Derek’s entire world came crashing down on him when he was sixteen-years old. His first girlfriend woke as a Guide after getting hit by a car. Paige was sweet and kind and never looked down on him for being a werewolf. She drew him out of his shell, got him involved in school sports and helped him make friends. He thought he was in love. Then she met her Sentinel and things went from teenage heartbreak to hell in the span of a few short weeks.
Kate was older. A substitute teacher at his school. She was beautiful and strong and most importantly, not Paige. She was also forbidden, which somehow made it better and worse at the same time. She said all the right words. Got him to open up in a completely different way than his chaste first love. And even though his wolf hated everything about her, Derek thought maybe this was how things were supposed to be, maybe the shiver he felt when he was near her was an indication that she was his.
Then she burnt his family home to the ground with his family inside it and whatever part of himself that was him, shattered completely.
She was a hunter and the deaths of his family brought forth his latent abilities.
He woke in the backseat of a Deputy’s cruiser with Laura hovering at the open door. She was covered in ash.
“You’re a Guide,” she whispered. Then her chin wobbled and she broke down sobbing as he attempted to drag himself across the vinyl seat to pull her into his arms. “They’re dead,” she sobbed. “Uncle Peter’s being taken to the hospital and might not make it.”
“I’m sorry,” Derek hiccupped. “I’m so sorry, Laur.”
“It’s not your fault,” Laura said savagely. “It’s that bitch hunter’s fault. I should have protected you better, I’m so sorry, Der.”
Derek shook his head in denial. He’d known, somewhere deep inside that something was wrong with Kate and he hadn’t listened to his instincts. He knew better now. He’d never thought he’d be a Guide. The genes weren’t as prevalent in weres, so few were even tested. His family hadn’t bothered. To their knowledge, no one in the family had been either Sentinel or Guide, but here he was feeling the edges of his mind start to buzz and fray. He latched on to Laura’s smell, breathing deeply to hold off the emotional barrage around him.
A Deputy, the one whose car he was in from the smell, slowly walked towards him. Derek felt a sharp stab of worry and the darker edge of frustration and hate at the situation before the emotions evened out and felt oddly muffled. “Laura, Derek,” the man said. “I’m sorry about all this. Your Uncle Peter is being transported to the hospital. It’ll be at least an hour before he’s set up in a room. Would you kids like to get cleaned up and changed before heading over or go directly there?”
Laura raked her hand through Derek’s filthy hair, the action soothing since he knew she was scenting him as well as grounding his new abilities. She looked him over before turning back to the Deputy.
“Getting clean would be great, Deputy...”
“Stilinski. Noah.” He gave them a thin smile that looked more like a grimace, but Derek felt nothing but worry and concern from him.
“Deputy Stilinski,” Laura nodded, her eyebrows pulled down in a little frown. Derek felt her concern and a flair of annoyance in herself before her emotions faded. “Thank you.” She glanced down at Derek. “We’ll also need your help getting in touch with the Sentinel Training Program.”
Stilinski’s eyes jumped to Derek, pain and fear in their icy-blue depths before he took a shuddering breath and nodded. He leaned into the car and pulled his cell out of the drink tray, thumbing a button. Derek and Laura heard the line ring twice before being picked up.
“Jim, it’s Noah Stilinski in Beacon Hills.”
Derek’s eyes went wide. Jim Ellison was the Alpha Sentinel of the Western US and the Deputy in front of them not only had his direct line, but was on a first name basis with him.
“Noah!” Jim said surprise coloring his voice. “What’s wrong? Is it Mitch…”
“No,” Stilinski cut through grimacing, his scent and emotions turning sour. “No, there’s still no change. Look, I have a newly awakened Guide here that I need some help with.”
Derek could hear the frown in Ellison’s voice. “New Guides get called through to the STP. San Francisco is closest to you, you know this.”
“Yes, but this one is a sixteen-year-old werewolf who woke because hunters burned most of his family to death.”
Derek and Laura flinched at the words. Stilinski placed a hand on Laura’s shoulder, squeezing slightly in apology.
“Well, shit,” Ellison said.
“Exactly. We don’t know if they’re still being targeted or what, so, locals are out. I need help here, Jim.”
There was the muffled sound of another voice and rustling papers before a different voice came through. “We’ll be there tomorrow. Can you watch them until then?”
“You sure, Blair?” Stilinski said, even though his tone was cautiously optimistic. “I know how much work you guys have to do already.”
“It’s fine. We have connections with the local Packs, one of which is a Guide. We’ll be able to keep them safe while you look for the hunters. Just let us know when you find them and we’ll do our own Hunt.”
The wolves looked at each other and then to Noah. “Kate Argent,” Derek whispered, voice cracking.
Noah turned sharp eyes to him. “What was that, son?”
“The hunter, her name is Kate Argent. She…she was a sub at school.”
Noah’s lip curled like any wolf. “She approached you there?”
Derek swallowed hard, nodding. He felt faint. He did this. He let her in, he…
“Son, look at me,” Noah commanded, sinking down beside the open back door. The cell was laying on the ground beside him, but he was completely focused on Derek. “Breathe,” he said. His voice was half-command and half-concern. “Just breathe, in 2, 3, 4, out 2, 3, 4. There you go, just like that.”
Derek reached out to tug Noah closer. There was something about his scent that helped calm his wolf.
“How?” Laura asked softly as Derek calmed.
“Panic attack. My boy got them too.” Laura didn’t mention how Noah’s scent turned bitter burnt. She didn’t know the man. Not really, but he’d managed to calm Derek down, which was all that mattered.
“What now?” She asked instead.
Once Noah was certain Derek would be okay, he grabbed the phone. “Blair?”
“Yeah. He’s more empathic than some of the other’s I’ve known.”
“Could mean he’s to bond with a five or it could mean his wolf’s doing a lot of the initial filtering. Guides don’t have the same issues Sentinels do, but we can do an evaluation later. For now, Jim and I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon. Will you be okay with them until then?”
Noah nodded, his scent once again having that brief flare of frustrated sadness. “Yes. I’ve got the room now, as you damn well know.”
Blair’s voice went soft. “I know. I’m sorry, Noah, we’re still trying to find…”
“Not now, Blair.” Noah said sharply, glancing at the wolves. “I know you are, but for now, I can deal with this. I’ll see you at the house tomorrow afternoon. Text me in case we’ve gone to the hospital.”
“Understood. See you tomorrow.”
Noah snapped the cell shut with more force than was probably necessary, before tossing it into the drink holder. He looked back at the still smoking remains of the Hale house and blew out a breath before turning back to them.
“Okay,” he said. “As you probably figured out, that was the Alpha Sentinel Pair for the Western US, Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Since we haven’t caught who did this and Derek is going to need training, they’ll be coming to get you.”
He raised a hand when Laura went to speak. “I know you’re nineteen, Laura, and you can legally take custody of Derek and that’s fine, Jim and Blair won’t stop you, but they are your best bet for survival. Not just because of the Hunters, but because of Derek’s abilities.”
Laura groaned, rubbing her hand through her hair in agitation. “I know. I know you’re right, I just… What about Uncle Peter?”
“We’ll head back to my house. You two can get cleaned up and then I can take you over to the hospital and the diner. I’ll need to take your statements too, but we can do that later after we check on Peter. Does that work?”
Laura flicked her eyes to Derek. He probably looked shell shocked. He felt shell shocked. Everything was messed up. Laura was an Alpha now and he knew that had to be messing with her. He could feel the tell-tale prick of her claws where her hands had remained curled around his bicep while they had talked. She hadn’t taken a step back, either, simply shifted to the side until she was plastered against him.
His chest ached and tears burned the back of his throat and eyes. His parents, siblings, aunt, cousins, and grandparents. Everyone was dead. It was bad enough that they were gone, but the loss of the Pack bonds was like a gaping, bleeding hole inside him. How was he supposed to handle other people’s emotions when he couldn’t even handle his own?
Laura rubbed her shoulder against his. “Yes,” she finally answered. “Thank you.”
