Unobstructed Views – 1/2 – Jilly James

Title: Unobstructed Views, Chapters 1-6
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: Teen Wolf
Genre: Drama, Episode Related, Family, Paranormal, Pre-Relationship, Shifters
Relationship(s): Gen, (hints of future Derek/Stiles)
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Dark Themes, Death-Minor Character, Discussion-Torture, Discussion-Murder, Hate Crimes & Hate Speech (Hunter vs. Werewolf type of hate), Kidnapping, Racism (against werewolves), Torture, Violence-Canon-typical
Author Notes: There’s a small homage to the amazing Stilinski’s Home for Wayward Wolves. There is no connection between this story and that.
Beta: Thank you, Keira & Ladyholder
Word Count: 63,800
Summary: Stiles refused to leave Erica and Boyd behind in the Argents’ basement, setting off a series of events that brings the pack together and builds a family.
Artist: The incomparable ChestnutNOLA. Thank you for everything.


 

 


 

Chapter One

“Mr. Argent?” one of Gerard’s henchmen called out, interrupting the epic beatdown the old man was giving Stiles.

The epically embarrassing beatdown. Stiles couldn’t believe he was getting his ass handed to him by someone who was literally old enough to be his grandfather.

The guy with the timely interruption looked like the same asshat who had thrown Stiles down the stairs into the Argents’ basement of murderous mayhem a short while ago. Stiles had been grabbed off of the lacrosse field when the lights had gone out. There had been chaos and screaming, and he hadn’t even been able to figure out what had happened before there’d been a gun pressed to his spine.

It fucking figured that he would finally get to play in the game—not to mention score the winning goal—and he’d get kidnapped before he could even enjoy it.

Argent gave one last kick to Stiles’ ribs then turned away. Stiles rolled closer to the wall, wanting something solid at his back, then spit out a mouthful of blood from when his teeth had cut into the inside of his cheek.

He focused on catching his breath while trying to come up with a plan. Any plan would be good, but a plan that got them all out alive and without further injury would be great. He didn’t look toward where Erica and Boyd were still strung up from the ceiling, steadily being electrocuted.

Stiles wondered how they were going to get out of this, and then it struck him how many times in the last five months he’d had that thought. How do we do this… How do we survive this… How do we outrun… How do we not get caught… How do I protect Dad…

He pushed himself to a seated position just as Gerard turned back around, creepy smile utterly freaking Stiles out.

“It seems young Mr. McCall is going to be a good puppy,” Gerard said with an unpleasant grin. “I may not need you to be a message after all.” So, Scott was somehow being manipulated by Gerard, and yet he hadn’t bothered to tell Stiles anything—no warning or heads up. Again.

“I’m crushed,” Stiles snarked. “I do so like being a message. Or a harbinger. Cautionary tale, perhaps?”

Gerard’s smile faltered slightly, mouth looking pinched. “Always something to say, Mr. Stilinski. Perhaps you should contemplate the expression, ‘silent as the grave.’”

“Is that supposed to be ominous? I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to monologue your evil plans in more detail before you rise to even the level of a stock Bond villain.”

“I have other matters to attend to for the moment, but I’m willing to spend the time necessary to see if I can raise myself in your estimation.” Gerard paused by Erica and Boyd to drop a locking cover over the generator controls, shooting a smirk Stiles’ direction as he pocketed the key. “Wouldn’t want you to get any more clever ideas about letting the dogs out.”

Stiles now got why the dog jokes weren’t funny. Especially coming from a speciest asshole like Gerard Argent.

Grandpa Serial Killer practically sauntered up the stairs, obviously confident in his ability to keep three teenagers captive in his murder basement. Fucking murder family.

Stiles’ whole body ached and his face throbbed, but he forced himself to ignore the physical discomfort and focus on the problem at hand. He glanced up at Erica and Boyd and nearly choked. They both looked…resigned. As if they had reconciled themselves to dying tonight.

Boyd was barely seventeen and Erica was still sixteen, and yet they both thought they were going to die. They looked like they had accepted it.

Stiles felt his world view shift sharply.

Over the past few months, he’d often thought that they were all barely treading water, but now he had a moment of clarity that they’d been in way over their heads the whole time. Stiles had been so focused on Scott and getting Scott through all this stuff—and keeping it away from his own father—that he hadn’t spared a thought for how desperate this had become for a bunch of kids.

He really wanted to believe that Derek and Scott were a minute away from breaking down the door and rescuing them, but his gut said that was a pipe dream. Something else was going on. Something probably worse than whatever was happening here, and Derek and Scott likely had no clue about their predicament.

If they got out of this—when they got out of it—they had to start doing things differently. He didn’t know what yet, but it had to be something. What they’d been doing so far clearly didn’t work. But, first, he had to get them all out of this fucking basement.

Slowly, he pushed himself up off the floor, favoring his aching ribs. “There’s got to be a way to turn that damn thing off.” He didn’t make eye contact with the other two again as he began searching the basement. “I suppose it’s too much to ask for a handy pair of wire cutters with a rubber grip? I’d even take a pair of garden shears; I can do a lot with hedgers.”

He found a couple of locked cabinets that did him no good. There was one unlocked that contained a few sharp, torture-looking implements that he’d electrocute himself with if he tried to use them free Erica and Boyd. It was a fucking tragedy that the most useful thing in the basement was a fucking pen. Well, needs must. He took the damn pen and tried to open the locked cabinets again.

“Dammit!” He kicked the cabinet when he failed to get it open. He could pick an unsophisticated lock with parts from a pen, but not the ones at hand.

“Language, Mr. Stilinski,” Gerard called from the top of the stairs as he slowly came back down. “I should give you detention for that.” The big dude who’d been the chief manhandler followed Gerard closely.

“I’m feeling pretty detained already.” Stiles crossed his arms over his chest, trying to look defiant. He stood in front of the generator, a feeble attempt to keep Gerard from the controls.

Gerard grinned with way too much teeth. “Your friend has come through in fine form, so it seems our time together must end. Mario will see you back to your school. Do try to behave yourself, Mr. Stilinski. I wouldn’t want to see you suspended.”

“Nice wordplay. A-plus for evil puns.” Stiles jerked back as Mario reached for him. “I’m not leaving without them.”

“Is that right?” Gerard scoffed. “And what makes you think you have any say in the matter?”

“Yeah, it’s like you hear the words I say but you never quite seem to comprehend them. So I’ll try it slower.” Stiles had always had a lousy sense of self-preservation. “I. Am. Not. Leaving—” He was backhanded—again!—by Gerard with such a strong blow it knocked him to the floor.

“Then it seems you’re not leaving.” Gerard massaged his hand. “Letting you go was the smarter thing to do—to appease my bleeding-heart son if nothing else—but I find myself eager for us to have some more quality time together so we can see if there is anything that actually makes you shut up.”

“Joy,” Stiles mumbled, mouth filled with blood again. He spit it out just before he was roughly hauled up. He found himself on the floor in the corner with his back against some pipe, hands cuffed behind him.

Gerard shot him another supervillain grin. “We’ll have to wait for our little encore. I have more important business to attend to at the moment. Now, don’t go anywhere. Oh, that’s right, you can’t.” Gerard gave him a parting kick to the ribs, causing Stiles to scream out in pain as he doubled over. It felt like Gerard had kicked into his damn lung. Then he and Mario were gone.

Stiles groaned and tried to move, but agonizing pain from his ribs kept him still. “Dammit!”

He forced himself to take shallow breaths and not think about the pain. He counted off a full minute before he retrieved the pen he’d stuck into the tank top under his lacrosse jersey. “I’ve been able to pick a handcuff lock since I was four, asshole,” he muttered. The pen cap had a metal tab he thought would fit the handcuff lock. He didn’t spare any attention for Erica and Boyd as he tried to manipulate the lock.

After a couple minutes, he blew out a breath, wincing at the screaming pain in his right side. “Of course, I’ve only successfully done this with my hands behind my back once.” That time he hadn’t been stressed, and his hands had been steady. None of that was true now.

He took time to make himself calm down and go through the process methodically. He dropped the pen cap once and hand to feel around behind him, wiggling around in ways his ribs did not like but, eventually, the lock gave way. The surge of adrenaline left him lightheaded for a second. It could be their only opportunity to escape.

“I’m going to have to up my game when it comes to the methods of escaping from an evil not-so-mastermind,” he muttered as he got to his feet very carefully. He looked around, taking everything in. “Well, since they didn’t oblige me with a nice pair of hedge clippers, I’ll just have to improvise.”

Erica made a high-pitched sound, obviously trying to get his attention. With some reluctance, Stiles stepped close and pulled the duct tape off. He realized that he hadn’t really wanted to interact with them until he could find a way out. He was determined to save them all, but he didn’t want to give her false hope.

“Stiles, what are you doing? Why did you stay?”

“We’re all getting out of here.”

“Stiles!” Erica pleaded, sounding like she was about to start sobbing. He swallowed thickly, hating to see someone as fierce as Erica torn down like that. “Get yourself out. You can’t help us. Go and try to send someone back.”

Stiles braced his hands on his hips. “So you became werewolves and suddenly you can’t be helped? You’re resigned to letting the biggest creeper to ever enter a high school—and that is a damn high bar—torture and kill you?”

“Stiles…go.”

“No.”

“Stiles,” Boyd said softly. “You gotta get yourself out.”

“Yeah, no. Not without you guys.” He resumed looking around, trying to find some inspiration. “How did they get you? Derek must be freaking out right now.”

“No,” Boyd said firmly. “He won’t even know.”

Stiles looked back at them. “What happened?”

“We ran away,” Erica admitted.

“Tell me what happened…everything. Just keep talking. It’ll help me focus.” People so rarely got that about ADHD. He also wanted them to concentrate on something besides assuming they were going to die.

He kept looking for some way to free them, taking in the story as they took turns telling him how they wound up in the Argent Basement. It hit him again how they were so unprepared and overwhelmed that running away seemed like the only option. They were so scared of the damn Argents that they’d run from their alpha, the only real shelter and protection they had. They’d been lured into the trap the Argents had set by none other than Allison, who had then proceeded to mercilessly shoot them both repeatedly with arrows.

“Scott didn’t tell her,” Stiles muttered, wishing his hair was long enough to fist his hands in it and pull. Because pulling his hair out seemed like the only reasonable reaction to Scott hiding the truth about Victoria’s attempt at homicide that wound up with her getting bitten. “That idiot.” He was about ninety percent certain that Allison wouldn’t have turned into a full-on psychopath if Scott hadn’t hidden the truth about Victoria from her. Fucking love-blind fool.

And now their best chance of rescue, Derek fucking Hale, wasn’t even looking for them because he had no idea they were in danger.

“Stiles, go,” Erica pleaded again. “Try to get yourself out. Beat on the door. Tell them you want to go—that you changed your mind.”

“We’re not having this discussion. We’re all leaving together, and then you guys are coming to my house. Everyone is going to sleep and get better and, when we’re not high on adrenaline, we’re going to figure this thing out. We’ll figure out a plan for Romeo and fucking Juliet and the tragic figure that is the big bad alpha, okay? And if we do get separated, don’t you dare give up. You do whatever you have to do to get out of here then you come find me. No more running around in the woods where the Argents can do whatever the hell they want. You stay on public streets, and you find me. Got it?”

Erica and Boyd just gave him sad, resigned looks.

“Got it?” he hissed. “I’ll repeat it and repeat it until you two stop giving up!”

“We got it,” Boyd finally replied.

“Fan-fucking-tastic.” Stiles kicked at the area rug, trying to think of a solution. “Who puts area rugs in a torture basement? Are there throw pillows in the iron maiden?” The backing of the rug caught his eye. “Well, well, well. Rubberized back. New plan! I’m going to get that rug up and wrap it around the wires and then rip them out of the generator. Okay?”

“Yes!” Erica said, suddenly seeming a little more with it.

Getting the rug out from under the piece of heavy furniture was no small task. Stiles tugged and pulled, his ribs giving alarming warnings, and then he finally yanked it free. He fell on his ass, rug in hand, and bit back a scream of pain.

“Stiles!” Erica called out.

“I’m good,” he managed to get out. “Just gotta catch my breath.” It took him a couple minutes, but he got to his feet and started toward Erica and Boyd.

And then there was a very distinctive click of a gun being cocked.

Feeling more than a little pissed off and tired of things always going wrong, Stiles dropped the rug and turned around, hands raised. He continued to stand between the two werewolves and whoever was coming downstairs.

When Chris Argent came fully into view, his mouth dropped open, and the gun wavered. “Stiles?”

“The innocent act. How cute,” Stiles bit out. “But I’ll never buy the good guy routine from an Argent again.”

Chris’ mouth snapped shut. He looked Stiles over from head to toe, swallowing heavily. “This isn’t our way.”

“It sure the hell seems like this is exactly your way!” Stiles snapped. “It seems like this is all your fucked up family does.”

“Did Allison…” He gestured to Stiles with the gun.

“Did she put me down here? No.”

Argent had the fucking gall to look relieved.

“All she did was shoot a quiver full of arrows into her sixteen and seventeen-year-old classmates. Innocent kids. But no big, right? Just another day with the Argents, slaughtering innocents and giving pompous speeches.”

“You don’t understand—”

“You’re right, I don’t understand. And you have no fucking right to ask me to. And in case you’re in the dark too, because my best friend is apparently a fucking moron, your beloved wife tried to kill Scott. She was bitten by accident when Derek rushed in to rescue his ungrateful ass.”

Chris shook his head.

“Don’t shake your head at me! That’s exactly how it went down. When everyone should have been dealing with the kanima, Mrs. Argent strayed from the mission—you know, the mission to protect and save innocent people from a rampaging murder lizard—and went after Scott instead. And then Derek also had to take his eye off the scaly ball to go save Scott, exposing himself to the same aerosolized wolfsbane your lovely wife was using to simulate a deadly asthma attack in Scott.”

Chris didn’t look like he was in denial anymore, he just looked gutted.

Stiles took a risk and took a step forward. “The kanima should have been dealt with that night. And let us not forget that it wasn’t only your wife who was off task. I seem to recall that you and yours were overly focused on shooting Derek rather than working with him to deal with the actual threat.

“So I blame the Argents for every death since that moment at the hands of the kanima’s master. Every. Single. One. Every deputy that my father is torn up over is your fault!” he screamed. “Some of them I’ve known since I was a kid. So don’t you fucking pretend like you’re innocent or righteous. Not when your wife tried to murder Scott, your father kidnapped and beat the shit out of me—a scrawny, human teenager—and your daughter helped hunt, capture, and torture two innocent teenagers who had done nothing but be on the wrong side of your family’s epic bigotry.”

“Stiles—”

“The Argents owe this town a blood debt!” The air felt thick and heavy, and Stiles’ breath came in heavy pants, the adrenaline coursing through his veins made his hurts bleed away. “If you actually believe in your so-called code, if you’re going to be true to it and avoid even more blood on your family’s hands, you’ll let us go. All of us.” Stiles realized he was risking his own life and probably Erica and Boyd’s to taunt Chris, but he couldn’t help it. Too much had been left unsaid.

Chris looked some weird blend of angry, disbelieving, and devastated. “I’m not going to hurt you, Stiles.”

Stiles turned around, picked up the rug, and threw it over the dangling, electrified wires. With a sharp pull, he yanked the wires out of the generator, causing sparks to fly.

Erica and Boyd broke their bonds and dropped to the ground, both shuddering and gasping for air, eyes flaring gold. They were slow to get to their feet as their muscles spasmed and twitched. Chris had his gun raised, aim steady as he backed off, leaving the stairs clear.

“There’s no one else in the house,” Chris said quietly. “You’re free to go.”

Stiles watched him suspiciously as he herded Erica and Boyd toward the stairs.

“Stiles…” Argent began.

“What?” he snapped, not feeling in a chatty mood.

“I’m going to go help Scott. I won’t let my father hurt anyone else. I swear it—I’ll make this right.”

Stiles wanted to tell Argent just what cactus he could fuck himself with, but he bit his tongue. “I hope you do. I hope you can make up in some tiny way for the blood of innocents you assholes have spilled. And if you manage to be a decent human being and everyone survives, be sure to come clean to Scott and Derek about what happened down here. I shouldn’t have to do your dirty work.”

Argent’s expression was stiff, but he gave a short nod.

Stiles backed his way up the stairs, refusing to take his eyes off of Chris. He was aware of Boyd and Erica ahead of him. As soon as they were at the top, he grabbed them by the arms and led them through the kitchen and out the front door. No one saw them or tried to hinder their departure. Stiles in particular probably looked more than a little rough around the edges, so it was a damn good thing that it was nighttime.

As soon as they were outside, Boyd and Erica were even more tense, like they were poised to run away again.

“Oh no,” Stiles said firmly, keeping ahold of their arms. “At the end of the block is Mrs. Brisbane’s house. I used to run errands with her when I was younger.”

Her RA prevented her from walking very well, but she’d drive Stiles to the store, and he’d do her grocery shopping while she sat in the car and read bodice rippers. It was how Stiles got their own grocery shopping done. She’d let him drop his groceries off first then he’d go home with her and unpack everything for her. She’d always feed him like he was one meal away from starvation, and then he’d walk the two miles home.

Once grocery delivery was now a thing, and she didn’t need Stiles’ help quite so much, so he only went by to check on her occasionally and get a metric ton of cookies.

“She’ll give us a ride to my house.” While two miles home might not be too far for Stiles normally, he knew he’d never make it today. “You two are not running off again.”

“Stiles, we can’t— I don’t—” Erica swallowed heavily looking panicked. The darkness worked for them in that no one could see their condition, but it also made them more vulnerable because it would be easier for hunters to get to them unseen.

Stiles understood why they were scared. “Look, I don’t know how many more of these assholes are out there. We’re staying together, we’re staying in plain view. I’m so done with these cat and mouse games. The hunters count on us running off into the woods or making sure people don’t see—they fucking exploit it. No more.”

“We can’t tell people!” Boyd said, looking appalled.

“Maybe not about werewolves, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use the fucking system to your advantage instead of letting them use it. Pretend like you’re not werewolves; ask for help. It’s not like the Argents are going to scream werewolves to get people to stop helping you. To the public of Beacon Hills, we’re a bunch of fucking kids. They’ll be on our side, not the side of the middle-aged assholes with guns and SUVs with blacked-out windows who get their jollies by chasing teenagers in the woods. And it’s time we started exploiting our advantages—because there sure the fuck aren’t many!”

Erica and Boyd just stared at him.

“Move it.” Stiles huffed and continued pulling at them. “It’s not far.”

“You don’t have to keep dragging us,” Erica said after they’d passed a couple houses.

“I literally can’t make you guys do anything, and I know that, okay? But I want to know if you’re taking off.”

“We won’t,” Boyd said.

Stiles stopped tugging them along and took the opportunity to wrap his arm around his middle, supporting his ribs a bit more. This was going to hurt like a motherfucker when the adrenaline wore off. Maybe he’d be lucky enough to sleep through that.

“You okay?” Erica asked.

“Eh.” He focused on putting one foot in front of the other. He could feel in their body tension how they wanted to run, but Stiles needed to get them all to a place where they were actually safe—and that sure the fuck wasn’t running around in the preserve at night. Which meant getting off the streets and getting back home.

“You really told off Mr. Argent back there,” Boyd said, surprising Stiles with how he sounded impressed.

“Yeah, well, being mouthy is my superpower.”

Boyd snorted.

“Where is it?” Erica glanced around furtively as they got to the end of the block.

He wanted to tell her to stop glancing around like she’d committed a crime, but he kept his mouth shut for once because he understood why she was hyper-vigilant. “First house after we turn the corner.”

Stiles kept expecting them to try to take off, but they stayed with him as they walked up the ramp to the Brisbane house. There was no answer when he rang the bell.

“Maybe she’s not here,” Erica said nervously, glancing around.

“She’s here—her car is in the drive. But she’s got bad rheumatoid arthritis, so she moves slowly when she’s hurting.”

“I hear someone coming toward the door.” Boyd’s head was cocked to the side.

The door swung open slowly. “Stiles!” Mrs. Brisbane looked shocked as she took in their appearance. “What happened to you, baby?”

He opened his mouth to make an excuse about a rival lacrosse team but, suddenly, he was so very done with hunters taking advantage of their fear.

