Title: Earthbound Misfit
Author: Claire Watson
Fandom: Teen Wolf
Genre: Pre-Relationship, Time Travel
Relationship(s): Derek Hale/Stiles Stilinski
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Major Character Death, Violence-Canon Level, Discussion-Murder, Discussion-Genocide
Word Count: 62,600
Summary: When Stiles agreed to be drowned in order to save his dad from the Darach, he didn’t expect to survive. He was okay with that, knowing that Scott would survive and would save his dad for him. He didn’t expect to be met by an older version of himself. Other Stiles made some shocking disclosures about their heritage and then persuaded Stiles to undertake what seemed like an impossible task in order to save everything he loved.
If Stiles had control of the body, he’d be making a face right then. He really wasn’t looking forward to hanging out with Peter again. Enjoyable as it was to have someone appreciate his skills, Peter always came with a side-order of ick that just wasn’t appetising.
“Couldn’t he train you?” Deucalion asked.
Stiles did an internal eyeroll. Right, like Peter would ever deign to help others.
Derek winced. “There’s a trust issue at present. I don’t know if he still holds a grudge against me for killing him, and then Deaton said…” He stopped. “Huh. Deaton. Hmm.”
Jackson frowned. “Does that dickbag poke his nose into everything?”
Derek looked at Other Stiles. “Deaton told me that he wanted to help me because he owed my mother,” he revealed. “Then he warned me against Peter and advised me to put my trust in Scott.”
Other Stiles nodded. “The same Scott that Deaton already knew had plans to betray you. I already told you, Deaton and Morrell have their own agenda. You can’t trust anything they say.”
“Morrell?” Deucalion asked sharply. “My emissary, back before I was blinded, was called Morrell. Marin Morrell. You’re not talking about the same person, are you?”
“One and the same,” Other Stiles confirmed. He yawned again. “Look, can we wrap this up? I really need some sleep.”
Harris frowned. “Mr Stilinski…”
Other Stiles rolled his eyes. “I know that you’re antsy about the, but pushing me when I’m tired won’t get you anywhere. Without the influx of power that Deaton gained when I opened my gates, they’re still decades, maybe even centuries, away from moving on their goals in any significant way. Even if I die before I pass on any info, with the knowledge I’ve already given you, I’m sure you’ll be able to make do.”
Harris glared at him. “Please pardon my concern over the discovery of traitors, Mr Stilinski. This information is vital to the wellbeing of my people, and making do is not—”
“They’ve been around for over a thousand years now,” Other Stiles interrupted. “A couple more days isn’t going to have the dire consequences you’re envisaging.”
“What if they find out that we know?” Harris asked. “What if they killed us to stop us from reporting back? I distinctly recall you saying that we were killed in your timeline, so it’s not an unreasonable fear!”
“You were killed by a darach while off your guard,” Other Stiles replied. “I have just spent a significant part of the night putting you on your guard. I would hope that you and Jasteri are now taking more precautions than you were.”
“Very well,” Harris said. “If this goes wrong, my spirit will haunt you for the rest of your days.”
“Not that there are likely to be many,” Other Stiles said. “Actually, you know what would be a good idea? If you took Deucalion home with you, put him up for the night. Your place has got to be better than here.” He indicated the run-down warehouse they were in. “Deucalion’s senses are better than yours, and any fae intending to harm you won’t be expecting him.”
“True,” Harris agreed grudgingly. He turned to Deucalion. “Would you care to share bread and hearth with me? It’s nothing palatial, but there are clean sheets, running water, electricity and refrigeration. If you enjoy cooking, I have a designer kitchen that hasn’t seen use in years.”
Deucalion hesitated briefly before inclining his head gracefully. “I would be honoured to accept your hospitality, provided it doesn’t displease the alpha of this territory.”
Derek’s smile was tight. “That’s fine. Thank you for extending hospitality to an ally of the Hale pack.”
Their responses appeared to please Harris. “It’s nice to see courtesy isn’t dead after all.” His glance at Other Stiles was anything but subtle.
“Yeah, yeah,” Other Stiles said, unaffected. “Derek, are you and Isaac still staying in the same place as you were a couple of weeks ago?”
Derek nodded. “I’ve been looking at finding somewhere more suitable, but getting finances sorted out has been a problem.”
“Why don’t the two of you come and stay at Casa Stilinski? We’ve done our best to keep the hunters off balance while I work, but it’s so isolated out there. Who knows what hunters might do when none of the Argents come home tonight. There’s a spare room with a bed already made up. Go and get him, come on over, and get some sleep in a real bed for a change.”
“We’ve been fine so far,” Derek pointed out, frowning.
Other Stiles threw his hands in the air. “Please, Derek, just humour me on this. If you and Isaac are nearby, I won’t have to waste energy and brainpower worrying that some asshole is attacking you. I might look like the Stiles you know and…have saved the life of, but in truth, I’m a PTSD riddled nonagenarian who still dreams about your brutal death.”
Derek’s frown changed from ‘I have no intention of doing what you said’ to ‘I’m concerned about you.’ “Alright. I’ll go and get Isaac and meet you back at your house. You take the Camaro.” He lobbed the keys at Other Stiles, who caught them out of the air.
Other Stiles grin was a little manic. “Awesome! I always wanted to drive that car! I’ll take good care of her, promise.”
“What about me?” Jackson asked, lifting his chin in a parody of his former arrogance. “I don’t want to be left out.”
“Derek can see you home,” Other Stiles suggested. “You’re welcome to play hooky and come over tomorrow to join in the info dump and planning session.”
That asshole still has a restraining order on me! Stiles reminded him indignantly.
“Rather, you’re welcome if the restraining order is lifted,” Other Stiles amended smoothly.
Jackson flipped him the bird. “Yeah, fair. I’ll see you later.” He hesitated a moment. “Thanks, Stilinski. For showing me the…” He made a vague hand gesture. “The thing.”
“You’re welcome,” Other Stiles replied, smiling.
Derek rested his hand on Jackson’s shoulder again and looked at Harris. “Will the two of you ensure Stiles gets home safe?”
“I’ll have the car,” Other Stiles pointed out. “I’ll be dropping them off.”
“Or they could find their own way home from your house.”
“You don’t need to coddle me like this, Derek,” Other Stiles said, rolling his eyes. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself, you know.”
Derek rolled his eyes right back. “You’re not the only one with PTSD. Humour me.”
Other Stiles sighed. “Fine. I’ll allow myself to be babysat. But you and Isaac will be staying until you have a better housing option lined up. A better option by my definition of the word. No lurking in condemned buildings.”
Derek shook his head. “I’ll see you later.” He and Jackson disappeared into the darkness.
Deucalion watched them go. “There’s a lot of his mother in that boy.”
Other Stiles took out Stiles’ phone and sent a quick message to Noah that he’d offered Derek and Isaac the indefinite use of the spare room. “Yeah? He never seemed to think so. Held his mother up as some sort of perfect alpha, one whose legacy he could never live up to.” He threw the keys he was holding into the air and caught them again. “Come on, I wasn’t kidding about needing sleep.”
Deucalion followed him out. “I take it that, in the future that you’re from, Gerard Argent’s spell didn’t break?”
Other Stiles groaned. “Can we please leave all this for tomorrow?” He looked at Deucalion’s intense expression and relented. “No, the spell didn’t break. A whole bunch of stuff happened where you tried to recruit both Derek and Scott, then everything got more complicated by the presence of a darach, who was Kali’s old girlfriend and emissary, wanting revenge for nearly being killed. Add in a couple of fae hiding in the background with their own agenda; it was a bit of a shit-show.”
Deucalion shuddered. “I’m not sorry I missed it.” He climbed into the back seat without protest.
Stiles had wanted to drive Derek’s car since he’d first seen it. This wasn’t exactly how he’d pictured it. I wish to lodge an objection.
“Too bad, mini-me,” Other Stiles chortled as he revved the engine. “You’ve wanted to drive this for what, months now? I’ve waited decades. Just take what vicarious pleasure you can get. Maybe bat your eyelashes at Derek later.”
Deucalion’s baffled face appeared in the space between the front seats. “What?”
“He’s talking to the Stiles who owns the body,” Harris explained. “Going by the dialogue I’ve witnessed so far, the younger version appears to be accepting the older version to a rather remarkable degree.”
Other Stiles waved a dismissive hand. “Aside from the kind of inherent awesomeness that spans decades and timelines, Stiles and I have the same goals. He knows that I’m better equipped to fulfil them, so he’s content to let me drive.” He smirked. “His body, anyway. He’s not so happy that I’m driving the car.”
Deucalion gave Other Stiles an evaluating stare. “I’d be interested in hearing about that. It was my understanding that the kind of time-travel you’re claiming to have achieved was impossible.”
“You’re not wrong,” Other Stiles admitted. “In normal circumstances, it would have been impossible. A great deal of luck and even more sacrifice went into giving me a single chance to make enough of a difference to derail the future we lived through. I doubt it could be replicated.”
Deucalion raised one eyebrow. “It was that bad?”
“It was all over,” Other Stiles corrected. “That sacrifice I was talking about? Was almost the entirety of the remaining fae elite, both the Houses and the High Circle. They connected to what was left of theand poured their magic and life forces into me. It was a last-ditch effort, and if it had failed…well, at that point, the world was functionally dead already. If the time-travel attempt had failed, it would just have sped things up a bit.” He pulled into the empty driveway and shut off the engine. “Are you sure you two don’t want a ride? What Derek doesn’t know won’t hurt him, after all.”
“But it might hurt my alliance with him,” Deucalion pointed out. He looked at Harris. “Is your place far? We could call a cab, although I imagine the wait will be significant at this time of the morning.”
Harris shook his head. “It’s about a fifteen-minute walk to a diner where cab drivers congregate while waiting for fares. I’ll place a call, and we can start heading in their direction.”
“Your choice. I’ll see you later then.” Other Stiles yawned. “By later, I mean early afternoon. I really need sleep.”
“I’d feel better about leaving you here if your father was home.” Harris hesitated. “Would you object to me casting a quick ward over you? Just for my peace of mind.”
Other Stiles sighed. “Go on then.” He raised his eyebrows. “And while you’re at it? You can get rid of those other wards you’ve been layering on me for the last few years.”
Harris didn’t even look guilty; he just flicked his fingers. “It solved a problem.” He frowned briefly, and his hands got that dark, clawed look to them. He flicked them in Stiles’ direction again, and when he shook them out, they looked normal again. “Done. We’ll see you this afternoon.”
Other Stiles didn’t bother watching them go. He got the house key out of his pocket and let himself inside, closing the door behind him.
For several long moments, he just stood there, breathing. “I’d forgotten what safety smelled like,” he said softly. Stiles could feel the edges of the bittersweet nostalgia that Other Stiles felt; it made him want to cry. How the hell was Other Stiles still standing, carrying that around with him?
“Do you want your body back, then?” Other Stiles asked wearily.
I don’t know, Stiles replied hesitantly. At first, I thought I would, but…it might be better to leave things how they are for now. I don’t know how easy it would be to turn over the reins again.
“If that’s what you want,” Other Stiles said, then busied himself making sure that the spare room was ready for Derek and Isaac.
There’s only the one bed, Stiles pointed out. Should we get out the inflatable mattress?
“Derek and Isaac will be happier sharing. It’s a pack thing.” He went upstairs, hesitating in the hallway.
What’s wrong? Stiles inquired.
“I need to sleep,” Other Stiles said. “I know I do. I’m running on empty, and tomorrow will be hard, but I know that when I lie down and close my eyes, I’m going to fall apart. Seeing Derek again, seeing Dad. Hell, even seeing Scott.”
Stiles stayed silent. He didn’t know what to say.
Other Stiles drew in a shuddering breath and opened the bedroom door.
Other Stiles’ wept quietly into Stiles’ pillow for an hour before exhaustion overcame him, and he dropped into sleep, dragging Stiles down into slumber with him. If Derek and Isaac had arrived, Stiles didn’t notice.
Their sleep was anything but restful. They shared their dreams, and it was a kaleidoscope of horrific images. Other Stiles must have had practice with suppressing them because, in the beginning, whenever Stiles saw people he knew—his father, Derek, Lydia, Cora, Melissa, Scott, Isaac and more—they slid away almost immediately.
In their place were scenes almost too fantastic to be real. A landscape like something taken from a fantasy RPG, all jewel tones and lush natural vistas. An enormous tree, so present and real that even dreaming, Stiles felt that if he just reached out, he would be able to touch it. Otherworldly beings flitted here and there, never quite in focus. It was beautiful and serene, and part of Stiles resonated so strongly with it that when the slideshow of his mind moved on to show him an irradiated nightmare version of Beacon Hills, he felt an almost physical pain.
People burned and screamed, and the air was thick with grimy smoke. In the dream, Stiles was trying to get somewhere; it was urgent, he was needed, but the smoke blocked his vision and choked him; strangers were grasping at him, crying out in despair and pain.
Back to the fantasy landscape, only it was no longer the idyllic scene of earlier. A high-pitched shriek was filling the air, making it impossible to think, and the wispy, ethereal forms that he hadn’t been able to see looked more solid. Most were swaying in place, eyes fixed on the tree. The tree! Stiles had to get to the tree, knew that time was running out, but it was like moving through molasses. Even as he strained forward, the shrieking went impossibly high, bringing him to his knees. To Stiles’ horror, the enormous tree, the one he knew to be the most important thing left in his world, cracked down the centre.
The swaying forms collapsed to the ground like puppets whose strings had been cut. What was left of the great tree began to disintegrate, crumbling away to nothing, and Stiles could only watch, helpless. Another vision of his dad, again ruthlessly suppressed. Then, scenes that could have belonged to an apocalypse movie. Familiar landmarks, international icons, broken and deserted, frozen over. The feeling of eyes watching from hidden places as Stiles poked through destroyed museums, searching for something, always searching.
Stiles was tied up, shackled and chained to one side of a platform in the centre of a stadium-like arena, with taser-wielding men on either side of him. Derek, bound and gagged, was dragged forward, and Stiles’ panic grew. He knew how this was going to end, didn’t want to see it, couldn’t stop it. He struggled with all his might, but to no avail; Derek was dragged closer and closer to the platform.
“Stiles!” Derek called. “Stiles!”
Stiles tried desperately to use the magic that had been roiling in him since the drowning, but something in the shackles was stopping him.
“Stiles!” Derek called again.
When Stiles tried to call back, he became aware that his mouth was gagged too. He was desperate, he was—
“Stiles!” Derek sounded closer. That wasn’t right. How was he talking through the gag? Stiles stopped struggling for a second, confused.
“Stiles, wake up!”
Stiles woke up. Derek! You’re okay! Shit. He’d forgotten that Other Stiles was in control.
Other Stiles sat up, taking in a deep breath. “Thank you for waking me.”
Derek looked uncomfortable. “I know you need your sleep, but that didn’t look particularly restful.”
Other Stiles ran a slightly shaky hand over his face. “No, it wasn’t. What time is it?”
“It’s almost midday,” Derek replied. He gestured to the clock.
“Right. Forgot that was there,” Other Stiles muttered. He stood up and stretched, uncaring about his lack of clothing. Stiles did some virtual blushing. He wasn’t ashamed of his body, exactly, but next to Derek’s chiselled perfection, he felt self-conscious.
“The sheriff is still asleep,” Derek informed him, not appearing bothered at all by the skin on display. “Isaac is downstairs with Jackson, Boyd, and Erica; Harris called to say he and Deucalion will arrive in about half an hour. Jackson suggested bringing Lydia in, but I thought it best to defer the decision to you.”
Other Stiles thought it over. “Lydia…it’s tricky. She can be an asset and deserves to know what’s happening given everything that’s happened to her since Peter bit her. On the other hand, Allison is her best friend. Also, Lydia likes to be the centre of attention. From memory, she hasn’t learned to put that aside yet. We would spend a lot of valuable time explaining things and answering her questions.”
Derek raised an eyebrow. “I’m not hearing a solid yes or a solid no.”
Other Stiles sighed. “No. Although I recognise that the ‘no’ is going to come with consequences later. I’m sorry about that, but we just don’t have the time to spare. Besides, she’ll either be at school or recovering from the resurrection.” He yawned. “I need to have a quick shower, then I’ll join you all. Wait. You didn’t mention Peter. Is he here?”
Derek shook his head. “I wasn’t sure how you felt about him. I can get him here, if you’d like.”
Other Stiles nodded. “Yes. I was a little hesitant, but if Deaton told you to keep him at arm’s length, then that’s a good enough reason to keep him close by, wouldn’t you say?”
“Good point.” Derek turned to leave. “I’ll make you some pancakes. If you take too long up here, Isaac will probably eat them.”
Having a shower while Other Stiles controlled his body was probably the weirdest part of the experience so far. Remember the Adderall, Stiles reminded him. The morning dose is overdue by now.
“I’m out of the habit,” Other Stiles said, wrapping himself in a towel and padding barefoot back to the bedroom. “A lot of the ADHD symptoms are the result of our locked fae capabilities. Faelings learn by doing, rather than being told things, and they use their magic almost from birth. Magic use slows down visible ageing considerably, and faelings are uncommon and therefore indulged. A fae doesn’t typically enter a place of learning or an apprenticeship until they’re at least a hundred, by which time they’ve learned to internally adjust their brain chemistry. ADHD meds are a poor substitute.”
If Harris is aware of all this, why has he always been such a dick?
Other Stiles finished drying off. “I never really got the chance to ask him, but I’ve thought about it over the years. Part of it might just be that he’s a dick. He might have resented us, wanted us to suffer since he was stuck watching over us. Mind you, it’s not like he hasn’t been getting a sideways revenge all this time.”
Are you talking about that spell you made him remove last night?
Other Stiles surveyed the wardrobe. “I forgot just how little I cared about what clothes I was wearing.”
The spell! Tell me about the spell!
“Turns out that Harris had been experimenting with some pretty ground-breaking behavioural response facilitator nets. Since he didn’t want to be stuck watching over our descendants for the rest of his days, he decided the best thing to do was to discourage us from breeding.”
Other Stiles laughed. “Remember all that time you spent wondering what was wrong with you? Turns out it was Harris, doing his best to cock-block us for life. After he died and his webs unravelled…well. Let’s just say that I learned that men and woman both tend to think we’re smoking hot.” He finished dressing and looked at himself in the mirror. “You need to stop buzzing your hair, though. It makes you look like a kid.”
That was the point, Stiles thought absently. Are you serious? Harris really did something to me that stopped people from wanting to date me? And you’re willing to trust him?
“I think that’s why he made sure we had detention so often,” Other Stiles replied. “I’m glad that I have the chance to ask him about it. As far as trusting him goes…almost everyone can be trusted to act in their own self-interests. Right now, I have something he wants. He knows I won’t give it to him until I get what I want. Once that trade is complete, we’ll need to re-evaluate.”
Wait, did Tara know about this?
Other Stiles shrugged. “I have no idea. The only reason I know what Harris did is that the fae who were scrying into the past told me about it. But Tara isn’t a mage, and webs are called webs for a reason. She would have seen that something was on me, but there was supposed to be. Also…Tara is nice, and I’m sure she cares about us, but that doesn’t mean she wants to hang out watching endless lines of Stilinski kids any more than Harris does. Many fae never form partnerships or have kids, so to her, it might not have seemed like a terrible thing.”
Stiles wished he could fold his arms over his chest. But you made Harris get rid of it, right?
“Sure did. If that’s all, we should really get downstairs. You’re in for a treat; Derek makes amazing pancakes. If we’re lucky, he found some hazelnuts somewhere. That man could start selling nothing but hazelnut raspberry pancakes from a street cart, and he would soon be rich. They’re that good.”
