Peter hung up the phone and rubbed his eyes. The Hale lawyers had talked to the Marley lawyers and had been able to start the process to make Anna the owner of the pack assets. They would need for her to go back to Virginia relatively soon, both as 'proof of life' and to physically sign what would probably be an endless number of documents.
The Nemeton was what worried Peter the most. Secondarily but just as important was figuring what really happened to the Marley pack. One thing at a time.
The problem was that everything probably circled back to the Nemeton. Which meant Stiles needed to be involved. In person. Which meant he needed to travel to Virginia. With Jamie still less than a year old, Peter was reluctant to have both of them be away at the same time -- and Jamie wasn't going anywhere away from the Den.
Peter sighed and made some more phone calls.
Over dinner, Stiles raised the question. "I hate to say it, but I need to go to Virginia."
"I came to the same conclusion," Peter nodded. "And I can't go. We're not ready to leave Jamie for even a few days without at least one of us around. So, I've recruited two traveling companions I trust for you."
Stiles tilted his head in consideration. "Okay, Derek is one..." He thought for a minute before shaking his head. "Couple of ideas, but nothing specific. I think Julie should stay here. I don't think Anna is ready to go back home yet."
"My thinking, also," Peter agreed. "Yes, Derek is one. I asked your dad to go with you. He can talk to the local officials and be Anna's human representative."
Stiles' eyes lit up. "Good idea!"
Peter rolled his eyes. "I've been known to have one or two." He leaned in for a kiss. "Brat."
"Your brat," Stiles promised.
Peter had also arranged for a private jet to fly across the country and two cars with drivers to meet them at the airport in Virginia. Stiles knew most of that was a matter of efficiency. A private plane could land closer to Leesburg, as well as eliminating the need to change planes. Local drivers would mostly know where to go and would reduce the chance of getting lost.
Stiles and Derek went to meet with the lawyers first. As Hale Emissary, Stiles could represent the Hale Pack and get information they might be reluctant to share with anyone else. Derek followed along as security -- Peter wasn't letting Stiles go anywhere alone.
At the same time, John went off to check in with the local police department to see what they would tell him. He had one of Stiles' portable wards, if that turned out to be necessary, but they hoped that the 'human Sheriff' would get more information than anyone else.
Stiles opened a teleconference so Anna could participate in the discussion with the lawyers. It was a part of the 'proof of life' they needed but they understood the caution. Stiles could see the lawyers were... shook was too big of a word, but obviously concerned about losing all but one member of the Marley pack in one fell swoop. So they made allowances they would not otherwise make.
Anna listened in as they described the assets of the pack and what would need to be done. There was no discussion about a Nemeton and Stiles had to guess they were largely unaware.
Stiles had prompted Anna before he left to ask a question. "My mother said there had been some surveying in the county lately? And there was some surveying on the edges of the pack land? Do you know anything about that?"
The lawyers looked startled and Stiles saw Derek give a small nod. It was something they didn't know anything about.
"Can you check into that?" Stiles asked. "If it's a local government agency, that should be public information somewhere. If it's a private firm, there should still be permits for going on private land and notifications to landowners. If there's nothing, then we will need to look into other sources."
"Certainly!" The two lawyers looked at each other. "I'll get a team researching that immediately."
"In the meantime, Derek and I will be going back to the Marley Pack lands. Anna isn't ready to come back here right now and may not be ready to come back for a couple of weeks. She has authorized us to check out the area and to see if anything needs to be done."
Anna voiced her agreement.
"The coroner and his staff have already removed the bodies. The bodies are with the funeral home normally used by the pack." one of the lawyers said delicately. "When you're ready, we can handle the arrangements or give you their contact information."
Stiles could see the tears in Anna's eyes as she nodded, unable to talk.
"We will get back to you about that," Stiles said.
"We've moved funds into Miss Cooper's accounts so she has something to work while she is with your pack," the second lawyer said. "It's more than her regular allowance, but in an emergency we have some discretion to perform that task for her."
"Thank you," Anna said.
"That is appreciated," Stiles nodded. It should let Anna feel less dependent on the Hale pack. "We will be here at least overnight. If there's anything else, we're at the Residence Inn and you have my number."
"Thank you for coming and assisting at this tragic time," the first lawyer said.
In the car, Stiles directed the driver to take them out to the Marley Pack land. In paying attention to the route, he noticed how far the lands were out of town. It was a good thirty minute drive on the main road and then another fifteen minutes down dirt roads. The driver pulled through a gate that opened into what had been a gated community.
"Okay, we need to get that closed up again," Stile said. "Derek, call my dad and have him ask if there are any reasons why we can't lock that gate down again. If there's someone in the know, he can also let them I'm going to be setting up some wards to keep out casual visitors."
"Got it," Derek said, dialing the phone.
As Derek was talking to his dad, Stiles got out of the car and stood in the center of the compound. There were six large houses around the courtyard, some with driveways that led to garages but two driveways led off into the woods.
Stiles waited for Derek to finish his call before he moved away from the car.
"We'll have to get someone to go through the houses," Stiles said. "I need to see if I can find the Nemeton."