“Someone grabbed me after the game and did this.” He gestured to his face. “They grabbed my friends too.” He felt Boyd and Erica stiffen, so he latched onto their arms to keep them in place. “We got away just a few minutes ago. Your house was close, and I was going to ask if you’d drive me home or even let me borrow your car, but I think maybe…” He trailed off and bit his lip, wincing at how it reopened the split. “Can I call my dad?”

“Oh, honey, of course. You poor things. Come in, come in.” She stood back and ushered them inside. Mrs. B gave Erica a quick hug, ignoring how she tensed up, before getting situated again with her walker and leading them into the house. “Come in and sit down, and I’ll go get my phone.”

Stiles’ mind was racing, trying to figure out how to play this. “Would you mind maybe, um, could you call Dad? He’s going to freak out, and maybe he’ll be calmer talking to another adult.”

“I can do that. Give me a minute to get Noah nice and calmed down. I’ll call him in my bedroom. Besides, I need to get some better shoes on if I’m going to be cavorting about the house. Do you kids want to sit in the living room?”

“Maybe the kitchen? Can we get some water?” Stiles really was desperately thirsty, but the kitchen was close to the door and farthest from Mrs. B’s bedroom, so she wouldn’t overhear them talking.

“Help yourself, sweetie pie, you know where everything is.” She gave him a sympathetic look and patted his shoulder. “I need to be able to tell your dad who took you.”

Stiles fidgeted with the hem of his jersey, trying to project insecurity, which wasn’t all that far off of the truth of how he felt, but he’d never usually show it. False bravado was practically his mutation. “I don’t want him to— I mean, they have a lot of guns, and I don’t want him to get hurt charging in without all the information. Maybe it should wait until he’s here?”

Mrs. B’s eyebrows were making for her hairline. “Guns? What—” She cut herself off and shook her head. “Take whatever you need—food, water, anything. I’m going to call your father. Don’t you worry about a thing.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

As soon as she was out of the room, Stiles straightened up and headed for the kitchen.

“Was that all an act? And what are you doing?” Erica hissed.

“Getting some water.” Stiles reached for the cabinet to get glasses, winced at the sharp pain in his ribs, and switched to use his other arm. “We’re going to tell the truth,” he said so softly no one but a werewolf could hear.

“The truth?” Erica growled. “How is that going to work?”

“Yeah, the truth,” he said sharply. “We leave out anything about werewolves, obviously, but we tell the truth. Feign ignorance about anything you can’t account for.” He filled up glasses and passed them around. The other two drank when prompted then seemed to realize how thirsty they were and drank four glasses in a row. Stiles went a little slower, his aches and pains getting worse with every passing second. That last kick to the ribs was the smelly cherry on the shit sundae that was today.

“What about Allison?” Erica whispered as she sipped at her fifth glass of water.

Part of Stiles wanted to protect Allison for Scott’s sake but, really, Scott had done a shit job of protecting Allison when he’d failed to tell her the truth about how her mother was bitten.

“That’s up to you guys.” Stiles stared into the glass like it held the answers. “She didn’t hurt me.”

There was a long silence, and Stiles didn’t look up. Eventually, Boyd said, “We’re gonna say she was there. Leave out the arrows. If she wants to throw her grandfather under the bus, that’s up to her. We wouldn’t be able to refute any claims she made that he was behind it all since we’re not mind readers.”

“Fair enough.”

Considering that Boyd and Erica wouldn’t show any sign of injury, Allison likely wouldn’t be in any real trouble, especially if she made out like she was doing everything at her grandfather’s behest because she felt she had no choice. But that wasn’t Stiles’ problem. He couldn’t let someone who would turn to torture and murder so damn easily be anywhere on his concern matrix.

“So what do we say?” Boyd asked, sounding uncharacteristically hesitant.

Stiles drummed his fingers on the side of the glass. “That you two were hanging out in the preserve, making out.”

They both looked away from each other, Erica with bright spots of color on her cheeks.

“Oh, is that the way of it? Good for you and all that jazz. Something new, I gather?”

Boyd cleared his throat, not looking at Erica. “We haven’t really talked about it.”

“But there’s something,” Erica said softly, watching Boyd closely.

Boyd looked down at her. “Yeah, there is.”

“Mazel tov,” Stiles said deadpan. “Anyway, people on four wheelers started chasing you, and you were scared. They corralled you and then shocked you with something until you passed out. You woke up and found yourselves tied up in the basement. Gerard threatened you with torture, though you don’t know why or what he wanted. Then they threw me down there…”

“That’s basically what happened,” Erica said slowly, obviously thinking it through.

“Exactly. You leave out the running away because you can’t explain why, and you don’t talk about the arrows because you’re not hurt.”

“What about the howling?”

“Make it part of why you were scared. You were running because you heard howling and you thought there were freaking wolves in the woods—there aren’t supposed to be wolves in California. Everyone says so, right? And there were all those animal attacks earlier in the year… And you were just so terribly frightened. Why the Argents were doing all that, you just can’t imagine. What they wanted with you, you don’t know. Why Allison was there, you have no idea.”

“Wow,” Boyd murmured. “We’re going to trap them with the truth.”

“Yes. Play up being scared kids and say you just don’t know when anyone questions you.”

“And when they ask why you were hurt and we weren’t?” Boyd pressed.

Stiles scoffed. “Just tell my dad that I was mouthing off and drawing Gerard’s attention. He’ll have no problem believing that.”

“But it’s the truth.” Erica cocked her head to the side. “That is what happened.”

“It’s easier to mislead with the truth. Especially when you’re talking to a cop.” He gave them both pointed looks. “However, we’re going to have to tell my dad the truth later. I can’t bring him this far in, expose him to the Argents’ bad acts, and not give him the information he really needs. So I need you guys there. I need you to help explain and prove what’s really going on.”

They both looked wary then seemed to relax almost simultaneously—some sort of freaky werewolf mind meld—and they nodded. “Is he still going to help us?”

“My dad? Of course he will.” Stiles had complete faith in his father even if Stiles had done a shit job of showing it. “He’s going to see you guys, rightly so, as the victims here, and he’s going to protect you. So, get set for a stay at casa Stilinski.”

“Why are you doing this, Stiles,” Erica whispered. “We aren’t exactly friends.”

“So what? We have to be besties for me not to leave you to be tortured in Gerard’s murder basement? We have to be all up in each other’s Facebook for me to try to help you? Do I have to like your Instagram full beat face to not want to see you slaughtered?” He set the glass down. “And it’s not like we couldn’t be friends, we just…aren’t.” He went to the island, sitting gingerly on one of the barstools.

A few seconds passed before Boyd and Erica sat on either side of him. “I think we’re friends now,” Erica whispered, leaning into him gently. She took his hand. “We just have to stick together, right?”

Boyd’s hand closed over his arm, squeezing gently.

“Yeah,” Stiles muttered. “We’re friends.”

“We’re pack,” Boyd corrected.

Stiles felt like his heart was being squeezed. Since this whole thing began when Scott was bitten, he’d felt like he was on the outside looking in, fighting to be accepted and failing no matter how much he tried. He figured Derek might have something to say about the three of them deciding to be pack. But, then again, Derek wasn’t here.

“Pack.” Erica let her head rest on his shoulder.

He wondered if he was making a mistake with all this. He felt like he was putting his dad in the line of fire, and it tore him up, but he’d acknowledged down there in that basement that his father was never safe being ignorant. Stiles had just wanted to believe that he was—that ignorance would save him from claws and bullets.

He’d thought he could handle it on his own. A building full of dead deputies should have gotten through to him sooner. And his father certainly wouldn’t have been safe if Stiles had died in the Argents’ medieval fun house because he knew his father would never have let that go.

“Pack,” he agreed, and it felt like something resonated in him. Derek had always said humans couldn’t feel pack bonds, but Stiles’ thought that he could. It was just his imagination, but he liked the illusion.

They had plenty of warning of Mrs. B coming back as her walker rattled down the hallway. She carefully looked them all over. “Your father is on his way, sweetie. He said Deputy Graeme might get here first. I need to go finish taking care of my feet and take my pills, but then I’ll be out here to cluck over you like a mother hen. Do you kids need anything first? Should I call any other parents?” She glanced at Boyd and Erica.

Boyd shook his head, but it was Erica who replied, “No, we’re both fine. They hadn’t gotten to us yet.”

“Your parents will still want to know,” Mrs. B chided gently.

“We’ll call them later,” Erica said firmly.

“Probably not a good idea to bring more worried parents down here,” Stiles interceded. “I know Dad will make sure they’re called.”

“Good point.” She patted his shoulder. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

As soon as she’d rounded the corner, Stiles whispered, “Let’s work on the cover story while we can. Remember, stick close to the truth. Our stories can’t be too rehearsed, or it comes off as fake. The actual truth and the words ‘I don’t know’ are your best friends right now.”

“You’re scary, you know that, right?” Erica said, not sounding scared in the slightest.

“It’s a gift.”

Chapter Two

Mrs. B was in round two of hovering and trying to feed them when there was a knock at the door. Erica and Boyd had accepted a snack in round one, but Stiles was feeling like dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe, and food hadn’t seemed like a good idea.

Erica went to answer it. Stiles was hoping it was his dad—because he really wanted to see his father—but Tara came into the kitchen behind Erica.

“Jesus, Stiles,” she breathed. “What happened?” She came around the island, and Boyd moved away so she’d have access. She cupped his face and prodded his cheekbone, apologizing when he winced. “Everyone has been looking for you.”

“Gerard Argent and some guys grabbed me after the game. They decided I was too pretty the way I was. Hence…” He gestured to himself.

“Your school principal kidnapped and beat you up?” she asked incredulously, hands falling away.

“Not just me.” He gestured to Boyd and Erica. “They were there too. But, you know me, I’m mouthy…”

Her expression softened briefly. “Meaning you drew his attention to protect your friends.” She shook her head. “And if it’s the Argents, I understand your concern about their firepower.”

“It’s not just that they sell firearms, Tara, it’s that… Well, something is really off there. They have these guys who seem more like mercenaries, and there are some things that looked like medieval torture implements down in their doom basement.”

Tara’s brow furrowed. “Why’d he kidnap you kids?”

“I have no idea. He said something about leaving me bloody in a ditch as a message to Scott.”

Tara sucked in a startled breath.

“But, as far as I know, the only thing Scott has done is date Allison. The whole freaky family seems to hate that, but it doesn’t seem bad enough to inspire all of this. It certainly doesn’t explain why beating me up would have anything to do with the loverly duo.”

Tara’s eyes were narrowed, but she didn’t look suspicious of what he was saying, more like she was thinking things through. “What about you two?” she directed to Erica and Boyd. “Any idea what’s going on? Were you taken from school too?”

Erica crossed her arms over her chest, making herself look smaller and more vulnerable. “No. Boyd and I were walking through the preserve when we were chased down by these guys on four wheelers. They stunned us with something—like shock batons or maybe cattle prods?—and we woke up in the basement. Then Stiles was thrown down the stairs. He tried to get us loose, but Principal Argent arrived and just started whaling on him for no reason.”

“How’d you get free?”

“Principal Argent got a phone call,” Erica offered. “He was going to take Stiles with him, but Stiles refused to leave without us, so he beat him some more and then cuffed him to a pipe. Stiles picked the lock on the cuffs and started trying to get us free, but then Mr. Argent—Chris Argent, I mean—came down. He seemed shocked we were there, said he wanted no part in whatever crazy thing his father was doing, so he let us go. He said he was going to stop his dad from doing something worse, but I don’t know where he went or even what worse might be. I mean, what’s worse than kidnapping three teenagers?”

Stiles was sort of stunned at Erica’s performance.

“Are you kids hurt too? You seem to be moving okay…?”

“We’re fine. They kept zapping us with these tasers and the things that were like cattle prods or whatever. And they used these wires with electricity running through them to keep us from trying to move or run away.”

Stiles was fucking proud of Erica. She’d taken to using the truth as a weapon like a fucking pro.

“Oh my god,” Mrs. B said, sounding horrified. “You poor kids.”

“Stiles got the worst of it,” Erica insisted. “I was shaky for a bit, but I’m feeling better now.”

Tara shook her head. “You kids are all going to the hospital. We’ll need to photograph any injuries and, even if there isn’t anything visible, you’ll need to get your hearts checked after being repeatedly shocked. Especially if it was with something like a cattle prod. Good lord,” she said under her breath.

“Okay,” Stiles agreed, taking Erica’s hand and putting a hand on Boyd’s arm. Getting an EKG wasn’t going to hurt them. “But…” He swallowed heavily, trying to look vulnerable. “Can we stay together?”

“Of course,” Tara quickly assured him. “We’ll need formal statements eventually, but that’s not important right now. We need to get you kids checked out while I work on handling the Argents. Do you think they’ll have removed the evidence?”

“The torture equipment? Probably not, but maybe,” Stiles conceded. “But my blood is all over that basement, so… It seems unlikely that they’ve handled crime scene clean up considering all the pseudo-military goons went with Argent the elder. And Chris Argent is out chasing after his creepy ass father and his overly muscled minions, so when would they have found the time?” He swallowed thickly. “Uh, what about my dad?”

“He can’t be officially involved when you’re a victim, Stiles, you know that. But I’m going to take his direction about how to approach this, so don’t worry.”

Mrs. Brisbane set a hand on Stiles’ shoulder, addressing Tara, “After the sheriff gets here, how about I take the kids to the hospital? That way they get seen to and we’re not underfoot while you deputies work. Since we’re only a block from the Argent house, you can use my house for whatever you need.”

“Mrs. B!” Stiles protested. “You can’t be sitting at the hospital like that. What about your hips?”

“But I can stay with you for long enough for a deputy to come look after you kids.”

Tara’s lips pursed briefly, and she gave Stiles a searching look. “Will Argent come after you? I want the truth here, Stiles.”

“Maybe,” he admitted. “It’s not like I know what his deal is, Tara. I don’t know why he’s so bent out of shape or what he wants from Scott. But if he doesn’t get what he’s after? He might…try again?”

“Okay. We’re going to need a deputy at the hospital with you guys—they can meet you there. But we wait for your dad before we make any move. He might veto the plan or go with you himself.”

Stiles glanced over at Mrs. Brisbane. “You sure this is okay, Mrs. B? I know we busted in on you—”

“Stop that,” she chided. “You bet your cute little butt that you should have come here. If I need to take you kids, I can handle a hospital chair for a bit. If your dad takes you, I’ll stay here and ply the deputies with muffins and boss them around.” She smiled and then pointed behind Stiles.

He turned and saw his dad hovering in the doorway. “Stiles,” he whispered, sounding and looking more than a little wrecked.

“Dad…” He got to his feet but then winced and cradled his ribs. He let Boyd guide him back onto the bar stool.

His dad crossed the distance and carefully wrapped his arms around Stiles. “I was so worried. Are you okay?” he whispered.

Stiles closed his eyes, finally feeling safe. “Yeah, I’m fine, Dad.”

His dad pulled back, resting his hands on Stiles’ shoulders, his gaze taking in every aspect of Stiles’ appearance. “Liar,” he said with a faint, sad smile.

“Well, I’m better than I was…?”

“You’re failing to reassure me.”

“And this is my best reassuring expression too.”

His dad’s face became serious. “Who took you?”

“Gerard Argent.” Before his father could ask anything, Stiles pointed to Tara. “Maybe let Tara fill you in? I don’t want to say it again.”

Eyes narrowing, his dad nodded and stepped back with what looked like a lot of reluctance. He and Tara disappeared into the next room, and Stiles buried his face in his hands, feeling a sudden, overwhelming doubt and near panic about letting his father get anywhere near this.

Erica’s arm came around his shoulders. “We got you,” she murmured in his ear. “And we’ll look out for your dad, too.”

Stiles took a shuddery breath, in part because of emotion but also because it fucking hurt to breathe deeply. “Yeah. Okay.” He looked up. “I can’t lose him.” He stared after his dad. “But we can’t keep going on like this,” the last was murmured so softly he knew only Erica and Boyd could hear.

Mrs. B moved closer. “You were thinking about not telling him, weren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Stiles admitted. “Some story about the rival lacrosse team…?”

“Stiles…” She huffed a bit. “Your father was an Army Ranger. He puts up a good front of a mild-mannered, small-town sheriff, but he’s really a badass. Don’t tell him I said that though. I prefer to remind him of when he was a scrawny-assed little klutz.”

Stiles huffed out a laugh. “Don’t make me laugh.”

“No embarrassing stories,” his dad said with mock severity as he came back into the kitchen. He was making a good attempt at a smile, but Stiles could see the tightness around his eyes and mouth. He stood in front of Stiles, meeting his gaze squarely. “You think Gerard Argent has gone after Scott?”

“I don’t know. He wants something or thinks Scott has something. Or maybe he just hates Scott for boning his granddaughter. I just don’t know. He seemed fucking crazy, Dad.”

“Language,” his admonished absently. “Scott and Isaac were out looking for you after the game. I tried to call him after Patty called, to tell me you were here, but he’s not answering. I’ve issued an APB for him and Isaac. Not to mention the Argents.” He sighed. “Lydia Martin stopped by, looking for you. She waited for a bit then took off like a bat out of hell after she got a text on her phone.”

Stiles just stared. “Why would she come to see me?”

“She wouldn’t say.”

Stiles opened and closed his mouth several times. “I got nothin’.”

“It’s a minor mystery we don’t need to solve now.” His dad gave him a pointed look. “You were right to be worried about the situation with the Argents, considering their access to firearms. Tara is calling in for a warrant and requesting backup from other nearby police departments. We don’t have the manpower for this kind of thing.”

Stiles winced.

“You hurting, Son?”

“Yeah,” Stiles agreed, covering for his reaction to the problems he had brought into his father’s life. “Could be worse, I guess.”

Dad looked concerned. “I’m taking all of you to the hospital—”

“You don’t have to—”

“Stiles, you’re my son! I’m going to the hospital with you. Until I hear that you’re going to be okay from an actual medical professional, I’m not letting you out of my sight. Deal with it.”

“Okay, Pops. Message received. I’m prepared for overprotective-parent mode to begin.”

His father rolled his eyes and huffed a small laugh. “Let’s get going. Tara is going to take Patty up on her offer to work from her kitchen since it’s so close to the Argents’ house.” He looked to Erica and Boyd. “You two care about riding in the back of the patrol car?”

“That’s fine, Sheriff,” Boyd said for both of them.

His dad pointed at Stiles. “And I have a few questions on the way there.”

Stiles felt a knot form in his stomach. “Yeah…” Stiles stared at his hands, wondering how he was going to field whatever his father was about to throw at him.

A few minutes later, they were in the car after Stiles had painfully lowered himself into the front of the sheriff’s cruiser with Boyd’s help. The break at Mrs. B’s house had given him time to stiffen up in an awful way.

His dad’s expression radiated concern, but he didn’t say anything for the first couple of minutes. “Stiles, I have to have know if tonight was an extension of whatever’s been going on this year.”

Stiles went rigid, feeling the accusation in his bones.

“No, that’s not what I meant,” he said sharply. “I’m not saying you brought this on yourself. I would never say that!”

He relaxed a little, not sure what he’d have done if his father had blamed him for this.

“Just tell me if it’s all connected.”

“Yes? Maybe? I don’t know.” He shrugged one shoulder.

“More secrets?” His father’s eyes flicked to the rearview mirror, no doubt checking Erica and Boyd, but they were silent, letting the conversation happen.

“No,” Stiles said immediately. “God, Dad, I was so scared tonight, and I knew that we were in so far over our heads. And I kept thinking, ‘Oh my god, we need an adult.’ Which is kind of crazy because I don’t generally think I need adults.”

His father sighed. “What’s going on, Son? I need you to talk to me. Really talk for once.”

The fact that his father’s focus was on the road and he wasn’t looking right at Stiles made it a little easier. “I decided to tell you all the crazy stuff that’s been going on this year, but I honestly don’t know what Gerard wants from Scott or why he wants to send him a message. I don’t know why he thought beating the crap out of me would even be an effective message, but that’s what he said. And I definitely don’t know why he grabbed Boyd and Erica and trussed them up like Christmas geese down in his murder basement.”

Murder basement? Jesus, Stiles. Did you really think he was going to kill you guys?”

“I don’t know, Dad. I don’t know!” Stiles snapped then bent over, trying to protect his ribs. “But his basement was full of fucking torture implements.” Stiles breath was uneven, and he felt close to panicking.

