Peter stops and takes a deep breath before he lifts his hand to ring the doorbell at the Tate house. They haven’t spoken since the day after Eichen was defeated, and he hasn’t been alone with them since the day Henry had found out the truth. It took Tom several days to convince him that he shouldn’t just give up on having a relationship with his daughter, that he deserved to see her, and - more convincingly - that she deserved to see him.
Henry pulls open the door, and he doesn’t smile, but he does shake Peter’s hand like usual and invite him in. “Want some coffee? No, I always forget - you’re not a coffee guy. How about a beer?”
Peter loathes beer but he’s not about to turn down anything that Henry is willing to offer. “Sure,” he says, and accepts the bottle that Henry offers. Malia crawls out from her den, and he manages to smile at her. “Hello, Malia. How are you feeling today?”
“Okay,” she says, settling in the chair next to him. There are a few moments of awkward silence.
“So,” Peter finally says, gathering his nerve. “I guess we need to talk.”
“Yeah,” Henry says.
“I’m sure that Tom has told you that we never meant to hide it from you long-term,” he says, and Henry nods, “but to be honest, I did. I figured I would never tell you. You’re Malia’s father. I’m not. Much as I might have liked to be. That door was closed a long time ago.”
Henry nods again. “Tom said you didn’t sign the papers. That you didn’t know about her.”
“Yeah.” Peter glances at Malia and decides not to downplay things. She was smarter than her stilted speech made her out to be. She would understand. “Corinne - her biological mother - and I only had a brief relationship. A couple of months. It was nothing serious, primarily physical. Corinne never told me she was pregnant. I don’t know for sure, but knowing her personality, I believe she went to my father for the funds to end the pregnancy. He talked her into having it - he was firmly pro-life - and signed the adoption papers in my name.”
“And he just never told you?” Henry asks.
“No. And I’m sure he never intended for me to find out.”
“That’s just . . .” Henry rubs a hand over the back of his head. “That’s really fucked up, man. How old were you, like, sixteen?”
“Oh, no. I was nineteen.” Peter gives a wry smile. “It wasn’t just because I was a dumb kid - although I was. I would have happily taken Malia in and raised her as my own.
“And you were just never going to tell us about any of this?” Henry sounds a little skeptical.
“Malia’s life was obviously hard enough as it was. Maybe some day – after she was an adult, graduated from college, maybe had some kids of her own – maybe then I would have ballsed up. But to be honest, I knew that telling the truth had a strong chance of rejection. And I couldn’t risk that. Losing Olivia and Nathaniel in the fire – my wife and my son – let’s just say it made me very risk averse and leave it at that.”
Henry gives a brief, mirthless laugh. “Yeah. I can get behind that.”
Peter nods, because he knows that Henry understands. Better than Tom, even, who can share the sympathy of losing a wife. Henry had lost his child, both his children, and only one of them had come home. He’s about to say something about this shared loss when Malia suddenly blurts out, “It was my fault. The accident.”
Henry’s mouth makes a little O of surprise, but mostly he just looks blank. Peter hastily intervenes. “It wasn’t your fault, Malia. We’ve talked about that.” And they had, on the rare occasions that Henry hadn’t been within earshot of their lessons.
“I changed,” Malia says, her eyes filling with tears as she looks at Henry. “I didn’t know what was happening. I was scared and I couldn’t think. Sasha started screaming. That startled me and I tried to jump into the front with Mommy. She saw me and – I didn’t mean to.” She chokes out a sob. “I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t mean to.”
Henry draws her into an embrace, hugs her tightly, but looks at Peter. “What happened?”
“The first shift can be very violent,” Peter says quietly. “Especially when it’s unexpected. For a child to go through it without even knowing that she was a shifter – she would have had no control whatsoever. It’s not a slight against her, it’s just a fact. We can’t control what we don’t understand.”
“I’m sorry,” Malia whimpers.
“It was not your fault, Malia,” Peter says again. “Leaving you with a mundane family with no knowledge of the supernatural world was incredibly irresponsible of my father – and Corinne, although I don’t know how much control she had over the situation. Even if no other suitable family could be found, there was no reason your parents couldn’t have had the situation explained to them.”
