Stiles: Dylan O’Brien
Derek: Tyler Hoechlin
Peter: Ian Bodin
Scott: Tyler Posey
Sheriff: Linden Ashby
Charles: Patrick Stewart
Erik: Ian McKellen
Anya Stilinski: Jane Seymour
Jeorg Stilinski: Harrison Ford
Claudia Gajos Stilinski: Stana Katic
Stiles idly spun electricity through his fingers while he thought.
To go to the woods and see the body, or not.
To bring Scott along, or not.
To work on his English assignment, or not.
He snorted. Ever since he’d seen Up! , the word squirrel had signified the chronic skipping of his thoughts and the quick distraction that could happen with his ADHD. It also acted as a cue from his dad, or from his best friend, Scott, when his rambling connections were getting a little out of hand.
Adderall might have helped, except his doctor didn’t want to chance it with his mutation. As mutants remained pretty well in the closet, no studies could tell Hank about the effects of the drug, which could act a lot like speed, on his particular skill set.
So Stiles dealt with it the old-fashioned way, setting his timers, organizing his schedule, and using cues from his nearest and dearest to help him function smoothly. He also worked out regularly, practicing the hand-to-hand skills he learned and honed every summer at Xavier’s and actively using his power. Exercise helped a lot.
He could go work out now, actually, instead of fixating on the body in the woods. It would certainly be safer.
Stiles spun his electricity a bit faster, then closed his fist to quench it. He sighed. Work out, then English. His dad would call him in if he needed his help.
Dad didn’t call.
But the hospital did.
Stiles tried to slow his breathing and his brain as he drove as fast as he was legally allowed to the hospital. Sheriff Stilinski, Stiles’ dad, had been mauled by something. Deputies had managed to wing the creature before it took off into the woods, but they were taking no chances with the Sheriff. He’d gotten hauled into the emergency room.
As Stiles burst through the doors he was intercepted by Melissa McCall, Scott’s mom and a registered nurse.
“Stiles, wait!” Melissa caught him by his sleeve, avoiding the skin that could shock her involuntarily. She and Scott were the only other two people in Beacon Hills that knew of Stiles’ mutation. “He’s being seen right now.”
“Is he OK? Did they catch the thing? OMG I can’t believe he got mauled!” Stiles stumbled over his words as he let Melissa steer him to an isolated spot in the waiting area. “I didn’t get a good look, Stiles, but if you can stay here, calmly, I will go and see what I can find out.” She patted his clothed arm. “I called Scott, too. He’s on his way.”
“Ok, ok.” Stiles nodded rapidly and swallowed hard. “I can wait.”
“I know you can,” Melissa said calmly. “Do you want me to stay with you until Scott gets here?”
“No, really, find out about Dad, please?”
“Alright,” she said, and pushed a fidget clicker into his hand. “Use that. I’ll go see what I can see.”
Stiles waited, clicking the fidget in his hands in lieu of spinning electricity in public, watching the clock tick. Ten minutes passed before Scott showed up, and Melissa had yet to return.
“Stiles, what do you know?” Scott, a handsome, lithely muscled teen with brown hair and eyes, rushed over to his friend and drew him into a hug. “Mom called me.”
“Dad got mauled by something in the woods,” Stiles said dully. “She went to see how he was doing ten minutes ago and hasn’t been back.”
Scott bit his lip.
They both knew that wasn’t a good sign. If the Sheriff was fine, then she’d have been right back. The fact that an experienced emergency room RN had yet to return meant she’d been pressed into service.
A young, male, medical assistant rushed into the room. “Stiles Stilinski?”
“That’s me,” Stiles said, jumping up.
“You’re needed. Now.”
Scott followed as Stiles and the MA practically ran to an ER treatment room. Inside, Stiles stopped, horrified, as he watched his father vomit black goo into a basin. “Dad!”
“Just a second, Stiles,” Melissa said quietly. “He wants to speak to you, but he’s not getting much of a break.”
Stiles approached slowly, laying a hand in the middle of his dad’s back. “What can I do, daddy-o?”
Noah sat up slightly, not dislodging Stiles’ hand. “Son, I’m sorry. But I know what’s happening here and it’s not good.”
“Sheriff, I’ll step out,” the ER doctor, a tiny eastern Asian woman, said. “I’ll take the MA with me. Are there any phone calls I can make for you?”
Noah shook his head. “No, thanks. Just, I’ll have Melissa hit the button when it’s over.”
“As you wish,” she nodded to the Sheriff, pointed to the MA, and said, “You and I need to leave. I’ll explain.”
“Yes, doctor,” the young MA said, bewildered, as he followed the doctor out of the room.
Noah heaved again. The black, viscous goo looked hideous. Stiles paled and stayed uncharacteristically silent as he watched his strong, competent father shake through the experience. When he was able, Noah sat back up.
“I was bitten by an Alpha werewolf with a turning bite, and my body is rejecting it,” Noah said bluntly. “I’m dying.”
Scott put both his hands on Stiles’ shoulders as his friend collapsed into a chair. “Werewolves?” Stiles said weakly.
“Why not werewolves?” Noah asked, hoarsely. “In a world where mutants exist, what’s one more thing?”
“The thing in the woods is a, what do you all it? Alpha werewolf? And he bit you, and you’re dying.” Stiles said it all flatly, uncomprehendingly.
“Yes.” Noah took a deep breath, and heaved again. Melissa held the bowl, and as he stopped, she swapped it quickly for a fresh one. “Hale family, all born werewolves. Don’t know who was in the woods tonight, but Laura was back. She’s dead. Killed in the Preserve and cut in half. Might have been hunters. Might have been the Alpha, looking for her power.
“Remember Talia, Stiles? Remember Derek, and Cora, and Peter?”
Stiles nodded slowly. He and Derek had hung out sometimes, when he was smaller and his mother was sick. Stiles still visited Peter in the long-term care ward of the hospital, where he’d been catatonic since the fire that had wiped out the rest of the family, minus Laura and Derek, who had disappeared after the file.
His mother, Claudia, and Derek’s mom, Talia, had been good friends. Cora had been in Stiles’ grade.
“Talia offered your mom the Bite when we found out that she was likely to die from the frontotemporal dementia,” Noah said bluntly, hoarsely. “But the test they do to see if someone would accept the Bite failed. It doesn’t work for everybody. If it works, they turn into a werewolf, with all that entails, including healing and enhanced physical prowess.”
“A yen to howl at the moon?” Stiles joked half-heartedly.
“That, too,” Noah said, then held up a finger and heaved again. Minutes later, he continued. “If the Bite won’t take, this is what happens. My body is rejecting the Bite, and I will likely be dead by morning.”
“Dad,” Stiles protested, tears welling up in his amber-brown eyes. “You can’t! You promised!”
“I should have known better,” Noah said heavily. “There’s just a little time, Stiles. Just a little. But you need to know some things.”
“What, daddy?” Stiles asked, and stood to make his way to the bed. Noah made grabby hands, and Stiles gladly fell into his father’s arms for a Stilinski squeeze. “You can’t leave me, daddy!”
“I don’t want to, Stiles, but I don’t see a way out of this,” Noah clung, fiercely, before moving Stiles quickly and heading back to the basin. Stiles rubbed his father’s back while the man heaved, and heaved.
“Melissa, can we do anything for him?”
She shook her head. “Normally, we could give him something for the vomiting, but as this has a supernatural cause, it wouldn’t do any good. We occasionally see out-of-the-ordinary things in the ER, and we’ve learned a few things. Just a handful of us are in the know, but if it’s odd, staff know to get one of us. Like Dr. patel, who is treating your father.”
Noah sat back. “Not much time, I don’t think. Stiles, Professor Xavier has your guardianship paperwork. Set that up when your mother died and your powers manifested. Stupid in my line of work not to do it, so I made it work. Call him ASAP.”
“Okay, daddy,” Stiles said quietly.
“Cremate me, bury the ashes next to your mother. No experimentation, no anything.”
“House will go to you; insurance will pay it off. You and Xavier decide where you’ll live.” Noah heaved again. They waited in silence until he sat back, visibly weaker. “Your mother’s family disowned her when she manifested. No idea where they are, and I wouldn’t bother looking. Your Nana and Pops Stilinski are somewhere in China right now, I think. They know about you, and your powers, but agreed that you need more stability than they can provide, running around the world like they do chasing artifacts. Their contact info is in my phone. Tell them I’m sorry and I love them.”
Stiles swallowed, blinking tears away from his eyes as he listened. “Okay, daddy.”
Noah grabbed his son’s hand, squeezing it tight. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me, Mieczyslaw. My Mischief. I love you so much, and I’m sorry I have to leave you.”
“I love you, too, Daddy.” Stiles continued to cry silently, holding his father’s hand as Noah heaved again, and again, and again.
The pattern repeated itself into the early hours of the morning, and Noah Stilinski was right.
He died at dawn.
Stiles stepped out into the hallway, closely followed by Scott. His tears had dried up sometime in the night, and all he felt now was hollowed out, and empty.
“What can I do, buddy?” Scott asked.
“I don’t know, Scott,” Stiles said dully. “I guess I have to call the Professor and see what’s next.”
“I’m with you, Stiles.”
“Thanks, Scotty.” Stiles wiped both hands over his face. “I think I left my phone in the car.”
“I’ll walk you out. Mom‘ll handle what needs doing here.”
Stiles said nothing, but led the way out to his Jeep. It was angled in a square parking spot, but at least it was in the lines. And locked. Nice work, Stiles, he thought to himself.
He unlocked it, and pulled his phone out from the basket he kept between the front seats. He saw several missed calls, all from friends at Xavier’s. “Wow, they must know something’s up,” he muttered. Scott stood silent sentry while Stiles pressed a particular number on the missed calls list to return it.
It rang once before it was picked up. “Stiles, what’s happened?” Professor Charles Xavier asked.
“My dad’s dead, Professor,” Stiles said hoarsely. “Line of duty. Lasted most of the night, died at dawn.”
“Oh, dear boy, I’m so sorry to hear it,” Charles said gently. “I’ll be out there today. You’ll have quite a number of people worrying over you here. Would you like me to bring anyone in particular with me?”
“Is Logan there?”
“He is. I’ll bring him. Anyone else?”
“Maybe Remy? I’m not ready to see the girls yet.”
“As you wish, Stiles. I will text you when the jet arrives in Beacon Hills, and we’ll make our way to your home immediately, unless you need us elsewhere.”
“No, that would be good, thanks, Professor.”
“You’re more than welcome, dear boy. See you soon.”
Stiles ended the call. “He’s on his way. I suppose I should find Dad’s phone and try to get a hold of Nana or Pops.” He blew out a breath. “Contact the station, or a funeral home, or something.”
Scott gripped Stiles’s shoulder. “Let’s go to the diner, get breakfast. Make a list.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said. “Yeah, okay.”
The diner had a scattering of patrons at the early hour, none of whom Stiles recognized. They ate and laughed and chattered as if Stiles’ world hadn’t just shattered. As if his father wasn’t dead. As if some supernatural creature hadn’t just taken his father’s life for no good reason. As if Stiles wasn’t an orphan.
The thoughts built up in his head and his hands started buzzing. Scott saw it, and gripped Stiles’ shoulder again, hard. “Squirrel,” he said softly.
Stiles came back to the present. “Right.” He blew out a breath, clenching his hands tightly to quench the electricity. “Right. Thanks, Scotty.”
They ordered waffles, and coffee, and Stiles called the station. He told Deputy Tara Graeme of his father’s passing, and that he hadn’t made any arrangements yet. She asked about Stiles’ guardianship, and Stiles told her it was handled.
“Dad made sure of that,” he said. “My new guardian is on his way in from New York right now.”
“Alright, Stiles,” Tara said. “I’ll let the most senior deputy and the mayor know what’s happened. You let me know when you have arrangements set up, or if you need help with any of that. Your father died in the line, Stiles, and we’ll want to honor him for that.”
Charles Xavier mourned for his young student, and the Stilinski family.
Delightful Claudia, taken too soon from her young family, her power with telekinetic energy unrivaled. He missed her kindness and her counsel, and he regretted that they could find no way to slow or stop her illness.
Young Mieczyslaw, whose powers with electricity had manifested in his grief at Claudia’s passing, and whose kindness and intellect rivaled his mother’s. Charles would take guardianship of Stiles, without question. It left only the details.
And poor Noah. A human born to mutants, with unparalleled natural investigative aptitude, to be taken from Stiles so suddenly. Charles sighed.
“Professor?” Logan, known as Wolverine, asked from his position across from the professor’s desk. “Everything alright?”
“Not at all, I’m afraid,” Charles said slowly. “Noah Stilinski passed away this morning. He somehow ran into trouble while on duty last night. I imagine what Betsy felt was Stiles’ grief at the news his father wouldn’t survive.”
“Ah, hell,” Logan swore. “Noah was a good man.”
“Gone too soon,” Charles agreed, “much like Claudia. I’ll need to have the jet ready to head to California.”
Logan rose. “I’ll take care of it, and pack a bag.”
“Please. Stiles is asking for you and for Remy, if you’d be so kind as to collect him?”
“On it.” Logan left quickly, heading for Remy and their rooms on the second floor.
Charles looked through his desk’s file drawer, and pulled out the Stilinski paperwork. He reviewed the file carefully, and noted the name of Noah’s grandfather, yet again.
His daughter, Anya, had married Noah’s father, Jeorg, in Poland, forty years ago. Together, they’d had one son, Noah, and they spent their lives traveling the world, taking care of difficulties for mutants and, as an aside, hunting rare artifacts for sale.
When Noah came of age, he asked to put an end to the wandering, and Charles took him in while he finished his high school education. Noah spent four years in the Army afterward, before meeting Claudia at Xavier’s.
Together, the couple had made the decision to marry and build a quiet, settled life for themselves in a small town. Noah attended the police academy and became a sheriff’s deputy for Beacon County, and Claudia gave birth to young Mieczyslaw.
Charles reflected on all of this as he considered what calls he needed to make. Anya and Jeorg, certainly, would want to know about their son’s passing.
Charles wasn’t entirely certain Erik knew that Anya had survived the fire that burned he and Magda out of their home in the wake of World War II. The only reason Charles knew was because they mapped Noah’s genome when Stiles manifested his powers.
Erik was a familial match. It was his x-gene that had been passed to Noah, through his mother. Jeorg had the gene, too, but Noah didn’t receive it. With only one x-gene, the likelihood of Noah manifesting was extremely low, and it hadn’t happened before his death.
Stiles, though? Stiles was one of the strongest mutants Charles had ever seen, having received x-genes from both parents. Electrical manipulation was his specialty, but he also had limited telekinesis and excellent mental shields. His time spent at Xavier’s during the summers had helped the young man immensely, both in gaining control of his powers, and in learning to function with his ADHD.
He’d become a favorite in the house, and this news would hit all of them hard.
Charles added the papers, which included a sealed copy of Noah’s will and the guardianship transfer papers he’d signed years ago, to his briefcase, and set it on his lap, over the bars of his wheelchair.
He’d grab his go-bag from his room and meet the others at the plane.
The flight time from New York to California was halved with the use of the X-Jet, which Scott Summers had piloted and set down carefully at the Beacon Hills Regional Airport. Charles had reserved an SUV while they were en route, and Logan and Remy LeBeau, known as Gambit to his enemies, hauled their go-bags off the plane and into it.
“Let me know when you want me back, Professor,” Scott told Charles. “And let Stiles know we’re thinking of him. We’ll want to be back for Noah’s funeral.”
“I’ll let you know details when I have them, Scott,” Charles said reaching up to shake his hand. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Scott gave a casual salute to Logan and Remy as he went back up the ramp to the pilot’s seat.
Charles wheeled over to the SUV, and lifted his arms for Logan, who placed him in the back seat before using the button on the back of the motorized wheelchair to collapse it for storage in the back.
Logan ensured everything was secure before nodding to Remy, who got behind the wheel of the sleek black Escalade and started it up. “Where to, Professor?” Remy asked.
“The Stilinski’s house, Remy,” Charles said. “I’m texting Stiles’ phone now. He’s napping, but his friend Scott assures me that he’s home and expects us there.”
“Fair enough, then,” Remy said, making a left turn out of the airport parking lot and heading toward the residential area of Beacon HIll in which Stiles lived, nine months of the year.
Charles looked out the window toward the Preserve, which they were passing on their way into town. The late-morning California sun reflected off the secret spaces within, hiding them from view with a shimmer.
What had killed Noah?
Charles knew the Preserve held secrets. Claudia had gone to him with Talia’s offer of the Bite, and again with the results of the test that showed it wouldn’t work for her. He and Hank theorized that anyone with an expression of the x-gene would find themselves rejecting the Bite, as their gene overrode whatever it is that makes werewolf happen.
He hadn’t gotten many details from Stiles, at all, about what had happened last night. All he knew was that Noah had been chasing a lead in the Preserve and had been mauled by some kind of animal, failing to survive the night.
But he wondered.
Remy made the right, then the left turn onto Stiles’ street, which backed up to the Preserve. He pulled into the driveway and parked next to the Jeep, which looked sad in the light. “Might want to service that while we’re here, eh, Wolfy?” Remy said.
Logan nodded. “We can keep it running on more than duct tape for him. Take a look later.”
Remy parked, and Logan got out, went around the back of the car, collected Charles’ chair, and restored it to full size. He parked it in the driveway and moved to help Charles out of the SUV and back into his chair. Charles thanked him quietly, then left them to the business of unloading while he made his way up the wheelchair ramp Noah had installed the first summer Stiles stayed at Xavier’s.
At his quiet knock, Scott McCall came to the door and let him in. “Hey, Professor. Thanks for coming. Stiles is still sleeping.”
“Best thing for him, I’d guess,” Charles said quietly. “Good to see you, too, Scott. Are you well?”
“As much as I can be,” Scott shrugged. His asthma still bugged him, but he’d been working out with Stiles as much as he could and was building up stamina and muscle. “Stiles is a mess.”
“I imagine so,” Charles said, moving forward through the house and into the kitchen. He set his briefcase on its top as Scott thoughtfully moved a chair out of the way for him.
Remy and Logan came in the front door with their bags, and Remy asked, “Where do we want to put these, Professor?”
“Ah, they can go in the guest room for now, Remy. Just up the stairs on the left. We’ll likely make up the sofa bed in the study down here for me, but they’ll be out of the way up there for the moment, if I can impose on you both later.”
Logan nodded. “Good plan, Chuck, and no problem.”
Charles shook his head at the nickname but smiled. “Go on, then. Maybe peek in at Stiles while you’re up there?”
“You got it, mec,” Remy said, flashing his trademark grin as he loped up the stairs, a bag in each hand.
Logan rolled his eyes and followed him up.
Scott cleared his throat. “We found Nana Stilinski’s number, and we left a message with their service to call us back as soon as they’re able, but they haven’t called back. I’ve been watching Stiles’ phone for him.”
“Thank you, Scott,” Charles said. “I’d wondered if Anya and Jeorg had been informed. I believe they’re in Indonesia at the moment.”
“Yeah, Noah said they were somewhere over that direction,” Scott said, then swallowed. “He had a lot to say to Stiles before he passed.”
“Were you there, Scott?”
Scott shrugged. “Of course. Stiles needed me.”
Charles smiled. The pair were practically inseparable when Stiles was home. “You’re a good friend, Scott.”
Scott gave a lop-sided grin. “Mom called me out of school today, too. It’s too bad, because lacrosse tryouts were today, but it’s more important for me to be here. I’m guessing this will be all over school today.”
“It does seem the kind of thing that would be talked about, yes,” Charles acknowledged.
Another knock on the door made Scott jump. “I wonder who that is?”
“You’ll have to go and see,” Charles urged gently, and Scott grinned again. “Yeah, guess so.”
It was Deputy Graeme, with an older woman in tow. At Scott’s gesture, the pair entered the Stilinski home. The older woman was looking around, and Deputy Graeme introduced her to Scott and Charles as Helen Marsden, with Child Protective Services.
“Ah, Ms. Marsden,” Charles said. “I’m Charles Xavier. Noah Stilinski named me his son’s guardian in the event of his passing. I have the paperwork here.”
Helen, who had kind eyes, said, “I’m glad you do, but I’ll need to speak with Stiles first. At 16, he’s old enough to have input on guardianship decisions. I’ll want to meet him separately to ensure that he’s on board with your guardianship, too.”
Charles raised an eyebrow. In his experience, CPS was rarely too concerned about what children wanted, in general. “Of course.”
“Stiles is sleeping, ma’am,” Scott piped up. “We were up all night with the Sheriff before he passed away.”
“I see,” Helen said, thoughtfully. “I’ll just look in on him, then. You’ll have him contact me when he wakes, Scott?” She handed him a card, and another one to Charles. As she handed Charles the card, she added, “I’ve known Stiles all his life, Dr. Xavier. I know exactly who you are to him and his family, and I’m comfortable leaving Stiles with you for now. But we’ll want to verify all arrangements and make sure Stiles is happy with them before we set them in stone.”
Charles’ respect for the woman went up several notches. “I thank you on his behalf.”
Deputy Graeme spoke up. “The sheriff’s department has several services for the orphaned children of our deputies and officers that Stiles will be eligible for, Dr. Xavier. I came with Helen to ensure Stiles knows his options on that front. I understand Noah’s body was released to the mortuary, and that Stiles authorized a cremation, but nothing else has been done with regard to services. We do have a ceremony we can use for a fallen officer, if Stiles wants it.”
“I’ll speak with him when he wakes, Deputy Graeme,” Charles said.
“Call me Tara, please. I’ve known Stiles his whole life, too, and I’m so sorry he’s going through this,” she said. “Noah was a good man.”
“It’s Charles, then, and yes, he was,” Charles said. “Thank you.”
Logan came down the stairs, startled at the extra people in the kitchen, and said, “He’s still asleep, Chuck.”
“Ah, thank you, Logan. May I introduce Helen Marsden, of CPS, and Tara Graeme, of the Sheriff’s Department? They’re here to check on Stiles,” Charles said, as Logan nodded to each of them. “Would you mind escorting Ms. Marsden to Stiles’ room? She just needs to peek in to see that he’s safe here.”
“Certainly,” Logan said. “This way, ma’am.”
Helen followed Logan back up the stairs, and Charles turned back to Tara. “There were no problems with the funeral home, then?”
Tara shook her head. “Not that I know of. The Sheriff’s wishes are filed annually with the department, as a matter of policy. He was clear about cremation and Stiles validated that wish. They’ll want to meet with Stiles and his guardian to finalize services, and of course, since he died in the line there will be an honor guard and ceremony for that.”
Scott looked at the professor. “Will we need to wait for the Sheriff’s parents to come, Professor?”
Tara looked startled. “Noah’s parents are living?”
“Yes, Tara,” Charles said. “Anya and Jeorg are archaeologists, who I’m afraid will never retire, and are somewhere in Indonesia at the moment. We’ve left messages with their answering service. We’ve all discussed what would happen with Stiles should something happen to Noah, and given their lifestyle, they’re content for me to have his guardianship. Though I’m given to understand that Anya will likely eviscerate me if something happens to her grandson on my watch.”
Tara snorted. “I’ve never met her and I already know Noah takes after … took after …” She drew a deep breath. “Damn.”
Charles smiled sadly. “Quite.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the return of Helen and Logan, who were followed by Remy. Helen turned to the professor. “I can see that he’s sleeping, though he’s restless. Please have him call me when he’s able. He’s in good hands here, surrounded by friends, but the next while will be rough for him. We’ll also want to get his guardianship finalized as soon as we’re able, just to avoid complications.”
Charles nodded. “Of course, Ms. Marsden.”
“Helen, please.” She smiled. “Tara, are you staying? Or did you want to walk out with me?”
“I’m on shift, so I guess I’ll be leaving, too,” Tara said. “Charles, can we set up a meeting for tomorrow morning? Maybe for breakfast? I’ll get the police union rep and the funeral director together and we can go over things all at once. Give Stiles today to just, be.”
“I think that’s a capital idea,” Charles said. “Shall we say 9 at the diner?”
“Perfect. I’ll take care of getting everyone else together and meet you there.” Tara nodded to them all. “Take care of Stiles.”
A chorus of “we wills” followed her out the door.
Remy sat down at the table. “What do we do now, Professor?”
“Scott has Stiles’ phone handled. We’ll want to get something together for lunch,” Charles said.
Stiles’ phone rang.
“Speak of the devil,” Scott mentioned, as he picked up the phone. “It looks like Anya’s number.”
“Go on and answer it, Scott,” Charles directed.
Scott tapped the phone to answer the call, and put it on speaker. “Stiles’ phone, Scott McCall speaking.”’
“Scott? It’s Anya Stilinski. What’s happened?”
“Hello, Mrs. Stilinski. Stiles is sleeping now. I have Professor Charles Xavier with me, if you’d like to speak with him.”
A crackle fell over the line. “I’m happy to talk to Charles, but I’d like to know what’s happened and why he’s there. Stiles said there’d been an incident?”
Scott drew a deep breath, and at Charles’ nod, said gently, “Mrs. Stilinski, your son was killed in the line of duty last night. I’m so sorry.”
Even with the tinny crackle of poor cell service on the line, they could hear the hitch in her breath. “My son? Oh, my sweet boy.” They heard a shuffle and a man’s voice came on the line. “Scotty? It’s Jeorg. What happened?”
“I have Professor Xavier here already, and Stiles is sleeping,” Scott said. “I’m going to pass the professor the phone. We were up all night with the Sheriff.”
“All right,” Jeorg said slowly. Scott handed Charles the phone, and Charles said, “Jeorg?”
“Charles, what’s happened?”
Charles said gently, “Noah was mauled by an animal in the Preserve last night, and died early this morning.”
“We’re on our way,” Jeorg said quickly. They could hear the sound of weeping, muffled, next to the phone. “It’ll take us a day or two to get to Beacon Hills, but we’re coming.”
“Thank you, Jeorg,” Charles said. “Stiles will be glad to see you. And I’m very, very sorry for your loss.”
“Take good care of our boy while we’re en route,” Jeorg said. “See you soon.”
Derek Hale followed his nose to the Preserve, and the site of his sister’s death. Wide, yellow police tape blocked off a clearing, scuffed. Clearly, her body had been found, and her death was being investigated.
He looked around, and seeing no one, shifted into his beta form in order to get a better scent. He could smell the jasmine-and-honey scent of his sister, underscored with notes of pine, where she’d fallen near the center of the clearing. Surrounding it, he could catch samplings of other scents. He followed one familiar scent past the clearing, heading toward town.
The scent had the same notes of pine common to the Hale family, but those notes were nearly drowned in decay-tar-aconite-coffee—
Derek closed his eyes and clenched his hands, briefly, then opened them. If his Uncle Peter had somehow come out of the catatonia that had been his perpetual state since the fire that wiped out the rest of the family, he’d be nearly rabid, insane with the broken pack bonds and wild with the pain of aconite—wolfsbane—burning through his system.
The oak leaves rustled as he moved passed them, the wind shifting just enough that Derek had to backtrack twice to re-catch the scent, which he was almost positive belonged to his uncle. He followed it to a separate clearing, where he caught a fresher scent heading in a different direction.
When tracking, always follow the freshest scent, he remembered, so he moved slowly in that direction, keeping his eyes and ears open as his nose did most of the work for him. Derek followed it at least a mile past the Hale house, into an area he knew held numerous caves and underground tunnels.
A den, then.
He sniffed further, picking up the freshest scent again, and moved back toward the house, stumbling onto another taped off scene.
Blood marred the ground here, and Derek wanted to howl in the grief that came with knowing his uncle might truly be beyond help. The scent on the ground seemed familiar, too, with notes of ozone and spice.
Derek’s heart stopped for one brief moment. He’d looked out for Stiles when they were younger, when Stiles’ mother was ill and he needed watching. Derek, six years older and a comic book geek like Stiles, offered a stable, responsible companion to the frantic eight-year-old with the big eyes and the bigger heart.
