue, but was interrupted.

“No but’s. Ignore Peter. We just do this today. Chris is coming back tomorrow with Deaton, right?” She looked at Isaac who had not expected the question.

“What? Oh. Let me…” he checked his phone for a second. “Is tomorrow the fourth? Yes – they’ll be here tomorrow evening.”

“We can also wait until then to see if they have any other ideas,” Malia insisted.

“It is going to be another wild goose chase,” Derek spoke for the first time. “It will be helpful, but it will be nearly impossible. I think we need to wait for Deaton.”

Everyone looked at Scott, who looked with concern at Isaac. His beta only shrugged his shoulders, but Scott could feel that he was not comfortable with the idea. “Fine!” Scott rolled her eyes, defeated.

“I for one am going to do my homework,” Lydia challenged. “If there is a cult, it’s going to need books. Our libraries may not be the most adequate for the occult, but they might have brought them from other places. They must have acquired them relatively recently – if we assume that the cult has only began as a consequence of the events in France,” she looked at Stiles, who nodded encouragingly. “This is going to be very long shot, but would it be worth checking in the new bookshop, and ask if anyone has been asking or ordering books on the occult?”

“They have everything in that bookstore,” Scott mentioned.

Everything?”

“Um… almost everything. I haven’t looked for books on the occult.”

“Well, that’s somewhere we can start,” she concluded, clearly including Stiles.

With that said, the pack relaxed. They had agreed to wait for Deaton to arrive to develop their plan further. They move on to idly chat about anything else but their cursed nemeton, until it got close to lunch time and Derek hinted that he was not going to get food for everyone.

“Have you got any plans for the afternoon?” Stiles asked Scott as everyone slowly got ready to leave Derek’s loft.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Scott mumbled. “Do you want us to come to the bookshop?” He looked at Isaac, who was being approached by Derek.

Lydia heard the conversation and with a worried look walked to the two friends. “Stiles! What are you doing?”

“I- um… I was asking Scott if he wanted to help us out,” Stiles put his arm around Scott’s shoulders, and both grinned. “Have a little catch up with his best friend and roam the dangerous streets of Beacon Hills. Like in the good old days?”

“Stiles, honey, do you remember what we talked about earlier?” Lydia said through gritted teeth and pulling Stiles away from Scott, who looked at them in confusion.

Stiles pouted and sighed. Lydia nudged him. “Yeah, fine. Sorry, Scotty. I think we’re going to be fine just us… today?” Stiles looked at Lydia as he asked, and she nodded once. Stiles looked back at Scott. “Today. We can hang out tomorrow.”

“Yes,” Lydia jumped in. “We’ll deal with the bookshop. Why don’t you then take Isaac out?”

Scott immediately looked flustered. He glanced quickly at Isaac, and then back at Lydia and Stiles, who were looking at him with expectation.

“Yes, McCall. Do that,” Jackson said, suddenly besides them, Ethan close behind him. “Sorry, we heard,” was his excuse when Stiles glanced at him with surprise.

“Will you four leave us two alone?” Scott said in hushed tones, more embarrassed than angry.

Stiles’ mouth dropped open. “You two are in it as well?” he asked Jackson and Ethan accusingly, also whispering.

“Yes, and we are not even the ones who are going to give Scott the scary ‘you’re dating my friend now’ talk,” Ethan said jokingly.

Jackson shook his head, his brow furrowed “I might.” Scott looked at him in disbelief. Jackson leaned closer to Scott, “don’t worry, you will get one from Chris Argent regardless.”

Jackson and Ethan giggled as Scott was evidently having a flashback from his early encounters with Chris, and that uncomfortable family dinner with all the Argents when he first started going out with Allison.

Stiles looked at Lydia, and pointed at Ethan and Jackson: “Have you been conniving and scheming with those two?”

Lydia raised an eyebrow, but before she could retort, Liam approached their small circle.

“Scott, what’s going on?” he asked bluntly. “I don’t mean the cultists. I mean with this Isaac. You have been all weird whenever we have mentioned him. And you sort of smell of him today.”

“Yes, Scott,” Ethan asked with a smirk. “You do smell of Isaac this morning. Why is that?”

The younger beta gave the twin a death stare, and ignored his comment. He grabbed Scott by the elbow and dragged him away from the rest of the pack and out of the loft to the staircase, hoping to be far enough from keen werewolf ears.

“What’s wrong, Liam?”

“You tell me. Why is he suddenly back?”

“Liam, you know. We’ve been discussing this for weeks now. You know, all that stuff about the cult and the nemeton?” Scott smiled, trying to lighten the mood. Liam was having none of that.

“Yes, that I know, and it is all very convenient and convincing. But why is he back here in Beacon Hills? Why is he staying with you?”

“Malia already warned you about not being all jealous, Liam,” Scott was getting more serious now. “He’s an old friend, and he’s coming back, and he used to live with me.”

The beta was getting angrier by the second; Scott could sense it.

“Scott, listen,” Liam was breathing heavily, clearly trying to stay in control. “I don’t know why you can’t see it. Not even Stiles sees it! I am worried, Scott! What happened the last time an old friend came back trying to help?”

Scott suddenly realised that he was referring to Theo.

“Oh, no, Liam. No! You… you got it all wrong,” he dismissed his fears with a smile.

“How? How do you know he’s not weaselling his way into our pack?”

Scott sat on the steps and pulled Liam down with him.

“Ok, now listen. Isaac is not Theo. Believe me. He had a good reason to become a werewolf, and he was given a chance by Derek. Isaac knew what he was getting into, and what could happen, and all the cons; he still accepted it all. It was in no way like Theo. It was not like me with you… He has—I mean, he had… well. It’s not my story to tell, but you need to trust me. He could do with the extra help.”

Liam was sitting next to Scott, staring at the wall as if it had personally offended him, but still listening. “Ok, so he’s a real werewolf. He left to France, Stiles and Lydia told us. Blah blah… But I know there is something dark that nobody has told me, or Mason or Corey. You all know about it, but you don’t trust us with that information. How can I know that it is not something that is going to explode right in our faces? How do we know that he is not an agent for the aliens?”

“Do you really think that?”

“No… I’m just… I don’t know Scott,” he turned to look at his alpha. “I can’t help it. There is still something going on that nobody is telling me, and I can feel how close he is to you. And I can’t avoid making the comparison with Theo… I don’t want to be unfair, but I don’t want to go through that again.” Liam hardly ever spoke about his fight with Scott or about how Theo had convinced him to kill him. That had been one of the lowest moments of Liam’s supernatural life; anything that reminded him of that still made Liam shiver. He was close to relapsing to his self-loathing phase because of what he had done, and not trusting Isaac was his only coping mechanism.

“Listen, Liam: ask Derek, or Lydia, or my mum. We all can tell you that Isaac is not going to be like Theo. Even Chris Argent will vouch for him! I thought all that was clear?”

“Yes, you all have told me that already. But the day you sent us that picture he sent you… I felt through our pack bond what you felt when you located him. And I don’t want you to go through that again. I’m afraid he’ll hurt you,” it was endearing to see how caring (in his own way) Liam was, and Scott had to smile. “And that still does not explain why you smell like him, or why he looks at you with dreamy eyes.”

Liam sensed Scott’s pulse accelerating and the tips of his ears going pink.

“Oh…”

“Scott?”

“Ah, well…”

***

While Stiles asked Isaac about his evening plans, Derek came to Isaac. They had not had a chance to have a quiet talk, and even if the pack was all around, it was as good as they were going to get.

“Isaac!”

“Hi Derek. You’re looking good.”

“You look bigger.”

“You look less grumpy. And I hear you turn into a big fluffy sourwolf now,” Isaac teased.

“Yeah, well. Don’t try me. May not be as fluffy as people claim.”

“How is life?” Isaac asked generically. Derek was the one of whom he had heard the least because he was not gossiping in the pack group chat, so he wanted to find out more. “How’s Cora?”

“She’s well. She’s still in South America. She should be coming back for Christmas this year. But has your life in France been?”

Isaac gave him a summary, but insisting that it was quiet and simple out there. “I really liked it,” was his conclusion. “I’ll miss it.”

“Oh! So are you going to stay around then?”

That was going to be the key question everybody was going to ask him, Isaac thought. “I… I would like to. If Chris does not need me in France any more, that is. Our nemeton mission is probably over now. It will also depend on Scott,” he added after a pause.

“I’m sure he will not mind,” Derek told him with a smile.

Derek did many bad things to Isaac during the combined darach and Alpha pack crisis, that was true. The worse one had not been turning on him and kicking Isaac out – it had been when he failed to mention that he had not actually died when he fell to the abyss with Ennis, because he was too busy shagging their English teacher. That had led (in part) Scott to be suicidal at the motel, and Isaac did not know what he would have done if Scott had actually done it. Isaac had been quite unforgiving at first. But with the benefit of hindsight and the passing of time, Isaac could see that Derek had done all because of Cora, because of his little sister. More than once Isaac found himself thinking about what he would have done if instead of Derek and Cora it had been him and Cam.

Overall, Derek had done many good things for Isaac, including giving him a whole new life with the bite. He had also done much to help Scott in many other occasions – Chris had kept him updated on those events, and Isaac was secretly thankful for that. He wanted to keep up the façade of animosity against him, but he soon realised it was completely pointless. It was all water under the bridge. For better or for worse, Derek was his first alpha and, above all, he was pack.

“Now, Isaac,” Malia jumped in and interrupted. “I have been wondering about this one thing for years. I tried to go there for this one thing, but lost my chance” Isaac was confused at this apparent question. “They bullied me into staying and I lost my flight. So, French men: what is your conclusion?”

“What?”

“Are they… mysterious?” Malia’s suggestive smile and arched brows suddenly made Isaac uncomfortable.

“Those ones who turned out to be cultist yes, they were.”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it!” she complained as she punched Isaac’s shoulder. “French guys: fit? suave? interesting? and have you got any handsome friends for me?”

Isaac did not know whether to blush or laugh. He opted for the former. “How would I know?” Isaac tried deflecting. Malia’s look clearly indicated he had failed. “Oh, well… erm. They… I don’t know?”

“Isaac!” Malia was clearly unimpressed. “You’ve been in France, surrounded by French guys. For three years. You! You of all people,” Malia was now waving her hands madly at him, “all tall and blue-eyed and with that stupid smirk of yours… and you didn’t snog any of them?”

“…”

“What a waste!” Malia said with feigned indignation. “Will you at least do the right thing and introduce me to any of your friends?”

“My what?”

“You know? This would be a lot easier if you were on facebook. Then we could all go through it and check out your friends!”

At this point they were interrupted by Liam, who walked directly towards Isaac. He looked straight into Isaac’s eye.