To Henry, he adds, “When two born shifters have a child, that child will always be a shifter. The first change is usually around the age of four or five, although it doesn’t surprise me that Malia was later, given her circumstances. Normally, after a child’s fourth birthday, they’re carefully monitored during every full moon. They can be coached and calmed during their first few shifts, until they can gain control over it. But of course, you had no way of knowing that was something you needed to do.”
“Why didn’t he tell us?” Henry asks, frowning. “I mean, if it was that dangerous?”
“I don’t know,” Peter says. “There’s a lot about my father that I’m beginning to think I’ll never understand. He was a genuinely terrible person. My best guess is that he thought it would jeopardize the adoption, or that you might try to return her, which would lead to me finding out about what he had done.”
“Jesus,” Henry says, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Why would the full moon even affect a coyote anyway?”
“Because even though her shifted form is a coyote, she’s still half wolf.” Peter gestures to himself. “Half-and-half shifter mixes are interesting. When the shift first comes on, they’ll often spend the first several alternating between the two forms – a full moon as a werewolf, then a month later, a few days as a coyote. Usually after about the first year, the two forms have duked it out and one will win dominance over the other. From that point, they can only take the one form for the rest of their lives. We’re actually quite lucky that her first shift turned out to be a coyote. They don’t need pack the way wolves do. Being omega for that long would have driven a wolf insane. I don’t know if we would have ever been able to bring her home.”
“Huh.” Henry shakes his head. “Feels like there’s a lot we still don’t know.”
“Mm,” Peter says, because he can’t and won’t say what he’s thinking.
Henry says it for him. He manages a smile and then claps Peter on the shoulder. “But hey, that’s what we’ve got you for, right?”
Peter nods, feeling his own eyes briefly sting. “Of course.”
They talk for a few more minutes about the interesting qualities of shifter mixes, and then Peter gets ready to go. As he’s pulling his coat on, he says, “By the way, for Thanksgiving next week, Tom and I are having dinner with the McCalls and the Argents. We were hoping you would join us, if you want to come.”
Malia smiles, rocking back and forth on her heels, and Henry nods. “Yeah. We’d like that.”
~ ~ ~ ~
With the help of Melissa and a few of the other nurses who are in the know, Deaton has been kept heavily sedated for the last several days. The doctors are anxious about clearing him to leave because they don’t actually know about the large doses he’s on, and it seems like his head injury might be more serious than they originally realized. Tom goes to the doctor who had signed his own discharge orders to explain the situation. That doctor tells him in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t want to know, scrawls his signature on the page, and throws it at Tom.
Tom had mentioned to Peter that he was surprised Deaton’s injuries were so severe. He hardly seemed the type to set off a suicide bomb. The reinforced counter suggested he had known the explosion was coming, and he certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be unconscious and helpless afterwards. Even if Tom had been killed in the explosion, it would have left Deaton vulnerable to Peter and the rest of the pack.
“If you want my guess, he didn’t realize the bomb would be as powerful as it was,” Peter said, when Tom brought it up. “Eichen would have built it, not him. It probably reassured him that his reinforced counter and magic mojo would have been enough to keep him safe, and Deaton would have counted on the silver shards to kill you – not the bomb itself.”
“So Eichen double crossed him,” Tom said.
“That, or it just didn’t care about his life, and wasn’t about to take chances with you.” Peter shrugged. “Or both.”
They get Deaton into the ambulance and take him to Eichen House, and wheel him on a stretcher up to one of the newly emptied rooms. Eichen House now has seven prisoners. Deaton will be the eighth, the first of the new arrivals.
The cells are bare, with only a thin cot and a metal toilet. Tom isn’t one hundred percent sure he’ll allow that in the long-term. The heavy magical protections should keep the prisoners from causing any trouble. It seems like they should be allowed to have books or other ways to keep themselves entertained.
