As much as he'd wanted to immediately interrogate Allison and Scott for every detail he could get, Chris bided his time. He investigated; he built up his case and figured out what questions he needed to ask. Because, even though Scott had mentioned Derek Hale's participation, the Sheriff insisted he had an alibi. There was more to the situation than met the eye; it would take research and observation, as well as careful questionings, to get to the bottom of what had happened.
He would get to the bottom of what happened.
Chris circled back to the school after the Sheriff's deputies left. He found traces of blood amongst the damage, but no way to know if it were human or werewolf; in San Francisco, they'd had a hunter in the city's forensics department, but they weren't so lucky in Beacon Hills. It would take a while before he could get those results from his guy---or before he could convince someone local to help him in his family's quest to rid the world of monsters. So, he investigated the music room, looking at where Stiles had allegedly climbed to escape the room to try to buy the others time. He found mountain ash dust, too, and he wasn't sure what to make of that evidence.
Stiles was a brave kid. Chris wasn't sure if he would've done the same, at his age and level of experience.
At some point, Chris wanted to talk to Stiles. He couldn't trick the Sheriff into revealing information about the situation, but he was sure he could lure Stiles into giving him information about what happened that night in the school. Stiles was a teenager; Chris, surely, could rise above whatever mental acuity a teenage boy possessed.
Kate pushed him every day. She wanted to go after Hale; she wanted to push Scott and Allison for more information. She hated that Victoria sided with Chris, cursing them both for being in cahoots and too slow at the same time, but Victoria's word was law among the Argent hunters in Beacon Hills. Kate knew the rules better than most of them; she towed the line, even though she flirted with pushing past it.
When he'd gathered everything he could from the school, he and Victoria decided he would ask Allison and Scott about what happened. They'd talked about it all, in vague terms, but there were questions he hadn't asked because he hadn't wanted to upset his daughter or tip off either of them that something else was going on in Beacon Hills.
He waited until Scott came over to study (and, really, who were they kidding with that excuse?), listening from the kitchen as they talked a little about everything he was sure they'd talked about in text messages and Skype calls. Then, he stepped into the foyer and put on his best---and most harmless---smile.
"Allison, Scott," he said. "You two have a minute?"
He watched Allison and Scott share a look, before they nodded.
Allison smiled brightly at him. "Weren't you and Mom baking earlier?"
Chris chuckled. "Yeah, c'mon," he replied. "There are fresh cookies and brownies, and I think we have milk in the fridge."
"Sweet!" Scott exclaimed. "I love milk and cookies!"
That didn't surprise Chris. As much of a teenager as Scott was, looking to grow up as soon as possible in as many ways as possible and as with as few consequences as possible, there was also something incredibly wholesome and innocent about him. He hated the idea of Allison dating, but he preferred her choice of Scott over someone like Jackson or the other lacrosse players. He wanted Allison's world to be bright and happy for as long as she could have it, before darkness and hunting taught her how the world really was, and Scott's attitude could keep that light glowing for a little while longer.
He waited until they were all sitting around the table with their snacks before he started bringing the conversation around to the events at the school.
"How have you been doing since last week's excitement?" Chris asked.
Allison shrugged as she broke a brownie into two pieces. "Fine, I guess. I mean, it was scary… but the Sheriff's Department got us out of there," she said.
Scott sighed and nodded. "Yeah. It was definitely scary."
"How are the others doing?" Chris asked.
"Jackson's… still… Jackson. Lydia, I don't know," Scott said. "She scares me on a good day, anyway."
Allison snorted. "She cultivates that on purpose. Keeps the merest of mortals out of her path," she explained, laughter in her voice. She leaned into Scott's shoulder. "It's not your fault."
"Just my keen self-preservation instincts," Scott joked.
"What about… Erica and… Vernon?"
Scott chewed a bite of his cookie before answering. "They seem okay," he said. "I didn't know they were friends with Stiles before that night. Now, though, the three of them are always together."
"Well, it was a high stress situation," Chris said. "Things like that can bring people together."
With a frown, Scott nodded. "Yeah, I guess. I just really wanted to talk to him, and no one's letting me," he said. "Even Danny told me to back off at our last practice."
"From Stiles?" Chris asked.
Scott nodded again. "Yeah… they're so protective of him. And he's my best friend! It's my job to protect him," he explained. "The Sheriff, I get. But they're not his family."
Allison slide her arm through Scott's and anchored herself to his side. "It's just because of everything that happened, I think. Like how he volunteered himself to try to buy us time for help to arrive," she said. "That was a big deal. And you two were fighting. So… maybe they just don't want that to happen again."
"Yeah… maybe," Scott agreed.
Filing the information about Stiles' character away, Chris said, "That was pretty brave of Stiles---is that his first name?"
Scott snorted. "No way. It's a family nickname. He won't even tell me his first name. I tried to look at his learner's permit, and he threatened to tell my mom---uh, something really embarrassing and grounding-worthy."
Allison chuckled. "Now, I wanna know what it is."
"Me, too!" Scott agreed. "I offered to pay him fifty bucks once, just to tell me, but he refused."
"Hmmm. A mystery!" Allison joked.
Chris continued biding his time. He would get all the information he needed, he was sure, if he waited and acted more like a parent than an investigator.
"I want to talk to Stiles, too," Allison admitted, when she and Scott were finished joking and guessing what Stiles' name could be.
"You do?" Chris asked.
She nodded. "Yeah. I mean, partly to thank him, because I think he was the main reason we got out of there," she explained. "But, also… it seemed like he understood what was happening better than anyone. Well, him and Danny. Danny was too calm. And he seemed to be in charge when Stiles left."
Chris thought that was interesting. There was nothing about Danny, as far as Chris could tell from his cursory dossiers of those involved, that suggested he was a werewolf. But, Allison was astute; he'd taught her to be observant, and he trusted her assessment of a situation even if she didn't know everything about it.
"Really?" Scott asked. "I thought he'd just been trying to keep Jackson from exploding."
"Well, yeah, but he moved us to the back of the room and kept checking the doors with… Vernon? That's his name, right?"
Scott nodded. "Yeah."
Chris leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. "Did you try talking to Danny?" he asked.
"I tried," Allison replied. "But, he… I don't think he wanted to discuss it---which I totally get. That night was scary. Some people don't like to talk about scary experiences."
"And Stiles? Has he said anything about it?"
She shook her head. "I haven't been able to talk to him yet."
"The closest I got was his porch the other night," Scott admitted. "Even at school, he's impossible to get to."
"Well… you weren't exactly…"
"What?" Scott asked, after Allison stopped talking.
She smiled at him, a small smile accompanied by big eyes, and seemed apologetic in more than just her demeanor when she spoke. "You guys kept fighting, remember? He seemed… really hurt," she said, rubbing Scott's arm. "By what you kept saying, I mean. He… he feels very strongly that you have the wrong idea about that guy."
"Hale?" Chris asked.
Scott nodded, his jaw set firmly and almost crookedly.
Allison looked from Scott to Chris. "Do you know him, Dad?"
Chris shook his head. "No, only by reputation," he replied. "His family lived here when we lived here the first time."
"I don't remember them," Scott said.
"They kept to themselves," Chris said in response, sticking to the truth as much as he could. "I assume he's the same way."
"But I've seen Derek with Stiles, and---"
Before he could control his instincts, Chris leaned forward and stared into Scott's eyes. "What were they doing?" he asked.
"Talking? Mostly. And… play fighting, once, I guess?" Scott said. "Stiles never told me why. At first I thought Derek was hurting him, but Stiles seemed to want to be there."
That was interesting information. There hadn't been a report of Stiles Stilinski being attacked by the so-called mountain lion, but if Derek were training him, teaching him how to fight…
Could he be the second beta?
"What did Stiles tell you when you asked him about that?" Chris asked.
Scott shrugged. "Just that he'd helped Stiles with something," he said. "He hasn't exactly been forthcoming with information."
Allison squeezed his arm gently. "Well, maybe you haven't been listening," she said.
Scowling, Scott looked at her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just, if he helped Stiles, Stiles was in some sort of trouble," she explained. "And maybe, instead of getting on his case about who helped him, you should have focused on why he needed the help to begin with."
On any other occasion, Chris would have agreed with Allison; she didn't have all the necessary information, though, and Chris couldn't believe Derek was helping a human teenager out of the goodness of his heart. Perhaps Stiles had been bitten, and Derek was training him for their alpha. Or, perhaps Derek was using Stiles to get help or protection from the Sheriff. There was something else happening, something Scott was sensing but not seeing, and Chris would get to the bottom of it before Hale could hurt anyone.
"You think I'm being a bad friend?" Scott asked Allison.
"I think there's a reason he's so upset with you," she said. "Maybe try listening to him to figure out what it is---and then he'll listen to you."
"I… yeah, maybe," Scott conceded. "I just… I get so worried. Derek doesn't seem like a good guy. And it's weird, right? I mean, he's older. Like thirty? Hanging out with a teenager. Why?"
"He's not that old," Chris said, smirking as he pushed himself back in his chair. "Maybe early twenties."
Chris nodded. "I agree," he said. He saw Allison open her mouth---to insist there could be a perfectly acceptable reason to their behavior, most likely---and he raised his hand. "But… there's no harm in finding out why Stiles thinks Hale's actions are worth defending. You should always trust your instincts, but more information will always help you see the bigger picture."
Allison sighed. "Stiles saved us. I don't understand why you're both so suspicious of him---or his friends."
Chris picked up a brownie from the plate on the table. "Beacon Hills isn't the safest place right now," he said. "It can't hurt to be cautious."
After he rose from the table, his glass of milk in one hand and his brownie in the other, he smiled at them. "I'm glad you guys are safe. If anything else happens, you know I'm always here to talk," he offered. He nodded at Scott. "Both of you. Okay?"
Scott smiled a small sincere smile. "Thanks, Mister Argent."
They'd been very protective of him since the events at the school that Monster Mayhem orchestrated. Stiles didn't understand; he'd nearly gotten them killed and they turned around and spent more time with him. They never asked anything about what had happened---except to ensure that Stiles was healthy and whole after that night. They never demanded an explanation. They just… rolled with it.
Stiles wasn't sure how he was feeling about them, the alpha, or anything else pertaining to that night. He felt like Monster Mayhem was always around; his scent was in Stiles' nose, everywhere he went, and it was making him nervous. If the alpha were watching Stiles, they'd see him bonding with Erica and Boyd, they'd know he's still close with his father, and they'd know Derek was living with him. So many people were in danger, just by being around Stiles on a daily basis.
He clambered out of his vehicle and made his way to his friendly guards. He wasn't complaining---if anything, he was grateful for their support because they kept Scott, Allison, and Jackson at bay---but he didn't understand their motivation.
"Good morning," Erica chirped.
Stiles smiled. "Y'know… you don't have to---"
"Scott was waiting for you," Boyd interrupted.
"I will eventually have to talk to him," Stiles said. He looked from Boyd to Erica and back to Boyd. "We haven't talked about it… but I'm guessing you guys have questions, about that night, and I'd tell you if I could---I want to tell you. I trust you. And you deserve to know. But, it's not just my secret to tell. I've been trying to convince---"
Memories of Derek's resistance to the idea flashed in his mind. Derek could trust John, because he was Stiles' father and because he was an honourable man (and not just claiming to cling to a code of honour) but the idea of trusting two teenagers with the truth of their existence was something he could not fathom. Stiles tried working on him, tried convincing him, but he'd had to stop. John told Stiles to give Derek time, and to allow Derek to see for himself that they were safe; Stiles was trying, but he hated hiding so much from people who had nearly lost their lives and who showed him so much loyalty when nothing had been offered in return.