“You! You might have come back from France and all, but… If you even… If you think you… I mean, with Scott, you…”

Malia rolled her eyes, but Derek simply looked amused. Isaac was shocked, but he savoured this perfect chance and said with a smirk: “Just say it, shortarse.”

Liam was fuming now, and Malia and Derek pulled them apart before Liam could jump on Isaac. The younger beta just put his hands up until they let him go. The rest of the pack were now staring at them, and Scott walked in when he heard it all.

“Ok, ok, sorry. Sorry,” Liam apologised. Suddenly he realised that everybody was looking at him, and he felt more self-conscious. He swallowed and spoke calmly. “I just wanted to say that I am ready to trust you, because all the rest of the pack trusts you. But...” he got closer to Isaac, who had a smug smile on his face again. “I know Mrs McCall will not say this and, weirdly enough, nor will Mr Argent, so I shall: you make sure to be careful with Scott. If you hurt him or anything I’ll… I’ll…” Liam took a deep breath.

He did not finish because he saw how Isaac’s face had changed completely. His smug grin was gone, mouth gaping, and his deep blue eyes were staring at Liam with a mix of surprise and worry (me hurting Scott?). Liam could not continue ranting at Isaac when he was looking at him as if he were a kicked puppy.

Isaac was completely lost at words. He had never imagined that he could be the one who might hurt Scott, and he had never thought that the younger beta would show that concern over him. He also realised that now everyone in that room knew about what he felt for his alpha. Isaac wished again that an alien would come and take him flying away.

“Liam, he wouldn’t,” Derek spoke for his former beta, placing his hand on Isaac’s shoulder.

“Um… fine,” Liam did not know what to do now, especially as the entire pack was looking at him with expectation. “Isaac, I- I’m sorry. It’s just that I thought... I don’t know what I thought,” Liam was looking at the floor now. “Scott is like… Not just my alpha. Our alpha. He’s my big brother. Just take care of him. Or else I’ll give you a reason to stay in France.”

He pointed a menacing finger at the taller wolf before he turned around and headed towards the door. He stopped by Scott, who smiled at him and ruffled his hair.

“I’ll see you all tomorrow,” he said as he went down the stairs.

Isaac looked at Jackson who was trying to conceal his giggling. Next to him Stiles held an expression which clearly transmitted how impressed he was with Liam. He then pointed at Isaac and mockingly said, “yeah, you heard him, Lahey. We’ll both kick your little werewolf arse if you screw it up in any way.”

“Alright, you lot can continue discussing Scott and Isaac elsewhere. Preferably out of my loft,” Derek said aloud.

***

They all went their different ways. Nobody said anything to them directly, even if they all gave them knowing smiles and encouraging pats. Jackson, however, did growl at Scott, signalling with his two fingers that he was watching him before giving the alpha a big grin. He then blew a kiss and a wink at Isaac before leaving. Scott and Isaac were left alone outside Derek’s building, both feeling slightly uncomfortable with the way events had developed, and looking nervously at each other.

“Where do you want to go?” Scott asked abruptly.

“What did you tell Liam?” Isaac said simultaneously.

Both chuckled. Isaac was slightly slouching, with his hands in his pockets, while Scott was rubbing his neck.

“Why do you want to know?” Scott started, feeling Isaac’s question was more urgent.

“I saw Liam take you outside, and then after a while he came and gave me the angry werewolf talk about how to date you…”

“He tried.”

“Yeah, he tried. But where did he get the idea from? I didn’t know we were dating, Scott,” Isaac said with mischief. “What did you tell him?”

“I… well… I- I told Liam…” Scott stammered and swallowed. “I told Liam… God, it is more difficult saying it now.” Scott could not look Isaac in the eye.

“Why?” Isaac questioned with concern, seeing that Scott was struggling with his words and blushing.

“It’s erm. Because I’m telling you…”

Isaac could had to smile at that. “Scott, am I making you nervous?”

“No. Yes. erm… now you are! I just. I told Liam…” Isaac stepped closer to Scott. The alpha sighed, and looked down. “I told Liam that I feel something for you. Something that… I dunno. I had never really felt before. And that I am stupidly happy that you are back. And that…” he sighed, and then said in a low whisper, “I hope you want to stay here with us. With me.”

“Scott,” Isaac said with a confidence he did not know where it came from, “is this your weird and roundabout way of saying that you actually like me back?”

Scott looked up into Isaac’s eyes, who was much closer now. “Yes, I guess so.” He gave his beta a warm smile.

Isaac’s inner wolf was howling and jumping and waggling his tail, like a puppy that finally gets out to go for a walk. His overexcitement was so contagious that Isaac’s smile grew even wider. The lingering doubts he still had vanished. Even if he was almost sure about Scott’s feelings, hearing him saying it in words, and telling him directly made it much more real. It made it more definite, and more palpable. He was so lost in Scott’s bright eyes and his own thoughts that he didn’t notice that the shorter boy had closed the gap between them and was hugging him, nuzzling his neck and drawing spirals on the back of his t-shirt with his fingers. Isaac closed his eyes and hugged him tightly back, breathing in Scott’s smell, feeling the warmth in his chest grow again. Nothing else mattered now – screw the mi-go, the cultists, and their spell books. He had Scott. His Scott.

Scott pulled them slightly apart and smiled at Isaac, who was beaming back. They both had still their hands behind each other’s back, as if they were afraid the other would run away.

“You know, these last weeks everybody has been telling me about how they all knew that you liked me?”

“Oh…” Isaac felt his ears going red and warm.

“Yes,” Scott chuckled. “Lydia first, and then Derek. And then Mom. Not Stiles, though. I wonder if Chris knew. I think Malia did.”

Isaac blushed and in pure embarrassment hugged Scott back so he could not see his face. “Oh God. Scott!” he mumbled into his alpha’s shoulder.

“Hey! I’m the one who should be embarrassed!”

“You were not the pathetically obvious pining teenager!” Isaac chuckled, still burying his face into Scott’s collar.

Scott tried to pull them apart so he could look at Isaac, but he held tighter and refused to move. “Why did you never tell me?” Scott was talking now in soft tones, combing his fingers through Isaac’s blond curls.

“How could I? You were with Allison. And with Kira. You were obviously not into boys. You never were.”

“Well… surprise!” Scott joked.

Isaac sniffed and slowly let go of Scott, so they were finally looking at each other again. Scott looked at him with his big brown eyes, which matched his perfect welcoming smile. Isaac wiped his eye and chuckled.

“Yeah, I know now that you are as straight as your jawline.”

While Isaac laughed at his own joke, Scott looked at him in feigned indignation and pushed him away. Isaac kept laughing and walked back to Scott, hugging him even if he still pretended to put up a small fight. Eventually the alpha was wrapped in the arms of a still-grinning Isaac, who tried to hold him in his embrace. Scott kept up the charade and huffed at him. Isaac could not refrain himself anymore and gave Scott a soft kiss on the cheek. Scott turned to look at him with a smile and put his arms over Isaac’s shoulders, pulled his head down to him, and before they could realise they were kissing. It was at first a chaste kiss on the lips, but they quickly moved on, hungry for each other, separating now and then to look into their eyes, both with big smiles, as if they were afraid that the other would suddenly disappear.

“You kissed me?”

“You kissed me!”

“And you kissed me back!”

“Did you like it?” Isaac teased.

“I’m not sure. Let me try again.”

“Charming!” Isaac snorted, but he leaned forward and kissed Scott.

They kissed over and over, gently biting their lips, playing with their tongues, until Scott pulled back again.

“How about now?”

Isaac looked at Scott playfully. “Still not sure, let’s try again.”

“Not yet! You still haven’t answered my question,” Scott asked suddenly, still grinning.

“What? Why?” Isaac said with a hint of indignation. He wanted more. He had been waiting for years, thinking and dreaming about this moment when they would kiss, and now Scott had stopped for a random question he could not even remember. “What did you ask?”

“Where do you wanna go? For lunch?”

“Wow. Are you asking me out on a real date, McCall?”

Scott looked confused for a second, but then he beamed at Isaac and nodded emphatically. “Yes, I am. I want to take you out for a real date, to get lunch at a real restaurant, and if I had planned in advance, I would have got you flowers as well.”

Isaac laughed out loud, but reached out for Scott and gave him one long and passionate kiss. “That will be incredible. But you should have warned me: I would’ve put on something more adequate.”

“You look fine,” Scott kissed him again. “You always look fine. More than fine! What about a Mexican?” Scott proposed knowing well what Isaac would say.

“I do love a Mexican!”

With a final kiss, Scott grabbed Isaac’s hand, interlacing their fingers, and led him to the car.

They went to a highly-recommended Mexican place in the new food court of Beacon Hill’s shopping centre. They were given a small round table and Scott showed off by ordering everything in Spanish. Isaac had not had proper Mexican food in ages, and he wanted to try everything on the menu. Scott encouraged him, saying how everything Isaac wanted to try was delicious, and ended up ordering half of the house specialties plus a few starters. When the waitress asked if anyone else was going to join them for their meal, both werewolves shook their heads and with a weird sense of pride explained that Isaac had a lot of Mexican food to catch up with.

Scott loved every single minute of their lunch, especially when Isaac’s face brightened in expectation with every new dish. The moans of satisfaction and approval that the tall wolf made from somewhere in his throat had him rolling in laughter, although the funniest moment was when they dared each other to try the hottest sauce in the restaurant. Isaac ended up crying, but both were giggling and laughing all the way through.

They did not talk about anything serious. They just indulged in an easy conversation about anything but the imminent supernatural threat. They deserved a few hours of peace. They talked about Scott’s university friends, about Isaac’s childhood friendship with Jackson, about Scott’s grandmother and his cousins living in New Mexico. They gossiped about Stiles and Lydia’s life in Boston, and about Ethan and Jackson’s house in Oxford. They sat closely together as they showed each other pictures on their phones (Scott was very insisting on seeing more photos of Isaac in his playing kit). They even started comparing notes about Chris and Melissa, and they concluded that their parents would probably get married soon.

“Will that make us brothers?”

“Please, don’t.” Scott said, going slightly pale. Isaac laughed and moved to sit next to Scott so he could give him a loud kiss on his cheek.

By the end of the meal they were absolutely stuffed. Isaac insisted in paying, claiming that he was the one with an actual job. Scott laughed at that, but let him do it. In exchange, he insisted on treating him at an ice-cream place he knew which was absolutely worth it, even if they felt they could burst at any moment.

They had ice-cream, and Isaac agreed that it was one of the best he had ever had. Afterwards Scott drove Isaac to their old high school, and they sat on the bleachers of the lacrosse field, where they discussed their days back there. Scott had far more happy memories from that place than Isaac, but the beta did not mind sitting there listening to Scott’s stories about him and Stiles getting into trouble. Scott did ask a few questions, but Isaac avoided talking about the time before he was bitten, when he still lived with his dad. Scott then held Isaac’s hand and squeezed it before he kissed him and wrapped him in a tight hug.