“Slow your breathing down, Stiles,” his dad said, reaching out and taking his hand. “Just listen to my voice and take slow, steady breaths.”

Stiles let his dad talk him down from the impending panic attack, which had more to do with his dad getting involved in all this than anything that happened today. Or maybe he was deluding himself about how much Gerard working him over had affected him.

“They think they can do whatever they want,” Stiles finally said, “and that no one is going to stop them.”

“I’m going to fix this, Son, you have to trust me.”

Stiles nearly panicked again.

“Mieczysław,” his dad said sharply, startling him. “Calm down, and tell me what’s freaking you out.”

“Right there in front of all those people they just took me,” Stiles blurted out. “Who does that? They’re so confident in their ability to do whatever they want that they’re willing to kidnap the sheriff’s son in front of a hundred potential witnesses.” He made himself breathe deeply despite the pain because he was getting lightheaded. “They actually hunted Erica and Boyd out there in those woods, and who knows what they planned to do to us. They don’t fear anything, Dad. Nothing. And they have big ass guns, and I’m so scared you’re going to get hurt.”

His dad blew out a breath, and he squeezed Stiles’ hand. “Son, I am going to approach this as the threat you fear they are and that I hope they aren’t because I don’t want anyone else getting hurt. But people like this have to be stopped. I’m damn good at my job, Stiles. But I know what my limitations are and, right now, it’s manpower. And not just bodies, but bodies with experience.

“As much as I’d love to go after the Argents personally, it’s not practical or even legal. Which is why Tara is calling other PDs to help handle this. Several of the nearby towns were already prepared to help in the event of an emergency because of all the deaths, and they know we don’t have the trained bodies to handle anything out of the ordinary. We’re going to be careful every step of the way. I promise.”

Stiles finally glanced over. “Doesn’t their arrogance freak you out? I mean, just a little?”

“More than a little, kid. I worry Gerard Argent and whatever hired muscle he has might be willing to kill a cop, but I can’t afford to let that stop me.”

“You’ll wear a vest, right? All the time?”

“Right now I’m with you but, yes, I will wear a vest if I’m out in the field.” His dad looked over briefly. “I’d wonder if you were ducking my question, but you seem legitimately freaked out.”

“I am freaked out!”

“I’m so sorry, kiddo. I’d give anything to rewind time and make this have not happened to you.”

Stiles’ throat felt tight. There were so many times when Stiles could have made a different decision. They all could have. “I know, Dad. And I wasn’t intentionally avoiding your question, but…can I spill my guts later? I’ll tell you anything you want to know when there aren’t people around and when Gerard isn’t trying to find Scott for who knows what nefarious scheme.”

“Nefarious scheme?” He sounded faintly amused.

“He’s practically a stock villain. I’m pretty sure all his schemes are nefarious.”

“Point.” His dad continued to maintain the tight grip on Stiles’ hand. “And there’s nothing in these secrets of yours that I need to know before we execute a warrant and get a crime scene team in there?”

Werewolves, Stiles wanted to say but swallowed the urge.

“No.” He hesitated. “I don’t know. I can’t think of why anything I might tell you would change your course of action but, Dad, I honestly don’t understand any of this. I think maybe Scott knows something, but that’s only because he’s been keeping secrets from me lately, and then Gerard does this. I can only think there’s a connection.”

His father shot him a sharp look then focused on the road. “Okay. That’s enough for now. But we’re having a long talk later. And I want to know everything that’s going on with you, all right? No more secrets.”

“Yeah.” Stiles rubbed his hand over his face. “When we’re done at the hospital, can Erica and Boyd stay at our place tonight?”

“Won’t their parents be worried?” His gaze flicked to the rearview mirror again.

“They’ll be fine with it,” Erica said.

“My grandma won’t care,” Boyd replied.

“Something you’re not telling me, kids?”

No one said anything.

His father’s brows were drawn together.

“Okay,” Stiles said huffily, “we’re all a little freaked out and worried that Gerard might try to…finish the job.”

The grip on his hand tightened painfully for a few seconds. “That’s not going to happen. And, yes, they can stay as long as they call their parents and let them know where they are. Since we have to have a deputy on you guys anyway, keeping you in one spot is the better choice considering our manpower issues.”

They were getting close to the hospital, and Stiles felt like he had to drive home the warning and caution. “Dad, you know Kate Argent killed the Hales?”

“Yes,” his father drew out, sounding concerned.

“I think Gerard is maybe worse.”

His dad shot him another look. “Worse,” he repeated deadpan.

“Yeah, like, maybe Kate became the way she was because of him.”

“I see.” He didn’t sound like he really did see. Not yet anyway.

“And she didn’t hesitate to kill whole families.”

“Uh huh.”

“And I may have been doing some digging that I didn’t tell you about.”

“Stiles.”

“And I may have found two other towns that Kate lived in where whole families died.”

His dad made a funny little sound.

“One was written off as a gas main explosion. Twenty-three people died. The other was her go-to house fire like the Hales.” He hesitated. “I think there’s probably more. But maybe they’re not just hers.”

“Jesus, Stiles, why—” He cut himself off.

But Stiles knew what his dad had stopped himself from asking. “I just didn’t want you to get hurt.”

“And I don’t want you to get hurt, and yet you are hurt. So what we’re doing isn’t working.” He pulled the cruiser into a short-term parking spot near the ER doors then turned to face Stiles. “I hear what you’re saying, and I’m going to try to be careful. As careful as I can possibly be. But I need you to let me be the adult here, okay? And not even your dad, but the sheriff of this town who was also a Ranger and did two tours. One who can handle any firearm put in front of him.”

Stiles tried to smile, but it felt weak. “Please don’t get hurt.”

His dad blew out a breath and leaned over to give Stiles a careful hug. “Please let me take care of this. Take care of you. Later, we’ll talk and you can try to negotiate again for who’s in charge.”

“Any chance I’m gonna win?”

“Not a chance in hell.”

Stiles laughed, but it sounded watery and flat to his own ears, and it caused agonizing pain to radiate from his right side.

His father checked his phone then he shot Stiles a considering look. “Okay, I’m going to keep you in the loop because I know how you are, but do not make me regret it.”

Stiles made a show of crossing his heart. “I think I’m down for the count anyway, Dad.”

He got another concerned look. “Yuba City is sending help, including their SWAT team, but they’re an hour out. We should have the warrant by then. The sheriff from Sweetland is on her way. She’s going to take command since I can’t do it and Tara isn’t prepared to lead this kind of action.”

Stiles felt relief settle in his bones at knowing his dad wouldn’t be out there trying to catch deranged hunters. “Okay, that sounds good. SWAT sounds amazing even. I love SWAT. Considering all the firepower those nutbag Argents have, SWAT seems like an appropriate and measured response.”

His dad snorted. “I have a new deputy that’s going to be in charge of looking after you three if I’m not around. His name’s Parrish. The three of you are not to give him a hard time.”

“Are you going after Gerard yourself?”

“Depending on how things go here, I may join Sheriff Morris eventually. Oversee things even if I can’t be directly involved in the investigation. But if we have a chance in hell of putting Argent in jail, I can’t go after him. So, no, I have no plans to go after him myself. Even if I’d really love to punch him in the face repeatedly. With a chair,” his dad mumbled the last.

“Tara told you that Chris Argent didn’t know, right? That he let us go when he found out?”

“And I’m grateful, except as a responsible adult he should have called the police and an ambulance, not shown you the door and let you run around on the street with no viable way of getting help. He’s not in our proverbial crosshairs, but he’s going to have to answer for what was going on in his own damn house.”

Stiles thought to try to defend Chris, though he really had no idea why. He snapped his mouth shut and let it go. It wasn’t his problem.

“Let’s go, Son.” He got out and let Erica and Boyd out of the back then Boyd had to help Stiles get out of the car. He tried to move normally, keenly aware of his dad watching his every move with mounting concern, but he just couldn’t quite straighten up anymore.

– – – –

Noah talked to the director of the ER about the security situation, keeping an eye on where Stiles was seated in the triage chair having his blood pressure taken. The Reyes and Boyd kids hovered nearby, watching Stiles closely.

Something about the interaction of the three kids spoke to something Noah couldn’t quite put his finger on but, then again, Tara had made it clear that Stiles had drawn Argent’s ire to protect the other two. Which was incredibly brave and not a little bit stupid. Noah was both proud and half wanting to throttle his kid. His exasperating, too smart for his own good, frustrating, talkative, secretive, hyperactive, completely loveable kid.

The doctor left to get things ready—Noah had made it clear that the kids had to stay together because they were in protective custody, and the department didn’t have the manpower for three guards.

Protective custody.

His son was in protective custody because of something going on in this town, and Noah’s instincts said it was all tied into the sheer weirdness happening here since January. Something he was sure Stiles knew more about than he was saying. Previously, Noah hadn’t wanted to push so far that he’d alienate Stiles, but that was when he thought it was some sort of teenage angst thing. Stiles being kidnapped and beaten—being afraid he’d be murdered—wasn’t a teen anything. It was a very real, very adult problem that he was done not knowing about.

He worried about Scott, who was like another son, and wondered if Gerard Argent had him even now. He had deputies trying to find Scott and the Lahey kid, but there wasn’t much else he could do right now. Scott wasn’t answering his phone, and the warrant to track his location wasn’t in yet. Stiles could track Scott’s phone, Noah was pretty sure of that, but it was pretty clear that Stiles had no idea where his phone even was.

“Sheriff?”

He turned to find his new deputy, Jordan Parrish, hovering nearby. The man was in jeans, T-shirt, and a jacket. Not surprising since it was his night off. “Thanks for coming in, Parrish.”

“No problem, sir.” He plucked at his T-shirt. “My uniforms were in the wash.” Tomorrow was Parrish’s day off, so it wasn’t surprising that it was laundry day.

“It’s not a problem. I’ll make sure the director of the ER knows you’re in plain clothes. Just be sure your badge is visible, and try to keep your sidearm under your coat. No point in freaking people out.”

“Of course, Sheriff.”

“You got the camera?”

“It’s in my bag.”

“You’re going to work with the doctor to document any injuries the kids have. I’ll be in the room because Stiles is my son, but I can’t be involved in the gathering of any evidence.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll introduce you after they’re in a room.”

A nurse walked by with a wheelchair and headed right for Stiles. By the time Noah got over there, Stiles was in the middle of protesting, but the minute he tried to stand, he gave in to the idea of the chair, letting Boyd help him move.

Noah had seen a lot of broken ribs in his life, and he’d eat his hat if Stiles didn’t have at least two. The thought caused him to need to stop and push back a black rage that he couldn’t afford to let consume him.

He walked back with Stiles, aware of Boyd and Reyes following like quiet little ducklings, and Parrish brought up the rear. The kids were in narrow exam spaces, side by side and divided by curtains. Reyes immediately threw open the dividing curtains, so the three cubicles made a larger space. He watched closely, noticing how the kids always stayed in sight of each other.

Noah hunkered down in front of Stiles where he was still sitting in the wheelchair and looking at the bed like it was going to bite him. “Kiddo, we need to document your injuries before they do much more. I figure you want to move around as little as possible, so how about you hang tight in that stylish chair until we’re ready to take the pictures.”

“Yeah, sure, Dad.” Stiles seemed a little listless, and Noah could practically feel his son’s pain and exhaustion.

He squeezed Stiles’ knee. “Just hang in there for a second. I assume you’re gonna want some privacy…?”

“Nah. It’s not like Boyd hasn’t seen it all in the locker room. And Erica… Well, it just doesn’t matter. I’d rather be able to see them.”

Noah frowned but nodded. Something still seemed odd to him, but it wasn’t the right time to confront a bunch of traumatized teens. And it could just be the trauma making them act like this.

He stood and looked toward the other two kids. “The doctors are going to want to look you over so we can document any injuries. Whatever privacy you want, you’ll have it.”

Reyes shook her head. “We’re not really hurt. They mostly used electricity on us. It wasn’t much, you know? Just enough to be this constant low-level pain. I don’t think there are even any marks.”

Noah was absolutely horrified, but he tried not to let it show. “They’re still going to need to check so we have a complete record. You can say no, but it would be better if you let them examine you.”

She shrugged.

Boyd added, “Whatever you need to do is fine.”

“I should call your families,” he prodded gently.

“Not yet,” Reyes said quickly. “It’s just… It’d be more people here, and I don’t really need them here, right? I can consent to my own medical treatment can’t I?”

He nodded slowly. “You’re over fourteen, and the state of California says you can make your own healthcare decisions, including declining care if that’s your choice.”

She nodded sharply. “I’ll let them examine me, but I don’t want my parents called yet. They’d honestly be in the way.”

“I have to call your parents at some point. That’s not negotiable, but while there’s a manhunt underway, it’s probably better if we keep this group small, so I’ll accede to your wishes for the time being.”

Boyd just nodded as if he agreed to the same thing, but he didn’t offer anything further.

The doctor came in a few seconds later and began asking the kids questions about how they were injured.

Stiles used dismissive phrases like, “he smacked me around a bit,” to explain his injuries, so Noah was relieved when Erica and Boyd chimed in with what really happened. Boyd was able to recount an approximate number of times that Stiles was struck and kicked by Gerard. Stiles glared at him for his efforts, though the effect was somewhat reduced by Stiles’ pinched expression and pallor.

“You’ve got a nasty bump on your head,” Dr. Abrams observed to Stiles after running careful fingers over his cheekbones and moving on to his skull.

“I think that was from when they pushed me downstairs.” The delivery of that was so blasé that it took Noah’s breath away. How could Stiles’ affect be so flat about someone throwing him down a set of stairs?

“No signs of a concussion,” he concluded after finishing his exam. “But we’ll get some X-rays to make sure your cheekbone isn’t fractured. You’ll probably have headaches for a few days regardless.”

“’Kay,” Stile said a little listlessly.

Noah pressed his lips together, forcing himself to focus on his son and not his own anger.

Stiles was in so much pain trying to get his shirt off that Dr. Abrams ordered pain medication first. While Stiles was getting an IV, Noah noticed that Erica and Boyd were sitting side-by-side on the same bed just watching Stiles, both of their expressions tight with obvious worry.

The morphine didn’t help Stiles’ pain as much as Noah was expecting, but he was able to carefully help his son out of his lacrosse jersey. Getting him out of his T-shirt was trickier, and they resorted to cutting it off. As soon as it was pulled away, Noah sucked in air through his teeth.

Stiles’ entire torso was littered with bruises. Some of them nearly black. There was a particularly dark area where Stiles had been holding his ribs since this all began, low on the right side of his chest.

“Stiles,” he breathed.

“It’s okay, Dad.”

“It’s really not, Son, but we can have that conversation later.”

Chapter Three

Noah stood in the hall outside the cubicle where Stiles was resting with Reyes and Boyd watching over him. Parrish was propping up a wall farther down the corridor, keeping an eye on everything and everyone.

It had been difficult to contain his emotions and reactions while Stiles was examined and his injuries were photographed. They’d done an X-ray of his chest, and now Noah was waiting to hear from the doctor.

“Sheriff,” a nurse got his attention. When he looked up, she gestured down the hall where Dr. Abrams was standing near an X-ray illuminator.

Noah immediately joined him.

“Three broken ribs,” Abrams began then tapped a section of the X-ray. “But this one on the right concerns me. It’s a serious fracture even though it’s not displaced at this time. My guess is that it’s sheer luck that it isn’t. Should he suffer any hit to that area before there’s some significant bone fusion, that rib could wind up in his liver.”

“School is probably a bad idea then,” he concluded.

“I’d say so, yes. It’d be risky to be in an uncontrolled environment like that for the next two to three weeks, and I believe there are only two weeks left in the school year.”

“Yeah.” Noah rubbed his hand over the back of his head.

Abrams shot him a look. “It won’t be a problem on the school’s end. They’ll allow him to take it from home, I guarantee it.” His jaw muscles twitched. “Especially since his principal did that to him.”

Noah’s hands curled into fists, and he had to force himself to relax. “What else?”

“I’d like more X-rays. Get other views of his chest and also do his head. I’m also going to order a higher dose of morphine. If it doesn’t control the pain enough for him to breathe, we may have to do an epidural and see how he progresses.”

They talked through the logistics of getting Stiles down to radiology. Rather than taking everyone down there, he’d escort Stiles personally, leaving Jordan with the other two kids. Noah was armed, after all.

– – – –

Radiology had taken it out of Stiles, and his expression was tight and pinched with obvious pain by the time they got back. Noah sat by his bed, holding his hand and waiting for the nurse to come back with the additional pain medication Abrams had ordered.

Reyes and Boyd had gone through their own exams and gotten their EKGs while Stiles was in radiology, though they had no results yet. Both continued to watch Stiles with pensive expressions.

Noah rubbed his hand over Stiles’ head. The buzzcut always made his hair look bristly, but it was really incredibly soft. “How you doing, kiddo?”

“Great.”

“Liar.”

Stiles’ mouth pulled into a frown. “I’m sorry, Dad. About the lies…the secrets.”

“Don’t worry about it now. We’ll work it out.”

Stiles was watching him closely. “Are you disappointed in me?”

“No, Son. I’m…confused and worried. That’s all. Never disappointed.”

The nurse came in and injected the morphine into his IV line. Stiles blinked a few times and then seemed to relax.

“Oh, that’s better,” he said softly, eyes slipping shut.

“Sleep, kid.”

“’Kay.”

Noah blew out a breath and watched Stiles drift off.

Dr. Abrams came back in with the test results. Boyd and Reyes were in the peak of health apparently, and Noah was glad they weren’t likely to suffer any long-term physical consequences from what happened. Though the psychological effects of the experience could be severe. He’d have to have a serious talk with their parents about keeping an eye on them for signs of PTSD and getting them some counseling.

Abrams then went over everything about Stiles. Mostly, Stiles was fine other than the contusions and broken ribs, though his blood pressure was lower than they wanted. Abrams didn’t think there was any internal bleeding, but he couldn’t rule it out yet, so he wanted to keep Stiles overnight. It would also allow them to monitor Stiles’ breathing.

Noah wasn’t terribly surprised, but he’d been hoping Stiles would be able to go home. In deference to the protective custody issues, Abrams had arranged for a private room. A couple cots had been ordered for the kids and a recliner for Noah—all would fit easily in Stiles’ room.

He stepped out briefly to check his text messages and voicemails and then get an update on the investigation from Sheriff Morris and Tara. They were executing the warrant on the Argent home when he called. The crime scene team had confirmed the scene in the basement was exactly as Stiles had described it.

Noah practically twitched with wanting to be there. To figure out what happened and why, but he knew he needed to be here with Stiles.

And then it was only an hour before they were able to transfer Stiles upstairs. Stiles got another dose of pain medication right after they settled in the room. Noah expected him to drift right back to sleep but, instead, he reached out and grabbed Noah’s hand.

“You should go.”

“No, I should be here.”

“I’m just going to sleep, Dad. Boyd and Erica will watch me with those tragic, soulful expressions they’ve been sporting all night, and maybe we’ll all get some sleep.”

“Ass,” Erica muttered, sounding amused.

“You don’t need to watch me sleep,” Stiles pressed. “Go give ‘em hell.”

“Stiles,” Noah said gently, “What I’m actually going to do at some point is run home and get you some clothes, and then, yes, I’ll call Sheriff Morris and get an update while I drive. I’ll also get something for Eric and Boyd to change into so they don’t have to wear scrubs. Then I’ll bring them back some food. After that, I’m going to happily sit and watch you sleep. I’d feel better about the world if I know in real time that you’re okay.”

“Yeah, but I’m in the hospital, and there are literally hundreds of people here paid to make sure I’m fine.”

Noah’s eyes narrowed. Stiles sounded kind of out of it, but he knew never to underestimate his kid’s mind. “Okay, what’s really going on?”

Stiles huffed then winced a little, hand twitching toward his ribs. “I want to talk to Erica and Boyd.”

“And you need privacy for that?”

Parrish had already taken statements from all three kids, separating them briefly. Noah had seen the interview notes, and all three accounts were similar while not being exactly the same—Stiles being the most notably different since he was abducted separately from the other two. Even though they hadn’t signed official statements yet, there was no reason not to leave the three alone if it’s what they wanted. Except that it felt like more secrets.

