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The Singing Hills

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It had taken him days to crawl his way out of the depths of the forest. His neck stung where sharp wire had cut into it and throbbed where a sharp blade had cut it open, while the side of his head felt like a bomb had detonated inside his cranium. No, was still detonating - at some sort of slow-motion rate of infinitesimal decay. Which didn't make any sense whatsoever. Gods above his head hurt! Every step he took was agony, sheer willpower the only thing moving him through the continuous energy drain that connected him to the Nemeton. To her.

 

That bitch. To think he'd taken pity on her and helped her when so many would've simply run away screaming. He'd kept her secrets, was willing to help her plan her revenge. Apparently he'd missed a few things. By the time he'd finally figured it out she was with the Wolf and his scent would've been noticed. He'd thought he had time; hadn't expected her to come for him. To use him.

 

He took some ounce of satisfaction out of knowing that her power was only skin-deep. Otherwise, she would've known he hadn't died. Or rather, would've known a long time ago that he couldn't die. He'd met scores of powerful magic users – real magic not just sparks and prayers – and she wasn't one of them.

 

He didn't bother going back to his home. By now he'd likely been officially listed as 'missing' and his house put under surveillance even if that only referred to the nosey old lady next door. Instead he headed to the small shack he owned just at the edge of the forest, one large tree grove away from the boundary of the Hale property. He'd bought it years ago under a different false alias in order to conduct some of his more... exotic experiments. He had supplies, a change of clothes there and a cot. Most importantly, however, she didn't know about it.

 

Exhausted, he fell onto the cot. The steady draining of his life force was like a sharp burning throughout his body, as though the desert sun had taken residence there and was trying it damnedest to melt his bones from within. It wasn't the worst pain he'd ever felt, but it had been quite some time since he'd felt anything remotely close.

 

He wasn't certain how much time had passed before the burning agony abated enough for him to drag himself upright and teeter over to the heavy stone bowl on the far side of the room. It was already two-thirds full of water. Taking a large milky white crystal off the shelf above the bowl, he placed it carefully into the water until it was completely submerged. Then he held his hand just above the water's surface and said the familiar incantation with an unsteady, raspy voice. The water shimmered and then stilled.

 

He cursed and tried again, wincing at the pain in his throat. The same happened. He sighed and grabbed onto the table to steady himself. When the dizziness passed, he looked out the window and blinked into the darkness. Ah, it was nighttime; she was probably sleeping. His eyes landed on the small desktop calendar sitting on the window sill. He closed his eyes and groaned. Of course, the date... Merlin would be at the Lake right now. He never missed an anniversary.

 

With a deep sigh, he grabbed a handful of dried pansy and zinnia petals and threw them into the water. Hopefully, the message would be heard. He moved slowly towards the door, feeling like a an old man whose body was two steps away from giving up. And yet he managed to pick up the aluminum pail from beside the door and walk over to the pump to fill it. He had a generator at the back of the shack, but no running water. Instead, his water came from deep beneath the earth. It was good water.

 

He'd managed to clean himself and cover up the worst of the wounds at his neck when the agony returned, ripping a scream from his abused throat. He heard something fall to the ground and shatter. He followed it shortly.

 

His last thought before the waves of stinging, leeching pain enveloped him was that he sincerely hoped he hadn't underestimated the children when he left them the clue to follow.

 


 

Stiles sat on the lacrosse bench munching on chocolate chip cookies and waiting for his best friend to show up. Because contrary to how things may appear, he and Scott were still best friends. Didn't matter that Scott had grown a curly-haired shadow that went by the name Issac: nope he and Scott were bros. Best buds, nothing could ever come between them. Like, ever.

 

Especially with Allison no longer being his girlfriend. At the moment. Actually, she seemed to be spending a lot of time hanging out with Issac. Stiles wasn't quite sure what that was about, because some days it almost seemed like Issac had a crush on Scott. Except with a distinct lack of hot steamy looks full of longing and desire... Unless werewolves did that differently. Maybe they just let off some sort of pheromones or something in order to lure in prospective, er, mates. In which case, he supposed it would be Scott who was sending out pheromones, although knowing Scott it would also likely entirely unintentional because that sounded like too nefarious a plot for his best friend's mind. Speaking of which, where the hell was Scott anyway?!

 

Stiles took his phone out of his pocket and glanced at the screen. He sighed. His bested bud in the whole wide world was running ten minutes late. And hadn't bothered to message him. Fantastic.

 

Stiles reached into his bag and grabbed another cookie. He glared in the direction of the school, willing Scott to come bounding out, sheepish grin on his face and excuse on his lips. And Stiles already knew that no matter how annoyed he was right now, he'd already forgiven the damn idiot of a best friend. Not that he would tell him that.

 

He just wished the silence didn't make the Darkness around his heart resonate more strongly. Darkness the wrong word for it. It implied that something had been added, but to Stiles it felt more like there was a hollow space around his heart – as though something were missing. Sometimes, in the dead of night it almost felt like a black hole, patiently swirling around waiting for the right moment to suck him through... To where, Stiles wasn't sure, but he knew Scott felt it too. They'd talked and the new alpha had said thinking about his friends and being connected to the pack helped him ignore it. Which, okay yeah, Stiles agreed that being surrounded by people – by his friends – helped.

 

Except that he didn't feel the connection Scott did. If anything, he felt more disconnected than ever. No matter who was with him or how well they were getting on, it always felt like he was one step further away from them than he should be. Like he'd come back from the ritual just slightly out-of-phase with the rest of the world.

 

It sucked, but Stiles refused to regret it. His father was alive and the alternative... No. There was no alternative, had been no other possible choice to make.

 

Suddenly there was a flurry of movement to his left and something dark appeared mere inches away from his face. Stiles cried out in surprise and fumbled his phone, nearly dropping it between the bleachers. Once he had a tight grip on the device again, he swung 'round to... blink at the empty space beside him.

 

“Okay, what the-”

 

Something chirped. Stiles looked down. A pair of small brown eyes blinked back at him innocently and then the bird hopped forward. It was chubby and roughly the size of Stiles' fist with black colouring on its head, a pink beak and white belly. The rest of it was brown and black with what looked like two white stripes running horizontally across its folded wings. It actually looked a bit like a sparrow, only bigger.

 

“Huh?” was the only thing he could think of to say to the bird. It chirped at him and craned his neck, looking alternatively at him and then the bag behind him expectantly. Then it hopped backwards twice and burst into a short string of melodic chirping.

 

Stiles raised an eyebrow in amusement. “Sooo... you're either trying to sing for your supper or Timmy's stuck down a well.” He reached back into his bag and pulled out a cookie. “Too bad for Timmy I don't speak birdese, so I'll just sort of assume you're hungry.”

 

He crumbled the cookie into smaller pieces and scattered them onto the bench. The bird hopped forward again and began to eagerly devour them. Stiles watched the bird for a few minutes in bemusement. The situation was just too surreal for words. Eventually he just shook his head.

 

“Great, this just figures,” he muttered under his breath as he ran a hand through his hair. “My best friend gets turned into a werewolf and I'm turning into freakin' Snow White.”

 

The bird chirped and Stiles looked back to it. It was standing over the remains of the cookie looking very happy.

 

“Yeah, you're welcome, buddy. Just don't make a habit of it, 'cause next time I might actually freak out.”

 

Then the bird spread its wings and flew off. Stiles watched it go and chuckled. Well, that had certainly been strange. He turned back to brush the remaining crumbs off the bench and froze, frowning.

 

There was a folded piece of paper sitting in the spot where the bird had just taken off from. Stiles looked around, but couldn't see anyone except for a small group of students trying to inconspicuously smoke by the corner of the school building. Slowly, he reached for the paper and then unfolded it.

 

Mister Stilinski,

I suspect you know that the Beacon is becoming active. However, I doubt you realize exactly what that entails. We have much to discuss. Meet me at the old water purification plant tomorrow at one. Come alone. If you do not, then I shall walk away and you will never find me.

Your potential is being wasted and unfortunately, it will be needed to face what is coming. Don't be more of a fool than you usually are.

 

The note was unsigned, which didn't surprise Stiles in the slightest. It was, however, hand written. The handwriting looked familiar: precisely-formed, rounded letters that looked slightly feminine, although Stiles had the feeling the writer wasn't a woman. They also clearly knew him. They knew him well enough, in fact, to know that dangling a mystery and threatening to never give any answers was more likely to get them the results they clearly wanted than threatening to hurt anyone.

 

Or here was a thought: maybe the person knew his friends were werewolves and therefore knew he couldn't hurt them anyway. However, they'd have to be able to hide from them or detect them if they were nearby... Stiles' right knee was bouncing a staccato rhythm and he could feel the familiar thrum of excitement in his veins. He had a puzzle to solve. And the note didn't feel threatening: mildly insulting, sure, but there wasn't any actual threat anywhere in the words.

 

Wasted potential: was this person talking about his so-called 'spark'? Did he – they, Stiles reminded himself he didn't have any evidence to prove this was a man – know about his spark? Okay, so definitely someone who'd been around him. Wait, were they indicating they were willing to teach him to use his spark? But Deaton had said the Darkness made it impossible.

 

It occurred to Stiles that maybe he should at least be debating the merits of not going to meet this person. Except he had no reason not to really – apart from the obvious trap-like quality of the meeting. Tomorrow was Saturday and lacrosse practise was in the morning so he'd have plenty of time to – wait. Did this person know he had Saturday morning lacrosse practise?!

 

This person was starting to sound more like a creepy stalker by the second.

 

“Stiles!”

 

Stiles' head shot up at the sound of his name. He scowled at the approaching group. “You're late, Scotty!” he called even as he folded up the note and shoved it into the corner of his bag.

 

Issac, the twins and Danny all followed behind him and Stiles suddenly realized he wasn't really in the mood for lacrosse anymore. The note was burning a hole through his backpack and his hands were itching to grab his laptop and get researching.

 

“Sorry,” said Scott sheepishly with his usual boyish grin before launching into a story involving ice, balloons and the new chemistry teacher.

 

Stiles sighed, not really listening. The training would no doubt turn into a wolf party and Scott, Issac and Danny certainly didn't need him to teach the twins how to play lacrosse. He'd just slip away when they weren't paying attention.

 


 

Stiles parked his jeep into the shade behind a dense cluster of trees. It wasn't that it was illegal to be here, but his car was recognizable to every member of the sheriff's department and he didn't particularly feel like explaining this to his father. Not yet anyway. His father was being super cool with his new knowledge about the less human side of Beacon Hills – except for the part where it was sort of really dangerous and his son was involved.

 

The old water purification plant was at the edge of town accessible by what was now a narrow, overgrown stretch of badly-cracked paved road that branched off from a side road running west out of the city and alongside the far end of the preserve. It wasn't used much since it was faster to get to the highway by using the road that ran through the preserve – and it was better maintained.

 

Stiles waded his way through knee-deep grass until he reached the visitor parking. It was a gravel-lined rectangular area large enough to fit about five cars just off the long paved road that lead up to the plant. A tree had fallen across its entrance during some windstorm or other making it now inaccessible by car. Stiles climbed over the low wooden railing lining the lot and began to cross it, gravel crunching beneath his feet. Wind blew across the derelict parking lot and through tall wire fencing into the silent plant. Overgrown greenery rustled.

 

Somewhere in the tree line, a crow called. Less than a minute later, its call was answered. Stiles wondered if it was crow-speak for 'Hey honey what's for lunch?' (with the reply being 'I don't know, what've you scavenged?”). Except possibly more sinister, because crows always sounded slightly sinister.

 

He looked around, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of the mysterious note-sender. He'd been up for hours researching and then hours more wide awake with thoughts running through his head faster than Superman's speeding bullet. He had a conclusion, a possible answer – a theory you could call it – but it defied all logic. Or rather, the evidence pointed towards something that shouldn't be possible given previous evidence. Except that there was always the possibility that the evidence wasn't actually evidence but an assumption...

 

His brain was seriously starting to hurt. Lack of sleep wasn't helping either and he'd been an absolute mess at practise. He wondered what the odds were that Coach Finstock wouldn't hold it against him when it came time to pick the starting line. Probably not good.

 

Something soft smacked him across the right cheek and Stiles cried out, jumped and flailed his limbs in surprise. He felt soft pinpricks embedding themselves into his right shoulder and turned his head. The bird on his shoulder chirped at him. Stiles blinked. It was the same one that had brought him the message yesterday. He knew this for a fact, because he's spent several hours and three cokes trying to figure out what sort of bird it was.

 

Behind him, he heard the tell-tale crunch of gravel as someone walked up behind him. Stiles froze. The foot steps stopped several feet away. He took a deep breath. He was almost certain he was right. Scott might be the one with the super planning skills lately, but research was still Stiles' territory. There was only one thing that didn't make sense-

 

“How?” said Stiles loud enough for the person behind him to hear. “It's the only part I don't get. How are you alive?”

 

“You aren't surprised it's me,” a familiar smooth voice answered him.

 

Stiles let out the breath he'd been holding and shrugged. The bird on his shoulder squawked in protest at the movement and Stiles raised his left hand to gently pet its belly as a silent apology. “You wanted me to figure it out,” he said. “The note was, like, a test or something. I thought I recognized the handwriting, but couldn't place it at first. And then there's this little guy.”

 

Stiles turned to face the man. “I didn't recognize him, so I turned to google. Turns out he ain't native to California. In fact he's quite a bit farther south than usual. He's a Harris' sparrow.”

 

Dressed in blue jeans and dark blue turtle neck, his usual disdainful look of superiority on his face, Adrian Harris nodded at Stiles. “Very good, Mister Stilinski. I'm glad to see you are capable of applying yourself and your intellect when necessary.”

Chapter Text


 

Dressed in blue jeans and a blue turtle neck, his usual disdainful look of superiority on his face, Adrian Harris nodded at Stiles. “Very good, Mister Stilinski. I'm glad to see you are capable of applying yourself and your intellect when necessary.”

 

“Ah gee thanks, coming from you that's almost sweet,” Stiles deadpanned.

 

Harris crossed his arms over his chest and gave him a pointed look. “Don't get ahead of yourself, Mister Stilinski. I am rather disappointed that 'how?' is the best question you could come up with having figured out it was me.”

 

Stiles blinked. “What do you mean? It's a perfectly logical question!” He threw his hands out and then winced as the sparrow nipped his earlobe in irritation. “Okay, so looking back I get that there were clues that you weren't entirely dead - not that worrying about that was even close to being a priority with everything that was going on. But I didn't remember until last night that while Deaton was the one explaining stuff, you were actually the one who'd left us the 'Darach' clue. Which made me realize that, unlike most of the bodies, Lydia didn't find yours. Not in her usual way anyway. She realized you had an army connection, that's why we went looking for you and realized you were gone. She didn't scream and she didn't lead us to your corpse.”

 

Stiles paused to take a breath.

 

“She didn't scream?” Harris asked, a deep puzzled frown on his face. “I'm assuming this is Lydia Martin you're referring to, however I am uncertain what she has to do with this.”

 

Stiles froze. “Er, she uh...” He ran a hand through his hair, wondering how to phrase it without giving too much away. “She sort of found a lot of the bodies of the sacrifices. Especially around the school.”

 

“She was drawn to their dead bodies?” Stiles nodded warily. Harris considered this and Stiles wanted to kick himself and his wandering mouth that sometimes babbled without his say-so. Scratch that: constantly babbled without his say-so. Harris' eyes widened. “Screaming... Banshee. Lydia Martin is a banshee?!”

 

Stiles winced. The look on his former chemistry teacher's face was one of amazement with just possibly a hint of awe. “Fascinating.”

 

“Uh yeah, pretty sure that's not the word Lydia would use for it.”

 

Harris waved away his comment. “In any case, I believe you were working on a better question to ask me?”

 

“Uhh...” Stiles faltered. He had been? Oh right, his babbling that had resulted in outing Lydia. “It's just that the first five sacrifices were all done in the style of the three-fold death and yours would've been number six, which fits in the set of three pattern. They'd been garroted, bludgeoned and had their throats sliced. Any one of those would've killed them, so how is it that you've somehow survived one let alone three? Or did Julia or Jessica or whatever her name was use something different on you?”

 

“No, she didn't.”

 

“Then how are you alive?!” Stiles felt like he was going around in circles. It was times like this that he was glad he'd decided to grow his hair out. It gave him something to pull out.

 

“Your logic is sound except for one detail.” Stiles looked up and met Harris' amused, mocking eyes. “Any one of those methods of death would've killed a human. Therefore, it stands to reason...”

 

He trailed off and raised an eyebrow expectantly. Stiles froze, his eyes widened and he was fairly certain his jaw dropped as well.

 

“You're not human,” he finally managed to whisper. He cleared his throat. “What are you?”

 

“And there you have it: a much better question, don't you think?”

 

“Sure.” There was a pause. “Am I going to get an answer?”

 

Harris smirked. “Yes, but not here.” With that he turned on his heel and began to walk away.

 

Stiles gaped after him for a few moments before turning to the bird on his shoulder. “You know there really should be a rule about people being easier to get along with once they've joined the supernatural fanclub.”

 

The bird chirped and then spread its wings and flew off after the former chemistry teacher. Stiles groaned. Following someone who wasn't human and definitely hated him into a part of the forest almost no one ever drove by or walked through? Yep, that was definitely the epitome of bad ideas all rolled into one lovely little ball made of barbed wire. Bright neon green barbed wire.

 

Stiles followed them anyway.

 

They didn't seem to be following a trail of any sort as they walked through the forest. Neither did they come across a single hiking trail and the Beacon Hills preserve was a famous hiking destination (although given recent events it wouldn't exactly surprise Stiles if it was drawing less hikers now than usual). Something moved to his left, making the underbrush softly rustle. Stiles turned, instantly on alert, and found himself looking into the eyes of a curious deer. He stopped in amazement and held its gaze. A second joined it after a moment and took a step towards him, its nose craning in his direction. Suddenly it froze and then reared back as though startled.

 

Before Stiles had a change to blink, both deer had bounded off into the forest.

 

He heard Harris chuckle. “You must smell strongly of wolf,” he said.

 

Stiles froze. “Y-you know about the werewolves?” he asked and then felt stupid as soon as the words left his mouth. Of course he knew about the werewolves. He'd known about the Darach, who'd been gathering power in order to exact revenge upon a pack of werewolves. He turned to Harris and sure enough, his former chemistry teacher was looking at him with a very clear 'you are an idiot' look on his face. He was fairly certain the sparrow sitting on his shoulder was looking at him with the exact same expression. “Uh, don't suppose we could forget I ever made that comment?”

 

Harris snorted. “I will purge my memory of it.” He set off again through the forest. Stiles jogged to catch up. “And before you ask, yes, I was aware that Scott McCall and your merry band of misfits were newly-turned wolves. It was quite amusing watching them try to hide it.”

 

Stiles gaped after him. Something occurred to him.

 

“So you knew about the Hales then.”

 

Harris froze in his tracks. Stiles frowned, suddenly angry to be staring at the man's back. He strode forward and grabbed his arm, turning him around forcefully. “Did you know about the Hales?” he asked again, this time with more anger in his voice.

 

Harris glared down at him. “Yes, I knew who and what the Hales were,” he finally answered tersely. Then he yanked his arm out of Stiles' grasp. “I did not, however, know who or what Kate Argent was.”

 

Stiles felt his anger deflate as quickly as it had arisen. Right, of course. Just because Harris could recognize werewolves didn't mean he could recognize hunters. He ran a hand through his hair. “Sorry,” he muttered.

 

Harris swept past him without a word.

 

Less than ten minutes later, they stepped out of the dense forest and into a large clearing. Stiles blinked at the sudden light. Not far from him he saw an old fashion iron pump painted red – even faded by time and the elements as it was it still caught his eye as the only splash of colour amid the green and brown. Dominating the clearing was a large shack. It was large enough to potentially earn the title of 'cabin' except that the word 'cabin' seemed to imply a degree of solidity and not looking like something that would fall down during the next storm.

 

Stiles had half-expected to be led to a cave. Just once he would like to come across a supernatural creature that lived in a cave. It seemed rather disappointing to discover they all lived like mundane ordinary people in houses and apartments and things. Except that cave-dwelling creatures tended to use said caves in order lure and/or drag humans into to eat them... Nevermind. Houses were more comfortable anyway.

 

He paused jut in front of the shack in order to read the bronze plaque nailed next to the door. It read: “Ours is not the vulgar gold.”

 

He followed Harris inside. Stiles stopped on the threshold and gaped as he looked around. For the most part it looked exactly like what one would expect a somewhat derelict shack to look like: unpainted wooden floor and walls with what looked like a small wood stove in the centre, some shelves along one side filled with mostly books, but also a few oddities like a human skull (Stiles was determinedly not going to ask if it was real), some large crystals and a small silver hand mirror. There was also a larger, plainer mirror above a ceramic basin standing next to a cot with the dullest shade of grey sheets Stiles had ever seen. Next to the cot was an overturned wooden crate with a dark blue cloth napkin thrown over it.

 

However, there was also a second shelf on the opposite side of the room to the first and that one was filled to bursting with jars upon jars upon small wooden boxes. Most of them looked like they were filled with dried herbs and spices, but there were a few containing things that looked more... liquid. One of the larger jars actually looked like it had eyeballs in it... Stiles looked away quickly and turned his attention to the large table that took up the centre of the room. It looked like a workstation. It actually looked a lot like one of the chemistry lab benches only less precise, less... sciencey. Like it belonged in the Hogwarts Potions classroom – possibly Severus Snape's private lab.

 

Actually... that was exactly what it looked it.

 

There was a small cast-iron pot sitting on top of a small gas burner, which was totally a cauldron gone undercover. To its right sat a wooden tray containing an array of vials and beside that two bunsen burners – one of which was on and contained a slowly simmering reddish-orange liquid. To its left was a clay pot containing a collection of utensils from stirring spoons and spatulas to a large thermometer and forceps. There was also a tall narrow glass object that looked a bit like a lava lamp except the colours weren't as bright and instead of the usual blobby liquidy things that went up and down, the inside of this glass container seemed to made of swirling gases.

 

“Are you, like, a wizard or something?” he blurted out, eyes still following the mingling gases.

 

He looked up when Harris snorted. “Absolutely not,” the man said from the corner of the room by the cot. “You can ignore pointed hats and wands and broomsticks and whatever other nonsense those ridiculous books came up with. Magic doesn't work that way.”

 

“Aw, that's a- wait. Deaton said magic doesn't exist. Are you telling me he's wrong? That magic is totally a thing?!”

 

Harris made a face at Stiles' wording. “That isn't entirely inaccurate,” he said and then turned to face away from Stiles as he gripped the bottom of his turtleneck and slid it over his head efficiently.

 

Stiles rolled his eyes as he walked further into the shack. “Way to go with the non-answer,” he said sarcastically even as his eyes took notice of the single rune tattooed onto the other man's lower back.

 

Then Harris turned around and Stiles had less than a second to be idly surprised by how fit the former chemistry teacher actually was before his eyes slid higher. His thoughts fled his mind with a gasp he couldn't keep in. There were long painful-looking gouges in Harris' neck – one thin precise line and a second deeper would that gaped apart slightly. They looked exactly like the wounds on the corpses Scott's mom had shown him in the morgue. Except... there was a thin layer of red around the edges, but otherwise the layers of internal stuff like nerves and muscles were missing. It looked wrong: hideously, fascinatingly wrong. As though someone had used the garrote and knife on a chunk of flesh-coloured cheese or play-doh.

 

“Wh-what the hell?” Stiles finally managed to croak out, mesmerized by the sight, but unable to decide whether he wanted to move forward to touch or run away to throw up. “What are you made of?!” he asked. He took a step backwards, his breaths coming faster even as his mind registered what a stupid question that was.

 

Harris crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow. “Clay, wax and magic, actually,” he answered.

 

Stiles froze. Oh. So not such a stupid question after all. “Huh?”

 

“I'm a golem: an artificial living being formed out of clay and wax and then given life through alchemy. And magic, but alchemists hate admitting to relying on magic and so the official definition doesn't mention any magic.”

 

Stiles blinked. “A golem? That's... different. I was sort of expecting vampire to be honest.”

 

“I wasn't aware you'd missed the amount of sun shining down on me in that parking lot,” said Harris dryly.

 

“Yeah, I know that. But everything says that werewolves are allergic to silver which isn't true either. I figured maybe there was, like, a vampire hunter family out there named Soleil or something.”

 

“Well, you can rest assure there isn't. Vampires do burst into flames under the sun's rays. And only the most powerful ones can survive indirect sunlight.”

 

Stiles' eyes widened. “Wait, so you mean vampires are a thing? Man, no one's ever given me a straight answer on that. That's so cool!”

 

Harris rolled his eyes. “You wouldn't think so if you actually met one. They're not quite as civilized as popular media likes to think they are.”

 

“Aaand I'll just be excited and hope I never have to find out for myself.” Stiles grinned. “Anyway, you were saying. A golem, really? Wait, does that mean you're also older than you look?”

 

A nod. Then Harris gestured to something behind Stiles. “Have a seat, Mister Stilinski.”

 

Stiles half-turned to look behind him. Then turned the rest of the way and walked over to grab the simple wooden chair sitting next to the doorway. He pulled it over to the wood stove where his former chemistry teacher had unfolded a square-shaped collapsible table. He bit his lip and fidgeted as the man pulled over a second wooden chair and then poured them both drinks from a white and blue ceramic pitcher. Stiles picked up his glass, eyed the vaguely green-ish liquid and then sniffed it.

 

It smelt a bit like peppermint mixed with some sort of other herbs. “What is it?” he asked.

 

“It's an herbal drink I brew myself when I'm out here. It's both refreshing and medicinal. And, before you ask, completely non-alcoholic.”

 

Stiles shrugged before taking a tentative sip. The peppermint didn't taste as strong as it smelt, though it was still obviously there. He took a second sip. It tasted very... green. And lemony. Like herbal lemonade. “'S not bad. Uh, thank you.”

 

“Hmm, you're welcome.” Harris wasn't paying attention to Stiles anymore – not really. Instead he was absently staring out the window. The shack was silent for a few moments and Stiles took another drink of his lemonade drink in order to keep his mouth occupied.

 

There was a flutter of wings and the sparrow landed on top of the table. Harris brought his hand down to steady it when the rickety piece of furniture wobbled at the impact. Then he took a deep breath and looked back to Stiles.

 

“I was brought to life at some time during the end of the sixteenth century. The beginning of my existence is a bit... confusing and I had no clear distinction of the passage of time. The earliest event I can clearly place was Rabbi Loewe's funeral which was in the year 1609. The alchemist who'd created me was a sort of disciple of his and he'd brought me along in order to show me off to his peers. He'd been one of many alchemists employed in the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, but creating artificial life wasn't talked about out loud: it went against the Church. But of course, the whispers had gotten around so everyone knew what I was. I think it was about two years later that I ran away from him. And since I'm not properly alive and thus can't die, I'm still here.”

 

“Wow,” was the first thing Stiles could think of to say. His body was thrumming with excitement. “So you're sort of like a medieval clone?”

 

Harris glared at him. “There is absolutely nothing medieval about the sixteenth century. I suggest a bit more effort in history class, Mister Stilinski.”

 

Stiles waved him off. “Yeah, yeah, that's so cool though!” He took another look at the garrote wound and frowned. “Does that hurt?”

 

“Not anymore. Yes, I can feel pain, however it fades faster than it would with a human and I have a tincture that helps numb the area until it does.”

 

“Why would anyone want to create an animated clay, er clone person thing and then make it feel pain?”

 

Harris raised an eyebrow. “Why do scientists do anything they do?”

 

Stiles thought about that. “To see if they can?” He paused. “And... to see what it does and how it does it. Holy shit, you were a science experiment! Except that it was alchemy, so I guess that makes you an alchemical experiment... Are you an alchemist?” He whirled around to look at the table again. “Is this an alchemist's lab?!”

 

“Some of that is alchemy, yes. The rest of it is none of your business.” Stiles blinked and then looked back over his shoulder. Harris' eyes drilled holes into his. Stiles gulped and turned back around in his chair. “Now, you know what I am and how I survived the triple death ritual-”

 

“Though not why you didn't try and stop her,” Stiles pointed out with a frown. “I mean, if she thought you were dead, because she didn't know you couldn't die then you were in the perfect position to totally catch her off guard and ambush her or something. People died! A-and you could've stopped it! My father-”

 

“Mister Stilinski!” Stiles froze mid-rant and mid-armflail. “Now sit down.” Stiles blinked and looked down, surprised to find he was standing. He sat back down and glared at Harris.

 

Harris looked back coldly. “Are you aware how the sacrifice works?”

 

“Uh, obviously someone is ritually killed in specific order along Telluric Currents-”

 

“So you found out about Mister Mahealani's research. Good for you. However, you obviously have no idea what the answer to my question is.”

 

Stiles' eyes narrowed. For a minute there he's almost forgotten what an ass the man sitting opposite him with his shirt off was. “Well, 's not exactly like I'm an expert in sacrifices or anything. I was sort of a bit busy keeping my dad from becoming one to really care about the ins and outs of them.”

 

Harris frowned. “Your father? She took the sheriff?”

 

Stiles nodded carefully. “And Scott's mom and Allison's dad. Had them under the Nemeton. We managed to save them – not that you care.”

 

“Hmm...” Harris looked thoughtful for a moment and then shook his head. “No, you're right, I don't. Although the thought of your father being forcibly detained does fill me with a certain sense of satisfaction.”

 

Stiles startled himself by growling. Harris ignored the sound and continued.

 

“However, as for the sacrifice: the point of a ritual sacrifice is not so much to kill someone as to gift their life force to something else. According to magical theory, there is a slight delay between a person dying and their life force exiting their body. The purpose of a sacrificial death is to take advantage of the delay in order to redirect it elsewhere. You mentioned the Nemeton. A powerful object or place will often redirect that energy on its own if it requires it to live or gain strength.” He paused to see if Stiles was following. Stiles nodded warily. “When it came to me, the rules were different. Draining a living thing of its life force will kill it, however as we've already established, I can't die. Therefore when the ritual linked my life force to Julia through the Nemeton, the flow never ceased. Feeling your life force being continuously drained is... not pleasant.”

 

Stiles gulped and stayed silent. He wasn't stupid: he knew an understatement when he heard one. He also wasn't going to ask. The man had just admitted to not caring if his father died. He didn't want any reason to feel sympathy towards him right now. “So you were basically down for the count,” he said instead.

 

“Yes. Now whatever you did to defeat Julia has obviously caused the Beacon to stir once again. I hope I don't need to tell you that's bad.”

 

“Uh, no, we sort of got that part.” Stiles paused. “What is the Beacon anyway?”

 

Harris raised an eyebrow. “It's a curse.”

 

Of course it was, thought Stiles with an internal sigh. Because having something to physically destroy would have been too easy.


 

Chapter Text


 

Had the sheriff been awake to see Stiles on Sunday morning, he would've likely frogmarched him over to the station to have him fingerprinted and then over to the McCall residence to have Scott sniff him in order to make sure he was actually his son and not some weird shape-shifting demon pretending to be his son. Stiles sometimes worried that his father was being a bit too enthusiastic about the whole werewolf/supernatural thing. It wasn't a loud, excited enthusiasm and people who didn't know him well probably wouldn't have recognized it for what it was, but it was definitely there in its own weird way.

 

One of the first things he'd done had been to buy the entire series of Supernatural. Which wasn't really the best research technique, but Stiles liked watching Supernatural with his dad, therefore wasn't about to mention it too loudly.

 

The point: not only was Stiles not sleeping 'till noon-ish as per his usual Sunday routine, but by eight he'd already been by Starbucks and had them fill the largest thermos he could find at home. And a coffee for himself, of course, because it was eight in the morning. He hated to think he was possibly doing something nice for Harris, so had decided to think of it more as a bribe. He'd been up for hours doing research and was now brimming with questions.

 

Coffee in exchange for answers sounded like a fair enough trade.

 

Assuming Harris drank coffee. Try as he might, Stiles couldn't remember if he'd ever actually seen him with a coffee mug. He knew Harris drank stuff, because he'd seen him drink that herbal lemon tea thing yesterday – and how exactly did that work? Did he have, like, a clay pipline connecting his throat with some sort of digestive system and then urinary tract? And just how anatomically correct was he? Was he like a Ken doll or did he actually have fully-functioning equpment? Could he have sex? Actually it would explain a lot if he couldn't...

 

Coffee. Stiles shook his head, cursing his brain for the horrible images it'd just made him think. Coffee was safe. Although now Stiles really wanted to know how Harris could eat or drink anything. Hopefully coffee was one of the things he drank. He was a teacher and teachers all drank coffee, right?

 

Stiles really hoped this was one stereotype his former chemistry teacher ascribed to.

 

He parked in the same spot as before, only this time he bypassed the parking lot and headed straight for the forest. Beacon Hills had still felt half-asleep when he'd driven through its streets, but here in the forest it felt like everyone was wide awake. He touched the trunk of a particularly gnarled tree that sort of looked like forest goblin - or a really small ent – and suddenly the air exploded in loud angry chattering. Stiles jumped back and looked up to try and spot the noisy, territorial squirrel.

 

“Alright, alright, I got it: your tree, not mine,” he muttered before continuing on.

 

Walking through the forest this early in the morning reminded him of his mother. She'd loved being there as it woke up. She had also been the one to teach him to recognize birds and trees. They used to collect mushrooms and then fry them up in an egg omlet when they got home and Stiles would force himself to eat it even though the wild mushrooms got all slimey and felt like slugs when he ate them. He hadn't gone on this sort of walk in years – the last time his mother had been incredibly pale and walked oh so slowly...

 

Stiles took a deep breath and swallowed around a lump in his throat. He hadn't realized how many memories of his mother were linked to their early morning forest walks. Since Scott had been bitten, Stiles had been in the forest more often than he had in the years after she'd died, but there had always been something to find, something to run away from, or people's lives to save. It never seemed this calm and peaceful.

 

A chorus of birds burst into song somewhere overhead. Stiles looked up and smiled. The sun was sneaking its way through the dense canopy of trees, making leftover dew drops sparkle and transforming a rather spectacular spiderweb woven between two trees into a glittering work of art. The air smelt of greenery, fresh air and mushrooms. This was a morning his mother would've loved.

 

The hollowness in his chest felt different now, more familiar. Stiles blinked away the moisture in his eyes and continued on.

 

The Harris' sparrow flew around his head and chirpped in greeting as soon as he stepped into the clearing. “Hey, good morning to you too, little guy,” said Stiles with a grin. At least someone was happy to see him. “You know, you really need a name. I'll bet Harris never bothered to give you one.”

 

“Of course I didn't.” Stiles looked to the entrance to the shack where Mr. Harris was standing in the doorway with his arms crossed. Meanwhile, the sparrow landed on Stiles' left shoulder and seemed to be inspecting the reflective surface of the stainless steele thermos curiously. “I only made him so that I could send messages to you.”

 

Stiles frowned. “Made him?” His eyes widened and he turned his head to look at the sparrow on his shoulder. “You mean he's a golem too?”

 

“Yes. I can gather just enough power to occassionally animate a small creature.”

 

“Wow. Okay, that's really cool.” The sparrow's gaze reminded him of why he was here. He turned back to his former teacher. “Er, so I was researching golems and alchemy and stuff last night and I, uh, have questions...”

 

Harris snorted. “Of course you do, Mister Stilinski. I'd be shocked and amazed if you didn't. And to hedge your first question: yes, I am most definitely a golem and not a homonclus. I assume you know the difference between the two.”

 

“Uh, yeah.” Stiles made a face. “Alchemists were super weird by the way. Did anyone actually manage to make an artificial human by putting sperm in a glass jar and leaving it to ferment in horse manure?”

 

“Not to my knowledge.”

 

“Uh, good. Also, why the hell would someone want to cut out the fun part of making a baby?”

 

“To prove that women were surperflous in the entire arrangement except to act as a carrying case for the child and give birth to it.”

 

“Right. That's... messed up, but sort of almost makes sense.”

 

Harris rolled his eyes. “Come in, Mister Stilinski,” he said and stepped back into the shack.

 

Inside, the shack looked the same as it had yesterday evening when Stiles had finally left. Except that the bunson burner was now off and the vials on the table seemed to be arranged in a slightly different order. Even the small collapsable table was still sitting next to the wood stove with the two chairs standing to either side of it. Apparently he'd been expected.

 

“Er, so I brought coffee,” he said, holding the thermos out to Harris when the man turned around. “I'm not entirely sure if you drink coffee, but I sort of figured that you might and, well, it's not exactly like you can go into town to get some and-”

 

“Yes, I do drink coffee,” Harris interrupted him, staring at the thermos in surprised confusion. After a few seconds, he took it. “Thank you.”

 

Stiles smiled. “You're welcome.” Then he dug a bag of creamers and sugar packets out of the pocket of his hoodie.

 

The former chemistry teacher waved it off. “I'm afraid I have very little in the way of food here,” he said after he'd inhaled the coffee's aroma.

 

“Do you eat? I mean obviously you drink. Does that mean you have, like, an artificial digestive system with like fake organs and stuff?”

 

Harris took a drink of his coffee and raised an eyebrow at him. “Not in the way you're thinking. My body absorbes food and water. Liquids I require on a similar level to any human being, but food not at all. I can eat, however my body takes a very long time to... digest it for lack of a better word. As a result I don't eat unless a social situation requires it of me. As for how it works exactly: I don't know. I haven't exactly cut myself open to find out.”

 

Stiles nodded. “Fair enough.” He thought about how to phrase his next question – actually his main question. “Er, so I know the internet isn't always the best source of supernatural information, but every single article I read sort of seemed to agree that golems and homonclus are always sort of, uh... missing something and never realize they're not human and they, uh...”

 

“Go mad if they either find they can't know love or realize they're not human?”

 

“Uh, yeah that.”

 

“And you're wondering how it is that I'm sitting here calmly talking about not being human instead of rendering you limb from limb in a mad frenzy?”

 

“Yes. Not that I'm not incredibly happy that you're not. I'm totally fine with being unrendered.”

 

Harris took another drink of coffee. “I did go mad when I realized I wasn't human. I nearly killed my creator and then stumbled out of his house in a rage. I doubt you know Prague, but the Golden Lane where I'd lived was an alchemist district. In other words, I was surrounded by people just like my creator and I was furious at them. Luckily for all of us, one of them had a visitor staying with him - an old man who'd scowled at me in disapproval when we'd met. I'd thought he was a visiting alchemist, but it turned out he was in fact a powerful sorcerer. He stopped me in my rampage and I think he might've used his magic to somehow stabalize me. I don't remember much. All I remember is burning, all-encompassing anger and then blackness. When I woke up I felt much calmer and was no longer in Prague.”

 

Stiles was vaguely aware that his mouth was hanging open. “A sorcerer? Like, someone who uses real magic? So magic is a thing!”

 

“Yes, although it has been a very long time since anyone of any significant power has been born. The world no longer requires magic users and so less with the potential are born.” He paused. “It's what makes you unique.”

 

“Aaand I'm not even going to pretend to be surprised you know about the Spark.”

 

“I knew the moment you stepped into my classroom, Mister Stilinski.”

 

Suddenly his phone went off. Stiles jumped and fished it out of his pant pocket. “Dammit!” he whispered, running a hand through his hair. He must've taken longer in the forest than he'd realized. He turned off the alarm and looked at Harris apologetically. “Er, sorry. I've got to go.”

 

“You say that like I'm supposed to think it's a bad thing.”

 

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Yeah, whatever. I've got Sunday dinner to go help get ready for.”

 

Harris raised an eyebrow. “The sheriff actually manages to take time off for Sunday dinner?”

 

Stiles grinned. “He does when Melissa McCall bullies him and Chris Argent into it and then forces the rest of the pack to attend.”

 

A chuckle. “I've apparently underestimated that woman.”

 

“A lot of people do that.” Stiles was already at the doorway when something occured to him. He turned around thoughtfully. “I just realized... you were already living in Beacon Hills when the Hales were alive. Did no one out of an entire pack of werewolves notice you weren't human?”

 

Harris shrugged. “I think Talia Hale might've known I was something, though I doubt she'd guessed exactly what. And she and some of the elders certainly knew about this cottage here. However it's outside their territory and I wasn't a threat, so they left me alone.”

 

“Cool. So, uh, this dinner with the pack-”

 

“Yes, I am aware you'll no doubt tell them I'm alive.” He smirked. “If Peter Hale graces you with his presence, please do inform him that should he feel the need to complete his 'revenge' then this time will be different. I've no longer a reason to hide.”

 

Stiles frowned. Then he left.

 


 

 

Stiles rang the doorbell and then tried the door. It was unlocked, so he let himself in. Scott had probably already heard his jeep pull up anyway.

 

“Stiles!” Yup, there he was.

 

“Hey Scott,” Stiles greeted back.

 

“Stiles?”

 

Stiles blinked and then looked to where his dad was standing in the doorway to the McCall kitchen, dish cloth in hand. He looked worried. Isaac peeked into the hallway from the other side of the doorway.

 

“Oh, hey dad.” It suddenly occured to him that he had no explanation for where he'd been this morning. Then Scott was grabbing him by the shoulders and sniffing him. Like a freaking dog. “Woah, hold on there Lassie!”

 

Stiles pushed Scott away from him, feeling a bit creeped out by the behaivour. Scott stepped away from Stiles with a frown. “You smell strange, Stiles. Where were you?”

 

“I- I was in the forest. It was a nice morning for it, ya know?”

 

Scott's frown deepened, as though trying to spot the lie.

 

“You went for an early morning walk in the forest?” he heard his dad ask. Stiles looked over to the surprised – and slightly suspicious - expression on his father's face. There may also have been some moisture in his eyes, but Stiles dutifully ignored that.

 

Stiles sighed. “Okay, fine, so there's a bit more to it than that, but can we, like, wait 'till later to get to it? It's not anything dangerous, not really. Well, mostly not dangerous.”

 

He looked from his father to Scott.

 

“Hey, I thought I was getting an extra pair of hands, not losing the three pairs that were already here!”

 

Scott winced. “Sorry, mom!” he called back. He looked to Stiles. “Fine, tell us at dinner.”

 

Stiles grinned. “Will do, buddy,” he said and then followed his friend towards the kitchen. As he passed by, his dad placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Stiles looked up at the man and they exchanged small, sad smiles.

 

Then they were all swept away in a flurry of preparations under the strict orders and supervision of Mrs. McCall. An hour later, Allison and her father arrived, desert in hand. It was a cake that looked like it had rightly earned the title Death by Chocolate – with the distinct possibility of Afterlife and Ressurection as well.

 

“Allison, marry me,” said Stiles after several moments of salivating.

 

Allison giggled. “Sorry, Stiles, but I didn't make it.” Her eyes shifted pointedly towards her father.

 

Chris Argent glared at him. “Don't even think about it, Stiles.”

 

Stiles made a face. “What? No, ew, that's just wrong on so many levels.”

 

The others laughed. “Better luck next time, son,” his father said with a grin.

 

Lydia, Ethan and Aiden arrived ten mintues after the Argents. The twins looked more timid and unsure than Stiles had ever seen them. It quickly became clear that Aiden was only here because Lydia had bullied him into it and Ethan was only here because of his brother. Scott, Stiles and Issac exchanged grins as Melissa immediately took charge and ushered them into seats at the already-set dining room table.

 

They were all already seated at the table when the doorbell rang again. Melissa stood, levelled a pointed look at Scott, Isaac and Chris Argent before going to open the door. It revealled an impecibly-dressed Peter Hale, who smiled with delight when he saw her and handed her a stunning bouquet of flowers.

 

“Hello, Melissa,” he said. “I tried to find something that would match your beauty, but alas this was the best I could do.”

 

Melissa raised an amused eyebrow and accepted the flowers. “Thank you, Peter,” she said graciously.

 

Even her dull human ears picked up the sound of two guns being cocked and some low growling. Peter's eyes danced with amusement. She rolled her eyes.

 

“Thanks boys, but I think I've got it covered,” she called loudly over her shoulder. Then she frowned. “And no firearms at the table!”

 

Peter chuckled. “I see you have your priorities straight.”

 

“Hmmm. I also have strategicly-placed packets of wolfsbane hidden throughout the house.” She smiled up at Peter. “Now why don't I just go find a vase for these while you have a seat at the table.”

 

Peter sauntered into the dining room as though he were a frequent guest. And, to his credit, only paused slightly when he realized his seat was between the sheriff and one of the alpha twins. He sat down just in time to overhear Isaac whisper to Scott.

 

“Dude, your mom has wolfsbane in the house?” His eyes scanned the room nervously.

 

Scott made a face. “Yeah, man, she had Stiles help her with it. And both of them refuse to tell me where it is!”

 

“That's 'cause they're for her protection not yours,” Stiles interjected in a calm, reasonable voice that sounded just a little bit annoyed at having to repeat himself again.

 

Then Melissa returned and they began to eat. As food disappeared off the table, they kept the conversation light: school, lacross, the weather and funny work anecdotes having been deemed as the only appropriate topics of mealtime conversation. When they were finished and two pots of coffee were brewing in the kitchen (Stiles' dad had brought their coffeemaker over), Lydia clearned her throat.

 

“So, I think we should tell Danny,” she announced.

 

“Agreed,” said Ethan imediately from beside Peter.

 

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Of course you do,” he said. “Now you realize when she said 'we', she actually means 'you'. As in, you specifically. You know, being the glowy-eyed transforming boyfriend and all.”

 

“Yeah, I get that Stilinski,” Ethan spat back, although he didn't look quite as confident as he had moments before.

 

“I don't know guys, should we really be telling so many people about-” Scott started.

 

“If Danny and Ethan are going to be long-term then he has a right to know,” Allison interrupted him. “I mean, he's pretty much surrounded by werewolves most of the time. Eventually it's going to become dangerous.”

 

“I hate to say it,” said Stiles' dad. “But she's right. If he doesn't know what's out there, he doesn't know how to defend himself from it and from what you kids have told me, danger sort of follows you around. He's already a target just by being with Ethan.”

 

Chris Argent nodded. “It won't take a creature with too much inteligence to figure out that the easiest way to get to Ethan and by extension Aiden and the rest of you is to get Mister Mahaelani and use him as bait.”

 

“Or to send a message,” Lydia added quietly.

 

Stiles winced. Then he sighed and looked at Scott, ignoring the confused look on his friend's face. “Yeah, yeah, sorry buddy, but I think you're outvoted here. Plus Danny's smart; he's probably already figured out something's going on. I mean, if Jackson could figure out the werewolf thing on his own, then Danny definitely can.” He brightened. “Oooh, also mad hacking skills! We'd be able to use Superhacker Danny to help us with stuff.”

 

Someone cleared their throat. Stiles cringed and his eyes slid to his left to meet his father's unamused expression. “Er, not that we would, 'cause that's totally illegal and against the law and really really bad. And we would never break the law or, uh, anything... At least we haven't killed anyone yet?”

 

The sheriff sighed and covered his face with a hand. From his other side Peter raised a hand and waved at Stiles.

 

“Yeah, you don't count,” Stiles snapped at him. “Besides, 's not murder if the victim's still walking around afterwards.”

 

Peter snorted. “I'm so glad I could do my part to assauge your guilty conscience.”

 

“Whatever, man.”

 

“Stiles, leave it,” said Scott. “Ethan, go ahead and tell Danny. If you have any problems or if he wants to know more tell him to come to us.”

 

“More specifically, send him to Lydia, Allison or Stiles,” Melissa added. She smiled at Ethan and Scott's confused looks even as the three in question nodded. “Trust me, as a human he'll probably find it easier to talk to someone who's also human. And he's known Lydia and Stiles longer so one of them would probably be your best option.”

 

“Uh, okay,” said Ethan. He looked nervous, but managed a small smile for Scott's mother. “Thank you Mrs. McCall.”

 

“You're welcome, honey.”

 

“Right, so, er...” Scott floundered, as though suddenly aware that all eyes were on him, that everyone was paying attention to his words.

 

Stiles hid a smile and then met Melissa McCall's fondly amused eyes over the table, knowing they were both thinking the same thing. That they were both relieved that underneath the confident 'I'm the Alpha now' werewolf was still Stiles' best buddy, Scott. Who cleared his throat and sat up a bit straighter.

 

“Peter, what do you know about the Beacon?” he asked.

 

Peter raised an eyebrow. “The Beacon?” he asked. “Hmm, not much. I think there was a book or two about it in the family library once upon a time. Unfortunately, unless you have a time machine...”

 

Peter.”

 

Peter rolled his eyes at the threatening growl in Scott's voice. “No, Scott, I'm sorry to say that while my magical laptop of knowledge includes plenty of information concerning the many creatures that may come along and try to either eat us or invade our territory, there is unfortunately nothing in it about the Beacon of Beacon Hills.”

 

The way Scott deflated told Stiles that Peter wasn't lying. Or was at least very good at lying to other werewolves. Damn. The researcher in Stiles hated having only one dubiously-reliable source of information, but it was still better than nothing.

 

“It's a curse,” he said finally. That got everyone's attention.

 

“A curse?” Peter asked, intrigued.

 

Stiles swallowed. “Yeah. Apparently somewhere around the year 1740-ish when the first Europeans arrived and decided to settle this area there was a large native settlement just on the other side of that ridge to the south. The Europeans were all like 'yeah, whatever' about it and the natives were happy enough to share and so everything was great until a couple of the younger men came across one of the native girls collecting plants. They, uh, attacked her and raped her and then just left her there in the middle of the forest. Which was horrible and all, but what they hadn't realized was that her dad was the village's shaman – a powerful one too.

 

When his daughter didn't come home in two days, her father got worried. He set out to find her, but by the time he did it was too late and she'd already died from her wounds. The shaman was devastated; she was the only family he had left. Then he got angry. He took her body and carried it all the way to the European settlement where he demanded justice. He claimed the spirits of the forest had told him who had killed her, but the settlers just laughed at him. They called him crazy and told him to leave. He refused and instead attacked one of the men who'd raped and killed his daughter.”

 

Stiles paused and took a deep breath. The dining room was silent, only noise audible was the gentle rumblings of the coffeemakers in the kitchen.

 

“They killed the shaman, but with his last breath he cursed the settlement with misfortune, saying they would never know peace or safety for as long as they lived there. When his spirit finally left his body it didn't just disappear, it lingered and grew stronger until the hills sang with its anger and that song became a beacon to all the evil, malicious creatures and spirits that lived in the forest and beneath the earth. For over ten years, misfortune plagued the settlement and many people died. Some disappeared into the forest and never returned, some caught strange illnesses and some were torn apart by wild animals no one could ever find.

 

And then one day a new family of settlers arrived in what was now being called Beacon Hills. They took one look at the beautiful fertile land and decided they wanted to stay. But they needed to make it safe for their children, so they decided to help the residents fight the curse. They had with them an old woman who knew about curses and with her help they found the spot in the forest where the old shaman and his daughter had been burried. The settlers were shocked to find that a huge tree had grown over the grave in the meantime. The new family spent nearly a week in the forest, during which time the residents of Beacon Hills knew the malicious spirits were attacking them because at night they could hear angry howls coming from the forest. When the family finally emerged, they were dragging behind them the trunk of the giant tree and carried with them the body of the old woman.

 

They burned the tree trunk and burried the old woman in their cemetary. When an entire month passed and nothing happened, the residents realized the curse had been lifted. The people of Beacon Hills were incredibly grateful and so no one objected when the new family built themselves a big house in the middle of the forest and claimed the area as theirs.”

 

Stiles looked around at the stunned faces around the table. “As you've probably already guessed, that family's name was Hale.”

 

For a few moments no one spoke.

 

“Well, now I really wish those books hadn't been lost to the fire,” Peter finally broke the silence.

 

“That tree they cut down... was that the Nemeton?” Allison asked.

 

“It sounds like it,” Scott agreed.

 

“I-I think it might be,” said Stiles, feeling a bit weirded out. He'd only been repeating the story Mr. Harris had told him, but somehow it had felt like more. As though the words hadn't really been his and he'd just been the mouthpiece for the story.

 

“I've never heard this story before,” said Stiles' dad. “Where exactly did you hear it, son?”

 

“Yes, I'd like to know that too,” Lydia added, her eyes narrowed with suspicion. “You'd think that a story like that would be common knowledge.”

 

Now Stiles just shrugged. “I seriously don't know why it's not. I actually heard it from someone else. I tried googling it, but I could only find vague sort of references to stories that could've been it, but could've also been, like, a dozen other stories.”

 

“Who did you hear it from?” Scott asked.

 

Stiles looked at his friend and swallowed. “Ah, and now we finally get to where I was this morning and yesterday after lacross practice...”

 

Scott's eyebrows rose and Stiles resisted the urge to point out how much that reminded him of Derek. Instead he just grinned.

 

“So, uh, guess who it turns out isn't actually dead after all?” he asked.

Chapter Text

The forest was never quiet. Even in the dead of night it was alive with activity, a busy nightlife all its own. It was less vibrant, more subdued than its daylife - as though the lack of sunlight had somehow forced it into a reverent hush – but it was undeniably present. The songbirds were asleep and the owls and bats that had taken their place flew about on silent wing, only occasionally letting out a deep, solemn hoot or high-pitched, barely-detectable squeak. Their prey scuttled and scurried about the underbrush while the wind rustled leaves and crickets chirped their own lulling, rhythmic chorus.

 

Yes, there was always life and sound in the forest. Which was why Adrian Harris noticed when it went silent.

 

He looked up from the potion he was stirring and out the window with a frown. He glanced down at his watch. It was 4:30 am: still a ways 'till sunrise. Carefully, he placed the wooden spoon he'd been using down onto his workstation and turned off the flame on the bunsen burner. Then he walked over to the window and peered out. He hadn't been lying to the Stilinski boy; he could handle a werewolf if it came to it. However, given the choice, he would really rather not have to.

 

Then he heard it: the quiet, steady sound of flapping wings. Wings that sounded much too big to belong to a mere bird.

 

Moments later, a large shadow flew over the window and a dark shape landed in the clearing. No sooner had its feet touched the ground, a smaller, human shape slid off its back.

 

“Well, it's about time,” Harris muttered to himself before going out to meet the new arrivals.

 


 

 

Monday flew by for Stiles in a flurry of classes, lacrosse practice and frantic studying for Tuesday's forgotten history test. Studying that somehow slipped from reading through class notes on the First World War to browsing internet articles on crop circles... Stiles had no idea quite how that had happened, but when he looked at the time and realized it was 3 am, he gave up and hoped he'd somehow managed to do enough actual, relevant studying to pass the test.

 

Tuesday began with early morning lacrosse practice (because Finstock was nothing if not a believer in back-to-back torture) and the slight surprise announcement that Ethan wouldn't be joining practice because he was sick. Which made absolutely zero sense given that Ethan was an alpha werewolf and therefore couldn't get sick. Unless there was a special sort of flu just for werewolves. God, Stiles really, really hoped there wasn't such a thing as werewolf flu. With his luck it would be transferable to humans with close enough contact and it'd be three times as bad a regular flu...

 

Stiles was going to happily assume there was no such thing as werewolf flu unless proven otherwise.

 

He frowned and looked to Scott – who was for some reason on the other side of the field with his head down talking to Isaac. Stiles glared at his best friend, but that had absolutely no effect whatsoever. Finally he gave up with an annoyed huff and looked around for Aiden. The alpha werewolf was standing at the edge of the crowd with his arms crossed looking bored. He felt Stiles' eyes on him and turned his head slightly to meet his curious gaze. Aiden's eyes flashed red and he sneered at Stiles. Stiles rolled his eyes. The twins had never attempted to hide their contempt for him (and what was up with that anyway: both Lydia and Danny were human too... er, Danny was human and they never acted like that towards him) and Stiles wasn't going to start getting bothered by it now. Instead he looked around to find Danny. Which was when the coach finally called out the first set of drills.

 

It wasn't until lunchtime that Ethan's absence was explained.

 

Danny intercepted Stiles on his way to the cafeteria. “Stiles, I need your help with chemistry homework,” he said simply.

 

Stiles blinked at him. “You want my help?” he said incredulously. “What about Lydia? She's-”

 

“Because I chose you. Come on, let's go outside.” Danny smiled before turning to walk towards the exit.

 

Stiles automatically followed, still confused. Danny was smart – better than Stiles at chemistry in fact (Stiles noticed these things) – so why would he come to him for help. It definitely wasn't an excuse to spend time with him, 'cause, boyfriend aside, some days he wasn't even entirely sure Danny liked him. Which is not to say he thought Danny hated him, or even actively disliked him, because he definitely found him occasionally funny...

 

Danny sat down at one of the picnic tables, folded his arms over each other on top of the wooden table and eyed Stiles with a serious expression as he sat down. Stiles plonked his bag down next to him and unzipped the top.

 

“So... werewolves,” said Danny.

 

Stiles looked up from where he'd been routing for his chemistry textbook. “Not chemistry?” he asked.

 

The corner of Danny's mouth twitched. “No, werewolves.”

 

Suddenly Stiles' world made sense again. “Oh. Ooooh, so Ethan told you then. Wow that was fast. Is that why he's not in school today?”

 

Danny frowned at Stiles. “I told him to give me some space while I thought about it, so I guess.” He shrugged. “Didn't actually tell him not to come to school though.”

 

“Eh, he probably figured he'd go crazy smelling you everywhere and not knowing. Trust me, no one wants him to wolf out 'cause of stress. Isaac particularly still doesn't trust him and Scott's sort of on the fence... yeah there's so much potential for bad it's not funny.”

 

“That's Isaac Lahey and Scott McCall, right?” Stiles nodded. “Thought so. I was a bit overwhelmed last night to ask Ethan about that, but it makes sense. Zero to hero only happens overnight in the movies. Lahey wasn't a bad player, but McCall was shite until he got this sudden boost of something. Jackson was convinced he was shooting.”

 

Stiles groaned and ran a hand through this hair. “Uh, can we not talk about Jackson just yet? That's, like, a totally different traumatizing conversation.”

 

Danny froze and stared at Stiles for a few moments. “You mean that weirdness that was going on with him last year was also because of werewolves?”

 

“Uh, sorta. His douchiness was all his own, but there may have been some werewolfy involvement, except not really 'cause, uh... yeah, can we seriously leave that for later?”

 

Danny shrugged. “Sure, okay. Just make sure it's before Sunday so I can see his face when I ask him about it over Skype.”

 

Stiles grinned. “You got it. I live to make Jackson's life difficult.”

 

“I feel like normally I would defend him, but I think that requires a generosity I'm not really feeling right now. So Stiles, why don't you tell me how you knew my boyfriend was a werewolf before I did. I mean, I'm guessing it was because of Scott...?”

 

“Well yeah, plus it was sort of hard to miss when they were part of a pack trying to kill all of us and turn either Derek or Scott to the dark side with them.”

 

Danny frowned and Stiles paused when he noticed the anger flash across his eyes. “He didn't tell me that.”

 

Stiles winced. “Oops, sorry. I thought he would have since that's why he hooked up with you in the first in order to get close to- oh shit.” Stiles cut himself off when he realized what he was saying. This time Danny didn't bother suppressing the anger in his eyes. And anger in those usually mild-mannered, friendly eyes was... mildly terrifying. “Er, if it makes you feel any better you're the reason he turned away from the dark side. Got himself nearly killed in the process too.”

 

“Slightly.”

 

Some of the tension drained out of Danny's shoulders, but Stiles had no doubt Ethan was in for an earful – assuming Danny decided to ever speak to him again. Which Stiles was totally okay with. Ethan may have been the nicest member of the Alpha Pack, but that wasn't actually saying much and he'd caused enough trouble for Stiles and the rest of them. Plus, in a round-about way, he was also responsible for the Darach's anger, which had caused even more problems for Stiles and his friends, including his father... Yeah, Stiles had no problem letting Danny verbally take Ethan apart. Hell, he was probably the only one who could.

 

Finally, Danny took a deep breath and sighed. “Okay, so I'm kinda glad I took his suggestion to talk to a human about this,” he finally said with a rueful smile. “I'm not sure I could do this without resenting the person in front of me if they were a super-powered werewolf.”

 

“Scott's mom suggested that.”

 

Danny raised an eyebrow. “Scott's mom? Huh, I guess that makes sense. I'm pretty sure my mom would notice something odd if I suddenly got a lot stronger and developed an urge to chase cars.”

 

Stiles sniggered. “Dude, werewolves hate dog jokes.”

 

“Figured. So who else knows exactly? 'Cause I'm sort of feeling like the last man out here.”

 

“Uh, the werewolves obviously. Plus Scott's mom, Allison and then my dad found out when he'd been kidnapped and held in a root cellar with Mrs. McCall and Allison's dad – who already knew from before because he's a werewolf hunter-”

 

“Woah, hang on. Scott the werewolf dated Allison the werewolf hunter's daughter?!”

 

“Yeah, I know: could they be more Romeo and Juliette?”

 

“They could be dead. Wait. Wasn't Allison's aunt found guilty of setting the Hale House fire?”

 

“She was guilty of setting the Hale House fire. Among other things.”

 

“And she was a werewolf hunter too, wasn't she? That means... wow. There was an entire family of werewolves living right here in Beacon Hills since forever and no one knew?! Explains why their house was in the middle of the preserve.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Danny eyed him for a moment and then grinned. “I knew I was making the right choice when I came to you for the human-to-human werewolf talk.”

 

Stiles blinked, confused at the sudden change in topic. “Yeah, about that. I'm still a bit confused as to why you chose me when you know Lydia way better. I mean, sure I've known about the whole werewolf thing for longer – hell I've pretty much known about the whole werewolf thing longer than Scott seeing as how I was the one who figured out he was one – but Lydia knows almost everything I do at this point.”

 

“Lydia's really good at keeping information to herself.” Danny smirked. “You, on the other hand, have a hard time not sharing information.”

 

Stiles gaped at him. “You-you mean you came to talk to me because I babble?!”

 

“Yup.” He watched Stiles for a few moments, amusement dancing in his eyes. Then he grew serious again. He looked at his watch. “So we've got half an hour left of lunchbreak. Why don't you start from the beginning and then we can continue after school.”

 

Stiles sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah okay, sure. We can go to mine. I just hope you realize Ethan's not exactly my favourite person, reformed or not.”

 

“Good, then you won't be regaling me with all the reasons I should forgive my boyfriend for lying to me about his species.”

 

“Uh, pretty sure that's not something that comes up casually in conversation.”

 

“Yeah I know, but I think I've already mentioned how not generous I'm feeling right now.”

 

“Oh, right,” Stiles said and then did exactly as Danny had asked.

 

When the bell rang they went to class. After classes were over for the day, Lydia surprised both of them by strutting over to Stiles and handing him the stack of books she was holding.

 

“So, you're meeting after school to discuss the town's canine situation?” she asked primly. “Good. I'll join you. It'll be faster with two of us, plus then Stiles here doesn't have to feel guilty about talking about me behind my back.” She looked at Stiles. “Then tomorrow we can go see Mr. Harris.”

 

She swung around and headed out towards the parking lot. Stiles and Danny stared after her.

 

“Uh, does she mean our dead chemistry teacher, Harris?” Danny whispered to Stiles.

 

“Yeah, he's not, er, it's sort of that uh... he's... it's complicated.”

 

“I'm gathering that's sort of been the catch-phrase around here lately.”

 

“Pretty much.”

 

By the time the sheriff came home from work Danny had heard the Beacon Hills ragtag wolf pack's most embarrassing stories, had a basic overview of what he'd missed out on during the past year and a half and knew exactly what he was going to accuse Jackson of during their Sunday afternoon Skype conversation.

 


 

 

“So, what exactly did you tell Ethan?” Stiles blurted out as he Danny and Lydia all piled out of his jeep.

 

He'd been sitting on the question all day, feeling it fester and ferment in his brain ever since he'd first seen the werewolf walk into school beside his brother, his steps lacking their usual arrogant strut. Stiles felt very proud of himself for having managed to hold his tongue for this long.

 

Danny shook his head with an amused smile. “That I'm not breaking up with him, but he's in the doghouse for the forseeable future,” he said.

 

“Good,” said Lydia with a nod of approval. “Make him earn your forgiveness.”

 

Danny looked at her askance and his lips turned up into a sly smile. “That was the plan.”

 

“Uh, yeah, that's good,” said Stiles. “'Cause that look he had on his face all day made him look so completely pathetic and puppy-like that I sort of felt this physical urge to hug him in order to make it go away. And I happen to know what the guy looks like when he's trying to kill me!”

 

Lydia rolled her eyes. “Stiles, stop being ridiculous. Now, were you going to lead the way or should we guess which tree Harris is hiding behind?”

 

“He has a shack, er, cabin, sort of... oh who am I kidding: it's a shack. Totally a shack.” Stiles set out towards the forest, knowing the other two were following him. It was an odd feeling, having Lydia and Danny both following him. It made him feel like he was important.

 

They didn't talk much along the way, although Lydia did have Stiles repeat the story of the Curse of Beacon Hills for Danny. He'd also never heard it.

 

“Wait, hang on!” Danny suddenly exclaimed. He glared at Stiles. “I remember waking up in the hospital. You were there digging through my bag and then you tried to convince me you were a dream!”

 

Stiles winced. “Er, yeah, sorry about that. I uh, needed your essay on Telluric Currents. See, the reason Harris didn't want you doing that project was because you were too close to us and the Darach was using the Telluric Currents to position the sacrifices... something about how they draw power to the Nemeton and then to her. Your research was a big help to us and totally saved Scott's boss' life.”

 

Danny nodded thoughtfully. “So the currents can be used to conduct magical energy...”

 

“It's not actually magic exactly-” Stiles began, but Danny waved him off. They fell silent again.

 

The moment Stiles stepped into the clearing, he could tell that something was different. He paused, frowning at the ground beneath his feet as he tried to analyze the feeling.

 

“Stiles?” he heard Lydia ask, a note of disgust in her voice. “That is definitely a shack.”

 

“Actually, I'm sort of impressed it's still standing,” Danny added. “Not the kind of place I would've ever pictured Harris living in though.”

 

Stiles shrugged. The feeling confused him. He knew something had changed in the clearing since he'd last been here, but he didn't know how or what. Or how knew in the first place for that matter. He looked up and surveyed the area. Everything looked the same as it had the last time... except for the dark lump laying in the shadows against the left wall of the shack. Firewood covered with a blanket perhaps? Stiles took a step towards it, wondering if he would maybe be able to sense that much mountain ash wood in one place.

 

Which was about when the lump moved. And opened one bright red eye.

 

Stiles froze. The lump uncurled itself and stood up onto four clawed legs. Then it took a few steps forward and unfurled its long, bat-like wings. Stiles gaped. The creature was dark grey and smaller than the shack, but not by much. And it was reptilian with two slightly twisted horns on its head and long narrow spikes running down its back that tapered off into a long, narrow tail.

 

Oh who was he kidding? It was a goddamn dragon is what it was.

 

It eyed them for a moment. Then it opened its mouth and let out a screech that might've almost been a roar had it been twice the size. Stiles was perfectly okay with it not being twice the size: the screech was quite terrifying enough. He jumped at the noise.

 

“I'm suddenly thinking that maybe we should've brought one of the werewolves along,” Danny said softly, his voice sounding slightly faint.

 

“Stiles, you didn't mention Harris having any pets of unusual size!” Lydia hissed at him.

 

“That wasn't here before!” Stiles whispered back furiously, his heart beating a rather panicked rhythm now that he'd come out of his initial shock at seeing the beast. Just then he heard a familiar chirping and felt a familiar weight land on his shoulder. He turned to the sparrow. “Hey there, buddy, you got a friend visiting? At least I hope it's a friend and not an enemy, 'cause I hate to break it to you but if you think I'm fighting that for you, you're on the wrong team of adventurers. Dragon slaying is definitely not included in the list of skills on my resume.”

 

“Then it's a good thing it's not a dragon, isn't it?”

 

Stiles' head shot back to the shack. The voice had spoken with a British accent and the only person Stiles knew who had a British accent was Ducalean. Thankfully, the man standing in the doorway definitely wasn't Deucalion – not even close. For a start, he looked about half a century or so older with long white hair and a beard that came close to brushing his knees. He was also by far the strangest-looking old man Stiles had ever seen and would've probably looked completely natural in a set of grey robes ready to lead an expedition through Middle Earth. Only he wasn't wearing robes. Instead he was wearing jeans and leather chaps and a bright blue, long-sleeved shirt underneath a black t-shirt with a picture of the Mona Lisa on it. So, a bit like Gandalf if he'd had a late-life crisis and bought himself a Harley.

 

The old man scowled at them and shuffled forward, his steps stiff and his back slightly hunched. The beast turned its head towards him and let out a chirping sound. The old man placed a gentle hand on its head and it nuzzled back. “Myfanwy here is a wyvvern. There is a big difference between a dragon and a wyvvern.”

 

Stiles blinked. “And not because dragons aren't real?” he asked before he'd even thought about it.

 

The old man snorted. “Of course dragons are real. Why wouldn't they be?”

 

“Because it's a mythical creature?” Danny offered. “And mythical creatures don't exist?”

 

“Humph, I don't suppose you've told those so-called mythical creatures that! You modern people and your logic and science think you have it all figured out. Ridiculous.”

 

He left the wyvvern's side and shuffled closer to them, eyeing them critically. His eyes landed on Lydia and widened. “Fascinating,” he whispered and then, with a swiftness that belied his age as well as all his previous shuffling, he strode up to her and peered closely into her eyes.

 

Lydia yelped and took a hurried step back. Stiles tensed, but didn't move any closer. There was something about the man... he didn't feel like a threat.

 

“You're quite far from your roots aren't you, young lady?”

 

Lydia swallowed and then quickly composed herself. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”

 

The old man chuckled. “Yes you do. It's the interesting thing about fae blood, you know: its powers often can go generations without manifesting themselves. Could've been as much as two hundred years ago that one of your ancestors lay with a banshee. Hm, I imagine something happened to you that forced it to awaken.”

 

Stiles narrowed his eyes at the man. “She was bitten by a werewolf,” he said before wincing at the glare Lydia shot him.

 

The old man glanced to Stiles and raised a white bushy eyebrow. “Ah yes, that would do it. The fae are nothing if not selfish. And their blood is powerful even in this realm; it would have never allowed something as common as werewolf blood to take possession of you.”

 

“And I appreciate that, but I'm not sure finding dead bodies is exactly fair trade,” said Lydia dryly.

 

The old man frowned. Then he reached forward and took her left hand, lifting it up so he could squint at her palm. Lydia stiffened, but allowed the gesture. After a few moments she gasped, her eyes widening. She stared at the old man in wonder. Eventually he let go of her hand and stepped back.

 

“It seems your powers have not fully matured yet,” he said. “They are as yet unstable. Hmm...”

 

He turned away from her abruptly and suddenly he was inches away from Stiles' face and peering into his eyes. Stiles cried out and flailed backwards a step. The old man followed.

 

“And you, young man, must be this Stiles Adrian has been telling me about.”

 

Stiles gulped. “Uh, yes?” he said. “So, you uh, know Mr. Harris?”

 

The old man snorted and stepped away. “Of course I know him. I'm here, aren't I? This clearing is not a place people simply wander into.”

 

“Or fly into?” Danny asked.

 

The old man's eyes flickered in his direction and he scowled, though Stiles was close enough to see the sparkle of amusement in the deep blue eyes. “Indeed.”

 

Having the old man's attention diverted from her for a minute was apparently all Lydia had needed to rally back to her usual self. She now stepped forward, eyes sharp and narrow.

 

“We're here to see Mr. Harris,” she said coolly. “Where is he? And who exactly are you?”

 

The old man waved her off. “He's inside resting. Healing his body is a rather unpleasant procedure, so I spelled him unconscious.”

 

Stiles blinked. “Spelled? As in used a magic spell? You-you're, like, a wizard or something?”

 

“Or something.”

 

The realization hit Stiles a bit like a car part to the head (he would know). He'd thought the clearing had felt different when he'd first entered... It wasn't the clearing. It was the man in front of him. Now that he was paying attention, Stiles could feel the charge in the air – somehow both heavier, yet clearer all at once. The darkness around his heart felt soothed, lighter than usual in the man's presence. How had he not noticed sooner?

 

“You-” Stiles whispered, fascinated by the feeling and awed.

 

The old man was looking back at him with undisguised curiosity.

 

“Stiles?” Stiles tore his eyes away from the old man to look at Lydia. There was a slight nervousness in her eyes. “You can feel that too?”

 

Stiles nodded. Danny frowned. “Feel what?”

 

“Magic.”

 

The voice sounded hoarse, but familiar. They all looked to the shack and, sure enough, Adrian Harris stood leaning against the door frame, his arms crossed over his chest. He was wearing a green dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the top two buttons undone. His skin looked slightly paler than usual and his neck had a grey-ish discolouration, but the horrific, unnatural-looking gouges were gone.

 

“Oh Adrian, you're awake!” the old man exclaimed before shuffling off towards him. “How are you feeling?”

 

“I'm fine: nothing something to drink won't fix.” Harris waved him off in irritation and then frowned at him. “Why are you an old man?”

 

The old man shrugged. “No one takes me seriously when I'm not.”

 

Harris snorted. “That's because you look ridiculous.”

 

“Humph, see if I ever help you again.”

 

Stiles, Lydia and Danny exchanged glances. Because, really?! Generally, a person looked like an old man because they were old. They looked back in time to watch their former chemistry teacher roll his eyes. The old man crossed her arms over his chest and muttered something under his breath.

 

Then his eyes began to glow gold – not the bright supernatural yellow of werewolf eyes, but the clear, brilliant shine of 24 carot gold. His beard darkened and it shrank, wrinkles smoothed out of his skin as age spots disappeared...

 

Stiles gaped at the thin young man with short dark hair and slightly protruding ears that was suddenly standing before them. When the gold had faded away from his eyes, he waved a hand at the three teenagers and grinned widely.

 

“Hello, sorry for the late introduction,” he called cheerily. “I'm Merlin.”

Chapter Text


 

“...and then he held his hand out and his eyes glowed again and he, like, said a magic spell of some sort that I didn't understand and I'm pretty sure wasn't in Latin and then this huge fireball suddenly swirled into existence just like that! It was totally the coolest thing ever! Deaton's a total crank with his 'there's no such thing as magic'. Magic is a thing. A cool thing.”

 

Lydia and Allison stopped at the edge of the school's parking lot and exchanged looks.

 

“Magic?” Allison mouthed to Lydia before turning back to look at Stiles in amusement as he regaled Scott with whatever tale it was he was regaling him with: arms flailing and flapping and neck bopping along with his words. Scott, for his part, looked torn between listening to his friend's words and being mesmerized by the constant, erratic movement of his limbs.

 

Allison giggled.

 

“But get this: then he made the fire sort of stretch out and he used it to draw pictures in thin air with some dust and dirt he picked up from the ground with wind! Camelot, Scott! I saw Camelot! Well, a graphic representation of it – 3-D model though, which was super cool. And then he told us stories about the real Knights of the Round Table. Did you know that King Arthur was actually a total douche?”

 

“Prat,” Lydia corrected. Stiles startled and spun around to blink at them. Allison turned to her friend with a frown. Lydia simply sniffed and tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Merlin used the word 'prat'.”

 

Stiles shrugged. “Prat's just britspeak for douche.”

 

Scott's eyes had brightened when he'd seen her. “Hey Allison,” he called with a sunny smile. “Hey Lydia!”

 

“Hi Scott,” Allison said with a warm smile of her own. He still looked at her as though she was one of the most wonderful things in the world and, despite her confusion over her own feelings, that look never failed to infuse her with a familiar fuzziness.

 

She shrugged off the feeling and looked between Stiles and Lydia; she felt like she was missing something. “I know you guys left with Danny yesterday,” she said carefully. “Did you go watch a movie or something?”

 

Lydia turned to her with a raised eyebrow. “No, of course not. We went to visit Mr. Harris.”

 

“And you didn't ask if I wanted to come?!”

 

Lydia shrugged. “You said you had some sort of thing with your dad.”

 

“A training session, yeah, but I would've totally postponed it for that.”

 

Lydia rolled her eyes. “Not without having to explain to him why you were postponing it and then he would've either stopped us or insisted on coming along.”

 

Yes okay, she had a point there, Allison realized. Her father would never let her cancel a training session without a very good, very detailed reason. That didn't make the small tendrils of hurt that had weaved their way around her heart disappear.

 

Allison took a deep breath: it was the darkness, she knew it was. Ever since the ritual she could feel the way it seemed to exacerbate her negative emotions and made them more difficult to shake off. She and Scott had talked about it once and he had amazed her by having already realized that being around their friends, focusing on the people they cared about and the positive emotions of the bonds between them, helped.

 

Her thoughts were interrupted by a low growl. “Back up there a sec, I second that thought.” They turned to watch as Aiden stalked up to Lydia, Ethan trailing quietly behind him, his eyes unsubtly scanning the group and then the parking lot beyond them. When his eyes finally stopped roaming, Allison followed his gaze to where Danny was just getting out of his car. Meanwhile, Aiden had come up to Lydia and was doing his best to loom over her. “Why didn't you tell any of us you were going? It could've been dangerous and Stilinski isn't exactly much of a defence.”

 

“Hey!” Stiles protested.

 

Lydia, completely unaffected by the attempted looming, gave him a scathing look. “Stiles visited him twice without problem and if Harris had wanted any of us dead, it would've been him.”

 

“Yeah, besides we had no way of knowing about the wyvvern,” Stiles added. Lydia transferred her glare to him for a moment.

 

“Uh, what's a wyvvern?”

 

Allison turned behind her to smile at Isaac as he approached the group from behind her. A small smile appeared on his face when he looked at her.

 

“It's sort of like a dragon, but smaller and less magical,” Stiles answered. He blinked and looked back to Scott. “Oh, sorry, I may have forgotten to mention that part.”

 

Scott stared at his friend with wide eyes. “Wait, that thing you've been telling me about all morning with the wizard: that actually happened?!”

 

Stiles froze. He blinked at Scott. “Gee, I'm so glad you were paying attention to me, buddy,” he said sarcastically then threw his hands up. “What did you think I was describing? Some sort of weird dream I had?!”

 

“Er...” Scott looked sheepish for a moment before frowning and looking to Isaac. “But we ran all over that area yesterday and couldn't even find the cottage let alone see any small, sort-of dragon thing.”

 

Allison's eyebrows rose at that revelation. She'd wondered if Scott was looking into any of what Stiles had told them at Sunday dinner.

 

“And it didn't occur to you to - oh I don't know - ask the person who'd already been there twice?!”

 

“Besides, Merlin definitely said he was a sorcerer not a wizard,” a voice said into the ensuing silence. They all turned to Danny, who was now standing just behind Stiles – conspicuously on the opposite side of the group to Ethan.

 

“You know, I'm not sure he actually said how there was a difference,” said Stiles with a slight frown.

 

Danny just shrugged. “He didn't, but he did seem pretty adamant about being a sorcerer. Maybe it has something to do with the wyvvern. Or cutting off all the Harry Potter jokes before they started.” He looked over the group and waved with his left hand while his right hand was holding his backpack in place over his shoulder. “Hi everyone, so I guess this is my official introduction to the not-human club? Oh, except for Allison, I think.”

 

Allison smirked at him. “Yup, still human here.”

 

Danny grinned and nodded. “Good.” He looked at his watch. “Now, in other news, the bell is going to ring in, like, three minutes so for those of us who don't have super speed, we should probably head inside.”

 

Allison looked at her watch and panicked. “Oh my god, he's right. We need to get going.” Beside her, she saw Lydia hand her bag over to Aiden and toss her hair over her shoulder artfully before turning to strut into the school.

 


 

 

Merlin wandered through Beacon Hills, taking in the scenery and people. It wasn't large by modern standards, but Merlin still sometimes had to remind himself of that. Had to remind himself that the great grand metropolis Camelot had at first seemed to him - castle looming in the distance as more people than he'd ever seen in one place rushed by him – was tiny in comparison to what was now considered a metropolis.

 

Sometimes, he loved it: this fast-paced, dynamic modern world. Sometimes, he hated it. Hated how loud and fast it was as it moved forward like a bolt of crazed lightening, how people had stopped looking around themselves and no longer peered into the world, but contented themselves with looking at its surface. Forgotten what was once common sense and called it fairy tales and superstition. Called it myth.

 

Merlin followed the weak tendrils of familiar power through the streets. He highly doubted anyone but him would've been able to feel them and he might not have noticed them at all had he not been looking. The three children he'd met yesterday had listened to his stories with rapt attention, probably not even realizing how much of themselves they were giving away by doing so. Danny might have been sceptical had the other two not been with him, but Stiles and Lydia had felt the truth of his words in their souls. As a Spark and a Fae, they could do no less. Lydia's powers were still new and maturing and Merlin would have to think on what to do about that - contact a few old friends. But Stiles...

 

The spark inside Stiles shone like the most dazzling firefly even obscured by the haze of darkness as it was. That the boy had managed to go thus far undetected and had for so long remained ignorant and untrained was miraculous. And utterly inexcusable.

 

Finally, Merlin found himself standing in front of the veterinarian’s office. He pushed his magic outward, using it to feel the inside of the building. He felt one human life and several smaller, animal lifeforms. One of them was feline. It was dying. Merlin closed his eyes and let his magic linger on her form, quietly easing her aches and feeling her relax. He knew better than to attempt to prevent the inevitable, but that didn't mean he couldn't at least ease her sleep.

 

A bell above the door jingled as Merlin entered the building. The waiting room was silent. He stepped up to the counter and felt the wood. It was mountain ash, he realized: rowan wood. Used to keep away magical and supernatural influences. He was definitely in the right place.

 

“I'll be right there!” a voice called out from the back room.

 

Merlin looked up from his inspection and then opened the physical barrier, sliding through the invisible one as easily as he would through a beaded curtain. It wasn't actually designed to keep humans out anyway. He closed it behind him and walked into the back room. A dark-skinned man in a long white lab coat was standing at a long work table carefully measuring out a white powder into capsules.

 

Merlin leaned against a wooden shelf and let his magic flow out from him. The man stiffened and carefully placed his instruments down on the table. Then he looked directly at Merlin with a calm curiosity that gave nothing away.

 

“Hello, how can I help you?” he asked, his voice a bland smoothness that was almost soothing.

 

Merlin grinned at him. “Hello Doctor Deaton, I was told you would know a bit about what's been going on around here lately.”

 

The veterinarian frowned. “Who are you?” he asked after a few moments.

 

Merlin felt into the air around him and gave it a little spin with his magic. He could feel the magic turning his eyes golden as the slight wind ruffled his hair on its way around the room. The other man's eyes widened. “You shouldn't need to ask me that, druid.”

 

“Emrys,” Doctor Deaton whispered in awe. He recovered quickly and schooled his expression, although there was some worry in his eyes now. “What brings you to Beacon Hills?”

 

Merlin shrugged. “An old friend. But that's not why I'm here. I want to ask you about the Spark, Stiles Stilinski. He said you were the one, who told him what he was.”

 

The doctor nodded carefully. “Yes, I did. He had a lot of potential.”

 

Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Had?”

 

Deaton sighed. “A former emissary turned against the ways of the druids and became a Darach. In order to gain power she used the rites of the triple death. Among her last sacrifices were Stiles' father and the parents of two of his friends. To save their parents' lives, the three of them performed a substitution ritual. You have no doubt noticed the darkness that now resides around his spark...?”

 

“I have.”

 

“It's a result of the ritual. That same darkness now prevents me from training him as an emissary.” He paused. “It would be inadvisable to teach him to use his spark under the circumstances.”

 

Merlin frowned. It wasn't entirely true... nor entirely untrue either. It was, however, a very druidic response; druids didn't like darkness, never had. Darkness brought out darker, more violent emotions, which, in turn, created more dark, violent emotions until they spiralled out of control in a sea of chaos that magic then became and that sparked its own evils. Like the Purge. The powers of life and death always demanded a sacrifice. Perhaps it was good that Stiles had learned this lesson early.

 

Merlin took a deep breath. “Does he know?”

 

“Yes. He came to me to ask me to train him so that he could protect his father and his friends. He was deeply upset when I told him.”

 

Merlin nodded. He could well understand the desire to protect at all costs. “Tell me about the ritual,” he said.

 


 

 

Lunchtime found Stiles following Scott outside to eat on the lacrosse bleachers. It was a beautiful day despite the chilly breeze: the sun a bright globe hanging high in the picture-perfect blue sky with only a few fluffy white marshmallow clouds in sight. The tension Stiles had carried all day evaporated away at the first touch of breeze on his cheek as the annoyance he'd felt towards his friend eased from his heart.

 

The jealousy had been an ugly beast that had burrowed its way in from the moment he'd heard Scott say he'd gone running with Isaac and hadn't told Stiles about it, hadn't asked him to join them. They were supposed to be an inseparable duo! Batman and Robin! Best bros did not just abandon their other halves, not ever.

 

Except...

 

As the sun warmed his skin and the breeze ruffled his hair, Stiles realized that through all his talking and planning with Lydia and Danny, it hadn't even occurred to him to call Scott and invite him along with them to visit Harris. Once upon a time that would've been automatic: his mind would've immediately jumped from 'ooh, something cool' to 'call Scott'. When had that changed?

 

They climbed to the top of the bleachers and sat down. Stiles plonked his bag beside him, but didn't open it right away. He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned into the breeze's caress. Beside him, he could hear Scott digging his lunch out of his bag.

 

“What happened to us?” Stiles whispered. He heard Scott pause in his movements and opened his eyes, looking into his friend's curious expression. “It used to be the two of us and then everyone else: Us against Them. But now... now it's, like, US and Other People against Them. Only it's not really Us anymore, but You and Me and Other People around us and between us and it's like there's no room for Us anymore-”

 

“Stiles.”

 

Stiles fell silent and looked down at his hands before sighing and looking back at his friend. Scott was looking at him with amused, puppy eyes and a half-smile on his lips.

 

“We're still Us, Stiles,” Scott continued. “We'll always be Us. Only, now I think we're more than just Us. We- we're a Group.” He looked away, staring into the distance thoughtfully. “A pack,” he whispered and then looked back to Stiles, his eyes wide with realization. “We're a Pack.”

 

Stiles swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. “I'll think you'll have a bit of a hard time selling that to Allison's dad,” he tried to joke.

 

Scott grinned. “Yeah well... work in progress, right?”

 

“A lot of progress.” And then, because Stiles couldn't help himself – couldn't keep that tiny voice inside his heart silent. “We're still bros though, right?”

 

Scott blinked. “Of course. Why wouldn't we be?” He cocked his head to the side and then looked over towards the school and smiled with delight. Stiles followed his gaze and saw Allison and Isaac approaching with Lydia, who looked annoyed at having to cross the lacrosse field in her heels. “It's just that now we've got more people to call our own. I-I don't think that's a bad thing. Do you?”

 

Stiles watched as Allison and Lydia suddenly began an animated discussion across a hapless-looking Isaac. Isaac must've quickly realized he was in the way and stepped back in order for the girls to converge seamlessly ahead of him as though they hadn't noticed he'd gone. Stiles saw him shake his head and follow behind them. His people, Stiles though, mulling the idea around in his mind. His Pack. Warmth settled around the hollow space within his chest and he smiled.

 

“Yeah, it's totally a good thing,” he finally said. He bumped shoulders with Scott and raised an eyebrow at him when their eyes met. “When did you get so wise?”

 

“I've always been wise,” Scott deadpanned. “My great wisdom has been well-hidden until such a time that it was needed.”