He’s interviewed all the guards and fired all but one, telling them to get the hell off his territory. Brunski has been arrested for good measure. Tom’s found mountains of evidence of Brunski abusing the prisoners and the patients, and he doubts it’s because of Eichen’s spirit below the earth. The man was fired from three other positions from abuse of power before he finally landed in Beacon Hills.
But the problem of what the prisoners will and won’t get to have is a problem for another day. He’s left Chris in charge of hiring, recruiting like minded hunters and offering them a generous salary. Tom isn’t sure how they were paid before, because Eichen House doesn’t exactly look like a profitable business, but Peter and Noshiko have said they’ll make up any shortfall to keep it running.
The new orderlies get Deaton lying down on the cot in his new room. Melissa removes the IV and Chris locks the door once they’re out of the cell. “Wanna go grab a drink?” he asks Melissa.
“Are you asking me out on a date?” she asks.
Chris flushes pink. “I . . . guess?”
Melissa laughs. “At ease, soldier. Let’s try being friends first.”
Once everyone is gone, Tom drags a chair in the hallway and sits down to wait. Melissa had said it would take about an hour for the sedatives to wear off. Tom isn’t sure if being a Druid will change that.
He had made an effort to track down Marin Morrell so he could inform her of what had happened, but her number is disconnected. Peter had done a little snooping and found activity on her credit cards in the Maldives. Marin is gone, and he doubts she plans on ever coming back. He’s glad of that; it makes things easier.
After about forty-five minutes, Deaton lets out a little grunt. He lifts his hand and rubs it over his eyes, then looks around. “Fuck,” he mutters, which strikes Tom as very unlike him. He rolls onto his side and sees the plastic cup of water that Tom has left for him. He picks it up and downs it all in a few swallows.
Then he sees Tom waiting in the hallway. He blinks. “There’s no way you could have survived that,” he says.
“Well,” Tom says, “all evidence to the contrary. Fortunately for me, I have a very clever boyfriend. Plus there was this big magic tree which seemed to actually be a little guilty over the fact that my wife died trying to save it. So here I am. My foot grew back. Really freaked the doctors out.”
“But you can’t – ” Deaton seems to be taking in his surroundings, and he sucks in a breath. “This is Eichen House.”
“That it is.”
“But it feels . . . different.” Deaton slowly looks around. “It’s gone.”
Tom says nothing.
“It can’t be gone,” Deaton says. “You can’t have defeated it.”
“But that’s not possible.”
“Turns out that it is,” Tom says. He sees the look on Deaton’s face and continues, “I can see why you would have thought it wasn’t. Eichen was despair. It was emptiness. And that’s what had consumed you for the last six years. You couldn’t defeat it, so you assumed it was undefeatable. But despair can be defeated, with hope, and with love. That’s how Peter defeated it, and that’s how we defeated Eichen.” He pauses, then says, “I’m sorry that it defeated you.”
“It’s not possible,” Deaton repeats. “If Talia couldn’t, nobody could have.”
For the first time, Tom feels a pang of pity for Deaton. “I know losing Talia was the end of the world for you. I know that you loved her, that you loved the pack, that she was what mattered to you more than anything in the world. Scott told me what you said – about how you were still breathing and you didn’t know why. Peter said he felt the same way, after everything he lost. I wish I had been able to help you. I had no idea how much pain you were in.”
Deaton is just staring at him. “You could never replace Talia.”
“No, that’s true,” Tom says. “Just like I didn’t replace Olivia for Peter, and he doesn’t replace Claudia for me. It’s an interesting thing, moving on. You can still grieve; you can still love the people you lost, without it consuming you. You can still wake up and look forward to the day ahead of you, even if you sometimes look at your wedding ring and miss your wife so much that it makes your stomach hurt.”
“You don’t understand anything,” Deaton says. “How do you grieve losing something you never had? How do you mourn the person you could have saved, if she’d loved you as much as you loved her?”
“I don’t know,” Tom says. “I would answer that for you if I could. But all I can say is that you do it one day at a time. One minute at a time, one breath at a time when you need to.”
Deaton won’t look at him. “You killed Eichen.”
“Talia couldn’t and you did.”