Isaac loved that sensation of feeling protected by Scott. Of being cared for. Of finally knowing that Scott liked him just the way he liked him. They remained silent for a while, not moving, Scott gently brushing Isaac’s curls with his hand, staring at the empty field where they had played so many games (and had fought a few times). When Isaac sat up again, he began to talk about his brother Cam. Scott had not prompted or asked him in any way, and he could see that Isaac was fondly remembering the days when his brother was still alive and still around. Isaac had never really talked about his brother with anyone, but he wanted to share his few good memories of him with Scott. He told him about what comics Cam had liked, what his favourite food used to be, how they used to play together, and how he used to tease him until he made him cry, but then gave him a hug and let Isaac win at whatever they were playing. Isaac did not have to say how much he missed him; Scott could tell. So when Isaac went finally quiet, Scott simply cuddled him again and nuzzled him, giving him soft kisses.

As the sun began slowly to come down, Isaac and Scott felt a few messages coming in through the pack group chat, but they were nothing important. When they noticed the time, though, they decided to make a move and go back home. Isaac rang Ethan to see if they were going to do anything that night, but the twin insisted that Isaac should enjoy his date night with Scott, and he also told him that everyone in the pack knew better than to bother them two that night. Without any other plans, Scott suggested to go back home to have some dinner and watch a film. Isaac snorted at the connotations, but Scott did not seem to understand what Isaac found so funny. The blond wolf shook his head and kissed Scott, telling him that it did not matter.

***

Back home both wolves were sat on the sofa with the TV on, although they were not paying any attention. All of Isaac’s focus was on Scott, who was lying on him, resting his head on Isaac’s shoulder. He also had Scott’s hand in his, tracing circles with his thumb in the same way he had done the previous night in the car.

As he sat there with Scott finally by his side, Isaac’s doubts, which had so easily vanished earlier, crept back, feeding on the insecurities that still loomed hidden in the dark corners of his mind. Isaac began to fear what reasons Scott had to want him back. Something inside kept nagging him, insisting that this was all too good to be true, that this was a mere illusion, that, after all, he did not deserve any of this. Isaac had promised long ago to stop listening to his dad’s voice, but now that he was finally home with the man he loved and away from the cursed nemeton, he somehow felt vulnerable, and the voice was clearer and louder.

“Scott.”

“Hmm?” the alpha replied without moving an inch.

“Why now?”

“What do you mean why now?” Scott shifted now to look at Isaac, who was staring at the television with a mixture of worry and sadness.

“I mean, why have you decided to make this move? Why me, why now?” Scott looked at his beta, not really understanding the question.

“Are you asking me why I like you?”

“Scott, just please be honest,” Isaac sat up and shifted slightly away from Scott as doubt took over his reasoning and feelings. “Don’t sugar coat it for me. You’re not doing this because everybody told you I liked you, right?”

“Isaac!” Scott grabbed the remote, turned the TV off and sat facing Isaac. “How could you think that?”

“I don’t know,” Isaac mumbled as his insecurities surfaced. “There is something in the back of my head that just thinks you just want another beta for your pack. That you need the power to fight off the mi-go—“

“I would never do that!” Scott interrupted him. “Please, Isaac. Why would… How could you think that of me?”

Isaac brought his eyes up and saw Scott looking hurt. Isaac never wanted to hurt Scott, and he was doing it now. The dark voice in his head insisted he knew this was coming. “It’s just so sudden. So unexpected. I’ve been thinking of you for years and now you… I- I… Dunno.”

Scott held Isaac’s hand, “Hey, I know. It’s all been so sudden for me too. But… but… The moment I felt our pack bond, you remember?” Isaac nodded. “That moment, it was as if I could see clearly for the first time in years. I sensed you, and I realised how important you have been for me. And the more I thought about you, the more I wanted you back.” Isaac would not look at Scott. “Hey, Isaac, look at me.”

Scott brought his hand to Isaac’s chin and lifted it so they were looking in the eye. Scott’s eyes were glowing alpha red, and Isaac’s a beautiful amber yellow that made Scott’s heart melt. Scott then gently tugged their pack bond, and Isaac immediately felt the same warm feeling that he normally felt in his chest whenever he was with Scott. Isaac felt his inner wolf rolling in happiness, and he also felt him nuzzling and licking Scott’s wolf, who was suddenly inside him. Isaac’s eyes were beginning to feel wet, and something in his throat kept him from talking. Then he realised that Scott was smiling at him the same warm and welcoming smile he always would remember and associate with his alpha.

“Isaac,” Scott said softly, “I care about you, and I don’t want you to get hurt. And I want to be there for you whenever you need me. Hell, I want to have you with me all the time. Do you see how you make me feel?” Isaac chuckled – he could sense it, and it made him the happiest person on the planet. “You don’t have to listen to my heart, you know I’m telling you the truth.”

“You’re loyal, and honest,” Scott continued. “You’re funny, and you’re handsome. No – you’re fit.” Isaac laughed, and Scott held his hands tighter. “And I want you. I need you. I can’t… I’ve had ten days to find out and think and realise. And then we went to pick you up from the airport, and I saw you! And everything seemed to make more sense. And now that you’re finally here with me I can’t deny what I feel.”

Isaac wiped his eye and smiled. Scott moved forward to hold his beta in his arms until both fell back on the sofa in a tight hug. Scott rested his head against Isaac’s chest, arms around his waist.

“You’re mine now,” Scott said as he planted a kiss on Isaac’s chest. “You’re not going anywhere now without me, ok?”

“Aren’t I the lucky one? I got myself a Scott McCall,” Isaac said finally with a smile, kissing the top of Scott’s head.

“I am the lucky one, Ise.” After a pause, Scott asked, “and does that mean that I am a collector’s item?”

Isaac chuckled and he pulled Scott up so he could kiss him.

“You are indeed a very rare one. Unique, in fact. And you’re mine.”

“Yes, I am.”

The two werewolves were cuddled together until Scott felt hungry and Isaac said he’d cook him something French. As he walked in the kitchen, he started looking in all the cupboards and the fridge, but with the things he could find Isaac moaned that he could only rustle up some pasta. Scott didn’t mind, and he stood in the kitchen in awe, looking at his beta cooking. Not that Scott was useless (he managed to feed himself in college during term time), but he could have never cooked a bowl of pasta with the French twist Isaac gave it. They ate their fair share, but they left the leftovers in the pot with a note for Melissa, who would be coming back home later in the evening.

After doing the dishes and clearing them away Scott snuggled against Isaac’s back, putting his hand under his shirt and feeling his toned abs and chest. Isaac turned around with a surprised face, and Scott pulled his beta down to kiss him. Soon Isaac had his hands all over his alpha: his hair, his back, his arms. He even brought it down to his ass and groped it, causing Scott to stop kissing and look at Isaac with a surprised face.

“Sorry, that’s mine now. I needed to check it was all there,” Isaac said with a smug grin.

“Oh, really?” the alpha then grabbed the hem of Isaac’s top and pulled it off. “Well, I should check as well,” Scott replied, looking hungrily at Isaac.

Isaac passed his thumb through the loop of Scott’s shorts and brought him close to him, grinding their hips together, both feeling how tight they were in their pants. Scott meanwhile caressed Isaac’s body, hands all over the place, kissing him up and down his neck, and eventually biting his ear. Isaac moaned and his eyes flashed yellow. He glanced at Scott, who was evidently proud of the reactions he was getting from Isaac, and cupped his face in his hands, bringing him closer so they could kiss. Scott stopped his wandering hands and brought one down to Isaac’s belt. He gave Isaac one last wet kiss and then pushed him gently away. Still holding his beta’s belt, he walked out of the kitchen and pulled Isaac with him all the way up the stairs and into the bedroom.

Chapter Text

“You three have been plotting,” Stiles complained as they drove away from Derek’s loft. “You’ve been in it, thick as thieves, in the dark. Ethan, Jackson, and you, trying to puppeteer Isaac and Scott together.”

“Nobody has been plotting, Stiles,” Lydia murmured.

“Ethan and Jackson definitely were! I could tell the moment they looked at Isaac, looking all shifty, and smirky, and eyebrow wriggling.”

“Can’t you be happy that your friends are finally together?”

“I am! I’m terribly happy. I’m chuffed. I’m glad Scott has sorted out what he feels for Isaac, and I’m over the moon for both of them.” Lydia looked at her boyfriend with a hint of disbelief. “Honest! Lydia, believe me,” Stiles held Lydia’s hand in his, even if his eyes were stuck on the road. “I am enormously happy for those two. I’m even happy for Isaac. Hell, I am happiest for Melissa, because she will finally have a sensible werewolf in the house. A snarky and sassy one, but beggars can’t be choosers.”

“What are you so agitated then?”

“Because you have all been in it together, behind my back without me!” Stiles said with a sad inflexion.

“Oh, now I see… did you want to play matchmakers too?”

“What? No! It’s not… Lydia, no. Don’t look at me... I mean. I would have preferred to be consulted. He’s my friend. I felt left out.”

“They are both your friends, Stiles.”

“Oh, you know what I mean.”

“Not really, I don’t. Anyways, we were not scheming together.” After a pause, Lydia said with an impish smile, “I clearly told Jackson that I did not want to get involved in their plot because I already had my own scheme.”

Stiles gaped his mouth and turned around to look at Lydia, before a loud honk forced him to focus his attention back to his driving.

“Stiles, turn the radio off, please?”

Stiles looked down for a second. “It is off, Lydia.”

Lydia was now staring into the distance, and Stiles quickly pulled to the side of the road, knowing well that something was going on.

“Lydia, what happens? What do you hear?”

“I can hear a buzz…”

“Oh no. No-no. No you are not,” Stiles went pale, panicking. “You are not hearing a buzz of flies again.” He began to hyperventilate as the memories of buzzing flies and the nogitsune flooded his brain. “Lydia, there is no buzzing and no files…”

“Listen carefully… It’s not flies… it’s a radio buzz. Like, static…”

Stiles rubbed his eyes and cleared the sweat of his forehead, his foot tapping nervously.

“Please, Lydia, don’t—hang on. I- I… I can also hear it.”

Lydia turned around to look at Stiles. “How come you hear it too?”

“I think it may be a normal non-supernatural sound?”

Stiles checked that his radio was off, and then hit it to make sure, but the radio static could still be heard, as a low and distant buzz. It eventually became too low to be noticeable.

“You heard it?”

“I did. It was not just you.” Stiles was enormously relieved. All this business with the mi-go interfering with the nemeton where the nogitsune that had possessed him had made him jumpy to say the least. The last thing he wanted to know about was Lydia hearing a buzz again.