It wasn’t until they arrived in the kitchen that Stiles remembered werewolf hearing. Great. He just loved knowing that everyone else knew his business.
Other Stiles didn’t appear to care. “Yes!” He took the plate that Derek held out to him. “I’ve missed these so much! Nothing else can quite compare.”
“My father used to make them,” Derek said quietly, turning back to the stove and ladling some batter into the frying pan.
Other Stiles patted him companionably on the shoulder and took his plate to the dining room table. “Make room!” he ordered. When none of the betas gave any indication of moving, he raised his eyebrows. “That’s minus one.”
Erica and Isaac leapt to their feet. Jackson rose with a more leisurely air, as though it was his idea all along and nothing to do with Stiles. Boyd didn’t budge, just gave Stiles an unimpressed stare.
“Half point rebate to Erica, Isaac and Jackson. Boyd goes to minus two.”
Why had Stiles never thought to do that? Nice.
Derek spoke up behind him. “What?”
Erica shuddered. “He does this creepy counting thing when he’s pissed off. You don’t want him to get to five. I’d forgotten, to be honest. He hasn’t done it since elementary.”
“What happens at five?” Derek asked, confused.
“You get punished,” Isaac replied. “It’s never actually happened to me, but I saw it happen…maybe five times? I don’t want it to happen to me.”
“It happened to Jackson; twice,” Erica tattled.
Other Stiles sat down and tucked into his pancakes, ignoring the discussion. As soon as the first forkful reached his mouth, Stiles could see why. They might well have been the best thing he’d ever tasted. Maybe even better than his mother’s apple dumplings, and he wouldn’t have believed that possible.
Erica and Isaac sat down too, but Jackson leaned against the door frame.
“What kind of punishment was it?” Derek asked, sounding amused.
Jackson shuddered. “Inventive. Oh, look, Harris and Deucalion have arrived. Why don’t I answer the door?”
Other Stiles kept methodically working through his pancakes.
“Something smells good,” Noah said from the doorway. “Is there enough for me?”
Derek wordlessly handed him a plate.
Should he really be eating those? Stiles asked. Something that tastes this good has got to be unhealthy.
“Today’s a special occasion,” Other Stiles replied when he’d finished his mouthful. “He can go back to his regular diet tomorrow. Besides, taking them away from him now would probably constitute some sort of crime.”
Isaac didn’t need prompting to get up when Noah got to the table.
Noah glanced around. “Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Mr Lahey.”
Isaac shrank back slightly. “It’s just Isaac.”
Jackson led Harris and Deucalion in. “Are we going to have enough room?”
Noah was chewing his first bite of pancake, eyes wide.
Other Stiles answered. “We can bring the dining room chairs into the living room. That way, everyone will have something to sit on, if they want.” He used the last piece of pancake to wipe up the remaining raspberry coulis, chewing it slowly. Then he sat back and sighed. “That was amazing,” he said to Derek. “Thank you. You are absolutely my favourite werewolf ever.”
Derek’s ears went pink, and he busied himself wiping down the kitchen counter.
Erica frowned. “Well, that’s unfair. How are we supposed to compete with our alpha?”
Isaac gave her an incredulous look. “You don’t. Just admit the window closed and move on.”
Erica stuck her lower lip out in an exaggerated pout. “Fine.”
“Someone’s coming,” Boyd interjected. “Smells familiar, but I’m not sure…”
“Probably Peter,” Other Stiles said, getting to his feet. “I’ll go and have a word with him. You puppies can occupy yourselves with getting the seating sorted out.”
Isaac and Erica grumbled, but shut up when Derek glared at them.
Peter was already at the door when Other Stiles got there; Stiles was surprised by the surge of fondness that Other Stiles felt at the sight of Peter’s smug face.
“Stiles,” Peter greeted smoothly. His brow creased slightly. “Or…not Stiles. No. Stiles, but not. What exactly are you?”
Other Stiles beamed. “Time-traveller, piggybacking with Stiles’ permission. I won’t be here for long; I just need to unfuck some world-ending chaos. You in?”
Peter blinked. “Really? That’s…” He shook his head. “You know how much I enjoy chaos. Do I really want to reduce it? Not to mention, the idea of you making the world less chaotic seems paradoxical. One thing is sure, you’re a constant surprise.”
“Says the dude who just came back from the dead,” Other Stiles retorted. “Please?”
Peter smirked. “Touché. Okay then, why not? Count me in.”
Other Stiles smirked back. “I promise there will be plenty of non-world-fucking chaos to be had. Come on, let’s get on with this.” Other Stiles led Peter into the house.
Everyone had moved to the living room, including Noah, who had claimed his recliner while clutching his plate of half-eaten pancakes. The betas were lined up on the couch in bite order, with Boyd perched on one arm. Derek remained standing but had positioned himself beside them, close enough to Jackson to be on hand if there were control issues.
Peter chose a chair on Derek’s other side. He eyeballed Deucalion and glared at Harris, who were both seated across the room, but didn’t say anything. He either hadn’t noticed the way Jackson was staring at him or was deliberately ignoring him. After thinking about it, Stiles concluded it was probably the latter.
Other Stiles took the seat that had been left for him and looked around. “Is Tara not joining us?”
Noah shook his head, loading his fork with pancake goodness. “She was rostered on today, and there’s still a lot of paperwork to complete from the arrests earlier. She mentioned something about a golem but said that it wasn’t a good idea right now.” He popped the forkful in his mouth and chewed blissfully.
Harris coughed. “We can create a semi-functional, lifelike facsimile to take our place for short periods. However, it’s quite power-intensive, and since we’re already holding several weaves in place…” He shrugged.
Peter glared at him, eyes burning electric blue. “Stiles, what exactly is he doing here? Do you know what he did?”
Other Stiles opened his mouth to answer, but Harris started talking first. “The Adrian Harris who unwittingly helped the Argent woman is already dead; he killed himself years ago. I needed a new avatar, so I disposed of his body and then assumed his form and his life.”
Other Stiles raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t know that. Do you know why he committed suicide? Was it related to the Hale fire?”
“It was,” Harris confirmed. “He realised what he’d inadvertently contributed to and couldn’t cope with it. I regret that I wasn’t able to give Ms Hale more assistance when she came asking for information.” He shrugged. “At the time, my priority was keeping my cover.”
Peter’s eyes faded back to their usual blue. He eyed Harris narrowly but didn’t say anything further.
Other Stiles clapped his hands together. “Right! Let me give you the cliff-notes, so we’re all on the same page.”
Stiles’ attention wandered while Other Stiles did a short recap of everything that had happened so far.
Sometimes it hit him just how crazy his life was now. He and his dad were sitting in the living room with a crazy group of people: werewolves, two alpha werewolves, a resurrected ex-alpha werewolf, an ex-murder-lizard, and Harris, who was actually a fae sent to stalk him because of his mother’s sucktastic birth parents. Even crazier, the weirdest one in the whole bunch turned out to be him, since he was currently sharing his body with a time-travelling, badass version of himself, on a mission to save the world!
Even the non-badass part of Stiles was a time-travelling amalgamation, a combination of his seventeen and eighteen-year-old selves. Crazy shit all around.
When Stiles tuned back in again, Other Stiles was talking about the nemeton.
Shit, I missed some of that.
Other Stiles ignored him, so Stiles made a mental note to ask about it later. “Before we can properly restore it, we’ll have to deal with the nogitsune trapped there.”
Peter went pale. “What? There’s a nogitsune on Hale land? How? Who put it there?”
Other Stiles nodded to himself. “I didn’t think you knew. It never made sense that you would, but I didn’t get to see your initial reaction, so I was never absolutely sure. The nogitsune does have the capability to mask its presence, and it’s logical for it to hide. If the Hales had discovered it, they would have found a way to banish it.
“As to who put it there…” Other Stiles sighed. “It was an old kitsune—she’s been around close to a millennium at this point—by the name of Noshiko Yukimura. She summoned it to this plane back in the forties. I imagine she somehow thought it would be the answer to her problems—don’t look at me like that, I have no idea what she was thinking—and then, surprise, surprise, she couldn’t control it. When she finally managed to pin it down, she stuck it in a jar and concealed it in the basement under the nemeton.”
Derek and his puppies looked confused, Deucalion looked surprised, but both Peter and Harris were looking more and more incensed. It’s nice that they have something to agree on, Stiles commented to Other Stiles.
Other Stiles sighed. “I don’t know if it was ignorance of what would happen, if she just didn’t care, or if it was a deliberate, malicious act to harm the holders of the territory. As anyone who knows anything about it should have expected, the presence of the nogitsune affected the nemeton badly. Since the Hales didn’t know the nogitsune was there, they would have had no way of knowing what was making it sick.” He shook his head. “Then, someone took advantage of the nemeton’s weakened state and cut it down its physical representation, the tree.”
Peter and Derek exchanged a long look.
Harris audibly ground his teeth together. “Who?”
Other Stiles smiled grimly. “Someone, or more likely, someones, who were able to hide their presence and signatures from every scrying method my researchers were able to think up.”
“Banyel,” Harris hissed. His face began to blur slightly, and his hands began to form the now familiar dark claws. He breathed deeply for a few moments, then slowly relaxed.
“Yep,” Other Stiles agreed, popping the ‘p.’ “That was our conclusion. My primary task is to see to the nemeton’s restoration. It’s one reason why it was so important to travel back to before the sacrificial drowning. That whole thing just…” he shook his head. “It was bad. The nemeton is a fixed-world implantation, part of the satellite-foundation system that allows the rahl-kest stability. Its contamination and eventual destruction destabilised both realms.”
“What is a rahl-kest?” Noah asked. “It’s not the first time you’ve mentioned it.”
“It’s the focal point of the entire fae realm,” Other Stiles replied. “It connects both realms together, and over time has become an inextricable conduit.”
“What about the darach you mentioned?” Deucalion reminded him. “The one that used to be Julia Baccari. Will you take care of her, too?”
Other Stiles winced. “She’s not technically on my list. With Kali dead, the nemeton restored, and the nogitsune banished, she could sacrifice half the world, and it wouldn’t bring Kali back. With the focus of her vengeance dead, the darach might even fade away.”
Noah had finished his brunch and put the plate aside. “You don’t think she will, though, do you?”
“No,” Other Stiles admitted. “I think that she’ll turn the focus of her rage onto Deucalion, and no explanation of the spell he was under will matter to her.”
“Then just deal with her,” Erica said, the ‘duh’ a silent addition that was almost audible.
“In the last timeline, the darach didn’t arrive in Beacon Hills until well after the alpha pack did,” Other Stiles said. “If she were already here, I’d be happy to take care of her, but I don’t have time to go looking for her. Still, there’s something I’ve got planned that should take care of her, and anyone else who targets the school. I’ll need Tara’s help, but I want to organise some guardians to protect the students from all the creepy villains who seem to be drawn there.”
“What kind of guardians?” Isaac asked suspiciously.
Other Stiles winked. “Fun, magical ones.”
Harris raised an eyebrow. “You mean semi-sentient constructs? You want to use them to protect the students? Won’t they be a bit obvious?”
“Not if they work the way I want them to,” Other Stiles shrugged. “It will depend on what Tara’s got stored away. If the guardian thing isn’t going to be an option, I’ll make sure you have what you need to get rid of her the old-fashioned way.”
Noah sent a sharp glance his way but didn’t say anything.
Peter picked up the conversation. “So, if you’re not going to be taking care of the darach, what will you be doing? Dealing with the nogitsune?”
Other Stiles winced. “Yes and no. I won’t strictly be dealing with the nogitsune myself, although I know what ritual you should use to get rid of it. I can’t fix the nemeton until the nogitsune is gone, and if I try to assist in getting rid of the nogitsune, I’ll lose the build-up of magic that’s going to be critical for the nemeton’s restoration.”
Harris leaned forward. “You’re going to funnel the first opening of your gates into the nemeton to restore it,” he said, fascinated. “But how do you intend to account for—”
“The greatest mages we had left, led by Caerhil no less, spent over a decade working out the best way to do it,” Other Stiles interrupted. “After that, they spent another year teaching me just enough so that I can do what I need to. That doesn’t mean that I understand it. I’m a non-literate person who has been taught to forge the signature of a master. They’ve assured me that it will work. That’s good enough for me.”
Harris sat back. “Performing a ritual like that is a recipe for disaster.”
Other Stiles rolled his eyes. “I was tested until I could draw the entire symbol blindfolded in the dark. Caerhil wouldn’t sign off until I did it perfectly a hundred times in a row. Obviously, it would be better if someone who knew what they were doing could have been here, but one thing that they all agreed on was that trying to convince the courts of the necessity of taking action would waste valuable time in which things could go wrong. The royals are hardly going to want to listen to the words of a half-breed, even one who carries their own blood.” The weight Other Stiles gave to the word ‘half-breed’ lent it a significance that Stiles took note of.
Harris pursed his lips but didn’t comment further.
Other Stiles resumed his explanation. “If we want it to succeed, the ritual restoring the nemeton is going to have to be my very first. That means that I can’t take part in any other rituals until afterwards. But the easiest, or least risky, method of banishing the nogitsune is by ritual, which must be done before I fix the nemeton.”
Noah flicked a glance at Harris. “But you don’t need to. We have two fae here that could take care of that, yes?”
“They could,” Other Stiles agreed. “A nogitsune is a serious issue, and it would require them to focus their full attention on it. That means they would have to drop or tie off any existing webs before they began. I know they wanted to monitor the ones they created at the station last night for some time.”
Peter frowned. “Surely the nogitsune is a greater priority.”
“Yes, if it were the only way,” Other Stiles replied. “Luckily, we have another, far simpler option.” He gestured at Derek.
Deucalion was the first to understand. “Of course. The nemeton is on Hale territory.”
“But his eyes,” Peter pointed out. “They wouldn’t disqualify him?”
Derek flinched slightly. The betas, Noah, and Harris, all looked confused.
Deucalion frowned. “He had blue eyes? I suppose that might disqualify him. It would depend on how he got them.”
“Derek’s eyes are green,” Erica pointed out, her tone suggesting they were all idiots.
Peter flashed his beta-blue eyes at her. “We’re talking about these. The lore is that if a werewolf takes an innocent human life, their eyes no longer burn gold. They burn blue, to warn all who see them that they’re in the presence of a killer.”
Erica, Boyd, and Isaac, stared at Derek, who was making his best impression of a granite statue.
“You’ve killed innocent humans?” Isaac asked, voice trembling slightly.
Derek gave a short, sharp nod and refused to meet anyone’s gaze. There was an awkward silence.
“That’s not quite accurate,” Deucalion said after the silence had dragged out for several moments longer than Stiles thought was necessary. “The blue eyes are an indicator of guilt, not of culpability.”
Peter frowned. “That’s not what I was taught.”
Deucalion shrugged. “It’s a common misperception. Often, people associate the word ‘guilt’ with being found legally responsible. It’s not the same thing at all. I knew a werewolf who had failed to save someone who subsequently gained blue eyes. That person’s death could in no way be attributed to my friend, neither legally nor morally, but he still felt the guilt, and his eyes reflected that.”
“That makes sense,” Other Stiles said, nodding. “It’s like Jackson and the murders Matt used the kanima to commit. Matt was operating Jackson’s body without his consent, without his knowledge, even. Jackson bears no legal or moral culpability. Nevertheless…show us your eyes, Jackson.”
Jackson clenched his jaw but flashed his bright blue beta eyes. Derek reached out and squeezed his shoulder comfortingly.
Isaac took that in. “But you were never a kanima,” he said to Derek accusingly.
Derek folded his arms across his chest. “No.”
Other Stiles rolled his eyes. “We don’t have time to deal with misunderstandings around this. Derek, I know you don’t want to talk about it. Will you allow me to relate the facts? Since it was part of the nemeton’s recent history, it was witnessed and documented. The fae involved had no emotional connection to the events at all, so you can trust that their report is impartial.”
Derek took a deep breath and nodded.
“Including the events relating to the fire?” Other Stiles prodded.
Derek nodded again, expression blank. Peter’s eyes widened before his expression went blank too. It was eerie just how similar they looked at that moment.
Other Stiles sighed. “The short version is that when Derek was fourteen, Paige, the girl he was in love with, was given a turning bite by an alpha werewolf against her will. She was dying, slowly and in agony, and she asked Derek to make it quick to stop her pain. Despite how much it hurt him, he followed her wishes. His eyes turned blue.”
Erica, Isaac, and Boyd, winced. Jackson stared up at Derek with horrified eyes. Noah and Harris both looked pained, and Deucalion looked sympathetic.
Other Stiles continued. “Derek’s pack—also his family—knew what blue eyes meant for a beta; at least they thought they did. Because he was only fourteen, he wasn’t expelled from the pack. He was gently ostracised, though. To distract himself from his overwhelming guilt and grief, he threw himself into school and sports. Less than three months after Paige’s death, Derek met Kate Argent.”
“Ah,” Noah said with dawning comprehension. “That means…sorry, Stiles. Continue.”
Derek looked carved from stone. Peter looked like he might explode.
Other Stiles took a deep breath. “Derek had just turned fifteen. Kate was twenty-six.”
Stiles already knew this stuff. At least, he’d had all the bits and pieces. He’d never sat down and laid them all out chronologically like this, though. God, it was a wonder that Derek was still functional. How much crap did one person have to live through before the universe decided enough was enough?
“By the time she arranged a ‘chance’ meeting, she’d already profiled him for weeks,” Other Stiles went on. “She took advantage of his youth and his social isolation and convinced him that she loved him. Kate carefully extracted as much information from him as possible, and then she struck. She and several hunter minions murdered the Hales by trapping them inside their house and setting fire to it. She’d deliberately planned it for a time when everyone but Derek was expected to be home, intending to capture him afterwards. She wanted to keep him for her own private amusement.”
It’s a good thing that Peter isn’t up to his full strength, Stiles noted. He’s going to break that chair if he’s not careful.
Other Stiles ignored him. “But Kate Argent didn’t get everyone. Laura had gone to join Derek at the last minute, and Cora was playing in the woods far enough away to be missed. Peter had been delayed in town and was on his way home when the fire started. He arrived to discover the flames in full force. He tried to get the front door open and was repelled by the mountain ash barrier that Kate had laid. That was when one of Kate’s hunter cronies shot him with a tranquilliser. Kate herself poured accelerant infused with wolfsbane over him, soaking his clothes and hair, before setting him alight.”
Stiles was fiercely glad that insane!revenge!Peter had been the one to kill Kate. Although a quick death was hardly fair, after all the pain and death that she’d revelled in.
“As soon as Laura realised what had happened, she took Derek and ran,” Other Stiles continued wearily. “She never knew that Cora was still alive. Peter—burned so badly that his survival was in doubt—was left behind.”
Deucalion frowned. “What a horrific position for a young alpha to find herself in. How old was she? I seem to remember that she wasn’t all that much older than her brother.”
“Eighteen,” Derek said. “She was in her final year of high school. We knew that child services wouldn’t allow her to have custody of me, so we ran. We were continually on the move until I turned eighteen; then we settled in New York so I could pick up my GED. We were able to get into Columbia as legacies.”
“You never came back for Peter,” Deucalion observed neutrally.
Derek looked shamefaced. “It was my alpha’s decision. Whenever I asked about it, she shut me down hard, and I didn’t have any resources of my own.”
Peter remained silent.
“I’m sorry to be raking up old history, but this does have relevance to the nemeton,” Other Siles said gently. “Paige’s death occurred there. Her blood, shed by the Hale line in an act of love—one that was welcomed by Paige—nourished it, gave it strength.”