Derek wasn’t sure what he was expecting when Noah ushered them into the modest two-story home, but the overwhelming fearpainanger that slammed into Derek wasn’t it. He dropped to his knees, a low whine escaping his mouth.
“Derek!” Laura yelled just as Stilinski said ‘shit,’ his face draining to white. Laura pulled him into her lap, her hands looking for injuries, but there were none, not on the outside anyways.
Something soft was shoved against his nose. It smelled like Christmas and rain and sizzled like lightning across the back of his tongue when he gasped, trying to pull the scent in closer. The fuzzy blanket was dripping with the smell as Noah wrapped it tightly across his shoulders.
Laura and Noah’s low murmur of voices helped to center him within the smell.
“I’m sorry, God, I should have known better. Of course, you would sense it. I’m so sorry, son.” Noah said, his strong, warm hand was pressed against Derek’s shoulder.
“What happened?!” Laura snapped, her eyes still Alpha red.
Noah took a ragged breath. “My wife, she…she was sick. She had a type of dementia and didn’t recognize our son. She attacked him.”
Laura’s eyes went wide. She searched the room, obviously looking for both mother and son.
“She’s dead,” Derek whispered against Laura’s throat.
“Yes,” Noah answered slowly. “She passed a few days ago.”
“Your son?” Laura murmured.
“She almost killed him. It brought him online. He’s only nine.”
“Oh my God,” Laura gasped, horrified. “He’s a…?”
“Sentinel. Or, he would be, but he never woke up fully. He’s in a coma at the hospital. That’s his blanket. I thought it might help.”
“It does,” Derek said, burrowing deeper into the blanket. It was the softest thing he’d ever felt, but it was the scent clinging to it that helped pull him back from the overwhelming emotions swirling in the home. Now that he knew they were there, he could try to filter them out, but controlling his wolf was harder. It was like his ability to feel and compartmentalize emotions were all jumbled together. He definitely needed help. He wondered, fleetingly, if this is what Paige had felt like before she found her Sentinel?
“Obviously, I didn’t think this through,” Noah grimaced. “I can take you two to the Station or a hotel, if that would be easier?”
“No,” Derek said sharply, cutting off whatever Laura was going to say. “No, this is fine.” He shrugged his shoulder a little. “The blanket helps. Thank you.”
Noah gave him a look Derek couldn’t interpret. “We have a spare, but would you prefer to stay in his room?”
Derek was nodding before he realized it. “Yeah, I mean, yes, thank you.”
Noah nodded, then glanced at Laura. “I’ll stay with Derek,” she said, hugging him tightly.
“Come on then,” the older man said, standing. He led them upstairs to a room that was painted aqua blue. There were super hero characters on posters hanging above a bed decked out in Batman sheets. A stack of Marvel comics on the dresser and a bookshelf full of knickknacks and books ranging from Percy Jackson to the Hobbit. Some were way above a nine-year-old’s reading level. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for one. Derek only recognized it because it had been on last year's reading list. Lord of the Flies, The Bluest Eye, and Brave New World were a few others.
Derek glanced at Noah who gave a small, pleased smile and chin lift. “He’s a reader,” the man said. “Always has been. Smart too, but he can be a hyperactive little shit-starter when he wants to be.” The words were harsh, but the tone was fondly exacerbated. “We thought he might have had ADHD, but now I’m thinking it was just him being latent.” His scent turned sour. “I may never know. Bathroom is across the hall. I’ll see about finding you kids some spare clothes.”
He turned briskly on his heel and stomped out. Derek slid his finger’s across the spines of the books, plucking The Bluest Eye out and holding it against his chest. He wanted the smell of ash and smoke off him, but he didn’t want to give up the blanket. It did more to make him feel safe than anything else. Even having his sister and Alpha with him.
He knew the minute they were able to sit and think about what had happened they’d fall apart, but his mind was running in so many different directions, he couldn’t focus enough on his own pain to let it affect him.
He was numb and for right now, that was a blessing.
“Are you okay?” Laura asked when she came back from her shower a little later. He’d taken the shortest shower in the history of showers while she’d sat on the closed toilet lid, neither willing to be away from the other for any length of time.
“No,” Derek said, blanket pulled tight around him once more. “It’s my fault, Laur. They’re dead because of me.”
“Derek Samuel Hale, you listen to me,” Laura said sharply. “You were not to blame. Argent took advantage, that’s it. Now, Noah said once we were done to come downstairs and he’d take us to see Uncle Peter. Are you ready?”
Derek shrugged again. He didn’t want to go to the hospital, but he needed to know if Peter was okay. “Do you think…”
Laura cocked her head at him when he stopped speaking and bit his lip instead. “What is it, Der-bear?
Derek scrunched up his nose at the nickname, rolling his eyes at his sister when all she did was laugh at his expression. “Do you think I could keep the blanket with me?”
Laura’s face went through a variety of emotions so fast he couldn’t read them before settling on understanding. “I doubt he’d mind, but I’m not sure how practical it will be in the hospital.”
“Come on,” she prodded, “The sooner we go, the sooner we get back and you can burrow in.”
Derek stuck his tongue out at her, because he was mature like that.
“What is it about the blanket, anyways?” she asked gently.
“You can’t smell it?” he held the corner up for her to sniff.
“Just smells like boy and, I don’t know, maybe cookies? What does it smell like to you?”
“Christmas. Like mulled cider. Spicy sweet and fruity.” Derek took another deep whiff, his wolf purring in contentment. “Like rain and turned earth. Like a lightning storm.”
Laura gave him a startled glance. “You get all that?”
He ducked his chin, ears red. “Is that wrong?”
“No, no, it’s not wrong,” Laura said hastily as they stepped into the living room. “Just different.” She caught Noah’s eye, although she was speaking to Derek when she said, “It’s unusual for a wolf to smell something another wolf can’t. Especially when it comes to people’s scents.”
Noah stood straighter; forehead furrowed. “Werewolves have a sense of smell similar to Sentinels, right?”
“Alpha’s do,” Laura responded easily. “Although a five-point Sentinel would have us beat by a mile.”
Laura frowned as they piled into a baby blue jeep. “From what they told us in school, Human Guides are mostly empathic. They feel things deeper than others. Their own senses don’t change much, although some have said if they can manifest a spirit animal, they sometimes get echoes of what their partners sense. As you know, not many werewolves have either genes, although magic users have a higher rate. Not sure about other supernaturals. I would think, for wolves, because we already have heightened senses, having an empathic ability on top of them, would be closer to a Sentinel's abilities.” She shrugged, “I’m not sure though.”
“We’ll have to remember to ask Blair. If anyone would know, it’d be him.”
“How do you know them?” Derek asked quietly. “You never did say.”
“When Mischief came online, every Sentinel on the West Coast felt it.”
Laura and Derek sucked in equally shocked breaths. “That’s insane,” she whispered. “I thought only other locals would feel someone coming online?”
“Apparently, he’s the most powerful they’ve ever felt.” He gave them a humorless look that reminded them of just how the child had been activated.
“Is he here? In the hospital?” Laura asked gently.
Noah nodded once, sharply, then blew out a breath. “In the coma ward.”
Laura closed her eyes tightly while Derek whined in the back of his throat. The sound so quiet Noah wouldn’t have been able to hear him.
He shrugged, stoic face in place as he parked and escorted them into the hospital. A pretty Hispanic woman greeted them at the nurses’ desk. She came around and wrapped Noah up in a hug, murmuring how sorry she was about Claudia and Mischief. Derek assumed Claudia was the wife.
“Laura and Derek Hale, this is Melissa McCall. She and my wife were best friends. Her son Scott is Mischief’s.”
Melissa’s eyes were understanding as she hugged Laura, but when she went to touch Derek, he pulled back. He saw a flash of hurt in her dark eyes before Noah cleared his throat pointedly.
“Derek came online as a Guide a few hours ago,” he explained.
Melissa’s mouth made a little ‘o’, her professional persona taking over. She gave him a warm smile instead that reminded him of his mother.
“Your Uncle was admitted with severe burns and several cracked or broken bones. The doctors had to rebreak a few that were starting to heal wrong, but otherwise they’re letting his natural healing ability take care of the internal issues.”
