The stoop was made of several large rocks worn smooth and from them the path wandered down the low grassy slope until it stopped at the water’s edge. Scott sat on those rocks, watching three of his betas run about in a grassy field in the light of a dimming sun. In the distance, what he assumed was a grizzly bear and her two cubs made their way along the shoreline of the Iliuk Arm of Naknek Lake, watching the frolicking werewolves apprehensively. Scott yawned; it was nearly ten p.m., but the sun was only now beginning to sink into the distant Bering Sea.
Even with his alpha stamina, it had been a long day. The night before before, they had arrived at King Salmon Airport, and way too early that morning, they had driven from there to the Hale cabin. It had only been twenty miles, but there were no roads. Luckily, Derek had arranged for three Land Rovers to be waiting for them, including one that had six wheels in order to haul all the food and kerosene they needed for their stay.
Scott snorted at the idea of calling this building a simple log cabin. Built over the rise of the lake, it consisted of two stories, with four bedrooms, a full kitchen, a full basement, a kerosene-powered generator, a kerosene-powered hot-water heater, and even an old CRT television set. It had all the comforts of home.
Except it wasn’t home. All Scott had to take in a deep breath and that became clear to him all over again. When he was at school, or working at the clinic, or just walking down the street in Beacon Hills or Davis, there was always a need to tamp down his sense of smell. If he were careless, he could be overwhelmed in an urban environment. Here, he didn’t have to tamp it down, and that freedom was like stretching a stiff muscle. Here, the world was like the primeval forest in which werewolves had to have developed. He could pick out each individual person who had come with him, their direction, and their rough distance by scent alone. He could tell when someone turned on a hot water tap because of the slight increase in the intensity of the burning kerosene.
He could hear better as well. Theo always had a habit of moving stealthily but Scott was aware of him before he even got within three paces.
“Are you going to sit out there until the sun sets?” Theo didn’t stop until his knees were touching Scott’s shoulders. Scott leaned his head back so he could look up into Theo’s face.
“I might. It’s definitely tempting.”
“I seem to remember that when we went to a beach earlier this summer you made everyone work until all the tasks were done.” Theo pursed his lips like a disapproving schoolmarm. “And yet, here you are, goofing off.”
“Completely different. We were camping on a beach.”
“It’s not the same thing.” Scott stuck out his tongue in response to the teasing. “I was taking a break, because … it’s so different here. Is there really that much left to do?”
“Nah, I’m kidding. Mason and Stiles are going to kill each other trying to get the rec room power back on.”
“Hey, don’t look at me. I said as much and they said that it might rain tomorrow, and if we’re stuck in the house with nothing to do we might all kill each other, which given our track records …” Theo nodded in exaggerated agreement.
Scott still rested his head on Theo’s knees. “I guess that makes sense. Anything else?”
Scott stood up and turned around, yet he chose to stand on the bottom step to give the illusion of him being shorter than Theo. “This place is something else. The Hales must have loved coming here, even if they had the Preserve.”
“It’s the freedom. The isolation. It’s primal,” Theo added. Then he bent down a little and kissed Scott on the tip of nose. “The extent of that influence I suggest we try out tonight.”
With a chuckle, Scott lifted Theo off the steps bodily and then tumbled down with him into the grass. They rolled a little with Theo ending up on top. Scott stared up at him and the stars emerging from the darkening sky behind his head. “I wonder why they didn’t move here permanently.”
“I’d guess it would have to do with the nearest school being thirty miles away. Or the fact that there’s no Internet. Or the fact that there are no movie theaters, or Starbucks, or a Gap that’s not on the other side of an ocean or a mountain range.”
Scott tickled him and Theo burst out laughing. “Do you think so?”
“He’s right you know,” Derek said from the hallway inside the house. “It’s great to get away from it all, but I, personally like barber shops. And roads.”
Theo rolled off from on top of Scott and put a couple of feet into them to watch the older beta as he emerged from the house.
“Don’t do that,” Derek chided. “If you hide what you’re feeling, you’ll get frustrated, and that won’t be good for anyone.”