“It wasn’t exactly a willing sacrifice,” Harris pointed out.
“No,” Other Stiles admitted. “But it fit enough of the criteria that the nemeton—crippled, poisoned, and slowly dying as it was—could use it. Then, to all intents and purposes, the Hales all but abandoned the territory.”
“It wasn’t that simple,” Derek grated out.
“I know,” Other Stiles replied. “This is from the nemeton’s perspective, remember. The nemeton didn’t notice things like hunters; it only knew that its protectors were gone. As far as the nemeton was concerned, Peter being left in Beacon Hills was a good thing because Hale blood was close by. Connection with the territory wasn’t completely severed.”
“What exactly does this have to do with why we’re here?” Peter asked.
“The Hales still have ties to the land,” Other Stiles explained. “They have…not sovereignty, exactly, but something close to it. Generations upon generations of Hales have given their blood and lives in its defence. If they ask for its help, it will give it.”
Peter snapped his fingers. “Right. You started to make a suggestion before I derailed the conversation by bringing up blue eyes.”
“I still don’t get why the colour of his eyes would make a difference,” Isaac said. “They’re red now, anyway.”
Deucalion, Peter, and Harris all turned towards him, obviously about to answer him.
“That’s something for later,” Other Stiles interjected hurriedly. “The pertinent point is that the land within the territory has gained a certain level of sapience by its connection with a pack, although it doesn’t manifest in a way that humans can easily relate to. If Derek was a merciless killer of innocents, then the land might well have rejected a rite of petition that he led. But he’s not. He continually does his best to protect the territory and the lives within. The land will assist him.”
Derek’s face was inscrutable. “How can you be so sure?”
“Because I know you, Derek.” Other Stiles was almost vibrating with sincerity. Stiles could feel the earnestness of it.
Derek nodded slowly. “Okay.” His intense stare felt like it was boring holes in Stiles’ skull. “But before we do this, I want to talk to my Stiles. The Stiles from this time. Privately.”
Stiles wasn’t sure what to make of the shaft of pain that slid through Other Stiles at that request. None of it showed on his face, though. “That’s fair.”
“When are we going to ‘do this?’” Harris asked. “I can’t be off school forever, you know.” He eyed the teenage betas with a gimlet eye. “Neither can some of you. People will notice that you’re all ‘sick’ at the same time. Although, I suppose that sudden death of Principal Argent will divert attention somewhat.”
Other Stiles dragged his gaze away from the staring contest he’d been having with Derek. “The nogitsune can be taken care of today; before sundown is probably best. With that sorted out, and if I can spend the night preparing, I’ll be ready to begin my restoration ritual at daybreak tomorrow. That might take anywhere from an hour to half a day.” He glanced over at the betas. “You four don’t need to be there for that. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. Just go to school like normal. Harris, you and Tara can make your own decisions.”
Harris snorted. “Neither my colleague nor I are going to miss this.”
Other Stiles smiled. “I didn’t think so. Caerhil is positive that threading the area withshards won’t have an adverse effect on either ritual.”
Harris’ eyes brightened. “My colleague has a set of rotah’il created by Taeori herself. I’m sure she would allow me to use them for something this exciting.”
“What will happen once the ritual is done?” Noah asked, observing Other Stiles carefully.
Other Stiles looked away. “The tasks I came back to take care of will be complete. With the nemeton restored and theexposed, the world is as safe as we can reasonably hope it to be.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Noah said gently. “What will happen to you? Both of you? My sons.”
There was another sharp spike of pain. Other Stiles sighed. “I will pass on,” he admitted. “That much is unavoidable. My presence here would be too disruptive for me to stay, even if it were permitted. This Stiles,” he put a hand to his chest, “we hope will be okay.”
“You hope. But you don’t know for sure,” Noah said with pained understanding. He lowered his head, hiding his face. “I joined the army at eighteen, it would be hypocritical to…but you’re my son. You’re both my son.”
Derek’s eyes flashed red. “Stiles could die?”
Other Stiles lifted his chin slightly. “Yes. I explained the risks, and he agreed with me that it was worth it. The world is at stake, Derek. One life, to ensure that what I lived through can never happen again? Isn’t that worth it?” He hesitated slightly. “You would do it. You’d make that sacrifice in a heartbeat. Why can’t he?”
Derek shook his head, lips pressed together.
Deucalion inclined his head respectfully. “An alpha’s instinct is to protect. It can be a hard lesson, learning that others might pay the price of protection in our stead.” He caught Derek’s attention. “When it comes down to it, an alpha must put aside personal motivations and do what is best for the pack.”
Derek closed his eyes and nodded. “Understood.” He opened his eyes and looked at Other Stiles. “I still want to speak to Stiles.”
“Me too,” Noah added. “I need to talk to him.”
Stiles wasn’t all that sure he was ready to face his father after these revelations. It might be the only chance he had, though, so he’d just have to suck it up. He was curious about what Derek wanted to say. He couldn’t think of anything specifically that needed closure.
“You promised to tell us about the banyel plot,” Harris reminded him. “Before you shuffle off this mortal coil, if you please.”
Other Stiles ran a hand over his face. “How about this: Harris can pick up everything we’ll need for the nogitsune and the nemeton rituals. While he’s off doing that, I’ll hand over to Stiles so that those who want to speak to him can. At about,” he cast a glance at the clock on the wall behind the television, “3.00 pm, we’ll make our way to the nemeton. If he’s agreeable, Harris can meet us there and walk Derek’s pack through the rite of petition.” He sent an enquiring glance Harris’ way. “I’ve been told what to do, but I’ve never actually done one. You have, so you’d be a better choice to take charge there.”
“If you wish,” Harris agreed, preening slightly.
Other Stiles continued. “The land will answer the petition and provide the power, and once it’s complete, the nogitsune will be gone. Once that’s taken care of, I’ll meet with Tara and Harris to discuss fae politics. That doesn’t concern anyone else, and the Houses would undoubtedly take a dim view of their business being disclosed to outsiders. It would be best if we didn’t have an audience for that.”
“Deputy Graeme doesn’t finish her shift until 7.00 pm,” Noah added. He hesitated. “If Stiles isn’t needed for the banishment this afternoon, maybe you could just stay here with me?”
Other Stiles winced. “We won’t be actively involved, but I do really want to see for myself that it’s done. I have control issues, you know.”
Noah barked out a laugh. “Oh, I know. It’s been years since I’ve been able to properly indulge either my sweet or my savoury tooth.”
Other Stiles scowled playfully. “Don’t think we don’t know about the candy bars and the ‘night-shift pizza and cheesecake run,’ old man.” His expression softened. “Why don’t you come along? We can sit to one side and watch so that I can be sure it all goes well and still spend some time together.”
Noah gave a grateful smile. “That sounds good, son.”
“Sunrise should be about halfway between 6.00am and 7.00am. I’ll need at least half an hour of preparation on-site, so I’ll aim to be there by 5.30am. Anyone who wants to observe better already be there by that point, so I don’t get distracted.” Other Stiles hesitated. “Technically, I don’t need anyone to be there, but…Dad, Derek, I would be grateful for your support.”
“Of course,” Noah replied, glancing at Derek, who inclined his head in assent. “Is there anyone you would prefer not to be there?”
Other Stiles smiled. “No one here will have a negative effect on my casting. However, I’m going to require witnesses to be silent and still until I’m done, and it could take hours. So maybe bring a chair.”
Erica made a face. “I was going to make a case that I should come, but I don’t know if keeping still for hours on end is something that I’m interested in.” She cocked her head. “It’s weird that McCall isn’t in this up to his eyebrows. I wish I’d been there to see the showdown.”
“I saw most of it,” Jackson told her. “It wasn’t as satisfying as you’d think. Maybe if he’d comprehended what was going on, what he was throwing away.” He shrugged. “He was scarily obsessed with Allison.”
“Nothing new there,” Isaac muttered sourly. “Getting him to talk about anything else is hard work.” Given the steps Isaac and Allison had been taking towards each other before his time travel, Stiles wasn’t sure what to make of Isaac’s bitterness.
“Can we get on with it?” Derek asked.
“Sure,” Other Stiles agreed.
Stiles ignored the discussion that Other Stiles had with Harris about the supplies he needed. Soon he was going to have to face his dad for the first time since the lies he’d been telling had been exposed. God, this whole thing was so nerve-wracking.
Deucalion excused himself from the upcoming discussion, politely but firmly removing Peter as well. Isaac and Boyd went with them, but Erica and Jackson surprised Stiles by asking to stay.
Being handed control of his body back felt…weird. It had been less than a day, and Stiles had already grown used to the advantages of having complete privacy for his reactions. Having that stripped away while being the centre of attention felt exposing.
“I’m back, my dudes,” he said, unable to think of anything more appropriate.
Derek immediately rolled his eyes. “It’s him.”
Noah had Stiles wrapped in a tight hug before he could flip Derek the bird.
“Urk! I need to breathe!” Stiles gasped. As soon as Noah released him, Stiles took a deep breath and dived back in again. It was the first real chance he’d had to hug his dad since he’d been abducted by the darach. God, it felt good.
“Are you okay?” Noah asked urgently. “I know that the Other Stiles said that you agreed to this, but…” He stopped and waited for Stiles to stop laughing. “What’s so funny?”
“I’ve been calling him Other Stiles too,” Stiles gurgled. When his mirth finally died down, the reality of the moment hit him. “I know it’s not the best possible outcome,” he said anxiously to his dad. “But doing this…it was the only option.”
“We might have been able to figure something else out,” Derek cut in. “The nuclear option shouldn’t be the first resort.”
Stiles shook his head. “It wasn’t the first resort. He showed me some of what his future was like, and last night, I saw some of his dreams.”
“It was really that bad?” Erica asked, looking worried.
“I kind of spaced out a bit earlier when he was giving everyone a rundown on what was happening. Did he tell you that the me from next September and the me from yesterday merged? That I have memories of what was going to happen over the next five or six months?”
“Yes,” Jackson said. “I have to say, I have no idea why he did it that way. Isn’t that just going to make it harder for you?”
“I thought it made no sense too,” Stiles admitted. “In fact, I half suspected that once he used my magic to slide back to where he wanted to be, he’d let me fade away. The me from now was a hell of a lot more trusting than September me; some stuff happened in those months that changed the way I reacted last night. Today too, for that matter.”
Noah looked upset. “If you thought he was going to screw you over, why would you agree? How can you trust him?”
“Firstly, he didn’t screw me over like I suspected he might,” Stiles replied. “Which makes sense, because he’s me, and I wouldn’t do that to me. Not when I already knew that I had a winning argument, anyway. He didn’t need to lie to me; I was already sold. Secondly, he’s as trustworthy as I am. By which I mean that I can trust him to do the best he possibly can for the people he loves, who also happen to be the people I love. Since he knows that’s my goal, too, then why lie anyway? It makes no sense. Thirdly…”
“Thirdly, you’re stupidly self-sacrificing,” Noah finished. “This is all my fault. If I’d pulled myself together when your mom died, you wouldn’t have this complex where you think that it’s your responsibility to take care of everyone.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “I wonder who I inherited that responsibility complex from? Pot, kettle, Dad. The point is, he’s me. His motivation is to save the people he loves.” He sighed. “He’s lived a long time without them, you know. In a way, it was a blessing that the world ended. It meant that there was constantly life and death choices to be made, which distracted him, then once the big tree broke…”
“What big tree?” Jackson asked.
“I think it’s that thing that he mentioned, the rahl-kest? I saw it in his dreams. It was enormous and…magical, really. I didn’t really get a chance to get a good look, but if you think…Yggdrasil, or a world tree, or something like that, you’ll be close. Anyway, once that died and the fae decided to put the rest of their power behind this crazy time travel stunt, he had something to work towards again. Something to strive for. He had the chance to finally save you all, especially you, Dad.”
“I’m grateful, I truly am, but why does that mean that you have to risk your life too?”
“I might be fine!” Stiles tried. At the look his dad gave him, he sighed. “Did he explain what I was doing when he contacted me?”
Derek frowned. “He said Deaton had convinced you into an overpowered fae ritual by telling you it was a necessary part of a location spell, with the intent to siphon off some overflow for his evil plan.”
“Right.” Stiles sent a guilty look at Noah. “The thing is, that the darach had taken my dad. She was going to sacrifice him as part of her evil scheme.” He sighed and muttered, “Far too many nut jobs with evil schemes in this town.”
“I’m not going to like this, am I,” Noah said flatly.
“I might have, maybe, allowed myself to be drowned in a bathtub as a surrogate sacrifice, thereby negating the need for you to be killed,” Stiles said quickly. At the look his father gave him, he squirmed. “She was going to kill you, Dad. I had to do something!”
Derek glared at him. “The Stiles from the future knew that you’d agree to sacrifice your life because you’d already done it.”
“Deaton assured us it was only going to be temporary,” Stiles shrugged. “I thought he was lying, but I figured it would be a win either way. My dad would be alive, and if anyone were going to survive being drowned, it would be Scott, what with his wolfy regeneration. I knew that he’d make sure my dad was safe. It was a good bargain.”
“It wasn’t a good bargain!” Noah exploded. “Parents should not outlive their children, Stiles! Do you know what it would have done to me when I realised what you’d done?”
“Do you know what it would have done to me if you died because I was too afraid to trust you with all this supernatural bullshit?” Stiles returned. “Anyway, we’d just done the ritual when Other Me, from the future, turned up with an offer to fix things before they even got that bad. He didn’t hide that I might not be walking away.”
“It’s too late to change it,” Noah said sadly. “I just wish…”
“Me too,” Stiles said with a shrug. He glanced at Erica. “Was there something in particular you wanted to say?”
Erica tucked her hair behind her ears nervously. “I wanted to apologise. For, you know, the thing with the—” She made a vague gesture in the air towards Stiles’ head. “And for leaving you in the dumpster. It wasn’t fair of me to take my anger out on you.”
Stiles blinked. He’d forgotten about that. “Oh. Uh, well, I appreciate your apology.” He rubbed the back of his head.
Noah frowned. “What’s this?”
“Ancient history,” Stiles said hurriedly. “Over and done with. I’m sure she won’t do it again.” He gave her a meaningful look. “Especially since we all know how serious head injuries can be.”
“What head injury?” Derek asked sharply.
“Head injury?” Stiles said, laughing nervously. “Who said anything about a head injury? Now, was there something you wanted to talk to me about, Sourwolf?”
Derek narrowed his eyes but dropped the subject. “I want you to officially become a member of my pack.”
Erica’s eyes lit up. “Yes! That’s a brilliant idea! If you give him the bite, he might survive whatever it is that’s going to happen!”
The bite won’t work, Other Stiles said from the depths of Stiles’ mind. At least, it won’t make you into a werewolf.
Derek shook his head. “The bite is unlikely to take. I’m quite sure that fae are immune.”
“Stiles is only half fae,” Erica argued.
“Other Stiles agrees with Derek,” Stiles broke in. He stared at Derek. “You really want me to be part of your pack? What’s the point? I could die any day now. Cora told me that losing a pack member is like losing a limb. Why would you volunteer your pack for that?”
“Because, other than the formality, you’re pack already.” Derek took a deep breath and released it slowly. “If you… If the worst happens, the comfort of pack is…”
You can say yes, Other Stiles recommended. If you want it, say yes. He wouldn’t make the offer out of pity. The only reason to say no is if you don’t want it.
“Yes,” Stiles blurted. “I want to be pack.”
But not until after the nogitsune is banished, Other Stiles warned him. Let’s not accidentally screw things up by mixing your energy into the pack bonds before then.
“My passenger said that it will have to wait until after the banishment this afternoon,” Stiles related. “What does he mean, wait? Do I have to learn some secret wolfy handshake or something? Is there a ceremony?”
“Not a ceremony, but a little ceremonial,” Derek said. “The pack will gather together; I’ll give you a symbolic bite—nothing damaging—and you’ll formally submit to me as your alpha.”
Stiles nodded. “Sounds doable. What then?”
“That’s it,” Derek said, his mouth twitching up at the corners.
“Are you telling me that there’s no handshake?” Stiles asked. “Well, I guess I’ll need to get working on that then. How are you for secret passwords and paired code phrases?”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Stiles…”
Stiles lifted his hands in surrender. “I get it! I get it.” He gave an exaggerated wink. “Nothing to see here, right?”
Erica pouted. “He’s right. Why don’t we have a password? I always wanted to be in a secret club.”
Derek’s frown grew irritated. “We don’t have a password because a pack is not a club, Erica, it’s—”
“We could have code phrases, though,” Jackson said thoughtfully. “So that we can talk about pack business in public without outing ourselves.”
“Or maybe just don’t talk about pack business in public?” Derek growled.
Stiles scoffed. “You bit a bunch of high-schoolers, dude, and school is a public place. We spend half our lives there! Of course we’re going to talk.”
It seemed like only minutes had passed, then it was time to go.
Derek and the others had already left. Harris had texted asking Derek and his pack to meet him there early; he wanted to use the banishment of the nogitsune to test the placement of the rotah’il.
Deucalion stayed back—at Derek’s request—to walk over with Stiles and Noah. Stiles didn’t know how to feel about that. Derek was doing it out of concern for their safety; even though Stiles and Noah were unlikely to be accosted by anything dangerous on their way to the nemeton, Derek had reason to be a bit paranoid. Still, the Deucalion that Stiles was more familiar with did not inspire feelings of safety.
His discomfort did not go unobserved.
Deucalion waited until Noah went upstairs to get changed to bring it up: “You don’t like me.”
Stiles sighed. “I’ve probably never met you. The real you, anyway. But someone with your face and who sounded just like you hurt my friends quite a lot recently. Well, recently for me, anyway. I’m trying not to hold it against you, but…” He shrugged.
“Ah,” Deucalion said. “I understand. I’ll try not to intrude.” He paused. “The older version of you, the time traveller that broke the spell on me…he didn’t seem bothered by me at all.”
“Yeah, well, he’s had eighty years or so to let go of the trauma,” Stiles retorted. “I’m sure that by the time I’m in my nineties, I won’t be fussed by it either.”
“You’re quite a remarkable young man,” Deucalion noted. “I’m sorry that I won’t get the chance to know you better. I think we might have been great friends.”
It was a relief to finally talk to someone who wasn’t so desperately focused on Stiles’ possible survival that they ignored the reality of his likely death. Stiles found himself warming to Deucalion already. A thought occurred to him.
“Are you really okay with mentoring Derek?” he asked. “I know that the other me kind-of guilted you into it, but you’re an alpha. Surely you must want your own pack? Don’t alphas need a pack around them to help with control?”
Deucalion shook his head. “When a werewolf receives an alpha spark through conquest, the transition can be tumultuous. The spark isn’t sapient, but it does have sentience. It reacts to the violent upheaval and unexpected new host with unrest and irritability. Having bonds helps to stabilise an alpha struggling to adjust to their spark.”
“I thought Derek’s spark was the Hale spark,” Stiles said as Noah joined them. “Hi, Dad. You ready?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be to go and watch a magical ceremony to banish a demon out of a tree,” Noah replied. “What was that you were saying? What’s a spark?”
Stiles quickly explained what he knew about alpha sparks to his father. “Deucalion obviously knows a lot more than I do, so I was taking advantage of the opportunity to pick his brain. I’d just asked him about Derek’s spark.”
“That particular spark has been in the Hale line for many generations,” Deucalion said obligingly. “Despite that, it’s been taken by force twice in a row. Even before that, the loss of so many pack members so quickly in the fire would have damaged it.”
“How do you mean, damaged it?” Stiles asked.