She grabbed a folder and waved for them to follow as she walked them to the elevators, pressing the 3rd floor button.
“Unfortunately, he hasn’t woken up yet. There is considerable swelling on the brain and the doctors did drill a hole to relieve some of the pressure, but it hasn’t helped much. At the moment, he’s listed as unresponsive to stimuli.”
She slid open a door half-way down the hall. Derek heard Noah’s breath catch.
“We’re short on space, due to a pile-up on the freeway over in Sageville, so he’s sharing a room, but considering who the other patient is, I doubt you’ll have too much of an issue.”
Derek and Laura made a bee-line for Peter while Noah slipped around to the other bed. It was then that Derek caught the scent, his wolf whining. He heard Laura asking Melissa questions about what it all meant and when they thought he’d wake up.
“He’s in a coma. The burns were extensive. 68% of his left side are third degree, 26% of his right side are second degree. We’ve never seen a wolf with these types of injuries so the doctors don’t know if or when he might recover.”
Derek stood between Peter’s bed and the other one. He gripped Peter’s arm where it wasn’t injured, scenting him briefly before a flood of pain and fear threatened to overwhelm him. He broke off, stumbling into the side of the other bed, his fingers brushing against the small, pale hand laid flat against light blue sheets.
Calm washed over him like a soft, cool rain.
He shuddered as he turned, his fingers instinctively reaching for the smaller hand.
His wolf whined so violently that the sound slithered out through his fangs making Laura look up at him sharply.
Derek stared at the pale boy in the bed. He was small for nine. Finely boned with pale skin made sallow in the hospital light. Dark circles gave his closed eyes a bruised look. His nose was slightly upturned impishly and he had a constellation of moles and freckles across his cheeks, throat and arms. His hair was buzzed short, but it was the mottled, blackish-green finger shaped bruises he wore like a necklace that made Derek see red.
‘She attacked him.’ Noah had said. ‘She almost killed him.’
“She strangled him?!” he hissed, furious. His fingers danced over the marks, his wolf demanding he fix things, take the boy’s pain, which, even in a coma, was considerable.
Noah grimaced, but it was Melissa who answered.
“Claudia had something called Frontotemporal dementia. Basically, her brain was being eaten away by the disease. She had no idea who he was. The neighbors called the police after she ran screaming into the street yelling about how she had killed a monster.” She had tears in her eyes. “She almost did.”
“He’s not a monster,” Derek snapped. “He’s a kid.”
Melissa gave him a sad look. “She was hit by a car shortly after. She never woke up.”
“She didn’t get to say goodbye or apologize,” Noah’s voice caught on a sob. He excused himself from the room, Melissa and Laura following behind speaking quietly.
Derek took a shaky breath. He didn’t understand why this was bugging him so much. Why his wolf was almost rabid in its desire to rip the woman apart for harming the boy. He didn’t know him. Maybe Cora would have known him, he was closer to her age after all. All he knew was that the silence was wrong. The stillness.
He brushed his fingers over the boy’s shorn head. The hair was still prickly, like it had just been cut. It tickled the palm of his hand and made him want to smile. He leaned close, trying to catch the scent from the house, but it was muted by the smell of chemicals and hospital. He leaned in even closer. So, close his nose bumped the edge of the pale throat as he chased the scent. Derek held the small hand as he breathed out against the sluggish pulse point and listened to the slow thump of his heart.
Derek closed his eyes, something in him narrowing down until all his senses were drilled in on the boy. His tongue flicked out to splay across the jumping pulse. “You have to come back,” he murmured faintly. “Your dad needs you. Melissa and her son need you. I need you. You can’t just stay hidden forever. It was scary and she was sick. She wouldn’t have done it otherwise. Come back, Mischief, wake up.”
He didn’t think about what he was saying. About what it could mean. He was half-ways zoned out himself, something he didn’t know could happen to Guides. But maybe this was less about him being an untrained Guide and more about him being a wolf. His wolf wanted the boy awake. It needed him to be awake. To be safe. When nothing happened, Derek licked the edge of his jaw once more without thinking about it. Nuzzling and mouthing were common in familial Packs. It didn’t mean the same thing to humans, and Derek was more wolf than human right then.
“Come back,” he breathed against the boy’s throat one last time.
Then he stood and left. His fingers trailing over Peter’s uninjured arm as he did.
He didn’t see the small hand curling shut or the single bleep on the heart monitor before it evened back out.
Jim Ellison was a hard ass. He always had been and, personally, he thought he always would be. Blair was probably the only person in the world who ever saw the Sentinel as anything other than the ex-military persona he wore like armor. But if there was ever a runner-up to Blair, it would be Noah Stilinski.
The two men greeted each other with hard hugs and back slaps. They’d known each other in the military. Not well and not for very long, but enough. When Jim had been made Alpha Sentinel of the West Coast, Noah had been one of the few people Jim had reached out to. Noah understood the pressure of such a position, especially considering that all Jim had ever wanted to be was a cop.
They had similar backgrounds- a crap family backstory, previous military and police work, but Noah was human and Jim was a Sentinel. His protective instincts and senses were dialed up to eleven. He’d been volatile in the military. ‘Surly, gruff, and taciturn’ were the nice words his commanders had used to describe him. ‘A pain in the ass with anger management and authority issues’ were the more common ones.
When Noah and Jim had met, it’d been the first time he thought he could actually relax around someone mundane. They became good friends and they stayed good friends. When Noah met Claudia, Jim was the first one to congratulate him and when Jim met Blair, Noah was right there while Jim had an existential crisis.
Jim was straight. Blair wasn’t.
But it didn’t matter in the least. Blair was Jim’s Guide and that was more important than one’s concept of sexuality. It wasn’t always. Jim had a previous Guide, but Incacha had always told him he was a temporary placement. He was Jim’s friend and, to some extent, his teacher. He could help Jim, but he was not the one Jim was looking for.
Blair wasn’t either. He was a 23-year old grad student from Washington with an unhealthy phobia about cutting his hair and an easy level-headedness that shouldn’t have been able to get under Jim’s skin. He figured he'd spend a few days being interviewed and experimented on and that’d be that. He hadn’t planned on falling for the guy. He hadn’t planned on bonding with him. But he had, on both accounts. Noah was the one he’d finally talked about it with.
‘You’re an idiot,’ Noah had said after listening to Jim freak out for over an hour. He’d taken a long swig of beer before tipping the lip towards Jim, his fingers curled around the neck of the bottle loosely. ‘It’s obvious to anyone with eyes you two care about each other. So, he’s a guy. Big deal. Slot A still goes in Hole B.’ He gave Jim a shit-eating grin. ‘It’s just a bit farther south than originally planned.’
Jim had called him an asshole and tossed a rolled-up napkin at his head.
‘Seriously though, does it matter? So, he’s a guy. He’s still your Guide. That’s the important thing, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah, but I don’t want a Guide, not again.’
‘Jim, you know that’s not how these things work. Sentinels need someone there to pull them back. To keep them from zoning out, or God forbid, going feral. You know what almost happened in Peru, do you really want to chance that again?’
Jim had scraped his hands down his face, thumping his head onto the wooden table they had been sitting around. ‘No,’ he’d mumbled.
‘Then man-up and go talk to the guy. Blair’s one of the good ones, Jim. He’ll understand your reservations and he’ll work with you on them.’
Jim had tilted his head to look at his friend. ‘When did you get so smart?’
Noah had raised his ring finger, the light glinting off the gold ring. ‘When I married Claudia. Anything intelligent I say is probably a direct quote from that woman, she’s smarter than all of us.’
Jim had just snorted. ‘Most women are.’
Jim had followed Noah’s advice. It’d been hard at first and he wouldn’t lie, some days it was still hard. But the one thing he never regretted was taking the chance. Blair was the best thing that had ever happened to him. It was depressing as all hell that Claudia had been both the best and worst for Noah.
“How are you doing?” Jim asked.