Tom understands what he’s really saying, the quiet acknowledgment in the words that Deaton had misjudged him, that he was an alpha Deaton could have served, an alpha who could have been equal to Talia in his eyes. “I guess so.”
Deaton is quiet for a long minute. “What happened to Stiles?”
“He’s all right. A little worse for the wear, a few more nightmares than before. But he’s going to be fine. I think he’ll make a pretty good Emissary once he’s a little older.”
Deaton nods. “If he survived all of that, he’ll be better than pretty good.”
Tom smiles. “Yeah. But I try not to brag.”
“You’ll have a pretty amazing pack,” Deaton says.
A pack you could have been a part of, the silent air between them says. But that door is closed now, and they both know it.
“You’ve been given a life sentence,” Tom says, and Deaton nods. “You’ll never get out of here. I’ll never be able to trust you again, after what you did to my son. But I’ll make sure you’re treated well, that you have anything you need, within reason.”
Deaton doesn’t look at him. “That much compassion is a dangerous thing, Tom.”
“That much compassion is what saved Beacon Hills,” Tom says, “so you know what? I’m okay with that.”
Deaton doesn’t say anything else, so Tom turns and heads down the hallway, the silence lingering behind him.
~ ~ ~ ~
Thanksgiving is a bigger affair than Tom had originally anticipated. For a long time, it had been the four of them – himself and Melissa, Scott and Stiles. Now they’re adding Peter and Derek. Of course, Isaac is coming as well, since he lives with Scott and the pack is his family now.
Scott asks if he can invite Allison and her dad, since they’re pretty bummed about their first Thanksgiving without her mother, so Tom says sure. Then it occurs to him that it would be nice for Peter if Malia could be there, so they invite Henry and Malia. Kira mentions to Allison and Erica that her family doesn’t really do a lot for the holiday (neither of her parents grew up celebrating it) and she sounded so wistful that Tom invites the Yukimuras as well.
“At this point you might as well just ask Erica and Boyd if their families want to come, too,” Peter says dryly. Tom thinks about it and decides he agrees, so he does. Both Erica and Boyd have siblings, so all put together, it results in a Thanksgiving with twenty-four people present.
Tom decides they had better do it as a pot luck, because otherwise Stiles will go insane trying to cook everything. They supply a turkey and a ham. Peter supplies several bottles of wine. Derek puts a beautiful artistic flair on the apple pie and the pumpkin pie. The others bring rolls, potatoes, vegetable dishes, and more drinks. The Yukimuras supplement Derek’s pies with homemade mochi and daifuku.
They all eat far more than could possibly be considered reasonable. Boyd and Erica’s younger siblings are all over the place. Malia has never seen so much food in one place and eats until she almost makes herself sick. Chris, possibly missing his wife, has one too many glasses of wine and starts loudly telling everyone how amazing his daughter is. Allison is so embarrassed that she has to flee the room for a while.
After dinner, the teenagers, plus Derek, adjourn to the living room so they can play video games and watch stupid YouTube videos. The adults settle into their regular poker game. Noshiko proceeds to kick absolutely all their asses, and Peter says she should be disqualified because nine hundred years of experience isn’t fair.
“Like the ability to hear heartbeats is?” she asks, after Peter has called Henry’s bluff and forced him to fold.
“Wait, you can hear what?” Henry asks.
“Thanks for spilling the secret,” Peter sulks.
The families leave a few at a time. Boyd’s and Erica’s first, then the Yukimuras, then the Argents, and then the McCalls. Peter invites the kids to join the poker game, despite Tom’s voluble protests. He manages to convince Peter they should play something else instead, something that doesn’t involve gambling. Peter decides to teach everyone Bullshit.
Tom is terrible at Bullshit and winds up losing early and often, but he’s comforted by the fact that Henry and Derek aren’t much better. Malia does better, by dint of being absolutely impossible to predict. Stiles is surprisingly, nerve-wrackingly good, able to lie straight to Peter’s face without even a skip in his heartbeat.
“That’s my boy,” Peter says, after Stiles has his first win, coming on the heels of two of Peter’s. Tom groans and cradles his head in his hands, and everyone else laughs. “Problem?” Peter says innocently.