“It’s hard to explain,” Deucalion replied. “Pack bonds feed and nourish an alpha spark; their presence is metaphysical, but still very real. Those who haven’t experienced it can’t really comprehend it. After losing one…it feels like a gaping wound. One that doesn’t heal with the speed we werewolves are accustomed to.” He gave a deprecating smile. “For us, pain is a fleeting thing that must only be endured briefly. Humans, with their fragility and slow healing time, seem laughably breakable in comparison.”
“Don’t I know it,” Stiles said bitterly, thinking of all the ways he’d been relegated to the side-lines since Scott had been bitten.
Deucalion shook his head. “The irony is that without human members, packs die. They either retreat too far into instinct to integrate with normal society, or they tear one another up, literally.”
“The pack bonds don’t prevent that?” Noah asked, surprised.
“The pack bonds are tied to the more human aspect of a werewolf,” Deucalion revealed. “I believe it’s one of the reasons I wasn’t overwhelmed when my pack was killed. The spell that had been laid upon me suppressed that part so effectively that I almost didn’t notice. The wolf instincts noticed the missing pack members, but the lack of bond-anguish removed much of the distress. Since I thought that I had done the deed myself, the urge to hunt down the culprit didn’t develop.” He sighed. “Now that the spell is lifted, I’m experiencing the pain of multiple shattered bonds, but my instincts are long past the debilitating desolation and rage. It’s quite odd. A dichotomy of feeling.”
“It still sounds terrible,” Noah said sympathetically.
Deucalion shrugged. “It is what it is. I have much restitution to make, so I cannot allow myself the luxury of falling apart. Maybe someday in the future…” He sighed. “But to your original question, I’ve been on good terms with my spark for longer than you’ve been alive, my young friend. It may be wounded, but it’s not fighting me. It never has. As for a pack of my own? No. Not for some time, perhaps never. In truth, assisting Alpha Hale to rebuild his pack will bring me much comfort.”
Stiles had thought of Derek as many things, from terrifying to uncomfortably hot, sometimes at the same time. He’d never really thought of him as comforting, though. “Really?”
“His line has a remarkable history,” Deucalion said, staring ahead into the trees. “The Hales are perhaps the most prestigious pack on the continent, with gifts that bring them more in line with our European brethren than what can commonly be found here. His mother was a formidable alpha, known for her strength and skill, and even in the short time I’ve known him, he’s displayed a level of discretion not often found in werewolves his age, let alone alphas.”
Stiles blinked. “Derek? Discrete? Mr Lurks-in-Leather? Mr I’m a Broody Ball of Angst, Ask Me How?” Something flickered on the edge of his sight, but when he looked, there was nothing there.
“It’s not the word I would have used to describe him,” Noah agreed.
Deucalion chuckled. “Oh, he’s as dramatic as all youngsters in his way. I was thinking more of how he’s resisted what must be a powerful temptation to seek revenge on those who have wronged him. It’s not what I would have expected.”
“Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure that Derek thinks that he deserves every bad thing that happens to him,” Stiles said with a sigh.
Deucalion lifted his head abruptly. “What— Huh. I thought… Hmm. Strange.” He cocked his head to one side, eyebrows raised.
Shit, Other Stiles said. That’s probably not a good sign. Don’t ask him about it. If he’s not saying anything, he probably has a reason. Do you feel that abnormal pressure in the air? I wonder if something, or someone, is listening. Other Stiles’ frustration was almost tangible. I didn’t realise that walking around with closed gates like this would feel so limiting.
Since there wasn’t anything he could do about that, Stiles cast about for something else to talk about. Something innocuous, in case they were being listened to as well as watched. “Did you contact your friends in Europe about the twins?”
Deucalion accepted the change of subject with grace. “I’ve sent messages to three alphas explaining the situation. I’m hopeful that at least one of them will be interested in bringing some strong new blood into their pack.”
“So, werewolves tend to marry inside their own communities?” Noah asked. “Given the need for secrecy, it must be hard to do otherwise.”
“It’s one of the harder challenges that our young people face,” Deucalion replied. “First love, in particular, can be very emotionally taxing. The desire to share all of yourself with your partner, warring with the need to keep the pack safe, all tied up with hormonal changes. In Europe, the packs are more rigorous about networking. Matches between packs have a more political weight to them.”
Stiles frowned as that flicker on the edge of his senses returned. “You mean they have arranged marriages?”
“Nothing so formal,” Deucalion said. “When your instincts play such a large role in life, arranged marriages are a recipe for disaster. No, it’s more like a balancing act. There are some truly ancient lines rubbing metaphorical shoulders with each other, each doing their best to ensure that none of the others becomes powerful enough to disturb the peace.”
Noah shook his head. “It sounds fraught with tension.”
“Oh, it is,” Deucalion agreed. “On the other hand, the last true war between packs in Europe was well over five hundred years ago. Hunters still roam, eager to find any evidence of werewolf wrongdoing, but in turn, they’re watched more carefully too. The colonisation of this continent opened up an opportunity of greater freedom to expand for the werewolves, and it did the same for the hunters.”
“But the werewolves are at a disadvantage,” Stiles summed up. “They need to keep the existence of the supernatural hidden for their own survival, and the hunters use that against them.”
“All who made the transition did so fully aware that the supportive infrastructure they were used to would be non-existent,” Deucalion explained, sounding rather detached. “Of course, several factors that allow the hunters their advantages were probably not foreseen all those years ago. Still, that is a lesson for another day. We’re nearly there.”
Stiles had been so engrossed in the conversation that he hadn’t been paying much attention to his surroundings. Up ahead, he could just make out the murmur of voices. “I thought that would take longer.”
Something about the air still felt slightly discomforting. The feeling of being watched by someone who wasn’t entirely friendly was still there. Stiles was glad when they broke through into a clearing surrounding an enormous tree stump.
Wow. The nemeton had been one big-ass tree.
Derek, Peter, and the puppies, were gathered around Harris, listening intently to what he was saying. At the very edge of the break in the canopy, a couple of camping chairs had been set up.
“Nice,” Noah murmured. “My thanks to whoever thought of it.”
Harris glanced over to them and said something Stiles couldn’t hear.
Deucalion nodded his understanding. “They’re ready to begin,” he advised them. “If you would take a seat? Harris would prefer Stiles to sit in the chair on the left, from the perspective of someone looking towards the chairs from the tree.”
He’s probably worked out a way to include us in the ritual without actually including us, Other Stiles suggested. Come on. I want to get this over and done with. I’m almost certain that we’re being observed. God, I miss having access to my magic.
There wasn’t really anything Stiles could say to that. Not that he could even if he wanted to, in case they were being watched. He took the chair Harris had directed him to and settled down. Noah took the other chair, and Deucalion folded his arms and leaned against a tree nearby.
Harris finished what he was saying and retreated over to join the spectators.
Jackson, Erica, Boyd, and Isaac, took up cardinal positions about ten feet away from the stump, facing inwards. Derek stood in the centre—next to the nemeton—with Peter directly behind him. He was positioned so that the observers were in full view.
Other Stiles swore. Fucking—! That bastard, Harris, has gone and substituted the ritual!
Stiles sat up. “Shit! What should I—” A firm hand on his shoulder halted him.
“I know what I’m doing,” Harris said firmly. “I gave Alpha Hale a choice, and this was his preference. Let him do this.”
Other Stiles was muttering imprecations. At least, Stiles assumed they were imprecations. He didn’t understand any of them, but they were being said with an impressive amount of vitriol. As soon as Derek opened his mouth, Other Stiles stopped swearing. It’s too late now; it’s started.
Stiles soon realised that he wasn’t going to be able to hear what Derek and the betas were saying from this distance. That was annoying. How hard would it be for them to raise their voices a bit? Then Derek started taking off his clothes, and Stiles’ train of thought came screeching to a halt.
Derek having a body that would have made Michelangelo weep wasn’t news to Stiles. That didn’t mean that he was accustomed to it. He sure wasn’t accustomed to quite this much of it. For all Derek’s eagerness to shed his shirt—were male werewolves allergic to shirts or something?—his legs had remained more of a mystery. Until now.
Not just his legs, either. Stiles, aware that he was sitting next to his father, tried to avoid looking at what he really wanted to look at.
Other Stiles gave a wistful sigh. God, I miss my Derek.
Did…that mean what Stiles thought it meant?
Now completely naked, Derek sat cross-legged on the stump of the nemeton, still facing Stiles. Was it his imagination, or was Derek looking directly at him?
One by one, the betas walked up to Derek, wolfed out and bit him, then returned to their spot. Derek just sat there, bleeding. Finally, only Peter was left. He bit Derek too but, instead of stepping back, drove the claws from both hands into Derek’s bare stomach.
Stiles’ heart nearly stopped. He would have leapt to his feet but for Harris’ hand on his shoulder.
It’s fine, Other Stiles assured him. It’s part of this ritual. I would have warned you about it if I’d known in advance that Harris would switch things on us. This isn’t the rite of petition; the rite of petition is much less…visceral.
Having practically gutted his alpha, Peter finally stepped back. Derek was just sitting there, bleeding from five bites and with his insides on his outside.
The worst thing about it is that Harris is probably right, Other Stiles admitted grudgingly. I don’t know why Caerhil didn’t suggest it.
Derek slipped into his beta form, raised his head and howled, his betas joining in moments later. They held the howl for a long moment.
On second thoughts, it might have been because of that, Other Stiles remarked wearily. If Morrell and Deaton weren’t aware something is happening out here, they are now.
Between one breath and the next, Derek was completely healed. Even the blood was gone. A glowing sphere appeared in front of him, its centre a bright point of light that reminded Stiles of a firefly. Derek reached a hand out to touch it. It brightened for a brief moment and then seeped into his skin. Derek’s skin glowed too, then faded.
Derek stared at his hand for a moment. Then a smile broke out on his face. He lifted his head to howl again, and this time Stiles could hear the joy in it. His betas left their spots and threw themselves towards their alpha, bounding like the puppies that Stiles liked to call them, joining together in a seething pile of werewolf.
The oppressive sense of being watched had disappeared entirely.
Harris released Stiles’ shoulder. “It’s done.”
“That was a little unsettling,” Noah remarked. “More brutal than I expected.”
Deucalion shrugged. “We’re werewolves. A certain level of what humans would perceive as brutality is part of life for us.” At Noah’s look of alarm, he elaborated. “Physical pain is fleeting, the effects can fade in moments and, unless we put a lot of effort in, we don’t scar. That’s obviously not the case with human members of our packs, and part of our upbringing involves having the differences made crystal clear. That’s why most packs home-school their children.”
Noah nodded in understanding. “I suppose that those who’ve been turned into werewolves already understand the fragility of humans.”
Stiles frowned, remembering being knocked out and left in a dumpster. An apology didn’t change history. It had still happened. “Theoretically. Hey, I hope that the ritual I’m doing tomorrow has a little less evisceration in it.”
We’re not going to bleed at all, Other Stiles promised him.
“I second that,” Noah agreed. “I’m not sure I’d be able to handle it.”
“Apparently, it’s all fine,” Stiles said with a wave of his hand. Derek was in the process of buttoning his jeans. Covering up all that prime real estate had to be a crime somewhere. Stiles turned away, hoping that no one saw him gawking. “Is that everything we wanted to do here? Can we go home?”
“The rest of you should go ahead,” Harris said. “I need to gather up the rotah’il.”
Derek pulled on his shirt and then came striding over, falling in beside them as they set off back to the house. Despite the seriousness of everything that was happening, he looked looser, more relaxed. “I’ve never felt quite this invigorated,” he said, giving Stiles a once over so quick that he wondered if he’d imagined it.
“Do you know what the deal was with that creepy presence?” Stiles asked. “Was it Deaton or Morrell, do you think?”
Derek shook his head. “It was the nogitsune.”
“How do you know?” Stiles asked.
“I’m connected to the land,” Derek replied. “We’re connected to the land. The whole pack. I feel as though I’ve gained extra senses…it’s hard to explain.” He smirked briefly. “I’ve got a lot of new knowledge.”
Stiles was intrigued. “Such as?”
“Such as, if we make monthly offerings under the sun as well as under the moon, we’ll be virtually untouchable here. This land…” Derek sounded awed. “It loves us. Like, really loves us.” He coughed. “It’s more than I expected.”
Stiles gave him a moment to resettle. “Did Harris tell you the ritual was different than the one Other Stiles intended for you to use? What was that the glowy thing at the end? It looked like you absorbed it somehow.”
“Stiles, wait for answers before pelting the man with more questions,” Noah reproved. “Although I’m also very interested in the glowy thing.”
“It was the nogitsune,” Derek confirmed. “Its strength has been absorbed into the alpha spark.”
“Was that safe?” Noah asked. “What if it tried to possess you?”
“It’s perfectly safe,” Derek assured him. “A nogitsune can’t possess a werewolf, let alone an alpha. It was a better choice than just banishment, because sometimes something that’s been banished can find its way back one day. The nogitsune tried to resist being absorbed, but with the pack’s renewed connection to the land, it couldn’t withstand us.”
Stiles thought that over. “So, is it still an entity? Or did the alpha spark eat it?”
Derek’s mouth twisted as though he’d tasted something gross. “I suppose you could say that the alpha spark ate it.”
“Lovely,” Stiles replied. “That doesn’t explain why we could sense it.”
Derek shrugged. “Harris mentioned that it was awake and aware but that it wasn’t yet strong enough to escape its confinement.”
Aspects of chaos can sometimes predict their own demise.
Stiles repeated that for Derek, summing up with, “So it knew what was coming, but couldn’t do anything about it. Creepy.” He shuddered. “What was the difference between the two rituals? Did Harris tell you?”
“The way that he explained it, the rite of petition would have called on the historical connection my bloodline has with the land. The nogitsune is beneficial to neither party, so it would be in our interests to agree to a banishment.”
“Okay,” Stiles said slowly. “That makes sense, I guess.”
Derek nodded. “This other ritual was less about the banishment of the nogitsune and more about forging a new connection between the pack and the territory. The destruction of the nogitsune was almost a side-effect.”
“A new connection,” Stiles repeated. “A different connection?”
“The way Harris described it, the previous connection was along the lines of an alliance between packs. Each party had duties they were bound to perform, the lack of which would be grounds to cancel the contract. The new connection is like…having established a certain level of familiarity and trust over our long history, the two packs have now merged. Only, one of the packs is the land.”
Stiles blinked. “The land is now part of the pack?”
“Or the pack is now part of the land,” Derek agreed. “It wasn’t quite as easy as all that, the negotiations were a little more complicated, but that’s the essence.”
“When did these negotiations take place?” Noah asked.
“When I was sitting on the stump,” Derek replied, surprised.
Stiles considered that. “Was it some kind of time dilation? It wasn’t all that long from my perspective.”
“Thank goodness,” Noah agreed. “I’m not sure how long I could have sat and watched you bleed out. The pain must have been agonizing.”
“How is having the new connection going to change things?” Stiles asked. He gave Derek a quick once-over. “You don’t look any different.”
“It means that the Hale pack is anchored here,” Derek answered. “Our strength rests on this land; we are protected, and in turn, we protect.”
Stiles sighed. “I’m still not getting how that’s different.”
“After the fire, Laura, the Hale alpha, left our territory untended for years,” Derek said quietly. “Peter’s presence might have prevented the link with the land from being severed completely, but it was stretched to its limit. When Laura came back…the truth is that Peter shouldn’t have been able to defeat her, not in the state he was in. But the land was confused, and the strength that Laura would normally have drawn on was barely there. If one of my ancestors had performed the ritual I did today, Laura would never have left. She wouldn’t have been able to; if she even wanted to.”
Noah looked concerned. “Does that mean that you can never leave?”
“I can leave,” Derek assured him. “I just can’t set up my home elsewhere, and if I spend more than a couple of months away from my territory, I’ll begin to weaken. A weak alpha is prey, so…”
“What do you get out of it?” Stiles asked.
Derek sighed. “Aside from strengthened bonds and greater general longevity, something like the fire that killed my family could never succeed. The land would not allow it.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means that anyone with ill intent towards us who came within a few hundred feet of my pack, while on my territory, would stick out like a neon flag,” Derek said evenly. “Right now, I’m aware of every single hunter still in town, as well as the location of both Deaton and Morrell.”
Noah’s eyes lit up. “Would you consider becoming a deputy sheriff?”
Derek looked surprised. “Uh, I don’t have anything against it, theoretically. How would that work? I’ve been arrested for murder.” He gave Stiles a sidelong glance. “Twice.”
Noah waved a hand. “You were released both times. Besides, you’d be surprised at what a recommendation from a sitting sheriff will do for matters like that.”
“You’re not a sitting sheriff,” Stiles pointed out. “In my timeline, you were reinstated after the massacre at the station. I don’t know how our meddling is going to affect that.”
Noah shrugged. “I’ve already had a call from the mayor. The attack last night was a big shock, and I’ll apparently be receiving some sort of commendation, along with official reinstatement.”
Stiles’ mouth dropped open. “You didn’t think I needed to know that?”
“I thought there were more pressing issues right now,” Noah replied gently. He frowned. “To be honest, that suspension was dubious to start with. It had no basis in law…why did I just go along with it?”
Probably Deaton, Other Stiles suggested.
“Other Stiles thinks it was probably Deaton,” Stiles relayed. “I’m not sure why he’d do such a thing, but…” He shrugged. “Seems a reasonable assumption. Who knows why that dickhead does the batshit crazy stuff he’s been doing.”
Noah winced. “I’ve been giving you a pass on your language because this whole situation is insane, but please try to tone it back a little.”
“I’ll try,” Stiles agreed. He turned to Derek as a thought occurred to him. “What’s this going to mean for Scott?”
For the first time since the ritual, Derek scowled. “What about him?”
“If you’ve got this brand new, nifty connection to the land, what does that mean for Scott? I mean, he’s not a member of your pack. You already know that he doesn’t mean you well. I’m not suggesting that you owe him anything; hell no, I just wondered how it would play out.”
Derek looked awkward. “Scott was bitten by a Hale alpha against his will. He’s owed a lot of leeway because of that. I can’t welcome him into my pack, but I can’t ban him from the territory either.”
Derek might be able to remove Scott’s werewolf spark, Other Stiles suggested. Before we start going through the fae stuff with them, we should get a promise from Harris or Tara to walk him through it.
Stunned, Stiles passed the info on to Derek.
Derek appeared as shocked as Stiles was. “I would have to make sure that it was what he wanted, but that might solve a lot of problems.”
“I wonder if removing his werewolfiness would bring back his asthma,” Stiles wondered aloud. “I suppose that would depend on the underlying causes. If nothing else, at least damage to his lungs and airways from previous asthma attacks would have healed.”
Noah frowned. “He’s a minor; any decisions like this should be run by Melissa first.”
Stiles winced. “Ah. To the best of my knowledge, she’s not aware that Scott is a werewolf.”
Noah gave Stiles a look. “She needs to be told about it as soon as possible then, doesn’t she?”
“Scott didn’t want her to know,” Stiles said, trailing off lamely as the look on his dad’s face didn’t change. “Fine.”
“I’ll make sure Scott knows that it was my decision,” Noah said comfortingly.
Stiles snorted. “He’ll blame me anyway. No, don’t worry about it. I’m used to it.”
He watched the acrobatics that Erica, Isaac, Jackson, and even Boyd, were achieving as they ran back and forth, bouncing off trees and doing back-flips like show-offs. “How long are they going to be like that for?”
Derek shrugged. “I have no idea. Later this evening, I’ll take them for a good run, see if we can shake those fidgets out.”
