“Peter, I need to talk to you.”
Peter Hale glanced up from where he was hanging his coat in the hall closet. He’d been gone for the past week on a business trip to San Francisco and the drive back had felt interminable. He’d been looking forward to showering and then having a decent meal, but he suspected neither of those things was going to happen, given his sister’s curt tone and grim expression. It had taken them years to reach a comfortable balance that allowed two alpha siblings to share the same roof, and he knew Talia wouldn’t make demands of him lightly.
“What’s wrong?” Peter asked.
“Not here. In my study. Please.”
Peter set aside his suitcase and followed Talia. Talia reserved her study for serious private discussions as it had some of the best soundproofing in the entire house. It was early afternoon and the house was virtually deserted. He could hear the faint sounds of Julia out in the backyard in her garden but it didn't sounds like anyone else was home. The fact that Talia was still insisting on speaking in the study filled him with quiet concern. Whatever was going on couldn't be good. He waited as Talia closed and locked the door, and then dropped into the chair behind her desk. She stared at him for a long moment, and Peter could smell the anger and stress rolling off of her.
“Gone? What do you mean, gone?” Peter asked.
“I mean he’s run away.”
Peter's mouth opened, and then stayed there. He knew he looked ridiculous but he could not believe what he was hearing.
“Derek ran away? Your son, Derek? The one I’m pretty sure is never going to college because that would mean being away from home? That Derek? Are you sure?”
Talia slapped at a crumpled piece of paper lying on her desk.
“He left a note."
Peter reached forward and picked up the letter. Derek’s distinctive sloppy scrawl covered about half the page. He scanned the note and then he looked up at Talia.
“Who the hell is Kate?”
Talia shook her head. “I don’t know. Laura said he’d been sneaking around with some girl, but I thought he'd just made a new friend. You know how shy Derek can be...at most I thought be might be flirting a little before being bonded. I mean, it didn’t really seem like something Derek would do, but I thought maybe he just…” Talia trailed off, groaned, and buried her face in her hands. “I had no idea he was seriously involved with some random beta girl.”
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Peter said. “He’s been wanting to bond to an omega since he presented as an alpha! He was ridiculously excited when you arranged the bond six months ago.”
“I know! I thought he really liked Stiles. I know he was excited about finding a local Omega match. I mean, it was perfect.”
“What on earth could have happened in just the last six months?”
Talia shook her head. “This Kate girl happened, apparently.”
Peter re-read the note. “It sounds like he’s only going to stay away for a few weeks. I thought the bonding wasn’t until next month.”
Talia shook her head unhappily. “John Stilinski called me last week. Stiles’ hormones are rising faster than anyone expected. He’s probably going into heat sometime this week. We agreed to move the bonding to tomorrow and have the formal ceremony in a couple of months once they’d had some time to settle into the bond. I told Derek on Tuesday.” She slapped her hands down on the desk. “His reaction seemed a little off but I thought it was just nerves. How could I have misread him so badly?”
Peter shook his head. “I never would have imagined Derek had it in him to do something like this. I can see why the thought never crossed your mind. Have you told the Stilinskis yet?”
Talia looked even unhappier at Peter’s question. “No. I…” Talia’s voice faltered. “I don’t know what to do, Peter.”
Peter eyes widened, the only outward sign of his shock. Talia sometimes came to him to work through complicated issues at work, or involving the family, but he couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard his older sister sound so uncertain.
“This is going to devastate Stiles. He’s such a sweet kid.” Talia turned and stared past Peter for a moment, lost in her own thoughts. “He’s all alone with just his dad since his mom died and he rattles around in that house like a lone pea in a pod. I think he was almost as excited about becoming a part of our family as he was about bonding to Derek.”
Talia met Peter’s eyes again, and they were infinitely sad. “Everyone loves him. I was starting to think of him as one of us, as my son, not just Derek’s future bondmate. And now I have to go meet with him and his father and tell him that he can’t be a part of our family after all.”