The day Claudia Stilinski had died, Stiles had been by her bedside, but Derek had been in the waiting room down the hall. He had witnessed Stiles’ grief, and the manifestation of his electrical powers.
Without meaning to, Stiles had fried the electronics in his mother’s room in the long-term care ward, drawing the electricity to him before Derek could get there to help calm him. Heedless of the sparks that ran over Stiles’ skin, Derek had held him, and scented him, and soothed the boy who’d just lost his mother.
Derek shook himself. That scent in the clearing was familiar. And it was overlain with the coppery scent of fresh blood.
That much blood meant someone was in the hospital.
Or the morgue.
Derek turned up his collar and headed back through the woods to the burnt-out wreckage of Hale House, and the Camaro he’d shared with his sister. He’d head to the hospital, see if anyone had been brought in, see how they were doing.
And check on his uncle, while he was at it.
A tired-looking Melissa McCall directed Derek to a seat in an empty waiting room. “Should have known you’d be here soon,” Melissa said. “We’ve never met, Derek, but I learned about you last night, from Sheriff Stilinski.”
Derek froze, and raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, I know about you, and your family,” Melissa said tiredly. “It came up because Noah had to explain to Stiles why he was dying.”
“Stiles is dying!?” Derek exclaimed.
“No, Derek. Noah died this morning, after a night of heaving black goo.”
Derek closed his eyes. “Shit.”
The pair sat in silence for a moment, before Derek broke it.
“So Stiles knows about …”
“And Noah was the one attacked last night?”
“And he didn’t survive it.”
Derek rubbed both hands over his face. “Where’s Stiles?”
“At home,” Melissa said. “My son, his best friend, is staying with him. The man Noah designated Stiles’ guardian arrived a bit ago, too. It’s a mess, Derek.”
Derek banged his head against the wall behind him. “OK. Right, thank you, Mrs. McCall.”
“I’m sorry, Derek,” Melissa said.
“I’m sorry, too.” Derek looked up. “I’m going to go see my uncle while I’m here, then I’m going to head over to Stiles’ place.”
“Sounds like a plan. I’ll text Scott to expect you.”
Derek stood, and made his way toward the long-term care ward. In a stroke of irony, Peter was staying in the same room Claudia Stilinski had died in. He knocked quietly on the door, and stepped in.
His Uncle Peter sat in a wheelchair, facing the window. Wolfsbane-infused burns still lined the left side of his face, and he seemed as catatonic as he’d been the last time Derek had visited, on the sly. But the decay-tar-aconite-coffee scent he’d picked up in the woods also filled the room, which confirmed a few things for Derek.
The most likely scenario? Peter had killed Laura, which would have made Peter the Alpha.
Peter-the-Alpha had bitten Noah Stilinski, who died of Bite rejection.
Peter probably didn’t know what he’d done. If the wolf was acting on its own, his uncle was in poor shape. But if Peter did know? If he was faking this condition? Something else was at play.
Derek cleared his throat. “Noah Stilinski died this morning, Uncle Peter. His body rejected the Bite. Stiles Stilinski is now an orphan.”
No response in the blue eyes that looked fixed on the outdoors.
“I don’t know how you got out there. I don’t know if you’re faking or if the wolf is doing what it wants because you can’t control it. But I do know you did this, Peter. And I know in your right mind you’d never have done it. If I can help, you have to let me.”
Blue eyes moved, slowly, to find Derek’s gaze. Peter blinked once, deliberately.
“OK, so you need help. What can I do?”
Peter looked slowly over at his bedside table. On it, two medicine cups sat. One was empty. The other—
Derek picked it up and sniffed, his eyebrows nearly reaching his hairline as he realized what was in the cup. “Wolfsbane?” He whispered. Peter looked fixedly at Derek, who paled at the implications. “We’ve got to get you out of here.”
Peter’s gaze bored into Derek’s, and he knew what to do.
“I’m taking you to the Stilinski’s,” Derek said quietly. He breathed out. “We need to get you away from here, and I know Stiles will help.”
The way Peter’s eyebrows rose, almost imperceptibly, made Derek roll his eyes. “Not saying he’ll be easy about it, especially if it turns out you really are responsible for Noah’s death, but there’s something else going on here, and we need to get to the bottom of it.”
Peter breathed deeply. Derek took that as a sign, and reached for the handles of his wheelchair. “Let’s go.”
Derek didn’t bother to take any of Peter’s things. Doing so would alert the staff to his intention to take Peter off the premises, which, if he was right, would be met with resistance. Instead, he strolled out the front door of the hospital as if he took Peter out for a walk every day, and headed straight for the Camaro.
The chair would be an interesting fit, he thought, opening the passenger door and lifting Peter into the passenger seat with ease. He buckled his uncle in, then collapsed the chair and put it in the trunk. He had to use some bungee cords to accomplish closing the trunk, but he managed, and hustled around to the driver’s side to get in.
No one stopped them.
Derek drove just under the legal limit to the Stilinski residence, and parked at the curb in front of the house, glad to see the wheelchair ramp to the front door. He got out, brought out the wheelchair, opened Peter’s door, and lifted Peter into the wheelchair to wheel up the sidewalk to the front door, where he rang the bell.
A gruff-looking man with a cigar in his hand opened it.
“Ah, hi. Is Stiles home?”
The man smirked. “You must be Derek. Scott said you were on your way over; his mother texted him. I’m Logan. Come in. Stiles is sleeping, but he should be up soon, and I think we’ve all got some questions.”
Derek nodded. “I think I’ve got some answers. But we also need some help.”
“We?” Logan asked.
Derek gestured to his uncle in the wheelchair. “My Uncle Peter. Catatonic since our family was murdered by fire six years ago. Except I think he’s been kept catatonic. And I think he knows what happened last night. And I think we’re in danger.”
Logan snorted. “Well, step right up, bub, and bring him in with you. I think we can figure something out.”
As Derek crossed the threshold with his Uncle, he felt something inside him settle. Logan closed the door behind him, and Derek watched two other men rise from seats in the main living room. Logan gestured. “Stiles’ friend Scott McCall—“ the younger, lanky guy with the floppy brown hair waved a little — “and Remy LeBeau, friend and teammate to Stiles when he’s in New York. Professor?” Logan called a little louder, and Derek could hear the whirring of an electric wheelchair coming through a short hallway from the kitchen/dining room to the living area. “It’s Derek Hale and his uncle.”
A fit bald man in a wheelchair came around the corner and parked his chair next to Peter’s. “Charles Xavier. Stiles’ guardian and mentor.” Charles eyed Peter Hale. “And this is your uncle?”
“Yes,” Derek said. “I sort of stole him from the hospital just now. Well, when I say stole …”
“I’m sure as his closest kin you have some rights to his care,” Charles said carefully. “What led you to bring him here?”
Derek drew a deep breath. “I thought it would be the safest place for us. I’m not sure why. And I needed to check on Stiles.”
Logan smirked. “It’s a werewolf thing, isn’t it?”
Derek opened his mouth, closed it, and then nodded abruptly. “He’s pack. Has been since he was a kid, just like Claudia. Mrs. McCall didn’t tell me you all know about weres, but she was clear about her and Scott knowing.”
Charles smiled sadly. “We’re the ones Claudia went to with the knowledge of the Bite and it’s potential. I’m only sorry it won’t work for anyone with the x-gene.” He rubbed his eyes briefly. “We’re still catching up.”
Movement at the steps caught their attention. “Looks like you all are having a party without me,” Stiles said, hoarsely. “Hello, Professor.”
“Stiles, dear boy,” Charles opened his arms, and Stiles went in for a hug. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
The hug should have looked awkward around the wheelchair, but Stiles just tucked his long legs up a bit and leaned in, taking comfort from his guardian. Derek looked away, but Remy stepped up to rub Stiles’ back. “We’re here now, Sparky,” Remy said, lowly. “We’ve got your back.”
Stiles held on for a moment, then loosened his grip and stood. “Thanks, guys.” He looked up, and amber-brown eyes met the hazel-green gaze of Derek Hale. “It’s good to see you, Derek.”
Derek stepped back from his uncle’s chair, and came around to Stiles. He paused in front of the boy and asked, quietly, “May I scent you?”
“Scent me?” Stiles asked, quirking an eyebrow.
“Scenting is the werewolf equivalent of making sure you’re okay, that you still smell like you, and making you smell like me, too. It’s kind of a pack claim,” Derek tried to explain. “You’ve been pack since you were a child, Stiles, and I know I haven’t been around the last few years—Laura had a tight grip on our finances and I couldn’t sneak out as much as I wanted to—but I never forgot you, or Peter.”
Stiles nodded slowly, and Derek leaned in just as slowly, drawing him in for a hug, burying his nose between Stiles’ jaw and collarbone, right at the neck, and rubbing a hand up and down Stiles’ back. He smelled ozone, and cinnamon, and amber, and notes of citrus.
Stiles smelled good. He smelled more than good, and when Stiles started to reciprocate, Logan cleared his throat. “Any more scenting, boys, and I’ll be having to remind Derek that you’re still underage, Stiles.”
Derek drew back, the tips of his ears pinking up, and Stiles blushed, too. Scott rolled his eyes, and Remy smirked.
Charles simply shook his head. “Yes, do keep in mind that my ward is underage, please. While Logan might not be a traditional were, he is a feral mutant, and can certainly sniff out more than you might like.”
“I understand, sir,” Derek said quietly. “I wouldn’t ever compromise Stiles like that.”
Charles nodded. “Stiles, that goes for you, too.”
Stiles gave a half-smile. “Of course not, Professor.” But he winked at Derek, making him blush even more, and Scott just threw his hands in the air.
Remy laughed. “I’m not a feral like Wolvie here, but I have some empathy, and I can tell you both that you’re not fooling anyone, least ways the Professor. ‘Sides which, we’ve got some things to do, y’all.”
Derek cleared his throat, willing the blushing to go away. He hadn’t anticipated that reaction to Stiles’ scent. At. All. But he wasn’t opposed to it. They were all right, though. Stiles was young. And Derek could wait. But his uncle, was another story.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Stiles,” Derek said quietly. He looked around the room. “And I’m afraid I know what happened, but I don’t know why . My sister is dead. She was my Alpha, and now her body’s in the morgue.”
“Half of her body’s in the morgue,” Stiles mumbled. “They were looking for the other half last night when something came at my dad.”
“Half,” Derek muttered, eyes going distant. “That’s...actually really confusing.”
“Okay, so what we know, Derek, is that Dad got the Bite from an Alpha in the woods, and he died rejecting it,” Stiles said plainly. “What do you know?”
“Laura left a week ago for Beacon Hills,” Derek said. “She told me she just wanted to check on Peter, take care of some paperwork. She’d be back. She wouldn’t let me come. She was my Alpha, and she was paranoid. She kept a tight leash on me, on our money, on everything. She left Peter in care here, despite knowing what the loss of pack would do to him, because she was afraid the hunters who killed our family would come for us, too.”
“She left him here as bait?” Logan growled.
“Maybe?” Derek said. “I think she thought leaving him in plain sight would distract them from our whereabouts.”
“Didn’t keep you from visiting, though,” Stiles pointed out. “I know you’ve been by once or twice; I see your name on the roster from time to time.”
Derek nodded once, abruptly. “I couldn’t let him be completely alone.”
“I couldn’t either,” Stiles said. “And if I’m pack, that makes sense. I visited him every week.”
“So he should have been healing, faster than what’s been happening,” Derek said. “When hunters torched the house, they used wolfsbane to keep the weres from healing of their injuries. Peter’s the only one who made it out.”
“He was trying to get the small children out of the basement window,” Stiles remembered. “The building collapsed on top of them. He probably would have died, too, if he hadn’t been a were.”
“His son, Liam, and my little brother, Connor, were four. Inseparable. And human. They died instantly,” Derek said.
Charles laid a hand on Derek’s arm. “I’m so sorry for your losses, Derek.”
The wave of shame and guilt that hit Derek abruptly, and made Remy’s head snap up. “What was that, mec?”
Derek choked. “It’s my fault they’re all dead. All of this is my fault.”
Stiles clamped a hand over Derek’s. “Why do you think that?”
Self-loathing washed over the room, making Remy wrinkle his nose. “The hunter responsible for the fire was Kate Argent. She … got close to me in order to find out about my family. I didn’t know what she was. She didn’t use her real name, but …”
Charles closed his eyes. “Derek, how old were you?”
“Fifteen, going on 16,” he whispered.
“And how old was she?”
“Mid-twenties, at a guess.”
“Then she took advantage of you, your youth and naïveté, and you are in no way responsible for what happened to your family,” Charles said firmly. “That blame lies with Kate Argent, and Kate Argent alone.”
Derek shuddered as tears filled his eyes, and Stiles squeezed his hand even more firmly. He took a moment to control himself, then cleared his throat. “So, wolfsbane. It impedes healing in weres, and it was embedded in Peter’s burns. We knew it would take him time to heal from that, but if we’d stayed, he’d have healed faster. I came as often as I could. You probably helped, too, Stiles, even if you didn’t know it.”
“I’m glad,” Stiles said simply.
“But today, when I went to see him, I found that the pills they were giving him were wolfsbane-based,” Derek said softly, angrily. “I had to get him out of there.”
Mouths dropped around the room. “So what’s going on, then?” Scott asked, soft brown eyes round with astonishment.
“I don’t know, but Stiles, I scented the scene of the crimes,” Derek turned to him, and returned Stiles’ grip, knowing that wouldn’t soften the blow much. “Peter’s scent is all over the woods. I think he killed Laura. I think he got the Alpha power from her. And I think he’s the one who bit your father last night. I just don’t know how. Or why.”
All eyes snapped to Peter, and they saw the single tear trickling down his burned face.
Peter Hale felt, too much.
Relief, that Derek had put the pieces together enough to pull him out of that god forsaken hospital. Grief for the loss of his family, triggered by the loss of one of the best men he’d ever known. Horrible guilt and self-loathing for the acts his body had committed.
The tears kept coming as the man called Charles leaned forward to look at his eyes.
“Peter, is it?” Charles asked gently. “I’m a mutant, Peter. I can get into your mind, if you’ll allow it. Perhaps we can clear some of this up.”
Peter blinked, firmly, once.
Charles nodded. “Alright, then.”
“Will it hurt him?” Derek interrupted.
Bless his heart, Peter thought.
“It shouldn’t,” Charles said. “But if you smell pain, or anything else distressing, while I’m working with your uncle, do stop me.”
Derek nodded, and stepped back.
“It will help, Peter, if you think clearly about what you want us to know.”
Peter blinked once more, and Charles put two fingers to his own temple.
Pain. Blinding pain.
A woman, a nurse? Roughly washing his body, stripping the burns with fresh wolfsbane oil. More oil dripped in a mouth to prevent healing. Slow tortures, daily tortures.
The same woman, setting him to face the moon, letting up on the dosage just enough.
Running through the woods, finding Alpha, knowing that Alpha healing would only help accelerate his healing, perhaps enough?
Killing Alpha, taking power. Was it Laura? He didn’t know. He couldn’t know.
Healing faster. Hiding it from the woman. Escaping out the window last night for the full moon, knowing he’d have to be back before morning, before she returned. Smelling ozone and spice in the woods. Noah. Noah would help. Noah could be turned. Could be pack , just not enough time. Not enough time.
Biting on the fly, and running. Shot, it burns. Running for the den, healing. Needing to get back to the hospital before she does.
He climbs through the window, but she’s there, with a handful of mountain ash that she blows right into his face. He falls. She manhandles him into his bed and force feeds him the wolfsbane pills that keep him under, keep him sedated. A man comes in and helps her strip Peter, rubbing oil into his wounds, redressing him, setting him by the window with a sneer.
Derek comes, and Noah’s dead. Grief, so much grief.
Charles blinks. “Oh, you were quite right to bring him to us, Derek. The poor man has been systematically tortured with wolfsbane this entire time to keep him from healing. One of his caregivers, it appears. Possibly two. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, they’d let off the dosage recently to turn him loose on the full moon. He found an Alpha in the woods and killed it. His thoughts weren’t clear, just that he could use the Alpha’s accelerated healing to perhaps escape. He didn’t know it was Laura. He’s still not sure the Alpha he killed was Laura.
“He knew he had to return to the hospital, but he had the Alpha healing then, and it started to help accelerate his own. He escaped out the window of his room last night, and ran into the woods. He ran into Noah, and he recognized him. Thinking Noah could be pack and help him, he Bit. One of the deputies shot him, and he ran for a known den to heal. I’m not certain that he’s completely healed from that, actually, because the minute he got back to the hospital, his caregiver blew a black dust into his face to control him, force fed him wolfsbane pills, had her companion help her strip him and rub more wolfsbane oil into his burns, and set him up in his chair.
“He’s very relieved to see you, Derek, and grateful to be out of the hospital. He’s also nearly incapacitated with grief and guilt over Noah’s passing, Stiles. His intent was not to kill Noah, but to make him pack.”
Peter’s tears came with more frequency.
Stiles leaned forward to look into Peter’s eyes. “You couldn’t have known, Peter,” Stiles said quietly. “Dad had an x-gene. It wasn’t active, but we think an x-gene means automatic rejection of the Bite. I get that your instincts were riled and you didn’t have time to ask him for help.”
Peter looked at Charles and blinked again. Charles nodded.
“He wants you to know that your father was one of the best men he’d ever known, and he would never have given him the Bite if he’d had all the information, or, indeed, his full faculties. The Bite is meant to be a gift, and he’d hoped Noah would be receptive to it, and forgive him for it, after he turned. He can never, ever, make up for your loss, and he’s deeply sorry.”
Stiles wiped his eyes. “Okay, Peter.”
“Derek, Logan, could you get Peter upstairs into the guest room, please?” Charles asked. “I don’t know that we can do anything about the wolfsbane that he’s ingested, but we can certainly strip him off and clean his skin of the wolfsbane oil. Derek, do you know of anything that can counteract wolfsbane?”
“Wolfsbane ash, if you know which variety? It works for wounds caused by weapons infused with wolfsbane in herb form. But that’s the only thing I know about.” Derek looked disgruntled at his lack of knowledge.
Peter blinked at Charles again, who listened, and said, “He doesn’t know which wolfsbane it is they’re using. With his healing factor kicking in, however, simply getting it off his skin will help a great deal.”
Logan stood and nodded to Derek. “Let’s get him upstairs, then.”
Peter slumped a little as Derek lifted him from his chair, and Logan spotted the pair as they went upstairs, leading the way to the guest room.
Gentle hands helped take all of his clothes off as the men laid Peter out on the guest bed, and Logan asked Derek, “Wouldn’t a shower be better?”
“If he could stand on his own, I’d say yes.” Derek’s eyebrows furrowed. “I think, though, as it’s oil, we should sponge it off as best we can, first. Maybe with a degreaser of some kind?”
Logan nodded. “I’ll go see what the kid has around here that might work for that.”
Peter shivered, and Derek noticed, grabbing a throw from the end of the bed and tossing it over his uncle to keep him warm. “Sorry, Uncle Peter. Wasn’t thinking.”
A slow, lazy blink.
“Yeah, how is it you’re snarky even when you can’t talk?” Derek grumped, a half-smirk on his face.
Another lazy blink, and a quirk of the eyebrow.
“Getting better all the time, aren’t you?” Derek shook his head as Logan came back with a package of clean sponges, a basin, and dish soap.
“Dish soap?” Derek asked.
“Mild degreaser. Should do the trick,” Logan said. “It’s what they use on birds caught in oil spills.”
Derek shrugged. “And I guess it can’t be too harsh.”
“Nah, I’ll go fill the basin with warm water,” Logan paused and looked at Peter. “You cool with us both helping to clean you?”
A fast blink.
“The faster the better, eh?” Logan nodded. “Be right back.”
Derek cleared his throat. “Stiles is pack.”
“Would it help you to have him helping too?”
A slow blink.
“Yeah, that’s a tough ask right now, huh?”
Logan came in with the water. “What’s a tough ask?”
Derek looked at Peter, who stayed expressionless. “Peter doesn’t want to ask Stiles to help with this, even though he’s pack and it would help.”
Logan rolled his eyes. “Kid is all heart, you know.”
Derek nodded. “Probably why he won’t ask. Stiles won’t say no.”
“No,” a voice from the hall said. “Stiles is already here to help. As a volunteer. Because pack. Geez.”
Logan got out of the way as the lanky teen pushed into the room. Stiles stepped up to the bed and looked Peter in the eye. “Pack helps pack, right? So, here I am. If you don’t want me here, I’ll leave, but I don’t blame you and I can help, ok?”
Peter looked at Stiles for a long moment, then blinked, slowly.
“Okay, so cool. Hand me a sponge, Logan.” Stiles held a hand out, and he was met by a soapy wet sponge, which splattered him and everyone else. “Funny. You’re a funny guy, Logan.”
“Aim to please, kid.”
Derek snorted, and picked up another wet sponge from the soapy basin. “I’ll start with his face. Stiles, torso and arms? Logan?”
“Yeah, stick me with the stinky feet. Got it.” Logan shook his head, watching Stiles snort a laugh. Worth it.
Together, the men started gently cleansing Peter’s skin, and the red and angry burns on Peter’s left side, of the oil. They worked calmly, talking little, checking in with Peter frequently.
Peter reveled in the gentle touches, meant to heal, not harm. As his pack members laid hands on him, he could feel his healing accelerating. Slow tingles began to spread from every point they touched.
Derek’s hands on his face loosened the muscles in his jaw, leaving his mouth slack. Stiles’ hands over his arms, one at a time, left those muscles quivering to fight off the wolfsbane, and Logan noticed it first.
“Is he sweating, or is that wash water?”
Derek leaned closer, and sniffed. “He’s sweating it out. Good.” Derek left Peter’s torso to Stiles, and checked in with Peter. “Do we need to deal with the area under your briefs, Peter?”
Peter closed his eyes briefly, but was able to nod.
“Motherfuckers,” Stiles swore, his fingertips lighting up briefly. Peter winced. “Sorry, sorry.”
Derek calmly said, “Right. Logan, Stiles, can you give us some privacy for a moment? I’ll take care of that for him, and then we can turn him over.”
Stiles finished cleaning Peter’s belly. Then he stepped back. “Yeah, ok.” He patted Peter’s shoulder. “BRB, dude.”
Logan grabbed the sponges and tossed them back in the water. “I’ll change this out.”
Peter closed his eyes against the humiliation of the cleaning. Derek used gentle hands, but the low growl that escaped him at the sight of Peter’s abused penis and testicles made Peter tense.
“Sorry, Alpha,” Derek grumbled quietly. “I’m sorry you had to put up with this. If I’d known…”
Peter opened his eyes and tilted his head down. “Nnnnot yerrrr f...f...f…” Peter slumped back, willing Derek to understand.
Derek smiled wryly at him. “I’ll try to keep that in mind.” He eased Peter’s oil-infused briefs down off his legs, and used the throw to drape him. “I’m going to let them back in to help turn you so that we can get your back.”
Peter managed another brief nod, and Derek rested a hand on his face, avoiding the sensitive burns that had already been washed. Peter could feel the warmth of that touch strengthening their pack bond, and the healing that came with it. Tears welled up, and Derek caressed his forehead gently.
“It’ll be okay, Alpha.”
A rapid tap at the door revealed an impatient Stiles. “Ready, guys?”
“Yeah, let’s do this,” Derek said. “Logan, you help me turn him. Stiles, you hold the drape.”
They got him turned, and three sets of hands made short work of his back and neck. Peter could feel his healing accelerating, and the wolfsbane leaving his body through the flop sweat that accelerated as the external oils were removed.
He attempted a stretch, but he still couldn’t, quite, manage it.
Stiles tossed his sponge away. “Dude, his skin has gotta be drying out with all this soap. Hang on.” He zipped out of the room and zipped back, brandishing a bottle holding a clear oil. “Vitamin E in almond oil. Good for what ails your skin. Helpful for inadvertent electrical burn.”
Logan shook his head, amused. “Useful in a house with a spark like you.”
“Yeah, Dad isn’t always...wasn’t always…” Stiles trailed off. He took a deep breath. “Fast enough to avoid an out-of-control spark.”
Logan gripped Stiles’ shoulder tightly. “Okay there, Kid?”
Stiles laughed harshly. “Not remotely.”
Peter shuddered at the pain in his pack member’s voice. He didn’t deserve the consideration of this generous young man, who saw the shudder and laid a hand on Peter’s back.
“Not your fault, Peter. Not your fault. Freakin’ x-gene. Freakin’ torturers, keeping you feral.” Stiles removed his hand before he could do any damage, because his hands were buzzing. “I gotta go. I gotta run.”
“Take Gambit with ya, kid,” Logan said, pointing to the door. “He could use the exercise.”
“I heard that, Wolvie!” Remy shouted from downstairs. “Let’s go, Sparky!”
Stiles swallowed hard, then bent to look right into Peter’s eyes, were they were half-hidden in the pillow they’d propped him on. “I’m angry, but I’m not going to be angry at you. Let’s get you better, and we’ll go hunting.”
Peter flashed red eyes at Stiles, who nodded sharply. “Gonna run now. Take care of him.”
“We got this, Stiles,” Derek said quietly. “Go.”
Stiles left, and Derek grabbed a clean sponge from the stack. “I’m going to wipe off the sweat before we re-oil you. No point in rubbing wolfsbane back into your skin.”
Peter closed his eyes, and wept a little.
Remy LeBeau just tried to keep up as he followed Stiles into the Preserve.
He couldn’t blame the kid for the need to run, to expel the energy that ran through him, to shed some of the grief and anger and fear. Most energy-based mutations, such as those that belonged to Remy—who could speed up the molecules in objects until they exploded—or Stiles, required use. And in high stress situations?
Well, Remy’d just help an homme out and get him to burn some of that off.
He followed Stiles right to a clearing that had obviously seen some use. Remy could see the scars of electrical fire here and there, and the tank of water he could see nearby made complete sense. It was kind of ingenious, actually, with the gravity pump that would aid in putting out any fires that might happen when the kid got to enthusiastic with his electricity.
“Your training space, Sparky?” Remy asked, taking a good look around.
Stiles shrugged. “One of them. Gotta be kind of careful here, especially when the woods are dry, but it’ll do.”
Remy grinned ferally, and pulled out and extended his bo staff. “Let’s go, then, Sparky.”
He’d taken Stiles on multiple times, in the Danger Room back at the mansion, and Remy knew the kid had been developing his hand-to-hand skills under the tutelage of Logan and himself. This fight, though, wasn’t to prove anything. It was to burn out the grief-fueled energy that made Stiles dangerous.
Remy spun the bo and blocked the first blow, courtesy of a heavy oak branch Stiles picked up. Remy laughed, knocked it askew, and said, “Come on, now, tahyo,” Remy taunted. “I know I taught you better than that.”
“Tahyo?” Stiles paused, puzzled. “That’s a new one.”
“Big, hungry dog,” Remy explained with a grin. “Seemed appropriate. Come on, mec, hit me.”
Branch met staff, and the battle was on. Remy ducked and weaved, using the staff to keep Stiles’ physical attacks at bay, trying to wear the teen out. For his part, Stiles, aimed blow after blow with branch, hands, elbows, and feet, each easily blocked, as Stiles wasn’t using his electricity, yet.
Remy kept it up, blocking blows, calling instructions with casual Cajun taunts, until he could feel the shift in Stiles’ fighting. Kid was done playing, Remy thought, and ducked under a flash of lightning to drop his bo and reach for the deck of cards he kept in an inner pocket to charge. He sent a series of five charged cards Stiles’ way, cackling at the booms as Stiles evaded and retaliated with short bursts of long-range lightning that just missed Remy, who danced out of the way.
Stiles grinned, and just kept coming.
Scott heard the booms and crackles from the woods and kind of shuddered.
“What’s wrong, Scott?” Charles asked calmly. The pair were sitting back at the kitchen table, Scott monitoring the phones and Charles going through paperwork.