Stiles thought wistfully about how great it would be to suddenly have the athleticism of a werewolf. Now that he knew that receiving the bite wasn’t an option, it looked a lot more attractive. Then he imagined himself decked out in tight jeans and a leather jacket and couldn’t stop himself from snorting with laughter. It would take more than a werewolf bite to make him cool and sexy.
Derek and Noah drew slightly in front of him and began talking about ways to determine if a mauling was supernatural related. Deucalion and Peter were involved in a low-voiced discussion further ahead. The whole thing felt cosy and comfortable. Stiles didn’t know how to feel about that. If Other Stiles was right, the chances of him being able to stick around and enjoy this new dynamic were small.
By the time they were halfway to Casa Stilinski, Harris had caught up to them, falling in beside Stiles as though it wasn’t the weirdest thing about this whole time-travel business.
“Get all your bits and pieces squared away?” Stiles asked.
Harris nodded. “As far as I can tell, everything worked as expected.” He practically radiated smugness. “I was instrumental in the creation of a fylkire, and tomorrow we’re going to connect it to a nemeton that was grown by ritual!
“What’s a fylkire?” Stiles asked.
“It’s difficult to explain,” Harris said. “Your language isn’t really equipped for it. I suppose you could say that the land here already had a form of sapience, partly owing to the nemeton and partly the long-standing connection to the Hale pack. A fylkire is an evolution of that sapience. A fylkire develops a personality and, barring catastrophe, it will continue to evolve.”
Stiles blinked. “That sounds awesome. Kind of scary too, but awesome.”
“It’s an exceedingly rare phenomenon,” Harris replied proudly. “When all this is over, I’ll be influential enough to be able to choose my posting; I might even be invited to join the High Circle!”
“When I’m dead, you mean.” Stiles didn’t think it was unreasonable to be a bit sour about that. “Glad you could benefit. Really.”
“There are worse things than death,” Harris pointed out.
Stiles could buy that. What Other Stiles had been through, living on long after all his loved ones had died…that sounded horrific; not something he personally wanted to experience. He decided to stop stressing about it and enjoy the time he had left. It was a gorgeous day, and Derek Hale was walking directly in front of him while wearing tight jeans that did nothing to disguise the perfection of his ass.
When they arrived back in the house, Derek snagged Stiles’ attention, regarding him with serious eyes. “Do you still want to join my pack?”
“Do you still want me to join?” Stiles returned. “I just…what are you getting out of it? I don’t know why you’re bothering.”
Derek sighed. “My instincts are telling me that you need to be pack. Formally pack. I understand where your concern is coming from; in theory, I’m setting my whole pack up for unnecessary heartache. But the drive to claim you as pack isn’t something I can ignore. I can’t remember ever feeling as strongly about something as I do about this.” He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “The last thing I want to do is pressure you. Just…please don’t say no on our behalf. Choose only for yourself.”
“Your concern for the pack is, in itself, evidence that you’re already a de facto member,” Peter pointed out. “I’ve always known you’d be an asset, Stiles. Maybe it’s time to finally say yes?”
Stiles turned to his dad, who raised both hands.
“This is your choice, kiddo. Just…do what you want to do, not what you think would be best for other people. You’re always so careful to take care of everyone else, allow them the comfort of being able to take care of you for once.”
Boyd, Jackson, Erica and Isaac had stopped their gambolling and had gathered around their alpha. They didn’t say anything, but they watched with an anxious intensity that Stiles found a bit unnerving.
I think you know what you really want, Oher Stiles said gently. Reach out and take it, Stiles. Take something purely for yourself. And if you can’t, then let them have the memory of being able to give you this.
At some point, while Other Stiles was talking, Stiles’ gaze had dropped to the ground. As Other Stiles stripped away Stiles’ last objections, he glanced up at Derek’s face. Derek looked hopeful and resigned, like he knew that he wasn’t going to be getting what he wanted but couldn’t stop himself from hoping. Even if Other Stiles hadn’t already convinced him, Stiles probably wouldn’t have been able to say no to Derek wearing that expression.
Stiles squared his shoulders. “I would be honoured to be an official member of the Hale pack.” He squinted as a thought occurred to him. “Wait, how is joining a pack not a ritual? Is this going to screw up the nemeton thing?”
It’s completely different, said Other Stiles immediately.
“They’re not the same thing at all,” Harris explained at the same time. “Rituals, the kind that open your gates, require certain steps to be completed. They also involve communication and exchange, either with the elements or with the earth itself. Creating bonds with another part-human doesn’t count.”
“But the Hale pack just connected with the land,” Stiles argued. “That whole fylkire thing. How is that not communication and exchange?”
Harris rolled his eyes. “Unless Mr Hale and his associates are performing a specific task, such as the banishment earlier, the connection they’ve made is primarily a passive thing. Rituals involve the purposeful, active use of magic to achieve a pre-specified end.”
Stiles had thought of something else. “You said that for it to be a ritual, certain steps had to take place; but when I did the initial ritual that started this whole thing, the drowning with Deaton, we just got in the bathtubs and…” he made a hand gesture that he hoped evoked the drama of the moment.
“You might not have known it was a ritual, but Deaton most certainly did,” Harris pointed out. “Given the result, I think we can safely assume that he performed those steps himself.”
It will be fine, Other Stiles insisted. You can bet your ass I would be the first to tell you if there was the slightest chance that doing this would fuck up the nemeton ritual.
Other Stiles had a point. “I just wanted to be sure,” Stiles said. “So, let’s get on with it!”
The betas moved closer, circling around Stiles and Derek. They looked eager and excited.
Derek stared Stiles in the eye. “Do you want to become part of our pack?”
Stiles nodded. “Yes.”
“Do you agree that the welfare of the pack is important? That your own personal welfare might have to come second to the needs of the pack?”
“Do you agree that the pack’s care of you is just as important as your care for them?”
Stiles swallowed. “Yes.”
“Then I, Derek Hale, Alpha of the Hale pack, ask that you show a formal sign of submission to me as your alpha.”
Tilt your head to the right and offer him your right wrist, Other Stiles directed.
Stiles did so.
Derek shifted into the beta form and took the offered wrist. His bite was gentle and quick, and if it weren’t for the two tiny pinpricks of blood that rose from where the fangs had penetrated his skin, Stiles would have thought it was purely symbolic.
Well, the two pinpricks of blood and the sudden manifestation of what must be pack bonds, connecting him to Derek and to Peter, Erica, Boyd, Jackson, and Isaac.
“Wow,” Stiles breathed. Happiness erupted along the bonds.
Derek’s face melted back into his human visage, smiling. “Welcome to the pack.”
Jackson was the first to hug him, quickly rubbing their cheeks together before stepping back. Isaac followed, then Peter, Erica, and Boyd. When Derek finally took him in his arms, it felt like coming home.
Stiles wondered if it was possible to die from too much happiness.
By the time Tara arrived, straight from her shift at the station, the euphoric delight had subsided to a quiet joy that echoed through the pack bonds. Part of that was because Derek had taken the betas, including Peter, out for a run in the stated hope that the teenagers would be fit for school the next day. Stiles would have liked to join them—at least for a while—but he felt he owed it more to his father to spend what time he had left with him.
The pack bonds were terrific. Through them, Stiles could feel both how welcome he would have been to run with his pack and how understanding they were that he didn’t. It made Stiles feel momentarily sorry for Scott.
Deucalion stayed behind and had engaged Harris in conversation. Stiles and Noah sat together on the couch, talking about the whole supernatural scene while carefully not talking about what would happen at daybreak.
Tara’s arrival broke the fragile peace of the moment. After the briefest of greetings and a quick sit-rep with Noah about the progress of the procedures relating to the hunter issue, she and Harris turned to Stiles.
“Alright, Mr Stilinski,” Harris said. “I think we’ve waited long enough. Tell us everything you can about the Nosera.”
“Surely it can wait,” Noah protested. “There’s time yet.”
“It was part of the bargain,” Stiles reminded him gently. He hated the look of devastation in his father’s eyes. It reminded him of his mom’s illness and the time following her death when Noah had fallen apart. His new bonds thrummed with comfort, and he relaxed.
It occurred to him that if Derek offered Noah a place in the pack, that might solve a problem. He made a mental note to speak to Derek about it when he returned. Or to remind Other Stiles, too, since it was unlikely that Stiles would be back in control again before the ritual.
Stiles enfolded his dad in a hug, squeezing him tightly. “Whatever happens tomorrow, I love you.”
“I love you too, kiddo,” Noah replied, blinking back tears. “I love you, and I’m so proud of you. I just wish…”
“I know,” Stiles said, reflecting that it was so much easier to be the one making the sacrifice than the one left behind. “Okay, Other Stiles. How do we do this?”
Imagine pulling me from the back of your brain to the front of your eyes, Other Stiles instructed.
Stiles did an internal shrug and did that. Did it work? Oh. Looks like it worked. That was easier than I expected.
Other Stiles blinked. “Right. That will never not be weird.” He focused on the two fae standing in front of him. “Let’s get started. I’ll go through the history that we managed to put together for the Nosera, then we can talk about numbers and plans.”
Stiles tuned out most of the discussion. It wasn’t hard; Other Stiles, Tara and Harris were talking about many people and places that he had no reference for. He might have tried harder to understand, but what was the point? Besides, the bonds were taking up most of his attention.
Perhaps it was his imagination, but now that he wasn’t driving his body anymore, the bonds somehow became more manifest. Stiles felt that if he wanted to, he could reach out the likewise insubstantial fingers of his mind and touch them. To his not-senses, each bond looked like millions of gossamer-thin filaments, interwoven and twisting around each other. They were a multitude of colours, shifting like a kaleidoscope, and they were beautiful.
Stiles spent so long marvelling at the bond that he missed Derek returning after the run, sans betas, until he heard his dad asking about Peter. That drew his attention.
“Mr & Mrs Whittemore were unexpectedly called out of town till Sunday night, so Jackson has invited Peter and Isaac to stay with him,” Derek said. “It’s a good opportunity for Peter and Jackson to spend time together without the pressure of a huge audience or the even greater pressure of no audience.”
“I’m still not clear on how Peter turned out to be Jackson’s biological father,” Noah confessed.
Derek shrugged. “Neither am I. Whatever Stiles showed to Jackson resolved his identity issues enough to trigger the completion of his change. I talked with him a little this morning, and he said that he’d seen my mother taking Peter’s memories of the whole thing.” He smirked. “I probably enjoyed the look on Peter’s face when I told him more than I should.”
“They both seem to be taking it very well,” Noah noted.
“I asked them both to put it aside until this nemeton business has been cleared up,” Derek replied. “Peter agreed easily; he likes to play his cards close to his chest in any case. Jackson…is coming to terms with what happened when he was the kanima. He’s leaning heavily on the newly forged pack bonds, which is good. He can feel our care for him, which makes dealing with things easier, and according to our time-traveller, this will all be wrapped up within a day or two. Then we can hash things out properly.”
Stiles had forgotten about that revelation. Now that he knew, it seemed unmistakable that Jackson was Peter Hale’s biological child. The looks, the brains, the inherent arrogance…yeah, Stiles didn’t need proof to believe that one.
It was nice that his dad and Derek were getting on so well together. It would be better if Stiles could watch as well as listen, but Other Stiles was deep in discussion with Tara about the protocols surrounding the creation of semi-sentient constructs and how they’d need to be reworked for the guardians that he wanted to create, so Stiles had to make do with what he could overhear.
Eventually, Tara started making not very subtle remarks about the need for everyone involved in the next day’s drama to get some rest.
Other Stiles set his jaw. “Rest isn’t particularly restful for me, these days.” Remembering the dreams he’d witnessed the night before, Stiles felt that was an understatement.
“I have a healing spell that should help,” Tara offered. “It’s not something that can be cast often, the mind learns to resist it, but it should be enough to get you through the night. Unless…were you in the habit of using sleep spells before your time travel?”
Other Stiles shook his head. “No. Our healers were too occupied with more important problems to offer mind-magic around like candy.”
Tara frowned. “Mind healing is as important as healing the body. For magic users, I would even argue that it’s more important.”
Other Stiles raised his eyebrows. “My mental issues weren’t uncommon. In fact, finding someone who didn’t have debilitating nightmares would have been harder. Our healers were run ragged, trying to keep us alive. Those of us who managed to cope…” He shrugged. “It was an impossible situation. They were doing the best they could.”
Tara still looked disapproving. “Regardless, I can help you now; if you like.”
Other Stiles gave her a brief smile. “I would be grateful.”
Tara’s spell worked, and both Stiles and his passenger slept deeply. Being woken at ass o’clock was unpleasant, to say the least.
Before long, their little procession was making their way out to the nemeton again.
One of the strangest things about this whole experience was the separation between his emotions and body chemistry. Stiles was nervous and unsure, and usually, this would have resulted in a release of extra adrenaline, which didn’t mix terribly well with his ADHD and his meds. It made him jittery and jumpy, both hyper-vigilant and unable to properly process what was going on around him. Not a fun way to experience life and not optimal when it came to navigating life and death crises.
Having all the anxious thoughts while his body remained calm and relaxed was bizarre, but also awesome.
The world looked different in the quiet darkness so close to dawn. The night creatures, whose noises usually filled the dark, had all either finished their business and turned in or were trying their hardest not to be noticed. The stillness seemed almost unnatural, but then it wasn’t as if Stiles was ever up and about at this time of day, so maybe it was normal. Perhaps the only difference was that Stiles was nearing his death for the second time in less than three days.
“Is it just me, or does the Preserve feel…lighter…this morning?” Noah spoke in an undertone, but the lack of ambient sound made his voice clearly audible.
“Removing the nogitsune did more than just dispose of an imminent threat,” Tara replied. “A summoned nogitsune is a creature that radiates a negative, chaotic aura. Its mere presence would have been subtly tainting the area surrounding it. It’s not surprising that its removal would have an effect. It is a little surprising that you would notice it.”
Stiles bristled on his father’s behalf. What was that supposed to mean?
“She probably means that as someone with no inherent ties to the supernatural, it’s strange that you would be sensitive to auras,” Other Stiles remarked. “It is unusual. It might have developed as a result of being married to Mom; she might not have had her magic, but magic isn’t the only thing that makes a fae a fae.”
“There’s not been a lot of study on it,” Tara admitted. “It’s interesting that you’d feel such a strong connection, though, sir. Unless you’ve joined the Hale pack? That could explain it. They’re partnered with a fylkire now, and part of that will be the monitoring of general territory health, etc.”
“I don’t think I am,” Noah replied. “I would probably know, right? And there was no biting ceremony like Stiles had last night.”
“I was going to wait until this thing is over before making you an offer,” Derek said. “It’s considered polite to give people at least a week after being read into the whole werewolf thing. I suppose there could be a bit of spiritual spill-over, since Stiles is your son, and he’s pack.”
“There could?” Tara asked.
“How would that work?” Noah asked at the same time.
Derek’s response was dry. “Stiles’ primary objective in life—for the last few years, anyway—has been looking after you. That sort of dedication can transmit itself down healthy pack bonds.”
Why was it that, when other people talked about the care Stiles took to make sure his father lived to a respectable age, he came across as some sort of over-protective nutjob?
Noah laughed. “You know him well. Actually, does becoming a werewolf fix the possibility of heart disease?”
“Unless the heart disease is supernatural in origin, it should,” Derek replied. “You don’t need to become a werewolf to join my pack, though. We’d be happy to have you as you are, and there are aspects of werewolf life that can be difficult to adapt to.”
“Yes, but I bet werewolves get to eat as much bacon as they want,” Noah pointed out.
“I feel like I should be calling your motivation into question,” Derek said wryly. “On the other hand, you’re right.”
“You’re talking to a man who has been restricted to turkey bacon for the last half a dozen years,” Noah replied. “Last year, he started talking about the benefits of tofu. Tofu, Derek.”
Derek laughed. “Sold. I’ll find out from Peter what the odds are for a successful bite, and we can talk about it.”
If Stiles were in control, he would have objected. His dad’s health was fine, provided he followed a few rules. As he understood it, there was no way of telling who would accept the bite and who would reject it and die. Aren’t you going to say something about that?
“It’s his decision,” Other Stiles muttered under his breath. “Derek will take care of him either way. Besides, if the bite takes, he’ll be so much safer at work.”
That comforted Stiles slightly, but it gave him other concerns. Fine, it would be awesome to know that some crazy with a knife or a sawn-off shotgun couldn’t kill him, but… What about the hunters?
“Don’t you worry about hunters,” Other Stiles replied as they arrived at the nemeton clearing. “Now, hush.”
Despite fuming at being told to ‘hush’ like a child, Stiles stayed silent. The last thing he wanted to do was muck this up now that they were so close to the finish line.
Noah, Peter, and Deucalion retreated to where Stiles and Noah had viewed the banishment of the nogitsune. Tara took out a small carved knife and, after breathing deeply for a moment with her eyes closed, started using it to dig small holes in the soil, muttering under her breath as she did so. Before long, she had a rough circle about three feet out from the edge of the nemeton’s stump.
What is she doing?
“She’s doing prep work for the guardians I’ll be creating. I said hush, and I meant it. I need to concentrate on this.”
Harris pulled a small black knife carved from a single piece of either glass or crystal, a fine-tipped paintbrush, and a small pot containing a viscous, glowing aqua mixture out of nowhere, presenting them to Other Stiles. “Here. I’ve linked the brush to the pot, so just determine the texture you want, and you’re ready to go.” He hesitated. “Are you sure that the standard mix is suitable? I would have thought that an undertaking of this nature would have required something a little more exotic.”
Other Stiles shook his head, tucking the knife away. “So long as it’s been made in the last week from fresh ingredients, then this is all I need. Thank you, Myslon. You do honour to your House.” He swirled the paintbrush in the glowing paint. “You could probably help Jasteri prepare her seedlings, if you wanted.”
Harris nodded jerkily. “Sun’s strength to you, Mieczyslaw. Jasteri’s abilities with constructs are more advanced than mine, so I’ll just…ensure that the rotah’il are correctly tuned.” He backed away, past Tara, who was planting tiny, fragile-looking seedlings in the holes she’d prepared.
Other Stiles had already stopped paying attention. “Don’t do anything to distract me until I’m done,” he muttered. Then he took a deep breath and, using the brush and the paint, he started in the centre of the nemeton’s flat trunk, painting an intricate design.
It was flowing and beautiful. Stiles marvelled at the symmetry that Other Stiles was managing to achieve. It took him several minutes to realise that the brush never lifted from the surface of the trunk, just moved in one continuous motion. In the corner of his eye, Stiles could see that the level of liquid in the pot was steadily decreasing.
God, this was like torture. Stiles wanted so badly to ask questions—what was the mixture made of? Why was it important not to lift the brush? What did all the symbols mean? And so on—but Other Stiles was only going to have one shot at this, and Stiles had no intention of messing it up. Still. It was fascinating, and the person who knew the answers was right there. Maybe this was some form of hell or something?
Thankfully, Stiles wasn’t suffering from the physical manifestation of that impatience, the twitching and the jittering that typically happened when his mind was going a mile a minute with no outlet. Other Stiles was in a meditative zen trance thing, and Stiles was reaping the benefit of it.
The design continued to grow in size and complexity until Stiles started to worry that Other Stiles would run out of paint before he was done. Just as the pot’s curved base became visible, Other Stiles lifted the brush and pushed away from the tree stump to observe his work. The aqua symbol looked like an intricately designed mandala; it glowed softly in the darkness.
It must have passed muster because Other Stiles sighed and relaxed his shoulders.
It’s beautiful, Stiles murmured. Wait, what are you doing now?