 

Stiles snorted. “Sure, you keep telling yourself that. So you wanna go visit Harris with me after school today oh wise alpha of Beacon Hills?”

 

Scott made a face. “Can't have to work and then my dad wants to take me out to dinner and mom's making me go. Tomorrow?”

 

“Lacrosse practice, Scotty.”

 

“Oh, right. My mom works nights tomorrow though, so maybe after practice?”

 

“You've forgotten about the chemistry assignment haven't you?”

 

“Er...”

 

“Although I suppose we could always ask Harris to help- wait, what am I saying? This is Harris we're talking about. Nevermind. Hey, but Danny's a total chem wiz and he's one of us now.”

 

They were interrupted by Lydia, Allison and Isaac's arrival. Aiden and Ethan appeared ten minutes later and Danny came by half-way through lunch. The bag of oreos Stiles took out of his bag was devoured by the time the bell rang for class again and he couldn't bring himself to feel disappointed.

 


 

 Mywanwy set down just at the outskirts of the forest, as close to the glowing lights of the village as either of them dared to come. Neither one had any desire to spook the residents, many of whom no longer believed as their ancestors once did. Merlin slid off her back and whispered a word of thanks before setting off on foot the rest of the way while she slipped into the cover of the trees. They'd set out at twilight and now it was full dark, not that Merlin needed anything more than the stars to light his way. So long as there was land beneath his feet and trees and birds, he would never lose his way. This land wasn't his, but he'd been to America often enough since its discovery that it felt like visiting an old friend.

 

It took him nearly an hour to arrive at his destination. The small house showed its years, though even in the dark he could tell there'd been a fresh coat of paint put on. The flowers growing along the front were a little different as well and the curtains in the windows were new. But the aura that surrounded the house was the same.

 

Merlin knocked on the door. It was late, but he knew the house's owner didn't keep regular hours. From inside the house he heard some shuffling and a clanging noise as something was put down. Then there was silence and, out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the curtain shift to the side for a moment.

 

Eventually the door opened to reveal a woman in her late thirties with long, straight dark hair and piercing dark eyes. There was an eagle feather woven into the strands of her hair and a necklace made of beads and bear claws around her neck, which strangely didn't look out-of-place next to her skinny blue jeans and LA Lakers sweatshirt. She stood in the doorway and stared at him wordlessly.

 

Merlin felt the power in her aura – so different from his as it was intimately tied to the land around him. He frowned. “Does Elsu Night Wanderer still live here?” he asked.

 

The woman raised an eyebrow at him. “My grandfather died many years ago,” she answered in a slightly husky voice.

 

Merlin froze. This... he hadn't been expecting. “Oh.”

 

The woman observed him for a few moments and then snorted. “You must be Merlin – Emrys as your people call you. My grandfather told me about you. No other would possibly be surprised to find a man who would've been one hundred and twenty-six last summer no longer alive.”

 

He blinked. Had it really been that long? A wave of sorrow swept over him as he remembered his old friend. He'd first met Elsu when the other was a young man courting the woman who would one day be his wife. He had enjoyed Merlin's company and Merlin had enjoyed his. When Merlin visited they would talk well into the night and trade stories of their lives, their peoples and their lands. Elsu had been a mostly quiet man with an even temper and a smile never far from his lips – though after several glasses of wine he became just as talkative as Merlin.

 

But the pain of losing a friend was nothing new to Merlin. He took a deep breath and pushed it to the side: he would mourn him later.

 

“You have taken his place?” he said to the woman. A question, but only out of politeness. He could feel that she had.

 

“Yes,” she answered anyway. “My name is Sanuye Grass Whisperer.”

 

“Then I suppose it is you I now seek, Sanuye.”

 

She frowned. “Why?”

 

Merlin held out the bottle he'd been carrying – an offering. “I seek your counsel and your guidance.”

 

Her eyebrows rose in surprise. She took the offered bottle and inspected it. It was made of thick, heavy glass, the top sealed with wax. There was no label. She glanced back to Merlin. “Is this...?”

 

“Fairy wine,” he answered with a smile.

 

Sanuye's eyes lit up with excitement. “Then come in. I'll get the glasses. Though I have no idea how you think I might possibly be able to counsel you of all people.”

 

Merlin followed her in, taking in the interior of the small house. It was nostalgically similar to what he remembered, yet different enough that even had he not known Elsu was dead, he would've known he no longer lived here. He'd never owned a television, for a start, let alone anything like the large flatscreen monstrosity Merlin could see taking up nearly an entire wall of the tiny living room to his right.

 

He sat down at small oak table in the kitchen and ran a hand along the familiar wood. “Actually, I'd like to begin by telling you a story. I'm assuming you know about Beacon Hills?”

 

She frowned as she set a wineglass in front of him. “It's the town on the other side of the forest.” She paused. “It's cursed.”

 

He nodded. “Yes, it is. And that's the start of the story.”

Chapter Text


 

The bedroom was silent but for the soft breaths of a sleeping child and the gentle flapping of a dark curtain covered in firetrucks the only movement as a steady late autumn breeze blew in from the partially open window. Moonlight bathed half the room in silver light, leaving the other half a shadowed hush. It illuminated the child and dyed its messy locks an elvish white where it lay curled around a large stuffed dinosaur.

 

The silence grew heavier. And then there was a noise: barely a whisper and more like a movement of air. At first nothing happened. Then the child twitched and slowly opened its eyes. It blinked and slowly twisted around, rubbing its eyes and yawning as it sat up. It blinked again sleepily when it spied the figure crouching on the foot of its bed, curious. Unafraid.

 

The figure – creature perhaps – looked just barely smaller than the child, though its limbs were long and boney. Its face was round and leathery and lined with deep wrinkles, eyes looking like they were threatening to disappear beneath a pronounced brow. Slightly pointed ears jutted out from the sparsely-haired head. The creature blinked once slowly at the child.

 

The child hugged the dinosaur to it tightly. “Are you Dobby?” it asked the creature.

 

The creature cocked its head to the side. Yes, the child somehow heard it say though its lips never moved. Then it lifted its hands and held out a blue ball to the child in between long, nobby fingers. Come. Play?

 

A small smile and a spark of excitement appeared on the child's face. It nodded. The creature smiled back and then hopped off the bed. The child scrambled out after it, pausing only to collect its slippers - all good adventurers knew not to forget their slippers. Then it padded after the creature.

 

The creature led it quietly through the house, down the stairs and then out the back door, which somehow wasn't locked. The child followed it through a hole in the fence it hadn't known about and then through the dark, lamp-lit streets. Once the child paused to wonder at how different the world looked in the dark, when everyone was asleep, but a silent almost-whisper on the wind caught its attention again and it ran to catch up to its new friend.

 

The child began to wonder where they were going. Then they rounded the corner and suddenly the forest loomed before them. The creature shuffled forward and then turned to beckon the child forward. The child laughed with delight as it ran into the forest, excited for the adventures that awaited it.


 

The scream tore Aiden from his sleep with a startled cry that turned into a red-eyed growl as his instincts took over from his sleep-muddled brain. His legs tangled in the sheets around him and he stumbled, but sharp claws tore through fabric and released him in an instant. He paused and sniffed the air, searching the room for intruders.

 

Perfume. Makeup. Ink. Papers. Books. Lydia.

 

He was in Lydia's room, he realized as his reason caught up with his senses. He scanned the room and saw nothing out of place. Next to him he heard Lydia panting, her heart beating too quickly. He turned to her, confident there weren't any intruders. “Lydia...?”

 

Lydia ignored him, pushing her covers aside and sliding out of bed as though nothing was wrong. As though waking up screaming was perfectly normal and mundane. Aiden frowned. It was definitely her, but there was something different about Lydia's scent. As though part of it were stronger. She was putting clothes on now - changing into the same ones she'd worn yesterday. He slipped out of the bed and cautiously padded up to her. She was humming softly to herself in the same way she would when she was getting ready in the morning.

 

He glanced at the clock. It was four am.

 

Aiden reached out and gently touched her shoulder. “Lydia?”

 

She batted his hand away and picked up her comb. He followed her to the mirror, pushing down the panic he could feel seizing his veins and making him feel jittery with sudden cold. Lydia stared into the mirror as she ran the hand through the lengths of her thick, red hair. She didn't acknowledge his presence when he sidled up to her and gazed at her through the mirror.

 

He looked into her eyes and froze. Maybe if he hadn't already known something was wrong, he might've missed it. Missed the way her eyes didn't seem to be looking into the mirror at all, as though only part of her was here with him and part of her was somewhere else.

 

He grabbed her by the shoulders and spun her around forcefully. “LYDIA!”

 

Lydia let out a surprised yelp. “Wha-?” She blinked and looked up at him. Aiden let out a sigh of relief and rested his forehead against her shoulder. Her eyes were normal again: she was seeing him. He breathed her in and realized she smelled right again too. “Aiden, what's going on?”

 

Aiden stepped back. She was glaring at him. “Your screaming woke me up,” he said. Her eyes widened. “And then you just got out of bed and started getting ready to go out. But it was... I won't lie, Lydia, it was really freaky. I tried to ask you what was going on, but it was like you didn't realize I was there, like you couldn't see me.”

 

Her heartbeat sped up, but she closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm it. “Thanks,” she whispered and opened her eyes to meet his wearily. “I'd rather not find another dead body tonight.”

 

His eyes widened. They'd told him about this, sort of. “This is part of the whole banshee thing?”

 

“Yeah.” She sighed. “I should probably call Stiles.”

 

“It's four am.”

 

She raised an eyebrow at him. “So?”

 

He opened his mouth, but then realized he didn't actually care if they woke Stiliniski up. So he just shrugged and handed Lydia her cellphone.


 

Lydia confidently retraced her steps from the other day. Stiles had been the one to guide them that time and he wasn't here now, but she remembered the path clearly. Stiles was with the rest of the lacrosse team helping the sheriff's department search for the little boy who'd gone missing from his bedroom overnight. He'd come to school with the news, his father having received the call at around seven-thirty.

 

Lydia felt only slightly guilty that her first thought was gratitude towards Aiden for waking her out of her trance. Because she somehow knew all they would find of the child would be a corpse.

 

She wanted this to stop. She really, really didn't need or want to know every time someone in Beacon Hills died brutally - it hadn't escaped her notice that she never woke up screaming for any of the elderly residents who died peacefully in their sleep. She'd checked the obituaries.

 

By her side, Aiden moved silently, having insisted on accompanying her. She'd rolled her eyes at him, but didn't argue. Part of her was glad to have someone with her, though she'd never let him know that.

 

Suddenly Aiden froze, crouching low as he scented the air. Lydia stopped beside him and raised her eyebrows at him. “What?” she asked.

 

He frowned. “I'm not sure... It's as though whatever's up ahead doesn't have a scent. No, that's not right. I can smell trees and dirt, but it's like it's the same trees and dirt that are everywhere else.”

 

Lydia stared at him. She was going to assume that would've made sense to a werewolf. “As opposed to what? Alien trees and dirt?”

 

“Uh, what?” Aiden looked at her for a few moments and then winced. “Er, sorry that possibly wasn't the best explanation ever. Look, it might all look the same to you, but each little bit of the forest is different. Like, if you took it and chopped it up into squares you'd find that each square had a slightly different combination of trees and a different breed of mushrooms or shrubs growing in it or maybe one might have a bird's nest or a rabbit hole in it.”

 

He paused and Lydia nodded: that made sense. Aiden sighed in relief before running a hand through his hair and then gestured to the part in front of them.

 

“This square here smells identical to the ones around it, like-” He faltered for a moment and then his eyes lit up. “-like a video that's been put on a continuous loop!”

 

“Hmm...” Lydia looked ahead thoughtfully. That was where the clearing with Harris' shack was. “It's probably the spell Merlin said was surrounding the clearing. Although I thought Scott and Isaac said they'd run all over this area the day before yesterday and didn't find anything.”

 

Aiden snorted. “McCall's a lot of things, but a born wolf he ain't. This isn't exactly something he would've learnt in his entire year of being a werewolf.”

 

Lydia felt the corner of her mouth twitch. “So what you're saying is that you're that much better than him.”

 

There werewolf grinned widely. “Of course I am,” he said, puffing his chest out proudly.

 

Lydia snorted and walked on.

 

A large grey head rose up and turned to look at them curiously as they entered the clearing. Aiden immediately stepped in front of Lydia and growled at the wyvvern. The not-quite-dragon craned its head forward a bit to smell them. Then it sniffed once and pulled back, resting its head against its front legs again, as though deciding that despite his bluster, the werewolf was uninteresting. Lydia watched Aiden's eyes flash with anger in amusement.

 

She brushed past him. “Hello Myfanwy,” she said to the wyvvern. Two red eyes slid over to look at Lydia and then a contented-sounding rumbling came from the creature.

 

The door to the shack was open and as she approached, Mister Harris appeared in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest as his eyes glanced behind her at Aiden and then back to her. “Miss Martin,” he greeted after a moment.

 

“Hello, Mister H-” Lydia was interrupted by a sudden growl from Aiden. She frowned as he stepped forward: his eyes were glowing bright alpha red.

 

“I can smell wolfsbane from inside,” he growled.

 

Harris, who had tensed slightly at Aiden's growl, relaxed and rolled his eyes. “Yes, I imagine you can. Aconite does have uses other than werewolf poison, after all.”

 

“Such as?” Lydia couldn't help but ask.

 

“It can be used as a diuretic, a pain reliever for rheumatism, and to diminish local inflammations. In humans, obviously.”

 

“Hmm. But it's poisonous.”

 

“Which is why one must be very careful when preparing it.”

 

“Makes sense.”

 

“So are you like a potion's master or something?” Aiden asked Harris with narrowed eyes.

 

Harris raised an eyebrow at him. “If such a title actually existed I suppose I would be called that. Although they're hardly magical if that's what you're implying. More natural remedies, which is what I sell them as.”

 

Lydia blinked. “You sell them?”

 

“Of course. Now did you actually have a reason for coming here?”

 

“Is Merlin around?”

 

“No. He went out to pick herbs sometime after noon. Which means he's probably asleep under a tree somewhere.”

 

“I am not!”

 

Lydia, Aiden and Myfanwy turned to watch as Merlin stumbled out of the treeline carrying a large basket full of herbs. Harris narrowed his eyes at him even as he accepted the basket from Merlin.

 

“Your timing is impeccable and highly suspicious.”

 

Merlin ignored him and grinned at Lydia. “Hello Lydia! How are you? And who's your werewolf friend?”

 

Lydia found herself unable to stop from echoing the sorcerer's smile. “This is my boyfriend, Aiden.”

 

“Good to meet you, Aiden.”

 

“Yeah,” Aiden grunted in response. Lydia cleared her throat and glared at him. The werewolf winced slightly. “Yeah, it's good to, uh, meet you too, Merlin.” He looked him over with a sceptical look on his face. “Are you really a legendary wizard?”

 

“Sorcerer.” Merlin shrugged. “Well, they tell legends about me so I suppose I am. Of course most of those legends are utterly ridiculous. Did you know there's a legend that says I age backwards? And another that claims I'm half incubus? Or that I'm a wild man of the woods?” He paused and tapped a finger against his chin thoughtfully. “Come to think of it, that last one might be my fault.”

 

Harris snorted. “I'll just go store these,” he announced and headed inside with the basket.

 

Lydia rolled her eyes. Then she took a deep breath. “The last time I was here, you recognized me as a banshee.” Merlin's eyes snapped to her, his expression sobering. “What can you tell me about my powers?”

 

His eyes narrowed. “What happened?”

 

They told him. About Lydia screaming herself awake and into a trance Aiden had to wake her up from. About the missing boy and how Lydia knew he was dead with no evidence except her own instincts. And, most importantly, how Lydia wanted to stop finding corpses. At some point during their story, Merlin had quietly ushered them both to a circle of tree stumps and made them sit down. Lydia didn't even grimace at how dirty the raw wood was.

 

Merlin didn't say a word until Lydia fell silent. He looked contemplative for a few moments. “Lydia,” he said calmly. “I want you to think back to this morning. Close your eyes and try to remember the first thing you felt.”

 

Lydia blinked and then nodded hesitantly. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Merlin and Aiden both watched her carefully and, for a few moments, none of them seemed to breathe. Her forehead scrunched up in concentration.

 

“I felt chilly and I think- I think I smelt wet leaves and damp dirt... trees. I was thinking about trees and-” Her eyes flew open. “The forest. He was in the forest!” She grabbed her purse and began digging through it. “I need to tell Stiles. The kid didn't live anywhere near the forest; they won't be looking there yet.”

 

Aiden was looking down at her in confusion. “You said the boy's dead, so why the rush? 'S not like he's going to go anywhere?”

 

“Closure,” said Merlin. “His parents deserve to know he's not coming back.”

 

“Besides, the sooner we find the body, the sooner we find out how he died and the sooner we figure out what killed him,” said Lydia as she finished her text.

 

“That too,” Merlin conceded. “There are many creatures who steal children from their beds, humans among them.”

 

“Any suggestions?”

 

Merlin shrugged. “Start local. Whatever it is might have been attracted here by the curse, but it hasn't fully awoken yet which means the creature wouldn't have travelled from far away.”

 

Lydia nodded thoughtfully. “You can feel the Beacon?”

 

“I can feel it stirring. My connection with this land isn't very strong, but yes, I can feel it.”

 

“Hm. Well, I guess I should go start researching.”

 


 

 

Isaac found the body: wide vacant eyes, mouth frozen in an eternal scream, and small, bloody torso showing exposed ribs. He knew the image was going to haunt him for the rest of his life.

 

He called Scott. Then he called the sheriff. As he waited for them beside the road, he tried his best to ignore the stench of blood and decaying flesh that wouldn't leave.

 


 

 

“Teeth marks,” Stiles' dad announced when he walked into the living room. Four heads looked up from their laptops. Stiles noted how tired his dad looked. “The corpse had teeth marks on it. They're small and they look more human than animal.” He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. “Definitely not a mountain lion this time.”

 

Stiles exchanged horrified looks with Lydia, Danny and Allison.

 

“I think... I think maybe I should tell my dad,” Allison whispered after a moment's horrified pause. “He might have books or something.”

 

The sheriff nodded. “Yeah. You know, I think I'm really glad right now that I know about the supernatural. Not because part of what I see makes more sense, but because otherwise it looks a hell of a lot like that little boy was lured away and then eaten by another child.”

 

Stiles felt his insides knot. “Oh god dad, way to traumatize your only offspring. Like the rest of this wasn't bad enough.”

 

“Yeah, I coulda totally lived without that image,” said Danny, looking a little green. Allison nodded in agreement.

 

“Well, at least we have more to go on to figure out what's doing this and stop it,” said Lydia primly – as though none of this was effecting her in the least. However, Stiles was sitting at just the right angle next to the couch she was perched in to notice the way her hands shook slightly as they hovered over the keyboard.

 

He looked away and mentally shook himself. “Right, we know that it's something small, probably human-like and it goes after small children in order to eat them.”

 

“And is either very stealthy or at least slightly magical if it got the little boy out of the house without anyone hearing it or the boy when he woke up,” Allison added.

 

“Actually, that's the strange part: we're not entirely sure the boy was asleep when he was taken.” Stiles looked to his dad. “The window in his bedroom was open, which could be how the, uh, creature got it, but the boy's slippers were gone and the back door was unlocked.”

 

“So it's not scary-looking,” said Stiles immediately, his mind processing the information. Small and not-terrifying sounded okay - he'd take that over red-eyed homicidal werewolves any day. Except for the whole killing children bit. That was pure evil. Even Deucalion wasn't that twisted. No, wait. Yes he was: he'd killed his entire pack and that would've included children. And then he got Enis and Kali to do the same to theirs. Yeah, nevermind, Deucalion got to keep the Most Evil award.

 

“Unless it put him under a spell and then it could look like anything,” Lydia's voice interrupted his thoughts.

 

He blinked at her and then groaned. “For once, can't this just be simple,” he pleaded.

 

His father chuckled and then ruffled his hair as he walked past him to the kitchen. “I'm going to grab a bite and then go to bed. You guys don't stay up too late; you have school in the morning.”

 

Danny glanced at his watch. “And a chemistry assignment to finish.” He yawned. “Sorry, but I think I'm going to head home now. But maybe sleepover Friday night if you haven't figured it out by then?”

 

“Sounds good,” Allison agreed. “I'll talk to my dad and see if he can think of anything. I'm sure he's got books stashed away somewhere he hasn't told me about yet.” She stood up and started packing her stuff away. “Do you need a ride, Lydia?”

 

“Nah, my parents are out of town on business and I finished that assignment days ago,” Lydia answered with a wave of her hand. “I'll stay a bit longer.”

 

'A bit longer' turned into midnight. Aiden and Ethan had joined them at somewhere around ten, which Stiles wasn't too happy about, but decided it wasn't worth the effort of trying to kick them out. So he brought out another bag of chips from the secret stash (the one his father pretended he didn't know about and Stiles pretended he didn't know that his father was only pretending to not know about) and some more coke. And did his best to hide his nervousness behind caffeine and sugar-induced babble. Scott didn't really seem affected, but Stiles still had nightmares about being chased around the dark hospital.

 

Lydia ended up in the guest bedroom with Ethan and Aiden sharing a fold-out cot on the floor of Stiles' bedroom. Stiles had to bite his lip from blurting out how adorable they looked curled around each other like that. His self-preservation instincts did occasionally decide to kick in and be useful.

 

Stiles lay down into his own bed and closed his eyes. The next thing he knew, the world was shaking.

 

“Stilinksi!” a voice hissed.

 

Stiles opened his eyes and blearily recognized Aiden's face – or was it Ethan's? “Wha-?” he managed to get out.

 

“Your father's phone rang,” the twin said. Stiles blinked. “We think he's being called in.”

 

There was a sharp intake of breath and Stiles sat up as the the werewolf looked away. The other twin was by the door, listening to whatever was going on beyond it. He looked at the two of them. “There's another kid missing,” he said.

 

A jolt of ice cold dread shot through Stiles and suddenly he found he was very much awake. He threw the covers off and jumped out of bed. When he opened his door, his dad already in the hallway and on his way to the bathroom half-dressed. He looked up at Stiles in surprise, his eyebrows rising when he looked beyond him to where the twins were probably standing in the doorway.

 

“There's another one missing?” Stiles asked, letting his dad come to his own conclusions.

 

If his father was at all confused as to how Stiles knew that, he didn't show it. Instead, his face became sombre. “Yes. Another little boy. His mother heard a noise from his room and then heard his door open, but when she didn't hear it close again, she got worried and went to check on him. When she couldn't find him anywhere, she tried the front door and found it unlocked.”

 

Stiles swallowed. Oh god, he thought.

 

“Take us with you.” Stiles blinked and then turned to look at the twins behind him.

 

“Ethan?” Aiden asked, not looking particularly happy with that suggestion. Ethan met his brother's eyes.

 

“Think about it, if the kid just went missing now then maybe we can find a scent and track it!”

 

Stiles' eyes widened as something else occurred to him. “Hey, Lydia hasn't screamed, which means the kid's probably still alive too!”

 

“Right, I'll be ready in one minute,” said Stiles' dad. “You boys get your stuff together. I'll drive you to school afterwards.”

 

The twins nodded and then disappeared back into Stiles' bedroom while the bathroom door closed behind Stiles' dad. Stiles sighed.

 

“And I'll just stay behind and keep Lydia company, I guess.” He chuckled at the growl that came from his bedroom.

 

Then he froze as a bone-chilling scream seemed to shake apart the very foundations of the house.

 

He had no idea when he'd begun moving, but suddenly he was flinging open the door to the guest room and rushing in. Lydia was sitting upright in bed, head thrown back and mouth open. She was completely still other than the impossibly loud and continuous scream. A dark shape rushed past Stiles. Aiden grabbed her arms, but was unable to budge them. Then the scream stopped, leaving the house eerily silent.

 

“My god, that was Lydia?” Stiles heard his dad whisper behind him. He didn't look over to see if it was horror or amazement colouring his voice. Probably a mixture of both.

 

“Yeah,” Stiles whispered back. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I guess that means the kid isn't alive anymore.”

 

He shivered. It felt as though Lydia had given voice to the final, dying scream of the little boy. Stiles felt a hand on his shoulder and looked back to his dad's tear-moist eyes.

 

“Lydia?!”

 

Stiles looked back to the bed, where Aiden had finally managed to manoeuvre Lydia's hands into his lap. Lydia blinked, starting at the realization that she wasn't alone in the bedroom anymore. She met Aiden's eyes and then looked past him to Stiles, his dad, and Ethan. She groaned.

 

“You have got to be kidding me!” she said. “Again?!”

 

“Lydia, quick, think: what do you remember?” Aiden said.

 

Lydia blinked at him. She closed her eyes, her brow furrowing in concentration. “I... I think I can smell roses. And there's water: running water. But not like a river.” Her frown deepened. “More like water falling. But it's not big enough to be a waterfall.”

 

“Could it be a fountain?” Stiles asked.

 

Lydia's eyes snapped open. “Yes.” She looked at him. “Yes, I think that could be it.”

 

“The East park.” They all turned to the sheriff. “There's a big stone fountain in it and one of the houses on the south end has a huge hedge of climbing roses.” He looked at the four of them and then nodded to himself. “Stiles, you stay with Lydia. Ethan, Aiden, you two come with me. Maybe the thing that killed the boy will still be there. If not, the trail will at least be fresh.”

Chapter Text


 

The ring of the doorbell was unexpected. Stiles looked up from his computer with a frown. The wolves were all out sniffing around Beacon Hills and the preserve trying to track down whatever was killing the children. And most of them tended to use the window anyway. Well, half of them did: he didn't think Ethan and Aiden had figured out the window route yet. Which he was okay with (one of these days he was really going to have to Deaton about putting up a mountain ash barrier there).

 

The doorbell rang again, jolting Stiles out of his thoughts on barrier building. He exchanged looks with Lydia and Danny who were lounging on his bed with their laptops. They didn't look like they were expecting anyone either. Stiles shrugged and went downstairs.

 

And very nearly slammed the door shut in the face of Peter Hale's patented friendly sleazeball smile. Unfortunately, Stiles had manners and Peter Hale was too fast and too strong.

 

“What do you want?”

 

“Stiles, it's good to see you again too,” said Peter and Stiles wondered how long he'd had to practice to get that perfect pitch of calm and soothing into his voice. Or maybe it just came naturally: one of the side-effects to being a psychopath.

 

“Ooor we could do it this way.” He plastered an overly-large fake smile onto his face. “Heya Peter, it's so good to see you, buddy! What was that? You can't stay? Aw, what a shame. Well, I guess I'll be seeing you around... never.”

 

Peter chuckled. “Do you often have imaginary conversations with other people, Stiles? You might want to have that looked at.”

 

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Yeah, whatever. So again, why are you here?”

 

“I'm here to help.”

 

Stiles' eyes wandered to the laptop case Peter was holding with his left hand. “Help? Help with what?”

 

The change in Peter's expression was instantaneous. All traces of humour left his face and his jaw clenched. Eyes filled with controlled anger – not rage, anger – met his. “There is something killing children.”

 

Stiles swallowed. Those eyes were determined and terrifying... and it was quite possibly the sanest expression Stiles had ever seen on the man. A few moments passed. Then Stiles stepped back and let the werewolf in.

 

Their second unexpected guest's arrival was much less dramatic.

 

Stiles had eight different tabs open and was about to give wikipedia up as a lost cause when he heard a noise. A small shadow fell onto his computer screen and he looked up into the small beady eyes of the sparrow sitting on top of his monitor. It blinked.

 

“Oh, hey there,” said Stiles. He turned around and snatched an oatmeal cookie from the plate on the floor. Then he broke it up and scattered the pieces over the papers on the corner of his desk. After the sparrow had chirped happily and flown down to help itself, it occurred to him that maybe he should've checked to make sure those papers weren't important.

 

“Stiles, I think you're getting your fairy tales mixed up,” Peter drawled, his eyes sparkling with amusement from the bright orange beanbag chair beneath the window. “Snow White was the one who talked to animals, not Little Red Riding Hood.”

 

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Not in the real version. The animal talking's the Disney version.”

 

“There's another version?”

 

He frowned. “Uh, yeah. Like the one where the evil stepmother's feet are clapped into red-hot irons in the end as punishment. Dude, I thought you'd be all over that!”

 

“Oh I am, but I was going with the age-appropriate one.”

 

“That's Harris' sparrow, right?” Lydia interrupted before Stiles could reply.

 

Stiles blinked. “Uh, yeah, it is.” He gently petted it with one finger. Which was when he noticed the folded up piece of paper. “Oh, and he's got a note.”

 

It was Harris' handwriting again:

 

Merlin thinks it's a fae. He also wants me to tell you that the sparrow is now called Clint.

 

Stiles grinned at the second line and then told the others what the note said. Which then meant they had to explain who Merlin was to Peter, who couldn't entirely hide his astonishment. Stiles counted that as a win.

 

It was well past dark when the doorbell rang again.

 

“It's Scott,” said Peter without looking up. “And warm food...” He looked up towards the window and sniffed. “...casserole, I think.” Suddenly he frowned. “Oh. Well that's unexpected,” he added quietly.

 

Stiles barely paid him any attention as he ran to open the door. Mrs. McCall's casseroles were the best: she knew exactly how to get the cheese-to-everything-else ratio just right. He wasn't expecting Mrs. McCall herself along with Scott and the aluminium foil-covered dish.

 

“Hello Stiles,” she said with a warm smile. “I know you guys have been busy researching and therefore probably neglecting healthy eating habits and it was my day off, so I thought I'd make sure you got at least one real meal in.”

 

“Oh wow, thanks Mrs. McCall,” said Stiles, eyeing the covered dishes with greedy eyes. “They smell amazing. Come on in.”

 

The person Stiles really wasn't expecting was Derek Hale, who walked into the house carrying the second casserole dish.

 

“So, Derek, weren't you supposed to be far away from here?” he asked as he closed the door and trailed behind them into the kitchen.

 

Derek placed his dish into the oven, which Scott's mom turned on to its lowest heat setting to keep the food warm. Then he raised an eyebrow at Stiles – ah, Stiles had missed the non-verbal communication so much. “I still own the property.”

 

“Yeah, I know that and it totally wasn't what I asked.”

 

“We ran into him while we were searching the forest,” said Scott with an easy grin. Stiles clamped down on the urge to throw something at his friend. Because that also wasn't an answer to his question.

 

“I'm here to sell the property,” Derek said after a pause of silence.

 

Stiles blinked. “Woah, really?” Derek glared at him. “I mean, wow. That's... no more Hales in Beacon Hills... that's sort of weird. Especially now that we know just how long you've been here and all. I mean, the Hale family is all sorts of historically significant.”

 

“What?” Derek looked like he'd entered confused and then come out the other side, where Stiles was talking from another dimension.

 

“It would seem that the Hale family has been rather intrinsically tied into the settlement and then town of Beacon Hills,” said a voice from the kitchen.

 

Derek whirled around. “Peter,” he growled. “What are you doing here?”

 

“Uh yeah, Stiles, why is he here?” Scott growled, his voice a shade darker than usual and eyes glowing bright red.

 

Stiles sighed. “He was annoyed at being out-psychoed, so he's helping us research.”

 

“Not that it's actually helping,” Lydia said as she pushed Peter to the side and marched into the kitchen. Peter scowled at her. She ignored him.

 

“Out-psychoed?” Derek asked with a frown, looking like he was trying to wrap his mind around the word. Then he paused and looked pointedly to his left, where Danny had come in behind Lydia. Danny met his scowl with a nervous smile and a small wave.

 

Stiles opened his mouth to answer, but Scott's mom cut him off. “Why don't you discuss this all at dinner? Stiles, honey, get the plates please. Scott, set the table. Everyone else, why don't you make sure there's enough chairs and go sit down.”

 

It was a tight fit around the dining room table - especially once Isaac showed up ten minutes later - but they managed.

 


 

 

Derek drove idly down the road through the preserve. It was late: he'd barely had time to get to the hardware store before they'd closed for the night. And he still didn't have everything he needed, but the back of his rented truck was full of heavy canvass and large tools. Enough to get started first thing in the morning with clearing out the property. He'd leave rebuilding and actual tearing down to whoever bought the Hale land, but at least he could make it look a little less like a natural disaster had blown through.

 

Deciding to sell the land had been both the most difficult and yet simplest decision he'd ever made. It was his family's land - with a history that apparently went further back than even he'd realized. But when he stood on it, all he could smell was smoke and burnt hair. He hadn't even been there to watch it burn: the police hadn't allowed him and Laura to see it until the worst of it was cleared, the bodies cleared away. That hadn't stopped the smell from lingering.

 

It was a late-night realization in the middle of attempting to stargaze in the middle of Los Angelos that he realized he could never truly be happy in Beacon Hills. At least not as a Hale. His family's legacy was a funeral pyre. In the breath after his realization, he felt sadness for the land, for the house that had once seen happy times and known a family.

 

He didn't have the heart to rebuild upon his family's pyre, but perhaps someone else would.

 

Once he'd made the decision to sell the land, his shoulders felt lighter. And yet he couldn't stop mulling over it, wondering if he was truly making the right choice or whether he was just taking the easy way out. What would his mother have thought? What would Laura?

 

Cora had been shocked speechless. But, she admitted later, she'd never really thought of returning to Beacon Hills for good anyway.

 

He slowed the truck even more, wanting put off arriving as long as possible. The windows were wide open, letting in chilly evening air along with the familiar scent of the forest, of Beacon Hills. A part of him didn't want to leave: wanted to build himself a den and surround himself with the smells of home - and deny that it smelt like anything but safety and happiness. There lay madness, Derek knew: a wolf's instincts combined with a human mind's capacity for ignorance and denial.

 

Derek took a deep breath and slowly let it out again. He turned his thoughts to what he'd learned tonight. The curse, his family's history, and the fact that he'd never realized his chemistry teacher wasn't human. It was Mr. Harris that was blowing his mind the most. How the hell had he missed that?! Worst of all, Peter was never going to stop teasing him about it.

 

Another reason to leave Beacon Hills.

 

A faint sound brought him out of his thoughts. He frowned and brought the truck to a stop along the side of the road. This time the sound was more recognizable: a soft cry of pain. Derek threw open the cab door and jumped out, barely aware of slamming the door behind him. The smell of blood and tears hit him the second he entered the forest.

 

It was the other darker, less human smell that had Derek shifting.

 

The world became crisper, sharper and the smell became a path, the wind blowing it helpfully towards him. He ran silently through the trees, the forest having long gone silent around him. Finally, his ears picked up soft grunting and tearing. It sounded like an animal devouring its prey. It didn't smell like an animal.

 

Derek tore through the trees and growled. Two eyes looked up from their meal and he was surprised to notice they didn't glow. In fact they were shaded by a pronounced brow and surrounded by deep wrinkles. The creature was small with pointed ears and gangly limbs. It hissed up at Derek, showing small pointed, blood-stained teeth.

 

Derek growled and crouched low. He could tell the moment the creature decided against fighting a full-grown werewolf. It backed away carefully, eyes never leaving his, and picked up something from beside the small body it had been eating. It was round and fit into the creatures large hands. Derek smirked. Was this thing stupid enough to think that throwing a ball at him would slow him down?

 

It lifted the ball, hissed again, and then abruptly turned and darted off into the forest. Derek growled deeply, allowing his fury to be heard in the sound.

 

Then he glanced down at the creature's prey. And immediately wished he hadn't. The little girl's frilly pink nightgown had been torn open with claws that hadn't cared about damaging the skin and flesh underneath. Chunks of it was missing and Derek claws itched at the exposed bone he could see. Long, light red hair was splayed out and crusted with blood, her face dirty on one side and lined with tear tracks.

 

One of his younger cousins had been about her age. The urge to tear the creature apart was overwhelming. Derek stopped growling long enough to take a deep breath and force the wild bloodlust away. He froze as his ears registered a noise.

 

A heartbeat. Faint, quiet, but there.

 

He looked at the little girl's chest and his eyes widened at the minute, shaky movements.

 

Christ, she was alive, he thought, shocked to his core.

 

He looked off to the trees between which the creature had disappeared. Then he looked back to the child. He wanted to tear, wanted to destroy the thing that had dared harm her, but if he ran off then...

 

He took a deep breath and threw his head back, putting all his anger and desperation and need for help into the howl. He felt the forest shake with its power. There was no longer an alpha's power behind it, but he was a born wolf and this was his family's land. His land.

 

Then he fished into his pocket for his cellphone and dialled 9-1-1.

 


 

 

Stiles barely made it past second period. He just couldn't sit still no matter what he tried. He'd even taken adderall despite knowing it wasn't quite ADHD-related. The low burn of energy just under his skin had him holding tightly onto the edge of his desk to ground himself, because he felt like otherwise he would simply shake apart. And deep within him, the pit of darkness yawned like a lethargic panther.

 

Scott shot him a few worried looks during their shared second period class, which Stiles valiantly ignored. At one point he could've sworn he even caught Aiden looking at him with a frown.

 

When the bell rang to signal the end of class, Stiles unceremoniously shoved his things into his bag and shot out of the classroom. Someone may have attempted to stop him, he wasn't sure. Everything around him seemed a blur except for the path directly in front of him. He wasn't even entirely certain if the decision to head to the parking lot had been a conscious one, but the next thing he knew he was backing out of his parking spot and by then it was too late to back out.

 

Harris scowled at him when he finally stomped into the clearing. “You're supposed to be in school.”

 

“Yeah,” said Stiles with a shrug. Then he ran a hand through his hair. “I just- there's people dying. No, not just people: little kids. There's some sort of monster stealing children from their beds and eating them!” He took a deep breath. It didn't help. “And I can't figure out what it is! Last night Derek interrupted it, but didn't chase after it 'cause the little girl it was eating was still alive, so he called an ambulance only he didn't find her in time and she died in the hospital during surgery. Dad says her parents hadn't even realized she was missing. Can you imagine? You go to bed thinking everything's fine and dandy and then get woken up at 3 am to be told that the six-year-old daughter you thought was happily in bed dreaming actually just died a horrible, horrible death?! And all Merlin has to say is 'I think it's a fae'?! Do you have any idea how many fae there are?!!”

 

“A lot.”

 

Stiles' head shot up and the arms he'd apparently been waving about, stilled. There was a slightly sad, sympathetic look on Merlin's face as he looked at Stiles. Stiles didn't want sympathy: he wanted to stop the creature.

 

“And you can't, like, wave your hands and figure out which of them it is?”

 

Merlin pursed his lips, frowning.

 

“It doesn't work that way, Mister Stilinski,” said Harris. Stiles winced at the hard edge of warning in his voice.

 

Merlin sighed. “Stiles, come in and sit down.” Harris' eyes shot to Merlin, but he said nothing before slipping back into the shack.

 

Stiles walked silently forward, not exactly feeling calmer than he'd been before, but less like screaming and tearing his hair out in giant clumps. Inside, the one-room shack smelt of cinnamon, dried herbs and tea. It was a soothing smell and warmed Stiles though he hadn't been feeling cold. Merlin motioned him to the small table sitting beside the wood stove as he moved to gather up several glasses and then picked up a large clay pitcher. Harris was at his worktable stirring a bubbling green-ish clear liquid full of floating leaves.

 

Stiles sat down and Merlin placed a glass in front of him before sitting down with his own. Stiles picked up the glass, surprised to find it was warm. This was where the cinnamon scent was coming from. There were also hints of honey in the drink. Drinking it, Stiles could finally feel himself relax slightly. Merlin sipped at his own drink and watched him. Stiles resisted the urge to squirm. Great, now the greatest sorcerer, magic user or whatever of all time thought he was a panicky spaz.

 

“I'm sorry,” he said. The restless energy he'd been storing all morning had somehow evaporated, leaving him feeling deflated and slightly hollow-headed. “I just-”

 

“No, don't apologize,” said Merlin. Stiles looked up in surprise and the sorcerer smiled warmly at him. “Never apologize for caring. What's happening is horrible and I'd be more worried if you weren't upset about it.”

 

“Oh, okay.” Stiles paused and worried his lip as he wondered how to ask what he wanted to without making it sound accusing. Merlin waited for him patiently. “So, you're the most powerful, uh, magic user ever... so why can't you just cast a spell to find whatever monster is doing this?”

 

Merlin winced. “First of all, the fae aren't monsters. Secondly, their magic is different. Tell me: you said Derek found the little girl. I'm assuming this is Derek as in Derek Hale?” Stiles nodded. “Did he call the others? Did he try and track it himself?”

 

Stiles nodded again. “Yeah. And the night before when the second little boy went missing and Lydia was staying at my place, Ethan and Aiden were both there too and my dad took them with him to help him find the, uh, creature. They found the body, but couldn't quite get a trail. Scott and Isaac said the same thing about the scene where Derek found the girl. He said it was weird how the scent didn't linger at all.”

 

Merlin nodded, clearly not at all surprised by this news. “The fae aren't entirely from our world. It's more like they slip in through the cracks between our world and theirs. As a result they're not really tied to the land in the way that most creatures are and therefore effect it differently. It's not that it's impossible to track the fae: Welsh werewolves are particularly skilled at it and there's a werewolf clan in Africa that specializes in tracking otherworldly beings. It just requires training and lots of practice.”

 

He paused and Stiles thought about that.

 

“You forgot to mention that thirdly, you don't particularly get along with most of the fae,” Harris said into the silence.

 

Merlin scowled at him. “Oi, I get along with some of them! Gwyn ad Nudd is an old friend of mine!”

 

Stiles blinked and then shook his head. He'd google it later. “Okay, so tracking is difficult. What about magic spells?”

 

Merlin dropped his mock-scowl and turned back to Stiles. “You can use spells to summon certain types of fae or to help you find fairy circles or other places of concentrated fae magic, but not one individual. And as for my specific brand of magic, I could probably find the creature if this was Albion, because my connection to the land is strong there. I could slip into the consciousness of the land and feel around for the fae. Here, I'm a visitor and, while the land knows me, it's as a friend. I'm powerful enough that I could force the connection, but that could cause irreparable damage to the land, especially when I inevitably leave.”

 

“Is- is the land alive? Like a gaia thing?”

 

“Not quite. It is alive though; it's more alive than anything else because all life touches it.” He paused and then carefully added: “So does all death.”

 

Stiles froze. Then jumped with a startled yelp as his cellphone went off in his pocket. It was Scott. He sighed and answered the phone.

 

“Hey, buddy, what's-”

 

Stiles, where are you?!”

 

“Uh, I'm at Harris' shack. Thought I'd see if Merlin could help us track down the evil children-eating faeries.”

 

Yeah, well, head's up, you might have to explain that to your dad when he asks why you weren't here.”

 

Stiles' eyes widened. “Scott, why would my dad be wondering why I'm not at school?”

 

“Perhaps because it's where you're supposed to be,” he heard Harris mutter, but Stiles was too busy panicking to care.

 

Classes have been cancelled; someone found a dead body behind the school.”

 

“Another kid?” Stiles' grip on his cellphone tightened.

 

No, some guy who graduated last year.”

 

“Also eaten?”

 

Don't know, haven't seen the body. No one' s whispering about how horrible it looked, so maybe not.”

 

“Okay, I'll meet you at yours?”

 

I'm going to Deaton's. I want to ask him about the faery monster things.”

 

“'K, then I'll head to mine and you show up when you're done.”

 

Cool. See yah then.”

 

Scott hung up without bothering to wait for his reply. Stiles gave his phone a 'look' and then rolled his eyes at his friend. He looked back to Merlin, only to find that Harris had apparently now finished with whatever he'd been brewing and was leaning back against his worktable with his arms folded across his chest. Stiles swallowed.

 

“So, there's been another death, only it's not a kid this time, but some guy who graduated last year. Not sure if he was eaten yet, but I'm my dad will tell me... once he's done yelling at me for skipping.”

 

Merlin chuckled. “It wouldn't matter whether or not the young man was eaten. I doubt it's the same thing that killed the children. Fae are very particular about their victims. Whether it's children, virgins or young men in their prime, they don't switch their preferences.”

 

“So faeries are like serial killers?”

 

Harris snorted, amusement dancing in his eyes. Merlin made a face. “Not all faeries cause harm to humans. There's plenty of them, who just cause mischief and play the occasional prank-”

 

“However there are far more, who consider humans to be nothing more than amusing playthings,” Harris interjected.

 

Merlin stuck his tongue out at him. “And then there are the those of the Seelie Court, who are far more like humans than they'd ever want to acknowledge.”

 

“So long as you don't actually make the mistake of thinking of them as human.”

 

Stiles snickered. Then the gravity of the situation set in and he sighed. “So, basically we've got ourselves a second something that's probably shown up because of the Beacon.” He grit his teeth, fighting against the urge to blame himself for those deaths. He, Allison and Scott were responsible for re-activating the Beacon. Which meant that – no. Stiles refused to feel guilty for doing what he had to to save his father. He'd do it again. Evening knowing what would happen, he would do it again.

 

He stood up. “Thanks, Merlin, Mister Harris, but I've gotta go and get back to researching.”

 

Stiles was half-way across the clearing when Merlin called for him again. Stiles turned around and then his eyes caught movement from above. Merlin stepped back in order to avoid getting a faceful of wing as Mywanwy landed gracefully. Once she'd settled, a smaller shape zipped off her back and Stiles laughed as Clint the sparrow flew excitedly around his head once before flying off to land on Merlin's shoulder.

 

Merlin gently stroked the sparrow's belly and then took the note it was holding and unravelled it. As he read it, he absently reached out to stroke Myfanwy, who'd nudged him gently with her snout (which was about as gentle as a small battering ram). Stiles walked up to the wyvern and hesitated only slightly when she turned to him. He ran his hand down the side of her neck. She nudged him back with the side of her head, nearly sending him sprawling backwards.

 

Stiles laughed and took the hint, petting her down the top of her head the way Merlin had. “Are all wyvern this, uh, puppy-like?” he asked Merlin.

 

Merlin snorted in amusement. “Absolutely not. She's the only one I've ever met who's like this. True, I've known her since she was an egg, but most wyvern are about as affectionate as hyenas. Oh and be careful: those spikes on her head are really sharp and she doesn't always realize she's supposed to be careful with them.”

 

Stiles eyed said spikes cautiously as he petted the wyvern. After a while, Merlin folded the note and looked at Stiles thoughtfully. “Stiles, you really want to do something to help?”

 

Stiles looked up at him. “Er, well yeah. I mean I am doing something. I'm google-fuing my way through the internet.”

 

“You're a spark. You could learn to use that to help in other ways than just research...”

 

Stiles swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. “But Deaton said the darkness around my heart prevented him from teaching me and training me as an emissary for Scott.” His eyes narrowed. “Was he lying?”

 

Merlin winced. “Er not exactly. It would make it... difficult. You'd have a much harder time finding the sort of balance that druidic magic requires.”

 

“But not impossible?” Stiles asked, hope flaring like a tiny little flame in the midst of the darkness that was constantly threatening to swallow his heart. He hadn't even told Scott about his conversation with Deaton – he'd been too heartbroken afterwards. Scott had somehow become plan-guy and the leader of their ragtag group and the only thing Stiles now had going for him other than his google-fu was useless. He was just the fragile, breakable human. “'Cause I can work hard and I know I can be scatter-brained and spastic, but I can totally concentrate when I have to. I promise to work super hard and-”

 

“Stiles.” Stiles fell silent. Merlin was looking on in amusement. “Remember how I said I couldn't find the fae – or fight the curse for that matter – because I didn't have a connection to the land? You were born on this land, you live here and if you are willing to commit to living here until you die and willing to dedicate your life to protecting the land, then you, Stiles, could connect to the land.”

 

Stiles stared at him, blindsided. Connect to the land? He looked down to the earth beneath him and realized he didn't really understand what that meant. Commit to the land... for forever?

 

“Sounds a bit like a marriage.”

 

Merlin chuckled. “It is a bit, really. And just to clarify, it doesn't mean you'd be stuck in Beacon Hills and unable to go anywhere else. Distance doesn't break a connection with the land. You can go off to college, go on vacation to Europe, L.A., New York, travel to Africa or Asia: just so long as you return. Your heart and your soul must remain in Beacon Hills.”

 

Stiles swallowed and nodded. Okay, that sounded a bit more manageable. He liked Beacon Hills and would probably continue to like it even after Lydia moved away to be a genius mathematician at some Ivy League school and Scott... well, he didn't actually know what Scott planned to do yet. When they were younger he'd wanted to be a superspy FBI agent. Stiles had wanted to be a superhero - preferably one that flew.

 

“Is- is that to counteract the darkness?” Stiles asked.

 

“No. The darkness is actually the reason why you'll be able to do it in the first place.”

 

“What? How is that even possible?”

 

Merlin smiled, amusement sparkling in his eyes. “It's rather amusing how you're all so determined to see the darkness as some sort of force of evil. You touched the realm of the dead and journeyed into it. That sort of experience leaves a mark. Druids are capable of connecting with the land, but have you ever heard of Deaton speaking of such a connection?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“It's because the seat of their power lies an ocean away. When Europeans settled this land, they were foolish and arrogant: they brought their own customs, their own traditions and ignored those already here. That includes the people, who should've known better.”

 

Stiles was enraptured, excitement thrummed through his veins even though he didn't quite know what the sorcerer was getting at yet. Merlin grinned. “Norse legends? Just think about how ridiculous that sounds. This isn't the land of the Druids or the Norse gods.” He spread his arms out wide. “This is the land of Silver Fox, Coyote and Eagle!”

 

Stiles gaped. He was interrupted by his phone ringing. This time it was his dad. Stiles groaned.

 

“Stiles, think about it,” said Merlin. Stiles looked to him. The sorcerer had a serious look on his face now. “It's a serious commitment and it won't be easy. It will, however, be dangerous. If you attempt this half-heartedly then it could cost you your life, so please be sure. If you decide to do it then meet me here on Friday after you're done school. You'll be gone all weekend, so make an excuse with your lacrosse coach.”

 

Stiles nodded and then cursed as his phone rang again. He said good-bye to everyone and answered his phone as he headed back towards his car.

 

Merlin and Harris watched him go.

 

“Do you really think the boy is capable of this?” Adrian asked Merlin once they could no longer hear his voice through the trees.

 

The corner of Merlin's mouth twitched. “I know you don't think particularly highly of Stiles, but yes I do believe he's capable of doing this. In fact, he might be exactly what Beacon Hills needs right now.”

Chapter Text


 

The sheriff was easy to find. He was in the middle of the commotion in front of the station, giving out orders with the ease of a seasoned leader. Merlin stood there for a while, just staring at him, sensing him. Deep lines bore signs of both stress and grief, but there was no sign of a spark in the man – Stiles' gift apparently came from his mother.

 

Or else the land itself. It wasn't often that the land interfered with ordinary human lives, but it happened from time to time, when it felt the need. Merlin couldn't quite tell which it was in Stiles' case. Without meeting his mother, he might never know. A spark wasn't a lot of power, but sometimes a single spark was all it took to ignite a fire.

 

Time would tell. It always did.

 

Merlin approached the sheriff. He'd just finished giving orders to a few of his deputies and Merlin waited until they'd dispersed to their own cars. The man let out a heartfelt sigh: the deaths in Beacon Hills were clearly weighing heavily on him. Merlin knew the pained look well and was only able to keep from faltering under the burden of the memories it brought forth thanks to over a millennium of practise.

 

Merlin breathed deeply and felt his magic rise out from its usual resting place within the core of his body until it was a gentle humming just beneath his skin. “Sheriff Stilinski?” he said, reaching out to grab the other man gently by the elbow, using the contact to envelope him in his magic.

 

Then Merlin whispered to the world around him, asking it to give him time: to stop.

 

It did.

 

Sheriff Stilinski startled slightly at the sound of his name and turned at the gentle grip on his elbow. He came face to face with a tall young man with short dark hair and protruding ears. His eyes slid over him expertly, looking for weapons – assuming the young man didn't have the ability to suddenly grow nine-inch claws. Was there a way to check for that? He'd have to ask Chris Argent for tips on spotting the supernatural.

 

Then the young man lifted his eyes to meet his and the sheriff couldn't help the gasp that escaped him. The eyes glowed gold: a beautiful clear gold, like the colour of the engagement ring he'd once bought the woman he loved. He was fairly certain this was a sign of the supernatural. He stepped back and reached for his gun.

 

“Who are you?” he demanded, unholstering his gun but not raising it yet. He didn't want to have to explain why he was pointing his gun at an unarmed civilian unless absolutely necessary.

 

The man smiled and it was such a warm, friendly smile that he felt himself relaxing slightly. “Hello, sheriff. With everything that has happened and with what it likely about to happen, I thought it was time we met. I'm Merlin.”

 

The sheriff's eyes widened. Merlin? Stiles had told him the sorcerer didn't look particularly impressive until he did magic... oh. The eyes. Stiles had told him about the eyes.

 

He cautiously put his gun away and then held out his hand. “It's good to finally meet you, Merlin. Stiles has told me a bit about you. Probably not everything, knowing my son, but something.”

 

Merlin laughed. “It's the curse of youth to think the world rests on their shoulders and that they need to shelter those they care for from it. I remember those days well.” His expression became serious. “It's why I'm here, because I have a feeling there are quite a few very important things Stiles hasn't told you and I think you deserve to know.”

 

The sheriff frowned. “He told you these things?”

 

“Not as such. Some of it I can see and feel for myself. The explanations came to an extent from Stiles, but mostly from Emissary Deaton.”

 

Sheriff Stilinski ran a hand through his hair. “As much as I'd sort of already guessed, I really don't like hearing that my son's still hiding things from me.” He looked away, into the distance.

 

And took in the scene before him. He froze, his jaw slowly dropping in a gape. “Did-did you just stop time?!

 

All around them, people stood frozen, mid-step; mouths open mid-sentence or mid-bite. There was a pigeon suspended in the air, its wings spread wide as it prepared to land into the middle of a flock of five more. It was as though some deity had taken a metaphysical remote and pressed 'pause'. He looked back to the sorcerer.

 

Merlin had followed his gaze and looked thoughtful. “You know, I always thought I did, but modern science has come up with so many different theories and ideas... No one's ever analyzed this ability of mine and I've never met anyone who could do the same. Powerful magic users can often feel when I've done it to them, but can never replicate it. It's just something I've always been able to do ever since I was a child. But whether I stop time, or take myself out of time, or perhaps create a small pocket dimension where the flow of time is different, I honestly don't know.” He looked back to him. “Maybe one day I'll trust someone enough to allow them to use science to figure out what my magic does.”

 

The sheriff stared at him. “You don't know how your magic works?”

 

Merlin shrugged. “Do you know how your lungs work?”

 

He opened his mouth to answer, then frowned. “Er... sort of.”

 

“You know that when you breathe in, you take in oxygen and when you breathe out, you send out carbon dioxide, right? But you don't think about it, don't have to direct the oxygen into your blood and don't have to physically push out the leftover carbon dioxide. My magic's a lot like that. I can use it to do things and sometimes it's things I have to concentrate on doing, like you have to in order to aim that gun of yours. But some things come so naturally to me that I barely have to think about them. My mother said I used to amuse myself when I was very young by floating things in the air above my cradle. And once, in the winter when I really wanted apples, the tree behind our house suddenly grew fruit overnight.”

 

“You must've been quite the handful,” said the sheriff, smiling despite himself. “I take back anything I ever said about Stiles being a problem child.”

 

Merlin grinned. “Oh, it only got worse as I got older. Magic made chores a lot easier and on beautiful sunny days it was too tempting to resist.”

 

Sheriff Stilinski grinned. Ah yes, magically completed chores: a teenager's dream come true. “Still must've been wonderful for your mother if she could just leave everything to you.”

 

Merlin's face darkened. “Not really. They beheaded magic users in my day.”

 

The grin disappeared from the sheriff's face. Oh God, that poor woman, he thought. At least Stiles' ADHD had never threatened to get him killed no matter how bad he got (well, so long as he remembered to pay attention to things like traffic and electrical outlets – but that was more or less the case with any child).

 

“However, there's no point in dwelling in the past,” Merlin continued, his demeanour suddenly lighter.

 

“No, there isn't.” He gave Merlin a calculating look. “So, if you're so powerful, why can't you just wave your magic wand or whatever and get rid of the creatures killing people?”

 

Merlin snorted. “You and Stiles are definitely related: he came to see me yesterday and asked exactly the same thing. Well, he was a bit more upset and less calm than you are now, but it was essentially the same question. And my answer is still the same: I don't have a connection to the land here, which would allow me to reach in and seek out the creatures responsible.”

 

He paused. “I suppose I do have friends in the Fae world – powerful friends. If I asked, I could probably convince Gwyn ap Nudd to hunt down the ones causing trouble here. However, rousing a warrior to battle is relatively easy, getting him to stop, on the other hand...”

 

Sheriff Stilinski nodded. Yes, he could understand how bringing an army to take care of a single criminal was a bit like trying to kill a fly with a grenade. Although, if that's what it took...

 

“This is where Stiles comes in, because he does have the potential to create a strong connection to the land.”

 

The sheriff's eyebrows rose. “Stiles? He does? How?”

 

“He is a Spark. Which, on its own, doesn't really mean much, except potential in its rawest terms. Especially combined with-” Merlin cut himself off and looked uncertain for a moment before shaking his head. “No, it's not actually my story to tell.”

 

The sheriff glared at him. “And you honestly expect Stiles to tell me on his own?”

 

Merlin chuckled. “Not without a rather significant push, no.” Then his eyes got a faraway look in them, the edges tensing with old pain. “I can tell you why he hasn't shared this with you, though... He's afraid. Not just of what you'll say to what he did, but of what he did in and of itself.” He met the sheriff's eyes again. “It's terrifying: that moment when you realize just how far you'd be willing to go for someone else. It changed me and I'm sure it changed Stiles. Well, it did change Stiles, in more ways than one.”

 

Merlin was silent for a moment, as though allowing his words to sink in. And they were: scaring the sheriff more and more by the second. What the hell had his son done?! He stayed silent, waiting for Merlin to continue.

 

“Stiles is in a very unique position to create a connection to the land here and perhaps become more, become someone able to help protect the land and its inhabitants. A lot will depend on what he decides and how far he is willing to go. I know someone, who can train him - the granddaughter of an old friend. I've offered this to him, but the choice is his.”

 

The sheriff groaned. “He'll say 'yes'. Stiles doesn't really care about a whole lot of people, but he's devoted to those he does care about. And if keeping all of Beacon Hills safe keeps the people he cares about safe, then he'll do anything and everything it takes.”

 

Merlin nodded. “Yes, he's a bit like me in that. Except that everyone always told me I cared too much about everyone.” His eyes grew pained. “I paid the price for that,” he whispered.

 

The sheriff winced, but didn't ask. He didn't know the Arthurian legends all that well, but he knew how they ended.

 

“Sheriff.” The sheriff met Merlin's eyes. “Ask Stiles about the darkness around his heart.”

 

The sheriff's eyes widened. Darkness? Around his heart?! Chills ran down his spine.

 

Merlin stepped back and closed his eyes for a moment. The world came back to life with a whoosh of sound. Then twinkling, blue eyes opened and Merlin smiled.

 

“Good luck, sheriff,” he said. He paused in the midst of turning around and looked over his shoulder with a sly grin. “Incidentally, I don't use a wand. I have a staff.”

 

“Good to know,” said the sheriff quietly as he watched the world's most powerful sorcerer walk away. He shook his head and then turned back to his car as he tried to remember what he's been up to before that had happened.

 


 

 

 

Melissa led him to the morgue. Sheriff Stilinski knew he could've just waited and read the coroner's report once it made it to his desk, but Melissa often had a different perspective and saw things others missed. Plus it helped looking at bizarre corpses in person and with someone who knew about the whole supernatural aspect of the world.

 

“Okay, so the interesting part of this one is exactly what you saw at the scene,” Melissa began as soon as she entered the room. She moved to the farthest gunnery and folded over the top of the white cloth. “He doesn't look like he was in pain or frightened or anything of the sort.”

 

The sheriff looked down on the the face of the young man they'd found behind Beacon Hills High. He was clean-shaven with short brown hair that fell over his right eye. There was a soft, happy smile on his face.

 

“He looks peaceful, content,” said the sheriff. “If it wasn't for all the strange things that've been going on around here in the past year and a half I probably wouldn't even be looking at it as a potential homicide unless his blood work came back with signs of poison.”

 

“Well, unfortunately, I don't think that's back yet. But the coroner had a look at him and I heard him talking in the staffroom earlier.” She gestured expansively to cover all of the body on the slab in front of her. “There's nothing wrong with him. Not a single speck on his lungs, not any sort of indication of heart attack, or stroke, or drug abuse, or even hypothermia.”

 

“So you're saying he basically just dropped dead?”

 

Melissa shrugged. “Pretty much. I mean, it's not entirely uncommon. Rare, yes. But it's not like it's never happened for a healthy young person to suddenly just drop dead...”

 

“But what are the odds of that happening here, in Beacon Hills?”

 

She nodded. The sheriff sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Dammit. And the thing is, that if the blood work comes back negative for drugs or poison, then I'll have to drop the investigation.” He paused. “Mind you, at least that would leave it as one less unsolved murder. Not that will stop the County from holding it against me, of course. I'm already on thin ice thanks to Stiles and Scott and their thing with Jackson last year.”

 

Melissa walked over to him and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It'll be okay. Chris is calling around to his contacts in the hunting business to see if any of them know anything about hunting Fae. And the kids are researching too...”

 

The bitter, angry chuckle that came out of him, surprised even the sheriff. “Yes, the children will figure something out, inevitably.” He turned around abruptly and grabbed Melissa by the upper arms. “Melissa, what's going on? We're supposed to be the ones protecting them!”

 

Melissa's eyes were moist and full of fear when they met his. “I know,” she whispered.

 

The sheriff let her go and turned around abruptly, walking several steps away from her. He hadn't felt this helpless since he'd had to watch his wife slowly deteriorate in front of his eyes, knowing there was nothing he could do for her but not let her and his son see his tears.

 

“I met Merlin today,” he said quietly.

 

“Oh... really?” He smiled slightly at the confusion in her voice. “What's he like?”

 

“Young: he looks really young,” the sheriff said as he turned to her. “But his eyes... they look far older than anyone has any right being. Most people would've probably gone insane a long time ago. And powerful is an understatement. He wanted to chat without interruption, so he stopped time.”

 

“He stopped time?” Melissa asked, her voice flat as she raised an eyebrow.

 

He nodded. “Yup, I can't think of any other way to describe it. I suddenly looked around and it was completely quiet and everything and everyone around me was frozen in the middle of whatever they'd been doing.”

 

“Wow. I guess he really is the most powerful sorcerer ever.”

 

“I really hope he is, anyway. Can't imagine what 'more powerful than freezing time' would be like.”

 

“Was it...” Fear flashed through Melissa's eyes. “Was it like the Darach?”

 

The sheriff paused and thought about that. The comparison hadn't even occurred to him. “No, not at all. With the Darach the magic had felt forced, like it was constantly trying to escape her. His magic was just... there. I'm pretty sure that if not for the glowing eyes and the fact that the entire world around me had just stopped, I might not have even known he was using it. Maybe someone magical or supernatural would feel it differently: you'll have to ask Scott.” He frowned. “Or Stiles, apparently.”

 

He looked at her critically. “Did Scott tell you about any sort of Darkness around his heart?”

 

Melissa froze. Her eyes narrowed. “No, he didn't.”

 

He sighed. “Maybe we should go call Chris. And then have a chat with those darling children of ours and find out what else they haven't been telling us.”

 

She nodded. “Agreed.” She looked at her watch. “I'm done in just over an hour. You call Chris and then grab foodstuffs?”

 

“Did you drive?”

 

“No, Scott did.”

 

“Then let him know I'll pick you up-”

 

“-and meet him at your house. I'm pretty sure that's where the others are already.”

 


 

 

 

Stiles unlocked the door and let the others in first. It was most of the pack, humans included, that were somehow congregating at his house today. He wasn't quite sure how it had happened, but somehow they'd all found their way to him after school while he was talking to Scott and then next thing he knew it'd somehow been decided they were all going to his placed to continue researching.

 

“So, when exactly did my house become the official pack research bunker?” he asked loudly as he was closing the door. “I mean, shouldn't it be Scott's since he's, like, the alpha and all?”

 

“Yeah, but you've got better snacks,” said Scott with a grin.

 

“Not true!” Isaac called out.

 

“Thanks, Isaac,” Stiles called to the wolf. “You can totally leave now to go find superior snacks.”

 

Isaac grinned from where he'd established himself on one of the large armchairs, not bothering to move so much as a finger. Stiles mock-glared at him.

 

“Obviously, it's because you actually do the research,” said Lydia primly as she sat down gracefully on one end of the couch. Aiden sprawled out next to her. Then sat down a bit more properly after a sharp look from his girlfriend.

 

Danny snickered at that as he took over the other end of the couch. Ethan hovered uncertainly for a few moments, until Danny finally sighed and looked up at him. “Ethan, just sit down already,” he said.

 

Ethan smiled happily and sat down next to Danny, as close as he could without actually touching. Danny reached out without looking and pulled him in that last inch. Stiles smiled as he left to go to the kitchen to get snacks. Scott followed.

 

“Hey, you don't actually mind that we're all here, do you?” he asked quietly as soon as they were inside.

 

Stiles turned to him and thought about it. “Nah, man, not really. It's just... weird. I've gone from like one regular friend to a living room full of them – even if they are admittedly here for reasons that have nothing to do with me. Gotta tell you that none of my fantasies of being sort-of popular included werewolves or killer creatures that ate children.”

 

“Or kanimas,” added Scott.

 

Stiles shivered. “Yeah, don't remind me.”

 

The doorbell rang.

 

“Oh, that's probably Derek,” said Scott.

 

Stiles froze on his way towards the door and turned around to face his friend. “You invited Derek Hale?”

 

“Er, well, yeah. I mean, he's the only one who's actually seen this thing.”

 

“Right, the thing with the ball.” He left the kitchen. “Local, right? Balls are local? Everyone plays with balls. I'm sure Coyote and Eagle play catch or fetch or whatever all the time...”

 

Stiles' words tapered off as he froze in the middle of crossing the living room. The group on the couch looked up at him. He sprang to life just as the doorbell rang again.

 

“Oh my god, I'm a moron!” he declared, staring at the front door as though it had just revealed the secrets of the universe to him.

 

“Not that we're arguing with you, Stilinski,” said Aiden. “But why exactly are you a moron now?”

 

Instead of answering, Stiles took off up the stairs. The doorbell rang again. Scott went to open the door and let an annoyed-looking Derek in. He shrugged to the others when the two of them walked into the living room.

 

“Snacks?” asked Isaac.

 

Scott shrugged. “Sure.” He went back to the kitchen to get them.

 

Fifteen minutes later, Stiles ran downstairs with several sheets of printed paper.

 

“It's a duende!” he declared, his face spread in a triumphant grin. He passed the papers into Lydia's out-stretched hand. “Merlin suggested starting local and so we've been researching Californian legends and spirits, but California's, like really new in magic, supernatural terms. And looking up Native American legends was even less useful than the Californian ones. But, Spain's just as old as any civilization here in North America and that's where the first settlers to California were from. Which means the first foreign spirits and supernatural creatures that came to California would've been Spanish!

 

The duende is a Fae or sprite that's known in Spain, Portugal and Latin America. Spanish legends seem to insist it's mostly harmless, but Mexican ones say it lures children from their homes into the forest with the promise of play and then eats them. Er, sort of. Apparently there's supposed to be some sort of bargaining with the mother, but maybe it's outgrown that or evolved or something. Or the legends are wrong. Either way, it's small, sort of funny looking and it sometimes carries a small ball around with it!”

 

Derek had wandered over to the couch to look over Lydia's shoulder. She held up the picture Stiles had found of the Fae He eyed it for a moment and nodded.

 

“Yeah, that could be the creature I saw,” he said.

 

Stiles pumped his fist in the air.

 

Scott grinned at his friend's antics. “Way to go, Stiles,” he said.

 

“So, we know what it is now,” said Aiden, looking almost approving. “Does it say anywhere how we kill it?”

 

Stiles' enthusiasm deflated slightly. “Er, no.”

 

“It does, however, explain why none of the werewolves could find it in the forest,” said Lydia, not looking up from the papers she was reading.

 

“Really, why?” asked Isaac.

 

Lydia looked at him. “Because it doesn't live in the forest. It might've lured the children out there, but according to this, it actually lives in the walls of old houses.”

 

“Really?” said Scott. Anything else he wanted to add was cut off when his phone pinged. He checked the message. “Oh, Stiles, apparently your dad's picking up my mom and they're coming here. With food.”

 

Stiles blinked. “Uh, cool. Maybe they'll have more info on the new corpse.”

 

Danny shook his head. “You realize how weird it is that the first thing you thought of was 'ooh, dead guy' rather than 'ooh, pizza'?”

 

Aiden looked at him. “That's weird?”

 

Lydia levelled a 'look' at him. “Yes, that's definitely weird.”

 

Stiles shrugged.

 

Derek rolled his eyes at all of them.

 

Half an hour later, all five wolves perked up at once and looked towards the door. Stiles bit down on the dog joke that sprang to mind. It took effort - they reminded him so much of his aunt's boarder collie just then. The door opened a few minutes later with his dad leading the way and filling the house with the wonderful smell of pizza. Mrs. McCall followed carrying two grocery bags and, behind her, were Allison and her dad with ice cream and brownies.

 

“Hey, so is this a party?” Stiles asked.

 

“Absolutely,” said Melissa as she handed him one of the grocery bags.

 

Stiles peeked inside. “Ew, broccoli? Really? There's, like, only one vegetable I don't like. I'll even eat brussel sprouts if you douse them in enough maple syrup! But you got broccoli?!”

 

Melissa rolled her eyes. She waited until Stiles had set the bag of broccoli onto the kitchen counter before taking out the contents of the other bag. “Stiles, here: catch!” she called out.

 

Stiles caught the round-ish object instinctively. Then he looked down at it and his face brightened. “Cool, cauliflower! I'll get the dip!”

 

“Why don't you cut it up first?” his dad suggested as he got out a frying pan and a cutting board. Melissa passed him a package of bacon.

 

“Dad, you know you're not supposed to eat bacon!” Stiles exclaimed.

 

The sheriff rolled his eyes. “It's for broccoli salad, Stiles. And broccoli is incredibly healthy, so even you can't complain.”

 

Stiles opened his mouth to reply and then closed it as he thought about that. “Yeah, okay, I guess I can let you get away with that.”

 

“I'm glad you approve,” his father said dryly.

 

“Oh, and by the way, we figured out what the Fae is!”

 

“You did?” Chris Argent asked as he closed the freezer door.

 

“Yep!” Stiles grinned proudly.

 

Melissa and the sheriff exchanged looks. “Well, that's more than we've got on the dead boy that was found behind the school,” said the sheriff. “I'm not even sure we can say it was supernaturally-induced.”

 

Stiles shrugged. “Lydia says she didn't feel it and definitely didn't scream for the guy.”

 

“Maybe because it wasn't traumatic?” Melissa suggested.

 

They all looked to Chris, who shrugged. “I have no idea how something like a banshee works.”

 

“Merlin seemed to think my powers are just maturing and they would level out eventually,” said Lydia from the doorway.

 

They turned to her.

 

“Hm, speaking of Merlin,” said Stiles' father. “I met him today. Or rather, he came to see me.”

 

Stiles blinked.

 

“What?!” Scott exclaimed, a whine in his voice. “Has everyone met Merlin except me?”

 

“I haven't,” said Isaac. He cocked his head. “Derek says he hasn't either.”

 

Scott pointed at Stiles. “Dude, we are totally going out to see him this weekend.”

 

Stiles looked chagrined. “Uh, about this weekend... I might not actually be around for it much. Or, like, probably at all.”

 

“So, you've made your decision then,” said the sheriff.

 

Stiles froze and stared at his dad with wide eyes. “He-he told you about that?”

 

“Yes, said you were uniquely suited to it, because of your 'spark', I think he called it, and because of the darkness around your heart.”

 

Stiles paled beneath the sheriff's gaze. And, out of the corner of his eyes, the sheriff noticed two other faces pale at the mention of the darkness. It confirmed his suspicions.

 

“And since this is something that happened recently and there is only one reason I can think of that you would go to something that would leave this drastic a mark on you, I can only come to the conclusion that whatever it was you did, you didn't do alone.” He looked to Scott and Allison, taking note of Chris' shocked face. There was some comfort in knowing he wasn't the only one being lied to. “There were three of us in that root cellar, after all.”

 

“D-dad, I-”

 

He held up a hand. “No, Stiles, not now. Right now, we're going to finish getting dinner ready. Then we'll all sit down and the three of you are going to tell us exactly what you did to save us.”

 

Stiles' eyes strayed towards the living room. “But, dad, the others-”

 

“I have no doubt half of them already know what the three of you did. Right Isaac?”

 

Isaac squirmed guiltily. “Er, maybe?”

 

“That's what I thought.”

 

He turned back to the counter and started cutting up the bacon. Meanwhile, Melissa directed the others in helping with the rest of the preparations.

Chapter Text


 

The figure crouched on the window sill, quiet, unmoving. Wise old eyes observed the youth as he slept. Eyes, that could see the spark within his soul shine as steadily as the pinprick light of a distant star. His heart carried the darkness of a worlds traveller, though the pathway felt newly opened and not yet much-travelled.

 

The figure cocked its head in curiosity. Then, between one breath and the next, the youth woke up and opened his eyes.

 


 

Stiles woke up abruptly. Not violently: there was no nightmare, no alarm clock, and he couldn't hear his father out in the hallway. But suddenly he was wide awake and he didn't know why. It was still dark outside and the street sounded quiet, so it was probably the middle of the night.

 

Something was different.

 

He lifted himself up onto his elbows to check the time. And froze.

 

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a figure on his window sill. He thought he saw the outline of a man, but caught a glimpse of feathers and fur, so maybe not quite a man. Or something more than a man.

 

Stiles swallowed, his blood turning cold, his palms feeling hot and sweaty. His heart rabbited a quick rhythm loud enough for him to hear and his breaths became short little wheezes as his mind raced to remember where he'd put the metal baseball bat and if he had anything closer he could use as a weapon. He tried to ignore the Darkness he could feel oozing outwards from his heart, like it wanted him to fall into its depths.

 

Finally, he took a breath and threw the covers off, swinging himself around to face the figure head-on.

 

There was nothing there but an open window.

 

Stiles cautiously stood up, his eyes darting from one end of the room to the other. He slowly reached over and flicked his bedside lamp on – cursing himself silently when the light temporarily blinded him. Still nothing. Stiles' frantic heartbeat and erratic breaths calmed now that he knew he was alone in the room.

 

He walked over to the window and looked out. There was nothing out of place outside either - not even the grit on the sill had been disturbed. He breathed out, relaxing, and reached up to close the window.

 

He paused and stepped back from it with wide eyes. He'd closed his window before going to bed. Hadn't he?

 


 

Torture. The day had been absolute torture.

 

Stiles had spent it practically vibrating on the edge of his seat, his stomach knotted up in an epic pretzel twist that had somehow managed to tangle up to the back of his throat from where no amount of water could wash it away. It was Friday and he'd spent more time that day looking at his watch and counting down the hours than he did paying attention to his classes. The Darkness seemed to throb around the cold pit of anxiety in his chest.

 

He was going to tie himself to the land – to Beacon Hills – today. Well, at some point in time over the weekend anyway. He had no idea what that meant, but he was going to do it. Because then he could help keep his father and his friends safe. Would he still be the breakable human after it was done... only with superpowers?

 

Would he still be human?

 

Or did it mean the land would somehow crawl into his body and possess him like he was just a shell, a vessel? Or maybe the land was a sentient being with a ghostly body he would suddenly be able to see and talk to? Like, an anthropomorphic shape he could interact with and talk to (he may have come across an anime like that somewhere on the internet). Which actually sounded kinda cool...

 

Maybe it would give him the ability to summon lightening or command the elements like Merlin could. That would be awesome. Stiles grinned a little at the idea.

 

At which point his English teacher asked him a question and the class laughed as he floundered for an answer.

 

The day did, eventually, end.

 

The last bell of the day rang and Stiles froze, rooted to his seat for several long heartbeats. Then he managed to take a long, shaky breath, followed by a second, much firmer breath. The world around him was a blur of movement and sound as he carefully gathered up his stuff and slowly slid it all into his bag. He zipped it up and took another breath. Breathing was important.

 

Scott was waiting for him by his locker. “I'm coming with you,” he said as soon as Stiles arrived. “I mean, not for the weekend obviously, but to the clearing. I want to meet Merlin and-and make sure you'll be alright.”

 

“Aw, gee, Scott: are you worried about me?” Stiles said automatically. “That's so sweet.”

 

Scott flashed him an annoyed look. “Of course I'm worried about you! You're going off to some sort of weird magic weekend retreat to bond with the mother earth or something!”

 

Stiles chuckled. His friend's worry was somehow making him feel calmer. “Sure thing, Scott. You can totally come with me to the clearing to meet Merlin. Can't promise you he won't throw you out once we get started mind you, but you can tag along anyway.”

 

Scott grinned. “'Kay. I'll meet you at your place!”

 

Stiles watched him walk away towards his own locker, where Isaac and Allison were already waiting to draw him into a discussion. Stiles wondered what they wanted with Scott, but didn't bother to go find out. Scott'd tell him later on the ride.

 

When he arrived home, Stiles was surprised by voices coming from the kitchen. The first one he recognized instantly as his father's – although Stiles was fairly certain he was supposed to be working – and the second one...

 

“Merlin?” he said in astonishment from the doorway to the kitchen.

 

Merlin smiled brightly and waved to him from the other side of the kitchen. There was a mug in his hand and the kitchen smelled vaguely of freshly-brewed coffee.

 

“Hello, Stiles,” said his father, who was holding his own mug and leaning casually against the kitchen table. “I took a break to see you off for the weekend and Merlin was already here waiting.”

 

“Oh, uh, that's great.” Stiles managed to keep himself from wincing, but it was close. There was something fragile in his father's tone, in the careful way he was holding himself while trying to look natural and relaxed. It had been there ever since Stiles, Scott and Allison had told their parents about offering their lives to the Nemeton. He'd been watching his father as they spoke and seen the exact moment when something inside his soul broke.

 

Stiles shook his head to chase the image away.

 

“I had to pick up some tobacco and wanted to leave you father with my mobile number and a phone number you can potentially be reached at over the weekend,” Merlin was saying.

 

“Which I greatly appreciate,” Stiles' father said with a nod.

 

“Yeah, that's a- wait.” He turned to Merlin. “Mobile number? As in a-you have a cellphone?!”

 

Merlin blinked. “Of course I do. Doesn't everyone?”

 

“So, instead of trudging all the way through the woods this entire time we could've just, like, called you on your entirely unmagical cellphone?!”

 

“Uh, well, yes you could have. Although, it is a London number, so you'd be paying long distance.”

 

“But it works here, right?” Stiles' father asked.

 

“Oh yes. I have an excellent roaming package.”

 

His brain thus broken, Stiles shook his head and then excused himself to change and get his stuff. Thankfully he'd packed his duffel bag the night before (nerves had more to do with that than any actual desire to be organized), so it didn't take him long.

 

Just before going back downstairs he texted Lydia: Did u know merlin has a cell?!!

 

As he walked down the stairs, he wondered where Scott was. His jeep wasn't exactly faster than Scott's bike. He took his phone out again.

 

Where r u?!!

 

Just then Stiles heard his father burst into laughter in the kitchen. His eyebrows rose in surprise and then he hurried down the stairs. “Hey, what's so funny?” he asked as he entered the kitchen.

 

His father was gripping the counter as he shook with the force of his laughter, while Merlin grinned slyly at him over the top of his coffee mug. They both looked to Stiles. His father snickered.

 

“I asked Merlin whether all supernatural creatures were this horrible to deal with and he told me it could be worse. Apparently, King Arthur's father, Uther was enchanted once and married a beautiful woman only to realize once the curse had been lifted that she was actually an ugly troll.”

 

“I should probably add that it wasn't lifted until several weeks after their wedding night,” Merlin added with a grin.

 

Stiles burst into laughter. “Oh wow, that's... like, awesome. Also, eww.” He paused before snickering. “I take it real live trolls aren't as nice as Shrek.”

 

“Not really. They're also not as stupid as the Harry Potter ones. In fact, they can be quite devious – especially when there's gold involved.”

 

“Good to know.”

 

“Have you got everything, son?” Stiles' dad asked.

 

Stiles lifted his duffel. “Yup. At least I think I do. I mean, I've probably forgotten something, but since I've forgotten it I have no idea what it is. Hopefully nothing important.”

 

“Hopefully.”

 

“Excellent!” said Merlin and then placed his empty mug next to the sink. “Then we should get going.”

 

Stiles glanced at his cellphone. Scott had answered.

 

Sorry. Coming.

 

Stiles rolled his eyes. Pocketing the phone again, he turned to Merlin. “So, I didn't see a car outside... does that mean we're taking my jeep?”

 

Merlin shook his head and Stiles caught a glint of mischievousness in the sorcerer's eye. “Oh no, that won't be necessary.”

 

He walked over to Stiles and threw an arm over his shoulders, before waving to the sheriff. “Well, good-bye, sheriff. I promise to bring him back mostly in one piece.”

 

“Good-bye Merlin,” Stiles' dad called back. “Have a good weekend, Stiles.”

 

“Thanks, dad. You too!” He turned to Merlin. “So, how are-”

 

Merlin's eyes glowed with magic. A wind suddenly erupted from beneath their feet and whirled around them, causing Stiles to squint and bring up a hand to shield his face. It died down as abruptly as it had started. Stiles brought his arm down and blinked.

 

He gaped at the clearing. Merlin removed his arm from Stiles' shoulders and walked over to the shack.

 

Stiles grinned. “Oh my god, that was totally the coolest thing ever! If I could have a superpower, I'd definitely want it to be teleportation.”

 

“Oh so you want me to just transport us magically to where we're going?” Merlin asked with an equally wide grin. “I mean, I was thinking that Mywanwy could use the exercise, but if you'd rather teleport...”

 

“Mywanwy could- wait.” Stiles looked to the wyvern, who had perked up at the sound of her name. “You mean we're going to ride Mywanwy?!” He was bouncing. He could feel himself bouncing and knew he had to look absolutely ridiculous. He couldn't bring himself to care. “Magical teleportation and riding a sort-of dragon? Dude, best day ever! Scott is going to be sooo jealous.”

 

That made him stop. “Oh crap.” He fished his cellphone out of his pocket. There was a message from Lydia but nothing yet from Scott. “He was supposed to be meeting me at my house so that we could come here together. He wants to meet you.”

 

Merlin's eyes rose. “Oh. Sorry, didn't realize that.”

 

Stiles shrugged as he typed a text to Scott. “Ah well, too late now. Maybe next time.”

 

Once he'd finished and answered Lydia's text as well, he pocketed his phone again and grinned excitedly at Merlin. “So, what do I need to know about riding a wyvern?”

 


 

 

Lydia's pointed heels clicked precisely as she strutted down the street. She held a caramel macchiato in one hand and carried her pink versace purse in the other. Thus armed, she was ready for some serious mind-clearing in the way of a manicure, followed by a peek into her favourite boutiques to peruse their winter collections.

 

Her week had been full of schoolwork and research – mostly research because schoolwork was easy – and even for a genius like her, mental fatigue was a thing. So many people burned out because they overworked themselves and Lydia was not planning to join their ranks. She was much smarter than that. And with Stiles away all weekend, she was going to be the on-call brain of the group.

 

A part of her was ridiculously thrilled with being desired for her intellect. She kept it on a tight leash. If she showed off too much, then people would stop underestimating her.

 

She paused in her steps when her phone announced a text. It was from Stiles.

 

Did u know merlin has a cell?!!

 

Her eyes narrowed and she texted back. You're kidding me.

 

When there wasn't an instant reply, she slipped her phone back into her bag with a huff. To think, Merlin had made her trudge through the forest when she could've just called! Part of her was annoyed at herself for not asking, but he and Harris were living in the middle of the forest in a shack without anything more technologically advanced than a wood stove and a gas-powered bunsen burner.

 

She paused with a slight frown. How were they living out there? That shack only had one room with one cot – one very small cot. Unless Merlin managed some Harry Potter-style invisible magical extensions to the place, she had no idea how two grown men could possibly live in that.

 

She was in the middle of her manicure when Stiles finally texted her back.

 

Its long distance but he's got one. Also magic teleport is a thing. Vry cool. :)

 

Lydia raised an eyebrow at the text. Get me his number.

 

Stiles still hadn't replied by the time she was leaving the salon, which annoyed Lydia, but she refused to allow it to ruin her Friday afternoon. She headed to the boutiques, already excited by the prospect of throwing herself into the world of fashion instead of monsters and death. There were prettier colours involved for one.

 

She'd stopped in front of the first shop to look at their display window, trying to decide whether she thought the ensemble in the window was a trend-setter or a faux pas, when she felt it. Lydia snapped around, trying to pinpoint the feeling. An elderly gentleman nodded to her with a smile as he passed. A young couple walked right behind him.

 

It was her. The young man looked maybe old enough to be barely out of college and he was good-looking in a sort of everyday way with his clean-shaven face and short, brown hair. The woman by his side, however, was a classical beauty with long wavy blonde hair and ruby-red lips that were laughing at something the young man was saying. She looked stunning. The two of them passed by, not paying Lydia any attention.

 

Something about the girl made Lydia's skin crawl, as though the air had suddenly transformed into a dark, slimy fog as she passed. It left a foul taste in her mouth.

 

They turned around the corner and Lydia released the breath she'd been holding. Then took another to calm herself, clenching her fists as she willed her body to stop shaking.

 


 

 

Riding a wyvern was just as amazing as it sounded. No, even more amazing. Stiles really didn't care that Myfanwy wasn't a dragon, because there was no way anything could possibly be better than flying miles above the ground and feeling the air against your face together with the muscles and warmth of a living creature beneath you.

 

Stiles was sad when they landed. “Wow, that was, like, the coolest thing ever!” He bounded over to Myfanwy's head and patted her on the nose. “You're incredible, Myfanwy!”

 

The wyvern preened happily. Next to them, Merlin chuckled. “Yes, she is. Thank you, Myfanwy.”

 

Myfanwy raised her head towards Merlin and nodded to him in acknowledgement. Then she bumped Stiles one last time and headed off deeper into the forest, sliding through the trees more easily than her bulk would've suggested.

 

“She's going further in so that normal people won't see her, right?” Stiles asked Merlin.

 

“Hm, that too. Mostly she's going to hunt, though. I'm afraid the local deer population are taking quite the thinning out from her.”

 

“Ah well, it'd be either her or the wolves and I'd sort of rather it be her. The wolves can go to the grocery store if they're hungry.”

 

“True. Mywanwy might have a difficult time using the card machines.”

 

Stiles snickered as he tried to picture the wyvern going grocery shopping. “Oh I don't think they'd be a problem. 'S not like there'd be anyone manning them by the time she got to the checkout.”

 

“Is that your idea of shopping on a budget?”

 

Stiles laughed. Merlin waited patiently for him to stop, his eyes glittering with amusement. Then he turned to lead the way out of the forest. Stiles followed, impressed with how easily Merlin moved through the trees – not even Derek managed to look as natural when he navigated the preserve. Stiles felt extra clumsy beside him. And noisy, because Merlin didn't just slip through the forest, he did it quietly, like a gentle breeze that only barely left a mark in its wake.