Talia paused and looked down at Derek’s letter, where Peter had set it back on her desk. “He’s going to be so hurt, and humiliated, and he doesn’t deserve any of it.”
“We could try to find Derek…” Peter offered.
“And do what, Peter? Force him to bond against his will? What if he rejects Stiles in person? That would only make this whole situation worse.” Talia grimaced. “Derek's eighteen. He’s technically an adult. It’s not like we can force him to come home if he doesn’t want to.”
Peter was quiet for a long thoughtful moment, and then shook his head. He met Talia’s quizzical look.
“If Stiles doesn’t have a backup plan, he’ll have to go through a government match.”
Talia groaned. “He’ll hate that.”
Peter snorted. “What newly presented Omega wouldn’t? Showing up at a government office and picking a bondmate out of a catalog? There’s a reason why registered alphas outnumber registered omegas sixty to one.”
“I don’t think Stiles has even bothered to register. He and his father agreed to the match with Derek almost as soon as he presented as an Omega.”
Peter shook his head. “His father made him register. I remember Stiles complaining about it to Laura at one of the dinners. He said his father had gotten a hold of a bunch of government brochures for betas with omega children and he was making Stiles go through all the checklists.” Peter smirked. “Apparently one of the suggested steps was a domestic arts class, to prepare the newly mated Omega for running a household.”
“Oh, I bet Stiles just loved that.”
“I believe he was asked to leave the class after his oven mysteriously caught fire.”
They both laughed softly for moment before Talia’s face grew sober again.
“I need you to come with me. I…Peter.”
Peter stared at his sister and fought down an urge to growl. Talia never used that tone on him unless she wanted something that she knew Peter wasn’t going to want to give her.
“You’re an unmated alpha.”
Peter startled upright in his chair. He stared at his sister who was looking at him hopefully.
“Peter. You’re only thirty-four. You’re still young enough to take a mate.”
“Stiles is sixteen!”
“Marcus was sixteen when I bonded to him.”
“You were twenty, not thirty-four! I’m old enough to be his father!”
“You’re also old enough to be his alpha.”
Peter went silent for moment, and then gave a harsh laugh.
“Even if I agreed to this, he’ll never accept me. He’s about to find out my nephew just rejected him in the cruelest possible way, just days before he was meant to bond with him. He has been jilted at the bonding bed like some kind of terrible omega romance novel and you want me to show up and offer myself, as what, Talia, some kind of consolation prize? Oops, I know you thought you were getting bonded to one Hale but he wandered off somewhere so here’s another one instead? I’m pretty sure he’s going to notice.”
“No Talia, he’s going to hate us all for this and I don’t blame him.”
Talia sighed. “Peter, I know you’re attracted to him.”
Peter fell silent. He didn’t drop his eyes but he shifted his gaze to the painting on the wall behind his sister.
“If it had been anyone but Derek I would have encouraged you to court him.” That made Peter look back at Talia, and it was Talia’s turn to shift her gaze, not quite able to meet Peter’s. “I really did think that Stiles and Derek were perfect for each other. I wanted them to have what I had with Marcus and I really think they would have ended up as true mates.”
Talia’s voice broke. “I don’t think Derek has any idea of what he’s done and he’s going to be paying the price for it for the rest of his life.” She looked up and she was crying. Peter stared. His tough, bossy alpha sister was crying. “I don’t want Stiles to have to suffer for Derek’s mistake. You’d be a good fit for him, and a good alpha to him, and he could stay part of our family. Please, Peter, at least ask him. I know he might say no but it’s possible he might say yes.”
Talia turned away and wiped her eyes. Peter waited until she’d blown her nose and turned back to him.
“You know he’s probably going to spit in my face.”
Talia's face brightened at that. Coming from Peter, that was practically a ringing agreement.
“You’re charming Peter. No one can ever say no to you.”
Peter snorted. “Great. I suspect Stiles is going to prove himself the exception.”