Other Stiles took out the small knife and swiftly sliced into his hand. When blood welled up, he held his hand over the nearly empty paint-pot, dribbling some in before using the brush to mix it all together.
Using the new mixture, Other Stiles drew some markings on the outside of the trunk. “That ought to do it.”
That ought to do what? Stiles demanded.
“These symbols should connect the guardian constructs to the restored nemeton,” Other Stiles replied. “They’ll be able to draw on its power if they need to when overcoming the dangers that they’ve been created to guard against. I’d like to see the darach get past these dudes.”
By that time, Tara had finished her planting and had joined Harris, Noah, Derek, Peter, and Deucalion, on the edge of the glade. Other Stiles joined them, passing the knife, pot and brush back to Harris. “The knife will need to be purified, and the rest of this needs to be burned. A fire rune should achieve both.”
Harris didn’t appear surprised by the order. He obligingly drew a symbol on the ground and set the knife, pot and paintbrush on top of it. Seconds later, a tiny inferno erupted. It burned hot for ten seconds, and when it died away, the pot and brush were nothing but flakes of ash that floated away in the breeze. The knife had shattered, the pieces no longer black but a discoloured grey.
“Thank you,” Other Stiles said, bending down to remove his socks and shoes. “What’s the current time?”
Noah checked his watch. “Just past six.”
Other Stiles nodded. “Right. We’re on track.” He turned to Tara. “Are you happy with the transference? You think they’ll take?”
“Yes. I had to use my existing seedlings because growing new ones to a point where the magic wouldn’t just overwhelm them would take too long. They’re not from species native to the area, but…” Tara shrugged. “Hazel, Elder, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, and Rowan. They’ll do the trick.”
“If the connection works properly, Beacon Hills will owe you a debt of gratitude,” Other Stiles said fervently.
“It’s a small thing, really,” Tara demurred.
Other Stiles shook his head. “To you, perhaps. Generations of school kids will be able to live and learn in relative safety…if they knew, I’m sure they would thank you.”
Harris snorted. “Don’t count on it. Humans are ungrateful assholes. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help out where we can.”
Tara rolled her eyes. “Right, because you’re such a fountain of goodwill and kindness. I must have missed all those benevolent, altruistic schemes you’ve been taking part in.”
Harris smirked. “Of course you’ve missed them. My mission is my priority, and anything at all that could bring attention to me is strictly forbidden. If I were caught breaking the rules, I would be recalled, and then where would the recipients of my beneficence be?”
Other Stiles squinted at him. “I thought you hated being on assignment. Wasn’t that the reason for those webs you kept placing on me?”
“There’s a difference between being recalled because of incompetence and successfully completing a long term, arduous mission,” Harris pointed out dryly. “The only benefits to this posting are the ability to run long-term behavioural tests and the promise that once it’s done, I’ll have my pick of work.”
“I don’t have time to get into how distasteful it is to run experiments on human beings,” Other Stiles said. “Are the rotah’il ready?”
“Ready as I can make them,” Harris confirmed.
“Then I guess this is it.” Other Stiles squared their shoulders and turned to Noah. “I promise I’ll do everything I can to save him.”
Noah had tears in his eyes. “I don’t want to lose either of you, Stiles. Just…do your best to make it through this, okay? I love you both; I’m proud of you both. Your mom would be proud too.”
Other Stiles stepped forward and hugged Noah tightly. “I love you too, Dad. I’ve survived without you for over eighty years now, so you have to live for us too, okay? No matter how it turns out.”
Noah squeezed back. “I promise. It won’t be easy, but I promise I’ll try.”
“The pack will take care of him,” Derek vowed. “We’ll watch over him; give him plenty to do.”
Other Stiles withdrew from Noah’s embrace. “I know you will. Thank you.” He hesitated for a moment and then slowly leaned forward, giving Derek ample time to move away if he wished, and kissed him gently on the lips. “Let him take care of you, too. We Stilinski’s need to feel needed.”
Derek just stared at him, stunned.
Stiles’ pack bond with Derek had brightened at the touch of lips, like a bolt of electricity had been run through it. What the fuck? Other Stiles didn’t answer, just turned, making his way back to the nemeton. No, that’s not okay, dude. Why did you—?
Other Stiles sighed. “In War, Victory. In Peace, Vigilance. In Death, Sacrifice.”
That only infuriated Stiles more. This isn’t a computer game, dickhead! There was no excuse! Why would you— Realisation bloomed. Your lover. You said that your lover was butchered in front of you. That dream, the one where…Derek was your lover.
“It’s not important anymore,” Other Stiles said wearily. “It was a moment of weakness. I’m sorry, it was inappropriate.”
Stiles was still reeling. Derek. Derek Hale. Derek ‘this is private property, I’ll rip your throat out with my teeth’ Hale. Oh my God. Oh. My. God. The image of Derek yesterday, sans clothes and before he was gutted by Peter, flashed into Stiles’ mind. Oh my GOD.
“I need to concentrate,” Other Stiles snapped. “Shut up.” He lay on his back on the ground beside the stump, with knees bent so that his feet were flat.
Sure. I’ll just lay here and remember all the times I’ve seen him running around without a shirt. And that time yesterday when I saw him naked.
Other Stiles sighed again. “Wow, I’m starting to understand why everyone finds me so annoying.”
Stiles blew a mental raspberry. Excuse you, I’ve just had my mind blown here. That thought led to another. Speaking of being blown, did Derek ever…
“Stop!” Other Stiles commanded, sounding strained. “We’re running out of time. Just…stop, please.”
Fine, Stiles grumbled. I’ll keep it to myself. It wasn’t as if he had much choice in the matter. Come to think of it, it was probably better for everyone that he didn’t know about this until now. If he’d known yesterday, the whole biting thing would have gone a little differently. The last thing Stiles needed was to pop a boner in front of the betas, since they could smell that.
Other Stiles closed his eyes, which distracted Stiles from where his mind had taken him. It was probably a good idea to try and calm himself. He might not be able to be a real help in this whole business, but a calm body-companion could only be beneficial.
It was easier than Stiles had expected it to be. Maybe because Other Stiles was doing all the hard work regulating the body, maybe because of the severity of the situation. Perhaps because the mental glow that his new bonds had given him was soothing to his normally frenetic mind. Either way, he found himself relaxing into the rhythm of Other Stiles’ steady breathing.
Time seemed to slow down…or stretch out. Stiles had no idea how long they lay there. Then, between one breath and the next, something in the air changed.
Other Stiles opened his eyes and began a low, almost subvocal hum. It jangled Stiles’ bones, made him feel like he needed to do something, although he didn’t know what that was.
All other sound ceased. There was no birdsong, none of the small sounds of insect life that Stiles hadn’t even been aware of until they were no longer there. Even the breeze had dropped. The only sound to be heard was the almost-sound that Other Stiles was making. It was eerie.
Stiles could see the sky brightening from their semi-supine position. For a moment, the possibility of damaging his eyes if the sun should cross his gaze concerned him, but he dismissed that thought almost immediately. It was hardly a priority right now.
Finally, the humming died away.
Other Stiles took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. “” It was said with finality.
In an instant, the previous silence became a cacophony of sound. A kind of screeching squeal, underlaid with the creak of stressed wood. After the quiet, it was deafening.
Stiles’ gaze was blocked out by a multitude of branches weaving across the sky, each bearing shiny gold leaves. It was beautiful; it reminded him of the tree he’d seen in Other Stiles’ dreams.
It had worked, then. Good.
“Sa’rahl!” Other Stiles said again, his voice gaining power and force that made Stiles’ skin crawl. He could feel their bones heating with it. It was almost unbearable.
Other Stiles began to chant:
“Those that stalk with secrets dark,
Who walk the world ‘tween fixed and fae,
Should e’er be sure of noble mark,
Lest blessings speed their souls away.
“The tainted risen to the skies,
The stars to face in spirit’s song,
All who witness see the lies,
Will learn the truth and know the wrong.
“A spirit granted burdens’ rest,
Will pass beyond forever-more,
Souls remaining hence attest,
An aura light, a purpose, pure.
The burning, itching feeling flooded out in a wave. If he could have, Stiles would have sighed with relief.
But it was too soon to celebrate. Almost immediately, that awful feeling began building again, faster than before.
Other Stiles panted, fighting to draw breath into lungs that no longer worked properly. This time, the burning feeling hadn’t built as strongly when he began to speak:
“Nature nurtures, pack provides,
Guardians guard, land decides,
Blackthorn, Hawthorn, standing true,
Hazel, Elder, Rowan too,
Ward—” he coughed wetly, then tried again.
“Protect—” he grated out.
Stiles could feel the strain, too, knew that Other Stiles was faltering. The burning was rising again.
Other Stiles rallied. “Sa’rahl,” he gasped, and the power flooded out again.
This time Stiles knew better than to think it was over. The now-familiar burning began again. He focused all his attention on Other Stiles, who was struggling to draw in any air at all.
On the edge of his vision, Stiles saw Death arrive. She wore her usual dark hooded robe and carried her scythe. Well, that pretty much spelt out how things were going to go.
As the burning increased, Other Stiles twisted slightly, turning to his side so that he could see the group watching.
Noah had tears streaming down his face, and Derek looked devastated. Stiles didn’t know if it was better to see them or not, but Other Stiles did his best to smile.
Derek turned to say something to Peter, who looked startled.
Stiles just had enough time to wonder what that was all about when Derek turned and started purposefully towards them.
Other Stiles’ eyes widened, and Stiles could feel his alarm. “No! Ba…” he trailed off into coughing again.
Then Derek was there, kneeling beside him and cradling Stiles’ head in his hands. “Let me bite you, Stiles, let me change the bond, link us deeper. If it works, I can try to funnel some of the excess energy into the land. It might save you!”
Other Stiles shook his head. “Won…”
The pack bonds glowed with promise, and Stiles felt a stirring of hope. It might work! Of course, it might not, but what did they have to lose? Tell him yes!
Other Stiles made no move to accept. “De…you…no.”
The burning was rapidly rising. Soon, it would be unbearable.
Tell him yes! This is my body, dammit, it’s my choice! Yes, Derek, yes! Stiles wanted to tear his hair out in frustration. This feels right; you know it does! I’ll die if I have to; I’ve accepted it, but if at all possible, I want to live!
“Please!” Derek begged. “I won’t do it without your permission, but…please!”
Stiles didn’t know if it was his words or Derek’s entreaties that made the difference, but Other Stiles closed his eyes, nodded slightly, and mouthed, “Yes.”
The burning was so bad by then that the pain of Derek’s fangs in his wrist was a welcome distraction. What was less welcome was the way Derek stiffened as if electrocuted.
His face melted back into his human visage for a moment, the fangs slipping free of Stiles’ wrist almost gently. Then he threw back his head and howled, a far more wild and primal sound than the other howls Stiles had heard.
The burning hadn’t abated.
Other Stiles shuddered. “Sa’rahl,” he breathed one last time.
Suddenly, Stiles was thrust into the driver’s seat of his body. He tried to scream but couldn’t get enough air into his lungs to do more than make an awful high-pitched keening noise.
The pain grew and grew. It grew so bad that his most coherent thought at the sight of his skin bursting into flame was that maybe it would be over soon. He had just enough time to notice that Derek was burning too, and then the world finally went dark.
Stiles sank into unconsciousness with relief.
Stiles floated aimlessly in the darkness for what felt like an age, luxuriating in the blessed lack of pain. Eventually, he gathered enough energy to open his eyes. Time to see what the afterlife was like.
The afterlife looked a great deal like the in-between place where Stiles had first spoken to Other Stiles. Stiles frowned and sat up from the perfect facsimile of his own bed that he’d been lying in. From his new vantage point, he could see that Derek and Other Stiles were in this place with him, both sleeping in beds of their own.
Derek’s was a hard wooden thing with no blankets. Stiles pulled a face. Not surprising to see some deep psychological issues were going on there. Other Stiles’ bed was a strange mix of Stiles’ bed and something that looked like a hammock. It was weird, and it made Stiles feel mildly unwell just looking at it. Two different things were trying to be the same thing at once; parts of it kept warping out of existence when he wasn’t looking directly at them.
It was a sad state of affairs when it was easier to look at Derek, recumbent on a representation of his desire to punish himself.
Other Stiles spoke. “We’re not dead.”
When Stiles looked back at him, the bed situation had at least been sorted out. Other Stiles was sitting on a sofa that Stiles could vaguely remember from his early childhood. It had belonged to the old couple, the Goddards, who’d lived next door and, whenever his mom had left him with them, they would ply him with cookies and let him do whatever he wanted. Like jump around on said sofa.
One day there had been new neighbours, a younger couple who were barely home. The Goddards had disappeared from his life before he even began school, and he hadn’t thought of them in years. Looking at that sofa brought the memories back, how much he’d looked forward to staying with them, the wonderful stories Mr Goddard used to tell. Just how bouncy that sofa was.
When Stiles looked down, he discovered that his bed had changed to the driver’s seat of his jeep.
While Stiles had been taking this in, Derek had woken up and was now staring at Other Stiles in shock. “Stiles?”
Other Stiles gave a half-hearted wave. “Yeah, that’s me.”
“It’s one thing to know that you’re from the future,” Derek said. “Seeing it…”
“Kind-of added a whole lot of weight to his argument,” Stiles agreed. “Although, gotta love those genes. I’m looking pretty damn amazing for someone close to a century old. Scars etc., notwithstanding.”
Derek’s hard wooden bed changed, leaving him sitting on something that looked like a charred wooden step. He finally dragged his attention away from Other Stiles’ ravaged features and looked around. “What is this place?”
Other Stiles looked relieved that he wasn’t the focus of Derek’s stare anymore. “It’s a mental construct,” he replied, looking around suspiciously. “I made one that was similar when I needed to discuss things with my past self, or selves, but this one is operating under different rules. I don’t like how easy it is for the three of us to manipulate it. That either means we’ve all somehow combined into one person, which seems unlikely, or…”
“Or…” Stiles prompted.
Other Stiles sighed. “Or the being controlling it has access to all of our innermost thoughts.”
“Is that so awful?” Stiles asked. “I mean, this whole thing is like a crazy dream.”
Derek winced. “The issue is that whoever it is has a big advantage over us. If there’s any kind of negotiation, we’re in an undesirable position.”
Stiles gave him the stink eye. “Oh, how dreadful to have to deal with someone who has abilities that give them information about you while you remain in the dark. Wow, I guess it would be like a teenage boy suddenly having to deal with werewolves who can smell his emotions and hear if he lies.”
Derek had the grace to look slightly abashed. “I’m not used to being on this side of things.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “The two of you shouldn’t worry so much. Winging it has worked so far, hasn’t it?”
Other Stiles raised an eyebrow. “Winging it got the world in such a state that time travel was the only answer.” He took a deep breath. “Alright, whoever’s there can show themselves now.”
Between one blink and the next, Death was standing in their midst.
Stiles tensed immediately, noting that Derek did too.
Conversely, Other Stiles relaxed. “Oh, it’s you. Why all the drama?”
WHY NOT? Death replied. MIGHT AS WELL HAVE A BIT OF FUN WHEN THE OPPORTUNITY PRESENTS ITSELF.
Other Stiles rolled his eyes. “Next, you’ll be trying out the ‘Cower, brief mortals!’ line. Come on, Duchess. There’s no need to be so formal.”
Death shrugged and removed the hood of her robe. IT DOES GET A BIT STUFFY UNDER THERE.
Stiles was surprised to discover that Death was an attractive woman. She could have been any age but didn’t look any older than Derek. Her hair was stark white, with a single black lock at her brow. He blinked. “Susan Death?”
Death smiled. It did not look friendly. PERHAPS. I’VE BEEN GETTING THAT A LOT RECENTLY.
“Just call her Death,” Other Stiles interjected. “Using someone’s name is rude without an invitation. Names have power, and some beings won’t be as forbearing as Duchess Death.”
“The etiquette lesson is a little late,” Stiles replied. “Seeing as how we’re dead and all. Unless we’re not.” He gave Death his best wide, innocent eyes. “Please don’t kill Derek, ma’am. He wasn’t part of the original agreement.”
Death sighed. I DON’T GO AROUND KILLING PEOPLE, BABY STILES. I’M JUST THE TRANSPORT.
“Oh,” Stiles said, feeling slightly ashamed. “Well, Derek shouldn’t die. That’s all I’m saying.”
YOU’RE IN LUCK, Death said dryly. HE’S NOT GOING TO DIE.
Other Stiles stiffened. “Excuse me? What does that mean?”
His reaction baffled Stiles. “Surely that’s a good thing?”
“You have to pay attention when a cosmic being speaks,” Other Stiles replied. “She didn’t say that Derek wasn’t going to die today; she said he wasn’t going to die.”
Derek blanched. “I don’t want to live forever.”
THEN YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE INTERFERED WITH THE RITUAL, Death replied, raising a sculpted eyebrow. OR, YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE BOUND YOURSELF SO TIGHTLY TO THE FYLKIRE THE NEMETON HAD JUST GROWN ON. FYLKIRES ARE SAPIENT, YOU KNOW. IT WASN’T WILLING TO LOSE YOU SO QUICKLY AFTER ACQUIRING YOU, AND YOU’D DONE THE MAGICAL EQUIVALENT OF TRYING TO ABSORB THE RADIATION FALLOUT OF A TSAR NUKE.
“Peter could have been alpha,” Derek protested.
“Peter hasn’t even been resurrected for three whole days,” Other Stiles pointed out. “What makes you think a fylkire would find him an acceptable substitute?”
Derek folded his arms defensively. “I followed my instincts.”
Other Stiles ran a hand over his face. “I knew we shouldn’t have deviated from the plan,” he muttered. “I take it the fylkire and the nemeton made a deal?”
Death nodded. IT’S A RATHER UNPRECEDENTED SITUATION. THE RESULT IS THAT DEREK HALE IS NOW ONE OF THE RAREST CREATURES TO POPULATE THE EARTH.
“I’m not sure I want to know,” Derek said miserably.
Stiles didn’t know what to think. On the one hand, he didn’t want Derek to die, but on the other, living forever wasn’t his idea of a good time either. Especially if it meant being alone for most of it.
I’M NOT FINISHED, Death went on, looking amused. THE FYLKIRE KNEW WHAT DEREK WAS TRYING TO ACHIEVE AND TRIED TO BARGAIN IN HIS FAVOUR. THE NEMETON, AN ENTITY THAT CAN LOOK FORWARD AND BACK IN TIME, AGREED FOR ITS OWN REASONS. DEREK WAS SAVED IN THE ONLY WAY POSSIBLE.
“Oh god,” Other Stiles groaned. “Does that mean that we’re immortal too?”
Death tilted her head to one side. THAT ONE IS LESS ABSOLUTE. OWING TO THE CONNECTION MADE BY DEREK IN THOSE LAST MOMENTS, THE FYLKIRE WAS ABLE TO MAKE A TENTATIVE DEAL WITH THE NEMETON FOR THE YOUNGER STILES ON THE ALPHA’S BEHALF. IT HAD NO SUCH AUTHORITY WHERE YOU ARE CONCERNED. WHAT’S MORE, YOU ALREADY HAD A DEAL IN PLACE. WITH ME.
Other Stiles looked hopeful. “So, that means…”
THAT MEANS THAT THE SITUATION HAS BECOME MUDDLED ENOUGH THAT YOU HAVE A CHOICE. Death confirmed. Her gaze flicked between the two Stiles’. BOTH OF YOU.
“I want to complete our original bargain,” Other Stiles said immediately. “I’ve done what I intended to do; let me join my loved ones in oblivion.”
Stiles blinked. “Wait. We can choose? Just to be clear, can I choose differently from him?” He pointed at Other Stiles.