"---wait. If I figure out a way to tell you what I can, without giving you everything, would that help?"
"We already decided we don't need to know," Erica said. She shrugged. "Whatever it is, it's serious. But, you, that Derek guy, and your dad saved us."
Boyd clapped a hand to Stiles' shoulder. "Let's get to class before the bell," he suggested.
Stiles managed to nod. He allowed himself to be pulled along, towards school, while he processed their behaviour and words. They didn't appear to be lying; their pulses were steady. They didn't appear to be stressed; their scents were free of the sour notes of anxiety. They seemed to be at ease in not knowing. So used to dealing---or not dealing, as he was more recently---with Scott, the idea of not having to explain his actions or to share his knowledge was nearly an alien concept.
They walked to homeroom, making casual conversation. It would have been completely uneventful, except Lydia's presence in the hallway made Stiles uneasy. She didn't say anything; she watched him with her sharp, unblinking gaze. Stiles felt like he was being studied. He felt like he was being studied from the corridor to the door of the classroom and he was very glad that she wasn't in their class, first thing, because he felt like the staring would have continued. He knew she was smart---like, genius-level smart---and she was trying to figure out something about him. He would prefer to remain out from under her mental microscope.
After homeroom, Erica walked with him to his locker while Boyd headed off to his class that they didn't have with him.
"Lydia's still staring," Erica commented.
Stiles followed her gaze and saw Lydia walking with Allison to her locker---which happened to be next to Stiles' locker. While they were talking, Lydia's gaze was still fixed upon Stiles. Allison seemed unaware of her focus.
"I think she'll be staring for a while," Stiles muttered back.
He opened his locker and fished out the books he'd need for English and Chemistry. When he closed the locker door and found Allison---not Lydia---watching him.
She smiled. "Hi. How have you been since… everything?"
"I'm dealing with it," Stiles replied. "You?"
Allison shrugged. "I'm… I'm okay. I mean, the whole thing was weird… and scary. But, we got out of it. Thanks to you, really," she said. She touched his arm, a brief touch, and then turned back to her own locker. "I mean it. I don't know what happened, but I have a feeling it was bad---and it could have been worse. Dad… Dad won't tell me what he thinks happened."
"I don't know much, either," Stiles lied.
"Do you know why…" she trailed off and looked down at the notebook in her hand. "I don't ask this to start anything. Just… Dad and Scott were talking… and Scott seems so sure. But, you seem so sure, too. And calm, where Scott… it seems like a sore point for him."
"I won't get mad if you ask a question," Stiles said, not sure if he were lying or telling the truth when he spoke again.
"Why is Scott so convinced Derek Hale is a bad guy?" Allison asked. "I don't understand. His story, from what I've heard, is just sad."
"He's not a bad guy," Stiles said. "I… look. This is… hard. When you and Scott started spending time together, he… we stopped hanging out. And I was in a jam. Derek bailed me out. We hung out a couple times. Members of the dead parent club---maybe that's all it is."
"Dad told me to stay away from him."
Stiles snorted. "Yeah, well, I don't think you'll have to worry about that," he muttered.
Allison's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
Before anything cruel---or true---could escape his mouth, Stiles forced himself to say something more obvious. "Well, Scott hates him and it's a badly kept secret that the Argents and Hales didn't get along," he said. He shrugged. "I don't mean anything… mean about it. But. You are with Scott and you're an Argent."
Allison's narrowed eyes suddenly widened. "I've never heard anything about that," she said.
"Maybe it's not an issue anymore," Stiles suggested, lying through his teeth. "I mean, your family won, right?"
"W-won? Are you saying… they… they wouldn't!"
"Hey, no, they're your family," Stiles lied. He forced himself to smile as sincerely as he could muster. "They're your family, and you're basically a Disney princess. I swear, Allison, if you told me birds helped you braid your hair this morning, I'd believe you."
Allison huffed out a little laugh. "It was a combined effort---mice and birds," she joked.
"Excellent work," Stiles said as he pretended to inspect her hair.
She grinned. "Thanks." Apparently finished at her locker, she closed its door. "Actually, my aunt helped me with it," she admitted.
The bell's shrill ringing made her wince, so she missed the way Stiles' eyes widened---and then narrowed---at the mention of Kate. When she turned back to him, she said, "Well. I'm glad you're safe. Thank you for explaining why Scott… y'know. I'll try to---"
"Don't go to any trouble," Stiles murmured. "It'll work out, eventually, and I don't want my dumb fight with Scott to become anyone else's dumb fight. You two just be… good. I just want him to be happy, y'know? You, too."
"C'mon, Stiles," Erica interrupted. "Class."
Stiles smiled at Allison---even though he was fighting the sudden urge to shake some sense about her family's true nature into her---and gestured behind him.
"I better go," he said. "Thanks for being… cool. If I figure anything out or Dad does---if I can tell you, I will."
Allison smiled. "That'd help a lot. With the processing."
She tried to get Lydia to leave with her, but Lydia said she'd risk a tardy so Allison hurried off to their morning class. Stiles gestured at Erica; before they could head in that same direction, Lydia stepped into their path.
"Why did you lie, Stiles?" she asked.
Stiles looked from her to Erica. "Why don't you head in without me?" he suggested. "No sense in both of us getting marked late."
As expected, Erica shook her head. She didn't look like she could stand up to anyone---much less a fully prepared Lydia Martin---but she wasn't going to move from Stiles' side. Touched by her show of loyalty, Stiles smiled, shrugged, and turned back to Lydia. "What do you think I lied about?" he asked.
"About her family," Lydia replied. "There was a problem. I remember. Dad was one of the Hale's local lawyers. Before the fire… well, he was busy. I don't know what it was about, but I'd overheard a lot of talk about restraining orders against the Argents."
That was news to Stiles. Had Talia known someone was pursuing Derek? Had she tried to keep Kate away from Derek and the pack through legal means? Was there a paper trail?
"Anyway. That explains some things," she continued. "But not Scott---not that I care what's got his panties in a bunch. Except…"
"When it comes to lacrosse," Stiles finished for her.
"It also doesn't explain why you lied," Lydia added.
"I didn't," he lied, again.
She smiled. "Lie."
"How can you tell?" Stiles asked.
"You think I can't spot when a boy lies to me?" she replied. She snorted. "Please. That's hardly a challenge."
While Stiles mentally applauded Lydia for showing off some of her brain's mighty power, when she was usually so careful to hide it under fancy hairstyles and lipgloss, he wished she hadn't chosen him as the focus of her investigation. Lydia, of all the people in Stiles' life (even peripherally), would figure out what was happening if she uncovered the right clues. Stiles knew she had the brains to put it all together---but he didn't know what she would do when she figured out the truth of recent events, and he couldn't control what she did with that information.
"Is Allison in danger?" Lydia asked.
"I don't think so," Stiles said.
"But there's something about her family that bothers you," she commented.
"Lydia, please," Stiles interrupted, not caring how he behaviour could be perceived. "Just… drop it. It's not… it's not a big deal and it's nothing you should worry about anyway---"
"So it is something. Something big."
"Lydia, you have no reason to do anything for me, but please."
Whatever she saw on his face or heard in his voice seemed to make her reconsider her course of action. She narrowed her eyes and nodded, taking a step back from him and towards their class.
"Fine. I will leave it alone for now," she said. She pointed a finger at him. "For now. I will eventually figure it all out, Stiles."
He held in his sigh until she was more than a few feet away, with her back turned to him and Erica.
Erica nudged his arm with her elbow. "C'mon," she murmured. "Let's get to class."
"You're not going to ask---"
"You'll tell me what you can when you can," Erica interrupted.
Stiles smiled at her. He had no idea what he'd done to deserve friends like Erica and Boyd, especially when they knew he was withholding important information from them, but he wanted to be selfish and keep their support for as long as he could.
He was also worried about John being inside a mountain ash barrier if trouble came to the house looking for them. Stiles was strong and he possessed plenty of determination, but the rogue alpha had shown Derek that Stiles could be unwillingly tempted. He hadn't done anything; Derek and John had been able to pull Stiles back from the edge. But, Derek worried about the choice he might have to make---between helping his packmate or his packmate's father---and what would happen after he made that decision.
Even if Monster Mayhem didn't stop by to visit, there were still risks. If it were just Derek, he'd have no problem settling down in the Stilinski yard. He could exercise, he could lie out under the full moon, he could pass the time. Stiles… Derek wasn't sure how Stiles would behave. It was a yard bordered by high fences and a few well-positioned trees, so they would be safe from casually prying eyes as long as they were careful; but if Stiles roared or howled, he could draw neighbours' or hunters' attention and then they would be trapped.
"So I just leave this open until you guys are inside?" John asked.
Derek lifted his eyes from the line of ashes and nodded. "Yes, if you're still sure about this," he replied.
"Why wouldn't I be?" John asked. "We've got sleeping bags, and I'm going to set up the firepit thing. I have a good book, you guys can run around or spar or whatever, and we'll have a boys night. Works well that it's Friday, too."
"It's not safe," Derek said.
John snorted. "Yeah, I know. It's not safe for me and it's definitely not safe for Stiles---or you."
"I can handle myself."
After a nod, John walked closer to Derek. "I know you can, son," he said, his tone quiet and his heartbeat steady. "But, the idea of you being out in the woods, when that alpha could come after you… it worries me as much as it does when I think about that maniac being after Stiles."
"I'm not your---" Derek broke off and looked down at his feet for a moment.
When he looked back up at John, he tried to find the right words. He wasn't John's family. He was the monster who killed his own family. He was trying to do what he could to help Stiles, but that didn't mean he was a good person.
"My child?" John asked, before Derek could finish his thought. "No, not in the strictest sense. But, you're becoming a part of this family. If it makes you uncomfortable or if you feel like you'd rather be on your own, obviously, you can make that decision for yourself. But, if you feel like you'd be intruding or that you don't deserve family, well… Derek, you don't get to decide that, not completely. I know what Stiles is thinking, you can see it all over his face. You're family. And I'm good with that."
Derek knew he was staring. He knew he should say something. He just… couldn't make himself do or say anything.
As if he understood Derek's predicament, John smiled. "So. I've got more bags of mountain ash powder in the garage," he said. "Stiles found a supplier a couple hours away, and I picked up as much as I could before I went to work today."
"Once this alpha business is over, I'd like to see you guys enjoying the full moon in the woods," John admitted.
Derek nodded. "I… yeah. That's… okay."
"Did your family---the human members---did they join you for full moons?" John asked.
"For important events, yeah," Derek admitted. "Sometimes, we went out without them, but when we were celebrating or remembering… they came with us. They were pack."
With a smile and a small flourish of his hands, John said, "So, it's not weird for me to be out here with you?"
"No," Derek said, managing a small smile for him. "I am concerned about your safety, though."
"The alpha can't break the line, right?"
"They shouldn't be able to," Derek replied.
"Is this about Stiles?" John asked.