“Given recent events, I don’t think it’s smart—” Theo began to explain.
“Nope.” Derek popped the ‘p,’ picking up the mannerism from Stiles. “That’s not how pack is supposed to work, especially not here. We’re supposed to relax while we’re away from civilization, and we’re supposed to have fun, but the real point is that the only thing we have to occupy our time out here is each other.”
Scott smirked and bit his lip. “I’m making my best effort to keep my mind out of the gutter, but I get what you’re trying to say.”
“Would you explain it to me then?”
“It might feel like just another vacation, but it’s also about being honest with each other because there aren’t any distractions. There’s no school, no parents, no work, no practices, no video games, no responsibilities to get in the way. We’re going to find out who we are, so they’re going need to see you and me together. Liam is going to have to make peace with Hayden. You’re going to have to find some balance with Mason and Corey and Hayden.”
Theo sighed. “Do I have to?”
“Yes.” Derek and Scott said in unison.
“I wish I could go back to being a bad guy. They never made me do this touchy-feely stuff.”
Derek pulled his shirt over his head. “Take off your clothes.”
“Dude, he wants to run with you,” Scott said, rolling over to his side. “Right?”
Derek nodded and started slipping off his pants.
“Go ahead,” Scott encouraged him. “I think that Derek would love to have someone who could run with him. He hasn’t been able to do that since the last time Malia was home.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll just watch my beta children play like any grumpy old alpha.”
In the distance, they heard a cry. “I’m two years younger than you!”
Theo relented and Scott didn’t bother to hide the fact that he enjoyed Theo taking his clothes off. Soon, they were both transformed. Derek was a huge black wolf, his eyes glowing blue with the stress of the shift. Now that they were side-to-side, Theo was noticeably smaller as a coywolf. Scott had taken enough classes to be able to pick out the coyote traits. Theo’s eyes glowed golden.
“Go run.” Scott flashed red eyes at him. “We’ll be fine.”
They sprinted away, rushing past the three betas at the water’s edge and sprinting off toward the forest in the distance. Alec, Hayden and Liam stopped and watched them go.
Scott could imagine what they were feeling. He pulled himself up off the ground and sat back down on the stoop to wait. During his high school years, it had never even occurred to him to be jealous of Derek’s full transformation into a wolf. Now, he couldn’t help wondering how it felt. Did that make him a hypocrite?
Peter had spent years attacking him for his apparent dislike in being a werewolf, as if the Bite had given him nothing but benefits. Yes, he had had asthma before it and it might have killed him and he would never have gotten to play lacrosse, but, on the other hand, he also had never been mind controlled before. Never been shot before. Never been clawed or stabbed or ran over by cars or poisoned or drowned or turned into a Berserker before either. Playing lacrosse, even as a werewolf, hadn’t been fun given that he was usually consumed with worry about another blood-soaked monster. And, well, as for being killed? That had happened. A lot.
What had bugged him when Peter tried to ridicule him for not appreciating his forced gift was that in the end, it didn’t matter. Scott may have not enjoyed being a werewolf, but he still seemed to be ten times better at it than Mr. I-Am-The-Alpha-I’ve-Always-Been-the-Alpha. When Scott got his ass whipped, it was always by the Beast of Gevaudan or the Demon Wolf, it wasn’t by high school sophomores.
Scott asked himself why he was thinking of Peter. This trip was supposed to be about bonding, about coming closer as a pack, not about letting an antagonistic old bastard claim more of his head space than absolutely necessary.
Yet, in the back of his mind, he answered his own question. It’s because he could sense Corey approaching. Without another word, the Ghost Rider chimera sat down on the stoop next to them.
“What’s going on with Mason and Stiles?”
“Everything’s pretty much done, but they’re still debating the necessity of reading the directions. It got a little heated and a little repetitive, so I exercised the better part of valor.”
They sat on the stoop as the sun continued to set. In the distance, the three betas had rolled up their pants and were wading in the lake.
“Mason was right. I am a shark.”