“I just, haven’t heard him go off that much in a long time,” Scott said. “I get it, I do, but I worry about him.”
They both listened, for a moment, and then Charles set his paperwork down. “How are you doing, Scott? I know that Noah meant a lot to you, too.”
Scott half-smiled. “The Sheriff was a better dad to me than my own is. I don’t know what we’ll do without him.”
Charles steepled his fingers together. “You’ve been friends with Stiles for a long time.”
“More like brothers,” Scott shrugged. “Mom and the Sheriff both did shift work. I stayed here when she was on nights; Stiles stayed with us when the Sheriff was on nights. We shared a sitter when they were both on, when we were younger. Last couple of years it’s been just us, a lot.”
“So taking Stiles from here would be detrimental to you, would it not?” Charles asked seriously.
Scott slumped a little in his own chair. “Yeah. I don’t know what I’ll do without him.”
“Hmmm.” Charles looked out into the woods behind the house, listening to the thuds and booms. “We really do need to talk with Stiles about his options. I wonder if he’d be interested in staying? Perhaps with Logan or another adult friend here to keep an eye on him. With his pack nearby, I’d hate to take him away, though my school requires me to be in residence in New Yorkmost of the time.”
Hope shown from the mild brown eyes that Charles privately thought looked more like puppy eyes than was strictly necessary. “Do you think that could happen, professor?”
“We’ll talk to Stiles, Ms. Marsden, and Logan, but I don’t see why something couldn’t be arranged,” Charles allowed. “At 16, Stiles could apply for emancipation, as well. With the house paid off and his expenses covered by me, there wouldn’t be a reason he couldn’t complete school here if he wanted to.”
“He’s really angry, Professor,” Scott said quietly.
“Yes,” Charles acknowledged. “We’ll need to find a good therapist for him. And for Peter. I’ll see if I can find someone, even if it’s over Skype or something similar. Ororo Monroe, a dear friend who works with us in New York, is a licensed psychologist and therapist who often counsels our students. She’s quite busy at the school, but I think she’d be willing to find the time to talk with Stiles, too.”
“That’d be good,” Scott said.
Logan came down the stairs. “We’re clearing wolfsbane flop sweat as fast as he’s leaking it, Professor, but Peter’s got a ways to go. He’s starting to be able to move a bit now.”
“Excellent news, Logan,” Charles said. “Has he been able to communicate vocally at all?”
“He’s muttered at the kid a couple of times,” Logan said. “Derek seems to understand what he’s trying to say. Might be a pack thing.”
“Likely,” Charles commented. “Logan, Scott and I were talking here, and I’m learning that Stiles and his father provided a great deal of emotional and physical support for Scott and his mother. I’m finding myself reluctant to move Stiles to New York, unless he really wants to be there.”
Logan paused. “But you need to be in New York.”
“But I need to be in New York, yes.”
Logan went to the fridge for a beer, popped the top, and leaned against the counter. “I don’t, not really. And it isn’t as if it’s hard to get me from here if you really need me. Or the kid, for that matter.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.” Charles wheeled back, turned around, and looked out the back window toward the Preserve, where they could now hear gleeful yells as well as thuds, booms, and crackles. “I’d like to give Stiles the option of living here, with you in residence, to complete his education locally and continue to provide support to Scott, Mrs. McCall, and his pack.”
“Do you think Marsden will approve?”
“I sense that she is willing to help Stiles in whatever capacity seems best for him,” Charles said. “That’s unusual, but as she said, she’s known Stiles his entire life. That being the case, she’s got to know that he’s not a conventional person, and he comes with his own set of challenges.”
Scott snorted. “He tases people who annoy him too much. It’s hilarious because no one knows he’s doing it.”
Charles frowned. “I’ll have to talk to him about that.”
Logan chuckled. “Sparky has his own sense of justice, Chuck. You’ve always known that. But yeah, we should have a talk with him about appropriate use of powers.”
“He knows,” Scott said with a grin. “He just doesn’t always care.”
Charles rolled his eyes, but said nothing. Maybe there was something in the Lehnsherr gene that made its users negligent about its use. Erik certainly never seemed to care who knew he had powers. Anya wasn’t as blatant about her mechanical manipulations, but then again, she rarely had a need to be.
“Have we heard anything from Anya and Jeorg, Scott?”
“Just a text, professor. They’re on their way to Singapore to catch a flight,” Scott reported. “Also, we really need to get Stiles to call Ms. Marsden. We promised.”
“That, we did.” Charles watched the Preserve for another moment. “We’ll wait for the crackling to die down a little bit, and I’ll call them back.”
Stiles collapsed in the grass, breathing hard. Remy laughed, but collapsed next to him to catch his own breath. “Better, homme ?”
“Yeah,” Stiles said, “better. Thanks.”
Remy waved a negligent hand in the air. “What’re friends for, anyway?” He took a look around, spotting a couple of smoldering piles. “Gotta douse some of this.”
Stiles looked around, too. “Yeah. Guess so.” He heaved himself up. “I’ll work the pump, you spray it down?”
The pair worked quietly, making sure all potential traces of fire or smoke were out before stopping. Remy used the iron fire shovel Stiles kept by the pump to scrape through a couple of spots to make sure all was out, and soaked it down. They’d nearly finished when they “heard” Charles call them back to the house.
“Guess we’re needed,” Remy said.
“Guess so.” Stiles put things away, slowly, and just bent over, his face nearly touch his knees, his hands stretched out for placement, palm down, on the ground. Remy stepped up and rubbed a hand over his back, waiting.
Stiles eased up, vertebrae by vertebrae, until he was standing upright and breathing calmly. “OK.
They started the walk back in companionable silence. Remy settled his cards into his long trench coat, and firmly set his sunglasses over his eyes against the fading Northern California sun. He covertly watched Stiles as the teen stuffed his hands into his pockets and lengthened his stride, heading for his house.
The kid was his friend. One of the true, good friends Remy had, for all that they were a generation apart in age. And he was taking Noah’s death hard, but the circumstances were enough to make anyone a little rough around the edges.
“So, what’re you thinking, mec?” Remy asked quietly.
“Remy, my friend, I am thinking too many thoughts,” Stiles responded. “I’m mad that Dad’s dead, I’m angry that Peter Bit him without all the facts, but I’m angrier that someone tortured Peter into being feral and forced that choice on him. I don’t know what I’m going to do, where I’m going to live, or how I’m going to live with Dad gone. I want to know who was keeping Peter under and why, and oh, yeah, I’m angry. So, so, angry.”
“I think you said that about three times, Sparky,” Remy commented.
“Oh, that’s ‘cause it bears repeating, dude!” Stiles yelled, taking his hands out of his pockets to wave them around. “Why the fuck does this shit have to happen to me? To anybody? Haven’t we been through enough around here?” He angrily wiped tears from his eyes. “Mom’s gone, and that’s hard enough. But what’ll I do? Dude!”
“What do you want to do?” Remy asked quietly.
“Oh, God, I don’t know.” Stiles shoved his hands back in his pockets. “Everything has to change now and I don’t want it to. I want to wake up tomorrow morning and see my dad in the kitchen, trying to figure out which cereal he wants because he can’t make decisions before coffee. I want to go to school and watch Scott try to make first line in lacrosse. I want to tease Lydia Martin for old time’s sake, just to watch her huff at me and flounce away with her boyfriend. I want to hug my mom. I want to …” Stiles stopped and huffed.
“You want to …?” Remy asked leadingly.
“I want to find and kill the people responsible for this whole mess,” Stiles said flatly. “And I know that’s not an impulse I can indulge in.”
“The Professor’d have something to say about it, yeah,” Remy nodded. “But I get it, mec.”
“Yeah, I know you do,” Stiles glanced over to meet Remy’s red-on-black eyes. “I know you do. I told Peter we’d go hunting when he felt better.”
The hair on the back of Remy’s neck rose a little at that, but he only smirked outwardly. “I’ll watch your backs,” he said. “But what’s say we look at justice before murder, eh? You know Noah wouldn’t want anything more than justice.”
Stiles deflated. “Yeah.” The house rose up before them, and a few minutes’ more walking led them both right back up the stairs to the kitchen patio doors. “Justice.”
Remy opened the doors for Stiles. “It’s what he was about.”
Stiles woke up with a start. It took him a moment to remember where he was, and when he did, grief slammed back into him.
He wrapped himself more firmly around his dad’s pillow, burrowing himself under the blankets on his dad’s bed.
Faint dawn light filtered through the drapes, and when Stiles slotted opened his eyes, he could see the sleeping form of Scott, wrapped up in a different blanket, snoring softly on the other side.
Tears fell, and he let them.
Everything would change now.
Dinner last night led to discussions and revelations, and a tentative plan had been decided. Stiles would stay in Beacon Hills. Logan would stay, too, as would Peter and Derek.
Charles would oversee the household accounts and handle any legal affairs. Derek and Peter would stay with Stiles until they had a home of their own to move into, at which point all housing choices would be reviewed. Derek has pointed out that it was common for packs to live on the same house, though not exactly rare for separate-but-close dwellings to also function the same way.
Stiles accepted that he had a place in the Hale pack, but was fairly certain he’d have to learn what all of that truly meant.
After dinner, they’d all gathered to watch old movies in the living before deciding on sleeping arrangements.
Stiles couldn’t bear to have anyone else in his parents’ room, so he and Scott settled in there. Remy and Logan took the freshly cleaned guest room, and Derek and Peter took Stiles’ room, claiming that its scent would help settle them both.
Charles, as he’d predicted, was on the pull out in the den, which had been modified several years ago to accommodate his needs, as had the downstairs bath.
Stiles closed his eyes again. They’d be heading to the diner later for a meeting with everyone who was involved with his father’s funeral.
And actually getting up right now?
He burrowed, and he wallowed, and he let the tears come as they needed to.
Logan started the coffee pot and went digging in the freezer for breakfast meat, snarling a little when he only found a couple of pounds of turkey bacon.
Hardly enough for four mutants, two werewolves, and a teenage boy, but he was only looking to make a morning snack for the early risers, anyway.
He shrugged and pulled it out, threw it in the microwave to thaw, and went digging in the cupboards. He found biscuit mix, and with that and a few other odds and ends, whipped up a coffee cake batter for the oven. He layered the thawed bacon on a cookie sheet and set that in the oven to cook, too, and then, finally, treated himself to a cup of coffee.
Logan took his time with the coffee, angling his kitchen chair so that he could watch the sun breaking over the trees in the Preserve.
He appreciated its beauty.
Good thing, too, as it looked like he’d be here for awhile.
He already missed Noah.
The Sheriff had been steady, strong. A talented investigator with a deep belief in justice.
He’d also been a good friend. Logan had lost too many good friends over the years.
But he supposed that was the price of his immortality, itself the product of his mutation. Doomed to outlive them all.
It would be easy to be bitter. And he’d had his share of that.
He’d found the best way to live with himself, though, was to appreciate the people in his life in every moment. To help where he could; to support when it was needed. He’d be there for Stiles.
The timer beeped, and he got up to turn the bacon, and check the cake.
Peter luxuriated in the stretch of healed muscles. His skin would take longer to heal, if it ever did, but the muscles beneath the skin felt strong, healthy.
He still couldn’t believe that he was free of the hospital. Free, and with pack.
Derek has come for him. Had figured it out. Had saved his body and restored his spirit.
Well. For a given value of restored.
Peter was well aware that his mental health was compromised. Six years of grief and torture would take its toll on anyone, he reasoned.
And waking up with an Alpha-power infusion resulting from the death of a once-loved niece?
His mind was not a happy place to be.
He looked over at Derek, who’d slept wrapped around his uncle, lending his strength and a pack-healing touch while he slept. A good boy, really.
Peter knew full well how Kate Argent had taken advantage of his underage nephew. It was hard to look at Derek now and not see the vulnerable middle child he’d been, starving for attention and ripe for plucking by that predator.
Stiles promised they’d go hunting.
Kate was first on his list.
Scott woke gradually, his mouth dry from mouth-breathing and his chest tight in a way that spoke of his chronic asthma. He probably needed to grab his inhaler sooner rather than later.
He opened his eyes to see tears running down Stiles’ face, inches from his own, and he shifted to rub a hand down his friend’s back.
He said nothing, just offered the physical comfort as Stiles grieved, and Scott shed a few tears of his own. But crying was always a problem; his sinuses clogged and his chest got tighter. Stiles noticed, though, opening his eyes when he heard the wheezing start.
“Where’s your inhaler, buddy?”
Scott half-smiled. “Don’t know,” he said, just to watch Stiles roll his eyes.
“Well, let’s go find it,” Stiles said. “I need you breathing.”
“Yes, sir,” Scott snarked, and grinned.
Stiles found Scott’s backup inhaler in the upstairs bathroom, and brought it to his friend. “Deep breaths, buddy,” Stiles said as he tossed it to Scott. “Lots to do today, and I need you at the peak of health.”
Scott rolled his eyes, but took one puff, held it for fifteen seconds, then released the breath and took another, relaxing into the sensation of the albuterol hitting his lungs and easing his airways. Stiles waited with him until the full dose was administered, then checked in. “Good?”
“All better,” Scott snarked, batting his eyelids.
“Excellent! I smell bacon. Do you smell bacon? I hope it’s the turkey bacon because that really needs eating and I will have a fit if someone went for the good stuff I hid in the big bag of broccoli in the freezer because most of us are mutants but our arteries are still not safe from the dangers of arterial plaque, and OMG is that cinnamon I smell? I really hope Logan is the one cooking, because unless it’s Cajun Remy will burn water.”
“Thanks, dude.” Stiles grinned at him. “Shall we?”
“Yeah, let’s. It smells great.”
The pair headed down the stairs, bed head and all, to find Logan, Charles, and Peter, of all people, digging into fresh coffee cake and turkey bacon. “Dude, where did you find coffee cake?” Stiles asked.
“Made it,” Logan said gruffly. “Wasn’t hard. Coffee’s hot, too.”
“Awesome.” Stiles went for the coffee pot while Scott took a seat at the table and reached for the bacon. “Anyone want more while I’m up?”
A chorus of negatives greeted his offer, so Stiles just filled a mug, grabbed the hazelnut-sweetened creamer from behind the carrots in the crisper drawer, and brought both mug and creamer to the table, falling into the chair next to Scott. He looked across to Peter as he added the stuff to his mug. “Feeling better this morning? I don’t see Derek, so I assume you made it down on your own steam.”
Peter nodded, clearing his throat. “I can at least move,” he said, hoarsely. “Alpha healing, and pack bonding, made a big difference.”
Stiles studied the scars on Peter’s face. “Do you think the scars will go away?”
“I don’t know,” Peter shrugged. “With wolfsbane involved, it’s hard to tell what will remain of the scars when my body heals itself as much as its able.”
“Huh.” Stiles took a sip of his coffee, then reached for the coffee cake, serving himself a slice. “What about your mental health?”
Charles interjected. “We were just asking about that, as it happens, Stiles. The short answer, as far as I can tell, is that healing will help any damage to the brain itself, but the real work of recovery will be, as ever, in therapy.”
Stiles made a face, not noticing as Peter made the same one. Scott noticed, though, and smirked. “The pair of you will need all the therapy,” Scott said solemnly, then laughed at the twin repulsed expressions.
His laugh was short-lived, however, as it turned into wheezing extremely quickly.
“Scotty,” Stiles said anxiously, landing a sharp blow to the back. “You just took your medicine. Do you need something stronger?”
Scott continued to wheeze, shook his head no, and pointed to the hot coffee, which Stiles quickly handed over. Scott took a slow sip, which helped a bit, but then, disgruntled at the wheeze, shook his head negatively, and rolled his eyes. He tapped his phone, and Stiles picked it up and dialed Melissa for further instructions.
“He has asthma?” Peter asked Charles, quietly, watching as Stiles got Melissa on the line to see what the next step should be, answering her questions about when he took his medicine and what he’d eaten and drunk that day.
“Yes,” Charles said simply. “It’s chronic, and in Scott, could be life-threatening if not treated quickly.”
Peter nodded, thoughtful, and listened in as Stiles answered Melissa’s questions, ending with a, “OK, Melissa. I’ll give him the inhaler again and if that doesn’t do the trick, we’ll meet you at home for a nebulizer treatment in fifteen.”
Scott held up two hands, fingers spread.
“Make that 10, Melissa. Scott doesn’t think the inhaler’s going to do it,” Stiles said, quickly, listening to instructions on the other end. “She says take your inhaler anyway so you survive the trip back to your house. Let’s go, Scotty.”
“I’ll tag along,” Logan said. “That way I can be sure you get where you need to go this morning, Sparky.”
“Yeah, that’d be great, Logan,” Stiles said distractedly, handing Scott the inhaler and watching him try to breathe in the medicine. “I can focus on Scott and you can drive. Melissa’s setting up the nebulizer right now.”
“Let’s go, then,” Logan said, getting up and grabbing keys from their hook by the back door.
Charles and Peter watched them go.
“You know,” Peter said slowly, “the Bite would cure his asthma, if it takes.”
Charles looked at him sharply. “And if it doesn’t?”
“Rejection would kill him, as it did Noah,” Peter confirmed quietly. “Does Scott have the x-gene?”
“We’ve never actually tested him for it,” Charles said, frowning. “If you’re considering offering him the Bite, then we should. Just to rule that out as a possible source of rejection.”
Peter nodded sharply. “I’m reluctant to Bite anyone else without that confirmation. The Bite is a gift, but I’m not willing to risk someone’s life for it. Not again.”
Charles looked pensive. “We keep the identities of those who have the x-gene rather close to the vest, I’m afraid. It’s a habit, born of long-held prejudices against our kind. But in this, I expect it would be a boon to all of us if we could freely share information. At the very least, foreknowledge could have avoided the terrible outcome we’re facing at the moment.”
Peter rubbed his hands over his face, tracing the scars that lined his left side. “I should never have Bitten Noah. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“You weren’t thinking at all, from what I could tell,” Charles tried to soothe. “You were feral, seeking assistance in the only way your hindbrain could understand. You recognized Noah and knew he would help. And, well, now, I hope you know, we will help.”
“The Argents deserve to die for what they have done,” Peter growled.
“And yet, we’ll seek justice first,” Charles said firmly. “I plan to speak with Deputy Graeme about just that.”
“Justice. Justice for the murders of my wife and children? My family? For the rape of my nephew and the death of my niece—at my own hands! Death for death, Charles. That’s all I’ll accept.”
Derek’s voice from the stairs interrupted his rant. “And where do the deaths stop, Uncle Peter?”
“When everyone responsible for their murders is gone!”
“Then you might as well rip out my throat right now,” Derek said, coming closer, and tilting his head to bare his neck. “Because I’m the one who told Kate about the back way into the house. Will you kill me?”
Peter snarled. “You were a child and she played you. She raped you and laughed behind your back while you told her our secrets. It’s not your fault that she’s a monster.”
“But I still gave her the information, Uncle,” Derek said, quietly. “And that means, if they all have to die, I do, too.”
A high whine escaped Peter as he tried to process that.
Charles placed a hand on Peter’s. “It may well be that death for the ones truly responsible will be their judgement. But we must, must, seek justice first. Or we are no better than they.”
“Right, there is not enough coffee in the world for this kind of discussion, this early, mes amis,” Remy said as he stumbled into the kitchen for the pot. “Peter goin’ all Magneto on us, Prof?”
Charles squeezed Peter’s hand. “A bit, Remy. Sleep well?”
“As can be expected,” Remy said, pouring himself the last of the coffee in the pot. “Want I should start another one?”
“Yes, please,” Charles said. He looked back at Derek. “Sit, please, Derek, and have a bite. We’ve got a lot to do today, and we’re going to need a little help.”
Keeping his eyes on his Uncle’s, Derek sat carefully down at the table, neck still bared, until Peter reached over with one hand, gripping the back of his neck. Derek relaxed, and Peter took a deep breath before speaking.
“I’m well aware that I’m not entirely rational at the moment,” he said hesitantly. “But I don’t want you dead, Derek. I don’t blame you. I never have. You’re pack, and you’re family. And you are not responsible for what an adult tricked you into doing.”
“As Scott said, just minutes ago,” Charles interrupted. “You need all the therapy.”
Derek nodded, abruptly. “Yeah, we probably do.”
Remy reached for a piece of rapidly disappearing bacon and asked, “Where is Scott, anyway?”
“He was having an asthma attack, so Stiles and Logan took him home for a nebulizer treatment,” Charles explained. “They’ll be back, or they’ll meet us at the diner later, depending upon what Scott needs to restore his lung function.”
“What do you need from me today, sir?” Derek asked, reaching for the last slice of coffee cake.
“If you would go to the Sheriff’s department and identify your sister, you would have some right to a working knowledge of their investigation into her death,” Charles said. “I’d appreciate it if you could see what you can find out. I’ll be asking Deputy Graeme today, when we’re setting up funeral arrangements for Noah, but answers from more than one source are much more reliable.”
Derek blew out a breath. “I can do that.”
Peter leaned forward. “You’ll also need to formally discharge me from the hospital. Laura held my power of attorney; with her death confirmed, that right falls to you as my only living relative. You’re well within your rights to have taken me off the premises, but I’m quite surprised that you haven’t received a call that I’m missing yet.”
“There was something sketchy goin’ on at the hospital though, wasn’t there, homme?” Remy asked. “I don’t know that Derek going back’s a good idea. What if your ‘caregivers’ take it in their heads to kidnap him or worse? We know they’re armed for it.”
“Hmm.” Charles tapped on the table with one finger. “Perhaps a phone call instead? We can fax the paperwork from here. Noah had a machine installed some time ago as a matter of convenience.”
Derek nodded. “Makes sense.”
“And if you need to go, I’ll go along,” Remy said, saluting Derek with his cup. “I’m handy as back up and not affected by the stuff you are, so we’d probably make a good field team.”
Charles smiled. “Careful, Derek. He’ll have you recruited to the X-Men before I say anything about it.”
Derek blushed, and Remy laughed, delightedly. “You’re a sweet one, ain’t ya? No worries, Professor. I think Derek’s got more things to do than worry about recruitment today. But so long as you need me, I’ve got your back.”
“Thanks.” Derek cleared his throat, and looked back at his Uncle. “We’ll want to bury Laura, too, as soon as her body’s released.”
“Yes,” Peter said, and paused before saying, carefully, “I’m very sorry for her loss, Derek. I don’t remember killing her, but I can’t think of any other way I could have become an Alpha.”
“It’s pretty suspicious, homme,” Remy said. “But if you can’t remember, there’s some reasonable doubt, right?”
Charles nodded. “I wouldn’t take the blame for that, just yet, Peter. And if it turns out that your body is, indeed, responsible for the death of Laura Hale, you’ll need to bear in mind that you were not in control of it at the time, and let that guilt go.”
Derek leaned forward. “All. The. Therapy,” he said slowly, carefully, and firmly.
Scott, as it developed, needed to head into the hospital for what Melissa called “the good drugs,” as his lungs were just not cooperating.
“Sorry, man.” Scott was hoarse because of the wheezing, but he managed to squeeze Stiles’ hand. “I’ll be by as soon as I can breathe.”
“No worries, Scotty,” Stiles said warmly, squeezing back. “You take care of you, and I’ll see you later.” He pointed two fingers at Logan. “Got your back up right here for the day.”
Scott quirked a grin, then got into his mom’s car, mask over his face, for the ride to the hospital and the small room off the ER that Melissa threatened to label Scott’s room, in perpetuity.
Stiles bit his lip, and Logan shook his head. “Let’s get you back to your house, Sparky. We gotta get you ready for the day. Unless you want to go meet the funeral guy in your Batman PJs?”
“It would make a statement,” Stiles muttered, but he looked down at himself and reluctantly conceded that he could do better. “Yeah, let’s get going.”
They made the quick trip back to the Stilinski house, and Stiles headed up the stairs with a brief wave at the kitchen assembly.
And wasn’t that weird, to see so many people in his home?
For all the support and instruction that Remy, Logan, and the Professor offered him in the summer, it was rare for Stiles to see the trio during the academic year unless they needed his particular skill set, or had a particular reason to be visiting. Which wasn’t to say they didn’t keep in touch, or that they valued him less, it’s just the way it was. New York and California were on opposite coasts.
He just wasn’t used to a lot of visitors, Stiles reflected.
He ducked into the upstairs bathroom for a quick shower, then, wrapping a towel around his hips, headed for his room. He gave a quick tap on the door to alert any occupants—there were none—and dug through his clean clothes pile to find a pair of jeans, a T-shirt (Star Trek, Blue, with “You can’t control other people, but you can control which airlock to throw them out of” emblazoned above a sketch of the Enterprise), and a blue-and-black plaid flannel. He added his black sneakers, ran a comb through his short hair, and called it good.
He thundered back down the stairs, and watched Peter raise an eyebrow at the noise. The rest took it in stride.
They knew what he was like, after all.
Well, most of them knew what he was like. Before yesterday, he hadn’t seen Derek in years. And he didn’t remember meeting Peter, before.
And now, apparently, he was pack. God help them.
“Yo.” Stiles took a look around. “What’s the plan?”
Charles smiled. “You, Logan, and I will head to the diner shortly to meet Deputy Graeme, the funeral director, and Ms. Marsden, who wants to touch base with you. Remy will provide back up to Derek, who plans to withdraw Peter from the hospital and start quietly looking into his caregivers. Peter will stay here, recuperating.”
“‘Kay, cool. Peter, do you want a laptop or something to occupy yourself with?” Stiles asked. “I know I get bored really easily, and you’ve got, like, six years of news and pop culture to catch up on.”
Peter nodded, pleasantly. “That would be appreciated, Stiles. Thank you.”
“Just don’t hack anything important,” Derek interjected, rolling his eyes. “Security software has been updated in the last six years, Alpha.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Peter said calmly, a smile playing at the edges of his mouth.
Charles raised an eyebrow. “I’m entirely sure that you do. Have you some computer skills, then?”
Derek scoffed. “He’s slick and smart, Professor, and he could make a computer just about dance before the fire.”
“Well, then,” Charles said thoughtfully, “perhaps you could do some cyber hunting for us today, Peter?”
Peter cocked his head. “To what end?”
“It seems to me that this entire mystery can be traced back to the fire, and those responsible for it,” Charles said. “I do not believe, for an instant, that it comes down to one person. Perhaps start digging up some backgrounds?”
Peter’s eyes flashed red. “I’d love to do some hunting.”
“Just save the actual evisceration for later, will you please?” Stiles asked. “I want in on any takedowns.”
“I will spend my time productively gathering data,” Peter said. “This sort of hunting will satisfy for now, and of course, we need as much information as we can get.”
Stiles picked up his phone from its charger and checked it. He saw a stream of text condolences, and picked out one. “Nana and Pop got on a flight from Singapore to San Francisco at 2 a.m. our time,” he noted.
“That’ll put them in San Fran around 8 p.m. today,” Logan said. “They need a ride?”
Stiles shook his head no. “Pops said they’d rent a car and drive up tonight, still. Not sure where we’re going to put them.”
“Ah, yes, that’s going to be a problem, isn’t it?” Charles mused.
“We’ll figure it out,” Stiles assured him unconcerned. “Maybe Melissa won’t mind a house guest or two for a couple of days.”
“Nevertheless, I think I’ll see if we can reserve some hotel rooms,” Charles said, opening his own phone and tapping an app. “You’ll have much more company as the week goes on.”
Stiles hadn’t thought of that, but he supposed the Professor was right. “I defer to my good guardian,” he said, with a sweeping bow.
Remy chuckled. “And that would be a first.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “I’m not that bad. At any rate, when do we need to go?”
Charles hummed, clicking on his phone to get reservations set at a nearby hotel for the horde coming from New York in the next week. He could always adjust them later. “Pretty much now. If you don’t mind, Stiles, I’d like to take the SUV. It’s got more room for the chair.”