"Let's get a list together, so I'm not calling your dad or Peter every two minutes," Derek said patiently.
"Makes sense," Stiles agreed. He followed one of the driveways that went off to the woods, then closed his eyes to concentrate. "This way."
They moved off into the woods, and Stiles was glad that Derek had reminded him they would likely be walking in the woods at some point. The hiking boots were more appropriate than his sneakers would have been.
The Marley Nemeton proved to be... difficult was the best Stiles could figure. After a fruitless hour walking in the woods, Stiles found a rock to sit on. "I need to meditate," he warned Derek.
Stiles dropped into a light meditation and reached out to 'his' Nemeton and essentially asked for an introduction. It took the two of them to coax the local Nemeton into making a connection.
Derek pushed a granola bar and a bottle of water at Stiles when he opened his eyes. "Eat first," he grumbled.
"Sorry, the local Nemeton just didn't want to cooperate," Stiles said, taking a bite of the bar. "Thanks."
"That's what I'm here for," Derek said.
"Okay, it's not that far, I don't think," Stiles said when he was done.
When the Nemeton finally allowed them to approach, Stiles sighed. "What is it with Darachs desecrating Nemetons?"
"I got nothing," Derek admitted. "At least they didn't cut this one down. But it feels... icky."
"Yeah, that's one way to describe it," Stiles said. "The good news is that it won't take as much to heal this Nemeton."
"What will happen after that?" Derek asked.
"Well, for the short term, I'm going to claim this one so I can protect it. Once I do that, I can keep that damned Darach away from it," Stiles said. "Once things are more settled, I can bring Anna back and she can decide what to do after that."
"Are there any problems in claiming two Nemetons?" Derek asked.
"Oh, well, like no one -- and I mean no one is going to be happy with me doing that," Stiles said. "Peter, packs, hunters, druids... like... no one."
"Has anyone ever claimed two Nemetons before?" Derek frowned.
"Maybe?" Stiles hedged. At the flat look Derek gave him, Stiles admitted, "Merlin is the only one known to do it. Most likely. No one else has admitted to it since then."
"Is it safe to claim this one?" Derek asked.
"I'll make it safe," Stiles promised solemnly. "And it's more that I'll be holding it in trust for Anna. So I don't plan on holding on to it forever."
Derek frowned some more.
Stiles threw up his hands. "If I had options, I'd take them," Stiles said firmly. "But I don't know anyone that I can trust to do this. Or who has the skill. And if we don't do this now, before the Darach finishes... his work... yeah, a man... huh, something I'd ascribe to Deaton if I wasn't positive he was dead. Yeah, but the Darach is close to finishing his work and I need to prevent that."
"Okay. What do you need me to do?" Derek said.
"Protection," Stiles said. "I can do this, but you'll need to protect me."
Derek nodded. "Do you want your dad out here?"
Stiles considered for a moment. "It'll take him a bit to get out here, but... yes. I think he should be here."
Derek got out his phone and called. Stiles was somewhat surprised there was service out here but he knew the telephone networks on the East coast were more robust than some of the networks on the West coast. And they might be closer to the roads, and the town, than he thought.
"Okay, your dad will finish up and be here as soon as he can," Derek said. "You're not to do anything too stupid before he gets here."
Stiles laughed. "It's like he knows me!"
Derek grinned. "He does."
Stiles looked around. There wasn't anyplace obvious to sit, so he walked around the Nemeton. He found some embedded spikes that he had Derek pull out of the tree. Derek made a face as he touched the spikes and dropped them as soon as he could. He wiped his hands on his jeans.
"Okay, this is definitely part of the icky feeling," Derek declared. "Don't you touch them, either."
Stiles nodded. "That's helped it, a bit." He sat in a small tangle of roots. "Okay, keep an eye out while I do this."
Stiles closed his eyes and reached out to the Nemeton.
It was getting dark by the time Stile opened his eyes.
John leaned in. "Don't get up yet," he cautioned. He handed Stiles a bottle of water. "Drink this first."
"Thanks," Stiles said, taking the bottle. He drank half of it down in one go. "Any more of those granola bars or anything to eat?"
Derek handed him another granola bar.
"Thanks!" Stile tore off the wrapper and took a bite.
"What did you find?" John asked.
"Usual Darach things," Stiles shrugged. "The guy is pretending to be normal but he's pretty desperate for a power boost. Good thing he didn't try that five-fold knot thing our Darach tried. But that would have raised red flags faster here than it did in Beacon Hills."
"Can you identify him?" John asked.
Stiles shook his head. "I can't describe him, but I'll know him if I meet him. If that makes sense."
"That'll have to do for now," John said. "You ready to try to move?"
"How long was I under?" Stiles asked.
"Almost four hours," Derek ground out. "Good thing you had your dad come out."
"I suppose I should call Peter," Stiles grinned.
"Yes." Both Derek and his dad said at the same time.
Peter picked up on the first ring.
"Only you," Peter said as he answered the phone. "Two Nemetons?"
"Hey! Better me than a Darach," Stiles said. Then he yawned. "Okay, maybe it was a bit much."
