Actions

Work Header

Cicada

Work Text:

Dreams are different for a kitsune. While scientists and mystics could debate the true source of humanity’s dreams, they all agree that dreams are, at least in part, generated from the personality and experiences of the dreamer in the waking world. Human minds accumulate fragments of thought like a suit accumulates lint, and in the peaceful quiet of the night, they sort those bits out.

Kitsune dreams, on the other hand, come from another world. When a kitsune sleeps, they remember their lives before they came to earth. They remember the vibrant woods and the flowering fields of the spirit lands where their ancestors hold ancient courts. They remember games and romances and intrigues conducted among powers that have never been human.

And kitsune always remember their dreams.

That was why she was so terrified when Noshiko’s alarm startled her to wakefulness. She had been dreaming, but she couldn’t remember anything about that dream. That should not happen. Nor should she reach for the alarm clock only to find nothing but the wooden top of a bedside table, even flailing with the drowsy clumsiness that came with waking. This was wrong. She had established habits, with everyhing in its preferred place, yet that morning nothing was where it should have been. She sat up in disoriented confusion. Where was she?

Even after she recognized the darkened room, it did not calm her. She shouldn’t be here; she had woken up in their apartment in New York City, the one in which they had levied while Ken was still teaching at Columbia. The one they had sold before they ever moved to Beacon Hills.

Noshiko turned to Ken, who mumbled in his sleep and rolled over onto his side. She took a deep breath and held it, centering herself, careful not to wake her husband up. She needed to focus; she couldn’t solve this mystery if she was overwhelmed by her own reactions. That focus lasted only a second before she jumped out of the bed in panic. She could feel her tails spread out behind her.

The tails she shouldn’t have anymore.

How could she have them back? Sacrificed tails didn’t spontaneously grow back on their own. She was nine hundred years old, and she had never yet heard of a kitsune regrowing new tails once they had been sacrificed. Yet she felt them; she could call upon their power. Immediately, it occurred to her that if she had regained her tails, maybe she had also regained something far more important. She padded in her bare feet out of the master bedroom and down to where Kira’s room had been.

Kira was up already, dressed and stretching. She smiled as Noshiko entered the room. It was an open smile, free of the suspicion that had crept into it while they were in Beacon Hills. “Good morning!” Her greeting was bright and airy.

“Good morning.” Noshiko covered both her joy and her shock. She remained calm even though all she wanted to do was rush over and hug her daughter. “What’s on your schedule for today?”

Kira made a sour, frustrated face. “Mom! You promised we’d train!”

“We might have to put it off today; something’s come up.” Noshiko paused, trying to think of a question that would tell her what she needed to know. Eventually, she decided on one. “Have you heard from any of your friends in California?”

Kira’s puzzled expression told Noshiko everything she needed to know before her daughter's voice did. “Are you okay? I’ve never been to California. Why would I have friends there?”

Noshiko shook her head dismissively, but inside she was growing more and more concerned. “I’m not going to be able to train you today, Kira. I have to make an emergency trip. I’m very sorry.” She closed the bedroom door and went back to the master bedroom. Few creatures in the world would be aware of what had happened, but she would be one of them. She was a celestial kitsune, of the stars, and the stars were beyond the manipulation of even the most powerful creatures. Her connection with them would have protected her.

Someone had changed her past.

******

Noshiko might seem to others to be a very patient person, but the truth was she could only be patient if the task mattered to her. She wanted to nurture her daughter’s growth, so she could be very deliberate with her daughter’s training. She wanted to protect those she cared about, so she could be cautious in her actions that she did not drive them away from her. If she valued the task at hand, she could take years on it. After all, she had those years in abundance.

She had little patience for the TSA. She would admit that airplanes were very convenient for getting across continents in a hurry. She remembered traveling from San Francisco to New York after the American Civil War, and it had taken her a full week on a train. She remembered travelling from Korea to India in the thirteenth century and it had taken her nearly two months on horseback to reach her destination. She understood people's desire to be secure, but the idea that you could make traveling in a little metal and glass box at a speed of over five hundred miles an hour safe was preposterous. Sometimes, convenience required risk. It had taken several aggravating hours to get on the plane with her katana in her luggage, even though she had all the proper paperwork.

So she was in a sour mood when she rented a Toyota at Oakland International Airport. After all the waiting in line for tedious bureaucrats, she seriously thought about stealing a car, but she decided that this would be petty and beneath her. Yes, she was eager to find out what had happened to change the past, and yes, she was sure it had something to do with Beacon Hills, and yes, she was being delayed by read tape, but she didn’t see the need to tempt both the law and karma.

She did speed all the way there though. It was just petty enough to settle her nerves.

Beacon Hills was still standing. There was part of her that thought it wouldn’t be; there was part of her that hoped it wouldn’t be. So much pain and death had happened here to innocent people that it might have been better if the ground opened and swallowed the place up. Noshiko was very glad she had decided to travel here alone. She didn’t want Ken or Kira anywhere near this place if she could help it.

Humans, she had realized a very long time ago, could be so very brave, yet so often their anxieties were their own fault. They called her kind unpredictable, but humans were the ones who treated every crisis as if it were the end of days. Trouble came as it always did, yet humanity could not accept its inevitability. They were the ones who thought they could make the world safe, and if it wasn’t completely safe, then it was a hell. Noshiko could have told them that Hell was quite different. But you couldn’t explain it to them; you just had to live through it with them. Ken was the most stable human she had ever met; it was one of the reasons she loved him. Kira still thought like a human and sometimes that caused her to doubt herself; she would grow out of it eventually. If they had come with her, if she had managed to convince them that history had indeed been changed, they would probably go out of their minds with worry. Even she felt anxious, worried about what had happened, but she also still believed that all trouble could be overcome eventually. It was an important lesson that she felt everyone, human and supernatural alike, should learn.

Noshiko had argued with herself as she drove up to Beacon Hills about where she should stop first. Was it wisest to go directly to the Nemeton? Or would it be better to go the sheriff’s station? Both could give her the information she needed, but she was far more anxious to see the condition of the Nemeton. On the other hand, it had occurred to her that all of this could be its doing; if history had been changed, it could be free and up to all sorts of bloody mischief. Or, if it were still imprisoned, this could be an attempt to break free. She could be walking into its trap.

Wisdom won out over anxiety; Noshiko had earned her eight tails after all. She pulled into the parking lot of the sheriff’s station, and she saw that it had been a good idea to come here first. The station was as it was before the nogitsune bombed it. That meant that whatever had changed the past had prevented it. She sat in her car, studying the building for more clues, but it seemed untouched from when she had first arrived in Beacon Hills a few years ago. It was a starting point from where she could start piecing together the new chronology.

Noshiko checked her makeup in the mirror once more before getting out. She threw her shoulders back and walked into the police station and right up to the front desk. About eighty percent of what she was going to be saying in the next ten minute would be pure bullshit, so she had to put on her best face. “Good morning!”