Noah shrugged. “He’s still alive, but other than that…”
Jim’s lips thinned. He and Blair were Mischief’s un-official God-fathers. It had killed them to see him so small and damaged in the hospital room. To see Claudia’s fingerprints on the boy’s throat. Jim shoved back the growl he wanted to unleash at the memory.
“So, where are they?”
“Upstairs in Mischief’s room. Come on out back, we should talk before you meet them.”
The three men swung through the living room and out onto the back porch. “We’ve got a few things I need to tell you about before you meet them.”
“Oh?” Blair said, sitting on the railing.
“Eleven people died last night. Eight of them were werewolves. Peter, he’s Derek and Laura’s uncle, survived, but he’s badly burned and in a coma. He’s actually sharing Mischief’s room at the hospital.”
“Jesus,” Jim said, his hand automatically curling around the back of Blair’s neck when the Guide’s face drained of color.
“The fire was started by Kate Argent and at least three others. We found foot prints for them, but don’t have names yet. Derek told us that Argent started substitute teaching at the high school about two months ago under an assumed name. He’d recently lost his girlfriend (she awoke as a Guide and then found her Sentinel and left the area). Argent used her position and his emotional distress to come on to him. She molested him, but luckily never had penetrative sex.”
“Fuck,” Blair breathed out, his eyes wet with emotion. “How old...?”
“Derek’s 16. Argent is 28.”
Blair felt bile rise in his throat.
“The Hales were known werewolves within the community. Their family founded the town and they’ve all been exceptionally involved in community works. The entire town is reeling from this attack, but my main concern is Derek.”
“He came online because of the attack,” Blair said, eyes dark. “Eleven broken Pack bonds all at once.”
“And the knowledge that he’d been manipulated by the perpetrator, exactly.” Noah sighed, glancing up into the blue sky. It’d been a long night. He’d been woken up several times by Derek or Laura crying and thrashing as they woke from one nightmare after another. They’d finally fallen asleep around dawn, which meant Noah was running on fumes.
“There’s another thing,” he said, slumping back against one of the support beams.
Jim raised an eyebrow at the tone while Blair leaned forward eagerly.
“You think you found his Sentinel?!”
Jim glanced down at Blair, startled. “How did you come to that conclusion?”
Blair waved a breezy hand towards Noah. “He’s both tense and a little excited, but mostly just nervous. Cautious optimism, which he didn’t have yesterday when he called.”
Jim turned at Noah’s snort.
“I should have guessed you’d figure it out and yes, I think I know who his Sentinel is, but that’s where things become tricky.”
Jim’s eyes widened. “Holy shit, you think its Mitch!”
Noah nodded slowly; his lips turned down in a grimace. “When I brought them over last night, Derek felt the left-over emotions from the attack. He dropped into a panic attack that brought his wolf out. His eyes are blue.”
“Guilt,” Blair said without a doubt.
Noah smiled, “I think so too. But that’s not the most important part. On a hunch, I grabbed Mischief’s weighted blanket and draped it over him. It brought him out of the attack in seconds.”
Jim whistled lowly. “Guides don’t normally have zoning issues.”
“But wolves do,” Blair said, sitting up straight.
“Laura asked him what was so special about the blanket and he described how it smelled. Laura said she couldn’t smell what he was. Later, she told me that some wolves have mates. Individuals who appeal to the wolf and the human. It’s half biology and half magic. She said her parents were mates, but her uncle and his wife weren’t. It’s not a guarantee or anything.”
“How do they know?”
“Typically, by smell. Laura said supposedly the smell grabs you and doesn’t let you go. That the wolf inside wants to rub itself in the smell until the two smell like each other. Like Pack.” He grimaced a bit at the image, but continued.
“It’s rare for it to happen so young and she’s still not sure if that’s what this is, but Derek was overly aggressive at the idea of Claudia hurting Mischief. His eyes and fangs shifted in front of Melissa and he also scent marked Mischief, which Laura was amazed at, because he didn’t know him and he wouldn’t let Melissa even touch him.”
“So, she thinks they’re mates?” Blair questioned.
“Possibly. If they are, Derek hasn’t realized it yet.”
“Is that even possible in Mitch’s condition or his age?”
Noah shrugged. “I haven’t the slightest idea. Laura said if it did happen this young, it wouldn’t manifest as anything beyond an incredibly close bond until Mischief was old enough to reciprocate.”
“But he’s a Sentinel and Derek’s a Guide. Shit, yeah, this could be incredibly intense and complicated for them with both sets of instincts pushing them together.” Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. “Have you spoken to her about us?”
“I spoke to both of them, but yes, I spoke to Laura about my other concerns.”
Blair looked up at Jim. “They’re going to have to come with us. I can teach Derek and you and Laura can ground him.”
“And what if Mitch never wakes up? Derek will never be fully complete without his mate, even if Guides can handle being separated better.”
“Do we have a choice?” Blair asked quietly.
Jim and Noah already knew the answer, but whether they could convince a teenage werewolf was a different matter.
“I want to see Mischief before we leave,” Derek said stubbornly. He crossed his arms over his chest, the blanket clutched like a lifeline.
“Der, we talked about this, it’s not a good idea,” Laura tried to sooth.
Derek glared at the three men and his Alpha. “No, you talked at me. I never agreed. Maybe I could help him, you don’t know. Blair said Guides can bring back their Sentinels when they zone out and a coma is just a really deep zone, so maybe I could…”
“Son,” Noah said gently, his face and scent dripped with anguish. “I appreciate your wanting to help, but you already said you tried that first night. Melissa said there’s been no change…”
“Derek!” Laura Alpha voiced him, her eyes red as she wrapped him in a stiff hug. “That’s enough, Der-bear. You just went online. Maybe after you train with Blair, then you can try again, but we can’t stay here, not with the Hunters still loose.”
She cupped his cheek with her hand, her voice solemn. “We have to go. You can come back and try again, but we can’t stay here right now. It’s not safe.”
“What about Uncle Peter?”
Noah clasped his shoulder. “I’ll keep an eye on them both. If anything changes, you’ll be my first call.”
“Promise?” Derek asked brokenly, his stomach dropping. This was it. It was really happening. He didn’t want it to happen.
“Come on,” Blair said gently. “We need to get moving if we’re going to make it to Washington tonight.”
“If Mischief wakes up?”
“You’ll be on the next plane, I swear,” Noah said, pressing him into the back seat of the rental firmly.
Derek couldn’t say anything else. His wolf was trying to claw its way out of his chest and his throat was tight. He could feel the sympathy in the vehicle trying to smother him.
He wrapped the blanket tight around his head and shoulders and breathed in the comforting scent of mulled cider and rain.
He had a feeling he’d need it more than ever in the coming months.
-Six years later-
Peter woke in small fits and starts. His first thought was panic, quickly followed by pain, but not the searing, burning pain he’d felt while his body was practically melting during the fire. No, this was the dull, achy pain of too-tight skin and a body that hadn’t moved in much too long. He stared at the off-white panel ceiling for long minutes while his nose and hearing catalogued the room he was in.
Hospital. Long term care ward. He could tell from the steady sounds of monitors and soft, faint footfalls of the staff as they moved throughout the floor. If he pushed it, he could hear the more chaotic sounds of the regular hospital across the quad. He grimaced. He hated hospitals on a good day, but it was becoming obvious that he hadn’t had a good day in a long time.
He turned his head to see another person in a similarly sterile bed a few feet away. He looked young. A teenager maybe. Emaciated with little to no muscle tone and the palest skin Peter had ever seen. He didn’t have a breathing tube nor did he have any obvious injuries. If Peter didn’t know any better, he’d say the boy was asleep. But his heartbeat was too slow, too steady for it to be anything other than a coma.
The weird part was the teen’s scent. It was muted, but it still held the faintest hint of Pack. And not Peter’s. It smelled like Derek and a little like Laura and others, not wolves, but still powerful. Peter didn’t understand it at all.
He slowly slid his feet out of the bed, grimacing at the sharp edge of icy cold from the tiles as he placed his bare feet on the floor. It took a disturbingly long time for him to be able to both stand and walk without falling or throwing up, which was completely at odds with how a wolf should feel.