 

The Darkness twisted sharply, leaving Stiles momentarily breathless. Just like that, his calm, contented mood was gone and he remembered his anger and Merlin's betrayal.

 

“You told my dad,” he said to Merlin's back. Merlin paused in his steps. “About the ritual. You told my dad about the ritual. Why?”

 

Merlin turned around slowly, his face grave. “Actually, technically you told him about the ritual. I only told him which questions to ask.”

 

Stiles gritted his teeth and glared at the sorcerer. “Which is sort of the same thing. We'd made a choice: Allison, Scott and me. We didn't want our parents to know we'd more or less died in order to save them. Why the hell couldn't you respect our choice?!”

 

“Because I know what happens when you lie about something that important. And I'm fairly certain, if the stories I've been hearing are correct, that so do you.”

 

Stiles' breath caught as he remembered lying to his dad again and again. Of being too frightened of losing him to tell him and yet losing him little by little anyway because of the lying.

 

“It broke him,” he found himself whispering. He closed his eyes, trying desperately to banish the memory of the expression on his dad's face from that night. “I saw it in his eyes. And ever since then, the way he looks at me when he thinks I'm not looking... he's afraid. Terrified. And it's my fault; I put it there.”

 

Suddenly there was a pair of arms wrapping themselves around him. Stiles couldn't hold back the sob.

 

“Shh, I know it doesn't seem like it, but it'll heal,” Merlin said quietly. “Time is a wonderful friend that way. He nearly lost you and didn't even know it: it's a bit of a shock. But believe me, this was too big for you to keep from him. I know about keeping big secrets. Because it doesn't end up being the big secrets that are the problem; it's the little secrets and the white lies you have to tell in order to keep the big ones hidden. And then they compound until everything is too wrapped up in lies for you to even contemplate coming clean and telling the truth, because then you'd have to admit to all the little things as well and that-that could cost you everything, so you continue to stay silent, to lie. And that silence, that lie grows into a ravine between you, one too wide to cross, especially when the truth is the only bridge that will work.”

 

There was a moment of silence. “You sound like you're speaking from experience.”

 

The arms around Stiles tightened. “Yes.”

 

Stiles sighed and leaned into the embrace. “I'm still mad at you, just so you know.”

 

Merlin chuckled. “Got it.” He stepped back and looked at Stiles with worried eyes. “Are you alright now?”

 

Stiles took a deep breath. “Yeah,” he said, realizing he actually really was. There was resentment there, sure, at Merlin for having forced his hand and grief for having put that scared, fragile expression on his father's face, but his anger was mostly gone.

 

“You didn't, like, magic away my anger just now, did you?” he couldn't help but ask.

 

Merlin laughed. “No, not at all.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “I'm not even sure I could do that. Spells that manipulate emotions are horribly tricky.”

 

“So, no love potions?”

 

Merlin made a face at that. “Oh, love potions exist, but it's not actually love they create. Lust or infatuation would be a closer description and they are most certainly not a bit of harmless fun. Now, we should probably get going. Sanuye's expecting us sooner rather than later.”

 

Stiles felt much lighter as he followed Merlin again.

 

“So, who's Sanuye exactly?”

 

Chapter Text

Sanuye was... not at all what Stiles had been expecting. For one thing, she was a lot younger. He'd been sort of expecting this little old white-haired grandmother, but the woman who answered the door was young. Well not young young, but younger than his dad. Her thick dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, except for a few strands at the front that had several colourful beads and a feather woven into them. A necklace of beads and claws hung around her neck, but otherwise her clothes were normal: a dark red tank top and jeans.

 

And yet Stiles could feel something when he looked at her. He just knew she was different – like the first time he'd met Merlin, only the feeling itself wasn't quite the same. It wasn't magic. Or maybe not the same sort of magic...

 

“Come in,” she said and stepped back for them to enter.

 

Stiles followed Merlin inside. The house was small and obviously very old, but well-kept. The walls were raw wood as were the floors, though they had the slight shine of having been sanded down and treated with some sort of varnish. There was a large, brightly-coloured woven wall hanging covering most of one wall of the hallway and several dark picture frames along the opposite wall. There were two doorways on either side of the hallway next to where they stood and then another at the end of the entrance. The one at the far side was closed, but the two by them were open, allowing Stiles to catch a glimpse of a small living room with a leather sofa on the right and what looked like it was probably a kitchen on the left.

 

“Thank you for accepting us into your home, Sanuye,” said Merlin. Stiles snapped himself from his mental wanderings and looked back to the other two. Merlin was handing Sanuye a package wrapped in cloth. She accepted it with raised eyebrows. “Er, custom and tradition seem to change every time I turn around so I'm never sure what's right and Elsu and I mostly ignored custom between us anyway. I hope this is alright.”

 

She unwrapped the package and sniffed at it. “It's fine,” she said. “Like my grandfather, I think I prefer the fairy wine, but I still use tobacco for many of my rituals. Thank you, Emrys.”

 

“Call me Merlin.” Then Merlin turned slightly and gestured to Stiles. “Sanuye Grass Whisperer, this is Stiles Stilinski.”

 

Stiles stepped forward. “Uh hi, it's... uh nice to meet you.” He cringed inwardly. Yup, he was just one smooth talker he was.

 

Sanuye turned her gaze to him for the first time. Dark eyes pierced into his and he froze, caught in her gaze. They were steady and wise, not kind but neither were they cruel. “It is good to meet you as well, Stiles Stilinski.”

 

She stepped towards him and only then did he realize she was actually shorter than him by nearly three inches. She'd somehow seemed taller. The Darkness suddenly pulsed and Stiles gasped, his hand flying up to grab at his shirt around his heart.

 

“Stiles?” he heard Merlin say.

 

“I-I'm fine,” he replied.

 

“Hm, it seems you were right to bring him to me,” said Sanuye after a pause. Stiles looked up at her and blinked. “The Darkness goes deep. You could maybe learn to live with it, but the spark within you means that you will feel it keenly every single day of your life. A traumatic event – death especially – leaves a mark on the soul, but most people do not feel it. They feel it on their bodies and in their minds, yes, but you have the power to feel the one on your soul.”

 

Stiles frowned. “But Scott and Allison-”

 

“Scott's a werewolf,” Merlin interrupted. “And Allison can feel it because it's the result of a ritual. But neither one of them can feel it the way you can.”

 

“Oh.” He'd never actually asked what it felt like to them, he supposed. It was one of those things they never really talked about. At least not in any detail.

 

“Come into the kitchen,” said Sanuye. “I'll make coffee.”

 

They followed her into the kitchen and Sanuye efficiently prepared everything into what Stiles was surprised to note looked like a rather expensive coffeemaker. Merlin, meanwhile, silently guided Stiles to sit at the large wooden table. Stiles looked around the room to distract himself. He studied the intricate weave in the shallow basket in the centre of the table full of fruit. Within a few moments, his left leg began to bounce slightly, the silence making his skin itch.

 

“So, are you, like, a shaman or something?” he finally asked.

 

Sanuye paused in what she was doing and turned around to look at him with a flat, slightly annoyed expression.

 

“No,” she said. “Contrary to what many seem to think they know, not all of my peoples' religious beliefs centre around what you call a shaman or even anything close to a shaman. 'Shaman' is not even our word. I am what you would refer to as a medicine elder.”

 

“Oh, er, sorry,” said Stiles, his mind already racing. “So, where does the word 'shaman' come from then if it's not actually, uh, Native American?”

 

She shrugged as she turned the coffeemaker on. “Siberia.”

 

Stiles blinked. “Okay, that's... really random.” And fascinating. He wondered how rude it would be of him to get out his laptop so that he could look it up. He shook his head. “Then what's the difference between a shaman and a medicine wo-er, elder?”

 

Sanuye sighed and turned back to them. Stiles braced himself for irritation, but it was amusement that met his eyes, before sliding to Merlin's. Beside him, Merlin shrugged. “I said he was keen to learn.”

 

She snorted and then sat down. “I suppose asking many questions is better than not asking enough.”

 

“Usually,” Merlin confirmed.

 

Sanuye turned her attention to Stiles again. “The most important thing to remember, is that a shaman is one who walks the spirit plane that exists between life and death. In order to do so, they must have survived an experience that brought them into contact with the spirit plane. This experience would have to be traumatic by necessity - and death is the most traumatic, especially for the soul.”

 

“The ritual...” said Stiles softly.

 

“Yes. I'll have you describe it for me again, but from what Merlin has told me, I assume you used the ritual to force your way into the spirit plane in order to find your parents. You entered the spirit plane with a question. That too is something a shaman does. However, once the doorway is opened it cannot be closed or repaired. You are now connected to it.”

 

Stiles' eyes widened in comprehension. She met his eyes, all amusement long gone from them.

 

“You can feel it, can't you?” It wasn't really a question. “The doorway to the spirit plane that exists within your soul. It's wide open.”

 

Stiles clutched at his heart. “It's like a black hole. It's trying to suck me in, to make me fall into the darkness and I-I'm scared.” He swallowed, his throat dry. “I'm scared that if I fall in, I'll never get back out.”

 

“Good. Remember that fear: it will help keep you safe.”

 

 


 

 

Stiles yawned loudly and then proceeded to nearly trip over a fallen tree branch. He wasn't entirely sure what time it was, except for waaay too early. And no, it didn't make any difference that this time Saturday he'd otherwise be getting up to go to lacrosse practice. He wasn't going to be at lacrosse practice, instead he and Sanuye were... he wasn't entirely sure what they were doing. Hiking?

 

He looked ahead to where Sanuye was leading the way further into the forest. Her steps were silent and sure, even if they lacked the sort of grace that made Merlin seem to almost glide. Stiles had been too wired with nerves last night to fall asleep and then all-too-early Sanuye had woken him, fed him breakfast and dragged him out with her.

 

He had no idea where Merlin was.

 

Finally, she stepped over a fallen log and stopped in the middle of a small clearing. Stiles joined her. “So, uh, what exactly are we going to do? Is there, like, a-”

 

“Can you tell me about these trees?” Sanuye suddenly asked. It was the first she'd spoken since they'd left her house.

 

Stiles blinked at her and then looked around. “The trees? Uh... There's a couple of maples over there and that big one's a pine. There's an oak... actually, wow, there's a lot of oaks. And I think that there might be a mountain ash. Maybe. I'm not sure.” He cocked his head at her. “Why, what's up with the trees?”

 

“Trees are the foundation of the forest. They are powerful.”

 

“Oh. So they're important to the ritual or whatever?”

 

Sanuye looked to him with a frown. “Ritual?”

 

“Er...yes?”

 

There were a few moments of silence. “Did Merlin explain what we would be doing? How I would be helping you?”

 

Stiles froze as he felt the fragile bit of certainty he'd thought he had slipping away. “He said you teach me to bond with the land.”

 

She considered that for a moment and then shook her head with a huff. “That is an incredibly simplified answer. Although, I suppose for him it maybe was that easy.”

 

Sanuye walked over to one of the larger oak trees and placed her hand on its trunk. “Bonding with the land is not simple and it cannot be forced. The land must accept you as much as you must accept it. And as with any meaningful relationship, you must get to know it first. Even love at first sight will eventually fail if there is no foundation cultivated beneath.”

 

“This... this is going to take a while, isn't it?”

 

Sanuye looked at him and nodded. She said nothing, waiting.

 

Stiles ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He had been hoping to come home on Sunday with results, a solution to their problem. It looked like that wasn't going to be the case. Damn.

 

“Well, I knew I was going to be in this for life,” he said. “I guess it was sort of stupid of me to assume it would be that quick and easy.”

 

“Yes.”

 

Stiles steeled himself. He couldn't just back out now. Even if he couldn't protect anyone tomorrow, he still had the chance to learn how to protect them in the future. Because he just knew that one day, they were going to face something that couldn't be defeated with teeth and claws.

 

He met Sanuye's eyes. “So, how do I get to know these trees?”

 

Sanuye smiled. “Their names are a start, although you missed the cypress over there. Then you can learn about them. This oak here is tall and sturdy. It is unlikely to fall in a storm and if you are caught in the middle of the forest, its acorns can be eaten. You can use its bark to brew tea, which is good for diarrhea or to treat poison ivy rash or burns. But you must be careful, because it also contains toxins.”

 

Stiles nodded and then looked up to where Sanuye pointed.

 

“And see up there: this tree is also a home and resting place.”

 

 


 

By the time they stopped for lunch, Stiles felt like his head was going to explode with new information. There was, apparently, a lot to know about trees. Sanuye's husky voice was soft in the forest, almost reverent, and she answered all of Stiles' questions patiently. Even the dumb ones.

 

She'd led him through the forest until they reached a small stream. There, she walked over to a large tree stump and sat down. Stiles hesitated for a moment before sitting down beside her. She handed him a sandwich.

 

“No acorns today?” he joked after thanking her.

 

Sanuye chuckled. “Just because you can eat them doesn't mean they taste good. What they will do is keep you from starving. Besides, they must be ground down first.”

 

“Aah, okay.” He paused. “So, is this, like, survival 101?”

 

She looked at him for a moment, then shrugged as she unwrapped her sandwich. “If you know the forest, you know how to survive in it. There is as much that can help you as there is that can harm you. Knowing the difference is important.”

 

“I'm totally on board with that.”

 

Stiles took a bite of his sandwich and let the silence stretch out between them. It had been an interesting morning, but he was torn. Part of him felt overwhelming nostalgia, because he hadn't done anything like this since his mother died. It helped that Sanuye was nothing like his mother: blending stoically into the forest where his mother had brightened it up with smiles and laughter. Another part couldn't help but wonder why Deaton couldn't have taught him this. The second left a bitter taste in his mouth, so he pushed it as far away as he could.

 

The silence stretched on longer and Stiles felt it dig its way under his skin. His left leg began to thrum. He took another bite and washed it down with water. His eyes flicked over to Sanuye. She was sitting serenely on her side of the stump eating her own sandwich and not looking like she was going to break the silence anytime soon.

 

He bit his lip. He didn't want to annoy her and make her want to stop teaching him, but she could give Derek lessons in silent.

 

“So... how did you decide you wanted to be a medicine woman?” he asked. “Was there some sort of crisis or did you just want to be bound to the land – you are bound to the land right? Or is that just something I can do because I'm a Spark? Are you a Spark?”

 

Sanuye turned to him with raised eyebrows and amused eyes.

 

“My grandfather was one before me and I loved him and I loved his work. He began teaching me when I was a small child, although not with the intent purpose of taking over for him until later. Yes, I am bound to the land, but I am not what you and Merlin refer to as a Spark.” She paused. “You don't like to sit quietly.”

 

There was no derision in her voice, but Stiles flushed anyway. “Uh, no. Sorry. I-uh... if it's silent for too long, then my skin sort of starts to itch, like there's this big blank space where there should be words and things. So I talk, er, babble.” He winced. “Blame my ADHD?”

 

Sanuye shook her head. “Foolish child.” The amusement was gone from her eyes when she looked back to him. “If you don't like silence, then listen. The forest is never silent. It speaks its own language and if you pay attention there is much it can tell you. It babbles as much as you do.”

 

Stiles blinked at her. He had years of annoyed, exasperated adults behind him asking why he couldn't just sit still and be quiet. No one had ever said anything like that to him. He thought about it as he finished his sandwich. Finally, Sanuye took one last sip of her water and slipped the bottle back into the leather satchel at her hip. Then she stood.

 

“I have been teaching you the way my grandfather taught me, but you are not me. Perhaps we should start in a different way.” Stiles slipped his own bottle into his backpack and made to stand up as well. “No, don't get up. Relax. Now close your eyes and tell me what you can hear.”

 

Stiles did as he was told and listened. Was there something specific she wanted him to hear? He strained his ears to hear something meaningful in the sounds around him, but after a few minutes he gave up. It was a bit much to expect him to be a genius and figure it all out on the first try, right?

 

“Uh, okay, so I can hear the wind. I mean, not the wind wind, 'cause it's not strong enough for that, but I can hear leaves rustling and oh, hey, do different types of tree leaves make different sounds? Like pine needles will definitely sound different than oak leaves, but do oak leaves sound different to maple leaves? Oh, and I guess I'm also hearing rustling closer to the ground, so that'd be the underbrush and grass. Hmm, and there's a couple of branches that are a bit too close together, 'cause I can hear them hitting each other. Then there's the stream. I can hear the water running - or more like walking 'cause it doesn't actually sound very fast. And there's, like, buzzing or something too. So bugs. Not mosquitoes, though, 'cause they sound more annoying.”

 

He paused, straining for more.

 

“Birds. I hear birds... chirppy things, so they're probably pretty small. And- hey, that rustling sounded different, like against the wind. Did something just land on one of the branches?”

 

“A squirrel jumped from one tree to another,” Sanuye answered.

 

Stiles grinned. “Cool.” He opened his eyes to look. He caught a glimpse of the end of a red tail scurrying up one of the oak trees.

 

Sanuye was smirking at him. “You seemed to think this was somehow going to be complicated. It's not: it's actually very simple.”

 

Stiles relaxed. “So, did I miss anything?”

 

She nodded, told him to close his eyes and then pointed out the sounds he'd missed. When they were done, she took him to a different location and they started all over again. By the time the sun was setting, Stiles felt like he'd gotten a lot better at identifying the sounds around him, although he still didn't manage to hear Merlin approach from behind him.

 

Without ever looking at her watch, Sanuye made sure they were back in time for the Lakers game.

 

 


 

 

The forest was speaking to him. Well, no, that wasn't entirely right, Stiles realized. It was really arrogant of him to think he was at the centre of anything in this scenario. The forest was speaking to itself and he was eavesdropping.

 

Of course he still wasn't really sure what it was saying, but thinking there was some sort of secret code to decipher made it all seem one hundred percent cooler.

 

Sanuye had dragged him out before the crack of dawn again, this time pushing a thermos of coffee into his hand instead of letting him sit down at the table. It had been worth it, to listen to the forest as it woke up. There was so much going on all at once. His mind had a hard time keeping track of all the small little noises beneath the loud, obvious ones. The crows cawing in the trees? They were noticeable. But the soft rustling of underbrush where a rabbit was hopping towards its hole was less so.

 

He hadn't even realized rabbits were nocturnal. It felt like the sort of thing he should've known.

 

They spent the day walking through the forest again. Sanuye would sometimes stop and ask Stiles to tell him what he heard just like he had the day before. And sometimes, Stiles would hear or see something strange and stop to ask about it. Different animals made different sounds and there was a difference between the way bushes moved in the wind and tree branches rustled and Stiles knew it would take him a long time to learn them well enough to tell them apart completely.

 

Well, he supposed he had the rest of his life, right? He tried not to think of the enormity of that.

 

There was a large moss-covered rock sitting beside a clump of white oak trees. Stiles sat on it as he listened to the forest. He had been able to tell when Sanuye began to move around, her footfalls soft, but still putting just enough weight on the fallen leaves, branches and pine needles for him to hear. He heard a faint rustling and knew she was gathering herbs.

 

Then the birds went silent. Stiles froze, his heartbeat suddenly overpoweringly loud – so loud he had to take a deep breath before he could strain his ears to hear beyond it. The bushes to his right rustled and a branch snapped. Sanuye gasped.

 

Stiles' eyes flew open and he leaped off the rock, twisting to face the threat as he landed. Twisted horns and red eyes peeked out at him from between two trees. They came closer and Stiles' brain finally connected to what his eyes were telling him.

 

“Myfanwy?” Stiles said incredulously.

 

The wyvern turned to him and a rumbling came from its throat. She wandered over to Stiles and lowered her head so he could rub her nose.

 

“Stiles?”

 

Stiles looked up. Sanuye was staring at him with surprise. “This is Merlin's, uh, friend and mode of transportation. Her name's Myfanwy.”

 

Sanuye approached Myfanwy warily, but with a look of wonder on her face. “What is she?” she whispered.

 

“A wyvern. Which is apparently smaller and less magical than a dragon.”

 

“Also less intelligent, although Myfanwy here's clever enough,” said a new voice and they both looked past Mywanwy to where Merlin was leaning against a tree, watching.

 

“Come to join us, Merlin?” Sanuye called to him with a smile.

 

“No, sorry. I promised the sheriff I'd have Stiles home in time for Sunday dinner.”

 

Stiles blinked and looked down at his watch. He gaped at the time. “Wow, okay, when did it become this late?”

 

“Just now, when you looked at the time,” said Merlin with an impish grin.

 

Sanuye chuckled. Stiles just rolled his eyes.

 

 


 

 

The sparrow had already alerted him that they were coming, so Adrian Harris wasn't at all surprised by the group that suddenly walked into his clearing. He didn't even bother looking up from his work.

 

“They're not back yet,” he said and began neatly laying the next row of bricks.

 

Apparently they were expecting a slightly different reaction from him, because his words were followed by an awkward silence. He managed to keep the smirk off his face.

 

“Do you know when they'll be back?” the Martin girl asked.

 

He carefully finished laying the brick and picked up the next one, looking up as he did so. “Merlin said something about being back in time for dinner, but that leaves much to interpretation and Merlin isn't exactly known for his punctuality.”

 

“Neither is Stiles,” said the sheriff with a grimace.

 

It seemed the entire wolf pack had come, including some of their extras. He noticed Chris Argent standing next to the sheriff while his daughter stood at the front next to Scott McCall, who was at the head of the group - apparently their leader. Adrian wondered when that had happened. He'd been under the impression that Derek Hale was the alpha, but he and his uncle were both standing to the side. Not that Adrian paid any attention to werewolf politics, but McCall seemed a bit young for the role of pack leader.

 

“You seem oddly unconcerned considering the wolf pack sitting on your doorstep,” Peter Hale drawled.

 

Adrian met his sharply amused eyes and shrugged. Then he bent down to pick up another brick. “As I believe I already had Mister Stilinski tell you, I no longer have a reason to hide.” He looked up and met Peter Hale's eyes. “Instead of wondering at my lack of concern, perhaps you should be worrying about why I have no reason to be concerned.”

 

Peter Hale's eyes narrowed, though the corner of his lips twitched.

 

“Uh, what are you doing?” Isaac Lahey asked, peeking around McCall.

 

“Building a forge,” Adrian answered and got back to the row of bricks. “There are very few things that can actively hurt the fae. Cold-tempered iron is by far the most effective. Sadly, it is also incredibly difficult to find in this hemisphere in this day and age.”

 

“And you know about tempering iron?” Lydia Martin asked, looking interested.

 

“Yes, I spent several decades working as a travelling smithy.”

 

“Couldn't Merlin just do this with, uh, magic?” That was Scott McCall. Adrian rolled his eyes.

 

“No. If magic is used in the creation of anything meant to contain or trap it, then it loses its potency. Cold tempered iron drains magic, which is why it is so effective against creatures as seeped in magic as the fae.”

 

“What about Merlin?” asked Lydia Martin.

 

Adrian raised his eyes and smirked slightly. “Merlin cannot go anywhere near cold tempered iron.”

 

“And Stiles?” the sheriff demanded.

 

“Hm...a good question.” Adrian paused to think. “I'm not entirely sure. A Spark is not inherently magic, merely potential, so it stands to reason that it would depend on how that potential is utilized. However, I am hardly an expert on the subject.”

 

“Would it work on werewolves?” Allison Argent asked. Around her, the werewolves stiffened.

 

Adrian shook his head. “No, like vampires, their magic is different. Spirits and ghosts aren't affected either.”

 

“But it would've worked against the Darach,” said Derek. It sounded like an accusation.

 

“Yes, of course it would have. And had I had a forge then, I wouldn't need to build one now.”

 

He finished the row and stood back, wondering whether there was any point to beginning the next one. The forest around him went silent. He was vaguely aware of someone saying something, possibly asking him another question, but he looked up into the distance and ignored them. There was a black dot with wings approaching rather quickly.

 

“They're almost here,” he said.

 

The stunned silence that followed once they'd all finally caught sight of Myfanwy was beautiful. Adrian allowed himself a small smile. The wyvern stopped just above the clearing and hovered for a few wingbeats, before stretching her neck and screeching down at the pack.

 

Several of the students' faces instantly transformed and the younger Hale crouched with his hands and claws extended, ready to fight if necessary. Next to him, his uncle rolled his eyes in amusement (although Adrian couldn't help but notice he wasn't quite as relaxed as he'd been moments before).

 

“I think it wants us to move back so it can land,” Peter Hale drawled.

 

“Oh, uh, good idea,” said Scott McCall, looking a bit chagrined.

 

They moved backwards and few steps and, sure enough, once they'd cleared back, Mywanwy smoothly landed onto all four legs. She kept her wings extended and didn't take her eyes off the intruders. Meanwhile, Merlin slid gracefully from her back and Stiles stumbled down after him. Both ducked under her wings and Merlin placed a hand on her neck, speaking in a low voice to calm her. Stiles went to his friends with a confused smile on his face.

 

“Uh, hey guys, what are you doing here?” he asked.

 

“We're, uh here to...” Scott started to say, although his eyes weren't actually looking at Stiles. “Holy crap, is that the dragon-looking thing that isn't actually a dragon because it's too small?!”

 

“Dude, you got to ride it,” said Isaac with a whine.

 

“I think I'm definitely just a little bit jealous now,” said one of the twins – by his proximity to Lydia, Stiles guessed it was Aiden. Next to him, Ethan nodded.

 

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Okay, I'm going to assume we're not going to get anywhere fast, so guys this is Mywanwy. She's actually really nice and loves to be petted, just be careful of the horns. They're super sharp.” He turned to Merlin. “And for those of you, who haven't met him yet, this is Merlin.”

 

Merlin gave Mywanwy one, last pat and then walked over to Stiles' side. He smiled at the group. “Hello,” he said simply. “It's good to finally meet everyone. What brings you here?”

 

“Another child went missing yesterday morning,” Stiles' dad said and the mood in the clearing changed completely. The wolves' faces morphed back to human. Stiles' blood ran cold. “We haven't found the body yet.”

 

“Oh god,” he said quietly.

 

“There's more,” said Lydia, stepping forward to address Merlin. “Friday after school I went out to get a manicure and do some shopping. I ran into this couple on the street and I felt something really... off about the woman. Like there was something foul emanating from her, but she didn't look like anything other than a pretty woman.” Lydia paused. “The man that was with her was found dead this morning.”

 

Merlin frowned thoughtfully. “If you had to describe what the woman felt like to you in one word, what would you say?”

 

Lydia blinked and cocked her head to the side as she thought about that. Then she straightened and looked Merlin head-on. “Death. I'd say she felt like death.”

 

Merlin nodded. “Then trust your senses: if she felt like death then it's because she was probably dead.”

 

Lydia's eyes widened.

 

“So you're saying the young man was killed by, what, a ghost?” Stiles' dad asked, running a hand over his face.

 

“Or possibly a spirit.” Merlin shrugged. “People tend to lump them all together, but there are many different types of spirits and ghosts. Some can become quite powerful if there's enough emotion to sustain them.”

 

“Like the curse?” Stiles asked.

 

Merlin nodded. “Like the curse. Sort of. In this case, the curse probably gave the spirit power it otherwise wouldn't have had. Maybe awakened it as well.”

 

“So if it's the spirit of a young woman and she's preying on young men, then she was probably a young woman who was killed by a young man,” said Chris Argent thoughtfully.

 

“Or committed suicide over a young man,” Adrian Harris added from behind him. Stiles turned back to look at his former chemistry teacher. “Especially if there was a betrayal involved, it would engender quite powerful feelings.”

 

“Both corpses looked peaceful and happy,” Stiles' dad added. “So it doesn't seem like she's necessarily after revenge...”

 

“Well, looks like we're spending time in the library archives this week, Stiles,” said Lydia.

 

Stiles groaned. “We need to figure out a schedule, 'cause this is getting a bit much.”

 

“Oh this is only the beginning, Mister Stilinski.” Stiles glared at Harris. “The Beacon hasn't fully awoken just yet.”

 

“Oh joy,” Stiles deadpanned.


 

Chapter Text

Monday at lunch, Lydia grabbed Stiles in the hallway as he was walking out of his math class and marched him away without a word to anyone. Aiden's attempt at following them was quickly glared into submission. Stiles just threw the werewolf the most bewildered look he could and shrugged as the redhead continued to drag him along behind her.

 

One staircase and two turns later, she manoeuvred him into an abandoned classroom and closed the door before sitting down at one of the desks. Stiles blinked a few times, shook his head and joined her.

 

“So, what's with the, uh, abduction?” he asked. “Not that I mind being abducted by you, although it would've been less terrifying if you hadn't done it in front of your growly and possessive boyfriend of many claws.”

 

Lydia rolled her eyes. “You were right, we have to figure out what we're doing. Danny has band practice right now and the others aren't much use unless there's things to slash. Which means it's up to us.”

 

Stiles decided not to comment on how last time he'd been the one dragging her into the researching. Instead he pulled up a chair, dug his lunch out of his bag and let Lydia sweep him into her planning.

 


 

 Coach Flinstock seemed to be going through some sort of male PMS that day and practice was more like torture than usual. Stiles spent a lot of the second half of it glaring at his werewolf friends, wishing he could do something cool like make the grass grow spontaneously and trip them or something that would make them look equally less graceful and athletic. He sometimes wondered how no one noticed they didn't get as tired as the other players.

 

When the coach finally called the end of practice, Stiles sighed with relief and collapsed onto the soft, soft grass. It took Scott and Isaac both to lift him to his feet and force him to move towards the locker room to change. Afterwards, he stumbled back out and followed them to the bleachers where Lydia waited for them with a satisfied look on her face.

 

She greeted Aiden with a kiss and then turned to the rest of them. “Stiles and I have research to do, so we'll be heading to his place to do that. The rest of you are going to be helping the drama club.”

 

The others looked at each other in confusion.

 

“Wow, that was quick,” said Stiles. He knew Lydia was impressive, but he never stopped being surprised by just how efficient she could be when she put her mind to it.

 

Lydia brushed a lock of hair off her shoulder. “Well, the head of the drama club is in my advanced French class and we were doing partner work today. I offered to do her a favour.”

 

Scott looked confused. “Uh, not that I don't mind helping people out, but why are we helping the drama club?”

 

“Because the duende lives inside the walls of old houses and there are a lot of old houses in Beacon Hills. Sniffing around all of them one at a time would take a long time.”

 

“Plus look really creepy and suspicious,” Stiles added.

 

“Exactly.” Lydia picked up a large stack of leaflets that had been sitting next to her on the bench. “The drama club needs help handing out fliers about their upcoming production. This way you have an excuse to get close to the houses. If the duende is living in any of those houses you should be able to smell it. Just hand out the fliers, smile, and pay attention. If you catch wind of anything strange, make a note of that house and we can go back to it later. Simple.”

 

“Is, uh, Allison coming?” Isaac asked, craning his neck to see if he could spot her. He stopped when he noticed Scott's glare.

 

“No, she's going through the Argent's bestiary to see if she can figure out what sort of creature the mystery dead woman is,” Lydia answered. She held out the fliers. “Well go on. You might want to hurry since I'm assuming none of you have managed to finish the history assignment that's due tomorrow.”

 

Scott froze, his face going blank. Isaac and Ethan groaned. Aiden cursed under his breath. Danny chuckled at them, looking entirely unconcerned. The werewolves glared at him.

 

“What? I did it over the weekend,” he said with a shrug.

 

“Good, then you can go hand out the stupid fliers,” said Ethan.

 

“Uh, yeah, no.” Danny grabbed a quarter of the pile and then shoved them at his boyfriend. “You're not getting out of it that easy. Besides, sending me out on my own would entirely defeat the purpose: the only thing I'll be able to smell is what they're having for dinner.”

 

Ethan made a face, but followed after Danny without another word of complaint.

 

Isaac sighed. “Fine, let's get this over with.” He and Scott both grabbed a quarter of the pile each and headed off as well.

 

Aiden glared at Lydia with narrow eyes. She raised an eyebrow and stared back at him. A few moments passed and Aiden finally blinked. Then he muttered something under his breath, grabbed the remaining fliers with a huff and stomped off – though not before growling in Stiles' direction when he noticed the amused look on his face.

 

Lydia's lips quirked into a brief smile before she brought a hand to her face and imperiously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Then she noticed Stiles watching her.

 

“What?” she demanded.

 

Stiles chuckled. “Oh, nothing really. I always knew you were the most badass of us all.”

 

“Well, naturally.” The response was typical Lydia, but Stiles didn't miss the pleased little smile.

 


 

 

Sheriff Stilinski trudged through the front door at quarter to nine and shrugged off his coat before going over to lock his gun in the hall safe. It was a habit ingrained in him from when Stiles had been an overly-curious, hyper-active knee-biter and, as usual, he paused once it was safely locked away to wonder whether he shouldn't just start keeping it upstairs instead now that Stiles was older. Or maybe get a second handgun and see if Chris could help him acquire some bullets that would be effective against the supernatural.

 

The gun was already inside the safe now, so he left it and walked on to the living room. He paused in the doorway, eyebrows raising in surprise. And amusement.

 

He cleared his throat. “Hi Stiles, Lydia,” he said.

 

Lydia looked up from her laptop. “Hello, sheriff,” she said with a smile. She was seated in the middle of the couch with her back straight and her laptop sitting on top of her crossed legs – the perfect image of proper yet casual.

 

His son, in contrast, wasn't even sitting on the armchair anymore, but laying on the ground with his feet on the armchair's seat, bent at at angle so that his laptop could rest on his thighs without falling over. He leaned his head back.

 

“Oh, hey dad. There's leftover stirfry on the stove for you.”

 

“Thanks, son. I take it you two have eaten then?”

 

“Yup. We got hungry about an hour ago, so I made food.”

 

“Good, good.” He looked between them, trying to remember either of them mentioning any projects for school. “What are you two working on?”

 

“We're going through the public library's online newspaper archives to see if we can figure out who that woman I saw on Friday is,” Lydia answered.

 

The sheriff sighed. He'd known it was too much to ask that they were doing normal, teenage stuff. He wondered if his son even realized just how much time he was now spending with the 'love of his life'. Probably.

 

The cellphone on the floor next to Stiles' head gave off a crashing sound and Stiles absently reached for it. He checked the message.

 

“It's from Scott,” Stiles announced.

 

“And?” Lydia asked.

 

Stiles grinned. “He says he's never had so many muffins in one afternoon, ever. Apparently the elderly ladies of Beacon Hills have a muffin-baking fetish.”

 

The sheriff chuckled. Muffin-evasion was a necessary skill for the town's deputies. It was one every new recruit had to pick up on their own. It was why they always got the task of canvessing in those neighbourhoods: learning said skill was considered the Beacon Hills version of hazing.

 

“Good for him,” said Lydia. “Does he have anything useful?”

 

“Um, no, not really. There was one house of Cedarwood Dr that reeked of incense, but there didn't seem to be anything supernatural about it.”

 

“Okay, that only leaves Isaac.”

 

“I'll text him to see where he is. Maybe he didn't realize he was supposed to e-mail when he was done.”

 

“I don't know why he wouldn't.”

 

Stiles shrugged while he typed.

 

The sheriff's stomach chose that moment to loudly announce itself. Deciding he wasn't really needed here anyway, he left the two teens to their work and went to check out this stirfry that was waiting for him.

 


 

 

Merlin sat on the tree stump and glowered at Adrian.

 

Adrian ignored him as he continued to lay bricks. The hearth was nearly done. He would still need to build a canopy around it to keep the elements out and then figure out how to acquire the more mechanical pieces. Or, more precisely, how to transport them to the clearing given that Merlin wasn't going to be very helpful.

 

Perhaps Chris Argent would be willing to help in exchange for being shown how to work with cold iron.

 

“I can't believe you're actually making this,” Merlin suddenly announced, pout clear in his voice. The great sorcerer was sitting with his legs bent and his arms wrapped around them while his chin rested on his knees.

 

Adrian resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “If they're going to be taking on a fae they'll need a proper weapon and this isn't something they'll be able to just find laying around.” He paused and looked askance at Merlin. “At least I'm not lying to them.”

 

Merlin stiffened. “I'm not lying to them,” he grumbled. “I'm... misrepresenting the truth.”

 

Adrian snorted. “That doesn't actually sound much better, you realize.”

 

“Perhaps not.”

 

Both of them were silent as Adrian finished off the last row of bricks. Once he was done, he set his trowel aside next to the pail of mortar. He sraightened and turned to watch Merlin critically for a few moments. The sunny smile was gone from the sorcerer's face and, despite his juvenile posture, his face was lined with the grief of an old man.

 

“You don't need to be bonded to the land to find the duende,” Adrian finally said softly into the clearing.

 

Merlin raised his eyes to him. “No, I don't,” he admitted quietly after a pause.

 

“Then why don't you?”

 

“Because I won't be staying here and they need to learn.”

 

“People are dying. That's a rather harsh way to teach a lesson.”

 

Merlin's eyes narrowed. “Life is a harsh taskmaster,” he spat. “The path they have chosen doesn't make excuses for weakness.”

 

Children are dying.”

 

Merlin's eyes closed in pain. “I know.” After a few moment's pause, he took a deep breath and opened them, unfolding his limbs as he did so. Eyes hard, he met Adrian's gaze unflinchingly. “But I will not be their crutch, Adrian. Stiles, in particular, must learn to stand on his own. His path may not be set in stone, but if he's to gain the strength he seeks, then he must struggle with all he has to reach its end or else he'll never achieve it.”

 

He stood abruptly, his movements angry as he began to pace in front of the tree stump. “Compassion was once both my greatest strength and the reason I lost all I held dear. Perhaps that's simplifying it, but I cannot allow compassion to blind me again! Humans, mortals, have the luxury of seeing what is in front of them and letting that become all that matters. I am- I do not. I allowed myself to become Arthur's crutch, his bane. It is a mistake I will never repeat. I must never repeat.”

 

Merlin whirled on Adrian with blazing eyes, an accusing finger pointing at him. “And don't think I don't know what you're doing!”

 

Adrian smirked. “Wouldn't dream of it. Only it's a bit of an odd position, being the one offering help instead of the one holding you back and convincing you not to meddle.”

 

Merlin chuckled. “Instead you force me to justify myself to you.”

 

“You looked like you were starting to doubt your decision. Besides, you became so passionate; your speech lost all those modern idioms you're so proud of. It was quite impressive.” He paused for a moment, before continuing in a softer tone. “What are you going to do if they figure you out?”

 

Merlin's eyes softened and flashed with amusement. “If they figure that out, then I'll know I'm no longer needed.”

 

“And what of the druid emissary?”

 

“He doesn't follow the Old Ways. It's possible he might figure it out and tell them, but I doubt it.”

 

“Hmm.” Adrian looked up at the sky. “I suppose I should go fell a tree for my canopy before the rain starts.”

 

“It'll be quite the rainstorm.”

 

“Will it? I'd better hurry then.”

 

“Yes.”

 


 

 

The rainstorm came just before lunch, forcing the pack to choose a new location for their meeting. They ended up deciding on a mostly unused corridor in the lower levels by the boiler room. The wolves would hear and smell anyone approaching. A stranger could get the wrong idea if they heard their conversation out of context - talking about houses they needed to scope out sounded bad enough with context.

 

“Right, okay, so let's adjourn now,” said Stiles after they'd all seated themselves. He looked to Scott. “Or do you want to do the adjourning?”

 

“Uh, whatever man,” Scott said with a shrug. “We're here, so just get on with it.”

 

“'Kay, so first off, the library's online archives were a total bust.” Stiles made a face. “Looks like we're gonna have to try the older newspapers. Which means going to the library and doing it the old-fashion, projector-type way.”

 

“I've seen them do that on crime shows,” said Isaac. “I feel your pain.”

 

“You could come help.”

 

“Not a chance.”

 

Lydia cleared her throat. “Allison?” she asked, looking to the girl seated next to her.

 

Allison shook her head. “Sorry, nothing yet. The bestiary's over a thousand pages long and only parts of it are translated, so it's going to take a while.”

 

Lydia nodded. “Well, we've got five possible houses from yesterday's flier run: 164 Columbus Crescent, 78 Jasper Street, 602 Cloverleaf Crescent, 679 Cloverleaf Crescent and 8 Market Way.”

 

“Uh, Lydia?” said Danny. She looked over and raised an eyebrow at him. “You can take out 78 Jasper Street. There's nothing unusual with that house.”

 

“What do you mean there's nothing unusual?!” Ethan exclaimed, looking outraged. “The woman that lives there is totally a goblin.”

 

Danny rolled his eyes. “She is not. She's just a very short, very wrinkly old lady.”

 

“She's a goblin!”

 

Danny gave Ethan an exasperated look. Ethan glared back.

 

“Does she, uh, smell like a goblin?” Stiles asked.

 

Ethan deflated. “Well, no, not really... but she could be masking her scent! Or something.”

 

Danny looked at Lydia pointedly. “Take off the Jasper Street house.”

 

“Got it.”

 

“In that case, we should pair up and go check them out,” said Scott. “I'll text Derek and see if he and Peter are willing to help. That way we can do all the houses tonight.”

 

“Should we take out the duende if it's there?” Aiden asked.

 

“Uh, if you can, but if it lives in the walls then we might have to trap it or something.”

 

“Well Harris said he was making that iron stuff,” Isaac pointed out.

 

“Yeah, but we don't actually know how long that's going to take him,” Allison pointed out.

 

“We could ask,” said Stiles with a shrug.

 

Scott snickered. “Betcha you never thought you'd be thinking of Harris as your go-to guy..”

 

“Yeah, I know, the world just keeps getting weirder.”

 


 

 

Derek stared at the dense copse of trees in front of him. Now that he was here alone, without the conflicting immediate scents of a dozen other people, he could appreciate the spells protecting the clearing. No wonder Scott and Isaac hadn't found it. Aiden may have been enjoying his chance to gloat a little too much, but it did honestly say something about his tracking skills that he'd been able to detect the subtle change in his surroundings.

 

Not that Derek would ever tell him that. Scott might want to get along with everyone and refuse to hold grudges, but he certainly hadn't forgiven the twins. It was just one more reason to leave Beacon Hills.

 

He knew he should just leave all the work to Scott – and Stiles and Lydia more like – and concentrate on the house, only answering the occasional call for help, but he couldn't help thinking that maybe if he'd been a better alpha, been stronger, maybe things wouldn't have gotten as bad as they had. It wasn't like he'd ever had any control over what Scott and Stiles did, but maybe he should've paid them more attention. Helped them find a way to locate the Nemeton without the ritual.

 

Derek shook his head, forcing down the wolf and feeling as his features smoothed down into their human shape. Then he stepped cautiously past the trees and into the clearing, walking slowly out of the shade, his eyes darting around for any signs of the wyvern. He didn't see it. He could certainly smell it, however: its unique lizard-like smell had permeated the entire area.

 

Just off to the side of the most dilapidated shack Derek had ever seen (magic, there had to be magic involved, because there was simply no way that thing was still standing without it), was a much newer structure. Derek recognized the brickwork as the forge Harris had been working on when they'd been here four days ago to speak to Merlin and pick up Stiles. It had come a long way since then. A narrow chimney towered over a wooden roof that was held up by several wooden supports. It looked stable enough, but temporary. Beneath the roof, the chimney widened considerably at its base and there was a wide opening just below waist-height with a platform made of more bricks that grew out from the chimney for several feet. He came closer and realized the platform's edges were higher and the inside of it was two bricks deep with a wide hole covered by a metal grate in the centre. The roof covered the entire platform and then quite a bit of ground past it.

 

Then he heard movement.

 

“Can I help you, Mister Hale?”

 

Derek looked up to the source of the voice. Mr. Harris stood at the edge of the clearing – the opposite side to where Derek himself had entered – carrying a woven basket full of herbs. And wild strawberries, judging by the smell. Derek immediately stomped out all the Little Red Riding Hood jokes that came to the tip of his tongue. They all sounded suspiciously like Stiles.

 

He greeted him with a nod. Harris returned his nod and walked towards him. “I was wondering how the forge was coming along.”

 

The other man raised an eyebrow at him. “As you can see the hearth is done. There are a few pieces I require to make any of it work, although I suppose I could attempt to build a tuyere and bellows myself.”

 

“Are they difficult to build?”

 

Harris shrugged. “The bellows, no, not really. The tueyre, however would be tricky. I also require an anvil and tools.” He stopped in front of the makeshift forge and looked down at his handiwork. “Right now I'm waiting for Merlin to get back from his shopping so I can use his cellphone to see if I can order what I need online and get it shipped to Beacon Hills like I did with the bricks.”

 

Derek frowned. “The iron... would it help find the duende?”

 

Harris looked up at him. “Find it?”

 

He nodded. “Scott and the others managed to narrow its hiding place to four potential houses and we went there last night to take a closer look, but without actually going inside, we're not sure how to tell if it's there.”

 

“Ah yes, it lives in the walls of old houses. That is fairly tricky.” He placed his basket on the brick platform and leaned against it thoughtfully. “Well, if the duende has taken residence in one of the houses, then bringing iron into contact with the house should have some reaction. It might not be anything obvious or dramatic, but you should feel a change.”

 

Which meant that getting the forge up and running was somewhat important. “I... I have a truck,” he said after a moment's pause.

 

Harris' eyes widened. “Are you offering to lend it to me or to drive me to Sacramento?”

 

Derek blinked and then frowned. Why Sacramento?

Harris made a dismissive gesture. “Well, technically just outside Sacramento. There's a farrier school there and thus a store that sells the necessary equipment.”

 

“Tomrrow?”

 

Harris' eyes lit up with delight for a moment before he schooled his expression. “Why not? I certainly have nothing better to do. Or at least nothing that can't wait a day. I am curious though: why are you helping. I thought Stiles said you were planning to move away from Beacon Hills.”

 

Derek tried to shrug, to act nonchalant, like it didn't matter. A tear-streaked face with bloody curls flashed through his mind and he closed his eyes, unable to pretend. “The kid that went missing Sunday? A jogger and his dog found him last night underneath a bunch of bushes by the senior's home on Oakwood Street. He was in the same shape as the others.”

 

He heard Harris' sharp intake of breath and spared a thought to wonder if the man even needed to breath.

 


 

 

By the time Stiles reached the village he was panting for breath. Saturday morning lacrosse practice was was always full of all the running drills Flinstock could come up with and hurrying home afterwards to grab his stuff before driving up to Harris' clearing didn't give him much time to rest in between. Then he'd arrive only to find Myfanwy waiting for him with a note from Merlin that read: Gone shopping. Myfanwy will take you there. - M

 

Still, he got to ride the wyvern again, which was supercool. Not exactly relaxing given that she wasn't a luxury airplane and didn't come with seatbelts or handrails, but definitely cool.

 

After the last weekend, Stiles knew the way to Sanuye's house well enough not to need to orientate himself too much. Not having her or Merlin by his side during the walk meant that, for the first time, he became conscious of the looks he was getting from all sides. However, no one bothered him. At least not until he passed by the small convenience store on the main street.

 

There were three of them: tall, long-haired young men all slightly older than Stiles. He jumped slightly when they stepped in front of him, blocking his way. He took a few moments to assess them, to gauge their mood. The looked back at him with dark eyes that were hard and filled with equal measures of anger and curiosity, but no actual cruelty. Good, maybe they weren't bullies, just... concerned citizens? Yeah, Stiles knew he could never be so lucky. And Sanuye was too old for this to be some sort of shovel talk.

 

He'd dealt with bullies before and so his response was almost instinct. He grinned at them. “Uh, hi, something I can help you with?”

 

One of them stepped forward, until he was only inches away from his face. Stiles clamped down on the urge to back away. This guy had nothing on Derek in sheer intimidation factor, if only due to a lack of bulging muscles that came with being of a much less bulkier build that was closer to Stiles' own than the werewolf's. He did, however, have several feathers woven into his hair and a necklace made of porcupine quills and claws. Stiles might also have seen a hunting knife handing off his belt in a leather sheathe.

 

“You are the white boy that Sanuye Grass Whisperer is teaching,” the young man stated, his voice surprisingly deep for such a lithe frame.

 

“Uhh... yeah, that would be me,” Stiles answered, confused now. If they knew who he was then what was the problem? “Name's Stiles.”

 

“Stiles. And what does a white man like you think he will do with the teachings of our people?”

 

Stiles blinked. “Um...”

 

“Leave him be!”

 

The young man in front of him took a step back and turned his head to glare at a slightly older man, who'd just walked out of the store. The newcomer was older – maybe in his late thirties – and wore jeans and engraved leather boots with a vest that looked like it was made out of animal hide.

 

“But-” he young man began to protest.

 

“No. Sanuye has made her decision and you will respect that.”

 

The young man huffed and then turned abruptly before stalking off with his companions. Stiles let out a breath of relief and then turned to the man.

 

“Thanks,” he said.

 

The man levelled a hard look on him. “Do not thank me. Sanuye agreed to train you without consulting the tribe. She claims you are worthy of it, but we are not so sure.”

 

Stiles swallowed. “Right, got it... Well, she's expecting me so I should, uh, get going then.” He spared one, last glance to the retreating trio and then hurried off.

 

Sanuye told him to sit down and poured them both iced tea. Her own blend of iced tea, which Stiles decided tasted even better than Harris' blend. She sat down at the table with her own glass and watched him silently for a few moments. Stiles tried not to fidget and mostly failed.

 

“Am I... am I causing you problems with the others in the village?” he finally asked softly.

 

Sanuye looked at him in surprise. “What makes you think that?”

 

“I, uh, ran into a few of the locals and they may have made it clear they're not happy with you teaching me.”

 

She nodded. “Normally I would never have agreed to teach you so readily even with what I can see in your soul. I only agreed to do so because of Merlin, because he was my grandfather's friend. You are a stranger to the tribe and should have earned their trust and respect first.”

 

“Oh. So, is there something I should be doing to, uh, make it better?”

 

“Prove yourself to them by learning well and faithfully. It is more difficult this way, because they cannot see what I see when I look at you, but if I had not judged you capable of it, I would not have invited you to come back. So prove yourself to them and you will have justified my decision.”

 

“Okay that... doesn't sound easy at all.”

 

She smiled. “It won't be. Now finish your tea so that we can leave.”

 

Stiles groaned. “Why couldn't we have just, like, met in the forest?”

 


 

 

Isaac prowled through the preserve, eyes darting from side to side and ears straining to catch the smallest bit of movement. Every few steps he sniffed the air.

 

He hoped the duende came. He wanted to take that thing down. Badly.

 

A branch snapped and Isaac froze. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw two orbs glowing from the shadows and then light reflected momentarily off of sharp teeth glistening with saliva. He growled. The thing in the shadows echoed his growl. It sounded big.

 

A bush rustled gently as something brushed against it. Then the creature in the shadows pounced.

 

Isaac leapt to the side to avoid it, turning as he landed and bending his knees. The creature landed onto four legs with heavy thud and rustle a of leaves. It was huge, easily the size of a small bear, but longer, narrower and when it twisted its upper body to train glowing, green-yellow eyes on Isaac, the giant protruding fangs were definitely not those of any bear.

 

Isaac let his wolf take over at that point. He snarled and pounced onto the creature's back. The beast managed to twist mostly out of his way, but he still felt as his claws scraped its size. It hissed in pain, but Isaac had no time to revel in his small victory, because then there were sharp claws heading towards him.

 

He dodged to the side, but not quickly enough. Pain exploded viciously along his right bicep and he hissed as he hit the ground. But this was nothing compared to what he'd received at the hands of the Alpha Pack. Before he'd had time to register the feel of blood flowing down his arm, he was already on his feet, glaring at the beast. He could see its tail waving serpent-like behind it.

 

The growl came from deep within Isaac's throat. He charged at it.

 

One, large clawed paw struck out and batted him to the side and he felt the tug where the claws caught on the side of his head. But blood was already pumping too loudly in his head, drowning out the pain from the new wound. He rolled out of the way of a second strike and onto his feet.

 

Then he took off, intending to circle around it, but the creature leapt after him, powerful hind legs propelling it half the distance between them in a single bound. Isaac felt stone cold terror take hold of him for the first time since spotting it. Turning around would mean meeting it head on and Isaac knew he couldn't compete with those vicious front fangs.

 

He kept running, hoping the unfamiliar forest would slow it down. It didn't. The creature was at his heels, its heavy breaths behind him steady and strong.

 

Then he vaulted over a fallen tree trunk. No sooner had he landed then he knew that had been stupid - he should've turned to avoid it. Isaac leapt forward-

 

-and jerked in mid-air as powerful jaws clenched around his leg. He hit the ground with a thud and the pain hit him seconds later. He howled. The sound reverberated around the clearing before disappearing into the night air. The noise seemed to startle the creature, because even through the pain he felt it freeze and its jaws relax. He twisted his body and pulled himself forward, ignoring the new flares of pain as teeth scraped across the wound and the rest of his leg. Then he lifted his other leg and kicked out at the creature's head.

 

His foot impacted with a hollow sound and the creature stepped backwards, looking momentarily dazed. Isaac pulled himself further back with his arms and good leg before attempting to stand. Pain flared up along his leg and he cried out, tears springing to his eyes.

 

His eyes sprung open again at the low growl. The creature was stalking towards him, taking its time as it watched him intently as though keeping an eye out for any more surprises. Isaac really wished he had one or two left up his sleeve. His breaths were coming quickly and he knew was beginning to panic and didn't know how to stop.

 

Then the forest shook with the strength of an Alpha's howl. Scott. Help was on the way and Isaac wanted to cry. The creature paused and turned its head curiously, before shrugging it off and turning its attention back to Isaac. Because it knew the same thing he did: Scott was too far away.

 

Isaac pushed himself into a half-crouch, hissing as his mangled leg spiked pain with every move. He brought his claws up, ready to meet it. The creature opened its jaws and roared at him. Then it pounced and Isaac threw himself to the side, his vision flashing white at the impact.

 

When his vision returned to him, he couldn't help but wonder why he was alive. Then his nose picked up on the new smell. Derek. He lifted himself onto his elbow and saw as the creature thew itself onto the forest floor and rubbed against it in order to dislodge the werewolf currently clinging to its back, claws embedded into flesh. It worked and Derek let go, immediately rolling out of reach and into a crouch. He pounced back onto the creature only moments later. The creature twisted its body and met Derek's attack with its jaw wide open. Isaac's breath caught, but Derek managed to duck out of the way of the teeth coming his way. He didn't, however, manage to move out of the way of the claws that ripped through his jacket and across his torso.

 

Derek stumbled backwards at the blow, but then his glowing blue eyes snapped up. He growled. The creature growled back at him, its tail swishing about in irritation. Derek backed up slightly and crouched down. The creature mirrored his crouch.

 

They leapt at each other and clashed in a tangle of teeth and claws. Derek howled as teeth bit into his shoulder. He slashed at its neck and shoulders with his claws, causing deep lines of blood to blossom upon its front. The creature eventually let go, letting Derek fold to the ground like a ragdoll. Isaac's heart clenched at how unsteadily Derek got back up. He tried to stand up to go help him, but gasped at the fire the attempt reawakened in his leg.

 

The creature seemed to shake off its injuries. It leaped at Derek.

 

A figure moved out of the shadows of the trees, darting into the beast's path. The creature let out a roar of pain. The figure seemed to heave forward and then Isaac saw the beast flop backwards, a large branch sticking out of its chest. It was still breathing, but as it struggled to rise again, Derek jumped into action. He darted at it and slashed at its throat with his claws.

 

The creature yeowled with pain. Derek slashed at it again and Isaac heart a wet gurgle. It breathed one, last shaky breath and then it went still.

 

Which was when Scott burst into the clearing.

 

“Isaac, are you okay?” he demanded, claws out and eyes glowing alpha red. “What's going on?”

 

Then he caught sight of the dead beast. His eyes widened.

 

“What the hell is that?!”

 

“I don't know,” answered Derek through clenched teeth as the second figure examined the wound on his shoulder.

 

“We didn't exactly have time to ask it while it was trying to have us for dinner,” the second figure answered and Isaac shuddered at the smooth voice of Peter Hale. “Thankfully it's dead now, so maybe Deaton will be able to tell us.”

 

“Not that you were much help,” Derek groused.

 

Peter stepped back, looking insulted. “What do you mean? You might have slashed its throat open, but I was the one that incapacitated it.”

 

“Yeah, with a tree.”

 

Peter rolled his eyes and put his hands into the pockets of his long black wool coat. “A tree branch, thank you, and this thing clearly eats werewolves for breakfast, so I decided a slightly different approach than unco-ordinated slashing was warranted. An approach, which I might add, worked extremely well given that we're all alive and it's not.”

 

Scott meanwhile had knelt beside Isaac and was examining his leg. “I think we'll need to get you to Deaton,” he said, looking rather green now that his face had morphed back to human again. “And possibly the hospital. I think you might have twisted the bones.”

 

“Doesn't feel all that great either,” Isaac responded with a strained chuckle.

 

Derek shooed off his uncle and walked over to them. Peter, shrugged and walked over to examine the creature more closely. “What were you doing out here anyway?” he asked Isaac.

 

“Patrolling for the duende.”

 

Derek looked back at the beast. “That's not a duende.”

 

“Uh, no. Obviously, I didn't find it.”

Chapter Text

“Jesus Christ!”

 

The occupants crowded into the small back room of the vet's office looked up at the sheriff's exclamation, but he didn't really notice. He was too busy staring at the furry brown monstrosity laid out on the metal examination table. It was a squeeze: there was a plastic-covered bar stool holding the thing's head up and its legs were hanging off the edge.

 

Stiles peek out from behind the sheriff. “Woah, dad, using the Lord's name in vain? What would babushka say? It's so-” He slipped past his dad and caught sight of the carcass. “-totally not strong enough. Holy shit, what is that thing?!”

 

“We're not sure,” Derek answered. Stiles took note of the large bandage covering his shoulder. Blood had seeped through part of it. Isaac was asleep on the second table, his right leg in a partial cast and heavily bandaged. There was another bandage over the side of his face and a third around his left bicep.

 

“We know it's big and vicious and thinks werewolves make great snack food,” Peter quipped from the chair behind Derek. He hadn't even bothered looked up from his laptop.

 

“Is everyone okay?” Stiles heard his dad ask while he sidled up to Deaton to get a closer look.

 

“Isaac and Derek got the worst of it,” Deaton answered. “Unfortunately, true to its feline heritage, its saliva contains healing-inhibitors so their wounds are going to take longer than usual to heal.”

 

“It looks like a sabre-tooth tiger,” said Stiles. His eyes shot to Deaton. “It's not actually a sabre-tooth tiger, is it? The Beacon didn't, like, open a portal to the ice age or anything?”

 

“I doubt it,” Deaton answered without a trace of humour.

 

“Aaand that's not actually a 'no'.” Stiles shook his head. “So, uh, where's Scott?”

 

“He's with Allison and her father making sure there aren't any more of these things,” Derek answered.

 

Stiles swallowed down the fear for his friend. “Well here's hoping they don't find any.”

 

“Yeah,” his dad agreed as he squeezed his shoulder. “I'd really hate to see what this could do to an unsuspecting hiker.”

 

Stiles snorted. “Hey, at least for once you really could call it a mountain lion attack. Well, mountain lion-esque attack.”

 

“Thanks, but I'd rather not have anything to label in the first place.” He looked between Deaton and Derek. “Is there anything we can do here?”

 

Deaton shook his head. “Not to my knowledge. We're going to have to figure out what to do with the corpse, but other than that...”

 

“Hey, can I have the teeth and the claws?” Stiles suddenly asked.

 

Deaton's eyebrows rose. Even Peter looked up from his laptop at the request.

 

“Er, I mean, they'd make wicked-looked talismans or something, right?”

 

“Isn't a talisman supposed to be made out of something you yourself kill?” Derek asked.

 

Stiles paused. “Uh, maybe?” He shrugged. “I can ask Sanuye.”

 

“In that case, wouldn't you want the hide as well?” Peter asked.

 

The sheriff chuckled. “While you're at it, why don't you just skin it, gut it and roast it over a spit?”

 

Derek opened his mouth, closed it and then exchanged a considering look with his uncle. He turned back to the sheriff. “That's actually not a bad idea.”

 

“We'll just call it poetic justice,” Peter added with a toothy grin.

 

Deaton shook his head. He wasn't smiling, but there was definite amusement there. “Well that's certainly one way of getting rid of the corpse.”

 

“I could see if the spit behind the house is still useable,” said Derek thoughtfully.

 

Stiles suddenly realized he was bouncing on his feet. “I'll text the others. Your kitchen is toast -burnt, charcoaled toast - so we'll have to bring buns and salad and stuff.”

 

Derek nodded.

 


 

 

Stiles was less sure about the plan when he arrived at the Hale house Monday afternoon and Derek handed him a a large knife and led him to where the ice-packed carcass was laying on the ground wrapped in a sheet. He'd even made sure there was a small tree stump in front of it so Stiles could sit down.

 

“It's already gutted,” Derek said before heading back to the fire pit.

 

“That's great,” Stiles muttered. He pulled the corner of the sheet up to reveal the sabre-tooth surrounded by large bags of ice cubes. The front fangs didn't look any less menacing than they had last night. He called to Derek. “You know I'm skipping English and lacrosse practice for this. A couple of tips would be nice!”

 

Derek didn't even turn around, just waved with one hand. “Use the knife!”

 

“Uh, gee, thanks Derek. You know that wouldn't even have occurred to me. Here I was going to tear the skin off with my bare hands!”

 

He planted himself down on the tree stump with a huff and then shuffled the ice bags so they were out of the way. He looked at the knife in his hand. And then back to the carcass. Carefully he reached to the seam on its belly, where it had apparently been cut open to remove the insides and lifted it.

 

“You don't have to be careful with it,” a voice said from behind him. Stiles let go of the carcass as he jumped in surprise. He looked over his shoulder and glared at Merlin, who was grinning unrepentantly. “It is dead, after all.”

 

Stiles made a face. “Wouldn't be sitting this close to it if it wasn't. I was sort of stupid and asked if I could have the teeth and claws and then Peter mentioned the fur coat too... Only apparently if I want them, I've gotta harvest them myself.”

 

Merlin chuckled. Then he leaned over and plucked the knife out of Stiles' hand to examine it.

 

“Well first of all, this is a horrible knife to skin with,” he said and tossed it to the ground. He crouched next to Stiles and undid the clasp on the soft leather satchel he'd had slung over his shoulder. He pulled out a long leather-wrapped bundle tied with string. When he unwound it, Stiles' widened at the collection of knives inside.

 

“I'm really glad I know you're the good guy, 'cause otherwise I'd be concerned. Like, 'hi dad, I think the neighbour might be psycho' kind of concerned.”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “I used to accompany Arthur on all his hunting trips. Skinning and preparing the kills was my job.”

 

“Wow. That must've been fun.”

 

Merlin snorted. “I hated it. I think the main reason Arthur dragged me along all the time was because I hated it. I was rubbish at it and he loved complaining about how rubbish I was at it, when he wasn't making fun of me for it.”

 

“Oh. What a douchebag.”

 

“Ah, well, I got my own back by chasing away as much game as I could. I also got very good at skinning game.”

 

“Cool!” Stiles grinned, all-to-happy to not have to do it himself. He made to stand, but a hand on his knee stopped him. Merlin handed him a knife with a wooden handle carved with celtic knots.

 

“Oh, you're still going to be the one doing it,” the sorcerer said with a grin. “I'm just going to teach you how to do it properly.”

 

Hours later, long after the sun had set, Stiles sat back with a satisfied sigh. The food had been good (Chris Argent had baked another cake, this time with raspberries and a white chocolate ganache) and Stiles had a feeling Mr. Harris had spiked his usual lemonade. Or maybe it was just the atmosphere that seemed to be giving everyone around him a pleasant buzz.

 

Isaac's leg was still healing, but he could at least move around on crutches now. If he tore into the meat with more force than was needed, no one felt the need to mention it. Derek had dumped his own bandage, but his movements were still a bit stiff. Melissa McCall had miraculously managed to switch shifts with someone and even his dad had gotten off work in time to come. Which was a good thing, seeing as how the whole thing had essentially been his idea.

 

A great idea too: it felt as though here, in the middle of the forest and away from the rest of civilization, they'd entered a different world. And for a moment Stiles felt as though he was catching a glimpse of what it must have been like to live in the Hale house before the fire. A tight-knit group living together and laughing together and probably crying together too - not exactly strangers to the world, but far enough away from it and with secrets to connect them that they could become their own separate existence.

 

Was it just Stiles, or did the Hale House and its yard suddenly seem more inviting, less desolate, than before?

 

He smiled as he watched his dad and Scott's mom laugh at the story Chris Argent was telling them while Allison, Isaac and Scott roasted marshmallows over the fire that remained in the roasting pit. Ethan and Danny sat on a log next to them, mostly lost in their own conversation, but occasionally letting the other three catch their attention. On the other side of the pit, Aiden said against a tree with Lydia curled up against him. Derek was looking less broody than usual, though he was standing at a distance from the fire pit – directly between it and the remains of the house. Peter had come initially and then disappeared after the food had been served.

 

It felt like a crack of calm within the chaos their lives had become. Even the Darkness felt like it was a waveless pond.

 

Stiles breathed in the night air and closed his eyes.

 

He heard voices, laughter and the snap-crackling of the fire. The creek of wood as someone shifted in their seat. Grass moved as a breeze blew through and there was the louder, more melodic rustling of tree leaves. Crickets chirped in between the gentle buzzing of quick-winged insects. To his left he heard soft, less consistent rustling. A rabbit maybe? Or perhaps a fox or coyote, attracted by the smell.

 

And beneath it there was something else. Something... steady and rhythmic, something that didn't falter for a moments breath, like the wind and the crickets did. Stiles felt the Darkness deepen, but he ignored it, straining his ears to catch the elusive sound. It had a rhythm, a melody. A song? He tried to catch its tune, but the sound was too faint. However, in the midst of the faint, discordant sounds he could hear, he felt more than heard its flavour.

 

It sounded angry.

 

A sudden touch on his shoulder shocked him out of his stupor. Stiles' eyes flew open with a loud gasp and in the next moment he grasped at his heart as he realized it was attempting to beat its way out of his chest. He took several deep, gasping breaths, feeling as though he hadn't taken a breath in ages.

 

“Stiles?!”

 

Stiles looked up into worried red eyes. “Are you alright, man?”

 

Stiles reached out and held onto Scott's shoulder for support. “Yeah, yeah, I-I'm okay. I just, I heard...”

 

He froze. Then he turned to look over at Merlin, who was looking back at him with wide eyes. And, suddenly, Stiles realized exactly what he'd heard.

 

“Singing.” He swallowed around the dryness in his throat. “I heard the hills singing.”

 

The clearing was silent for a moment, but for the crackling of the fire and rustling of leaves. And then Danny cleared his throat nervously.

 

“And I take it that's good for Julie Andrew, not so good for us?” he asked.

 

“That's definitely not good,” Merlin answered him, still looking shocked.

 

Scott took a step back from Stiles, apparently coming to conclusion that his friend was alright. Then he turned to Merlin and Mister Harris. “How soon can we get that cold iron?” he asked.

 

Harris raised an unimpressed eyebrow – probably at Scott's alpha voice. “You can probably come collect it tomorrow after school.”

 

“Want some help?” Derek asked, stepping forward.

 

Harris shrugged. “I doubt it'll make it go any faster, but if you're interested, I can certainly show you how to work the forge. Hopefully you'll be better at it than you were at chemistry.”

 

It was difficult to tell in the half-dark, but Stiles was fairly certain the remark made Derek flush. He snickered.

 


 

 

Scott jumped the fence easily, clearing the rose bushes growing on the other side with inches to spare and landing with a soft thump. Seconds later, he felt movement behind him and heard a rustle of grass as Derek landed noiselessly behind him. There was a swing set to one side and a picnic table a little ways off from that. It would work as cover.

 

“Okay, we're going in,” he whispered to Isaac who was waiting on the other side of the fence in case the duende made a run for it. The twins were hiding in wait further down the street so they could give chase if it went out the front of the house.

 

Scott darted out and settled into the shade of the wooden picnic table. It cast a large shadow and had a perfect vantage point. Derek crept along the edge of the fence for a while before darting out of the shadows and up to the house.

 

Derek froze when he reached the side of the house, listening for any signs they'd been spotted. A few moments later, he relaxed. Then he reached for the cloth pouch hanging off his belt and pulled out the ten inch long stick of cold iron. Surprisingly enough, Harris was a good teacher when he put his mind to it – or perhaps Derek was simply a better student when he actually cared about the lesson. This piece in his hands was one he'd shaped himself. Not that there was anything fancy about it, but he'd narrowed out the end to give it a sort of hand grip. It would make it easier to throw if he had to.

 

The instructions on using the cold iron were incredibly vague. Harris had told him to place the iron against the house and if the duende was living there he would feel a change. What sort of change that would be, he wasn't entirely clear on. Except that he would feel it. Derek hadn't felt anything at the first two houses they'd tried and he hoped it wasn't because he'd missed it.

 

Derek placed the stick against the side of the house. Impossibly, the stick felt like it stiffened in his grasp, as though going taunt with pressure. An electric sort of buzz travelled up his arm. His eyes widened.

 

“This is it,” he whispered, knowing Scott and Isaac would hear it. He heard a faint rustling of fabric and knew that was Isaac texting the twins.

 

Not letting the iron lose contact with the house, he lowered it until it was propped up against the ground. Then he reached back into his pouch and took out a second stick. He ran along the side of the house until he reached the next corner. There he felt the same buzzing sensation travel up his arm. This corner of the house had a drain pipe running down its edge, so he carefully wedged the iron stick into the space between it and the house.

 

He took out his last iron stick. He heard movement to his side and looked over in time to see Scott crouching by the corner with the first stick. The alpha reached into his jacket pocket and took out the iron stick he'd been carrying. His was shorter, flatter and smoother on one side. Scott looked over, red eyes glowing from the darkness. He nodded at Derek.

 

Derek nodded back and then scooted to the next corner at the front of the house. There was a flower bed running along the front, so Derek knelt down and buried the iron stick into the earth on an angle so that it touched the house. Then he took out his phone and sent a group text.

 

3 corners

 

It felt like whole minutes went by before he heard it: a faint, steady scraping sound of metal on wood as Scott slowly walked along the opposite side of the house, keeping the iron in contact with the wall the entire time. Derek watched the front of the house for movement. A quick glance towards the sidewalk confirmed that Isaac had moved to the shade of a large oak tree by the road.

 

Scott had gotten about three-quarters of the way down the side of the house, when Derek finally saw one of the large front windows open silently. He shifted forward onto the balls of his feet and felt as his claws lengthened and his facial features shifted.

 

A small shadow appeared in the window and seemed to hesitate for the space of two breaths, but the steady scrape of Scott's progression with the iron didn't falter. It jumped to the ground, landing silently before flitting away. It was quick and light on its feet, but Isaac had been waiting, his eyes watching at half mast from underneath his bangs so as not to give himself away with their golden glow. He tore after it and Derek followed hot on his heels.

 

It should not have been possible for the crouched-over, skinny duende, who was still holding onto its ball with both hands, to out-run a werewolf. And yet Isaac didn't seem to be gaining on it.

 

Suddenly, a shape leapt out of the shadows and tackled the duende. Not a single sound escaped it, but it dropped its ball in surprise. Derek could see it flail its long limbs as it struggled and then there was a flash of sharp teeth. Ethan cried out in pain as it big into his arm. Derek winced as he saw it tear out a chunk of flesh. The duende squirmed away from Ethan's grasp and jumped past him.

 

Only to be caught by Isaac's claws when it landed. Four strips of red appeared on its back and the pain seemed to freeze it for an instant, but then it was twisting and lashing out at the werewolf with two skinny arms. Isaac yelped. Derek grit his teeth as he ran past Ethan to knock the duende to the ground. It was back up in an instant, but Derek was just as fast. He grabbed before it could jump away again.

 

His head exploded with a pained scream and he winced against the noise. He felt it sag in his grip. And then Scott was there, angry red eyes pinning the duende down. He growled. The duende began to thrash in Derek's grip and he felt needle-sharp claws burn across the skin of his forearm. He hissed in pain, but held on.

 

Scott barely hesitated, striking out at the duende with his claws. Derek heard the screaming in his head, but grit his teeth. Two more strikes and it finally went silent and still.

 

Scott was breathing heavily as he stared at the bloody fae. Then he threw his head back and howled, making the ground shake with the force of the sound.

 

When he was finished, he looked back to his pack, scanning them for injuries. Isaac had several angry scratches over his face and more on his left forearm and the makeshift bandage Aiden had made out of a shirt to put over Ethan's arm was soaked with blood. Derek had a few angry scratches on his forearm as well... and he was giving Scott his patented 'you are idiot' look. No, wait. That was his 'you are too stupid to live' look.

 

A noise from one of the houses caught his attention. More noises followed: whispers, creaking coils, hands fumbling in the dark.

 

“Scott, did it not occur to you that maybe there's a time and a place for that?” Aiden finally asked. “And that just maybe a crowded residential area in the middle of the night wasn't it?”

 

Scott blinked. “Uh, oops,” he said as the first bedroom light came on.

 

“Shit!” he heard Ethan say under his breath.

 

Derek tossed the duende's body into the nearest bush and they took off.

 


 

 

Merlin heard the alpha's triumphant howl and smiled. They had their duende. Good. Adrian had given Derek rather precise instructions on how to flush the fae out using cold iron. As much as he hated cold iron on principle (he'd seen far too many people use it maliciously over the years to ever see it as anything but a weapon forged of hatred and ignorance), it had been a long time since he'd seen Adrian look so happy to teach. Despite his talent and background in alchemy, metalworking had always been his favourite.

 

Merlin shook his head and pushed himself away from the tree he'd been leaning against. Then he pulled at the well of magic inside himself and felt its familiar warmth infuse his body. Then he pushed the magic into his eyes and looked out into the forest. And his eyes were suddenly seeing farther and farther into the forest, his sight twisting and turning through trees, around bushes and over fallen logs. He turned his head as he stretched his sight beyond what should have been possible.

 

Then he saw it: a child wandering through the forest. It was a little girl with shoulder-length brown hair and freckles dusting her cheeks. She was clutching a large purple dragon with golden wings that flopped about as she walked. Merlin smiled. How appropriate, he thought.

 

He reigned his magic back, dissolving the spell in his eyes. He concentrated on the direction and then a wind whipped out of the ground and ruffled his hair before carrying him away.

 

The wind took him to the shadows between two stout oak trees. He pressed a hand against one, feeling its strength and its years. He paused, watching. A small, hunched figure with stick-thin limbs slowly ambled by two trees away. It turned to look back the way it came and waited for a moment, before ambling away again, this time disappearing into a thicket of bushes with a soft rustle. The little girl appeared behind it moments later, power-blue pyjamas looking white in the darkness of the forest.

 

Drakan fleoge,” Merlin whispered and golden sparks fine as fairy dust danced from his fingertips. They swirled together and took shape. With a flick of Merlin's wrist, the small golden dragon streaked off towards the child.

 

The little girl froze in her steps and gasped, her face, exploding into bright, wide-eyed wonder. She laughed with delight and followed the dragon with her eyes, giggling as it whisked past her and around her.

 

Merlin spared only enough time to smile at her antics and then looked towards the thicket. His eyes hardened. Magic flared through his body and in two steps, he covered the distance of ten. The duende had been about to go back out of the thicket after the child when he came across it. It whirled around to face him and bared small, sharp teeth in a silent snarl.

 

Merlin raised his hand and the duende's eyes widened, as though suddenly realizing who he was. In the back of his mind, he heard its pleas. He ignored them. “Forbearan,” he said quietly.

 

The duende lit up in a blaze of flames that were so fierce, they turned it to ashes in seconds.

 

When the fire burned out, Merlin realized the child's giggles had stopped. He sighed. There was no way she hadn't seen the fire. As he stared at the circle of ashes, an idea struck him. Merlin grinned.

 

Miht dagan, beϸecce me. Adeadaϸ ϸisne gast min freondum ond min feondum.

 

It was an odd sensation to feel his skin wrinkle, his eyes become unfocused and facial hair grow like an eruption of hair that changed colour as it lengthened – all within the span of a breath. The sudden aches and pains, though, those were a bit more than just odd. He winced at his first step: the arthritis in his left hip always took some getting used to.

 

He straightened as much as he could and spread his arms out. “Wuduwésten úpspringeaþ ond gewædaþ mec.

 

Like a sudden gust of wind, leaves rose from the forest floor and gathered at his back, one on top of the other by the hundreds, swirling together as though being conducted into place by an invisible baton. And when the baton cut them off, they all fell as one, melted together and by the time the end of the leafy train hit the back of Merlin's legs, they were no longer a pile of leaves, but a thick, soft cloak in bright, Pendragon red.

 

Merlin stepped out of the thicket and looked down at the little girl. She looked back up at him with wide eyes, clutching her stuffed dragon to her side even as absently continued to pet the small golden one that now rested on her shoulder.

 

“Hello, child,” said Merlin solemnly. “What brings you into the forest so late at night? Good little boys and girls should be in bed.”

 

“I wanted to play,” the little girl said, anxiously craning her head to look behind Merlin. “He said we could play.”

 

“What's your name, child?”

 

She hesitated. “Lucy.” She cocked her head at him. “What's your name?”

 

“My name is Merlin.”

 

She blinked up at him. “Like the wizard?” she asked, eyes widening.

 

He smiled. “Yes, exactly like the wizard. Now, Lucy, you seem like a smart girl. Don't you know that creatures that lure children out of their homes at night don't actually want to play with them?”

 

She frowned in confusion. “Then why did he have a ball?”

 

“Because that's what he wanted you to think.” Merlin stiffly got down on one knee so he could look Lucy in the eye. “Creatures that lure children out of their homes at night don't want to play with children, they want to eat them.”

 

Lucy's eyes widened with fear. “He was going to eat me?” He could see tears starting to form in her eyes.

 

“Yes, now don't cry. I've taken care of it. He's gone now and he's not going to hurt you or anyone else ever again.”

 

Lucy sniffed, but didn't cry.

 

Merlin gestured towards her purple stuffed dragon. “Do you like dragons, Lucy?” Lucy nodded. “Have you ever heard about the greatest of all the dragons: the Great Dragon, Kilgharrah?” Lucy shook her head.

 

Merlin stiffly rose to his feet, grunting as his hip protested the movement. Then he shuffled over to a log that looked like it had fallen over years ago. With a wave of his hand, a magical wind blew all the debris from its surface. Then he carefully sat down and gestured for Lucy to do the same. Lucy bounded over excitedly.

 

“You really can do magic!” she exclaimed as she sat down, her eyes glowing with wonder.

 

Merlin huffed. “Of course I can. I'm Merlin, aren't I?”

 

“But mommy says wizards are just make believe.”

 

“Well, wizards are. But I'm actually a sorcerer and sorcerers are very real.”

 

“O-oh.” She grinned up at him.

 

“Now are you going to let me tell my story?” Lucy nodded and mimed zipping her mouth closed. Merlin chuckled. “Well then. In a land of myth and a time of magic...”

Chapter Text


 

The euphoria over finally catching the duende lasted until the bell rang for the end of classes the next day when Stiles found Lydia waiting for him by his jeep. He sighed, knowing there was no use in protesting. So he unlocked the jeep and threw his bag into the back and then reached over to unlock the passenger side door.

 

“You know, I'm starting to think Scott and the others have the better deal out of this,” he said as he started the motor.

 

Lydia looked over at him with a raised eyebrow. “Well, I'm certain Scott would bite you if you asked.”

 

He made a face. “Yeah, no. Then I'd have to call him Alpha Scott or something equally creepy. Also, can you imagine me with ADHD and heightened senses. I'd be coo coo for cocoapuffs by dinnertime.”

 

“You say that like you're not already.”

 

“Okay, fair enough. But then I'd be coo coo for cocoapuffs with killer teeth and claws and probably even less self-control than I have now.”

 

He grinned over at Lydia, who rolled her eyes and looked away.

 

He drove them over to the public library, parking as close to the entrance as he could. The woman at the front desk looked up when they entered and smiled in recognition, before getting up to get the keys to the archive. It had taken them a little pleading and a story about a history project to get access to the newspaper archive in the first place. It had taken another three days before the library staff decided they were competent and trustworthy enough to be left alone for more than fifteen minutes at a time with the projector and microfiche.

 

Stiles felt tired from the moment they entered the room. Three hours later he was wishing for something to attack the library. Only not really, because he hadn't quite reached that level of total insanity yet.

 

One thing was for certain: Beacon Hills was not historically a happening place. People lived, people died and people got married, with the odd accident or natural disaster in-between. And eighty years ago, Isaac's great, great grandmother won an award for her apple and pear pie. Stiles wondered if the reason for the lack of 'happenings' was down to the Hale family. Had supernatural things around the town been kept contained and out of the public eye by the wolf pack?

 

“Lydia?” he interrupted the silence.

 

“Hm?”

 

“How maybe possible animal attacks have we come across so far?”

 

Lydia blinked and looked at him. “I haven't exactly been counting.”

 

“Rough guestimate.”

 

“I don't know, Stiles. We've gone through over one hundred years of history so far... maybe half a dozen attacks and a couple advisories about sightings in the area.”

 

“Yeah, that's what I thought.”

 

She frowned. “What does that have to do with anything?”

 

“Nothing, I just... I mean, considering we've had a wolf pack living just outside of town, it just suddenly occurred to me that there's not a whole lot of evidence of it.”

 

Lydia inclined her head and touched her lips with a finger as she thought about it. “They probably went deeper into the forest to hunt. And they were a prominent family in the community, which means they would've had the power to stop at least some of it from getting out.” She shrugged. “It's not like we've been looking for it in any case.”

 

She turned back to the projector and turned the dial. They got through one more week of the most boring newspapers on the planet when Lydia gasped loudly. Stiles startled out of his half-asleep daze with a cry.

 

“Stiles, that's it!” she said excitedly. She grabbed his arm so tightly it made Stiles wince. “That's her!”

 

“Oh good, finally.” He squinted at the blurry print of the obituary. “Says her name's Abigail Dorothy Castela, nee Eastridge. Killed in a... domestic accident? What does that mean?”

 

“It could be a nice way to say suicide.”

 

“Or maybe her husband killed her and then claimed it was an accident. We're talking, uh... 1887, so it's not like any sheriff would've done anything if the husband was an abusive asshole.”

 

“So long as he didn't actually kill her, he could do whatever he wanted to his wife,” Lydia agreed, looking thoroughly disgusted. “We'll have to look into her story. When does it say she was killed?”

 


 

 

Stiles trudged through the front door and threw his backpack in the general direction of the foot of the stairs, the rumbling in his stomach propelling him towards the smell coming from the kitchen. His dad was sitting at the table reading through the papers he had spread out in front of him while he ate a grilled cheese sandwhich.

 

“Hey dad,” he said absently as he went to examine the large, saran wrap-covered bowl on the table. The fruit salad inside looked colourful and alluring.

 

“Hey Stiles,” his dad answered. “So, I take it Scott and the pack took down the duende last night?”

 

Stiles froze, blinking at the small bowl he'd taken out of the cupboard as though it was going to provide the answer to his dad's question. He shook his head, his brain suddenly rebooting with the action and he remembered his dad had been on night shift and so Stiles hadn't been able to tell him yet. He turned to his dad in confusion.

 

“Uh, yeah, they did,” he answered.

 

“Columbus Crescent, right?”

 

“Um... yeah? Did you already talk to Scott?”

 

“No, I have not had any sort of conversation with you or Scott. What I do have is a very strange-looking body down in the city morgue. It was found last night after several people called in a disturbance on Columbus Crescent. Apparently, there was some very loud howling.”

 

Stiles gaped. “Scott didn't say anyth- I mean, he couldn't possibly be stupid enough to... Oh my god.” He groaned. “I am going to kill him.”

 

“Well, the good news is that we have a positive match on the teeth marks found on the childrens' bodies. The not-so-good news is that the coroner has no idea what the body is and is currently researching possible birth defects or bone conditions that could cause someone to grow like that.”

 

That reassured Stiles somewhat. “So he's still mostly thinking human?”

 

Stiles' dad nodded and then took a deep breath. “The bad news is that Scott's dad is still in town and somehow got wind of this pretty quickly. Thankfully, he's not about to go auditioning for the role of Fox Mulder anytime soon, but as an FBI agent he does have access to better facilities than I do and might not let me get away with omitting DNA testing.”

 

Stiles cringed. “Maybe Merlin will have an idea of what to do there.”

 

“Ask him tomorrow if you see him.”

 

“Right.” Stiles served himself some fruit salad, got a coke out of the fridge and then sat down at the table. “But at least it means people will relax knowing that there won't be any more kids disappearing in the middle of the night.”

 

“There is that. There is also the fact that the duende was slashed up by something with claws. The Muffin Club are having a great time telling everyone who'll listen all about the new forgotten legend of the mysterious Beacon Hills protectors.”

 

Stiles blinked. “The Muffin Club?”

 

His dad cracked a smile. “It's what we call the old ladies that live in that area. For some reason, they seem to have made it their personal goals to feed homemade muffins to as many people as possible. There's no actual proof, but we suspect there's an initiation and secret handshake involved.”

 

“How, uh, utterly villainous. You should definitely keep an eye on them, dad.”

 

“Actually, the deputies and I tend to walk quickly in the opposite direction.”

 

Stiles sniggered as he took out his phone to text Scott.

 

U are a moron. Also a legend thx to the muffin club.

 

Then he turned to his dad again. “So, in other news, Lydia and I think we've figured out who the ghost woman is.”

 


 

 

It was raining lightly as Stiles followed Sanuye through the forest. She'd met him in the forest to save time and handed him a large, shallow woven basket. He'd told her about the sabre-tooth tiger as they walked. She nodded and said she'd tell the chief to warn the hunters. Stiles tried not to think about how unarmed he and Sanuye were.

 

He also told her about the singing. Sanuye stopped and turned to look at him with a frown.

 

“That's interesting,” she said after a while. “Can you hear it here?”

 

Stiles took a deep breath and closed his eyes, sinking into the sounds around him. The raindrops were a new rhythm in the forest, adding depth to the usual sounds, a percussion to their melody. Which was beautiful and relaxing, but when Stiles strained to hear beyond it...

 

“No,” he finally said out loud. He opened his eyes. “I can't hear it here.”

 

Sanuye nodded and seemed to relax. “Did you feel the darkness in your soul do anything when you were listening to the music?”

 

He thought about that. “I don't think so. It was quiet, calm. I didn't feel like it was trying to suck me in or anything... I guess I wasn't really paying much attention to it. It-I felt it, though. I think.”

 

“Hmm. That's good.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Merlin is probably right and that song is the Beacon, the curse calling out in anger, demanding revenge. If you can hear it then your connection with the spirit plane is strong indeed. There are many ways to access the pathway to the spirit plane. Some people use teas or herbs to enter an altered state of consciousness, others use music or meditation. You, apparently, can find your way to it by listening to the world around you.”

 

“Is that a good thing?” Stiles asked. He swallowed down his anxiety, suddenly feeling incredibly grateful to Scott for waking him from his trance at the barbeque.

 

“It's... somewhat unexpected. I didn't think you would connect to nature so easily.”

 

Stiles took a deep breath. “My, uh, my mom used to take me out to the forest for walks when I was really little.” He smiled sadly. “She loved the forest, especially first thing in the morning when everything was waking up.”

 

He took another deep breath and blinked away the tears he could feel trying to gather in the corners of his eyes. His mom was worth every tear he had, but he'd promised himself years ago that he'd stop crying. It made his dad sad.