Stiles seemed to get what was going on. “I’m gonna tell you everything, Dad, I promise. I’m too tired or I’d spill my guts now. And maybe less morphine would be good so you don’t think I’m delusional or hallucinating.”

Noah’s eyebrows shot up. “And that’s not worrying.”

“Go,” Stiles insisted. “Let me talk to my fellow kidnappees, whil you go make sure they’re catching the Argents.”

Noah wondered if Stiles was really all there. “You know I can’t work the investigation, Stiles.”

“Yeah, but you can stand there and look intimidating.”

Noah huffed out a laugh. “Son…”

“You’re a badass. I’ve seen you intimidate people with an eyebrow.”

“It never worked on you.”

“I inherited Mom’s immunity to your glower.”

Noah felt that pang of sadness every time Claudia was mentioned. “Yeah, you did. All right, I’ll do exactly what I said I’d do and go get you kids some clothes, but I’ll check in on the investigation too. And you kids can talk. But—”

“There’s always a but.”

“—you will not try to leave the room—”

“Dad! Of course I won’t leave.”

“—and you won’t overdo it. Parrish is going to be out in the hall, but if he hears anything, he’s going to send a nurse in here to put you kids to bed like you were toddlers going down for a nap with some graham crackers and milk! But I’m cutting you off at an hour. Then you’d better damn well be going to sleep.” Noah privately thought there was no way Stiles was going to stay awake that long.

“Deal.”

He leaned down and pressed a kiss to his son’s forehead. “I love you, Stiles.”

“Love you too, Dad,” Stiles whispered.

“We’ll make sure he rests, Mr. S,” Erica said from where she was sitting cross-legged in a recliner. The nickname struck him, but he smiled his thanks then headed out to talk to Parrish.

Stiles watched as the door closed behind his father. He waited a few seconds before looking to Boyd and Erica. “I’m too fuzzy-headed to properly interpret those hand signals you were giving me earlier. It’s like you two were trying to land an airplane.”

“Derek and Isaac are here,” Erica immediately said.

Stiles blinked a few times, trying to process that. “Uh…”

“They’re in a little alcove around the corner. He said Argent mentioned something about them having us, and he wants to know what’s going on.”

Stiles was too tired and he hurt too badly to try to manage this situation and everyone in it. “Tell him to just come to the damn door.”

“It’s late, Stiles,” Erica hissed. “And we’re all in protective custody.”

“Yeah, but we’ve got all kinds of leeway here since we’re the victims, not criminals. When Derek gets close, stick your head out in the hall, look pathetic, and say that Derek is a family friend and Isaac is your bud, and you’d feel a lot better if you could talk to them for a few minutes. It wouldn’t go amiss if you could scare up a few tears.”

Erica blinked at him for a few seconds. “Wow. Manipulative much?”

“I’m in pain. I’ll try to be more subtle in arranging the chessboard some other time,” he snarked. “Break out the crocodile tears and get grumpy cat and Sir Scarfs-a-lot in here.

Boyd’s lips twitched.

“And why do I have to cry?” Erica asked with her arms crossed.

“You think Boyd is going to convincingly shed tears for Parrish?”

“No,” Boyd said flatly.

“Right.”

Erica’s shoulders slumped. “We messed up so bad, Stiles. We should never have run away.”

“Just tell him that,” Stiles encouraged. “Derek seems all, ya know, Derek with the murder brows and the leather and the grumpy cat impersonation, but he really cares about you guys. He’s your alpha. He just wants to know you’re okay. Especially considering his mortal enemies were torturing his betas all night.”

Erica pressed her lips into a thin line and seemed to be considering it. Finally, she nodded. “Derek, just come to the—” She broke off and sighed. “Yeah, he already heard me.”

It seemed like he blinked and everything was different. He stared at where Boyd and Erica were both wrapped around Derek, who was rumbling lowly and hugging them tightly, and Isaac was standing close, hand on Boyd’s back. He realized he must have fallen asleep.

“What happened?” he mumbled.

Everyone turned to look at him. Boyd and Erica peeled themselves off Derek with what seemed like a lot of reluctance.

Derek moved next to the bed, watching Stiles closely. “With what?” he said tersely.

“Can we not?” Stiles said, feeling bone-deep weary. “I don’t want to do our usual tap dance, Derek. The one where I talk and you don’t. I just want to know what’s going on. Could you communicate, please? Just this once? Tell me why you and Isaac are skulking around like you’re cosplaying The Outsiders.” When Derek just stared, Stiles sighed. “Okay, fine. Why was Gerard after Scott?”

Derek’s brows drew together into even more of a frown. Stiles hadn’t even known that was possible. “You didn’t know about Scott’s plan?”

Stiles blinked stupidly. “Scott had a plan? That’s…terrifying. What’d he do?”

Derek looked away. “Gerard was dying of terminal cancer.”

There was so much in there he wanted to ask about. “Was?”

“He wanted the bite to cure him.”

“That fucking hypocrite.” Stiles hissed in a breath then cradled his ribs again. He took a second to digest that. “And you’re the only alpha in the area…” Stiles swallowed heavily. “What happened?”

“Deaton and Scott came up with the idea of replacing Gerard’s medicine with capsules filled with mountain ash.” Derek’s tone was practically wooden.

“Not a bad idea, I guess. Were you okay with it?”

Derek looked back at him, gaze intense. “He didn’t tell me either. Supposedly Gerard threatened to hurt his mother if Scott didn’t deliver me to him.”

“Scott turned you over to Gerard?” Stiles felt bile rise in his throat.

Derek watched him for several long seconds. “The kanima was there. I was paralyzed and Scott…” Derek looked away.

“That fucking idiot,” Stiles gritted out, feeling nauseated at Scott’s callous and cruel actions. “He had no right, Derek. None. I just…” He swallowed heavily. “I’m sorry for what he did.” In another moment of blinding clarity, Stiles realized he didn’t even recognize the person Scott had become.

“You don’t have to apologize. It’s not like you did anything.”

“Exactly,” Stiles muttered, feeling like he was fading. “I was so busy taking care of Scott that I didn’t do anything. And I’m so sorry.” He closed his eyes, wondering how to fix this.

Someone touched his arm, and Stiles blinked his eyes open. Derek was frowning as he stared at where his hand rested on Stiles’ skin. “Gerard hurt you badly.”

“How can you tell that?”

“I can feel your pain.”

“Well, don’t do that.” Stiles twitched his arm away. “You don’t need to feel this.”

Derek growled and grabbed Stiles’ arm more firmly. “It’s like a shadow of your pain—it doesn’t really hurt.” All of a sudden, the pain started to ebb like it was being sucked out.

“Whoa,” Stiles breathed. “Are you…”

“Yes,” Derek said tersely.

Stiles closed his eyes again and took a deep breath, getting only a twinge for it. “Oh my god, you’re the best ever.”

“How are you doing that?” Erica asked, and Stiles half listened to Derek explaining to Boyd and Erica while he drifted along, grateful that every breath wasn’t so painful.

“Thanks, Der,” Stiles mumbled.

“Go to sleep, Stiles.”

– – – –

Noah’s phone rang as he was exiting the hospital. The display read Sheriff Morris. “Stilinski,” he answered.

“Noah, we’re just about done at the Argent residence. Crime scene team have about another twenty minutes.”

“Any word on Gerard Argent?”

“None. Christopher Argent arrived with his daughter about half an hour ago. I’ve detained them both based both on the victim statements and the things we found in the house. Scott McCall was with them. He’s unharmed but refused to answer any questions. I’ve had him escorted to the station as well.

“Both Argents claim they don’t know where Gerard Argent is, so we’re still looking for them. Four men arrived in a separate SUV shortly after Christopher Argent, but Argent managed to wave them off, and they fled the scene before we could detain them. The SWAT team is in pursuit.”

Noah blinked a few times. “SWAT was necessary?”

“The weapons cache we found in this house was—”

“Stephanie?”

“It was alarming. Based on that alone, I want to question anyone who had ever been in this house. Plus, the passenger of the vehicle matched your son’s description of the man who threw him down the stairs.”

“I see.”

“Also—” she hesitated.

“Just say it.”

“Your son wasn’t wrong about torture implements. I can only describe what we found in the basement as something a serial killer would have.”

Noah forced himself to unclench his jaw. “Anything else?”

“Preliminary tests show at least four blood types in various locations throughout the basement. The freshest samples match your son’s blood type. Also, many of the implements tested positive for blood trace. But most of it looks old; we probably won’t even recover usable DNA. There were also a lot of poisons, of all damn things, down there.”

“So this wasn’t a new activity for them,” he stated woodenly.

“These tools aren’t new, Noah. If they truly all belong to Argent the elder, he’s been doing this for a long time.”

Noah really couldn’t be alone with an Argent any time in the near future or he was going to shoot someone. “And Scott refused to say anything?”

“He was angry and telling us we had no right to be here. It didn’t quite make sense since, by all accounts, Gerard Argent was primarily after him. I sincerely doubt he’s going to talk to me, but we’re going to hold him at the station. I figure you can talk to him. Since you’ve known him for a long time, he may open up to you.”

“Oh, he’ll talk to me. That kid has spent half his life at my house, and he can’t lie for shit.”

“How’s Stiles?”

“He’s hurting. Several broken ribs, but one is in terrible shape. Risk of liver puncture if he brushes up against something wrong, which, knowing Stiles, is a serious concern. He’s got a high risk of pneumonia. They’re keeping him at least overnight.”

“Damn. You okay?”

“No. I’m furious.”

“Of course you are.” There was a pause. “Listen, Noah, I think we need to talk at some point soon. In an unofficial capacity.”

Noah’s brows shot up. “Okay. I was going to head to the house and get Stiles some clothes, I can meet up with…” he trailed off, staring at a familiar car in the parking lot.

The black Camaro had to belong to Hale. Derek Hale who was often seen around Noah’s son, and now he was at the hospital at the same time as Stiles. Noah turned on his heel and headed back inside. “Stephanie, let me call you back in a few minutes. I need to check on something here.”

He made it back up the fourth floor quickly, finding Parrish in the same place he’d left him. Parrish was attentive and immediately spotted Noah heading down the hallway. Noah raised his finger to his lips, asking for silence.

Parrish made a few gestures that Noah interpreted as two new people were inside. The instructions were that no one could come in other than the one nurse assigned to Stiles’ room unless one of the kids specifically said otherwise. He’d left that vague order because he wanted to allow for Scott or Melissa to come by, or for Erica and Boyd to ask for their parents.

Slowly, he entered the room, trying to be as silent as possible, but four of the occupants had heard him and were turned to face the door. He walked into find Reyes, Boyd, Lahey, and Hale all staring at him with varying degrees of trepidation. He also noticed how close all the kids were standing to Hale. Especially Reyes and Boyd.

“Mr. Hale,” Noah said blandly.

“Sheriff.”

When nothing further was forthcoming, Noah closed the door and moved closer to the bed to check on Stiles, who seemed to be sleeping peacefully, the lines of pain around his eyes smoothed out.

“And why are you here?” he asked tersely but as softly as possible.

Hale shifted his weight from foot to foot then stilled. “Chris Argent told us that Stiles, Erica, and Boyd were here. We, uh, Isaac wanted to check on them.”

“And why would you be in a position to help Mr. Lahey with his wish to visit his friends?”

“He’s been staying with me.”

“I see.” Noah wasn’t sure what to make of that. Lahey was almost seventeen, so he had a lot of say in his living situation, but Noah found it odd that child services would allow an orphan to stay with Derek Hale.

“Hey, Dad,” Stiles slurred, reaching out.

Smiling faintly, Noah took Stiles’ hand. “Hey, kiddo.”

“Derek came and made me feel all better.” Stiles sounded…drifty. Much driftier than he had when he’d had been pressing the button for his morphine.

“And how did he do that?”

“Some sort of magic. I liked it.”

Noah’s eyebrows made a valiant attempt to escape his forehead. “I think you’re pretty stoned, kid.”

“Maybe. Really feeling those pain meds now.”

“Uh huh.”

“Dad?” Stiles whispered, crooking his finger, beckoning Noah closer.

“What’s up?” he whispered back as he leaned down to talk to his son.

“Can I adopt a pack of wolves?”

Hale drew in a sharp breath.

Noah ignored him and petted Stiles’ head, hoping it would lull him back to sleep. “Wolves, Stiles?”

“Yeah. A whole pack, Dad. They’re supposed to be a family, you know? But they’re kind of broken. I was being me and trying to make it work for Scott, but it wasn’t working for anyone else. It wasn’t even working for Scott, really, or he wouldn’t have turned into some bite rapist. And I should have noticed, Dad. I want to fix it.” Stiles’ eyes kept drifting closed then popping back open, like he was fighting sleep.

“Son, you’re high as a kite and not making much sense. You should rest.”

“I always make sense, Daddio. It’s just that you don’t always know it…until you do.”

“And that made no sense.”

“I know, but it will.” Stiles grabbed onto his hand, eyes barely open. “Talk to Derek, ‘kay? Get him to tell you everything. You can talk to Scott too, but don’t really listen to him, you know? Scotty seems to think his life would be perfect if it weren’t for Derek, but it’s just not true.”

Noah frowned. “I’ll talk to Derek then.”

“And don’t listen to Scott. Except maybe listen to how little sense he makes. I don’t know how to help him anymore, Dad. He kept so many secrets from me because all he cares about is Allison.” Stiles’ eyes opened wide again. “How can he care so much about her and not care about what happened to me?”

Noah felt his heart break a little. “I don’t know, Son.”

“I messed up because I was trying to save Scott. I really want to help them all, but I need your help.”

“Okay, Stiles.”

“Okay.” Stiles’ eyes slid shut, but then his grip tightened again. “Derek will try to make it sound like he did everything wrong, but he’s really trying. Look past the murder brows, ‘kay? He’s a good guy. Making the best of a bad situation, and he lost so much… I can’t imagine losing everyone. It’s why I didn’t want to tell you.”

It felt like something was squeezing Noah’s chest. “Go to sleep, Stiles. I’ll handle it.”

“’Kay.” Stiles hand suddenly went lax.

Noah turned to find Hale looking wrecked. “Is there something we need to talk about?”

Hale glanced away, swallowing heavily, and he took a minute to compose himself. “I guess…” He met Noah’s gaze. “I’ll explain what’s been going on.”

“Is this going to explain all the crazy going on in this town this year, or is Stiles just drugged out of his mind.”

“I took Stiles’ pain. It left the opiates in his system with nothing to really do, so he’s getting all the side effects and none of the pain to counter it.”

“Is that supposed to make some kind of sense?”

Hale extended a hand, reaching for Noah. “May I?”

“Knock yourself out.” He held out his arm. Hale closed a hand over his wrist, and Noah stared in astonishment as black veins began creeping up Hale’s arm at the same time the headache Noah had been ignoring completely vanished. All the muscle soreness caused by hanging out in the hard ER chairs was gone too.

Noah stared but didn’t move. He glanced back at Stiles, focusing on the thing that was most important to him rather than the how of it all. “You did that for him?”

“Yeah,” Hale said warily.

“So he’s in no pain right now?”

“None.”

Which had to be why Stiles was breathing so much easier. “How long does it last?”

“A couple hours.”

“I see.” He considered for a second. “And can you keep helping him? He seems to want to adopt you, after all.”

Hale’s brows shot up. “Uh, yeah. Any of us can. I showed Erica and Boyd how, and Isaac already knew. We’ll want to focus on the worst injury in the future rather than taking all pain.”

“Why’s that?”

“Humans, uh, when people have no pain for prolonged periods, normal aches and pains start to seem like agony. It’s best to leave the minor stuff alone except for occasionally.”

Noah nodded as his mind spun. “So…how are you able to do that? Because I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Hale looked wary, and Noah noticed how all the kids seemed tense. “I’m a werewolf.”

Noah cocked a brow. “Is that right?” He wasn’t completely disbelieving yet, just mostly disbelieving. “All of you?”

“Yes.”

“But not Stiles?”

“No.”

Noah’s eyes narrowed. “Scott?”

“Yes.”

“I see. I don’t suppose you have proof? Other than the weird black veiny thing, which has never been part of any werewolf lore I’ve ever heard of.”

Hale glanced at Reyes and nodded his head as if giving her permission. “Might be easier coming from someone you perceive as less threatening.”

“Uh huh.”

Then Reyes’ features abruptly shifted, and he was looking at wolf-like ears, fangs, a ton of new facial hair, and glowing gold eyes.

Noah managed to stay still and not step away, his mind rapidly processing this new information. “What happened to your eyebrows?”

Reyes shifted back as she snorted in amusement. “You sound just like Stiles.”

“Well, he had to get it from somewhere.” Noah shrugged then ran his hand over his face. “So, werewolves… Anything else?”

“You mean supernatural creatures?” Hale clarified.

“Yeah.”

“Most creatures of myth actually exist.” Hale watched Noah as if he were an unpredictable explosive.

“Hmm. Well, that explains more than a lot. Except for the actual timeline of events.” Noah grabbed a chair and pulled it up near the fold-away cot Boyd and Reyes had been sitting on earlier. “Everyone sit. I have a feeling I’m going to need to be sitting down for this, and I’m not too fond of people looming over me.”

While everyone got comfortable, he fired off a quick text to Sheriff Morris letting her know that he’d be later than expected, and he’d send her an update as soon as he could.

Slowly, with some help from the kids, Hale described what had been happening this year. The kids chimed in from time to time, filling out the picture, though there were some things related to Scott and why some events had happened that Noah figured he’d need Stiles for. But werewolves were real, and that explained everything that had been going on in his town.

He noticed that Hale remained tense, as if he were waiting to be yelled at or condemned as a bad person or something. “I’ve never been in the habit of blaming the victims, Hale, so relax.”

He didn’t think it was possible, but Hale got even tenser. “I’m not a victim.”

Noah shook his head, feeling sad. “Yeah, son, you are. Just because you’re the alpha now doesn’t mean that the Argents haven’t unfairly targeted you and yours and taken nearly everything from you. I may not like what my kid has been involved in—and I like even less that he’s been keeping secrets from me—but you aren’t to blame for what the Argents did.”

“But…Kate—”

“If you want to talk about it, kid, you can, but I already read between the lines there. It’s not your fault.”

Hale glanced away and blew out a breath. “We’ve just been trying to survive, but Stiles is right; it isn’t working.”

“Seems like the Argents have stacked the deck against you, and you’re all so caught up in keeping your secrets that it allowed them to exploit your fear.”

“That’s kind of what Stiles said,” Reyes chimed in. “He said the Argents were using our fear of discovery to keep us from getting help, but no one is going to believe werewolves anyway, so why not use the system to our advantage. He said people would be on our side.”

“Stiles is a master of manipulation.” He rubbed his hand over his jaw, feeling the stubble burn. “But he’s not wrong. Letting the Argents drive you into hiding and making you fear discovery, which no one is going to believe anyway, is a masterful stroke on their part. Going to the police was always the right solution.”

Hale didn’t look convinced, as if it had been knocked into him to not let the authorities handle things.

“Look, Ha— Derek, the Argent family isn’t going to use werewolves as their defense for their acts. They’d look like lunatics. So there was never any real reason not to let the law protect you. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen.” He blew out a breath. “There’s a lot I still need to know, obviously, so the question and answer portion of this program isn’t over, but Sheriff Morris is waiting for me, and then I need to go talk to Scott and find out where the hell his head is in all of this.”

Noah jerked his thumb toward Stiles’ bed. “You’re in charge of your betas, if I got that term right…?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Then, right now, you’re in charge of him too. I expect you to keep him safe and do your pain thing so that he can breathe easily enough to keep from getting pneumonia.” He got to his feet and pointed at the three teens. “I’m going to arrange for them to bring in another bed. You three all look like you’re running the ragged edge. Get some sleep.” He jerked his head toward the door. “Walk with me, Derek.”

Looking like he was going to his own execution, Hale followed Noah outside the room.

Noah clapped Parrish on the shoulder. “All the kids are going to stay because it turns out the Argents were after Mr. Lahey too. We’ll get his statement tomorrow. I’m going to arrange for another cot for Lahey. Mr. Hale is going to stay with the kids all night, cover things in the room. I’ll arrange to have you relieved in a few hours.”

“Yes, Sheriff.”

“Good man.” He gestured for Hale to follow him until they were in a small alcove. “I want to explain something to you.”