He cocked his head towards the door. A nurse moved towards the end of the hall. He glanced at the bed, moving closer when his wolf urged him too. He placed a tentative hand on the boy’s arm, sucking in a sharp breath at the thrum of power under his fingers. The boy wasn’t just some coma patient. He was a Sentinel and he smelled like Derek.
“Who are you, Little Alpha?” Peter murmured softly. “And where is my Pack?”
The teen didn’t move or respond in anyway Peter could see, but he felt a brush along his wolf’s spine as if the animal was as real as Peter was. Peter leaned in close.
“Are you in there, little one?” he asked.
The brush came again, fainter this time, almost negligible, but Peter had felt it and he knew what it meant.
He squeezed the boy’s hand, before he headed for the door. He needed his Pack here, now. He didn’t expect Derek to be able to figure out what had happened to the boy, but Talia should have understood. The Sentinels should have understood. Who the hell had left the poor child trapped in his own mind like this?
Peter stared at the tv over the Nurses’ desk with horror-filled eyes. The date was displayed in the corner.
A date six years later than the last day he’d been awake.
“What?” Peter said dumbly.
“Who are…Peter?!” a voice asked.
Peter glanced at the man standing behind and to the left of him. He was in a police uniform. ‘Sheriff’ etched across the shiny gold badge. Military short ash blond hair and icy blue eyes stared at him in something akin to shock.
Peter took a deep breath, his attention zeroing in on the man sharply when he realized why it smelled familiar.
“He’s your son,” he said, voice cracked and slightly gravelly from disuse. He really wanted a toothbrush.
The Sheriff frowned.
“The boy in my room,” Peter explained. “He’s your son.”
The man stood straighter. “Yes, he is.”
“Where is my sister? My Pack?” Peter demanded.
The Sheriff’s face smoothed over making Peter take a step back. “No,” he whispered. “No, they can’t be.”
“Mr. Hale…Peter, please calm down. Come back to the room with me and I’ll explain everything that’s happened.”
“I have an Alpha,” Peter said harshly, eyes flashing a brilliant electric blue. “I can feel her.”
The man nodded. “You do, but it’s not Talia. I’m sorry, but she and most of the others didn’t survive the fire.”
“Then who?” Peter demanded.
“Laura. She and Derek survived. They’re out of the area right now, but I can call them as soon as we get back to the room, please, Peter.”
“Who are you to us?”
“Noah Stilinski. I was the first on the scene back then. Took Laura and Derek in…Derek, he went online that night. It was a hell of a mess.”
Peter froze at the threshold of his room. “Derek went online?”
“A…” Peter’s eyes went to the boy in the bed. “Your son is a Sentinel. Derek is a Guide. Oh God,” Peter spun fast enough to cause Noah to stumble back against the wall. “You need to get him here now, right now!”
“Peter, calm down!” Noah commanded, hands coming up to grip the wolf’s shoulders. “Calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”
“Derek is a Guide.”
“He’s your son’s Guide.”
Noah pursed his lips. “Yes, we believe so.”
“The son who’s been locked inside his own mind for however long he’s been here.”
Noah went shock white. “What?”
“I can feel him. He touched my wolf. His spirit. Only very strong Sentinels can spirit walk into a stranger’s plane. I felt him. Derek has to get here now! Only the Guide can pull him out!” He grew agitated at the stupidity of everyone in the hospital. At Laura and Derek. At this human lawman who had no idea what had happened and was now trying to deal with the aftermath.
“Shit. Shit. Shit!” Noah exploded. He yanked his phone out, dialing as he paced the room, anger and fear and cautious hope pouring off him.
Peter went to the boy’s side; his mind was still reeling over the loss of six years of his life. Samantha -his beautiful wife - Malia and Jackson - his manipulative little ankle-bitter twins that made him smile with paternalistic pride. Had they all perished? A wave of comfort slid down his spine as he held the Sentinels’ hand. The heart monitor never wavered.
“Are you certain, Peter?” Noah asked, naked hope and fear waring on his face.
“Yes. He’s there. I can feel him.”
“Derek and Laura have been here every few months. He never stirs. Not so much as a blip.”
“He’s deep. He probably doesn’t know how to get home. How long has he been like this?”
Peter’s head snapped around to look at Noah sharply.
“Just before the fire, my wife… she was sick. She attacked him. He almost died.”
“He went online.”
“Yes. Less than a week later Derek went online. When I took him home, he felt the attack. Only Mischief’s scent calmed him. He saw him here for the first time when I brought them to see you.”
“Where are they?”
“Washington State. It wasn’t safe then. The Argent’s had gone to ground and we weren’t sure if they’d try again. With Derek being a werewolf, we couldn’t risk him in the STP in San Francisco. I called in a favor.”
“Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg.”
Peter’s mouth dropped open. “The Alpha Sentinel and Guide?”
“Yeah. They’re friends. They took Derek and Laura back up to Cascade. Blair’s been working with Derek as his successor. Laura went into the police force with Jim. She’s dating a cop up there that’s also a supe. Hellhound by the name of Jordan Parrish. They’re good together.”
“Comes back every two or three months to try again with Mischief. He’s convinced he’s not only his Sentinel, but his…”
“Mate,” Peter whispered faintly, sitting down heavily on his bed. “He’s his mate and his Sentinel.”
“He thinks so, yes.”
“Six years. He’s 22 now and Laura’s 25?”
“Twenty-six. It’s June. Here. “ Noah slid open his gallery and brought up the pictures Derek had sent from Laura’s party.
Peter thumbed through the photos in a daze. Laura looked older; her features sharper. There was a young man behind her with blond hair and too-old eyes that held the flicker of candle flames. Beside them was…
“Is that Derek?”
“Yes, he’s changed a lot, especially this last year.”
“He’s huge. And that beard…” Peter snorted fondly, tears stinging his eyes. “He looks like Sam, but his eyes are all Talia.”
“He’s a good kid.”
Peter glanced up at the tone. “You don’t have a problem with us, do you?”
“Laura and Derek are family. If he and Mischief ever do bond or mate, or whatever, he will be family legally. I adopted all you Hales years ago. You just need to come to terms with it.” Noah gave him a smile, his hand clasped on Peter’s shoulder.
“Why do you call him Mischief?”
Noah gave a long-suffering sigh. “His legal name is Mieczyslaw Genim Stilinski. It was his mother’s idea.”
Peter bit his lip to keep from laughing. “Oh dear, that poor child.”
Noah shook his head, smiling in memory. “He had a little lisp when he was really young and couldn’t pronounce it at all. Closest he got was Mischief and it just sort of stuck.”
“How old was he when it happened?”
“Nine. He turned 16 in this damn bed. He’s missed out on his entire childhood. Even if he wakes up, he’ll still be that 9-year-old who wanted to be Batman when he grew up. I almost don’t want Derek to be here for that reason alone.”
Peter grimaced. “It’ll be hard, Noah, but Hales are stubborn and resilient. We’ll do everything we can to help him.”
Noah gave a sharp, bitter bark of laughter. “You have no idea what stubborn is, Peter.” He reached out and squeezed his son’s hand. “No idea at all.”
The room was overly crowded. Derek had to be physically restrained by Laura and Jordan so Jim and Blair could enter first.
Doctors and Nurses, Ms. McCall included, were hovering around Peter’s bed annoying the hell out of his uncle if the growling and flashing eyes were any indicator.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Blair said sharply, clapping his hands together.
One of the doctors, a bald, black-man named Dr. Deaton, which Derek had never liked, turned narrowed eyes towards them.
“Visiting hours are over, you’ll have to leave.”
“We’re the Alpha Sentinel pair of the Western US and Mr. Hales' legal guardian, we’re not going anywhere. You, on the other hand, have overstayed your welcome. Nurse McCall can stay, but the rest of you need to leave. Now.”
“Nurse McCall!” Deaton sputtered indignantly.
“Is a family friend and has been here since the beginning. She can stay.” Blair rarely raised his voice. He didn’t have to. He slid into Alpha Guide voice and the staff scattered. It was sort of funny, the man wasn’t even a wolf. But then again, his spirit animal was, so maybe in a way, he was closer to being a were than a human.