We heard it?” Lydia was still finding it difficult to process. She thought she was beginning to master her banshee powers, and she had been certain that this radio buzz was not coming from a normal radio.

“Yes, Lyds,” Stiles took a deep breath. “We can relax. No danger, no problem.” He held Lydia’s hand and gave her a kiss.

“You heard it?”

“Yes! please, believe me. We both heard it. It went bzzzzz-wiuuuu-bzzzzz. It was radio static.” Stiles turned on his radio and demonstrated. “See? It was this noise, but it was probably coming from some other car.”

Lydia nodded, and Stiles sighed. When she insisted that she was fine, she told Stiles to keep on driving. Lydia was not fully convinced though, so she did not completely dismissed it. She got a notebook out of her bag and scribbled ‘radio static buzz’.

They stopped near the Sheriff’s station, and Stiles phoned his father, asking him to join them foe lunch. Noah Stilinski instructed to meet him at the diner he had gone to with Scott. By the time they got there, Lydia and Stiles found the Sheriff already sitting at a table. When Stiles sat down, and before saying hello, his dad slammed a sheet of paper in front of him.

“See?” Noah said with enormous satisfaction, “my cholesterol is rock bottom, and my blood pressure is the envy of the state of California.” Stiles was reading his father’s annual medical tests, so he could not argue when Noah asked for the biggest fry-up in the menu.

“Hello, Lydia. Come sit by me while your boyfriend reads my impeccable medical results.”

Soon after, the waitress came with their order. “So, what are the news from the French team?” Noah asked as he wolfed down two rashers of bacon.

“Well, Scott and Isaac are now an item,” Stiles said, looking with pure hatred at his father’s plate.

“That’s old news, Stiles. I knew that! Melissa told me. I mean about the aliens and the nemeton.”

“We are concerned about our nemeton,” Lydia said in hushed tones. “We are afraid a cult may want to jump-start it.”

Noah dropped his fork and knife. “Are we going to get a cult in Beacon Hills?” Lydia and Stiles looked at each other, and then at the Sheriff, but neither gave him an answer. “At least that’s easier to explain than an ‘animal’ attack.”

“Yeah, well, dad, how do we find a cult?”

“They may be scamming people for their savings,” said enjoying his curly fries, “but I doubt that would be the MO of this alleged cult… If they are secret, you only find them after they’ve killed. Otherwise it may be easier to search through the web for suspicious sites inviting people to join and all that.”

“That’s not much better than our plan.”

“Which was?”

“Scott, Liam, and Malia have been stalking around churches and the ranger’s hut in the preserve.”

“Well, yeah. I also know that…” the Sheriff leaned forward, “Can you please ask your friends to be more inconspicuous?”

“We don’t know if there is a cult yet,” Lydia admitted. The Sheriff relaxed noticeably. “We are going to check the new bookshop and see if anyone has been asking about books on the occult.”

“Oh, I’ve heard lots about that place. Melissa loves it, and so does half of the station.”

“How so?”

“They organise public lectures there, and they are very well attended” Noah clarified. “I think Melissa told me the organiser had asked Scott to give one later in the summer.”

“He didn’t mention that.”

“I don’t know if he has accepted or not.”

They fell silent for a second as they continued eating. There were certainly many things going on at that bookshop. Stiles could not wait to go.

***

“No, Mason, listen. I’m telling you Scott and Isaac are like together.”

“Why didn’t they tell me?”

Liam had rushed back home after the meeting. The moment he got home he rang Mason and summarised what had happened.

 “I think they just sort of found out recently. That’s why I faced Isaac and warned him to be careful with Scott.”

“Hang on,” Mason interrupted. “You outed Scott in front of the pack? You actually went in there and outed your alpha and threatened his boyfriend?”

“No! no, no… I mean. It’s not as if I… Have I outed them?” Liam could hear Mason sighing. “It does not count as outing if everyone in that room knew. I was the last one to find out.”

“It still does not make it ok, Liam! What if I outed you?”

“But I’m not gay.”

“What if I outed you as a werewolf?”

“Don’t blind me with science!” Liam tried to excuse himself. “There was no harm done. They all knew. And I was still concerned with Isaac. I didn’t like the idea of an old friend coming out of thin air to be close to Scott.”

“But you’re happy with him now?”

“Not in so many words, but yeah. I think he may be ok. He’s just unnecessarily tall.”

“And handsome,” Mason joked.

“Yeah, well, I knew tall, blond, lacrosse-playing werewolf was your type,” Liam still remembered Mason staring at and dribbling over Brett. “How’s Corey, by the way? When are you guys coming down?”

Liam asked out of pure curiosity, but Mason’s mood went suddenly sombre.

“I don’t think he’ll be coming this time.”

“Oh, can’t he change his shifts at work?”

“I don’t think it’s that, Liam. I think he really wants to stay away from the supernatural.”

“Oh…” Crap. “Are you guys ok?”

Mason took a few seconds to answer. “I think we still are.”

“O-kay… Do you want to talk about it?”

“Nah, don’t worry, Liam. I’m ok.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, yeah… No worries.”

“Are you still coming?”

“Yeah,” Mason sounded tired. “I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon.”

“Cool, well. You sure you’re ok?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Go pester someone else now.”

“Hey, Mason, listen. You’ve got me, you know right?”

“I know,” Liam could feel Mason smiling. “Bye, Liam.”

“Bye, bye.”

Liam fell on his bed, not knowing what to do. He was worried about Corey and Mason because he did not want his best friend to go through a break up. But truth be told, he never felt Corey was really involved with Scott’s pack, so it was no surprise that this was happening. He tried to think a way to fix it, but he was soon distracted by other side thoughts. He ended up so lost in his own ideas about Corey, Mason, Scott, Isaac, the cultists, Peter, and the nemeton that he did not notice when his father walked into the room.

“Liam?” asked Dr Geyer, causing his son to jump a foot in the air from his bed.

“Dad!”

“Sorry I startled you.”

“That’s… that’s ok. How was work?”

“Oh, it went all good,” the doctor walked into the room and stood by Liam’s desk. “No, listen, Liam, I have been invited to a meeting tonight at the bookshop.”

“What kind of meeting do you have in a bookshop?”

“Oh, we are having a discussion on more public lectures that we can give.”

“Who’s we?”

“Terry, the book seller, he has set up the Beacon Hills Popular Science Group, hadn’t I mentioned it?”

“No…”

“Yeah, well, because his lectures have been so popular he has asked me and other people to set up this society, and our next lecture we’ll organise in the theatre, so more people can come.”

“Is Melissa involved in this?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“Oh, it’s just that Scott mentioned something.”

“Yes, well,” Dr Geyer continued. “We would like if Scott could come as well. Terry is very insistent on having a young veterinarian in the society.”

“Well,” Liam said slightly bitterly. “I know for a fact that he is busy tonight. We were told to give him some peace and quiet today.”

“Could you ask text him anyways in case he changes his mind about our meeting today?”

“I’ll try, but I can’t promise anything,” Liam knew for certain that Scott would not even bother to check his texts today because he’d be too busy with Isaac.

“That’s ok. Have you got any plans tonight though? You could come to our meeting.”

Liam thought about it carefully. Mason was not there yet. Scott was busy. He could ask Stiles and Lydia if they had any plans, but it would not be fun to be third wheeling with those two. There were also Ethan and Jackson, even if he was not sure if they were in the pack or not. Technically, he knew, they were, because Jackson had been a Hale beta originally, but Scott was not very insisting on such hierarchies. Liam had to decide.

“We’ll make you a full member,” his step-father asked when he saw Liam lost in thought.

“What?” Liam came back to reality still undecided.

“I said, we’ll make you a member of the society. We’ll get you a membership pin, see?” Dr Geyer showed this small metal pin on his shirt, which seemed to be a circle with some criss-crossing lines inside. “It’s better than a card.”

“Oh, I see. No, dad, thanks. I think I’ll see if the rest of the pack wants to do something tonight.”

“Ok, just remember it’s Fourth of July tomorrow. We’re all going to the new park inauguration.”

Liam rolled his eyes, because that sounded like a great plan. “Yeah, I know. I’ll remember.”

As Dr Geyer left the room, Liam pulled his phone out and started texting. Hopefully Stiles and Lydia or Jackson and Ethan would want to hang out.

***

Noah had to go back to the station after lunch, so Lydia and Stiles headed towards the bookshop as they had originally planned. As they walked to the store Lydia and Stiles both thought they heard metallic buzzing around them, but it was always in brief bursts, and there was always a police car, or a truck that could be blamed for the radio static. Finally they got to Terry’s Corner, and both were very impressed by the size of the bookshop, which must have had miles of shelves. It was also very surprising to see how many people were in there – neither Lydia nor Stiles thought that their hometown was a cultural desert, but they had never expected that so many of their neighbours to be avid readers.

As they walked through the doors they heard short spurts of static, but this time they clearly came from the hand-held radios the shop assistants had with them. Right in front of them there was a column with a directory, indicating all the sections they had. Stiles’s eyes went wild when he saw that half of the basement was entirely devoted to role and board games.

“Stiles, no!”

“Wh—You don’t even know what I was going to say.”

“You didn’t have to, I know you. I can read you, and you were planning on going straight down to the games section.”

Stiles stood there, feigning indignation, but Lydia ignored him, as she continued searching through the directory.

“Let’s check the horror and the psychology sections.”

“You know, some people would say that role-playing games border on the occult and the satanic.”

“Some people were very bored and frustrated in the 80s and 90s,” Lydia retorted pointedly.

“Urgh… Fine!”

As they advanced further into the shop, they followed the signs to the relevant sections. They spent a good half hour looking through the shelves, and found a lot, although it was difficult to see if what they found was relevant. There were various books on the tarot, hermeticism, the qabalah, and rosicruciarians. None of that would be relevant to their cult, Lydia thought, but it was a start. It meant that perhaps the shop could obtain more specific books if needed. They would have to ask the shop assistants, although it might be easier and less suspicious if they asked someone who could hack into the system. Ideally someone with a Hawaiian surname.

Having reached this conclusion, Stiles pleaded and Lydia agreed with the bare minimum amount of eye-rolling, so they headed down to the game section. As they walked down the stairs, however, Lydia slowed down, feeling an ice-cold breeze chill her soul. She grabbed Stiles’ wrist and kept him from walking any further. Stiles turned around annoyed, but he changed his expression when he saw Lydia’s face. She was holding so tight that his wrist was starting to hurt.

“Lyds, what’s wrong?” he asked.

“Stiles, I think we should go.”

“Lydia, what do you mean?”