Hale tensed. “All right.”

“I became a deputy right before Stiles was born—didn’t re-enlist when I found out Claudia was pregnant and went to the police academy instead. Anyway, whenever I had a day shift, I’d come home, Claudia would give me a beer, and I’d sit at the table distracting our hyperactive son while Claudia finished getting dinner ready. I was always more the making breakfast sort than dinner.”

His smile felt sad, thinking and talking about Claudia. “So, that was our evening ritual when I was home. And then when Stiles was about two, just before he turned three, I came home one day after a man had shot his entire family and then himself.”

Derek winced.

“I was late getting home, and I’d called Claudia earlier to let her know what happened. I remember sitting on the couch and just staring at the walls, wondering if I could keep doing the job.” He smiled faintly in remembrance. “Claudia was standing in the kitchen doorway, watching me, and Stiles was strapped in his booster seat in the kitchen eating dinner. Or so we thought.” His smile grew a bit as he played that moment over in his head. “All of a sudden, Stiles slips past Claudia—how he got out of his booster seat we never could figure out—and he had a damn beer in his hands. Carefully holding it with both hands as he toddled into the living room.

“He comes to me, hands me the beer, and then climbs in my lap. He gives me a big hug and whispers, ‘Feel better, Daddy.’” Noah takes in Derek’s seemingly reluctant smile. “Claudia and I talked later, and I said he was going to be a nurturer through and through, but Claudie said ‘I’m not so sure.’ And she was right. Stiles can be downright mean to people he hasn’t decided are his. He’s always slow to let people in, but once you’re his, he’s so much worse than a mother hen.”

Derek blinked a few times, opening and closing his mouth, but then just shrugged.

“The thing is, Derek, what made me feel better was the hug. But Stiles has always tried to give the people he cares about what he thinks they need, often not recognizing that what they really need is him. And, for whatever reason, if my son’s stoned ramblings are anything to go by, Stiles has decided that you’re his now. All of you. It rarely goes well for anyone to get in Stiles’ way when he’s set on a course of action.”

“You can’t really be okay with him adopting,” Derek’s voice dropped to a whisper, “a pack of werewolves!”

“There are worse things my kid could be doing than trying to take care of people, so I’m going to take it and be grateful. Just suck it up and accept it. Stiles has decided you need a metaphorical beer, and you’re going to get a beer. And probably a hug at some point because Stilinskis tend to hug it out.”

Derek looked appalled.

Noah clapped him on the shoulder. “Man up, kid. You’ll survive.”

“I’m twenty-one,” Derek said stiffly. “Not a kid.”

“Now I feel doubly old,” Noah muttered.

“You can’t really be okay with this whole wolf thing. No one is this okay with it…” Derek suddenly swallowed.

“Except Stiles?”

Derek just nodded.

“Look, I’m going to have questions, and I’m probably going to be more than a little pissed off about some stuff when I’ve had time to digest everything. I may even freak out when all the adrenaline wears off and I’ve had some sleep. But, at the end of the day, I’m the sheriff of Beacon Hills, you’re a citizen of my town, and the Argents broke the law. In fact, considering the circumstances, I’d charge them with a hate crime if I could get away with it.”

“You really think we can just hide behind the law like this?” Derek sounded more than a little incredulous.

“I don’t see why not. And it’s not hiding. It’s expecting to be treated like every other citizen, so stop demonizing yourself. Now, I have to go meet with Sheriff Morris and then try to talk a modicum of sense into Scott. While you will be riding herd on four teenagers. One of us is going to need lots of luck and it sure as hell isn’t me.”

He walked away, leaving Derek looking more than a little flabbergasted and remarkably young for all of his assertion about not being a kid.

Chapter Four

Noah walked into the diner where Stephanie Morris was waiting in a booth in a deserted section of the restaurant.

She shook his hand before he slid into his seat. “Noah.”

“Steph.” He took a sip of the coffee waiting for him then accepted the phone she held out, flipping through the pictures from the Argents’ basement. It was a struggle to stay even slightly detached. These were clearly photos taken by her and not part of the actual evidence array. Her focus on a couple things wouldn’t have triggered him before he’d had his conversation with Derek, but now he had a suspicion.

He slid the phone back across the table. “Why do I think you know more about what’s going here?” Her focus on the aconite was a big clue. Not that Noah knew for sure that wolfsbane was truly deadly to werewolves, but the clues sure fit.

Her eyes narrowed, and she watched him closely for several seconds. Then she huffed. “How long have you known?”

“About ninety minutes.”

She blinked a few times. “You’re taking it remarkably well.”

“I can only focus on the problems in front of me. I’ll deal with my incredulity and panic some other time.”

“What convinced you? If you don’t mind me asking?”

“Someone got furry and flashed their eyes at me?”

“Well, that wasn’t what I expected. I guess someone came to the hospital because the department has kept track of your movements.” It wasn’t a surprise that Parrish and Tara would coordinate to make sure everyone knew where he was.

“A whole pack, you could say.”

“And everything is all right?” she asked eyes narrowed.

“Is there a reason it shouldn’t be?”

She pursed her lips. “Let’s stop tap dancing, shall we? I have wolves in my department. They’re good people and don’t deserve the persecution they get. Are you going to be okay being sheriff in a town with a budding wolf pack in it?”

“Steph, I left that wolf pack guarding my son. I think I’m doing fine.”

Stephanie relaxed back into the booth. “Good. Now, what can I do to help?”

“I’d like some information. A less biased source who can tell me what to expect in the coming days. And even how not to overstep because I have no idea what to do with any werewolf much less something called an alpha.”

She nodded. “If you want the insider perspective, I’ll ask my deputy if you can talk to him directly.” She picked up her phone and shot off a quick message. “But, in the interim, do you have any specific questions?”

“I didn’t want to ask Derek but some more information about the Hale pack and the hunter community in general? They sound like a bunch of vigilantes.” They actually sounded more like terrorists.

“Some are, but others secure large territories with the help of the local packs. The Argents and groups like the Calaveras draw people who just want an excuse to kill. Bunch of xenophobic, murderous assholes if you ask me.”

“Seems about the right descriptor.”

“It’s a whole hidden world, Noah, that can be difficult for law enforcement people like us to get our heads around. It has its own system of justice that I don’t always like, but I do see the need for it.”

“Can you elaborate?”

“For instance, most wolves just want to be left in peace. They live happy, productive lives and are part of the community. But there are rogue elements who cause problems. Granted, some of those rogue elements are rogue because hunters have decimated their ranks and set them on a path of revenge, but setting that aside for now… Wolves aren’t any better or worse than humans about having a criminal element, but the criminal element when it comes to wolves isn’t something conventional law enforcement can handle.

“How do you humanely imprison someone who can lift a damn bus and is impervious to most bullets? This other, harsher system of justice is all we have. The hunters and the packs are supposed to work together to keep the checks and balances, but when hunters get out of control, well, you get what happened to the Hales and what’s been happening in Beacon Hills lately.”

Noah thought through several issues. “Stiles told the other kids that hunters abuse the fact that wolves have to hide to keep them from seeking help.”

“I’d agree. But it’s all a mind game. Laura Hale could have gone to the police after the fire with what she knew about Kate Argent. Instead, she let years of indoctrination keep her from leveraging the police to get justice for her family and prevent Kate Argent from killing again.”

Noah drummed his fingers on the counter. “Did you suspect what was going on in Beacon Hills was supernaturally related?”

“Certainly. I was fairly sure of it after your deputies were all killed. But one of the things we don’t do is read in people who can’t handle it.”

“And you thought I couldn’t handle it?”

“I didn’t know. I had no way of guessing how you’d react. I’d heard Chris Argent was in town, and he’s the one with the reputation for walking the right path in that family. I’d assumed he’d get things back under control. It wasn’t until the station was attacked that I realized how badly he’d failed.”

Noah rubbed his hands over his face, wishing there was some way to assign blame for what happened to his deputies. “From what I understand, the station was more a human kid who was in control of a supernatural monster of some kind. I didn’t get all the details out of the kids yet.”

“That kind of thing is what wolves and hunters are supposed to work together to protect people from. But the Argents can’t keep their eye on the ball long enough to get anything done apparently.” Her phone chimed, and she scanned it. “Lucas is on his way. He can help you with any wolf-related questions while I get back to the station.”

“What are you planning to do with the Argents?”

Stephanie shrugged one shoulder. “Not sure yet. I’d like your input because, from what little they’ve said, it’s clear that they’re throwing Argent senior under the bus on the whole deal.”

“The story I got from Reyes and Boyd paints a bit of a different picture. Chris Argent may not have known what was going on, but Allison did. I’ll grant that her grandfather manipulated her, but she’s the one who coordinated the hunt for the two kids and shot them with arrows. She’s the one that tried to stab the Lahey kid to death tonight.”

“Jesus.” Stephanie shook her head. “The girl had seemed upset when they first arrived at the house, but she’s been pretty cold the rest of the time. They sure do train ‘em to be psychopaths young in that world.”

“What about Scott?”

“He’s a handful and half. He always been that self-righteous?”

Noah blinked, not expecting that. “Not really. Actually, that doesn’t sound like Scott at all.”

“He’s not part of a pack,” a deep voice came from behind Noah. He turned to find Deputy Lucas King standing there in the classic cop pose with his hand resting on the butt of his gun. “Sheriff Stilinski.”

“Deputy King. Thank you for meeting with me.”

Stephanie slid out of the booth. “We’ll talk more later, Noah. I need to get back to the station to continue coordinating the search for Gerard and his roving band of murderers.”

Lucas took the seat Stephanie had vacated. “How can I help you, Sheriff?”

“Just Noah is fine when we’re not at work.”

Lucas inclined his head and offered the same.

“What was that you said about Scott?”

“Kid’s bordering on being an omega. He’s got no pack ties and is overly fixated on that girl of his.” Lucas’ sneer made his opinion of Scott’s choice quite clear. “He’s so out of touch with his wolf that he didn’t recognize a wolf from an unfamiliar pack standing in the room with him. In fact, there were two of us. He’s fixating on that girl to keep him stable, and it’s a recipe for disaster.”

“Tell me more about the omega thing—Derek only briefly mentioned omegas, so I don’t know much—and what can we do about helping Scott.”

Noah listened to the explanation of omegas and how they were usually handled with growing dread. He’d have to do something to get through to Scott. And he’d probably have to start by getting through to Melissa.

After Lucas had wound down about the omega issue, Noah asked, “Is having Peter Hale around going to make things harder when it comes to dealing with Scott?”

Lucas frowned. “Peter is back? Thought he was dead.”

“Derek said something about him getting better…?” He still wasn’t sure how someone got better from being dead. No doubt if Stiles were here he’d joke about him being only mostly dead.

“Peter was always wily like that.” Lucas’ smile looked fond.

“You know him?”

“Sure.” He hesitated. “In fact, members of our pack used to be in the Hale Pack.”

Noah blinked several times. “I… What?”

“Look, my pack in Sweetland is small—though not as small as the current Hale pack. We fly under the radar, but we took in several pack members that Laura abandoned.”

“Hmm.” Noah cocked his head to the side. “You sound disapproving.”

“I am. Laura Hale was a shit alpha.”

“She was a scared kid.”

“That may be so, but she was also an alpha wolf responsible for her pack. The minute she inherited the power from her mother, she also inherited the bonds of all the living pack members. It’s hard to explain to a human what it’s like to be connected to others at such a primal level, but it’s more than a family. It’s everything to a wolf. And when Laura inherited that power, she took her brother and left. And she didn’t just leave, she actively snapped the pack bonds. She left her uncle wounded and suffering and without a pack.

“Because as much as the other pack members cared for Peter, they couldn’t forge pack bonds with him without an alpha. They couldn’t help him the way an alpha could. And she culled him from the herd like a wounded gazelle. So I have zero respect for Laura Hale, and the werewolf in me doesn’t care that she was a scared kid.”

“You make it sound…deliberate. Leaving Peter here, I mean.”

“Oh, I think it was. I figure she thought her uncle was going to die anyway, so she’d leave him as a distraction for any hunter who came to finish the job. Then she took the family member she cared about and ran.”

“You make her sound…”

“Like a monster?”

“Yeah.” Noah shifted uncomfortably.

“From a werewolf’s perspective, she was. If I try to be objective, I can admit that they’re not meant to be alphas that young. They don’t have the life experience to temper the sheer amount of power they have. And Laura reacted to that influx of power by being ruthless in a way I would never have expected of a born wolf. She left her uncle as hunter bait, which was evident because she left him in Beacon Hills under his legal name, and then she broke ties with the five or six living pack members, none of whom were Hales by blood.

“To compound her sins, in my eyes, when those same pack members wanted to take Peter away from Beacon Hills to bring him into another pack, she refused. She even refused them access to him. Refused to let them come to the hospital and at least ease his suffering so he wasn’t locked in torment.”

Lucas’ glare was intense. “To werewolves, Laura Hale is everything an alpha shouldn’t be. In fact, New York was one of the few places she could even live with any degree of safety. There are a few big cities that fall under no single pack’s territory. While several packs live there, no one has a say over who goes or stays. No other wolf pack would want an alpha like her in their territory, and she’d be at high risk for being challenged if she tried to carve out her own. She was perceived to either be cruel or unstable because of her actions after the fire.”

“Because she got her power too young?” Noah prompted to make sure he understood.

“That made her rash, but her cruelty? I don’t know how to account for that. It was like she blamed Peter.”

“What about Derek? He’s about the same age now as when Laura got her alpha powers, right?”

“Yes, and Derek is going to struggle with balancing the power in him. But he’s struggling to build a pack and doesn’t seem overly controlling from what we’ve heard. Could be he was always a softer touch than Laura. Or maybe he’s just been through too much. I can’t really say for sure.”

Noah drummed his fingers on the table. “How does Derek tolerate having Peter around?”

“The wolf in Derek doesn’t blame Peter for killing Laura. No wolf would. Bad alphas are challenged all the time and, if the challenger wins, the alpha usually dies. That’s life as a wolf. Derek knows that. And he knows Laura was a bad alpha to Peter. Now, I don’t doubt he mourns his sister, so it’s going to put him in conflict, but werewolf life can be harsh at times, and pack challenges aren’t a new thing to him.”

“So the human side of him mourns his sister, but the wolf side of him is okay with it?”

“It’s not quite that divided. It’s more like warring impulses. He knows Laura deserved whatever Peter did—not that I truly believe Peter knew what he was doing—but Derek loved his sister. Even though he knows she failed as an alpha and the challenge was a result, he’ll still miss her.”

“Is that how a challenge usually goes? Attacking someone in the woods?”

“That’s usually considered bad form. Challenges can be sudden in certain circumstances, but it’s supposed to be direct and pretty aboveboard. That said, most of us think Peter was out of his mind and lashed out. But even if he knew it was Laura, I don’t personally have a problem with him going after her that way, and neither does my alpha. As they say, she brought that shit on herself.”

“Okay, I guess that’s a fair perspective. I think.” Noah scratched his head. “I’m really still learning here. So, what can I expect from the Hale pack?”

“In what sense?”

“My son mumbled something about how he was adopting them, and I have a feeling it’s going to be Stilinskis’ Home for Wayward Wolves from this day forth.”

Lucas’ eyebrows were doing something complicated.

“How do I help without stepping on the alpha’s grumpy, uncommunicative toes?”

“Huh.” Lucas looked like he was reassessing Noah. “There are only three true ranks in most packs. Alpha and alpha mate—and the two are considered one though the alpha has the ultimate say. Then there’s the second and third in the pack. The second is usually the more diplomatic while the third is the enforcer. Technically the ranks are close to equal, but second has slight precedence since they’d be in charge if the alpha pair were absent. There’s also the emissary, but if they’re part of the pack and not adjacent to it, the ranking can be a little complicated, creating a possible addition to the leadership depending on how the emissary slots into the pack.”

“Okay.” It didn’t really answer his question, but he figured Lucas was leading up to something.

“Beyond that, there’s the unofficial rank of the pack elders. Sometimes it’s the prior alphas who have passed on their power, and sometimes it’s just those with more life experience. If Derek truly accepts you into his pack, you’d probably be in the role of Elder even though that’s typically people much older than you. But, on the other hand, the pack is quite young…”

“Accepts me into his pack?” Noah echoed.

Lucas looked amused. “If he lets you close, it’s because he considers you pack.”

“Humans can be pack?”

“Of course. Peter’s wife was human. Usually, humans come in through marriage or are born into the pack as humans, but sometimes it’s someone who becomes close to the pack for other reasons.”

“Like my son?”

The complicated eyebrow thing was happening again.

“Okay, what?”

“Rumor is that your son might have some magical ability. Not sure if that’s true, but a lot of the other rumors about Beacon Hills have panned out.”

“Magic,” Noah repeated dryly then he rubbed his forehead. “Magic?”

“Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings. Though it might not be that bad.”

He started adding to his mental list of things he needed to get up to speed on. Immediately. “And that has what to do with Stiles being pack?”

“Hale might be starting to think of Stiles more in that emissary role, who can be either part of a pack or more pack-adjacent. Druids tend to be pack-adjacent rather than pack, but I personally think letting a druid be your emissary is fucking stupid.”

“And why is that?”

“Because the role of an emissary, regardless of their other duties, is ultimately to protect the pack, but druids have oaths about preserving balance. Mind you, it’s preserving their idea of balance. So what happens when those things come into conflict?”

“I honestly have no idea,” Noah said tiredly, feeling so far in over his head.

“You get the Hale fire.”

Noah blinked. “Come again?”

“The pack emissary was a druid. Did he not put adequate wards on the Hale house and property because he figured the pack was too strong? That if something happened, it was meant to? Did he also abandon Peter because he felt that Peter’s suffering was somehow part of the balance? Did he not council Laura better for the same reason?”

Noah held up a hand to stop the flow of words. “I get what you’re saying. Their oath to this idea of balance is inherently in conflict with doing what’s best for the pack.”

“Yes, but they are the most common type of benevolent magic user, so many packs wind up with them by default because there is no other option.”

Noah took a moment to think and prioritize what he needed to know next. “Tell me what you think I need to know, and I’m wondering if your pack alpha would be willing to advise Derek if need be?”

“I think people are going to want to see a little more from the Hale pack before they put themselves out there. And, as I said, my pack has stayed off the radar of any hunter families. Drawing the attention of the Argents would be a factor in my alpha’s decision.”

“From what I heard, there may not be much of the Argents left. I know you haven’t found Gerard but, according to Derek, he’s somewhere dripping black goo and dying a slow death.”

Lucas stared. “Derek bit Gerard?”

“Not voluntarily, but yes.”

“Come again?” Lucas looked somewhere between appalled and disgusted.

Noah laid out what Derek had told him about Scott’s plan and the outcome.

Lucas swallowed heavily. “That’s…horrifying. I thought maybe you could bring Scott around and get him to integrate with the Hale pack, but I don’t know if that’s possible. I know my alpha would never forgive that sort of betrayal.” Lucas went on to explain how a werewolf considers the bite a gift. That forcing Derek to bite Gerard, thereby making Gerard Derek’s beta, was an obscene violation of the bonds of pack. The more Noah heard, the more it was like hearing about a rape. It made him want to go back to the hospital and give Derek a hug and then go smack Scott.

They talked for a good hour, Noah asking as many questions as he could think of about how to navigate this world and how to work within a wolf pack before Lucas got up to return to the station.

“By the way, Peter Hale is outside. He’s been listening for quite a while.”

Noah’s brows shot up. “Is that right? Well, you should come in, Peter.” He shook his head, adding “figure out privacy issues” to his list of things to do. He couldn’t believe he now had to factor in werewolf hearing.

Lucas slid Noah a card. “That’s my cell number. Unless my alpha shuts me down, call any time. But keep it between you and me until he has a chance to weigh in on how much he wants to risk being involved with what’s going on here.”

Noah nodded, appreciating the gesture, though he was more than a little frustrated by the whole “cover my own ass” mentality that was so pervasive amongst the people in this world. On the one hand, he understood why, but it didn’t make it less frustrating. He had this impending sense of just how much more complicated his life was about to become.

About a minute later, Peter Hale, healed and apparently newly alive, slid in across from Noah. “Sheriff.”

“Mr. Hale.”

“It seems you’ve had quite the eye-opening day.”