The officer waiting there gave her a smile. She was a lovely-looking woman with just a hint of sauciness. Noshiko recognized her from the pictures on a memorial wall; she had been on desk duty the night of the kanima’s attack and had died under its claws. Another clue. “Good morning, ma’am. Can I help you?”

“Would it be possible for me to talk to the sheriff? My name is Noshiko Yukimura.” She had to assume that the sheriff wouldn’t know who she was. She waited expectantly until the deputy had made a call and then escorted her to the sheriff’s office.

It wasn’t Noah Stilinski behind the desk. It was a distinguished-looking middle-aged black woman. Her demeanor was stern, but she wasn’t hostile. She radiated competency; she looked like your favorite elementary school teacher, only with a gun and a badge.

“Thanks for seeing me, Sheriff.” Noshiko finished introducing herself as she studied the woman. As many times as kitsune could find themselves on the wrong side of human law, she, personally, had always had the utmost respect for the occupation.

“Tara Graeme.” They shook hands and sat down on either side of the desk. “I get the feeling that I wasn’t who you were expecting.”

“I was looking for Sheriff Stilinski. We knew each other, and I was hoping to catch up with him.” Noshiko glanced around the room. There were still parts of the office that matched her memory. It couldn’t have been too long since he had left. The last time she had been in this office, which now had apparently never happened, her husband had confessed to a murder he didn’t commit in order to protect Kira. Noshiko had never quite forgiven the sheriff for stubbornly arresting her daughter when he knew that his son had been just as guilty of similar crimes.

“I’m sorry.” Tara looked genuinely distressed. “Sheriff Stilinski passed away in June. He had a stroke.”

“A stroke?” Noshiko didn’t think that Tara was lying on purpose. The new sheriff exhibited none of the cues that indicated deceit, but Noshiko was pretty sure that this was someone’s cover story. While his son had been fanatically concerned about his health, Noah had been healthy. A lethal stroke at his age seemed unlikely.

“Yes. It was very sudden. I don’t feel qualified to fill his shoes.” It was delightfully modest. Noshiko decided that she liked her.

“Would you happen to know what happened to his son? He’d be eighteen now. Did he move away?” Noshiko had come to the sheriff’s office to talk to Noah about what was going on. If that path was closed to her, then she would go to Stiles. No one would deny his skill at ferreting out what was really going on; he would be especially focused on it if this was one of its tactics.

“Excuse me, but … well, the sheriff never mentioned you, Ms. Yukimura. I don’t feel comfortable discussing private information …”

“He wouldn’t have. I knew him before he knew Claudia …” Noshiko cast her eyes down. “We started communicating again after his wife died, but I was living in New York.”

The new sheriff sucked in a breath and Noshiko relaxed. She could almost see the false conclusion form in Tara’s mind. She played to both the woman's sympathy and salaciousness; the deputies had always been loyal and protective of the Stilinski family. “I really don’t know where he’s gotten off to,” Tara admitted. “I’m sorry I can’t help you there.”

“It’s a pity.” Noshiko wasn't too disappointed; she had other sources she could track down. “Well, if you do hear from him, please let him know he can contact me if he needs assistance.” She presented a card. “I would love to be of help to Noah’s son. Now, I’ll let you get back to your work.”

“You’re welcome.” Tara stood up and walked her out.

Noshiko closed her eyes once outside the police station. She felt saddened, even in the glowing California afternoon. While her visit had been enlightening, the sheriff was still dead in this timeline and, unless her instincts were completely off-base, not by natural causes. Humans died so easily and so often, but she could still manage a little pity. She considered where to go next. Who would have the most answers?

What should have been the easiest answer was not an answer at all. The animal clinic was closed. Noshiko’s drove past it, but she could tell by the shabby condition of the exterior that it had been closed for quite a while, most likely for over a year. On the other hand, her drive revealed that Beacon Hills was not the same haunted city it had been when she had left with her daughter to find the Skin-Walkers. It was vibrant in most of its public places. People didn’t hurry off the street in fear of their lives; they walked as if they might not be the next person to vanish. It was a contradiction that puzzled her.

How can the people who have guarded this city be gone and yet the city be safe?

Noshiko made a left turn down a familiar street. She had finally admitted to herself that she couldn’t put it off anymore. She did not like dealing with Scott McCall. It wasn’t because he was a bad person; perversely, it was because he was a very good person. She had not liked that quality in him because she had feared exactly what had come to pass: his idealism, his role as Protector of Beacon Hills, and his love would put her daughter in danger. The Dread Doctors had struck at Kira because it would strike at him.

Now, Kira was safe in New York, where Noshiko could teach her and protect her. Kira was not distracted by the throes of passion. There was no reason for her to fight against the thousand things an awakened, damaged Nemeton would summon. Noshiko felt she could now talk to Scott without resenting him. She drove to the McCall house.

The house looked smaller and dingier than how she remembered it for some reason, even as she knocked on the door. When Melissa McCall answered it was almost as a big a shock as the death of the sheriff. She looked ten years older than Noshiko knew her to be, and she looked like she hadn’t slept in six months. As Noshiko had expected, Melissa didn’t recognize her.

“Hello? Can I help you?”

“Good afternoon. I’m looking for your son, Scott. I’m the mother of one of his friends.”

Melissa’s face crumpled in on itself at the mention of his son. “Scott doesn’t live here anymore.” She almost shut the door in Noshiko’s face, but she must have stopped when she saw the surprise on the fox’s face.

“I didn’t know that.” Noshiko blurted out. This was disturbing to her on several new levels. “My apologies.”

Melissa swallowed. She was afraid, not of Noshiko specifically, but of anything to do with her son. “Do you really need to find him?”

“I am concerned about the well-being of my daughter. I think Scott can help me with that.” Neither of those statements were a lie. She may not play malicious tricks, but she knew how to mislead.

Melissa turned away and wrote something down on a piece of paper. “I think this is where he’s at.”

Noshiko nearly questioned her more. She nearly asked her what had happened that had destroyed one of the closest mother-son relationships she had ever seen. But there was a time to pry and a time to respect the pain that humans endured. She inclined her head, uttered a polite farewell, and walked back toward her car.

The address belonged to a blocky, post-modern home located strangely in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Beacon Hills. Noshiko thought the placement odd. She assumed that a pack of wolves would have purchased a home as close to the Preserve as possible, but this was almost the direct opposite. The Preserve was on the other side of the county. The aesthetics made her pause as well. The rest of the neighborhood was cozy Craftsman-style bungalows, but this obviously new building squatted like a looming presence on the top of a low hill. The concrete slabs that made up its exterior were fashioned to look like natural stone, but it seemed more like a bunker than a home. This was a fortress designed to keep others out.

She parked on the street at the end of a driveway. There were a half-dozen cars parked before the house, all of them on the luxury end of the spectrum, ranging from a Humvee to a Porsche to a really fancy motorcycle. Noshiko raised one eyebrow at the overlarge garage at head of the driveway. Were there more cars inside? Or were the residents making a statement? Either way, it seemed ostentatious.

Her boots clicked on the pavement as she walked up to the front door. There was no doorbell. That fact was strange and unwelcoming, but she could guess that it probably had something to do with a werewolf’s sense of hearing. She rapped sharply three times.