"Marginally better you than a Darach," Peter reluctantly agreed.
"I'm going to need to find him," Stiles said. "Hopefully, we can do that tomorrow so we don't have to stay here too much longer."
"Anna said that if you close that front gate with intent, that there are wards that should transfer to you without too much work," Peter said.
"Oh. Good. I'm not sure I have the energy to lay down the wards that should be put down," Stiles admitted.
"Get some food and call me when you wake up? Don't fuss about the time zones, call me when you've had some sleep," Peter directed.
"I can do that," Stiles promised. "Love you."
"Love you back," Peter said.
"Okay," Stiles said. "Give me a hand to get up from here."
Derek helped Stiles stand and held him up as he shook his legs awake. "You need to be carried?"
"I don't think so," Stiles decided. "And the walk will do me good."
"Okay, but give a shout if you need help," Derek said.
Stiles put a hand on the Nemeton and promised I'll be back and got a sense of approval. "Okay, I'm ready."
They started out moving slowly and picked up some speed as Stiles' legs loosened up on the way back to the compound, but it was fully dark when they finally got back to the cars. Stiles and John used the flashlight on their phones to pick their way through the forest.
Derek got into the car with Stiles and John got into the other car. They stopped at the Gate and Stiles closed it with intent and he felt the wards fall into his control and then snap into place.
Stiles was exhausted and barely awake by the time he got back to the car. "Can you order some food we can have in the room? I need something to eat but won't stay awake long enough to sit in a restaurant."
Derek nodded. He leaned forward and consulted with the driver about take-out options in town. They settled on Chinese, the driver promised it was good. Derek ordered an assortment of dishes that would be ready by the time they got to town.
Derek called John to let him know and John volunteered to swing by and get it while Derek and Stiles went back to the hotel.
Derek herded Stiles into their suite, stripped him and started a shower. "That will wake you up enough so you can eat," he said.
Stiles nodded and got into the hot water. After sitting still at the Nemeton for so long, the hot water felt good on his still muscles. When he got out, he found that Derek had left him sweat pants and a t-shirt.
The smell of food lured Stiles away from the bed and into the common room. "I love Residence Inns for their suites," he said. "It's not fancy but it's nice to have more than just a bedroom."
Derek handed Stiles a plate as he sat down at the table. "There's more, but start with that," he said.
John and Derek were already eating as Stiles inhaled half the plate. He slowed down a bit but quickly finished the food. "It is good," he commented.
"It is," John agreed.
"You going to be okay on that fold out couch?" Stiles asked Derek. Derek had put Stiles in one bedroom and John in the other.
"It'll be okay," he admitted. "Sheets are clean and I can sleep in my fur if I need to."
"Good to know," Stiles nodded. "Okay, I'm going to crash now. Watch TV or whatever you want, nothing's going to keep me up tonight."
"Good to know," John said. "We can compare notes in the morning."
"Anything that's an emergency?" Stiles asked, perking up a bit.
"Nah," John waved him off. "I'll brief Peter and see what he wants to do next."
"Good enough," Stiles nodded. "Good night."
It was five AM when Stiles woke. He knew it was only two AM on the West coast, but he called Peter after eating the fortune cookies Derek must have left for him.
"Hey, you!" Stiles said.
"You all right?" Peter asked.
"Yeah, better now," Stiles said. "I'll need more food shortly, but I'm mostly fine now."
"And dealing with two Nemetons? How will you manage that, especially since they're so far apart?" Peter persisted.
"I think the distance is actually a help," Stiles said. "I can only really connect to one at a time, so when I'm here, I connect to this one. When I'm home, I'll connect to the other. The distant tree will be through the physically closer tree."
"You know we can't tell anyone," Peter said.
Stiles sighed. "Yeah, I get that," he admitted. "And you're never going to let me travel anywhere without a dozen other 'wolves, are you?"
"Got that in one," Peter said. They both knew that if anyone found that Stiles had claimed control of two Nemetons, it would attract too much dangerous attention. Even if Stiles was able to hand the Marley pack Nemeton over to someone else, the fact that he could do it was the issue.
"We'll make it a Pack Secret," Stiles said. "As soon as I get back."
"A Darach? Really?" Peter asked.
"I know!" Stiles protested. "How many of them are out there?"
"One is too many," Peter said. "We'll have to bring Anna up to speed on that when we can."
"Now that I've found two brain cells, I'm pretty convinced the Darach took the Alpha power for himself," Stiles said. "It's going to be... icky, as Derek described it and I'm going to need to let it go back into the land. It'll be too corrupted to go to anyone."
"Damn." Peter swore.
"That'll be the next thing, to talk to the local packs to see how we want to handle this," Stiles said. "Do we want to annex the land and make it Hale land, or see if there's someone Anna wants to make a treaty with?"
"We don't have to make any decisions too soon," Peter said. "But I will talk to Anna to bring her up to speed."
"It's late there, Jamie keeping you up?" Stiles asked.
Peter laughed. "He misses his Da. Hope you can be home soon."
"Kiss Jamie for me," Stiles said. "Hope to be home soon, too."