“Uncle Peter!” Laura said, rushing into the room with Derek hard on her heels.
Parrish slipped in behind them, closing the door to keep prying eyes from intruding.
“Laura,” Peter choked out, hugging her close.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up!” she sobbed, her face buried in his throat.
“It’s okay. I understand.” He glanced up into a stranger’s face. But one that he still knew. “Derek.”
Derek’s eyes flooded with tears. A few years ago, he would have been right there beside Laura on the bed. But he was harder now, wearier. He was also a lot bigger. He stepped up beside the pair and reached down to give Peter a firm sideways hug, scenting the top of his head with a stubbled chin.
“You look so much like your father,” Peter choked out, looking his nephew up and down. Derek had grown at least four inches in height and gained about fifty pounds in what appeared to be pure muscle. His shoulders were wide with massive arms and thighs and a thick chest tapering to a cut v. When Mischief did wake up and become aware of how people looked, Peter had no doubt he’d like what he saw. Speaking of… he glanced to Blair and Jim.
“Why in the world is Mieczyslaw still locked in his own head?!” he snarled.
Laura, Derek, and Jordan all frowned at the name. Jim and Blair flinched.
“You check the boy and tell me I’m wrong. I can feel him. He’s awake in there.” Peter cut the Guide off angrily, pointing at the still form.
Blair huffed as he crossed to the bed. He placed his palm flat on the boy’s chest and closed his eyes. His outline flickered as his wolf rose. He gave a choked off exclamation, his eyes flying open. “Jim, get over here!” he hissed.
Jim stepped up behind him, his hands coming up to rest on Blair’s shoulders. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as his panther rose. The reaction was almost immediate. He snarled, eyes flashing dangerously and spun to the wolves.
“He’s awake and he’s bonded!”
“Wait, what?” Derek choaked out, blood draining from his face.
“Bonded. What the hell did you do when you came here, Derek?”
“Not that!” Derek said defensively. “I never touched him like that.” He turned to Noah, a man he considered his second father. “Sir, I would never –!“
Noah cut him off with a sharp hand gesture. “I know son, I don’t think that’s what Jim is implying, are you?” He gave the Sentinel a hard glare.
“No, of course not, but he’s almost fully bonded, so I need to know exactly what you have done,” Jim said carefully.
“The same thing I did to Uncle Peter. I scent marked him. Talked to him. I…I hold his hand. I tell him it’s time to wake up. To come home.”
“Have you ever kissed him?” Blair said sharply, eyes widening in thought.
“’Sort of’?” Jim raised one disapproving laden eyebrow at him, making Derek squirm.
“On the temple or his forehead. Not the mouth.”
Laura stifled a sharp in-take of breath, seeing where Blair was taking this. “Did you lick him?” she asked softly. At Noah’s strangled exclamation she held her hands out placatingly. “It’s a wolf thing. Mouthing and licking. We do it when a Pack member is injured. It’s not sexual in nature. Derek, did you lick him?”
“Fuck,” he groaned, ears beet red in mortification. “Yes, okay, yes, I fucking licked him. Are you happy now!?” He flung up his arms before scrubbing them through his hair.
“Hearing, touch, sight, smell…”
“And taste,” Jim finished Blair’s thought, understanding flooding him. “Did you call to him like a Guide would?”
“I always do,” Derek said defensively.
“And you never once felt him?” Blair pressed.
“I don’t know. He’s always felt different to me. I could feel him that first night. But it was always muted. Like there was a wall keeping us apart.”
“Did you do all this that first night?” Blair asked.
“When you spoke to him, what did you say?”
“To come home. That Noah needed him. That Melissa needed him.”
“That you needed him?” Noah asked gently.
“Yes,” Derek breathed out, finally settling beside Mischief on the bed. He picked up the hand without the IV in it and brought it to his mouth, absently rubbing the knuckles along his jaw.
“What else?” Jim asked.
“What do you mean?”
“What else did you talk about?”
“Everything. I tell him about what’s been going on. What we’ve been up to. Sometimes I read to him.”
“Was this where you disappeared to when we Hunted the Argents?” Jim questioned carefully.
Derek’s face closed off completely. He nibbled Mischief’s knuckles absently, his wolf prowling close to the surface. Laura and Peter doubted that Derek even realized his eyes were blue or that he’d shifted to a more defensive position between the others and the teen.
“You found them Insufferable and told me I couldn’t be a part of it. So, I left. I wasn’t sure if some other Hunters would retaliate by coming here.”
“So, you did.”
Derek shrugged. “I wanted to be sure they were safe.”
“Derek, son,” Noah started. “Did you ever tell him what you were? What we all think you are to each other?”
Derek looked startled for a minute. “I told him he was my Sentinel. That I was his Guide. That Laura and Uncle Peter and I were wolves.”
Derek glanced down at the silent form beside him. His wolf was clawing at his chest. He brushed a lock of hair out of Mischief’s face and felt a soft, gentle warmth settle on his shoulders, just like the weighted blanket he’d taken all those years ago.
“I told him he was my mate. That I was his. He just needed to find me. To come home.” His voice held a subtle layer of awe as he bent close enough to press their foreheads together, one hand on his chest, the other still clutching Mischief’s hand against his jaw.
“You heard me, didn’t you?” he asked softly, turning his focus inward like Blair had taught him. Looking for the connection between the two of them. A sliver of red caught his attention. He focused on it, letting it draw him in deeper.
“You’re here, aren’t you? You’ve been here since the beginning.”
His eyes slid to a faded blue. Like a worn denim as he slid even farther down the pathway linking their minds.
Laura made an abortive sound as he slipped farther than he had ever tried to go before. Jordan wrapped an arm around her shoulder to keep her still.
Blair’s hand hovered over Derek’s on Mischief’s chest. Not touching, but close.
“Go deeper,” he said softly. “Follow the path. Until you find him.”
“Chief,” Jim warned quietly.
Blair shot him a look. “He’s here, Jim. I can feel him now, can’t you? I couldn’t, not until Derek touched him and then there was this pressure in my head.”
“I didn’t think that was him,” Jim said.
“It is. It’s…can’t you hear it? Feel it? I swear, Jim, I can hear Mitch’s voice.”
Jim ran a soothing hand down Blair's spine. “Okay, Chief, I believe you, but what does this mean? Is he trapped in the Spirit Plane?”
Blair shook his head, “I don’t know. Maybe?”
He turned back to Derek. The bed was too small for two, but Derek didn’t seem to care. He was curled protectively around Mitch’s thin body, the boy turned onto his side slightly within Derek’s hold. Derek’s breathing was slowing to match Mitch’s. His heartbeat too. Blair could feel him sinking further into the bond between Sentinel and Guide and wondered if the connection was deeper, stronger, because of the mate bond.
He doubted even he and Jim could go as deep as Derek was going. Right before he slid too far for Blair to trace the Alpha Guide leaned close.
“You have to bring him back, Derek. Bring both of you back to us.”
Derek recognized the room he was in. It was the same one he’d stayed in the night of the fire. The same one he always stayed in when he was home. Mischief’s room.
The bed still had Batman sheets. The walls still had superhero posters. But the books had changed. Derek recognized titles he’d read to Mischief over the years. They had cracked spines and folded pages where he’d stopped when he’d been forced to leave. There was a partially played chess game on the desk and a game of solitaire he’d finished spread out across the floor.
One wall had a bulletin board with scribbled notes in a messy hand. The writing half-cursive and half-print. His comments on the case of the fire over the years. One name stood out. The font black and thick like a Sharpe had been used. It was scratched through, underlined three times and circled like a crazy person had written it.
A red sticky note with a gleeful face was slapped on top with the word ‘DEAD’ written in capitals on it. Pictures without images littered the surface, connected by different colored threads. Red, green, yellow, blue.
‘Blue’s just pretty,’ a voice said from behind him.
His breath hitched. He knew who it was without turning.
‘Everything you ever told me. I made my own intuitive leaps of course, but mostly, this is you.’