Derek shrugged. "Maybe. I mean… he was in control of himself on his first full moon---really in control---but at the school, I've never seen him like that before," he said. "The alpha has some sort of connection to Stiles, some sort of power, and he'd never forgive me if I couldn't keep you sa---"
"Well, I'll have to talk to him about that," John interrupted. He shook his head when Derek opened his mouth to protest. "It's not your job, Derek."
Derek disagreed. Of course it was his job. Stiles was his pack---at least until he realised he could do better than Derek---and John was Stiles' family. Derek wasn't a leader, but he was a protector; one of the only ways he could contribute and show his value was to make sure the father of his packmate was safe from internal and external threats.
Derek sighed and nodded. "Yes. Right. John," he said, awkwardly correcting himself. "It is… my job. At least some of the time."
"Is this a pack or family thing?" John asked.
It was really a Stiles thing, when Derek thought about it, but he didn't want to explain. Instead, he nodded.
"Everyone looks after each other, then," John commented. "Sounds about right."
"No, that's not---"
John arched an eyebrow as he interrupted Derek's protest. "I'm too feeble---too human---to protect myself?"
Derek quickly shook his head. "No, sir, but… if I have to choose between protecting Stiles and protecting you, I won't be able to protect either of you," he said. He sighed. "I failed my family---my pack. And I lost all of them as punishment. I have to be better---"
John put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "What happened was not your fault, or your punishment," John said.
"It wasn't your fault, Derek," John repeated, cutting off Derek's protest again. "And, while I admit that I would not be able to hold my own against this… Monster Mayhem, I'm not completely useless. And Stiles might come at me---I can't expect his control to be perfect, when he's so new at something this huge---but your priority is him, and I will make that clear to him before we get in the circle tonight."
"If I tell you to step out, or step back in…?"
"I'll do it," John agreed.
Derek sighed. After a nod, he ran his hand over the back of his head. He didn't want to come between the Sheriff and Stiles; he wanted to avoid upsetting their lives more than he already had (or would come to do), and he wanted to keep them from learning, first hand, how unworthy of them he was. But, John seemed confident and Derek knew that Stiles wouldn't exclude John since he learned the truth about them; despite his misgivings, he felt compelled to respect their choices.
Stiles was still sleeping the sleep of the newly turned, falling out of his sleeping bag and burying his face in the lawn; there was still a bit of blood on the tips of fingers, from when he slashed at Derek's chest, but apart from those small signs, he seemed to have survived in one undamaged piece.
Derek rolled to his feet and stretched his arms above his head as he continued to look around the property. He'd need to check the front of the house, to be sure, but it looked like they survived the night. He was both relieved and worried. Had the alpha found someone else to attack? Had someone else gotten hurt because they'd decided to keep themselves quarantined?
"I'll start coffee in a few minutes," John said.
Derek nodded. When he turned and looked at John, he saw him watching Stiles. John glanced up at him and smiled.
"He's rarely so still," John murmured. "Since he was born… all he does is move. Which is fascinating, all on its own, but…"
He nodded again. He could understand. He remembered his parents watching his younger siblings, their eyes soft and their scents steady; he remembered wondering if they ever watched him like that.
Before he could smell too sad to Stiles, who would eventually wake up, Derek gestured towards the house and shuffled off when John nodded. He went into the garage, where Laura's car was hidden, and he sat down on the step beneath the door that connected the garage to the house.
It hadn't been a bad night, all things considering. They'd run around, Stiles chasing Derek's heels before they reversed their roles and Derek chased Stiles, and then they'd playfully sparred when Stiles' energy was at its highest. John offered a few pointers, but he spent most of his time alternating between watching them and reading his book.
They'd been resting in the grass, watching the flames flicker in the pit John had unearthed from the garage, when Monster Mayhem roared. At first, Stiles didn't react except to press into the side of Derek's body, but then his scent took on that distinct burrrrning scent of anger. Derek knew it wasn't Stiles' rage, so he opted to try to contain his packmate.
Stiles, being ridden by the high emotions of the one who had turned him, had not enjoyed being restrained.
Derek didn't blame Stiles for his actions. There was no lasting damage; he'd been fully healed a couple hours after Stiles had hurt him. He'd done far worse when struggling for his own control as a child.
Still, there was something inside of him that felt raw and overly sensitive. He wasn't sure what it was. It worried him. He couldn't afford to be weak---not with Stiles and John (perhaps erroneously, but he'd warned them) depending on him to guide them through the supernatural experience. He needed to be able to fight, to take a stand against the packless and rogue alpha; he needed to be able to stop the madness plaguing the community. He couldn't do any of that if he was even more damaged than he already was. He couldn't show any additional weakness.
He pushed himself to a standing position and made his way to the trunk of the car. Laura had been prepared for something; files from the family vault, as well as a few documents that looked to be a part of an investigation she'd started, were packed in boxes there. He'd seen everything before, and he'd added their insurance documents when John had helped him with Laura's death notifications.
If he was going to call the therapist---eventually, probably---he should find his insurance and mostly-forged medical history.
The files were easy enough to find. He took pictures of them with his phone, preferring to keep his family's documents together in case he had more estate business. They should, ideally, be back in the vault; he worried about trying to access the secret space, though, with the Argents in town and on the look-out for him. They were safer in his car, for the time being.
As he shuffled through the documents, making sure he had an image for each one, a piece of lined paper slipped through his fingers. He caught it before it hit the floor; a faint trace of Laura lingered in the scent of the paper, as well as in the handwriting.
It was a list of names. He didn't recognise some of them, but several---Kate Argent, Garrison Myers, Adrian Harris, and a messily scribbled version of their uncle's name with a question mark at the bottom---he knew from investigating the fire and the murders with Stiles. It seemed like Laura had been in the thick of their family's mess, and Derek's sins, when she'd been killed for her power.
He leaned against the side of the car, slumping into the blame for Laura's death. With that raw feeling inside of him, the blame felt even heavier than it usually did.
He looked up, surprised his eyes had blurred over with the threat of tears. John was standing in the doorway that separated the garage from the rest of the house; his curious expression softened as he studied Derek, and Derek wiped his eyes in a bid to get John to stop looking at him like a parent would look at his child.
"What's wrong?" John asked.
Derek shook his head. "Nothing," he lied. "I just… I found this list in the stuff Laura left in the car. It looks like---" he broke off and shook his head again. "Here," he added, offering it to John.
John studied it. His eyebrows climbed up his forehead. "This is who she thinks was involved in the fire," he guessed. "Some of these people are already dead. And why did she write your uncle's name down at the bottom?"
"I… I have no idea. Maybe she wanted to visit him," Derek mumbled.
John's eyes narrowed as he studied Laura's handwritten list. "Could be," he said. He looked up at Derek. "You mind if I take a run at Adrian Harris? He seems like the best bet here."
"Stiles overheard him talking to Kate---"
"I'll cover her name and Peter's," John interrupted. "To him, it'll look like a hit list. I might be able to scare him into giving us some information."
Derek's eyes flashed blue. "More than I could scare him?"
John huffed, making an amused sound that lightened the mood between them. "Maybe not, but my kind of scaring keeps you off his radar---if he knows about you."
"Makes sense," Derek conceded. "Just… please be discreet. And careful."
John smiled. "Stiles does enough worrying about me---you don't need to take up the cause."
Derek didn't know what to say to that. A defense of pack culture was on the tip of his tongue, but they'd spoken so much about pack dynamics and the Hale Pack over the last few days that Derek wasn't sure he wanted to open that door again. He thought about reminding John that Stiles was important to him---as a packmate, and a… a friend (as shocking as that was to realise)---so John was important to him, too, but that seemed like an overly emotional response to what Derek was mostly sure John meant as a teasing sort of comment.
"Yes, sir," he agreed.
John's smile softened. "I'll get the coffee going," he said, gesturing back into the house. "Anything specific you want for breakfast? Stiles was muttering about being hungry enough to eat a horse, so---"
"After a full moon, it's usually quantity over quality that matters the most," Derek admitted, smiling back at him. "Trying to replace the energy werewolves burn while howling at the moon."
"Got it. I think we have two cartons of eggs still. A couple loaves of French toast sound good?" John asked.
"Perfect," Derek replied. He glanced back at the car, with its trunk still open. "Give me a minute to clean up the boxes and then I'll come in and help."
John nodded. After a pat to Derek's shoulder, he turned back into the house but left the door open. Derek tracked his progress into the kitchen with his eyes and ears as he made his way back to the car's trunk.
He looked down at the paperwork---their wills, the documents for their parents' estate, old photographs, the book about their family's history, and many, many more things---and he sighed. There was so much loss in his life; he was going to lose Stiles, probably, too, no matter how vehemently Stiles insisted that would never happen.
On a whim, Derek pulled his wallet from his jeans' pocket and withdrew the business card John had given him. He smoothed his fingers over the embossed print---
Doctor Kahale Mahealani
MD (Psychiatry), MSc (Clinical Forensic Psychology), Dip (Hypnosis)
Psychiatric Care, Psychotherapy, Clinical Hypnosis, Court Certified Specialist
Maybe it would convince Stiles and John he could be trusted---or that he was willing to try to be the type of packmate they deserved.
He dialed the number as soon as he had his phone in his hand.
"Hello, Doctor Mahealani---sorry, I probably butchered that---I… uh, my name is Derek Hale," he said as soon as he heard the outgoing message and the beep. "Sheriff Stilinski recommended I call you. I'd… I'd like to make an appointment. I don't always have my phone on me, but my schedule's pretty free for the next few weeks… and I check my messages. My number is---"
He stopped when he noticed Stiles in the doorway, watching him, but he recovered quickly enough to rattle off his phone number and end the call.
"I'm proud of you," Stiles said.
Derek pocketed his phone and shrugged. "It's no big deal," he muttered.
He closed the trunk. When Stiles approached him, he opened his mind to his senses. Stiles' heart was steady, even though it was fast, and he wasn't sure what that meant.
But, since Stiles had difficulty keeping his thoughts to himself, Derek was fairly sure he was going to learn what was on Stiles' mind.
Stiles moved slowly, despite the pace of his heart, and he put his hand down onto Derek's arm in a jerky motion. After a quick whiff of the sour odor Derek associated with anxiety, Stiles sighed and cleared his throat. Derek made himself look into Stiles' eyes; whatever was happening, Stiles seemed serious and nervous, and Derek wanted to treat him seriously in an attempt to be supportive.
"What's wrong?" Derek asked.
Stiles smiled a little. "I… I just want to apologise for last night."
He mimed scratching with his free hand. "The chesticular damage," he explained. "I don't like that I hurt you. I didn't mean to, Derek, I swear. For a hot second, it was like the alpha was in my head, and it just---"
"I know," Derek interrupted.
"You're my guy, my pack," Stiles continued. "I never want to hurt you. If you want to kick me to the curb, you can still stay here until you find a better place to hide, I swear I won't make it harder or anything."
On impulse, Derek pulled Stiles into a hug. He remembered how it was with his pack. Hugs had been so common before the fire; after the fire, they'd been rarer, but still precious. They soothed and reminded Derek of pack, and it seemed like that was what Stiles needed more than anything else.
It took Stiles a moment, but he eventually melted and returned the embrace. Derek scented him by rubbing his cheek against the side and top of Stiles' head.
"I know," Derek murmured. "You've been supportive and strong, despite everything. If I get to have a pack, I'm lucky you're in it."
"I wish I'd recorded that," Stiles said after a brief pause.