“Sure, Professor. We can leave my wheels here,” Stiles said.
Peter cleared his throat. “When you have a spare moment, Stiles, I’d like to speak with you about the pack. Actually, I’d like to have a sort of pack meeting about our future when we’re able.”
Stiles nodded. “It might have to wait until the current crisis is over, but I’d like that.” He held up a finger. “One minute, let me go get that laptop for you, and then we gotta go.”
Peter nodded, and watched as Stiles bounded away. “Does he always have that much energy?”
A chorus of “yes” made him grin.
With Peter safely set up with Stiles’ laptop—a heavy duty number with all the bells and whistles and a secure wi-fi connection—the others headed to the diner for the meeting that Stiles truly dreaded.
He did not want to make final arrangements for his dad.
Final seemed too, well, final. Like an acknowledgement. Like he was never coming back.
Which, of course, he wasn’t, but. Well.
Stiles hadn’t yet hit “acceptance.”
Tara and Helen had picked the back corner booth, for privacy and room. It had a broad edge that would put the Professor’s back to the door, but would also allow him to pull his chair right up to the table.
A pleasant-looking middle-aged white man, with blue eyes and sparse brown hair, sat with them.
Tara made the introduction. “Stiles, this is Gerry Miller. He’s the funeral director the station usually works with. Gerry, this is Stiles Stilinski.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Stilinski. I considered your father a friend, and his loss to the community is immeasurable,” Miller said.
Stiles mumbled a thank you.
Proving that the man really knew his business, Miller smiled gently and added, “I’m here to help ensure that your father is honored in death as you would like him to be. Some decisions need to be made, but we can take a break on any of it at any time.”
Stiles smiled back wanly, and Charles cleared his throat. “I’m Charles Xavier. As Ms. Marsden no doubt explained, I am Stiles’ guardian, and will be helping him through this process.”
Helen smiled gently. “I spoke with Stiles briefly last night, and I’m satisfied with the arrangements made by Noah, and now Dr. Xavier, on his behalf. I just wanted to see you in person, Stiles, and give you my card. Let me by your ally moving forward?” She handed him a card. “My personal cell is on the back. If you need any help figuring things out, I’ll be glad to help. While everything is settling, I’d like a call from you every week, and I’d like to see you in person at least once a month.”
“Yeah, okay,” Stiles said quietly.
Helen smiled gently and stood. “I’ll leave you to it then. I’m sorry for your loss, Stiles.”
Stiles thanked her, and Helen left.
Tara leaned forward. “There are some things you both need to know. Because Noah died in the line of duty, leaving you an orphan, you’ll be getting a monthly stipend equivalent to your father’s take home pay until you turn 18, or you complete high school, whichever comes last. You’ll also be given a full ride to any university you can get into. The Sheriff’s Department Benevolence Fund takes care of all that.
“The Sheriff is also entitled to the Service for a Fallen Officer, which we’d really like to give him, if you don’t mind.”
Stiles sort of looked at Logan and Charles, who nodded encouragement. “I think I’d like that for him,” Stiles said slowly. “What does it involve?”
“There’s a private service that you choose, but afterwards, we deputies would take charge of the remains. There’s a processional with honor guard to the cemetery, and a graveside service that includes a 21-gun salute. I know you had him cremated, and we’d salute as his ashes are interred next to your mother’s.” Tara bit her lip. “We’re already wearing the black band on our badges.”
Stiles nodded sharply, fighting tears. “Make it so, deputy!” He tried to joke.
Miller added gently, “The procession could be quite dramatic. Should we do this on Saturday? That would allow for a nice turnout.”
“Yeah, sounds good,” Stiles said. “Morning? Maybe a lunch afterwards?”
“Certainly,” Miller said. “Anywhere in particular? We have the largest meeting room in our facility set aside for Saturday, assuming you’d agree with that thought. If you agree, the private service can be there, and we can use the same room after by resetting the chairs.”
Stiles looked at Charles, who pursed his lips. “The service, certainly, but I think we’ll find a larger venue for lunch.”
Miller nodded. “As you wish. Thoughts for the private service?”
“Can we do a Jewish service?” Stiles asked. “We weren’t really practicing, especially after mom died, but my grandparents are coming and they do, so…”
Miller consulted his notebook. “By having him cremated, you’ve already precluded full rites, but I will check with Rabbi Benjamin and see if we can have funeral prayers. He’s done that before so I don’t really see a problem. Would you like to meet with him?”
Suddenly, Stiles was quite certain he didn’t. “I’ll ask my grandmother to,” he said. “Her name is Anya Stilinski.”
Miller nodded, and noted that down. “Today is Wednesday, so we have a couple of days to finalize the details of the service, and the speakers. Usually there are several who talk about the deceased.”
Sensing Stiles’ distress was growing, Charles jumped in. “I think people from all walks of his life should be represented. Tara, would you speak?”
She nodded. “Of course.”
“You, too, professor,” Stiles said hoarsely. “And maybe Scott.”
“Perhaps a call for others as well, at the service, who might be moved to speak?” Miller asked.
“Yeah,” Stiles said. And he suddenly grinned. “We also need to be playing the Stones before and after.”
Miller smiled widely. “Not a classical music fan?”
“Nah, just a fan of the classics,” Stiles said.
“I’ll take care of it,” Miller said briskly. “Anything else?”
“No,” Stiles said. “I trust you to make it happen. And Nana will be here tonight sometime. She’ll have more to talk about, probably.”
“I look forward to meeting her,” Miller said.
A server stopped by to top off coffee cups. “Ordering any food today, folks?” she asked cheerfully.
“Give us a few more minutes, please?” Charles asked. He waved toward Logan and Stiles. “We’ll want to eat after our meeting.”
“Certainly!” The perky blond moved away and Stiles rolled his eyes. He turned back to the table. “Do you need anything more from me right now?”
Miller and Tara shook their heads negatively. Tara added, “We can get things organized from here.”
“Great, because I’m really done now.”
Miller nodded sympathetically and eased himself out of his seat. “I’ll be in touch.” He passed Stiles a card. “Have your grandmother call me.”
Stiles saluted him with the card, and Miller left. Stiles looked around at Logan and Charles. “I need waffles. And bacon. Lots of bacon.”
Logan raised a hand to get the attention of the server. “Easy enough, Sparky.”
Erik Lehnsherr tapped his fingers along with the classic rock streaming out of the satellite radio that came with his rental car. The drive from San Francisco had been smooth, and left him much time to think.
Anya’s cry for help, coming, as it did, just as Erik was about to retire for the night, took him by surprise. He’d been aware of his grandson, and his great-grandson, since Anya had gotten in touch, a little more than five years ago. It had seemed prudent, however, to maintain his distance, given that his grandson was in law enforcement.
Erik shook his head wryly. Law enforcement. Honestly.
Anya had explained, with no small amount of pride, that Noah was one of the best investigators in the country, but content to run his Sheriff’s Department and raise his son. Noah had been a good man, and Erik regretted not taking the time to at least meet him anonymously before his passing.
He would not miss the opportunity to meet his great-grandson, however. Even if it meant running into Charles.
Erik smiled as he passed the “Welcome to Beacon Hills” sign.
Derek’s phone call to the hospital did not go as well as he’d hoped.
Power of attorney or not, he was told, he had to present himself in person with his paperwork to formally sign out his uncle. The administrator he’d spoken to also threatened to have him arrested for kidnapping if he didn’t produce his uncle.
As Peter was no longer a catatonic mess, that one would be challenging. No one wanted to alert the corrupt caregivers to Peter’s location or to the fact that he was lucid. Mostly.
Derek growled as he hung up the phone.
“Bad news, nephew?” Peter asked absently, eyes on the data scrolling in front of him.
“Produce you and the paperwork allowing me to take you, or get arrested,” Derek said shortly. “Asshole.”
Peter looked up with a smirk. “Wow. You’ve gotten positively verbose in your old age.”
“Whatever.” Derek rolled his eyes and scowled.
Remy laughed outright. “Well, then, what’s next?”
Derek exhaled, loudly. “Find the paperwork, I guess. Maybe call that deputy that’s helping Stiles? Maybe call a lawyer?”
“If you still have the same family lawyer on retainer, she’s right in town,” Peter said, slowly. “Nia Drake. She’d at least know what Laura did with the paperwork, even if Laura fired her.”
“I don’t know what Laura did,” Derek said shortly. “She took us off to New York and outright forbade me from seeing you. Though I was able to get around that a couple of times. She made me go to school, and she worked at the coffee shop in the building we lived in. I don’t think she set foot in Beacon Hills again until she came back to get murdered.”
“And that’s curious, in and of itself,” Peter murmured. “Why on earth return when she clearly didn’t want to be here to begin with?”
“And why did she leave you behind when she knew how dangerous it would be here?” Remy asked, twirling cards through his fingers out of long habit.
“Good questions,” Derek said. “She wouldn’t talk about Peter. Like, at all. But she was definitely scared.”
They were all silent for a moment, thinking, before Peter spoke. “What school?”
Derek raised an eyebrow.
“What school did you attend, nephew?” Peter asked. “I’m curious about your life. Humor me.”
“Finished high school, went to Columbia,” Derek mumbled. “Just got my BFA last spring.”
“Your painting?” Peter asked, delighted. “You continued to pursue it?”
“Yeah,” Derek thawed enough to sit down at the table with his Uncle. “And illustration. I’ve actually been offered a contract to illustrate a new series of children’s books out of Random House that I’d like to take.”
“And you should!” Peter said enthusiastically. “After Nia and I review the contract, of course.”
“Of course,” Derek rolled his eyes again.
Remy laughed. “Do some paintin’ myself, mec. M’ Papa’s an art … connoisseur, I’d guess you say. What do you like to work with?”
Derek shrugged. “Anything really. I liked doing street portraits in New York. It’s how I made my own money for things Laura didn’t want me to have.”
Peter shook his head. “Didn’t do well as an Alpha, then?”
“Like I said, I think she was mostly terrified, but she controlled everything,” Derek said, sullenly. “She didn’t like to hear my suggestions and shut me down when I talked about making pack alliances and maybe coming back to reclaim our territory.”
“So why did she come back,” Peter said slowly, “when she was clearly terrified of Beacon Hills?”
“She must have had good reason,” Remy said, continuing to flip his cards in his fingers. “People stay away from what scares ‘em. Unless the alternative is scarier.”
“Or she was threatened in some way,” Peter said softly. “Did she act any differently before she left?”
Derek shook his head negatively. “I wasn’t spending a lot of time at the apartment, though. We had another argument about leaving Peter here, and I was just done. I got a text from her saying that she needed to come out here, and that I should stay put. But Alpha command doesn’t work over text, obviously, because I followed her as soon as I could.”
“Only to find that she’d been killed,” Remy concluded.
“Yeah.” Derek slumped. “I don’t like that our last conversation was so angry.”
“Why did she not want to bring me to New York?” Peter asked.
“Same old, same old. Too dangerous. Would lure hunters to our location. And finally, because ‘I’m the Alpha and I say so,’” Derek said, gesturing widely.
“Why would a healing pack mate be a danger, unless she knew what was going on in the hospital?” Peter asked slowly. “Knew about it, did nothing to prevent it?”
“Knew about it, allowed it to happen,” Remy said quietly. “To prevent a bigger danger? To … Derek.”
“Sacrifice me to protect her brother,” Peter said, closing his eyes and leaning back. “From the Argents.”
“How am I a danger to the Argents?” Derek asked, bewildered. “Kate used me to gain entrance to the house and set it on fire. I want nothing to do with them.”
“But she acted against the Code,” Peter pointed out. “She acted against the Code, and you can testify to that.”
“Where would I testify, Alpha?” Derek asked. “We can’t risk letting knowledge of the supernatural out.”
Peter stared at him. “Did we never educate you about the Hunters’ Council?”
“Since I have no idea what that is, I’m going to guess no,” Derek said dryly.
“The Hunters’ Council can be called to sit judgment on a hunter that’s gone rogue, and execute same,” Peter explained. “With your testimony, we could prove that Kate Argent went rogue and murdered the Hale Pack in cold blood. It would likely lead to her execution.”
“So why didn’t we do that?” Derek asked.
“I’m gonna guess that the Argents were holding Peter hostage,” Remy said. “To keep Laura in line. Kind of a detente, where they held Peter, but they wanted Derek. Probably threatened to kill you if you showed back up in Beacon Hills.”
“But I did,” Derek said, paling. “I came by a few times, when I’d saved up the money for a ticket and could ditch Laura for a weekend. I’d slip in and visit Peter, then head home.”
Peter leaned forward. “If what we’re imagining is true, I’m going to guess you were very, very, lucky, nephew, not to get taken by the Argents. My so-called caregivers likely had instructions to catch you if they could.”
“A viable threat,” Remy nodded. “And all supposition at this point.”
Derek looked at the clock on the microwave. “Stiles and the others will be home soon.”
“And that reminds me, mec.” Remy sat up and gave Derek a hard look. “What was up with all that sniffing around Stiles yesterday?”
The tips of Derek’s ears began to glow pink. “I really was just pack-scenting. To start.”
“And to finish?” Peter asked, smirking.
“He just smells really, really good,” Derek mumbled.
“Oh, I took note of how good he smelled to you,” Remy said. “So did his guardians and friends. And of how much he liked it when you scented him.”
“I know he’s underage, alright?” Derek huffed. “I won’t go sniffing around him again until he’s of age.”
“That’s going to be tough, Derek,” Peter said, “considering that your reaction to his smell usually means you’ve found a compatible mate.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Derek slumped back.
“Age of consent in New York is 17, if the older partner is over 21,” Remy commented.
“It’s 18 in California,” Derek said. “Something I know but ignored when Kate Argent …”
Remy sobered. “I get it, mec. I do. Just be careful with him, eh? Get to know him, who he is now, who he’s trying to grow to be. When a partner’s older, it’s not just sex you worry about. It’s about letting the younger person grow into their own being, too, independent of you. Stiles is mature for his age but he’s still got some growing to do.”
Derek nodded, quiet and thinking. He glanced up at his uncle. “Alpha?”
“Remy’s right,” Peter said thoughtfully. “And as Alpha, I would give you permission to court our packmate, should he wish it, and to do so formally. Per Hale pack rules, that could take up to a year, and would prohibit physical contact beyond scenting during that time.”
“That would mean chaperones,” Derek said, “right?”
“Chaperones and a lot of talking,” Peter agreed. “Informal dates with others present while you get to know each other as potential partners and mates. It shows your intent is honorable, and gives you both time.”
“I gotta say, Derek, that sounds like a good plan,” Remy said. “I’m guessing Stiles isn’t the only one who needs room to grow, and heal.”
“Probably not,” Derek acknowledged. He cleared his throat. “Thank you, Alpha. And back to where this whole conversation started: Do you have Nia’s number? I’ll call and see what I can find out.”
Erik pulled up to the diner, sensing the metal alloys of Logan’s framed skeleton and the frames of Charles’ wheelchair. He hoped his grandson would be with them, and for the first time in years, he reached out mentally to Charles in warning. Charles, I am here, in the parking lot. May I come in and join you? Anya called.
A pause, and he “heard” the answer: You are most welcome, old friend.
He got out of his vehicle, locked it with a thought, and stepped up to open the diner’s door. Spotting Charles at the back, Erik made his way through the morning crowd to take a seat in the booth.
“Good morning, Charles, Logan.” Erik looked to each, noting the warm welcome on Charles’ face and the cool neutrality of Logan’s. “Anya called me last night and asked me to come.” He turned to the third face at the table, taking in the lanky form of his great-grandson for the first time.
The lad was beautiful.
The carefully trimmed dark brown hair, so like his own, topped a strong face dominated by whiskey-colored eyes. A scattering of beauty marks called attention to creamy white skin, and Erik could see he was tall and trim, with a runner’s muscled form.
Frankly, the lad reminded Erik of his own mother, especially around the eyes.
“You must be Stiles,” Erik said gently. “I am your great-grandfather. Anya’s father.”
The whisky eyes widened. “I didn’t know I had a living great-grandparent.”
“Well, no,” Erik admitted. “Anya and I thought it prudent that I maintain my distance, given my history. But I did think I had time to meet you, and Noah, both. I’m sorry that I was wrong. And I’m deeply sorry for your loss, dear boy.”
He watched Stiles’ eyebrows draw together. “Your history?”
“I’m Erik Lehnsherr,” he said simply.
Stiles’ jaw dropped. “Magneto.”
Erik smiled wryly. “Yes.”
“That explains the radio silence. I think you’re still wanted in California,” Stiles thought out loud, and his eyes snapped back to Erik’s. “You’ll want a low profile here. There’s going to be tons of law enforcement crawling through for dad’s service on Saturday.”
That simple statement told Erik a great deal about his great-grandson.
“I will be sure to keep that in mind,” Erik said, and smiled.
The package looked innocuous enough.
Plain brown paper wrapped around a shoe-box, a plain envelope carefully addressed to Derek taped to its top, hurriedly, with the kind of wide clear packing tape available at the counter at the U.S. Postal Service.
It had been delivered to Nia Drake four days ago, and she’d had it sent over to Derek as soon as she’d gotten his phone call.
Derek accepted the box from the courier, catching a hint of Laura’s scent on it. He just held it as the courier left, and he watched the dark SUV carrying Stiles and his breakfast companions park at the curb, followed closely by an obvious rental car driven by a silver-haired man whom Derek didn’t know.
He watched Stiles bound out of the front seat of SUV to join him on the porch, but he only felt, sort of, distantly numb.
“What’s up, Der?” Stiles asked. “What’s in the box?”
Derek leaned forward and caught Stiles’ scent. The ozone helped settle him a little. “A package from Laura. Sent from New York to our family lawyer. Addressed to me. Um, Nia, she’s the lawyer, she’s going to bring the power of attorney paperwork down to the hospital for me and formally sign Peter out of their care. She’s bringing a Deputy because we’re alleging abuse as a reason for our withdrawal.”
“Okay, wow, that’s a lot to process,” Stiles said, leaning forward a bit himself to allow Derek to scent a bit more deeply. “What brought that on?”
“Well, one, Peter is clearly lucid now, and clearly wasn’t lucid yesterday, so it’s clear that there was some sort of tampering going on to keep him in his catatonic state,” Derek said, taking a deep breath and settling further. “She’s demanding an investigation, but she assures me it can be framed in such a way as to leave the whole werewolf thing out of it. Peter can testify to rough treatment. Though I sort of wish we’d documented things better yesterday.”
Stiles tentatively touched Derek’s shoulder. “We were more focused on helping him heal than documenting the injuries at the time. Since they’ve faded, we’ll have to settle for alleging abuse through use of sedatives or something.”
“And Nia wants the investigation to discover why,” Derek agreed. “So she’s on that. But Laura sent her this, to me, and with Laura’s death, well, I guess I get it now.”
“Should we wait to open it with law enforcement present?” Stiles asked. “She’s a murder victim at this point; it’s potential evidence.”
Derek shook his head as the others approached. “I don’t want to do this in front of an audience, especially one not in the know.”
“Fair enough,” Stiles said. “Can I document through video while you open it, though?”
“Seems a good precaution.” Derek and Stiles turned at the sound of Charles Xavier coming to the front porch and up its ramp. “A package from Laura?”
Derek nodded simply.
“Who among us would you like to be there when you open it?”
“Just,” Derek’s eyes darted to the stranger approaching. “Um. Family, I guess?”
“You mean pack,” the silver-haired stranger said. “Stiles, is this one of your weres?”
Stiles cleared his throat. “Derek, may I introduce you to my great-grandfather, Erik?”
Derek raised his eyebrows.
“Erik Lehnsherr,” the stranger held out a hand. “And I am well acquainted with your kind from my travels.”
Derek extended his hand, cautiously, and they shook. ‘Lehnsherr?’ He mouthed the word to Stiles, who nodded.
Suddenly, the thought of courting Stiles, though still appealing, looked incredibly dangerous, too.
Charles laughed, having caught the stray thought. “Apologies, Derek. Honestly, Erik doesn’t bite.”
“Unless you want me to, Charles,” Erik said calmly, with a bit of a grin.
“Ew.” Stiles said, involuntarily. “Did not need to know that about my great-granddaddy. And my guardian. Just. Ew.”
Charles gave a bit of a grin back. “It’s been years, Stiles. We haven’t been together in quite some time. We’re not likely to desecrate the office pull out.”
Derek snorted, his nose telling him a different story, but he refrained from saying so.
He refrained a lot.
“I guess, everybody inside, then?” Stiles said, gesturing wildly. “And how’s Peter?”
They all trooped in, and Stiles noted how crowded his family home was getting with people. All good people, but it was making him feel a little claustrophobic.
“Peter is doing better than he expected,” the man in question said from his place at the kitchen table. “Still doing some cyber hunting—my nephew was right, and security has taken more than a few upgrades in the last six years—but I’ve discovered some connections and made us a list of people responsible, in part, for the fire that took my family and led to your father’s death.”
“And what do you plan to do with this list?” Charles asked calmly.
“Depending upon the contents of that box, it will be released to law enforcement,” Peter responded, just as calmly. “And if nothing can be done to bring them to justice, I will seek it myself. Stiles did promise we could go hunting.” He flashed his red eyes.
“Oh, Stiles did, did he?” Erik asked mildly. He looked to his descendant, who looked back at him defiantly. “I think, perhaps, a discussion might be in order first, though should it be required, I will certainly want to take part.”
“Two wolves and two elementals,” Peter murmured. “It’s a good start.”
“Yes, your grandmother told me you were an elemental, too, Stiles,” Erik said. “Lightning, is it?”
Stiles nodded. “Yes, but it’s really more than that. I can manipulate all sorts of electricity, and I’ve been working on controlling data transmitted that way, too. It’s why my laptop is so heavily reinforced. I can reach out—” he demonstrated with one hand “—and work with computer data at a distance.” He pulled up a new window in the browser Peter was using, careful not to disturb Peter’s work.
“Well, that’s useful, indeed,” Erik said, with a low whistle.
“And you work with metal?” Stiles asked.
Erik nodded. “And, peripherally, magnetism.”
Stiles’ eyes lit up. “I wonder if, together, we could create an electromagnetic pulse?”
“To what end?” Erik asked, smiling.
“Well, if we could, that could take out the electronics in any given location, such as electronic lights, computers, locks …” Stiles trailed off, thinking about the possibilities.
“Not in the house, Stiles,” Charles said, semi-sternly. “I suspect we have need of those things in this location.”
“Agreed, Charles,” Erik said, but his eyes sparkled with the mischief that could often be seen in his great-grandson’s eyes. “But the experiments should be interesting.”
Derek brought the box to the table at which Peter was sitting. “I guess, given you’re all in the know and Stiles trusts you, I’ll open it here.”
They all kind of crowded around, and Stiles turned on the video camera on his phone.
Derek used a claw to carefully slit the paper and remove it from the box, and Remy gently folded it into a large Ziploc bag. Then Derek lifted the lid.
Inside, on top, was a fat letter addressed to him, and another addressed to Peter. Below that were financial records, and a large manila envelope. Finally, a pewter triskele medallion on a gold chain, tucked into a black velvet case, rounded out the contents.
Peter picked up the manila envelope and opened it. “Oh, hell,” he said softly, and tipped out the contents.
Letters, many of them, all typed on regular paper and unsigned, offered threats to Derek’s safety, threats to Peter’s safety, and veiled references to another Hale who had been found, but would be left alone if Laura cooperated with the writer.
“Blackmail,” Peter said hoarsely. “I was left alone to be tortured for six years because of threats to Derek and to another Hale. Who, I wonder? Who else escaped?”
Derek opened his own letter and began to read. “Cora,” he said softly. “Laura didn’t dare reach out to her directly. She’s being watched.”
“But why?” Peter asked. “We’ve never been trouble for the hunters. Ever. We’ve even worked with them in the past to help with weres who were truly feral. What could they possibly gain from wiping out our pack and essentially holding the survivors hostage?”
“In my experience, people rarely need an excuse to act against those who are different,” Erik said gravely. “But as an investigator, I would ask, what did you have that they wanted?”
“That’s the thing,” Derek said slowly. “Hales have been here for more than a hundred years. We’d amassed a library, which is mostly ashes now, so it’s of no use to anyone. We had the territory, which we’d been preserving all this time, and taking us out meant no one is protecting it the way we would.”
“The territory….” Peter said, thinking, and then he paled. “The Nemeton.”
“The what now?” Stiles asked.
“The Nemeton. It’s a tree in the heart of Hale territory, at the convergence of two ley lines,” Peter explained hurriedly. “It acts as a beacon of sorts for those of the supernatural persuasion. Simply put, it’s powerful, and we’ve been shielding and protecting it for more than a century.”
“Assuming that’s the case, why lure Laura here now?” Stiles asked. “What’s changed? She was clearly cooperating, staying out of the territory.” He picked up a letter that asked for cash and grimaced. “Sending cash to a post-office box. Peter, can you figure out who owns that box?”
“I can,” he replied, and started tapping at his keys.
“I think,” Charles said slowly, “that finding out what changed is what will give us the people behind this conspiracy. Because it’s clearly more than one. At least two of Peter’s caretakers were in on it.”
“And Nia is at the hospital now, with deputies, to investigate those caretakers and that abuse,” Derek said. “But we know, too, that at least Kate Argent was responsible for the fire.”
“Along with the people on that list,” Peter said, absently gesturing to the paper he’d printed out as he scrolled with the other hand. “Fire inspector paid to look the other way, other hunter cronies who ringed the house while we burned, chemistry teacher who probably gave Kate the formula for the incendiary devices she used.”
“Evidence, Peter?” Charles asked.
“Witnesses—myself and Derek—for the Argent role. Supposition that probably should be confirmed with interrogation in the case of the fire inspector and the chemistry teacher,” Peter said, now using both hands to do what looked like some credible hacking.
Erik picked up the list and read through it. “Some of these names are familiar,” he muttered.
“Familiar in what way?” Charles asked.
“As you may recall, Charles, I spent my formative years under the thumbs of extraordinarily nasty people,” Erik said slowly. “And when I escaped, my first thought was to have a family.”
“And that family, you thought, burned, in Poland,” Charles said, making the connection.
“Anya, it appeared, survived, though I wouldn’t know that until about five years ago,” Erik said. “In the wake of that event, I turned on those who set fire to my home, and made my life a misery. I became a Nazi-hunter.”
“You survived the Holocaust,” Stiles realized.
“My powers manifested at Auschwitz,” Erik confirmed. “When I met Charles, I was in the midst of tracking down the biggest of those who had subjugated me, and my kind.” He shook his head. “At any rate, the surnames of some of these on the hunters’ lists are familiar, as their families are known to be quite racist. And, I suppose, given the context, speciesist, as well. And any other ‘ist’ you’d care to name, I imagine.”
“Was Argent one of those names?” Stiles asked, curious.
“Yes,” Erik said simply. “But low on the list in terms of offenses. The Argents of my day were more concerned with protecting the innocent. How they twisted their mission, I’m not certain, but it likely has something to do with the current generation’s association with these names here, and here.” He pointed to two names on the crony list. “Those families adhered to the Aryan ideology espoused by Hitler.”
“So our working theory, then, is that the Argents are behind the fire and the kidnapping of Peter, and the blackmail?” Remy, who’d remained a quiet observer to this point, clarified. “And that both were to leave the territory, and this powerful tree thing, vulnerable?”
Peter looked up and his eyes flashed red. “Vulnerable to a Darach.”
“A what?” Stiles asked.
“A Dark Druid.” He turned the laptop around and tapped a name. “This Dark Druid, to be exact. Our former emissary.”
Derek read the name of the owner of the post office box out loud. “Alan Deaton?”
Peter growled. “Add him to the list.”
Erik grabbed a pen from the table and wrote the name, in neat block letters, at the bottom of Peter’s list.
By the supper hour, the group had compiled all the information they could get their hands on about what was happening on the supernatural side of Beacon Hills.