‘Mischief,’ he whispered brokenly as cool hands slid over his shoulders, pressing deeply into the muscle of his chest over his heart. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t…’
‘Hey, no, come on Big Guy, don’t think like that. I tried to get out. You tried to get me out. It’s neither one of our faults I couldn’t find the pathway.’
‘But you were stuck here,’ Derek whined, turning in his hold until he was face-to-face with the young man he’d watched silently grow up in a hospital bed.
‘I was, but you kept me sane. You read to me,’ he waved at the bookshelf. ‘Played games, talked to me, kept my mind active. I might not have lived in the world the past few years, but don’t think I haven’t experienced it.’
He stepped closer, burrowing into Derek’s warmth, hugging him for all he was worth. ‘I know who you are, Derek Hale,” he breathed across Derek’s throat. ‘I know you. Your mind. Your heart. Your soul has kept me safe all these years. I also know myself. I know the depths of my anger. My hatred and remorse. I know fear and pain, hope and humor.’
He licked hotly across Derek’s Adam’s Apple. ‘I know love and lust.’
Derek shuddered at the sensation. ‘You’ve never been out of this room,’ he groaned, trying to reign himself in. ‘What you think you know, that’s all me, but there are others - people, things, places. There’s so much out there for you.’
Mischief looked up into jade eyes and gave Derek an unimpressed look. ‘Are you seriously trying to talk me out of being with you? My Guide and my mate? Seriously?’ he asked flatly.
Derek blinked, ‘I, uh, maybe?’
Mieczyslaw snorted inelegantly. ‘You’re an idiot and I’m not looking for anyone else. I know I came online young, and that I’ve been stuck in here while you’ve been out there, but dude, I don’t think you realize how much historical romance and true-crime you read. I have had a ton of ‘experiences’ thanks. Although I would prefer to try some of them out in the physical world. Preferably lots of times and in lots of different positions.’
He leered at Derek, making the older man blush furiously and bury his face in his shoulder. ‘Oh my God,’ Derek groused. ‘I’ve created a monster, haven’t I?”
The teen went tense in Derek’s arms and it took several long seconds before he figured out what he’d said. ‘Shit, no, Mischief, I didn’t mean that,’ he said sharply, hands cupping the boy’s face. Thumbs ghosting over sharp cheek bones. ‘I didn’t mean you were a monster. You’re not. I know you aren’t.’
‘How?’ he asked quietly. ‘Mom thought I was. I was so terrible she strangled me to death.’ The marks stood out in lurid color on the pale skin. Fingertip bruises made real again simply with the power of the boy’s belief.
‘I only survived because I came online. I should be dead.’
‘You’d leave me?’ Derek asked on a broken whimper. Mischief’s eyes snapped to his, the color a clear whiskey Derek had never really seen. They were darker in the hospital and faded in an unfocused way.
‘If you’d died that night, I’d have been alone when I came online. I wouldn’t have spent the last six years knowing that you were right there, waiting for me to figure out how to wake you up. I’d have been alone with her searching for me. All those nights I sat with you and poured out my fears and hopes. The nights I couldn’t take all the emotions any more and broke down beside you in bed. When Gerard came after me five years ago in Milwaukee, when Victoria had Blair and I trapped in Atlanta two years ago, when Noah finally tracked down Kate and Christopher last year and Jim and Blair finally ended it all, if you weren’t here, do you really think I would have made it?’
Silent tears rolled fat and hot down Mitch’s cheeks. He’d spent most of his life in the silence of his own mind with only the faintest whispers from others. But Derek’s voice had always been clear. It had drawn him up through the layers of despair and pain, of guilt and fear, and left him hovering on the edge of consciousness. Every time he visited it got a little easier for him to surface. He stayed aware a little longer until he sunk back down into the darkness and silence.
He'd once considered this room his prison. Locked in his own mind with dark memories. Then Derek would come and new books would appear. New information. New games and ideas and awareness. The last time Derek had left, he hadn’t faded completely. He’d been able to feel more. Sense more. He wasn’t ‘awake,’ but he was ‘online’. He had felt his father. Melissa. He’d felt Peter and the doctors and nurses and he hadn’t faded.
He was himself and Derek was the one who had brought him back.
Derek was right, he couldn’t leave him. No matter how much what his mother had said hurt, it was nothing compared to never seeing Derek again. Never feeling the connection they had.
‘Kiss me,’ he breathed across Derek’s lips. He leaned forward, letting Derek take his weight, knowing without a doubt the wolf would do it.
‘Kiss. Me.’ Mieczyslaw said, smiling.
‘Because I’m ready. I want to go home, but I want this first. A moment that’s just us in this room that you helped me build. You have no idea what you’ve done for me. Kept me safe. Kept me sane. In this world and out there in the other one.’
‘Mischief,’ Derek groaned, pulling him impossibly close. ‘We can’t.’
‘We can. We should. We will,’ Mieczyslaw countered. ‘Sentinel, Guide, Mate. We are everything. There is no Mieczyslaw without Derek. No Derek without Mieczyslaw.’
He pressed his lips to Derek’s - the kiss chaste. A form of tenderness Derek had never experienced. Never even thought to look for. He’d stopped looking for it in anyone but the teen in his arms. It was hard to imagine looking for something fleeting when you knew forever was waiting.
Derek groaned lowly, tilting Mischief’s head to get a better angle. He deepened the kiss just enough to ignite both of their bodies and poured his feelings down Mischief’s throat when the teen gasped. The kiss was perfect and timeless and much too short for either of them, but Derek knew they needed to stop and Mischief knew they needed to leave. But they’d had this one, perfect moment, just the two of them.
‘I need you to bite me,’ Mischief whispered as he nuzzled against Derek’s jaw, tracing the edge of stubble with his nose and lips.
Derek jerked hard at the implication. ‘It’s too soon.’
‘I need the tie to get out of here. I can’t follow it back all the way by myself. You started the bond six years ago. I need to finish it.’
Derek looked down into whiskey eyes blown wide with emotion and lust. ‘Then you bite me,’ he said. ‘Finish the bond. Claim me, like I claimed you.’
Mieczyslaw’s eyes went comically wide. ‘Are you serious?’
‘Sentinels and Guides bond with five senses and complete it with sex. Wolves bond through the bite. We aren’t ready for sex. I know this, you know this, even if we both want it.’ He gave Mischief a crooked smile to soften the refusal. ‘But I know I’m yours. I have always been yours and I always will be. So, claim me as a wolf. Put your mark on my soul and when we’re ready, I want you to put it on my flesh.’
‘Both of us,’ he said breathlessly. ‘I know I’m yours. That’s not going to change. I think you’re right, about the sex thing. I’m not nine anymore, but I’m not sure I’m ready for the other stuff either. But this…’ he smoothed a hand over Derek’s heart, his eyes shining. ‘Our souls have been bound together for six years. I want this and you.’
Derek should say no. he should insist that only Mischief bite, so that the teen had the choice later in life, but he heard the truth in the teen’s words. There was no way to lie in this place. These weren’t their bodies after all. They stood before each other as souls stripped bare by any and all human avarice.
Derek said yes.
He cradled Mieczyslaw’s skull in his hands, baring his throat and leading the boy to the juncture of neck and shoulder. A soft pink tongue lapped across the vein, tasting salt, and sweat and the rich earthiness of pine and dry parchment paper. Mischief kissed Derek tenderly right before his teeth, sharpened to a razor’s edge by his will alone, sliced through the skin.
Derek roared as he felt the bond snap tight. Mieczyslaw slowly unhinged his jaw, his teeth sliding out and tongue laving the torn flesh until white scars glistened under his tongue. As soon as he shifted backwards, Derek pounced, pinning the boy against the wall. Mieczyslaw tipped his head to the side, his eyes glowing a gold so bright it looked like molten metal swirling around. Derek’s eyes flashed as he slid into Beta shift. Mischief’s breath hitched as he traced a long finger over the changes.
‘Dude,’ he whispered over breathless laughter. ‘Where did your eyebrows go?’
Derek snorted and rolled his eyes. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked.