 

“She sounds like a beautiful woman,” Sanuye whispered. “If the forest is full of memories of her then perhaps it is not so surprising after all. Memories like to linger when they can.”

 

Stiles smiled. “Yeah, I guess they do, don't they?”

 

Sanuye snorted. “Of course they do. Now, come on, winter is approaching and I must begin making medicines for cough and fever.”

 

They spent the rest of the afternoon gathering herbs and tree bark. Sanuye talked more than usual, giving each plant a name and explaining what it was used for while she showed Stiles how to properly harvest it. They stopped to eat part-way through.

 

Evening had fallen, though they were still at least an hour away from dusk, when a shadow fell across them as they knelt over a patch of yerba buena. Stiles looked up. His eyes widened, crying out in surprise as he scrambled up to his feet, tripped over a couple of twigs and then fell back to the ground in a flail of limbs. He was about to scramble backwards when he realized Sanuye didn't seem worried at all. In fact, she had stood up calmly and was now speaking to the creature in soft tones in a language Stiles didn't understand.

 

The creature was tall with long limbs. It towered over Sanuye and Stiles would've guessed it a good foot and a half taller than he was. It was also incredibly hairy. Long golden brown hair covered it from head to toe, with the hair on its legs growing slightly shorter than the hair on its torso. It didn't speak back to Sanuye, but Stiles saw it nod to her and then answer back in gestures with its long arms. It looked once in Stiles' direction, the intelligence in its eyes calming him.

 

Then he saw movement around its legs. He blinked and frowned. Had he imagined it?

 

Moments later, a small, hairy head peeked at him from behind the massive hairy legs. Stiles gaped. He glanced quickly upwards to make sure that the bigger, no doubt meaner adult (could he call it dad?), wasn't giving him the stink-eye for noticing his child. Then Stiles sat up and crossed his legs, carefully placing his hands on his knees so they could be seen.

 

The child watched him for a few moments, but eventually curiosity seemed to get the better of it. Slowly, it came out from behind its father's leg. It hesitated for a moment, looked up at its father, and then carefully moved forward. Stiles had to bite the inside of his lip to keep still. Eventually it made it to Stiles and stood there looking down at him. Then it lowered itself to the ground and crossed its legs to mirror Stiles.

 

Stiles barely resisted the urge to pump his fist into the air.

 

“Hey there, little guy,” said Stiles. The creature startled, blinking in surprise at his voice. “Don't worry, I'm not gonna hurt you. I'm Stiles. Do you have a name? Or can I call you Chewie?”

 

It just blinked at him. Stiles decided to try a different approach. He pointed at himself. “Stiles.” Then he pointed at the little hairy guy and tilted his head. “Chewie?”

 

It seemed to think about that. Then it raised a furry hand and pointed at Stiles. Stiles blinked in confusion. “Uh... Stiles.” Then it pointed at itself. Stiles smiled. “Chewie.”

 

“Stiles, you realize they're not actually wookies, right?” he heard Sanuye ask.

 

Stiles looked up. Her eyes were dancing with amusement. “Uh, yeah,” he said, flushing slightly with embarrassment. “They're, uh, yetis, right?”

 

“Yes.” She motioned to the adult beside her. “My people call him the Forest Man.” The yeti looked at Stiles and bowed slightly to him. Stiles nodded respectfully back. “He and his family spend their winters here. The summers are too hot for them, so they migrate north.”

 

“Oh, that's neat.”

 

Suddenly, there was a big hairy hand waving in front of Stiles' face. Stiles pulled back in surprise. The hand pulled back a bit too. Stiles smirked and then brought his own hand up and hit the hand in front of his face. Chewie retracted his hand almost immediately, shock written all over his face.

 

Stiles grinned. “What, never high-fived before?” he asked. “Well, now that's just not gonna fly there, buddy.”

 

Then he set to teach Chewie the fine art of high-fiving. He very quickly learned two things: one, little yetis were just like any other children and loved to play, and two, even the little yetis were very, very strong.

Chapter Text


 

“I feel like it should be dark and stormy for this,” said Stiles.

“Then you'd be doing it on your own,” Lydia replied. “Because I am not walking through a graveyard in these shoes when it's raining.”

As it was, it was a beautiful sunny day, though the wind was crisp and cool, signalling the coming of winter. Leaves crunched beneath their feet as they walked along the rows of graves, pausing at each one to read the name inscribed on it. They were in the older part of the cemetery, where time had worn away at some of the names and though some of the graves still had small glass vases in front of them, they were chipped and cracked and covered in dirt, mud and leaves. These graves hadn't seen flowers in a very long time.

Stiles had two small bouquets of flowers in his hands as they searched for one name amongst hundreds: Abigail Dorothy Castela. They weren't entirely sure what they expected to find at her gravesite, but it was at least something tangible they could look at and touch. At this point they hoped that maybe Lydia's banshee powers would be of some use.

Abigail had lived a rather uneventful life from what little they could tell. The daughter of a wealthy ranch owner, she outshone all the other girls at her debutante ball when she was 17. Married at 18 to a wealthy Spanish merchant (what he was doing in Beacon Hills was a mystery), died age 24 in something the newspapers called a 'domestic accident'. Which meant someone could've killed her and made it look like an accident, or it could've been a covered-up suicide. There were no children.

“I wish these were organized by date or something,” Lydia huffed in annoyance as she continued up the row next to Stiles.

Stiles chuckled. “Alphabetical order would be nice.”

“Hm. Some cemeteries have maps, you know, outlining where all the graves are.”

“Oh man, that would make this sooo much easier. Why can't Beacon Hills do useful things like that?”

“Because this is Beacon Hills.”

They searched for another hour, not giving up only because they didn't want to have to come back again. Stiles' stomach felt like it was trying gnaw a hole into his body and he was starting to get a headache. They were both silent, too fed up and too grumpy to want to converse. Then Stiles looked up in a masochistic urge to know how many gravestones still lay ahead of them, when he spotted a familiar name.

“Lydia!” he exclaimed even as he ran forward. Three rows away and four stones down, a single stone marker towered over the rest – built like a small tower with an angel praying sadly on its peak, its wings spread out like a canopy. And in clearly-legible, bold letters were inscribed the words:

Abigail Dorothy Castela
1863-1887
Precious daughter
Beloved wife
May the angels watch over your soul.

 “Good job, Stiles,” said Lydia with a smile as she came up beside him.

Stiles grinned proudly back at her. Then he took his phone out and started snapping pictures of the marker. Lydia silently waited for him to finish. After he'd finished, she walked around it slowly. Stiles did the same, walking in the opposite direction. They met again in front of it.

“So, getting anything?” Stiles asked.

Lydia shook her head. “No. You?”

“Nah. It's in really good shape, though.”

“Yes, I noticed that. Especially compared to the stones around it.”

Stiles took a few moments to examine the gravestones in the area. There was certainly no arguing that the chipped - in some cases with pieces broken off – stones with writing that had been significantly worn down by the elements, looked far older than Abigail's marker.

“Maybe 'cause they were rich, so they could afford better materials?” Stiles suggested.

“Hm, maybe.”

Lydia's tone suggested she thought that was about as likely as Stiles did, but it was certainly something to look into. Stiles read the inscription again and frowned, looking carefully at the markers around it. “You know what's really weird, though? Her husband isn't buried next to her.”

Lydia cocked her head thoughtfully. “No, he's not. Maybe he moved away from Beacon Hills.”

“If he was a wealthy merchant then he probably had a house, which he would've sold if he moved away.”

“You want to look through land deeds at the zoning office next?”

Stiles cringed. “Not particularly.” Then he brightened. “Hey, that might be something my dad could help us with!”

Instead of answering, Lydia stepped up to the marker. She reached out towards it - hesitating briefly when her fingers were less than half an inch away from the stone – and touched it. Stiles held his breath, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth, as he watched her stand still, her eyes closed. Finally, Lydia stepped away from it.

Stiles opened his mouth, but Lydia motioned him to be silent, so he closed it again. She walked over to the grave next to it and placed her hand on it. After a few moments, she walked back over to Stiles.

“Well?” he asked.

“I'm not getting anything specific from the marker,” she answered eventually as she thoughtfully gazed at Abigail's marker. “But it feels different somehow. More...energized, I suppose.”

“Energized?” said Stiles. Then he shrugged “I guess that's some sort of sign that we've at least got the right person's ghost. And that it is a ghost in the first place. Not exactly sure how that's going to help... Should we come back at midnight?”

Lydia rolled her eyes. “Halloween was weeks ago. Also, I saw her in broad daylight, so I think it's pretty safe to say she doesn't just come out at night.”

“Right. Although, both guys were killed sometime during the night, so maybe she only has enough strength to kill at night?”

Lydia shrugged. “Maybe.” She looked down at her watch. “We should get going. English test tomorrow.”

Stiles groaned. “Right, test. School.”

He sighed and placed one of the bouquets of flowers at the foot of the grave. Then they turned to walk back. They were half-way to the jeep and rapidly approaching the newer part of the cemetery, when Stiles looked down at the second bouquet in his hands. The stems were slightly crushed by his nervous grip.

He looked over to the redhead walking beside him. “Uh, Lydia, would you mind if I-”

“Go, I'll meet you at the jeep,” she said, waving him off. Stiles smiled.

“Thanks. I won't be long.”

Finding his mother's grave wasn't difficult. It had taken him a full two years after her death to summon the courage to come out here for the first time, but since then he'd hardly gone several months without visiting. He took out the dried bouquet that was in the vase in front of her grave and replaced it with the fresh one.

“Hi mom,” he said. “Sorry I can't stay long, but Lydia's waiting for me. And, yes, it's that Lydia. But she's not my girlfriend or anything. I mean she's my friend - at least I think I can call her my friend now - but she's not my girlfriend. And she won't be. Ever. I-I'm... Something happened and dad, Mrs. McCall and Allison's dad were in danger so we had to perform this ritual to save them and, well, now everyone's in danger because of what we did. And apparently I can fix it. Somehow. Oh, and hey, you'll never believe it, but I met Merlin! Like the Merlin, the one from the legends! He's a bit strange, but he's nice. And he has a wyvern, which is cool.”

He took a deep breath to steady himself. “Anyway, you know I told you before that I'm a Spark? Well, the ritual opened up a door to the Spirit Path and now I'm connected to it. Which isn't exactly a good thing, but it means I can use that connection to bond with the land and then I'll be able to help keep Beacon Hills safe. But I'll have to stay here for the rest of my life. I mean, I can still go to college and travel and stuff - which I know you would've wanted me to do - but I always have to come back. This has to be my home. For the rest of my life.”

He swallowed. “It's not such a bad thing. I like Beacon Hills: it's a great place. And apparently it's a winter home for yetis, which is also super cool. But... Lydia's amazing. She destined for great things; gonna win a Fields Medal, you know. So, even if she was interested, I couldn't ask her to stay in Beacon Hills for me. I wouldn't want her to.” He threw a sardonic smile at the gravestone. “Guess that's one love that's going to die a puppy.”

He picked up the dried-up bouquet to throw into the garbage bin beside the parking lot.

“I should go, mom, but I'll be back again as soon as I can. Love you.”

Stiles closed his eyes and took a deep breath to compose himself and headed back to the parking lot. He didn't see the blonde-haired beauty watching him leave from the shade of a maple tree.

 


 

Lydia's grandmother had shown up unexpectedly for a visit, which thankfully meant their trip to the zoning office had to be postponed. The pained look on Lydia's face when she told him about this new development made him feel slightly guilty for being glad at having to postpone it. The blank look of terror on Aiden's face when he was informed that he was going to be attending Friday night dinner in order to meet her mother and grandmother was worth the guilt.

It wasn't that Stiles couldn't go alone to the zoning office, but his phone reminded him (and woke him up) in the middle of third period about the upcoming full moon. Which Stiles had completely forgotten about. Ever since Scott had been bitten, Stiles had diligently kept track of the moon's phases. Except for this time.

He was a bit worried that Scott hadn't mentioned it. He'd make sure to ask him about it tomorrow.

As soon as school and lacrosse practice were over, Stiles raced down to the preserve. He still had a good hour of sunlight left and intended to use every minute. Because, the full moon fell on the weekend and with all the strangeness that had been plaguing Beacon Hills lately, Stiles refused to be caught outside after dark without wolfsbane and mountain ash.

He drove down the familiar path up to the Hale House, marvelling at how he would actually miss having this handy route into the depths of the preserve once Derek sold the property. He wasn't entirely sure if it was where Derek was staying, or if he still had his old loft in town, but there was a chance the werewolf would be at the house doing repairs either way. Stiles knew where the wolfsbane grew on the Hale property - the potential cavalry within shouting distance was bonus.

There was a huge pile of old furniture on the front lawn when he arrived, having clearly been dragged out of the house. It all bore signs of the fire.

Stiles parked his jeep and got out, not bothering to lock it, but pocketing the keys. Derek chose that moment to walk out carrying half of something that looked like it used to be a couch. He threw it onto the pile and turned to Stiles with a raised eyebrow.

“Uh, hey Derek,” said Stiles when he realized that was going to be Derek's greeting. “I see you're clearing out the house.”

Derek crossed his arms over his chest, looking unimpressed. “What do you want, Stiles?”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Relax, dude, I'm just using your parking space. Full moon's this weekend and I may or may not be in the middle of a forest for it. So I figured I should stock up on wolfsbane.”

The front steps of the house creaked as Peter appeared carrying the other half of the couch – it was recognizable only by the vaguely similar, if much more blackened design of the cushions. “My, what a boy scout you are Stiles. Preparing to venture into the woods on the full moon. Don't forget your red riding hood and basket of goodies.”

“Uh, the only 'goodies' I'll be carrying are the wolfsbane and mountain ash. And a hunting knife. Assuming I can convince Deaton to give me some mountain ash, that is.”

“I'm sure grandma will be proud.”

“Seriously, Little Red Riding Hood?” Derek grumbled loudly.

Stiles smirked. This was too easy. “Well, if we're annoying you, you can always start huffing and puffing and-”

“Stiles.” Derek pointed to the right. “The wolfsbane is that way.”

Behind him, Peter sniggered. Derek growled at him, eyes flashing blue. Stiles hurried off to collect the wolfsbane.

It wasn't far away from the house, which Stiles always found rather odd. It made him wonder whether it had been planted here on purpose. Not that Stiles cared particularly given that it made it easy to find. He quickly got to work collecting the plants. He didn't need much for himself, but he figured if he got more he could always offer what he didn't need to Deaton in exchange for the mountain ash.

Suddenly, he felt a pinprick of awareness, a slight chill in the moment before the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Stiles froze. He slowly straightened from his crouch and looked around him, carefully scanning the trees. Something in the shadows moved. He tensed, waiting for it to move again, to reveal itself. It could've been Derek, but somehow, Stiles didn't think it was. It didn't feel like a werewolf. Still...

“Uh, Derek?” Stiles called to the shadow. “Is that you?”

There was no answer. Stiles swallowed and began slowly walking towards it. His footsteps sounded loud to his ears, dried leaves crackling and small branches snapping under his feet. He was so focused on his eyesight, on seeing what was in the shadows in front of him that he didn't notice the darkness around his heart expanding like gently rolling fog - until he realized with a gasp that he could barely breathe for the heavy feeling in his chest. He fell to his knees, his hand shooting up to grab at his chest.

He took two deep breaths, which succeeded in partially calming his frantically-beating heart. He opened his eyes. This time, he could see the shadow more clearly, though he couldn't quite tell what it was. He squinted into the shadows of the trees.

It almost looked like a person. But he thought he saw fur, or perhaps feathers... Were they standing on two legs or four? The shadow he saw wavered in the dim twilight.

“Stiles?”

Stiles cried out in surprise, whirled around, overbalanced and fell over. Standing over him, Derek raised a single, amused eyebrow.

“Derek?! What the hell?!”

“I heard you call for me and then your breathing got erratic.”

Stiles blinked up at him. “Uh, I thought I saw something. In the shadows.”

Derek immediately looked in the direction Stiles was pointing. He sniffed the air and took a few steps forward, eyes peering intently into the distance.

“I don't see anything,” he said after a few moments. “Or smell anything.”

Stiles sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “Sorry, could've sworn I had,” he said. “Must be more tired than I thought I was.”

Derek just nodded his head, but Stiles noticed he didn't take his eyes off the trees until Stiles had picked himself up and was ready to leave. Stiles had a feeling Derek would be going for a run after he'd left.

“Any luck with the ghost woman?” Derek eventually asked as they walked back to the house.

Stiles blinked, surprised by the fact that Derek was starting a conversation. A conversation that was, by all accounts, just idle chit-chat. “Uh, well Lydia and I know who she is – or at least was. We found her grave yesterday. It was in suspiciously good condition and Lydia felt something off about it, so we're sure we've got the right girl. Er, woman. We're just not sure where to go from there. I mean, ghosts are usually tied to one place, but we didn't see her in the cemetery and both bodies were found in completely different locations...”

“Hm.”

“And then we're going to have to figure out what to do with her once we've found her, 'cause how the hell do you kill someone who's already dead?!”

“Salt and holy water?”

Stiles froze. “Derek, have you been sneaking around with my dad and marathoning Supernatural behind my back?”

It was by now fairly dark in the forest, but Stiles didn't need light or super werewolf eyesight to know Derek was rolling his eyes at him. “No,” was all he said.

They continued on in silence. Stiles looked to the house when they reached it, but didn't see any light or other signs of Peter. Maybe it had been him in the trees. Not that Stiles had any idea why Peter would find it interesting to watch him gather wolfsbane, but he never claimed to understand the way deranged minds of psychopathic werewolves worked.

“Merlin said it was probably from South America,” Derek suddenly said just as Stiles was turning to go to his jeep.

Stiles paused and turned around. “Uh, what's probably from South America?”

“The sabre-tooth tiger thing.”

“Oh. Okay, yeah, that makes sense. I can see that being something that skulks through the rainforest.”

“He said he can't know for certain because it wasn't alive when he saw it, but it looks like it could be a temple guardian.”

Stiles blinked. “What was it doing here then?”

“Possibly trying to follow something that had been taken from its temple.”

“Oh.” Stiles frowned. “And why didn't Merlin tell us this before? Not that it really matters seeing as how it's dead - as long as it's not followed by all its brothers and sisters.”

Derek shrugged. “We didn't ask.”

Stiles blinked in confusion. “So, why'd he tell you?”

“I asked.”

Stiles threw his hands up in exasperation. “Right. Anyways, this was fun, but I've got chemistry homework to do. Catch ya later, Derek!”


 

The figure crouched in the branches of a large tree as it watched the boy leave in his little metal wagon. He brought a long pipe to his lips, the expression on his face thoughtful. The boy was learning, that much was clear, but he was only teasing at the edges of the Pathway, not venturing in just yet.

The connection with the Wolf Men was interesting.

He wondered how long it would take the boy to see properly, to gain the courage to stop fighting the pull of the Spirit Path. He had much to learn still.

Eyes old as the land itself crinkled at the corners as the figure smiled. Stories of the future were always waiting to be told, but it looked as though they would be interesting ones. He wondered what wisdom the White Fox would have.

 


 

Stiles hurried through the village. It was easy to ignore the looks he was getting, his mind too preoccupied with his own thoughts. Another man had been found dead. An electrician this time, twenty-six with long, dirty blond hair and green eyes. According to his friends, he was supposed to be going out with this girl he'd met the night he died. They didn't know her name and the sheriff's department couldn't find her.

Worst of all, Scott's dad was starting to take notice of the cases. In fact, he'd sent off blood and tissue samples from the body to the FBI lab in San Francisco. Stiles wondered why the man was still here. He'd asked his dad, who'd frowned and replied he didn't know, but the tense, worried look on his face made Stiles think he had his suspicions and they weren't good.

The last thing the werewolves and other supernatural creatures in Beacon Hills needed was for the FBI to get involved.

He made it to Sanuye's house without any mishaps this time and knocked loudly.

“Come in, Stiles!” he heard faintly from inside.

The door was unlocked, so he went inside and hung his jacket up on the rack made from deer antlers. Then he slung his bag back over his shoulder and headed to the kitchen, where he could hear movement.

“Hey Sanuye,” he said as he entered the room. “Do you know anything about exorcising ghosts or spirits and making them go away and stop hurting people-” He froze two steps into the room when he suddenly realized Sanuye was standing at the stove carefully measuring herbs into boiling water and there was someone else sitting at the kitchen table. Someone he recognized. “-'cause I was, uh, watching a movie and there was this spirit thing and I was wondering how accurate it was...”

Sanuye turned away from the stove with a perplexed look on her face. From his seat at the table, the guy who'd gotten in Stiles' face two weeks ago frowned at him. Stiles felt his cheeks growing warm.

“Er...” he said.

“Stiles, go get the healing salve from my storeroom,” Sanuye said.

Only too happy to be given something to do, Stiles dumped his bag onto the floor and then hurried off. Sanuye's storeroom was located in a large, walk-in closet at the back of the house, just behind the stairs. Inside, there were shelves lining one wall and herbs hanging upside down from the ceiling to dry along the other. Beneath the herbs there was a small wooden table and a large metal hook on the wall from which a large leather satchel usually hung. Sanuye had called it her medicine bag and said it had belonged to her grandfather – and possibly his grandfather before him, but she had no actual confirmation of that.

Stiles grabbed a small glass jar of salve and rushed back to the kitchen. The young man had his shirt off, revealing a tattoo over his heart and three gashes running on an angle down his torso. The lowest one looked like a very long, angry scratch, but the one in the middle would definitely require stitches.

Stiles whistled. “Wow, did you, like, decide to wrestle a bear before breakfast this morning?” he asked before he could help himself.

The man looked to him with narrowed eyes that seemed glassier than before. Stiles noticed an empty glass on the table next to a bloody gauze. “Why do you think I went hunting for bears?” the man asked tersely.

Stiles pointed towards the injuries. “'Cause those are definitely claw marks and they were made by something big. Unless you decided to piss off a mountain lion instead...”

Stiles let the sentence linger, his eyes suddenly widening as he remembered the sabre-tooth tiger creature from the week before. But there was no way the guy would've survived that thing, so it couldn't be a second one of those.

The young man huffed. “I don't know what it was,” he said. “It was still dark. We heard a growl and then it jumped out at us. It sounded like a coyote, but it was bigger and faster. We chased it off with our guns.”

“Like a coyote?” Stiles frowned. It wasn't that coyotes couldn't be vicious, but it was unusual for one to attack when it was out-numbered unless it was desperate. Stiles walked over to the door and grabbed his bag, dumping it onto one of the empty chairs at the table and carefully unzipping the top.

Sanuye brought over a bowl full of water and a clean cloth and set it on the floor. Then she handed Stiles a small wooden bowl full of herbs. “Mix these in with the salve,” she said. Stiles took the bowl and used the flat wooden spatula inside to scoop in some of the salve.

Meanwhile, Sanuye knelt down next to the young man and began washing his wounds. He said something to Sanuye, derision and anger clear in his voice though Stiles didn't understand the words. Sanuye answered him in the same language. As they continued to speak in what Stiles assumed was their tribe's language, he mixed the herbs into the salve and thought about coyotes and the full moon.

He bit his lip and peeked at the wounds, trying to gauge their spacing once the worst of the blood had been washed away. The largest gash in the middle was still bleeding, though sluggishly. Sanuye went back over to the counter and came back with familiar hooked needle and medical thread. Stiles looked away when she started.

He carefully took a bit of the salve onto the spoon and reached into his pack.

When Sanuye finished stitching the wound, she washed away the rest of the blood. Then she dropped the needle and what was left of the thread into the bowl of water.

“Stiles, I need you to spread the salve over the wounds,” she said as she stood . “Be generous.”

“Okay,” Stiles answered, carefully putting the spoon into the bowl so that the salve on it didn't mix with the rest of the bowl's contents. He knelt down next to the young man, who looked down at him with narrowed, angry eyes. Stiles gave him a small, shaky smile in return and the young man turned away.

Stiles took a deep breath and carefully dabbed a bit of the salve from the spoon onto the corner of the shallowest scratch. The reaction was instantaneous. The young man jerked violently and hissed, pulling away from Stiles. Stiles' eyes widened as the corner of the wound let off a small tendril of black smoke.

“What the hell are you doing?!” the young man demanded.

Stiles leapt to his feet and raised his hands in front of him, palms facing forward. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” he quickly said. “I, uh, I must have forgotten to wash my hands or something. Just let me, uh-”

“Stiles.” Stiles winced and looked over to Sanuye. She was looking between the two of them with a frown. “What did you put into the salve?”

“What? Nothing- I mean, I might've accidentally knocked something over into it - would salt do that, do you think?”

“Stiles, you are many things: loud and slightly uncoordinated among them. You are not, however, careless.” She paused, hard eyes looking into his. “What did you put into the salve?”

Stiles swallowed. “Wolfsbane,” he finally whispered.

Chapter Text


 

“You are trying to poison me!” the young man practically growled (a very human-sounding growl, no change to his eyes, Stiles was happy to note) and then surged forward to grab Stiles by the front of his shirt.

“Wha- No!” Stiles exclaimed, suddenly remembering that wolfsbane was technically poisonous to humans too. “No, there was no poisoning intended. The amount in that wouldn't have poisoned anything. I-I was just, uh, checking for something and could be in the creature's saliva and it would be really bad if you'd uh...”

“Stiles, Liwanu!” They both froze and looked to Sanuye, who was glaring at them in equal measure. Her gaze first slid to the other boy – Liwanu, Stiles assumed. “You will pull your stitches.” Liwanu let go of Stiles and sat back down with a barely-visible wince. Sanuye then turned her gaze to Stiles. “You will never again meddle with my medicines without my knowledge.”

Stiles didn't bother hiding his wince. “Sorry.”

“Good. Now I will wash off the salve and then you will show me what you did.”

Sanuye's anger seemed to abate somewhat when she realized Stiles hadn't contaminated the entire salve and had been at least responsible enough to keep the wolfsbane mixture separate from the rest. Liwanu, too, appeared to relax slightly when he saw that only a very small amount had wolfsbane in it. Sanuye was silent as she applied the regular healing salve to Liwanu's injuries and then wrapped them with medical gauze.

Stiles stood to the side and tried not to look as nervous as he felt, but he doubted he was very successful. His palms were sweating and his chest felt tight. He'd screwed up big time and he wasn't quite sure how to fix it, but he'd have to. There was no way he could just stop the training. Why hadn't he just taken her aside and told her? She knew about werewolves – at least Stiles was fairly certain she did. She wouldn't have thought he was crazy.

There was a rustling at the table and Stiles looked up to find Sanuye examining his ziploc bag of dried wolfsbane.

“This isn't very well dried,” she said with a frown.

Stiles blinked in surprise. “Uh, well, I only collected it on Wednesday. I'd totally forgotten it was the full moon this weekend.”

Her frown deepened and she looked over at Stiles. “I thought only a bite would create a change.”

“Yeah, mostly.” Stiles took a calming breath, feeling the jitteriness abate somewhat now that he had a topic to concentrate on. “I mean, a bite will either turn someone or kill them – or in special circumstances awaken dormant genes in a person's bloodline, but I'm thinking that's, like, really rare. Uh, I don't think a scratch can turn someone, but it can create a bond.”

“Hmm. Is there any way to tell for sure?”

“Um, maybe?” He wracked his brain for knowledge on werewolves – knowledge he, oddly enough, hadn't had to use in a while. “I mean, obviously if the wound miraculously heals by tomorrow then we've got a problem. Uh, weird dreams I think too... Or if you get attacked by a different one- oh! Scott will be able to tell! Or Derek at least would. He actually might be the better one to ask; Scott's knowledge is still a bit touch and go sometimes.”

“What are you talking about?”

Stiles froze, his eyes widening as they snapped down to look at Liwanu, who was staring between him and Sanuye with a bewildered expression on his face.

“Werewolves,” Sanuye answered and Stiles' eyes snapped to her. He was pretty sure he was wearing the same look of gaping incredulity on his face as Liwanu. Sanuye rolled her eyes at both of them. “I do not know why you look so surprised, Liwanu. You have heard the stories as much as everyone else: the wolf with intelligent eyes that used to guide children safely home. I believe your mother was one of them.”

Stiles' eyes widened. “Talia,” he whispered. They both looked to him curiously – the look on Sanuye's face said she expected him to continue. “Er, Derek's mom: she was the leader of the local pack and apparently the most powerful alpha in the area. Most werewolves can't actually do a full transformation into a wolf, but she could. We also think the local pack used to protect the area, which is why there weren't as many things trying to eat people hanging around. Although that's probably the Beacon.”

“You believe in the stories?” Liwanu asked. Stiles paused to look at him. The expression on the other boy's face was curiosity more than anything. He was frowning, but the frown seemed to have lost some of the hostility.

Stiles shrugged. “My best friend got bit by one. He's like my brother, so I got dragged through all the gory details. Also, my google-fu is legendary.”

Stiles grinned at the last bit and Liwanu rolled his eyes.

“Could it have been one of the wolves from your pack?” Sanuye asked.

Stiles shook his head. “No, they'd mostly would've been in school or lacrosse practice... actually, hold that thought. That's not completely true.” He went over and took his phone out of his bag, debating for a few moments before finally deciding to send the message to Derek.

Yo u know where Peter is?

He looked to Liwanu. “Did you get a look at its eyes? Like, do you know what colour they were?”

Liwanu blinked. “I'm not sure.”

“Were they red, bright yellow or blue?”

“They were not red and I would have noticed yellow, I think.”

“Great. That's... not the worst scenario.”

“Does the eye colour make a difference?” Sanuye asked with a slight frown.

“Uh, yeah.” His phone vibrated in his hand and he turned his attention back to it.

Right here.

Stiles rolled his eyes at the oh-so-Derek response. He been with u all morning?

He looked back to Sanuye. “Alphas have red eyes and betas have yellow. Blue eyes means it's a beta who's killed an innocent.” His phone vibrated.

Yes.

Ok, thnx.

“So it's definitely not one of the pack,” he announced, looking up briefly before texting Scott.

Hey buddy, so there might be an omega in the woods out this way. One of the locals got attacked this morning. Possibly blue eyes.

Then he pocketed his phone and hoped Scott was paying attention to his today. His friend had gotten better, but he still periodically forgot to check it for hours on end. Which, Stiles had attempted to drum into his head, was sometimes hours too long.

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Sanuye and Liwanu were conversing in their own tongue again. Stiles didn't understand their words, but Liwanu looked agitated, his eyes fixed angrily on Sanuye. Sanuye, in turn, stared him down, her arms crossed over her chest. He would've called it an argument, except that Sanuye was very much the one with authority here – and she wasn't budging. Eventually, Liwanu stormed off in a huff – at least stormed off as well as his injuries would allow him to move.

Sanuye watched him leave impassively. After her front door closed forcefully, she turned back to Stiles. “He wanted to go hunt the wolf,” she said.

Stiles felt himself pale. “Unless his ammunition's supplier is related to the Argent family, that's a really, really bad idea. Like, charging unarmed into a supervillain's lair bad idea.”

“Not if you're Doctor Bruce Banner.”

Stiles opened his mouth and paused. He blinked and closed his mouth. “Did you just...”

Sanuye's eyes were twinkling with mirth as she unfolded her arms. “Gather what you'll need, we're going out now,” she said as she exited the kitchen.

She was just over the threshold when Stiles managed to pull himself together. “You did: you totally just did!” he exclaimed with a wide grin. “Have I told you yet that you're, like, totally awesome?!”

Her laughter carried from down the hall.

They went out into the forest to gather herbs again, Sanuye's only concession to the possible danger being a shotgun slung over her shoulder. The face she'd made when Stiles had asked about it showed her distaste at carrying it, but he couldn't help notice how it didn't hinder her movements in the slightest. She walked just as gracefully with it as she had without it. Stiles had stuffed the bag of mountain ash into the pocket of his hoodie.

Nothing happened to them in the forest. It was almost anti-climactic. They talked about werewolves and creatures of the forest as they made their way down different paths than they had the week before. Stiles had worried that maybe they should warn the Forest Man about the possible omega. Sanuye had laughed at him.

“This is the Forest Man's territory even if he is not here all the time,” she said. “He lives here with the blessing of the Spirits and so is stronger than the wolves that came with the White Man.”

Stiles paused and looked up thoughtfully from the sage he was gathering. “Huh, you know, I've never thought about that... I guess werewolves sort of are European, aren't they? I mean, there's, like, so many different myths, but most of them are either Greek or Norse in origin... Does that mean that werewolves don't have the same sort of, uh, connection to the land 'cause they're not native to it? Although the Hale family moved here, like, almost two hundred years ago, so you'd think they'd have been here long enough to form some sort of connection. How long does a group of people have to live in a place before they can consider themselves 'of the land'? Is there a time frame or something?”

He looked over to Sanuye and froze. She was looking at him with an amused look on her face and a half-smile on her lips. “I see that learning to listen has not diminished your ability to talk,” she said, but there was no heat behind her words.

Stiles flushed. “Er, no. I don't think anything's ever going to diminish that. Except maybe a silencing spell – assuming those even exist.”

She chuckled. “In your case, it would likely be a curse.”

“Yeah.” Stiles grinned. “'Course I'm persistent. I'd probably just learn a really loud form of sign language.”

Several moments passed in silence and Stiles turned back to the sage. He'd assumed Sanuye wasn't going to answer his question when she finally spoke up. “A connection with the land does not depend on time: the Spirits dwell in the eternal, they do not care about the passage of time. When the First People created this land for us, the Real People, they made it so that we would know that it was good and when the Real People woke up for the first time, they understood that. They were connected to the land because they understood that they came from it and that it was good. I may not be as old or as wise as Merlin, but I think that a connection to the land is made when a person knows the land and feels that goodness in their heart and soul.”

Stiles thought about that. “Because the land provides us with everything we need?” he asked carefully.

Sanuye nodded. “It does.”

“But you don't exactly live without modern conveniences...”

“Modern conveniences are just that: conveniences. They make our lives easier, better, safer. Antibiotics can save people better than herbs or salves and electricity gives us light and powers so many other things such as refrigerators and stoves. And those are just two examples. Some would not agree with me that they are good and in many ways they are not.”

“But they were created by people and people come from the land,” said Stiles.

Sanuye smiled. “Yes, people come from the land. But what people have created to make their lives easier are not all necessities no matter what we say. A coffeemaker, a microwave, a computer: none of those are truly important. What is a necessity?”

She looked at Stiles expectantly and Stiles took a deep breath, realizing he was being tested again. His mind whirled into a million directions as he thought about his daily life. What was a necessity? What did he truly need? He took a second deep breath and released it slowly. The leaves above his head rustled and suddenly he remembered the first time Sanuye had told him to sit down and listen: the answer wasn't ever complicated, he realized.

“Food and water,” he finally answered. “Shelter. Heat...” He wracked his brain for anything more, but everything he could come up with seemed frivolous when he thought about it. Except for one thing. “And companionship.”

There was a proud shine in Sanuye's eyes as she nodded.

“Not that I'm ever going to voluntarily give up my computer,” Stiles felt the need to add.

Sanuye laughed. “And I would fight to the death for my coffeemaker and TV.”

Stiles grinned.


 

The next day it rained heavily and Stiles was incredibly glad when, instead of going back out into the forest (which he didn't put past Sanuye to do despite the rain), they stayed indoors and Sanuye showed him how to properly hang the herbs they'd collected to dry and how to crush those they would use immediately.

It was soothing, repetitive work of the sort that allowed Stiles' mind to wander. So they talked: well, Stiles talked and Sanuye answered the questions that were meant to be answered. He asked her about the herbs they'd been gathering and then about Sanuye herself and found out she was actually a registered nurse, though she'd studied mythology and literature along with biology and chemistry at university before entering nursing school. Comic books were her dirty secret. Her love of science fiction slightly less so.

Stiles had finally gotten the hang of tying up herb bundles without crushing their stems or having half of them fall out when his thoughts wandered back to their conversation in the woods.

“So, if the land was created for the, uh, Real People – and by the way, no offence to your, uh, people or anything, but that sounds seriously Matrix-y in a super creepy way – but do werewolves count as Real People or would they be more like spirits or demons or something?”

Sanuye chuckled as she gently crushed a blend of fresh herbs together on a carved out piece of smooth stone. “I see your point and I'm not sure.” She shook her head. “You ask many strange questions. Werewolves are not of the First People, therefore they must be one of the Real People, and yet they are not human. But neither are they animal.”

“Who are the First People, anyway?” Stiles asked, feeling like that really should've been his first question.

“The First People are those who were here before the Real People came. According to the teachings of our ancestors, they brought this land into being and created the animals who live on it, including humans.”

“So they're, like, gods?”

“No. They had abilities you and I do not, but they were not gods in the way people define a god. Perhaps it is better to say they understood the world in ways we do not and so could affect it in ways we cannot.”

“And what happened to them?”

“Some say they died out. My tribe believes they shed their human skins and became the Spirits that watch us and guide our way - provided we take the time to listen to their wisdom.”

“So, then if werewolves are somewhere between human and animal, then the Spirits should be able to communicate with them, right?”

Sanuye shrugged as she examined the texture of the paste. “Perhaps, if they chose to and provided the wolves chose to listen.” She looked back up at Stiles. “However, I do know one thing: had the Spirits not wanted the wolves here, they wouldn't have let them stay.”

Stiles swallowed at the intensity in her eyes.


 

Stiles left with a mix of herbs he would use to make a tea for his dad, which was supposed to be good for the heart.

It wasn't raining quite as hard when he reached the forest, although he still felt drenched by the time he slipped in between the trees. For once he was not looking forward to riding Myfanwy instead of driving his jeep, which had a wonderful roof that kept out things like rain.

His sneakers squelched as he walked, taking care not to slip on the wet leaves and tree roots that glistened even in the dim light. He'd taken his flashlight out upon arriving at the forest's edge, though he'd yet to actually turn it on since he could see well enough for now. He just hoped it didn't take him too long to find Myfanwy. She never seemed to be waiting for him in the same place.

He paused mid-step. Was she testing him? To see if he could find her himself? Merlin had said wyvern weren't as intelligent as dragons, but exactly how intelligent were dragons? Were they talking dog-intelligent or Einstein-intelligent? Probably not Einstein, but there were a lot of levels of smart between a dog and a genius physicist.

Stiles took a deep breath and closed his eyes. All around him he heard rain, the gentle pitter patter of drops as they fell onto leaves, branches and, finally, the ground. He let the soothing sound become background music and strained to hear beyond it. To his right there was a rustle of leaves. Then another. A twig snapped – a soft, silent ping of sound. Stiles smiled.

He opened his eyes and walked towards the sound. “Hey, Myfanwy, so is this hide-and-seek on purpose or accidental? Did Merlin put you up to it to test me?”

He paused at the base of a large white oak and listened. Another twig snapped, this one louder, heavier. Stiles grinned. The game was up: Myfanwy wasn't hiding anymore. He took a step forward. Then he heard a low growl.

Stiles froze. That... wasn't Myfanwy.

Stiles' left hand automatically went to his jacket pocket, where he'd stashed the small bag of mountain ash. His right adjusted its grip on the flashlight so that it pointed straight ahead of him and flicked it on. In the middle of the bright circle of light, a shape was clearly visible within a clump of bushes. The light reflected off of electric blue eyes.

The werewolf snarled in annoyance and took a step forward, revealing tangled and dirty shoulder-length blond hair and a tattered button-down shirt. The blue eyes flashed red for a long, agonizing moment.

“Shit,” Stiles whispered, taking a step back. Well, that was certainly a new and terrifying development. Blue and red eyes: what did that even mean?!

Stiles wasn't entirely sure he wanted to find out. He swallowed, keeping his eyes on the two points of light ahead of him, trying with all the power of denial to ignore the sharp, snarling teeth below them as he desperately tried to find the opening of the bag in his pocket. He knew it had an opening: he'd poured the mountain ash inside and hadn't sealed it shut so he wouldn't have to fumble awkwardly with knots or twist ties.

The werewolf took another step forward and sniffed the air. Stiles stepped backwards. The werewolf's eyes flashed with anger and it growled. Stiles gave up and just yanked the bag out of his pocket. Blue eyes followed the movement and narrowed at the clear plastic bag. They flashed red as the werewolf snarled at Stiles, his muscles tensing. Stiles took a deep breath. The werewolf leapt towards him, claws extended.

Stiles closed his eyes and dug his fingers into the bag, ripping it open. Deaton's words echoed in his head. Stiles could not do magic and the mountain ash wasn't magic, but it could save him so long as he believed it could. He wasn't sure how, but somehow it had the power to keep the werewolf from mauling him to death. So he put his faith into the mountain ash, pushing all doubts from his mind for that moment of time as it fell to the ground.

There was a startled yelp closely followed by a thud.

Stiles opened his eyes and looked down at the werewolf, who was slowly picking himself off the ground. He then looked down and his eyes widened at the thick dark line of mountain ash that now surrounded him in a perfect circle. Stiles grinned, feeling proud of his accomplishment and amazed that he'd managed it.

A low growl made his grin disappear and Stiles looked back to the werewolf. He looked even angrier than before, saliva bubbling at the corners of his mouth as he snarled at Stiles. Slowly, the werewolf stood back up and approached him, hissing quietly when his outstretched claws touched the edge of the barrier.

And then he grinned. It was a sharp grin: full of teeth and nothing pleasant. Claws ran down the barrier, making blue sparks of light flash in front of Stiles' eyes. The werewolf chuckled, the sound deep and cigarette-raspy.

“Oh look, boys, this little piggy has little blunt teeth,” the werewolf sing-songed in a low, raspy voice that sounded sort of like a whisper and sort of like laringhitis. “How adorable.”

Stiles froze and his eyes hurriedly scanned the woods around them, tense and waiting for the 'boys' to slink out of the shadows. The only movement came from the leaves swaying in the wind. Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles saw the dark shape of the werewolf step back and he snapped his attention to him. The werewolf lunged at the barrier.

Stiles cried out in surprise and stepped backwards. He froze and looked down, relaxing minutely when he saw that he was still an inch from the line of mountain ash. He took half a step forward, just to be safe. And then looked up into angry red eyes.

His breath caught. He recognized those eyes. They'd featured in so many of his nightmares – sometimes they still lingered in the darkness behind his eyes where he still saw Lydia's pale, unmoving body and blood-soaked dress, where every time he looked up, he saw those eyes.

But usually, those eyes had a different face. And there was a calculating intelligence shining behind the madness...

The werewolf walked further back from the barrier and crouched.

“Why do I always get the batshit ones?” Stiles muttered, shivering as the breeze blew through his wet clothes to his skin.

The werewolf sprang forward with lightening speed and threw himself claws-first against barrier. It held. Stiles took a deep breath and then let it out slowly, attempting to even out the tremors in his limbs. There werewolf howled in frustration and then snarled, drool oozing out the sides of his mouth. He backed up even further this time.

The barrier was still holding strong, but Stiles was beginning to wonder whether his sanity would manage to hold equally well. He wanted nothing more than to back away from this mad, slobbering half-man and find a solid object to hide behind (like a fifteen foot-deep concrete wall). But he couldn't. He was standing in the middle of a circle that was all of three feet in diametre and he couldn't move.

The werewolf was backing up again and suddenly the Darkness pulsed. Stiles fell to one knee and grabbed at his chest, eyes squeezing tightly shut as he fought against the sensation.

Hold fast, young one.

Stiles' eyes flew open in surprise. He raised his head and scanned the area, jumping to his feet to get a better look. That voice: it had sounded gentle and wise. Soothing. But he didn't see anyone... Had he imagined it?

He jumped as the werewolf threw himself against the barrier again. This time the werewolf didn't hesitate, backing up almost imediately and took another running jump. Stiles tried to infuse as much as belief as he could into the moutain ash.

Stiles hoped he was imagining it, but it almost looked like the barrier had given a little this time.

The werewolf backed up again. He charged.

A loud screech resounded through the clearing. The werewolf froze and looked up. His eyes widened and he leapt to the side, but he wasn't fast enough. The large winged shape that came barrelling out of the sky seized his legs in its powerful talons. Myfanwy bit into the werewolf's side. The werewolf howled with pain, stilling for half a second before flailing his arms in a desperate attempt to get away. One clawed hand managed to find its mark across Myfanwy's face.

The wyvern let go of the werewolf and pulled back with a grunt. The werewolf took advantage of the loosened hold and pulled himself away with his arms. Between his madness and adrenalin, he somehow managed to get his feet under him and stumble away. Myfanwy's teeth were apparently too sharp and not metaphorical enough for him.

Myfanwy shook her head and snarled in the direction he'd gone. She'd taken a step forward, when Stiles suddenly realized just how tired he felt, how much his limbs were weighing him down.

“Myfanwy,” he called quietly, his voice sounding dull even to his own ears. The wyvern paused and turned her head to look at him. He gave her a tired smile. “Sorry, but can we just go home? I just really, really want to go home.”

Myfanwy looked again in the direction the werewolf had run off and then turned around and ambled over to Stiles. When she got close, Stiles noticed two slashes just under her right eye. He reached up and carefully carressed the skin just underneath.

“Thanks for coming to my rescue,” he whispered. Mywanwy nudged his hand in response.

Chapter Text


 

Stiles winced at how loudly his knocking echoed throughout the otherwise silent apartment building hallway. He took a deep breath and wished he wasn't doing this, that his brain had managed to come up with a better plan. After an eternity of waiting – that was probably only about two minutes – he finally heard the tell-tale sound of a latch being undone and lock being unlocked. Then the door opened to a slightly dishevelled and groggy-looking Chris Argent.

Stiles smiled winningly at him. “Good morning, Mister Argent.”

“What do you want Stiles?” Mister Argent growled at him, not bothering to hide his annoyance.

Stiles let the smile drop from his face. Yeah, 7:30 am really was too early for this.

“There's an omega in the woods by the Little Bear Creek native reserve,” he said. “It attacked one of the locals on Saturday morning and then it attacked me on my way home Sunday.”

Argent's eyes widened slightly and then he stepped back, holding the door open for Stiles to pass through. Stiles walked past him into the apartment and followed him into the kitchen.

“Why come to me?” Argent asked as he readied the coffeemaker for brewing. “Have you told Scott about this?”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I texted Scott on Saturday when I found out about it, but he didn't reply 'till after eight. I think he figured the omega would head their way, which it obviously didn't. Called him last night and we'll talk today at school and decide how to do this, but...”

Stiles ran a hand through his hair with a sigh. He met Argent's eyes. The other man no longer looked irritated, but mostly curious.

“I love Scott, really I do, but sometimes he so... Scott. I know he's going to want to save this omega or maybe bring him into the fold or something. He doesn't want to become a killer and I get that. Hell, I can totally respect that. Which is why I'm here. 'Cause I'm not entirely sure it's going to be possible.”

Argent turned on the coffeemaker and turned to lean against the counter, giving Stiles his full attention.

“What makes you think it wasn't just the full moon?” he asked carefully.

Stiles snorted at the subtle attempt to remind Stiles of the full moon. “Dude, I've seen full moon crazy. Scott's first full moon I chained him to a radiator and then listened to the crazy. I've also seen werewolf high-on power crazy and spent quality time with Alpha Peter Cocoa Puffs Hale. This guy was nuts beyond any of them. He was, like, drooling and slobbering and talking to people who weren't there crazy. Oh, and his eyes changed colour.”

Argent frowned. “His eyes changed colour? You mean other than the usual human-to-werewolf change?”

Stiles nodded emphatically. “Oh yeah, it was weird and just a bit completely terrifying. His eyes were mostly blue, but then they flashed red a couple times.”

Several moments of silence passed, while Argent thought about this new development. “I've never heard of that before,” he finally said. “I'll do some digging while you're at school. You might want to ask Hale too. If this is some sort of sign of actual mental instability then he's more likely to know about it than any of our chronicles or the bestiary are.”

Stiles nodded. “Yeah, we were planning to do that.”

A door opened somewhere the apartment.

“Dad, did I hear knocking?” Stiles heard Allison call just before she walked into the kitchen wearing a bright green bathrobe covered in frogs, a white towel wrapped around her head. She stopped and blinked when she walked into the kitchen. “Oh, hi Stiles.”

Stiles smiled at her and raised his hand in a half-wave. “Hey Allison.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh, you know, just telling your dad all about my awesome weekend. And by awesome, I mean nightmare-inducing. And by weekend, I mean specifically the part where there's an omega out by the Native reservation that tried to make me into puppy chow yesterday evening.”

Allison's eyes widened. “You're okay though, right?”

“I'm both alive and still human.” He shrugged. “It was terrifying, but I managed to get a mountain ash barrier up. Then Myfanwy showed up and let me tell you: in the werewolf versus wyvern showdown, the werewolf doesn't stand a chance. He managed to get away, but Myfanwy would've torn him to shreds. Which in hindsight, I probably should've let happen, but at the time I was kinda just thinking about how much I wanted out of there.”

“That's understandable,” said Allison with a sympathetic smile.

“Anyway, I'll, uh, get out of your hair now,” said Stiles. “Gotta stop by the station and bring dad some breakfast before going to school. Sorry for barging in so early.”

“Stiles.” Stiles turned to Argent. “Thank you for coming to me with this. It couldn't have been easy for you to decide to come to a hunter about a werewolf problem.”

Stiles shrugged. “Actually, the difficult part of this is going to be telling Scott I came here. He doesn't know yet and he probably won't like it much when he does find out. Deciding to tell you about this was the easy part. The omega... I got a real good look at his eyes while he was trying to break through the mountain ash barrier and he was more like a rabid dog than anything. I'm not going to let Scott get himself killed while he's trying to not kill this werewolf.”

Stiles took a deep breath. “Anyway, I'll see you in school, Allison.”

“See you, Stiles.”

 


 

Just as Stiles had predicted, Scott wasn't happy. In fact 'not happy' was a rather mild way of putting it.

“What if it turns out the omega's too far gone?” Stiles yelled at his friend. “Do you really want to be the one who has to kill him?”

Scott growled, his eyes flashing red. “Why would we have to kill him? It was the full moon, he's probably fine now.”

“Maybe, probably, but maybe not.” Stiles let out a long, frustrated breath. “And if killing isn't the answer then great, that'd be wonderful. But, Scott, I'm telling you the guy didn't seem quite all there, like he'd checked out of reality.”

“He could've been newly-bitten and didn't know how to control his powers yet.”

Stiles just gave Scott a look. “Scotty, do I need to remind you who taught you to control your powers? Who dealt with your first shifts when you didn't even want to believe you were a werewolf? 'Cause, buddy, ol' pal, I think I remember something about you not wanting anything to do with Derek, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't him.”

Scott had the decency to wince. Stiles took that as his cue to continue.

“So, yeah, I've seen crazy out-of-control werewolf in the flesh. This guy made Peter Hale look like the paragon of sane and rational. Hell, if you think of Deucalion as the mad scientist-type sane, then this guy was the rabid, uncontrollable lab experiment.”

There was a sudden burst of the clack, clack, clack of heels on tile and then Lydia was standing beside them. “Stiles, I think we get the point: there's a potentially insane werewolf in the woods and you went to see Allison's dad about it. I see nothing wrong there.”

Isaac growled. “This is pack business. Stiles should've come to us first and let Scott make the decision.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Uh, yeah, not a werewolf here so that sort of puts me outside of whatever hierarchy you guys have established.”

“I am the Alpha,” Scott growled, voice low, eyes flashing red.

Stiles' eyes narrowed. Oh, that was so not on. “Oh, well in that case, Mister Alpha, remember back in junior high when you had a massive crush on that girl with the bright blue streaks in her hair... what was her name again? Oh, right: Alicia Jensen! Anyway, you wanted to get her attention so you-”

“Stiles!” Scott's eyes had gone wide and lost their red hue. “You swore you would never mention that ever again!”

Stiles smiled brightly. “Just reminding you of my place in your pack.”

Several moments passed in silence while Scott looked embarrassed, Stiles triumphant and everyone else amused. Then Aiden cleared his throat to get their attention.

“Uh, not to get all technical about it, but is that even our territory?” he asked. He posed it as a question, but the expression on his face was pointed, as though he already knew the answer.

Scott paused. So did Stiles, a feeling of dread settling in the pit of his stomach. He ran a hand through his hair. “Well, that depends on whether pack land follows the legal boundaries or not. Hale land doesn't actually extend out that far, but Hale pack land might...”

“Derek never took us past the boundary of his family's land,” said Isaac softly.

“What if it's not the pack's territory?” Danny asked Aiden. “What would that mean?”

“It means Scott would either have to claim it as his land, 'cause otherwise he can't just go kick another werewolf off of it,” Ethan answered.

“If he were to confront this werewolf then it could be taken as a battle for territory and then he'd have to accept responsibility for that area too,” Aiden added. He shrugged. “Means someone else can come and try and fight him for it. If he loses or gives that bit of land away, then it would make him look weak and others might think they can come make a claim on Beacon Hills too.”

Stiles sighed. The pit of dread had been right: this was going to be anything but simple.

“You should ask Derek about the pack territory's boarders,” said Allison. “He'd know them better than anyone else. Stiles has to go see him about the wolf's eyes anyway.”

Scott blinked and cocked his head at Stiles. “Eyes? What about his eyes?”

“Oh, they changed colour,” Stiles answered.

 


 

“What do you mean they changed colour?” Derek asked with a frown. As per the current usual, they found him up at the Hale House clearing out debris. The entire pack had come after school, minus Allison (who was helping her dad research) and Danny and Ethan (who had some sort of family thing at Danny's house that no amount of whining had managed to get Ethan out of).

“I mean, his eyes were blue like yours and occasionally flashed red,” Stiles explained. Again. Why did no one want to believe him the first time he said it? “And no, he was definitely not a True Alpha like Scott. First of all, I'm pretty sure there's a bit more sanity required for that to happen and, second of all, he was trying to kill me. Doesn't exactly prove worthy character to me.”

“If his eyes were blue then he definitely can't be a True Alpha,” Derek confirmed.

“He could be an alpha omega,” Peter said quietly from his seat on the front porch steps.

“As in, an alpha, who's an omega?” Lydia asked.

Peter nodded. “More specifically, an alpha who's lost his pack – probably violently.”

Derek nodded to that. “Would make sense. To an alpha, a pack means power, but it also means stability. For an alpha to have his pack killed and yet remain alive themselves, would be devastating.”

“Wouldn't he just try and make new werewolves?” Stiles asked.

Derek looked right at Stiles. “He probably was.”

Stiles swallowed. “Right.”

“So, do you think this werewolf's past the point of no return?” Isaac asked.

Derek looked to his uncle. Peter held his gaze for a few moments before shrugging. “Difficult to say,” Peter shrugged. “I'm not entirely sure I'd trust a hunter's assessment of the situation, but if Stiles says he was crazy, I'd be inclined to agree with him. Could he be treated with therapy? Maybe. But the real question is: would he get better before he kills anyone else?”

“It's rich that you of all people are advocating putting down a violently insane werewolf,” said Lydia, a sharpness in her voice that Stiles couldn't help but agree with.

Peter grinned. “Ah, but you did do that, didn't you?”

“Yeah, but you'd actually killed people,” Scott spat.

Stiles blinked. “Uh, so you would've rather he killed me?” he asked incredulously. “'Cause, the only reason I'm not either dead or newly-wolfed is because of my awesome mountain ash skills.”

“And judging by the blue eyes, this one's killed too,” Aiden pointed out. “So the question really is: do we deal with it or let Argent do his hunter thing?”

“You want to leave it to a hunter to deal with a werewolf problem?” Isaac asked with a frown.

Aiden shrugged. “Hey, I have no problem with taking on some crazy-ass werewolf, but A, our esteemed Alpha over there seems to be having cold feet and B, I'm pretty sure it's outside the pack's territory.”

Scott scowled at Aiden before turning to Derek. “Is he right? Is the Little Bear Creek reservation outside of our territory?”

Derek blinked. “Uh, yeah, miles away. I mean, the Hale territory was big, but it wasn't that big.”

“Of course, if you're asking whether or not you can go after this werewolf without crossing boundaries or inadvertently expanding your territory beyond what you can reasonably protect, then that shouldn't be a problem,” Peter unexpectedly stated.

They all turned to look at him, surprised into silence at his helpfulness. As it always did, Peter volunteering information put Stiles on alert, waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering about the man's ulterior motives. Peter took in their expressions and rolled his eyes.

“Look, it's obvious this mystery werewolf is either mentally insane, as Stiles has been telling us, or else he has a death wish. Stiles spends enough time around werewolves that he smells of wolf. Which means the werewolf attacked him knowing he was close to several werewolves, possibly friends.”

Stiles noticed the moment Derek seemed to understand where Peter was going with this. His eyes widened. “You think he attacked Stiles because he smelt of werewolf.”

Peter nodded. “I'd say he either smelt werewolf, was attracted by the smell and his lack of completely-there mental facilities combined with the full moon made his first instinct to attack Stiles, or...”

“Or else he attacked Stiles knowing he was probably friends with a werewolf pack, who would be very upset if he was hurt,” Lydia finished with wide eyes. “Because once Stiles took out the mountain ash, there was no way the werewolf could think Stiles wasn't aware of the supernatural.”

Peter nodded with a small grin. “Exactly.”

“That's a really elaborate way to commit suicide,” Aiden commented.

“Unless he wants to directly challenge Scott,” said Derek thoughtfully. “If he wants a new pack, the easiest way would be to take one away from another alpha.”

Stiles shuddered. “Aaand, I'm really glad right now that I'm, like, ninety-nine percent sure this guy didn't have enough coherent braincells to come up with anything nearly this clever.”

“Either way, it means Scott shouldn't be the one confronting him,” said Isaac.

“What?” Scott exclaimed. “But I can't just let someone else walk into danger like that. Besides, he messed with Stiles, who's a member of my pack. I can't let someone else deal with that!”

“Spoken like an Alpha,” Peter mocked. Scott snarled at him, his eyes flashing red. Stiles sighed. They were back to the original question.

“Scott, you don't want to become a killer,” he said softly. The snarl disappeared off Scott's face and he turned big brown eyes to Stiles. Stiles smiled softly at him. “But you're going to have accept that it might not be possible this time. I know we managed to figure out a way to de-kanima Jackson in the end and you managed to defeat Deucalion without killing him, but this guy's not either one of those two. If anything, he's more like Peter. Or Gerard.”

“I resent being compared to Gerard Argent,” said Peter. “Use the Darach if you're going to do comparisons.”

“Shut up, Peter,” said Derek. He turned to Scott. “I don't particularly like the idea of working with Argent, but either way, something has to be done. Peter's right, he attacked a member of your pack. You need to do something about him. He's also risking exposure to ordinary people.”

“Well, you might as well listen to whatever Allison's dad has to say,” Lydia pointed out. “I mean, maybe letting him take down the werewolf might not be such a bad idea. Maybe send some werewolves with him when he goes to hunt it to make sure he doesn't kill it without reason.”

“That could work,” said Scott after a moment of contemplative silence.

 


 

Chris Argent didn't particularly want to give the werewolf tactical advantage by hunting it in the middle of the night if they didn't have to. The forests around the Little Bear Creek reservation weren't the popular hiking destination the way the Beacon Hills Preserve was, which meant it wasn't necessary. So, instead, they set out at stupidly early o'clock in the morning the next day. It was still a school day, so most of the pack had to go to school. Stiles had to come because he knew the forests better than any of them (and the only one of the werewolves who came close to competing with him for marks was Ethan). Next to him, Derek had been broodingly looking out the jeep window and completely ignoring Stiles' ramblings.

Stiles glanced over from his view of the back of the Argents' car. Yup, he was still at it. “You know, you could just roll the window down and stick your head out,” he said. “I won't judge.”

Derek turned his hair and glared at Stiles with the flattest, most unimpressed look he could muster. Stiles grinned. Score one for getting the werewolf's attention back. He turned his eyes back to the road and the Argent's car.

“So, I called Sanuye last night,” Stiles began. “'Cause I was looking at boundaries and stuff online and it turns out all that forest there belongs to the reservation, which means it's actually illegal to hunt on it unless you're Native American. Which totally makes sense, but I hadn't really thought to ask before. Sanuye said that, yeah, that's true, but she'll talk to the elders and make sure they understand that the thing we're hunting needs special bullets to take it down and that the people coming are experts in this sort of hunt-”

“Stiles,” Derek interrupted, annoyance heavily lacing his voice. “Shut up.”

Stiles wondered whether Derek actually expected that to work. “Anyway, while I was talking to her I asked about Liwanu – the guy who got attacked by the werewolf-”

“Someone other than you got attacked by this werewolf?” Derek asked.

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Uh, yeah. That's how I found out about it in the first place. He was with a bunch of friends when it happened and they were out hunting, therefore armed. He still got some crazy scratches out of it.”

Derek stiffened at that and Stiles immediately felt his eyes drilling into him.

“Don't worry, they're not healing super fast or anything, so he's not a werewolf – assuming a scratch is enough to turn someone...”

“Not usually, but there are rare cases where it's happened.”

Stiles nodded. “That's what I thought. So anyway, there's been no turning, but Sanuye said Liwanu has been having weird dreams. Nightmares about this huge cat beast with massive front teeth and he remembers flashes of it attacking and killing people, tearing them apart. He's sure he doesn't know any of them in real life, but in the dreams he feels like he does, like they're close to him. And he tries to fight the cat thing, but it's too strong and then the dream ends. Sometimes he dreams of water afterwards too, like loud running water.”

“A river, he must've escaped to the river,” said Derek. “His scent would've been washed away by the running water and if it was a strong flow it might've carried him away.”

“Makes sense.” Stiles paused. “So, I was thinking: big cat beast with massive front teeth that eats werewolves for breakfast... sound familiar?”

Derek grunted in reply.

It was another hour of driving before the Argent's car turned off the road. Stiles continued on without them. They'd agreed to separate so that Stiles could put up some of the hunter's ultrasonic emitters closer to the reservation to keep the werewolf away from it. Meanwhile Allison and her father would begin hunting from farther up and Stiles and Derek would meet up with them after they were done.

Stiles had Derek with him in case the werewolf attacked. And his – er, Mrs. McCall's – trusty baseball bat. The Mark III as the first one had been splintered on the Aiden/Ethan combo wolf's head and the second one had been badly dented by the Nemeton. Scott's mom hadn't even seen this version yet, but since the first one had been hers then this one was technically still hers.

He'd gone with wood this time. It absorbed the wolfsbane oil he seasoned it with much better than the metal would have.

One of these days he was going to have to actually replace Mrs. McCall's baseball bat for real. Maybe he'd get her a hockey stick instead. Or a cricket bat. He felt like they would be every bit as practical as the baseball bat.

Finally, he arrived at the turn-off Sanuye had told him about. His jeep bounced along the uneven dirt road that led through the forest, making a lot of noise along the way. There was no way the werewolf didn't know they were coming if he was anywhere near the area. The sun was high in the sky by now, looking bright and dazzling through the trees. Stiles tried to keep an eye out on their surroundings, but was too preoccupied with keeping his jeep from rattling off the road to do a particularly good job of it.

The road ended abruptly next to several large boulders and a clump of oddly-twisted maple trees that looked like they were getting ready for an orgy.

Derek jumped out of the jeep as soon as it rolled to a stop. Stiles parked and got out, locking the jeep after them. He walked over to unlock the trunk.

Which was when he heard Derek growl. Stiles' head snapped up, eyes immediately darting from side to side to see what was wrong. He relaxed when he saw Sanuye step out from behind the trees. He rolled his eyes.

“Down boy,” he said. “She's friendly. Also human, therefore not a crazy homicidal werewolf.”

Derek's eyes snapped to him and his growl deepened, eyes flashing blue. Stiles ignored the look and waved to Sanuye.

“Hey, uh, good morning: you didn't say you'd be joining us!” he called to her.

Sanuye looked to Derek briefly in amusement as she approached, before nodding to Stiles. “I decided this morning. Besides, the elders weren't happy with the idea of leaving you to hunt on your own without supervision. I told them I would join you.”

Stiles nodded before turning his attention to the contents of his trunk and began pulling out supplies. “Okay, well, we've mostly got the easy part,” he explained. He paused and then gestured to Derek. “Oh, sorry. Sanuye, this is Derek. Derek, Sanuye – she's my, uh, teacher.”

The two of them nodded at each other in silent mutual assessment. Stiles bit back his groan as he realized he'd just gotten conscripted to spend most of the day with two people who could complete for marathon silence awards. He really hoped they found the werewolf quickly.

Before they headed out to set up the emitters, Stiles texted Allison to let her know. She confirmed that she and her father were moving in their general direction.

Sanuye then led Stiles and Derek towards the village, her steps silent and sure as always. She had a small leather satchel at her hip and her gun slung over her shoulder, neither making a sound as she moved. Derek eased his way through the forest several feet to Stiles right, equally silent.

“Can you smell him?” Stiles whispered.

Derek glanced to Stiles and nodded. “The scent is several hours old here,” he volunteered after a few moment's pause.

It was about half an hour later that Sanuye stopped and pointed to a ridge. “The river that runs along the edge of the village comes out of the ground just past there,” she said. “The first houses start just past its first bend.”

Stiles nodded and took out his first emitter. He walked up to the top of the ridge and struck it into the ground, twisting the top so that it lit up. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Derek flinch violently. By the time they'd laid the fifth and last emitter, Derek was keeping well away from them. Suddenly, he seemed to catch a scent. With a quick acknowledgement to Stiles, he took off after it.

Stiles swallowed around the sudden dryness in his throat. Beside him, Sanuye moved her gun off her shoulder and held it in her hands, ready to fire.

“You must be silent now, Stiles, and listen,” she whispered. “In the forest your ears are your most important sense. Your ears will hear any changes long before your eyes can see them.”

Stiles nodded. Then he took a deep breath and closed his eyes, taking in the sounds around him. There was barely any wind, so it was nearly silent except for their breathing and the steady buzzing of a multitude of insects. A crow cawed solemnly in the distance.

He opened his eyes and followed Sanuye, carefully placing his feet between branches and leaves as best he could. The werewolf would probably smell them anyway, but there was no point in making it easier than it had to be for him.

It didn't take long for Stiles to start cursing his wandering mind. Paying attention to the sounds around him was a lot easier when the sounds were more interesting – or there were at least more of them. He was trying to watch where he was stepping and paying attention to the sounds and half-way between one step and the next he'd realize he was suddenly thinking about how much he wish Scott could've been here and would his dad be really angry that he was skipping school again because of werewolf stuff?

Stiles just didn't understand his brain sometimes. He was in mortal peril here: why couldn't it understand and co-operate?

They passed the small clearing where Stiles had been attacked and he noticed that his mountain ash circle was still there. He felt a twinge in his chest as the darkness around his heart pulsed. A shadow moved out of the corner of his eye and he froze, carefully angling his head in order to get a better look.

There was nothing there.

To his right, the birds went silent.

And then a plaintive, agonized bellow echoed through the forest. Stiles' eyes widened and he swung around towards the right. He blinked, realizing he knew that sound – no, voice. It was a voice. And it was in pain.

“Chewie,” he whispered and then he was tearing through the trees towards the sound of his friend's voice.

He didn't pause - didn't take even a fraction of a second to think that maybe this was a rather stupid thing to do - he caught a glimpse through the trees of something bent over a small, hairy form and ran. He raised his baseball bat when he was less than two steps away and swung it down with all his might. The werewolf let go of the small yeti's leg and turned away, though the bat still managing to clip him on the shoulder. There was a startled hiss as the wolfsbane stung on exposed skin through a tear in his shirt.

The werewolf turned around to face Stiles and snarled. Blue eyes flashed red.

A gunshot echoed through the forest. The werewolf jerked backwards as the bullet impacted with his torso. A second gunshot sounded and he jerked again, this bullet hitting him just above the first. Stiles realized the shooter was behind him: Sanuye. Which meant they weren't wolfsbane bullets.

Stiles ran forward and smashed his baseball bat against the side of the werewolf's face. Or at least that had been his intention. His swing was interrupted just before contact when the werewolf's hand shot out and grabbed the bat. Thin tendrils of smoke rose from where he gripped it. The werewolf hissed, but didn't let go. Red eyes lifted and bore into Stiles' own while, behind him, Chewie bellowed into the forest.

“Oh look, Sharon, it's the mountain ash boy,” the werewolf sneered at him. “I told you about him, remember?”

Sharon? Who the fuck was Sharon?

“You realize you're the only one here, right?” Stiles said as he tried to pull the bat out of the werewolf's grasp. It wasn't budging. “Like, I think you may have reality confused with the colourful Disney world inside your head.”

The werewolf's other hand shot out and grabbed Stiles by the chin. Stiles cursed inwardly. Seriously, at what point was he going to learn that opening his mouth did not solve problems?!

“You have quite the mouth on you, boy,” the werewolf hissed as he forced Stiles to meet his eyes. He looked truly angry now – and, oddly enough, more sane. It wasn't a good sort of sane, but at least the half-deck he was playing with looked real now. The grip on his jaw tightened and Stiles winced. “I should teach you some manners. Good thing you know about werewolves: it'll save time.”

A single gunshot fired. The werewolf jerked to the side, letting go of Stiles' chin. Stiles yanked the bat away and backpedaled urgently. The werewolf glared in Sanuye's direction, as though finally noticing she was there. He growled and took a step towards her.

A second growl made him pause.

“Took you long enough,” Stiles muttered under his breath just before Derek exploded out from a clump of bushes. His abrupt entrance caught the alpha off-guard and sent both of them sprawling to the ground in a snarling tangle of limbs and claws. Stiles wondered just how messed up the crazy alpha had to be to have not noticed Derek approaching.

Then he heard a soft keening sound. Stiles looking away from the two werewolves – they'd managed to unravel themselves and were now circling each other, growls rumbling from their throats. Two frightened soft brown eyes looked back at him imploringly. Stiles cursed under his breath and kept an eye on the werewolves as he hurried over to Chewie's side.

“Hey Chewie, sorry 'bout th-omph.” No sooner had he knelt at the small yeti's side, he found himself suddenly enveloped by what felt like a big hairy octopus. He returned the hug as best as he was able. “Glad you're okay too, little guy, but you're gonna have to relax a little 'cause I sort of need to breathe here.”

Chewie's head burrowed itself closer to Stiles' chest. Stiles sighed and tightened his own grip on the yeti, shuffling them both to the side so he could keep an eye on the fight behind him. Chewie whimpered.

“Sorry, buddy, I'm almost done,” he murmured softly. “Don't want to give the crazy wolf the chance to attack from behind.”

Finally, he'd managed to angle them (with great difficulty – shuffling on his knees while trying not to overbalance forward due to the extra weight of the clinging yeti child was awkward to say the least) and settled them on the ground. He then let go with his right hand and felt around for the baseball bat he'd dropped to hug Chewie. Stiles managed to find it after a few moments and grabbed it, holding it in front of them like it was the only weapon they had. Which it was. Not that it would do much good, but it was at least something.

The two werewolves had stopped circling and were slashing at each other again. Derek's shirt was ripped with deep claw marks running down his left side and several smaller cuts just over his ribs. There was blood on his face, but no visible wound, so Stiles assumed it had already healed. The alpha werewolf's shirt was torn and Stiles saw blood, but it looked like whatever Derek had managed to inflict had definitely healed.

Maybe they should've brought Scott afterall. At least he wouldn't have the healing disadvantage. Or else Stiles could've put his slight phobia of the twins aside and argued harder for one of them to come. Unfortunately, Scott trusted them enough to have them in the pack, but not enough to send them after someone he didn't want them to kill.

Derek landed a punch on the other werewolf's chin, sending the alpha staggering backwards. He lunged after him, but the alpha shook off the blow and dodged Derek's claws, pivoting immediately on his left foot in order to swipe at Derek with his own. Derek jumped to the side and rolled out of the way, ending on all fours, eyes blazing as he growled at the other werewolf.

Stiles heard leaves rustle to his left and stiffened, looking away from the wolves to the sound. Sanuye crept out from behind a tree and he relaxed, watching as she hurried carefully to his side.

“Can you shoot?” she whispered to him when she'd knelt down.

“My dad showed me how to use a gun, but I haven't had much practise,” Stiles whispered back.

“Hm, here, take this while I look at the child's leg.” She handed him her gun and he put the baseball bat down in order to take it. “You were right, the bullets did nothing, but it is at least better than having to wait for him to be close to defend yourself.”

Stiles nodded and then helped Sanuye coax Chewie out of his death grip and turn him so that Sanuye could tend to his injury. The long fur on his leg masked the worst of it, but between keeping an eye on Derek's fight Stiles caught a glimpse of some very nasty teeth marks. He felt Chewie tremble and heard him whine as Sanuye poked at the injury.

Then Derek screamed.

Stiles' eyes widened. He'd been watching, but even then he'd barely seen the strike. In a sudden burst of speed and agility the alpha hadn't before demonstrated, he'd dodged around Derek's blow and then somehow twisted his torso mid-dodge, leaping back towards Derek as soon as his feet touched the ground, his arm striking out. Claws had dug into the back of Derek's right shoulder, shredding skin and flesh with the determination of a meat grinder.

The alpha stepped back afterwards and kicked him in the jaw, sending Derek sprawling to the ground. Derek wasn't quite unconscious yet, but his left hand trembled violently as he attempted to lift himself back up, while his right dangled limply at an odd angle from the bloody mess that was now his shoulder.

A hand gently touched his arm and Stiles started. Sanuye met his eyes grimly and held her hand out. Stiles blinked and then handed her back the rifle, forcing his hands to relax out of the stiff hold he hadn't realized they'd gotten on the gun. He reclaimed his baseball bat and took a deep breath as Sanuye shouldered the rifle.

The werewolf took a step towards Derek's shaking form. He paused and then swung around suddenly, his hand shooting up to grab something out of the air. It was an arrow. Stiles breathed a sigh of relief even as the werewolf snapped it with an angry growl.

“You'd betray your own kind by working with hunters?” the alpha spat in Derek's direction. “Coward. I'll finish you when I'm done with them. And don't think I've forgotten about you, mountain ash boy. I make sure my betas know their manners.”

Stiles' breath caught. There was a degree of menacing in his tone that not even Gerard Argent had quite managed.

He didn't have time to think about it. The werewolf didn't catch the second arrow, dodging instead and letting it sail through the clearing and embed itself into a tree. Stiles wondered why there weren't any gunshots yet and hoped it was because Chris Argent was getting into position, letting his daughter be the distraction.

And then the forest changed.

Stiles wasn't sure if he could ever explain just how it changed, but suddenly the air between the trees seemed darker, less transparent and the shadows were like patches of dark, silently lingering smoke. A breeze blew through the trees and it wasn't a gentle gust of wind, but an angry hiss that made the leaves sharply jangle.

The alpha seemed to sense the change, because he paused in his steps to scan the clearing.

Like a streak of brown, a large shape barrelled out from behind a tree, one long furry arm grabbing the werewolf by the back of the neck and lifting him off the ground before he'd even realized it was there. The alpha wolf cried out in surprise and then growled. He tried to twist in his captor's grasp and slash at the torso, but the arm holding him up was too long and his claws couldn't reach. So the werewolf slashed upwards at the arm holding him.

The yeti grunted and shook the werewolf with seemingly little effort. It worked, though, rattling the werewolf and leaving it visibly dazed. Then the yeti raised his other arm and backhanded the werewolf across the back of his skull. Stiles flinched at the loud crunch that echoed through the clearing.

The werewolf didn't even shudder; it just went limp in the yeti's grasp.

Chewie make an excited noise and relaxed his hold on Stiles, before quickly untangling himself. Stiles fumbled slightly at the sudden loss of yeti-octopus weight. He turned around and blinked at the sight of Chewie being embraced by another yeti. This yeti was definitely an adult, though slighter in stature than the one that'd just taken care of their 'crazy werewolf problem' and with longer fur that had a deep golden shine. Chewie clung to this yeti and whimpered, shaking as the adult petted him and crooned. Yes, that was definite crooning – listening to it made even Stiles relax.

“So, I take it you're mom?” he asked quietly, feeling slightly awed.

The yeti looked up at him and blinked slowly. He couldn't see the expression on her face change because of all the fur, but he swore he could feel her smiling. Stiles smiled back. She said nothing, didn't make a single sound other than the constant crooning directed at her child, but suddenly Stiles felt her thanks surrounding him like the softest blanket.

“You're welcome,” he whispered.

A twig snapped and Stiles looked up. His eyes widened, lips parting in amazement as he saw the shapes that had melted out of the forest. There were at least a dozen and Stiles had no doubt he wasn't seeing them all, only those who'd stepped out of hiding. Was this a gesture of peace or a warning? How long had they been here?

Suddenly, Stiles understood.

He stood and turned to walk over to Chewie's dad, who was standing still watching his child and mate (or were yetis polygamous?). He passed Derek, who was laying on the ground and staring up at the yeti with wide, flabbergasted eyes. The other werewolf's body lay limply by one of the trees, where it had apparently been tossed aside. In the distance, Stiles could see Allison and her dad carefully approaching through the trees. Allison held her bow taunt, but the arrow pointed towards the ground. Chris' gun was similarly pointing towards the ground, though Stiles had no doubt he was ready to fire it at a moment's notice.

Stiles ignored them and looked up at the Forest Man.

“I'm sorry,” he said, wincing. “I didn't understand. That werewolf was crazy and I thought we needed to stop him before he hurt someone. I didn't realize this was your territory and we'd be trespassing and, uh, messing with your order. I-we should have left this to you to deal with or told you about it or something. I... I'm really sorry.”

The yeti moved slowly, the large, furry hand clear in its intent before landing heavily on Stiles' head, though it was surprisingly gentle as it ruffled his hair. Stiles took that as forgiveness.

“Uh, thanks,” he said when the yeti stepped away from him again. “I guess I still have a lot to learn, huh?”

The Forest Man nodded and, once again, Stiles felt like he was smiling at him. The yeti then looked to the forest. Stiles followed his gaze and watched as a smaller, darker-haired yeti walked out from behind the trees with an armful of the Argent's ultrasonic emitters. Stiles winced, realizing those must've been pretty horrible for the yeti's ears.

Stiles heard Chewie call him and turned around. The small yeti wasn't trembling anymore, though he still clung to his mother. He looked imploringly at Stiles and then slowly raised his hand. Stiles grinned and walked over.

“Yeah, yeah, high-five buddy,” he said and slapped his own palm against Chewie's. The little yeti's eyes sparkled happily. “You get better, okay? Maybe next time I'm around I'll come see how you're doing? Assuming I can find you, I mean. 'Cause apparently you guys are pretty good at hiding.”

The yetis left just as Allison and her dad finally joined them.

“Well, that was a development I wasn't expecting,” said Allison, looking bewildered.

Her dad knelt down next to the still-unknown alpha werewolf and checked for a pulse. “Well, at least we can honestly tell Scott McCall we didn't kill the werewolf,” he said before standing up. He then walked over to inspect his emitters. They were obviously turned off, but a few looked twisted and bent.

Derek chuckled hoarsely and then winced as Sanuye bandaged his wounds for travel. Stiles was really not looking forward to that.

“I don't know what your healing is like, but you should get to a hospital as quickly as possible,” Sanuye told Derek.

Derek shook his head. “No, take me to Merlin.”

Stiles raised an eyebrow. “To Merlin? Are you sure? He hasn't really been around much lately. At least he wasn't there when I got back with Myfanwy on Sunday evening. It was Mister Harris who looked after the scratch she got from that werewolf.”

“He was visiting a friend. Adrian said he was supposed to be back this morning.”

“Oh.”

They were well on their way towards Stiles' jeep - Stiles helping to support Derek as he walked – when he suddenly clued in.

“Wait, Adrian? Since when do you call Mister Harris, Adrian?”

Chapter Text


 

The first thing Derek became aware of was a very strange smell. It tickled his nostrils as it slithered up his airways. It wasn't unpleasant exactly, not like the artificial alcoholic tang of cheap perfume. It was sweet, but not floral, and without the heaviness of fruit. More like sugar with the acid bite of wine; it was sharp the way cheese was sharp. He chased the smell through the fog that surrounded his mind – he hadn't even noticed it was there until now, preventing him from seeing his surroundings. Viciously, he clawed his way through the grey-white curtain, pushing it aside until he could see a sliver of light. He reached for it triumphantly.

Derek opened his eyes and blinked at the sudden brightness. He breathed in, trying to catch the smell he'd been chasing, to identify it now that he was conscious. Then he became aware of the pain, of fire that suddenly flared up in his shoulder. He was barely able to hear the strangled cry he made.

Suddenly, there were hands on him, pushing him down into the softness he was laying on. He struggled against them, but every movement sent the flames in his shoulder shooting higher.

“Derek!”

He stilled, feeling like he recognized that voice. Then a new smell hit him: clay laced with iron and herbs. Adrian.

He opened his eyes again, this time blinking away the film of blurriness around his eyes. Adrian leaned over him looking annoyed. And possibly a bit worried.

“You would, of course, wake up after Merlin had finally laid down to sleep,” he heard the alchemist mutter. Adrian then reached behind him and came back with a glass of water. “Here, you must be thirsty. Have a drink.”

Derek reached out slowly with his good arm – the one that didn't blind him with pain when he moved it – and took the glass, annoyed with how it shook in his grasp. Adrian put an arm under his shoulders and helped him sit up slightly. His strength really shouldn't have surprised Derek given that he'd seen the man move heavy metal around his forge, yet it did. He also seemed to know exactly how to support Derek's injured shoulder so that the pain stayed managable. Derek took a drink of water, the cold liquid a balm he hadn't realized he'd needed for his sore, dry throat.

He drank down the rest of the glass and Adrian laid him down again and took the glass away. Derek took the opportunity to take in his surroundings – as much as he could see them. The surface he was laying on was low to the ground and not big enough for more than one person. The ceiling above him as well as the wall beside him were raw, unpainted wood and when he turned his head, Derek could just make out what he knew was a small wood stove. He was in the cottage.

“Well, how are you feeling?” Adrian asked when he returned to Derek's bedside. “Other than the shoulder, does anything else hurt?”

Derek took a few moments to think about what he was feeling. The pain from his shoulder had been so intense, he hadn't really been able to think about anything else. He moved his toes and tensed the muscles in his legs.

“No,” he finally said. Then he frowned, as his fight with the alpha wolf replayed in his head. “Wait, my side should be hurting. The alpha slashed me there and it shouldn't have healed yet...”

He looked to Adrian for an explanation.

“Hm, well that healed up quite nicely overnight. You have quite a lot to thank Merlin for. It took him hours to break down the werewolf magic in your wounds. It's natural magic, not a spell, and that's always more difficult to break.” The corner of his mouth twitched. “And in case you were wondering, no, no one other than Merlin would've been able to manage it. Werewolf magic is subtle, but incredibly powerful.”

Which explained why Derek hadn't thought it was possible. “The shoulder?” he rasped.

Adrian raised an eyebrow. “The shoulder looked like mincemeat with bone sticking out of it. I'm not surprised you passed out in the backseat of Stiles' jeep on your way here yesterday. If you weren't a werewolf and Merlin wasn't Merlin you'd have probably lost that arm.”

Derek nodded. That was exactly what it had felt like. Adrian handed him what looked like a rounded, ceramic shot glass. “Here, it's for the pain.”

“Painkillers don't work on werewolves,” said Derek.

Adrian gave him a scathing look. “A less diluted version of this works on dragons. I'm fairly certain it can do werewolves as well.”

Derek blinked and then brought his hand up to take the medicine. He shot it back, barely tasting it, and then handed the glass back to Adrian. It probably took Adrian mere moments to carry the glass back to his work table, but that was long enough for Derek to become enveloped by a hazy cloud. It was pain free, which was nice. And fluffy, so very, very fluffy.

Adrian seemed amused when he came back. “I think I may need to dilute it a bit more,” he said quietly.

Derek didn't quite understand what he meant by that, but hummed in response anyway. He wondered if he needed to hold onto something before the fluffy cloud floated him away. It was a nice cloud. In the midst of his haze he suddenly smelled it again.

“Smell?” he asked. “What is it?”

Adrian frowned. “What smell?”

“Sweet... like sugar...”

“Oh. I suppose that might be from the place that Merlin just came from. It leaves a mark on a person and a smell could be one of them.”

“Smells like a nice place... so sweet... like wine...”

Derek didn't hear Adrian's amused snort as he floated his way into unconsciousness.


 

Stiles sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Scott had spent the morning alternating between pouting because they hadn't managed to save Wolf McCrazypants and looking jittery because he'd somehow developed a bizarre alpha sense of responsibility and wanted to go check on Derek despite only barely liking the guy. And beneath that was annoyance at his dad's sudden desire to spend quality time with his son - that included picking him up after school for dinner.

The interplay of emotions had been fun to watch. For the first hour. Now it was lunchtime and Stiles was about ready to start tearing his hair out as he followed Scott and Isaac into the cafeteria.

It was like a bad comedy sketch on repeat: Isaac would look at Scott nervously and then wonder out loud how Derek was doing, whether he'd woken up yet. Scott would look out the window with longing (and yes, Stiles was definitely going to make fun of him for that later) and then turn back to Isaac and tell him not to worry, because Derek was strong and Merlin was magical. And then they would both look at Stiles, who now just glared back at them. They'd stopped asking him if he knew how Derek was doing after he lost it the fourth time they'd done it. He wasn't exactly sure what he'd said, but he vaguely remembered starting with “Scott, I'm not psychic!”.

As he walked into the cafeteria, he found a tray shoved into his hands. There was a burger, curly fries and a coke sitting on it along with a packet of baby carrots. He blinked down at the tray in confusion, not realizing at first that he was being dragged backwards. Finally, looked up to find that Lydia was holding one of his biceps while Danny was holding the other, neither one of them seemingly paying him the slightest bit of attention.

They passed Ethan and Aiden in the hallway. Both twins looked surprised for a moment before their eyes narrowed into identical glares. Stiles groaned.

“Why do I always get kidnapped by the people with the scariest boyfriends?” he complained.

“Because the people who need to kidnap you aren't into girls,” Lydia answered, still looking straight ahead.

Stiles opened his mouth, paused, and then shrugged. “Okay, fair enough.”

They didn't drag him far, only to the school steps. It was a nice sunny day with only a slight breeze cooling the temperature. Stiles sat onto a step about half-way down and took a big bite out of his burger. Danny sat a few steps down from him and dug into his own, while Lydia sat next to Stiles and pulled a wrap and a bottle of orange juice out of her purse. At first they ate in silence.

“So, while you and Derek were traipsing through the forest yesterday, Danny and I went down to the zoning office,” Lydia finally said before taking a drink of juice.

Stiles blinked, trying to remember why the zoning office would be important. Oh, right, the ghost woman's old house. “Uh, cool,” he said. “Did you two find anything?”

“We found out where she died,” Danny answered.

“And that her husband sold the house less than a year later and doesn't seem to have bought anymore property in Beacon Hills afterwards,” Lydia continued.

“Hm, so he left Beacon Hills just after she died,” said Stiles thoughtfully.

“That's what it looks like,” said Lydia.

“And is the house still standing?” Stiles asked.

“Oh yes.” Lydia's smile looked pleased. “In fact, it's an art gallery now.”

Stiles blinked. “Beacon Hills has art galleries?”

“Just the one.”

“Which, you know, totally needs to be investigated,” said Danny with a quirk of his lips.

“At least it's not condemned,” said Stiles. “So... after school then?”

“What's after school?” Aiden asked sitting down on Lydia's other side and sliding an arm around her possessively while Ethan sat down next to Danny, only without the possessive display (which Stiles was sure was only because Danny was angled wrong).