Noah snorted. “Aren’t you just the master of understatement.” He folded his hands in front of him. “How much of an issue do I need to have when it comes to you?”

Peter raised one brow. “Do you want to have an issue with me?”

“Don’t play games with me, Peter. I remember you when you were a teenager.” Noah had just joined the sheriff’s department when Peter was a freshman in high school. “Just be straight with me and let’s see where that gets us.”

“I’m not threat to Derek’s pack.”

“I actually didn’t think you were. It sounded like there was a fair bit of insanity when you came out of the coma.”

“More than I thought there was.”

“Explain,” he ordered.

“At the time, I would have denied being insane. All I cared about was revenge, and I thought I was mentally sound. My plans all made sense to me.”

“Including revenge against your niece?” Noah knew it was barbed to refer to the familial tie, but he wanted to see how Peter reacted.

“Any fondness I once held for my niece was burned to ash in a very literal way. An alpha’s betrayal… I can’t even explain it to you. It certainly far outweighs any fond memories I had. In fact, those fond memories make the betrayal cut deeper.”

“Fair enough. But just because you’re mad at someone it doesn’t necessarily follow that you’ll kill them.”

“No, and if she’d done anything to avenge our family—my wife, my child—I might regret her death. But she hid for six years. She left me to rot, abandoned her pack, and ran away.”

“She was a kid.”

“She was an alpha,” Peter snapped. “Being a young captain in the Army leading your first real battle doesn’t make you less responsible for those under your command.” He took a deep breath. “While I don’t explicitly remember her or the events of her death, I don’t regret it. We’re not built to regret the loss of a bad alpha. I’m a born wolf, and an alpha that fails their pack is nothing to protect or regret.”

“And what about Derek? By his own admission, he sees himself as failing.”

“Derek is trying. Something Laura never bothered with. From what I’ve seen, he’s struggling, but I lay the blame as much on his mother as anything. She was remarkably short-sighted about training only Laura to be an alpha, for all the good that did. Our parents taught all three of us to be potential alphas because life is unpredictable, and you never know what might happen. But Talia decided that of her five children, only Laura would be instructed and most of her training would come after college.

“So Derek never had even the basic foundational training that Talia gave Laura, neither did Mark, who was older. The lack of training has made Derek ill-prepared to handle a pack. Particularly a pack of teenagers.”

“But if you’ve been given that training, you can pass it on to him, no?” Noah pressed, needing to sound out where Peter fit in and how he could help…or harm.

“I don’t think it would be well received. Derek may understand why I killed Laura but it doesn’t lessen his grief. And I don’t begrudge him his ire.”

“Really?”

Peter glanced away and swallowed. “Derek grieves for his sister, and it’s perhaps convenient for him to forget that I lost my daughter. Laura owed my daughter more than six years in hiding. There are times it’s hard for me not to be…angry at Derek’s grief even if I understand it intellectually.”

Noah nodded, not wanting to press further. “Okay, for now we’ll table the issue of you training Derek to be an alpha.” He wondered if Derek would accept it if Noah was acting as an intermediary of sorts. “You said you didn’t perceive yourself as insane at the time…?”

“Everything I did seemed logical to me. The only thing I ever regretted before I died is biting Scott that night in the woods. I do wish I’d run across Stiles instead.”

Noah glared. “Telling me you wished you mauled my son is in no way a good thing.”

“Even in my insanity, I considered the bite a gift, Sheriff. Stiles would make a magnificent werewolf, so I’ll never see it as anything but a compliment when I say that I wished I’d bitten him instead. But he doesn’t wish to be a wolf.”

“How do you know that?”

“I offered. It was in one of my more lucid moments. I knew I needed more pack members, and Stiles was the strongest of the lot. Clever and resourceful and so strong that I knew I had no chance of securing a pack bond with him if he were unwilling. So I asked him, and he declined.”

“And you left it at that?”

“Basically.”

“You know I’ll get the whole story out of my son, correct?”

“Of that, I have no doubt.”

“All right. Moving on.” Noah sighed. “You said that, at the time, your actions seemed reasonable to you. Why do you now think you were insane?

“Because after I was resurrected, I didn’t even understand some of my actions. I had never considered that there might be some actual physical damage that hadn’t healed. Or perhaps it was that the alpha power without a pack made me crazed. Whatever it was, when I woke healed, I was…different. My thoughts are clear again.”

“And how do you feel about the Argents now?”

“Oh, I wish their line was wiped off the face of the Earth, but I also recognize that there are innocents amongst them and that nothing good can come from waging a bloody war with hunters. As long as dear Kate and Gerard are dealt with and they leave us alone, I’m satisfied. I do believe your son has the right of things in that it’s time to use the legal system against the rogue hunters. After all, they don’t seem to think the law applies to them.”

Noah pressed his lips into a thin line, biting back what he wanted to say about Peter talking about Stiles. “So we come back to you and the pack. Where do you fit in?”

“Wherever Derek will let me. Though…” He looked away, peering out the window as if the dark parking lot was the most fascinating thing in the world. “I didn’t know some of our old pack was in Sweetland. I hadn’t tried to find them because I’d assumed they’d abandoned me as thoroughly as Laura did.”

Noah could easily hear the sting of betrayal and the hurt Peter struggled with.

“I may reach out if the alpha is amenable.” He looked back to meet Noah’s gaze. “Please ask Lucas for me, will you?”

“Of course. But if you’re going to be around, we’ve got to figure things out, so I’d like a way to contact you and to know where you’re staying.”

“I’d planned to stay with my nephew, but he hasn’t shed his affinity for hair shirts as yet.”

“Meaning?”

“He’s been living either in the shell of our burned out home or in this abandoned subway car.”

Noah felt a nauseating horror. “Well, that’s going to stop.”

“I appreciate your intervention on that matter. That said, if you’re determined to mold those children into a pack, I rather think I’d be out of place. I’ll need to get keys from a safe deposit box, but I have a condo in town that I can have opened.”

“Is it your intention to cut yourself off from the pack?”

“My intention? No, but it may be inevitable that my presence is too fraught with tension. And, ultimately, it’s up to Derek.”

“Just keep in touch—with both of us. Let’s see how things evolve in the coming days.”

Peter inclined his head in what Noah hoped was agreement.

Chapter Five

Noah entered the station, fielding questions about Stiles from his deputies. Stephanie was out in the field still coordinating with the SWAT team to chase down Gerard’s men, not to mention Gerard himself. Lucas was also nowhere around.

Tara shot him an apprehensive look when he approached. “How’s Stiles?”

“In the hospital at least until tomorrow.”

“Bad?”

“Mostly bruises and cracked ribs, but one of his broken ribs is a worry. And with three broken ribs, he’s not breathing well.”

Tara whistled lowly. “If we find Gerard Argent, I’m gonna have a hard time not kicking his ass.”

Noah silently agreed, except he planned to put a wolfsbane-laced bullet right between Gerard’s eyes. He added “get wolfsbane bullets” to his ever-growing to-do list.

“Am I looking the other way while you talk to the two Argents in holding?” she asked tentatively.

“No. I’d never ask that of you. If I want to talk to Argent, I’ll do it with Sheriff Morris around so that it’s aboveboard.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that you’d never ask me to compromise myself that way. Though, in this case, I’d do it.”

“We don’t need people crossing any more lines, Tara,” he assured. “Just keep doing the good job you always do.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m actually here to see Scott and probably spring him so he can go home.”

“His mother arrived. I wasn’t sure what to do with either of them, so they’re together in your office.”

Noah sighed. He certainly needed to talk to Melissa, but he hadn’t planned to do it right now and not with Scott present. As soon as he opened his door, he found them both on their feet, and it looked like Melissa was holding Scott back.

“You have to let Allison go,” Scott insisted.

Noah shot Scott an unimpressed look but ignored the remark as he rounded his desk and took a seat. “Sit down,” he ordered.

Scott looked mulish, but Melissa managed to get Scott into his seat.

“Noah,” Mel began.

He held up a hand. “I’d like to hear in Scott’s words what happened tonight. Last time I saw you, Scott, you were headed out with the Lahey kid to look for Stiles. Tell me about the night from there.”

Scott opened and closed his mouth several times and then flailed through an explanation about getting lost in the warehouse district and the Argents coming to find him because they’re good people and couldn’t have done anything wrong. And why was their house being searched?

“You know I don’t believe any of that, right?”

Scott blinked at him. “It’s the truth.”

“It really isn’t, Scott.”

“You know,” Melissa said softly.

“I do now, yes. When did you find out, Mel?”

She looked away. “The night here at the station.”

“And why didn’t you tell me?” It had to be a shitty time to find out her son was a werewolf, but how was that an excuse to keep this from him?

She met his gaze. “I was scared, Noah. For myself and for my son.”

“And that’s one of the things I’m having a problem with through all this. Everyone was busy covering their own ass and pursuing their own agenda, and my kid got caught in the crossfire. But as much as I’d love to just care about that, I don’t have the luxury. I’m the sheriff of this county and a responsible adult. So I have to set my personal feelings about what happened to Stiles aside—as much as I humanly can—and focus on the whole picture.”

Mel looked tense and worried. “What happened to Stiles?”

“I told you he’s fine, Mom. Chris said he saw Stiles leaving the Argent place with Erica and Boyd.”

Mel’s head whipped around so fast that Noah was surprised she didn’t sprain something. “You didn’t say anything about Erica and Boyd, and you certainly didn’t say the three of them were at the Argent house! Dammit, Scott!”

“He’s fine,” Scott insisted. “Mr. Argent said so.”

“He’s not fine,” Noah snapped. “He’s in the hospital for at least the night and they’ll only let him go if he’s breathing better.”

“What happened, Noah?”

“Gerard beat the shit out of my son as a message to you, Scott. He broke three of his ribs, and gave him so many minor injuries that I can’t count them.” Scott looked skeptical, and Noah was instantly done with Scott not believing anyone who wasn’t Chris Argent. They’d barely started talking, but he could see how irrational Scott was being.

Noah sent a text to Tara, asking her to come in and show Scott the evidentiary photos.

It was only a matter of a few seconds before Tara brought in the digital camera used at the crime scene. “They’ve already been uploaded, but I haven’t secured the memory card yet. Figure better to just look at them here rather than access the case file right now.”

He nodded and she stepped between Scott and Melissa and began going through the photos. Noah didn’t need to see them again—it would do nothing to help him hold on to his temper.

“Oh my god, Stiles baby, look what that man did to you.” Mel sounded like she was near tears. She looked up at Noah. “That one fracture on the right. Is it displaced?”

“Not now, but the doctor says it’s a near thing.”

Scott looked pale as he sat down in his seat, and Tara quietly slipped back out of the office. “Chris said he was fine.”

“And how would Chris know?” Noah gritted out.

Scott’s gaze snapped up to meet Noah’s. “What do you mean?”

“He walked into the torture basement he allowed his father to set up and found three teenagers who had been abducted by members of his own family. Stiles had already figured out how to get them all loose. All Chris did was not get in their way when they left.”

“But…that’s good, right?”

“No, Scott,” Melissa said softly, “it’s not good. It’s not as bad as it could be in the sense that he didn’t try to keep them there and cover it all up, but he didn’t help. He didn’t call the police or an ambulance. And if Stiles had taken one more hit to that rib low on the right, he could have died, bled out from a liver puncture. So, no, it’s not particularly noble that Chris didn’t get in their way. He should have done more. Because no matter what, those were three scared kids.”

“You don’t understand, Mom.”

“I think it’s you who doesn’t understand, Scott,” Noah interjected. “You need to stop defending the Argents. Chris probably won’t face any legal repercussions, though it’s debatable because of the damn armory the department seized from his house. Including weapons that aren’t legal for even a weapons dealer to own. And even if he didn’t participate in what Gerard did in the basement, it’s still Chris’ house!”

“They didn’t have a choice!”

“He’s an adult. He had a choice,” Noah snapped. “As for Allison—”

“She didn’t do anything.”

“Hunting her sixteen-year-old classmates down in the woods and shooting them full of arrows is nothing? Helping her grandfather string them up in the basement and hook them up to generators so they’re getting too much electrical current to shift and free themselves is nothing?”

“She was upset about her mom…”

“Scott Andrew McCall!” Melissa sound horrified and a bit enraged. “What in the world is wrong with you? I don’t care what happened to her mother, that doesn’t give her a license to torture people!”

“Werewolves heal. Boyd and Erica are okay—”

“That’s not the point. Oh my god.” Mel buried her face in her hands. “What has happened to you?”

Scott looked to Noah. “It’s not like they can tell anyone that though, right? Allison can’t get in trouble when there’s no evidence.”

“Scott!” Mel was staring at her son like she didn’t even know him. Noah could relate to the feeling.

“There’s no evidence of the arrows or the electrical torture she carried out on Erica and Boyd. There’s no evidence of the ring daggers she repeatedly stabbed into Isaac. That’s all true,” Noah said dryly. “We can’t charge her with attempted murder and assault even though I would dearly love to.”

“Allison isn’t like that! She was just upset.”

“Right. Your justification for Allison trying to murder three of her classmates is that she was sad about her mom and she blamed Derek for her death.”

“Well, it was kind of Derek’s fault.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Noah snapped out so sharply that Scott jerked. “Derek was saving your life after Victoria Argent tried to murder you, and Victoria was bitten in the confusion. You know that. You chose not to share it with Allison.”

“I didn’t want her to think poorly of her mom,” Scott said weakly.

Mel looked appalled. “Scott,” she breathed, “what did you do?”

“She has every reason to think poorly of her mom.” Noah forced himself not to yell. “Because her mom had such deeply entrenched bigotry against people like you that she’d rather die than stay with her family and live as a werewolf. If I were Allison, I’d be furious at my mother for making such a selfish choice.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Scott, almost everyone understands except you. You seem to think Allison’s bloody, murderous rampage was justified. But it’s not. No matter the reason. Because, by your logic, I can go into holding and shoot your girlfriend for what happened to my son at the hands of her grandfather.”

“That’s not… No! That’s not the same.”

“It’s exactly the same, Scott,” Melissa said, sounding more than a little weary and lost. “Where did this hypocrisy come from? Why are you so obsessed with that girl?”

“I love her, Mom.” Scott’s tone was pleading.

“You love a killer? How comforting. It’s a mother’s dream.”

“She’s not—”

“She is!” Melissa yelled. “She sounds like a psychopath. She tried to kill kids younger than you. I know the Reyes girl is one of the youngest in your year and Allison is a year older than you. She’s almost a legal adult, and I don’t care how sad she was about her mom, she doesn’t get to torture people! And you not telling her the truth… Where the hell did I go wrong with you?”

Scott bristled. “Mom, you don’t get it.”

“You’re damn right I don’t!”

“Is Allison your anchor?” Noah interrupted.

Scott blinked a few times. “Yeah. She said in the car that she needs time and we can’t be together right now, but I can wait for her.”

“Scott,” Noah said carefully, “there’s concern that you’re becoming an omega. That your stability as a wolf is dependent upon your anchor. It’s why you’re so fixated on her despite all the evidence that she’s not in a good place, that what she did is wrong. It’s why you defend her even against the indefensible, because you have no pack ties to stabilize you when your anchor has betrayed you.”

“What does that mean, Noah?” Mel whispered.

“According to a source from another pack, Scott could become increasingly unstable and even become more, um, animal than human.” He did not want to say feral. “Which is very dangerous, Mel.”

“That wouldn’t happen to me.” Scott’s confidence was appalling considering everything that had happened.

“Is that right?”

Melissa stared at Scott, obviously seeing that Scott was slipping down the slope already. “How do we fix it?”

“He needs to be in a pack.”

“Then you’ll join Derek’s pack,” Melissa said emphatically.

“Derek is not my alpha,” Scott nearly yelled.

“No, he’s not, and I don’t think he can be,” Noah said quickly. “But tell me this, Scott, what has Derek Hale done to you that’s so awful?”

Scott proceeded to unload a mountain of garbage, and the core of it was that Derek had killed Peter, preventing Scott from doing it himself and thereby becoming human again.

Noah rubbed his hand over his face again, wondering how Scott could be so damn clueless not to mention the raging hypocrisy. “I know next to nothing about werewolves, Scott, but even I know that sounds stupid. But if it were true, you’d murder a man to go back to being human?”

“He’s not a man,” Scott snapped.

“Yeah, he is. Peter Hale is perhaps one of the biggest victims of the Argent family. A man who lost his wife and little girl in a fire set by a family of serial killers. Then he lost his whole pack while he suffered in agony for six years. He wasn’t in a true coma. He was aware. And, yes, he was deranged and hurt people, including you, but he’s not actually culpable for his actions.”

“You’re excusing him?” Scott yelled indignantly.

“The law would excuse him, Scott. If we could run this sort of crap through conventional legal channels, he’d easily qualify for diminished capacity if not outright not guilty by reason of insanity. It’s not an excuse, it’s a damn reason. But you, a teenager who has always been morally upright as far as I know, were prepared to murder someone on the remote chance that it might reverse a condition that had cured your asthma and made you a star lacrosse player?”

“But Allison’s family would accept me if I wasn’t a werewolf,” Scott said imploringly.

Noah shook his head. Scott was already deeply irrational. He met Mel’s horrified gaze.

“We have to get him into Derek’s pack, Noah. He can’t go on like this.”

“I can’t ask Derek to do that. Not after what Scott did to him tonight. I’ve got it on very good authority that the stunt Scott pulled with Gerard is, for a werewolf, on par with rape.”

“What in the world happened?” Mel asked, sounding more than a little bewildered.

Scott himself ran through the events of the evening, getting upset when Mel just continued to look appalled. “Don’t you see? Gerard was threatening you, Mom. I had to do something.”

“You could have asked, Scotty,” she said softly. “You could have, should have, obtained Derek’s permission. But what’s done is done, and I can see why Derek wouldn’t want you anywhere near his pack. I wouldn’t either in his shoes.” She looked back to Noah. “I need help figuring out what to do but, right now, I’m taking him home. The story from our end is that Scott was looking for Stiles in the warehouse district when the two Argents found him because they were worried about how Gerard was oddly fixated on Scott. Scott doesn’t know why Gerard was fixated on him or what he wanted because he never saw Gerard. And that’s the end of it.”

“All right, Mel. I’ll be in touch when I’ve made some calls.”

“I don’t need a pack,” Scott insisted.

“Get up, Scott. We’re going home and you are so grounded, young man. You are not going to see that girl, and you are going to do nothing but your homework.”

“Mom! You can’t keep me from Allison if she wants to see me.”

“It seems like she already said she doesn’t want to see you. Now, get up! We’re going home. I need some sleep before we talk again because, right now, I don’t know what to say to get anything through your stubborn skull.”

Mel herded Scott toward the door, ignoring his complaints. She paused at the door and looked back at Noah. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you myself. I let myself be… Actually, it doesn’t matter why. I should have told you.”

He just nodded, doubting they’d ever be as close again because he fundamentally didn’t feel like he could trust her. Also, Noah wondered if Scott was going to have to leave Beacon Hills, and he wasn’t sure if Mel would stay if her son was gone.

– – – –

Noah made it back to the hospital at three in the morning, carrying a duffle with enough clothes for everyone and a bag of sandwiches. Between his own clothes for Derek and Boyd, and Stiles’ clothes for Erica and Isaac, they had everyone covered.

He’d somewhat reluctantly reached out to the Reyes and Boyd families. Now that he was in the know about werewolves, he’d been carefully vague about the details. He’d said that Erica and Boyd were witnesses to something and had given a statement to the police before deciding to keep an injured classmate company at the hospital. The Reyes family had asked a few questions, but had seemed content to let it go, while Boyd’s grandmother had just made some “hmm” noises and then hung up. It was disheartening to say the least.

Derek had definitely sought out loners, kids who needed family support because they weren’t getting it at home. Noah felt some stirring of judgment about that, but he tried to remind himself that he didn’t really understand the impulses of a werewolf and why Derek had made his decisions. He supposed the up side was that at least it was a more constructive approach to dealing with all that “alpha power” than ambushing people in the woods the way crazy coma-Peter had.

Although, he thought Derek biting Jackson was just fucking stupid. It sounded like that was more Jackson’s fault that Derek’s, however. Noah made another entry on his ever-growing mental to-do list to deal with the fallout from Jackson’s “miraculous” resurrection. He’d have to get a statement from Jackson and then do something about getting that stupid restraining order lifted.