Corey looked over at him, sharply.
“We have to start talking as a pack more, if we want things to be better. As the leader, that means I have the responsibility to start. He was right; I’m really only happy when I move forward.”
The chimera looked down at the ground beneath his feet.
“You never met my father.”
“I did.” Corey offered hopefully. “When we faked leaving Beacon Hills during Monroe’s time?”
“Oh. I didn’t think you were at the … oh, later.”
“What did you think of him?”
“When I was young, he had a drinking problem. And a working problem.” Scott had picked up a little sarcasm over the years. “And a yelling problem. I got it into my head that I was at fault for making my parents fight all the time. So, I tried to be a good boy.”
“Well,” Corey said, only half joking and only half bitter, “you succeeded.”
“Uh. Thanks. But that’s not my point. I’m doing this wrong.” Scott took a deep breath. “I don’t like fighting. It’s not just because people get hurt when you fight, and they do, it’s … it feels like I’ve failed. I want everyone to be happy together, because there’s a part of me that thinks it will keep people from leaving. It makes me want to move past the bad things and get to the better things.”
“I guess I’m trying to say — I’m sorry for trying to make you treat what happened the way I wanted you to treat it. I bullied you, because I used the power I have as alpha and I didn’t take into account your feelings.”
“Okay. Apology accepted.” Corey bit his lips. “I apologize for hurting Theo. I hadn’t dealt with my feelings about what he had done, and I felt … ignored.”
Scott nodded. Everyone who met them had experienced the benign neglect of Corey’s parents.
“I … I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
“Okay.” Scott smiled.
“Yeah. I’m doing my thing — moving forward. In the future though, if you think I’m ignoring you, can you come talk to me before you start stabbing people?”
Corey looked at Scott at the corner of his eyes. When he saw that Scott was serious but not particular angry, he nodded. “I promise.”
The Alaskan wilderness began to fade from day to the shortest night. In the distance, Scott heard a howl; he was sure it was Derek. Theo joined him, and a smile crossed Scott’s face. Theo never howled, and the alpha always thought it had something to do with his worries that he wasn’t a real werewolf. The three other betas joined their voice, until finally Scott threw back his own head and answer them.
It was … something pure.
Corey waited for the howling to end. “I think I get it now.”
“Why you hate Peter and you love Theo.” Corey answered. “Theo keeps changing. He’s growing. From everything Mason and Stiles and Deaton told me, Peter doesn’t. He’s still fighting the same fight you had in high school, trying to prove he deserves to be alpha and you don’t.”
“I can see how that’s frustrating. I’ll give your method a shot.” Corey stood up. “Won’t be easy, but I’ll try. I’ll move a little forward, too.” He went back into the house.
Finally, Derek had turned them back towards the cabin. Twilight had come which meant it was after ten. Night would last maybe five hours, so they had to make do with the darkness they had.
Theo felt … liberated. He had never before used his coywolf form to enjoy himself. It had always been a tool before, a means to an end. Tonight, it had been the end.
He watched Derek leap in through one of the open first floor windows. That was all very well and good for him, but he needed to find his clothes. He had left them on the ground in front of the house.
But they weren’t there. Theo yipped in frustration. He supposed he could scratch at the door and get someone to let him inside. He could leap inside the same window that Derek had, but that was Derek and Stiles’ bedroom. That would be awkward.
Theo decided sniffed where they should have been, and he scented Liam. It must have been the beta’s idea of joke. There was a clear trail leading back towards a copse of tree on the side of the cabin opposite the forest. It didn’t take him long to get there. He began to plan his revenge.
He almost missed his clothes, hung on a very high branch of the largest tree in the copse, fluttering in the breeze. On four legs, he walked around the base of the tree. He’d never get up there in coywolf form. After checking for nearby people, he shifted back into human form. Luckily it wasn’t too cold out. He still felt a little exposed, but he started to climb.
It wasn’t easy. The tree was young and strong, but the branches were wide enough to stand on but they still hurt his feet. If he hadn’t been preternaturally graceful, he would have fallen three times before he was half way up.