Stiles snickered as Lydia and Danny rolled their eyes.

“Oh nothing much, we were just planning a threesome,” Danny deadpanned as the twins each took a large bite of their burgers.

The werewolves sputtered and then coughed around their food. Stiles, Danny and Lydia shared an amused look.

 


 

A loud crash woke Derek, the haze of sleep evaporating in an instant as he tensed, ready for...something. Why did his limbs feel so heavy? He tried to sit up and then flopped back down as dizziness overcame him. His ears picked up some shuffling and clanging and he tensed again.

He relaxed when the movements were accompanied by a long string of rather creative curses Derek only half-understood said in a male voice with a British accent.

Footsteps creaked at the threshold and then someone else sighed. “For all your age, supposed wisdom and powerful magic, the most incredible thing about you really is how you manage to be all those things and still find a way to be clumsy.”

“Must be nature's way of making sure I'm not perfect,” Merlin retorted.

Adrian snorted. Derek giggled. And then froze, hoping no one had heard that. The appearance of Merlin's grinning face seconds later sadly dashed that hope.

“Derek, you're awake!” the sorcerer announced. “How are you feeling?”

Derek tried to move his shoulder. “Sore, stiff, but my shoulder doesn't hurt as much. Bit light-headed.”

Merlin nodded and put a hand on Derek's forehead. “Hm, the fever you'd had last night is gone.” He pulled away with a satisfied smile. “I'll change the bandages on your shoulder in about an hour or so, but Adrian says it looked like the joint was starting to heal nicely, which means the rest of it should follow soon enough. Maybe by tomorrow you'll be able to go home!”

That was good news. He wondered idly if Peter had noticed he hadn't returned yet. If he didn't come by to check on Derek, was it because he didn't know his nephew was injured, or because he didn't care? Although Peter was voluntarily helping to clear out the family home – and no one had been more surprised when he'd shown up one morning to help than Derek – he didn't seem to be doing it to help Derek. He wondered, sometimes, what demons Peter was exorcising in clearing out the house, but he never asked. Just as he hadn't yet told Peter why he was doing it in the first place. Or had his uncle already guessed that Derek planned to sell the land?

“Well, you must be hungry,” said Merlin, jarring him out of his thoughts. “I'll just go put the finishing touches on the stew and bring you some broth over. If you can manage that, then I'll get you some of the heartier bits.”

Derek thought of arguing that he'd be fine with the stew, because werewolf metabolisms were stronger than a human's, but decided not to bother. Food sounded like a good idea right now: the sooner the better.

“Merlin,” he found himself calling after the sorcerer. Merlin stopped and turned to look at him. “Thank you.”

Merlin smiled widely. “You're welcome, Derek.”

He heard Merlin walk out of the cottage. Derek (and the growling beast inside his stomach) suddenly realized he could smell the faint aroma of cooking meat coming from outside. A different set of footsteps approached his bedside as Adrian brought a chair over and sat down. He eyed him critically for a moment.

“Well, I suppose it'll be a few days before you're up to par again,” he said thoughtfully. “I've found myself a raw metal supplier and was wondering if you'd like to join me for a slightly larger project. Little things here and there are fine, but I feel like I want to do something... more involved.”

Derek raised an eyebrow. “I thought you were an alchemist?”

Adrian raised an eyebrow back at him. “I am. But I enjoy metalworking as well. Besides, metalworking has always been a part of alchemy. Not extensively, but there was certainly more than one alchemist who worked with metal.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “At its core, alchemy is about transformation: taking basic elements and transforming them into something else, something other. So what could be truer to alchemy than to take an ugly, useless slab of metallic alloy and add heat, transforming it into something useful, or something beautiful?”

He looked at Derek with a strange sort of glimmer in his eyes. “Transformation was always a contentious subject in the past. It's too much like creation and that's God's territory: attempting it is practically blasphemy. Modern-day people might like to depict us as a group of crazy psuedo-scientists obsessed with creating gold, but they're missing the point. Ours is not the vulgar gold.”

Adrian looked like he wanted to say more, but stopped himself and shook his head. Derek was glad for that. He wasn't sure how long he'd have been able to follow along, already his head was swimming as he tried to keep up with the one-sided conversation. Ahe painkiller Adrian had given him earlier was impressive: this was exactly how he'd always pictured being doped up on drugs would feel like.

“The project?” he asked, hoping to get back to something he had a hope of understanding.

“Right, the project.” Now the light in his eyes could've been muted excitement. “Now I know how much you North Americans like your wooden houses and wooden porches and wooden everything, but what would you feel about putting in iron railings along the front steps?”

Derek blinked. “Front steps?”

Adrian rolled his eyes. “Of your house - the one you've been working on since you came back.”

Derek was silent for a long moment. “I'm cleaning it out so I can sell it. I-I wasn't planning to rebuild anything...”

“Oh. Well, then maybe you could just do the front porch. It'll increase the value slightly and make it look a bit less like prospective buyers will be risking life and limb just by approaching it.”

Derek chuckled. “Peter did fall through the floor last week. It was hilarious.”

“I'll bet it was.”

Just then Merlin re-entered the cottage and Derek's attention was hijacked by the strong smell of meat and herbs wafting from the bowl he was carrying. His stomach growled loudly.

 


 

The house was huge, though not extravagant. It was surrounded by a sizable garden and contained by a beautifully-intricate wrought iron fence. Whoever had built it, had clearly had money to show off and that wealth was evident in the details: the marble bird bath on the front lawn, hand-carved detailing along the wooden sidings and a large, brightly-coloured stained glass widow on the front door depicting a praying angel.

The sign on the front gate claimed the gallery was open for another hour and a half, so they stepped through and walked up the white gravel path to the front of the house, where the door was propped open.

In the foyer, a delicate-looking man with deep wrinkles and bushy white hair looked delighted to see them. He came out from behind the desk he'd been sitting at and handed them pamphlets about the gallery with slightly shaking hands, all the while chattering in a thin, reedy voice about how lovely it was to see young people take an interest in art. Lydia seemed to find him oddly endearing, if the expression on her face was anything to go by, while Danny clearly thought he was amusing. Stiles saw Ethan give Danny one side-long glance and then feign interest in the eclectic Beacon Hills art community. Aiden, on the other hand, didn't bother trying to mask his boredom.

Stiles found it fascinating how the old man made it seem like Beacon Hills had a thriving art scene, given that no one seemed to know it existed. It made him feel slightly guilty that they weren't actually here to see the artwork.

He noticed Lydia stiffen as they entered the main part of the house.

“Lydia?” he whispered, stepping in closer to her.

Lydia swallowed, took a deep breath and then unhesitantely lead them forward, towards the large painting on the far wall. It was a mostly grayscale oil painting of a run-down, abandoned farmhouse, the only spot of colour being green leaves on a sickly-looking maple tree growing to the side of the building. Even the sun looked more off-white than yellow. Stiles shivered at the forlorn, desolate scene.

“Well now here's a happy picture,” said Aiden. “A perfect mirror of my teenage angst.”

“Does anyone else feel like it's oddly cold in here?” Lydia suddenly asked, ignoring her boyfriend.

Stiles exchanged looks with Danny. “Uh, no, it's actually really warm in here.”

Lydia shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. “Just me then.” Aiden stepped in closer and put an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him and Stiles pushed back the fist that tried to clech around his heart.

“What does it feel like, Lydia?” Stiles asked softly.

Lydia stared at the painting, her eyes unfocused. “Despair.” She shivered. “It feels like despair.”

They weren't entirely sure what they were looking for, so they split up shortly afterwards: Aiden with Lydia heading upstairs while Ethan and Danny explored the ground level and Stiles slipped out into the back garden to see its 'Flora and Sculpture Exhibit'. To his amusement the first thing he saw when he reached the bottom of the steps was a fairly large herb garden full of a variety of diffierent herbs – including several strains of wolfsbane (some labeled 'monkshood' by the little plastic signs in front of each row).

He sometimes wondered whether the werewolf thing was actually less of secret than they thought it was.

The garden was a series of paved paths winding through trees and large flowerbeds that were like explosions of colour, bright blooms planted into discernable shapes and designs (the Celtic knots were Stiles' favourite at a glance). At the centre of the garden stood a bird bath surrounded by large green bushes that had been trimmed and shaped to look like giant chess pieces – a king, a rook, a knight and one slightly shorter pawn. And yet the bird bath still managed to stand out: mostly because it was bright red, its base was slanted to the side, its pedastle uneven and waving, tapering dowards and growing narrower as it flowed into a flat base. It looked like it had hopped out of a Salvador Dali painting even without being surrounded by giant green chess pieces. Stiles walked towards it, his eyes glued to the picture it presented, a bit too preoccupied with trying to figure out how the bird bath managed to not tip over.

He absently brought a hand up to rub at his chest. There was a strange sort of hollowness around his heart: it itched like a myriad of tiny waves was lapping against the Darkness there.

As Stiles got closer, he realized the bird bath was too smooth to be made of stone and way too shiney. It looked more like plastic. A long metal pole was sticking out of the ground in front of it, holding a small laminated sign that read:

Chalice in a Space Vortex
Artist: Michal Stvoritel, San Fransico
Made from recycled materials.

Stiles reached out and ran his fingers along the smooth surface of the artwork, blinking down at the contorted reflection of himself. He tapped it gently and nodded at the dull sound. “Huh, neat,” he said softly with a hum of appreciation.

The sharp pang took him by surprise. He gasped, squeezing his eyes shut and clenching his teeth as the Darkness suddenly constricted around his heart like a vice and left him breathless. Some time passed and the pain eventually lessened.

“Are you alright?” a voice asked him.

Stiles jumped, pain startled momentarily out of him. He swung around to face a young woman with wavy long blonde hair and bright red lips. She was wearing a white sundress despite the chill in the air and a large floppy hat that cast a slight shadow over her face. She looked vaguely familiar, but Stiles couldn't place her. Maybe she was a senior who'd graduated last year.

“I-I'm fine,” Stiles finally rasped out. He cleared his throat. “Just, uh, allergies, you know?”

“Oh, I see, that's good.” She smiled at him and then stepped forward, motioning to the 'chalice'. “Do you like it?”

Stiles looked behind him. “Uh, yeah: it's really cool. Especially with the giant chess pieces. I can't believe Beacon Hills has this gallery here and I'd never heard about it 'till today. I thought I knew this town!”

She giggled. “Isn't it fun to discover that there are still secrets for you to find?”

Stiles grinned. “Yeah, I guess it is. Well, most of the time. Some secrets can be dangerous.” Stiles shivered as he realized how that sounded. “I mean, my dad's the sheriff, so I hear about a lot of stuff from him. Not that he tells me about current investigations or anything, but, you know, just in general. Like, after the bad guy is caught sort of thing...”

“Like the werewolves?”

Stiles froze, suddenly feeling light-headed. Who was this woman? How did she know about the werewolves? Was she a hunter? His mind raced: there were two werewolves inside the gallery. If she was a hunter she might've set traps for them and Stiles already knew from experience that hunters didn't care about collateral damage if they were wolf-sympathizers, which meant Lydia and Danny were in danger too.

“What are you talking about?” Stiles asked, trying (and realizing he was probably failing) to seem nonchalant. “There haven't been any wolves in California for years. Besides, werewolves aren't real.”

“Of course they are: I've seen you with them.” The creepiest part: she was still smiling pleasantly. Not like Gerard's creepy-old-man smile, but a genuine, happy smile. Like she didn't realize what her words were doing to Stiles.

“What, have you been following me?” he asked.

“Hmm, sometimes. You're an interesting person, Stiles Stilinski.” She looked thoughtful for a moment while Stiles tried not to show how much he was panicking. He felt woozy, the light-headedness getting worse. He shook his head to banish it away. “Not my usual type - you're still too much of a boy. But you are interesting.”

The Darkness was had stopped squeezing, but now he could feel it like a yawning cavern in his soul, beckoning him into its depths. The overload of sensations had him feeling slightly dizzy. He grabbed onto the bright red sculpture behind him.

“Who are you?” he asked, his eyes never leaving her face. Even in the shadows, the bright green of her eyes never lessened.

She didn't answer him immediately. Instead, she stepped up to him and cupped his cheek lovingly. Stiles didn't move, instead wracking his brain to figure out just where he'd seen this woman. Up close he realized she was too old to be a senior from last year's graduating class. Early to mid-twenties would've been his guess. Her hand was cold, but her eyes warm, fond.

She kissed his cheek. “You put flowers on my grave.” Stiles froze, his eyes widening. She stepped away from him. “That was very nice of you; no one's done that in a very long time.”

“Abigail,” Stiles whispered.

She raised an amused eyebrow at him. “That's rather forward of you, isn't it? Using my given name before I've given you permission.” Her smile turned impish for a few moments. “But, oh well, I suppose I can forgive you that. You've been trying to find me, to find out what happened to me.”

“The newspaper said it was a 'domestic accident'.” Stiles shook his head. Why was it getting so difficult to think? He felt like he could barely string two sentences together. Still clutching the sculpture with his right hand, he brought his right hand up to his forehead in an attempt to stave off the dizziness.

“Hmm, it was. I threw myself down the stairs.” Stiles' eyes snapped up to her. “Oh don't look at me like that, I hadn't intended to kill myself. I fell wrong, you see, broke my neck on the way down. It was after the doctors told me I was barren and my husband turned cold. He was rich and handsome and I loved him. I thought he loved me as well – the vows we took were supposed to be through sickness and in health – but he wanted a son to carry on his family line and I couldn't give him one. He became angry and wouldn't come near me or our marriage bed. So I thought if he were to see me hurt, he'd become worried and remember how much he loved me.”

Abigail looked off into the distance, frowning as she lost herself in thought. Stiles rolled his eyes. Great, she'd been a bit off-kilter even before she'd become a homicidal ghost. That boded so well for all of them. He straightened himself and let go of the sculpture, reaching into his jacket pocket for the mountain ash Merlin and Mr. Harris had given him yesterday evening, once they'd realized he could manipulate it.

He took a step forward and faltered as the world wavered in front of his eyes. He felt exhaustion course through his body – bone-deep and heavy as lead.

“Oh, I'm sorry.” He looked up. Abigail seemed genuinely remorseful. “It usually happens whenever I'm with anyone living for any length of time – when they can see me at least. I can slow it down. But you're trying to stop me, to send me away and I like this time. I spent years and years seeing nothing but this house and everything seemed dark and gloomy. Sometimes I would wander the cemetery, but that wasn't any better.”

Her face lit up with wonder. “And then suddenly I heard music and when I looked around I could see colour! And the world... it was so different than I remembered it! I saw women walking without a man, doing whatever they pleased. They could court men on their own and didn't need a guardian or anyone's approval. And the clothes... they are positively scandalous, except no one thinks they are. I love it, Stiles! It's such a wonderful world!”

Stiles took a shaky step towards her and collapsed to his knees. She crouched down next to him.

“You're trying to take me away from this wonderful place I've found and I'm sorry, but I can't let you do that.”

“You-you're killing innocent people,” he whispered, his head spinning from the effort of that one sentence. He struggled to tug the bag of mountain ash out of his pocket. He was lost – but, he suddenly realized, he wasn't alone.

Stiles took a deep breath, pooling every bit of strength he could find. “Help!” he cried, though it came out weak and strangled. But, Ethan and Aiden were werewolves; they would hear it. They had to.

Abigail looked sad as she cupped his cheek again. “I wish I could've spent more time with you.”

She leaned in to kiss him and Stiles knew this one was going to be on the mouth. Was that important, he wondered, trying to turn his face away, but his resistance was pitiful and her hand felt warmer than it had before... or maybe Stiles himself was freezing. Inside, he screamed, but all he could outside was to keep his eyes from drooping shut.

She paused just before her lips touched his. Then she pulled back a bit and turned her head to the right with a slight frown.

“What are you doing here?” she asked. “You've never cared to have anything to do with me before.”

Stiles turned his head to the side, feeling boneless, but somehow managing that simple movement. There was a canine standing between the chess pieces, watching them. It was smaller than a wolf, but he didn't think it was a dog – it looked too wild for that.

It trotted forward, out of the shadows. Briefly, its yellow-brown eyes flickered to Stiles. He felt like, if he concentrated, he could just make out a low voice on the wind.

Coyote, Stiles' mind finally supplied.

Stiles hadn't realized that Abigail was holding him up, until she pulled back the hand cupping his cheek and stood to face the coyote. His last support gone, Stiles collapsed onto the grass, rolling onto his side so that he could at least watch what was going on.

“How dare you come here!” Abigail said through clenched teeth. Her next words she practically yelled at the creature. “This is my house, my town! You have no business being here, savage.” She sniffed. “This land is no longer yours. I'll do what I like here.”

“You're wrong,” Stiles just managed to whisper. He was barely keeping his eyes open, let alone move, and only half-knew what he was referring to. Yet somehow, he was bone-deep sure she was wrong – although wrong in what way he wasn't certain.

Then the coyote snarled. A deep, resonating growl came from its throat, one that shook not the ground, but the soul. Stiles felt it like a wave, heavy like thunder and yet not really sound at all, though it was just as tangible. He felt it in his bones and, for a moment, its power made him feel slightly less tired.

Above him, he heard a gasp and then a faint scream. The coyote fell silent.

Stiles turned his head: Abigail was gone. There was a faint shuffling noise and when Stiles turned back, he was face to face with the coyote. It bent down and sniffed at his neck and then sniffed its way down to his chest.

“Uh, thanks for that,” Stiles said quietly. He sighed. “Please don't eat me?”

The coyote huffed and then looked up from its – no, his - explorations. The eyes that looked back at Stiles were intelligent, far more intelligent than Stiles would've expected. And old. There was a wisdom in them that he'd only ever seen mirrored in Merlin's eyes.

The coyote bent down and touched his nose to Stiles' heart. Stiles' eyes widened. With a gasp, he suddenly realized the darkness around his heart hadn't calmed at all. Instead, he could feel it throughout his entire body, enveloping him gently like a cloth made of shadows. The cavern he'd felt hadn't vanished, he was standing on the edge of it.

The coyote nodded and then backed away. He became blurry. And so was everything around him. Stiles blinked his eyes, but they felt heavy.

“Stiles!” he heard someone scream. It sounded like Lydia. She sounded very far away.

“Sleep,” he heard someone tell him. Which was a great idea, really.

Stiles let his eyes fall shut and the world melted away around him.

Chapter Text


 

As soon as the elevator door opened, Scott shot out, running down the familiar hospital hallway and dodging expertly around both the human and non-human obsticals in his way. He didn't need to ask for directions, he'd caught his friends' scents as soon as he'd gotten out of his dad's car. They clearly smelt him coming, because Ethan and Danny were already looking in his direction when he rounded the corner. Aiden's eyes flicked over to him briefly before going back to watching the other side of the hall intently. Sitting next to him, Lydia was clutching Aiden's forearm and looking in the same direction.

Scott followed their eyes and immediately understood: a doctor was talking to the sheriff just inside one of the rooms.

“What happened?” Scott finally asked, looking down at the group.

“We're not sure,” Danny answered. “He just... collapsed.”

“There was something there,” said Lydia, not taking her eyes off the conversation in the distance. She frowned. “I thought I could feel it when we were inside the house, but...”

“House? What house?” Scott blinked at them in confusion.

“The one where the ghost woman died,” Ethan answered. “Lydia and Danny figured out where it was, so we went to check it out. Turns out it's an art gallery now.”

Scott opened his mouth and then paused. He frowned. “Art gallery? Beacon Hills has an art gallery? Since when?”

The question seemed to bring Lydia to life with a dramatic roll of her eyes. “Since twenty-three years ago when it was first established.” She relaxed the death-grip on Aiden's arm and turned to Scott. She levelled a pointed look at him. “The point is that we figured out where the house Abigail Castela had died in was and went to check it out. We split up to search the place; Stiles took the gardens. Everything was mostly fine until I suddenly felt something... weird.” She frowned. “It was like a faint buzzing noise, like that faint hum you hear from electronics. Only I could feel it. And then Aiden heard Stiles call for help. When we got outside, Stiles was collapsing to the ground.”

Scott took a deep breath.

“Scott?”

Scott winced. He supposed it would've been too much to ask that his dad stayed outside in the car. He turned to face him.

“Any word on Stiles?” his dad asked, looking outwardly calm, but Scott could smell the slight worry wafting off him.

“The sheriff's in talking to the doctor now,” said Scott. “These guys were with him when it happened and I guess he's not physically hurt or anything. Apparently he just suddenly collapsed.”

His dad frowned at that. “Just like that?” He turned to the sitting teens – all of whom had turned to watch the new arrival with interest. “Were you with him when it happened?”

“No, sir,” Lydia answered. “He'd gone out to check out the sculptures in the garden while Aiden and I decided to check out the watercolour gallery upstairs.”

His dad frowned. “Sculptures-where were you guys again?”

“At the Beacon Hills Art Gallery.”

He blinked. “Beacon Hills has an art gallery?”

Scott rolled his eyes. “Of course it does, dad. It's been there for, like, twenty-three years.”

He ignored the thinly-disguised snickering from one of the twins. Thankfully, that was when Stiles' dad finally emerged from the hospital room. Immediately, the others were on their feet.

“What did the doctors say?” Lydia asked.

The sheriff's eyes scanned them all – widening slightly when he noticed Scott's dad. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “The doctor says he should be fine, but they want to run a few tests to figure out why he collapsed. Apparently his blood-sugar is incredibly low and he shows some signs of extreme exhaustion, but not enough to keep him out like this.”

Danny and Lydia exchanged a frown. “He seemed fine all day and we all watched him eat at lunch-time...” said Danny.

“He didn't sm-seem sick,” Ethan added, his eyes darting momentarily towards Scott's dad.

Stiles' dad seemed to understand the miss-step and nodded. “And I know he slept at least five hours last night, because I checked on him when I came home.”

There were several moments of silence as they all considered that information. Scott carefully met his packmembers' eyes. They knew the doctors weren't likely to find anything to explain away what had happened. He just hoped that Stiles would have more to tell them when he woke up.

He looked to the sheriff. “Can we go in and see him?”

Sheriff Stilinski nodded. “Go ahead, but be quiet.”

Scott was first inside the room with Lydia and Danny closely at his heels. Stiles was scarily pale as he lay amongst the hospital's white sheets, several I.V.s hooked into his veins. Vaguely, he was aware of his dad talking to the sheriff in the hallway, but his attention was on his best friend.

For a few moments, he closed his eyes and listened to the steady sound of Stiles' heart beating in his chest and the rhythmic movements of his breaths.

 


 

There was no one around, so Lydia allowed herself the pleasure of expressing her frustration by slamming her car door shut. The sound was sharp and explosive before it was swallowed by the stillness of the night air. She leaned against the car for a moment to compose herself, letting the chirping crickets and gently-rustling leaves sooth her.

It was Friday night and Stiles still hadn't woken up. His blood-sugar was back up to more normal levels and the doctors couldn't find anything else wrong with him: no drugs, no poisons, no abnormal levels of anything that could cause him to collapse into what appeared to be a coma. Oddly enough, the doctors were also reluctant to actually call it a coma. For all intents and purposes, he mostly seemed to be asleep.

Lydia took a deep breath and let it out slowly before pushing herself away from the car. She was at east side of Beacon Hills Park, which was a small series of paved paths that connected to the hiking trails of the preserve: less wild and more open than the preserve itself. There was a narrow stream that ran through the centre with a small wooden bridge crossing it at its widest point. It was a simple park, but widely used for wedding pictures in the summer when it became overrun with wild flowers.

In the dark it looked somewhat desolate, but not quite spooky. Lydia walked along the path towards the stream. Somehow, the dark didn't scare her here. She paused in her steps, her blood suddenly running cold.

Why was she here?

She looked around, seeing the park with new eyes, trying desperately to remember the moment when she'd decided to drive here. She remembered leaving the hospital. She'd been planning to drive home and had been looking forward to having a nice, long bath when she got there. The park had not been a part of any plan.

Then she noticed the figure standing by the edge of the stream.

Well, it was upright, which was a better start than she usually got. Lydia swallowed down her fear and headed towards the figure. Maybe it was the ghost they'd been chasing. Lydia hoped not. Until Stiles woke up, they wouldn't know exactly what had happened to him, but it couldn't have been a coincidence that he'd collapsed while they were searching for clues about Abigail Castela's death in the house she'd died in.

As she got closer, it quickly became clear that the woman by the stream wasn't the ghost they'd been searching for. And it was definitely a woman. She was standing with her back to Lydia and had long red hair that flowed down her back. She was wearing a plain dress, slightly tattered at the edges, but startlingly white despite that. She was also barefoot.

“Hello?” Lydia called when she got close enough.

Then the woman turned and Lydia gasped. Her skin was pale and perfectly smooth, her lips a natural pink and her limps were long and elegant. She looked over Lydia with green eyes that seemed so familiar. It was like looking at a slightly touched-up picture of an older version of herself. Not even Lydia's mother looked this much like her.

“Hello, child,” the woman finally said, her voice melodic yet raspy. “It is a true joy to meet you.”

“Wh-who are you?”

The other woman smiled. “I am the source of your lineage.” She took a few steps forward until she was close enough to touch. “I believe it was several days ago in your time that Emrys came before the Seelie Court with a story about a girl, who'd been bitten by a wolf. Only this girl did not succumb to the wolf's magic, because she had magic of her own unknowingly hidden within her veins. The powers of a banshee awoke within her, powers that grew stronger by the day, ones she nor anyone else could truly hope to understand, because we, the fae, are an elusive race.”

She reached out to touch the side of Lydia's face and her eyes became fond, warm, in contrast to the coolness of her skin.

“It is uncommon for a banshee to lie with a human and it is almost unheard of for a child to be born of the union. It was not difficult to find the beginning of Emrys' story, to find where a child with fae powers might have come from. The Seelie Court is no place for a human, you see, even if they are part fae, and so I stole into my lover's house one night and left his child for him to raise. I watched over them from afar until my lover departed this world and then I watched my child's children and their children and their children's children... But eventually they grew too many and some of them moved far away, beyond my reach. And the fae's powers in this world grow ever weaker.”

Lydia felt a tear slide down her face, though whether from shock or relief she wasn't sure. Or maybe it was the story of a mother who couldn't do anything more for her child than watch them grow up from afar. Because, despite the straight-forwardness with which the woman had told her story, Lydia could hear the sorrow behind her words.

The woman stepped back, her hand leaving Lydia's cheek in favour of taking her hand. “Come, sit down, there is likely much you wish to ask me. I will answer what I can. A banshee's powers can be unpredictable and your human heritage no doubt makes it doubly so.”

She led Lydia to a bench by the stream and let go of her hand in order to sit down. Lydia hesitated for a moment and then sat beside her. She felt shaky and slightly light-headed. Ever since she'd first started finding dead bodies, it had felt like she was living in a precarious place she didn't understand. Nothing had made sense and she hated it when things didn't make sense, or when she couldn't manipulate them until they made sense – or at least did what she wanted them to do. Screaming, finding dead bodies in the middle of the night were completely out of her control. The word 'banshee' was little more than a label for the madness.

Now here was someone who could finally explain things to her.

“I'm Luella,” said the woman – no, banshee. “What is your name?”

“Lydia.”

“Lydia: an old name. I like it.”

Lydia smiled. “Thank you.”

 


 

Sheriff Stilinski trudged his way through the hospital, feeling every one of his years and then a dozen more on top with every step. His backshift was thankfully over so he could finally make his way to his son's side again. He was shuffling his feet and could barely keep his eyes open. Maybe calling himself a zombie would've been a more accurate description.

He really hoped Melissa wasn't on duty this morning, because she'd inevitably make him go home and sleep. But where he wanted to be right now was with his son. What if Stiles finally woke up this morning? The doctors said they had no idea why he was still asleep; that meant he could wake up at any time.

The room was empty except for Stiles laying peacefully in the bed. His bedside table held two vases of flowers, three cards and a small pile of chocolate bars. The sheriff smiled at the small batch of offerings. He knew which of those Stiles would appreciate most once he woke up. Unless one of the bouquets was from Lydia Martin.

He collapsed into the chair next to Stiles' bed and took his hand.

“It looks strange for him to be so still,” a voice suddenly interrupted his thoughts. The sheriff blinked and looked over to the noise, seeing only a blurry silhouette standing in the doorway. He shook his head and rubbed the film from his eyes.

“Yeah,” he answered. “It is really strange. He's never this quiet for this long – not even when he's asleep.”

He caught a glimpse out of the world outside the window and noticed the sun was higher up in the sky than he remembered it. How long had he been here just staring into space?

The woman chuckled. He stood up as she walked fully into the room and then paused when he realized he had no idea who she was. Although Beacon Hills was too large of a town for him to know everybody, he did enough rounds of the area and talked to enough people during the course of investigations that he had a fair handle on most of the people who lived here, specially anyone connected to his son. This woman, however, was a complete unknown.

She approached Stiles bed and looked down at him. “What have you managed to get yourself into now, Stiles?” she asked softly and then shook her head. Her dark eyes held a mixture of amusement and fondness, which made the sheriff relax slightly.

Then she reached into the satchel by her side and took out small leather bundle. She unfolded the leather and brought out a leather-wrapped ring with strings woven into the middle with a few beads and then around a second, much smaller leather-wrapped ring. Leather strands strung with beads dangled from the bottom of the circle, ending with feathers. It was a dreamcatcher and not one of the gimmicky cheap tourist ones they sold at gas stations.

As the woman hung it onto Stiles' I.V. stand, the sheriff finally took in all the little hints he should've seen much sooner. Strands of beads and an eagle feather woven into her long, dark hair and a necklace made of beads and claws around her neck, coupled with somewhat distinctive facial features were clear indicators of who she was.

“You're Sanuye, aren't you?” he said.

She looked up at him and nodded. “Yes, I am. And you are Stiles' father.”

He frowned, wondering how she knew that. The corner of her lips twitched and she slid her eyes significantly to his left shoulder. He looked down at himself and realized he was still wearing his uniform. Feeling slightly silly, he held his hand out to her.

“Well, it's a pleasure to finally meet you.”

Her smile was more open now and she gripped his hand firmly. “You as well. Stiles has told me much about you.”

“Of course he has. I'm probably one of his 'safer' topics of conversation.”

She chuckled. “Not necessarily: I am, after all, the one teaching him about his less-than-usual talents.”

His answering chuckle morphed suddenly into a large yawn. “Er, sorry about that. Just came off a backshift...”

She frowned. “And you came here instead of sleeping?”

“Ah well... I mean, he's my son. What if he woke up?”

She rolled her eyes. “Then he would wake up and you would be contacted. I'm assuming you haven't eaten yet either?”

“Er...”

“Humph.” She gently placed a hand over Stiles' forehead and closed her eyes. After a few moments, she retracted her hand and stepped back. “His lifeforce is still weak. It's why he's still asleep.”

“So whatever happened to him drained his... lifeforce?”

She nodded solemnly. “His spark shines brighter than I have ever seen it. It's likely that without it, he would've never survived the attack.”

The sheriff's eyes widened. “Attack? You think something attacked him?!”

She met his eyes. “A person doesn't just loose their lifeforce unless it is taken from them. There aren't that many creatures who are capable of such things, spirits included.”

He groaned and ran a hand over his face. “Great, that's just great. And I'll bet it's also not something I can kill by shooting at it.”

The corners of her mouth twitched. “No, probably not. Now, come. Stiles won't awaken before dinnertime, which means we have time for lunch and then for you to go home and rest.”

There was a finality in her voice Sheriff Stilinski wasn't sure he knew how to protest against. So he decided not to bother trying. At least he wouldn't have Melissa after him if he ate and went to bed for a few hours. However, he was going to order the greasiest fries known to mankind just to spite them all.

See if that didn't wake Stiles up.

 


 

True to Sanuye's word, Stiles didn't wake up until just after eight that evening. It was shortly after Melissa entered the room and began making overtures intending to get Scott, Lydia and the sheriff home (she knew she had no chance of succeeding the first time, which is why she was starting early). The others had been in and out intermittently throughout the day, but they'd all left by now. Even Derek had made a brief appearance, looking none the worse for wear after his own adventure earlier in the week.

Chris Argent had been visibly impressed by the sight of Derek's shoulder during his own brief appearance. Melissa's heart warmed with each new person who came to visit Stiles. Before Scott had been turned into a werewolf, this never would have happened. There would've been Scott and Stiles' father and the perfunctory card from the lacrosse team.

She hadn't exactly been enthused to find out her baby boy was a creature of the night, but she liked this pack thing very much.

“I'm fine,” said the sheriff after she'd suggested it was maybe time for them to head home for the night. “I'll stay here until he wakes up. And before you say anything, yes, I have eaten and I even went home to sleep.”

Melissa smiled. “Yes, and I'm very proud of you for that.” Scott snickered. “But you realize your body needs more than one meal a day, a few energy bars and more cups of coffee than I want to know about. Also, this sleep thing is supposed to be in cycles and longer than just a few hours.”

He rolled his eyes. “I'm fine, Melissa. I'll sleep after Stiles has woken up.”

“And we don't have school tomorrow, mom, so I can sleep in,” Scott immediately jumped in.

She rolled her eyes affectionately at her son. “Fine, you can stay a little bit longer,” she said, letting them think she was caving.

“Everyone, quiet!” Lydia suddenly hissed.

They all turned to her and then followed her gaze to Stiles... whose eyes looked like they were fluttering. Melissa immediately strode over to his side.

“Stiles?” she said quietly, squeezing the hand his father wasn't already holding. “Stiles, honey, please wake up.”

“Stiles?” the sheriff said, desperate hope colouring his voice. “Come on, son, squeeze our hands if you can.”

A few beats passed and then Melissa felt pressure on the hand holding Stiles'. She looked down and grinned at the definite movement she saw.

“Dad?” a raspy voice said quietly.

“Stiles!” three voices exclaimed at once.

She looked up and saw Stiles looking back at them in bewilderment. Then he blinked and looked around him, taking in the hospital room. He frowned. “W-what happened?”

“You collapsed in the middle of the gardens,” Lydia answered him. He looked at her with a blank expression on his face. “You know, at the art gallery? Right in front of the giant chess pieces and the weird red sculpture?”

“Oh, the chalice,” said Stiles, his eyes finally loosing the blank, lost look.

“Chalice?” Scott asked.

Stiles waved him off absently, before blinking down at the I.V. attached to his hand. “Yeah, 'Chalice in a Time Vortex' is its name. Made of some sort of plastic or something: it was really cool.”

Melissa smiled. “Well, I should go get the doctor,” she said before making her way out of the room.

The sheriff nodded to Melissa before turning his attention back to his son. Stiles' frown deepened and he looked up from his examination of the needle attached to his hand. He looked to Lydia.

“What happened to the coyote?” he asked her.

Lydia blinked. “Coyote? What coyote? Aiden heard you call for help and then we ran out to the gardens and saw you collapse.” She frowned. “There was no one else there, Stiles. And I'm sure Ethan and Aiden would've said something if they'd smelt a coyote, of all things, in the area.”

Stiles looked worried for a moment. “But I'm sure I remember him. He was there with me when I collapsed...” His face lit up with comprehension. “No, he was definitely there! He chased her off, 'cause otherwise I probably would be dead!”

“Chased who off?” the sheriff asked.

“Abigail.”

Lydia's eyes widened. “You saw her?”

Stiles nodded his head – and then winced as the sudden movement apparently didn't agree with him just yet. “Yeah, and she's definitely not going to go down without a fight. Sounds like she was a bit left of sane even before she died. Or possibly just a really diehard drama queen.”

“Sanuye was by earlier,” the sheriff said, pointing to the dreamcatcher by his bed. Stiles looked at it in surprise and reached out to touch the feathers. It really was beautiful workmanship and he had to wonder whether she'd made it herself. “She said your lifeforce had been drained and that it was probably your spark that saved your life.”

Stiles' eyes widened and he let go of the dreamcatcher as he turned to his dad. “Uh, yeah, that does sort of describe what it felt like. I didn't notice it at first, but I just kept feeling more and more tired the longer I was talking to her. I mean, it wasn't until the dizziness started that I realized it wasn't just lack of sleep. She said it always happens, but she can make it go slower if she wants to.”

The sheriff sighed. “The other young men. No wonder we couldn't find anything wrong with them. How exactly do you medically measure lifeforce?”

Which was when the doctor finally showed up and ushered them all out of the room so he could examine Stiles.

Chapter Text


 

“Whatcha doing, Danny?”

Danny paused in his hammering and looked down from the ladder at his younger sister. Kayla had one hand shading her eyes from the bright sun as she looked up at him. She looked idly curious, like she didn't really care, but Danny nailing something above the front door was more interesting than whatever else was going on.

Danny knew better. The long pig-tails, bubblegum pink backpack and clothes that accentuated her twiggy arms and legs were all completely deliberate: if he gave her so much as an inch of rope, she would gleefully hang him from it. Thankfully she knew he was on to her and didn't bother with trying it on him too often.

He turned back to his project. “I'm putting up a protective charm,” he told his sister, because there was little point in lying to her. Kayla watched him in silence while he finished.

She waited until he was back on the ground before speaking. “So, is this supposed to protect us from, like, ghosts and demons and stuff?” she asked, her tone slightly curious, not at all betraying what she actually thought of the idea.

Danny shrugged, trying to seem equally neutral. “Ghosts and spirits probably don't exist, but 'what if' you know? There's been a lot of weird shit going on around here lately... Figured it was better to be prepared.”

“Hmm... this is Beacon Hills, after all.”

Danny's lips twitched in amusement. “Yeah. Town's cursed, you know.”

“Really?”

Ha! Danny smirked at the genuine interest in her tone. “Yup. A couple hundred years ago some bastards raped and killed the daughter of a powerful shaman and then refused to confess. The shaman got angry and cursed the town.”

“Huh. I didn't know that.” A pause. “So, this is supposed to protect us from the curse?”

According to Merlin, it was an ancient druid charm – at least in part. The centre of it was a circle of metal so smooth it reflected like a mirror with a symbol carved into it. It was affixed to a square made of twigs tied together with twine. Merlin had said they were a mixture of rowan,oak and holly branches. This charm was hanging from the centre of a heavy iron Celtic knot (Merlin called it a Shield Knot).

“Something like that. 'Sides, I think it's kinda cool-looking.”

“I suppose it's not completely ugly.”

Danny side-glanced at his sister and grinned. “Don't lie. You totally think it's cool.”

She side-glanced back at him and smiled slyly. “Only if it works. If we get poltergeists in the house, I'm gonna burn it.”

“Deal.”

 


 

The doorbell rang and Stiles groaned before reaching out to grab the remote and pause the movie. He dropped the remote, letting it bounce on the couch cushion, and took a deep breath. Then he stood on slightly shaky legs and slowly made his way to the door. The trip felt like a hundred miles – an improvement on the million miles it had felt like yesterday – but he'd insisted to his dad he was okay to be alone and refused to back down on that. He did not need a babysitter.

Finally, he made it to the front door. Lydia raised an eyebrow at him when when he opened it. He smiled at her, mustering up what energy he could.

“Hey, Lydia!” he greeted. “What's up?”

“I brought you the schoolwork you missed,” she said.

Stiles made a face. “Oh. Well I guess you can come in anyway.” At least it would give him something to do. He stepped back and Lydia waltzed past him to deposit a stack of papers onto the coffee table in the living room, where he'd been camping out for the past two days since coming home from the hospital.

“So, uh, how are things at school?” he called from the hallway for lack of anything better to say as he slowly made his way back to the living room. He leaned against the doorframe for a moment to gather his strength before heading back to his couch. Recovering from having your energy/lifeforce/whatever drained from you was not fun.

“Things are good,” said Lydia idly as she sat down on one of the armchairs. “Also, Merlin and Mr. Harris finished the charms. Aiden put one on the front of my house right after school and Danny's doing the same at his house.”

Stiles nodded as he sat down. “Dad put one over our door this morning and then went and put one up for Scott's mom too. Pretty sure he said Derek even got one for the Hale House. I mean if any place is going to have ghosts it'll be there, right?”

Lydia nodded thoughtfully. “I've never felt anything there... other than the general spookiness of knowing you're standing in a place where a lot of people died horribly.”

“Maybe werewolves don't do ghosts?”

“Maybe. Or Deaton did something to prevent them from becoming ghosts.”

“Or that. Speaking of which, Scott's being a dick friend today and not answering my texts. Do you know if he got anything out of Deaton yesterday?”

Lydia shrugged. “Deaton's looking into it. Apparently Druids don't really do exorcisms. They go for either warding off restless spirits or appeasing them.”

Stiles made a frustrated sound and ran a hand through his hair. “Which is sort of useless, 'cause I somehow don't think Abigail's gonna let herself be appeased and we can't exactly ward her away from the whole town.”

They sat in silence for a while, each lost in thought. Stiles had spent the better part of the day scouring the internet for ways to exorcise ghosts. It was difficult to figure out what information was real and who knew what they were talking about. Which wasn't exactly unusual when it came to the supernatural: Scott still didn't know exactly how many hours Stiles had spent researching werewolves in order to find the small slivers of reliable information he had.

Stiles suddenly realized Lydia had gone quiet and looked up. She was looking down at her hands and fidgiting with the rings on her fingers. Stiles frowned.

“Uh, Lydia?” he asked carefully. Lydia froze. “Are you alright?”

Lydia swallowed and took a deep breath, visibly making herself relax. Then she looked up and met Stiles' eyes. “I'm fine,” she said in a clipped voice.

Stiles just kept his gaze steady, making it clear he didn't believe her. Eventually, she huffed and her body relaxed as she looked away.

“While you were asleep in the hospital, I-I met my great, great grand-something-or-other,” she said. Stiles' eyes widened. “She's a banshee, obviously, which is why she isn't dead because the fae are immortal apparently. That's where Merlin was before, visiting the Seelie Court looking for someone who could help me with my powers.”

“Wow,” said Stiles after the silence had spread between them. “That..that must be really weird. What's she like?”

Lydia looked back to Stiles and cocked her head thoughtfully. “Different. She's strange – she seems almost human most of the time and then something she says or does suddenly reminds you she's not. I mean, she's obviously hundreds of years old, but most of the time she seemed like she was just a bit older than me. Looks like me too. Well, a less... human version of me. Which should be genetically impossible given how far removed we are.”

“Maybe it's because of the banshee powers?”

“Hm. That's what she said.”

“So, was it helpful? Talking to her?”

“Yes. Not exactly reassuring, but definitely helpful.”

Stiles blinked. “What do you mean? Is it going to get worse as your powers get stronger?”

Lydia nodded. “Probably. She said a true banshee can feel death on every person once its close and accurately predict it almost to the hour. It's possible that eventually I'll be able to tell if someone's going to die soon just by walking past them on the street.”

“Man, that's going to suck,” said Stiles with a wince.

“Yeah. Violent deaths are sudden and echo louder, which is apparently why I'm picking up on those right now.” She made an annoyed face. “Half-banshees are sort of rare, so there's really no telling how my powers are going to manifest exactly. Although she did give me a few tips on how to stop the nighttime wanderings.”

“Oh, that's useful.”

“Yes. She's also not crazy about werewolves. Told me to dump Aiden.”

“Hey, what do you know, I haven't even met her yet and I already like her!”

Lydia rolled her eyes, but her lips curled briefly into a half-smile.

“So, is she still hanging around?” Stiles asked after a moment.

Lydia's eyes darkened. “No. She said staying here was painful.”

Stiles frowned. “What do you-?”

“The curse.” Lydia looked at him, for once not bothering to mask her fear. “She could feel the curse, Stiles. She said it was tainting the land.”

Stiles swallowed, his insides growing cold as fear knotted inside his stomach. “Yeah, that's not good.”


 

Stiles knocked and then carefully opened the door. It felt like forever ago that he'd last been here even though it'd only been just over two weeks. “Hey Sanuye!” he called into the house as he entered.

Sanuye came hurrying out of the back storage room, a large leather pack covered in decorative beads, feathers and bear claws over her shoulder. “Oh good,” she said as she strode down the hall and turned into the kitchen. “Now I won't have to leave you a note. Come, put your bag down, we don't have much time.”

Stiles blinked and then shook the surprise off. He hurried after her into the kitchen and dumped his backpack onto the floor beside the table.

“What's going on?” he asked.

Sanuye opened the top drawer of what Stiles now knew was her medicine cabinet – the one that contained her boring modern medical stuff. “Sipatu just called: Huyana's gone into labour. We must hurry.”

Stiles blinked. “So, you're taking her to the hospital?”

Sanuye paused only long enough to level a flat stare at him. “I am a CNM.” At his blank stare, she elaborated. “A certified nurse midwife.”

“Oh. Er, so what do you want me to do while you're-”

“You're coming with me,” she said as her fingers deftly tied the leather strings on her bag. She easily slung the bag over her shoulder even though it looked it weighed at least half a ton and then handed Stiles a smaller cloth bag. Her eyes glittered with amusement beneath her serious demeanour. “Consider this a learning experience.”

Stiles took the cloth bag and swallowed. He wasn't entirely sure he was ready for this learning experience.

There was already another bag in the back of Sanuye's blue pickup when they threw the other two there. Stiles noted it looked more generic, machine-made than the leather pack. And a bit like the heavy-duty first aid kit they had behind the reception desk at the sheriff's station. As Sanuye expertly manoeuvred her truck through the narrow side-streets of the village, Stiles noticed people moving to the side to make way for her and then watching intently as the truck passed by. He wondered if this was normal, or if word had gotten around about the pregnant woman about to give birth.

It was less than five minutes later that Sanuye was parking the car next to a small wooden house that was painted light blue. No sooner had she cut the engine, she was throwing the door open and jumping out of the truck. Stiles followed her example. She nimbly climbed onto the back of the truck and then thrust the large (and heavy) first-aid kit at Stiles before once again hefting the large leather pack, grabbing the cloth bag and jumping back down.

The door to the house opened before they made it to the front step. Stiles blinked as he recognized the man holding it open for them. He was the one who'd stopped Liwanu and his friends from harassing him all those weeks ago. He barely spared Stiles a glance, too intent on Sanuye who barrelled past him into the house without so much as a 'hello'.

Stiles followed quickly until he entered the house, suddenly feeling unsure and awkward. Saunye had immediately gone to join a group of four women in what looked like the living room. Two of them were older, somewhere in their fifties Stiles would've guessed, and one was younger, probably in her early twenties. The fourth was wearing nothing but a simple shift, her feet bare as she paced around the middle of the wooden floor. She rubbed her heavily-pregnant belly as Sanuye spoke to her in low, calming tones.

Then Sanuye turned to Stiles and pointed to a spot by a low, maple wood coffee table. “Put the first aid kit there,” she said. “It should be close enough if I need it and enough out of the way if I don't.”

Stiles nodded and put the first aid kit down. A loud gasp brought his attention back to the group. The pregnant woman was holding her stomach, eyes clenched shut and breathing heavily as Sanuye spoke to her. The man who'd opened the door for them was now at the woman's side holding her other hand – the child's father, Stiles assumed. After a few moments, the woman seemed to relax slightly and opened her eyes. She said something Stiles didn't understand. Sanuye nodded and Stiles saw her squeeze the woman's hand before stepping away to the pack she'd set onto the floor.

Untying it, she took out a large blanket. She glanced to Stiles and motioned him over. Grateful for something to do, Stiles helped her spread it over the floor. Then she took out several flat sterile-wrapped packages and set them on the corner of the blanket.

Stiles frowned. “You're doing this here?” he asked, looking at the blanket and the hard wooden floor dubiously. “I mean, isn't this going to be hard on her back?”

Sanuye didn't look up as she continued pulling more sterilized medical equipment out of her pack and placing them neatly onto the corner of the blanket. “The best thing for a woman's back when she's giving birth is to not be on it,” she said. She grabbed the cloth bag sitting next to her pack and tossed it to Stiles. “Here, there are two tea mixes in there. You should recognize the calming draught; the other one is a strengthening tea for Huyana for after the child is out. You'll need to grind some of the herbs and seeds. The kitchen is behind you.”

Stiles blinked. “You want me to start now?” Didn't labour usually take hours?

Another gasp, this time followed by a short cry of pain. Sanuye said something to the women and took one of the flat sterilized packages and tore it open, taking out a thin cotton square-shaped sheet. She looked to Stiles with a raised eyebrow. “Unless you'd rather stay and watch?”

“Er... tea, right. I'll just go do that then.” He fled the living room, ignoring the giggles that followed him out.

The kitchen was small, with varnished wood cabinets and a thick round table with a picture of a bear carved into its surface. Stiles felt slightly awkward in the strange kitchen, but pushed the woven fruit basket sitting in the middle of the table to the side and began taking out the tea supplies from the cloth bag. The owners had been there when Sanuye had told Stiles to make tea, so they'd had their chance to object.

He tried to ignore the sounds from the living room, but when he looked up he could glimpse the living room and its occupants over the edge of the doorframe. The soon-to-be mother was crouching with her shift hiked up to her breasts over two of the small cotton pads Sanuye had placed on top of the blanket. Her husband was holding one of her hands while an older woman was steadying her on her other side. Sanuye was positioned behind her, speaking calmly overtop the woman's heavy breathing.

Stiles quickly averted his eyes before he could be caught staring at the mostly-naked woman. Did they realize he could still see from here? He carefully shuffled to the side, where his view into the living room wasn't as clear. His hands shook as he spread the herbs out before him and he had to take a deep breath before he could begin crushing the seeds or else the stone would've gone flying out of his grip. He took his time, trying to stretch each task as long as he could.

Then there was a cry that sounded like a bellowing cow and Stiles looked up in alarm. But in the living room everyone seemed calm and very much not-panicking, so he took another shaky breath and went back to his herbs. He was glad for the task, as much as he wished he had his computer – or his phone at the very least – so that he could look up childbirth and find out if this was the way it was supposed to go. Surely, Google would be able to tell him that. Childbirth was a totally natural thing: wikipedia would no doubt have a hundred entries about it.

He wasn't sure how long had passed when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked up, blinking in surprise at Liwanu who was hovering uncertainly just inside the kitchen and looked every bit as uncomfortable as Stiles felt. He nodded at Stiles and then both of them winced as another bellow sounded from the living room. Liwanu walked over to the kitchen table to peek at what Stiles was doing.

Stiles shrugged. “Strengthening tea for the mother for afterwards and calming tea for, uh, everyone else, I guess.”

Liwanu nodded. “You will need water then,” he said and immediately went and opened one of the bottom cupboards, pulling out two small saucepans. He filled them with water and turned on the stove. A few minutes later, Stiles was done with the herbs and went to add each mixture to its respective pot.

Stiles didn't mean to look into the living room, but the commotion was magnetic (he was fairly certain it wasn't even the half-naked woman, although she was very pretty). He saw the father say something to his wife, who viciously snapped at him in reply.

Beside him, Liwanu chuckled. Stiles turned to him with a raised eyebrow. “Let me guess? Whatever that was, it was physically impossible.”

Liwanu looked thoughtful for a moment. “Maybe not for everyone.” He smiled impishly. “But definitely for my brother.”

Stiles blinked. “Your brother? Wait, that's your brother? That means you're about to be an uncle!”

Liwanu's eyes shone with excitement. “Yes. I'm hoping for a boy so I can take him hunting and teach him to use a bow.”

“Dude, Allison would crucify you for implying a girl can't use a bow and arrow.”

“Who's-”

The scream that followed was louder than the others had been. Both boys cringed at the sound and turned to watch the saucepans as the water was being heated. Stiles felt as though his entire body was vibrating with nervous energy just beneath his skin; he wanted to run, to not be here, to be anywhere but here. His entire being shook with the need to start babbling a mile a minute, but the words just wouldn't come out. Eventually, the water began to boil and Stiles absently turned it down to a gentle simmer.

The sounds from the living room continued to ring through into the kitchen, not seeming to lose any intensity over the distance. Stiles continued watching the water simmer, ignoring the part of his mind that was trying to show him images of Erika and Boyd screaming as electicity ravaged their bodies while they hang helpless and bleeding in the Argent's basement. It wasn't the same, he knew it wasn't the same.

“Stiles, get a bowl with warm water!” Sanuye suddenly called out, breaking Stiles from his thoughts. He hastily turned off the heat and placed lids on each of the saucepans.

Then he turned towards the counter, wavering when he realized he had no idea where to find a bowl. Liwanu thankfully did and moments later was handing him one. Stiles took it gratefully and turned on the tap, fiddling with the temperature until it was just right – at least he hoped it was just right.

He placed the bowl onto the counter to wipe his hands on his pants. Then he froze.

The feeling that suddenly flowed through him was electrical, like a wave of soft energy: not exactly unpleasant, just intense and steady. His being seemed to vibrate with it, ready to shake apart: it curled his toes and made his hair feel like it was standing on end. He gasped and grabbed at the countertop for balance.

“Stiles?” he heard Liwanu ask.

Stiles shook his head. “I'm fine,” he whispered back. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Still feeling dazed, he grabbed the bowl and hurried into the living room.

From where, he suddenly realized, he could hear loud crying. His steps slowed just before reaching Sanuye. She was holding a large, soft-looking towel in her arms, in the centre of which lay an infant. It was wet and slimy, covered in blood and other liquids Stiles didn't want to identify and announcing its presence to the world at a volume that shouldn't have been possible from something so small and delicate-looking.

He knelt and placed the bowl down on the ground beside her. Sanuye handed the blanket over to Stiles. “Here, hold her for a moment,” she said briskly. “Make sure you support the head.”

Stiles' eyes widened and he scrambled to get a good enough hold. The baby felt ridiculously delicate in his arms. For a moment, he wondered what it would feel like to hold a child of his own in his arms.

Terrifying, he decided almost instantly.

He felt the darkness around his heart waver slightly, like a gentle wave lapping over a shoreline. He blinked as a shape began to form in front of his eyes. One moment he was seeing nothing but a screaming newborn and the next he saw the faint outline, a ghostly image, spread across the squirming form. He shook his head, but the shape remained.

A hand gently touched his shoulder. “Stiles?”

Stiles looked up into Sanuye's worried eyes. He looked back down at the baby. It – no, she – had quieted and was looking up at him in curiosity. “Uh, sorry, zoned out there for a moment,” he said before moving to give the child back to Sanuye.

“Did you see something?” she asked as she took the newborn.

“Uh...” He looked around the room nervously, but the others were looking at him with curiosity rather than hostility. He swallowed and looked back to Sanuye. “A feather. I saw a red and brown feather with some white bits.”

“We'll have to work on your animal recognition. It sounds like a hawk.” Sanuye smiled and nodded. Then she looked at the two parents. “It seems your daughter will be strong with a clear mind and sharp eyes. The spirits have blessed us with a visionary, perhaps a leader.”

Stiles looked on in astonishment as the father grinned widely before turning to kiss the mother of his child. “Then we will have to remain sharp to stay ahead of her,” he said.

Huyana accepted his kiss and smiled happily up at her husband. “We should call her Liluye.”

Stiles stayed where he was, watching Sanuye as she clamped the umbilical cord before wiping the blood and slime off the baby. Once the baby looked more human and less pod creature and the umbilical cord had been cut, she bundled it into a blanket and handed it to its mother.

Peace descended on Stiles and, with a smile, he finally stood and went to pour the tea.


 

Monday morning dawned bright and beautiful, the first rays of sunshine colouring the sky a dazzling canvas of pink and blue.

At 7:45 am, Lydia was putting the finishing touches on her make-up. She examined herself in the mirror and flashed her reflection a small, satisfied smile. Then she froze as, around her, the world seemed to pause for a moment. It resumed and with it came a sudden sensation that crashed against her up like a tidal wave of pressure, feeling and sound.

The mascara fell from her fingers as she threw her head back and screamed.

At 7:46 am, Stiles was being rousted out of bed by his father. One look at his alarm clock had him scrambling, throwing his comforter off before haphazardly looting through his closet for clothes. He was half-way out the door when he paused and turned back, thinking he'd heard a noise. He walked to the window and looked out onto the street, straining his ears.

He heard rustling leaves and cars starting. A dog barked further up the street. Then it hit him like an angry bulldozer: a cacophony of sound that resembled a pride of agitated cats overlapping a distant drumbeat. It grew louder and louder in his head.

Stiles slammed his hands over his ears and cried out in pain.

Neither one of them noticed when the ground beneath them began to shake.

Chapter Text


 

Sheriff Stilinski was almost at the bottom of the stairs when he heard Stiles cry out in pain. He didn't pause, just turned around and took the steps two at a time as he dashed back up the staircase.

“Stiles?” he called, his heart constricting with worry. The image of his son's pale, unmoving form surrounded by white hospital sheets and I.V. drips was too fresh in his mind.

Stiles was still in the t-shirt and boxers he'd slept in, curled up on the floor as he clutched his head in obvious pain. The sheriff's breath caught for a moment. Then he nearly lost his balance as the house began to shake violently, just managing to catch himself on the doorframe to avoid falling. Stiles' bedside lamp slid off the table with a crash and rolled under the bed.

“Shit,” he said under his breath as he managed to get his feet under him enough to cross the distance to Stiles. The sheriff fell to his knees in a graceless tumble, half-covering his son as he grabbed his shoulder and gently shook it. “Stiles? Stiles, come on, can you hear me?”

He felt Stiles freeze underneath him. Then his grip on his head eased. “Dad?” Stiles asked, sounding slightly dazed. “Wh-what's going on?”

“Earthquake, come on, we've gotta get outside.”

Stiles blinked and then his dresser tumbled over and crashed to ground, making them both jump. Suddenly, Stiles' eyes widened and he pressed his palm to the floor as though suddenly realizing the ground was moving. “Holy crap!” he exclaimed.

Helping each other stand, the sheriff and Stiles made their way out of the room and down the hall. Both winced as downstairs several somethings crashed to the ground and shattered. They clutched the railings on the stairs, Stiles nearly loosing his footing once, but managing to wrap his arms around the railing just in time to avoid sliding down.

Finally, they made it to the front door and got out. All around the neighbourhood people stood in the middle of the street, looking anxious as they helplessly watched their homes rattle and shake like childrens' toys. The sheriff took a deep breath and then looked down at Stiles, who was looking more like himself though a bit bewildered. He put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.

“It'll be alright, kiddo,” he said with a smile.

Stiles looked up at him and responded with a shaky smile, though it didn't reach his eyes. “Yeah.”

They both looked up at the sound of hysterical screaming from up the road. The Walker family and their three small children were all outside staring at their home. He couldn't see their faces, but that hardly mattered as, with a deafening crash, the entire front of their house collapsed. Across the street, a series of tiles slid off the roof of a cream-coloured house, shattering the windshield of the car in the driveway.

He hadn't really been aware of how much noise had been surrounding them until it all went suddenly still. The sheriff stood frozen for a few moments, waiting for it to come back, to start again. When a minute passed and nothing had happened, he looked back down at Stiles, who looked like he was on the verge of shock. He pulled him into a hug and the contact seemed to wake Stiles out of his daze enough to hug him back.

Something strange had happened up there in Stiles bedroom and the sheriff wished that for once he could forget his responsibilities and just wrap his son in a blanket, hand him a mug of hot chocolate and look at him pointedly until he spilled all the details. Unfortunately, he was the sheriff and there were several people he hadn't see out on the street.

“Stiles, you stay here,” he said as he sighed and disentangled himself from the embrace. “I'm going to go check on Mrs. Finnley. I don't see her and I'm pretty sure she's on maternity leave now and her husband usually leaves for work at seven.”

Stiles took a deep breath and looked around. “Yeah, okay. Uh, want me to go check on the Trembleys? They're not out either and Mr. Trembley shakes enough when the ground isn't moving.”

“Sure, sounds good.”

Having something else to concentrate on seemed to be the key as colour he hadn't even noticed had been missing, returned to Stiles' face. The sheriff ran a hand through his hair before hurrying off. It was going to be a long day.

 


 

There was obviously no school that day – and wouldn't be until the building was checked for structural damages beyond the large, visible crack on the front stairs. In fact, other than emergency services, the entire city was shut down along with power, cable and phone networks. Parts of the city had had to have their water cut off. Which meant Stiles had to check on his friends the old fashion way.

Parking in front of Lydia's house, he first checked his cellphone in case it happened to have gotten a signal in the past fifteen minutes. It hadn't, so he slipped it back into his jacket pocket and hurried up to the front door. Her neighbourhood looked to be in relatively good shape (that he could see), although the house diagonally across the street from hers was definitely going to need to have the roof re-shingled and he'd driven by a detached garage that was more detached than it was meant to be. Just like everywhere else in the city, there seemed to be a stunned quiet about the area, like the city and its citizens were lingering in a collective shock. There were certainly more people gathering out on the streets than on a typical Monday afternoon. Some were busy cleaning up the damage in their yards: overturned planters, shifted walkway tiles and fallen shingles or branches.

Some of the less fortunate ones were being herded into school gyms and recreational centres.

Lydia's mom opened the door and blinked at Stiles in surprise. “Oh, I thought you'd be Aiden,” she said.

Stiles blinked. “You mean he's not here?” Stiles frowned, wondering if he needed to worry about the twins – he was inclined not to, except that Scott had sort of accepted them into his pack so he probably should... He shook his head. “Uh, sorry, Mrs. Martin. Is Lydia in?”

“Yes she is, although-”

“Mom, is that Stiles?” he heard Lydia call from inside.

Mrs. Martin's eyes flashed in annoyance. She raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you Stiles?”

“Uh, yeah. I'm Stiles Stilinski.”

“Stilinski? Oh, the sheriff's son.” She looked him up and down speculatively before taking a step backwards. “Yes, it's Stiles!” she called to Lydia.

Stiles heard footsteps hurrying down the stairs and then Lydia came into view. She looked perfect, not a hair out of place, but there was something wild in her eyes when she caught sight of him.

“Uh, hey Lydia, I was just-”

“Mom, we'll be in my room,” Lydia announced as she breezed into the front hall and grabbed Stiles by the hand. He didn't bother to do anything but blink and follow her in stunned silence. She closed the door to her room with a controlled thud. Then she went and perched herself on the bed.

Stiles looked around uncertainly for a moment before grabbing the desk chair and sitting down carefully. “Er, so how are you doing?” he asked.

Lydia shrugged. “I'm alright. We had stuff fall of shelves and my mom is currently mourning her favourite crystal vase, but overall nothing major. Are you checking up on everyone?”

“Uh, yeah. Scott and Isaac are helping out at the hospital so I promised Scott I'd go around and make sure everyone's doing okay.”

“And?” Lydia asked after a moment when he didn't elaborate.

“Oh uh, well the McCall house is fine. Apparently Isaac had Scott's entire box of Spiderman comics fall on top of his head, but he's a werewolf so that was a problem for all of maybe five seconds. Danny's good too. Allison and her dad are coming to stay with me and dad for a few days, 'cause their apartment building's doing a neat impression of the Tower of Pisa. Aaand that's as far as I've gotten.”

Lydia nodded absently. “Good. I'm glad everyone's okay.” She paused and pursed her lips. “Do you know how bad it is?”

“Sure. The environment guys started showing up about two hours after the quake. Dad gave me the low-down when I brought him lunch. Apparently they're counting it at 6.2 on the Richter scale and are pretty much having kittens over it, 'cause Beacon Hills was the epicentre.”

Lydia frowned. “But Beacon Hills isn't on a fault line.”

“Hence the kittens.”

“Hmm.” She paused, looking uncertain for a moment. “Stiles, did you... feel anything just before it happened?”

Stiles' breath caught in his throat. He'd been trying so hard not think about it. “Yeah,” he eventually answered in a quiet voice. He swallowed. “Just before the quake I heard... something. It was like screaming and drumming together and for a moment it was really, really loud and I couldn't hear anything else. Dad said he heard me cry out and found me on the floor holding my head like I was in pain. I-I barely remember that part.” He took a deep breath. “It was like one minute all I could hear was this deafening noise and the next minute my dad's shaking me and then something's crashing to the ground and suddenly I realized everything else was shaking too.”

Lydia nodded. “I screamed,” she said.

Stiles winced. “Well, that sort of figures. According to the environment guys we've been fairly lucky, but there's still been about 32 deaths so far.”

Lydia was silent for a several moments. “You think I was predicting the deaths?”

Stiles shrugged. “Unless you think someone else died violently just before the earthquake hit. Which could mean that maybe there was some crazy demon worshipper preforming a human sacrifice to make the earthquake happen or something.”

“Stiles.”

“What? I'm just saying, with our luck and everything.”

Lydia rolled her eyes, but didn't actually deny the possibility. “Have you heard from Ethan or Aiden?” she asked instead.

“Uh, no. I mean, they're werewolves, so they're probably fine...”

“I'll go with you to check.”

“...but I'm sure I could stop by their place and make sure. And while I'm doing the rounds I might as well look in on Derek and make sure he's not stuck beneath a beam or something. Dad also mentioned something about digging out the barbeque for tomorrow seeing as how the power might not be back up for a while. You, uh, could probably invite your mom if you want.”

Lydia blinked at him. “Would that be okay with the pack?”

Stiles shrugged. “It's not like they can't keep the conversation non-werewolf-centric.”

“I'll ask her.”

 


 

Derek stood in front of his family home, staring at it in disbelief. Or rather, he was staring at the pile of rubble that had once been his family home.

What little the fire had left behind after it'd roared through and gutted his home, the earthquake had shaken apart and reduced to nothing but charred, broken remains. If before it had been a corpse, now it was a pile of bones. The last remanent of the Hale legacy, obliterated. Derek wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to scream and rage or break down and sob. He might've been shaking. In fact, he probably was.

It wasn't like he'd been planning to live here; he'd only come back to Beacon Hills to sell the property, after all. The house had stood dead and desolate for years, falling slowly apart with every season, every windstorm. This just meant it had happened faster...

It ocurred to Derek that he'd sort of assumed whoever purchased the land would rebuild the house. There were, of course, a hundred reasons as to why someone would want the Hale property and most of them didn't involve living on it themselves, let alone raising their family on it.

How many Hale children had run through that house? How memories were now laying within that tumbled heap, encased in a tomb of half-burned, half-rotted wood.

Among the broken wooden beams and wall plaster, Derek spied a corner of white. It was covered in dirt and dust, but still managed to somehow reflect just enough sunlight to be noticeable amongst the debris. It was the kitchen stove. The same stove Derek's mother used to bake her famous chocolate chip walnut cookies and the same stove his grandmother used to swear was the only one that baked her apple tart to the right crispness (the one she'd never noticed had been replaced when Derek was ten). And just like that, he realized he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

Derek threw his head back and howled his anguish into the wind.

When he looked back to what remained for the house, it was unchanged, but whatever spell had fallen over the place seemed to have been broken by the howl, the tension relaxed. Derek managed to figure out how to get his legs to work; they were shaky, but still managed to carry him to the rubble. He carefully touched a splintered section of wood he recognized as having been part of the front porch.

Derek sighed, looking over the rest of it. Sentimentality aside, this was going to be a lot of work to clean up. To think, just three days ago he and Adrian had started working on rails for the front steps. He ran a hand through his hair. He wished he knew when the universe was going to stop dumping on him. It was like he was cursed-

Derek froze mid-thought. Beacon Hills had been cursed a long time ago and last time it had been his family who stopped it. His eyes widened as he looked at the demolished house. Was this... revenge?

Something ocurred to him and before he'd give his thoughts the time to properly form, he'd already transformed and was racing through the forest, urgency and an instinct he couldn't quite explain spurring him on. Half-way to his goal he became vaguely aware of a second presence joining him. He scented the air: Peter. He wondered if his uncle had seen the house yet, but to ask he would've had to slow down.

He saw it from a distance, but didn't want to truly believe his eyes until he finally came to a standstill five feet away from the familiar sight of the Nemeton. It was just like he'd remembered it from his childhood: standing high above the other trees, its thick branches rustling in the wind.

Hadn't Scott and the others said it'd been a tree stump?

“Well, someone's certainly gone out of their way to impress,” said Peter as he came to stand next to him. As smooth as his uncle's voice was, it didn't quite manage to hide the worry.

“Guess we can rule out 'natural causes' for the earthquake this morning,” Derek commented.

Peter snorted. “Well, yes, when a town that isn't on a fault line suddenly becomes the epicentre of a 6.2 magnitude earthquake then generally it can be assumed that it's either magic or the work of an evil genuis. Of course, 'genuis' in that case would be a rather dubious title if he'd somehow managed to come to the conclusion that Beacon Hills was the perfect place to hatch his evil plan. Unless said evil plan had something to do with trees.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Why are you here, Peter?”

“You say that as though all of Beacon Hills didn't hear you howl just now. What was that about anyway?”

“You haven't seen the house yet?”

“The house?” Peter's eyes narrowed. “You mean the family house?”

“Well, what's left of it. It's... a lot less than before.”

Peter's eyes widened, pain and horror warring for a moment within their depths. Thn he turned abruptly and ran back the way they'd come. Derek watched the place where the forest had swallowed him for a moment and then sighed. After one, last glance at the expansive Nemeton, Derek took off after his uncle.


 

Stiles was exhausted. And starting to run low on gas.

The quake had left Aiden and Ethan's basement apartment with a rather impressive floor-to-ceiling crack in their living room and several shattered windows. The twins, being them, had been planning on shrugging and making do. Lydia had taken one look at the apartment and had decided she was having none of that. Stiles had them all to Lydia's house to get settled.

Derek had, meanwhile, silently showed up at the hospital and started helping. Stiles had seen him when he'd brought food to Scott, Scott's mom and Isaac. No one cared where Peter. Derek didn't seemed concerned about this, which meant he either knew, or else also didn't care.

Then Stiles made the mistake of taking some coffee down to his dad, who was coordinating with the rescue crews that had finally arrived from Sacramento. He'd immediately gotten drafted into menial grunt-work and spent the rest of the afternoon/evening running around delivering messages, coffee and food, manning phones, carrying supplies, and, on a few occasions, corralling stray pets.

His dad had finally sent him home at around nine and it had been his honest intention to grab something for dinner and collapse into bed. Until he'd suddenly realized there was someone he'd forgotten: Merlin.

It wasn't that he thought Merlin and Mr. Harris wouldn't be okay – more like they'd laugh at him for thinking that either of them could be hurt by something as mundane as an earthquake. Well, Mr. Harris would laugh at him. Merlin would probably just look stoically amused. It was more that as soon as he'd thought of Merlin, he'd realize the sorcerer could probably confirm what they all thought: that the earthquake was caused by the curse. It was the only thing that made sense and Stiles was convinced that what he'd heard this morning was the Hills singing.

But now that he'd thought of it, he knew he wouldn't be able to rest until he'd seen Merlin and found out the truth. Or as close to the truth as Merlin could give him. Would give him – he had a suspicion that Merlin didn't always tell the whole truth. He just hid it better than Deaton, who seemed to string them along for kicks.

Stiles yawned widely, almost regretting driving out to visit Merlin. Getting some rest before tackling more clean-up efforts tomorrow was probably more important right now. Except that it would make this trip a ridiculous waste of gas. Also, making the three-point turn it would take to go back required more effort than going straight on. Except for that trek through the woods afterwards. In the dark. Yup, Stiles would be the first to agree that this was a spectacularly bad idea. He was reasonably certain he had a flashlight at least.

Stiles yawned again, blinking his eyes rapidly and then opening them as wide as he could. His dad would kill him if he fell asleep at the wheel and ended up in a ditch. So he gripped the wheel tighter and tried to concentrate on the path ahead. And woah... he knew it was night, but when did it get so dark?!

Stiles looked up at the sky. The dark clouds that had suddenly congregated above Beacon Hills looked suitably ominous and uninviting: Hollywood's finest couldn't have done better. Because a storm was exactly what they needed right now. A cold breeze blew in through the open windows and Stiles shivered only partially from the chill.

He pressed down on the gas and clenched his fingers around the steering wheel. He managed to suppress the next yawn. Outside, it became even darker.

Stiles blinked and then there was suddenly a figure standing in the middle of the road. He hit the breaks with a startled cry. Breaks screeched and tires squealed against the asphalt as he swerved to the side. He got one, frightened look at dark, steady eyes and some sort of fur-lined hat before the jeep drove off the road and down into the shallow ditch.

For several moments, Stiles just sat there, his hands still gripping the steering wheel as he stared straight ahead, his breaths quick and jerky. His racing heart catapulted him towards the other end of exhausted, where he felt so wide awake there was practically electricity sizzling around him. He turned to look out the back window. And there was no one there. Stiles closed his eyes and shook his head before opening them again. Nope, still nothing.

Was he seriously so tired he was hallucinating?

Stiles got out of the jeep to get a better look around. There was no evidence that anyone had ever stood in the middle of the road. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Maybe heading home was the smarter thing to do after all.

He took one step towards the car and froze as the ground beneath him began to shake. “Shit,” he said under his breath. They'd mentioned aftershocks. The earth rumbled louder, but beneath that rumbling, Stiles suddenly heard something else.

It too got louder and louder, until all Stiles could hear was the heavy beat of a drum and, underlying that, a steady screeching cacophony of sound that might've been voices or a flock of high-pitched crows or possibly even a pack of dying dogs. He screamed and, somewhere outside the noise, he heard a crash.

And around his heart, the Darkness pulsed and wavered, echoing the rumbling outside him and squeezing its way slowly into his soul.

When the ground stopped shaking and the noise inside his head went silent, Stiles finally managed to take a deep breath and open his eyes. And realized he was laying on the ground. With a groan, he slowly stood on shaky legs, wincing as his knee twitched – there was a dirty patch on his jeans, which meant he'd probably fallen on it – and looked around.

The sky was even darker now, the clouds having crept closer and covered even the brightest star. The wind had picked up, waving tree branches around like rags and twirling leaves around like confetti. The world... looked different. No, Stiles realized, it felt different. He couldn't quite pin-point why (and possibly it was the exhaustion talking, although he didn't feel tired at the moment), but everything around him felt almost dream-like. As though he were watching and feeling it through a pane of glass or plastic wrap.

And there was a tree laying across the front of his jeep. Crap.

Chapter Text

Stiles' first thought when he got a good look at how the tree was coming in through the shattered windshield, branches reaching across the dashboard to the steering wheel and front seats, was to be very happy he hadn't been in the car when it fell. He'd just gotten out of hospital and wasn't all that eager to go back. Stupid slow human healing. Other than the windshield, the rest of the jeep looked scratched up at the front and maybe a bit dented, but mostly fine.

That said, he definitely wasn't driving back.

He looked up as the sky above him rumbled. The clouds were on top of him now, blotting out what little starlight there had been. Stiles shivered as he realized just how dark it had become, the usual illumination from afar thanks to Beacon Hills gone with the lack of electricity. If he could see the town, he knew the only pricks of light would be from the emergency crews' giant spotlights and the dulled buildings of the hospitals, whose emergency generators were thankfully working. So, he couldn't really see the clouds, but their presence was a dark, menacing shadow spread out above him nevertheless.

The wind blew past him, sharp and cold. Stiles shivered. Then he took a deep breath and walked over to the jeep and popped the trunk to get his emergency kit. His dad had always insisted on one with at least basic first aid supplies, a blanket, some power bars and a flashlight, but since he'd started hanging out with werewolves, the kit had been expanded and now included things like a large knife, dried wolfsbane and a small bag of mountain ash. Stiles felt for the flashlight and then used it to pull out what else he might need. There was no use staying where he was: if the storm was going to be as bad as it looked like it was going to be, he'd need shelter of some sort and he couldn't get into the jeep with the tree there. Beacon Hills was too far away for him to walk back to. Merlin's cottage... wasn't close by, but it was a lot closer than Beacon Hills. Maybe he'd run into Myfanwy.

He clasped the sheathed knife to his belt loop, pocketed the energy bars and mountain ash powder, and grabbed the flashlight and emergency blanket. Then he set off along the road - in part because it was easier to walk on the paved surface, but also in case someone drove by. There was always someone heading out towards nowhere useful.

He hadn't been walking for very long when he felt the first drop of rain land on his hand. Another followed shortly after. And then with a loud 'whoosh', a waterfall of rain fell from the sky, taking Stiles' breath away with its suddenness. By the time he'd run into the tree line, he was soaking wet with water dripping into his eyes and down from his nose. He crashed through the undergrowth, barely able to see where he was going even with the flashlight pointed in front of him. The downpour was too heavy for the trees to provide much shelter, but they did stop some of it. Stiles continued trudging on, keeping an eye out for something he could use as shelter.

The wind was an ice-cold blast that whirled around him and threatened to lift him off his feet. He grit his teeth together to stop them from chattering, but could do nothing about how the circle of light he was using to navigate the dark world around him with wavered and jerked about as his body shivered. He cursed himself again for his own stupidity and wished he could blame it on exhaustion, yet knowing this level of stupid was entirely his own, no help required. He looked deeper into the forest. There would be better shelter there, he knew. But leaving the vicinity of the road was a Bad Idea and he'd had enough of those today.

The sky above him lit up. Stiles paused and waited for the crash. Moments later, thunder echoed through the air: loud, but not deafening. The thunderstorm was still a ways off. He hoped it stayed like that. He tried to speed up his steps, but the rain had made the earth soggy and the leaves slippery. After his second near-fall, Stiles forced himself to slow down again. Twisting an ankle or breaking a leg was really the last thing he needed when he was stranded in the middle of the forest.

The rain let up slightly and breathing became a bit easier. The wind, unfortunately, was still just as sharp and he was just as wet. His limbs felt heavy. Above him, a bright streak of lightening lit up the sky and on its heels came a loud retort of thunder, much louder than the first.

It was getting closer. Stiles stumbled on.

Eventually, his flashlight revealled upon an overhanging mess of boulders and tree roots. It wasn't completely dry, but it was the best shelter he'd seen so far. As he got closer, he realized it wasn't so much a mess of roots as an entire tree that had fallen over – probably during the earthquake – and pulled its roots straight out of the ground with it. Because it had gotten caught on the way down by surrounding trees, it left the roots sticking out at a slight angle. Stiles sat down under the overhanging roots and draped the emergency blanket around himself. Then he ate a power bar.

He'd been ignoring it this whole time, but now that he was finally resting, the adrenalin was beginning to wear off. The darkness around his heart pulsed violently and Stiles gripped at his chest as he doubled-over, gritting his teeth. He could feel tendrils of the Darkness trying to expand out, beyond the well they'd been confined in.

He heard rustling and opened his eyes. Glowing eyes looked back at him. Stiles froze. This time he recognized the creature straight away: it was a coyote. It didn't come any closer at first, just stood there and stared back at him patiently. Stiles swallowed and took a shaky breath.

He felt the tendrils of Darkness spread out a little further. The coyote blinked but didn't move. Then it trotted closer to him. Stiles tensed, his hand reaching for the knife at his belt though he knew he wouldn't stand a chance against the predator. And wouldn't the werewolves just get a kick out of that: Stiles Stilinski, friend of wolves, survivor of, well, lots of things, eaten on a dark and stormy night by a coyote. It was a good thing he'd be dead, because otherwise he'd never live it down.

The coyote stopped two feet in front of him and sat down on its haunches. Stiles blinked. Was this normal behaviour for a coyote?

The Darkness spread further into his body, like a metaphysical root system and his limbs felt even heavier. Suddenly, Stiles was tired. He was stranded in the middle of a stormy forest and he was tired, cold, hungry, dirty and just... tired. Tired of fighting the Darkness. He leaned back against the earth and roots behind him and closed his eyes.

The Darkness covered the rest of his body. His limbs buzzed lightly with the sensation and then he felt completely weightless.

 


 

Stiles opened his eyes. The world looked different now. No, it was different. He could see the rain falling around him, but it no longer made him feel wet and cold. Both sensations were still there, but they were like a distant memory, muted. Like they weren't a part of him at all. The trees and grass, and even the rocks, looked different too. Blurry... no. Their images were clear – clearer than usual, as though somehow more real – but they seemed to be vibrating, some sort of energy was making them less static.

He really hoped he hadn't managed to accidentally take drugs. His dad would kill him if he'd crashed the jeep because he was high. Except that he hadn't crashed the jeep. A tree had fallen on top of it. Ah well, his dad would still kill him for the drugs.

“You have finally found your way,” a solemn voice said, the words melodic, like the speaker was restraining himself from singing.

Stiles looked to the man sitting directly in front of him. His first instinct was to say he was old, but his face was that of a man in his forties – no longer young, but not yet past his prime. And Stiles could tell the man was still fighting-fit as he was wearing nothing to hide the firm muscles in his limbs. It should've felt strange, sitting across from a naked man, but somehow it just felt natural; this was the way it was supposed to be. Stiles looked down at himself to confirm... yup, he was naked too. This wasn't a place that needed anything as superficial as clothes.

He looked back to the man, whose facial expression hadn't changed from its serious, solemn expression, but his eyes now glittered with amusement. There was a necklace of claws, teeth and porcupine quills around his neck, feathers woven into his hair and an animal pelt draped over his back with the head resting on the man's head...

No, that wasn't right. Stiles blinked. As his eyes slowly became accustomed to this strange place, he realized he was seeing the reality of the world, its hidden part. It was one thing to know all plants were alive, but here he was seeing that life. He didn't need explanations, knew the truth as soon as it came into his head. And the man sitting in front of him wasn't just a man. When Stiles looked at him, he saw a man, yet somehow, at the same time he saw a coyote, both looking back at him through the same eyes.

Suddenly he realized he'd never answered the man. Stiles hoped he didn't think he was being rude.

“Sorry,” he said. “A bit disorientated here. Everything's just so...” He made the mistake of looking around again, his attention taken by the simmering vibrations of life around him. Even the lichen growing on the rocks was vibrating with life. He felt like it should've been in colour, like some psychedelic dream, but it wasn't. It was just there, somehow visible and yet not in the way the eye would normally see it.

Stiles shook his head, dragging his attention away again with a wince. “Er, sorry. Again. I'm Stiles.”

“That is not the name you were given at birth,” the man replied calmly.

Stiles made a face. “No one can pronounce my real name, including me. Everyone calls me Stiles.”

The man nodded. “It is the name you chose.”

“Uh, yeah, it is.” He swallowed nervously. “This is the Spirit Way isn't it?”

The man nodded.

“And you're the coyote. You saved my life a couple weeks ago – and earlier tonight too, I think. Thank you.”

“It has been a long time since we've had a spirit walker amongst us. I was surprised to find it was the child of the White Man, but your ancestors do not change what you are.”

Stiles nodded, not sure what he was expected to say to that.

The atmosphere was broken with the sound of excited giggles. They echoed oddly and sounded decidedly female. Stiles frowned and looked for the source of the sound. Suddenly, the sky lit up with a dazzling display of lightening – the storm, it seemed, was fully upon them now. As he looked to the sky, he thought he saw something move amongst the dark clouds. A loud clap of thunder made Stiles jump.

And then laughter filled the air around them.

“The sisters are having fun tonight,” the man said, sounding fond.

Stiles looked back to him. “Who?”

The man turned his attention from the sky. There were a few moments of silence. “Come,” he finally said. “They are always happy to make new friends, though they are shy creatures at heart.”

The man stood and his movements were graceful with strength that wasted not a single movement. Stiles scrambled to his feet and followed. They walked through the forest in silence, Stiles too busy staring at the vibrating forest to feel the need to fill it – the storm was keeping most creatures hidden, but Stiles could see them in their hiding spots. It was amazing.

They didn't walk far. Only until they reached a small clearing with a fire pit and a hut made of mud and straw with an animal skin covering the door. An old man sat in front of the fire pit, gently prodding several large stones in the centre with a large stick. He was also nude and on his head rested the green skin of a lizard. There were wooden beads woven into his hair and a string of beads, feathers and fish scales hung around his neck. He looked up and nodded to both of them in greeting and they nodded back.

They heard giggling again. “Grandfather Lizard, do it again! My sister wishes her turn now!”

Stiles looked up to the sky and now he saw a figure standing in the sky, looking like it had just come down closer from the clouds. She was a young woman with long, dark hair and a wide grin. He couldn't tell what sort of animal pelt she wore, but he thought he saw hooves dangling off her shoulders. She startled when she noticed Stiles, the grin on her face disappearing for a moment as she blinked at him with wide eyes. Then she turned to look behind her and Stiles noticed another young woman – possibly the sister she'd mentioned – peeking down from the clouds. The other woman came forward to stand next to the first. She was a little taller and slightly heavier-set, although both of them were long-limbed and lean in the way of athletes. They were also both naked.

Together, they slowly came closer, looking frightened, but curious. They probably didn't get very many strangers here, Stiles realized. He smiled and waved at them. “Uh, hi, I'm Stiles.”

“He was admiring your spectacle,” the man beside him said.

That had them grinning from ear to ear, eyes sparkling with an excited light. “Then heat up the stones properly, Grandfather Lizard, so we can show him something really impressive!” exclaimed the smaller one.

They both took off higher into the sky and as they ran, Stiles saw them running on two legs, but also on four with a light, nimble grace. He grinned as he realized they were deer.

Just then a spark shot up from the stones in the fire pit, shooting high up into the sky until it reached the clouds. When it touched the clouds, it broke apart, coming back down faster than it had gone up, creating vibrant streaks of light that illuminated the night sky. Only a moment passed and then he saw the taller of the two sisters running across the sky, a dark heavy cape waving behind her. The sky rumbled with her hoof beats as she ran and when the cape behind her managed to gain enough momentum to smack at the air, it resounded with a deafening roar of sound.

Stiles laughed.

On and on they continued in this way. The old man, Lizard, would send a spark up to the sky and then the sisters - the Thunder Fawns the man beside him had called them, although they were clearly no longer fawns – would run across the sky and create loud cracks and crashes and deafening booms of noise. They often took turns, but sometimes they would run together, laughing wildly all the while.

When, finally, they were too tired to continue, they waved down to them from the sky. Stiles waved enthusiastically back.

“You two are amazing!” he called to them.

“Thank you, Spirit Walker!” they called back. “'Till next time!”

“I'll watch the skies for you!”

When the last of their laughter died out, the man beside him spoke. “We should head back. The sun will be up before long.”

“Okay.”

They bid good-bye to Grandfather Lizard and the man led them back the way they came. Stiles' mind, now used to the strangeness in the Spirit Way, finally began to put pieces together and think about what he'd seen.

“You're Coyote, aren't you?” he finally asked.

The man didn't pause in his steps. “Yes, I am he.”

Stiles grinned. “Coyote the Trickster and the One Who Sang The World Into Being.”

The corner of Coyote's mouth twitched. “I did not do it alone.”

“No, it was you and Silver Fox together, right?”

“And Frog helped to carry dirt from the bottom of the ocean and others helped as well.”

“Hmm, so joint effort then.”

Coyote nodded.

They continued on and this time the path seemed much longer. Motion in the trees caught Stiles' attention and he looked up. He saw that a cluster of branches was vibrating with life more fiercely than any other, so he walked up to the tree and looked high into those branches. There was a large bird resting there: a hawk, Stiles was fairly sure. It looked like it was asleep. And then, suddenly, it shook itself and Stiles watched as its gray feathers ruffled out before it turned sharp, yellow eyes to its surroundings. Something had clearly disturbed it and it looked in all directions until finally it looked down and met Stiles' eyes.

This wasn't a dual being like those Stiles had so far met, but he nodded to it anyway just in case. The hawk blinked back.

Stiles turned back to Coyote, who had paused in his steps and was waiting patiently for him. They resumed their journey and not long after, Stiles found himself recognizing the fallen tree he'd taken refuge beneath. As they came closer, he saw something nestled beneath its roots. His eyes widened as they came closer still.