When he got to the fourth floor, Deputy Mills was alert and attentive, having relieved Parrish an hour before. Noah nodded to him then slipped into the room to find Derek between the door and a room full of sleeping teens.

Noah dug around in the duffle and pulled out the first set of clothes—sweats and a T-shirt—along with a toothbrush. He gestured toward the bathroom and whispered. “I’ll take guard duty for a while. Go shower.”

Derek looked like he was going to protest, though Noah had no idea what was objectionable about being clean. “Go. Nothing is going to happen, and we don’t need anyone looking too closely at you or Isaac in the light of day. There’s dried blood on both of you.”

Derek’s shoulders slumped, and he suddenly looked painfully young and tired. “Stiles woke an hour ago. I took the pain directly from that break on the right side.” He grimaced. “It’s bad. He’s still getting some drugs to cover the rest of his injuries, but we’ll keep taking the pain from his ribs until he can breathe easily.”

“Thank you, Derek. I mean that with all sincerity.”

“It’s the least I can do.”

“It seems like a lot to me. Now go get in the shower.”

When the bathroom door closed behind Derek, Noah realized Erica was awake. She was curled up on the bed watching him. He moved closer and sat in the bedside recliner. “Hey. You okay?”

“You really don’t care about what we are?”

“Teenagers? I’m quite experienced with those. I’ve got a Stiles after all.”

Her lips twitched, and she played with a loose thread on the edge of the blanket. “You’re all right, Mr. S. Stiles talks about you like you’re somewhere between a superhero and a titan. But I think you’re just a good dad.”

Noah swallowed. “I haven’t always been a great dad, but I love my kid more than anything in this world.”

“He’s a good person even if he’s a snarky little shit.” She grinned and it was full of mischief. “I guess he takes after you.”

“Ha ha. Go to sleep, young lady.”

Her fingers curled into the blanket, making a fist. “I thought maybe I could shower when Derek is done. Did you…?”

“I brought you something. I figured Stiles’ clothes would be preferable to hospital gowns and scrubs.”

“Yeah, plus they smell like him.”

Noah arched a brow. “Is that important?”

“Scent is important to us, and Stiles is pack. It’s calming to be surrounded the scent of the pack. I’m probably going to steal his pillowcases on the regular, but don’t tell him, okay?”

“Sure thing. We’ll keep it between us.” He filed the tidbit about scent away as he patted the back of her hand. He pulled out a pile of clothes and basic toiletries, setting them on her bed before he went to sit by Stiles. He absently noted when she darted into the bathroom as soon Derek came out.

With absolutely no strain whatsoever, Derek grabbed the recliner on the opposite side of Stiles’ bed and lifted it over the bed to set it closer to Noah. “Erica mentioned scent?”

Noah had no idea where that was going. “Yeah. It’ll take me a bit to catch up on all this new stuff.”

Derek hesitated. “You smell like Peter and a wolf I’m not familiar with.”

“Ah.” So smell was very sensitive. “A friend hooked me up with a wolf from another town to try to help me understand the situation here. And then Peter dropped by the diner, and we had a discussion.”

“He didn’t threaten or hurt you, right?”

Noah watched Derek closely for several seconds, wondering about all the baggage Derek was carrying around. “No, Peter was fine. I don’t think he knows where he fits, and I doubt you do either. He’s going to keep in touch but try to stay out of your way for a while until you sort out how you feel.”

“How I feel,” Derek repeated tonelessly.

“You’ve been through a lot, and you need to give yourself some space.”

Derek looked away. “I’m not sure the betas will ever really trust him.”

“Well, from what I’ve heard, this group doesn’t even know him. Except maybe for Stiles. So if they can’t trust him, the question would be why?”

Derek just stared at his hands.

“Take some time, Derek, to figure out what you want. I’m going to help. We’re going to help because Stiles is a force of nature when he decides something. It’s all going to work out.”

Derek looked at Noah briefly then his gaze flicked to Stiles. “Yeah, maybe it will.”

– – – –

Noah startled awake, feeling Stiles’ hand tighten painfully around Noah’s. He met Stiles’ pain-filled gaze.

“God, that hurts,” Stiles croaked.

Before Noah could react, Derek was there, hand hovering over Stiles’ ribs. “On skin is better.”

“Just do it,” Stiles said on a gasp, obviously trying to breathe around the pain.

Derek pushed up Stiles’ shirt enough to get to the near-black bruising, which was looking worse as time passed. He barely touched Stiles before black lines were racing up his arm. It was still so astonishing that, even though he’d seen it before, it jarred Noah with the reminder of how much the world had suddenly changed.

“Better.” Stiles eyes fluttered shut. “Thanks.” The grip on Noah’s hand loosened.

“I shouldn’t take all the pain,” Derek said softly.

“I know, Der. ‘s okay.”

“Should the pain returning have hit him that abruptly?” Noah asked Derek.

“He slept through the pain drain wearing off, but they’re supposed to be keeping him on a low dose of morphine.” He gestured to the IV bag. “It’s out.”

Noah rubbed his hand over his face. “Right. I’ll be back.”

“Sor‑”

“Not your fault, Derek,” Noah cut him off. “Just keep an eye on him, and I’ll be back.”

It was the matter of a couple conversations to find out that someone had called in sick and so the ward was short staffed. Stiles had gotten missed in the chaos because only one nurse was authorized to enter the room. The shift supervisor promised to be along shortly to fix Stiles’ IV, and Noah got her added to the access list.

He returned to the room and found Derek and Stiles whispering softly. All the others still seemed to be asleep. The two stopped talking and watched Noah, but it didn’t seem like they were trying to hide anything. Derek looked confused. It seemed like confused and grumpy were his default settings.

Stiles smiled faintly. “Hey, Dad.”

Noah sat next to Stiles’ bed again and took his hand. “Hey, kid.” He tried to smile, but it probably didn’t come off very well. “You scared the hell out of me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry that a megalomaniac hurt you.”

Derek drifted away, moving back to the recliner next to the cot Lahey was passed out on, giving them the illusion of privacy.

“But be sorry that I didn’t tell you I knew he was a megalomaniac?”

“Yeah, that.” He reached out and rubbed over Stiles’ head, getting a faint pleased sound. It had always relaxed Stiles when he was a kid. “I wish… I’m sorry you didn’t feel like you could tell me.” Noah felt like he’d failed in some way that Stiles felt he had to keep so much a secret.

Stiles eyes filled with tears, but he quickly blinked them away. “I just didn’t want anything to happen to you.”

“Ah, hell, kiddo, you think I don’t feel the same way?”

“I’m sorry.” Stiles looked so tired and beat down.

“We’ll talk it out and then hug it out. It’ll all be fine, I promise.”

“Why does it always make sense at the time, but then you can’t figure out what the hell you were thinking?”

“Hmm.” He continued stroking Stiles head, willing to let him sleep if he needed it or talk as much as he wanted. “Tell me about when it stopped seeming like a good idea.”

“Erica and Boyd.”

“When you were all in the basement?” The pictures of the implements would never not haunt him.

“Yeah. They were so scared. I mean, they ran from Derek, but it wasn’t Derek they didn’t want, you know?” he whispered, eyes closed, seemingly just free associating. “Derek is like a work in progress, but he means well, and I think we all know that. Well, not Scott, but he’s kind of stubborn. I actually never knew he was that stubborn.”

“Erica and Boyd were scared,” Noah gently redirected Stiles back on topic.

Stiles frowned for a second but then his expression relaxed. “Right. They were running because they didn’t sign up for hunters, you know? They didn’t sign up to be hunted like animals. They didn’t want to be scared to walk down the street—they just wanted to be safe.” Stiles opened his eyes, looking more than a little bleary. “Shouldn’t they be able to feel safe?”

“Of course. You all deserve to feel safe.”

“Right. Exactly my thought.” His eyes drifted shut again. “Hunters seem to make all the rules, Dad, and it’s not fair. They make it so werewolves are scared and think they can’t ask for help, but I was lying there on the floor, looking at them and I wondered why we had to let them get away with it. They’re using our fear against us.”

“You a werewolf now, kid?” Noah said lightly.

“Would it matter?” Stiles was now staring at him more intently.

“Of course not, Stiles. Now, if you told me you were a vampire, we might have to have an adjustment phase where you ease me into it.”

The eyes fluttered shut again. “I know. You hate vampires.”

“They’re creepy.”

“Right. No vampires. Check. I’ll make sure I’m not a vampire.” His brow furrowed. “But I think I might be magic.”

“I’m sure you are.”

“You’re humoring me.”

“No, you’re your mother’s son, so hearing that you might be magical seems right.”

Stiles’ hand clenched around Noah’s again, and he sniffled. “I miss her.”

“Yeah, me too.” Every damn day. Noah wiped one escaped tear off Stiles’ cheekbone. “You serious about adopting a wolf pack?”

“Did I say that?”

“Yeah, you did.”

“Oh. Well, I planned to ease you into the idea.”

“Uh huh.”

“Is it okay?”

“Yeah, kid, it’s okay.”

“Good. Cause we’re going to be a family.”

Noah leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Stiles’ forehead. “Go to sleep, Little Mischief, your family will be here when you wake up.”

Chapter Six

Even with werewolf pain drain and the pain killers the hospital had given him before discharge, Stiles was really feeling it by the time Derek helped him onto the couch.

“You need me to…” Derek waved in the general direction of Stiles’ ribs, looking uncomfortable.

Stiles grunted an affirmative and sighed in relief when Derek’s hand slid under his shirt and the pain suddenly faded. He didn’t even care about all the other aches and pains, it was just such a relief to be able to breathe without feeling like he was breathing into broken glass or something.

He opened his eyes and realized the whole pack were standing around looking awkward. “God, you guys, just get comfortable. Sit, sprawl, grab a Coke. Whatever shakes your tree.”

Erica and Boyd immediately took seats on the couch, being careful when they sat down to keep from jarring Stiles too much.

Isaac shifted from foot to foot. “Are we really staying here?”

Stiles peered up at him. He was pretty sure he remembered everything from last night, but things were kind of hazy in places and fragmented. He wasn’t even sure if some of the memories were actual memories or just dreams.

“If you want,” Stiles said. “Until we figure out a pack house or something. We have a full basement, and it’d be pretty easy to set up beds down there. There’s the guest bedroom for Derek. We can make it work. Band together, strength in numbers, and all that jazz.” He made some half-hearted jazz hands.

He and his dad had talked some more this morning about how serious Stiles was about moving in the whole pack. Stiles was very serious because he was so over this bullshit—they needed to be in sync. He figured solidarity was key. He eyed Isaac. “I’m not trying to make anyone do anything, but I just don’t think what we’ve been so far doing has worked very well.”

“And you think getting your dad involved was the right choice?” There was something a little confrontational in Isaac’s tone, but he mostly seemed insecure. Derek growled a little, and Isaac flinched.

“Okay, everyone chill.” Stiles touched the back of Derek’s leg without thinking about why he did it, but Derek seemed to calm down even though they’d never been really touchy with each other—outside of life and death or intimidation circumstances anyway.

Before Stiles could reply, his dad returned from his office where he’d been checking in with the station. “Yes, it was the right choice.” His dad sprawled in the recliner. “Sit down, Isaac. You look like you’re about to rabbit.”

Isaac decided to perch on the arm of the couch next to Boyd, which was farthest away from Stiles’ dad, leaving Derek the other armchair.

His father rubbed his hands over his face, looking more than a little tired. “You kids have all dealt with too much on your own and, yes, I’m including you in that Derek. It’s going to take time to figure this out, but we can’t do that if everyone keeps trying to leave.

“My source says building pack bonds is important, yes?” His dad looked to Derek, getting nothing but a nod. “And Stiles tells me you guys haven’t really got a home base.” Another even more reluctant nod. “Well, then, it seems obvious that building your connection to each other in a safe space is important. So, with your alpha’s permission, everyone will stay here, and Derek and I will talk about next steps at another time.”

Derek was silent for a long time, but nodded. “I agreed to stay at least for a couple weeks to help with Stiles’ pain.”

Stiles huffed. “And I appreciate that, but secondary issue, dude. Pain medication is a thing. I don’t want you guys here as a morphine substitute. We need to fix this shit before it destroys all of us and probably takes part of the town along for the ride.”

“Don’t call me ‘dude,’” Derek said softly, and it sounded more rote than real protest.

“Language,” his dad chastised him, though he figured his dad had given it up as a lost cause. “But Stiles is right. This isn’t just about his injuries—but I don’t want to downplay how grateful I am that you all can control his pain to such a degree that he won’t become addicted to pain pills and he’ll be able to breathe well enough to keep from getting pneumonia.”

“We want to help,” Erica said earnestly.

“Stiles didn’t give up on us,” Boyd added.

Stiles felt a little twinge of guilt because he had more than given up on most of Derek’s pack because he’d been so focused on Scott. “So let’s figure what we need and make a shopping list.”

“I’ve got plenty of money,” Derek quickly assured Noah.

His dad smiled faintly. “I leave it to your discretion, Derek. Do what you need to do to take care of your pack. Stiles knows how far you can push changes around here. Actually, you might be reining him in.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Stiles said earnestly.

“Ultimately, what happens with the pack is up to Derek,” his dad added, “but my preference is that you all stay in the house today and opt for delivery for whatever you need. We’re still trying to track down Gerard and his hunter buddies. Deputies will be coming by at regular intervals to make sure everything is secure.” He pinned Stiles with a look. “I don’t say this lightly, Son, but you know where I keep my rifles, and I know you worked out where the key is. If you need to protect yourself, don’t hesitate.” He gave everyone a quick, reassuring look. “I don’t think they’re going to come after you here, but I have to concede that this isn’t my area of expertise.”

“You really let Stiles handle a gun?” Erica asked, sounding impressed.

Stiles gave a little huff of indignation.

“Stiles is a crack shot,” his dad answered immediately. “He’s not fond of using guns, but I’ve made sure he knows how.” He turned his attention to Derek. “Is that okay?”

Stiles was kind of impressed at how quickly his dad had adapted to the whole alpha thing. Because there were two opposing alpha forces going on. Derek was the alpha of the pack, but Noah Stilinski was effectively the alpha of their house—not to mention the town. It could have been a cluster fuck, but so far it wasn’t. He really needed to get some time alone to talk to his father. Aside from being afraid for his dad’s safety, he’d been thinking all along that his dad couldn’t handle this, but that certainly didn’t seem to be the case. He felt like he owed his old man an apology for underestimating him.

“We’ll stay here, Sheriff,” Derek assured.

“Noah,” his dad corrected.

“Noah.” Derek cleared his throat. “We’ll stay here and figure out what we need to do.”

“Have you heard from Scott, Dad?”

“Not since last night, but let’s talk about that later.”

Derek tensed. “You need to see Scott?”

“Oh yeah,” Stiles said fervently. “I seriously need to give him a piece of my mind. I’d say I want to know what the fuck his was thinking, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking, so venting my spleen is the only consolation I have in this situation.”

“You really don’t think it was a good idea? Ends justify the means and all?” Derek asked hesitantly. “It did stop Gerard, probably killed him.”

“Hell no, I don’t think it was okay. Because there was no fucking reason not to get your permission. If he was willing to tell Deaton, he had no reason not to tell you.”

“I’d give you hell about your language, but I happen to think it’s appropriate in this instance,” his father said. “That was not an acceptable plan for Scott to implement without your permission, Derek. And, really, it was completely unnecessary anyway, which he might have figured out if he’d talked to anyone else.”

Stiles cocked his head, trying to see what his father was seeing. “Oh?”

“If Deaton and Scott had figured out that Gerard was dying and wanted to get Derek to give him the bite, why didn’t they just tell Chris that? Supposedly Argent the younger follows this code, right?”

Derek opened his mouth and then snapped it shut.

“Yeah,” Stiles agreed, “Scott should have given Chris the opportunity to clean up his own mess.”

Derek shot him a look but didn’t say anything.

Stiles continued on. “And he sure as hell should have told Allison the truth about what happened the night her mom was bit. Letting Derek shoulder the blame was bullshit.”

His dad shot him a look. “I’m giving you a pass on all the swearing because you’re hurt, and I figure your filter is at an all-time low, but I have my limits.”

“Message received and understood, Pops.”

“Right.” His father shook his head. “But Stiles is absolutely right. Scott caused a lot of problems for you guys because he was trying to protect Allison and even more problems by not getting your permission for his dumb-ass plan.”

“Language,” Stiles chided with a grin, getting a huff of laughter from his dad.

“The point is that Scott isn’t showing the maturity necessary to be trusted with big decisions right now.”

Stiles frowned. “What does that mean?”

“Just a problem I’m working on, kiddo, don’t worry about it yet.”

“Well, that’s not ominous.”

Derek looked at Noah and softly said, “He’s said no to being in my pack repeatedly, but I’ll give him one more shot if you ask me to.”

That broke Stiles’ heart a little bit.

“I’m not going to ask you that, Derek,” his father quickly replied. “And I don’t think it would be good for you.”

Derek nodded, looking about as grumpy as ever, but Stiles thought he could see the relief. As much as Stiles would have loved for everyone to wind up in the same pack and have all these issues get sorted out, the shit Scott had pulled had serious consequences. The fact that Scott was too much of a moron to appreciate those consequences didn’t lessen their impact on anyone else.

Sometimes, you were forgiven for the stupid shit you pull when you were a kid and it didn’t follow you through your whole life but, other times, your dumb-ass decisions haunted you forever. The best he could hope for was that Scott’s life wouldn’t be ruined by his choices of the last few weeks. As mad as Stiles was at Scott—and he was plenty mad—he hated the idea of Scott ending up an omega or, worse, going feral and having to be killed. The thought made something unpleasant roil in his stomach.

Most of the pack looked at him, but no one said anything.

“I’ll only be at the station for a bit, but if you need me to pick up anything on the way home, text me, okay?”

“Sure, Dad.”

His father stopped next to him and rubbed his hand over Stiles’ hair, and then he dropped a kiss on the top of his head. He’d normally wave away that kind of touchy-feely stuff in front of others but, right now, it just felt good. His dad squeezed Derek’s shoulder, and then he was gone.

As soon as the front door was closed and locked, Derek asked, “You okay?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Chemo signals. You smelled sad.”

“Just me hoping that Scott hasn’t irrevocably fucked up his life.” When Derek tensed, Stiles shook his head. “Scott isn’t actually your responsibility, and it’s not your fault, so don’t take on, okay? I can support you guys and still feel bad for Scott even while I want to kick his ass. All of these things can co-exist in the wild, elusive Stiles.”

Derek snorted. “Right. You’re multifaceted.”

“Hey! I have facets. Many of them in fact! I’m like a damn diamond!”

“Sparkly?” Erica piped up.

He threw a throw pillow at her.

– – – –

Noah entered the station, one of the rare times he wasn’t in uniform. Most of the people from Sweetland were gone, though he could see Sheriff Morris at his desk through the open door to his office. There were two people from Sweetland and two from Yuba City still working with the Beacon Hills deputies to try to catch more of Argent’s men. They’d arrested two so far, but there were at least two more out there. And Gerard, of course.

“How’s Stiles?” Tara asked immediately.

“He’s doing okay. Or as well as he can be. Some of his friends are looking after him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to talk them into a Call of Duty marathon, but he’ll quickly discover how still he isn’t when he’s playing video games.”

She smiled faintly. “It was hard…seeing him like that.”

Noah rubbed the back of his neck, reliving several rough moments from last night. “Yeah. One of the hardest moments of my life.”

She squeezed his arm. “So what did you need?”

“I told Sheriff Morris I’d be stopping by. Need to sort out when I’m taking control of my station again.”

“I dunno. She could stay a bit,” Tara said with a grin. “She doesn’t put up with any crap from Curtis.”

“Hey! I don’t put up with any crap from Curtis.”

“You keep telling yourself that, but he’s worn you down. She’s not inured yet. Besides, I think he’s scared to death of her.”

“Really?” Curtis was easily double Stephanie’s size and nothing much seemed to affect him.

“Oh yeah. Thought he was going to piss himself when she was lecturing him about the state of his uniform.”

Noah chuckled. “Well, maybe I’ll ask for some pointers or get her to give him an extra lecture before she leaves.” Curtis could be a good deputy, but he was a damn slob. Drove Noah absolutely crazy.