He didn't play anywhere close to his best---earning a few shouted curses from Coach and a neverending glare from Jackson---because he couldn't stop wondering what was wrong with Stiles.
Scott apologised, goddamnit!
What more did Stiles want from him?
Stiles wouldn't even let him visit. They'd always had an open door policy, and Scott liked hanging out at Stiles' house. When things were bad, he knew he had a place to go. But, recent developments had taken that place away and Scott wanted it back.
He wanted to blame Derek, because Derek was at the heart of whatever Stiles' issue was. But, he didn't understand why Derek had such a powerful hold over Stiles. Once he figured out that situation, then he could save Stiles.
Scott sighed and rubbed his sweaty forehead as he trekked across the field. He would have his best friend again---he wouldn't stop until he did.
He looked up at the sound of Allison's voice. She was sitting in the bleachers, between Lydia and Kate, and her smile…
Her smile was so sweet. It made his heart skip and his insides turn warm and gooey.
Scott had no idea how he was so lucky to win Allison's affections, but he had and she was amazing.
When he waved at her, Allison waved back. They'd made plans, to spend time together after he showered. Kate was going to take them to a shooting range. He hadn't been to one before, and he was pretty excited to give it a try. He liked Kate. She was confident and kind and she seemed to support their relationship---which had been especially helpful when Allison's parents didn't warm up to him in the beginning. Plus, Allison loved Kate and Scott loved seeing Allison happy. Kate was great, all around, in Scott's books.
A loud and strange animal sound interrupted his thoughts---and the thoughts of everyone around him, it seemed. Kate jumped up and started scanning the area, looking more serious than Scott had ever seen her. Coach looked terrified; he quickly dismissed them, muttering about how he was getting out of there before he became a mountain lion's meal. No one was complaining about the early dismissal, though. Practice was long and hard and on a Saturday.
Scott frowned. The animals in Beacon Hills were going crazy.
As the players dispersed, heading back to the locker room, Scott noticed Jackson kneeling in the middle of the field. Danny was crouched next to him, helmet off and on the ground, and he seemed to be saying something. Whatever was happening worried Lydia, because she all but jumped off the bleachers and raced across the field.
She put her hand on Jackson's shoulder…
…and Jackson shoved her away.
Scott blinked at the scene unfolding in front of him. As much of a jerk as Jackson could be, he'd always treated Lydia better than he treated everyone else. He watched as Danny tried to soothe him, and even that didn't go over very well.
Lydia marched away, her head held high, and Allison tried to go after her but she was blocked by Kate.
"Scott, go get cleaned up and meet us by the car, all right?" Kate said as Scott approached the bench to grab the rest of his gear. She kept glancing over at Jackson and Danny, but she gave Scott a big smile that almost matched Allison's in intensity. "We've got some big guns to shoot."
Scott nodded and smiled. "Yeah, okay," he agreed. He focused on Allison and grinned. "Hi."
"Hi," Allison replied, laughter in her voice.
"Okay, lovebirds, break it up before I puke," Kate interrupted. "Scott, go shower. Allison, let's go get the car."
Allison bounced down the bleachers and stopped in front of Scott. She tugged on his jersey with one hand and used her other to cup his chin so she could turn his head and kiss his cheek.
"Don't take too long, okay?" Allison murmured.
Scott nodded. He'd do anything for Allison.
Chris looked down at his cup of coffee for a moment before returning his attention to Kate. "Are you sure that Jackson kid is the second beta?"
"Sure? No. But, it seems likely," she replied. She waved her hands around before she continued to talk, and then she continued gesturing as she resumed retelling her version of Saturday's events. "The alpha roared, and that boy just dropped like he'd been hit. He took a swing at a player. Then someone coaxed him back from the edge. But, when his girlfriend got too close, he lashed out again.
"I didn't see any claws or glowing eyes, but the timeline makes sense," she said. "The alpha was calling his pack to action."
Chris nodded. "Sure, but we tracked through the wooded areas around the school and found nothing suspicious," he said. "Police scanner's been quiet. No bodies."
"No more bodies---yet."
While Kate had a point, because werewolves were killers, Chris wondered why she was so quick to assume there would be more deaths so soon. The full moon had passed with only a few noise complaints, and Chris couldn't find a pattern in the previous attacks to suggest there was more to them than simple werewolf madness.
"Maybe we should try Hale again," Chris suggested. "Threatening kids at school… he might care about that."
Kate's body tensed as a grin spread across her face. "We can always make him care," she said.
Chris grimaced. He had little taste for torture. He'd do it if he absolutely had to, but he preferred trying less messy methods first. Kate wasn't bothered by getting her hands dirty; it made her very good at her job.
"Why don't you try asking nicely first," Chris suggested.
"Where's the fun in that?"
He snorted. "Fine. Just… take the guys with you and be careful," he said. "You take the house and I'll drive around town, check other abandoned buildings. He's got to be hiding somewhere."
Kate nodded. "I'll call you when I find him."
She left the room to gather her weapons---and some of the support crew they had in town for the next couple weeks---and Chris settled down with his coffee and sifted through what he knew about Derek Hale.
There wasn't much in his memory. Talia Hale had been… formidable. She'd carried so much respect through the supernatural community, between running her own pack, protecting Beacon County, and advising other werewolves; as much as hunters loathed her for what she was, they wouldn't dare challenge or attack her. Derek had been a teenager when Chris had first lived in Beacon Hills; he'd had issues with control, but he'd never done anything against a member of the community. He'd kept to himself, mostly, apart from playing basketball, and he'd never been on Chris' radar as a threat. Peter's behaviour had been the most worrying of anyone in the pack, but even he had been able to avoid much public trouble under Talia's leadership.
Chris had never expected the fire. He'd assumed---like many others---that the Hale Pack had been as honourable as werewolves could be. While some suspected the Argents' involvement in the swift and cruel attack, Chris knew they'd had nothing to do with it but he also knew that the Hales must have done something malevolent to receive such a harsh punishment. He couldn't imagine what that something was, but he guessed it had something to do with the deaths of many of hunters from different clans during the alleged brokerage of peace between hunters and werewolves that had ended in a slaughter.
If Derek were still in town, he was hiding very well. Chris hadn't seen him in the last couple weeks.
He would need to cover a lot of ground in order to find some evidence that he was still lurking in Beacon Hills.
He also needed to talk to Stiles.
If Scott's information was accurate, Stiles had spent some time with Derek. Allison had made it sound like a Good Samaritan scenario, Derek helping Stiles with a bad situation, but Scott… Scott suspected it was more. While he was probably wrong about Derek having anything to do with Laura's death, Scott told him he'd seen Derek and Stiles spending time together more than once. That sounded like more than a little help. It could be nothing, but it could also be a werewolf taking advantage of a teenage boy in one form or another.
Talking to Stiles could give Chris a clue as to where Derek was hiding, so he would make the Stilinski residence his first stop on his hunt.
"Stiles, right? I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time."
Stiles nodded. He wanted to cross his arms or jam his hands into his jeans pockets, but he forced himself to try to appear relaxed. It would be difficult, but keeping a firm grip on his control and attitude would be the best thing to do to keep Chris and the rest of his family out of Stilinski (and Hale) business. For his pack, he would try harder than he'd ever tried before.
"May I come in?"
"Uh, no," Stiles said.
Chris' eyebrows jumped up, as if he were surprised that he wouldn't immediately be welcomed into the home of someone he didn't know.
Stiles snorted. "I don't know you. And as much as I love Scott… he has completely different motivations in vouching for you," he said, trying to soften his words with a small smile and a roll of his eyes.
After a smile, Chris nodded. "Fair enough," he conceded. "I've been talking to my daughter and Scott about the events at the school the other night. I take the safety of this community very seriously, you know. A side effect of my career choices."
It took all of Stiles' control---and a miracle---to keep his disbelief from showing on his face.
"Can I ask you a few questions about that night?" Chris asked.
"You can ask," Stiles said. He shrugged. "I'm not really sure what happened, and some of it… was pretty traumatic. But, yeah, you can ask. I'll tell you what I can."
"I can imagine it was pretty awful," Chris said as he leaned a little bit towards Stiles, who was trying to avoid laughing at the way Chris seemed to be trying to foster some sort of trust. Physical closeness might have worked, if Chris weren't a hunter and if Stiles weren't a suspicious spaz; however, since Stiles knew against what Chris was working, he found the situation pretty funny under the fear and tension of being caught.
"Yeah. I mean… I thought I was meeting Scott. To hang out or something. Pull a prank on Coach, maybe. I didn't… expect that," Stiles said.
Chris' eyebrows twitched. "You got a text, too?"
Stiles nodded. "Yeah. Dad took my phone for a couple days, to get the sender information---but it came back to Scott, so… dead end."
"And you didn't recognise the person chasing all of you?" Chris asked.
"All I saw were the doors pulled off their hinges," Stiles replied. "The weird noises were a pretty clear indicator that we were in trouble. Sounded kind of like an injured animal, a wild one, I guess… but way more threatening."
In a flash, Chris' gaze sharpened and turned cold. Stiles was being shown the hunter underneath the mild-mannered dad and arms dealer, and he didn't like what he was seeing.
"Do you think it could have been an animal?"
Stiles snorted. "Dude. An animal that can hack phones and send bogus texts?" he replied. "Are you high?"
"Stranger things have happened, Stiles," Chris said, his voice lowering to a near growl. "I'm here to make sure Beacon Hills stays safe."
His heartbeat was steady and calm, but Stiles doubted Chris' version of safety was the same as his or that of his father. If he ever got the chance to kick the Argents out of Beacon Hills, he'd do it. They were much, much safer without Chris, Victoria, Kate, and their goons lurking in the shadows.
"Which is why you carry that cannon everywhere you go, huh?" Stiles shot back, gesturing to where he knew the weapon was holstered.
Chris was infinitely more intimidating when he added a smile to that icy stare. "Now, how did you notice that?" he asked.
"Seriously?" Stiles asked. "You can't imagine that Dad taught me how to recognise a dangerous person at the age of, like, five? Plus, It's hardly concealed. You need a better jacket if you're gonna fool the cops. It goes all poochy around the gun."
"I have a permit."
Stiles shrugged. "Hope so."
It told Stiles how messed up and tangled together his senses of humour and danger were that he found driving Chris Argent to a point of frustration so quickly so funny. He managed not to laugh---but it was a close thing.
"---just tell me what you saw."
Stiles gave into the urge and crossed his arms over his chest. "Why? So you can go interrogate Jackson or Danny like this?"
"All I want is to get to the bottom of what happened and to make sure that you kids stay safe," Chris replied. "Were either of them alone at any time in the school? Were they injured?"
"Not that I recall," Stiles said.
"So, just you, then," Chris said, pinning Stiles to the doorframe with a calculating look. "Were you attacked or scratched or bitten?"
"By a person or an animal?" Stiles asked.
Chris rolled his eyes. "Either."
With a smirk that held no trace of humour, Stiles said, "Nope. On both counts."
"Why does Scott think Derek Hale's behind everything?" Chris asked.
The smile slid from Stiles' face even faster than it had appeared. He uncrossed his arms and shifted his weight, before taking a slow, quiet breath and meeting Chris' eyes with a solemn look.
"Because Scott's a jealous fool," Stiles said. "And he forgot that I'm not actually his indentured sidekick."