Nia Drake reported that Peter’s two primary caregivers—Jennifer O’Neill and Michael Collins—failed to report for their shifts that day. The investigation at the hospital was turning up some ugly cases of potential abuse, especially in the long-term care ward, that wasn’t specific to Peter but did indicate the possibility of a low-paid, indifferent staff. That, Erik pointed out, would create a situation where staff might find extra income attractive, even if it was for keeping a patient compliant.
Careful study of the manually typed extortion letters gave no real clues as to the bearer’s true identity, leaving them with only the fact that the post office box to which money was directed belonged to Alan Deaton, the local veterinarian and former emissary to the Hale pack.
Unfortunately, they also revealed too much of the supernatural to make them viable evidence in whatever case for justice they could build.
“Isn’t there some sort of Druid council we could haul him in front of?” Stiles asked around a mouthful of Pad Thai. “I mean, if we can prove the Argents paid staff to keep Peter out of the way, we can take them to the Hunters’ Council. If we can catch Kate, we can haul her in front of them, too. But what are we going to do with Deaton?”
Peter had been breaking out into spontaneous low growls all afternoon, but he remained their best source for information on the supernatural world. “No Druid council. Darachs, when caught, are executed. They’ve succumbed to the dark energies of the ley lines, and there’s no going back, no rehabilitation, no turning away from that darkness. Unless they’re willing to give up their stolen energy and have it bound. And very few choose that option.”
“How would we bind him, if the choice was offered and accepted?” Charles asked.
“We’d need another Druid, a light one, who could channel the dark energies in a cleansing ritual of some sort that would end with the newly cleansed energy seeking out the ley lines,” Peter said. “There’s a book in the vault about it, I think. Most of the books referred to that energy as magic, but I think it’s simply a kind of energy that can be tapped by a select few.”
“Such as an elemental with an affinity for electricity?” Erik asked wryly.
“Perhaps,” Peter said, and hesitated. “But I would hate to experiment with it. We really do need a trained magic user.”
Erik stood up from the table. “Let me make a few calls. Your great aunt Wanda has some affinities that appear to be magic, but better still, she has contacts, Stiles. I’ll see who I can shake out.”
“I have a great-aunt Wanda?” Stiles slurped the rest of his noodles and set them down. “Really?”
“And a great-uncle Peter and great-aunt Lorna,” Erik confirmed. “None of whom want much to do with me, to my chagrin, and as far as I’m aware, you have no cousins.”
“Huh.” Stiles looked at Charles. “Did you know this?”
“After we mapped your genome, when your mother died, I knew that Erik was your great-grandfather. Discussions with Anya made the connection even more clear, but I believed it to be her decision as to whether you should know,” Charles said. “She did not tell me her plans, so I thought it best to keep silent. It is, after all, a family matter.”
“I would prefer that my guardian not keep things like this from me,” Stiles said softly.
“And that’s fair,” Charles acknowledged. “I promise that I’m not keeping any other big Stilinski family secrets.”
Stiles gave a small smile, then got up to start the post-dinner clean up. Remy and Logan jumped up to help, and Derek cleared his throat. “One positive thing about today is that Peter has been formally withdrawn from the hospital. Nia also filed the paperwork gifting me his power of attorney until such time he’s capable of making his own decisions. Peter, Nia, and I agree that we can’t change that too soon, for appearance’s sake.”
“And it’s honestly not a bad idea for you to have it, anyway, given the family history,” Peter said. “I trust you to make a decision on my behalf should I fall into such a state again.”
Derek blushed. “Thanks, Alpha.”
“With that withdrawal, however, came a slew of questions about where we were living,” Peter added. “Nia knows we’re staying here, Stiles.”
“That’s fine,” Stiles said, waving it away as he came back to the table to collect the refuse, bagging it up as he heard the front door open. He peeked around the archway from the dining room to the living area and saw Scott. “Dude! You’re alive!”
“Yeah, and still breathing,” Scott said, still a bit hoarse as he came in and hugged his friend. “Sorry I had to bail on you.”
Stiles pulled back. “Scotty, you couldn’t breathe. You’re totally excused.” He pushed Scott into the kitchen. “Thai? I think we’ve got a few crumbs left.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Scott said. He sat down heavily and let Stiles make him up a plate while the others went about their business.
Peter used Stiles’ laptop as cover to listen to Scott breathe. The faint hiss of lungs that worked far too hard for air greeted him. He exchanged a glance with Derek, who then turned his ear to listen as well.
The pair held a conversation with their eyebrows that only stopped when Scott said bluntly, “Dudes. I can see you talking over there.”
Charles laughed softly and wheeled away to join Erik, who was making his phone calls in the den. Remy snorted outright, and Logan rolled his eyes.
Derek’s ears grew pink, but he looked at Peter and gave a sharp nod.
Peter cleared his throat. “Scott, would you be interested in becoming a werewolf?”
Scott choked. A flurry of back pats from Stiles and an application of inhaler later, and Scott was able to ask, “Why?”
“One imperative for a new Alpha is to build a pack,” Peter explained, slowly. “Alphas need at least three pack members to remain stable. I have Derek and Stiles, and of course, any of the rest of you who wish it. But you, Scott, could benefit from Turning in a very tangible way.”
“Do I have to Turn to be a part of the pack?”
“Good question, and not at all,” Peter said. “Stiles will remain as he is, after all. We had humans, mutants, and wolves in our pack before the fire. It’s just that Becoming a wolf would help make you more sturdy, Scott. The advanced healing would probably take care of your asthma.”
Scott’s mouth dropped open. “What’s the catch?”
“You could become hunted, like our family was,” Derek said. “The gift can be hard to control, especially at first. Many of those who go feral do so because they’re turned outside of a pack and have no support. Once feral, hunters have almost no choice but to hunt them down, to protect humans.”
Peter leaned forward. “But you do have a pack, so that risk is minimal. I’d want to confirm that you don’t have an x-gene, to minimize the risk of rejection, but I offer you the choice. Please think about it.”
Scott slumped in his chair. “I will. What are the odds of me rejecting the bite even if I don’t have the x gene?”
“Minimal,” Peter replied. “We’ve found that teens are most likely to survive the bite, though we don’t have any real numbers on bite rejection for those who don’t have the gene.”
“Ok,” Scott said. “I’ll talk to my mom about it, if I’m allowed.”
Peter nodded permission. “Let her know I can answer any questions she might have.”
“On that note.” Stiles looked around at his friends and pack. “Who wants to go spar with me?”
Derek, Remy, and Logan all raised their hands, with Remy adding, “Got energy to burn, me. Derek didn’t let me go bust heads today.”
“You poor thing!” Stiles cried in a high, fake, falsetto, then shot a short bolt of electricity at him before running for the back door.
The trio dashed after him, and Peter smiled at the laughter that followed, even as he leaned toward Scott to continue their conversation.
The pale light of dusk faded even further as Stiles led them through the woods to his clearing. He stopped there, then looked around.
“Let’s avoid clean up, k?” He jumped up on one of the short stumps. “Melee! No powers, last one standing wins the right to demand the breakfast of his choice in the morning.”
“Oh, I got me a craving for Wolvie’s cinnamon rolls, so I’m game,” Remy said, tossing his trench with its mobile armory to the side.
“I can’t exactly go unarmed, kid,” Logan pointed out, flicking his wrists to release his claws.
“Shit!” Derek said, jumping back. “Where did those come from?”
“Advanced healing, bub,” Logan said. “Got experimented on at some point, and I’m lined with adamantium.”
Derek stepped closer to look. “Were these regular claws to begin with?”
Logan nodded. “As far as we can tell.”
“With claws and advanced healing,” Derek hesitated, “are you sure you aren’t a born wolf?”
Logan shrugged. “Hard to know. Took a head injury of some sort that wiped out a lot of my memories. Didn’t know who I was for a long time, and I’ve still only got bits and pieces. Though I’ve never heard of a born wolf with the kind of mutation that would allow this kind of experimenting.”
“Me either,” Derek said, extending his own hand to force the change into claws. “And they’re not quite the same.”
Stiles whistled. “No powers, no claws. Skill and stamina alone. Agreed?”
“Yep!” “You got it!” “Whatever, bub.”
Stiles cackled, and leaped for Remy, kicking off a melee. Derek took advantage of his closeness to Logan grab his arm and slam him toward a tree. He grunted with the effort, the weight of the metal in Logan’s body considerably more than the average person.
Remy and Stiles, on the other hand, were delivering a clinic in street fighting, a flurry of blows from Stiles being dodged, with effort, by the former street rat.
Logan came off the ground, ready to tackle Derek, when he heard the sound of a rifle being primed, and yelled, “Everybody down!”
To their credit, all four men dropped to the ground as a shot rang out from the deep shadows beyond their clearing.
Charles tipped his head up. “The children are in trouble.”
Erik handed Charles his phone and went for the back door. He tossed a, “Protect the vulnerable and stay here” back at Peter before appropriating the earth’s magnetic energy to propel him into the air, following the direction of the shot at speed.
“Did he just?” Scott asked numbly.
Peter nodded slowly. “Yes, I believe he did.”
Charles wheeled in to join them. “Neither Stiles nor Remy has advanced healing. Scott, is your mother free tonight?”
“Ah, yeah. She was cleaning, and I can’t be around some of those chemicals,” he said.
“Call her, please, and see if she’s willing to render medical assistance should it become necessary,” Charles instructed.
“Yes, sir,” Scott said, and dug out his phone.
Peter half-stood. “Should I go help?”
“No,” Charles said. “Erik will be more than adequate back-up, and we need to protect your location. Also, he told you to stay here and protect the vulnerable, which would mean the powerless human and the physically defenseless paraplegic. Though, I do have other defenses should they be necessary.”
Peter nodded reluctantly, the Alpha in him burning to get out, but turned his head to listen.
Erik swept into the clearing, used his power to grab all of the rifles and knives he could feel in the woods surrounding it, and piled them in the clearing’s center, without care for their owners—or their owner’s skins. Hisses and grumbles came from the woods.
He then allowed his feet to connect with the ground, and said, quietly, “Rise, friends. Defensive positions.” Raising his voice, he called, “The cowards in the woods should run.”
“No cowards here.” A tall, lean, blond man, with blue eyes, stubble, and chiseled features, came into the light, hands out. “Just doing our jobs.”
“Attacking innocents in the dark?” Erik asked, his deep voice smooth as silk.
“Tracking down a feral Alpha. Since I see you have your own pet wolf there, you know what I’m talking about,” the hunter said.
“We have no knowledge of any feral Alphas here,” Erik responded. “And we do have many questions for the hunters who have been torturing the wolves we know for the last six years.”
The man inhaled sharply, then signaled to the woods, and Erik could sense the numbers there falling back in retreat. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“No?” Erik asked. “And do you know who would?”
“I could talk to some people,” he said.
“And why would we trust you to do that?”
“I’m Chris Argent,” the man said, and nodded in Derek’s direction. “Derek Hale knows who I am.”
“Were you the one who shot at us?” Derek snarled.
“That was a colleague,” Chris said. “New to the business and too eager. I’m guessing he saw you throw that human into a tree and thought you were the Alpha we were looking for.”
Derek flashed Beta blue eyes, and Chris nodded. “Fine, you’re not the Alpha.”
“And I’m fine, bub,” Logan added, growling it out. “We’re training here, and you’re not welcome.”
Stiles stepped up next to his great-grandfather. “In fact, this is private property. The Preserve line is about fifty feet that way, and you’re well over it. Get out.”
“You’re the Stilinski kid, then?” Chris asked. “You must know what the Alpha did to your father. Help us.”
“Help you torture the innocent into feral states so you have an excuse to kill them? No, thank you,” Stiles retorted.
Chris shook his head. “I truly have no idea what you’re talking about. I got a report from the hospital that Peter Hale is on the loose and is apparently an Alpha, and we’ve got to take him out before he hurts anyone else.”
“Peter Hale is not feral,” Stiles bit out. “And his mental state directly reflects what was done to him in that hospital. Oh, and the fact that your sister murdered his family in cold blood six years ago.”
Chris paled. “What?”
“That fire was no accident,” Stiles said, hammering the point home. “Peter witnessed Kate Argent setting the fire and cackling while his wife, sister, children, and nieces and nephews died. We’re preparing charges for her with the Hunters’ Council, and I’d bet money that your family is behind keeping Peter catatonic to keep that from happening.” He took a deep breath. “You’re not getting your hands on Peter Hale. And if you don’t get off my property in the next ten seconds, you’ll be up on charges for harassment. Unless I decide to let my Dziadek have you.”
Erik smiled, gently, and raised a hand.
Chris backed up. “What about our weapons?”
Erik tilted his hand, and made a fist. All the weapons fused together, and Erik then pushed the mass over the property line to land in the woods.
“Right,” Chris said. “I’ll be going.”
“Three seconds,” Stiles said.
Chris faded into the woods, and the men listened with all their senses until they could verify that the hunters were gone, completely.
“Well, that was entertaining,” Erik said dryly. “Perhaps you should all come back to the house.”
Stiles frowned. “I want to hit something.”
Remy nodded. “Yeah, me, too.”
Erik snorted, and sent a mental thought back to Charles. “Fine, but I’ll watch your backs. Play on, boys.”
“Was it wise to reveal so much to an Argent?” Charles wondered aloud, after the rest of the people in the house were in bed.
Stiles and Scott had taken the Sheriff’s room again, with Peter and Derek in Stiles’, and Remy and Logan in the guest room.
Erik had tipped a wink at his great-grandson when asked where he’d sleep, and nodded in Charles’ general direction, so that was settled with another one of those teenage “ew” sounds that never failed to amuse.
So Erik and Charles, who’d elected to remain awake until Anya’s arrival, were sitting on the couch in the living room, close enough to be considered cuddling, if one were observant enough.
“Well, that was my thought, too, but I wasn’t going to argue about it in front of the man in question,” Erik allowed. “Stiles had some purpose, however. Apparently, there was an entire nonverbal conversation held behind my back about the trustworthiness of that particular Argent. And Derek did confirm that Chris Argent was not lying when he said he had no idea what his sister had been up to six years ago.”
“So what do you think will happen?” Charles asked.
“It could flush out the conspirators, if approached correctly,” Erik observed. “If Chris outright confronts his sister, he’ll probably end up dead. But if he’s sly about it, he could gather the intel needed to bring her up to the Hunters’ Council. Peter confirmed that Chris has always followed that Code of theirs, to the letter.”
“But even hunters who follow the Code can be led astray by bad information,” Charles pointed out.
“True,” Erik conceded. “So giving Chris good information was probably a good move, in that respect.”
“Hmm.” Charles leaned a little more into Erik. “Are we going to talk about this?”
Erik shifted an arm to wrap more tightly around him. “Do we need to?”
“Well, last I heard, you were back on again with Raven, so …”
Erik rolled his eyes. “No, I haven’t been with Raven in years. There might have been a night or two along the way with others, Charles, but it’s been you for me from the night we met.”
“Death threats and general assault aside?” Charles asked archly.
“Pulling your pigtails,” Erik said easily.
Charles shook his head negatively, but folded himself into Erik as best as he could. “I need my head examined to be entertaining this again.”
“Charles,” Erik said, looking down into the blue, blue eyes of the man he considered the love of his life. “I know I have hurt you terribly, and that our philosophies along the way have divided us more than they have united us, but in the end, we’ve arrived in the same place. I fell in love with you long ago, but I let guilt and anger and a desire for vengeance keep me from being with you. I hope you’ll have me now. And, perhaps, you’ll allow me to be at your side for the rest of our days together?”
“Will you promise to keep murder and mayhem to a minimum?” Charles asked solemnly.
“I will,” Erik replied, smiling.
“Will you promise to guard my heart as I guard yours, to be my partner in all things, and to leave me the caramels out of the Wilton box you buy at the holidays?”
“I will,” Erik laughed.
“Fine, then.” Charles laughed, too, and let himself be kissed breathless.
Derek smiled into the dark. It was nice to know that some relationships could last, or, at the very least, come back around again.
He resolved to corner Stiles the next day to ask if he could court him.
“Stop listening in, pup,” Peter said sleepily.
“As if you weren’t,” Derek retorted without heat.
“Can’t really help it,” Peter confessed. “I’m feeling pretty hypervigilant.”
Derek turned to look at his uncle, who was lying quietly in the dark, using all of his senses to ensure any threats approaching would be found immediately and dealt with. “How are you doing, Alpha?”
“Not as well as I’d hoped,” Peter confessed. “I’m lucid for the first time in years, and we’ve had immediate threats to deal with. This alpha power was never meant to be mine, and it’s making me itch with new instincts that I never trained for. I’m afraid this hypervigilance will be my new normal. At least for a time. And I keep…”
“What?” Derek prompted softly.
“I keep … looking for your Aunt Olivia. I keep expecting her to walk in the door and smirk at me,” Peter whispered. “I keep thinking that Liam and Connor are going to run out of the woods behind this house, fresh from playing hide and seek. I can’t … think, past it.”
Derek nodded, laying a hand on his uncle’s arm for comfort. “I know what you mean. It was easier in New York, where I didn’t have any memories. But here, it’s a lot more challenging. I actually thought I might run into mom at the hospital.”
Peter squeezed Derek’s hand where it lay on his arm, and then lifted it off. “So, I think you’re right. All the therapy. And I think, for the welfare of the pack, I’d best get started as soon as I’m able.”
“Right,” Derek agreed. “The Professor had some ideas. I wonder if he had a chance to follow up today?”
“Doubtful,” Peter said. “It’s been a roller coaster this week.”
“I know you’re going to have a hard time sleeping, Alpha, but remember I’m here. I’m right here, and I can take a shift so that you don’t have to. And remember that we have five powerful mutants in the house who can help if we need it.”
Peter nodded. “Okay. Will you take watch for the next two hours?”
“I will,” Derek said. “And if you’re sleeping deeply, I’ll let you sleep and stay up. You’re still healing, remember?”
Peter closed his eyes. “Right. Fine.”
Derek got up and sat next to Stiles’ bedroom window. “I’m here. Sleep.”
Stiles opened his eyes. He’d given it the old college try, for Scott’s sake, but sleep wasn’t happening.
He listened to Scott snore for a minute, then quietly got up and made his way downstairs, to find his Dziadek and guardian canoodling on the couch. “J’Accuse!” He whispered loudly, pointing to the men with two fingers.
Erik chuckled. “Of what, may I ask?”
“I clearly see cuddling. Or is that canoodling? Snuggling? Dare I say, making out? I better not see any tongue, dudes,” Stiles said, plopping himself down in his father’s easy chair.
“You young people think you invented everything,” Erik complained mildly. “Charles could do things with his tongue before you were even a twinkle in your grandmother’s eyes, young man.”
“There’s a thought I didn’t need,” Stiles pouted, but smirked. “Are you guys going to be a thing again?”
Erik and Charles looked at each other for a long moment. Stiles suspected telepathy.
Charles turned back to Stiles, and nodded. “Yes. This time, with commitment and forevers.”
“Cool, Nana will love to plan a wedding,” Stiles said enthusiastically.
“Sounds delightful,” Erik said calmly, looking at Charles again. “I look forward to it.”
“As do I, love,” Charles said.
“Speaking of Nana, shouldn’t they be here by now?” Stiles looked at the wall clock.
“She texted just a bit ago,” Erik said. “We really do expect them any minute.”
“I’m glad I thought to air out the attic room,” Stiles said. “I put fresh sheets and blankets up there, too.”
“I’m sure it’ll do nicely,” Erik said. “They’re well accustomed to primitive conditions, as it is. They’ll be likely grateful for a bed.”
Stiles heard a car pull up. “Speaking of!” He dashed to the front door and opened it. “There they are.” He ran down the front walk and came to a fast stop by the passenger door, which he opened to reveal his Nana.
Anya Eisenhardt Stilinski, a petite, red-and-silver-haired woman no taller than five feet, stepped out of the car and right into her grandson’s arms. “Mischief,” she breathed, hugging him tight. “We got here as soon as we could.”
“I know, Nana, I know.” Stiles gripped her back, just as tightly, and started to cry.
Jeorg, a tall, fit man whose age only became apparent with the silver at the temples of the chestnut brown hair he’d passed to Stiles, came around from the other side of the car and wrapped long arms around them both. He held them for a long moment, letting Stiles cry, and he raised his head only to see his father-in-law come down the walk.
Erik laid a hand on Jeorg’s shoulder as he passed him. “I’ll just get the bags for you. Go on inside.”
Jeorg nodded, and started steering his wife and grandson toward the house, a tough job, as they were clinging to each other. He managed to get them through the front door, nodded to Charles, and settled Anya into the big easy chair, with Stiles curling his too-tall frame up to fit in her lap.
Stiles tucked his head under his Nana’s chin and bawled, thoroughly covering her with snot and salt, his chest heaving with the effort of messy, ugly tears.
Anya cried too, patting Stiles on his back as if he were a baby again, and tears stood out in Jeorg’s eyes.
It was like Anya’s arrival had finally given Stiles permission to totally fall apart.
Erik followed them quietly in, then guided their bags up the two flights to the rarely used attic room and set them in place. When he returned to the living room, Stiles had calmed a little, and Erik thought it interesting that the electricity that buzzed through the young man didn’t even touch his grandmother. Anya had gathered her grandson up and was cuddling him as he’d clearly needed to be cuddled.
He still found the sight of her to be a miracle.
For decades, he’d thought his eldest daughter to be dead, consumed by the fire that took his livelihood in the wake of the Second World War. His marriage to his first wife had not survived the event, and Erik, himself, changed his name and went hunting for those to blame.
He understood Peter, far too well.
That said, the call from someone claiming to be Anya, a little more than five years ago, had thrown him for a loop.
Very few people knew he even had a daughter Anya, so he’d paid attention, and met with her. Saw the DNA results.
But more, he’d seen his mother in her face.
Stiles looked more like his grandfather, tall and fit, with dark hair and eyes. But the shape of his eyes came from Anya. From Edie.
The irony of Anya was that he’d had less time to know her than with any of her other siblings, but she’d been the only child he’d had a direct hand in raising. He’d loved his little girl, deeply, and they’d had a loving bond. Her death had left a hole in him that couldn’t really be filled. Seeing her as an adult, her knowing who he’d become but loving her Vati anyway, filled that hole, had given it shape, and had allowed him to heal.
The miracle of his eldest daughter returning to him had led Erik to think about his life in new ways, and he was more than ready to settle back down, to forgive himself, and to allow himself to be happy, with Charles.
He approached the cuddling pair with caution, but knelt next to the chair, and offered a kiss to Anya’s forehead. “I’m sorry to see you under these circumstances, kleine, but I cannot regret seeing you.”
“It’s good to see you, Vati,” Anya murmured, combing her fingers through Stiles’ hair. “When did you arrive?”
“This morning,” he said. “It’s been a busy day. Stiles made some decisions about the services this morning, from what I understand, and plans to leave any religious details to you.”
“When is everything happening?” Jeorg asked.
“Saturday,” Charles said. “Private service for family and close friends at 10, followed by a public parade and Service for a Fallen Officer at the graveside. His ashes will be buried by Claudia’s.”
Anya nodded. “Though cremation is not tradition in our faith, it’s a practical choice, given everything.”
“It was dad’s wish,” Stiles mumbled into her neck. He was already drifting.
“Then I’m glad you made it so,” Anya soothed, continuing her stroking, letting the young man fall asleep on her. “You did well, Mischief.”
“Thanks, Nana,” he mumbled, and trailed off.
“Want me to move him for you?” Jeorg asked, quietly.
“When my arms fall asleep, I’ll move him myself, but thank you, love,” Anya said.
Charles and Erik took turns filling in the Stilinskis to date, including the information about the werewolves upstairs that considered themselves Stiles’ pack, and the fact that while Peter’s Bite is what led to Noah’s death, Peter himself was out of control due to circumstances beyond his.
“And what are we doing about that, Vati?” Anya almost hissed it, mindful of her sleeping grandson.
“Stiles has that well in hand, Anya,” Erik soothed, explaining the earlier confrontation.
“We’ll see,” Anya said, fiercely. “I want justice for my boy.”
“And we’ll have justice for him,” Erik said calmly. “We’ll make sure of it. Meanwhile, we have another boy who needs our attention. And our support.”
Anya cuddled Stiles more closely. “Of course.”
Charles leaned forward. “Let’s all head to bed, shall we? We’ve got much to do tomorrow.”
Jeorg nodded, and kissed the top of his wife’s head. “Come, Anya.”
Erik watched as she formed an energy plane from some sort of light, and let it help support Stiles as she carried him up the stairs to Noah’s room.
Stiles’ nose twitched. Cinnamon and yeast. Yum.
Eyes still closed, he made his way into his dad’s bathroom, took care of business, then washed his hands and headed down the stairs, slitting his eyes open when he made it to the kitchen and plopped himself into a chair.
Crying hangovers, he thought, were the worst.
A full mug of the nectar of the gods was wafted under his nose, and he took it, gratefully. He opened his eyes enough to see the classically handsome Derek Hale taking a seat next to him.
“Hey,” Stiles said rustily.
“Hey,” Derek replied softly, a smile playing at the edge of his lips. “You alright?”
“Peachy,” Stiles snorted, taking a sip of his coffee. “What am I smelling?”
“Logan’s cinnamon rolls,” Derek said. “He got up to make a batch, since Remy had a craving, and we never did come up with a definitive winner last night.”
“Nice.” Stiles took another long sip. “Everything okay down here?”
“Yep.” Derek looked a little nervous. “Can I talk to you?”
“Ah, I thought we were already talking, dude, but yeah, sure.” Stiles took a closer look at Derek and realized the older man looked a little wrecked. “What’s up?”
“Um, well.” Derek took a deep breath. “I asked Peter if I could have permission to ask you if you would allow me to court you in the werewolf way.”
Stiles repeated the whole of that sentence to himself, but it still didn’t make sense. “What?”
Derek ignored the snorted laugh from the kitchen. “I’m interested in you, Stiles, but I know that you’re underage, and I’m six years older than you, and it doesn’t seem like a good idea on the surface, and the timing right now is the absolute worst, but you smell so good to me, and I like you. I’ve always liked you, but I didn’t know I like-liked you until I saw you again, and that usually means a were has found a compatible mate, and I’d like to see if maybe we could really be a couple, so I asked Alpha if I could court you, and he said yes.”
“Squirrel,” Stiles said softly, and smiled.
“Squirrel?” Derek asked, confused.
“Just a code word we use around here for telling someone, usually me, that they’re rambling.” Stiles set his coffee down and gently took Derek’s hand in his own. “What’s involved in courting?”
“Oh, well, we’d hang out together, I’d buy you gifts that show you how much I’m coming to know you, we’d be chaperoned pretty much everywhere, and there’d be no physical contact for at least a year while we’re in the getting-to-know-you stage. Except scenting. And, if you allowed it, maybe kissing? I think Peter has a book somewhere.”
“So basically we’d date, with sex off the table, and get to know each other, and see if we’re truly as compatible as the wolf in you says we are?” Stiles asked. “Exclusively?”
“Yeah, that’s what courting means,” Derek explained. “The end goal is a lifetime partnership. But you’re young for a commitment like that, so I’d understand if you didn’t want—“
“I do,” Stiles interrupted. “I do want. Because you’re sweet and kind and hot like burning, and I might not be a were, so I can’t smell that we’re compatible, but I’m really attracted to you, so I’d love to date, and scent, and kiss, and I’m kind of mad that sex is off the table but I’d get over it if we dated long enough, right?”
“Or, you know, under it,” Derek flirted.
“Oh, he’s got snark and bad sex jokes. I like that in my men.” Stiles squeezed Derek’s hand. “Yes, you may court me.”
“Excellent!” Logan said, coming into the room with a platter of fresh cinnamon buns. “Now back up from each other at least six inches, and make sure I get a copy of this book, too. If I’m the one that’ll be living here, I can see a lot of chaperoning in my future.”