Isaac Lahey answered the door. Noshiko hadn’t spent much time in his presence, but what little time she had, he had given her the impression of a typical modern teenager: unsure of what he wanted, but determined to hide that confusion behind a mask of casual ennui.

While the person who answered the door was without a doubt Isaac, there were significant changes. Instead of apathetic and snarky, he seemed serious and suspicious. Every signal he gave off, from the way he held his body to the focus of his eyes, bespoke a propensity to violence.

Noshiko met his gaze unafraid; he might seem more dangerous, but he was still a werewolf of but a few years. She had defeated alphas with decades of experience; he was not a threat.

“What the hell do you want?” Isaac demanded.

“That is not a polite way to answer the door,” Noshiko replied coolly. Wolves challenged intruders to their domain, and when that happened, the worst thing you could do is show fear. “I am Noshiko Yukimura. I wish to speak to your alpha.”

His nostrils flared. He took in her scent, but her bluntness had taken the edge off of his aggression. He looked her up and down, checking for weapons. She did not have any on her, but she could get some if she truly needed to. She lowered her eyes to show her aggressive non-interest in his precautions. There was a tremor of doubt in his posture, but he nodded. “Please, come in.”

She entered a rather large foyer. It was remarkably … white. The carpet, the walls, the sheer curtains over the narrow windows, were all white on white. One f the few spots of color were black vases on a chrome book case. The decorator had some skill, but it was all cold, cold and aloof.

Isaac hadn’t taken his eyes off of her. “I have someone named Noshiko Yukimura here,” he spoke out loud. “She wants to speak to the alpha.” He talked loudly. Possibly the whole house could hear him.

It was best they knew who they were dealing with, so Noshiko spoke just as loud. “I am kitsune of nine hundred years and eight tails. My task is important.”

There was no response she could hear; her hearing was no sharper than any human being’s. There were distant sounds of doors opening and closing, and the faintest echo of voices. A conversation was being had beneath the silence.

A muscle in Isaac’s jaw clenched. He looked at her like she was going to sprout claws and lay waste to this home. She could lay waste to it if she really wanted to, but what would the point of that be? Finally, he gestured down the hallway. “Please. This way.”

He led her to a staircase that descended to a finished basement. It was a wise idea, especially when they were dealing with someone they knew little about yet they still had confidence about your own power. There were no accessible windows in the basement, so there was no easy escape. It would also be harder for the neighbors to overhear a fight.

The basement served as a sort of rec room. Along one wall was a bar, a little pretentious and not matching the room at all. Along another wall was a huge plasma television, equipped with all the latest gadgets. Before this, a sectional couch had its component parts scattered around the room. This room radiated comfort, more so than what Noshiko had seen in the rest of the house. Here, safe underground, was where they really lived.

Isaac fidgeted as if he no longer knew what to do. Since she had been allowed within their home, his initial hostility had shrank to nothing. It must have been a long time since he had entertained guests. Like stretching an old muscle, he stuttered. “Can … can I get your coat? Would you like something to drink?” His sudden apprehension reminded her of the Isaac she had known before.

Noshiko slipped off her coat and handed it to him. “I would love a drink. Whatever you have available would do fine. It was a long drive from San Francisco.” This was a standard feint in social situations; she would offer up meaningless information to show her trustworthiness. Part of her felt uncomfortable with treating the pack like enemies, but she did not yet have the clearest picture of what had occurred. She needed to play it close to the vest until she at least discovered who the alpha was.

She didn't have to wait long. As Isaac hung her coat up on a rack near the door, Scott McCall came in; he touched Isaac on the shoulder lightly. Noshiko was astounded by the change in the boy; he seemed so very different that last time she had seen him. He had shaved his head down almost to the scalp in an unnecessarily brutal cut. It reminded her of the type of hair style convicts would wear. An even more significant change were the increased number of tattoos on his body, revealed by the black sleeveless t-shirt he wore. Each arm bore a full sleeve and shared the same vivid pattern with another one that stretched from the bottom of his jaw and down his neck and chest, until it disappeared under the shirt. Aztec iconography dominated the work. The pain of burning them into his skin must have been incredible, as any other werewolf would recognize it. It was a statement, and it made him intimidating without effort. There was no sign of his beaming smile.

“Alpha McCall, I want to apologize for my --” She began but he brusquely interrupted her.

“You don’t need to apologize. You’re …" His voice was deeper and harsher, but he hesitated, perhaps realizing how rude he was being. When he began again there was an echo of the kind boy she had once know. "If we seem suspicious, we just haven’t had many visitors, or really any visitors for that matter. The only people who come to us want to cause trouble.”

Isaac brought her a cold soda. “Would you want to sit down?” He had noticeably greater confidence now that Scott was in the room.

Noshiko sat down, as Scott took a seat on one of the bar stools. Isaac leaned up on the wall next to him. Before she could continue, other pack members begna to filter in. It would probably have been best if she talked to Scott alone, but she needed as much information as she could get before she spoke with him. Luckily for her, the first person to come in was Lydia Martin; she certainly looked similar to how Noshiko remember her. Their eyes met, and Noshiko hoped that there would be some flash of recognition as a banshee might be able to detect the shifted reality. There was none, but that did not mean the banshee didn't have any awareness of what had transpired. It could be she simply hadn't deciphered what it meant yet.

The three people who followed on Lydia's heels, Noshiko had never met. The first was an attractive young, with an athletic body, slate-blue eyes, and light brown hair which had been styled just right. He was beautiful, but she couldn't help but think of a cold, reptilian predator. He didn’t spare a glance Noshiko but moved to a position equidistant between Scott and Lydia.

The second had a demeanor which was as aggressive as her stiletto heels and shocking red lipstick. She wore both her clothes and her mane of blond hair like a challenge, and she looked ready to throw herself at Noshiko right then and there, though she flashed the kitsune an insincere smile. She took a seat on the couch like it was her favorite spot.

The last stalked past the blond woman, though he ran a hand through her with an intimate gesture, to stand next to Scott like he belonged there. He was silent but not absent, powerful and direct. He was dressed in a nondescript t-shirt and jeans, but even with his casual attire, he seemed the most mature of all of them, even compared to Scott.

“This is my pack.” Scott's gesture included all of them. “You met Isaac at the door. This is Lydia, Jackson, Erica, and Boyd.”

Noshiko nodded to them each in turn; she at least had heard their names if she hadn't met them. She had been told that Erica and Boyd had died at the hands of the Alpha Pack and that Jackson had fled to London after being freed from the prison of the kanima. Looking into his eyes, she was very sure that in this time, he had not been successfully freed. She was also concerned about the glaring omission of Stiles; given the human boy's relationship with her demon, his absence could spell trouble. “I am pleased to meet all of you.”

Lydia tapped one exquisitely manicured nail on her lips in thought. “You claimed you bear eight tails. What kind of kitsune are you?”

Noshiko had always admired Lydia’s mind. She would inevitably ask the most necessary and insightful questions. “I am a celestial kitsune.”