"That's why you two are fighting?"
Stiles shook his head. "It's related, but not the whole picture," he said.
"Why don't you paint the rest of it for me?"
He shook his head again. "Nope, sorry. That line that total strangers shouldn't cross when conducting an illegal interrogation? You crossed it a while back," he said.
Chris snorted. "Funny, kid."
"Yeah, this is absolutely a riot," Stiles snapped. "Who the hell do you think you are? Coming to a complete stranger---a minor, no less---and grilling them about their friends and their actions? You're not a cop and you haven't shown me your PI license, so there's no reason for you to be here."
"I'm a concerned citizen."
"Puh-lease. Try that on someone who's actually an idiot."
Chris frowned as he studied Stiles. "I don't know what you've heard, but I assure you I'm one of the good guys," he said. "I only want to keep people safe."
Stiles snorted. He knew he should have tried to rein in his bullshit indicator, but he couldn't. After everything Kate and the Argents had done, both to the Hale Pack and to other packs, Stiles just felt so disloyal at the thought of playing along with Chris' heroic act. He knew there were bad werewolves in the world, but he also knew that many of the Argents' victims didn't deserve what happened to them.
"I've maxed out on my being-lied-to quotient for the day so I think we're done here," Stiles said.
Before Stiles could back into his house, Chris reached out and grabbed him by the arm. He squawked but he didn't push Chris off of him; he couldn't risk Chris figuring out he was the second beta by doing anything too physical for his seemingly scrawny body.
"You listen to me, Stiles," Chris growled. "Derek Hale is dangerous. You have no idea what he's done or what sort of family he comes from. You have no idea what he could do to you. I don't care what you think you know about me. It doesn't matter. The only thing that's important is protecting good people from the real monsters of the world---and I am going to do that with or without your cooperation."
Stiles met Chris's angry gaze with what he hoped was an expression that was a combination of pissed off and as cool as a cucumber. As terrified as he was to be so close to an Argent who wasn't Allison, Stiles refused to show weakness. He also couldn't be disloyal to his pack, and Chris had just called Derek a monster. He would not stand for that shit.
"Yep, I think we're done here," Stiles said, working hard to keep his voice even and cool. "You should let go of me now."
Chris stepped back as he unhanded Stiles. "I'm going to find proof it was Hale who lured you all to the school," he said. "And maybe then you'll change your mind."
Stiles responded by stepping backwards, through the doorway. Even though a door wouldn't stop Chris from coming into the house, he slammed it shut and turned the lock. He remained unmoving until he heard Chris' vehicle pull out of his driveway, and then he sagged against the closest wall in the foyer as he processed their conversation.
He wasn't sure what Chris was going to do, but Stiles believed he needed to find the identity of the messenger before Chris could do anything like doctor evidence to implicate Derek in the events of that night at the school.
After pulling his phone out of his pocket, he flipped to the Facebook app on the device. He located Danny's account in his friends list and fired off a rambling request for aid through private messages.
Danny, I need your help. By any chance, were you maybe curious enough to figure out who faked me that night we were all at the school? Because some people are sure a guy I know is innocent did it, and I'd really like to keep him out of trouble. I know you're not supposed to do that sort of thing, and I know I'm not on your list of priorities, but, man, I'd do just about anything if you could help.
A few seconds later, he received a response: Don't worry. I'm already on it. I'll call when I've got something you can use.
Stiles exhaled and closed his eyes. It was going to work out… he just needed a little time.
Slipping from one reality to another was impossible. As far as he knew, there were no portals or tears through which one could journey.
But, if one had the mental and magical fortitude, they could reach out and connect with a version of themselves in another reality. If one was strong enough, they could share information with that other version.
The telluric currents boosted his power. Using pieces of the local Nemeton helped focus his power. The added strength allowed for greater clarity across the universal divide. It also helped that other versions of him were doing the same things; strong connections incoming and outgoing boosted their abilities.
It hadn't always been about reaching out across dimensions. He'd started because he was determined to repair balance in his world. The Nemetons were too powerful, calling beings to them, increasing their strength and their numbers. Werewolves alone had increased their population to a count that hadn't been possible in centuries, and there were other types of creatures in the world also experiencing a population surge. A few magical beings were insisting that the wells of power were restoring the balance that had been in disharmony since the Middle Ages, but he did not adhere to that belief. Balance had been achieved later, with the help of industrialisation, surprisingly, and he needed to see it return to the world.
He'd destroyed the well, using its wood to help him find focus on his search to continue to restore balance in his community and the world at large. On that journey, he'd transcended beyond answers in his reality and found another version of himself seeking similar guidance.
On another journey, they found another like them who knew of a different sort of magic. If they could form a triangle across the universes, with the same base situation acting as their anchors, they could build a bridge and harness enough power to force balance on their worlds.
Destruction was a part of any creation, and it was the same here. They laid their groundwork carefully. The ground around the Nemeton needed to be soaked in sacrifice---in death. The Hale Pack served that role, their deaths at the hand of the Argent girl charged the telluric currents and gave him the energy to boost his strength when he needed to build his side of the bridge. He'd hated allowing the hunter to do her work and he'd been haunted by the Hale screams for years following the fire; however, the goal of balance and the peace it could bring was too important to push aside for grief. He might have been their emissary, but he had larger concerns than the werewolf population.
They needed the fire for another reason, too. One of his other versions had a clairvoyant gift, a knack for seeing vaguely ahead by a few steps, and they used it to plot their next few steps. Peter Hale would bite the child strong enough to carry the alpha mantle and weak enough to be controlled; they would use the child as their focal point to secure power for the spell that could bring about the guarantee of their dream.
He wasn't sure about Stiles, but he was the child who was bitten in his reality. He had to check with his counterparts and ensure that they were all on the same page.
After hours of meditating, concentrating his thoughts on the path to the others, he felt the telltale sign that the connection was secure.
The other two replied with McCall.
He cursed under his breath. I will fix it, he promised.
You better. The universe needs balance and this is our way of achieving it, one of his other selves said. Convince the alpha that McCall is better. Get rid of Stilinski. As a human, here, he meddles too much.
The connection was severed on one of the other ends. He didn't blame them for their abrupt attitude; he would have done the same thing if he'd heard of their failure.
He sighed. He didn't know what else he could do. They'd had a feeling Scott would be the one---he was well-placed, as their assistant, to be molded to their will---and he'd done everything he could to assist in Scott being the one bitten in the woods that night. The tea to help manage his breathing problems was supposed to help him become stronger; he'd hoped it would help Scott become more adventurous, too, so he would head out to hunt for Laura Hale's remains like they'd planned when they'd taken stock of the people in their realities and realised his Scott was weaker than the other versions of the boy. But, sadly, he'd failed.
He would need to get his hands dirty in order to set his reality on the right path. It was dangerous, but balance must be restored in the world.
Kahale smiled a small kind smile as he adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses. "It is a lot, isn't it?" he asked. Derek nodded. "I hoped you'd come and see me when the Sheriff approached me about you. Danny has been trying to protect your young packmate, but there's only so much he can do… I didn't think Stiles would appreciate my son suggesting you come to meet with me."
"No, probably not," Derek agreed. As trusting as Stiles had been with him, he was suspicious of outsiders, hunters, and anyone who seemed to have ulterior motives---like Doctor Deaton. He frowned. "What is it you hope to achieve here?"
"You are out of balance," Kahale said. "Too much grief and pain. I can read your aura---it's a little like letting my eyes unfocus, but with more woo-woo magicky stuff---and I can see that Stiles is helping you. I can also see that a lot of your pain is of your own making."
Derek swallowed against the lump of grief and shame that so-often lived in his throat. "You don't know what I did," he muttered.
"No, but I do know it wasn't you who spread mountain ash over your family's property and lit the fuses," Kahale said. He smiled again, another gentle expression set in his dark-toned face. "Derek, you came here, willingly. You've taken the first big step. Now, it's time for a lot of little steps, some untangling of thoughts and feelings, the reveal of some hard personal truths---and the real truths, not the lies you tell yourself. I would be honored to help you on this journey."
Kahale shrugged. "Because I want to protect this territory and help fix the disorder here. And because I like helping people---"
"Some would say I'm not a person," Derek grumbled.
"And we both know they're wrong," he continued.
Derek shrugged. "You and Doctor Deaton both talk about balance like it's important," he said. "Shouldn't there be a steady balance if you guys are so concerned about fixing the---"
"I don't think our views of balance are the same," Kahale interrupted. "I see you as out of balance. Too much negative and not enough positive---but you are on the right track, with Stiles and the Sheriff in your life, because I can see the slow shift starting in your energy.
"And the Nemeton is out of balance, too. Her power was cut down years before the fire, and some of the others have been damaged, too," he continued. "What was once a tidy, focused beam of energy is now a scattered array.
"And the balance of the world… well, that is always evolving. Some think eradicating supernaturals is the way to do it, but the world was at its most harmonious when supernatural and mundane were working together."
Derek snorted. "Like that'll ever happen."
Kahale nodded. "I know. And it's hardly the responsibility of one werewolf or one mage," he said. "So, let's focus on what we can control---your state of mind---so you will be better equipped to help protect Beacon Hills. All right?"
He waited patiently as Derek tried to figure out what to do. The only movement he made was to bring his mug of tea to his lips. Derek had one, too, on the table next to his chair, but he hadn't touched it since Kahale revealed what he knew.
Derek closed his eyes. He didn't want to hurt anymore; at the same time, he thought the pain was something he needed to bear, as a punishment for his sins. But, then, he thought of Stiles, who deserved to have a decent werewolf as a packmate and teacher, since there was still so much for him to learn. Derek wanted to teach him; he wanted to see Stiles master his unsought gift. He wanted to help keep Stiles and the Sheriff safe. He wanted.
"All right," Derek agreed softly, his voice hitching over the two small words. "How will this work? I tell you all about how screwed up I am and you… wave a wand?"
Kahale snorted over his tea. "Hardly, but I think you know that," he replied.
He stood up and walked over to the bookcase behind his desk. It was full of books; he avoided them and went to a metal box between two encyclopedia-type volumes. When he returned to his armchair, he was holding an actual crystal ball.
"Magic?" Derek asked.
"Sort of," Kahale said. "I'd like to use this so I can see what you're describing to me. Memories. You won't see them, except in your mind---as you usually do."
"How does it work?"
Kahale offered it to him. "Hold it in your palms until it pulses with warmth," he instructed. He pointed to what Derek thought was a marble ashtray on the table between them, next to Derek's abandoned tea. "Then, put it there."
"Will it hurt?" Derek asked.
With a slow shake of his head and no change in his heartbeat, Kahale said, "No, it will warm to… the temperature of bath water, approximately. It might glow. It just needs to form a connection with you."
"Will you be able to read my mind?"
He shook his head again. "I'll only see what you tell me---what has a visual component," Kahale explained. "And when we're finished, I will put it in my safe, in a mountain ash box. Not the container on the shelf. If you decide to stop seeing me, I will destroy it in front of you."
That all sounded reasonable. He was suspicious---he was always suspicious, after everything, even when he wanted to trust people---but Kahale seemed to be genuinely concerned about his balance and mental health. He didn't smell anxious or angry; he sounded truthful and gentle.
"What will we talk about today?" Derek asked. "The fire?"