Stiles rolled his eyes, and Derek grinned.
Before long, they were joined at the table by the rest of the house inhabitants. The table was too small for ten people, so they ate in shifts, with the early birds fleeing the scene for the living room. Talk was light as they took comfort in the routine of the new normal.
Stiles still thought there were too many people crammed in his house, but it was kind of nice to have them all there, for a change.
He said as much to Derek, who was sitting next to him on the couch, having migrated there to let Scott and Remy have seats.
“I’m not really used to so many people,” Stiles confessed, rubbing his fingers together to feel them crackle. “It’s been my dad and me here for, well, years, really.”
Derek nodded, reaching out to catch Stiles’ hand and feel the buzz himself, sliding his own fingers between the long, slender fingers that belonged to Stiles. “I know what you mean. It was just Laura and me in New York, and I ditched her as often as I could after awhile. It’s not good for wolves to be alone, but I just couldn’t stand what she was doing to Peter.”
“Does it help, at all, to know that she left him here to protect you?” Stiles asked, softly.
“Not really.” Derek glowered a little. “I can handle myself, and I think we should have taken the risk of busting Peter out sooner. And paying Deaton to leave us in peace? What was that about?”
“There’s no indication that Laura knew Deaton was behind the extortion, is there?”
“No.” Derek blew out a breath. “I’m sure she thought it was the Argents, too, which is why I really don’t understand how she could have left things be so long. She could have taken the letters to the Hunters’ Council, got an investigation going.”
“We’re sort of assuming that Deaton and the Argents are working together, but what if they aren’t?” Stiles asked. “Deaton clearly knew that Cora was free, and we really need to find her, BTdubs, because he’s got someone ready to take her out if he doesn’t get paid. And I think he was probably capitalizing on the Argents’ holding Pete hostage.”
“Unless it’s been Deaton all along,” Derek wondered out loud. “If he truly wants unfettered access to the Nemeton, then he could have set the Argents up to take us out, and to keep us away.”
“We really need to talk to Deaton,” Stiles said, thinking out loud. “Scott’s been working for him part-time. I think he’s probably scheduled today, though I haven’t asked.”
“Did we fill Scott in on all this?” Derek asked.
“I did, after we came in last night. He didn’t want to believe it, but I asked him to give me the benefit of the doubt, and he did.” Stiles squeezed Derek’s fingers. “But I did agree to talk to him before acting, and get his side of the story.”
“Reasonable,” Derek said, and growled a little. “Unfortunately.”
“Plotting bloody mayhem without me?” Peter walked into the living room, munching on a roll. “Poor form.” He eyed their linked hands. “Something you need to tell your Alpha?”
Derek blushed a little. “Stiles agreed to let me court him.”
“Congratulations,” Peter said warmly. “I’m glad to hear it. And you’ll be glad to hear that hand-holding is allowed. I’ll need to go to the vault and dig out the courting books for you.”
Logan plopped down in the easy chair across from the courting couple. “I’ll need to read those, too, I guess.”
“I believe there’s something in there about a courting gift for Stiles’ family, to kick off the process,” Peter mused. “That should probably be addressed to his guardian or his grandparents at this point.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “If you all start talking about bride prices, I’m stealing Derek and taking off.”
Erik chuckled as he strolled in. “Oh, I don’t think we’ll need to go that far. Anya!” He called out to his daughter. “Your grandson has agreed to let a werewolf court him!”
“Oh, really?” Anya poked her head around the door. “Without even a word to the family?” She winked at Stiles and withdrew.
“Yeah, well,” Stiles waved the hand that wasn’t attached to Derek. “Nana! Your father agreed to a lifetime commitment with my guardian!”
“What!?” Anya popped back in, considerably more surprised. “When did that happen?”
“Did you not notice last night that he and Charles retired to the pull out in the den together?” Stiles asked innocently.
“Vati! Without a wedding, there shouldn’t be any bed sharing,” Anya admonished, to Erik’s amusement.
“That ship sailed long ago, my dear,” Erik said cheerfully. “At any rate, I thought I’d leave the wedding planning to you.”
“Charles! You agreed to this?” Anya asked.
“Yes, I did, and I do agree that you can plan the wedding,” Charles said from the kitchen. “Just tell me what to wear and when to show up.”
“As if it’s that simple,” Anya rolled her own eyes.
“Yes, well,” Erik said, “on that note, what’s on our agenda for today?”
“Well, Peter referred to it as ‘bloody mayhem,’ so I guess we should start with that,” Stiles commented. “Someone needs to confront Deaton for information.”
Charles wheeled in and parked next to the easy chair. “That should be someone he doesn’t know is actually associated with the Hales. Perhaps someone who can read minds?”
“Useful, indeed,” Erik allowed. “If we’re all agreed, Charles and I will handle that task. Scott!”
Scott poked his head around the door next to Anya’s. “Yes?”
“When is Deaton likely to be free today?”
“Ah, he opens the doors at 8 because he’s the only vet in town, but it’s Thursday, and that’s spay-day, so he’ll have a full schedule,” Scott rattled off. “I go in at 4. I can call in, though, if you want me too. Stiles and I are both excused from school for the week.”
Erik and Charles shared another one of those long looks that Stiles really thought meant telepathy. “We’ll just go in with you at 4, then,” Erik sighed. “As Charles would like to remind me, there’s no reason to disturb the pet owners until or unless it’s necessary.”
Logan choked a little as he held back the laugh, but managed to maintain his sober expression. Stiles admired it.
“What else?” Charles asked.
Peter cleared his throat. “I’d like to get into our vault and pick up those courting books for Stiles and Derek, and see if there’s anything else useful, including the potion for testing potential bitten wolves. I want to see if it’s been disturbed at all, too.”
“That’s a task for you and Derek, I suspect,” Charles said. “Though you should have non-wolf back-up.”
Remy wandered in. “I’ll take that. I’d like to get out, anyway.”
“Fair enough,” Charles agreed.
Anya spoke up. “I’ll need to meet with the Rabbi and the Funeral Director, and I’d guess that these two” — she indicated Scott and Stiles— “need suits. I know Jeorg could use a new one, too.”
Derek looked up at his uncle. “I’ll actually need one, too.”
“Yes, me as well.” Peter sighed. “Right, Mrs. Stilinski, why don’t you call and see if you can have your meeting this morning? Derek, Remy, and I will head to the vault this morning, then, and we could all meet back here for lunch before going suit-shopping?”
Stiles nodded along. “Meanwhile, Scotty and I will check in at school for our assignments, with Logan as back up.”
“And Erik and I will see to housing arrangements for your other guests, Stiles,” Charles said, looking at his phone. “Most of the crew from New York will be coming tomorrow afternoon to stay through the funeral.”
Stiles shied away from the thought of the funeral, but thought seeing his friends would be cool, so he said nothing. He nodded in Charles’ direction, though, and left it at that.
“Is anyone going to check in with the Argents?” Logan asked suddenly.
Several nonverbal communications flew around the room at that point, to Stiles’ amusement. He broke the silence with, “I think we should let Chris come to us. But I also think someone needs to contact the Hunters’ Council. Not a Hale.”
Jeorg said, from his place in the doorway, “I think I can take that. I’ll go with Anya this morning, and if you can get me the contact information, Peter, I’ll take care of that call at lunch.”
“Looks like we’re all organized, then,” Stiles said with feigned cheerfulness. “Allons-Y!”
Derek looked at Stiles with a little blush. “I love Doctor Who.”
Stiles smiled. “We’ve got a marathon coming, then, Der.”
“I look forward to it.”
The local Hale vault, as it developed, rested beneath Beacon Hills High School. Stiles thought this was strange, until Peter pointed out that the vault pre-dated the school.
“We actually leased the land back to the school district to build the high school,” he explained. “They pay us one dollar a year for the use of the land. It made the building less expensive for local taxpayers.”
“And provided good cover for the location of your vault.” Remy, whose upbringing as a Master Thief made him appreciate the move for security’s sake, observed.
The location of the vault meant that the six of them—Stiles, Scott, Logan, Peter, Derek, and Remy—could all pile into the SUV and head in the same direction. Logan drove, and parked in the main high school parking lot.
“Meet back here when everything is taken care of?” Logan asked, looking at each of his companions, who nodded. “Everyone have a phone? Not you, Peter, we obviously need to get you one.”
“Got numbers for everyone who has one here,” Stiles said. “I started a group chat so you all should have all the numbers.”
Everyone who had one checked their phones, and Peter sort of looked disgruntled.
“One of the things I need to do, Derek, is see about our bank accounts,” Peter said. “I have funds in the vault that amount to my inheritance, but you should have a substantial amount in trust already. If we can take the time before lunch, I’d like to pick up a phone and get it set up.”
“Not a problem, Alpha,” Derek said, checking his own phone. “We’ll just add you to the main family plan. We need to get a death certificate for Laura if we can, too, and get that to Nia. She said she’d handle your return to active living and our access to money. For now, I’ve got an account of my own that we can use for any other spending you need to do. Like, maybe, clothes.”
Peter nodded. “As much as I appreciate the clean things you’ve lent me, I would like some of my own.”
“Right, then, let’s split up,” Logan said, then rolled his eyes. “I’ve never said that and not regretted it, so don’t make me regret it today.”
Peter popped his claws, using them as a unique key on the panel next to the door to enter the vault, a security measure Remy approved of. Inside, Peter was glad to see it remained relatively undisturbed.
“Books are this way, Derek,” he said, pointing to shelves lining the opposite end of what looked like a fairly deep cave to begin with. “I think the courting protocols are in a small book, top shelf, all the way right. Go have a look while I dig up my inheritance.”
“Inheritance?” Derek asked as he wandered back to the shelves.
“Just a few million in bearer bonds,” Peter said, dismissively. “I’m not sure the state of my own accounts and we need some ready cash.”
Remy’s eyebrows rose. “Trust me with that information, do you?”
Peter grinned ferally. “To a point. Stiles trusts you, so I do. And it’s not like you have claws.”
“True enough, mec.”
Peter made his way to this lockbox, then opened it with his claws, again, and pulled out one of the bonds, for $1 million. He locked the rest back up and made his way over to Derek, who was perusing the shelves. He thrust the certificate out toward his nephew.
“For your account,” he said abruptly. “It should help us take care of ready expenses for a while.”
Derek looked down, his own eyebrows rising. “A million? I’d say so. How much is down here, anyway?”
“Enough,” Peter said dismissively, then looked at the shelves, scanning for the small book he had in mind. “There.” He pointed out a slim, dusty, red-leather covered book at the end of the shelf. “That’s the courting protocols. We had other copies in the house, but I imagine they’re ashes at this point.”
Remy identified several works of art, precious items, and books that his Papa would love to get his hands on, but sighed. “Being trusted not to palm any of this stuff is giving me hives,” he grumbled quietly.
Peter chuckled. “Much experience with that?”
Remy cocked an eyebrow. “True, haven’t really introduced myself, have I?” He bowed with a flourish. “Remy LeBeau, Master Thief, heir to the Thieve’s Guild. M’ Papa’s Jean LeBeau.”
“And Stiles trusts you?” Derek asked, flipping through the little red book idly.
“As I trust him,” Remy affirmed. “With m’ life.”
“LeBeau,” Peter said slowly. “You know Mattie, then?”
“Mattie’s m’ auntie.”
“She was also a good friend to the packs, before the fire,” Peter mused. “I should get in touch and see if I can catch up.”
“Might need to trip down to N’Awlins, then,” Remy said. “Far’s I know, she never leaves there. I’d go along, but I’m banned. And that’s a story for another time, mec.”
“Fair enough,” Peter said, looking through the bookshelves again. “Found it.”
Tucking his book and the bearer bond certificate under his arm, Derek wandered over to his uncle. “Found what?”
“The grimoire with the potion to test for Bite compatibility,” Peter said. “We’ll want to use it for anyone we’re considering adding to the pack.”
“Like Scott,” Derek assumed.
“Yes, and I’m not going to be complacent about it,” Peter confirmed. “I deeply regret Noah’s death, and I’m beyond angry with myself. It could have been prevented.”
“Well, yeah, but it could have been prevented by the folks keeping you restrained and feral, too,” Remy said quietly. “Your instincts were up and you weren’t in your right mind, Peter. That’s not your fault, and even Stiles and his family say so.”
“Put blame where it truly belongs, Alpha,” Derek said quietly. “On the Argents and their lackeys, and maybe on Deaton.”
Peter gritted his teeth, but nodded abruptly. “Still not taking any other chances.”
“Best not,” Remy agreed.
Stiles walked into the main office with Scott and Logan at his back, and rang the bell at the desk.
The student attendant, Heather Kemp, popped out from the back supply office with a, “Oh, Stiles!” She jumped into his arms before he could get a word out. “I’m so sorry about your dad.”
Stiles squeezed her tightly, then set her back. “Thanks, Heather. I just came in to get my assignments. Scott’s, too. And this is my new local guardian. He’s probably got paperwork.”
Heather nodded. “Yeah, okay. Let me get Ms. Dawson. We’re sorting out files. But she’s got the real paperwork power here. And I think Lydia Martin was collecting your assignments for you. I’ll call her down.”
“Thanks,” Stiles said, sinking down into one of the waiting chairs. Scott sat next to him, but Logan remained standing, looking as much like a responsible adult as he could manage.
They didn’t have to wait long before Lydia Martin, in her compact, physically perfect glory, showed up in the office, bearing a pile of assignments and a no-nonsense attitude.
“Stiles,” she began. “I’m sorry to hear about your father. These are the assignments I’ve managed to collect for you.”
Stiles smiled at his former crush. He’d long ago given up on that—right around the time he’d realized he was more into boys than girls, and that Lydia could be a good friend if he took his head out of his ass. “Thanks, Lyds.”
Lydia smiled at him, then looked around at Scott. “I’ve got a few of yours, too, but I think Danny picked up the rest. They missed you at practice last night.”
“Yeah, between the sheriff’s passing and my asthma, it just wasn’t going to happen,” Scott said ruefully, still a little hoarse. “Maybe next year.”
“I’ll help you train,” Stiles promised, and turned to Heather. “Can we pull Danny, too?”
“Yes,” she said, going to the phone and waving to Ms. Dawson as the older lady came forward. “Just getting their assignments, Ms. Dawson.”
Ms. Dawson nodded to her, and then looked to Logan. “And you are Stiles’ new guardian?”
“I’ll be his proxy here in Beacon Hills, ma’am,” Logan said. “The paperwork should have been faxed already.”
“Yes, we have that here,” Ms. Dawson confirmed. “I just need to see an ID, and have you sign this paperwork in front of me—I’m a notary—to confirm your identity and make sure we’re all above board.”
Logan took out his wallet while Stiles rolled his eyes at Scott and Lydia. Lydia mouthed, “Human trafficking.” And they all started to suppress giggles as Danny came into the office with a folder for Scott.
They all met back at the house for lunch, which turned out to be a pot of amazing chicken soup and fresh bread.
“Comfort food, Mischief,” Anya told him as she served up.
The company all gave reports on their morning. None had seen the Argents, and that made Stiles think they were either laying low—possibly until after the funeral—or up to something. Jeorg’s call to the Hunters’ Council yielded an immediate investigation, as he was told someone would be sent out to interview the Argents, Hales, and Stilinskis without delay.
“Well, there will be more time to stir the pot this afternoon,” Anya said calmly, serving Stiles another helping of soup with a small grin. Stiles matched the grin, and Erik looked fondly on them both.
“What is it?” Charles asked softly, for Erik’s ears only.
Erik thought back at him. They have my mother’s smile.
Charles smiled broadly himself, then answered him. If that’s so, then you must see it mirrored on your face, as well.
Erik shrugged, but took his lover’s hand and squeezed it gently.
Anya laid down the agenda for the afternoon, which included suit fittings for all parties, a stop at the bank for Derek and Peter, and a stop to add Peter to Derek’s family plan and get him a new phone.
“Most of these things can be done at the mall, Nana,” Stiles pointed out.
“Yes, and I think we should go as a group,” she decided. “No one wanders off alone until we know what the Argents are up to. Mischief, you’ve done well to set up things for Saturday. I had only to confer with the rabbi for the service itself. Vati, do you have the appropriate clothing?”
Erik looked caught out, a bit, but rallied. “I have not, no. I’m afraid I haven’t been practicing in several decades.”
“I have a yarmulke, Nana.”
“I suspect we’ll need to pick up a few things, then,” Anya mused. “Family have specific clothing requirements for funerals. Although we’ll need to ask the rabbi—I’m not sure what a grandfather wears.”
“Is there a dress code for other mourners?” Peter asked, curious.
“No, just what you’d regularly wear to a funeral for someone you respected and cared about,” Anya said. She drew a deep breath, and blew it out. “There may be a way for you to display remorse in your clothing, as well, if you choose to, but that might give our game away.”
Peter gave a wan smile. “Sackcloth and ashes?”
“At the very least,” Anya agreed, nodding to him gently to show she bore him no ill will.
“There is nothing I can do to change the past,” Peter said slowly. “But if there is anything I can do to mitigate the damage my actions have caused, however mindless I might have been, please know that I will do it. Whatever you ask of me.”
Anya paled, and all three of her men reached out to her as she came around the table and stood before Peter.
“You are not to blame, Peter Hale,” Anya’s low voice sounded like velvet over steel. “Blame belongs to the beings who kept you feral. We do not hold you responsible for the death of my son, and you need to let it go. If you must bear responsibility; if it helps you to be accountable, then you may protect my grandson to the best of your ability, ensure his safety and wellbeing, and stand as the father he lost, as his Alpha, until such time as you leave this plane of existence.”
Peter bared his neck.
Anya looked pleased with the handsome array of men in perfectly fitted suits she could see directly in front of her.
“Quite nice,” she said, smoothing Stiles’ lapel. “My, aren’t you all a handsome bunch?”
Derek’s ears went pink, Peter smirked, Erik rolled his eyes, and Jeorg laughed at his wife.
“You just like having a handsome group of men to follow you around,” Jeorg teased her.
“Of course,” Anya said airily, waving a hand. “It reminds me of my youth.”
“Nana!” Stiles exclaimed, pretending to be scandalized. “Are you saying you were a player?”
“Please, Mischief,” Anya said.”Women aren’t players. We’re … hmm. What is the equivalent, darling?”
“As I’m the one who finally kept your attention, my love, I think I’ll go with ‘well aware of your appeal,’” Jeorg said dryly.
“Nicely put, darling.” Anya reached up for a kiss. The height difference meant she stood on her tiptoes, and Jeorg leaned down, but they made it work.
Erik smiled softly at them. “I can see that,” he said. “She’s always been a beautiful girl.”
Stiles struck a pose. “I did get exceptional genes, didn’t I?”
Derek smiled at him. “I think so.”
Stiles smiled right back at him, and held out a hand. “I’m glad you do.”
“Ah, too mushy around here, man,” Scott said as he came out of the changing rooms in his new suit. “Seriously. Someone’s got to have a thought balloon filled with hearts coming out of their ears soon.”
Anya winked, and snapped her fingers, allowing a white, heart-shaped ball of energy to form over Scott’s head. “Yours, maybe?”
Scott rolled his eyes. “Not today, evidently. Thanks, though, Mrs. Stilinski.”
“Scott, I’ve told you, you can call me Nana, too,” Anya scolded mildly. She looked around again. “I think we’re good here. I’ll go get suit bags and take care of the bill. You, all, carefully change back into your street clothes. I mean it. No tears, dirt, or anything else I might have to scold you for.”
A chorus of mildly afraid voices replied with “Yes, ma’am” and “Of course, Nana.” One dry voice said, “Heaven forbid, kleine,” and Anya giggled her way toward the front room.
Fortunately, it didn’t take her long to pay for the suits, collect the bags, and bring them back for storing the new clothes in. Derek and Peter opted to commission a few more pieces for Peter before the group headed back into the mall to meet Charles, Logan, and Remy, who had declined new suits on the grounds that they already had them. Charles and Erik planned to immediately head over to Deaton’s to interrogate the man after the suit appointment, and they were bringing Scott along, as he still had to work at 4. Theoretically.
Privately, Erik and Charles had decided to find Scott a different job in animal care should their suspicions about Deaton be correct.
The group parted ways at the front doors, with Erik taking Charles and Scott in his rental car to the veterinarian’s office. The ride was smooth—Charles marveled, still, at Erik’s affinity for making metal machinery run—but Charles could also tell that Scott had reservations about the entire mission.
Minutes before they were to arrive at the vet’s, Charles turned around to look at Scott. “What’s wrong, Scott?”
Scott shrugged. “Dr. Deaton’s always treated me well. I’m just worried about what might happen here.”
Charles smiled, gently. “Worst case scenario, Scott, I’ll help you find another job in animal care, if you wish. Though if you choose to take the Bite, you might find that a bit challenging, depending.”
“No, I’m not really worried about that so much,” Scott hastened to assure Charles. “It’s, just, we think he might have been the one to blackmail Laura. What if we’re wrong?”
“Ah,” Charles said, then cleared his throat. “Scott, what do you know about my mutation?”
Scott looked at him uncomprehendingly. “You’re kind of a mind-reader?”
Erik rolled his eyes and Charles chuckled. “Well, not quite. I’m capable of a great deal, Scott. There’s no means, short of the interference of a highly specialized metal alloy, that could keep me out of his head, and no way he can hide the truth of it from me. It’s why Stiles agreed I should go, I believe. We will know the truth, one way or another, before we leave his office.”
“But if he’s a bad guy, and I’ve been working for him, what does that make me?”
“Not a bad guy,” Erik interjected. “He’s given you no reason to suspect his true intentions to this point, correct? You’ve had no reason to think ill of him at all, and much reason to think of him kindly.”
Scott nodded. “He gave me a job when he really doesn’t need the help. He’s always been kind to me.”
“You can only take responsibility for yourself and your actions, Scott,” Charles said gently. “You aren’t responsible for his. But I can see why you’d be conflicted.”
Erik pulled up into the clinic parking lot. “And we’re here.”
Scott blew out a breath. “What do you want me to do?”
“Just let us follow you in, introduce us as Stiles’ new guardians. We’ll take care of the rest,” Charles said, as Erik exited the car, pulled Charles’ chair out of his trunk, and brought it around to Charles’ door. Charles lifted himself into it with ease as Scott also got out of the car. “Otherwise, see if you can keep the animals calm while I talk to him.”
“OK, Professor,” Scott said, and led the way to the front door.
Inside, Charles noted, it looked like any other waiting room. Pamphlets on animal care dotted the small tables in the corners that were flanked by generic blue chairs. A large animal scale stood to the left of the main clinic counter, which Charles noted was made of wood. In fact, as he looked around, he noticed a lot of wood, which made him wonder about mountain ash.
At any rate, Scott went right up to the counter, opened it, then ducked his head into the back. “Doc? You free?”
“Coming, Scott. Just making my last notes,” a deep, rumbling voice called back.
They waited patiently for a moment until a tall, well-built, dark-skinned man appeared. “Scott?” the man asked.
Scott cleared his throat. “Doc, this is Professor Charles Xavier and his partner, Erik Lehnsherr. They’re Stiles’ new guardians, and they wanted to meet you. Prof., this is Dr. Alan Deaton.”
Charles held out a hand, smiling gently. “Dr. Deaton.”
Erik watched the skin under the vet’s eyes tighten as the man failed to offer his hand in return. Time slowed as Erik watched the numerous and obvious tells the vet offered. Charles , Erik thought. He’s going to run.
Can you stop him?
Erik assessed. Deaton wore no jewelry, a mark of a profession that required precision and care. A cashbox lay under the drawer. Metal could be found in the chairs, tables, and the instruments in the rooms adjoining the waiting area.
It would be messy , Erik admitted.
Time sped up abruptly as Deaton grabbed Scott and threw him the direction of the older men before speeding down the hall. Scott’s head hit the counter with a sickening thunk while Erik picked up the instruments in the adjoining exam rooms to hurl at Deaton in pursuit. Charles merely stopped Deaton in his tracks.
“Erik, please check Scott,” Charles said slowly. “I have the doctor.”
Indeed, Deaton’s face was blank, eyes dull, as the telepathic field surrounding his central nervous system dulled the synapses and kept him still.
Erik left the instruments--a motley collection of scalpels, pinchers, and other pointy things--all pointed in the direction of Deaton and ready to fly. He moved to Scott, hissing as he took in the bloody mess at Scott’s temple. “Struck in the temple, Charles. Bleeding freely and swelling. He needs immediate medical care.”
“Call 911. Let’s get him to the hospital. Then call Anya and Peter. We’ll need to contain this one for questioning.”
Melissa McCall paled when she saw her son, strapped to a gurney and headed into her own ER. “What happened?”
“His boss threw him into a counter, where he hit his head,” the tall, silver-haired gentleman accompanying the crew told her. “I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen this kind of injury before. It’s a bloody hit right over the temple. I assume he’ll need some sort of scan to determine the nature of the injury, but he hasn’t roused since he was knocked out.”
“Deaton did this?” Melissa clenched her jaw. “Why?”
The silver-haired man looked surprised. “You know this young man?”
“He’s my son,” she bit out, then grabbed her radio. “Dr. Patel to ER, stat.”
“Ah, my apologies,” the silver-haired man said. “We haven’t met. I’m Erik Lehnsherr, Stiles’ great-grandfather. My partner and I were with Scott at the vet’s when the incident occurred.”
Melissa glared at him. “Scott told me you were going to question him. I take it that didn’t go well?”
“Not at all, I’m afraid,” Erik said, stepping back as orderlies came in to wheel Scott toward an exam room. “Thought none of us expected Dr. Deaton to be violent.”
Melissa drew a deep breath. “No, of course not.” She tapped the intercom button again. “Dr. Patel to ER, stat. Reynolds to ER, stat.” She looked at Erik. “Patel will do the exam, Reynolds will cover for me, and I’m going with my son.”
“Absolutely,” Erik said. “I’ll just wait here for Reynolds, shall I?”
“Please,” Melissa said, and headed back to where her son was taken.
Erik looked around the deserted ER. “At least it’s a slow afternoon for emergencies?”
Stiles, who showed up with Peter, Derek, Remy, Logan, Anya, and Jeorg, spread out in two vehicles, sparked lightning from his fingertips as he saw the ambulance spinning Scott away. “What happened?”
“Dr. Deaton got violent,” Charles said, continuing to hold the man himself in place, out of sight of the main lobby and half-way down the back hall. “He threw Scott into a counter, and he hit his head. Erik is with him in the ambulance, but a head injury is nothing to trifle with, so we opted to send him to ER straightaway.”
Stiles took a deep breath. “And Deaton?”
“I’m holding him there, down the hall,” Charles explained, nodding. “You’ll need someone physically strong to restrain him before I can let go. Though I did hear the metal instruments drop as Erik left with Scott and saw you pull up.”
Logan and Peter headed behind the counter and down the hall, while Remy ducked back to the car rental to grab zip ties.
Derek took Stiles’ hand, soothing the lightning, as Anna and Jeorg stepped up to Charles. “How can I help?” Anna asked.
“Can your energy be used to bind Dr. Deaton?” Charles asked, watching as Remy headed down the hall, too.
“Yes, actually,” Anna confirmed, “though I’ve not often had cause to use it that way.” She reached out, building bindings from the air to cocoon Deaton after Remy secured the man’s wrists together behind his back with zip ties.
“Get his ankles, too,” Logan suggested, holding Deaton from one side while Peter held him from the other. They watched as Remy completed the work, and blue air solidified around the vet. Logan and Peter withdrew their hold as the man was encased, and levitated.
“You can let go now, Charles,” Anna said softly, and Charles relaxed back in his chair.
Muffled curses could be heard from within the cocoon, but Anna paid them no mind as she levitated the man down the hall, through the counter door and the main door, and tipped the man into the back seat of the SUV.
Stiles turned to Charles. “Are you alright?”