He talked to Tara for a minute more and then checked in with his other deputies. Parrish was in even though it was supposed to be his day off. He defended his decision to pull an extra shift, and Noah decided to let it go, appreciating his efforts considering that Parrish was new to the department.

Stephanie was waiting for him with a cup of coffee.

“Thanks.”

She rounded the desk and they both sat in the visitor chairs. He appreciated her attempt to put them on a more equal footing in his own office. It would have been weird to talk to her from across the desk while she was seated in his chair.

She pulled an evidence bag out of a backpack by the chair. “We found Mr. Boyd and Ms. Reyes’ cell phones in one of the cabinets in the basement. We processed them for evidence already, and they can have them back.”

He took the bag and slipped it all into his jacket pocket.

Then Stephanie pulled out a metal speaker-looking thing from her bag and set it on the desk. She flipped a switch. “Now we can really talk.”

“What’s that?”

“Does a couple things. Werewolves can’t hear around it. I use it carefully since it hurts their ears, but my guys are out now, so it’s safe in that regard.” She sipped her coffee. “The other thing it does is distort audio if anyone is trying to use a recording device or has a parabolic mic trained this direction.”

“You think my office is bugged?” he asked incredulously.

“It wasn’t. I had the whole station checked just in case—we did find a couple, and it’s unlikely we’ll ever determine who planted them.”

Noah’s jaw clenched.

“But the parabolic mic is still a possible issue, and we noticed some new hunters in town. It’s becoming more urgent to get Chris Argent out of here so he can go deal with it and get them out of this county. Preferably the whole territory.”

Noah nearly made a fist around the coffee cup, which would have been a painful mess. He set it on the desk until he could be sure his temper was under control. “There’s not much we can charge him on?”

“Maybe, though I do think he’s actually trying to follow the hunter’s code, so I wonder if it serves to bog him down in legal issues that might go nowhere when he needs to be handling the hunters in town.”

Noah frowned, staring at the wall for a long time.

“Look, Noah, I know it doesn’t sit well, and it took me a long time to figure out how to balance my duty as sheriff, my commitment to the law, with this…shadow world that has its own rules. All I can do is use my best judgment and hope it’s enough to protect as many people as possible. What I know for sure is that ethical hunters need to be out there, and I try to smooth the way for them as much as possible because, ultimately, they help with public safety. Same as me helping to protect peaceful werewolves. They’re a better aid to public safety than hunters when it comes to other supernatural threats.”

He sighed. “I feel really out of my depth here.”

“Every cop I know who found out about this has been where you are. I’ll get you in touch with some of the others. We get together when we can and compare notes about what’s going on in our various jurisdictions.”

“That’d be good.” He wasn’t even sure what else to say on the subject. It was like taking a sidestep into the Twilight Zone.

“If you’re okay with releasing Chris, I think we should do that first and then you and I have an informal chat with him to get your questions answered and concerns addressed.”

“Well, I definitely want to talk to him,” Noah said darkly.

“And so I’m going to be there.”

He glared at her a little. “I’m not going to hurt him.”

She shot him a look. “And there’s no question of it being aboveboard if I’m present, so suck it up, Sheriff.”

Snorting in amusement, he saluted her. “Yes, ma’am.”

“The more pressing issue is that we have…detained Gerard Argent.”

He stared. “The general wisdom from our furry contingent is that he’d be dead by now.”

“Well, he’s most assuredly not dead. I’m not even sure what he is. But he’s leaking black goo from nearly every available orifice.”

“Ugh.” Noah shuddered and recoiled at the visual she was painting.

“We caught him when we got those two goons of his last night. They were going to make contact with him, no doubt take him to safety. We arrested them first and then Lucas was able to track him by scent. We didn’t officially arrest him because…”

“Leaking inexplicable black goo just about covers the reason why.” He shuddered.

“We’re going to dial back the manhunt some with the supposition that he made it out of town, but I’m not sure how to proceed.”

“What’s the typical course of action?”

“I can’t say it’s really come up. When the supernatural world breaks the law, either the supernatural beings or hunters deal with it. When hunters break the law, we deal with it in the legal system. I have no idea what to do with a partial werewolf, law-breaking, code-breaking hunter.”

“Can we get some werewolf perspective on the matter?”

“You mean Hale?”

“No,” he said slowly, thinking it through. “I’d rather leave Derek out of it. Once everything is settled, I’ll let him know what happened to Gerard, but he’s been victimized by Gerard enough.”

“He may prefer to deal with Gerard, but I agree that getting another viewpoint is probably a good idea. I’ll ask Lucas to reach out to his alpha for suggestions. If his alpha thinks we should involve Mr. Hale, well then…”

“I’d consider that a reputable source, and then I’ll go talk to Derek,” Noah agreed.

“Noah…” Stephanie sighed. “The only answer may be a quiet execution and then cremate the man.”

Noah winced.

“We can try locking him up, but I think the black goo thing would come under scrutiny, and even if it didn’t, it’d be considered a medical issue and he’d be a prison hospital. And nothing that leaves him alive negates his influence and the resources he can call upon. To the hunter community, he could make out to be a victim rather than the cause of his own problem. He could trigger a war with the supernatural world, and the civilians we’re responsible for will get caught in the crossfire.”

Noah rubbed the back of his head. “I’m not sure I’m the right person to make that call. It feels too personal because I have no problem with him being executed.”

“Well, most werewolves are going to agree with you.” She stared at him for a long time. “All right, because of your personal involvement, and because werewolves aren’t exactly unbiased when it comes to Gerard Argent, I’m going to step in and make the decision once I’ve heard all available options.”

“As much as I’m not okay with this vigilante justice system, I recognize we don’t have much choice, and I’ll support you in whatever you decide,” Noah confirmed.

“If he dies, the story from our end will be that he’s still wanted. The hunters and supernatural community will be left to assume he’s dead from bite rejection. It has to be made clear to the hunters that Gerard sought the bite to cure his cancer. We can’t afford reprisals coming down on this area because one of their more revered hunters is dead.”

Noah sighed. “Which means we need Chris Argent more than ever because who else is going to convince them of that?”

“Unfortunately.” She shot him a sympathetic look. “I wish we could just throw the book at the entire family and be done with them. I’m so sorry, Noah.”

“This is hardly your fault, but I appreciate the sympathy. We’ll get through it.”

“Let me go handle Chris and then we can meet back in here.”

“What about Allison?” he pressed before she could leave.

“Well, I think that needs to be part of our conversation with Chris. If I’m going to recommend that the DA not charge her, I want some assurances from him that her shenanigans are at an end. I’m sure he’s going to try to explain it away as grief and make us think it was understandable, but I’m not buying. She stops hunting and gets her head on straight. And then gets some damn counseling.”

“How in the world does someone get therapy for stuff like this?”

“There are psychologists in the know about this whole thing. Most of them tend to council supernatural creatures or victims of them. I’d say those that are out there think poorly of most hunters, but that doesn’t mean we can’t scare up someone for Allison Argent to talk to about her werewolf woes.”

He snorted, oddly amused for some reason. “I get that she was grieving for her mother, but her reaction was…unacceptable.”

“If she’d gone after Derek alone, considering that Scott hadn’t told her the whole truth, then I’d be more understanding of her position—based on Gerard’s manipulations and the general hunter mindset to kill anything with bigger teeth than them. But going after three teenagers? Kids she sees in school every day that she damn well knew had nothing to do with her mom? That’s completely unacceptable. I’d throw the book at her for the Reyes and Boyd kidnapping if I thought we could get it to stick, and I wouldn’t care what Chris Argent wanted.”

“And you don’t think it would stick?”

“Oh, I think the DA would press charges based on the evidence we have, but I don’t know that it’d hold up in court considering the actual injuries she inflicted can’t be brought up, and everything Gerard did to her would be considered. They’d lay the whole thing at his feet and, after all, she’s just an impressionable little girl.” She said the last in a derisive tone, conveying exactly what she thought of Allison’s likely defense tactic.

“You know… Hmm…” She tapped her lip, looking thoughtful. “I think I’ll arrange for some unofficial community service that she has to serve under me. If that girl is going to be redeemed into a decent human being, I think she needs to get a different view of things. See what hunters do to those who don’t deserve it.”

He half wanted to press and find out what she was talking about, but he also wasn’t really sure he wanted to know yet. He already had way too much to sort out in his mind.

– – – –

Chris Argent entered the office, looking wary, with Stephanie bringing up the rear and locking the door behind them.

“Sheriff Stilinski,” Argent acknowledged. “Sheriff Morris informed me that the DA had decided not to press any charges. So my meeting with you is a courtesy because Sheriff Morris requested it.”

Noah arched a brow at what seemed like blatant posturing. “And you know that we haven’t decided whether or not to charge your daughter, so you can drop the act and sit down or keep going and see where it gets you.”

Argent glared. “She’d never be convicted of anything.”

“That’s debatable since two of the hunters who assisted her in abducting her classmates are in custody and might just roll over on her as a ringleader. But whether she’s convicted or not, a trial is a very real possibility, and something I’d think she wouldn’t want to have hanging over her head and tarnishing her future prospects since she’d be a legal adult by the time anything made it to court. So you can sit down and talk or you can keep on. Because I’m about a second from being so done with your whole family.”

Stephanie cleared her throat but didn’t say anything.

Argent looked angry. “I understand why you’re upset, Sheriff, but I had nothing to do with what happened to your son, and I let him go.”

Noah shot to his feet. “How noble of you, Argent! You’re a damn saint for letting three traumatized teenagers walk out your front door after your father and daughter tortured them. Stiles spent the night in the damn hospital. The ribs your father broke nearly wound up in his damn liver!

“The right thing would have been to call the police. Or at least a damn ambulance. Something as simple as a stumble or a bump into a wall as he walked out of your torture house could have resulted in him bleeding out. Don’t pretend like you did the right thing just because you didn’t hurt him personally!”

Argent’s expression was complicated. “I didn’t know he was injured that badly.”

“Injured enough that he can’t go back to school to finish the year out for risk of typical teenage rowdiness giving him a lacerated liver or a punctured lung!”

Argent swallowed and sank into one of the chairs. “None of this is what I wanted,” he whispered.

Noah was breathing heavily and he took a moment to get himself back under control before re-taking his seat. “I actually believe you. My guess is that you moved here hoping to be out from under your father’s thumb, not knowing you’d moved right into the hotbed of murder your own sister had created.”

Argent stared at him for several long moments. “You know everything, don’t you?”

“You mean about your family’s real line of work?” At Argent’s nod, Noah confirmed. “I do now. You had to know Stiles was going to come clean once this took such a violent turn. I did not know when I called Sheriff Morris and had warrants issued for your family’s arrests.”

“I—” he shook his head. “You know, I keep telling myself that I didn’t know what they were doing. That I didn’t know how much they broke the code. But, deep down, I knew. Not the degree to which they were doing it, but I managed to justify it in my mind somehow.”

“Somehow?” Noah repeated incredulously. “That’s not a mystery. You justified it by allowing yourself to believe that werewolves were truly less than you. That they deserved less compassion. That they aren’t entitled to justice. Because if you saw them as being equal to humans, you never would have been able to justify your family’s behavior.”

Argent seemed to consider that for a long time. “Maybe that’s true. I want to say it isn’t, but I just don’t know any more. Since Stiles told me, I’ve been reeling under the knowledge that my wife was so obsessed with killing Scott, who basically hadn’t done anything, that she didn’t stay after the bigger threat—the kanima. I’m not sure Stiles is wrong when he laid the responsibility for the deaths of all those deputies on Victoria’s shoulders.”

Noah reared back like he’d been slapped. He hadn’t had time to put all that together. Stiles had to have been sitting on that knowledge, the pain of it, for days. It took him a minute to reply. “Your family’s hatred of werewolves is so great that it’s just collateral damage when innocent people die.”

“I don’t want it to be that way.”

“Your code was explained to me.”

“We hunt those who hunt us,” Argent recited.

“But it doesn’t seem like that’s true, now does it?” Noah prodded. “You guys just hunt. Doesn’t matter if they came after you or not because, as I hear it, it’s damn rare for werewolves to actually go after hunters because they’re so terrified of the reprisals—not only against them but against everyone they’ve ever known. Maybe some of you are good, but a lot of you are just in the business of killing.”

Noah leaned forward, keeping eye contact with Argent. “If you really want me to think you’re different, that you’re in it for the right reasons, how about you start protecting those who can’t protect themselves. How about you be more concerned with innocent lives, no matter their species, than werewolf versus human. You’re supposed to be a help—maybe an unknown help, but help nevertheless—to law enforcement. Instead, you’re a damn burden.”

“It’s not like I can change it on my own.”

“You can change a part of it. You can set a better example,” Noah shot back. “You’re in charge now with your father gone. If he’s not already dead from bite rejection, I’m sure he soon will be, and we’ll eventually find the damn body.”

“Technically, Allison would be in charge. The Argents are a matriarchal hunting family.”

“Yeah, well, that’s not going to fly.”

“She was grieving.”

Noah glared. “Do not even go there. By your fucked up logic, I can go kill your daughter for what happened to my son.”

“She had nothing to do with what happened to—” he cut himself off and winced.

“Right. Just like Lahey, Reyes, and Boyd had absolutely nothing to do with what happened to your wife. Stop thinking of them as being different from you! They’re just kids. Just like your daughter. Only they’re mostly younger than her. Reyes by almost two years.”

Argent full-on flinched. “Where do we go from here?”

Noah was really too pissed for this, so he shook his head and indicated for Stephanie to take over.

Stephanie leaned forward. “We’ve had other hunters come into town. We’ve got two of the hunters we know were involved in abducting Stiles in custody, and I’d like to get the other two. But I have nothing on these new hunters other than to keep stopping them and checking their weapons’ permits. I want you to get back out there and take charge. If they’re yours, get them under control. If they’re not, tell them to get out of your territory.”

Argent nodded. “I can do that. If they’re Argent hunters, they would have probably been called by my father to aid him when he slipped away from the warehouse.”

“And if you father calls you for aid?” Stephanie pressed.

“You mean, if your assumption of his death is inaccurate?”

“I’ve never heard of anyone surviving bite rejection,” Stephanie said gravely. “But it’s concerning that he hasn’t been spotted. If he’s some outlier and he did manage to survive, it’s reasonable to assume he’s going to come to other Argents—maybe his son—for aid. And my question remains. What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” Argent admitted. “Right now, I’m furious with him. He would have killed my daughter to ensure Scott cooperated in forcing Derek to give him the bite. Aside from that, he actually bartered Allison to Scott like she was to be traded!” He paused and took a breath. “Right now, I’d be happy enough to shoot him but, from a practical perspective, he has a lot of friends in the hunter community and has built up a lot of loyalty. It might not go down well for me or Allison if we deny him aid.”

Noah rolled his eyes. He was so done with everyone covering their own ass.

Morris looked displeased. “Let me put it to you this way, Mr. Argent, if you offer aid of any sort to Gerard Argent rather than calling the police to come pick him up, I’m going to make it my life’s mission to find something to charge you with. And I’ll find something to pin on your daughter too. And, believe me, I know all about some hunter tactics on the East Coast where law enforcement officers who were in the know about hunters suddenly and inexplicably had deadly accidents. There’s a whole coalition of senior law enforcement and judicial people in Northern California who are in the know, and we keep each other informed so we know exactly where all your skeletons are buried. We’ll know exactly who to go after if one of our own gets hurt.”

“I would never condone going after someone in law enforcement,” Argent ground out.

“Excuse me if it’s going to take me some time to believe that. In the meantime, I’ll be taking precautions.” Morris spent a few minutes laying out exactly what she expected from Argent over the next day, week, and month.

“And when will my daughter be released?”

“I want to talk to her first,” Noah interjected. “And Sheriff Morris wants her to agree to community service in Sweetland. It’d be voluntary since there are no charges, but that girl needs to get her head on straight.”

Argent glared at him. “You’re a fine one to point fingers at my child.”

“Hey!” Noah snapped. “The only thing you can fault Stiles for is not telling me the truth so I could arrest your whole crazy family sooner! The only reason that crap with Whittemore got so damn out of hand is because you failed to do your damn job, leaving a group of teenagers to feel like they had no choice but to take on a literal monster by themselves! So shove your sanctimonious bullshit!”

“Okay, I think that’s enough,” Stephanie said softly. “Mr. Argent, I’m going to escort your daughter in here where you and she can have a private conversation. Noah and I will wait in the breakroom while the two of you make your decisions.”

Noah shoved back his chair and left, nearly stomping out of the office. He tossed his cold coffee and poured another cup, drinking it too quickly as he tried to get his temper under control. He shot off a request to Derek to send him a picture of Stiles’ ribs. He wanted something recent with all the damn color that had come up overnight.

His people all left him alone, no doubt recognizing that he was in a foul mood and he needed a minute. By the time Stephanie joined him, he wasn’t seeing red any longer.

“You cooled down a bit?” she asked as she sipped her coffee.

“I’m back down to a simmer.” He jerked his head toward the office. “Sorry for losing it.”

“Nothing to apologize for. I figured I’d count the whole things as a win if we got out of there without you punching him.”

He snorted. “Your bar was me not committing battery?”

“You’re a good man, Noah, but you’re a father, and someone hurt your son. Forgetting yourself wouldn’t be unheard of, though it wouldn’t exactly have served us in this situation. So while I would have understood, I’d have still lectured you until your ears bled.”

Outright laughing now, he considered how she always talked like she was everyone’s mother, but he was pretty sure Stephanie was a couple years his junior. “Save your mad lecturing skills for Curtis because he needs it desperately, and I’d really appreciate your efforts there.”

She made a disgusted sound. “That boy…good god almighty. I’ve seen drunk frat boys the morning after who were tidier.”

“Isn’t that the truth.” He took a breath. “I have just one thing to say to her, and then I’ll abide by whatever agreement you make with the Argents.”

They waited in tense but fairly companionable silence until the door to the office opened and Argent nodded to them.

As soon as the door was closed, the office feeling a bit crowded with all of them in there, Noah assessed Allison Argent. She seemed subdued and wary, but she also struck him as oddly fragile. Then he reminded himself that Matt Daehler had been a traumatized kid at one point too. He hoped it wasn’t too late for Allison, but he couldn’t afford to cut her any slack. He handed her his phone, the picture of Stiles’ ribs—colorful in black, blues, and purples—already on the screen.

She sucked in a breath.

“Stiles could have died,” Noah said softly. “One more hit and he could have bled to death internally in your basement. By your logic, I’d get to kill you and your father for what your grandfather did. You rationalize your actions against your classmates, against teenagers, because they’re werewolves, but the only monstrous actions were your family’s. I’m going to abide by whatever agreement Sheriff Morris and the district attorney come to, but you don’t want to find yourself on my radar. And stay away from the Hale pack.” He took his phone and pocketed it.

He looked to Chris Argent. “You two do what you’re supposed to do and we’ll have no issue. Trust me, you do not want to upset the status quo here.”

Argent nodded, and Noah turned around and left.


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Jilly James

Admin for the Bang and participating author. Sleep-deprived lunatic half the time.

4 Comments:

  1. I really loved Stiles giving Erica and Boyd lessons in obfuscation. I liked your point of divergence as well.
    Chris Argent… the least psychopathic of the Argents, and in some ways arguably worse for that fact. He’s bigoted, but can be made to see that his beliefs are illogical and therefore his way of life could be wrong. But that doesn’t stop him from being complicit in some terrible things, even though he KNOWS it’s not right. If the actor wasn’t so hot I doubt we’d care even half as much. I think you’ve caught him perfectly here

  2. I’m loving this story so much. This is exactly the sort of fix-it that I love the most, and your writing and take on the characters is phenomenal. I really enjoyed how Noah reacted to things. I’m also really enjoying Sheriff Morris. It makes sense that there would be other law enforcement officers in the know.

  3. Stiles teaching Erica and Boyd how to lie convincingly to law enforcement was absolutely, hands down hysterical. And so on par for the character. Lol!

    I have to say it—I love stoned, babbly Stiles. The way he just latches on and announces that he’s adopting a pack of wolves… lol. That was gold

    I also appreciate getting to see into Noah’s mind. I haven’t come across many TW fics that take Noah’s perspective. It’s a refreshing change 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!!!

  4. It’s a crying shame the writers for the show didn’t have a tenth of your talent. This is fantastic. Thank you

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