Death nodded. YES.
“Make sure you know the specifics of your options first,” Other Stiles recommended.
Stiles snorted. “You didn’t. You went straight for the big red ‘kill me now’ button.”
Other Stiles glared at him. “I’ve been on borrowed time for decades. Everyone I loved died long ago, and only the slim chance that I could do something to fix things has kept me going.”
“Fine,” Stiles grumbled. “What are my options, please?”
Death sighed. YOU CAN MOVE ON, LIKE YOUR OLDER COUNTERPART, OR YOU CAN STAY AND JOIN YOUR ALPHA FRIEND IN BECOMING THE CLOSEST THING TO IMMORTAL A NON-COSMIC ENTITY CAN GET.
“What does that mean?” Derek growled.
IT MEANS THAT NO-ONE CAN BECOME TRULY IMMORTAL. NOT IN YOUR DIMENSION, AT LEAST. YOU’LL LAST LONG ENOUGH THAT YOU’LL FEEL LIKE YOU’RE IMMORTAL THOUGH.
Stiles eyed her suspiciously. “Are we gonna age like normal, though? Or will we end up as undying, shrivelled-up husks?”
Death shook her head. YOU WON’T AGE PAST THIS POINT. THE AGE YOU ARE NOW IS THE OLDEST YOU’LL EVER APPEAR.
Stiles made a face. That wasn’t ideal. “Will our hair grow? What about beards? Fingernails?”
Death rolled her eyes. THOSE THINGS WILL CONTINUE FUNCTIONING AS USUAL. YOU WON’T AGE, AND YOU WON’T DIE.
“Will we be able to be killed?” Derek asked hopefully.
Stiles brightened at that thought. That sounded okay.
NO, Death answered. WELL, NOT REALLY. THERE ARE DIFFERENT SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT ON IF A REBIRTH REALLY COUNTS AS A DEATH, BUT SINCE NO-ONE FROM MY DIVISION IS INVOLVED, I COME DOWN ON THE SIDE OF ‘NO.’
“What do you mean, rebirth?” Stiles asked warily. “Reincarnation?”
Death laughed. NO, NOT REINCARNATION. IF SOMETHING EVER MANAGES TO KILL YOU—AND YOU WON’T BE SUSCEPTIBLE TO MANY THINGS, SO IT WON’T BE HAPPENING OFTEN—YOU’LL BURN, THEN BE REBORN FROM THE ASHES.
Stiles’ mouth dropped open. “You mean we’ll be phoenixes? Phoenixi? Phoenia?” He frowned. “What is the plural of phoenix, anyway?”
THE ALPHA IS ALREADY A PHOENIX, Death corrected. IF YOU CHOOSE TO JOIN HIM, YOU WILL BOTH BE PHOENIXES.
Derek still hadn’t unfolded his arms. “How many other phoenixes are there?”
Death smirked. ONE. HE’S KIND-OF FAMOUS, YOU’VE PROBABLY HEARD OF HIM; NOT THAT HE GOES BY THAT NAME ANY MORE. HE REMOVED HIMSELF FROM PUBLIC VIEW NEARLY TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO, SO GOOD LUCK FINDING HIM.
Stiles wrinkled his nose. “There are no female phoenixes? I’m not sure how to feel about that. Lydia would call sexism.”
Death gave him a look. I NEED A CHOICE FROM YOU.
Stiles glanced at Derek, then at his older self. Other Stiles raised one eyebrow and didn’t offer an opinion, while Derek refused to look at him. Stiles reminded himself that Derek was only in this mess because he’d done his best to save them. That was Derek to a tee; rash, impulsive decisions made with the best of intentions. He needed someone to help him regulate that tendency.
Then he thought of his dad, of what it would do to him if he found out that Stiles’d had the option of living but instead chose death.
Stiles squared his shoulders and faced Death. “I choose to honour the bargain my alpha and our fylkire made on my behalf.”
Death smiled. This time, it looked more approving than threatening. VERY WELL. She seemed to grow visibly taller and thinner as she slid her hood back over her head.
“Wait!” Other Stiles said hurriedly. “If I’m going, and he’s staying, I want to…do that other thing that we discussed.”
YOU’LL NEED TO MAKE IT WORTH MY WHILE, Death answered, beckoning to him. LET’S TALK IT OVER. She and Other Stiles bent their heads together, murmuring too quietly for Stiles to overhear what they were saying.
“Stiles, are you sure?” Derek asked urgently. He finally unfolded his arms, gathering Stiles’ hands in his and looking into his eyes. “Don’t do this unless you’re sure.”
Stiles’ heart went all squishy. “I’m sure,” he replied gently. “Whatever happens, you won’t have to face it alone anymore.”
Derek’s eyes glistened, but his smile was bright. The moment stretched out. Stiles was just starting to wonder if it would be appropriate to lean in for a kiss when Other Stiles interrupted them.
“While watching young love blossom is always a delight, we’re on a bit of a timetable here,” he announced. “Stiles, I’ve arranged for you to have a copy of my memories, if you want.”
Stiles dropped one of Derek’s hands so that he could turn towards Other Stiles. When Derek tried to release his other hand, Stiles clung on tenaciously. After a second, Derek tentatively returned the pressure, adding a little squeeze of his own. Stiles felt his face heat.
“Stiles?” Other Stiles prompted, looking amused.
Oh right. Memories.
Stiles turned that over in his head, wondering how that would work out. “You mean like a physical book? Or would it be like reliving them?”
Other Stiles shook his head. “You wouldn’t relive them; that wouldn’t serve you at all. And a physical book is too vulnerable. This would be like a mental book, one that you can access to find information. It’ll take time and effort to learn how to use it, but you already have the advantage that our minds operate the same way. That should help keep you safe.”
“Why does the way our mind works makes such a difference?” Stiles asked.
“It’s all about how the information is cross-referenced and what supplementary information there is surrounding it,” Other Stiles explained. “I’ve had mind-walkers try to dig through my head for information before. It’s not pleasant, but our twisty mind is its own natural defence.” He smirked. “No one got more than a headache and lingering motion sickness, unless I wanted them to.”
“Good.” Stiles really wasn’t interested in letting people rummage through his mind, so that was comforting. “Is there anyone, in particular, I need to watch out for?”
Other Stiles shrugged. “The fae Houses are used to getting what they want and people doing what they say. When I wasn’t inclined to jump through their hoops, they decided to take a short cut. I don’t know if you’ll have it easier or not, what with everything that’s happened, but your status as phoenixes should offer you protection that I never had.”
“Thank you,” Stiles said, not sure that a simple thank-you was enough. “For everything. For coming back and giving me a future. For everything you’re still doing to give me an edge.”
Other Stiles raised his eyebrows. “You might not be quite so grateful after a few millennia. But you’re welcome. I won’t bother telling you to look after everyone; you’ll do that anyway. Maybe…look after yourself.” He waggled his eyebrows. “And have fun with that hot piece of werewolf ass that you’re going to be spending eternity with.”
Stiles blushed. “But what abo—”
TIME’S UP Death announced. DO YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT THE GIFT OF KNOWLEDGE HARD WON THAT HAS BEEN OFFERED TO YOU?
There was only ever going to be one answer to a question like that. “Of course I do. But what abou—”
BARGAIN STRUCK. Death clapped her hands, and everything went dark.
Stiles woke naked, limbs entangled with Derek’s, who was also naked. They were wrapped in a cocoon of blankets, although the surface beneath them was hard. Stiles was also startled at the difference in his senses. He could hear better, smell better, and he could feel the presence of people nearby. Without even opening his eyes, he could tell that Harris and Tara were off to one side, and that Noah, Peter and Deucalion were mere steps away.
When he opened his eyes, he could see the branches of the re-grown nemeton stretched out above them, dense foliage blocking out any direct sunlight. Without his conscious intent, his vision shifted so that ribbons of coloured light were running through everything. He blinked, and his vision went back to normal. Weird. Something to check Other Stiles’ memories for, he supposed.
“Stiles!” Noah said with relief. “You’re okay!”
Beside him, Derek tensed briefly. “Why are we naked?”
“Your clothes burnt off,” Peter informed them. To his credit, he only sounded slightly gleeful about it. “We considered taking you back to Noah’s house, but you refused to be separated.”
“It was easier to make you as comfortable as possible here,” Noah said apologetically. “Stiles? Are you okay?”
“I think so?” Stiles croaked out. “I’m getting used to the increased input.” He was getting the nagging feeling that someone was watching him. It didn’t feel malicious, but not knowing what it was made him uncomfortable.
Harris and Tara approached.
“What happened?” Harris demanded. “I thought you said the ritual would probably kill you?”
“Other Stiles has gone,” Stiles replied. “He’s dead. Due to some…unforeseen complications, Derek and I…” He trailed off, uncertain how to explain it.
“You smell slightly different,” Peter said bracingly. “But the pack bonds are still there, stronger than ever. I know that you’re both you.” He smiled, showing his teeth. “It was rather unconventional as wedding ceremonies go, but then Stiles has continually surprised me since we met.”
“Wedding ceremony?” Stiles and Noah chorused together.
Derek’s ears went red. “Just because I changed the bond to something deeper, doesn’t mean that we’re married, or mated. It’s just that the deepest bond I know of, the only one that allows direct transfer of power, is also often used in mating ceremonies. It doesn’t have to be permanent, and I didn’t have time to explain it.”
Stiles thought about how he’d felt at that point. “I would still have said yes,” he admitted. “I would have married Jackson if that was what it took.” He nudged Derek. “I’m glad it was you, though. Thank you for saving me.”
“It saved you?” Noah asked. “You mean that if he hadn’t, you would have…” He hugged Stiles’ head, the only part of him not still covered by blankets.
“I think so, yes,” Stiles sighed when his head had been released. “Death intimated that it was only the fylkire acting on Derek’s behalf that allowed me the possibility of survival.” He looked at Harris. “I guess that means I owe you my thanks, too. If you hadn’t changed up the ritual enough for the fylkire to evolve, I’d be dead.”
Harris smiled smugly. “It was rather inspired. This is going to propel me into the High Circle for sure.” His smile faded. “What actually happened? Mr Hale was right; you’re both different. I just can’t put my finger on what it is.”
“Did it have something to do with that geas?” Tara suggested, frowning. “It was a powerful working. I couldn’t quite follow the strings; it wasn’t any type of spell that I’m familiar with.”
“It wasn’t a geas,” Harris corrected her. “Not as we know it. I was watching the strings too. There were aspects of it that were recognisable, but they interacted with the words he spoke in a way that I’ve never seen before. It was fascinating.”
“I don’t care about that,” Noah said impatiently. “I care about what happened to my son. You said he’s different. How? Why?”
Stiles shrugged. “We’re phoenixes,” he said casually. “Derek’s transformation was from the fylkire and the nemeton saving him the only way they could. I had a choice between going on with Other Stiles or staying back with Derek.”
Harris’ already pale face went bone white. “What?”
“Are you serious?” Tara demanded. “You’re a phoenix? You have the royal blood of both Houses running through your veins; you’ve got a stable connection to this realm through both the blood of your father and a mate bond to a phoenix alpha werewolf—who is the mobile part of a fylkire/nemeton trinity—and you’re a phoenix?”
Harris groaned. “They’re not going to elevate me; they’re going to execute me. Of course Caerhil and the other mages wouldn’t have missed the benefits of a claiming over a simple petition. They were probably trying to avoid something like this happening.”
Peter laughed. “The first time I met the time-traveller Stiles, he told me that there were going to be plenty of opportunities for chaos. Oh, how right he was.”
Derek sighed. “I don’t suppose anyone thought to pick up any clothes for us?”
Stiles had made the trip between the nemeton and his house several times in the last couple of days. It had never felt quite like this, though.
“How is it that I just know all this extra information, but it isn’t overwhelming me?” Stiles asked the world in general.
“Your fae senses have awoken,” Tara suggested. “Your brain must be more fae than human. It’s possible that it’s always been wired for this input.”
Stiles scowled. “Right, Other Stiles told me something like that. He said that lack of stimulation was probably why I had the appearance of ADHD, and why medicating for it was so hit and miss.”
Tara tilted her head to one side. “We should probably look at taking you in for evaluation.”
“Evaluation?” Noah asked sharply. “Who exactly do you think should be ‘evaluating’ my son? And what for?”
Tara blinked at him, nonplussed. “By the royal mages,” she said, sounding uncertain. “They’ll want to know what the limits of his capabilities are.”
That proposition did not fill Stiles with joy. Derek turned away from discussing ideas for training with Deucalion and came over to stand supportively beside him, glaring at Tara.
Noah squared his shoulders. “If those fae bastards whose choices killed my wife want to so much as to talk to our son, they can ask for an interview. Politely.”
“As the alpha mate of our pack, he’ll be accompanied by a delegation of pack members equal to the number of fae who want to meet him,” Peter interjected, examining his fingernails. “We’ll probably need some sort of agreement in place first. Something binding to all parties.”
Stiles opened his mouth to remind them that he wasn’t actually an alpha mate, but Derek’s elbow in his ribs silenced him.
Tara’s eyes had widened. “But… Ah. Well, I’ll bring those concerns to the court.” She hesitated. “You should know that your Aydini grandparent might not feel bound by the court’s decree. Blood is important, and as your nearest relative, her rights are—”
“Non-existent,” Stiles said firmly. Having Derek right there was very comforting. “My mom’s biological parents abrogated any rights when they allowed her magic to be ripped away for the crime of being born. If either of them wants to talk to me, they can go through the same channels as the other fae. They’ll get no special treatment from me.”
“I’ll pass that on,” Tara said. “Your Aydini grandparent…well, she’s not the most conformable of people. There’s really no way to predict what she’ll do.”
Stiles raised his eyebrows. “I understand that my mother’s fae parents are highly ranked members of the ruling Houses? If her House is aware that she’s a loose cannon and doesn’t choose to ensure she abides by their agreements, then I’ll consider the whole House to be in default.”
Stiles didn’t know where this confidence was coming from, if it were something that Other Stiles had left behind or if it was a by-product of being part of a pack that he knew would stand with him. But he liked it.
Tara winced. “Right.” She sighed. “This going to be so much fun.”
Harris snorted. “Well, at least I’ll have company in the mines.”
Derek raised an eyebrow. “Mines?”
“The crystal mines,” Tara said. “It’s uncomfortable work, so no one likes to do it. It’s generally assigned as reparation, with the offending party mining on behalf of whoever they wronged.”
“You’ll be sent to prison?” Stiles blurted out, horrified.
Harris shook his head. “It’s not quite that bad. Most mages spend time down in the mines anyway. Sometimes a ritual requires a specific type of crystal, and the fastest way to acquire one is to go and mine it yourself. Skilled miners can become rich by filling specific requests. It’s just generally rather unpleasant.”
“House members in disgrace are often sent to the mines as a political statement,” Tara explained. “It’s not painful work or dangerous; it’s just tedious and tiring. Most of us would prefer something a bit more life-threatening, to be honest.”
Harris shuddered. “Tedious doesn’t even begin to describe it. I’d rather be here, watching over moronic high school students, which should give you an inkling.”
Harris’ predicament didn’t bother Stiles a great deal; there was too much confrontation in their history for him to care. The actions of the last two days really weren’t enough to offset the way Harris had treated him in previous years. Tara, on the other hand, had always been kind to him. Stiles didn’t want to see her suffer for something that she had no control over.
“Would it make it any better if I asked for the two of you to remain?” Stiles asked. “As ambassadors of a kind?”
“It might,” Harris acknowledged thoughtfully. “The phoenix thing in particular…yes.” He exchanged glances with Tara. “What do you think?”
Tara shrugged. “It can’t hurt to try.” She brightened and smiled at Stiles. “An ambassador position would technically be a promotion. Come to think of it, no one’s going to want that job either. Thank you! I think this could work.”
“Does this mean you’ll still be working as my deputy?” Noah asked her. “I’d hate to lose you.”
Tara ducked her head slightly, and her smile turned mischievous. “I’ll point out that my position gives me opportunities to influence you, sir. That should do the trick.” She grew serious again. “I would very much like to continue as a deputy, sir. I find the work extremely rewarding and enjoy working under your leadership.”
Noah looked gratified but uncomfortable. “Good. When Derek finishes the training, we’ll be able to set up a sub-department to investigate crimes relating to the supernatural. Let me know if you think any of the others would be suitable, and we can see about adding them in.”
Tara beamed at him. “Of course, sir.”
Peter’s phone beeped. He pulled it out of his pocket, glancing at the screen. “You’ll need to pick up a new phone, nephew. I refuse to play at being your secretary for any longer than necessary.” He held it out for Derek to look at. “Interesting news, though.”
“Morrell collapsed in class this morning and was rushed to hospital,” Derek said. “Huh.” He turned to Harris. “Would that have been a result of the ritual to re-grow the nemeton?”
Tara coughed. “It’s more likely to be the guardians the time-travelling Stiles made, fulfilling their function. If they determined she was at the school on false pretences and thus posed a danger to the students, they would have acted to incapacitate her.”
Stiles stared at her blankly. “What?”
Peter snapped his fingers. “Those seedlings you planted around the nemeton. They can do that sort of thing?” He frowned. “How? I don’t get it.”
“You were probably distracted by the nemeton,” Tara explained. “Stiles did good work. Part of the guardians’ programming is for them to be…difficult to notice, shall we say. They will already have taken up stations around the schools.”
Harris’s expression was slightly sour. “My colleague is underplaying her part. Raising a seedling robust enough that it won’t fall to pieces after being infused with enough magic for that kind of programming is a rare skill. It’s a pity, for her sake, that it’s not more in demand.”
“And you think these guardians are what caused Morrell’s collapse?” Noah asked.
Tara nodded. “They’re connected to the nemeton, and their purpose is to keep legitimate staff and students safe while on school grounds. Their action proves that Morrell was using her access to the school in a way that would hurt others. Not having seen what condition she’s in, I can’t really tell you what they did.” She shrugged.
“These guardians that were created from the seedlings,” Peter said carefully; “I take it they now look like trees? And you said they’re mobile. They can walk around?”
“Trees blend in everywhere,” Tara explained defensively. “And if they’re mobile, then they can protect all the schools in Beacon Hills. No one will see them move; the nemeton will make sure of that.”
Stiles picked up on where Peter was heading with this. “You and Other Stiles made ents? Actual ents? That’s amazing. Can we go see them? Derek, I want to see the ents.”
Derek was trying to hide a smile. “We should probably wait until tomorrow since you’ve just had two days off school.”
Noah stared at Tara. “Could you make ents for the station as well?”
“I only developed their base form,” Tara said sheepishly. “Stiles was the one that worked on the activation and the programming.”
Noah turned to Stiles, eyebrows raised. “Do you think you could figure out what he did?”
Stiles beamed at him. “I’ll certainly give it a go.”
Tara’s phone beeped just seconds before Noah’s phone began to ring.
Noah gave Stiles an apologetic look. “It’s the mayor. I’ll take this in my office.”
Tara tucked her phone away. “I’ve been called into the station. We’ll have to continue this another time.” She gave Stiles a quick hug. “No matter how it turns out for me, I’m glad you made it, kid.” She turned to Harris. “Leave them be for a while, Myslon. They need time to relax without you poking your nose in.”
“You just don’t want me to make any deals when your back is turned,” Harris retorted. He sighed. “Alright then. I should work out something we can use to contain Deaton since Morrell is already taken care of; we can discuss it further tomorrow. Oh, and the web keeping McCall feeling unwell and sleepy will be wearing off in the next few hours. He still won’t remember what happened, but he’ll be up and about again.”