“Fine, Stiles,” Charles assured him. “Not even winded.” He wheeled himself out the front door, Stiles and Derek close behind him. “We’re going to need to find somewhere to secure him for questioning.”
“There’s always the Stilinski basement,” Stiles said, half joking. “As long as he’s restrained. It’s kind of our junk room but there’s a couch, anyway.”
“That will do for now,” Charles decided. “Peter, are you quite alright?”
Stiles looked at Peter, and he saw that his Alpha was visibly struggling to not shift. “Hey, whoa, OK, Alpha, you’re OK.” He stepped up to Peter, dragging Derek with him. Derek caught on quickly, and the pair leaned in from either direction to scent Peter. “We’re here, we’re pack. We’re OK, too.”
They stayed still as Peter breathed deeply, taking in the scents of family, of pack. The act helped Peter settle, though Stiles could still see hints of red in his irises. It took long moments, and Stiles could hear his grandparents settling into the SUV with Remy at the wheel to take Deaton back to the Stilinski house. Logan would drive Erik’s rental with Charles in the passenger seat, also back to the Stilinski house, and Stiles and Derek would head to the hospital, with Peter. Just in case.
Logan was not gentle as he helped Anya situate the veterinarian on the basement couch at Casa Stilinski. Runners, in his mind, had something to run from.
Anya was not precisely careless, but neither did she do much to protect her charge from the occasional bump into the basement side walls or, oops, into the bump out above the stairs. It’s tough to judge distance sometimes, after all.
Remy popped down behind them, and took a seat against the wall opposite the couch. “I’ll keep first watch, Wolvie.”
Logan grunted, and Anya let the energy encasing the vet fall. Zip-tied hand and foot, Deaton would keep until Charles was ready to talk to him.
Stiles, Derek, and Peter walked into the Beacon Hills Hospital ER to find Erik calmly waiting.
“Dziadek,” Stiles said softly. “Where’s Scott?”
“They took him down for a CT scan almost as soon as we arrived,” Erik said. “His mother is with him. They’re concerned about the head injury.”
Stiles sat next to his great-grandfather, with Derek and Peter on his other side. They waited quietly until Melissa came out to speak directly to them.
“It’s not good,” she said quietly, visibly repressing tears. “He’s got a skull fracture. He must have hit the counter at just the right angle. He’s bleeding into his brain, and he needs immediate surgery to survive, but his lungs are acting up and anesthesia could suppress function. Either way, we’re running the risk of brain damage.”
Peter looked up at her. “Has Scott had a chance to talk to you?”
“About you?” Melissa said. “Yes. We agreed to consider it in more depth. I think he wants the Bite. I wanted him to wait, but now…” She trailed off. “Would it fix his lungs and his head, both?”
“It should, if he’s compatible,” Peter said lowly. “The problem is we haven’t had time to determine his risk of bite rejection.”
Melissa let one tear fall down her cheek. “Everything is risky. Every choice I have right now is risky. But at least with that one, if it succeeds, he’ll still be my Scott.”
And suddenly Erik understood. “The brain damage is significant, isn’t it?”
“We think he’s already lost basic bodily function,” Melissa choked out. “He might get it back, he might not.”
Peter took Melissa’s hand gently. “If you want me to give him the Bite, I will.”
“Please,” she whispered through the tears that started to fall heavily down her face. “ Please.”
Stiles stood, putting an arm around Melissa. “Lead the way, Mel.”
She nodded, shakily, then wiped her face. Peter and Stiles stood on either side of her, holding her hands, and Derek and Erik trailed behind the trio as she led them down to the sterile exam room where Scott lay, hooked up to oxygen and attended by Dr. Patel, the doctor who’d diagnosed Noah and knew about werewolves.
“Ah,” the petite woman said. “Alpha Hale, and company, I presume.”
Peter raised an eyebrow. “And you are?”
“Vayda Patel, medical doctor, and human from the Patel pack.” The doctor held out her hand, palm down, to Peter. “I’m so sorry for your losses, Alpha.”
“Thank you,” Peter said, and cleared as suddenly thick throat. “When did you arrive in Beacon Hills?”
“I’ve been here for about six months, nosing around your case,” Dr. Patel said. “It helped that they were short-staffed here. Our mothers knew each other, and when she finally got wind of your situation, she asked me to apply and see what I could find out, quietly. I’m glad to see you well.”
“What?” Stiles asked flatly. “If you knew something was wrong with Peter’s case, why didn’t you …”
“Do something?” Dr. Patel finished. “I did. I swapped out some of the heavier poisons they were using and set up surveillance. Everything one might need to take to the council. I was waiting for approval to discharge Peter into my care, but I underestimated our opponents. You’re welcome to everything I have.”
“My thanks,” Peter said hoarsely. He nodded toward Scott. “Melissa has asked me to give him the Bite. We’d already been in talks with Scott about it. We thought it might cure his asthma and give him a better quality of life.”
“Given the enormity of the bleed, we’re barely keeping him alive at the moment. Even surgery might not be sufficient to save him, and surgery itself could be deadly because of his compromised lungs,” Dr. Patel said. “We call this ‘talk and die’ syndrome, often because outward signs of the injury are difficult to find as the bleed goes right into the brain, and some patients hit their heads and don’t realize they’re seriously injured until they’re gone. The blow knocked Scott out, however, and you got him immediate medical attention, so we have a very little time, Alpha.”
“And if he rejects the Bite?” Peter asked.
“He will die anyway,” Dr. Patel said calmly, and sympathetically. “But if it works, you could save him.”
“Alpha,” Stiles whispered. “Please.”
Peter looked at Stiles, then at Derek. “Come with me, then. Melissa, can you hold his hand, please? And Erik, if you wouldn’t mind guarding the door?”
“Of course, Peter,” Erik said, and braced his back against it.
Melissa went around to the other side of Scott’s bed, taking his hand and whispering reassurances into the teen’s ear as Peter approached. Stiles and Derek flanked him as he leaned down and pulled up Scott’s t-shirt just enough to bare his side. Peter shifted, drew a deep breath, and Bit.
Anya hung up the phone and turned to Charles. “Scott was seriously injured.”
Charles looked horrified. “How badly?”
“Badly enough that they had to risk the Bite or he would have died anyway,” Anya said heavily, and sat down across from her soon-to-be stepfather. “Melissa and Stiles gave Peter permission to try. As of a few minutes ago, it looked like it might be working. There’s no sign of rejection, at any rate, and they’re under the care of a Dr. Patel, a human who belongs to a pack elsewhere and had been assigned to investigate Peter’s case.”
“What?” Charles asked, stunned. “I thought he had no support.”
“Apparently, her mother was a friend of his mother’s, and the packs were given little to no information about the goings on in Beacon Hills. Once Alpha Patel heard of Peter’s plight, which I gather was quite recently, she asked her daughter to investigate,” Anya said. “She’s been compiling evidence to take to the council, and apparently, she swapped out some of the poisons they were using. At a guess, this made Peter heal faster than his caregivers were anticipating. They might not have intended his rampage, but of course, this is supposition at the moment.”
Charles sat back in his chair. “How extraordinary. So the Hales have some allies, still, then?”
“Yes, and with what we’ve all gathered, the Council should be involved,” Anya said. “That still leaves the question of the missing Hale, however.”
“Right,” Charles said slowly. “We should see what Dr. Deaton knows. And if he can’t help, then I’ll get on Cerebro and see if it can help me identify werewolves. Maybe I can find Cora that way. Still, Deaton will be our best bet.”
“Shall we go and ask him?” Anya proposed. “I can’t imagine tearing Stiles away from Scott at the moment, and they’ll all need pack, I’d guess. Vati plans to stay with them until the situation is resolved, one way or another, but I think we need information now.”
Charles gave a half-smile to his soon-to-be-stepdaughter, seeing Erik in her need to press forward. “Certainly. Perhaps Logan can carry me downstairs? I think this is a conversation best held face to face. And if you could perhaps keep the gentleman contained? Actually, how are you keeping him contained?”
“Ah, well, I’m an elemental, too,” Anya confirmed. “I can manipulate air. It will be as strong and as supportive as I need it to be in any given moment.”
“How fascinating.” He wheeled himself to the back corner of the Stilinski kitchen, making a face at the sharp turn that would defy his chair. “Chair will need to stay up here, I think. Anywhere for me to sit down there?”
“I’ll have one of the boys bring a suitable chair down for you, first,” Anya said. “Or Jeorg. Actually, where has my husband taken himself off to?”
“Just on a call, love,” the man himself said as he came through the kitchen. “A Hunter’s Council representative will be arriving tomorrow morning. With the evidence we’ve collected so far--and since Peter digitized it, I was able to send a packet immediately--they’ve agreed there’s cause to believe maliciousness at play in the Argents’ actions six years ago, and since. They’re quite eager to speak with Dr. Deaton. As the former pack emissary, he should have stepped in and might have been able to prevent the tragedy. Why he did not is a mystery.”
“Do they object to our questioning him?” Charles asked.
“No, though they wish for the questioning to be recorded,” Jeorg said.
Charles mulled that over for a minute. “Might be for the best. Keep us on the straight and narrow, I suppose.”
“Except for whatever you can pull from his mind, Charles,” Anya said softly.
“Let’s try this: Bring me down. We’ll try a traditional method of questioning first, and if that yields no benefits, I’ll question him myself, the more expedient way,” Charles proposed. “I’m not opposed to being recorded.”
“That exposes your mutation, Charles,” Anya pointed out worriedly.
“And I don’t particularly care,” Charles said, quirking a grin. “It’s long past time the supernatural and the enhanced communities came clean. Especially if we can help save lives with our research.”
Jeorg shrugged. “You’re not wrong. So what do we need to do here, then?”
“I need a chair placed downstairs and a hand getting down there,” Charles said.
“No problem,” Jeorg said as he stepped over and picked up one of the kitchen chairs. “I’ll bring it down and get one of the lads to come up and carry you. I wouldn’t try it myself. I’m an old man, you know.”
“That’s not what you were saying only this morning,” Anya said archly.
“If I drop your Vati’s fiance down the stairs, I’ll never see another day, I’m certain, love,” Jeorg replied with a twinkle in his eye. “I’m more frightened of your father than I am attached to my pride.”
Anya snorted a laugh, and Charles’s chuckles followed Jeorg down the stairs. Jeorg brought the chair down, placed it against the wall next to where Remy sat, keeping an eye on their erstwhile prisoner. Logan sat behind the couch and in a corner to the back, playing some game on his phone while they waited for a decision to be made.
“You can’t keep me here like this,” Deaton said, his deep voice bolstered with conviction. “Kidnapping is illegal.”
The other three ignored him. Jeorg said, out loud, “The Professor needs a ride down the stairs. They’ve decided to interview this man now, as the Hunter’s Council is coming tomorrow.”
Logan stood, and pocketed his phone. “I’ll go get the prof if you’ll come prop up a wall over here.”
Jeorg nodded and sat back in Logan’s space, while Remy stood, and Logan headed up the stairs.
Deaton looked constipated.
“Lookin’ to me like the homme don’t like the idea of the Council gettin’ involved,” Remy commented idly, spinning a card from his pocket and twirling it through his fingers.
“No, I’d say not,” Jeorg affirmed. “Of course, if he had a hand in my son’s death, the Council is the least of his worries.”
Remy pursed his lips. “Cops won’t care what we do to a cop-killer.”
“I didn’t kill a cop!” Deaton burst out.
The sounds of Logan bringing the Professor down the stairs interrupted the intense stare Remy leveled at Deaton in the wake of his outburst.
Logan placed Charles carefully, ensuring he was sitting straight and that none of his body was pinched in the wooden kitchen chair, with its curved arms. “Thank you, Logan,” Charles said, and looked to Deaton. “Please take video while we get started. The Council was clear on this matter.”
“Of course, Prof,” Logan said. He pulled out his phone, aimed it at Deaton, and started the video recording.
“To be clear and for the record, this interview is being conducted by Professor Charles Xavier, head of the X-Men, on behalf of the Hunter’s Council. While that body is sending a representative tomorrow, it was agreed that I could conduct this interview so long as it was recorded for their review. I agreed to those terms. Therefore, be advised, Dr. Deaton, that this recording will be used as evidence in proceedings before that body.”
Deaton looked ashen.
Charles continued. “We have evidence from the estate of Laura Hale that she was being threatened by a letter writer who knew of her status as a werewolf. We also have traced the post office box to which she sent replies to you.”
Deaton stayed silent.
Charles leaned forward. “Dr. Deaton, where is Cora Hale?”
Charles let the silence spin out, blanketing the room in a heavy layer of tension. Deaton’s eyes darted from one person to another in the room, finding no sympathy. Charles tilted his head, put a finger to his temple, and said, with intent to compel an answer, “ Where is Cora Hale?”
“South America!” Deaton burst out, then looked appalled at himself.
Charles sat back. “Thank you. Where in South America?”
Deaton visibly trembled as he whispered, “With the Rigez pack in Sao Paolo.”
Jeorg pulled out a notebook and wrote that down.
“What have you done to me?” Deaton asked, quietly. “I never meant anyone to know that another Hale existed.”
“Why not?” Charles asked calmly.
“I need a Hale I can control to take over this territory,” Deaton said, looking at the ceiling above him, as if avoiding Charles’ eyes would help. “I’m having her groomed by the Rigez Alpha in exchange for access to the Nemeton, once I get the Alpha spark to transfer to a Hale I can control.”
“Why a Hale? Why not just let them all die?” Charles asked, reasonably.
“The Hale blood is needed to control the Nemeton,” Deaton said, tonelessly. “Without it, the magic of the Nemeton can’t be harvested, can’t be controlled. I thought maybe the Hale spark was all that might be needed, so I arranged for Laura to come back. I’d hoped her death could let the spark pass elsewhere and I could control the Nemeton that way. Then I wouldn’t need Cora at all. She’s my ace.”
“Fascinating,” Charles said, calmly. “You were waiting for it to play out so that you could control the Nemeton? Were you responsible for keeping Peter Hale alive, as well?”
“Control of the Nemeton brings immense power to the one who controls it,” Deaton said. “Spreading it among the Hale Pack kept the Nemeton healthy, but it was such a waste. Such a waste when it could all have been mine. I didn’t want Peter alive, but it made my partner happy.”
“Partner?” Charles asked leadingly.
“Gerard Argent,” Deaton said. “He set up the Hale fire with his daughter, Kate. He left Peter alive when he was found for experimentation. I used that to keep Laura and Derek at bay while I thought about how to get control of the Nemeton only for me.”
“So you needed at least one Hale alive in order to control the Nemeton, and Gerard Argent helped you murder the rest of the Hale Pack so that it could be, what, consolidated?”
Deaton nodded. “Even now, the power is building to levels that it can’t contain. Sacrifices must be made to control it. A ritual sacrifice would be best.”
“Would a strong Hale pack retain control of the Nemeton?”
“Wasteful. Wasteful. But yes, spread out among pack in ritual, it could be contained and safe,” Deaton said.
“To be clear, then, Dr. Deaton, you extorted money from Laura Hale, kept knowledge of the whereabouts of her sister away from Laura Hale, assisted Gerard Argent in killing the Hale Pack, knew about the systematic torture of Peter Hale by Argent and his associates, and kept silent in general because you wanted the power of the Nemeton?” Charles tilted his head. “Did I miss anything?”
“I wanted all their money, too, but I couldn’t get into the Hale Vault under the school,” Deaton admitted. “I had to settle for what Laura sent to my post office box to keep me quiet about her whereabouts.”
Charles nodded, once, firmly. “Thank you, Dr. Deaton.”
“What did you do to me?”
“I only suggested that you wanted to tell us everything, Dr. Deaton. Just a suggestion,” Charles smiled ferally. “I’m glad you took us up on it.”
Erik looked down at his phone when it beeped with a video message. He watched the interview play out, impassive, then shook his head. “Peter? Derek? Something for you to see here.”
Stiles looked up from where he was holding Scott’s hand. “Just them?”
“No, I don’t think this is secret, Stiles, I just didn’t want you to have to move if you didn’t want to,” Erik said gently, and tilted his screen. “Charles interviewed Deaton on camera for the Hunters Council. I assume he’s sent this recording to their representative as well as to me.”
They watched. Melissa fussed with Scott’s IV as she listened, too.
As the recording ended, Peter closed his eyes against the betrayal of it.
“What an asshole,” Stiles muttered.
“Language,” Melissa murmured.
“What?” Stiles asked, irate. “He is an asshole!”
“Well, yes, but it’s not necessary to point it out to this group,” Melissa said, contemplatively running a hand over her son’s cool forehead.
“Whatever,” Stiles said, and adjusted. “I don’t even know what to start with.”
“I’d start with the fact that we know my niece is alive and that she’s in Brazil,” Peter said slowly. “And that she’s apparently being ‘groomed’ by the Rigez pack. What does that even mean? I’m not even sure I know anyone in that pack, and I know, or knew, just about all of them before the fire.”
“I don’t like the idea of grooming, in general,” Erik chimed in, slowly. “It implies many unsavory things, especially if you have no first hand knowledge of the methods and means being employed.”
Derek scrubbed a hand over his face. “Right. Alpha, do I have your permission to reach out to the Rigez Pack?”
“As my second, yes,” Peter said, thinking. “Inform them that we just became aware that Cora survived, and we want eyes on her as soon as possible. Make it sound better than that, though. No reason to be antagonistic until there’s reason to be antagonistic.”
Erik smirked, and Stiles rolled his eyes. “How about, we’ve just discovered our lost pack member is, in fact, alive, and we’re anxious to know she’s safe and well?” Stiles suggested.
“There you go,” Peter said, pointing at Stiles. “Listen to your mate. That’s perfect.”
Derek pulled out his phone. “I’ll start digging out contact information for them. I do have some contacts in South America Laura didn’t know about, but I don’t know anything about the Rigez Pack. I’ll just step out and make some calls.”
“Don’t go far, please,” Peter said. “I don’t particularly trust the Argents not to make a move, and I doubt our presence here has gone unnoticed.”
Erik pursed his lips at that. “I think I’ll just tag along, then,” he said. “You and Stiles should stay with Scott and Melissa.”
Stiles gave him a thumbs up, and Erik and Derek stepped out into the hall.
Scott opened his eyes to see the flat white tiles of the hospital ceiling.
“Huh,” he said, and raised his head. Looking around, he saw Stiles at his left, holding his hand and drooling a little in his sleep from where he was tipped back in a chair. On his right, his mother slept with her head pillowed on her arms next to his hip. Stiles’ great-grandpa had his feet up in a hospital recliner by the door, and Peter and Derek were leaning against each other on a small cot against the wall opposite his bed, eyes closed.
“Awake, then, Scott?” Erik asked softly.
“Uh, yeah,” Scott said, looking around and then back at Erik. “What happened?”
“Deaton threw you into the work counter in an effort to divert our attention and make his escape,” Erik said quietly. “You hit your head rather hard, and you were bleeding into your brain. Your mother chose to have Peter give you the Bite in an effort to save your life. And since you’re awake and aware, I’m going to have to say that it was successful.”
Scott sort of opened his eyes and closed them, then clenched and unclenched his jaw. “So I’m a werewolf now?”
Peter answered the question from his place next to Derek. “Yes, Scott. You’re officially my beta and a member of the Hale Pack. I’m sorry we couldn’t ask you directly. How do you feel?”
Scott considered himself. He felt, strong, almost. He took a deep breath, and nearly shuddered at the sensation of rich air filling lungs that weren’t compromised at all. “Good, I think,” he said, and breathed deeply again. “Really good.”
“Your lungs sound clear,” Peter said, pleased. “Much better than they did.”
Scott smiled faintly, and moved his hand to stroke his mother’s hair. “Mom,” he said, quietly. “Mom. I’m better.”
Melissa came awake and looked at her beautiful boy. “Oh, Scott,” she said softly, and pulled him forward into a rough hug that pulled Scott’s hand from Stiles’. Stiles tipped his chair over and stood quickly, awake and embarrassed, before he saw Scott hugging his mother.
“Oh, awesome, Scottie boy, you’re awake! Are you growly, too?” Stiles chattered, touching Scott’s hair, arms, shoulders, and back.
“I assume so,” Peter answered for him. “His lungs sound clear and he’s been clearly articulate.”
Derek stirred, too. “What time is it?”
Erik checked his watch. “Just past 4 a.m. Those of us who are able should go back to sleep for a bit. The Hunters Council representative should be here around 9, and I’d like to be back at the house then.”
“As would I,” Peter allowed. “But our new pack member’s well-being comes first.”
Scott smiled a little. “Appreciated, Alpha. I do feel a ton better.”
Melissa gave her son one last squeeze and stood. “Let’s check your vitals and alert Dr. Patel that you’re awake. She can give you the all clear.”
Stiles kissed the top of Scott’s head and backed away from the bed. “I could use a better nap.”
Derek shoved Peter off the cot playfully. “Come over here, then,” he said, opening his arms and rolling his eyes at the looks he got from Erik and Peter. “It’s not like we’re not chaperoned.”
“Give you an inch, nephew,” Peter said, and smirked. “Though that’s true.”
Stiles grinned shyly, then moved over to lay next to Derek, who stretched out on the cot and wrapped his arms around him. Stiles tucked his nose into Derek’s neck and mumbled. “See, no kissing, even.” Derek buried his nose in Stiles’ hair, and the pair fell asleep.
Erik raised an eyebrow at the pair, but said nothing as he watched the tension drain from his great-grandson’s body. He looked at Peter, who smiled gently, and took Stiles’ chair.
“We’ll wake them at 7, if they’re not up by then,” Peter said quietly. “How does he look, Melissa?”
“All vitals normal. Perfect, even,” Melissa said absently, adjusting the monitors. “I sent the text alert to Dr. Patel, and she should be in shortly to verify. But if these readings stay like this, Scott and I can follow you home in a few hours.”
“Good,” Peter said. “You should get some sleep, too. I know this has been stressful.”
Melissa nodded. “I won’t be able to sleep until we get the all clear from the doc. But I appreciate the idea.”
Peter smiled wryly. “I’m in the same boat.”
Scott cleared his throat. “So do I just lay here or what?”
“I think you should try to sleep, too,” Melissa said, smoothing a hand over his forehead. “No sense in all of us being sleep deprived later today.”
Scott leaned into his mother’s touch and sighed. “Okay, Mom.”
Melissa took her seat, and Erik watched from his corner while the pair stood vigil over Scott.
Breakfast at Casa Stilinski featured three enormous quiches and a double batch of blueberry muffins, all courtesy of Logan, who had been up with the sun.
Dr. Patel had cleared Scott, and the crew at the hospital showed up early to eat, shower, and generally make themselves presentable. Peter and Melissa had taken charge of Scott, with Peter gently instructing the pair on Scott’s new abilities, while Derek and Stiles seemed to be joined at the hands. Erik found the entire thing amusing, and Charles smiled at his fiance when he sensed the humor rolling off him.
They were waiting for the Hunter’s Council representative, and Logan reminded them at the table that a good number of students from the Xavier School would be showing up that afternoon, booked into a modest hotel near the mall.
The group quietly munched, chatted, and ignored the man in the Stilinski basement. Well, except for Logan and Anya, who quietly went down with a plate, and an escort to the basement bathroom.
“So Deaton really has been working against the Hales all this time?” Scott asked, voice full of wonder and annoyance. “I thought he was a good guy.”
“Good can be relative,” Erik observed. “He clearly had an agenda when it came to you, Scott, so it’s conceivable that he made an effort to appear to be the ‘good guy.’”
Charles hummed. “He truly believes himself to be a good guy, in many ways. He believes he’s doing what’s best for the territory. The fact that his plan included the outright murder of an entire family is immaterial to him in his aims.”
Peter stepped into the room, pocketing his phone. “Thanks to Derek, I’ve had a call this morning from Dominic Rigez. He’s been fostering Cora, and had no idea that I was even alive. They’re going to explain things to Cora, and if she wishes, they’ll get her on a plane this direction as soon as possible.”
“Always room for one more,” Stiles said, looking around. “Though she might be on the couch at this point.”
“We’ve room at our place, too, Stiles,” Melissa pointed out gently. “Any of you are welcome there, too.”
“We’ve got to get back to our dig relatively soon,” Jeorg said. “It’s not what I’d like to do, but we’re committed to finish this one up and get the artifacts back to the British Museum.”
Anya frowned. “I’d rather stay with Mischief, but we knew that might not be possible when we discussed arrangements for his care with Noah.”
Erik reached over to touch his daughter’s shoulder. “I’ll be around, too, kleine.”
Anya smiled gratefully, but still shook her head slightly. “My grandson needs his grandmother, too.”
“Always, Nana,” Stiles said, but braced himself with a deep breath. “But I do think you all need to return to whatever commitments you had before this interrupted.”
At that, Peter frowned. “You’re important, Stiles. Your care is a priority for everyone at this table.”
Stiles shrugged. “I get that, but I can take care of myself, too. It’s not like I’m a toddler.”
Derek squeezed his hand and smiled at him. “We know.”
“But neither are you an adult, and even if you were, Stiles, you’d still need the love and support of family and friends,” Charles reminded him gently. “We’ve all decided on that role, young man, so you’ll just have to bear up under it.”
Stiles looked down, said nothing, and returned Derek’s squeeze as silence fell and grew.
Scott, of all people, broke it. “Remember that time your dad caught us filching Mrs. Hansen’s cookies?”
“Man, I thought he’d ground us for life,” Stiles said softly. “But her cookies were always so good!”
“And that time, they were for the bake sale, and she gave us one, but after that? We couldn’t stop eating them. You came up with, like, three different plans for getting into her kitchen. They all worked, too,” Scott said, laughing. “I think the Sheriff paid for the whole batch as an apology.”
“He did,” Stiles said. “And he made us come into the station to wash the patrol cars every Saturday for a month to repay him. Stealing cookies was the first step on a dark, criminal road, my friend.”
Peter laughed. “How old were you? Ten?”
Stiles just grinned. “Nah, this was last summer.”
Anya started giggling, Erik smiled, and Charles shook his head. “Ah, well,” he said. “There are worse things. I remember Noah stealing a few cookies out of the mansion kitchen a time or two.”
“Even worse was when he met Claudia,” Jeorg added fondly. “The pair of them would liberate entire picnics from the kitchens and head to some secluded spot on the grounds. Things went missing around them all the time. Like Anya’s latkes.”
“I made a huge batch for one visit, meant for a family dinner at the school when we were there, and left it on the counter,” Anya added. “When I returned, the entire platter was gone. Noah and Claudia had taken the sour cream, too.”
“It sounds like my great-grandson comes by his tendencies naturally,” Erik said, his deep voice amused.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in his case, no,” Anya allowed, and grinned at her father.
The group just had time to clean up before the Hunter’s Council rep showed up at their door, accompanied by Chris Argent.
“Argent,” Peter said coolly as the hunter was ushered into the living room. “And this is?”
A tall, dark-skinned young woman, her hair braided back in colorful rows, held out her hand, “Tanya Plimpton. Council’s rep and druid.”
Peter shook the hand. “Peter Hale. We have Dr. Deaton in the basement.”
“Yes, I saw the recording, as has the rest of the council, and I showed it to Mr. Argent, here, because it’s clear that members of his family are involved.”
Chris cleared his throat. “Yes. I’ve actually been working with the council to find evidence to bring my father and sister to trial. I’ve been suspicious of their activities for some time, but they’re very good at getting rid of evidence, gaslighting other family members into questioning what they’re seeing, or outright violent denial. Your message the other night, Mr. Stilinski, gave me the heads up I needed to go to the Council myself.”
“And what is the plan, then, to get justice for my son?” Anya asked bluntly.
“Your son? Ma’am?”
“I’m Noah Stilinski’s mother, Anya Stilinski,” she said coolly, and nodded to her husband. “His father, my husband Jeorg. And,” she waved toward her father, “his grandfather, my father, Erik Lehnsherr.”
Chris paled. Everyone knew Erik Lehnsherr, and the man himself gave a feral smile.