Lydia stepped forward to the railings of the stairs, and she looked down to the central area. There she could see the carpet with the motif with lines crossing in a circle, forming a pattern she had seen before: it was the same glyph that Isaac had found all over Bégnan, in the church, on a rock, and on the nemeton tree. She was still holding Stiles, and Lydia pulled him towards the railing. Stiles looked over and saw the sign. It took him a bit longer to realise what they were looking at, but eventually the penny dropped.

“They are here,” Stiles whispered. “The cultists, and the mi-go. This bookshop is a cover.”

“I think that’s not all,” Lydia was standing very still, still feeling the ice-cold sensation crawling on her skin.

“What do you mean?” Stiles was now looking very worried. He slowly pulled Lydia away from the railing. Her gaze was still fixated on the carpet of the ground floor.

“Stiles, I can feel him,” her voice was nearly broken in fright. “He’s here.”

“Who?” Stiles, despite his experience with the supernatural, was getting increasingly scared.

“Bilinski!” A familiar voice yelled at them. Stiles jumped a foot in the air, but Lydia was still in her state of shock, grabbing tightly Stiles’ wrist. “What are you doing here? I thought I got rid of you years ago.”

“Coach?” Stiles called as he turned around.

“What are you doing with Martin? Is she ok?”

“Coach listen—Is that an erotic novel you’re holding?” Stiles asked, distracted by the paperback, pocket-sized book with a muscular, topless man embracing a blond woman clad in a white dress blowing in the wind.

“It’s a better read than your exams,” Finstock said dismissively. “And what’s wrong with Martin?”

“Coach, I think that we should leave.”

“Oh God, not again. Why do weird things always happen when you’re around?”

“Please, let’s get out of here.”

“Hang on, hang on. I’ll get help.”

“No…” Stiles called, but Finstock was already gone. He looked at Lydia, who had remained silent while coach was there. “Lyds, you need to tell me.”

“We have to go now, and we have to warn Scott,” Lydia was still whispering, her eyes slowly filling up with tears.

“Hey, Lyds, listen, what’s going on?” Stiles was panicking seeing Lydia in that state.

“It’s too late,” Lydia trailed off as she pointed vaguely with her head.

Stiles looked in the direction Lydia had signalled and saw Coach was behind them with a man he had not seen before with him. He was young, with black, thining hair, with an odd combination of a strong jaw, but soft eyes. He was wearing a green polo shirt with a name tag advertising that he was Terry, the storeowner. He had a large silver pin with the same circle-and-lines symbol – a pin which Coach also had, Stiles just noticed. Stiles almost cried in pain as Lydia tightened her grip on his wrist; she had gone pale, her eyes were wide in terror, and a cold sweat was forming on her forehead.

Because what Lydia could see behind Coach was not a book seller. What Lydia saw was a tall man with a narrow head, completely bold, and black as coal. His eyes glowed with an eerie white-ish blue light. But this was not glowing irises like those she was familiar with from werewolves – these were two pits of bright light lost in a completely dark face. The figure was clad in a dark cloak, which covered his entire body. Behind and around the head Lydia could see with blurry difficulty six bright points of light, as if minute stars were orbiting around him. Lydia could have coped with this, had not it been for the unease sensation that what she was seeing was simply a façade. What she saw was an image created by her mind, a vision she could cope with, a protecting mechanism for her already shaken and slowly healed sanity. Lydia had brief glimpses and incomplete flashes that told her of something rather different: a large tentacle-like appendix where the head should be, with an enormous mouth full of sharp teeth that glowed from within with an intense and alien pink light, three clawed hands, a slimy body, and three strong and thick legs.

“Mr Stilinski, Miss Martin. I have been waiting for you, my name is Terry. You came here searching for knowledge, if I am not mistaken?”

***

Peter left the loft with a pack worrying about smoke and mirrors. Maybe about bells and whistles too. But he had a date that evening and had no intention of staying around listening to their whining and their pointless planning. He went back home and had a quick lunch. For the rest of the afternoon, Peter went through his full beauty routine. An hour before his date, he picked a black suit with a black shirt, fixed his hair, and went off to pick his partner for the night.

“Please, allow me,” Peter said as he opened the door of the restaurant. For his flaws and murderous tendencies, he was still a gentleman.

“Thank you so much,” said Dianne Barret as she walked in.

Peter approached the maître d’ and they were soon taken to their table. They were offered a cocktail to start with and after choosing their food, Peter chose the wine. When the waiter left them on their own, they relaxed and sat back, indulging in some easy small talk. Peter was definitely enjoying his date.

“So how did you end up in Beacon Hills?” Peter asked, eventually.

“Oh, I had been working at other parks and when the position for this new one came up, I had to apply.”

“And I am very glad you did. Because you are not from around here, are you? I mean, my family has been here for a long time, but I would have known if we had any Barrets around – especially such gorgeous ones.”

“Oh, no,” ranger Barret laughed. “I am definitely not from here. But my grandparents were originally from Beacon Hills, funnily enough. This was all before they moved to Vermont. Perhaps that’s the reason why I wanted this post.”

“So you learned to love to forests in the hills of New England and you then decided to change them for the redwoods of California?”

“More or less,” she said with a mysterious smile, as she drank her wine.

“I myself love nature. Growing up in the preserve we learned about the plants and animals, very early on.”

“Your family must have been brave, living up there, considering the high number of animal attacks in the area.”

“Oh, those are quite a recent phenomenon,” Peter dismissed her worries. “In fact, I think they started after our family stopped… taking care of the preserve.”

They brought their mains, and Peter ordered another bottle of wine.

“I heard about the fire, and I did not want to mention it, but that was such a tragedy. I am terribly sorry, Peter.”

“I still have my daughter and my nephew, and my niece. We’re a small family, but we’re close.”

“I have met them, they tend to come around the preserve. Although I did not know about your niece,” Peter noticed for a fraction of a second a whiff of anxiety coming from his date when asked about Cora.

“Oh, Cora lives in South America, sadly. As for Derek and Malia, I imagine they will also miss the old house – that’s why they go around the preserve,” Peter tried to mentally ignore their little obsession with the aliens around the nemeton. “But let me assure you that we are all happy that it is part of the State Park now. Especially if it means we get such wonderful rangers keeping it safe.”

“I would love to spend some more time with them. You seem like such a nice family.”

Peter’s face did not betray his train of thought, but the moment ranger Barret mentioned his family with that knowing tone all the flags and alarms in his head went off. People showing particular interest in his family were never good news, in his experience. There was nothing in her that screamed ‘hunter’, although as a ranger she had access to guns, knew her way around the preserve, and was proficient in tracking animals. But she was in the preserve every day, and that gave her access to the nemeton. Peter began to wonder if she knew about the nemeton and if she would recognise it as such if (or when) she saw it. That was if she had not been there already. She did not look like a fungoid crustacean from outer space, and looked sane enough not to be part of a cult, but there was something that most certainly did not fit. Isaac might have been fooled, but he was not going to be so easily distracted.

“So why did your family move to Vermont?” Peter consciously asked, moving the focus away from the Hales and trying to find out more about the Barrets.

“They were in the maple syrup business,”

“That’s a sweet job.” Dianne laughed politely at Peter’s dreadful joke. “So your family also had a forest of their own?”

“Why, yes. We had a few acres; we were not big producers. But we had our own family house, and a small barn where we processed the sap.”

Peter was still thinking. There was something off and he needed to find out what it was. He needed more information. The giant pepper mill came around and Peter nodded absentmindedly as the waiter crushed pepper onto his plate.

“So, do you know what they used to do back here?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your family, in Beacon Hills,” Peter said pointedly.

“Oh, I would not know, it was decades ago. I think they first came during the gold rush, but they eventually worked in the quarry at the far end of the preserve.”

“Now that’s a coincidence,” Peter smiled sardonically as he ate his pasta. “In a way, you are coming back to where your family started?”

“You could say so.”

Peter was beginning to sweat through his shirt. Something really did not fit, and his earlier convictions about Scott worrying about mere suspicions were crumbling. Mountains, quarries, isolated settlements in the forests and hills, Vermont. Suddenly it all made sense, and Peter cursed the smoke and mirrors, and bells and whistles, because Scott flipping McCall had been right. Peter also noticed the silver pin the ranger was wearing on her dress.

It was at this point when Peter noticed the metallic buzzing – it had slowly build up during the dinner, but it was now perfectly noticeable. He was surprised nobody else in the restaurant had heard it. It was like radio static, but coming out of thin air. Or rather, coming from the air-con vents. Peter dropped his fork and sniffed the air and he sensed a pungent odour, completely unnatural. It was a stench he had never smelled before, but his inner wolf immediately was alert and growling. Peter smiled at the ranger as he pushed his chair away from the table and flashed his blue eyes. But before he could come up with a witty comment he had a coughing fit. His eyes were watering and his forehead was pearled in sweat. He felt his pulse accelerating and his hands trembling. He needed to cough, there was something irritating his throat. It tasted like pepper, but there had to be something else. Peter then noticed his hand and his napkin – he had been coughing mistletoe. He looked at his plate and the white pepper he saw all over his pasta now clearly seemed to be dried mistletoe berries.

Peter balled his fists and snarled at Barret, who only gave him a dignified smile as she stood up. His vision began to tunnel, and before he could warn anyone, he was out cold.

***

Liam texted Scott, but he naturally did not answer. He tried Stiles, but he was also ignoring him. He texted Jackson, and waited, thinking if it would not have been easier after all to go out with his dad to this scientific society meeting. Even if Dr Geyer was only his step-father, Liam liked spending time with him, which was difficult enough because of his job. That was one of the reasons why he had found bonding with Scott so easy: it had been natural for them to spend time together when both their parents were working on the same shift.

Besides, it was not as if Liam had no interest in science. Just because he was not good at it did not mean that he was not interested in space colonisation or flesh-eating bacteria. When he resigned himself to ring his step-dad and to go to the meeting, he received a text from Jackson (Saved by the bell!).

<Jackson> 3/7/2019 18:49

Yeah – come and hang around with us

<Jackson> 3/7/2019 18:49

Bring lacrosse kit

 

Twenty minutes later, Liam got to Jackson’s house. But before he got to ring the bell he sensed a familiar smell. It was someones scent he sensed, but it was very faint and very old. Without noticing, he found himself walking across the road to the house opposite, which was clearly locked and abandoned. There was something wrong with that house, and the worst thing was that he could not remember for neither love nor money whose scent he was sensing.

“Hey,” Liam heard a distant voice behind him. He was startled, and he turned around, hand clutching his chest.

“Jesus, you nearly killed me!” Liam saw that Jackson was calling him all the way from his front door.

“We heard your car pulling in, but then you didn’t come to ring the bell. We were wondering what you were doing.”

Liam walked back towards Jackson’s house. “I just… I sense a familiar smell from this house, but can’t tell whose.”