Lydia, for her part, did not conceal her understanding but shared it openly and with confidence. “Scott, celestial kitsune are know for their poise, courtesy and knowledge. Ms. Yukimura is most likely skilled in both diplomacy and spirit summoning. With that many tails, her only weakness would probably be a certain inflexibility when dealing with others.” The banshee raised an eyebrow at her. “Or did I get that wrong?”

“No, you did not.” Noshiko smiled sincerely to acknowledge the display of talent, but she was here for a reason. She turned back to Scott, meaning to be direct. “Seventy years ago, I defeated an enemy of mine here in Beacon Hills. I imprisoned it in a special place. Due to a recent upheaval, I’ve come to make sure that it hasn’t escaped its prison.”

“Recent upheaval,” Scott said slowly. Isaac and Erica failed to conceal their shock, but the others managed it pretty well. “What do you mean by that?”

“It is a very … complicated situation,” Noshiko explained. “It might be best if I talk to you alone, alpha.”

“No.” Scott’s voice brooked no dispute. “There are no secrets in this pack.”

She could read the pack's agreement to that rule. Noshiko decided not to fight Scott's directive; while she wasn’t here to cause trouble, she would if she had to. “What I am about to say may seem strange to you, but I ask you at least give me the benefit of the doubt. In truth, if someone told me what I'm about to tell you, I would call them deluded. I think someone has changed the past.”

Her revelation did not create the reaction that she expected. Erica and Isaac forgot all attempts at remaining stoic, while Lydia, Boyd, and Jackson shot furtive glances at each other. Scott’s frown deepened. He clenched one first so hard Noshiko heard the knuckles crack.

“I am trying to figure out what happened. I need to understand exactly how things have changed.” Noshiko said gently, though it was time to gamble a little. “Before I talk to Stiles.”

"You know us?" demanded Lydia.

"I know some of you. When I went to bed last night, I owned a home in Beacon Hills. When I woke up this morning, I was in an apartment in New York City."

Scott's voice was sharp. “What makes you think he had anything to do with it?”

“Are you trying to say that you think he doesn't?” Noshiko challenged.

Lydia sighed. “Scott -- this isn't a coincidence. Stiles was surprised when we woke up in bed together. He thought he had been dating someone named Malia. I know enough about celestial kitsune to understand why something of this magnitude wouldn't effect you. But why would Stiles be the only one of us to recognize the difference?”

“I don’t wish to speculate, Miss Martin, not until I understand the situation completely. An event like this is a very delicate matter, one, as you rightly guess, my natures allowed me to detect.” Noshiko already understood that Stiles must have been the source of the change, but she didn’t want to share that quite yet. Emotions were running high, and a rushed word could have deadly consequences.

That answer pleased no one in the room. Erica tried to pretend that she was uninterested; Isaac looked like he wanted to force Noshiko to explain more. Lydia studied her with an evaluative eye; Jackson studied her like she was lunch. Boyd didn’t pay much attention to her at all; eventually he reached out and touched a quiet Scott on the arm.

Scott took a breath and made the decision to trust her. “What do you need to know?”

“I've investigated things since I’ve returned to Beacon Hills, and I’ve narrowed what must have occurred down to certain key events.” Noshiko had indeed been working on creating a timeline inside her head. The divergent point at least had to have happened before June 13, 2011. It was the last possible full moon on which Erica Reyes could have been alive. She needed to know what role the Alpha Pack had played in this new timeline. “I need to know how you became alpha.”

Scott clenched his fist once more, and then forced himself to open his hand. He glanced around the room at his pack, and for a moment, it seemed to Noshiko that he was going to refuse to speak. Boyd reached out again and touched his elbow, reassuring him. When Scott finally spoke, his voice was tight. “I became alpha by murdering Derek Hale.”

Noshiko’s stifled the sigh before it could leave her throat. It was clear to her why she had felt an aura of menace around Scott that she hadn't felt before. He wasn’t a True Alpha; he was just another alpha who stole power through violence.

Lydia and Jackson almost rolled their eyes in unison and while Erica and Isaac seemed half embarrassed, half irritated by the words.

“It’s true,” Scott grumbled, more to his pack than to her. “At least let me tell the truth.” From the way the dynamics shifted in the room, it must have been a familiar fight among them. “Do you need more? Did you know Derek?”

“I knew Derek Hale, and while I can see this is difficult for you, I would you like you to tell me more if you could manage it.”

“You have to understand.” Scott sounded tired. “It wasn’t something I did because I wanted to, and I know that might be hard to believe. Derek and I … we didn’t get off on the right foot. When I was first bitten, we had some problems communicating.”

Lydia snapped. “He stalked and threatened you in your home. He manipulated you by withholding information.”

Isaac protested immediately, quickly to defend Scott’s honor. “He lied to you about a cure so you’d do what he wanted.”

“He betrayed you to Peter.” Boyd put in.

“He was doing the best he knew how!” Scott replied with a snap to his voice. The alpha power leaked into the command and everyone but Lydia cowed a little. “Derek was doing the best he knew how. He took the alpha power from Peter, but … I didn’t murder him because of how he treated me.”

The tightness in the others subsided but it did not disappear. Jackson, who up until this point had been mostly expressionless, began unconsciously tapping his foot. He had been very withdrawn during their conversation.

“Things got bad after that. Peter Hale had killed Kate Argent, and her grandfather, Gerard Argent, had come to town to get revenge. Derek … Derek was Gerard's focal point. But Derek kept …” Scott looked away, unable to hold her gaze any longer. “He kept making things worse. He bit Jackson in an attempt to kill him. It turned him into a kanima. Derek order Erica and Isaac to kill Lydia based on a hunch and an old wives’ tale.”

Lydia made a disparaging sound. “It turns out that some snakes can be poisoned with their own venom. Idiot.”

“We discovered that there was this kid named Matt Daehler who was using Jackson to kill in revenge!” Scott pressed on, forcing the words out, sounding like he was confessing in a church. “I figured out that Gerard wanted the Bite to cure his cancer. If he got the Bite from Derek, the killing wouldn't stop. Gerard would need to kill a lot of people to keep that secret from the other hunters like the Calaveras. If Derek had a plan to stop Gerard, he never told anybody. His only plan to stop Jackson had been to keep trying to kill him, which he couldn't manage to do.”

Jackson hissed. He hadn’t transformed, but he still hadn’t said anything. His tapping grew more animated as Scott continued.

“Derek had been paralyzed by Jackson in the police station by Matt’s orders along with Stiles.” Scott swallowed. “I had a plan to switch out Gerard’s pills for mountain ash, but it was only a fail-safe. There was a quicker, surer way to solve the problem.” Scott looked Noshiko straight in the eye. She saw the blood-forged determination in his eyes. She had seen it in many killers who had convinced themselves that their actions has been for the best. He had never seen it in Scott's eyes. “I slashed Derek’s throat while he was still paralyzed. It was necessary to protect my pack. Then I murdered Gerard. Then I murdered Matt.”