"I was hoping you'd tell me about your family, and how you grew up," Kahale said. "And maybe next time, we can talk about Stiles or where you went after the fire---your choice. I'd like to get a sense of the positive influences in your life before we attack your demons."
Derek wasn't sure he could talk about his family, but it would be easier to talk about them than it would be to talk about Paige or Kate. He nodded, took the orb from Kahale's hand, and cupped it in both of his.
It was time to try.
"The exercise will be good for you. Mind and body work together, just like man and wolf work together. This will help you process your thoughts and work through your feelings."
So, as soon as Kahale ended their first session by making plans for their second, Derek tightened the laces on his sneakers and put on the hooded sweater he pilfered from the Sheriff's closet. He'd even worn a pair of old gym shorts to make it look like he was choosing to exercise.
He hated running on pavement, preferring the texture of the forest to an urban setting, but it did help. As he pounded down the sidewalk, trying to not scare the few people he encountered by keeping his glare tempered to a more neutral expression, he felt the tension in his muscles slowly loosen. Every knot that tied itself as he recounted memories of his parents and siblings began to unravel as he put one foot in front of the other and lost himself in the rhythm of a slow run. A run in the forest would have been better---and faster---but the town's streets had enough activity on them to distract his senses. His mind stayed on his surroundings, instead of on his memories.
Kahale hadn't asked about anything but his family. Family traditions, pack runs under the full moon, their holiday celebrations, and Talia's ruling style as alpha had all been covered in their conversation. Whatever Kahale saw in the crystal ball made him smile. Derek assumed Kahale was seeing what he was remembering, but he didn't ask.
He didn't understand what Kahale's approach would be to help him; background information would help Kahale understand, though, before he tried to untangle Derek's thoughts. .
Derek wasn't looking forward to talking about the fire. It had been difficult enough with Stiles. But, with a clinical mind, Derek assumed Kahale's analysis would be harder to hear.
As if thinking about even discussing the fire was a curse, Derek scented wolfsbane and gunpowder on the air. He stopped---nearly getting hit by a car in the process---and looked around the town.
Chris Argent was on the next block, leaning against his car. He looked casual, but Derek could hear his heart and its rhythm was not casual.
He continued jogging, intending to move past Argent, but he wasn't that lucky.
Derek reined in his answering growl and stopped. He turned around to face Argent.
"I thought you'd keep to the woods," he commented.
"A monster was spotted lurking around out there," Derek muttered. "Didn't feel like sharing the territory."
Argent smirked. "I would've thought you two would get along."
There was no way he knew Derek was referring to Kate, but his response still made Derek flinch.
"I am nothing like her," he snarled, his features amazingly remaining human.
Argent's eyebrows moved up his forehead. He seemed curious. Derek mentally cursed himself for giving so much information away for free. He looked around at their surroundings; he wasn't anywhere close to the Sheriff's Department and there were a lot of people coming in and out of a nearby coffee shop. If he took off running, he would have trouble getting through them without knocking over any of them.
But, on the street, he was probably safer than he would have been anywhere else. If he could use the time to sow suspicion of Argent's hunters… if Argent asked the right question… maybe that would keep Argent's focus off of Derek's activities for a little while.
"I need to ask you about the alpha," Argent said.
That was a question with which Derek could work.
"The alpha you helped by slicing Laura's body in half?" Derek asked.
Argent winced. "I didn't do that," he said.
"Someone covered in wolfsbane and gunpowder did," Derek said. "I assumed they were one of yours."
"Not to my knowledge," Argent said, shaking his head.
Derek couldn't sense any deceit in him, but he'd never detected it in Kate, either, so he didn't completely believe his senses. He crossed his arms over his chest and waited for Argent's questions.
"Who is the alpha?"
He shrugged. "I don't know."
"You didn't join up with them?" Argent asked.
"No, I didn't 'join up' with the omega who slaughtered my sister," Derek muttered.
Derek fought against the urge to roll his eyes. "Is that all?" he asked.
"What happened at the school, the night my daughter, her boyfriend, and their friends were all lured there?" Argent asked.
"No idea," Derek lied.
Argent sighed and shook his head. "Derek…"
"I wasn't there," he said.
"But, you know something," Argent said.
"The alpha's been going after people who have done bad things," Derek admitted. "That's all I've been able to figure out."
"And Kate? Why did they go after my sister?"
Derek couldn't hold in his snort. It was too much, the way Argent acted like Kate was a decent person.
"Seriously? You have no idea what she's been up to, do you?" Derek replied. When Argent shook his head, Derek snorted again. "Funny. You hunt monsters and one lives under your roof. With your precious daughter."
"Is that a threat?" Argent asked.
After a shake of his head, Derek said, "No, it isn't. I have no interest in your daughter. But Kate does. If you're not careful, she'll turn Allison into a monster, too. There's a point of no return, and Kate crossed it a long time ago."
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Derek said. He shrugged. "But, I'm not the only one whose life she's ruined---and my family isn't the only pack she destroyed without cause. The alpha could be anyone. Are we done?"
Argent opened his mouth, some sort of refutation on his lips, but then he stopped short and nodded. When he stepped back, Derek nodded and turned. He started walking; as soon as he was through a group of milling coffee drinkers, he resumed jogging.
The new knots in his muscles didn't loosen until he made it safely inside the Stilinski household.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and put his hand on Derek's arm. Derek flinched in response; apart from that, though, his waking was calm. Derek blinked, clearing the cobwebs, and then he turned his gaze to Stiles.
"You okay?" Derek asked.
"Uh… sort of," Stiles replied. "How about you?"
"Therapist is a magic user. He knew I'm a werewolf. Said his son's been trying to help you," Derek said. He yawned and rubbed his hand over his face. "Ran into Argent on my way home."
Stiles' insides warmed at the idea of Derek considering the house his home. He smiled. "Danny's dad?" he asked. "I forgot he's a doctor. That makes sense. And Danny has been helpful. With Kate and then the mountain ash. And other things."
"What happened with Argent?" Stiles asked.
"He wanted to know if I know who the alpha is."
Stiles frowned. "He was here after school," he admitted. "Asking questions about that night at school, pretending to be a good guy… I nearly lost it."
"He didn't suspect anything?"
"About me? I don't think so," Stiles replied. "He said he was going to pin the text messages on you and I… it took all my focus not to growl at him. How is he so blind?"
"I nearly told him everything we think Kate did," Derek admitted. "He was accusing me of being a monster, like the alpha, and… I just… I wanted to hurt him."
"He needs to know," Stiles said.
Derek nodded. "Yeah. But he won't believe it if it comes from a werewolf."
Stiles sighed. "Yeah."
"Where'd you go after?" Derek asked. "Lacrosse?"
He shook his head. "No… I… well. There's a game tonight, but I don't think I'm going. Argent got me thinking about the text messages, so I texted Danny," he explained. "Danny got busted for a little hacking at one point in middle school. I figured he'd be able to help."
Derek pushed himself into a sitting position. "Just tell me," he said.
"Danny's message and my message were sent from a computer at the hospital that was using Melissa McCall's login at the time," Stiles confessed. When Derek's eyes widened, he quickly continued talking. "It can't be her. I mean, she is more normal than normal. And she wouldn't endanger Scott. It's gotta be someone at the hospital---someone who wouldn't look out of place at a nurses' station. But she would never---"
"I believe you," Derek interrupted. He frowned and scratched at his stubble. "I… it can't be Peter. But, maybe it's someone who thinks they're protecting him or helping him."
Stiles thought Derek was taking the news better than he could have. He nodded.
"Want to go walk around the hospital and see if anyone's a werewolf?" Derek asked.
"Seriously?" Stiles replied.
He shrugged. "You got a better idea? We can stop by long-term care and ask the nurses if Peter's had any other visitors," he suggested.
"Um… yeah. Okay."
Derek narrowed his eyes. "What?"
Stiles shook his head. "Just… didn't expect you to spring into action."
"We need to figure out who they are before they do any more damage," Derek explained. "And I'm getting sick of the Argents showing up. Chris had no business coming here to interrogate you."
Stiles chuckled. "I made that very clear to him," he said. At Derek's quirked eyebrow, he said, "I'm pretty sure he found my attitude very frustrating."
Derek smirked. "I bet he did." After another yawn, moved towards the edge of the bed. "Give me a few minutes to wake up and wash my face and then we'll go, okay?"
Stiles nodded. He slipped away from Derek, despite his instincts telling him to crowd in close and give Derek a hug; Derek had pack instincts, but he was also operating under a lot of grief and stress, and Stiles didn't like to put added pressure on him. He could wait for Derek to give him a sign that he was amenable to the kind of closeness Stiles' instincts were telling him they both needed---unless he saw evidence of Derek doing the withholding thing, and then he'd figure out something else.
He went into the living room and waited for Derek to reappear. He left a note for his father---Gone to hospital follow up on a Monster Mayhem lead. Coincidences!---and wandered to the front door to slip into his sneakers.
Derek met him there, carrying his leather jacket and a hooded sweater for Stiles. It was one of John's, and Stiles didn't understand why Derek had given it to him until he caught the scent of Derek-pack-peace on it. He smiled and tugged it on over his head. It wasn't a hug, but it was a gesture that Stiles could appreciate.
"Ready?" Stiles asked.
After Derek nodded, Stiles reached out and squeezed his arm through his leather sleeve. "You're not alone," Stiles reminded him. "I'm not much, but I'm---"
"Stop that," Derek interrupted. "You're more than enough. Let's just… stick together and be careful, all right? We don't want to start a fight in the middle of the hospital."
Stiles grinned and twirled his keys around his finger. "Hey, that's probably the only place I'd feel comfortable starting a fight. Quicker access to stitches and ice packs and pain meds."
Derek snorted. He didn't say much on their way from the house to the jeep, or from the house to the hospital; Stiles tried not to use his senses to figure out what he was thinking, but when they reached the hospital, Derek's anxiety filled the jeep's cab with an acrid air that neither of them could ignore.
"Want me to go in alone?" Stiles asked. "Could just be looking for Scott's mom."
When he shook his head, Stiles decided to drop the subject. There was no sense in adding to Derek's stress by hitting him with a bunch of questions and truths Derek was trying to ignore. Stiles held his tongue and parked as close as he could get to the entrance without being in the way of emergency vehicles or in danger of getting a ticket.
"Let's go," Derek said.
"Do we have a plan?" Stiles asked.
Stiles rolled his eyes. "Seriously? Dude, I need more than that. You need more than that."
"Let's start with long-term care," Derek decided. "We'll ask if anyone's been visiting Peter. And then, if we don't get anywhere there, we'll try to find where Scott's mom is usually logged in and see if we can figure out what else whoever it is has been up to."
Stiles wasn't going to tell Derek that his hacking skills didn't extend beyond checking browser history and guessing at passwords, because one of the newer instinctive parts of his mind was so thrilled Derek was stepping up and acting like their pack was real, like he could be their alpha. Instead, he nodded, and hopped out of the vehicle. Derek followed suit, and they walked into the hospital together.
It didn't take long to arrive at long-term care. It seemed to be a quiet night, for Beacon Hills, and Stiles couldn't figure out why until he remembered that there was a lacrosse game. He groaned and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"Forgot about the game," Stiles muttered. "Scott will have questions. And Dad… well, I hope he forgets about it, too."
Stiles shook his head and reached out to squeeze Derek's arm again. "Nope, don't. This is oodles more important," he said.