Jackson’s eyebrows arched and his eyes went wide in surprise. “That’s an impressive nose you have. To be fair I don’t notice it anymore. But yeah, that’s Isaac’s old house,” Jackson added as he opened his door and walked in.

Isaac’s house, Liam thought. That made sense. He turned around and looked at the house for a few more seconds, before Jackson called him again, and he trotted towards Jackson’s door.

“So you were neighbours? I thought he lived with Scott?” Liam asked once he got to the back garden, where Ethan was barbequing sausages and burgers. The couple was taking advantage that the Whittemores were at their beach house that week, although they would be back to see their son before he went back to the UK.

Jackson tensed for a second, but he handed Liam a cold can from a bucket full of drinks. “Yes, well, when he was little he lived there, and then he… He moved in with Scott and Melissa after he got the bite.”

“I didn’t know Mrs McCall ran a werewolf shelter. Why did he have to leave his house?”

Jackson looked at Ethan with worried eyes – that kid was asking all the pertinent questions.

“He had problems with his dad—“

“Was it because he was gay?” Liam promptly asked, remembering the conversation he had had with Mason about outing. Liam was feeling bad about it, but being with two gay werewolves he hoped he could get some straight answers.

“Not quite. Although I am sure that did not help,” Jackson said in a low and serious voice.

“Oh, did he kick Isaac out because he was a werewolf? Did you help him? Or were you not a werewolf yet?”

Jackson tensed significantly, and his eyes flashed blue. He even crushed the can he was drinking from.

“Babe,” Ethan called as soon as he noticed his boyfriend’s change, dropping the burger he was flipping to the floor. “He is asking out of ignorance. He is genuinely concerned about Isaac.”

Liam did not understand what he had said that had prompted this change in Jackson, but he had enough common sense to shut up and mutter an apology.

“I- I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. Nobody has told me what Isaac’s story is. I didn’t mean anything by that.”

“We know, Liam, Don’t we babe?” Ethan asked.

“Yes, well. I understand,” Jackson admitted, visibly more calmed, but also sad.

“Hey, I’m sorry. It’s just that I was worried about Scott, and nobody tells me what Isaac’s secret is.”

Jackson grabbed a lacrosse stick that he had against the chair and went off to the garden. He pulled another from the floor and lobbed it to Liam, who managed to catch it out of pure werewolf agility. After passing the ball between each other in silence for a few minutes Jackson finally spoke. He told Liam all the story, from the day Isaac’s mother died, to the day he had killed his father as the kanima. Liam knew about the kanima story (it was the foundational myth of the McCall pack), but he had never heard Isaac’s backstory, or that his father had been one of the first victims, and he had never suspected Jackson’s role in it.

With every painful confession, Jackson had thrown the ball as hard as he could at Liam, who always caught it and returned it gently back. In the end, Jackson dropped the ball and the stick, and went to one of the garden chairs and sat back.

“So that is the reason why it is pointless for you to worry about Isaac betraying the pack or Scott.”

Liam was speechless. He was not sure about how he felt. Thankfully, Ethan came around and gave him a burger in a bun.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure Isaac likes you because you care about Scott as much as he does.”

“But what I did…”

“You hardly did or said anything, so don’t worry.”

Ethan went to Jackson and gave him a hug and a soft kiss on his forehead before ruffling his hair. Jackson immediately complained that he had gelled it and he was ruining it, and all the emotional tension that had built up during his confession vanished.

Jackson grabbed another can and passed it over to Liam, who was already munching through the burger. He smiled at Jackson, who, after rolling his eyes, smiled at him.

***

Iestyn was finally heading home. It had been a long train journey all the way from Brittany to Paris, then to London, and now a stop in Oxford to retrieve his car and return the cursed Nameless Cults to the library. The simple thought of having to walk all the way to Jackson’s place and then drive back home to Wales was making him tired.

As he got off the train in Oxford, he looked up and saw the covered sky and the felt the rolling thunder. (Hurray for the great British summer). The gentle rain that he encountered as he left the station turned into a torrential downpour by the time he got to the city centre. Without an umbrella but really wanting to get rid of the book as soon as possible, he ran up towards the library. The roaring thunder and the noise of the rain muted every other sound, so Iestyn never noticed how a low metallic buzz followed him as he walked the central streets, or how it grew closer when he reached the narrow medieval alleys that lead towards the old Bodleian Library.

He certainly noticed when a long tail hit him on the shoulders, causing him to fall on the cobbles, and he noticed when two sharp pincers dug into his side and his backpack and lifted him up in the air to the rooftops of the university colleges.

Chapter Text

Coach said goodbye to them as they walked off to Terry’s office. Stiles looked at him with wild eyes, not understanding how a teacher would let two of his students be taken away by a freaky shopkeeper. Coach saw Stiles’ face, but he did not understand what he was on about, so he just shook his head before turning around and dismissing him vaguely with his hand. As Stiles saw Coach walk away, he remembered that Finstock was not his teacher anymore. He also remembered that they were adults and not high school kids, so he was in no way responsible for them. He also remembered that it was Bobby Finstock he was dealing with. Stiles gave up any hopes on Coach and immediately came back to reality.

They walked behind Terry across the shop, Stiles still holding Lydia’s hand. He noticed that even if she was trembling in pure terror, she was following the strange shopkeeper who, as far as Stiles could tell, was responsible for the evil cult that was about to cause havoc in Beacon Hills. The entire bookshop was a façade for the mi-go collaborationists, he reckoned. The pieces were slowly fitting together: the arcane sign on the carpet, the lecture meetings where the entire village gathered, the fuss about the preserve and the nemeton... That still did not fit, but he’d sort it out later. The point was clear: it was all a cover. The cult had been in Beacon Hills all along and they’d been blind to it. Or perhaps not all along, but the bookshop was at the centre of it. They had to warn Scott, and they had to do it now. He slipped his hand into his pocket, reaching for his phone.

“Please, Mr Stilinski,” Terry said without even turning around to see what Stiles was doing. Lydia squeezed Stiles’ hand tightly and he moaned in pain silently. “I believe that you should listen to what I have to say before you call Mr McCall.”

Stiles left his phone in his trousers and pulled his hand out, not wanting to know how the bookseller had known. When they reached the office at the back of the shop, Terry opened the door and waved them in. Once the two were inside, he followed and closed the door behind him.

“Right, please, sit down,” Terry indicated as he sat at his own chair behind his desk.

Lydia was standing rigid. Stiles led her to the chair and physically sat her down, before sitting himself.

“So, erm. Mr… Terry?” Stiles ventured, seeing that Lydia was mute. “Can you please explain to us what all this is about?”

All? My, my. Mr Stilinski, I knew you are a curious one,” Terry teased. “But all? Well, even if you had the cognitive capabilities to understand a minimal fraction of your reduced universe, I do not have the time to indulge in causing you so much pain.”

Stiles looked at Lydia, still frozen in terror. Before he could say anything, she reached for his hand and grabbed it firmly.

“Stiles, just listen,” she mumbled while Terry looked at them with a content smug.

“No, Lyds,” he insisted, “I’m not going to be impressed by the crazy act of a manipulative cult leader who—aaaahh!” Stiles moaned in pain as Lydia squeezed his hand again.

“Stiles, please just listen,” she said through gritted teeth, not taking her eyes off Terry.

“You should listen to the warning of a banshee, Mr Stilinski. I though you would have known better.”

“But—“

“The crawling chaos,” Lydia said in a horrified whisper, sweating, her eyes open wide. She could still see the black-clad and dark figure with the shining blue-white eyes sat in front of him, rather than the good-mannered bookseller.

Both had done enough reading and shared sufficient stories of their own research to understand who Nyarlathotep was. The crawling chaos. The messenger of the outer gods. The faceless one. The god of the thousand masks. The one deity from beyond our human time and space that bothers about affairs down on Earth. Simply because he preferred to spread chaos and mischief rather than blood and gore did not mean that his intentions were less ominous. As Stiles realised whom they were dealing with his mouth went dry.

“As I said,” Nyarlathotep’s Terry persona continued. “You came here searching for knowledge. And knowledge you shall have. That is why I have a proposal for you.”

Stiles and Lydia looked at him with concern, knowing that whatever the proposal was it was not going to be anything good.

“Ah, cautious ones. I like that. Futile, but so endearing,” Terry said with a smile. “The thing is that you have been very close to breaking the balance of something that has been pre-arranged eons ago and that goes beyond your understanding. The chaotic flawlessness of this is that you have also been completely oblivious to the fact. It’s so perfect!”

Terry was enjoying this moment way too much for Stile’s liking, but knowing that the bookseller was an eldritch god from outside our universe put a different perspective on the situation.

“But as I was saying, I have a proposal for you. I am offering you unlimited knowledge, or I can offer you an exit to this pathetic four-dimensional existence of yours.”

Lydia and Stiles shifted uncomfortably in their seats, their skin crawling with a cold burning feeling, and holding hands so tightly their knuckles were white. Stiles found himself unable to speak, gaping his mouth open like a fish out of water.

“What are we talking about?” Stiles asked suspiciously, unable to keep his gob shut, despite Lydia’s best attempts.

“Anything you want to know. Everything. I am offering all there is to know. All at your disposal.”

Stiles swallowed. Unable to stop himself, he asked “but why?”

“Ah, well. That’s the kind of question that can only be answered if you accept my offer.”

“I do not think we are deserving of such offer,” Lydia managed to say looking for a way out of this situation, and before Stiles could add anything else to make things worse.

“Please, drop the false modesty,” Terry insisted. “I know you are. Otherwise I would not even bother asking. There are many other ways in which to torment mortals and keep them away from affairs that do not concern them. And as I said, I do not have the time to be arguing with you if we want to keep things out there… interesting. So, out of courtesy, will you reconsider my offer?”

Lydia did manage to swallow and nod before Stiles could say anything. Whatever it was the Outer God wanted from Beacon Hills, he wanted Lydia and Stiles to know about something. Considering that the other option was apparent obliteration from this plane of existence, the choice was clear.

“Fantastic,” Nyarlathotep said, looking like harmless and welcoming Terry again. “I think it will be better if we move on to the library for our actual discussion.”

He stood up and Lydia and Stiles followed suit, still incapable of doing anything but what they were told. He walked towards a corner of his office where there was an open door through which they could see a couple of rows of stacks, all shelves full of books.

As they stepped into the library, Terry led them down a corridor. They walked in between the stacks for a good five minutes, before they finally reached a corner, and there they turned right. They kept going down that corridor for what it seemed ages before they took another turn to the right. Despite the fact that they were following an entity from outside our conceivable universe, walking down a library was a very mundane thing to do, and Stiles and Lydia relaxed enough to appreciate their surroundings.