Jackson finally spoke. “Tell her the whole truth. You saved me, McCall. How many people have I killed since you became my Master?”

“That’s not the point, Jackson.”

“It is the point. I’ve not hurt a single person because you did that. Every time you beat yourself up …” Scott glared at him and at that silent command, Jackson quieted and looked at the floor.

Noshiko felt it was merciful to shift the conversation away from the outburst. “Thank you. I now have a better idea of how events have diverged. I still don’t quite understand how it happened, but I am closer to the truth.” This was not quite a lie, so it was easy enough to fool the werewolves' senses. She had a pretty good idea what had happened and who was responsible, but she didn’t want to share. “Would I be able to make a request? I would like to go to the place where I imprisoned my enemy and see that everything is at it should be.”

“Wait!” Scott demanded suddenly. His sour, hardened mien fell away and beneath was a guilt-ridden change. “If something changed, can you fix it? If you’re telling me that something changed …” He bit his lip. “Can you tell us if what really happened was better?”

Noshiko looked him square in the eye. “Better would be a matter of opinion. I need to be sure that this is not an elaborate ruse by my enemy before I go more deeply into that answer.”

Scott shoved down the desperation that had crept into his voice. The rough fire of a violent alpha returned. “Fine. I have to talk to Stiles, anyway. But I don’t want you going to this place alone, Ms. Yukimura. Would you accept an escort?”

Noshiko nodded, but only because she could hear that the alpha’s last question wasn’t actually a question but a requirement. “I would appreciate it.” This was only polite; after all, they had no real reason to trust her.

“I’ll go,” volunteered Boyd. In a smooth motion, he grabbed her coat and handed it over. Noshiko put it on as he quickly ushered to the front door.

“So.” Boyd had certainly been the calmest person in the room during the brief meeting. He opened the passenger door to his Camaro. “You believe someone has changed the past.”

“It is a possibility, though actually changing the past is an impossibility.” Noshiko said as she got into the seat.

Boyd waited until he got into the driver’s seat to continue. “That wasn't helpful. Lydia warned us that kitsune were tricksters, and we should take what you say with a grain of salt. Where am I driving you?”

“The Preserve.” She gave him specific instructions to the Nemeton. “I meant that changing the past is monumentally difficult. To change every aspect of every person in the world would require the power of God. What really happened is different; 'changing the past' is short-hand for the process. Think about it another way. Do you play chess?”

“I have. With Stiles.” Boyd’s voice took on a sad timbre. “When it’s my turn to watch him.”

Noshiko slid her eyes toward Boyd at the slip. “Imagine if you played a game for ten moves. Then, on the eleventh move, your opponent picked up the pieces and rearranged them as if three moves before he had done something entirely different. The entire game has changed.”

Boyd thought about it; she had heard that he had been quite intelligent. “I see. Changing the positions of the pieces doesn’t actually require playing those turns over again. It just seems like the past had been changed. It’s still cheating though.”

“Cheating is a good way to describe it. Someone rearranged the pieces on the board of destiny. To you, it seems the game has always been played this way. I know the original moves.” Noshiko speculated and misled in one sentence. “One of the few people with the ability to arrange this is the creature I imprisoned.”

“Which is why you came.” Boyd seemed satisfied. “Why won’t you tell us what the board looked like originally?”

“In other words, like your alpha you want to know which world is better.” Noshiko asked quietly. “It’s not a simple question to answer. If you would ask if it was better for me, I haven’t decided yet. If you mean was it better for you, do you really want me to answer that? Would you really want to know?"

“I would if I could fix it.” Boyd answered gravely.

You can’t.” Noshiko responded immediately. She might be able to, but she wasn’t sure yet.

Boyd nodded and continued their drive. It struck her that Boyd was one of the few people she had met who were content to accept that there are things he could not change. Only after they stopped near the entrance to the Preserve did he push. “Would it be better for Scott?”

Noshiko wondered that herself. She still did not know, so she decided to answer a question with a question. “You seem very concerned for the man who killed the alpha who bit you? In my experience, betas are usually very loyal to the wolf who changed their lives. Yet, it's clear you're his Second. Were you not angry when Scott killed Derek?”

Boyd rubbed the top of his bald head. “It was complicated.”

“It always is. This enemy, the one we are going to visit, I am the one who unleashed him.” Noshiko wanted to hear more from this werewolf, and sometimes you have to give to get. “Out of a misplaced need for vengeance, I summoned this demon, so I had to imprison him. For the same reason I have to check on him now.”

Boyd watched her out of the corner of his eyes as he led her into the woods. “We were angry at first. Erica and I. Isaac was more torn up about it, I guess. He had already started to like Scott. At first, I wasn’t willing to do anything, because …” He werewolf hesitated. “What Scott told you was wrong. I don’t think Derek bit Jackson to kill him, but he let Scott believe that, even when it meant that Scott would never trust him and never work with us. Derek made enemies for no reason . Before he died, we were losing. After he died, we were winning. But still, we were unsure, and then Peter … Derek’s uncle came to talk to us. Did you know him?”

“I know of him.” It was a careful response.

“Peter found us once he resurrected himself -– however he accomplished that -- and then he started trying to get us to work with him to kill Scott. He told us how Scott had stolen the Hale Legacy and would leave us all omegas. We listened at first.” They kicked up dead leaves as they walked.

“What changed?”

“We did … Erica, Isaac and I did. We didn't care about the Hale legacy. We cared about being alive. We watched Scott hurt the girl he loved for hunting us. She was tore up about her mother, and I get that, but we didn’t kill her mother. When Scott had to choose, he chose the pack. He stopped her. It nearly killed him to do it; I mean, she might never walk again.” He shook his head. “And all the time we listened to Peter trying to manipulate us into believing that he would be a better alpha. But if you watched what he did, how he acted, Peter only cared about himself.”

“I know that, too.” Noshiko encouraged him to keep talking. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the cut-down Nemeton; she steered them towards it.

“He tried to be clever, but Peter couldn’t help but let things slip. Scott is right; Derek didn’t know what he was going to do about the Argents. Derek hid that fact from us, but we discovered that wasn’t all he hid. There was an Alpha Pack coming, and Derek knew about it, but he didn’t tell us. I mean, why didn’t he tell us they were coming?” Boyd shrugged. “Maybe Scott is right; maybe Derek was doing the best he could at the time, but it sure didn’t seem like it to us.”

Noshiko found the door into the root cellar relatively easily. It was still intact. “From what I know, Derek did not have much in the way of experience.”

“It didn’t matter, did it? He was going to get us all killed by vengeful hunters, lizard creatures, or power-mad alphas.” Boyd opened the door and followed her down. “And that wasn’t the worst part. Did you know that there’s a vault under the school?”

“I do.”

“Peter showed it to us. He was trying to impress us with his family's knowledge, wealth and power, I guess.” Boyd sounded angry. “You got admit it about Peter. He was very good at spotting the weakest member the herd, but he wasn’t very good at reading people who aren’t weak. I’m not weak.”

Noshiko went to the roots of the tree. “The prison is a jar, here among the roots.”