Tom grabs his hand and presses a kiss into Peter’s knuckles. “No,” he says. “No problem.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Tom is filling out paperwork at the station when he gets a call from Stiles. “Hey, can you come out to the Nemeton? I want you to see something.”
“Sure,” Tom says. “Give me a half hour.” He hesitates, and then his need to Dad gets the better of him. “You’re not out there alone, are you? You promised – ”
“No, Dad,” Stiles says, with an audible eye roll. “Derek’s with me.”
“Okay. I’ll see you soon.”
It’s nearly five, so he quickly finishes what he’s doing and then says good night to Tara before heading out to the Cruiser. From Stiles’ tone, he can assume it’s not a bad thing, but he can’t help but be a little nervous.
Whatever it is, Stiles must have called Peter, too, because Tom sees Peter’s car parked along the side of the same forest road. He pulls over in front of it and heads out into the forest. Peter isn’t far ahead of him; he can hear Peter’s heartbeat at the edge of his senses. So he jogs to catch up, greeting Peter with a quick kiss.
Stiles is sitting on the edge of the Nemeton, and he stands up and waves excitedly when he sees Tom and Peter coming down the path. Derek, who was sitting next to him, nods but doesn’t bother to get up. “Look!” Stiles says, pointing.
Tom directs his attention in the fading light to where Stiles is pointing. At the very center of the Nemeton’s broad trunk is a tiny sapling. It’s about three inches tall, painfully thin, and with only a few tiny leaves. It looks like it would blow over in a stiff wind. But Stiles is clearly enormously excited about its appearance.
“It’s November,” Peter points out. “It’s late November.”
Stiles shrugs. “It’s a magic tree. If it wants to sprout in November, who am I to say no to it.”
“Fair point,” Peter says.
“It’s amazing,” Tom says, despite the scrawniness of the sprout in question. “I’m so proud of you.”
Stiles beams and says, “Hey, I wanna do a tarot reading. To see what’s going to happen now.”
“Let’s do it, then,” Derek says.
Stiles sits down on the trunk and spreads the cards in front of himself. He runs his hand along them, a bit of a golden glow condensing around his fingers. “The past,” he says, picking up a card and setting it down. It’s the nine of swords. “The present.”
He puts down the next card, and Tom sucks in a breath. Peter immediately squeezes his hand. “Death doesn’t mean death, in tarot,” he says, and Tom relaxes. “It’s about change. New beginnings. It’s actually a very positive card, about putting the past behind you and moving forward.”
“Okay,” Tom says. “Seems unnecessarily dramatic, though. Why couldn’t they just label the card change, so as not to give people heart attacks?”
“Yes, whoever would have guessed that the people who decided they needed a deck of cards to tell the future would be dramatic?” Peter murmurs.
Stiles snorts and says, “Speaking of the future . . .” He trails his hand back and forth along the cards for a long moment before he pulls one out. Tom leans over to look at it. It’s the Knight of Pentacles, a card he could not have said existed, and certainly has no idea what the meaning of is. But Peter looks satisfied with the draw, and Stiles is nodding like it’s something he could get behind.
“What’s that mean?” Derek asks, leaning over Stiles’ shoulder so his chin rests on it for a few seconds.
“It means hard work,” Stiles says. “But in a good way. Like, plowing the fields to prepare for the future kind of work, making the most of what you have to build a good life kind of work. It’s about being dependable and trustworthy and taking care of other people. It’s not . . . it’s not adventure and excitement, but . . .”
“Well, thank God,” Tom says, and Stiles laughs. “We’ve all had quite enough of that.”
“Right?” Stiles says. He gathers up the cards and tucks them away. Derek stands up and offers his hand to Stiles to help him off the tree. “It’s not an easy card, though. I mean, thus the ‘hard work’ part.”
“I think we can handle some hard work,” Tom says. He twines his fingers through Peter’s with one hand, squeezes Derek’s shoulder with the other before reaching out to tousle Stiles’ hair. He finds that he’s looking forward to what comes next.