They were walking too fast to read the titles of all the books they were passing properly, although Stiles sometimes recognised some of them. The one thing he saw clearly was that on those shelves there were all kinds of books. At first Stiles assumed that they were all novels, but some seemed too technical and guessed that they were scientific publications. Besides those, there were entire shelves with books that simply had the name of a person across the spine, and Stiles reckoned they were biographies, but they seemed all normal people – not historical or remotely famous. Stiles felt a shudder run down his spine at the implications. A large proportion of the books he caught glimpses of had foreign titles. Some of them were clearly written in foreign scripts, but some were written in writings he could not recognise at all. For a fraction of a second he wondered if they were human scripts, but he decided for once to let go of a thought and ignore it. Eventually Stiles began to wonder if those books were really books, because some of them had only random words and concepts. He shook his head and focused on keeping up the pace.

At one point Stiles realised that the books on the shelves were older. Some were truly ancient, bound in leather, smelling musty and dusty. When he looked down at the carpet he noticed how the white electric light he had noticed earlier had changed to the orange glow of open flames, but when he looked up he could see no torches or candles. The moment he looked up he saw that the shelves were no longer metallic, but rather wooden, dark and heavy. The books there were mixed with rolled up scrolls and bundles of parchment: sometimes piled on the shelves, some others shoved in disarray. At one point, the parchment and papyrus scrolls gave way to bricks and clay tablets, and the carpeted floor had transformed into trampled sandy earth.

“Lyds,” Stiles whispered. “Lydia!”

“What?” Lydia answered, her eyes still fixed on Terry’s back, afraid that she may lose sight of him if she looked away.

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore! We’ve taken six or seven turns right.”

“So what?”

“We should have come to the starting point? We should be walking in circles, but we clearly aren’t.”

“I don’t think this library is ruled by Euclidean geometry.”

“What does that mean?”

“Have you noticed that no matter how many turns we make the corridor ahead and behind us is still straight?”

Stiles had not noticed, but the moment Lydia said this he saw it.

“Oh my God… Terry?” Stiles asked after clearing his throat. “Where are we?”

“We are in my bookshop,” Terry replied jovially, still leading the way.

“But is it really a bookshop?” Stiles insisted and Lydia wished her boyfriend would not tempt outer gods with impertinent questions, even if she really also wanted to know.

“Of course it is.”

“This does not look like your bookshop,” Stiles said as he kicked some sand off the floor.

“This is just another dimension of my bookshop,” Terry clarified. Stiles could not argue against that, so he added nothing.

Stiles had lost complete track of time, but somehow he guessed that time in that library behind the bookshop was either irrelevant or different to the time he was used to. He also noticed that the scrolls and clay tablets had been substituted a while ago by lumps of rock, sheets of bark and long animal bones with obscure markings and dents on them. Before he could ask ‘are we there yet?’ something caught his attention: on the shelves the slates and strips of bark had given way to different things. There were large sheets of a golden metal; there were sheets of an orange plastic substance. There were metal-bound handfuls of these sheets, but each sheet was at least three feet tall. The floor of the corridor had suddenly become a mirror-like polished basalt. The corridor was wider, and for the first time (despite the amount of twists and turns they had taken), Stiles saw corridors opening to the sides. The ceiling was also higher, and the shelves (which were now carved out of stone) were of gigantic proportions.

“Aha! We’re here,” Terry said with satisfaction, turning around and extending his arms. “The meeting room at the back of my library.”

***

Peter woke up as his stomach pumped its contents out. He opened his mouth before he opened his eyes, so the first thing he saw was a puddle of bile and mistletoe. He could also see his starter, part of his main and (to make things worse) the excellent wine he had ordered for his date. Peter preferred not to dwell on such a waste of good food and fine wine. When he managed to lift his head he found himself in a familiar position, with his hands tied up with wolfsbane above his head and his body against a metallic fence.

“You people are not very imaginative, are you?” he said to no one in particular.

A bucket of frozen water was thrown at him, waking him up slightly from his poison-induced nap. The temperature change shocked his system so much that Peter wretched and vomited again. More bile and mistletoe berries landed on his feet.

“You are ruining my shoes!”

Another bucket of icy water was emptied on him.

Peter looked around and saw nothing but darkness outside the cone of light in which he was standing. The light came from a lamp just above his head and, when he looked at it, he saw that the hole in the ceiling from which the water had come from. He tried to sense who else was in that dark cellar with him, but the room was full of bleach and paint fumes that confused his smell. He could hear heartbeats, but they were all coming from above, so he guessed that he was alone in the cellar.

“If you didn’t like the restaurant there were better ways of letting me know!”

This time, instead of a bucket of water Peter got an electric shock.

“Ah, well, I knew that was coming,” Peter said after he recovered.

It was difficult to keep track of time in the darkness of that cellar, but after what Peter reckoned was a couple of hours he heard the noise of rusty hinges and the opening of a heavy metallic door.

“Oh, Dianne, so lovely to see you again,” Peter growled. “I love this restaurant you’ve brought me to, but I don’t really fancy any dessert after all. I think the main has left me with a bit of an upset stomach.”

“Don’t worry, Peter. I think I’ve also had enough for tonight. I just came to check that you are ok.”

“How very kind.”

“We do like to take care of our local fauna after all.”

“So, please tell me. Does that include evil alien monsters who crawl out of mountain caves, or just your usual Californian werewolf.”

“I knew you are not as clueless as you pretend.” Dianne Barret walked into the cone of light, getting closer to Peter. She had changed away from her dinner clothes, and was back in her ranger gear, gun included. Peter noticed that someone else had walked into the cellar with her, but the person was still hiding in the shadows.

“There are many things about me you don’t know,” the werewolf snarled through his fangs.

Barret huffed and looked at Peter with a stern face. “The Californian werewolf is not on our list of endangered species, sadly. I am quite sure it actually counts as a pest,” the ranger clarified with a smug smile. “They put the local habitat in danger, and are a risk for the local biodiversity. It would be easier to eradicate them, but we do not like to get our hands bloody.”

“That’s not what I’ve heard from your dealings in France.”

“Your pesky druid friends and their hunters have caused only a minor delay,” Ranger Barret barked back at Peter. “And they could not comprehend what the entire ceremony was about.”

He might have been force-fed mistletoe, drenched in frozen water, and electrified for good measure in a dark and god-forsaken cellar, but Peter still had his wits about him. He noticed how Isaac, who had been central in the Toulouse nemeton debacle, had not been mentioned. He still was not sure if by accident or on purpose, but he certainly knew this would be important later.

“So your plan is to start again your secret mining operations in my family lands?”

“They are not your family lands, anymore.”

“I am sure they still are, if you read the small print. If you let me go home for a second, I’m sure I can find the contract...”

“Be that as it may,” Barret dismissed Peter. “I just came here to deliver a message for you and your pack.”

“I feel honoured that you have chosen me to be your messenger boy,” Peter said in a thick and velvety voice, smooth as honey. “But I am afraid that that role is a bit below my dignity, so you will excuse me if I ignore your message.”

“Surely as the eldest Hale and alpha of the Beacon Hills pack you are in the perfect position to tell the rest of your family these very short instructions—“

“Let me interrupt you there,” Peter interjected. It did not escape him that for these alien-worshiping morons he was the alpha of the pack. Of a Hale pack. It was flattering, but also disconcerting. These people either wanted to tickle his ego or were very confused and outdated. The first scenario was very alluring, although Scott had thrashed him often enough to make him lose all interest in claiming any sort of alpha status. He was happy to be left alone by McCall and his over-enthusiastic minions. He needed to know more before he made up his mind. “What have you done to my family?”

“Oh, they are fine. We are just making sure they have enough time to consider our option. We are perfectly reasonable people,” the ranger said as she walked closer to Peter. “We just want you gone. Simple as that. Werewolves disrupt our operations. We just want the Hales gone. It’s not an unreasonable request.”

“Of course, because kicking a family away from its ancestral lands is best practice,” Peter put his emphasis on the word ‘family’. The ranger still had not given any indication that she knew about the rest of the pack.

Before the ranger could reply, from the dark corners of the cellar came a metallic buzzing, similar to the one Peter had heard at the restaurant before he fainted. The buzz alternated in pitch, going from low to high, and then back to low. Peter also noticed how under the odd, radio-like noise there was a quick rattle of pincers. He smiled to himself and cursed mentally, because Scott McCall had been right about the entire situation. And Peter had been wrong. He would never hear the end of it when he got out. If he got out.

“Ok, enough of this, Peter,” Barret snapped once the buzzing from the shadows stopped. “Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day, and I’ve already wasted too much time on you.” She turned around and opened the metal door. This time Peter noticed that it had not been another person ho had walked into the room with Barret. Now he caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure the size of a small horse with a long, thick tail, serrated wings and clicking pincers scurrying its way out of the cellar. “After tomorrow we expect you and your family to be far away from here. There’s no need for you four to protect the nemeton anymore. We have taken over.” The door slammed shut. “There are other people looking for you who will not be as merciful as we are,” she added as she walked away.

“How very interesting,” Peter muttered to himself.

“Silence down there!” a voice called from the hole above his head, followed by another bucket of icy water and an electric shock.

***

“Where are we again?” Stiles asked – Lydia still incapable of saying a thing.

“The back end of my bookstore. But I know what you mean,” the eldritch shopkeeper chuckled, “we are in what one day will be Australia.”

Stiles looked around him. The stacks had finally come to an end. They were in a spacious area with an open roof that allowed the sun to shine directly into the room. The far end of the corridors had windows, and Stiles could see lush vegetation beyond. The air, however, felt weird and thin. Slightly savoury. The smell was off, but it was breathable. At the far end of one of the corridors Stiles saw something moving: a large conical creature, with tentacles at its apex. Stiles decided to look away, for the sake of his sanity.

When are we?” Lydia asked, dreading the answer.

“Some 150 million years in the past.”

“Why did we have to come here?”

“Because you came for knowledge, didn’t you?” Terry asked, knowingly. “You two are very keen in knowing things. I thought you would welcome the chance to access all the accumulated knowledge of your planet?”

“This is a mind trick,” Stiles said, memories of the nogitsune flashing across his mind. “We can’t be here…”

“Believe me, Mr Stilinski. This is as real as your maimed perception of the universe allows you to understand.”

“Why are you offering us this knowledge?” Lydia asked.

“Ah, yes! Incredible as it may seem, but you were getting too close to uncovering some relevant facts, and I could not allow that. That would have been unfair, you see? And I am all for fairness,” Terry began to pace slowly around the room. “It’s such a mean human concept, fairness. I find it intriguing. It’s so vain of you to think that there should be a balance of opportunities,” Terry chuckled. Lydia and Stiles remained silent. “It’s hilarious.”

Lydia did not want to enter a philosophical debate with an Outer God, but she still needed to understand why they had been dragged there. “What are we supposed to do with all this knowledge?”