“He showed us a suitcase with 117 million dollars in bearer bonds.” Boyd came over to the tree to help but she shook her head; she wanted to do it herself. “I asked him if Derek knew about them and he said that of course he did, though Derek had his own accounts. Imagine that. So I walked up behind Peter, broke his neck and cut him in half.”

Noshiko paused from where she could see the top of the jar in the roots and looked up at Boyd in surprise.

“It wasn’t the first time I’ve encountered entitled white people who think their pain means more than anyone else’s. Do you understand how much money that is? Derek had Isaac living with him in a rat-infested abandoned train station instead of a real home. With that type of money, Derek could have hired enough mercenaries to outnumber the Argents five to one. Instead, he bit four teenagers to create child soldiers and went to fight one of the world’s oldest werewolf hunting families without a plan.”

This did not sound like the Derek she had met, but then he was no longer an alpha when she met him.

“Scott’s a lot like Derek. He takes the blame for things that aren’t his fault. He doesn’t enjoy what he feels he has to do.” Boyd shook his head. “But, unlike Derek, he doesn’t work out his emotional problems by dropping ignorant kids into a warzone, especially when he had other options. Derek would’ve let us all get killed so he could prove himself to his dead mother.”

Noshiko didn’t answer right away. She had cleared away enough dirt to see the fly buzzing in the jar. She covered it back up, without ceremony. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Scott made me his second. I take that seriously, so why don’t you answer the question you have so carefully evaded? Would it be better for Scott?”

Noshiko locked eyes with him. She had underestimated Boyd. He wasn’t going to let her go without an answer that satisfied him. “There is no simple answer to that. Here, it seems that he is safe. There, he was not. But here, it seems he is … discontent.”

Boyd snorted. “Understatement.”

Noshiko frowned. “Is he seeing anyone romantically?”

“He put his last girlfriend into the hospital when she tried to hunt us. She left him no other choice. He could be with Isaac or Jackson if wanted to be, but … No, he’s not dated since.”

“There, he was madly in love with my daughter and she loved him back.” Noshiko said coldly. “Does that satisfy you?”

Boyd stared at her as if trying to read her mind. He couldn’t. Finally, he nodded once.

The drive back was quiet. It seemed several times that Boyd was going to ask her more questions, but he retreated at the last moment. For her part, Noshiko had no questions for him. There was only one more person she needed to talk to. One more person who would have the answers she needed.

The sun was huge and orange in the west when they pulled back into the driveway of the McCall pack house. The lights were on, but somehow that made it look even more foreboding. She put her hands in her pockets to quiet the sudden nervousness she felt. She could feel a confrontation brewing.

The pack were waiting for them in the basement recreation room. Tension crawled between, especially the moment she came face to face with Stiles Stilinski. He was standing apart from everyone. No one but the alpha looked at him, and Scott’s face could have been carved of stone by all the emotion it was showing.

“You,” Stiles said. It was supposed to be a sneer, but there was no heat in it. It was a deflection. “Haven’t you done enough?”

“I have done plenty,” she replied, unperturbed. If he wanted to challenge her, she would give as good as she got. “But this … I think this is something you did.”

There was a flicker of panic in his eyes. “Why would I do this? How could I do this?”

“There is an insect called the cicada. You can hear its song in the late summer. It molts, and leaves its skin where others can find it.” Noshiko took a step toward Stiles. “Among my kind, we have a saying. Only a foolish cicada tries to climb back into its shell.” She knew she sounded hostile, but it was easy for her to be hostile -- all she had to do was remember when Stiles' face belonged to something else. The rest of the pack, even Jackson, were ready to spring to his defense. They shouldn't. By the sweat on his upper lip, by the twitch in his fingers, she knew that it was indeed Stiles who had caused the shift. And she had a pretty good idea how he had done it.

Lydia was standing near Scott. “Stiles, do you know how this happened? You're the only other one who felt something change. You don’t have to be afraid, I love you no matter what. Just tell us what this means.”

“It means …” Stiles started but he couldn’t finish, because, in a way, he didn’t really know what he had done. And Noshiko's pretty sure he didsn’t want to know what he had done.

“It means that Stiles is the one who changed the past.” Noshiko pronounced. She caught Boyd’s eye.

Stiles laughed in bright staccato, mocking and desperate at the same time. “Why would I create a world where my father was dead? Where would I create a world where my best friend murdered him?”

Erica stood, a blur of motion, and slapped Stiles; the sound echoed throughout the room. It wasn’t with all the strength she possessed as that would have broken his jaw, but it was a firm, hard hit. “I told you I would do that if you said that again.”

“Erica.” Scott admonished in a quiet voice. Noshiko could hear the anguish in the soft tones even if she hadn't been able to see the way that Scott wouldn’t look directly at Stiles. It was as much as an admission.

“No. He doesn’t get to say that!” Erica growled at Stiles. “He doesn’t get to dump this on you. You were doing exactly what you were supposed to do.”

“He had to …” Stiles rubbed his jaw.

Noshiko glanced about the room. Erica was openly angry. Jackson's rage simmered below the service. Lydia’s face was a vapid mask. The rest could not bring themselves to look at Stiles.

“Scott, he doesn’t know,” Lydia finally said. “If he's like Noshiko -- if he doesn't know how our world came about, then we've been going at this all wrong. He doesn’t know this world, so we need to tell him what happened.”

“You got drunk, Stiles.” Jackson spat from his position on the couch. “You got drunk and you went and you told your daddy everything. What did you think was going to happen?”

Lydia rolled her eyes with irritation. “Jackson, he can't answer that question, because it didn’t happen for him. Stiles, you, the other you, were feeling guilty about lying to your father. You saw what the supernatural had done to us and our families; the sacrifices we made. You saw how Deaton abandoned us after Scott killed Derek. You saw how Melissa won’t even talk to Scott any more after she saw the blood on his hands at the police station …”

Scott flinched.

Isaac continued. “You were afraid that it would happen between you and your dad. You got drunk one night and went home and told your father everything. Everything about what we were, about what we’d done. And he believed you.”

Now, it was Stiles turn to flinch.

“What did you think he was going to do, Stiles? Pat you on the head and give you a hug?” Erica sneered. “We trusted you. You were only human, but you were pack. And you told your father the sheriff that we were killers, when what we did, we had to do to survive.”

Lydia reminded everyone gently. “No need to yell at him. He’s hearing this for the first time.”

“It must be fucking convenient,” Erica snapped. "You almost destroyed us."

Scott raised his hand which silenced the others. His voice was sorrow mixed with resolve. “He was going to have us prosecuted, Stiles. You told him about my murder of Derek, of Gerard, of Matt. I was facing two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder. At least, that’s what Jackson’s father believed. That’s fifty-five years minimum. Boyd was facing fifteen. Jackson … Jackson was looking at life in Eichen House.”

“My father wouldn’t …” whispered Stiles.