“What if Deaton sees your spell on Scott and removes it?” Stiles asked. “The one on my dad was easy enough for Tara to remove.”
Tara shook her head. “The one on the sheriff had been tied off; I doubt Deaton will know it’s gone unless he sees him in person. Myslon and I are both still connected to the one on Scott. If we detect tampering, we’ll take care of it.”
“No sleep for me until this is all taken care of,” Harris grumbled. “Never mind. I’ll get to work on the rotah’il recordings.” They turned to leave. “I imagine you want a copy? Anything you’d care to offer for one?”
“The rotah’il is mine,” Tara pointed out. “I allowed you use of it without charge because it benefited us both. Do you really want to repay my generosity with greed?”
“We want a copy too,” Stiles called after them. “That’s both rituals, please!”
Peter patted Stiles on the shoulder approvingly. “With a bit of training, you’ll be a fine alpha mate,” he declared. He raised his eyebrows at Deucalion and tilted his head towards the door. Deucalion nodded. “Deucalion and I will replace your phone, nephew. Then we’ll meet the others after school and take them for a run. The two of you should probably sit down and talk.”
“Thank you,” Derek said to them both.
Stiles echoed him. He wasn’t sure he was ready to be alone with Derek just yet, but since his dad was still here, he could probably put it off a little longer.
Except that his dad had to leave, too.
“It’s a hot mess,” Noah explained as he pulled on his uniform shirt. “When the station ran the prints for Chris Argent and the other six men we arrested yesterday morning, a pile of red flags popped up relating to a trail of suspicious deaths dotted all across the country. An FBI investigator quickly added two and two together; immediately claimed jurisdiction and arranged to transfer them.”
“What about Allison?” Stiles asked.
“There’s no indication that she’s implicated in federal crimes, so she’ll be held at Yuba City pending bail. She was taken there last night.”
It crossed Stiles’ mind that Scott wasn’t going to be happy about that, but he dismissed it. Scott’s preferences stopped being Stiles’ priority when he realised that Scott was involved in the massacre at the station but didn’t feel the slightest bit of guilt for it. “That all sounds routine. What went wrong?”
“The FBI had already assumed custody and had the men on a transport to Mendota. At 8.30 am, the prisoners simultaneously dropped dead; coincidentally, at the same moment, several classified files were released, with details of further crimes that the recently deceased had been implicated in but never charged for.”
“Other Stiles did say that I wouldn’t have to worry about the hunters,” Stiles remembered. “And that weird poem thing he chanted sounded like it was aimed at them. But why are you being called in?” He handed Noah his jacket. “You weren’t there.”
“I think that’s the point,” Noah replied. “They want me to go over everything to make sure all the ‘i’s’ have been dotted, and the ‘t’s’ have been crossed. Will you be okay here with Derek? I see everyone else has made tracks already.”
Stiles tried his best to smile. Now that his life wasn’t in danger, his dad was already hurrying to get away from him. He’d hoped things might be different now, but maybe that was naïve.
“Stiles, are you okay?” Noah asked with alarm. “If you need me to stay, I can tell the mayor that I can’t make it.” He began taking his jacket off again.
Just knowing that his dad would stay was enough to make Stiles feel better about him leaving. “No, you go,” he said, his smile real this time. “Let me know when you think you’ll be home; I’ll organise dinner.”
Noah frowned at him. “Are you sure, kid? Nothing is more important to me than you.”
“I’m sure,” Stiles insisted, giving him a quick hug. “Go on, go sort everyone out. The place has probably gone to rack and ruin in your absence.”
Noah hugged him back, clapped Derek companionably on the shoulder, then left.
Stiles and Derek were left staring at each other.
“I’m sorry,” Derek blurted. “I tied you to me without explaining what it meant. You have every right to be furious.”
“You were saving my life,” Stiles pointed out. “Time was at a premium. We’ve got plenty of time now, though. Would you explain what this all means? I’ll make some coffee, and we can sit down and talk like grown-ups.”
Derek nodded gratefully.
The familiar routine of making coffee helped settle Stiles’ nerves. He sat beside Derek on the sofa, turning his body slightly so that they weren’t facing each other but could have eye contact if they wanted.
“Peter keeps calling me an ‘alpha mate,’” Stiles prompted since Derek looked as if he didn’t know how to begin. “But you said it wasn’t a mating bite. Firstly, what is a mating bite?”
“What it says on the box, really,” Derek replied. “It’s something a werewolf can offer to someone they want to create a special bond with. It’s generally used as a form of commitment—the deeper bond allows for greater emotional and mental intimacy—but it’s been used for other purposes. In a way, I gave you a mating bite because that’s what it’s commonly called. But just because we have the same bond that mated couples have, doesn’t make us mated.”
Stiles frowned. “Are we werewolf married, or not? Is it a forever thing?”
“It doesn’t have to be,” Derek assured him. “Mate bonds can be difficult to sever, primarily because that depth of connection is something that most shifters crave. Rejecting that feels counter-productive and goes against our instincts, but it can be done. We can do that if you like.”
“Whoa, Nellie.” Stiles held up his hand, the one not occupied with his coffee, in a stop gesture. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Right now, I just want to know more about it.”
Derek relaxed slightly. “I’ve never had a bond like this before, so I can only tell you what my mother told me. She said that both parties are stronger. Strengths are shared and weaknesses divided. We won’t be able to read each other’s minds but, as the bond develops, we’ll get a sense of mood and general well-being.”
Stiles thought about that. “I’m not seeing a downside.”
Derek’s ears went pink. “The bond allows for greater…it can help with…intimacy can feel more intimate.”
Stiles blinked. “You mean sex? It enhances sex? All the time?” Stiles’ face grew warm. Did it get hot all of a sudden?
“Only when the bonded pair are having sex together,” Derek clarified, the pink spreading from his ears down his neck. “It’s said that it has the opposite effect if someone with a bond tries to have sex with someone who isn’t their bond-partner.”
Stiles’ face grew warmer. “Uh, well, I don’t exactly have a lot of experience there.” He cleared his throat. “None, in fact.”
Derek looked surprised. “Really? That seems…” He broke off. “Not that there’s anything wrong with waiting.” He grimaced. “I wish I had.”
Knowing what he knew about Derek and Kate Argent, Stiles could see his point. “It’s not so much that I wanted to wait, but that the opportunities haven’t been there.”
Derek blinked. “They haven’t? Are the teenagers in this town blind?”
That made Stiles blush harder. “You don’t need to try and make me feel better. I’m used to it by now.”
“I’m serious,” Derek insisted, brows drawing together. “You’re good looking, your physique is…good, you’re smart, funny, you have great hands—”
“Really?” Stiles broke in. He looked down at himself, wondering if his magic had done something to make him more attractive. He blinked as he remembered something Other Stiles had said. “Harris.”
Derek stared at him, confused. “What?”
“Other Stiles said that Harris didn’t want to spend the next millennia babysitting Stilinksis, so he put spells on me that would discourage people from wanting to ‘breed’ with me. Other Stiles made him take them off.”
Derek frowned. “I know he’s been helpful recently, but he’s such a dick.”
“Word,” Stiles agreed. He hesitated. “Why don’t we just leave things as they are for now? Unless you want to break the bond?”
“No!” Derek said immediately. “I mean, I’m happy to leave things as they are.” His ears went pink again. “Just let me know if you decide you want to date someone.”
“You too,” Stiles agreed. “Or, if you sustain a head injury or something and decide you want to date me. Cause I would be down for that.” He went to do finger guns, but forgot he was holding a half-full cup of warm coffee. He managed to spill it all over them both. “Shit! As you can see, I’m a suave, sophisticated dude. Why wouldn’t you want to date me?” He leapt up and grabbed a couple of dish towels from the kitchen.
“It’s fine,” Derek assured him, accepting the cloth. “These jeans have seen worse than coffee.”
“It’s coffee today; who knows what it will be tomorrow?” Stiles said, scrubbing away at his own pants. “Hydrochloric acid or sodium hydroxide or something.”
Derek shook his head, but he was smiling. “We werewolves are hardy beings. So long as it’s not aconite, I’ll be fine.” He handed the cloth back. “Considering that I’m now a phoenix, even aconite would probably be okay.”
“We should test it,” Stiles said. At the look on Derek’s face, he rolled his eyes. “I’m not suggesting I try to kill you with it or anything, but we should definitely run some tests to see if you’re still susceptible to it. If you’re not, that could be a real ace up our sleeve.”
Derek frowned. “I’m not particularly delighted about becoming a lab rat, but I agree that the information would probably be useful.” He smirked. “Of course, we should be testing you too.”
Stiles scoffed. “Of course we should test me! We should probably have some sort of control to compare our results to, but convincing someone to let us stab and poison them, even for science, is going to be a hard ask.”
“Just work up a plan, and we can talk it over,” Derek said. “Was there anything else you wanted to know about the enhanced bond?”
Stiles’ switched focus. “Peter’s emphasis on ‘alpha mate’ struck me as significant.’ Is that an actual role in the pack? Am I going to have to do anything in particular?”
Derek settled back. “You already know that there are three categories of werewolf, the alpha, beta, and omega. Those roles are biological; a werewolf can cycle through all of them in his or her lifetime but can only inhabit one at a time.”
“I thought omegas were just pack-less betas,” Stiles interrupted.
Derek shook his head. “That’s a common misperception, although pack-less werewolves have a far higher probability of becoming an omega. Being an omega is about losing yourself to the instinct, subsuming yourself in your most bestial nature.” He snorted. “Most ‘omegas’ that hunters kill are merely pack-less betas, often searching to belong somewhere.”
“Or on the run from the hunters who’ve already destroyed their pack,” Stiles suggested grimly.
“Correct,” Derek agreed. “Within a pack, there are roles that various members gravitate towards. An alpha doesn’t always have to be ‘The Alpha,’ but if there is an alpha, that role will fall to them. If there is more than one alpha, the senior alpha has the right of first refusal. Then there’s the alpha mate. They’ll share a mating bond with the alpha and are ranked just lower; they speak for the alpha when the alpha isn’t available. After that are the left and right hands. The right hand operates as a second; they help keep pack members in line. In larger packs, they’re responsible for a lot of the organisation.”
“Can an alpha mate be a right hand?”
“Yes,” Derek replied. “The roles have a lot of overlap. In packs where they’re filled by separate people, the second tends to be someone the alpha mate would naturally rely on.” Derek slid Stiles a sideways glance. “If the sheriff joined our pack, then he’d be a good candidate for right hand. At least until the younger betas gain some discipline.”
Stiles frowned. “Would he need to be a werewolf?”
Derek shook his head. “It’s not mandatory. Regardless, that’s something to be discussed with him.”
Stiles sighed. “Fine. What about the left hand?”
“The left hand works in the background,” Derek said, observing Stiles carefully. “They tend to be ruthless, driven by the need to protect. They watch for danger and scout out potential weaknesses in any opposition.”
Stiles thought about that. “Was Peter the left hand for your mother?”
“No. Mom didn’t think he was ready for it,” Derek replied. “Looking back, it was probably a mistake. Nessa was tired of pack politics and wanted to retire; she was prepared to be on call if Peter needed help. Peter was eager and willing. He resented Mom for her refusal, and I think Nessa did too.” He tilted his head to one side. “Maybe Jackson had something to do with it.”
“Maybe Other Stiles knew what happened there,” Stiles suggested. “He knew enough to convince Jackson, after all. I’ll just mark that down as something to check out when I figure out how to access the memories he left me.” He paused. “What about now? Will Peter be your left hand?”
“I’m seriously considering it,” Derek said. “What do you think?”
Stiles looked inwards at his bonds. The one with Peter was as healthy as the others, healthier in some respects. “I think he would be a great left hand,” he said decisively. “Let’s put all that sneakiness to good use. Besides, he was already slipping into that role earlier, wasn’t he? When he talked about pinning the fae down with contracts?”
Derek nodded. “Exactly. We’re agreed then, I’ll let him know.” He relaxed back into the sofa and tipped his head back. Stiles had never seen him look so vulnerable. “I really think this could work.”
“We’ll make it work,” Stiles promised.
Noah returned soon after. “I’ve had a word with the mayor,” he said after stowing his weapon in the gun safe and changing out of his uniform. “The hours I’ve been working are ridiculous; no other sheriff is doing shift work to make up for staff shortages. I’ve told him that if we don’t get more funding, I’ll have to take my deputies off patrol and put them to work on a bake sale or something to raise enough money to staff us properly. He promised to look into it.”
“You tell him, Daddio,” Stiles cheered. “You’re the awesomest!”
Noah quirked an eyebrow at him. “I’ve also arranged to have dinner at Melissa’s. She was suspicious but agreed so long as you bring your spaghetti and meatballs. She promised to make garlic bread.”
Stiles glowered at him. “You’re just using this upheaval as an excuse to cheat on your diet.”
“I’ve had an upsetting couple of days!” Noah protested. “I need red meat, empty carbs, and cheese to settle me again. How long was it that you’ve been risking life and limb for?”
Stiles grumbled but headed towards the kitchen. “Someone needs to go to the store and get me some ground meat. We’ll need cheese too.”
“Not I,” Noah said immediately, dropping down onto the sofa. “Looks like you’re up, Derek.” He sniffed. “Did someone spill coffee?”
“That was Stiles,” Derek tattled. “Do you need anything other than meat and cheese? I might as well do a full store run.”
“Don’t encourage him!” Stiles hissed. “Just get the damn meat and cheese and get back here. The sooner we get this over, the better.”
If Melissa was surprised that Noah and Stiles had brought Derek Hale with them, she hid it well. The house smelled of garlic bread, and Stiles’ stomach rumbled in anticipation.
Dinner was delicious. Scott was asleep when they got there but woke in time to eat. He spent most of the meal staring at Derek in confusion, as if unable to reconcile the evidence of his own eyes.
The after-dinner show and tell didn’t go nearly as smoothly.
Melissa was appalled. “You mean you’ve been running around this town for the last few months, playing vigilante and dodging bullets?”
Scott winced and hung his head. He’d been horrified when he realised why Noah, Stiles and Derek were there, the last of his sleepiness wearing off in an instant.
“I don’t think it really counts as vigilantism,” Stiles objected. “We were mostly trying to avoid being killed.”
“Don’t help, Stiles,” Noah told him. He turned to Melissa. “I didn’t know either,” he said comfortingly. “It’s rather a blow to my confidence in my skills as an investigator.”
“It might not be vigilantism, but it does sound like there were a lot of bullets!” Melissa took several deep breaths, then glared at her son. “Fine. We’ll be talking about this later, mister.”
At Noah’s prompting, Derek described werewolf society and talked about the challenges and advantages of being a werewolf. Soon Melissa was nodding along. When he explained that there might be a way to reverse Scott’s lycanthropy, she pursed her lips in thought. As Stiles expected, Scott leapt at the opportunity to be ‘normal’ again.
“Wait just a minute,” Melissa said. “Let’s not be hasty.”
“You don’t understand!” Scott insisted. “Being turned into a werewolf ruined my life!”
Melissa raised her eyebrows. “By allowing you to excel at the sport you love while ensuring that you won’t die young from an asthma attack?”
“Allison’s family hate me! They’ll never accept me as a werewolf!”
“Well, the good news is that you don’t have to worry about Allison’s family anymore,” Stiles offered.
Scott looked at him hopefully. “I don’t? They’ve agreed that we can be together?”
“Stiles!” Noah scolded. He smiled kindly at Scott. “They haven’t changed their minds, Scott; Miss Argent was unfortunately orphaned over the last couple of days.”
Scott jumped to his feet. “I have to go to her!”
Noah sighed. “Sit down, son.”
Scott ignored him, grabbing his phone from the kitchen counter and checking his messages. “Why hasn’t she called me?”
“Sit down,” Noah commanded. “Give your mother your phone. We haven’t finished this discussion; you will not run off in the middle of it.” Scott did as he was told, although his jaw had started to jut out stubbornly.
Melissa accepted Scott’s phone and tucked it away out of sight. “Thank you, Noah.”
“Allison, her father, and her grandfather, were part of a group that took part in an armed assault on the sheriff’s station,” Noah told Scott gently. “Gerard Argent died at the station, and Chris Argent died while being transported to a federal prison this morning. Allison was arrested on the scene and is being charged with armed assault and first-degree murder.”
Scott was horrified. “What? You can’t do that!”
Noah’s eyebrows raised. “I absolutely can do that.”
“But she’s a minor!”
“She knew what she was doing,” Noah replied. “We have evidence that she was leading the group, although I’m inclined to think that it was symbolic leadership more than anything else. Nevertheless, she was involved in the planning and the execution, and people died.”
“You have to help her!”
Melissa frowned at her son. “You have to calm down!” She turned to Noah. “Are you certain? She seemed like such a lovely girl.”
“We’re certain,” Noah confirmed.
Stiles shrugged. “Her whole family are psycho serial killers; it’s not much of a shock that she turned out to be one too.”
“Allison isn’t like that!”
Stiles was fed up with this whole thing. “Yes, she is. Her family and her posse of goons opened fire on the station, Scott. It was only luck that none of the people working there died. You think she should walk away with a scolding?”
Melissa patted Scott’s hand. “Don’t blame yourself for not seeing what she was, sweetie. If serial killers all looked like what they are, the police would have a much easier job.”
Scott yanked his hand away. “She’s not a serial killer, and she doesn’t deserve to be locked up! I’m going to get her out of there, one way or another!”
Noah shrugged. “Good luck finding her. She was transported last night.”
Melissa looked done. “Scott McCall! Stop with this nonsense right now! You will not interfere with this; do I make myself clear? It’s none of your business! I can’t believe you’re being so unreasonable!” She sighed. “Thank goodness she didn’t ask you to help her. I’m not at all sure that you would have said no.”
Scott slumped in his seat. “It’s not fair.” He glowered at Stiles. “This is all your fault.”
“It’s not his fault,” Melissa replied sharply. “Allison is responsible for her own actions, just as you are responsible for yours.”
“Don’t bother trying to convince him,” Stiles said. “I’m a convenient scapegoat whenever he wants to feel hard done by. Or I was, at least. I’m not going to put up with it anymore.”
Noah rested a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I have to support my son, Melissa. I’ll do what I can to help you, but I can’t condone Scott treating Stiles badly.”
“I understand,” Melissa told him. She smiled at Noah and Stiles, but her heart clearly wasn’t in it. “Thank you for filling me in. And thank you, Derek, for saving Scott’s life and for your kind offer. I’d like some time alone with my son now.”
Noah got to his feet, with Stiles and Derek rising to join him. “We’ll leave you to it; feel free to call us if you have questions. We can show ourselves out.”
Melissa nodded gratefully. As they closed the front door behind them, Stiles could hear her say, “I want you to explain why I had to hear this from Noah Stilinski.”
“I’m glad that’s over and done with,” Noah said with a sigh.
Stiles agreed. “She handled it a lot better than last time.” He thought about that, adding, “The lack of a murder lizard on the scene probably helped.”
Noah and Derek both laughed.
Walking away from Scott’s house felt a little like an ending. It was an ending that had been inevitable since the night Scott was bitten, but it still felt like a failure. Whatever happened in the future, Stiles would never trust Scott the same way, would never offer him the same unconditional devotion.
That was probably part of growing up, though. There were so many new beginnings opening up before him that Stiles couldn’t even find it in himself to mind all that much.
He had his dad, he had his pack, and he had a ‘mate bond’ to Derek. Derek, his fellow partner in forever, with his bad boy outside and marshmallow inside, and who was possibly the hottest person Stiles had ever met.
Life was undoubtedly going to be interesting.