“Well, read. Consult. Go through all those books. Look for your own answers. You can do whatever you want. It’s my gift to you.”

The second they heard the word ‘gift’ Stiles and Lydia immediately tensed again. Nothing good ever came from such gifts. Stiles looked at Lydia, but she was still staring at Terry.

“What exactly were we about to discover?” she asked cautiously.

“You were going to discover something that would unsettle your precious balance. You were going to find out about the little throng of followers I have in Beacon Hills. Not that I care about them. They are entertaining, true, but they are deluded fools. The thing is that you were not meant to come across them. Not yet at any rate. And not when you are so close to Mr McCall.”

“What has Scott got to do with all this?”

Terry-Nyarlathotep now grinned widely like a maniac. “I am glad you ask this question. Because well. Mr McCall is a True Alpha, a champion of the gods of Earth. Of course, he does not know this, because the gods of Earth are not big in interfering or communicating. Whenever they do they cause chaos and mayhem. They are brutes who know no measure. They lack understanding and they don’t see beyond their miserable little planet. But I digress,” Terry said, and his tone became menacing and suggestive on equal measure.

“Scott McCall is part of a larger plan, together with that other werewolf he’s paired to, the one who lived in France. You see, the moment has come and the stars are right.” A pause followed this revelation. “They have aligned according to some pre-determined patterns, and there is a small cosmic window of change for the gods of Earth,” Terry had turned his back to Stiles and Lydia who were trembling at the idea of Scott and Isaac being part of some large-scale cosmic plan. “But the upcoming confrontation has to be between the heralds of Earth and the crustaceans of Yuggoth.”

“I know what you are going to say,” Terry said, even if both Lydia and Stiles were too terrified by the discussion and the circumstances to even utter a word. “But the mi-go are not my servants. They worship other outer gods but like to keep me… in the loop. They follow the Lord of the Wood. The Black Goat. Ha! You humans surely like your ominous epithets.”

Lydia had read very little about the outer gods, but she had come across those two names before. Fragments of incantations and stories came to her mind, but she pushed them away, tears running down her face.

“Here is where I come in because here is where you threaten to break the balance,” Terry turned around and stared directly at Lydia. This time even Stiles could see how his human face had faded because his eyes had turned into pits of blue-white light that distorted his other features. “This is a matter for the gods of Earth and the outer gods to solve though their champions. I cannot let you walk into scene spilling the beans. Not when it’s not your time. That would give Mr McCall an advantage. That would not be fair.”

“…”

“Oh, you don’t need to thank me, Mr Stilinski. It was my pleasure. Now you understand why I cannot let you tell Mr McCall what you know. Because it would be unfair, and I am the umpire in this confrontation. And I cannot allow it to be unfair,” Terry added with his glowing eyes.

“So, erm… Terry. Our reward for not saying anything is full access to your library?”

“Reward? If you want to see it like that, then yes. Why not?” Terry’s eyes returned to their normal human form. “I am just offering you the chance and explaining the rules of the game. You have free will to do as you please after all... But if Scott McCall gets any input from you two before the final confrontation… Well. I’d count that as cheating.”

Lydia grabbed Stiles’ hand before he asked anything else.

“Again, Mr Stilinski, I would suggest that you heed the advice of the banshee. Anyways, there is a meeting now I need to be presiding. I’ll let you two here to enjoy my library. Whenever you want to return just walk down the corridor.”

“We’re free to go?” Stiles mumbled.

“Well, of course. You are not prisoners. I said I just wanted to talk to you. Now that we’ve talked, I can’t wait to see what path you follow. They all are so exciting.”

With that, the outer god turned around and began to walk toward the library.

“Wait!” Stiles called out, while Lydia’s colour drained off her face and her mouth formed a mute cry of warning. “How do we know we can… trust you?”

Before Stiles could finish his question a large lump formed in his throat. He saw Terry turn around and face him with a wide grin. Stiles began to tremble as the amiable-looking bookseller turned into the black-clad dark figure that Lydia had been seen all along. Stiles began to cry as he took a few steps backwards and Nyarlathotep laid a hand gently on his forehead.

What Stiles saw next, he did not see through his eyes: it was an image projected directly into his mind. The vision that unfurled was chaotic, and lasted no more than an instant, but Stiles saw. He saw himself walking to Scott, reaching for him, screaming a warning. The cult! The bookshop! They were at the nemeton, where most of the town had gathered around a large bonfire. All the angles and proportions seemed distorted and exaggerated. An eerie light glowed from the ground while a chant emerged from the crowd. Iä! Iä! they chanted. He could see mi-go descending on Derek and Liam, he could see Ethan and Jackson tied to a tree while hooded figures approached them with long, ceremonial knives. He could see Isaac kneeling at the nemeton stump, his hands clutching his ears, crying blood, and yelling in pain. He could see Melissa, Chris and the Sheriff wearing the same hooded cloaks as the rest of the cultists. He also could see a monstrous creature crawling out of a rift on the ground, all tentacles and claws, and the sky rifting apart, exposing the beyond.

Before he could react to this living nightmare he simultaneously saw Lydia and Mason rushing towards the hospital, stopping Melissa and Liam’s step-dad. He saw himself kneeling on the muddy floor, crying on his father’s shoulder, while Chris punched the tree behind which the three were hiding, his knuckles bleeding and shouting in frustration. Behind them, and through his teary eyes, Stiles could see a green glow interrupted by shadows. And he could hear the roaring and fighting of werewolves mixed with a cacophony of gunshots and the hideous metallic buzz he was now linking to the mi-go.

A maddening, dual voice, which was a low rumble and a high screech – a voice as ancient as time itself – echoed inside his mind. “The stars are right. It is up to you now to leave the balance be and trust your friends, or to tip the scales and unleash hell.”

Stiles did not hear an evil cackle, or an echoing maniac laughter. He would have expected that. He simply sensed the pure and serene joy of chaotic tormenting that was derived from the visions planted in his brain.

Stiles sobbed. Stiles screamed.

Everything went black.

***

Dr Geyer and Melissa walked into the bookshop, where the chairs had already been arranged for that evening’s meeting. They both had a late shift later that night, but they had time to go to the meeting before heading to work. Melissa also knew that her two boys (because Isaac was her boy as much as Scott was) were having some time together to talk. Finally. She knew damn well those two needed to talk, for better or for worse.

Both doctor and nurse were part of the Beacon Hills Popular Science Group committee, and both equally proud and involved. Melissa perhaps even more so, because Terry had invited Scott to take part in the society and to give talks later in the summer. She was chuffed.

It was great to see how the entire town had flocked to listen to Terry week after week. She had only been to a handful, but Melissa had to give him credit: he was an excellent orator, and his lectures were enthralling. She wondered why someone who knew so much about the functioning of the universe was content to be a bookseller. She was ready to believe everything he had told them about, even if half of it sounded like far-fetched science fiction. Dr Geyer had said that, based on what he had read, Terry was strikingly similar to Nikola Tesla.

“Melissa, Greg!”

Melissa and Dr Geyer turned around to see a familiar face. “Oh! Dianne, hello. How are you?”

“Not bad, thank you. Getting ready for tomorrow.”

“Ah, yes, of course!” Melissa nodded emphatically. “It’s the big inauguration, right?”

“Yes indeed,” the ranger replied with a smile.

“Is everything ready?” Dr Geyer asked politely.

“Well, that’s part of the reason of the meeting tonight,” Barret explained. Even if Terry was the founder of the science society, Ranger Barret was the chairwoman. She had also been very proactive in the recruiting for the society. “We want to arrange it so that we can have a society day out in the newly inaugurated park!”

“That sounds fantastic!”

“I think most people were planning to attend the inauguration anyways,” Dr Geyer commented. “You have done a great job with the old preserve,” he added with a smile.

“That is why we thought it would be such a great idea to do something extra. We’ll discuss the details in the meeting once Terry arrives.”

“Oh, where is he, by the way?” Melissa asked. “I wanted to see him about Scott.”

“Well, I haven’t seen him yet” the ranger noted, “but I imagine he’s in his office.”

“I may go and find him then.”

Melissa excused herself and left the ranger and the doctor chatting. She walked to the back of the store, where she knew the office was. She knocked on the door but got no reply, so she cautiously walked in.

“Hello? Terry?”

She got no reply.

A cold gust of air came from the corner of the office, momentarily freezing Melissa to the core, but before she could shiver she heard a familiar voice calling.

“Sorry! Coming!” Terry walked out of the corner of the office. “Sorry, I was in my library. How can I help you today, Melissa?”

“Ah, I came only to talk about my son, Scott.”

“Of course! Our guest star! Is he coming around today?”

“No, sorry. He was busy today with some old friend from high school.”

“Never mind, never mind,” the bookseller replied as he walked towards Melissa with a big smile. “It would be great if he came tomorrow to the Park inauguration.”

“Yes, Dianne was telling me about it. What exactly are we going to be doing there?”

“It’s a surprise!” Terry added with a big grin. “But we’ll discuss the general details in the meeting which…” he checked his watch—“oh, we should head to the meeting now. After you,” Terry added as he opened the door for Melissa.

“So,” he added as they walked away from the office, “what did you want to tell me about Scott?”

***

Everything was still black, but he could at least now acknowledge that it was because his eyes were closed. Strangely enough, darkness was comforting. Darkness was safe. In the darkness you could not see the horrors of the universe staring at you. In the darkness you could be your own small, self-contained and isolated universe.

He shut his eyes tighter and kept on rocking.

A voice echoed in his head: “Stiles!”

He knew that voice. He had heard it before. It was familiar and comforting. And ‘Stiles’ sounded like his own name.

“Please, Stiles.”

He could hear the voice now. It was not inside his head. It was coming from the outside world. It was a voice in distress. But that was to be expected. There was every reason to be upset. He had seen what was coming.

Why did an outside voice need him? Why was he being called? Nothing good came from the outside world. He had seen what the world was about to be. He did not want to take any part of that. In his own diminutive darkness, he was safe.

But the voice insisted, and another voice, much like his own, insisted that it might be worth daring a quick peek outside.

He opened his eyes, and he could see a long corridor through his tunnel vision. It was a corridor surrounded by bookshelves. Everything was familiar, even if it was blurry. The floor was cold. Of all the external stimuli he was receiving, one was not threatening: a warm hand was on his cheek.

“Look at me. Stiles Look at me!”

His mouth opened. His tongue flicked. He spoke.

“That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even… even death may die…”

His eyes focused and saw Lydia.

The outside world made sense again. The memories crept back: Lydia, his love. The library. The books. The crawling chaos. Why did he ever abandon his safe darkness? It was all connected. It was all doomed. Lydia. Beacon Hills. The cult. The mi-go. The Balance. Scott. He screamed.