“Your father absolutely would, if he thought it would protect you from us.” Jackson stood up and took a step toward Stiles. Boyd moved quickly stopping the kanima with a hand on his chest. “Your father never had a problem bending the law if it meant protecting you, but would he do it for the monsters that his son was hanging with? No. He was going to save you from us.”

Scott made everyone sit down. When he got to Stiles, he reached out a hand, but Stiles flinched from it. “I don’t understand what’s going on with any of this. I don’t understand why ... if you did change history, why you would change everything to this … this hell. But I understand that what I did was necessary to protect the pack. When we found out from Jackson's dad what your dad was planning, I had to do something. I knew it was risky, but I tried to remove your father’s memories of what you had told him.” Noshiko could see that it had broken Scott; like a poorly set bone, the trauma had healed wrong. “There wasn’t anyone to tell me how. I didn’t know what I was doing and he died. That’s all. He just died.”

Stiles face drained of all color.

“It was … I had to do it, Stiles. I’m the alpha. The pack comes first. And that means sometimes I have to get my hands a little bloody.” Scott looked like he was going to stretch out his arm and touch Stiles' hand.

At those words, Stiles choked with some nameless emotion. He rubbed at his eyes as if trying to erase this new reality. Finally, he whirled to face Noshiko. “Can you … do you know …?” The words wouldn’t come out.

“Alpha McCall.” Noshiko spoke quietly. “If you do not mind, I think it would be best for everyone involved if I spoke with Stiles privately.”

The longing ache vanished from Scott’s face. “No. I said there are no secrets in this pack. Keeping secrets is what got us into this in the first place.”

Noshiko calculated the amount of time she needed and then displayed her full aura. Unlike her daughter’s aura of fire and dancing lightning, her aura was cool, made of thousands of tiny stars on a black background, like the Milky Way had descended from the night sky to appear around her.

Stiles stared at shock. “What?”

“Thanks to you, I still have all my tails.” She grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him out of the room. No one else followed or even moved. “Take me to it.”

“What did you do to them?”

Noshiko didn’t stop moving, dragging him along with her superior strength. “Legends say that powerful kitsune can disappear from one place only to reappear in another. It’s a trick; we can’t teleport, but we can momentarily cause the minds of those viewing us to seize up. When they become aware again, it’s like we just disappeared. Where is it?”

“Where’s what?” Stiles shouted at her.

“You know what.” She chides. “Jade, three inches on a side. Do you have it on you?”

Stiles nodded, suddenly crushed by the weight of what he did. “I didn’t think …”

“No, you didn’t.” She changed direction and got out of the house. They ran to her car. “We only have a few more seconds before they begin to stir. We have to go.”

Stiles hesitated and she could read the battle going on inside. He had no reason to trust her, but she knew the other world, just like he did. And, after all, the last thing he wanted to do was face his pack, if he still considered himself pack. She didn’t know. He slid into the passenger side regardless.

They drove away as fast as she could.

“Why are you helping me?” Stiles demanded.

“I’m not helping you. Please be clear about that.” Noshiko spoke to him coldly. “I came here because I was afraid that the nogitsune had used what you did to escape. It has not.”

“Thank God,” Stiles muttered.

“Now, show me the talisman.” Noshiko ordered.

Stiles dug into his pocket and brought out the jade trinket. “Do you recognize it?” He showed it to her.

“Of course I recognize it.” Noshiko headed in a direction away from the house, away from the Preserve. She was driving to drive. “It’s a Cicada Shell.”

Stiles’ eyebrows crawl up to his hairline. “Well, that’s … that’s simple and direct. I’m not really used to that from you. I know that the image on this side is a cicada. I know that the kanji on the other side means ‘to make a wish.’” He frowns. “I found it in my room. I didn’t … I didn’t know where it came from.”

Noshiko scowled at him. “You expect me to believe that? You found a piece of Japanese artwork in your room that you don’t remember putting there and you didn't have any idea where it came from?”

Stiles’ hand trembled imperceptibly. “That was a bad lie. Do you know what it is? What is a Cicada Shell?”

“It’s a trap,” Noshiko replied scathingly. “It’s a back-up plan. It’s a trick. You had to be at least partially aware of that. You tried to undo something with a wish; you tried to crawl back inside your own mistakes.”

It took a few moments before Stiles answered. His grimace was highlighted by the deep shadows in the car. “Sometimes you think that the trap is better than the alternative.”

“One of the first lessons kitsune learn is how to recognize a Cicada Shell. They’re a feeding tool for the nogitsune. No other emotion causes more chaos and strife than regret.”

“So they just leave wishing stones everywhere?” Stiles demanded. “How does that not fuck things up?”

“For most humans, the talisman simply reminds them of their regrets. In the hands of the mundane, they can’t do anything but make a person miserable, and that’s not very difficult to do even without a talisman, is it? But in the hands of an exceptional person, people who have the spark that makes them unique, those talismans can do wonderful, terrible things. Especially if the person who makes the wish doesn’t really care about the consequences of their actions. What did you wish for, Stiles?”

“Does it matter?” Stiles grated.

“Look at the world you’ve created, Stiles, and tell me if it matters.” Noshiko replied. The sun had disappearing into the hills surrounding the town. “I want to know before I decide what to do.”

“What to do?” Stiles was quick and clever. “Can you … can you actually fix this?”

Noshiko raised an eyebrow. “This is a tool of a dark kitsune; I was taught how to defeat them before I earned my first tail. Do you actually think that I haven’t seen something like this before?”

The car drive continued in silence. Noshiko wasn’t driving anywhere in particular. She wanted to find a spot to hold this discussion where they wouldn’t be interrupted by the rest of the pack. Lookout Point was far enough away from everything. When the car stopped, Stiles got out and took a few steps into the forest. Noshiko followed him. A chill wind blew up the cliffs.

“I killed someone. He was a chimera.” Stiles spoke to the woods rather than to her. She could sense the loathing in his words. “It was self-defense; he was trying to kill me. It didn’t matter though. It felt the same as my memories; it felt the same as my nightmares. But there was no possession this time for me to blame it on this time. So … I hid it.”

Noshiko frowned. “You hid it from whom?”

“Everyone.” Stiles kept his eyes on the trees. “I didn’t want … I knew they’d look at me differently. I knew Scott would reject me.”

“You believed that the alpha who had forgiven Chris Argent, who had forgiven Deucalion, who had let Peter Hale run free would reject you?” Noshiko didn’t like where this was going. "Everyone had tried to force Scott to kill for them -- even me."

“But he hadn’t. He always found a way not to do it, while I … I can’t seem to stop finding ways to kill people.” Stiles’ voice cracked, and even as mad as she was, Noshiko couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.

“We had a fight. Theo told him about the death, and he demanded to know why I did it. He didn’t listen …”

“You told him it was self-defense?”

Stiles opened his mouth. “No. No, I didn’t. It didn’t matter. I’d killed someone, and that was the end.”

“Scott McCall would know what self-defense is. You had so little faith in him?”

Stiles whirled on her. “Don’t act like you know him better than I do! I’ve known him better than anyone else. He’s stubborn. He’s so stupidly stubborn, and he’s got in his head that it’s possible to live in this world and not kill. He doesn’t kill even when people like you tell him to!”