Derek leaned into him a little as they rounded the corner into Peter's ward. It was more response than Stiles expected and he smiled under the gentle pressure.
He was still smiling when they stopped in the doorway to Peter's empty room. It took him a moment to realise what he was seeing---or not seeing.
Derek cursed under his breath.
Stiles turned around. The station in the wing was empty, but there was a mug of tea next to the keyboard. He stepped slowly towards it and saw the scroll-scripted Jen before he felt something in the air shift. It was scent and movement and presence and Stiles knew before he turned that Peter Hale was Monster Mayhem.
By the strange expression on Derek's face, Stiles knew he was putting together the pieces of their puzzle, too.
"Hello, Stiles," Peter purred through a smirk. The scars on his face were fading slowly, but they enhanced the epic creep factor Stiles was feeling when Peter raked his eyes over his body. "I hope your throwing arm has gotten better with the gift I've given you."
Before Stiles could do anything, even growl, Derek put his hand on Stiles' shoulder. His actions drew Peter's attention to him.
"Nephew, lovely to see you again."
"That what you said to Laura?" Derek asked.
Peter frowned. "You think I killed Laura on purpose? One of my own family?" he asked. "My mind, my personality were literally burned out of me. I was being driven by pure instinct."
Stiles wasn't entirely sure that was accurate. When he'd encountered Monster Mayhem by Laura's body, he'd seemed amused with Stiles' attempts at protecting himself. He knew how he reacted when he was out of his mind with grief, at least through second-hand accounts from his father and Scott and annoyed teachers because he couldn't remember his behaviour after his mother died; he knew everyone processed grief differently, but Peter's actions in the woods, or during any other encounter, had not spoken of pure instinct.
"You want forgiveness?" Derek asked.
"I want understanding," Peter replied. "Do you have any idea what it was like for me during those years? Slowly healing, cell by cell. Even more slowly coming back to consciousness…"
Stiles made sure his hand was pressed into Derek's back as Peter talked. He wasn't sure why Peter was bullshitting them so spectacularly, but he wanted to make sure Derek knew he had support before Peter got around to discussing Laura's untimely death.
Derek growled as Peter slowly stopped talking. In response, Peter flashed his red eyes. The idea that Peter had no problem flashing the power (and life) he stole from Laura so callously, in front of Derek, made Stiles growl, too.
"Yes, I know. It's unseemly. But, becoming an alpha, taking that from Laura… it pushed me over a plateau," Peter said. He gestured towards himself. "I can't help that. I tried to tell you what was happening. I tried to warn you."
Cryptic photographs of dead deer emailed from an anonymous account were not a warning. Stiles snarled and growled some more. He knew there was a very good chance he sounded like a disgruntled kitten, but he was so angry on Derek's behalf that he couldn't remain silent.
"Quiet, pup," Peter commented, his voice lilting as if he weren't levelling a threat. "I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it."
His words had the opposite effect on Stiles---and on Derek, who snarled loudly at the idea of Stiles being hurt at Peter's hands.
"So glad my betas have bonded so spectacularly, but you will both have to be punished for this attitude you're showing your alpha," Peter said. He reached down over the edge of the nurses' station and pulled up a hand mirror. He winced as he studied the burn scars; but he was smirking again when he looked back at Derek and Stiles. "I was going to wait… for dramatic flair, but---" he paused, closed his eyes, and did something to force the scars to disappear, before he was smirking at them again. "When you look this good, why wait?"
"Are you insane, doing that out here?" Stiles demanded. "Where anyone could---"
"The staff was useless so I fired them," Peter interrupted. He grinned. "It is good to be on top."
Under Stiles' hand, Derek was vibrating. Stiles thought the trembling was caused by anger, but his scent was sour and bitter at the same time and Stiles had yet to encounter that combination in a recognisable situation. It was not the time to ask Derek what he was thinking or feeling; Stiles wasn't sure Derek would be able to give him a concise response, and he knew he didn't want Derek to try in front of Peter.
They hadn't come to physical blows yet. But, Derek's back muscles were coiling, and Stiles didn't want to see what happened when he attacked. He was trying to figure out a way to diffuse the situation; it wasn't easy when he was trying to hold back his own disgust and rage at the callous way Peter had decimated his remaining family. Did Peter really think Derek would blindly follow him? The fire and resulting trauma had clearly unravelled some of Peter's wiring; he'd lied to both of them about Laura's death, and he seemed to expect sworn allegiance.
He needed to get out of there. He needed to get Derek out of there. They had to regroup and come up with a plan. A straight-on assault wouldn't work… but maybe they could catch Peter in a trap that would give them the advantage.
Maybe they could do it after Derek met with his therapist a few times.
"Not going to talk to me?" Peter asked. "Derek… you have to give me a chance to explain. After all, we're family."
Stiles growled at that. Derek and Peter might have been family at one point and they were still related by blood, but Stiles was his pack and family and he knew John was making room for Derek in his heart, too, judging from the help and protection John had been giving him, and---
"Absolutely not," Stiles said, the growl still in his voice.
Peter chuckled. "And you think you can lay a familial claim on Derek?" he inquired. "Because you live in the same house? Because he's taught you control---control that I taught him?"
"No, because I have his best interests at heart and you are not even close to being a part of them---blood relation or not," Stiles argued.
"Do you know what some alphas do to disobedient betas?" Peter asked.
"Do you know what some betas do to abusive asshole alphas?" Stiles shot back.
Derek pushed back into Stiles, into his hand and then into his body. "Don't, Stiles," he said, his voice quiet and subdued. "You don't want to go there."
"So smart, Nephew," Peter said. "Keep your pet muzzled and I might let you keep him."
Stiles huffed. He was nobody's pet!
"Now, I understand this is all a bit of an adjustment," Peter continued, "and this is hardly the best place to hammer out all the details. Eventually someone will interrupt us and I don't want to be seen before the rest of my plan is in motion. So. Take a few days and wrap your heads around your new world order---because, while I'd prefer you come around to my way of thinking on your own, I will bring you to heel if you don't come willingly."
And with that warning ringing in Stiles' ears, Peter turned and walked away.
"We need to get out of here," Derek whispered, "before anyone sees us---and whatever he did to the staff."
"Not here, not now," Derek growled. "Please."
Stiles nodded. He took Derek's hand in his before he could overthink the contact---and before Derek could put distance between them---and started guiding him through the hospital. He wasn't sure if it would be better to stay in populated areas or not, but Derek's face was pale and more closed off than Stiles had ever seen it, so Stiles decided to keep to the more quiet areas of the hospital. Derek didn't protest; he clung to Stiles' hand and seemed to trust Stiles to get them back to his vehicle. Stiles did the best he could to make sure they got there as quickly as possible.
He'd have to call his father---he didn't want John to hear about Peter's escapades from anyone else---but that would have to wait. He had to take care of his packmate first.
Chris rolled his eyes as Kate and Allison giggled together. He came to the game to protect the community---and to bond with his daughter---but he could do without listening to them gossip about all the boys on the team.
"Ummm, well. That's Jackson, he's the captain," Allison said. She was pointing at the teenager Chris had been watching for most of the game; reports of his aggression from Kate were enough for him to be concerned. She winced as Jackson shoved one of the players from the other team on his way back to the bench. "Something's been bothering him for a while now… but he's usually decent enough. Kind of a jerk, but Lydia---"
As Jackson removed his helmet and started drinking from a water bottle, Kate let out a low, teasing sound.
"Ohh, if I was in high school again… maybe just a substitute teacher," she purred.
Chris rolled his eyes again---because she was entirely too inappropriate---and bit back the urge to correct Kate's grammar.
"You are sick," Allison teased.
Coach Finstock was pulling all his players in to the bench, his arms flailing as he shouted for them, and they obediently trotted to him for what sounded like a rousing pep talk. Chris tuned out, surveying the crowd and trusting Kate to keep watching the players for signs of lycanthropy, and let the sights and sounds of the crowd overpower his mind. At times, he found evidence when he let his senses lose focus; he felt like something was going to happen soon if not that night.
"I'll be right back," Allison said. "Lydia's here."
Chris nodded and smiled at her. "Don't disappear with Scott after the game without checking in, okay?"
She grinned. "I know the drill."
When she hopped down two rows to sit with Lydia Martin, Kate scooted closer to him.
"See anything useful?" he asked.
Kate snorted. "Relax, Chris. I'm paying attention."
"Yeah, but to what?" Chris muttered.
She laughed, leaning into him a little. "It's just a little harmless fun," she murmured.
Chris turned his gaze back to the crowd of players around their coach. Danny Mahealani, one of Chris' persons of interest, was leaning in close to Jackson; they appeared to be having a conversation that was separate from the rest of the team. Jackson's hand was squeezing his water bottle so tightly it was compressed; the water had squirted out over his hand and he seemed unconcerned about that. Jackson shook his head and turned away from Danny. Danny frowned and kept his eyes trained on the other player. Something was wrong, between them, and Chris wondered what it could be. Friends argued---teenage boys were no exception to that---but Allison and Scott has both mentioned how close-knit they were. Whatever was wrong, it seemed serious.
"Ready? Say it so they can hear it!" Coach Finstock shouted. "Hands in! What are we?"
"We are lacrosse!" the team shouted back at him.
"All right, take the field! Let's go!"
Chris watched Scott give Allison a wave from his position near the bench; he rolled his eyes and turned his head in time to see Danny pull Jackson around, a stern expression on his face.
But Danny's face wasn't what caught his attention.
Kate must have seen the scratch marks, too, because she leaned in close and started talking.
"Chris, remember how we were talking about a second beta---a younger one?"
"Yes," Chris agreed, studying Jackson the same way he'd considered Danny and Stiles from a distance over the last week.
"Can you get turned by a scratch?"
What Chris could see was on his neck; there was little flesh there, but the marks seemed to continue beneath Jackson's shirt. He'd been at two of the suspected alpha events. His moods, from what Chris was observing, were erratic. That could be because he was a teenager, hopped up on adrenaline beyond his already unsteady brain chemistry; it could also be because he was dealing with a disease beyond his comprehension.
After a brief hum, Chris said, "If the claws go deep enough… maybe."
Kate pointed at Jackson. "I wonder how deep those went," she murmured.
Chris nodded, keeping his eyes trained on Jackson the entire time.
"I'll find out," Chris said. "Shouldn't be too hard."
"I don't think you're his type, Chris," Kate teased. "Now, me, on the other hand---"
He snorted. "Please. He's a child and that's entirely inappropriate," he said in a firm voice to put an end to her joking. "I was thinking I'd arrange for his car to break down."
"We don't need any more excitement, Kate," Chris said. "We're here to stop the alpha."
"And the betas?" Kate asked.
While Chris had an issue with hunting children, he knew he'd be left with little choice in the matter if the alpha seduced the second and probably younger beta into killing someone. He might be able to convince his father to let them keep the kid somewhere, detain them, but he wasn't sure that was a mercy. It would probably be best to kill the kid, if they were a killer; at least then they wouldn't be a part of whatever it was his father did to pass the time between hunts. He called it research, but Chris wasn't sure exactly how educational his activities were. Since leaving the Argent stronghold to marry Victoria and raise Allison, Chris kept what he knew of his father's research projects out of his thoughts as best as he could.
"If they've broken the code," Chris stipulated, "then we go after them, too."