He stared at his own body laying unmoving and dripping with water. His head was turned to the side, mouth open and the corner of his jacket moved as his breath brushed against it.

“Wh-what's going on?” he whispered.

Beside him, Coyote huffed with amusement. “The Spirit Way is for spirits and the path to get here cannot be entered by a living body.”

Stiles looked down at his hands and pressed them together, feeling the pressure of the touch, though it seemed muted. He looked back to his own body.

“It is dangerous for humans to venture here into the Spirit Way,” Coyote continued into the silence. “The Way is vast and even a Spirit Walker like you could get lost here. I do not repeat myself, so remember well, child: always know where you are and remember how to find your way back. For your body is still but flesh and blood no matter which world you inhabit.”

Stiles nodded. “Right, no losing myself. So, how do I get back, uh, into me?”

Coyote motioned him forward. Stiles hesitated for a moment and then stepped towards his body. It was weird, looking down at himself like this. He'd read about out-of-body experiences, but he'd never thought he'd have one himself. He wondered if he could learn to do this whenever he wanted to. As long as he was careful, of course. The thought of not being able to find his way back to his body left him with a vague sort of panic. Would he end up wandering the Spirit Way for the rest of eternity or would he disappear when his body eventually died? He reached out and touched himself...

Oh, he realized as he felt his body tingle, as the Darkness reached out to him. The Darkness had always felt like it was trying to pull him in and now he'd discovered where it had been trying to pull him to. Coyote had mentioned a path. Of course a path to the Spirit Way would lead through Darkness, through the same thing that had appeared after Stiles had died during the ritual.

Stiles smiled as another piece of the puzzle made sense. He looked to Coyote. “Thanks. It was really nice to meet you. I take it you'll be around?”

Coyote smiled and his eyes twinkled in a way that hinted at the trickster inside. “You're welcome, Stiles. I am always somewhere to be found. Be well.”

Stiles nodded in understanding and then allowed the Darkness to pull him in.

 


 

Stiles opened his eyes and yawned widely. His muscles protested as he made to stand up from where he'd lain slumped beneath the tree roots and he winced at the sharp pain that snaked down his neck and across his shoulders. Then winced again when he reached to massage the back of his neck and brushed at the clumps of dirt in his hair. As he stood, he felt his clothes stick to his skin, dragging him down with the added weight. Water dripped from his hair down his face.

He didn't bother taking off the emergency blanket, which was only somewhat less soaked than the rest of him, just picked up his flashlight. It wasn't as dark out anymore, but in the shade of the forest it was still dim. He stretched for a few minutes to rid himself of some of the post-sleep soreness while he ate his second energy bar. Then he set off again towards Merlin's clearing.

He'd been walking for just over an hour when he heard a familiar chirp. Then an even more familiar sparrow landed on his shoulder.

“Hey Clint!” he said with a happy smile. “I really hope this means I'm close.”

“That depends on where you're heading to.”

Stiles had never ever been so glad to see Mr. Harris – not that he was going to tell him that. The man was eyeing him with something between horror, amusement and disgust. Stiles really didn't care.

“Actually I was driving out to see you and Merlin last night – to, you know, make sure you guys were okay after the earthquake and everything – but then I got caught in the aftershock and a tree fell on top of my jeep. Luckily I wasn't in it, 'cause I thought I'd seen something on the road. So it was either hide out in my trunk, or try and get here on foot. Then that storm hit and I found some sort-of shelter for the night and-”

Harris raised a hand to stop him. “I get the picture. You certainly look like you spent the night in the forest.” He sighed. “Come along, it's shorter if we go more directly instead of along the road.”

Stiles sighed with relief and followed him. Clint chirped happily on his shoulder.

Chapter Text


 

She scanned the forest floor far below with sharp eyes. Rodents scurried amongst fallen leaves, squirrels ran up tree trunks and branches rustled as small birds darted into hiding. She saw, but ignored them all; she wasn't looking for prey.

That would come later: she was searching for something else now. Several times had the sun risen and then set since the storm had passed, when the winds had been strong and the sky had been bright and noisy. It had been after the noise and flashes of light had faded that she remembered feeling watched. She'd looked around to find the eyes on her, but saw nothing. Except at the foot of the tree she was perched in she spied the outline of a shadow – different than the dark shadows of the nighttime forest - and, deep within that shadow, was a light. It wasn't more than a pinprick, like the distant ones in the sky. It shone with brilliant, mesmerising clarity.

Then it had left and she couldn't follow, not with her feathers sodden and heavy and the wind still making trees bow with its force.

She flew all the next morning, but could not find the shadow and its light. That shadow had had life in it, so she knew it had to be somewhere unless it had perished in the storm. But she knew it hadn't. Didn't wonder why or how she knew: instinct brought certainty she didn't need to doubt. If she hadn't found it the first morning, she would find it the next. And if not the next, then the one after that.

Silent wing beats propelled her forward and wind ruffled her feathers gently. In the distance she could see the human territory full of foul air and loud noises. Perhaps the light was curious and it had been attracted by the lights and noise – though the lights had been dark for several nights after the earth had shook.

Her sharp eyes caught a light on the ground. She folded her wings and dived, feeling the familiar rush of wind as she shot towards the ground. The first tree leaves brushed past her when she saw the light had no shadow: it was just an object glinting on the forest floor. She saw the sun's reflection in its light. She unfolded her wings and glided upon the air for a moment to steady her descent, before flapping her wings and climbing back above the trees.

That was not her light. She would have to continue searching.

 


 

“Okay, that's not good,” said Isaac. His eyes slid over to Scott. “Right?”

“Uh...” said Scott as he stared at the Nemeton. The very tree-like Nemeton. “Probably?”

He cleared his throat and sidled up to Deaton, who was standing right in front of the tree with his arms crossed over his chest, his right hand curled into a partial fist and tapping his lips thoughtfully. “So, what do you think?” Scott asked him. “Is this bad?”

“Not exactly...” Deaton reply after a pause. “It's... interesting.”

Isaac looked like he was resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “Interesting doesn't generally end well for us,” he pointed out.

Deaton's eyes slid to him for a moment, before looking back to the tree. “I'll confess I've never seen anything like it. The Nemeton is a sacred tree and its powers are varied, but I've never heard of one instantly growing up after it had been cut down.”

“Derek said it happened just after the earthquake: could it be because of the curse?”

Deaton looked to Scott. “I don't know,” he answered slowly. “That does seem like the simplest answer, but just because it's the easiest assumption doesn't make it the correct one. According to the story of the curse Merlin told you, it would seem that the Nemeton has some connection to it, although I'm more inclined to think that creating the Nemeton was what stopped the curse in the first place.”

Scott frowned. “What do you mean? The tree in that story was cut down.”

Deaton nodded. He unfolded his arms and reached out as if to touch the tree, stopping just short of actually doing so. “Nemeton actually refers to a place, not a specific object. You can think of it as a natural temple and the tree is the altar. I'm not entirely sure how you would go about creating something like that, but a blood sacrifice wouldn't be unusual in druidic tradition. It's possible that if the old woman in the story was the Hale pack's emissary then she might've given her life to consecrate this temple.”

Scott took an uneasy step back from the Nemeton, looking at it with a new sense of dread. There was something decidedly spooky about the tree – and not just because it had revived overnight. As a stump it had looked mostly harmless, but as a fully grown tree it looked... powerful. The altar of a temple: that didn't surprise him as much as it should have.

He swallowed. “So is it good or evil?”

“It is sacred.”

“But it's not going to, like, start going all zombie-tree and eating people, is it?” Isaac asked.

Scott's eyes widened, looking to Isaac in horror and then back to Deaton. “Oh my god, could that happen?” he asked.

Deaton looked at them both like they were the dumbest things to ever crawl out of the ocean. “No, it could not.”

Scott winced. “Right. So, basically we don't know what this means.”

“I'll look into it,” said Deaton reassuringly.

“Okay. Is there anything we can do?”

“Not for now, no. But you should probably get back before it gets dark and your mother starts to worry.”

Scott shrugged. “Mom's probably still at the hospital; she's been pulling overtime ever since the quake. We were actually going to go check on Stiles first.”

The corner of Deaton's lips twitched. “Making sure he hasn't gone off on his own again?”

Scott grinned. “Yep.”

Isaac coughed. “Yup, it's nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Allison and her dad are living with him until their apartment building gets repaired or rebuilt or whatever it is they have to do with it.”

Scott glared at him, then turned back to Deaton. “Are you open for business tomorrow?” he asked, torn between enjoying having a break from both school and work, and wanting to have something slightly meaningful to do with at least part of his day.

Stiles had been busy helping emergency workers through the sheriff's office since day one, having only taken a break the day after spending the night in the forest during the thunderstorm. He and Isaac had helped out at the hospital for the first two days until enough emergency trained medical staff had arrived that they weren't needed. Beacon Hills itself had seemed stranded in a sort of limbo for the past week and regular life put on hold. At least the power was slowly coming back on.

“Yes, my power came on this afternoon, so I'll finally be able to open. Come in at around one and we'll see how busy it gets.”

Scott nodded. “'Kay, will do.” He paused, worried. “Are you sure you'll be okay walking back through the forest on your own?”

Deaton chuckled. “Yes, Scott, I'll be fine. Now go check on Stiles.”

“Okay, see you tomorrow then!”

Deaton nodded in farewell and watched as the two werewolves ran off. Then he turned his gaze back to the tree and took a few steps back. “I suppose you know how this happened?” he suddenly said into the silence of the forest.

He just barely heard low-laying branches rustle as a shape detached itself from the treeline and walked out into view. Merlin didn't say anything until he was standing next to Deaton.

“I think it might've been partially my fault. I came by here a few weeks ago and found the area doused in blood and death and corruption - probably thanks to the Darach and her ritual, although I'm sure other things helped as well. A small druid altar in the middle of North America where the Spirits dwell and druids never lived... that original emissary must've been quite powerful to have managed this.”

Deaton's eyes had widened in awe. “You purified it?”

Merlin nodded. “Yes. The curse had started to erode at it further, so I purified it. Admittedly, it doesn't belong here, but that doesn't mean I want it to be destroyed. The earthquake was probably the curse's answer.”

“The curse's answer?”

“Hmm... yes. It always gets a bit tricky when curses are centred around a spirit or a soul; they get a sentience regular curses don't have and then it's a bit of a battle sometimes.” He motioned to the fully-grown Nemeton. “This was the temple fighting back.”

Deaton blinked, staring once again at the tree. “I see.”

“Stiles hasn't seen this yet, has he?”

“Not to my knowledge.” Deaton's eyes narrowed as he looked askance at Merlin. “Why?”

Merlin smirked. “Oh, nothing too important yet. It's just that the boy's finally beginning to show his potential.”

 


 

The sun was close to dropping behind the hills. She hadn't found her light. Perhaps tomorrow, she thought as she leaned down to tear another bite off the small brown bird that was her dinner. In the distance, she saw the lights of the human territory blinking into existence one by one. They burned brighter now than they did the last time the sun had dropped.

She wondered if one of them was her light.

 


 

Stiles tread carefully, almost holding his breath as he tried to be as quiet as the two men he was following. Liwanu and his brother Sipatu moved silently through the forest, not looking like they were watching their steps and yet avoiding stepping on anything that would make noise. He was failing miserably. Being quiet had never been his strong suit and asking him to hold his body still while he was at it felt like a nearly impossible task. When he concentrated on his surroundings he would inevitably step on twigs and dried leaves and when he concentrated on where he was stepping, he didn't notice his surroundings.

Of course, neither Liwanu nor Sipatu had been particularly quiet when they were laughing at him for walking into a tree. Which, admittedly, was pretty hilarious even if it had been mostly highly embarrassing at the time.

They'd been waiting for him at Sanuye's house when he finally arrived – a bit later than usual because coach had decided a longer practice was in order after they'd missed every other practice that week. Sanuye couldn't leave the village because she had too many patients to see to after the quake, so Sipatu and Liwanu were taking him out to teach him to how look for animals and recognize their presence and their tracks. Sanuye didn't say whether they'd volunteered or she'd talked them into it, but neither one seemed annoyed or resentful.

Unfortunately, it meant he would have to wait until the evening to tell Sanuye about Coyote and his adventure in the woods. He was brimming with excitement to tell her. Especially as she might actually believe him. Scott seemed to think it was a hallucination and his dad seemed torn between not wanting to dismiss Stiles' story and being terrified at the thought of his son having an out-of-body experience.

Scott had also been spending a lot more time with him since that night: checking up on him daily and hanging around whenever Stiles wasn't helping out with the relief and reconstruction effort. Of course it meant that Stiles had had someone to drive him to Merlin's and willing to pick him up again, which was a pretty big deal with his jeep out of commission.

Up ahead, Sipatu stopped and motioned Stiles forward as he crouched. When Stiles crouched next to him, he pointed his hunting knife at the ground. After a few moments, Stiles noticed the round-ish indentations in the ground.

“Are those deer tracks?” Stiles asked quietly. Sipatu nodded. “Wow, you have really good eyes.”

“And you have a wandering mind,” said Liwanu from above them both.

Stiles winced. “Uh, yeah, guilty as charged. I sort of have medication for that, except that it's not quite that simple and I'm too much of a total spaz for it to work completely.”

“ADHD?”

Stiles blinked at Sipatu. “Uh, yeah. How did you-?”

Behind him, Liwanu snorted. “Because he likes showing off that university smart of his.”

Stiles looked at Sipatu in bewilderment. Sipatu shrugs. “I took the semester off to be with my wife while she was pregnant, but I'm studying psychology at UCLA. I am writing my masters on the psychological developement of a child reared in a village setting among a group as opposed to in a more institutionalized setting with a smaller family unit. Well, that's the simplified version anyway.”

Stiles stared at him. “I, uh... wow, okay, that's really impressive.” He looked up to Liwanu. “What about you? You going off to university too?”

Liwanu crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow at him. “No. I stay here to continue the traditions of my people. To make sure they are not forgotten or swept away by the White Man.”

Stiles wasn't quite sure what to say to that. It felt a bit like he was being challenged, but then a heart-felt sigh from beside him made him realize that the comment wasn't entirely meant for him. His mind went back to the night of the storm.

“That's good,” he said carefully, not entirely sure how Liwanu would take his words. “'Cause traditions are important. Some things shouldn't be forgotten or swept away, ever. It... they're a part of the land, I think.”

Now it was apparently Liwanu's turn to look bewildered as he blinked down at Stiles. Sipatu chuckled. “You've left my brother speechless. I think I'm beginning to like you, Stiles.”

Then Sipatu brought his attention back to the deer tracks and slowly they followed their trail deeper into the forest.

 


 

She glided over the forest, sharp eyes watching every movement below her. She was close to the dead strip of earth the human's loud rumbling beasts used (they were such awkward creatures without freedom - fast, yes, but capable of moving only on those paths of blackened, dead earth). There was one gliding on the slip of land now.

She was about to fly towards the hills in the distance, when a spark of light caught her attention. Curious and hopeful, she beat her wings to go faster and then glided towards the human's beast. It was too fast for her to keep up, but her eyes were sharp. Shining from within the beast she saw a familiar light.

She watched as it continued on towards the human territory. Her cry of delight echoed down to the forest below, sending creatures that could be prey fluttering off into hiding. She paid them no attention. With a few beats of her wings, she began to head towards the human territory.

 


 

Derek parked his truck and sat there for a while, staring at the sad rubble. It hadn't gotten any less desolate since he'd last been here.

It'd taken him a week to finally force himself back to the house - or what was left of it anyway. Oh he'd kept himself busy helping out at the hospital and then the shelters set up for the people who'd lost their homes or couldn't return to them because it wasn't safe. In between that, he'd also gone around to some of the older neighbourhoods and helped out some of the elderly residents with heavy lifting. There'd been plenty of fallen furniture, half-demolished sheds and some crumbled front steps to occupy his hands with.

He'd also eaten a lot of muffins that week. For some reason, the old ladies of Beacon Hills seemed to all have bags of muffins slowly defrosting in their freezers thanks to the lack of electricity. Not that he minded: Derek liked muffins. So long as it hadn't been Laura baking them. Cookies, Laura could do. Anything crunchy she was fine with. Anything that wasn't supposed to be crunchy somehow ended up crunchy anyway.

Not that she'd ever bake anything again.

Derek sighed and ran a hand over his face. He hated being here. He was so sick and tired of grieving. So sick and tired of that vice that was relentlessly squeezing his heart and making it hard to breathe. And yet he couldn't bring himself to just leave things like this.

He opened the door and got out of the truck. The back was laid out with tarp again and soon he was back to work filling it with debris to take to the dump. He couldn't bring himself to burn it.

The second time he drove back from the dump, there were two figures waiting for him. Adrian and Merlin turned to him as he got out of the truck. Merlin smiled and waved while Adrian nodded at him.

“Hello, Derek, we thought you might want some help cleaning up this mess,” said Merlin, his demeanour light, but not really cheerful. Which was good, because Derek didn't think he could handle cheerful.

He shrugged. “If you want,” he said gruffly, not in the mood for pleasantries.

For a while, they sifted through the rubble and packed more stuff onto the truck. Derek realized after a while that it was oddly comforting to have other people with him. It made the place feel less empty even when they were mostly silent. It was Merlin, who eventually broke the silence.

“It's quite nice of you to tidy this up for whoever lives here next,” said Merlin. Although it is a pity you won't get to finish that railing you and Adrian started working on.”

Derek grunted. He wasn't doing this to be nice.

“It's funny, I would've expected more structural damage,” Adrian commented over an hour later. He was holding a beam up and looking at the ground.

Derek paused, straightened and stared incredulously at Adrian. He wanted more structural damage?! He pointedly looked at the rubble surrounding him. “I don't there's any way for anything to be more structurally damaged unless it actually turned to dust. Or melted.”

Adrain waved his hand dismissively. “No, not that. I mean the earth. I would've expected cracks or shifting or something to that effect. But there's nothing here. Yes, the house is destroyed well beyond repair, but its foundations appear to be more or less solid.”

“He's right, the basement seems to be mostly intact,” Merlin called and his voice sounded muffled. Derek blinked, suddenly realizing he couldn't see the sorcerer anywhere. He walked over to Adrian and saw that he'd managed to uncover an access point into the basement and assumed that was where Merlin was.

He shrugged. “The basement was built to be solid enough to withstand werewolves.”

“Yes, but not an earthquake,” said Merlin as he came into view below them. “That's an altogether different sort of damage.”

“Do you think it was deliberate?” Derek asked with a frown. “Like an attack on the house?”

Merlin shrugged. “It's possible. There's so much magic in the earth now because of the earthquake itself that it's difficult to tell if the curse attacked this house specifically to destroy it completely.”

He held his hands up and Derek knelt down to grab him and lift him back up. Merlin thanked him as Adrian hefted the beam he'd been holding over his shoulder and walked back to the truck with it. Derek took a deep breath.

“So, this really could've been revenge?” he finally asked. “I mean, according to the story it was my family who put a stop to the curse in the first place. Are you saying it's possible this was his way of getting back at us? Destroying the last mark of my family from the area?”

He clenched his fist. Up until now he'd felt mostly numb as he'd tried not to think about the state of his family home, tried to distance himself from it just like he'd tried to distance himself from the reality that his entire family was dead in the very beginning. The thought that the last act of destruction was deliberate, or that as a result of his vengeance towards Derek's family, the spirit of the shaman had devastated the entire town, filled him with rage.

He hadn't even realized he'd transformed and began growling, until Merlin placed a calming hand on his arm.

“I'm sorry, Derek, but, yes, it's possible that's entirely what this was,” he said. “But don't forget the shaman had reason to want vengeance against the town as well. Although your family was probably a specific target above and beyond that.”

Derek frowned, his growl deepened. “Fine. He wants to declare war, I'll give him one.”

He tore away from Merlin's grasp and stalked up to the largest piece of timber he could find and lifted it up and onto his shoulder to carry it away to the truck.

“What exactly to you plan on doing?” Adrian asked with a frown as he rejoined them.

Derek knew his grin was ugly, all teeth and no warmth. “I'm not going to let my family's mark disappear from the land. I'm going to rebuild the house.”

Adrian relaxed at his words and smiled slightly. “As I've actually done that before, I'll help,” he said.

Derek nodded and took the piece of house he was holding to the truck. They worked in silence after that as they steadily filled the back of the truck. Derek drove it away to the dump and when he returned, Merlin had a small fire going and was roasting a chicken over it. Derek wondered where that had come from, but then shrugged and figured there was magic and Merlin involved and didn't question it. He was starving anyway.

It wasn't until much later that he thought to question anything at all. He was watching Merlin carrying part of the upstairs bannister when he realized there was something wrong with the picture. He frowned.

“Merlin, why are you doing this by hand?” he interrupted the silence. “Couldn't you just do it with magic?”

Merlin looked up at him and smiled widely. “Well yes, I could, but some things are just better done the long way, without magic.”

Adrian snorted. “Don't let him fool you. He's been using magic all day – or how else did you think he was carrying all the same heavy loads you and I have. Outside of his magic he's just an ordinary man.”

Derek blinked. He was so used to being surrounded by people who were much stronger than they looked, but now that he thought of it, Merlin wasn't any more muscular than Stiles and, in fact, probably less. He walked over to Merlin, who glaring at Adrian, but let Derek take the bannister from him without protest.

It was like picking up a stick. Stiles could've handled this with one finger.

Derek stared at it incredulously for a moment before turning his gaze back to Merlin. “I'm pretty sure this is cheating.”

Merlin sniffed. “It's called a smart use of resources.” Then his eyes took on a wicked glint and he grinned mischievously. “Now, this would be consider cheating.”

He raised his hands in the direction of the debris. “Gebrocu gadraþ fíne gesamnunge,” he said and his eyes glowed gold.

And then Derek watched as debris from the house lifted up into the air and floated orderly towards the truck. He was still gaping fifteen minutes later as he stared at the now-full trailer.

He turned to Merlin and glared. “You mean we've been at this all day when you could've just waved your hand and done it all yourself in a fraction of the time?!”

Merlin shrugged. “Yes, I could have. But as I've said, sometimes things need to be done the long way. If you rush you don't have the chance to think; you miss the little clues and don't arrive at the same conclusions.” He took a deep breath. “You've decided to rebuild the house. The Hale House is actually an important symbol, because your family has been a protector of this land for several hundred years. I could've just told you what you needed to do, but you wouldn't have understood or else would've only done it reluctantly. You needed to come to your own conclusion.”

Now he was gaping at Merlin again. It was sort of embarrassing how often he was doing that. “Did you come here just to manipulate me into deciding to rebuild the house?”

Merlin laughed. “Not entirely. It was your decision – still is. You can always change your mind if you want, although I'd recommend against leaving complete destruction behind.”

Derek looked over the remains of his house. “I won't,” he said with a sigh. “And I won't change my mind.”

He wanted to be angry with Merlin, wanted to feel manipulated, but now that the idea had latched onto his mind, what he wanted even more was to see a Hale-built house standing in this clearing once again.

Cora was going to kill him.

 


 

She had flown along the human territory, venturing as far as a large grassy area where she'd rested for a short while. There were many humans here and it was always noisy, but not like the forest where the sounds had a purpose. She could understand no purpose behind the sounds in the human territory. She also did not see her light.

She flew back towards the forest to hunt before the sun set. Eventually, she swooped down and caught a small bird in her talons, squeezing it until it finally stopped thrashing. As she searched for a suitable perch, she spied a glow from deep within the forest – she had noticed it before, but it was not her light so she hadn't stopped. At the centre of the glow she found a tree.

Even without her sharp eyes she could tell it was no ordinary tree. Its branches were massive and densely covered in leaves with large roots that were visible above ground. It would've been a good tree to perch in, but, like all the other birds in this part of the forest, she knew better than to try. There was nothing malicious about it, but the scent of death clung to its leaves even as it made the air feel clearer.

She picked a different tree to perch in as she tore at her dinner, keeping half an eye on the glowing tree. The area around it was quiet, a nice change from the nonsensical noise of the human territory. She didn't want to go back there, but it was where her light was, so she would.

 


 

It felt like the spell that had descended upon Beacon Hills had been broken on Monday morning when the schools finally re-opened. The busy, excited buzzing of high school students felt like a fresh burst of energy after the numb, grieving shock of the days following the earthquake. Lydia beamed at the welcome change and hugged Allison with what was possibly more enthusiasm than was warranted given that she'd seen her only three days ago at the barbeque Stiles and his dad had hosted.

Allison hugged back with just as much enthusiasm.

Stiles and Scott walked by, pausing just long enough to greet them, before once again emersing themselves into a debate about their chances in the lacrosse game on Wednesday. Isaac followed behind them silently and waved at them with a small smile as he too passed by, his eyes alight with excitement.

The warning bell rang and they all went to class.

 


 

She flew around a large structure, one of the ones humans build instead of living in trees or burrows in the earth. It was deep within the human territory and crawling with humans. She flew high in the sky, sharp eyes watching the ground below. Not long ago, a loud ringing had attracted her attention. Humans liked loud noises, she'd noticed. Sure enough, after the ringing had stopped, many humans came out of the structure, some heading towards a herd of their travelling beasts and some walking away from the building. And some towards a grassy field in the back. She circled around and scanned the scurrying humans carefully.

Finally, her eyes caught sight of a small group heading towards the grassy field. Her light was among them. She screeched with joy and saw them look up at her. She flew down and landed on the structure, watching them as they looked away and continued onward.

Her light looked back at her once, before turning away and following them onto the field. And then a large human travel beast – larger than any she'd seen before – rumbled its way up to the building. Many humans climbed out. Curiosity overruled her caution as she watched the humans gather around the field. Some milled around the field and some stayed off it, sitting down to watch on raised wood. She alighted from the tree branch she'd been observing from and landed on top of an oddly smooth branch that was sticking out from the side of the structure. It wasn't made of wood and clearly wasn't alive and had a dangling cloth that moved with the breeze hanging from it.

Several of the humans saw her, but she was too far up for them to reach. They pointed things at her and she bristled, but nothing happened so she relaxed after a few moments. She puffed her feathers proudly when she saw her light noticing her.

It did not last long and then the humans became more interested in whatever they were doing, her light among them. Some time passed and then more humans arrived and gathered on the wooden planks along the sides of the field. A shrill whistle sounded and the humans on the field ran at each other, running around the field with wooden sticks. It looked like two flocks fighting, except less vicious. There was little blood and they weren't attacking each other so much as attacking around each other. It confused her. Perhaps it was a play battle, like she used to engage with her nest-mates?

One thing did become clear to her as she watched. Not all of the ones on the field were human: some were only pretending to be. She had not yet encountered their kind, but instinct told her to be cautious around them.

She watched her light run among them and waited. Now that she had found her light, she could be patient until he was no longer surrounded.

 


 

Stiles grinned as he watched Scott, Isaac and Aiden horse around like a bunch of puppies. Only Ethan had refrained from joining them, deciding instead to latch onto his boyfriend in what looked like the kiss to end all kisses. Lydia and Allison were waiting for them by the stands, looking amused. Stiles waved at them with obviously overdone enthusiasm and was rewarded by Allison grinning and waving back (although with much less enthusiasm). On the other side of the bleachers he spied the parent cluster chatting happily with the coach – his dad and Melissa McCall had both managed to wiggle out some time to come and see the game.

First game of the season, five days delayed due to the earthquake, and the victory went to Beacon Hills 12:4. Stiles had even managed to score a goal. It had been a bit of a fluke and only happened because the guy on the other team had tripped, but a goal was a goal.

He felt the eyes return to him as soon as they stepped on the field and knew it was the same watchful gaze he'd felt throughout the entire game. He paused and looked back towards the school. Up on the flagpole, so still it almost looked like part of the fixture, sat the hawk. It hadn't moved from its perch since it had first landed there just before the beginning of the game. It was difficult to tell from the ground, but Stiles could've sworn it'd been watching him the entire time.

It felt a bit strange to be under that much scrutiny. Especially when Stiles couldn't figure out why a hawk would find him, of all people, interetsing.

He looked to the others, but none of them had noticed him stop. Over by the bleachers, Lydia was being distracted by Aiden, who'd abandoned Scott and Isaac and bounded up to his girlfriend, and the parents were still amiably chatting. Stiles left them to it and walked carefully back towards the school, watching the hawk as he went. He could've sworn he saw yellow eyes meet his.

Then the hawk spread its wings and took off from the flagpole. Stiles watched as it soared above him and then looped back, gliding gradually lower until finally landing on the now mostly empty opposing team's bleachers. For a few moments, Stiles simply stared in awe at the predator as its talons curled around the wooden seating area, its wings still spread out to show its white underbelly streaked with brown. It was slightly larger than a crow with a rounded head, light brown speckled feathers and a long, rounded tail.

It opened its beak and Stiles jumped at the loud 'kik-kik-kik' that came from it. Then it carefully folded its wings and regarded him silently with sharp yellow eyes.

Stiles swallowed and slowly began to make his way towards the hawk. He felt like being cautious was a smart idea, but he didn't feel scared. There was something... familiar about the beady yellow eyes and sharp stare. There wasn't such a thing as a were-hawk, was there? It cocked its head at him and let out a of chirpy cry – it sounded a bit like birdese whining. Stiles blinked at it. That was almost sort of adorable.

“I'm crazy,” he muttered, shaking his head. He eyed the sharp talons for a moment and then looked back up at the sharp-looking beak that had obviously been designed to tear at flesh. Stiles wished he at least had his lacrosse stick with him. He was an arms-length away from the hawk now and all-too-aware of what those talons and that beak could do to him if it decided it didn't like him afterall.

He heard someone call his name and turned his head. Scott and Isaac were watching, looking worried. Stiles held a hand up to stop and reassure them. He was reasonably certain the hawk didn't want to hurt him. Of course, he also had no idea what it could possibly want either. Especially with him.

He looked back to it. The hawk wasn't staring at his face anymore. Instead it was staring at his chest. He frowned and took another step forward. The hawk's attention didn't waver; in fact, it craned its neck forward towards the left side of his chest – towards his heart. Stiles' eyes widened. Could it see the Darkness? Or maybe his Spark? Both Merlin and Sanuye had told him the two were now linked, intertwined as part of the same power that made up his inner being.

Could animals see things like that? Hawks were fairly rare around Beacon Hills – at least within the town itself. The last time Stiles had seen a hawk...

Stiles' eyes widened. “Oh my god,” he whispered. The hawk, as though sensing his revelation, looked up to meet his eyes again. “You-you're the hawk from the forest. From the night of the storm... Holy shit, that's-”

He wasn't sure what it was. Had it seriously spent over two weeks searching for him? He took another step closer and slowly brought his hand up, not wanting to spook it. Its eyes darted to his hand and he froze. Then it looked back to his chest and angled forward to bump it with its head. Stiles chuckled and carefully ran the back of his knuckles down its side.

“Hey, it's nice to meet you,” he said with a grin. “I'm Stiles.”

The hawk took a step back and the 'kik-kik-kik' sounded slightly happier this time. Apparently satisfied with the bizarre greeting, it spread its wings and took off from the bleachers. Stiles watched it leave, still grinning widely. It took less than a minute for Scott to reach him.

The next morning, his dad took an unholy amount of glee in dragging him out of bed a good half hour earlier than normal and then down to the kitchen where he opened the back door. Stiles, still only half-sleep, blinked down at the dead pidgeon on the doorstep. Then he looked up at the tree in their backyard where he saw the hawk perched sound asleep amid the branches.

“Well, at least it's not a mouse,” said Chris Argent dryly as he looked over his shoulder. Somewhere behind him, Allison giggled.

Chapter Text


 

Derek's ears picked up the distinct sound of a car engine and he only barely caught himself from looking up at the noise. The sound was still faint - though coming closer at a steady speed - which meant it was beyond the range of hearing of any ordinary human. Such as the man beside him, who was meticulously filling out the last of the paperwork that would officially declare his basement and house foundations structurally sound.

So that he could sell the house afterwards without any additional problems. Because that was still the plan. Derek stubbornly refused to add a 'for now' to the end of that thought.

The building inspector – White, Wyatt or something like that – handed him several sheets to sign. Derek took the papers and skimmed them whilst absently listenng to the approaching vehicle. It didn't have the deep rumble of a truck, nor could he hear the tell-tale rattling that would indicate a trailer. It also wasn't Stiles' jeep: he'd heard it enough times to instantly recognize its engine. It was definitely a passenger car making its way towards them.

Derek signed the papers and handed them back to the inspector, who went over them one, last time with practiced eyes before signing them himself. The findings hadn't exactly been a surprise, though the inspector had been impressed by the solidness of the basement and foundations – didn't build them like that anymore, he'd said. Of course, Derek knew they'd likely never built basements like this one before.

Thankfully, the inspector hadn't noticed where Derek had boarded up the entrance to the tunnel that led out into the woods. He was fairly certain that hadn't been on any official house plans.

Most of the debris was now gone and this was the last permit Derek needed before he could begin to build. He'd had the architect draw up plans for the new house based roughly on the old one, albeit a smaller version: Derek doubted there would ever again be a family as large as the Hales living here, so he saw no need for a large house.

The car finally drove into sight just as the inspector was handing Derek his copy of the paperwork. Derek's eyes widened slightly in surprise as he recognized the car. It was Chris Argent. He watched the man pull up and park out of the corner of his eye as he spoke to the building inspector (apparently the man had known his mother – Derek sometimes forgot just how prominant his family used to be for all that they were also notoriously reclusive). Argent turned off his car's motor and stepped out, shutting the door with a soft thud, before proceeding to lean against it and look off into the forest.

Derek couldn't help but be curious as to what the former hunter could possibly want.

Eventually, the building inspector got into his car and drove off. Derek and Argent watched the car drive off and, in some sort of silent consensus, didn't so much as move until it was out of Argents' hearing range. Only then did the man push himself away from his car and walk towards him.

“Derek,” he said with a nod.

“Mister Argent,” Derek greeted back gruffly, his tone barely polite. “Something I can do for you?”

Argent gestured to the house. “Heard you'd decided to rebuild.”

He nodded with a frown as he wondered where this was going. Then his frown deepened. “From who?”

“Melissa McCall, who'd heard it from the sheriff. Stiles had told him that Merlin had mentioned it.”

Derek blinked, realizing that if Stiles knew then by now everyone else probably knew as well. Argent squinted as he looked at the foundations of the Hale House.

“Looks like it's going to be a lot of work,” he commented casually. “Was wondering if you wanted some help.”

Derek didn't reply immediately. At first, because he'd been stunned speechless at the surprising offer and then, because even he was smart enough to realize this wasn't just a simple offer of help. Chris Argent wasn't just asking to help with re-building the house, but for a chance at forgiveness. He was asking Derek if he could trust him: letting a hunter help build a werewolf's home was dangerous. In any other circumstances and with any other two people, the mere suggestion would've been ludicrous. It was ludicrous.

Derek wasn't sure if he was ready to say 'yes', to put the past squarely behind them both like that.

He wasn't entirely certain how long the two of them had been standing there staring at each other, when he smelt the new arrivals. Hiding the relief from his face, he looked away to the familiar sight of Adrian and Merlin as they strolled out of the treeline. Merlin's wyvern slipped out of the forest behind them and set herself to exploring the clearing and ignoring all things human and werewolf.

“All set to go?” Merlin called.

Derek nodded. “Building inspector just left. I've got a green light on all counts.”

“Good,” said Adrian, slipping the large canvas bag off his shoulder. It hit the ground with a surprisingly loud thump. “Then let's start transforming this barren, burnt-out land, into a home, shall we? Hello, Mister Argent. I'm assuming you're here to help?”

Argent smiled slightly. “As long as Derek doesn't mind.”

Merlin nodded in approval. “I don't see why he wouldn't,” he said. “The more people helping, the faster it'll all get done. And the faster it's done, the sooner I can start placing wards around the house to prevent this curse from having a second go at it. And anyone else, who might want to.”

Derek's eyebrows rose. Merlin was planning to place protective wards on the house? He hadn't known that, although he did like the sound of it. He was also fully aware that Merlin's seemingly throw-away comment was anything but. And, by the grim expression on his face, Chris Argent got the sorcerer's message loud and clear as well.

“Merlin, this isn't going to be a repeat of last time is it?” Derek asked as they began to walk towards the house. “You know, where you make us do everything by hand when you really could just wave your arms and magically build the house in an hour yourself?”

Adrian snorted. “He could,” he said and then turned his head to give Derek a pointed look. “If you wanted it to look like the cottage.”

Derek didn't.

 


 

“Hey, Stilinski, isn't that the hawk that seemed to, like, fall in love with you or something after the lacrosse game last week?” Aiden said with a frown as he stared into one of the trees surrounding the field.

Stiles didn't even bother looking. “Probably,” he said as he bounded up onto the bleachers and shrugged off his backpack. “Storm does seem to have adopted me.”

“Storm?” Lydia asked, turning around to raise an eyebrow at him from her seat on the bleacher below his.

Stiles shrugged. “Well I had to call her something and the first time I met her was during that huge storm, so Storm.” He paused. “At least I think she's a 'her'. Judging by her size she should be.”

“'Cause she's smaller?” Aiden asked as he unwrapped his cafeteria burger and pretended not to notice as Lydia stole one of his fries.

“Nope, larger. Hawk males are smaller and submissive to females. During mating season they basically wait until they have permission to approach.”

“Huh, I guess hawks are more intelligent than I gave them credit for,” said Lydia primly before taking a sip of her sparkling lemonade. She waved towards the school and Stiles looked up to see Allison and Isaac walking towards them with Ethan and Danny right behind them.

“Hey, where did you guys lose Scott?” Stiles called to them.

They paused and looked behind them. Allison looked to Isaac and then back to Stiles and shrugged.

“He was with us in the hallway,” said Isaac once they reached the bleachers.

“Maybe he got stopped by a teacher,” Danny suggested.

“Without any of you noticing?” Stiles asked with a raised eyebrow.

Aiden rolled his eyes. “Relax, Stilinski, he probably just felt the call of nature or something.”

Stiles glared at him. “Yeah, aaand I'm really going to hope that's it's a figurative call of nature and not a literal one. 'Cause with how things tend to go around here, the literal one would probably not lead to puppies and kittens.”

“Although if there were vicious puppies and kittens then at least your new feathered friend could help you out with that,” said Isaac with a snicker.

Stiles threw his hands up. “Dude, Storm's either a Sharp-shinned Hawk or an immature Cooper Hawk: either way, chickenhawk. That means she hunts smaller birds, not mammals. Trust me, I had to do all sorts of research last week to assure the neighbours their pets were safe from her.”

Allison giggled. “Except for Mrs. Dixon's parrot. She's been keeping the curtains drawn ever since as a deterrent, in case Storm ever gets peckish.”

“Those curtains are butt-ugly; if I was a hawk, I'd totally be deterred. Also possibly scarred for life, 'cause those can't possibly look better with better eyesight.” He paused thoughtfully for a moment. “Although being colourblind would probably improve them.”

“Are we talking about the light blue house three down from you with the magnolia hedge?” Lydia asked.

“Yes,” said Allison.

“Hmm... I agree, being colourblind would definitely improve the look of those curtains. Somewhat.”

“So, what exactly has she been doing, flying out to the preserve every day to hunt?” Ethan asked with a confused frown.

Stiles raised his eyebrows at him. “Do you have any idea how many pigeons there are in Beacon Hills? I've finally managed to convince her I don't eat them for breakfast. I hope.”

“Wait, are you saying that she's been...?” Isaac said, a grin slowly growing on his face.

Allison nodded, breaking out into a grin of her own. “It's actually sort of cute. She's pretty much moved into the tree in the back yard and is trying to take care of Stiles. Two nights ago, there was this cat that tried to sneak through the yard. You should've seen Storm go after it and chase it off like a flying guard dog.”

Lydia looked thoughtful. “I wonder if she'd be as effective with ghosts.”

Stiles thought about that. “Don't know. I mean, she can obviously see the Spark or the Darkness or whatever inside me, so maybe she could see ghosts too, but that doesn't mean she'll be able to do anything about them. Unless she's a magical hawk?”

“Have you ever had any other animals act like that around you?” Danny asked. “I mean, I know a lot of people say cats can see ghosts.”

“Not that I've noticed... although there was a friend of my mom's when I was a kid whose cat absolutely loved me and I think I remember the woman saying she usually avoided strangers. It's been a while since I've seen her or her cat... not since the funeral.”

“Maybe it's like with humans,” Allison suggested after an awkward pause. “I mean, most humans can't see things like ghosts, so maybe most animals can't either.”

“Hmm... that would make sense,” said Lydia. “Their instincts are better, though, so they'd probably be able to feel them, like dogs not wanting to go into a haunted house. Or cats staring at empty space as though they're seeing a ghost or a spirit – they might not actually be seeing what's there, just know there is something there.”

Stiles nodded in agreement. Then he frowned. “Wait, are you saying this because of Abigail?”

“The unfriendly ghost that landed you in the hospital, you mean?” Lydia smiled sweetly at him.

“But she hasn't been a problem since the coyote chased her off!”

“True, but that doesn't mean she's gone. I went by her grave last week and it still looks and feels the same.”

“Crap.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Anyone else wish we could just call the Ghostbusters?”

“Hell yes,” said Danny. Everyone turned to stare at him. “What? My dad loves those movies!”

“Right, so that now makes you officially in charge of building the anti-ghost ray gun,” said Stiles with a straight face.

Danny rolled his eyes.

It wasn't until the bell signalling the end of lunchtime rang, that they realized Scott had never made it out to eat with them.

 


 

Deaton carefully lifted the sedated cat into the arms of his owner, mindful of the cast on its front paw. “There you go, Mr. Krauss, just make sure he takes his medicine and then come back in a month so that I can take the cast off.”

The tall, muscular man took the cat with a grateful smile. “Thanks, Doc, will do. I'm just glad it wasn't something worse than a broken leg. I'm feeling bad enough already that it took me two weeks to realize something was wrong with him.”

Deaton smiled. “Well, an animal's first instinct is to hide when wounded, so it's hardly surprising. And it was rather hectic after the earthquake with all the relief efforts and whatnot. Don't be too hard on yourself: as you said, at least it's just a broken bone.”

“I'll try and keep that in mind. Thanks again, Doc.”

“You're welcome.”

Mitchell Krauss left his office and Deaton allowed himself a deep, tired sigh. One of the other local veterinary offices had been partially-demolished by the earthquake, which meant he'd been taking on extra patients since opening last week. He barely managed to suppress the groan when his phone rang.

“Hello, Beacon Hills Animal Clinic, how can I help you?” he said into the phone.

“Hey Deaton, it's Stiles.”

Deaton blinked in surprise. “Hello Stiles, what can I do for you?”

“Um, is Scott there by any chance? Or been by at any point this afternoon?”

Deaton froze. It was a Wednesday; Scott should've been at school all day. “No, he hasn't,” he answered after a pause. “Why?”

“Uh, he just sort of disappeared around lunchtime and hasn't been to any of his afternoon classes and he's not picking up his phone either... Could you, uh, call me if he stops by or maybe get him to call me?”

“Of course, Stiles. I hope you find him.” In one piece, preferably, but Deaton had no doubt Stiles was already thinking that.

“Thanks.”

Deaton hung up the phone and took a deep breath before letting it out slowly. Ignoring the worry gnawing at his mind, he went to get his next patient.

 


 

Stiles hung up and looked at the others. “Deaton hasn't seen him either.”

“Dad says he's not up at the Hale House,” said Allison, looking up from the text she was reading.

Stiles ran a hand through his hair. “Okay, so this is probably not good.”

“With our luck?” said Isaac.

“Yeah, normally I'd say don't stress he's probably just skipped school,” said Ethan. “But, first of all, this is Scott we're talking about-”

“Oh he's totally done that before,” Stiles interjected. “Last year for Allison's birthday they both skipped for a day.”

“Really? Go McCall. Anyway, secondly, there's been too many weird things going on around here for mysterious disappearances to be anything but bad.”

“If we find out he really is just skipping and didn't bother telling anyone, I'm going to kick his ass,” Aiden groused.

“You mean you'll try,” Isaac sneered.

Aiden sneered back. “You seriously think goody-two-shoes McCall would stand a chance against me?”

“Well I don't see you challenging him to a fight.”

“That's 'cause I don't wanna be pack leader, dumbass!”

“Boys!” Lydia snapped.

Just then, Stiles' phone pinged with a text. They all fell silent, while he check the message.

“It's from Derek,” he announced when he saw the display. His eyes widened as he read the message. “He's found Scott.”

He looked up to meet the rest of the pack's eyes. “He wants us to meet him at the Nemeton.”

Lydia gasped, while the others looked at him in stunned silence.

“It's not eating him, is it?” Isaac asked quietly.

Stiles levelled an unamused look at him. “It's a tree.”

“So?”

“So... okay, this is Beacon Hills, so good point. Although I'm pretty sure Derek would've mentioned if a tree was eating Scott. Or, you know, sent pictures or something.”

Lydia rolled her eyes. “Stiles, you're driving,” she said as she swept past them, heading towards the parking lot.

“Right, of course I am,” he said and then followed right behind her.

 


 

Peter Hale met them at the edge of the forest and then wordlessly began leading to Derek.

Stiles had never seen it as anything but a large tree stump, and yet his eyes were immediately drawn upwards to where a single tree's branches extended beyond the rest. Above them, he saw Storm keeping pace, circling back every once in a while in order to not out-distance them too much: the now-familiar flap-flap-glide pattern of her flight helped calm the swirl of emotions and anxieties Stiles felt gathering within him.

Finally, they got close enough to see Derek and Chris Argent standing at the edge of the trees surrounding the Nemeton. They glanced up at their approach before turning their eyes back to the base of the tree.

Or rather, to Scott, who was standing at the base of the tree, staring at it. And not moving.

“Scott!” Stiles called out and ran to his friend.

Until, between one step and the next, he suddenly lost the ability to draw breath into his lungs. He froze mid-movement, eyes widening as he gasped for breath that wouldn't come. His legs crumbled and only the pair of strong arms that suddenly encased him prevented him from sprawling onto the forest floor. The Darkness became a hard, unyielding vice that paralysed him with pain.

“Stiles!” he heard Lydia's voice scream.

“Stiles?” a voice asked from next to his ear. “Stiles, are you alright?”

Stiles was fairly certain he managed to make some sort of sound. There were more voices, but he couldn't recognize the words – he assumed there were words, there usually were when there were voices involved. Then he was being moved, shuffled backwards -

Breath returned to him like a wave crashing against the shoreline of a rocky beach and the pain vanished like it had never been there at all. After several, deep breaths, Stiles realized someone was still holding him up. He looked up into the eyes of Peter Hale.

“Why Stiles, I'm flattered,” the man said with a wolfish smile. “It's been a while since I've managed to have a maiden swoon at my feet.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Then maybe you should stop eating them. Or, you know, being evil. Besides, that totally wasn't a swoon.”

“Totally was, dude,” said Isaac as he grabbed Stiles away from Peter and helped him to his feet. Stiles was glad for the intervention, 'cause he'd sort of forgotten he was supposed to be upright.

“Seriously, Stilinski, you need to stop passing out all over the place,” Aiden added.

From further up, Derek cleared his throat. “At least he's not alone this time,” he said once he had their attention. Then he motioned to where Scott was still standing facing the tree, as though completely unaware that anything was happening around him. “I'm pretty sure whatever Scott is right now, conscious isn't part of it.”

Isaac let go of Stiles and cautiously walked towards Scott, pausing slightly at the spot where Stiles had gone down, but gaining some degree of confidence when nothing happened to him.

“Scott?” he said and carefully grabbed Scott's shoulder. When still nothing happened, he tried to shake him. Scott barely moved. Isaac stepped in front of Scott and waved a hand in front of his face. “Scott? Can you hear me?”

Isaac looked up and met their eyes. “Yeah, Derek's right. Scott's totally left the building.”

Stiles sighed. “I'll call Deaton.”

Chapter Text

While they waited for Deaton to show up, they managed to figure out a few things. First of all, Stiles was the only one who had any problems approaching the Nemeton. Except for Lydia, who felt something unsettling about the area within the circle of trees surrounding the Nemeton. A pressure, she called it, like the air was both purer than anything she'd ever felt and yet heavier - she also said it smelt faintly of death.

The second thing Stiles noticed when Storm landed on a sturdy branch in the tree that towered above his head. At first he thought nothing of her choice of perch, but when he looked back to the Nemeton, something about the large tree slowly dawned on him.

“Uh, guys,” he called out. The others turned to him from where they were surrounding Scott. “Is it just me or are there, like, zero birds in that tree?”

Peter was the first to grasp his meaning and look up into the tree's crown. There was a thoughtful look on his face when he replied. “He's right. Not only is it empty of birds, but there aren't any squirrels either. In fact, I can't even hear a single bug scurrying around.”

“More than that, I can't smell any animals in the immediate area,” said Aiden with a frown.

“That could have something to do with the amount of werewolves in the immediate area,” Danny pointed out.

Next to him, Ethan shook his head. “Only somewhat,” he said. “Rabbits, deer, sure they'd make themselves scarce. But birds and squirrels? They know they're not our prey, so they wouldn't really care if we're around.”

“Besides, something like a squirrel would have a nest,” Derek added. “Which would make it smell like them even if they weren't home. Aiden's right: this entire area smells completely empty of animals.”

“That's strange, right?” Allison asked.

“Yes, it is,” said Peter with a frown. “Although, what's even stranger is that it took a human to point it out to us.”

Lydia frowned, looking like she was about to say something, when Aiden stopped her.

“It should've been an alarm bell. There's no such thing as a place in the forest that's completely void of animal life.”

“Except for here, apparently,” Ethan added.

Stiles ran a hand through his hair. He hated being so far away from everything – even if it was less than a dozen feet.

“Deaton said this was a temple,” Isaac volunteered, “and that the tree was the altar.”

“A temple?” Derek asked, looking surprised.

“Yes, a temple...” said Lydia, her eyes going wide as she looked over the Nemeton and its clearing again. “Sacred. That's the feeling! It feels sacred: intense but not... good – not really – but not evil either.”

“Does that change anything?” Chris Argent asked, looking slightly unsettled by the news.

Derek shrugged and looked to Peter.

“Don't look at me,” said his uncle. “There weren't any naked dancing rituals that I knew of.”

Derek rolled his eyes.

Stiles, meanwhile, ignored the group and thought about it. Scott had told him that Deaton had said it was a temple... A temple to a religion that didn't belong on this land. Wasn't that what Merlin had said: that this wasn't the land of the druids, that it belonged to Coyote and Silver Fox and, no doubt, countless other Native American Spirits? No, not belong, because the land didn't belong to anyone. Coyote and Silver Fox might have sang it into existence, but they were a part of it just as much as it was a part of them... The land was good land and it provided everything those living on it needed, that was what Sanuye had taught him.

But the Nemeton, this druid temple, didn't provide anything. It was sacred. Stiles scanned the area around the Nemeton: he couldn't see a single mushroom, edible herb or berry bush. There were several blackberry bushes just outside the tree line, but not within the boundaries of the temple itself.

Stiles felt the darkness around his heart waver slightly. Then he remembered what the forest had looked like when he'd seen it from the other side: how the life had seemed tangible and real. He felt movement behind him and turned.

The coyote stared back at him and this time, Stiles knew he didn't need to be afraid. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, reaching for the Darkness that lay at the centre of his soul. He'd grown accustomed to ignoring its pull, but he found it easily enough again and let it pull him in, deeper into its centre and then through to the other side...

 


 

Stiles heard a muted thump from behind him. He looked back to see that his body had slumped over onto the ground. Oops. He was probably going to have bruises from that fall.

“Stiles!”

Stiles turned and then jumped out of the way as his friends came barrelling towards him. He winced, now definitely regretting not thinking far enough ahead to sit down. Isaac was the first to get to him and he began to check his breath and pulse, the others calling his name, asking one another what had happened even though none of them could possibly know because no one had been watching him. Their voices, the sounds of their movements were muted and Stiles had to strain to hear them.

He didn't really try, too distracted by what he saw when he looked at them. Derek was standing over the others, looking on with slight worry in his eyes, but that wasn't the unusual part. When Stiles looked at him, he saw a second shape outlined over his, one with pointed ears, a muzzle and a tail. He looked at the others and saw the same, albeit in different forms. Aiden and Ethan's shapes were tinged with red, whereas Isaac's was more like Derek's but weaker, more transparent. Peter's was shadowed, his being not vibrating the way the living things around him did: the cost of being brought back from the dead, Stiles figured.

He vaguely wondered if it was a similar sort of Darkness to his own.

Kak-kak-kak!

Storm's voice was crystal clear even through the haze of the Spirit Way. Stiles smirked at the way Derek jumped at the sound. Allison also looked up at the hawk.

“Don't worry Storm,” she said. “We'll take care of him. He'll be alright.”

Derek frowned. “You know this bird?”

Allison blinked at him. “Oh, you haven't met her yet?”

“She randomly showed up at the first lacrosse game last week,” said Isaac.

“She's, like, adopted Stiles,” Aiden added.

“Stiles says he thinks she can see his Spark,” said Lydia absently. Stiles stared at her. It wasn't noticeable at first, not until he was looking straight at her, actually paying attention to her. She was glowing. Not like a light bulb or a halo, but her skin and hair looked illuminated by an inner light that seemed sluggish – though certainly not dull – compared to the vibrating life around it.

“You have interesting friends,” said Coyote as he came to stand next to Stiles.

“Yeah, they're definitely that.” He turned to him. “How did you know I was here?”

“I knew you would come here eventually. As I knew the Curse Tree would not let you pass in your flesh form.”

“Wait, but now it will?” He looked to the Nemeton and froze. “Oh, wow.”

The Nemeton didn't just vibrate with life, it pulsed with it, as though it was the lungs of the earth and breathing great, heaving breaths. The air within the clearing – the temple – was somehow more transparent than normal, but the tree... the tree's leaves were bright green and glowed with the same inner light of Lydia's hair. And just beneath its bark, Stiles could see a lingering dark shadow seeping out.

“Why do you call it the Curse Tree?” Stiles asked after a moment.

“Because it was torn out by the Wolf-Men to stop the curse Ituha Spirit Hawk had set upon Beacon Hills and then it regrew as the lonely guardian of this place. It is far from where it belongs.”

Stiles' head snapped to Coyote. “You saw that- what am I saying? Of course you're old enough to remember that..” He turned back look at the tree, a giddy excitement in his veins... his metaphysical ones anyway. “It's a druidic temple, created in a place where the druids never lived.” He considered it. “Why haven't you destroyed it? I mean, you could destroy it, right?”

Coyote shrugged. “We could, though it would not be easy. Blood was spilt to create it, powerful words used to carve it a place within the land, but it is content to stay within its boundaries so long as it is left alone. We are at peace with it.”

Stiles nodded. “The Hale pack's emissary died during the ritual and we'd wondered if it'd been on purpose. A sacrifice... actually makes sense. The druids definitely weren't against blood sacrifices – as the Darach oh so nicely proved even if she was all sorts of bananas and crackers.”

“They were creating a space that was unnatural, evoking such powers disrupts the balance of the world. The life was used to restore it.”

“Hmm...” Stiles took a step forward. “So you're saying I should be able to get to Scott now?”

Behind him, Coyote was silent, which Stiles took as assent. He walked towards the Nemeton and this time nothing tried to stop him. Something within him unfurled with relief when he was finally able to see Scott up close with his own eyes. The outline of the wolf was stronger than even Derek's had been and tinged in alpha red, but the red wasn't as harsh of a colour as it had been on Ethan and Aiden. It didn't so much colour the light shadow surrounding Scott so much as shine through it, making it almost iridescent.

Even here, in the Spirit Way, Scott was still staring into space, but now Stiles could see the fear etched into his eyes. He could also see the the grey shadowy webbing that connected him to the Nemeton. It looked almost translucent, like it had been made out of dark plastic wrap. Stiles reached out gingerly to touch it and jumped back as new tendrils grew out of the webbing and reached out to him.

He looked to where the webbing attached to the Nemeton and realized it wasn't actually attacked to the tree, but growing out through the bark. He stepped back and considered this. Scott was trapped within the Nemeton. Again. Only last time there were three of them and they'd been preforming the ritual. The same ritual that had created the Darkness.

No, wait. Stiles' Darkness was different to the others: it connected him to the Spirit Way. Because of his spark.

“It tried to do that with you,” Coyote said quietly and Stiles turned to find him only several steps away, looking grave. “But it could not hold on to it. The rip in your soul, where it fought to remain, is where the path to the Spirit Way lies.”

Stiles eyes widened. “But it did manage to keep hold of Scott,” he whispered and turned back to his friend. “He's been connected to it this entire time. But why does it want him now? Oh. Of course!” He waved his hands at the tree. “I would've needed a lot of energy to grow like this, to fight the curse. Shit, it's trying to use Scott as a sacrifice!”

His new-found understanding suddenly wasn't so great anymore.

Kak-kak-kak!

Stiles heard screams from behind him and whirled around. His friends were crouched down, their hands shielding their heads. Suddenly, Isaac stood and growled as his face morphed into his wolf form.

“What the hell is wrong with you, you crazy bird!” he yelled. Stiles followed his gaze up to the tree branch where Storm was staring back down at him, her wings spread menacingly as she opened her sharp, hooked beak wide.

Kak-kak-kak!

“We're just trying to get him to a hospital!”

Suddenly, Stiles understood what the problem was. “Shit!” he said under his breath and then ran to the others, sparing a glance up at Storm. “Thanks, Storm, I totally owe you one!”

Storm's response was to retract her wings and settle down with a huff, though her sharp eyes never left the group below.

“Guys, maybe we shouldn't be moving him,” said Lydia, eyeing Storm cautiously.

“He appears to be in some sort of coma,” said Deaton and Stiles wondered when he'd arrived. “Every second counts in these matters; the longer he stays here, the lower his chances of recovery are.”

And in any other situation, Stiles would've appreciated the sentiment. “Yeah, but if you move my body I might never find it again!”

He didn't miss the way Lydia froze. Stiles stared at her, the beginnings of a theory taking seed in his mind. Lydia, beautiful glowing Lydia, was a banshee. She was connected to the Other World - to death – and he was in a place between life and death. He circled round to her.

“Lydia?” he asked. “Lydia, can you hear me?”

Lydia's head snapped to the side, her eyes frantically scanning the area. “Stiles?”

He grinned. “Yeah, it's me.”

The relief on her face made his heart soar. “You're alright?”

“Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry to freak you all out like that; sort of didn't think that through properly.”

“Uh, Lydia?”

Lydia turned to Aiden, who'd risen to his feet and looked worried. Lydia smiled at him. “It's Stiles. I can hear him and he says he's alright.”

“I'm not sure whether to be freaked out by the fact that you're hearing disembodied voices or that Stiles is possibly a disembodied voice,” said Danny.

Stiles rolled his eyes. Deaton, on the other hand, looked at Lydia with sharp, considering eyes. Stiles didn't give him the chance to ask what seemed to be on the tip of his tongue, not feeling like doing twenty questions via Lydia.

“Listen, Lydia, you can't let them move my body. If they take it away I might never manage to find it again and then I'd be stuck as a spirit or whatever.”

Lydia nodded. “He says not to move his body, so that he can find it again.” She frowned. “Wait.” Her eyes narrowed and she glared in Stiles' general direction. “Are you saying you did this on purpose? That you, what, decided to step out of your body like it was a pair of shoes?!”

Stiles winced. “Er, yes?”

“Are you insane?!”

Stiles took a deep breath. “Look, I told you I did this before, in the woods during the storm, remember? I just- I thought that maybe I could see what was happening with Scott and stuff... Oh, shit. Scott. Okay, you know what? I'll explain later. Scott's somehow connected to the Nemeton and I think it's because of the ritual. Actually, if I'm right, he's not just connected to it, he's inside it. So I'm going to go and try to get him out. Just... don't move my body.”

“Okay. Just... be careful, Stiles.”

“I will, promise.”

Stiles turned to walk back to the Nemeton, managing to just overhear Ethan asking Derek where Merlin was and whether someone should maybe go get him. Stiles paused at that.

“That's actually a really good question,” he muttered. “Where the hell is Merlin? Guy's got a real knack for not being around when he's needed.”

He heard Coyote chuckle and turned his head to him. “Emrys is not as old as we are, but he is wise,” he said. “He knows when to bestow wisdom and when to step back and allow wisdom to be learnt. Some lessons must be lived and felt in one's own flesh to be understood, or else they have no meaning.”

Stiles blinked. It wasn't like he hadn't suspected... “You're saying he could've helped a lot more than he has, but made us learn things the hard way instead?”

“His powers are not yours. He gave you all you needed: open eyes to your own potential and the tools to help you realize it.”

Stiles took a deep breath as he stared at the webbing that surrounded Scott. He shoved all his fear and nervousness to the side and reached his hand out to touch it.

“Well, on to the next lesson, then,” he said and forced himself not to move away as the tendrils wrapped around his wrist.

Stiles blinked as white danced across his eyes. When he opened them again he was in a familiar white room - at least it looked like a room. When he concentrated on its edges, he could see where they blurred and had a feeling that no matter how hard he tried, how fast he ran, he would never be able to reach those walls. The stark white emptiness felt like a barren wasteland and it made him shiver. He missed how the world had vibrated with life.

Slowly, he turned in a circle, carefully scanning the room. Scott was easy to find. His friend was standing next to a familiar giant tree trunk, seemingly staring off into space.

“Scott!” Stiles cried out and began to run towards him. When Scott didn't acknowledge him, he tried again. “Scott!”

This time he saw Scott jolt at the sound of his name.

“Stiles?” he called back uncertainly.

“Scott! I'm right here!”

Scott looked around frantically, looking like he was on the verge of panic. “Where? I can't see you! Stiles?”

“I'm coming! Just hang on, Scott, I'm on the way!”

Stiles pushed his legs to go faster, yet his progress was slow – like he was trying to run through jello, even though the way before him was clear. Little by little he came closer to Scott until, finally he saw Scott's eyes; they were white with what looked like a back-light of red glowing within. Shit, now what?

Stiles took a deep breath. “Scott!” he called out as loud as he could. “Scott, reach out your hand! Follow the sound of my voice! You're a werewolf, you should be able to do this! I'm right here! Just reach out and find me!”

Stiles continued to call, to yell and scream at Scott, willing his friend to find him. His lungs burned with the combined effort of running and calling out. Holding out a hand, he closed his eyes, pushing past his mental limits. He never stopped yelling.

And then something caught his hand.

Stiles stopped and looked up. Scott looked down at him, eyes alpha red and painfully relieved to see him. Stiles gripped his hand and squeezed back as he smiled at Scott.

“Good to see you, buddy,” he gasped.

Scott smiled. “Yeah. You have no idea. What's going on?”

Stiles straightened and frowned at him. “You mean you don't know?”

“Uh... the last thing I remember was heading for lunch with Isaac, Allison and... Danny and Ethan, I think. Then I heard someone calling me. At least I think I heard them.” He frowned, confusion evident on his face. He shook his head. “Anyway, I went to go see who it was and then the next thing I knew I was lost. Like, I was wandering through this mist and I thought I heard voices around me and there might've been some lights and stuff, but I couldn't really understand anyone or see anything properly. And then everything went quiet and no matter how much I yelled, no one answered.”

Stiles placed a hand on Scott's shoulder to calm him down. It worked; Scott went immediately silent, staring imploringly at Stiles, his eyes silently begging him for answers.

“You're in the Nemeton, Scott. That's who was calling you. I came in to get you out.”

Scott's eyes widened. “The Nemeton? But, how-”

“I think the ritual connected you to it and after pulling a Lazarus, it needed energy to rebuild its strength. So it pulled at the one connection it had now that the Darach's dead.”

“Great. So, uh, how are we going to get out of here?”

“I... hadn't actually thought that far ahead actually.”

Kik-kik-kik!

Stiles snapped his head in the direction of Storm's voice. He grinned. “There, that way!”

Scott frowned. “Huh? What way?”

Kik-kik-kik!

“There! Can't you hear her?”

Stiles eyes widened as Scott shook his head. “Nope, sorry.”

“Well, crap.” Stiles took a deep breath. “Wait, give me a second... Oh, oh, I know! What if you use your alpha howl? It's sort of like a super power; maybe it can break us out!”

Scott's face lit up with excitement. “That's an awesome idea! Yeah, let's do that.”

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Stiles already knew there was something wrong when his face didn't shift, but Scott's eyes glowed deep red when they snapped open. Then he threw his head back and howled.

When the last of the sound died out, Scott looked to Stiles hopefully.

Stiles winced. “That, uh, didn't sound very alpha-y,” he said. “Sorry, buddy.”

Scott's face fell. He sighed. “Yeah, didn't think so. But it was a good idea.”

“Would've been a better one if it had worked.”

Kik-kik-kik!

“Yeah, yeah, I hear yah, buddy,” Stiles muttered as he ran a hand through his hair.

“I still don't,” said Scott with a pout. Then his expression turned thoughtful “It's like she's only calling to you. Could that be possible? That only you can hear her, because she's, like, your hawk and not mine?”

Stiles looked up at Scott and blinked. “Uh, maybe? I guess I do sort of have a connection to her even if I have no idea how it works. Oh. Ooooh! Oh my god, I'm an idiot! We're all idiots, complete dumbasses!”

“Stiles, what are you talking about?” Scott asked, looking slightly worried.

Stiles grabbed Scott by the shoulders. “About the completely obvious!”

“Uh...”

“Listen, Scott, I'm going to have to go on ahead, 'cause I don't think Lydia will be able to hear me from here. But don't worry, it won't be long; just wait for it. I mean, you know, listen for it.” Then he took a deep breath and let go of Scott's hand. He turned into the void and yelled: “Okay, Storm, one more time!”

At first there was nothing but silence. For several, terrifying moments, Stiles couldn't even hear Scott. And then:

Kik-kik-kik!

Scott cried out in alarm when Stiles disappeared. Once again, the emptiness enveloped him in its cold, silent embrace and he fought to swallow down the apprehension. What if Stiles was wrong, what if he couldn't- no. Scott took a deep breath. Stiles had said he knew how to get him out of this place, so Scott would trust him. They were brothers in every way but blood. He clenched his fists tightly and listened.

When the sound came, it exploded through the silence like an erupting volcano. Scott laughed with relief and then took off, running towards it, reaching for every last note until, finally, he saw light that wasn't white, wasn't dead.

This time, the howl that ripped from his throat carried the deep resonance of Alpha.


 

Lydia bit her bottom lip nervously. It'd been nearly half an hour since Stiles had said he was going after Scott and she was beginning to worry. Well, they all were. Derek and Aiden were pacing in opposite directions, passing each other in regular intervals in a way that should've been choreographed, but wasn't. She was fairly certain they weren't even aware they were doing it. Deaton and Allison's dad were checking Stiles' pulse every two minutes while Allison and Isaac were standing by Scott and watching for even the most minute change.


 

Even Storm had fallen silent.

“Lydia!”

Lydia jumped at the sudden voice. “Stiles?” she looked towards the sound of his voice, not at all surprised she couldn't see anything. “Stiles, is that you?”

Everyone else around her froze, heads snapping in her direction, but she ignored them in favour of concentrating on hearing Stiles. His voice sounded muffled, distant.

“Yes! And I found Scott.”

She smiled. “Good! That's good.” Now she turned to the others. “Stiles says he found Scott.”

“Woah, wait, don't celebrate just yet!” Her smile dimmed, but she didn't interrupt. “He's in the Nemeton, but he's lost, can't find his way back. He needs help.”

“What do you need us to do?” She didn't bother asking the others, knowing they'd do whatever they had to.

“Scott's been fighting the darkness around his heart by concentrating on his friends, the pack. It's his connection to the world outside the Nemeton. You need to call for him. Or, I mean, the pack does.”

Lydia nodded once and then met the pack's anxious eyes. “Howl so that Scott can hear you and find his way back.”

Immediately, the werewolves were on their feet and then their howls joined together into a chorus that shook the ground around them. Lydia had heard them before, but not like this: the sound was primal, echoing down from the roots of her hair to the tips of her toes and she had to wrench herself away from the impulse to flee.

“Scott!” Allison suddenly exclaimed and then Isaac's howl cut off abruptly as he ran forward to help catch Scott before he hit the ground. “Oh my god, Scott, are you alright?”

Lydia heard Scott groan loudly. “Uh, yeah, I think so,” he answered as he rubbed at his forehead. He froze suddenly and looked up. “Stiles! He-he was there, did he get out alright? Is he okay?”

Lydia knelt down at Stiles' side and gently touched his arm. “Stiles?”

A few moments later, Stiles took a deep breath and then his eyes fluttered open. “Yeah?” he asked in a hoarse, scratchy voice.

Lydia smiled widely. “He's alright!” she called back to the others.

Chapter Text


 

Sheriff Stilinski flashed his badge and the young man in the NDMS jacket let him pass without comment. Inside, the huge building was a silent hive of activity dressed in yellow smocks, labcoats and decked out with white plastic. Additional lighting had been brought in to illuminate the tables that ran almost its entire length and the light above the industrial freezer on the far side indicated it was on.

The old warehouse had once belonged to a family-owned wholesale grocery chain, but had sat empty for over ten years. Now it was the temporary morgue and base of operations to the National Disaster Medical System's subsidiary, DMORT.

Identifying the majority of the earthquake's victims had been relatively straight-forward as many had had identification on them, but for the ones that weren't so simple, forensic pathologists had been working for weeks to confirm their identities and establish cause of death. They were nearly done, which is why the call asking him to come take a look at something had been a surprise.

“Sheriff Stilinski?”

The sheriff turned to find a woman in a lab coat, holding a plastic dixie cup that smelt of coffee, addressing him. She looked slightly older than him with blond, shoulder-length hair that was tied back out of her face, except for a few stubborn strands that had obviously slipped out.

“Yes, I'm Sheriff Stilinski,” he replied. “Doctor Brennan?”

She blinked and then smiled warmly at him as she held out a hand. “Wow, that was fast,” she said. “Agent McCall hasn't arrived yet.”

He shook her hand and shrugged. “I was on my way home for the day. It was easy enough to just turn the car around and head here instead.”

She winced. “Sorry for ruining your evening then.”

He sighed. “Well, it's not exactly ruined yet...”

“An optimist in law enforcement? However have you managed to survive?” She beckoned him to follow as she headed down the row of tables.

“I have a son. I figure if I can manage to stay optimistic that one day he will grow up to be a mature, sensible adult, I can stay optimistic about the rest of my life.”

She laughed. “Sounds like a teenager.”

He nodded. “Stiles is sixteen.”

“Aaah. Thankfully, my daughter's well past the worst of that stage. Although I do remember her nearly blowing an entire year's worth of university tuition to follow her basetball-playing boyfriend to Italy. At least, I think it was Italy.”

He chuckled and then grew serious as Doctor Brennan stopped at a workstation: a foldable plastic table covered with a thin metal tray and a smaller table next to it on wheels containing medical equipment and a long-necked lamp. Beneath a sheet of white cloth, the sheriff could clearly make out the outline of a body.

“This is one of the bodies recovered from the trees behind the ruins of a housing complex on the south end,” she said as she carefully pulled the sheet off the body.

“The Lincoln Road complex,” the sheriff said, dread forming in his stomach. The body on the table was that of a young man – early to mid twenties – with short dark hair and a peaceful look on his face. There was some bruising on his left shoulder, a slight scrape on his left cheek and a stitched-up incision from the autopsy. He had a feeling he already knew what she was going to tell him.

“I've done a number of these disasters – or Majors as the NDMS likes to call them - and spent hours upon hours digging through body parts in order to ID victims. When I arrive on scene, I expect to see broken, mutilated bodies in all sorts of states.” She then motioned to the body of the young man on the table. “This, is unusual.”

Sheriff Stilinski nodded gravely and she took that as her cue to continue.

“So, I took some samples and sent them out to be tested. The young man had his wallet and driver's license with him, so figuring out his identity was a piece of cake. I moved on.” She bent over and picked up a file folder that had been sitting on the second shelf of her small portable table. “The bloodwork came back this morning along with the other tests, so I took a peek. Everything came back negative: there was nothing in his blood that shouldn't have been there. He's also not showing any obvious signs of heart-attack or stroke. Then I opened him up...”

The sheriff sighed. “And you found no signs of ill-health or anything that could indicate why he suddenly dropped dead.”

“It happens,” she said, watching him carefully. “Sometimes the body just... gives up... young people too. There's no medical explanation as to why it happens, but there have been numerous documented cases.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “But not at the rate it's been happening here,” he concluded.

She nodded solemnly. “I rushed the bloodwork through the FBI lab in San Francisco and the lab tech mentioned he'd had similar cases from Beacon Hills already.”

“So you've got no explanation either?” he asked, willing her to give him an answer he could work with.

She didn't, just shook her head. “Nope, sorry, I've never seen anything like it. Of course, I don't exactly work on normal cases either. In fact, the only reason this body came to me at all was because the morgue assistant had confused me with someone else.”

He braced himself as he asked: “Are you recommending we contact the Centre for Disease Control?”

She bit her lip. “I'd say send them the reports at the very least. It'll ruin someone's weekend having to come down and investigate, but better than having to deal with a mass contagion breakout without any warning. Just because the tests aren't showing anything, doesn't mean there isn't something there.”

He winced, hating the thought of doing that to someone – especially when he knew they weren't going to find anything. “Send me your report and I'll add it to the file,” he said. Then he paused. “Or e-mail it, since I think most of your team is leaving tomorrow.”

She nodded tiredly. “My plane leaves for Montreal in the morning. I'll type up what I can this evening and try to have it to you before I leave. I'm assuming I can leave it with your front office at the station?”

He nodded. “Yes, that'll be fine. Thank you.”

There was a pause and when the sheriff looked up, it was to see the doctor eyeing him thoughtfully. He raised an eyebrow in question. “You know,” she finally said. “Agent McCall sent me the full file after I'd talked to the FBI lab. There was a note about one possible survivor of whatever this was.”

Sheriff Stilinski froze for a moment, before taking a deep breath and forcing his muscles to relax. “My son,” he whispered, unable to keep the horror that still lived behind his eyelids at night completely out of his voice.

She nodded. “He was near death for no apparent reason: healthy one moment, low on blood-sugar and collapsing the next. But, thankfully, he managed to pull through and survive. He had nothing to add to the investigation?”

The sheriff took a deep breath. “Nothing helpful.”

“Hmm... And unhelpful?”

He looked her in the eye. “That depends. Do you believe in ghosts, Doctor Brennan?”

That startled a laugh out of her. “I don't think I'd be able to do this job if I believed in ghosts.” Then she caught sight of something behind him and he half-turned to follow McCall's progress as he made his way towards them through the maze of tables.

“So, we've got another one,” he said in lieu of a greeting.

 


 

Derek smelt her approaching from a distance, but ignored it, refusing to look up from where he was packing insulation into the walls even when he heard footfalls crunching on gravel. He selfishly took every moment he could to prepare himself for this confrontation. Not that he thought all the moments in the world would've helped him be ready. But it was a nice illusion.

“So, you don't call, you don't write – except to send a shitty card for Christmas that arrives two days late. Didn't even call to tell me that you hadn't been squashed by a stray brick after that earthquake and now I come to find that you're rebuilding the house?”

“It collapsed,” he said, still not looking up.

“You're missing the point, Derek.”

Now he finally looked up at Cora, who was looming over him with her arms crossed and a distinctly unamused look on her face. “Apparently your definition of 'cleaning up the property to sell' and mine don't exactly match,” she continued, her eyes flashing yellow momentarily in annoyance.

“Things happened, plans... got altered,” he responded and then shrugged. He himself wasn't entirely sure what they'd been altered to, so it was pointless to try and explain it to anyone else.

“Yeah, I got that when I saw you with the building supplies and smelt all the people in the area and not all of them are werewolves. Also, why is there such a strong lizard smell? Scott didn't turn someone into another kanima, did he?”

“A kanima doesn't actually smell like a lizard.” Cora glared at him. “Mywanwy's a wyvern.”

At that she blinked. “Who's a what?”

“A wyvern's sort of like the distant cousin of a dragon. Smaller, less intelligent, less magical cousin.”

Cora's face went blank. “And why, exactly, was there a dragon cousin here?”

Derek looked away. “It's a long story.”

“Good. I'm starving; you can buy me dinner and tell me all about it.”

 


 

When they'd arrived back from Merlin's cottage, Storm had immediately flown into her tree (there was no point in pretending it wasn't hers) and fallen asleep. Stiles chuckled at the tired-out hawk. Not that he didn't sympathize: his own arms felt like they were going to fall off and he knew from experience it would only be worse in the morning. As he climbed the stairs up to his room he unwrapped the cloth bundle Merlin had given him hours ago. The long leather gloves that nearly went up to his elbow still filled him with excitement.

It had taken them a few tries, but the first time Storm had managed to land on his arm without him overbalancing had been amazing. As he'd guessed he would be, Merlin was a patient teacher – though he claimed he wasn't really an expert as most of his knowledge on hawking had come to him by osmosis and watching other people do it. Stiles, on the other hand, was kicking himself that it hadn't occurred to him to google the topic yet. Not that he was ever going to go out hunting with Storm, but having her perched on his forearm like that had been really, really cool.

Even if he did get smacked in the face with her wings a few times.

He carefully stowed the gloves into his closet beside what he called his 'Werewolf Suppiles' and then glanced over to his bedside clock. He had a little over an hour before the others were due to arrive, which meant more than enough time for a hot shower.

When he was done, he went down to the kitchen to find Allison already there wrapping potatoes in tin foil. He grinned at her and then started pulling vegetables out of the fridge. His dad was trusting them with the barbeque this evening, which was a first of epic proportions.

Scott and Isaac showed up half an hour later (probably thrown out of their house by Mrs. McCall, who was hosting the parents this evening) with a bag full of hotdogs. Scott and Stiles shared a grin and ran off to fire up the barbeque. Neither one of them said it out loud, but they were both thinking how much it felt like they were twelve all over again and finally allowed to stay up a little later - like grownups - on non-school nights.

Derek was the last to arrive.

When the doorbell rang it was only Stiles, Danny and Ethan in the kitchen, the others all outside and enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. Ethan looked to the front door and cocked his head.

“It's Derek,” he said before frowning and sniffing the air. “And... oh.”

“And oh?” said Stiles as he quickly washed his hands and dried them before heading over to open the door. “That 'oh' had better not be Peter.”

“Uh, no, it's not Peter.”

“Hey Derek, you're late,” said Stiles as he opened the door to Derek's usual cheerful, smiling face. He got a glower in response and a container of store-bought cookies shoved into his arms. They were double chocolate-chip, so Stiles forgave him the rudeness. Then he looked behind Derek and caught sight of the unexpected visitor. “Oh, and Cora.” He blinked and then smiled at her. “Hey Cora. When did you come back to Beacon Hills?”

“Stiles,” she greeted him with a nod.

“She got here last night,” Derek answered for her.

Neither one of them looked particularly happy. In fact, Stiles realized as he looked between them, Derek hadn't looked this blatantly unhappy since losing his alpha status. He opened the door wide enough for them to enter. “Uh, well, come on in. Hotdogs should be done any minute. Just, be warned, Storm's somehow still asleep right now, but I'm not actually sure how she's going to handle intrusions into her territory. We're sort of hoping we can bribe her with food – or that she possibly won't care because you're all, like, land-dwellers or something. I mean, she's never minded anyone in the yard before – I mean, except for the neighbour's cat - but there's never been that many people-”

“Who the hell is Storm?” Cora asked with a confused frown.

“Stiles' bird,” said Derek.

“You have a bird?” Cora blinked in disbelief. “Seriously? As what, a full moon snack?”

Stiles rolled his eyes as he led them through the now-empty kitchen. The moment they exited the backdoor into the yard, Cora forgot all about Storm. Her eyes changed to beta yellow and she growled, her face morphing at the sight of the twins.

Only Danny and Lydia's hands on their respective boyfriends' arms kept the twins from responding to her challenge.

“Cora!” Scott called from behind the barbeque. He'd snatched up the barbeque tongues from Stiles as soon as he'd dug them out and hadn't let anyone else near them since. “Hi! I didn't know you were back in town.”

Cora glanced at him, but her eyes snapped back to the twins almost immediately. “I got here last night. Was wondering what was taking Derek so long with the house.”

Stiles winced. Ah right, he realized, Derek was supposed to have come to Beacon Hills to sell the property, not rebuild it. And since Hale Communication was practically legendary with its lack of, well, anything resembling communication, he probably hadn't told Cora about the change in plan. Last night must not have been fun for Derek in the slightest.

If Scott realized the implications of what she'd just said, he didn't show it. Instead, his eyes lit up. “Wow, yeah, it's looking really good, isn't it? You should've seen it just after the earthquake: it was a mess. I-”

“What are they doing here?” Cora growled out.

Beside her, Derek sighed. “They're a part of Scott's pack,” he said. She turned to glare at him. He glared right back. “It's Scott's pack.”

Kak-kak-kak

Stiles smirked as Cora and Derek both started. He looked up into the tree and waved. “Hey Storm, you're awake now, I see. 'Course, I don't really know how you managed to sleep through all the noise in the first place, but your timing couldn't be more perfect.”

Storm blinked down at him in greeting (at least, Stiles thought it was a greeting) before turning her sharp gaze to Cora. The wolfed-out werewolf was staring back at the hawk in amazement.

“That's not a bird,” she said finally. “That's a hawk.”

Stiles shrugged. “Bird of prey's still a bird. Just a way cooler bird.”

Isaac snorted.

“Hotdogs are ready, guys,” Scott suddenly announced.

“Thank god, I'm starving,” said Danny before dragging Ethan over to the barbeque.

“What about the potatoes?” Stiles called, not entirely sure he trusted Scott to have paid attention to anything but the hotdogs.

Allison grinned and gave him a thumb's up.

Cora spent the evening sitting as far from Ethan and Aiden as she possibly could, sending them the occasional glare, but other than a slight mishap with a hotdog that fell through the grill, bloodshed was averted. They didn't even need to use the fire extinguisher Stiles' dad had insisted they had on hand.

 


 

Sanuye parked her pickup along the side of the road and double-checked the address she'd written down before turning off her GPS and getting out of the car. It was a fairly ordinary-looking suburban neighbourhood, not fancy but certainly not shabby. Despite the earthquake damage that still scarred many of the houses, it looked well-lived and cared for. There had been bright red tricycle sitting next to a bright green BMX bike on one of the lawns she'd passed by, right next to a house with plastic over empty window panes and a roof that was only half there.

As she walked up the front steps, she felt her eyes pulled upwards, above the door. She didn't recognize the talisman that hung there, but understood its meaning. It was a protection charm, probably Merlin's handiwork. She rang the doorbell and noticed another pull of power, this one different, less... magical. She felt Stiles in it.

A few moments passed and then a dark-haired woman answered the door, her face lighting up in a bright smile. “Hi, you must be Sanuye?” she said reaching her hand out. “I'm Melissa McCall.”

Sanuye smiled back and shook the woman's hand. “Yes, I'm Sanuye. It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Mrs. McCall. Thank you for inviting me.”

“Please, call me Melissa,” the other woman said as she led her into the house. “Stiles and Scott have attached at the hip pretty much since they were toddlers; he's practically a second son to me at this point. And, trust me, the pleasure is all mine. I'm sure it'll come as a complete shock to hear that Stiles has talked a lot about you and it's made us all incredibly curious.”

She paused in front of the living room and looked back at her with an impish grin. “Besides, you managed to convince a Stilinski to eat and sleep when they're stubbornly refusing to. That almost qualifies as a miracle.”

“Hey, I heard that!”

Sanuye exchanged a smirk with Melissa.

“Hello, Sanuye!” Merlin called to her as he watched Stiles' father fiddle with something by the television.

“Hello, Merlin,” she replied with a raised eyebrow. “I didn't know you were still around.”

“Er, yes, sorry. I've been rather busy...”

“Merlin, did you dump a student on her and then never went back?” a smooth voice with a hint of exasperation asked. Sanuye looked to the man sitting on the opposite end of the couch from Merlin. And stared.

He was the strangest being she'd ever seen. There was a feeling of... not death, but unlife surrounding him. Deep within him, she could see a spark of power: closer to Merlin's than Stiles' and not as sharp.

“You are not alive,” she finally said, certain her confusion could be heard in her voice. “But there is-”

“I am a golem,” the man said, waving off her confusion.

“His name's Adrian,” Merlin added helpfully.

“I see.”

“That pretty much sums up all of our reactions,” said a man with short brown hair and a pleasant smile. Sanuye recognized him from the time she'd helped Stiles hunt the alpha werewolf in the forest. He stepped forward and held out a hand. “I don't think we were actually introduced before. I'm Chris Argent.”

She shook his hand. “I remember. Your daughter is an impressive marksman.”

He grinned proudly. “Thank you. She definitely has a gift for the bow.”

“Aha!” came the sudden exclamation from the television.

“Figured it out?” Melissa asked with amusement.

“Yes.” Stiles father beamed proudly as the brightly-coloured opening credits to Mario Kart began to play along with accompanying music.

“That only took you fifteen minutes,” said Adrian from the couch. “That's almost impressive.”

“And it'll continue to be impressive so long as the boys don't find out,” Melissa added with a wink to Sanuye.

Sanuye smiled back in amusement. “Video games?”

Stiles father shrugged. “We couldn't think of anything that sounded more like mindless entertainment. And after the last couple of months we've had, mindless entertainment sounded like the best kind of therapy. Besides, I'm letting them use the barbeque, so it's only fair we get the playstation.”

She looked to Melissa, who chuckled. “I had originally had something a lot more sophiticated in mind; something along the lines of a wine and cheese. Somehow it's ended up as more of a frat party complete with beer and pizza.”

Just then the doorbell rang.

“Speaking of pizza,” said Chris Argent and then he and the sheriff left to get the door.

“Oh, and just so you're aware, Sanuye,” Merlin piped up. “There's apparently some sort of pact you're expected to join that involves not telling Stiles how much pizza his dad consumes.”

Sanuye raised her eyebrows. Next to her Melissa giggled before leaning in to whisper cospiratorialy. “I made him promise to make up for it by eating plenty of the kale salad I made.”

“You know, I don't understand this modern obsession with odd and exotic vegetables,” Merlin began thoughtfully. “Back in my day-”

“Oh God, don't start remeniscing again: it'll never end,” Adrian interrupted with an exasperated roll of his eyes.

Back in my day, we had to make do with the very basic of vegetables. Only what we could grow ourselves, didn't even have so much as an ordinary potato-”

“Of course not, they came from the New World in the sixteenth century.”

“-and if you wanted meat, you had to look the poor animal in the eye as you offed it. Unless you were a knight, then it was apparently called hunting and it was a sport and-”

“Do we have anything stronger than beer?”

“Can you even get drunk?” Melissa asked, ignoring Merlin, who was still waxing on about the days he remembered in some indeterminate past.

“If I am very determined.”

Chris and the sheriff walked back into the livingroom and began to arrange pizzas on the coffee table. Adrian, meanwhile went into the kitchen to bring out more beer – he handed one to Sanuye before setting the rest on the table. True to her word, Melissa had a big bowl of kale salad to add to the spread.

Sanuye smiled and took a drink of her beer.

“So, Sanuye,” the sheriff said as he handed her a plate (it was ceramic, so apparently Melissa had insisted on some measure of non-frathouse civilization). “Stiles said a couple weeks ago that you took him to a birth?”

“Yes, one of the village women went into labour just after he'd arrived.”

“Really?” Melissa turned to her with interest.