“Don’t turn this on me.” Noshiko pointed at him. “I didn’t fall for a nogitsune’s tricks, again. What did you wish for?”

“I wanted him to understand what it felt like not to be so perfect. I wanted him to understand what I was feeling. I didn’t want to lose him …” Stiles took a deep breath. “So I wished that he would be someone who was willing to kill to protect his pack.”

Noshiko just stared at Stiles in wonder. “That was your wish?”

“Yeah,” Stiles grumbled. “I didn’t actually believe it would work.”

“That’s a lie. You could not have activated the talisman if you didn’t believe it was possible. Just like with the mountain ash, it is belief that makes the magic possible. Why didn’t you wish not to kill that chimera?”

Stiles looked like he was going to deny it, but then he gave up. “You’re right. It was another lie. I’ve read The Monkey’s Paw, Noshiko.” Stiles repeated the words as if he was working it out once more. “I knew where the stone came from. I knew that it was probably malicious. I figured out that this meant if I wished for something simple like not having killed Donovan, it could twist the wish so that the chimera would kill me or my dad instead. If I wished that Scott hadn’t been turned into a werewolf, it could twist the wish so that Peter could have killed him that night. I thought that … I thought that if I made the wish narrow enough, if it only changed Scott’s mind, that everything would be okay.”

Noshiko’s jaw set with disbelief.

“Scott –- the original Scott –- saw the world in black and white. He didn’t think killing was the answer, ever! Sometimes you have to kill to protect those you love! Sometimes you have to …” Stiles shouted. “Sometimes you have to get your hands a little bloody. There are bad people out there, who aren’t going to be won over by compassion. They’re a threat, and they’re going to remain a threat, and a real leader has to take care of them.”

Noshiko laughed out loud. “It looks like you got your wish.”

If looks could kill, Stiles would have slain her on the spot. “What’s so funny?”

“It occurs to me that if you really believed as passionately as you seem about how the world works, you wouldn't have hid what you had done. But you did conceal it, and you didn’t just conceal it from Scott. Was your father also blinded by black-and-white morality as well?”

Stiles bit his lip. “I hid it because … because I felt good when he was dead. He was threatening my dad, he was a chimera out for revenge. Even if it was self-defense, even if I didn’t mean it, I was glad. He needed to die. But they would think it was wrong.”

“Because it is wrong, you selfish child.” Noshiko shook her head in derision. “I’ve seen the people like you – I’ve been someone like you! – who think they know better than everyone else. They think the rules of civilization are shackles for the weak, and so they shouldn’t apply to them. Isn’t that what you thought? I know that's what I thought. And I’ve met hundreds of fools just like you and me over my long life. So eager to bring death in judgement, so willing to shed blood for security, that it never seems to occur to us that the blood to be shed might have to be ours or someone we care about. It’s always the other people who get to die.”

Noshiko stepped forward and grabbed him by the arm. “And I was wrong. I wish you had learned from my mistake.” She reached out with her other hand, palm up. “But you didn’t really use that to change what you did. You chose not to bear the burden yourself; you shifted it to Scott.”

“You’re right.” Stiles put the Cicada Shell in her hand. “I didn’t want him to look at me like I was a killer. I wanted, more than anything, for our friendship to survive.”

Noshiko chuckled again and felt bad when she saw the look on her face. “Forgive me, but you aren’t the first person to destroy something while trying to save it. On the other hand, he doesn’t look at you like a killer! Wish fulfilled! After all, you haven’t killed anyone in this reality; you were never possessed. You were never put in that position -- you just put Scott in that position instead. And Scott, as we can both see, is now willing to kill anyone who is a threat to the pack, so you have everything you wanted. The only thing you didn’t count on is your father becoming a threat.”

“Tell me how to fix this!” It was torn from his throat.

Stiles plea echoed through the forest. Noshiko did not answer him immediately but instead studied the talisman in her palm. It was one of the first things that they taught her: how to undo a Shell’s affects. Stiles’ whole spark powered the change; all of it had been dedicated to creating this reality, to rearrange the pieces on the board. It would take perhaps fifteen minutes to separate Stiles' spark from the Shell and undo the wish.

Noshiko measured the pros and the cons.

“I think not.” Noshiko let her voice grow cold. “I have my daughter back and in my care, far away from wolves. I have my tails.” She displayed her aura of stardust and the night sky for Stiles to recognize. They curled about her protectively. “Why would I throw that away to help a child who used so much power with so little wisdom?”

“Because …” Stiles gasped. He had always assumed that people who knew would come to his aid even if he messed up badly. “It’s the right thing to do.”

“You forgot what my daughter told you; kitsune don’t really care about right or wrong. Or even understand it.” Noshiko clutched the jade talisman in her hand and turned to leave.

Stiles lunged at her, grabbing her by the arm, but Noshiko cocked her head to the side and quite easily reversed the hold. She bent his arm up behind his back. “I just look like a middle aged woman, but I’m not really.”

“Please. Don’t make me live this way.” Stiles was in pain, but he pleaded. “I can’t …”

“You were right, Stiles. Sometimes, you have to do dark things to serve the greater good. Over six dozen people are alive today that would not be otherwise. The McCall pack is rich, strong, and secure. My demon remains imprisoned. All it cost was your father’s life and your brother’s soul; it’s a pretty fair trade, in my opinion.”

“You can’t … you can’t trade people’s lives like that.”

“Now who is thinking in black and white? You shouldn’t be worried though. Scott may be a blood-soaked killer, but he’s still your best friend.” Noshiko couldn’t help but rub it in. She’d been snapped at by this boy once too often. “He won’t ever abandon you now, not that you will find any satisfaction in that.”

“I’ll tell Scott everything. About the wish. About you. About the talisman.”

“Do it,” Noshiko responded. “If you think he can force me to undo the wish, take that risk. Be careful though; some people might not to be too pleased that you played God by putting your own desires above their lives. It wouldn’t do for you to be seen as a threat.”

Noshiko released Stiles and walked to the car. Stiles followed after her, but he didn’t attack. That was good for him. She got into the car, but locked the other door.

“What are you doing?”

“Me? I’m going to use the time the pack spends looking for you to go home. Don’t worry. They’ll find you eventually.” Noshiko started the car; Stiles could still hear her. “I am also going to leave you here to spend the rest of your life with the monster you created. Enjoy yourself.”

She pulled away. Stiles looked for a moment that he was going to do something drastic, like jump in front of the car or find a rock to smash her windshield, but he suddenly gave up, defeated. He may have been foolish, but he wasn’t dull. There was nothing he could do to force her to stay or force her to help him.

No decision was without regret. Noshiko felt badly for Stiles, for a little boy’s selfish dream to be free to commit the darkest of deeds yet be free from reproach. Noshiko felt even more badly for Scott, betrayed by his best friend’s guilt. This world was better though, even though some innocent people would have to suffer for it. Their lives weren’t that long, Noshiko reasoned. Soon, they would be dust, and she and her daughter would still be there.