Kate grinned as her eyes turned from him to the players on the field.
Scott grinned and high-fived a couple of the players who were chanting and stomping outside of the locker room. They made it to the playoffs---and he actually helped! He didn't score many goals, but he did score two, and that was so much better than last year (when he was watching the team lose from his position on the bench between Stiles and Greenberg) that he really didn't care that Jackson managed to score eight goals despite whatever new depths the stick lodged in his ass reached. He might never reach Jackson's level of skill, but he definitely improved, and he couldn't wait to celebrate with---
He whirled around so he could peer into the locker room through all the excited players. He couldn't see Stiles; Stiles should be there, unless he decided to linger outside.
Tightening his grip on his lacrosse stick, Scott hurried to the doors that opened up onto the path to the field. He dodged players and girlfriends and a few parents, and he eventually made it to a place outside where he could see the bleachers.
Some people were still milling around, but any players who were outside were close to the school. Everyone wanted to clean up and change out of their uniforms so they could celebrate. Jackson and Lydia had a party planned---something they only found out about after they won, announced by Jackson shouting "Party at Lydia's at ten---no losers invited!"---and everyone was eager to start the festivities.
Stiles was nowhere to be seen.
Scott frowned. He could have sworn… he knew Stiles might miss a practice or two, but he never missed a game. He remembered Stiles telling him once that he was holding out hope that someone would see him in a uniform, confuse his number with an actual player's number, and decide he looked far cuter than any of the stronger guys on the team. That had been one of the reasons Stiles had signed up for lacrosse with him. He never missed games because of that reason.
Deciding Stiles had to be in the showers already, Scott turned to go back into the school and nearly crashed into Allison.
"Allison," he breathed, smiling as his heart fluttered in his chest. "Hey."
"Ohh, not this again," Kate complained, her grin wide and sharp, as she walked up to them. "Allison, do you need a ride or---"
"I'm going to Lydia's after this," Allison interrupted. "You and Dad can go home if you want."
"Do you still have those items you took from my bag?" Kate asked.
Allison blushed. "Uh, yep. We're good."
Scott looked at her, tilting his head in what he hoped was a silent question. She shook her head, prompting Kate to laugh a bit more, and then she hugged both Allison and Scott by wrapping one arm around each of them.
"Have fun, kids," she said as she released them. "If you decide to drink and need a ride home, call me, not Chris, remember?"
She pointed a long finger at Scott. "And, you, you better treat Allison right."
"I… of course I will!" Scott insisted. "I… what. Why wouldn't I? What's happening?"
Kate groaned and nudged Allison, who smiled and ducked her head as she tucked her hair behind her ears.
"You're lucky you're puppy-dog cute, Scott. All right, I'll take Mister Killjoy home, and you two have fun. See you later!" she said, waving at both of them as she slowly backed away.
After she turned, moving with more purpose towards the parking lot, Scott caught Allison smiling at him. He shrugged and offered her his free hand. When he felt her skin against his, he sighed and smiled. It felt right---he had no other way to describe the feeling.
"You were… pretty awesome out there," she murmured.
"Thanks. You, too," Scott replied. He realised what he'd said a split second before she did and started working to correct his mistake. "I mean---that's not what I meant. I---"
She grinned. "No, no, I did some pretty awesome cheering. You can thank me. I mean, I went from 'Go, Team, Go' to 'Defense, defense' without a breath. I brought my A game."
Scott kissed her once, only daring to let it last long enough for him to steal a trace of her vanilla lip gloss to taste for himself. "Yeah, you did," he murmured. "I'm really happy you came out tonight."
"Me, too," Allison whispered in response. She hooked her finger in the neckline of his jersey. "I'll go wait with Lydia while you clean up, okay?"
As soon as he finished nodding, she kissed him again and slipped past a few players who were still yelling about making the state playoffs. Scott grinned as he watched her walk away. He couldn't wait to go with her to the party. He couldn't wait to dance with her and hold her close… he was so lucky to have her in his life.
But, they were no longer alone.
John's sleepy snuffles were coming from his favourite reclining arm chair.
Stiles craned his neck around to look at his father. He was stretched out, the chair in its fully reclined position, and a blanket was draped over him. His mouth was open; his brow was relaxed. Everything about his body language was slack and at ease, but Stiles could see his back-up weapon tucked in the magazine rack they kept between the recliner and the wall.
He moved his fingers up and down, over Derek's shoulder. In sleepy response, Derek shivered. Apart from that brief movement, though, he was still---finally.
When they'd returned from the hospital, Derek had been withdrawn and tightly wound. Stiles thought he might need to go for a run; as soon as he asked Derek what he needed, though, Derek started shaking. Running seemed to be out of the question, so Stiles relies on his comfort cravings and his instincts to decide how to proceed. They started sitting side by side and then Stiles hugged him when he was sure Derek wasn't going to lash out in his direction. Hugging turned into cuddling very quickly. The silence that had fallen onto Derek turned into quiet sniffles and whispered words. Stiles listened through it all---through every memory, every contemplation of his uncle's mental state, and all the guilt and blame that Derek associated with their current situation---and he kept full-body contact.
His instincts told him to stay close; he didn't mind the way Derek curled into him. It should have been weird---because he'd never really cuddled with anyone since his mother died, and because he and Derek weren't exactly cuddle-buddies---but it felt more natural than anything else. Stiles liked physical contact, generally, even if it were only with a small, select group of people; since being bitten, though, contact with Derek soothed something in him that he attributed to being a werewolf. He hoped it was mutual.
He also liked that he could offer Derek support. Derek had been so supportive with him, even when he didn't know what to do or how to help Stiles; being able to return the favour and be there for Derek made Stiles' insides warm.
The situation sucked and Stiles didn't know how to fix it, but he was determined to let Derek know he wasn't alone. It was all he could do.
Derek groaned, pulling Stiles from his thoughts. As he stirred, Stiles rubbed Derek's shoulder through his shirt.
"Hey," Stiles whispered. "You're safe. You're not alone."
He huffed. "Sure."
Stiles let his hand move to the back of Derek's neck. "No, seriously," he said, keeping his voice low. "I… look. Your uncle… that's so fucked up and I can't imagine what you're feeling right now---"
"I don't know what I'm feeling right now," Derek admitted.
"Yeah. But, you're not alone," Stiles said, squeezing his hand a bit. "You always associated pack with family---with family by blood, I mean. And Peter's betrayal… you might feel like you're the only one left. But, there's made or found family, too. And other packs can be made, right?"
Derek nodded. His cheek rubbed against Stiles' shoulder.
"You've got us," Stiles said.
He gestured at John; Derek lifted his head to follow the movement and to look at the sleeping man. Stiles' insides warmed again at the way Derek almost smiled.
"We're going to figure this out together," Stiles whispered. "I don't know how yet, but we will."
Derek nodded again.
"I'm sorry," he said, averting his eyes. "This is actually all my fault."
"No, it's Kate's fault. And, Peter's fault, but he's Kate's fault, too, a bit," Stiles insisted.
Stiles shook his head. "Nope, no buts."
"Stiles, if I hadn't given Kate access to my family---"
"Unknowingly," Stiles interrupted.
"---then Peter wouldn't be---"
"Hey, I know he's your uncle and, at one point, you were close," Stiles said, cutting off Derek again, "but you didn't paint the prettiest picture of him, from before the fire, so I don't think we're only seeing the result of trauma and grief."
Derek sighed. "I know it's a possibility that he lied. But, accidents happen, Stiles. We're predators. We---"
"When I saw him in the woods… the night he bit me," Stiles said, "he had a sense of humour."
"How do you know?"
Stiles shrugged. "I tried to throw a rock at him."
"Tried?" Derek asked.
"Well, I missed him by… okay, fine, a mile. And he sort of snorted at me," Stiles explained. "Like he was amused. It was hard to tell when he was all 'grrr.' So, how… if he was out of his mind, like he claimed…"
"Would he have taken the time to laugh at your lame attempt at defending yourself?" Derek asked.
"He'd have known Laura wouldn't bite anyone---or kill anyone," Derek admitted. "She was like Mom. Family first. And then maybe someone we trusted---someone who was sick or who needed a pack. But never an army. He knew that. She would've come looking for proof… to take to your dad, maybe, but Peter doesn't want that."
Stiles' heart clenched as Derek's eyes filled with tears. Before those tears could spill over onto his cheeks, Derek turned his head down and away from Stiles' gaze.
"He killed her for her power," Derek whispered. "There were three of us left in the world, and he killed his last remaining niece for her power. So he could turn more wolves and build a pack to help him get revenge."
"Looks that way," Stiles whispered back.
"I don't know what to do," Derek confessed, whining a little through his words.
Stiles sighed. "We don't need to figure it all out tonight."
"Uh, yeah, pack, remember?" Stiles said. "You, me, and Rip Van Winkle over there."
"You won't go with Peter?"
Stiles shook his head as he tightened his hold on Derek. "Peter will never be my alpha," he declared. "He might try to mind-whammy me, but I will fight him every step of the way. You are my pack. You helped me---even when you didn't know how."
"Jury's still out on how much help I've really been," Derek muttered. He sighed. "Even if I were an alpha, a pack of two… Laura and I wouldn't have been strong enough, so---"
"Then we work smart, not strong," Stiles interrupted. "And, if you get the alpha power, then… we'll figure it out. One step at a time."
Stiles kept moving his hands along Derek's back and shoulders. He hoped he was comforting Derek. Even though his instincts were telling him touch would help, he was afraid of crossing a line because Derek wasn't wired the way he was and touch meant something to people who were normal. To him, it felt like warmth, reminding him of the way his mother showed affection before she got sick; to his new werewolf side, it just felt like the right thing to do to support his packmate. He hoped it felt positive to Derek.
"Beta bros for life," he said, smiling when Derek snorted. "At least until you get the alpha juice. And then it'll be alpha bro and beta bro."
"Second. You'd be my second. Or my right hand. Even if anyone else joined us."
Stiles felt his cheeks heat up at Derek's words. "Yeah?" he asked.
Derek sighed. "Don't get your hopes up. We still need to survive stopping Peter."
"We will. Together," Stiles said. He smiled when he realised he believed those words and the sentiment behind them. "You've had a huge shock tonight. After you process, maybe see the head doctor, and growl out your feelings, you'll see I'm right."
After another snort, Derek said, "If you say so."
"I do," Stiles replied. "What do you need from me to get through tonight?"
"Can we… stay here?" Derek asked. "If it's weird or---"
Stiles quickly spoke. "I'm good. As long as you're good."
"We used to do this as a family," Derek whispered. "Usually for movie nights, happy nights, but also if something bad happened."
Stiles smiled. "Tell me about the good nights?"
With a nod, Derek inhaled slowly and settled his body so Stiles didn't have as much of his weight pressing him into the couch cushions. Then, he started talking in a low voice. He talked about their movie nights when they'd watch the Star Wars trilogy or some other series of movies until they all fell asleep, and the nights when his father would finish a short story and he'd read it to them as they lounged together. Every memory he shared gave Stiles hope---for his pack, for the chance to experience something like that once they got through the Peter disaster.
He couldn't give back Derek's family, but he could help Derek build a pack built on trust. And, maybe, Stiles could be a part of that pack---even if he wasn't normal.
Stiles closed his eyes, listened to Derek's voice, and sent a silent wish out into the universe for his pack and its future security.