She'd forgotten that Stiles had said his best friend's mother was a nurse. It was a pleasant surprise to have something in common with someone in the group, other than knowing Stiles. It was a less pleasant surprise to later on discover that Adrian was secretly a Mario Kart guru. But, then again, at least she wasn't the only one surprised.

Chapter Text


 

Scott's eyes fluttered open at the sound of a soft snick. Despite his blurry vision, he could see it was dark behind the curtains, though his internal clock told him it was morning. Barely. It took several sleep-fogged moments to recognize the familiar smell of the Stilinski living room couch squashed against his face. He lifted his head slightly and took another deep breath. Other, equally-familiar scents entered his consciousness, where they mingled together into the comfortable smell of pack with an undercurrent of hotdogs, popcorn and sweat.

He listened. All he could hear was a chorus of peaceful breathing, punctuated by the steady drone of someone's snores (it sounded like Allison). There was no sound out of place, no unusual smells. Satisfied they were safe, Scott plopped his head back down and closed his eyes, letting sleep claim him once more.

 


 

Agent McCall pulled out of the Starbucks driveway, his morning coffee already teasing his mind into a higher state of awareness from its smell alone. He waited until he was clear of the twists and turns of the parking lot and driving down the half-deserted early Saturday morning streets before taking his first sip. He was fairly certain he'd been the first person through the drive-through that morning, which meant the coffee was wonderfully fresh, even if the employee handing it to him had fumbled with everything.

Sheriff Stilinski had the weekend off - his first one off in months he'd said yesterday – and the FBI agent intended to take advantage of every minute of it. It wasn't that he couldn't just request files from the sheriff, but his superiors had asked him to look into something and he wanted to have the opportunity to look on his own without the sheriff hovering over him.

It wasn't that he thought the sheriff wasn't a good person, or wasn't good at his job. A lot of incredibly strange things had been happening in Beacon Hills recently and McCall himself didn't think he could've handled it with the calm the sheriff seemed to have. At the very least he would've probably found himself calling his superiors and asking them if they were sure there wasn't an X-Files unit stashed away in some basement they could send to deal with it instead of him.

But he was an FBI agent, and a good one. He may have been a horrible husband and a failure of a father, but his investigative instincts were excellent. The sheriff knew more than he was telling.

Their sons had been friends since the moment they'd met at the playground and, a few playdates later, so had their mothers. The sheriff had easily incorporated himself into that mix and had grown closer to Melissa as his wife got sick and slowly began to slip further and further away from him. When he was feeling petty and mean, McCall wanted to blame the sheriff for the break-up even though he knew rationally that wasn't true. Melissa had never cheated on him and the sheriff had been too heart-broken at the time to have eyes for anything but his job, his son and the occasional bottle.

Yes, Agent McCall was willing to admit he had made mistakes, but his instinct for people had never failed him. The sheriff was a good man, yes, but until he could figure out what it was he wasn't telling, he would treat him with suspicion. Because it hadn't escaped his notice how often their sons' names seemed to appear in the reports connected to some of the more bizarre things that had happened around Beacon Hills recently.

He was so lost in thought that he almost missed seeing her. He caught a glimpse as he drove by and then glanced into the rearview mirror out of habit. What he saw made him frown and carefully ease the car into the empty parking lot beside a bank. He tried to make as little noise as possible as he cut the motor and got out of the car, closing the door as gently as he could.

The girl walking in his direction looked familiar, but he couldn't immediately place her. She had long red hair that looked slightly mused, as though she'd just woken up, and was wearing grey track pants with a bright green polo shirt that brought out the colour of her eyes. Eyes that were staring blankly into the distance, not acknowledging his presence or anything else around her. She was barefoot.

He approached her carefully, trying to gauge whether she was sleepwalking or in shock.

“Hello?” he called to her as loudly as he dared.

She continued walking, her eyes never straying from whatever she was seeing. He stepped into her path and she calmly stepped around him. He grabbed her arm as she passed by. “Excuse me?”

The reaction was instantaneous. The girl froze and then took a deep breath, looking as though she'd been abruptly woken up. He tensed himself for action, but the girl just looked around frantically and then groaned.

“Not again,” he heard her mutter.

“Are you alright?” he asked her and her head snapped to him with wide eyes that looked visibly startled. He let go of her and watched as she stared at the arm he'd been holding.

Then she shook herself out of her stupor. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, thank you, I'm fine.”

“Other than the sleepwalking?” he said.

She frowned. “Sleepwalking... right, yes, obviously other than that.” She looked around. “But there were others... how did they...?”

“Would you like me to drive you home?” he asked gently. She seemed to hesitate at the offer. He felt the corners of his mouth quirk in amusement: she was a smart girl. He took out his badge and showed it to her. “Don't worry, I'm FBI. Agent Rafe McCall.”

Her eyebrows rose. “Scott's dad,” she said simply.

He raised an eyebrow in response. If she was one of Scott's friends, that would certainly explain why she looked familiar. She seemed to consider something for a moment before nodding.

“Alright, sure. We were having a sleepover at Stiles' place, though.”

“I know where that is,” he assured her even as he processed that information. “What's your name?”

“Lydia,” she answered and he forced himself not to visibly respond to the name.

Stiles' friend Lydia. He'd bet his badge that meant this girl was Lydia Martin: another familiar name from the police reports. She apparently had a dubious gift for finding dead bodies. He gestured her towards his car, intending to take full advantage of the trip to the Stilinski house to observe her. When he reached the car, he looked back to find she'd stopped part-way and was staring away into the distance. That blank, unfocused look was back in her eyes.

He frowned. Was there something mentally wrong with her? He wracked his brain, trying to remember if the reports had mentioned whether she'd spoken to a therapist after finding those bodies. A traumatic experience like that could've had a profound impact on her.

Then she moved, like a marionette pulled by an invisible string, she threw her head back and screamed.

Agent McCall's hands automatically flew to his ears, but it barely helped. The scream was loud, louder than should've been possible, and it seemed to vibrate in the air, linger in a way normal sound waves couldn't. He felt the sound in his bones and right down into his soul. It went on and on and he grit his teeth against it, but all that did was make his teeth rattle less.

Then the sound stopped. The ensuing silence echoed with emptiness. For a few moments, McCall just leaned against his car and gasped for breath. What the hell was that?!

When he finally looked up, Lydia was gone. He cursed and sprang into action, running to the edge of the street. When he looked to the right, he saw her continuing in the same direction she'd been going before stopped her. He ran to catch up. Just as before, she was staring blankly ahead of her, but he paused when he reached out to grab her and then slowly retracted his hand.

Something strange was going on in Beacon Hills. Maybe standing back and letting things play out would be the best way to figure out what that something was. He was fairly certain it wasn't drugs; the girl looked hypnotized more than she looked high.

She didn't stumble once as she led him on through the town's backstreets. When she finally stopped, they were standing in front of a series of small shops and restaurants, each with apartment above them. He carefully observed the area, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.

“What?” he heard Lydia say quietly. “Where the-?”

He turned and met her eyes. “Settler's Road,” he answered her second question. Then he clasped his hands behind his back and looked at her expectantly. “As for what we're doing here, I have no idea. I followed you.”

Lydia's eyes widened and flashed with horror, although whether because he'd followed her or because she'd suddenly realized what she was doing here, he wasn't certain. She looked away for a moment and took a deep breath.

“I need to call Stiles,” she whispered, looking down the alley between two of the buildings. “And the sheriff, need to call the sheriff.” The second sentence was added almost as an afterthought. Her voice barely trembled, but he recognized the tense, still way she held herself and didn't need to look into her eyes to know she was scared. Something down that alley was downright terrifying her.

He took his cellphone out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Here, call them,” he said, deciding not to question why she thought the sheriff would be necessary. She looked away from the alley and then down at the phone in confusion, before taking it silently.

“Stay here,” he said as he took out his gun and began making his way down the alley.

The darkness felt oppressive, but Agent McCall pushed his fear away, using it to sharpen his focus to the world around him as he listened for sounds coming from the shadows he couldn't see into. Nothing jumped out at him, there were no running footsteps, no signs of life whatsoever. He stepped out of the alley and past a large dumpster, into a small parking lot. There were several cars parked there and two beat-up looking bikes locked into a bike stand. To his left there was a large crack in the asphalt with a pile of junk sitting just on the other side of it. He could make out large cables and wires tangled around each other and around what looked like several feet of piping, a severely dented fridge and a large chunk of concrete with metal rods sticking out at odd angles.

And a single, bright orange running shoe.

He swallowed and raised his gun, scanning the area as he approached the pile. A few steps later, the second running shoe came into view, peeking out of the pile at an angle. They were both, of course, attached to a person - a person, who was slumped over top of the pile of junk with a foot long metal rod jutting out of his chest.

Agent McCall checked his pulse, already knowing it was useless, but needing to confirm it anyway. Then he looked up, knowing instantly the young man he was looking at could only have managed to get into this position by falling onto the rod from above. Looking down at him from the top landing, he saw the figure of a women with long, blonde hair and wearing white. She quickly ducked away.

“Hey, you!” he called up. “FBI, stay right where you are!”

There was a steep staircase along the back of the building and he ran to it, racing up the steps with no regard for stealth. As he'd predicted, the landing was empty, but he took in the small table and chair set with a wine bottle and two glasses that was sitting in the corner. An mp3 player dock was softly playing music in the background. The door into the apartment was open.

 


 

It felt like forever had passed since Scott's dad had disappeared into the depths of the alley. She'd called Stiles first, having made a point of memorizing his number a long time ago just in case. Having her life put in danger had quickly taught her the danger of relying entirely on speed-dial. Stiles assured her he'd call his dad before hanging up.

Which now left her shivering in the early morning chill, staring at the dark display window of a small grocery that proclaimed itself 'guaranteed organic and vegan-friendly', clutching the FBI agent's cellphone like a lifeline.

She'd heard him shout something a short while ago. She had barely been able to make out the words, but the sudden sound had made her jump nonetheless. Then the quiet had returned, just as oppressive as before. The plain wooden door beside the shopfront rattled and her gaze snapped to it. She took a step back as she heard a latch being undone. It opened and Agent McCall poked his head out.

“Don't suppose anyone came out this way a little while ago by any chance?” he asked.

She shook her head. “No, I haven't seen anyone around the building at all.”

He sighed and then looked at the phone. “Did you manage to get a hold of them.”

“They're on their way.”

“Good. Wait here for them and tell the sheriff to come 'round the back when he gets here.” He didn't wait for her to answer, before slipping back in and latching the door shut.

Lydia took a deep breath and let it out slowly. There was a dead body 'round back, definitely. A small part of her was irritated at the agent for not telling her, but an even bigger part of her was just happy she didn't actually have to see it herself for once.

She looked up at the steady rumbling of approaching traffic and tensed. She relaxed immediately when three motorcycles rounded the corner, closely followed by a jeep. Her grip relaxed on Agent McCall's cellphone and the tension that had kept her on edge and trembling eased off with what felt like the first real breath she'd taken since falling asleep.

Aiden barely took the time to properly park his motorcycle, practically throwing his helmet at it in his haste to get to her. He pulled her into a tight hug and she let him, putting her arms around him and squeezing back just as hard, ignoring how unsubtly he was sniffing at her, making sure she wasn't hurt.

“I'm fine Aiden,” she finally said with a roll of her eyes. Seriously, werewolves. “I've done this before, remember? I'm a bit shaken up, but fine.”

“Why do I smell my dad here?” Scott asked with a frown.

Lydia pulled away from Aiden. “He's inside the building. He, uh, found me walking down the street and then-” She stopped, words freezing in her throat as the situation hit her in the face. Her eyes widened and she looked up, meeting Stiles eyes. “Oh god, I think he heard me scream.”

“What?!” The exclamation came from several different directions and her friends seemed to take that as their cue to crowd in closer.

Stiles came up to her other side and handed her a sweater, which she slipped on gratefully. Scott and Allison were right behind him with Danny and Ethan a little further off, Isaac just behind them. No, not just her friends, she realized: her pack.

Feeling warmer thanks to the sweater and Aiden's body heat as he put an arm around her, she took a deep breath and thought back. “I remember falling asleep and then the next thing I know someone's grabbing me. It felt like I was waking up and when I looked up there was a man staring at me, looking worried. He said I'd been sleepwalking, which sounded less crazy than anything else I could think of so I went along with it. I-I guess I looked confused enough that he figured he was right. He offered to drive me home and that's when he introduced himself as FBI Agent Rafe McCall.” She took a deep breath. “I was following him to his car and then... everything just went blank... The next thing I know I'm standing right here and then I find out Scott's dad had followed me. He gave me his cellphone to call Stiles and his dad and then he went out back to look around... I'm positive he's found a body there, but...”

“Lydia.” Lydia jerked towards Stiles, who was smiling at her reassuringly. “It's not your fault. If you did scream and he heard you then we'll figure out a way to deal with it. Maybe sleepwalking and psychic abilities are the way to go, 'cause it's a slightly more normal-sounding crazy. Don't worry about it just yet, okay?”

She nodded. Then she groaned. “He's going to want to tell my parents, isn't he?”

Stiles winced and then looked to Scott. “Er, yeah, probably,” said Scott with an apologetic look.

“Great, that's just great.”

A truck drove up just then. The sheriff and a woman she didn't recognize got out.

“Sanuye?!” Stiles exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

“Driving your father as he's had too much to drink to drive safely.”

“I could've driven on my own no problem,” Stiles' dad muttered.

“Yes, but what sort of example would that have been for your son?”

The change was instantaneous. All eyes snapped to the newcomer, the wolves tensed, ready to spring into action, to defend. Lydia moved fast, slipping out of Aiden's grasp to step forward to hand the FBI agent back his cellphone. He glanced down at her momentarily in order to take it, but his posture was tense. She could tell he sensed the mood of the group in front of him.

“Did you call the sheriff's office or just the sheriff?” he asked, his eyes never leaving the group and narrowing slightly as he observed them. Lydia realized with a growing sense of dread that he was trying to figure them out.

“Er, well, I called Stiles and he said he'd call his dad...” she said.

“Uh, yeah, I did,” said Stiles as he elbowed Scott. “I mean, he's here, right?”

The sheriff sighed. “What Agent McCall's trying to say is that you should've called the department so they can send people to close off the crime scene.” He yawned and then pulled out his cell. “I'll do it. Then you can show me what you've found, Rafe.”

Kik-kik-kik

They all looked up at the sound. Storm circled above them lazily, her eyes seemingly trained on Stiles. The hawk dipped closer and everyone around Stiles took a step back.

“This is Storm?” Sanuye asked, the only person brave enough to step closer.

“Uh, yeah, although I have no idea what she's doing...”

Then the hawk dived downwards, levelling out so that she soared just over Stiles' head.

“Stiles, get down!” Agent McCall yelled as he took out his gun, pointing it at the hawk.

“Dad, no!” Scott cried and ran to his dad, grabbing hold of his arm. “No, it-it's okay. That's Stiles' hawk – or possibly he's her human, we're not entirely sure how that works – but she's not going to hurt him.” A pause. “I think.”

“Scott, you do realize it's probably illegal to own wild animals in the city.”

“It's not his fault; she adopted him! And what do you mean 'probably'?!”

“The only animals I deal with are the human kind.” He still looked wary, but lowered his gun anyway even as Storm took another gentle glide towards Stiles.

This time, she came in even lower, her claws extended out.

“Aw, come on, “ Stiles whined. “My arms feel like they're going to fall off and I'm not even wearing-”

He raised one of his arms anyway. Storm latched onto it easily. The arm sagged slightly under her weight.

“Holy- ow! Ow, claws... shit they're sha-aahkk!” Stiles squawked as Storm used her wings to stabilize herself and inadvertently smacked him with a face-full of feathers. He sputtered and took a wavering step backwards.

Kik-kik-kik

“You can complain all you want, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm not a tree!”

Storm seemed to huff as she folded her wings and settled herself on Stiles' arm, looking like she'd decided she was going to stay there until she was good and ready to leave.

Laughter from above startled them all and they looked up as a shirtless, sleep-rumbled young man began to clap his hands. “Dude, that was totally awesome!” he said. “Even if it's, like six a.m..”

Agent McCall stepped forward, flashing his badge. “FBI. I'm sorry, sir, do you live here?”

The smile disappeared from the young man's face. “Uh, no, this is my girlfriend's place. But she's here too.”

“And have you been in all night?”

“Uh, yeah, since about, like eleven or something.”

“Then could you please come down; I have a few questions to ask you about your neighbour.”

The young man frowned. “Who, Jeremy? What's he done?”

“He's dead.”

His eyes widened as he blinked. “He's- holy shit! Seriously? He's really... Fuuuck!” He ran a hand over his face. “I'll, uh, yeah, we'll be, uh, right down.”

The young man disappeared back into the building. Five minutes later, sirens woke up the rest of the residents in the area. After speaking briefly to the newly-arrived deputies, the sheriff came over to his son's group, eyeing Storm warily.

“The rest of you should head on home,” he told them. “Lydia, I'm sorry, but you'll have to come down to the station and give a statement.”

“Then I'll go with her,” said Aiden.

The sheriff looked at him for a moment and then nodded. “Okay. Deputy O'Neil will drive you there now.”

Lydia nodded, preferring to get it over with quickly. She said good-bye to the others and they wished her luck. Aiden squeezed her tightly once more before he headed for his motorcycle while she followed a fresh-faced young deputy to the car.

Stiles watched Lydia get into the squad car and took a deep breath, willing away the nerves fluttering about in his stomach. This wasn't good. Scott's dad was a douche, but he wasn't stupid. They shouldn't have all come and if they'd realized Rafe McCall was here, he would've convinced them not to. Well except for Aiden: there was no way he would've been able to convince Aiden to stay behind. He watched the werewolf take off after the squad car, wishing he were the one accompanying Lydia to make sure she was alright.

“She is an interesting young woman,” said a voice from beside him.

Stiles turned to Sanuye. “Yeah, she's amazing,” he said with a smile. “A certified genius too. Lydia's gonna get a Fields Medal for mathematics one day.”

Understanding flashed through Sanuye's eyes and she gave him a sad smile. “Sometimes, people have to strive towards what they are meant to do regardless of what they leave behind... or have to watch leave them behind.”

Stiles wondered if she spoke from experience, but didn't ask. “Yeah.” Storm moved up his arm, making him wince. He looked at her with mock annoyance. “Will you stay still? You're seriously not light, you know.”

Storm ignored him, instead cocked her head as her sharp eyes watched Sanuye intently. Stiles turned himself so that they were looking at each other straight-on. “Storm, this is my teacher, Sanuye. Sanuye, this is... Storm.”

Sanuye chuckled and nodded to Storm solemnly. “It is an honour to finally meet you.”

Kik-kik-kik

They stared at one another for a long while before Stiles interrupted them.

“I'm not sure yet what breed she is. I mean, I've figured out she's probably a chickenhawk of some sort, but based on the colouring she could either be an immature Cooper Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk.”

Sanuye was silent for a moment. “She feels young, so I would say a Cooper Hawk.”

“Oh, cool.” He looked to Storm. “That means you'll get really wicked-looking red eyes as you get older.”

Kik-kik-kik

Stiles felt her muscles bunch up as she prepared to take off, apparently having had enough of the silly humans. He lowered his arm like Merlin had shown him and then moved upward with her as she launched herself off his arm. He hissed as her claws tightened slightly before letting go. Once she was gone, he twisted his arm and finally got a good look at the tears in his hoodie. There were a few scratches on his arm where the claws had gone clear through.

“Yeah, we're not doing that again without the gloves,” he announced.

“She is a good companion for you,” said Sanuye.

Stiles dropped his arm and looked back to her, proud that Storm met Sanuye's approval. “Thanks,” he said. “She's already saved my life once – or at least helped me save Scott's life and kept me from getting lost along the way. Which probably amounts to saving my life.”

Sanuye nodded with a smile. “Collect her feathers as she sheds them and I'll show you how to make an amulet out of them.”

Stiles' eyes widened with excitement. “Really? That would be so cool!”

 


 

Agent McCall watched his son and his son's friends leave with a thoughtful frown. He'd thought before that the sheriff knew more than he was telling. Now he knew he did. But what hadn't made sense to him earlier was why. Why would Sheriff Stilinski deliberately withhold information that could help the investigation along?

The only way it made sense was if the children were involved. Which they most certainly were, though whether it was because of Lydia Martin or something else he wasn't sure. What he did know was that he'd observed some very strange behaviours this morning. The way they'd all looked to him when he arrived, their attention zoned in on him with a focus that had been unnerving. For a few moments, he'd been reminded of some of the police dogs he'd encountered over the years.

Scott had grown into a strong, athletic young man and it was wonderful to see him like that even if he was fairly certain asthma wasn't actually curable like that. He already planned to phone a medical doctor friend of his later to confirm. Either way, regardless of how much Scott had grown and had his asthma miraculously disappear, he should not have been able to overpower a grown man the way he had with that gun. Especially one in top shape.

Something was going on. And that something involved his son. Whatever it was, he needed to get to the bottom of it.

And while he was at it, he'd try and make sense of that thing with the hawk. He wondered if the sheriff would give him a straight answer about that...

Chapter Text


 

 

“Look, Rafe, you know I can't force him to talk to you,” said Melissa with exasperation as she poured herself her second coffee of the morning. She paused mid-pour and looked up at him pointedly over the kitchen island. “And, as I've said before, I'm not going to try. I can ask him to see you, to not close himself off to you completely, but you're going to have to rebuild his trust all on your own.” She finished pouring the mug and held the carafe up. “Coffee?”

“No thanks,” said Rafe. He took a deep breath and looked away, peering out the window and into the yard.

Melissa almost felt sorry for her ex-husband. Almost. Well, maybe a little. He'd done most of it to himself; she may have been the one to serve divorce papers, but he'd been the one to leave in the first place. She wondered what he saw when he looked out the kitchen window. The three of them had once spent hours in that yard, when Scott had been little. That had been before. Before Rafe's job and her job and just... everything. She wasn't even sure anymore.

She took a deep breath. “Rafe,” she tried again, waiting until he turned to her. “I'm not saying you shouldn't try. Just, don't expect it to be easy.”

“So you've been saying.”

“And I'll keep saying it.” She bit her lip. The lack of motion from upstairs hadn't escaped her notice. Two teenage boys getting ready for school on a Monday morning didn't make so little noise unless they were trying very hard to be forgotten. She sent out a prayer that Rafe didn't mess this up. “But, he's worth it, don't you think?”

Rafe's breath hitched. “Yeah,” he said softly. “He is.”

She smiled with relief. Moments later, Scott and Isaac came rushing down the stairs.

“Hey mom!”

“Hi Mrs. McCall!”

She rolled her eyes. “Hi boys,” she greeted them, making sure she caught their eyes so they could see her amusement. Scott's looked suspiciously misty, but she wisely kept quiet about it.

“Good morning, Scott,” said Rafe. “Isaac.”

“Good morning, sir,” said Isaac, sounding much more subdued than when he'd addressed her. He stood carefully angled so that he could see Rafe out of the corner of his eye as he slathered peanut butter on several slices of bread.

“Good morning, dad,” Scott said with a smile. “Are you coming to the lacrosse game tomorrow?”

“I was planning on it, assuming no one else gets killed between now and then.”

“Do they have any information on the body Lydia found on Saturday?”

Rafe shrugged. “Coroner's office has it, should get the report later today. Not that I'll be sharing it with you given that it's part of an on-going investigation.”

The boys exchanged looks and then Scott shrugged. “Oh, okay.” Melissa wondered if Rafe realized they would just get the information from Stiles.

“Shouldn't the two of you be heading off to school?” she asked loudly instead.

Isaac's eyes flitted to the oven clock. “Oh shit,yeah.”

“Language,” she chided him.

Isaac winced. “Er, sowwy,” he said around a mouthful of bread and peanut butter as he scarfed down the last of his breakfast.

Scott, meanwhile, folded over his last slice and grabbed his bag from the floor before rushing out, Isaac at his heels. Rafe followed them into the hall and Melissa trailed along after them. Scott grabbed his jacket out of the closet and shrugged it on as he held the last of his breakfast in his teeth. He then picked up his bag and reached for the door handle.

“Scott,” said Rafe, leaning down to pick up something that had fallen to the ground next to the small table that stood opposite the closet. Scott paused and turned around. “Don't forget your keys.”

Scott's eyes widened when he saw the set of keys dangling from his dad's hand. He patted down his jacket pockets automatically. “Oh geez, yeah,” he said before catching the set of keys his dad threw to him. “Thanks dad.”

The door slammed shut behind them with an air of finality.

Rafe turned to her with amusement. “Was it always this exciting here in the mornings?”

She grinned. “Well there's two of them now, so that certainly helps.”

“Hmm. By the way, do you actually have legal guardianship of Isaac?”

“It's in the works.” Sort of. So far no one had made an issue of it (her heart constricted tightly at the thought that it was because no one cared), but Isaac had made this his permanent address at school. She'd gone and filled out paperwork with social services, but no one had gotten back to her yet. The one time she'd called to follow up, they'd simply told her to be patient, that these things took time.

“I see. Well, I have to say it's nice to say he's expanded his circle of friends. Nothing against Stiles, of course, but expanding your horizons is an important part of growing up too.”

“Of course,” she humoured him. It was no secret that some of the crazier things the two boys had gotten into had usually been Stiles' ideas – even if those ideas were often inspired by something Scott had said initially. “You know that circle of friends is both his and Stiles'.

“I did notice that. Speaking of which, when did Stiles take up hawking?”

Melissa blinked. “Hawking? You mean Storm?” She laughed. “Believe it or not she showed up at the first lacrosse game of the season, stayed to watch the game and then followed Stiles home. She lives in that big tree in their yard now apparently.”

“Really.” She waited patiently, sipping her coffee while her ex-husband mulled it over in his head for a few moments. “But why Stiles?! I know you say he's changed, but I've talked to him and he hasn't changed that much.”

“Let's just say he's been taking lessons in how to listen.”

She remembered Stiles mentioning the listening exercises Sanuye had started him off with, so it wasn't a lie... just the tip of the iceburg the boy was metaphorically attempting to scale. If Rafe wanted to know more he'd have to ask Stiles himself.

“That's... good.” Rafe stuck his hands into his pockets and looked out the window again. Then he sighed and looked back to her. “Well, I should go. The sheriff and I have a conference CDC about the samples their guy took and his preliminary report on the situation.”

She took another sip of coffee, letting the warm liquid fill her mouth and drown out any comment she wanted to make to that. It was such a waste of time and energy and the more official channels everything went through, the more dangerous it became. It wasn't like the CDC would believe the truth anyway, but that didn't change the fact that they were more or less lying to officials.

“So I'll see you at the lacrosse game tomorrow?” she said instead.

He opened his mouth and then closed it, nodding seriously. “I meant it, Melissa. I'll be there unless something unavoidable happens.”

She sighed. At least he was honest. She just wished she could trust in his assessment of 'unavoidable'. “Okay, see you later then.”

“Bye, Melissa.”

Watching him leave didn't hurt as much as it used to. She supposed that was something at least.

 


 

“Lydia!”

Lydia stopped and then turned, raising an eyebrow as Stiles ran towards her, looking more like the goofy nerd she'd known since elementary school than the athlete she knew he was now. Not that she minded the goofy nerd, she realized. The goofiness was oddly endearing in its own way.

“Good morning Stiles,” she said.

“How are you?” he asked. “I mean, I heard they'd called your parents in to pick you up from the station on Saturday and you didn't answer your phone yesterday, although dad said they didn't keep you for very long and-”

“I'm fine, Stiles,” she answered, cutting him off.

He stopped and looked at her. “Yeah, but there's fine and then there's fine.”

She sighed. “Okay, fine, I'm annoyed and pissed off and my mom wants me to go a sleep clinic and see a therapist and my dad wants me to stop seeing Aiden.”

“To stop seeing Aiden? What's Aiden got to do with anything?”

She couldn't help the smile that tugged at the corner of her lips. “Apparently he's a bad influence and it's distracting me and making me emotionally unstable.”

“Uhh... this started before you met Aiden.”

“Not really.”

He opened his mouth and then frowned as he closed it. “Okay, wow, you're right, the banshee thing really did start around the time the Alpha Pack rolled into town. Feels like forever ago.”

“Hey guys!”

Lydia and Stiles turned to see Scott and Isaac approaching them. Stiles raised an eyebrow at his friend. “Scott, dude, you look like you're in a really good mood, which is... nice, but a bit weird.”

Scott just shrugged while Isaac artfully disguised his snickers behind a cough. Scott glared at the other wolf and then turned to Lydia. “How are you doing?”

She sighed, pretending to be annoyed by the question, but inwardly pleased to finally be surrounded by people who actually seemed to care. “My parents have turned the whole Saturday thing into another excuse to argue. My mom things I need therapy and my dad thinks I need to get rid of Aiden.”

There were a few moments of silence and then Stiles cautiously raised a hand. “Um, am I the only one here who appreciates the irony of this? I mean, seriously of all the reasons your dad could have to object to Aiden – and there are a lot, the guys' killed people for god's sake – he picks the one that actually isn't his fault at all.”

Lydia snorted. Sometimes she wondered if she was making a wise decision with Aiden; Boyd's face would flash before her eyes in those moments. But everyone was worthy of a chance at redemption, right? Or was she just another ridiculous teenage girl with a thing for bad boys? One thing she was certain of: she wasn't going to give him up because of her parents.

“Where's Allison, by the way?” Isaac suddenly asked.

“She met up with Danny early this morning to work on their science project.”

Stiles blinked. “Wait, wasn't I Allison's partner?”

“You were. Now you're mine and we're meeting Wednesday after school to work on it.”

“Uh, okay... why?”

“Because my partner was Aiden and Aiden's not allowed in the house.”

“Aaah. But I am?”

“For some reason my mother actually likes you.” Of course, Lydia was sure the reason had more to do with Stiles' father than Stiles himself, but that was beside the point. Changing project partners was one concession she was willing to make to her parents; she worked well with Stiles.

“She does?”

“Yes.”

“So your parents have made the Aiden connection – sort of – but haven't clued into the fact that all this started after you started hanging out with all of us too?”

As if her parents had any concept of who she hung out with. “Mm hmm.”

Then the first bell rang.

“Hey Stiles, did you do the readings for English?” Scott asked.

Lydia watched as Stiles rolled his eyes at his friend. “Yes, Scott. Seriously, man, they weren't that long. I spent most of Sunday in the woods tracking things and I still managed to get them done.”

“Tracking things?” Isaac asked before Lydia could.

Stiles grinned. “Yeah, Sipatu's teaching me to track animals in the forest. It's freakin' hard, man.”

“That's impressive, Stiles,” said Lydia as they walked into the school. “You plan on going hunting?”

“Nah, I'm perfectly okay to leaving the hunting to Storm. The only place I plan on hunting in is the grocery store's freezer section.”

Scott and Isaac laughed and then they all dispersed to find their lockers.

 


 

Sheriff Stilinski had already been waiting for several minutes when Agent McCall finally arrived at the coroner's office. They exchanged a nod of greeting and then walked in together. The coroner was an elderly gentleman who had once been a tower of a man and even stooped over by age was still taller than both of them by a good few inches. His hair was white and balding in the middle and complimented by a neatly trimmed white beard. Had he been a little plumper and a little more jolly, he would've likely played Santa Claus at every single Christmas party. Unfortunately he was rake-thin and permanently grim.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said, looking up over his wire-rimmed glasses at them as they entered.

“Good afternoon, Richard,” said the sheriff. “What've you got for us?”

“Oh a few interesting things to be sure.” He stood back from the corpse and put his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “I mean there's the obvious...”

“The metal pole he'd been impaled on,” McCall added with a nod. “Is that the cause of death?”

“You would think so, wouldn't you?”

The sheriff blinked and exchanged a quick look with McCall. “You're saying it's not?”

“I'm saying it's not quite that simple.” He stepped forward and lifted the sheet off the corpse. The metal rod was gone now, leaving a neat, gaping hole in the body's chest. “Now, on first glance it's clear that the cause of death was impalement: the metal rod pierced this poor boy's heart, after all. However, given the odd number of truly bizarre deaths in this area lately, I sent out a few samples for testing.”

“And that told you differently?” the sheriff asked.

“Not exactly. What it told me, was that when the victim fell from his balcony and onto the rod, he was already dying. The tests showed dangerously low blood-sugar as well as signs of dehydration and anemia.”

“That sounds familiar,” said Agent McCall.

“Stiles,” the sheriff whispered in horror. He closed his eyes to collect his thoughts, banishing the image of his son lying perfectly still in a white-washed hospital room into a far corner of his mind, where it couldn't haunt him until he had a bottle in his hand. He took a deep breath. “Have you been able to determine whether or not the fall had been an accident?”

The coroner shook his head. “There's some bruising on his arms and along his lower back and he took a significant hit to the head when he fell, but it's nothing conclusive. The bruises don't look like fingerprints and I didn't find any human tissue under his fingernails that would indicate a struggle.”

“Forensics didn't come across any hairs or suspicious skin samples and we're running all the fingerprints from the apartment, but so far nothing stands out.”

“I know I definitely saw a young woman up on that balcony!” Agent McCall protested immediately.

Sheriff Stilinski sighed. “I believe you,” he said. In fact, he was positive Abigail Castella had been there. Unfortunately, ghosts didn't leave tissue samples behind. “It's just that the only evidence we have of her presence are your eyes. And the wine glasses, which could've been left out there for hours for all we know.”

Agent McCall ran a hand through his hair. “I know. It's just frustrating.”

“Yeah, I get that.”

 


 

Derek reminded himself, once again, just how lucky he was that his sister had actually managed to miraculously survive the fire. He had a sister again. It was wonderful.

Had Cora always been this bossy and annoying?

To say she wasn't happy about his plans to rebuild the house was an understatement. And she made her opinion known as loudly and as often as possible. It was, in the end, the main reason why he'd taken her to the barbecue and sleepover at Stiles' on Friday, because there he would be safe from her recriminations. Or at least surrounded by people who thought the rebuilding was a great idea.

And the worst part was that he didn't really have much of an argument in return. Because, yes, someone else could build a house on the land, someone else could deal with the clean-up, the burying of old memories. Derek was doing it because... because it felt right. But that wasn't a reason.

Cora questioned whether he was actually planning to sell the property anymore at all. And Derek didn't have an answer for her because, if he was being completely honest, he wasn't sure that he was either.

Somehow, it just felt wrong for someone other than a Hale to live on this land. And this was land that was meant to be lived on.

“Do you realize how long it's going to take you to build an entire house?” Cora said. Derek sighed, deliberately loosening his grip on the hammer in his hand. If he used too much strength, he would put the hammer straight through the wall and he was building a house, not demolishing it.

“That depends on how many people help him,” he heard Merlin's voice answer her.

Derek felt relief wash over him. He turned to watch Merlin and Adrian walk towards them. He didn't smell Mywanwy, so Merlin must've used magic to transport them over. Merlin grinned at them. “Hello, Derek! And you must be Cora.”

Cora scowled at them. “Who the hell are you?!”

“Someone with infinitely better manners than you, young lady,” Adrian snapped at her with annoyance.

Cora frowned at Adrian, as though trying to figure out why he looked familiar.

Derek looked to Adrian and mouthed 'thank you' to him. Adrian's lips quirked in amusement and then he proceeded to ignore Cora and went over to grab another plank of wood.

“You know, I really wish we could build this out of stone,” he said idly. “There's something so much more solid about a stone house: as though it intends to last for centuries instead of decades.”

Merlin chuckled. “You're such a European snob.”

“As if you aren't.”

“I'm not.”

“I'm sorry and who was it that snuck off to Paris last week because you wanted truffles and couldn't bare to make do with substandard North American chocolates?”

“Er, well, that was different... that was chocolate!”

“Ah yes, I can see how that's different.”

“You couldn't possibly understand; your taste buds just aren't refined enough.”

Derek lowered his hammer and stared at them. “You felt like fancy European chocolate, so you popped off to Europe?” he said, his voice flat with disbelief.

Merlin looked a bit shifty at that. “Er, well, I didn't exactly 'pop off' because there's no actual popping noise, 'cause this isn't Harry Potter and I don't apparate – apparation works on entirely different principles and... uh, er... maybe?”

Derek hid his head in his hands. How did these ridiculous people become a part of his life? He risked a peek and saw Cora staring at all three of them like they'd just declared they were building the house out of marshmallows. He sighed.

“Cora, this is Merlin and Adrian Harris,” he said, motioning to each in turn. “Merlin, Adrian, this is my younger sister Cora. Who I'm assuming one of the others already told you about. No, don't tell me: Stiles?”

Merlin snickered. “Yes, it was Stiles. He's just so full of information to share.” Merlin turned to her. “It's nice to meet you, Cora.”

“Yeah, likewise,” Cora responded. She was frowning thoughtfully, though most of the hostility seemed to have disappeared from her demeanor. “You're the reason Derek decided to rebuild instead of just sell off the property like he'd planned.”

Derek groaned. “Cora, it was my decision.”

“Yeah, but you wouldn't have made it without a push in that direction,” she snapped at him.

The friendly grin slowly disappeared from Merlin's face.

“Cora,” Derek growled in warning. She made it sound as though he were easily swayed!

“You're right, we maybe have nudged Derek a bit in that direction, but the choice was ultimately his and his alone,” Merlin suddenly said, his voice cutting through the tension with the sharpness of a good blade. “The Hale line is intimately tied to this land and if you stop and think you'll be able to feel that. Why do you think the Darach could come to power? No, not only come to power, but to corrupt the Nemeton for her own use? Sacred land is powerful, but it only retains power so long as there is something feeding it, whether through prayer or other sorts of offerings. Someone was able to cut down the altar tree because the Nemeton wasn't powerful enough to protect itself!”

“So? In case you haven't noticed, the Hale family is dead!” Cora yelled at Merlin.

“Not all of it.”

“Oh my god, really? There's two of us, big deal. What can two people do?”

Merlin's bright blue eyes turned stormy and suddenly Derek wondered if maybe it wouldn't be wise to step in before someone got hurt. Especially as it wouldn't be Merlin.

“Arthur Pendragon was one man,” came Merlin's voice, dark and quiet like the calm before the storm. ”Jan Hus was one man. Napoleon Bonaparte was one man. Rosa Parks was one woman. One person can accomplish a great deal of things. A fire only needs the right conditions and a single spark to become a flame, after all.”

Cora looked shaken, but she squared her jaw and rallied her courage to scoff. “Arthur Pendrag-”

“Cora!” Derek barked. She visibly jumped at the harshness in his tone. He growled in warning, letting her know she was truly pushing it now. “I don't think you've realized who you're talking to. I said this was Merlin.”

Her eyes widened. “You-you're kidding,” she said, voice small and shaky. “That's...”

She apparently couldn't bring herself to say the word 'impossible', so instead she gulped and looked over to stare at Merlin in amazement. Derek didn't think he was imagining the hint of fear in her eyes either.

 


 

Aiden stormed into the locker room like a raging bull. Ethan hurried in after him, smiling apologetically at the rest of the team. Danny caught his eyes from across the locker room and sent him a sympathetic smile. Aiden had missed school yesterday and was making everyone he encountered wish he was missing it today as well. Scott watched as he slammed his locker open so hard it dented the one beside it.

He met his teammates' eyes and nodded reassuringly, trying to assure them he'd deal with it. One by one, the players quickly finished getting changed and rushed off to the field, until the only ones left were his pack. If Aiden knew what was going on behind him, he didn't show it. His movements were jerky and Scott heard fabric tear as he pulled his shirt off.

“Aiden, chill,” he said.

Aiden froze and then spun around, his eyes already glowing and his teeth too pointed to be entirely human.

Scott let his own eyes turn red and put as much alpha into his growl as he could without shifting completely. “If you're too angry to control your strength properly, then I can't let you out there. You could accidentally hurt someone and then...”

“And then what?” Aiden demanded, taking a step closer and baring his teeth.

“And then you really won't be making a good impression on Lydia's parents,” Stiles answered him, looking annoyed. “And Lydia will be pissed at you 'cause you'll be giving them more ammunition against you.”

Aiden sneered as he looked over to Stiles. “Why would you care, Stilinski? Wouldn't that just work perfectly for you and that ridiculous crush you've got on my girlfriend? I'll bet seeing us break up would just about make your year – even if you haven't got a hope in hell that she'd turn to you instead.”

Stiles paled, his eyes widening. Stiles' crush was something they never spoke of. Everyone knew it existed; Lydia herself knew it existed, but by unspoken agreement it was an invisible elephant. Before Scott could come to his friend's aid, Stiles had already broken out of his shock, his eyes lighting up with anger.

He stalked up to Aiden. “Yeah, you know what, I really don't give a shit about you. You've tried to kill me and my friends and I'm not about to forget that. But, for some reason, Lydia likes you. And I care about Lydia, so if you're what makes her happy then I'll play nice. Seeing her heart-broken isn't on my to-do list, you asshole!”

Ethan came up behind Aiden and placed a hand on his brother's shoulder. “Seriously, calm down, Aiden. You know we can't afford to draw attention to ourselves.”

Aiden's eyes turned back to normal, though he was still vibrating with pent-up anger. Scott kept the alpha eyes for a few beats longer, before letting the red bleed out. “My dad said he'd be coming to watch the game. That means there's going to be an FBI agent in the crowd. And I think he's already suspicious after Saturday, so we really don't need to give him more things to be suspicious about. Especially the two of you. I mean, do you really think you guys couldn't be tracked back to Deucalion and Kali and everything your former pack did if someone knew what to look for?”

Ethan and Aiden both paled at that. Finally, Aiden swallowed and nodded. Around them, the rest of the pack breathed sighs of relief. Scott smiled.

Isaac cleared his throat. “Uh, I can hear the coach yelling. We should probably go out there.”

Scott grinned. “Yeah, let's do that.”

“Hey, just make sure you guys leave some playing time for us normal people too,” said Stiles.

“You say that like you'll actually make it off the bench, Stilinski,” Isaac teased him.

“Uh, I'm sorry, who was it that won us that championship game last year while you guys were busy playing Big Bad Wolves in the locker room?”

Danny chocked on the water he'd just taken a drink of. He waved them off when they all looked to him. “Sorry, don't mind me; I'm definitely not touching that.”

Scott shrugged and tucked the corner of his jacket back into his locker before closing it and leading the others out to the field. The first thing he did when he stepped outside was scan the bleachers: he found his mom immediately and she waved to him before motioning to the side. Scott followed her gaze and grinned when he saw his father sitting at the very top.

Chapter Text


 

This time Lydia recognized the call when it came: the subtle pull in her mind that nudged her to turn her car towards the Preserve. She smiled and tried to nudge back as she stopped for a red light. Delight sparked through the connection, making her smile widen. She parked her car near one of less popular hiking trails and changed the red stiletto heels she'd worn to school for the more sensible pair of running shoes she'd taken to keeping in the trunk.

The day was slowly giving in to dusk, but the forest held no fear for her in that moment, as though a sixth sense was telling her it was safe. That there was no death waiting for her amongst the trees this evening. She already knew where she needed to go without needing to pay attention to the call inside her mind, though she didn't mind its presence. It felt like a gentle caress, soothing away irritation caused by her mother's needless therapy.

Or rather, therapy that didn't actually address any of the real problems she might possibly need therapy for.

Her ancestor was waiting for her beneath the branches of the Nemeton. When Lydia came closer, she realized Luella wasn't alone. There was a man sitting in the Nemeton's shadow. Even in the lengthening shadows she could tell he was muscular, his skin darkly tanned and his long dark hair braided down his back. Bright green eyes stared out at her from the shadows. Lydia swallowed, nervous of the man – his quiet presence spoke of power even from a distance.

“Good evening, Lydia,” Luella greeted her with a pleased smile and Lydia tore her eyes away from the man to smile at the banshee.

“Hello, Luella,” she said. “It's good to see you again.”

“I'm happy you recognized my call and came.”

Lydia cocked her head thoughtfully. “Could I do that? I mean, call out mentally for someone. I feel like it would be really useful if I could do that with Stiles or the wolves.”

The man under the tree chuckled. “Wolves who run in a pack have a connection to the land they claim as their own,” he said, his voice deep but airy – like the lower notes of a flute. “Anyone who can touch the land, can call to them.”

He stood, picking up the tall bow that had been leaning against the tree next to him. Then he stepped out of the shadows and Lydia noted that he was wearing a soft green vest lined with silver fur and brown-dyed linen pants. There were Celtic symbols embroidered into the corners of the vest in silver and red thread and a wooden horn hung from a leather belt.

Lydia noticed how Luella stood to the side respectfully as he came forward. “So you are the fae child born to a human woman,” he said, looking her over carefully.

“Your majesty, this is Lydia,” said Luella before turning to Lydia. “My lord expressed an interest in meeting you. Lydia, this is Gwyn ad Nudd, King of the Seelie Court and Lord of the Hunt.”

“Well met, child,” said the King of the Fae, his eyes glittering with amusement as Lydia gaped.

“I...” She took a deep breath and cleared her throat before bowing slightly – because she was fairly certain that's what people did when presented to royalty. “It's an honour to meet you, your majesty.”

There was approval in Luella's eyes when she glanced over to her and Lydia breathed a soft sigh of relief. She had certainly not been expecting a royal visit when she'd gotten dressed this morning. She could only hope that the king didn't know anything about modern human fashion and therefore wouldn't notice the running shoes.

“You've come a long way, my friend,” a quiet voice came from the depths of the forest.

Gwyn ad Nudd grinned, his smile fierce but his eyes warm with pleasure. “Emrys, I should thank you for making my journey possible. Had you not cleared the corruption from the crumbling remains of the Old Religion within this Nemeton, the pathways between our realms would've never opened.”

Merlin smiled serenely as he stepped into the boundary of the sacred soil. He was wearing a pair of dark jeans with a white linen shirt, which looked nicer than his usual, but still fairly ordinary, plain. The bright red velvet, fur-lined cloak that hung off his shoulders, however, looked far from ordinary and he was carrying a tall wooden staff that was topped with a clear crystal larger than a tennis ball.

His presence felt heavy, like the hot and humid air just before a summer thunderstorm. This, Lydia realized, was Emrys, High Sorcerer of Albion. The most powerful magic user ever born.

“As a creature of the Old Religion, I could not leave the place of my kin corrupted even if it wasn't necessarily consecrated to the Old Religion itself.”

The fae king's smile was knowing and Lydia marveled at the depth in his eyes. Merlin's eyes looked old, but Gwyn ad Nudd's looked ageless. He clearly felt her regard and turned to look at her, his eyes not benevolant, but also lacking malice: she felt as though she were looking into the eyes of a mountain, filled with strenght that would neither bend nor break with the harshest storm and look upon the world until Time itself slowly dwindled to an end.

He looked back to Merlin and Lydia took a deep breath as the weight of his eyes left her. She hadn't even realized how heavy they had been until, suddenly, she could breathe again. A gentle weight fell on her shoulder and she looked up into Luella's encouraging, smiling eyes.

“This land does not belong to the Old Religion,” Gwyn ad Nudd said, gazing past Merlin and into the forest. His eyes were sharp and penetrating and Lydia wouldn't have been surprised to find out he could see for miles. “I can feel a different presence beyond the Nemeton's borders.”

Merlin nodded. “The spirits here are powerful, though they suffer the same neglect all places and creatures of the land suffer the world over.”

“Yes.” The King of the Fae turned to thoughtfully look at the great tree behind him. “The altar's pull is strong. It recently expended much power and now stands before the chasm of oblivion.”

“It tried to take a life to compensate.”

“Hmm. Druid magic always takes the easiest way.”

“The Nemeton cannot take the more difficult way alone.”

Lydia frowned.

“This much is true; until the land is stable it cannot take power from it.”

“So when the land is stable, the Nemeton can take power from it?” she asked. Both ancient magical beings turned to look at her.

“Yes,” said Merlin with a small smile. “But between the curse and a lack of... other stabilizing influences, the land isn't stable enough for the Nemeton to feed from it.”

“What works as a stabilizing influence? Does it have anything to do with the wolf pack? Is that while you nudged Derek into rebuilding the old Hale House.”

Gwyn ad Nudd laughed. “She is a clever one for sure,” he said and Lydia bristled, but before she could snap at the king, he held out a hand to stop her. “Peace, fair Lydia. Too many humans are bound by their ignorance and we continue to suffer the consequences of it.” His gesture encompassed the entire clearing. “Do you know why this temple is less powerful than the circle you know as Stonehenge?”

Lydia blinked. Was this a trick question? “It's a lot younger. And smaller...”

“Yes, Stonehenge is many centuries older. But that alone is not the entire reason.”

“It-it's not in Europe. Druid magic is native to Europe, which means the Nemeton doesn't really belong here.”

“Also true.”

Beside him, Merlin shook his head in amusement. “Remember Lydia, in magic words have power. There's, of course, much more to magic than just words, but they are important. It's a simple truth really, one that's been known since the dawn of humanity, since long before the Mesopotamians laid the first stones of Uruk.”

“The Ancients were wise folk,” Gwyn ad Nudd agreed. “Ignorant in many things, but understood the truths of the land in ways those that came after them could not fathom.”

Lydia groaned in frustration. “You're not actually going to give me an answer, are you? You're just going to give me riddles to figure out.”

Merlin's face broke out into a grin. “Sorry,” he said entirely unapologetically. “Some things you have to figure out for yourself. There's a certain sort of power in that as well, you see.”

“Great, that's just great.” She crossed her arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow at them. “Any other cryptic tidbits you'd care to add or can I go and leave you to your reminiscing now?”

“Nay, child, stay yet a while longer. I wish to hear of your growing powers. Our numbers are slowly dwindling down in this age of human creation; it is rare that any fae are born at all even if of mixed blood.”

Lydia looked at him critically, wondering whether there was a meaning in his words she was missing. Finally, she nodded.

His face lit up. “Marvelous! Then come, join us in a drink!”

As she stepped forward, Merlin sidled next to her. “Careful with that,” he whispered out of the corner of his mouth. “Fairy wine isn't like any other alcohol you've ever had.”

“I'll keep that in mind,” she answered.

 


 

Agent Rafe McCall stared at the report in his hands. The DNA tests had taken a while to complete and then the earthquake had pushed everything unrelated to the back burner. He'd originally received and skimmed over this report three weeks ago, but after catching more of a glimpse into what was going on in Beacon Hills, he decided it deserved a second look. It was highly inconclusive: even though he'd had the body shipped to the FBI lab who'd, according to the report, consulted with the Jeffersonian's labs, at the end of the day, all the best experts he had to hand could tell him was that they were stumped.

The odd creature that had killed – no eaten – those children months ago might as well have been an alien. Except that, while its DNA clearly wasn't human, it also contained enough common markers to be obviously terrestrial.

Months ago, Rafe would've dismissed it as some sort of weird environmental fluke and moved on with his life.

But there was also the matter of the wounds that killed it. Residents had heard howling and the claw marks looked canine enough. Except that the experts, once again, said they didn't look quite right. The marks were too big for an average domestic breed and too spread out to be a wolf. They almost seemed more like bear claws, but what would a bear be doing in Beacon Hills? Besides of which, that wouldn't explain the howling.

He put the report down and rubbed his temples. Part of him wanted to just leave Beacon Hills right now before he got in any deeper.

And another part knew he couldn't do that. He had no idea what was going on, but he was now certain that Scott was involved. And that meant he couldn't leave.

 


 

Stiles was getting his books for first period out of his locker when Scott raced in, closely followed by Isaac, who nodded to Stiles before continuing on to his own locker.

“Hey, Scott, it's a good thing you have superpowers,” said Stiles, closing his locker and locking it while Scott fumbled with his lock as he tried opening it too fast.

“Yeah, I know,” he said once he finally managed to get the combination right. He flashed his friend a cheeky grin. “I might become you.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Cheap shot, my friend.”

“Stiles.” Stiles and Scott turned to Lydia. “You, me, study date after school.”

Stiles blinked. “I thought we were meeting tomorrow to work on the science assignment.”

“Not that studying. My, uh, ancestor came to visit again and brought a friend.”

“What sort of friend?” Scott asked with a frown.

“The sort that Merlin considers an old friend.”

“Oh.”

“Yes, oh. Between the two of them, I've got plenty of hints but no actual solutions on how to deal with the Nemeton.” She sighed in frustration. “Apparently there are certain things we have to figure out for ourselves.”

Stiles made a face. “Yeah, Coyote said something similar about Merlin: that he was making us figure out most of this on our own, because those are the only lessons that have any value or whatever. Personally, I think they're all bored and have nothing better to do than watch us flounder.”

Lydia snorted softly. “That wouldn't at all surprise me. Although at least they offered me fairy wine, which tastes only vaguely like normal wine. It's very fruity and... floral? I liked it.”

“Okay now I'm really jealous,” Scott whined.

“Mmm, it was totally worth my mother's inquisition about where I'd been and why I was home so late from therapy...”

“Oh yeah, how was that?” Stiles asked.

Lydia rolled her eyes. “The therapist is insisting I'm not being open about what's going on, that I'm holding back. Which, okay I am, but only because telling her everything would land me in Eichen House drugged to the gills and probably still screaming at every single violent death in Beacon Hills.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” said Stiles. “Have you tried to convince your therapist that you're psychic?”

“No, not yet. I'm trying to feel her out to see how she'd react to that.”

“Fair enough.”

The bell rang just then. Stiles and Lydia both hurried off to their shared advanced math class. Scott swore, threw his jacket into his locker, grabbed his first period books and then slammed his locker shut. He had history first period and his history teacher was ridiculously punctual.

Time to put those superpowers to good use.

 


 

Stiles slid off Mywanwy's back and patted her on the neck with a quiet thank you before heading off towards the village. It was a calm, windless day with just a bit of overcast. Without the constant accompaniment created by the wind, the forest felt much quieter than usual. Which wasn't to say it felt empty. Stiles still had plenty to eavesdrop on, the signs of life were many and varied. But it was the only reason he heard the soft footfalls and faint rustling as someone passed by tall grasses and shrubs.

And even then, he was certain he wouldn't have heard anything if they hadn't wanted him to hear it.

He turned around and smiled at the Forest Man as he came out from behind a thick clump of trees. “Hey there,” he said. “How's Chewie? Did you survive the earthquake alright?”

The Forest Man nodded and then beckoned him forward. Stiles' eyebrows rose in surprise, but he walked towards the yeti, following him when he turned to lead him deeper into the forest. They walked in silence for a while, until Stiles' skin began to itch with a thousand questions. He tried to take a deep breath and listen to the forest like he had before, but everything came back to the soft, barely-there sounds of the yeti. And really, how could something so big and containing so much strength move so silently. If Stiles concentrated very hard, he could almost see the powerful muscles moving beneath all that fur...

“So, uh, not that I'm not happy to follow wherever it is that you're leading me, but Sanuye's sort of expecting me,” he tried. “I'm not even sure what she's got planned for today, but she might be waiting to leave when I get there and I'd hate to, like, hold her up or anything. Unless this is something super important, 'cause obviously I'm happy to help if you need me to. Assuming it's something I can help with...”

The yeti paused and looked over his shoulder at him. Stiles felt his amusement. He groaned.

“Great and now I'm babbling again, although at least you seem to think I'm amusing. And you know, now that I think of it, how come when I was a kid everyone seemed to find my babbling, run-on sentences annoying and now everyone seems to think it's amusing. Shouldn't it have been the other way around?”

Stiles was positive the Forest Man was smirking behind the fur on his face. Then he gestured again for Stiles to follow him and continued on. Stiles sighed and did as he'd been asked. Eventually they reached a narrow stream Stiles had never seen before - which was not particularly comforting as it meant he was now in a part of the forest he didn't know. Oh he could find his way to the village from here: Sanuye had taught him how to find his way in the forest. It didn't, however, mean that he wouldn't take the longest route possible by accident and not arrive until tomorrow morning.

By which point there'd be a million and one people panicking. Again.

Did he mention there was no cellphone reception this deep into the middle of nowhere?

Suddenly, he felt the Darkness waver. He gasped in surprise and grabbed at his shirt where it covered the spot over his heart. Looking ahead, he noticed the Forest Man had finally come to a stop next to a fallen log. Stiles took a calming breath and hurried to catch up. As he came closer, he realized there was something sitting on the log.

No, he realized as he paused to actually look at the small fox with a coat of silky, shiny silver fur, someone.

Stiles let his backpack fall to the forest floor and nodded to the fox, before looking to the Forest Man. The yeti gestured for him to sit down, so Stiles shrugged and did as he was told, taking care to sit so that he was leaning against a tree stump. He could already feel the pull of the Spirit Way, so he closed his eyes and let it pull him in. It felt like slipping into a luke-warm bath. Why had this ever seemed scary?

Stiles opened his eyes and looked at the fox. Silver Fox, he corrected himself, because who else could it be? Sitting on the log was an old woman, silver locks streaked with white cascading from her scalp like semi-precious waterfalls, colourful beads and several black raven feathers woven into the strands. A silver fox pelt sat atop her head, its feet resting over her shoulders. Around her neck she wore a necklace made of teeth and claws separated by wooden beads. Like all the other spirits he had encountered, she was completely nude.

“Hi,” he said. “Uh, my name is Stiles.”

“You are known to me, child,” said the old woman in a voice gravelly with age, yet strong as a two hundred year old oak. “It was several moons ago that Coyote called to me, telling me of the Child of the White Man whose spirit held a spark of power and the means to pass into the Spirit Way. Since then I have watched you from afar as you've wandered these woods, learning the ways of the land. You have come far since the day I first laid eyes upon you.”

Stiles' eyes had widened as she spoke, amazed that such an important being would bother to come meet him. When she spoke, her voice carried a musical quality and even moreso than Coyote's had, it reminded him of the legend saying that she had helped him sing the world into existence. There was a power in her voice that seemed to steal the attention of the world when she spoke.

“Th-thank you?” he said. “I'm-I mean, it's an honour to meet you.”

“You know me?” she asked, her eyebrow going up a mere fraction.

“You're Silver Fox.”

Though her expression didn't change, Stiles got the impression she was pleased at being recognized. She was silent for a long while and Stiles spent it fighting desperately against the urge to fidget under her gaze. He glanced to the side, to where the Forest Man was watching their interaction intently. Stiles froze and turned to him fully. The yeti met his eyes and nodded to his unasked question. Stiles' eyes widened.

“The Forest Man is not truly a spirit, yet he is not entirely of the world of Man. He can glimpse into the Spirit Way though not travel it as you can.”

Stiles looked back to Silver Fox. “Does it have anything to do with his connection to the land. I mean, this is his territory, right? Or is it a yeti thing?”

“You have been taught well, child. Yes, it is his connection to this land that allows him to glimpse what is otherwise unseen, though being more than human makes it easier.” They were both silent for a while, until Silver Fox broke it. “Coyote has spoken to me of your desire to break the curse upon your land.”

“Yeah, I'm hoping to do that once I've bonded or whatever with the land. It's sort of what made me want to learn all of this in the first place.”

She inclined her head. “A noble cause, though not without danger.”

“Yeah, I got that. But if it keeps everyone safe, then I'll accept the danger.”

“Your resolve is strong: good. You will need it for when you confront the Beacon.”

Stiles frowned. “Confront the Beacon?” Silver Fox was silent, her eyes giving away none of her thoughts. Stiles felt as though he were being tested, so he chose his words carefully. “The curse is the Beacon, but I guess that doesn't mean it can't be something tangible too. An object can be cursed, right? In this case, it's the town... but not really, 'cause the town is what's being cursed, not what's calling out. Which is what a Beacon does, right? It calls out, sends a signal. So, if it's something that has to be confronted, then the important question would be: where is the Beacon?”

A smile ghosted over Silver Fox's face. “Have you heard the story of how your land came to be cursed?”

“Uh, yeah I have.”

“Then you have all the information you need to find it. But be warned, you should do so quickly as it grows ever stronger.”

Stiles nodded. “Yeah, I think I can hear it in my sleep sometimes.”

She nodded. “You should go, before you are too late arriving for your lessons.”

Stiles blinked and then looked up at the sky, where the sun had cleared most of the sky. It was funny how the sun didn't look any different in the Spirit Way. Maybe it was simply too far away for him to see its lifeforce. Or maybe a giant mass of swirling gases didn't have a lifeforce.

He looked back to Silver Fox. “It was nice meeting you,” he said.

“I wish you success.”

And then Stiles leaned back, falling back into his body, into the feeling of limbs and breath and the earth beneath him.

Chapter Text


 

The morning dawned dark and dismal, the sun's rising going almost unnoticed behind the thick curtain of cloud that hung from the sky like a bad omen. Beacon Hills slugged its way into wakefulness with a careful trepidation - and plenty of umbrellas. Beyond the town, the Preserve was alive with its usual morning twitters, and calls, and rustling sounds as its daytime inhabitants woke up and went off in search of food.

Deep within the Preserve, the Nemeton woke in a quieter, much more subtle way. Not that the Nemeton truly ever slept; it was always aware, but like all trees, its altar rested during the night. It felt the charge in the air from the approaching storm, the heaviness of the dark clouds that hung above its crown. But it had withstood hundreds of such storms; it would withstand another.

Without warning, the air within the Nemeton shifted, changed. The heaviness lifted, though there was no one there to feel it. Had anyone been there, they would've also seen the creature that walked out as though from thin air from behind the altar tree. Its coat gleamed white even without sunlight to illuminate it and its steps were silent. It strolled, unhurried towards the edge of the sacred soil and paused, raising its nose to sniff at the air before lowering it again and munching at a clump of bright green grass. A few minutes passed and then it snorted before trotting unhurriedly out of the Nemeton, its horn sliding against the leaves of low-hanging branches as it passed.

 


 

They'd gathered outside on the bleachers for lunch, deciding to brave their chances with the dark, ominous clouds. Lydia gave them a stern look before sitting down next to Aiden and digging a strawberry yogurt and a spoon out of her bag. Stiles smirked at that before bounding up to take a seat two tiers above them. Scott and Isaac were sitting on opposite ends, having been at odds since yesterday and refusing to tell anyone what had happened, but exchanging regular glares (even if Isaac's looked a bit more apologetic than angry). Stiles sighed, already planning the best way to corner Scott after school to get the story out of him.

He had his theories about what was going on. The way Allison bypassed both of them after an awkward glance and went to sit down next to Danny and Ethan only strengthened them.

Stiles reached into his own bag and dug out the sandwich his dad had made him this morning (it'd been years since his dad had done that, so Stiles was determined to quietly savour every bite). Even if the kale he could see peeking out from beneath the whole wheat bread was probably a minor form of revenge.

“So Stiles,” Lydia said, turning to the side to face him. “Did you find anything yesterday?”

Stiles thought about it. “I think so. Maybe.”

Lydia raised an eyebrow. Stiles shrugged. “It was sort of three am by the time I finished so I'm not really sure I was coherent enough for profound revelations.”

Lydia nodded. “I get it. I have a bunch of notes, but I'll have to go through them again to see if there's anything I can use. Nothing really stood out to me and I'm still not entirely convinced that Merlin didn't use Mesopotamia as an example completely at random.”

Stiles made a face. “I wouldn't entirely be surprised except... why Mesopotamia? I mean, it's way before Merlin's time and not even from the same continent. The Vikings would've made way more sense, or the Celts.”

“And then he specifically mentioned the city of Uruk.”

“Exactly.”

“You don't suppose he's just having a laugh by sending you on a wild goose chase?” Aiden asked, glancing over his shoulder at them.

Stiles immediately shook his head. “No, I don't think that's really his style.”

“Hm, I agree,” said Lydia. “If he didn't want us to figure this out, he wouldn't have given us any clues at all.”

“Yeah.”

“So, what did you think you may have figured out?”

Stiles made a face. “Uh, well, I sort of got distracted-”

Aiden snorted. “Now there's a surprise,” he muttered under his breath.

“Aiden, shut up,” Lydia snapped at him.

Stiles cleared his throat. “Anyway, I found a reference to the Epic of Gilgamesh, which – apart from apparently being the oldest piece of literature ever – talks about Gilgamesh, King of Uruk. Which, you know, seemed sort of relevant. Also, it looked way less boring than the rest of the stuff I was looking at.” He paused, feeling slightly embarrassed. “So, I sort of skimmed through it.”

“And?”

“And there's this bit at the end where Gilgamesh has just returned to the city after having been on an epic quest for immortality and he sees it for the first time in, like, a really long time. He points to the stone walls of the city and sort of shows them off to the boatman. It's like this moment of truth, when he realizes that they're the meaning of his life, his immortality. That so long as they remain standing, then he will be remembered forever.”

“Hmm...” Lydia looked thoughtful for a moment. “But it's not just the stone walls and the city that've made him immortal, is it? If the story hadn't survived then they would've just been stone walls. That would've made the city immortal, not him.”

Stiles thought about that and nodded. “That's where words are important, I guess.”

Lydia's eyes widened as Stiles realized what he'd just said. Their eyes met.

“Okay, that doesn't look good,” said Isaac, interrupting their train of thought. “Were you expecting your dad, Scott?”

“Nope, I really wasn't.”

Stiles and Lydia both turned to look back towards the school. Sure enough, Scott's dad was walking casually towards them wearing a black suit and dark sunglasses. Walking two steps behind him were four other agents, wearing almost identical black suits and sunglasses.

“Okay, confession time guys,” Stiles tried to joke, “who here's an illegal alien?”

Danny dutifully turned to the rest of them and says with a straight face: “I'm sorry guys, I always meant to tell you: I'm actually from a planet called Raxacoricofallapatorius... I may have, uh, accidentally let my visa expire...”

Beside him, Ethan snickered.

Scott stood and waited for his dad to get close enough to speak without yelling. “Hi dad, is everything alright?”

Agent McCall's head turned briefly to his son. “Hello, Scott. Sorry, but I'm here on official business.” Then he took off his glasses and tucked them into the side pocket of his suit jacket while slipping his badge out. He held it up so that they could all get a good look at it.

Stiles swallowed, his insides fluttering with anxiety. Scott's father had a lot of faults, his distinct lack of a sense of humour among them. The agents with him flashed their own badges and Stiles might've forgotten to breath for several, long moments.

“In case any of you missed it before, I'm Agent Rafe McCall, FBI. Aiden and Ethan Jones, if you could please come with us.” The twins stiffened.

“Dad?!” Scott exclaimed. “What's going on?”

“Are we under arrest?” Aiden demanded with a snarl.

McCall waited precisely two beats before answering. “Not yet.”

“Then what is this about?” Lydia demanded, her arm wrapped protectively around her boyfriend's waist.

Agent McCall looked over the group with cold, searching eyes before looking back to Aiden and then Ethan. “We have some questions regarding some of your previous residences. Specifically Salt Lake City, Detroit and Sacramento.”

Stiles didn't miss the way Ethan paled and he was certain the FBI agents hadn't either. He looked back to meet Aiden's eyes. Stiles couldn't see the look on Aiden's face, but he could see him trembling with anger. After a few moments, he took a deep breath and nodded to Ethan.

Then they picked up their bags and followed Scott's dad, the other FBI agents flanking them from the sides and back.

Danny took a shaky breath and ran a hand through his hair. “So, about how much trouble are they likely to be in?” he whispered.

“Probably a lot,” Stiles answered him, too shocked to sugar-coat anything.

“Damn.”

 


 

The sheriff had been sitting at his desk for about half an hour in anticipation of the call. His son was generally predictable that way. When it finally rang, he glanced at the call display, took a deep breath and answered.

“Hello Stiles.”

“Dad, what the hell's going on? The FBI was just here and they took Ethan and Aiden away.”

“I know. Rafe told me about it this morning.”

“And you didn't think to - oh I don't know – warn us?!”

“If I'd warned you and they skipped town then I would've looked suspicious.” He paused. “Stiles, the FBI has them in the vicinity of nearly half a dozen murders across the country.”

He heard his son's sharp intake of breath. “That sounds like circumstantial evidence.” Then he added in a small voice. “And they were being pushed on by Ducalion.”

“But they still joined him.”

“Come on, dad, can't you just-”

“Stiles, this is an official FBI investigation. There's very little I can say about it. I'm sorry, I know they're a part of his pack, but the law is clear on this one. If they've got a case for self-defence or coercion, then they'll have the chance to present it. Otherwise, murder is murder even if they're werewolves.”

“Yeah... you're right. It's just that Lydia and Danny are both freaking out and...”

The sheriff smiled sadly. “And you're trying to be a good friend. Look, the twins are in interrogation now, but maybe by the time school's done they might be able to take visitors.”

“So do you think they'll be put under arrest now?”

“With what the FBI have? Unless they do some incredibly good verbal maneuvering, then definitely yes.”

“Will they be able to make bail?”

“Doubt it. Too much of a flight risk.”

“Okay, I-I'll tell the others. Thanks dad.”

“You're welcome, Stiles.”

 


 

Ethan looked up as the door to the interrogation room opened. Scott's father walked in and then sat down into the chair opposite him. He and Aiden had been separated as soon as they'd arrived at the precinct and put into separate rooms. For now, he'd play it by ear and hope no one said anything to piss his brother off too much. With any luck, the FBI didn't have anything substantial on them. He liked Beacon Hills and, for the first time in what felt like a lifetime, he had people he could consider family, the way a pack should be.

And he had Danny.

“Hello Ethan,” McCall said as he carefully arranged several file folders onto the table in front of him. “Your brother's been telling me some interesting things, so I decided to come and get your side.”

Ethan suppressed a smirk. The man was lying. If this was all they had, it was going to be a cakewalk.

McCall opened the first of the folders and began laying a collection of photos in front of him. Ethan's eyes widened. He recognized the bodies lying sprawled out on the ground, broken and twisted, drenched in their own blood from the deep claw marks rendered into their flesh. Crime scene photos: he hadn't realized there'd been an investigation. He should have.

“Do you recognize these people?”

Ethan swallowed. “They're- they were my former... group.”

“Hmm. By all accounts, nasty pieces of work, all of them. Detroit City Police didn't really try too hard to find their killer. Chalked it up to gang violence. Of course, they hadn't realized anyone had survived the massacre.”

“We got lucky,” said Ethan quietly. Very lucky indeed. At the time Ducalion had seemed like a saviour, come to rescue them from the monsters they called their pack. After only a few months with Scott and his pack, he realized Ducalion hadn't really been much better.

“I'm sure you did.”

The silence stretched in the room while Ethan stared at the photos. Finally, he took a deep breath and looked back up, meeting the FBI agent's eyes. “Why are you showing me these?” he asked.

Agent McCall's eyes were blank, emotionless. “What do you know about a man named Ducalion Gray?”

Ethan's blood ran cold.

 


 

As soon as the final school bell rang, Lydia and Danny rushed out towards their cars and drove off to the sheriff's office. By unspoken agreement, the rest of the pack followed Scott to his house. They were a somber group as they slumped into the couches in the living room, still in shock from what had happened several hours ago.

“So, are we going to do anything about Ethan and Aiden?” Isaac finally asked.

“We-we have to,” said Scott, sounding unsure of himself. “They're pack.”

“Yeah, but this isn't a group of hunters,” Stiles pointed out. “This is the FBI. And it's not that they're being framed for anything. They have killed people.”

“How did the FBI find out about them?” Isaac asked with a frown.

Stiles shrugged. “'Cause they're not stupid and Ducalion was probably paying more attention to being a cliché supervillain than covering his tracks properly. And now they've finally stayed in one place long enough for law enforcement to catch up to them. I don't know: maybe some hunters tipped them off.”

Beside him, Allison shook her head. “No, they wouldn't. Hunters don't exactly operate within the strictest parameters of the law, so drawing the attention of the FBI would be counter-productive. They would've taken care of the problem themselves.”

“You mean killed them,” said Isaac with a growl in his voice.

Allison stiffened. Her eyes narrowed and she jutted her chin out. “Yes.”

“Okay, so we know it's not hunters,” said Scott loudly. “Maybe Stiles is right and the FBI just followed a trail of bodies that led them to Ethan and Aiden. It's not impossible; they can't hold them without evidence after all.”

“Well, not for very long anyway,” Stiles added. “I mean, if you noticed, your dad didn't actually arrest them right away, just took them in for questioning. My dad thinks they'll probably end up being arrested for real, but it does mean the FBI needed a little bit more than what they had.”

“Although, he sure brought a lot of back-up for two kids,” said Allison thoughtfully.

“Not really,” said Stiles. “Don't forget that any bodies they left behind would've been violently slashed up and torn apart. Plus, he'd have every reason to believe he's potentially dealing with a couple of serial killers.”

Silence stretched between them for several minutes as they all absorbed the situation. Finally, Scott threw himself out of his armchair with a huff and began to pace the room. His jacket rustled slightly as he moved – he hadn't bothered taking it off when he'd come in. Isaac watched him attentively, while Stiles rubbed his hands over his face and steeled himself for what he knew was coming.

“We have to do something!” Scott finally exclaimed into the silence. He turned to Stiles. “Stiles, call your dad and-”

“No.”

Scott froze mid-word, surprised. “What?”

Stiles sighed. “No, I'm not going to ask my dad to go behind the FBI's back and get them out. That's a criminal offence and he's the sheriff. The station's gotta be crawling with FBI and he'd probably get caught and lose his job and possibly even end up in jail. Not that he'd do it anyway, but he'd be majorly pissed that I'd even ask.”

“You've broken the law before, broke into the sheriff's office to steal that van!”

Stiles stared at Scott incredulously. “Uh, yeah, 'cause Jackson was turning into a fucking monster and killing people and didn't even know he was doing it! We were trying to save people!”

“This is about saving people! Two of your friends are in trouble Stiles!”

Stiles stood, feeling anger buzzing around the outsides of his brain. “Scott, you may have forgiven them the whole trying to kill us in the hospital thing and, you know, Boyd, but we know for a fact that, if nothing else, they killed their old pack. And, yeah okay, maybe they deserved it, but it's still murder. This is the law we're dealing with. Like the actual law, not just some moral code or something. Or are you trying to say that the law doesn't apply to werewolves?!”

“No, of course not. It's just...” Scott looked around the room helplessly. “They're pack.”

Stiles wondered if being a werewolf and an alpha meant that Scott felt something more towards Ethan and Aiden than just simple friendship. He certainly hadn't thought the alpha wolf felt this strongly towards the twins. Maybe it was some sort of instinct to protect?

The doorbell rang. Isaac sniffed the air and cocked his head. “It's Derek.”

Allison got up and went to answer the door. Moments later, Derek, Cora and Peter shuffled into the living room.

“Hey guys, come to join the party?” said Stiles.

Derek grunted and then looked to Scott. “The sheriff called and told me what happened. Asked me to come make sure you didn't do anything stupid.”

Scott glared at him. “So you're saying you don't think we should rescue them either?” he growled at Derek.

Cora crossed her arms over her chest and snorted. “Being imprisoned is the least of what they deserve. You should've torn their throats open when you had the chance.”

Scott's eyes bled red as his growl echoed throughout the living room. Cora cowered slightly, as if instinctively, before her eyes flashed with anger and she growled back.

“Far be it for me to argue with my niece's bloodthirsty tendencies,” Peter's voice flowed through the tension. “But you're aware that they could easily escape if they wanted to? They're werewolves, after all, and alphas at that.”

The growling stopped. Scott's eyes were still red, but he looked thoughtful.

“You think they're waiting 'till night when there's not as many people around?” Isaac asked.

Peter shrugged. “Or they could've decided to bargain with the FBI: freedom in exchange for leading them to Ducalion.”

Scott snorted. “That's the sort of thing you would do, you mean.”

Peter grinned unashamedly. “Naturally.”

“Do you even know what the FBI has on Ethan and Aiden?” Derek asked.

Scott slumped. “No.”

“Maybe Lydia and Danny will have more information when they get back from the station,” Allison suggested.

Scott nodded, resigned. “Fine. If they don't get anything useful, then Isaac and I will go keep an eye on the sheriff's station and see if we can overhear something.”

“I'll go with you,” said Derek.

Stiles let out the breath he'd been holding.

 


 

Danny was having trouble sleeping. In fact, he was beginning to wonder why he was deluding himself into thinking he was going to actually get any sleep at all. He'd even turned in early. Though that was more to get away from his mom's horrified sympathy – she'd actually really liked Ethan, so the revelation that he was possibly a murderer had shaken her.

It had shaken him and he'd sort of known Ethan had killed people. He just hadn't thought about it.

He and Lydia had waited hours at the station before they'd finally been able to see the twins, who were being kept in separate cells. Seeing the werewolf behind bars... Ethan's past had suddenly become real to him. He wasn't sure that anything he'd said had made sense, the ringing in his ears jumbling his thoughts sort of like a bottle of vodka would. Possibly shattered over his head.

Danny shivered and then threw his covers aside to go close the window. He glanced at his alarm clock as he sat up. Exactly fifteen minutes had passed since he'd gotten up to open it because the room was feeling stuffy and too hot.

He decided to leave it open a crack.

He got into bed and pulled the covers over his head with a sigh. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind. He turned over onto his side and tried to relax, imagine himself in a nice, relaxing garden with birdsong and trickling fountains. He even tried counting sheep.

All of a sudden, he heard a noise. He froze. The next noise that came was unmistakable: the sound of his window slowly sliding open. Danny could hear his heart pounding loudly in ears, but he tried to ignore it, to listen to the sounds coming from his window.

“Danny?” he heard a whisper.

He threw the covers off and ran to the window. “Ethan!” he whispered harshly into the werewolf's shoulder as he embraced him tightly. If Ethan was here, then that meant he and Aiden had escaped. Which meant...

Arms came around him and squeezed back just as tightly. He heard a soft sob as Ethan buried his nose into the crook of his neck. Danny closed his eyes and savoured the moment, melted into the steady burning heat coming off his boyfriend. He didn't know how long they stood there, bathed in light from the half-moon that peeked out from behind a leftover mass clouds. The storm that had been threatening them all day never happened, the thick humidity and heavy clouds had sailed by peacefully and disappeared over the horizon while he'd been waiting inside the station.

Danny wished it was storming. It would've been fitting.

Eventually, Ethan sighed and stepped away from him. Danny reluctantly let him go. Ethan's eyes were downcast, though Danny noticed they were rimmed in red that had nothing to do with his inner wolf.

“You're leaving, aren't you?” he whispered.

Ethan finally looked up. “Yes,” he answered. “They - the FBI, Scott's father – have too much on us. Maybe that's why he was hanging around Beacon Hills all this time... He knew about Ducalion and Ducalion was smart. Insane, but smart.” Ethan took a shaky breath. “Even if we tried to make a deal, we'd still end up doing time and I couldn't ask you to wait for me. And, well, Aiden doesn't want to and I...”

“You can't leave him,” Danny finished for him, somehow managing a soft smile. He didn't bother trying to suppress his tears.

Ethan's eyes implored him to understand. “We were all each other had for the longest time. Only other person either of us could rely on.”

“Ethan, I get. Honestly, I do. I just... I just wish there was another way.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Their kiss was passionate, but sweet, subdued. It was good-bye.

It ended and Ethan pulled away. Danny couldn't bear to open his eyes, because he knew when he did, Ethan would be gone. He was right. There was nothing left behind but the tingling on his lips and an open window.

Danny staggered to his bed and slid to the floor next to it. He was fairly certain there were tears streaming down his face, but he couldn't bring himself to care. When had this happened? When exactly had Ethan become so important to him?

His cellphone pinged and he reached for it automatically. The message was from Lydia.

Danny?

Oh, he thought, of course.

You too?

Yeah. Want us to come over?

He thought about it for a moment. Did he want to be alone? No, not really.

Yes.

He frowned as he re-read Lydia's message.

Who's us?

Ice cream?

This message wasn't from Lydia. It was from Stiles. Of course it was. Lydia must've called him.

Mint chip.

There was a long pause and then another message came from Stiles.

They don't have that. Rocky Road?

Danny chuckled.

Perfect.

Chapter Text


 

A familiar chirping had Stiles looking up into the canopy of tree branches with a smile. Moments later, Clint landed on his shoulder. “Hey there, buddy,” Stiles said quietly.

Kak-kak-kak

Clint chirped loudly and then hopped up his shoulder, crouching down as close to Stiles' neck as he could as if he was planning to hide behind his short hair.

Kik-kak-kak-kak

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Seriously, Storm, he's a friend,” he called up to the hawk that was circling above them. “I'm not cheating on you, I swear.”

Behind him, he heard sniggering and he turned to mock-glare at Danny - who looked less downcast than he had since Ethan had run away three days ago. Next to him, Lydia looked amused. Stiles felt extremely accomplished. Lydia had dealt with her heartbreak by throwing herself into research and Stiles had managed to keep pace only through sheer determination and a very loose dedication to sleep. Danny, however, had been the opposite; he'd gone quiet, preforming his daily functions like a half-charged android version of himself. He'd even been several seconds too slow to catch what should've been an easily-defended goal through during their lacrosse match (they'd still won thanks to Scott and Isaac, but that wasn't the point). So when he'd overheard Stiles and Lydia talking about going to see Merlin and asked to come along, Stiles hadn't even hesitated before saying yes.

He wasn't entirely certain why Danny wanted to come with them, but that didn't really matter. Maybe he just wanted to get out of Beacon Hills for a while and wanted the company.

“Hey Merlin,” Stiles called out when they finally walked into the clearing. Myfanwy was sprawled out in the middle of the clearing, resting on what looked like the biggest (and best) patch of sunlight available. She raised her head and craned her neck in curiosity. Stiles walked over to her and patted her on the nose.

“Hi Myfanwy. Sorry girl, I'm not going to see Sanuye today; It's only Thursday.”

Just then a head popped out of the cottage. “Oh hello Stiles, Lydia, Danny!” he said with a warm smile. “Anything the matter?”

“Not... exactly,” said Lydia. “We came to talk to you about words and magic.”

“Oh?”

“You told Lydia words were important, even if magic isn't all about words,” said Stiles.

“Hmm... Well, it's true in any case, so I suppose I must have done.”

Just then, Stiles heard a gentle rustling followed by a low snort. He looked to the right and blinked at the gleaming white shape he could see just on the other side of the bushes. It was partially in the shade and yet its coat seemed to reflect light anyway. Its long bushy tail flicked lazily behind it.

“Oh, hey, since when do you have a horse?” Stiles asked. Then the creature raised its head and his jaw dropped in awe. After a few moments he found his voice again, at least enough to squeak out his words. “Sorry, my bad. Since when do you have a unicorn?”

“Not imagining that, good to know,” Danny muttered behind him.

“It's beautiful,” Lydia whispered as the unicorn stepped around the bushes it had been hiding behind and cocked its head in their direction.

“Yeah,” said Stiles. It was: with a long mane and tail that sparkled as the sunlight hit it and a white coat that gleamed something beyond white, as though nature had created a whole new colour just for this creature. Long hair covered its hooves, but beneath the hair, Stiles could see silvery-grey peeking out.

The unicorn walked forward and eyed them hesitantly for a moment. Stiles didn't dare breath wrong. The mythical creature standing before him was beautiful, yes, but he also couldn't help but notice that the tip of its horn was also very, very sharp. He was fairly certain that medieval armoured knights had been afraid to go after unicorns alone.

“C-can I touch it?” Lydia asked quietly. Stiles glanced to her; she looked uncharacteristically hesitant. “I mean, will it let me? Is it true that unicorns will only let themselves be touched by... well...”

“Virgins?” Merlin finished for her, an amused smile on his face. He shook his head. “It's purity of heart that's important and that has very little to do with virginity. The ideal of a pure maiden is entirely a human construct and unicorns – like other creatures of magic – care very little for human constructs. They live by their own rules, judge purity and worthiness in their own way.”

Stiles stepped forward and carefully extended his hand towards the unicorn. The unicorn craned its neck forward and sniffed at it before taking another small step forward and pushing into it. Stiles grinned and ran his hand upwards to pet its forehead.

“Hmm, now Stiles here was actually the one I wasn't sure what she'd make of,” said Merlin. Stiles glance up at him in surprise. Merlin shrugged. “Your powers reach into the space between life and death. It's not dark magic – given that what you're practising isn't strictly speaking magic at all – but it does lie on that boarder where darkness and shadows lurk. You, on the other hand, Lydia are part fae, which means you're close to kin with the unicorn.”

“Lydia's related to the unicorn?” Danny asked skeptically.

Merlin chuckled and shook his head. “Not through blood, obviously. Her magic is of fae origin, which ties her to Albion and to the Old Religion as all fae are. It's why she was able to enter the Nemeton whereas Stiles was denied entry. “

Stiles nodded. He could feel it as he petted the unicorn: there was a light, airy presence surrounding it, like the sort of freshness that comes after a thunderstorm. It was ethereal and he could almost taste the presence of the land it came from, different from the presence he'd felt in Coyote, Silver Fox and the Forest Man.

Lydia finally stepped up beside the unicorn on its other side and placed a gentle hand to its neck. When it didn't seem to object and didn't pull away, a brilliant smile spread across her face. Danny came up next to Stiles and also hesitantly touched it, his caresses becoming more confident the longer the unicorn held without attempting to maim any of them.

Eventually, the unicorn seemed to have enough of their attention and it tossed its head to dislodge their hands. They all stepped back immediately and then watched it wander off to the other side of the clearing. Mywanwy followed it with her eyes, but didn't so much as twitch as the unicorn walked by.

Stiles shook himself out of his stupor and turned to Merlin. “So you never did answer my question: what's a unicorn doing here in the first place?”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “She's here delivering a message from Anhora, the Keeper of the Unicorns. He's an old friend of mine – one of many I haven't managed to convince of the wonders of modern communications. You know how difficult it is to convince someone who's seventy to change their ways? Just imagine how much worse it is when they're three thousand!”

“I don't know, at least unicorn mail is cooler than owl mail,” said Danny.

“I had an owl once,” said Merlin thoughtfully.

Stiles' eyes lit up with excitement. “Was his name Archimedes?”

“No, Mort.”

“Mort? You named your owl death?” Lydia shook her head. “That's a horrible name.”

Merlin shrugged. “My young travelling companion at the time wanted to name him Mortimer. Mort was the compromise.”

“Huh.”

“Well, my utter lack of naming skills aside, you said you were here to ask about magic and words?”

Lydia blinked. “Yes, we did,” she exchanged glances with Stiles. “We researched Mesopotamia and Stiles came across the Epic of Gilgamesh...”

“Did he now?” Merlin asked, his eyes twinkling as he looked between them. “And what did that tell you?”

“That sometimes magic doesn't show in the physical sense and that the figurative meaning can be just as important as the literal,” Lydia answered him.

“Gilgamesh went on a journey to find immortality,” Stiles continued. “He left his city, Uruk in order to find it, but in the end he was unsuccessful. It was when he returned home to his city, to the walls he'd built up, that he sort of realized that it didn't matter if his physical body died, because his memory would live on in those walls. But, of course, it's not really immortality, because he wasn't literally immortal, just figuratively. And even more to the point, his story lived on and his name wasn't forgotten.”

“You said some lessons didn't have meaning unless they were realized rather than told,” Lydia took over for him. “Just like Gilgamesh's journey. If someone had told him the city was his immortality in the beginning of the story, he wouldn't have believed them – probably had them beheaded actually. The truth didn't have meaning to him until the end of the story when he was looking at the city and he realized it himself. Magic can be the same way, right?”

“Like in Peter Pan, when Tinkerbell starts fading because Wendy says doesn't believe in faeries,” Stiles added quietly. “She hasn't got any magical powers and it's not like saying the words out loud means she believes any less than she had, like, two seconds before that. But Tinkerbell doesn't start to fade until she hears Wendy actually say the words out loud.”