Anya leaned forward. “But you’re talking to me. Your family’s actions, along with those of the man in the basement, led to the death of my son. How do you plan to get justice for him? And for the Hale family, who were outright murdered in a quest for power?”
“Ma’am,” Chris said weakly. “All we can do is bring them before the Council for a hearing. What happens to them would be up to the Council.”
Tanya Plimpton interjected. “If the evidence supports it, the Argents and Deaton will be executed. But we will need to find an alternate magic user to help maintain the Nemeton.”
Erik lifted a hand. “My daughter, Wanda Maximoff, will be here this afternoon to help us with that task. As it’s Hale territory, as I understand it, the Nemeton is under the Hales’ purview. Wanda has agreed to help restore the balance, cleanse the Nemeton, and anchor its power to the pack. Would this be acceptable?”
Tanya considered. “Actually, it’s ideal. Wanda Maximoff is a known chaotic magic user, and a powerful one at that. With her assistance, it should be a relatively easy matter to anchor the Nemeton with the pack.”
“And how do you plan to take custody of Gerard and Kate Argent?” Anya asked.
“Well,” Chris looked to Tanya. “We were hoping to secure your help.”
“What do you need?” Erik leaned forward.
“My father and my sister will be here sometime this afternoon to ‘take over’ the hunt for Peter Hale, whom they believe to be feral. Not that it would matter to them if he wasn’t; they’ve been having him systematically tortured for six years,” Chris said bitterly. “His caretakers were paid off; I’ve already submitted that evidence to the District Attorney’s office because that’s straightforward abuse. Gerard and Kate will be at my home for dinner at 6, as will my wife, my daughter, and I. To maintain my place as a spy, it would be best if all of us were arrested. Allison, my daughter, knows nothing about the hunter community at all, so I’d expect her to go free relatively quickly. I’m honestly not sure about my wife’s role in things; she keeps the books, but if she’s been paying anyone involved for this mess she’s kept it hidden from me. Interrogation might be useful.
“But my father and sister are trained, a little insane, and paranoid. They’re also armed with wolfsbane bullets as a matter of habit. Ideally, we’d need someone to do the actual arrest who can physically control them.” Chris looked around. “I understand some of you have powers that might come in handy under those circumstances.”
Remy smirked from a corner, where he’d been idly playing with his cards. “Might.”
Erik shook his head. “I do, but I’m compromised. As are Anya and Stiles, who might also help. Logan?”
“I can help arrest the assholes,” Logan said, “without hurting them. Much.”
“I’ll be back up,” Remy stood. “But maybe the prof is the best person here?”
“I could certainly freeze them all in their tracks until they’re zip-tied,” Charles allowed. “I would need to be present, but I could be concealed in a vehicle or something somewhere.”
“For his physical safety,” Erik interjected, “I would insist on it.”
“Right, then,” Tanya said. “Chris will assist me now in taking custody of Dr. Deaton, though I’d be glad of any other assistance you could offer in getting him into the van. He’ll be taken to Council headquarters in South Dakota and held pending the hearing. We want to keep Gerard, Kate, and Victoria separated, so I have three cars and drivers headed this way. If we can rendezvous here at 5:30, I’ll rely on your planning to facilitate the actual arrests, and we’ll take them to South Dakota, too. We’ll have a hearing next week, if all goes smoothly.”
Anya nodded tightly. “Fine.”
Logan cleared his throat. “We’ve got Cyc, Storm, Jubilee, and Rogue coming this afternoon, too.”
Charles considered that. “Cyclops would be good to have on hand, just in case. You’ll map out a plan?”
“I will,” Logan agreed.
Tanya nodded and looked to Chris. “Let’s get Dr. Deaton, then.”
Anya followed them to the stairs and took them down to where Derek had been watching the prisoner. She encased Deaton in her air bands again, and Tanya introduced herself, explained the charges against him, and escorted Anya and Chris back up the stairs. Chris zip-tied Deaton again, and they all went out to the drive to get the druid into the back of a large black van.
“It’s warded,” Tanya explained. “He’s a magic user so we need to take extra precautions.”
Stiles and his family watched as the van drove away.
“One down,” he murmured.
“More to go,” Peter affirmed. He looked at Stiles. “You alright?”
“As much as I can be,” Stiles said, and looked down at his hands. “I think I want a nap.”
“Go right ahead, Mischief,” Anya said, hearing him. She came up on the porch and kissed his cheeks. “Get a nap. Maybe you’ll have company.”
Derek blushed. “I would, but I think we’d need a chaperone.”
“How charming,” Anya cooed.
“Yeah, we only got away with it this morning because Peter and Dziadek were in the room with us,” Stiles said, a bit of a smile on his face. He reached out to squeeze Derek’s hand. “I’ll be fine on my own. I really do just want a nap.”
“Alright, then,” Derek said softly, and gestured to the house. “Go.”
Peter kept an ear on his packmate as the rest of the house’s temporary inhabitants gathered in the kitchen to start on making lunch, make plans for the evening arrests of the Argents, and continue finalizing plans for the Saturday services.
He listened as Stiles settled into his father’s bed, and heard the quiet tears of a young, grieving man.
“Peter?” Charles asked, stopping by the Alpha, who’d been still as he listened from the bottom of the stairs.
“Oh, Charles,” Peter gave a fleeting grin. “What can I do for you?”
“Listening in on Stiles?”
Peter shrugged. “Can’t help it.”
“Fair enough,” Charles said, but beckoned. “What do you know about venues for a large post-service luncheon?”
They settled on catering, with tables in the Stilinski’s large backyard, as Charles said he knew someone who could guarantee fine weather for the event. It was a rush job, but the Jewish deli Peter remembered from before the fire was still there, and more than happy to provide a funeral lunch for the Sheriff, who’d been a regular customer.
“We know all his favorites,” the proprietor, Abe Goldstein, assured them. “We’ll get you set up. It’ll be kosher, too, which will please his mother.”
Charles thanked the man, and he and Peter went off to organize the renting of tables, tents, and accoutrements for the backyard luncheon, which would be open to all the mourners who cared to stop by.
“Open bar?” Charles asked, quietly, as the pair scoped out the space.
“I think Noah would have appreciated it,” Peter allowed, “though we’ll want to make sure the on-duty officers have something soft available. And the teens who will certainly come to support Stiles.”
Agreed, Charles made more calls, and Peter drew Derek into the discussion to confirm that the Hales would pay for the luncheon, which looked to be turning into an afternoon gathering and wake.
Anya only nodded when presented with the general plan, and shooed them away from the kitchen, where she’d been presiding over a massive beef roast and vegetables for dinner.
Logan took Remy and Scott with him to the airport, where the rest of the X-Men and some others of Stiles’ friends planned to arrive about noon. Melissa got on the phone to Tara Graeme, confirming the afternoon plans so that the deputy could share them with the rest of the department and plan duty rosters accordingly.
All of them, Melissa was assured, would be taking a turn at the house, along with half the law enforcement in northern California, who would be forming an honor guard and parade.
The details of remembering and honoring the dead kept the living busy for the rest of the morning, and Derek went up to wake Stiles for lunch when Logan and Remy came back from the airport, a rented van holding the rest of the crew from Xavier’s.
When the dinner hour rolled around, the Stilinskis and Hales, along with Erik and Scott, stayed put in the Stilinski house while the X-Men headed over to the Argents to secure and help detain the Argent family.
Peter, not thrilled to be left behind, drummed his fingers along the edge of the kitchen table near the chair that had sort of become his in the few days he’d been staying there. Tension thickened the air as the group--none of whom were used to waiting for anything--waited for news.
Erik pursed his lips. “I feel as though I should be counseling patience, as the elder of this group, but I’m honestly not very good at it.”
Stiles snorted a laugh. “Me either, so at least we know that tendency holds up across generations.”
Anya rolled her eyes at them both. “Patience is learned, as you well know, Vati. And you, Mischief, should know.”
Erik and Stiles looked at each other, shrugged, and smirked.
“Why do you call Stiles ‘Mischief’?” Derek asked quietly.
Anya looked startled, for a moment. “Oh, well, it’s a childhood nickname. Stiles couldn’t pronounce his true name when he was small. It came out as ‘Mischief.’ And since that seemed appropriate, it sort of stuck.”
“Nana,” Stiles said, aggrieved. “I don’t think anyone here knows my actual name.”
“Really?” Anya asked. “But it’s such a good, strong name.”
“And very Polish,” Stiles pointed out. “It has way too many letters.”
Jeorg shook his head. “You’re named after my brother, Stiles. He was a good man.” He paused, then smiled a little. “But he hated the name, too. We called him Mike instead.”
“Alright, now I have to know,” Erik said. “What is our Mischief’s name?”
“Mieczyslaw,” Stiles muttered.
“Ah,” Erik said, “I see your dilemma. It is a good, strong name. And terrible to spell and pronounce if you’re not used to it.”
Derek grinned. “I like it.” Then, catching the look on his potential mate’s face, he quickly added, “But if Stiles is what you prefer, of course I’ll use that.”
Peter added, under his breath, “Good save.”
Stiles just did some eye rolling of his own as he left the kitchen to pace, energy beginning to buzz under his skin. Derek joined him, and they wandered outside, in clear sight of the back kitchen window.
Anya watched them go, and quietly said, “This courtship seems old-fashioned, but I think it will be a good thing for Mischief.”
“For Derek, too,” Peter affirmed. “Their ages are a factor, but I honestly think neither of them have the right headspace right now to be a couple.”
“Oh, I’d think we might be surprised,” Erik said slowly, rising to get a good look himself. “I watched, you know, when they were sleeping this morning. All of the tension in Stiles’ body left completely when his wolf held him. I do believe that slow, or not, they’ve found something in each other that will be there wherever life takes them.”
He watched Derek hold a hand out to Stiles, who took it, smiling shyly and lacing their fingers together as they walked around the large backyard. Stiles used the other hand to gesture to different plants and items presumably of interest, and Derek listened with rapt attention.
Peter got up to watch, too. “That’s how it’s supposed to be, with mates,” he said, voice going gravelly.
Erik’s phone beeped.
He reached down to check it, and said, “Well, that’s taken care of.”
“What? Vati?” Anya asked.
“Gerard, Kate, and Victoria Argent are in custody, separate vans, warded,” Erik related. “Gambit tells me that Wanda joined them in the end, after all--her plane must have arrived early--and she was able to contain them without Charles needing to use his telekinesis.”
Beeps kept coming.
“Right. I don’t believe Gambit knows how to spell. He should probably just call,” Erik grumbled. “Chris and Allison Argent also have been detained, though they’re not under guard and are expected to travel separately to South Dakota for the proceedings this week.”
“Well,” Anya said, sitting abruptly. “That’s that, then.”
“For now,” Erik agreed.
Jeorg stood abruptly. “Going for a walk.”
“Oh,” Anya said, and gestured to her husband, who leaned down to kiss her. “Be safe.”
He gave her a brief smile, then left by the front door.
Erik’s eyebrows rose. “Does that happen often?”
“When it needs to,” Anna said. “Exercise helps him cope with the big stuff.”
“Nothing left to do tonight, then,” Erik acknowledged.
“Just the funeral tomorrow,” Peter said softly.
XVII: Saying Goodbye
Stiles had a new suit. And clothing appropriate for a funeral. And a great-grandfather, his grandparents, an Alpha, and a potential mate.
But no father.
His thoughts began to spin round and round, into the dark place where he had to acknowledge his loss.
If he’d been a wolf, he could have howled with the agony of it.
He slipped out of bed, and he eased his way quietly downstairs, hoping to let the others sleep. Making his way to the living room, Stiles quietly turned on a single lamp in the corner by the bookshelves, and knelt to find the album he knew rested on the lowest shelf.
He picked it up, blowing off the light coat of dust that had accumulated on the dark blue leather cover, and curled himself up in the big chair with it in his lap. He ran a hand over the cover, took a deep breath, and opened it.
Their last family portrait had been tucked hurriedly into the front of the book.
Stiles looked out, a wide smile featuring his joy at being placed between his two favorite people. His mother smiled softly from her place behind him, and his father’s hand rested on his shoulder.
They were together now, anyway, Stiles thought, letting the tears roll down his face as he turned a page.
Somehow, he and his dad had stopped taking family pictures after his mom had died. Maybe they thought there was no point?
So the album, which had been his mother’s project, featured lots of pictures of Stiles, some of Scott-and-Stiles, and a family photo from every year up to Claudia’s death, taken on his parents’ wedding anniversary.
Stiles wondered if he had any recent pictures of his dad on his phone. He made a mental note to check and get some printed if he could find a new one.
The still of the night drew around him as he remembered his parents, and the life they had together before his mom died.
He still couldn’t comprehend it.
Derek found Stiles asleep in the big chair, the album in his lap, as dawn broke. He watched him for a moment, then gently pulled the album away, setting it aside on the coffee table, before scooping Stiles up carefully, cuddling him as Derek settled them both down on the couch. He held still as Stiles stretched and turned into Derek’s shoulder, falling back into the sleep his exhausted tears and worn thoughts had pulled him into.
Derek still couldn’t comprehend it.
Anya woke with the dawn, too. She lay awake for a moment, then remembered.
Her baby was dead.
Noah had been her only child, the only one she’d been able to carry to term. He’d been a healthy, happy baby, with a wide smile and a strong personality.
Grief welled up in her as she turned her face into Jeorg’s strong shoulder and felt his arms come around her.
“Our boy,” she whispered. “Our boy, Jeorg.”
His arms tightened, and he held her as she sobbed for their loss, tears trickling down his own face.
They still couldn’t comprehend it.
Later, Stiles would remember only flashes of the day he buried his father.
A full house for breakfast, the girls ribbing him gently and making him eat, Derek fixing him coffee the way he liked it, his great-grandfather’s hand rubbing gently through his hair.
Dressing carefully in his father’s room, in the new suit, and his nana tying his tie for him.
Tara laughing through her speech, relating stories about Noah’s more colorful encounters in law enforcement.
Walking down the parade route, following the horse-drawn cart that carried his father’s ashes, hand-in-hand with his nana and disguised great-grandfather.
A 21-gun salute at his parents’ graveside.
Watching his backyard fill with friends, his father’s colleagues, and his family. Meeting his great-aunts and uncle. Eating lentils and hard-boiled eggs.
In the end, though, it came down to his pack.
They gathered on the back porch, Derek and Stiles sitting in the porch swing. Peter, Scott, Melissa, Anya, Jeorg, Erik, and Charles sat in varied chairs around them, and Logan, Remy, and the other X-Men spread out down the steps. Each shared stories about Noah, about what he meant to them.
The conversation went on long into the night, and when Stiles curled up with Scott in his father’s bed that night, he knew something, irrevocably.
He was not alone.
His great aunt Wanda met them for breakfast Sunday morning, bringing a selection of bagels and plopping herself down at Stiles’ kitchen table as if she owned it.
“So, I’ve been out to the site of the nemeton this morning, and it’s a mess,” Wanda said bluntly, taking half the table off guard.
Peter, who’d been reaching for a bagel, paused. “Oh?”
Wanda shook her head negatively. “How do they say it now? Ah, yes. A hot mess. It was poisoned by chaos magic some time ago, and it’s freely leaking energy that’s calling any number of creatures to its aid. There’s even some sort of old leech in its roots. We’ll need to cleanse it, then anchor it to your pack, Alpha Hale, to stabilize everything.”
Erik, who’d been quietly listening from a corner, leaned forward, “How might we accomplish that, my dear?”
Wanda’s fingertips flashed red. “Not your dear, Magneto.”
Erik tightened his jaw, but said nothing, and sat back.
Stiles looked at his aunt. “I get that you have problems with Dziadek, but seriously, he’s trying to help, here.”
Wanda closed her eyes, opened them, and nodded briskly. “You’re right, of course, Stiles.” She looked up at her father. “My apologies.”
“None needed,” he answered softly. “I just want to help.”
“Right, well, the best thing we could do is a ritual cleansing,” Wanda continued, “and that requires representation of the four main elements, so perhaps you can be of help.”
“In what way?” Anya asked, bringing another pot of coffee to the table, followed by Jeorg with a platter of fruit.
“The druidic ritual calls for physical objects to represent air, fire, water, and earth, but as we have Stiles here, who has ties to the pack, I was thinking we could base the ritual on four elemental users, instead,” Wanda said. “Anya, if you agree, you’d be air; Stiles, fire; Mag--I mean, Erik, for earth. I could stand in for any element, so I’d be water. We’d anchor the nemeton to the pack through Stiles.”
Peter sat back. “What could that do to the four of you? Would it tie you to the land here, too?”
“No, not at all,” Wanda said. “We’d be conduits for anchoring its power in pack.” She hesitated. “We might form pack bonds with you, Alpha Hale, as a side effect. If you’re worried at all by that possibility I can go back to the original ritual. I just think this would be a stronger connection.”
“I’m not worried about forming pack bonds with you, your sister, or your father, Ms. Maximoff,” Peter said reassuringly. “I already have a bond with Stiles, and you’re all more than welcome to be part of the Hale pack. I just want to be sure you understand what that might mean.”
“I do,” Wanda said. “There was a pack in Romania that my brother and I spent a great deal of time with when we were small, after our grandparents were killed.”
Stiles paused and looked at his great-grandfather, who shook his head sadly. “No, Stiles,” Erik said, “I did not know they lived, either, not then. They heard of me when they’d grown, and came to find me, but at the time, the path I was on was one they wisely chose not to follow. Some day, I hope we’ll find peace among us.”
Anya kissed her father’s forehead on her way by. “As do I, Vati.” She looked at her half-sister. “I’ve always wanted a sister, Wanda, and I hope we can be friends, at the very least.”
Wanda smiled wanly, clearly uncomfortable with the casual affection her sister had bestowed on their father. “I’d like that, too, Anya.”
“Well, this is awkward,” Stiles said. “So when are we heading to the nemeton?”
“We can do the ritual at any time,” Wanda said briskly. “The phase of the moon doesn’t matter for this one, nor the time of day. I do need to have us four, and any other members of the Hale pack, to join us, so that might take a little coordination.”
Peter smiled. “The current bonds are to Stiles, Derek, and Scott. I’ll be glad to welcome anyone else who considers themselves pack.”
Remy snagged a cup off the tree before helping himself as he came in. “Well, that’s me, then. And Wolvie, too, prob’ly.”
“Charles?” Erik asked.
“As long as I’m free to leave the territory,” Charles said. “I do have a school to run.”
“Melissa might want to join us,” Stiles said. “Where Scott goes, she’s likely to follow.”
“If we can gather everyone up, we could go after lunch,” Anya suggested. “Will anyone else from your school be joining us today, Charles?”
Charles shook his head. “No, I believe they were planning to fly home this morning. All but us. I plan to stay another week, at any rate, and help Logan and Stiles get settled in to the new normal.”
Remy pursed his lips. “I was thinking I might stay, too.”
Charles smiled, a little. “Oh?”
“I’ll just go get Wolvie and let him know the plan for the day,” Remy said, standing up. “See what he thinks.”
“You’d be welcome, Rems,” Stiles said, softly. “Though I don’t know what you’d get up to while I’m doing school.”
“Oh, I imagine our Alpha might find somethin’ or ‘nother for me to do,” Remy said with a wink in Peter’s direction. He sauntered up the stairs, and Peter listened to him go.
“Oh,” Peter said, involuntarily. “They’re lovers.”
Stiles’ face seemed to expand, comically. “What?”
Peter snapped his mouth shut. “Ah, that should not have come out of my mouth. I’ll apologize when he comes down. It’s none of my business, actually.”
“No, come on,” Stiles wheedled. “I’ve got to know.”
“You really, really, don’t,” Peter said. “Anya?”
Anya snorted. “Let it go, Mischief. I’m sure your guardians will come clean later.”
Stiles pouted, but said nothing, privately promising himself to get the scoop out of Remy later.
Derek came down then, snagged a bagel off the pile, and took a seat next to Stiles. “Come clean about what?”
“Tell you later,” Stiles promised. “We’re planning to cleanse the nemeton this afternoon and need all the pack. Are you free?”
“At your disposal,” Derek said, then took an enormous bite.
Wanda looked around. “We just need Scott and his mother, then.”
“I’ll go wake Scott,” Stiles said, “and get him to call Melissa.” He bounced up and headed upstairs.
Anya looked around. “This house is packed with people now,” she observed.
“Yes,” Peter said. “We’ll have to see how Stiles wants us to get organized here.”
“Now that the attic room is cleared out, that’s available,” Anya pointed out. “Perhaps Stiles in Noah’s room, Derek in his, and you at the top of the house?”
“Leaving Remy and Logan to share the guest room,” Peter said slowly. “We’d want to clear that with the people involved, but it seems sensible.”
“Unless you want someone with wolf hearing on the second floor,” Derek said shyly. “Since Stiles and I are on that floor.”
“Oh, yes, the chaperone thing,” Peter mused, a twinkle in his eye. “Perhaps I would. We’ll also need a place to put Cora, once she joins us. Assuming she does.”
“Logan and Remy in the attic, then?” Anya said.
“Or in the basement, if they want to fix it up. There’s a half-bath down there, so it’d be more usable space for a couple,” Charles noted.
“A couple of what?” Logan said gruffly as he came down the stairs, claimed a bagel, and sat down, Remy following him closely.
“Ah, Logan,” Peter said. “I apologize, but I was listening as Remy went up the stairs earlier, and, well, may have outed the pair of you as a couple.”
Logan shook his head. “Told ya, Rems. Not going to keep something like that quiet around a pack.”
“Not sure’s I’d want it quiet anymore, anyhow, Wolvie,” Remy drawled. “We just kept it quiet to keep Rogue from going spare, and she’s not here.”
“Distance will likely help her feelings about it, yes,” Charles allowed. “But I have to say, I’ve suspected it for some time. You two aren’t terribly subtle.”
The pair in question looked at each other and shrugged, before Remy just plopped himself in Logan’s lap and stole the bagel he’d been about to bite into. “We’re both going to stay, Professor,” he said. “Be good for all of us.”
Scott came thudding down the stairs, Stiles close behind him. “Uh, hi,” Scott said. “Oh, bagels.”
“They’re disappearing fast, young man,” Anya said. “Get yours now.”
“Cool,” he said, reaching for one. “Mom will be here for lunch, and for the stuff after. She’s off today.”
“Excellent news,” Wanda said, and stood, giving her chair to Scott. “I’ll go get the other things I need and meet you back here. Shall I bring anything for lunch, Anya?”
Anya shook her head. “We’re under control, but thank you.”
Wanda nodded, smiled, and swept out.
Stiles looked at Erik. “She’s a whirlwind, isn’t she?”
“Like her mother,” Erik acknowledged. “And my son.”
“She seems nice,” Anya said. “I wish I’d known her before.”
“Yes, well, honestly, I do, too,” Erik said, voice heavy. “I didn’t even know of the twins’ existence until they were full grown adults. I can’t help but feel I failed all of you.”
Charles laid a hand on his fiance’s. “You’re here now,” he said.
Peter led the way through the woods to the nemeton along a faint trail. Erik managed Charles’ chair, levitating it over particularly rough patches of ground as they made their way to a clearing that featured a large stump.
“What is that?” Stiles wrinkled his nose.
“You feel it, too?” Wanda asked.
“Something sort of, rotten?”
Derek lifted his head. “I can smell it. Like bad eggs.”
“That was the leech,” Wanda said. “I sent it to another dimension and broke its connection to the ley lines here, but traces remain. What we do today will cleanse the space, anchor it to the pack, and leave it healthy, if all goes well.”
Stiles nodded. “Right, so where do you want us?”
Wanda directed the pack. Peter, she placed on the stump. At the north, she placed Anya, for air; at the west, she placed Erik, for earth. At the east, she placed Stiles, for fire, and directed the remaining pack--Derek, Jeorg, Charles, Remy, Logan, Scott, and Melissa--to encircle them. The seven had just enough room to hold hands. Wanda placed herself at the south, and raised her hands.
“When I call you, call your power,” Wanda instructed the other elementals. “Stiles, if you’re able to manifest fire in your palm, that would be best, but lightning sparks will do, too.”
“Huh,” Stiles said, stepping out of the circle and snapping his fingers. A ball of lightning appeared in his hand. “Yeah, fire’s not happening, unless I put tinder in my palm.”
Wanda shook her head. “No need, the spark will be enough. Step back into the circle, please.”
“Erik, pull metal from the earth into your palm. Anya, manifest a solid ball of air. I will conjure water. Alpha Hale, you will contribute the blood.”
Peter raised an eyebrow. “With what?”
Wanda drew a small athame. “With this. When I prompt you, just cut your palm and let it bleed on the stump.”
“Right.” Peter took the knife and stood back on the stump.
“The rest of you remain quiet, but concentrate on your connections to the pack,” Wanda said. “There might be a light show, and it’s possible that the stump will decide to manifest new growth. If it does, Peter, you’re allowed to hop off rather than get beaned in the testicles.”
Stiles snorted and Peter rolled his eyes. “Thank you for that, Wanda.”
She smirked, and cast a glowing red circle around the group, which fell silent. Wanda raised her face to the sky, and began to speak.
“I call on Air to cleanse this space.” Anya cupped a ball of air in her hand.
“I call on Earth to cleanse this space.” Erik pulled what looked like a chunk of taconite out of the ground at his feet to rest in his hand.
“I call on Fire to cleanse this space.” Stiles produced his ball of lightning.
“I call on Water to cleanse this space.” Wanda let water pool in her palms, trickling down her arms and off her elbows to seep into soil.
The minute the first drop hit the soil, the circle glowed white, and pulsed.
“Alpha Hale, do you accept the guardianship of this territory?”
Peter said, “I do.”
“Alpha Hale, do you accept the guardianship of this nemeton?”
“Alpha Hale, do you swear to protect it and this territory from all who would seek to harm it, or through its use, harm others?”
“Alpha Hale, do you freely pledge your current and future pack to this task?”
The circle pulsed again, and turned pale blue.
“Alpha Hale, what do you give to signify your pledge?” Wanda nodded to Peter, who used the Athame to cut his palm, and let the blood freely drip onto the stump.
The circle pulsed again, and again, and Wanda mouthed, “Move!” to Peter, who stepped off the nemeton just in time to see a new sprout emerge from where his blood had the wood, and grow into a strong young oak, about ten feet high.
“Your gift has been accepted; the nemeton finds you worthy.” Wanda looked around the circle. “I call upon Air to deliver her blessings.” Anya released her ball of air, which flew forward of its own accord, grew, and swept through the branches of the young oak, caressing it.
“I call upon Earth to deliver his blessings.” Erik levitated the chunk of taconite, which broke apart into dust and fell around the tree in a perfect circle.
“I call upon Fire to deliver his blessings.” Stiles directed his lightning toward the tree, where it dispersed, and a giant crack of lightning followed, startling all of them.
“I call upon Water to deliver her blessings.” Wanda directed her water toward the tree, and it soaked into the ground.
The circle pulsed again, and Wanda smiled. “The circle is whole and unbroken, strengthened in pack. The nemeton is cleansed. Be at peace.”
The circle pulsed, then the light died.
For a moment, no one moved, and then Wanda rolled her eyes. “All done.”
“So we can move now?” Stiles asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“Wow, tingly,” Stiles said, amused.
“Quite,” Erik said, rubbing his chest. “What is that?”
“Likely your new pack bond,” Peter said. “I can feel, well, all of you.” He drew a deep breath. “Wow.”
“You feel better,” Charles observed. “Actually, all of you feel better. Your telepathic profiles seem peaceful.”
“Strong Alpha, strong pack,” Wanda said. “Strong pack, strong Alpha. It’s a lovely circle.”
“And now that we’re all here, anchored, and cleansed, I say all who wish it should run,” Peter said, a wide grin on his face.
Derek tipped his head back and howled, and the rest of the wolves joined in. Stiles laughed.
“Allons-y!” Remy yelled.
And the pack took off.