Mitch gave him a soft peck against his lips and fangs before resuming his position. ‘Bite me, Mate,’ he commanded.
Derek was helpless to resist. He latched on to the tendon with a ferocity that should have terrified the both of them, but Mieczyslaw could actually see the wolf overlaying the man and they were both beautiful to him. More, they were a part of him, he’d known that since he was a child and he knew it now on the cusp of manhood.
He’d been right. There was no Mieczyslaw without Derek.
Now they just had to go home and prove it to the world.
Derek woke in one sharp stab of clarity. Mieczyslaw woke choking on Derek’s shirt.
The werewolf scrambled to untangle them enough to help the teen sit up while Melissa checked his vitals and Noah helped him take a long drink.
“Ow,” he said when Noah hugged him too tightly. “Ah man, I feel like crap.”
“Language,” Noah said automatically, ignoring his son’s rolled eyes.
“It worked,” Derek breathed against his temple.
“It worked, Big Guy, and oh, wow, I really need to pee.”
“No you don’t,” Melissa said lightly.
“Cath…oh, ew. Come on, Momma McCall, can’t you get that out of me?”
Melissa stopped dead, her eyes filling up with tears. “You haven’t called me that for a long time, Mischief.”
Mieczyslaw ducked his head under Derek’s chin. He gave her a shy smile. “I know.”
“You’re going to be okay, now. No more scaring us like that, okay?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he swore dutifully.
Throats clearing broke up the little moment. Mieczyslaw looked up and barked out a laugh. “Oh, man, you guys got old!” he cackled.
Jim smacked his foot beneath the covers while Blair rolled suspiciously wet eyes. “How are you doing, kid?” The Sentinel asked.
“Okay. Weak and weirdly tired and hungry, but okay. Will I have to stay here much longer?”
“I think you and Peter are stuck here for a little longer,” Noah said. “The doctors are going to run a bunch of tests and then you’ll need physical therapy for a while until you are able to walk around on your own.”
Mischief looked from his dad to Derek and then to Peter. “You're going to hang out with me, Uncle P?”
Peter gave the boy a warm smile. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Awesome,” he breathed, then frowned.
“What is it?” Derek asked, feeling his mate zone in on Peter.
“Uncle P, can you come here?” he asked seriously.
Peter stood a little wobbly, but made it to the bed without incident. Mischief waved him down so he could get a good smell off Peter before he sat back.
“What is it?” Derek repeated.
“I’ve smelled that before. Or felt it. It’s a bit of a jumble.”
“What do you mean?” Jim asked.
“When I was locked in, I could sometimes sense things around me. In the room, on the floor, things like that. Sometimes I picked stuff up off people, like Scott’s scent off Mamma McCall.” He gave her a grin. “He’s got the hots for a kitsune in his class or that he hangs out with a lot. And did you finally let him get a pet or is he volunteering at the shelter again?”
Melissa giggled. “Both. He’s dating a girl named Kira and her family are kitsunes and he’s been working two days a week at the animal shelter. He wants to be a vet.”
“That’s awesome,” he said brightly.
“What has this got to do with Peter, Mitch?” Jim asked, bringing the teen back on topic.
“I’ve smelled his scent before. There was someone, a male, who had Peter’s scent on him.”
Melissa and Noah frowned. “We don’t have any male nurses on this floor. It could be a doctor…”
“No, it wasn’t. This man had a faint scent of Peter, like it was muted. But he also smelled of two women, blood and horses.” His voice went whisper soft. “It was a lot of blood and sadness.”
Noah stood up. “The Tates,” he said sharply. “Henry came in about three, maybe four weeks ago, his wife and youngest daughter had been in a riding accident. They made it, but it was touch and go for a while.”
“Didn’t they adopt a girl a few years ago? She’d be about ten or eleven?”
Peter’s eyes lit up. “You think it’s Malia?”
Stiles blinked, “Who?”
“My daughter, Malia. She and Jackson would be ten now. They were four when the fire happened.”
“A girl and a boy,” Mischief muttered, eyes going slightly out-of-focus. Derek placed a hand on his cheek to keep him grounded. His ears twitched, nostrils flaring. “Wolfsbane, metal, gas. Strong cologne, anger, arguing. Secrets, secrets, secrets.”
Derek slid along their bond, a subsonic rumble of sound reverberating through his chest. Laura and Peter eyed him concerned.
“Dr. Deaton lied,” he said suddenly, eyes hard. “There was no car crash. He brokered a deal with Hunters. Something Spanish. I never took Spanish.” He glanced up at Derek. “You need to teach me Spanish. I speak Polish, it’s not as helpful as you might think.”
“Spanish?” Laura muttered. “Oh Shit! The Calaverases! They’ve worked with the Argents before.”
“Car crash, oh! Oh no, that poor boy. I remember him.” Melissa glanced at Noah. “Remember three, no, two years ago? That car crash over in Sageville; the rolled car that burst into flames? EMTs pulled a little boy out.”
Noah grimaced. “And he was immediately placed with the Whittemores. Yeah, I remember. David made a big stink about Child Protective Services getting involved. Produced adoption paperwork and everything.”
“You think the boy might be Jackson?”
Noah glanced at Peter; his jaw tight. “Yes, I really do. He looks a hell of lot like you and the Tate girl looks like Samantha. Damn it, I should have put those together before now.”
“Why don’t we go speak to the families ourselves?” Laura said darkly, nodding at the anger she saw flashing in Jordan’s eyes; he had a special hatred for people messing with kids. “I’ll know if they’re my niece and nephew of not.”
“They hadn’t presented yet,” Peter said brokenly. “Wolves don’t normally present until they’re at least six.”
Laura hugged Peter tightly. “I’ll know,” she told him.
“Jim and I will come with,” Blair said, standing. “You might need someone with a bit of legality behind you considering the two of you aren’t even in the right state, let alone district.”
Noah clasped his son on the shoulder. “I’ll need to go in and make this official and Melissa needs to get back to work. You and Derek going to be okay while we’re gone?”
“Yeah, sure. But can I get this thing out of me first? Now that I know it’s there it’s really, really uncomfortable and embarrassing.”
Melissa shook her head, laughing. “Okay, Mischief, let’s see if we can’t get you into the bathroom.”
Derek didn’t even let him try to stand, he just slipped out of the bed and picked him up princess-style, ignoring the indignant squawk as he effortlessly crossed the room and deposited him on the toilet. Then he kissed him and left.
“That is both very hot and very embarrassing,” he grumbled, knowing perfectly well the wolf could hear him.
Melissa poked him in the side, making him jerk backwards. “Mostly hot?” she asked slyly.
“Yes, but hearing you ask it is very weird, let’s not do that again, please?”
“You realize I’m about to remove your catheter, right? Saying Derek’s hot is no where near as weird as that.”
“Wow,” Mieczyslaw breathed out. “Now I’m highly uncomfortable, can we just do this so I can go back to bed and pretend I’m not exhausted and weaker than a kitten?”
Melissa just shook her head. When she was done, Derek dutifully carried him back to bed, settling himself in against his side. Mieczyslaw sighed as he wiggled closer.
“I hate being tired.”
“I want to see everyone. Hang out with you and dad and actually get to talk to Laura and Peter and Jim and Blair. I don’t even know the other guy’s first name.”
“Jordan. Jordan Parrish. He and Laura have been dating for about a year now. They work together.”
“Huh. He smells like smoke and sulfur.”
“He’s a Hellhound. They do that.”
“There’s so much I need to learn.”
Derek nuzzled the side of his head. “You will. We can start wherever you want.”
“Do you think I’ll be able to go back to school?”
Derek was quiet for a while. “Eventually. We’ll probably need to get you a tutor to see where you are and then work from there. Do you want to?”
“Maybe? I don’t want to be separated from you and dad.”
“You won’t be. We’re not going anywhere.”
Derek pressed a soft kiss to chapped lips. “I’m your mate and Guide. You're my Sentinel. Where in the world would I go?”
Mischief laughed around a yawn. “I have no idea, Big Guy. No idea at all.” He fell asleep secure in his Guide’s arms. The steady beat of Derek’s heart under his ear.