Theo had been convinced he was alone. The shock at finding he wasn’t made him nearly tumble off the tree. He grabbed a heavy branch and managed to keep himself from falling, one foot balanced precariously on a branch.
Hayden stood at the foot of the tree. “I have to say one thing — you keep yourself in good shape.” She nodded appreciatively.
“Do you mind?” Theo demanded, his voice a few octaves higher than usual.
“Nope. Enjoying the view.”
After a bit of flailing, he managed to get back on the branch, relatively stable. But he was still very naked and only half way to where his clothes were. He wanted to distract from this awkward situation. “How’d you do that?”
“I could have sworn I was alone!”
“Oh, before she died and I moved away, I spent some time with Satomi. She taught me how to conceal my presence. Turns out I’m a fast learner.”
“You did this.” Theo did the calculations in the head. “You got Liam to help you, but this was your idea.”
Hayden put her hand on the tree. “Maybe I like seeing you naked?” The words sounded false. “Or maybe I like seeing you vulnerable. Manipulated. Used.”
Hayden punched the tree, very hard. It shook and Theo had to use his own strength to hold on. She was right; he felt very vulnerable right now.
“I get it.”
“No, you don’t.” She spat and hit the tree again. “You faced consequences for your actions, but you knew that there was a chance you would when you started. You understood what was at stake, what the benefits could be, what the possible outcomes were. I didn’t. I went from average teenage girl with a kidney transplant to science-created monster to dead to alive to beta werewolf in a month. I keep trying to tell myself I’m better now, but I have no idea what better is. I don’t think I’ll ever know. You helped take that … capability away from me.”
“I don’t know what you want from me,” Theo spoke carefully. “I don’t think you want an apology.”
“You’re right about that.”
Theo wasn’t going to tremble but he wasn’t sure he could move. If he tried, and she hit the tree, he’d fall. He was trapped and helpless. “Oh.”
“Yeah.” Hayden tilted her head to the side. “Ask.”
“May I get my clothes without you making me fall?” Theo asked.
“Yes, you may. Ask.”
“Is this all about explaining to me how it’s going to take time before you do anything but hate me?”
“Yes, it is. Ask.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Remember what it feels like to be helpless every time you talk to me. And … remember if you hurt Scott or Liam, I’ll break every bone in your body before I rip your heart out with my own hands.”
Hayden turned and walked away. Theo watched her go and then climbed up the tree for his clothes.
“It’s okay.” Theo said.
“No, it’s not.” Scott answered. “They …”
“Yes, it is okay, and yes they can. You’re right, and he was right, and she was right. If I want to be a part of this pack, it’s going to take … things like that. It’s not like Hayden stabbed me.”
Scott shifted, petulant, irritated.
“You have to let them heal, Scott.”
“I know. I told Corey as much but … I care about you. I don’t want you to get hurt so they can feel better.”
Theo brought himself up on an elbow, so his face hung over Scott’s. “Yes, you do want me to get hurt. You want me to get messy, to commit. This is what commitment looks like, especially with our particularly fucked-up history.” He bent down and kissed Scott on the forehead.
“Does it have to be so … mean?”
“Yes.” Theo smiled and Scott gave him a small smile back. “People heal in different ways. I told you I’m ready for it, and I am. I’m here for the long haul.”
“So am I.”
Theo kissed him on the lips then, long and passionate. “I know. You always have been.”
Scott pulled Theo down on top of him and Theo let himself relax. Scott held him his arms. “So, do you think you’re going to like Alaska?”
“Right now? Yes.”
“When we get back, it’ll be time to decide what our next move is.”
Theo sighed. “Can we pretend that we don’t have to go back?”
“Yes. For a little bit, but there’s work to do. There will always be work for us to do, until it all ends.”
“So we’re stuck together until doomsday?”
Scott squeezed him tighter in the warm darkness of the Alaskan night; it brought a smile to his face that he didn’t have to let go. “Doomsday, at the very earliest.”