Merlin was grinning at them proudly. “I don't think you actually have any questions for me, do you?”

Lydia smiled widely. “So, we're right then?”

Merlin nodded. “Yes. People often forget the power of words. It's not exactly magic... but it's very close. And, sometimes, it can have a similar effect to magic.”

“Like the power of belief,” said Stiles, looking down at his hands, the same ones he remembered creating a mountain ash circle with too little mountain ash.

Danny looked between them and smiled. “So does that mean we're closer to a plan of attack against this curse?” he asked.

Lydia and Stiles exchanged looks. Lydia pursed her lips. “A step closer, definitely,” she conceded. “But we still a few things to figure out before we can call it a plan of anything.”

“Yeah,” said Stiles with a nod.

“Lydia, Stiles, don't worry.” They all looked to Merlin. “You've come a long way since I first arrived in Beacon Hills and I think you're finally ready to tackle this. You'll be just fine. All you have to do now is believe in yourselves.”

 


 

Melissa parked in front of the Sheriff's Office and got out. She wasn't sure why Rafe had wanted her to come down to the station instead of him coming over after she was home from her shift. Unless this was about Ethan and Aiden and he had to have it all done officially. It was the only reason she could think of as to why he wanted her here. She would've much rather dealt with Rafe after a shower and a cup of strong coffee.

She greeted the deputy at the front desk with a smile.

“Hello, Mrs. McCall,” the fresh-faced young woman said with an answering smile. “Agent McCall told me to expect you. He'll meet you in Sheriff Stilinski's office once he's off the phone.”

“Thank you.”

She was expected? That was all incredibly formal... which, well, okay, was a very Rafe thing to do. He'd always liked the order that came with formality. In that they'd always been complete opposites.

The door to the office was open and the sheriff was inside looking over some sort of paperwork. He looked up when she knocked, surprise flashing in his eyes before he smiled warmly.

“Melissa, hi,” he said, putting his pen down. “Is something the matter?”

She raised an eyebrow. That was interesting. “Rafe asked me to come down after I got off shift... he didn't tell you?”

The sheriff blinked and then frowned. “No, he didn't.”

“I thought it was maybe about Ethan and Aiden; they were Scott's friends after all and I did know them.”

“I was under the impression those interviews were more or less over. The last of the agents in charge of catching them left this morning to join the rest of the FBI field team.”

Melissa shook her head. “I almost feel sorry for them – the FBI agents, I mean. Not that I'm not sad to see Ethan and Aiden go, not when they were finally settling in.”

The sheriff sighed. “I know. On the one hand, it went against everything I stand for to just let them roam free after everything Stiles had told me about them, but on the other hand they were seriously troubled kids who'd grown up in an incredibly violent environment and hadn't known a proper family in years. In the end, I didn't really have enough proof to actually stick anything to them anyway, so I let it be.”

“You mean, you actually investigated?” She hadn't realized that.

He shrugged. “A little. I could tie them to the hospital and, well, I had witnesses to Boyd's death – not that I'm one hundred percent certain that Scott and Stiles would testify. Well, Stiles probably would, but I'm not sure about Scott and the others.”

“Isaac would've testified, I think.”

He nodded. “Not that it would've ever gone to trial, as the FBI so nicely proved. Scott and the pack were probably better wardens than any jail cell would've been.”

They were silent for a few moments. Then Melissa sighed. “I only hope they'll manage to hold on to what they learnt here. Maybe find a nice pack that isn't full of bloodthirsty killers.”

“Or create one of their own... they are alphas, after all.”

“True.”

Just then, Rafe walked hurriedly into the room.

“Sorry, I'm late,” he said, his eyes on his cellphone. He quickly finished typing a message, before slipping the phone into his pocket and looking up. He smiled at Melissa. “The call I was on ran a bit later than expected: a colleague of mine had wanted me to elaborate on a few points I made in a report I'd written for a case a few years ago.”

Then he indicated for Melissa to sit down in one of the chairs in front of the sheriff's desk. The sheriff's eyebrows rose at the gesture, but he said nothing. Rafe himself sat into the second chair
and angled it so that it was facing both Melissa and the sheriff instead of just the sheriff.

“Thank you for coming, Melissa,” he said. “I realize you must be tired, but this seemed like the best place to meet with both of you alone.” He paused. “It's about the strange things that have been going on around here lately.”

Melissa exchanged a look with the sheriff. It did not go unnoticed by Rafe, but he let them have their moment of silent communication. It only confirmed what he'd already figured out: that whatever was going on, the parents were at least partially aware of it. He schooled his face into a neutral expression so that when they looked back to him, they were faced with a blank wall just like FBI training had taught him.

“So, werewolves,” he said and watched their expressions carefully.

The sheriff's eyebrows rose, but his expression was difficult to decipher. It didn't quite become completely neutral, instead he projected a sort of casual surprise – like the question surprised him, but it didn't really matter because it wasn't personal. Rafe had expected nothing less, if he was honest: there was a reason Stilinski had risen to the rank of county sheriff.

Melissa, on the other hand, was an open book. Her eyes widened in surprise and horror for a moment, before she managed to clamp down on the emotions. Her chin jutted out as determination sparked in her eyes. He'd always thought of it as her lioness expression: woe-betide anyone who tried to come between her and whatever she was protecting. It had once been one of the many things that had made him fall in love with her.

“What about werewolves?” the sheriff asked.

“You tell me,” Rafe countered.

Melissa frowned and looked to the sheriff for a moment. “We don't know anything about werewolves.”

Rafe reached into his pocket. “Yes, you do.”

He pulled a small object out of his pocket and placed it onto the edge of the sheriff's desk. Then he hit play.


 

“You know, I sort of can't believe what a wreck this used to be,” Isaac commented as he looked around the building site.

Though little more than a large basement foundation and a wooden frame, the change was indeed remarkable. What was once a sad, gutted corpse now looked like a half-formed chrysalis, steadily on its way to being transformed into a butterfly. Or, in this case, a beautiful home fit for a family.

“The building inspector was pretty amazed,” Derek commented as he held a plank of wood steady while Adrian hammered it into place.

Adrian paused in his hammering and looked down at him. “I'll bet he was. It isn't as though you have a professional building crew working here or anything. You'd need several people with superpowers in order to get this much done so quickly.”

Derek snorted. “It's a good thing I've got that then.”

“Indeed.”

“Uh, where do you guys want these?” Scott asked as he walked over, several large planks of wood hefted over his shoulder. After a rather impressive accident involving an electric drill, he'd been relegated to menial tasks around the building site. Which there were a lot of, so he was still kept busy.

“Right there's fine,” said Derek, indicating a spot not too far from where he was standing. Scott nodded and set them down effortlessly.

“Uh, Scott?” Isaac called with a frown. “Weren't you supposed to pick your mom up from work?”

Scott shook his head. “Nah, she texted me earlier saying the garage would bring the car over to the hospital for her so she'd be able to drive herself. I guess one of the mechanics lives near the hospital or something.”

“Okay, cool. Just thought I'd check.”

“Yeah.” Scott paused and then reached into his jacket pocket to take out his phone. “I should probably check and make sure it actually happened...” He frowned. “Oh, the battery died.”

Derek looked over his shoulder at him and frowned. “Just how many electronic devices do you carry around?”

Scott looked up from his cellphone and blinked. “Uh, just my cell.”

“Really? Then what's that buzzing noise?”

Isaac put down the tools he was working with and came closer, his eyes narrowing as he listened. “Yeah, he's right, I can hear it too.” When he stood right in front of Scott, he closed his eyes knelt down slowly, one ear facing the other boy as he followed the sound. Eventually he stopped. “Here, it's coming from right here.”

Scott frowned and reached into his jacket pocket. “But the only thing in here are my keys...” he said as took them out. He stared at them in confusion for a few moments. Then he brought them to his ear.

“It's coming from the keychain.” He held up the tiny plastic soccer ball that dangled from his keys. “I've had this thing forever. It's not mechanical, just some trinket my dad brought me back from a business trip. Pretty sure it's actually from some gas station's cheap gimmick toy section, but I was really into soccer at the time so I loved it and I've been using it ever since.” He turned it over in his hands. Then he froze, his eyes widening. “This isn't it. It-it's missing the small tear it got when I crashed my bike when I was fourteen and there's supposed to be a small pink paint mark right here...”

By now Derek and Mr. Harris had both left what they were doing to get a closer look at the keychain. They watched as Scott swallowed and then transformed his fingers into claws. Using a single claw, he carefully pried the soccer ball open. Isaac sucked in a surprised breath as he stared down at the split-open ball.

“You know, I could possibly have watched one too many spy movies,” he began carefully. “But I could swear that looks like a bug.”

“When I was with the military, my speciality was surveillance,” Adrian Harris commented. “And that is most definitely an electronic surveillance device.”

“But who could possibly-”

“My dad.” Scott growled and his eyes flashed red. “That's how he knew about Ethan and Aiden and Deucalion. He's been spying on me.”

Just then, Isaac and Derek's phones pinged. Isaac was faster at digging his out. “It's from your mom,” he said. “She's calling an emergency pack meeting.”

“Tell her to be careful, that dad's been spying on me,” Scott immediately told him.

Isaac nodded and quickly began typing away. Mere moments after he'd sent it, he got a reply. He paled and then turned his phone around to show Scott the message.

I know. That's what the meeting is about. Tell Scott I'm sorry... we had to tell him.

Chapter Text


 

They dropped Danny off at the school.

“Do you think he'll stick around?” Stiles asked Lydia as they watched him walk towards his car.

“You mean with the pack?” Stiles nodded. Lydia looked thoughtful for a moment, before shrugging. “Ethan was what brought him in and now that he's gone... Hard to tell. It's not like being part of the pack is safe, so he might decide it's just not worth the risk. Or he might decide he likes being part of a tight-knit group and stick around until high school's done.”

“But he won't really keep in touch after he leaves for college.” Stles sighed. “Well, I guess we'll see what happens. Not much we can do about it either way: it's all up to Danny. Maybe he finds us interesting enough to hang around out of morbid curiosity.”

“Hmm.”

As Stiles pulled out of the school parking lot, he suddenly decided he didn't quite feel like going home just yet. They'd managed to accomplish something and he wanted to revel in that for a bit longer.

“Hey, we should go get ice cream,” he announced.

Lydia turned her head and raised an eyebrow.

He shrugged. “To, you know, celebrate that we figured out Merlin's riddle, passed another test or whatever the hell you want to call that. Merlin said we're ready to face the curse - which I have serious doubts about, by the way - but I feel like ice cream will make me feel one tiny baby step closer to feeling ready to take on an ancient Native American grudge curse.”

Lydia snorted softly with amusement, before tossing her hair over her shoulder. “Gelato,” she said. “There's a little place on Parkview that does amazing gelatos.”

“You mean the Italian bakery?”

“Yup.”

“Okay then, fancy Italian ice cream it is!”

After taking one wrong turn (although in his defense, Stiles never drove by the rec centre and therefore hadn't been expecting the construction and subsequent detour), Stiles managed to get them to the bakery about twenty minutes before closing time. He'd just parked his jeep when both his and Lydia's cellphones went off.

“It's from Scott's mom,” said Lydia with a frown while Stiles turned off the motor and engaged the parking brake. “There's an emergency pack meeting.”

Stiles groaned and let his forehead fall against the steering wheel. “Of course there is. When is there ever a pack meeting that isn't an emergency of some sort.” Then he straightened resolutely. “But not before ice cream-”

“Gelato.”

“Whatever. I refuse to let whatever the emergency of the day is to keep me from my celebratory ice cream.”

Lydia smirked. “I'll text back to say we're on our way. For all anyone knows, we're still on the road from Merlin's place.”

“Always knew you were a genius!”

“Of course. Now hurry up before they close on us.”

“Right, yes, hurrying.”

 


 

Melissa jumped when the front door slammed open with a loud bang, hissing when a few drops of hot coffee spilled onto her hand and the kitchen table. Chris Argent quickly reached behind him and grabbed the paper towel from the counter. She accepted it with a smile. Next to him, Allison had stiffened at the sound and turned to the doorway.

“Where is he?!” Scott demanded as he stormed into the kitchen, eyes glowing bright red and alpha wolf reverberating in his voice.

Melissa rubbed her left temple. “He's not here, Scott,” she said wearily. God, she felt exhausted.

Scott froze, his eyes darting around the room and his nostrils flaring, as though needing to confirm for himself that his father wasn't here. He looked ready for a fight; his chest heaved with the effort of standing still. She saw Isaac and Derek come up carefully behind him, eyeing him cautiously as they entered the kitchen.

On her other side, the sheriff sighed. “He cornered us down at the station,” he said calmly. “Played us some of his recorded audio footage... There was really no point in denying anything.” His eyes darted to Derek. “We kept the Hale family out of it as much as we could, but I'm fairly certain he's made the connection already.”

Derek nodded to him.

“Isn't that illegal though?” Allison suddenly blurted out. “Don't you need a warrant or something in order to place surveillance devices on people?”

“It is,” the sheriff answered. “Even if he wasn't doing it as part of an official investigation, it's still highly illegal to place phone taps and other surveillance devices without a warrant.”

“Would you really want to charge him with it, though?” Chris asked quietly.

“It would serve him right,” Scott growled.

“It would bring attention to you and to Beacon Hills,” Chris continued calmly. “Make people wonder why Agent McCall thought there was something worth investigating.” He paused and looked around at the assembled group. “And that wouldn't be good for any of us.”

“But he used what we said to get Ethan and Aiden arrested!”

“Whatever you said might've given Rafe names and pointed him in the right direction,” the sheriff said with a sigh. “But he didn't use any of his surveillance to get them. There had already been an on-going investigation – complete with security camera footage of the two of them and a list of false names they'd used in a few other places – all it gave him was a reason to go looking. I'm not saying I think he did the right thing; law's still the law. But he didn't need to use the footage he'd gathered.”

The sheriff's turned hard as he pointedly looked at Scott. “Besides, if he had, somehow, been able to use the footage then we'd all be found guilty of aiding and abetting.”

Scott's eyes widened slightly and he swallowed.

“This isn't about Ethan and Aiden,” said Derek softly into the ensuing pause.

Melissa looked to him gratefully. “No, it isn't,” she said. She looked at her son and waited patiently for him to meet her eyes. “I'm not sure if he wasn't half-expecting us to tell him 'werewolves' were the codeword for some sort of club or cult or something, but between the audio he showed us and a few other things... He might've let us get away with lying to him, but he would've known we were lying and never let it go. He'd continue to investigate and it'd just get more and more dangerous. And I know you're angry at him right now Scott – and you have every right to be – but I don't think you want him dead.”

Scott took a deep breath and she could see the strain on his face as he attempted to calm himself down and will his claws away. “No,” he finally whispered. “I don't want him dead.”

A few moments of silence passed before Isaac cleared his throat. “He believed you just like that?” he asked. “I mean, I didn't quite believe at first and I was being told by Derek, who could shift to prove it.”

“Remember the duende?” the sheriff asked, tone light, but with a heavy undertone of annoyance. “Remember how you ran off and left the body behind for the authorities to find? Well, Rafe had the body shipped off to the Jeffersonian to be analyzed and I'm sure it'll surprise you all to learn that the test came back with some very interesting results – particularly the DNA tests.”

The werewolves had the presence of mind to look sheepish.

“There was also something about how Scott managed to restrain Rafe as easily as if he were ninety years old and frail.”

Scott winced. “Oops.”

“The question is what do we do now?” said Chris.

“Does he know about the rest of the pack?” Derek asked.

Melissa made a face. “We didn't name names, just told him there were a few others, but it's probably not all that difficult for him to guess at who most of those others are.”

“The surveillance alone probably gave him most of you,” the sheriff added. “And he's seen you all hanging out too.”

“The one thing we absolutely refused to talk about is Lydia. We told him if he wanted to know about her, he'd have to ask her.”

“Speaking of which,” said the sheriff with a frown. “Where are Stiles and Lydia? You said they were on their way, didn't you?”

“They went up to see Merlin with Danny,” said Scott with a small frown of his own. “Maybe they were still out there when mom texted?”

“Maybe, but you think they'd have said so.”

Just then the doorbell rang. Isaac, being closest to the door, left to open it.

“Perfect timing,” she heard Chris mutter.

Derek frowned. “No, it's just Danny. Lydia and Stiles aren't with him.”

Allison looked worried. “Should we call them?” she asked Scott.

Scott winced. “Uh, my phone sort of died earlier. It's how we found the bug, 'cause Derek heard it humming.”

Beside Melissa, the sheriff gaped. “You found a tiny electronic device by its humming?!”

Derek just shrugged. “It's easier when you're out in the preserve where there's less artificial noises around.”

“...that wasn't entirely what I was getting at.”

Isaac walked back into the kitchen followed by Danny. “Uh, hey guys,” he said. “Sorry I'm a bit late, but I'd just gotten home when I got Mrs. McCall's text and I'd promised my mom I'd take out the recycling.”

“That's okay,” said Scott. “You, uh, went up to see Merlin with Stiles and Lydia, right?”

Danny's face broke out into a wide grin. “Yeah, I did. Did they tell you about the unicorn?” He looked over the room and his smile gradually dimmed into a confused frown. “Oh, aren't they here yet?”

Scott looked like someone had poked a hole into his bubble world and he was trying to figure out what it was. “No, they're not- wait, what do you mean a unicorn? Merlin has a unicorn at the cottage now?!”

“Unicorns are real?” Allison exclaimed. Then she turned to her father in horror. “Please tell me we don't hunt unicorns.”

Chris rolled his eyes. “No, of course we don't hunt unicorns. At the moment we're not really hunting much of anything.”

“There was that rouge alpha a few months ago.”

“Because he was crazy and out-of-control.”

“And we're off-topic,” Sheriff Stilinski cut in. “Danny, when did you part with Stiles and Lydia?”

Danny looked at his watch. “I'd say about an hour ago-ish. They dropped me off at the school so I could get my car and then they drove off. I thought Stiles was just going to drop Lydia off at her place and then go home.”

“Lydia responded to my text saying they were on their way,” said Melissa, starting to feel uneasy about the situation. “And Stiles wouldn't just brush something like this off.”

Allison already had her cellphone out. “I'll call Lydia,” she announced before putting her phone to her ear. The room was silent as they all watched Allison waiting with her phone to her ear. Suddenly she perked up. “Lydia, hey, it's Allison. Where are you- woah, woah, Lydia-” She frowned and, around her, the room tensed. “Lydia...Lydia! Calm down, what's going on? Wait, wha-?” Her frown deepened and then seconds later her eyes widened. She jumped to her feet looking slightly panicked. “Lydia, what the... What do you mean you think you killed Stiles?!”

 


 

Rafe drove from the sheriff's station feeling a bit... odd. His own world had just been turned on its side, tilted a bit off-centre and yet everywhere he looked he saw the rest of the world moving on, people calmly living their lives as if there weren't monsters living among them. Werewolves. Dear God, there were werewolves, actual people who turned into wolves – or gained wolf-like qualities or however that worked in real life.

The evidence had pointed there, but he hadn't wanted to take that final step on his own. To commit his mind to a reality where werewolves were real. What else was real then? There was the child-eating creature; Stilinski had called it a duende. And then there was whatever Lydia was... He'd been hoping for a bizarre online cult, or gang – hell, he'd even have accepted a supernatural-themed fetish club (not happily, but he would have).

But werewolves. His son was a werewolf. He had been bitten by a werewolf and now transformed into a... a creature of the night. Scott, his kid, the little boy he'd taught to ride a bike and used to read bedtime stories to was a monster.

He stopped at a red light and sighed, running a hand through his hair. No, he wasn't. He'd spent enough time with Scott over the past few months to know he was the same good kid he'd left behind. Rafe was an FBI agent; he'd met real monsters and Scott wasn't anything like them.

Well, at least he could take pride in knowing Scott was the alpha. And he had a pack which, well, Rafe wasn't entirely sure what that meant, but at the very least his son now had a larger group of friends than he'd ever had before.

Deciding he'd stalled long enough, he turned onto Parkview Avenue, which connected to the street his apartment was on. It still wasn't the fastest route home for him, but at least it was going in the right direction. If anything, the driving helped him think. As he scanned both sides of the street out of habit, his eyes caught sight of a very familiar jeep parked in the public parking lot next to Southside Park.

He wondered if Stiles knew he knew about the werewolves yet... Before he'd even made the conscious decision, he'd already turned and was pulling up into the lot beside the jeep. Well, he supposed he owed Stiles a thank you for stopping Scott from doing something foolish – and illegal. And when exactly had that happened; when had Stiles become the voice of reason? Both of the boys had changed, it seemed.

He turned off the engine and got out to lean against his car. Wherever Stiles was, he wouldn't be long. No doubt his father and Melissa had called a meeting with Scott and his friends – his pack – and Stiles would never fail to show up if Scott called him. It was why he'd never attempted to break the two of them up no matter how much trouble Stiles' ideas got them into: a friend who always had your back was too precious to throw away.

Although, I hadn't escaped hi notice that Melissa hadn't said what exactly Scott had been doing in the woods the night he got bitten.

Someone cleared their throat. “Agent McCall?”

Rafe looked up from his thoughts, startled. How deep in thought had he been that he hadn't noticed anyone approach? He mentally shook himself. “Yes?” he said as he looked over the woman addressing him.

She was beautiful in a very classical way with long, wavy blonde hair and bright red lips. She wore a long white dress, which was a bit of an odd choice for early March, but suited her nonetheless. She smiled at him.

“You're investigating Jeremy's death?”

Rafe blinked. Jeremy? Oh, right, the young man Lydia had led him to. “If you're referring to Jeremy Graves, then unfortunately you seemed to have been misinformed. I was present when the body was found, but the investigation falls under the jurisdiction of the local sheriff's department.”

“Oh.” She looked uncertain.

“Do you have any information regarding his death?” he asked carefully. He paused and frowned. Blonde hair and a white dress... “Were you there by any chance?”

Her eyes snapped up to his and widened. “I... yes. I was.”

“Then why have you waited this long to come forward with information? Why did you run?”

“I-I couldn't. I was afraid.”

Afraid? He scanned the area around the parking lot carefully, looking for anyone suspicious, anything out of place, odd reflections in widows or on rooftops. “What were you afraid of? Were you in danger?”

“I couldn't let them see me.”

Rafe stepped away from the car, wobbling slightly as his head spun for a second. He shook it off and gently placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. She felt exceptionally thin. “Look, I can protect you, but if you know something about the murder you really need to tell me or the sheriff. Who are you afraid of?”

“Mister McCall!”

“Agent McCall, get away from her!”

Kak-kak-kak

Rafe startled and looked away from the woman to see Stiles and Lydia racing towards him, their eyes wide with fear. He felt the young woman beside him stiffen and reach up to grip his hand tightly. He frowned at his son's friends. Was it the pack this woman was afraid of? But he was certain none of them could have killed Jeremy Graves... unless there were packmembers he wasn't aware of.

And god but the woman's hands were cold: his own hand was freezing and beginning to go numb where she gripped it.

Stiles and Lydia came to a stop a few feet away from them, both glaring murder at the young woman. “Let him go, Abigail,” said Stiles, his voice low and angry. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Stiles' hawk settle on top of the wooden fence surrounding the parking lot.

“Hello, Stiles,” he heard the woman say, a smirk audible in his voice. Rafe blinked and glanced to her. The frightened young woman was gone, replaced by someone who looked rather smug.

“Agent McCall, please, you have to trust us,” Lydia said, her eyes never leaving the young woman. “Step away from her. She's not who you think she is.”

Rafe snorted. “That seems to be a common theme around here lately,” he said.

“Yes, this town does have so many secrets, doesn't it?” the woman said snidely. “You have to be very careful whom you trust.”

She was right. Rafe pulled his hand free and stepped back. The wobbling was worse this time as his limbs rebelled against the motion - and motion in general. They felt like lead, weighing him down, he could taste exhaustion on his tongue. What was going on? He took another step back and then there were suddenly steadier limbs supporting him and helping to lower him to the ground.

“Mister McCall, you'll have to trust us,” Stiles whispered urgently into his ear. “We know what we're doing, er, mostly. Pretty sure we know what we're doing anyway. We hope.”

He rolled his eyes. “Not inspiring much confidence here, Stiles.” He looked up to the woman, blinking as she wavered out of focus. “What is she? Another werewolf?”

Stiles froze for a moment. “Uh, no. She's a ghost.”

“A ghost? Aren't ghosts supposed to be incorporeal?”

Stiles shrugged. “There's a curse giving her power.”

“They didn't mention a curse.”

“Huh?”

Rafe suddenly felt light-headed despite being seated on the ground - in the way he sometimes did when he'd been working for too long and had forgotten to stop and eat... Lowered blood-sugar levels: of course.

“Stiles!”

 


 

The gelato was perfect: tiny cold lumps of coconut and strawberry-flavoured heaven. Lydia had mostly been humouring Stiles at the school, but as soon as they walked into the small bakery and pastry shop, she realized it was exactly what she wanted in that very moment. It was also a matter of principle: she wasn't just going to drop everything the moment the pack called. Even if Scott's mom calling the meeting was a bit worrying.

They exited the shop in silence. Parkview Avenue was a wide street, but it wasn't really part of what passed for a downtown in Beacon Hills, where all the shops, beauty salons and bars were. This was where people came in the summertime for the park and outdoor coffee shop patios, in the early morning for the bakeries, and weekend evenings for date night. This late on a Thursday evening, with the sun nearly gone from the sky, the street was deserted.

It was why the second car in the parking lot was an instant eyesore, one Lydia knew hadn't been there before. The driver was facing away from them, but she'd seen enough of Scott's dad during the past several weeks to recognize him even from the back in the half-dark. There was a young blonde woman with him.

“Stiles?” she said warily.

Stiles looked up from his own death-by-chocolate gelato and then across the street to where Lydia was indicating. He frowned at first. And then froze, his eyes widening in horror.

“Oh shit!” he said quietly. “Lydia, that's Abigail Castela.”

“What?!”

They exchanged a single, horrified look and then they were running across the street, towards the parking lot.

“Mister McCall!” Stiles called out.

“Agent McCall, get away from her!” she added.

Kak-kak-kak

Lydia glanced upwards. She hadn't realized Storm had followed them to the Italian bakery. Not that it surprised her. The hawk circled above them like a sentinel. They stopped when they were about a car's length away. Agent McCall had laid a comforting hand on the blonde's shoulder and was frowning at them in confusion. The girl reached up to grip his hand. This close, Lydia would've been able to tell it was her even without Stiles.

This feeling of slimy, rotten air was something she'd felt before. For all that Abigail Castela looked like a beautiful, frightened young woman, to Lydia she felt wrong. Like death. Lydia glared at her. This... thing had nearly killed Stiles.

“Let him go, Abigail,” said Stiles, his voice steady though full of anger.

The fake fear was gone from Abigail's face in a flash, replaced by a smug smirk. “Hello, Stiles,” she said. Her eyes glittered triumphantly. Lydia wanted to wipe the look off her face.

“Agent McCall, please, you have to trust us,” Lydia said, not daring to turn her eyes from the spirit before her. “She's not who you think she is.”

“That seems to be a common theme around here,” she heard Scott's dad mutter under his breath.

“Yes, this town does have so many secrets, doesn't it?” Abigail said snidely. “You have to be very careful whom you trust.”

McCall seemed to freeze at her words, before slowly sliding his hand from her shoulder and stepping back. Lydia's breath caught when she noticed his unsteady steps. He wobbled, listing heavily to one side. Stiles ran forward, managing to catch him before he fell and slowly lowering him to the ground.

“You're draining him,” Lydia hissed. “Stop it!”

Abigail rolled her eyes. “No.” Then she laughed, a high-pitched, unpleasant sound. “It's not like there's anything you can do to stop me. I'm already dead.”

Yes, and now that Lydia was looking closely, she could see it too; how the woman didn't quite fit into her surroundings, like she was cut and pasted into the picture. She was a spirit. Of course!

“Stiles!” Lydia called.

Stiles looked up from where he was kneeling next to Scott's father (who was looking incredibly pale and only half-awake). “He's fading fast,” he called back unnecessarily.

She shook her head. “Stiles, she's a spirit! She doesn't belong in this world!”

She saw his eyes widen the moment he understood her message. He nodded and then turned to urgently whisper something to the agent. She forcefully shoved her nervousness to the side and turned back to Abigail. The ghost was looking at her with narrowed eyes.

“They're not around, you know – his little friends,” Abigail said conversationally, sneering the last part with obvious distaste. “They were watching before, but not now.”

“Shame, I would've loved to meet them,” Lydia answered, keeping her eyes on Abigail and away from where Stiles was laying down onto the parking lot ground next to Agent McCall. “They sound interesting. Also, would be nice to meet some spirits that aren't psychotic bitches for a change.”

“This isn't Indian land anymore.”

“The politically correct term is Native American. If you're going to pretend to live in the twenty-first century, you should probably update your vocabulary first. Besides, I didn't think spirits cared about zip codes and maps.”

Abigail bristled. “We conquered this land: its ours now!”

Lydia felt her mouth go dry, her body thrumming with nerves. She wished she could see Stiles, that he had a way of telling her what he was doing without alterting Abigail. She took a deep breath. All she could do now was trust him to figure out a way or tell her if he couldn't.

Suddenly, Abigail let out a surprised scream and whirled around towards Agent McCall. Scott's father gasped with relief. “You!” she screeched at something Lydia couldn't see. “What? But how can you possibly-”

Oh just my little friends teaching me a trick or two,” she heard Stiles say and she could picture the cocky smirk accompanying the words.

Lydia felt relieved to hear Stiles' voice, although it barely managed to calm the fluttering in her stomach and her gently shivering body. Until, with sudden clarity, she realized that those weren't nerves. Her body hummed with energy, with a tension that had steadily been building while she'd been speaking to Abigail. She felt her focus narrowing onto the spirit, her eyes seeing the disparity in its existence and beyond the mask it was projecting into the living world.

Then she remembered Luella's words. Just before a person died, the spirit let go of the tethers that kept it in this world so that it could travel to the next one. A banshee could feel those tethers breaking, could feel when they'd been cut forcefully, such as with a violent death. A banshee's scream was a herald of death, heard clearly in this world and echoing through to the next. It acted as a guide to the spirit so that its journey would be made smoother, unhindered by any lingering ties.

Lydia felt her powers storming in her veins. The build-up had never been this gradual – probably because the deaths she'd felt had been sudden. But now she recognized the feeling. And she knew what to do.

She screamed.

It was different this time. She felt awake and aware. She heard Abigail's screams echoing her own, a mere shade compared to the force of her own. In the background, she heard Stiles scream and Storm screech loudly. She felt the world around her shift, felt something open with a soft gust of almost-wind.

She stopped screaming and the world went silent. Abigail was gone. The slimey, rotten feeling of death was gone. Lydia took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Lydia?”

She looked into Agent McCall's tired, confused eyes. He looked like he was staying awake out of sheer bull-headedness. Next to him, Stiles wasn't moving. Storm glided over her head and landed next to Stiles. She didn't fold her wings, keeping them spread menacingly as her sharp eyes bore into the prone form in front of her.

Lydia ran to Stiles' side. “Stiles?” she said, bending over him and grabbing his shoulder to shake him awake. His body flopped bonelessly. Realization hit her. She gasped with horror. “Oh my god, he wasn't in his body. He was a spirit and I- Oh crap. No, no, this can't be happening. Stiles! Stiles, wake up! Wake up right now!”

Kak kak kak

Lydia started at Storm's call and backed away from Stiles. The hawk had brought him back once before, maybe she knew what she was doing. Storm folded her wings slightly and stepped forwards, nudging Stiles with her beak. Then she spread her wings and half-jumped, half-flew to land on top of him. Lydia leaned backwards to avoid the hawk's wings. She winced as Storm's claws dug into his flesh as she tried to find purchase on the less stable surface. Storm craned her neck towards Stiles' face.

Kik kik kik

Stiles remained motionless. Storm cocked her head at him, as though confused. She nudged him again. Then she flew off.

Lydia watched her go with a growing sense of despair. Had the hawk given up, or was she playing at Lassie and going to get someone who could help Jimmy out of the well? Lydia quickly bent back over Stiles and checked his pulse. It was slow and faint, but it was there. However the body was just a shell; if his spirit was gone then it would just slowly wither away.

“Lydia.”

She jumped. Right, Agent McCall was still here. “Lydia, call 911,” he said. “I have no idea what just happened here, but I'm pretty sure Stiles and I both need to go to the hospital. And you don't look like you should be driving.”

She took a deep breath, hoping Stiles was just weak from whatever had happened with Abigail in the Spirit Way, where she couldn't see them. She dug through her purse for her phone, fingers shaking as she dialed for an ambulance. When she hung up, she called Scott, whose phone immediately went to voicemail.

She made a frustrated noise. “Scott, it's Lydia. I thought Stiles was exaggerating when he said you and your phone have the worst timing. Apparently not. Why the hell isn't your phone on?! We-we came across Abigail Castela and your dad's here and Stiles isn't waking up. There's an amublence on the way. Call me back, Scott!”

She waited for a few moments and then tried again. Maybe he'd been on the phone? Still no answer. She hung up and stared at the phone in her hands. There was supposed to be a pack meeting. She could try one of the others; they'd get the message to Scott.

A hand came to rest on her wrist, stilling some of the shaking. She looked into Agent McCall's calm, confident eyes. “Lydia, calm down. It'll be alright.”

“You don't know that!” she hissed, feeling tears prickling her eyes. She'd lost Jackson and then she'd lost Aiden and Stiles was a better friend than either of them had been. She couldn't lose him too.

Her phone rang. It was Allison.

 


 

Stiles saw Scott's dad wobble on his feet as he stepped away from Abigail and didn't hesitate to run to his aid. He remembered the feeling of having your lifesource slowly but steadily drained, the sudden disorientation of realizing you were feeling much more tired and weaker than you should've been. He managed to reach Mr. McCall just as he was listing dangerously to the side, his muscles straining as he gently eased the man to the ground.

“Mister McCall, you'll have to trust us,” Stiles whispered urgently, hoping that for once the FBI agent wouldn't ask too many questions. “We know what we're doing, er, mostly. Pretty sure we know what we're doing anyway. We hope.”

Scott's dad rolled his eyes. “Not inspiring much confidence here, Stiles.” He looked up towards Abigail. Lydia was keeping her distracted for the moment. “What is she? Another werewolf?”

Stiles froze. What?! Since when did Scott's dad know about werewolves? Did the FBI have a supernatural division after all? “Uh, no. She's a ghost.”

“A ghost? Aren't ghosts supposed to be incorporeal?”

Stiles shrugged. “There's a curse giving her power.”

“They didn't mention a curse.”

“Huh?” They? There was a they?! Maybe this was what the emergency pack meeting was about. It figured. Clearly that meant this was bad karma for not having gone straight to Scott's house after getting the text. That would teach them to put ice cream before the pack.

Meanwhile Mister McCall was becoming paler by the second.

“Stiles!”

Stiles' head snapped up to Lydia. “He's fading fast,” he called back to her. Even distracted, the ghost was apparently still draining life from the man.

“Stiles, she's a spirit!” Lydia called again. “She doesn't belong in this world.”

Stiles stared at her. Yes, of course, he knew this. She was dead. Short of preforming an exorcism, only a spirit could harm a spirit. Stiles' eyes widened. He could be a spirit! Stiles turned to the other man.

“Mister McCall, I'm going to try something,” he whispered urgently, watching out of the corner of his eye as Lydia kept Abigail's attention away from him. “It's going to seem a bit, uh, strange, but I don't have time to explain right now. Just... just, hang in there.”

The FBI agent looked confused, but didn't say anything as Stiles lied down onto the hard asphalt of the parking lot and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and let himself fall into the Darkness...

Stiles opened his eyes. The first thing he noticed was how cold the ground beneath him felt. He noticed it because physical sensations were muted in the Spirit Way. He sat up and looked at the ground. It was dark, dead. He looked up and winced at the contrast to the trees and grass that hummed with life.

Mister McCall reached through him to shake his still body – and, wow, wasn't that a weird sensation. He couldn't feel anything, but it felt like he should. Stiles stood and stepped away from his body to examine Scott's dad. Like all living things, he vibrated with life, but even to Stiles' eyes, the vibrations looked weaker, sickly. There was a light green-grey tendril of smoke surrounding him, pulsing steadily in time to his heartbeat. Stiles looked to Abigail, knowing without a doubt that was where the trail of smoke was coming from.

Abigail, it seemed, could not project a mask in the Spirit Way, could only be seen for what she was. She was ugly. Her eyes were sunken, her skin ashen grey and the left side of her face was covered in dark bruising that was almost black. She turned slightly and Stiles noticed that her left arm hung at an odd angle. She was wearing a long white gown covered in pearls and lace. A wedding dress: they must've buried her in it.

She was surrounded by an aura of green-grey smoke, from which one tendril had detached itself and stretched out to wrap around Mister McCall. Several more seemed to be lazily wrapped around her feet and disappeared into the earth. They looked like tethers binding her to the ground.

Stiles took a step closer to examine the tendril connected to Mister McCall. It just looked like smoke. He bit his lip pensively. Could it really be that easy? He looked down at his hands. Even if he couldn't be an emissary, he was still a Spark and Deaton had said that belief was powerful. In fact, so had Merlin.

Stiles reached his hand out towards the smokey tendril. You didn't use a knife or a sword to cut smoke. You waved it away, disrupted it with wind, with motion. He could cut off the connection just by waving his hand in front of it. He took a deep breath. He was going to cut off the connection.

Stiles waved his hand in front of the smoke and watched as it scattered. Abigail screamed. Mister McCall gasped and took several, deep breaths. Stiles grinned.

Then Abigail rounded on him, her eyes blazing with fury.

“You!” she screeched. “What? But how could you possibly-”

Stiles smirked. “Oh just my little friends teaching me a trick or two,” he said.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Storm spread her wings, her sharp eyes looking between them and Lydia. Lydia, who was glowing. Back by the Nemeton, Stiles had noticed that Lydia seemed to glow from within. Now it was as though someone had turned up the voltage and the light was all but erupting from inside her. He saw her look up with understanding and determination. She was beautiful and terrifying, like a vengeful goddess.

Abigail paused and turned away from Stiles, whether because she'd realized she no longer had his attention, or because she could feel the pressure coming from behind her, he wasn't sure. But her eyes widened with fear.

“No!” she cried.

Lydia screamed.

And Stiles felt something tear, a pain unlike anything he'd ever felt before pierced through his skull and he screamed.

Kak kak kak

Lydia's scream permeated his soul, his being, echoed into every inch and pulled. Suddenly there were feathers in front of his face. Storm, he thought through the haze of pain. He reached out to touch the hawk, only too late realizing that he wasn't inside his body, that he couldn't actually touch her.

The world faded away.

Chapter Text


 

A lone hawk soared over the Beacon Hills Preserve. The sun had long since sunk below the treeline and been replaced by a brilliant waxing moon and a sky full of sparkling pin-pricks of light. Even by their light, the hawk was barely more than a moving shade silently gliding above the forest.

Unseeable to most human eyes, a large bald eagle flew up from the forest to join it. The hawk didn't even flinch as the eagle circled above it, but when the eagle dived back into the treetops, it followed, vanishing from sight.

Coyote looked up from his pipe when he felt his friend Eagle land onto the tree stump opposite him. Eagle was shorter than Coyote, but wider in the shoulders and almost as old, with long white hair that was tied back into a braid. There were white feathers and wooden beads woven into his hair and over his shoulders he wore a cloak of dark brown feathers. Sharp yellow eyes that missed nothing looked at Coyote with disapproval.

The hawk, whose name was Storm, settled on the large branch of an ancient oak tree just over their heads. Coyote ignored his friend and looked up at the bird of prey.

“You seem tired, my friend,” he said gently. “Sit and rest. Recover your strength.”

The hawk was silent, though she blinked in understanding and nodded her head in thanks. Then she tucked her head beneath her wing and fell instantly asleep.

“You are playing games again, I see,” Eagle interrupted the silence in a voice that was strong and clear despite the deep lines in his face.

Coyote took a deep breath of his pipe. “Not entirely,” he answered. “I am granting wisdom as well.”

Eagle frowned. “You should keep what little wisdom you have for yourself.”

“I have wisdom plenty, old friend. It is simply more interesting to give it sparsely and watch as the young stumble about their path.”

“And Silver Fox agrees?”

Coyote shrugged. “Silver Fox is Silver Fox. She gives wisdom as she chooses. I give wisdom as I choose. What is to come, will come regardless of what we do.”

“And the Wanderer?”

“He will find his strength or he will not.” Coyote looked up at the gathering of clouds in the distance and sniffed the air. “Come now and sing with me; perhaps we can keep the storm away for a little while longer.”

 


 

Merlin stood before the Nemeton within the cool mist of early morning dusk, watching as the unicorn disappeared into the pathways of the Fae. Magical creatures had their own ways of traveling along the outskirts of the world, the edges that existed just out of the corner of human sight. It was how they managed to survive through the modern eras as they passed, letting themselves pass into myth and legend and disbelief. Humans were arrogant enough to think that if they didn't see something, it couldn't exist. Only rarely did it occur to them that they didn't see something because it was so good at hiding.

He looked forward to telling the others of this Nemeton. The Diamar would certainly find it amusing. Human creations always amused her, even if her amusement was of a rather stoic sort. Perhaps he would bring her a tablet to their next meeting. He had a feeling she would enjoy playing with it.

He touched the altar tree and pushed a bit of his magic into it, to strengthen it. It would likely need to survive on its dwindling reserves for a little while longer. But, if all went well, he had a feeling it would soon have all it needed. The children would spend the rest of their lives learning, but Stiles, Lydia and Derek had begun to understand the most important part: their relationship to the land and how they fit into the puzzle of their world.

He felt the presence as soon as he walked out of the clearing, a gentle caress at the edge of his awareness. His eyebrows rose. In all the years he'd visited this area, this continent, he'd never been approached by Them and if he could feel one, it was most definitely deliberate. He hadn't told Stiles, but the Spirit Way was the one place Merlin couldn't go. Like Avalon, it existed at the borders of the afterlife, of death. Being immortal made Lethe the one river he couldn't cross.

Merlin gathered his magic, felt it flood into his eyes and turn them golden. In front of him sat a fox with a pelt of beautiful silver fur. Merlin smiled and bowed to her with respect.

“Silver Fox,” he said. “It is an honour to finally meet you after all these years.”

When she spoke, he heard the words echo softly within his mind and his smile widened.

Emrys, you have always been welcomed within these lands even if we did not show ourselves to you.

“I know, I could feel it. And you know I have always cherished it. This land is wild and untamed, beautiful in its vastness.”

It is a pity that neither of us are truly representations of our peoples. Humans have forgotten the importance of the land they live on, though I believe yours forgot it first.

Merlin sighed. “Yes, they probably did. Too many wars, too many centuries of powerful people doing their best to suppress the old ways. I sometimes wonder how Arthur could ever be reborn into a time when his people no longer believe in him, in what he represents.”

Does Albion's king need to represent anything other than hope? You, Emrys, are the shape of the land and the soul of its power.

“And you are as wise as the stories say you are.”

Silver Fox smiled. Wisdom is only the ability to recognize the truth.

“You make it sound simple.”

And you speak as if you did not know this. For many years have I watched you as you wandered our lands and I know that you are wise. You brought the Wanderer to us. You could have taught him your ways, but you were wise to see what even we did not at first.

“Coyote saw it.”

Silver Fox let out a soft huff. Coyote sees many things and most of them for his own amusement. A trickster can be wise, but can not always be trusted to show the true path.

Merlin laughed. “Well then I'm glad you've taken an interest. You'll keep him from giving Stiles too much of a run-around.”

I will try.

The wind seemed to change in that moment, picking up momentum with a severe chill and powerful undercurrent. Merlin looked up to the sky. The storm that had been slowly approaching overnight was nearly upon them. It didn't feel particularly angry, but the clouds looked heavy with rain.

“Thank you for watching over him,” he said, mirth gone from his face.

You are welcome, Emrys. We will do so gladly. He is a child of this land even if he is not one of our people.

“Thank you. Should you ever find your way to Albion, know that you will be welcome there. And if you don't at least stop by to say 'hello' I shall be most disappointed.”

Silver Fox nodded and then stood, whispering a soft farewell before turning around and loping out of sight. Merlin's smile stayed with him as he made his way through the forest towards where Myfanwy was waiting for him.

 


 

Lydia taped the sheet of paper to Stiles' computer screen.

YOU'RE AT THE HOSPITAL it read in big, block letters. She'd stuck one like it onto the dashboard of the jeep they'd left in the park's parking lot just in case Stiles' spirit was somehow still around, but too weak to respond. They couldn't just leave his body there, after all. Even if it was just a shell at the moment, it still required water and nourishment. Also, the parking lot was rather public.

Lydia stepped away from the computer and swallowed. She refused to believe that Stiles was lost forever. Stiles was tenacious, determined and annoying; he always found his way back. Besides, she rationalized, his soul was tethered to a living body. That had to have made a difference. Maybe he'd managed to run away when he'd realized what was happening.

She should've warned him. Yes, maybe it might've also given Abigail enough time to float away too, but at least...

Lydia took a deep breath and looked around the room desperately for something to distract herself with. Her eyes fell on the collection of picture frames on top of the dresser. Curious, she walked over to take a look. The biggest one was a beautiful wooden frame with roses carved into the top two corners. There was a woman in the picture wearing a green and yellow floral sundress and a wide-brimmed floppy hat. She was holding a toddler in her arms: a little boy in a superman t-shirt and a mischievous smile on his face. Stiles. She looked at the woman again, at her radiant, happy smile.

She remembered this woman. She didn't think she'd realized it was Stiles' mother – or possibly hadn't cared enough to figure out who Stiles was – but she remembered seeing her waiting at the elementary schoolyard everyday, beaming brightly at anyone who greeted her. She remembered being jealous at how kind and playful she'd seemed, how easily she laughed, a peaceful haven in her mind compared to her parent's endless fighting. And then her parents were divorcing. It'd been just before summer vacation. Lydia didn't think she'd actually noticed the woman didn't come back to the school in the fall.

She was suddenly sad to realize this woman was dead.

The other pictures were in simple plastic frames. There was one of Stiles and Scott with their arms around each other and grinning madly at the camera. They looked about thirteen and were soaked to the bone, each boy holding a giant supersoaker. Lydia smiled at the picture.

Then there was one of Stiles and Scott and their parents. This one looked more recent, although still probably a few years old, maybe the end of junior high. It looked like they were out camping somewhere: there was a fire burning behind them and what looked like it could've been the edge of a tent in the corner. Scott's dad wasn't in the picture, though if Lydia hadn't know he was missing, she wouldn't have realized it. Maybe this had been after Scott's parents had split up.

The last photo was of the pack and Lydia smiled at the memory. It'd been taken during the aftermath of the earthquake: the sheriff had stolen a couple of precious hours in order to host a barbecue (officially to cook any rapidly-defrosting meat from their freezers and unofficially to gather everyone together and make sure they were doing alright). Scott had been the one to set the timer on Stiles' camera before running to get into position. Aiden stood beside her with an arm slung casually over her shoulder, though he looked slightly awkward, like he wasn't entirely sure what he was doing there.

Lydia decided she would ask Stiles for a copy of the photo later.

“Lydia?”

Lydia jumped at the voice and stepped hurriedly away from the dresser. Allison stood in the doorway looking at her with curiosity.

“Oh, hey Allison,” Lydia said as she brushed a strand of hair from her face. “I was just leaving Stiles a note in case, you know.”

Allison glanced at the computer screen and her eyes softened. “I could've been something the ghost did to him, you know,” she said idly. “You couldn't actually see what was going on, after all.”

Lydia shook her head. “I heard him scream at the same time Abigail did. I doubt that was a coincidence.”

Allison sighed. “Are you going to the hospital to see him?”

“Yes. Well, after I've made one more stop.”

“Want company?”

Lydia thought about it. “Sure,” she said.

The drive to the cemetery was done in silence, neither one of them willing to break the somber mood. Both of their thoughts were already in the hospital with Stiles' body – Lydia couldn't bring herself to call it Stiles, because his spirit wasn't inside, he wasn't inside. There were a few other cars in the parking lot, but they didn't run into anyone in the part of the cemetery they went to. The people who'd once mourned at these graves had graves of their own now.

The sad, dilapidated gravestones looked even more morose, wet as they were from the heavy rain that had fallen all through the morning. Here were the lonely graves of those who had passed from life and then from memory as well. Just as they all would one day. Unless they accomplished something great enough for history to bother remembering.

Lydia stopped, surprising herself at having found the right grave despite her inattention. The small tower was covered in moss, the angel at the top was missing part of its left wing-tip and the inscription at the base looked worn and faded. It looked as old as all the markers around it. Lydia stepped forward and touched it. The rock was cool to the touch and solid, dull. The slight, almost-energy she'd felt within it before was gone.

Lydia stepped back. “She's really gone this time,” she said out loud.

“Good,” said Allison.

They walked back to the car and then headed to the hospital, making only one, last detour at Starbucks to get a venti coffee for the sheriff.

 


 

Derek parked his car in front of the skeleton of his new house and cut the engine. When he got out, he took a deep breath, taking in the scent of forest, lumber, animals and the lingering traces of his pack. The stench of fire and ashes was gone completely now and it made the area feel lighter, cleaner. Free of demons.

He frowned at the newer scents that mingled with the others. Lead and large lizard... Myfanwy? Merlin's wyvern was here? He took another breath. Yes, Merlin and Adrian's scents were here as well, fresher than any of the pack. They'd apparently been here at some point this morning, though it was difficult to tell as the rain had washed much of it away.

The smell of lead, coal and stone, however, was much stronger.

Derek opened his eyes and headed towards the smell. It led him around to the back of the house, where about half-way between the main building and the treeline, sat a small stone structure covered by a simple wooden roof. It was the forge and it definitely hadn't been there yesterday. Derek walked towards it in a daze. He ran a hand down one of the roof supports and considered how feeble it seemed, unable to withstand the elements.

He turned back to the forge itself, wondering how they'd managed to move it here – because it was most certainly the same forge Adrian had built in his clearing. Magic and Myfanwy, he supposed.

There was something covered in cloth sticking out from the other side, so Derek walked over to take a look. The cloth was really just a beige linen sheet. He pulled it off and stared at the black lead underneath for a moment, blinking as he realized he was staring at two sides of stair railings; Adrian must've finished it on his own while Derek had been busy with the house. He threw the cloth to the side and lifted one side up to take a closer look at it.

It felt heavy, sturdy in his grip: perfect for a house of werewolves. And yet it was heavily ornate; the bottom of the railing came to a twisted, scrolled end, though the rails themselves were simple, albeit slightly-twisted horizontal bars. Except in the centre, where there was a delicately-rendered rough outline of a tree. Part of him would've expected a wolf, but this was better. It was clearly a depiction of the Nemeton, his family's legacy. It was perfect.

Derek placed it back to lean against the forge and threw the sheet over it again. Then he noticed the envelope sitting in the middle of the hearth.

Derek,
I'm leaving you the forge as I believe it will be of use to you and I can't very well take it with me. Merlin has been called back to Albion, so I, too, am leaving to find myself somewhere to start anew. It has been an honour and a privilege to teach you and work with you on something more suited to your talents and disposition, metal being much sturdier than chemistry beakers.
Perhaps we'll meet again some day.
Adrian Harris

Derek stared at the letter in his hand. This was unexpected.

Also, he was incredibly happy Cora had gone back to L.A. days ago, because the forge... the forge spelled permenance. Although, he'd have to build a better shelter for it first.

 


 

Sheriff Stilinski looked up as someone practically barreled into the room. Predictably, it was Scott, looking upset and possibly on the verge of hyperventilation. He placed the coffee Lydia and Allison had brought him onto the hospital room's side table and went to stand. Allison, however, beat him to it.

“Scott?” she asked with wide eyes, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Calm down, Scott. What's wrong? What did Merlin say?”

“I-I couldn't find the clearing” Scott finally got out around big gulps of breath. “It was just like before when Isaac and I went looking all over that area and couldn't find it. I even tried to see if I could tell where the forest repeated itself like Adrian had described, but there was nothing, like it had never existed!”

Allison exchanged looks with Lydia and then the sheriff. “Do you think something happened?” Allison asked.

“To Merlin?” said Lydia with a raised eyebrow. “You think something could've happened to Merlin?”

Allison shrugged. Just then Melissa walked into the room carrying two granola bars and a cup of coffee from the downstairs cafeteria.

“Oh wow, there's a lot of people in here,” she said as she entered and then headed straight for the sheriff. “Here, I brought you something to eat and some coffee. Now just so we're clear, two granola bars do not substitute for dinner, so I do expect you to actually leave at some point to get some real food.”

“Understood,” said the sheriff, accepting the granola bars gratefully and placing the coffee cup next to his Starbucks one. “Thanks.”

Melissa raised an eyebrow at the two coffee cups. “I'm not entirely sure I should be enabling that much coffee consumption,” she said.

The sheriff shrugged and then picked up the Starbucks cup and took a large gulp of it. “Would be a shame to let it go to waste.”

Melissa sighed. “I'm assuming you've talked to the doctor?”

He nodded. “The neurosurgeon said he's essentially brain-dead. They'll be running more tests on him tomorrow to see if they can figure out what caused it. Apparently people's brains don't just suddenly decide to stop working.” He chuckled dryly. “Of course the best part is that I know full well the tests are useless because we already know what caused this.”

He ran a hand through his hair and took another drink of coffee. Then he looked back up to Melissa. “How's Rafe doing?”

She shrugged. “Sleeping mostly. He's on an IV drip for nutrients, but it looks like that ghost didn't get her claws into him as badly as she'd gotten into Stiles before, because other than feeling exhausted and dehydrated, he's mostly fine. They'll be letting him out tomorrow morning.”

The sheriff nodded and let his gaze drift back to his son. Who was laying, unresponsive, in a hospital bed. Again.

“Sheriff, Stiles is strong,” Allison's voice cut through the silence. He met her eyes, blue as the stormy sea and determined. “He might not be physically strong like a werewolf and he might not always know what he's doing, but he's a survivor. He'll figure out a way to get back to us.”

“And he's not alone,” Lydia continued softly into the pause of silence. Guilt and grief had caused her composure to falter as soon as she'd walked into the room and seen Stiles motionless on the bed, but there was a steady, desperate hope in her eyes as she looked at her friend. “He's made friends with some of the spirits that exist inside the Spirit Way. I think they'll be willing to help him.”

The sheriff nodded. He had nothing to say to that. He wasn't even sure how much of his son's stories he actually believed, come to think of it, but right here, right now, he wanted every word to be true. If Stiles was lost, he was at least lost within Beacon Hills, not inside his mind or the middle of a forest. And Stiles knew Beacon Hills better than most of his deputies.

“Okay, that's great,” Scott interrupted them frantically. “But can we get back to the part where I can't find Merlin's cottage? As in, it seems to be gone.”

“Maybe he activated the spells that made it invisible?” Allison suggested.

“Merlin and Adrian are gone.”

Everyone turned to the doorway, where Derek now stood frowning at them. He was holding a large paper coffee cup in his hand. He took two steps towards the sheriff before his eyes spied the coffee already in his hand and the other one sitting on the side table. He paused, looking uncertain.

The sheriff made an amused huff and reached his coffee-free hand towards the werewolf. “Give it here, I'm apparently starting a collection.” Derek quickly handed him the coffee, as though afraid he'd change his mind. The sheriff smiled at him. “Thank you.”

Derek grunted in response.

He set it next to the coffee Melissa had brought him and then shook his head. “Am I really this predictable?” he asked the room at large.

“Yes,” they chorused back to him.

The sheriff rolled his eyes and took another drink of coffee. “So, Derek, how do you know they're gone?”

“Adrian left me a note,” Derek answered. “And the forge.”

“The forge?” asked Scott. “What do you mean they left you the forge?”

“Myfanwy and Merlin helped him move it; it's at the Hale House now. Apparently Merlin got called back to Albion, er, England and Adrian's gone off to find a new life.”

Lydia gasped. “The unicorn!” She looked up with wide eyes. “We were so distracted by the unicorn that we... Merlin said it was delivering a message from the Keeper of the Unicorns, who's a friend of his. We never asked about the message.”

“It's okay, Lydia,” Melissa assured her. “I'm pretty sure you're allowed to be distracted by a real live unicorn.”

“No, no, it's not just that. It's just...” Lydia paused, looking as though she was trying to organize her thoughts. “It's just that what he said as we were leaving... looking back on it, it sort of sounded like good-bye.”

“What did he say?” Allison asked.

“He said we had what we needed, that we were ready to face the curse.”

“When did he leave?” Melissa asked.

They all looked to Derek, who shrugged. “Hard to tell. The rain washed a lot of the scent away, but I'd say sometime early this morning. I don't think they left together either.”

“So basically, what you're saying is that we're on our own,” said Scott. He looked slightly panicked.

Lydia nodded slowly, looking slightly pale. “I guess we are.”

The sheriff sighed and took another drink of his coffee.

Chapter Text


 

Derek had spent the night tossing and turning. He'd gotten up at around two and gone for a run. Then he'd come back and tossed and turned some more before finally giving up and showering, grabbing a quick breakfast and driving up to the Hale House. He was greeted upon arrival by a dazzling sunrise in blue, pink and purple hues. And an unexpected, though very familiar scent.

Derek walked around the house to the back, where he found Peter standing next to the forge holding up one side of the new railings for the front steps. He didn't acknowledge Derek at first, so Derek stopped a few feet away and silently watched him.

“It's nice,” Peter finally broke the silence a few minutes later, absently running a finger down the tree outline. “Your mother would've liked it.”

“Yeah,” said Derek. He let the silence stretch for a few moments. “Cora was here.”

“I know.”

Derek raised an eyebrow. “You were avoiding her?”

Peter carefully replaced the railing, though he didn't bother with the sheet. “I didn't want to be around when she tried to convince you this was all a bad idea. I'm assuming she still wants you to sell?”

“You knew I was planning to?”

Peter rolled his eyes. “The fire and coma made me go crazy, not stupid. And everyone knows the best villains are highly intelligent.”

“Are you?” Derek asked before he'd thought his words through. He flinched at Peter's amused look.

“Am I what? Intelligent?”

“A villain.”

“Aaah. Well, of course I am. Perfect, wonderful Talia was the hero, so that only left one role to play.”

Derek blinked. This... what?!

Peter smirked. “Hm, have I rendered you speechless? Are you without the words to describe your shock and dismay at the slightest hint that your mother wasn't perhaps quite as perfect as you would've liked to believe?”

Derek growled, his facial features shifting.

Peter chuckled, his eyes glinting with amusement. He waved him off. “Oh don't worry, I'm not going to try and tell you your mother was actually secretly evil and I was oh so horribly misunderstood.”

Something other than amusement flashed through Peter's eyes and he looked away, towards the forest. “We were siblings. I'd call it mere sibling rivalry, but that would indicate there'd been room for a rivalry. Talia had been picked to become the new alpha before I'd had a chance to properly grow into my wolf. And I was her little brother, always stuck in her shadow.”

He sighed and then turned back to look at Derek, a familiar sly look in his eyes. “Since I was stuck in the shadows anyway, I decided to make them my own. I couldn't lead the pack, but I could manipulate it.”

Derek gaped at him. Once he'd managed to get his head around his uncle's words, he scowled at him. “That doesn't make you a villain, that makes you an ass.”

Peter threw his head back and laughed. Derek crossed his arms over his chest and glared at him.

“You're not wrong,” Peter finally got out once his laughter had died down.

Derek grunted at him.

Peter rolled his eyes. “Well, if you're going to go non-verbal on me, then we might as well start working on the house.”

Derek grabbed his uncle's arm as he waltzed past him. “You actually want to rebuild the house,” he said. It had been puzzling him for some time.

Peter's eyebrows rose. “Well, yes. This has been Hale land for centuries now, but it's only going to be werewolf land, if there are actual werewolves living on it. It'll loose its power otherwise.”

He froze. “That's what Merlin said... You-you knew this? And you never said anything?”

Amusement disappeared from Peter's eyes. “Would you have listened to me?”

Derek paused, considering. Then he sighed. “No, probably not.”

“Didn't think so.” He snatched his arm out of Derek's grasp and continued to walk towards the house.

Derek watched him go, noticing the stiffness in his uncle's strides, the suppressed emotion that bubbled in the air around him. There was more to it, he could feel it.

“Is that why you lured Laura back from New York?” he called.

Peter froze in his steps and Derek got a whiff of anger mixed with grief. The silence stretched between them.

“Yes,” Peter finally answered. “I could feel it as soon as I'd regained some form of consciousness. The emptiness. Before I'd been coherent enough to realize what I was feeling, I felt it, like something important was missing, cut out of the picture with jagged scissors. The Hale lands had been abandoned. Which, of course, would've been made worse by Deucalion's massacre.”

“We'd been just a couple of scared kids,” said Derek.

Peter chuckled humourlessly. “Oh, that part I understand. Well, maybe not then.” He turned around to face Derek and sent him a grin that was all teeth. “As you know, I might have been just a little bit out of the range of proper sanity.”

Derek snorted. That was an understatement. “But Laura came.”

Peter's eyes blazed with fury. “But she had no intention of staying! My sister had chosen her as her successor and she not only abandoned the land, but refused to fulfil her duty and take care of it! All she wanted to do was go back to New York.”

“So you killed her,” Derek said with a growl.

“A pack needs an alpha,” Peter growled back. “If Laura wasn't willing to be that alpha-”

“She didn't deserve to die!”

“Neither did the rest of the pack!”

Derek didn't remember ever making the decision to storm up to Peter, but suddenly, he was fully transformed and snarling at him, watching as a fully-transformed Peter snarled back at him.

“That's why you bit Scott.”

“Of course. I was building a pack and you need more than just one werewolf for that.”

“You were nothing more than a rabid animal!”

“An instinctual and highly intelligent rabid animal, actually.”

Derek growled.

Kik kik kik

He started as something flew past just over their heads. He looked up, immediately turning his attention to the new threat. He then relaxed when a familiar-looking hawk landed onto the forge's makeshift roof. She squawked indignantly when the supports wobbled, steadying herself with spread wings. After a few moments, the roof stabilized and Storm lowered her wings. Sharp eyes then turned to Derek and blinked before sliding over to Peter.

Kik kik kik

“Isn't that Stiles' hawk?” Peter asked.

Derek nodded. “Yeah.”

The staring contest that followed lasted several minutes, until Storm apparently became fed up with neither werewolf doing whatever it was she was waiting for.

Kak kak kak

Peter rolled his eyes. “Doesn't it realize wolves are canines? We don't speak bird, unless it's on a spit.”

Storm cocked her head. Then she spread her wings and took off towards the trees, where she circled high above and then folded her wings tight and came at them, flying in so close she could've grabbed at their hair if she's wanted to.

“What the hell, you crazy bird,” Derek yelled. “Why don't you do something useful like find your owner?”

Kik kak kak kak

Storm circled above their heads once more, before gliding off towards Beacon Hills. Derek watched her disappear into the distance, feeling like he'd missed something. When he turned back to Peter, his uncle was already by the house gathering tools from the Rubbermaid shed standing at the edge of the building site.

Derek sighed and scratched the back on his neck. Laura was still too much of an open wound for him and he knew he'd never forgive Peter for killing her, no matter how confused or insane he'd been after waking up from his coma. It actually helped somewhat that Peter didn't seem to want or expect forgiveness, as much as it was irritating that he didn't show any sort of remorse either. At least now he knew what Peter's motivation for helping rebuild the house was.

Wanting to make the Hale Lands powerful again, that Derek could live with. Wouldn't stop him from keeping half an eye on him for as long as he was around before and after the house was completed.

 


 

 

Sheriff Stilinski closed his front door with a weary sigh. He felt exhausted, like one of those exercise bands that had been stretched so much it was nearly see-through. His limbs ached as his body demanded he give it time to rest. He'd managed to take the weekend off in order to spend it at the hospital with Stiles, but as short-staffed as they were at the station, he'd had to work the Sunday overnight shift.

He ran into the door frame on his way into the kitchen and then grabbed onto it as the sudden jarring motion disrupted his balance. He shook his head and tried to blink the fuzziness out of his head for at least long enough to make himself a sandwich. Or maybe just pour a glass of water. He could eat later.

The sheriff pulled the water jug out of the fridge and grabbed a glass out of the cupboard. The cool water felt wonderful as he gulped it down. He immediately poured himself a second glass and then went over to stand by the window while he sipped it. The onset of spring was clearly visible in the yard: the grass was beginning to stand up and turn green, and the large tree was full of tiny buds that would probably start blooming soon.

He blinked. It was also full of hawk.

The sheriff slammed his glass onto the counter, sloppily spilling water all over it in his haste. Not that he cared: he was out the door before the water had settled. He paused half-way to the tree and slowed his steps, suddenly realizing he was likely to scare the bird away if he was too aggressive.

It was definitely Storm. She calmly watched him approach, her body completely still, while sharp yellow eyes following his movements.

Kik kik kik

“Hey Storm, welcome home,” he said gently and smiled. Lydia had been very worried when Storm had flown off after the whole thing with Stiles; she'd be glad to know the hawk was back. “Don't suppose you know where Stiles is?”

Kik kik kiiik kik

He blinked. “Or is Stiles here? Did you find him and bring him here?” He looked away from Storm and around the yard. “Stiles? Stiles are you here?”

He felt slightly foolish, because he knew he wouldn't be able to see him, but he could help but want to at least try to make eye contact with his son.

“Stiles, if you're here then you should know that your body's at the hospital. It needs water and nutrients even if your soul's not inside. Uh, sixth floor, room 667.”

Kik kik kik

Storm blinked down at him and the took off. The sheriff smiled, feeling less tired now that hope was beginning to spread into his limbs.

 


 

 

Lydia's heels clacked angrily across the paved parking lot next to the therapist's office her mother was still insisting she go to (predictably, her parents were taking Aiden's fugitive status as iron-clad proof that they knew what they were doing and were always right). The sessions weren't helping in the slightest and today she was leaving particularly furious. Her mother must've called ahead and told the therapist about Stiles, because he began the session by asking about how she'd felt when her friend suddenly collapsed beside her. As if it were that simple.

By the time she'd reached her car, she had her cellphone out and was checking for messages. There was one from the sheriff: Storm had been to the house. Lydia's anger disappeared, replaced with instant relief. She smiled. That meant Stiles' spirit wasn't lost for good.

Lydia got into her car and drove down to the hospital.

Once there, she locked her car and scanned the area, peering into every tree. She sighed. If Stiles had been with Storm at his house earlier this morning then he would've probably had to walk to the hospital. Unless he somehow rode in with his dad despite being incorporeal. Lydia sighed. Stiles himself didn't know everything he was capable of, which meant she certainly didn't. Just how far away from his body could he stray, for instance?

Kik kik kik

Lydia's head shot upwards. Her face lit up with delight as she spied the hawk gliding above the hospital parking lot. She followed Storm's movements and watched as she landed onto a sturdy low-hanging branch. Lydia hurried towards her, occasionally remembering to watch out for moving cars. Storm waited for her patiently to arrive.

“Storm, you came back,” Lydia said with a grin. “Did you find help?”

Kik kik kik

Lydia looked around her. “Stiles, are you here too? Are you okay? I'm so sorry I-”

Kik kik kak kak kak

Lydia looked up at Storm. Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “You're trying to tell me something.”

Storm blinked and then stretched her neck out. Her head bobbed up and down. Lydia's eyes widened. “You-you understand me.”

Kak kak kak

Lydia sighed. “Which is great, but unfortunately we're still stuck with the fact that I don't understand you.”

Storm huffed in annoyance and spread her wings, her attention focused on Lydia.

Kak kak kakly kakdia kak

Lydia froze and stared at the hawk. Had she heard that right? Parallel with Storm's call, had she really...

“Stiles?” she asked quietly, hesitantly.

Storm stilled for a moment and then leapt off the branch, circled once above Lydia's head, before gliding to perch on the back of a bright green-painted bench. Lydia waited for the space of a breath and then followed her in a daze. She sat down on the bench and met the hawk's eyes. They bore into her, bright yellow and piercing... and within their depths she saw human intelligence staring back at her.

“Stiles,” Lydia said in amazement. “Oh my god, Stiles. You... you're...” She shook herself out of her stupor. “Okay, you can explain later. Right now I'm assuming you need access to your body.”

Kik kik kik

Lydia nodded and stood, feeling herself suddenly vibrating with renewed energy. “Okay, I'll open the window so you can fly into the room. It's uhh...” She paused and scanned the outside of the hospital thoughtfully as she tried to picture the view out of Stiles' hospital room. “...on the east side of the building. Sixth floor, room – wait you can't see room numbers from outside... just look for the opening window.”

Storm/Stiles blinked at her and then launched into the air, wings carrying her/them towards the hospital. Lydia didn't hesitate, briskly walking across the parking lot and into the hospital, where she barely took any notice of her surroundings in her haste to get to Stiles' room. The elevator took forever, stopping at every floor, and part of her wanted to glare at the eighty-year-old woman who got on at the third floor with her walker and shuffled slowly out at the fourth.

She saw Scott's mom stride angrily into Stiles' room just as she rounded the corner. There were raised voices coming from the room, but Lydia didn't care. She had something important to do; they didn't matter. She only vaguely registered Scott and his father's presences in the room as Nurse McCall scolded them for raising their voices inside the hospital. She hurried to the window and undid the latch.

Then she pulled it open, tugging at it as hard as she could. It wouldn't move past six inches. Lydia made a sound of frustration. Six inches wasn't enough. Storm would barely fit through without her wings and with them...

“Lydia?” she heard Mrs. McCall ask carefully.

She turned to face the others – she hadn't even noticed them go silent. They were looking at her with nearly identical expressions of bewilderment. “It won't open far enough,” she told them.

“Far enough for what?” asked Agent McCall.

Kik kik kik

Scott perked up at the call. “Hey, is that Storm?”

“Yes, it is. And it's Stiles too.”

“That's... wait, what?”

Lydia eyed the hospital bed. It was on wheels, but too heavy and too bulky for her to move anywhere quickly enough to avoid getting stopped along the way. The I.V.s would also have to be removed without setting off any alarms. Although Scott's mom could help with that. Oh, and Scott. Lydia's eyes snapped to the werewolf. The very strong werewolf. Right, she could work with that.

“Mrs. McCall, could you please unplug Stiles from everything?” she said, though it wasn't really a question. “And Scott you grab him and follow me.”

Melissa McCall frowned at her. “Lydia, honey, why do you want me to-”

“Because Mohammad's too big to fit through the window to get to the mountain, so we're just going to have to bring it to him.”

“Fit through the... wait you mean the hawk?” Agent McCall blinked, his face mostly blank. “What does the hawk have to do with anything?”

“Stiles is with her and- look, I don't actually know what's going on or what happened, but I do know that Stiles is waiting for us to bring him his body.”

Which, really, had to be the strangest thing anyone had ever told the FBI agent and he looked like he was going to argue. Thankfully, that was when Sheriff Stilinski made his entrance. He looked exhausted: pale with deep, dark circles under his eyes. He was holding a gigantic cup of coffee in one hand and a sandwich in the other. Coming in right behind him was a darker-skinned woman with long, dark hair who looked vaguely familiar.

The sheriff eyed the scene with trepidation and then opened his mouth to speak-

Kik kik kik

-his eyes widened and he ran to the window to peer out.

“It's Storm,” he exclaimed happily. “She made it. That means Stiles must be with her.”

“No, it's more than that,” said Lydia, waiting until the sheriff turned to her to continue, willing him to not ask questions and just take her at her word. “Stiles is inside her.”

“He's what?!”

She wasn't even certain which one of them had said that and she didn't bother to look. The sheriff's eyes widened and his mouth opened slightly to silently mouth the words to himself, as though he needed to feel the words on his lips in order to process them.

“That was clever of her,” said an unfamiliar voice and Lydia turned to the woman who'd arrived with the sheriff. Lydia's eyes caught the beads and feathers in her hair and realized this must be Sanuye. “Stiles has found himself a good companion. When he was in danger of being severed from his body, she grounded his soul into hers. But that will not last indefinitely; we should hurry.”

Sanuye immediately began to detach Stiles from the various machines and drips he was surrounded with. Mrs. McCall hurried over to help. Meanwhile, the sheriff hastily put his coffee and sandwich down on the side table and hovered over the two until they were done. Then he scooped Stiles up in his arms, not even bothering to acknowledge Scott's attempts to take over.

“Lydia, lead the way,” he said.

Lydia pushed down the feelings evoked by seeing how lifelessly Stiles' body flopped in his dad's arms and turned to resolutely lead them down the corridors and out onto the grassy area by the east entrance. Melissa McCall dealt with some curious hospital staff and showed them a few short-cuts.

When they got outside, the sheriff gently laid Stiles down onto a bright red wooden bench.

It took Storm/Stiles a few minutes to find them. Even though they were expecting the hawk, it still came as a surprise when she/they swooped down and gracefully landed onto the back of the bench. She/they eyed them suspiciously until everyone stepped back. Then she/they spread her/their wings for balance and stretched her/their neck down until her/their beak touched the top of Stiles' head.

It looked like a full-body shiver enveloped Storm, her feathers rustling slightly with the motion. Then she pulled back, cocked her head and stared at Stiles.

Kik kik kik

There was a pause and Lydia was certain they were all simultaneously holding their breaths.

Stiles groaned. Storm blinked twice and then flew off.

“Stiles!” the sheriff cried, rushing over to kneel next to the bench. Lydia came to stand behind him, while Scott and his mom rushed over to look down over the backrest.

Stiles blinked his eyes open and looked up at them. “Uh, hey guys,” he rasped quietly.

“Stiles, you're back!” Scott said, grinning widely as he bounced excitedly on the balls of his feet. “You had us worried there, man.”

Stiles chuckled. “Sorry. I wasn't entirely sure what was going on myself for a while.”

“Stiles,” Lydia whispered, feeling tears gather in the corners of her eyes. She reached out to hold his hand. He looked up at her in surprise. “Stiles, I'm so sorry. I didn't even know I could do that... I never meant to-”

“Is she gone?”

She blinked. “Yes. I went with Allison to check. Abigail Castela has moved on – or at least been forced to anyway.”

“Good.” Stiles took a deep breath. “Then it was worth it. Also, not your fault.”

“So, what was it like?” Scott demanded.

Stiles' eyes lit up and he struggled briefly to get him arms under him until he was sitting up. “I got to fly! That was really cool. There was swooping and diving, which was like the most awesome rollarcoaster ever. And gliding was nice too, peaceful, felt like I was on top of the world surveying my kingdom or something. Also, hawks have really, really good vision. I think that was the weirdest part, really, being able to look down and see details I knew I really shouldn't have been able to see.”

“Uh, Stiles, this had better not become a regular thing,” his dad warned.

Stiles blinked and opened his mouth before closing it thoughtfully. “You know, that hadn't even occurred to me.” He raised his hands palms-out in a placating gesture at his dad's hard look. “Hey, not that I would do that. I mean, it was cool and all, but the whole time I was inside Storm's body, I could tell I didn't belong there. There was like this itching, restless feeling I couldn't shake, even in the beginning when I was weak and tired and confused and didn't really get what was going on.”

“Oh,” said Lydia, suddenly remembering. “That's why you didn't just go back into your body in the first place. I remember right after it happened, Storm flew over to your body and landed right on top of it. She wouldn't let anyone near you and then she sort of nudged you, but nothing happened.”

Stiles blinked. “Yeah, see, I don't even remember that. I remember you screaming and there was... I want to call it pain, but it wasn't quite the same as physical pain. And the next thing I remember was opening my eyes and seeing Coyote and Silver Fox arguing over something... I'm not actually sure what it was, come to thing of it...”

“Merlin's gone,” Lydia whispered.

Stiles paused. “Yeah, Silver Fox told me,” he said quietly. He took a deep breath. “But, flying around the preserve made me see things from a different perspective and, well, I had a bunch of time to think while I was recovering.”

He met her eyes. “I think I know what Merlin meant, what we have to do.”

“Who's Merlin?” Agent McCall asked.

Scott's eyes hardened as he looked to his father. “A friend,” he said. “And none of your business.”

Chapter Text


 

 

To say Sheriff Stilinski hadn't been expecting this would've been a blatant lie. That, however, didn't make him any happier when Rafe McCall cornered him in his office the next day. The relief he'd felt when he'd finally brought Stiles home this morning had dispersed the humming tension that had plagued him throughout the whole ordeal, allowing his body to finally make him pay for his neglect. Sanuye had left him with an herbal mixture that would, according to her, help him regain his energy. Although, he was starting to suspect that it did so by putting him to sleep.

In short, he was tired and bleary-eyed and in absolutely no mood to deal with FBI Agent Rafe McCall. The moment Rafe walked into his office, the sheriff eyed the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet where he kept his emergency bottle of tequila. Unfortunately, he realized with a sigh, that would be giving Rafe a moral high ground he refused to allow him. Also, coupled with his 'energy-restoring' drink, it probably would put him to sleep.

“Agent McCall, what can I do for you?” he asked, folding his arms on top of his desk as he looked up at the other man expectantly.

Rafe hesitated for a moment before closing the door softly behind him. Then he slid his hands into the pockets of his dress pants and turned to the sheriff with a blank expression.

“I thought you said Stiles was human,” he said softly, his voice holding a note of accusation.

The sheriff narrowed his eyes at him. “Stiles is human. He's also my son, therefore not your concern.”

“Really? And what exactly was that thing in the hospital parking lot again? That didn't seem like something an ordinary human could do.”

He snorted. “Stiles has never even remotely resembled the word normal. Now he's just found a new way to redefine it and give me as many grey hairs as possible along the way.”

“And you're okay with that?”

“I don't exactly have a choice in the matter. His motivations are noble and he's thankfully managed to find himself a good support system, people who will help him learn as safely as possible and maybe even keep him from doing anything too stupid.”

“Not that I actually understand what happened back there – since no one will explain it to me – but I'm pretty sure Stiles nearly died.”

“Saving your life. You'd be dead right now if not for Stiles and Lydia.”

Silence stretched through the office and the sheriff wanted nothing more than to grab the man and shake him. And then throw him out of his office.

“Scott isn't talking to me,” Rafe said softly. “He's... really mad.”

Sheriff Stilinski sighed tiredly. “Of course he's mad. And no, he's probably not going to forgive you in any sort of hurry, if ever. Believe me, I know where you were coming from. I was here when this whole thing started and I knew something was going on, knew Stiles was lying to me. And, yes, there were definitely times where I was tempted to break out our meagre surveillance equipment and use it to find out what Stiles was hiding from me. Especially after half my staff was killed by a high school student with a grudge. And then Stiles disappeared right off the lacrosse field after winning the championship game and came home looking like someone's discarded punching bag. When he left with Lydia afterwards, I searched his room for evidence of drugs or gang activity.”

He took a deep breath and looked Rafe in the eye, making sure the man saw every inch of his disapproval. “But search his room the one time was all I ever did. Sure, I thought about running a tap on his phone, but I never went through with it, Rafe. I know my boy and I know that even with his craziest, stupidest ideas, his heart's always been in the right place – or at least not in an altogether wrong place. Forget the illegal part, what you did was just plain wrong.”

Rafe's eyes turned stormy. “And what was I supposed to do? Scott wasn't talking, wasn't even admitting that something was going on and yet people have been dying all around him.”

He could almost hear the snap as whatever had been holding his temper in check suddenly broke. Before he consciously realized it, the sheriff was on his feet, fury bubbling just beneath his skin. Hadn't he just said that Stiles had done the same thing to him? It had taken over a year for him to get the truth out of Stiles and he had lived through each day wondering if this was his fault, if he'd failed his son to point where Stiles didn't trust him. Wondered if Stiles would've been more willing to open up, to tell him the truth if he'd been there for him more...

“You could've trusted us!” he hissed angrily, part of him still conscious of the fact that he was inside the precinct and his office door wasn't sound-proof. “You were clearly aware, or at least suspected, that Melissa and I were aware of what was going on. Did you really think that if something needed to be done, we'd just stand around and do nothing? That we wouldn't have told you if the boys were in trouble? If you needed to know?”

Rafe was silent, seemingly surprised by the sheriff's anger. The sheriff took a deep breath to try and calm himself down.

“Scott had no reason to trust you, Rafe. You and Melissa divorced and you left Beacon Hills before the ink had dried.”

“I had an assignment-”

“And that Scott would've understood, had you bothered to stop by at any point before a second assignment brought you back to Beacon Hills. And even then, you still had the chance to make things right. I mean, you seemed to be on the right track from what I'd managed to observe. Did it never occur to you that you that, maybe, your relationship with your son might take precedence over learning the truth as quickly as possible?”

Rafe was silent for a few moments. “I guess I thought the ends justified the means.”

“And did they?”

Rafe didn't answer. The sheriff sighed and sat back down, feeling suddenly drained. The door opened quietly as the FBI agent left. He waited for a full minute before getting up and crossing to the filing cabinet.

Now he really needed that tequila.

 


 

Storm soared high above them as Stiles and Sanuye made their way through the forest, the packs on their backs loaded down more than usual. They walked in silence, Stiles watching where he stepped and listening to the forest around him. He could listen and talk, but he couldn't listen closely and talk. And he was savouring the silence.

He hadn't even realized it until his spirit jaunt inside Storm, but Beacon Hills was loud. Most people wouldn't have heard it at all and to those like Stiles who did, it was a continuous rhythmic background noise. Always there, and yet easily overlooked. He wondered how loud it would get – and why it felt it was building up to something. Actually, the second part filled him with dread and made figuring things out feel all the more urgent.

March Break was the perfect time to get away from the sound, from the constant source of tension he hadn't even realized was there. Sanuye had suggested they go camping. His dad had negotiated for the last four days of the break, which he was taking off so they could do some father-son stuff of a yet-to-be-determined nature. Stiles felt a bit like he was being shuffled between two parents.

Camping with Sanuye involved a lot of walking. And herb-gathering.

They crossed a small stream just past mid-afternoon. Sanuye knelt at its bank and observed the ground. Stiles walked over and knelt beside her. The grass had clearly been trampled down and, in a bare spot of the muddy shore, he saw several hoof-prints.

“Deer?” he asked softly.

Sanuye nodded. “A herd. Look how trampled the grass looks, there are many prints all on top of each other.”

Stiles nodded, following her hand as she pointed out the varying print sizes. Then she motioned for him to go ahead. Stiles swallowed before slipping ahead of her, his eyes darting from the ground to the surrounding foliage as he put the skills Liwanu and his brother had taught him to use.

An hour later, he found his reward grazing peacefully in a sunny clearing. It didn't seem like a large herd (assuming they were all inside the clearing). The lead stag was immediately visible as he carefully watched the forest for danger, chest puffed out and antlers standing proudly atop his head. He looked like the king of the forest. And, for all Stiles knew, maybe he was. At least of this part of it anyway.

Stiles smiled as he watched the herd, feeling Sanuye as she sat down next to him.

Sometime later, Sanuye touched his arm and then silently gestured for him to follow. He gave the herd one, last look before he did. They walked far enough away so as to not disturb the deer, going over a small ridge with a large moss-covered stone at its base that looked a bit like a frog. On the other side, nestled between two old maple trees, Sanuye suggested they make camp.

Stiles had been camping before. His earliest memories were faded with age, but he still remembered lighting the fires with his mom and sitting on his dad's knee as he pointed out constellations in the night sky. There were memories with just his dad later on, but those usually had Scott – and sometimes Melissa and only very occasionally Rafe – with them as well.

Sanuye showed him how to make a quick, makeshift firepit and then how to light a fire without matches. Then she put it out and let him try. Stiles tried and tried until his hands were sore, until he finally gave up with a frustrated huff. Sanuye laughed and pulled out a box of matches.

Stiles rolled his eyes. “If you always carry matches around, why do it the hard way?”

“Because here I am teaching and you are learning,” she said. “Camping is about survival, about learning to survive when you have no choice. Fire is necessary for warmth, but matches can be forgotten or they can get wet.”

“It could be raining and then the rain will just put the fire out.”

“That will be tomorrow's lesson.”

“It's not like I actually learnt today's.”

“No, but now you know how to practise. If you wish to learn, you will.”

Stiles shook his head in amusement. He supposed it was a very economical way to teach. “You actually trust me not to burn anything down?”

“If you burn something down then it means you've managed to complete the lesson.”

Stiles snickered. “That's one way of looking at it. Not sure dad will agree though.”

Sanuye rolled her eyes. “Then don't practise in the kitchen. And pay attention when you are practising; a fire always starts out small. If it goes out of control, it is because your mind has wandered.”

“Aaand I'm already seeing a problem here.”

Sanuye chuckled, but didn't reply, instead stoking the fire and then showing Stiles how to make a stand out of twigs to hang their pot from. She then sent Stiles to fetch water while she set about preparing ingredients for supper.

The sun had long gone down by the time they each settled with a bowl to eat. It wasn't the most delicious meal Stiles had ever had, but after the long day of walking, he devoured his first bowlful ravenously. He went slower on his second bowl.

“So, you and my dad have been getting on really well,” he said casually, breaking the silence.

Sanuye raised an eyebrow at him. “It's the consequence of having a pupil who keeps ending up in comas in the hospital.”

Stiles flushed. “And none of those were my fault, you know. And the second time I wasn't really in a coma...”

“No, you were clinically brain-dead.”

Stiles blinked. “Really?”

No one had told him that. Huh, well that certainly explained the way everyone seemed to cling to him afterwards. Part of the reason he'd so quickly agreed to the camping trip was to get away from his newly-formed pack of mother hens. Of which his dad was, surprisingly enough, the least intrusive. He'd gotten more touchy-feely, more likely to squeeze his shoulder as he walked by or touch his arm when he came up to him – as if he needed to reassure himself that Stiles was real and here. Stiles didn't really mind it, in fact there was a not-so-small part of him that liked it. But it was part of the whole picture: of Scott barely leaving his side while they were at school, Lydia hijacking him at every available opportunity to help her with things she didn't actually need help with and Scott's mom coming over with casserole and cookies way more often than usual.

Okay, he wasn't going to complain about the casserole and cookies. He loved the casserole and cookies.

And he was getting off-topic inside his own mind.

Stiles shook his head. “Right, okay, well no one told me that. I'm also not entirely sure I needed to know that I technically go brain-dead every time I leave my body or spirit travel or whatever.”

“Perhaps you need to make a sign to tell people you're not dead.”

Stiles blinked and looked up at her across the fire. “Have I told you yet that you're, like, one of my favourite people ever?”

The corners of Sanuye's lips quirked in amusement.

Stiles swallowed and averted his eyes in order to stare into the crackling fire. His palms suddenly felt sweaty. “Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that, uh, if something were to be going on between you and my dad – not that there necessarily has to be or anything, just, you know, if that's ever a possibility that's on the table or anything – that you, uh, don't have to be worried about me. 'Cause I'd be fine with whatever happens... or doesn't happen. I mean, I'm not trying to push anything here, although I do think my dad's a really great guy and deserves to have someone equally awesome to be with. Not that I want details. Actually I really don't want details-”

“Stiles.”

Stiles' mouth shut with an audible snap and he looked up at Sanuye, apprehensively. Maybe he was reading everything completely wrong. It wasn't like his dad couldn't be friends with a woman – hell, Scott's mom was pretty much his best friend - and he really didn't want to go jump the gun on anything...

“Stiles.” Sanuye's amusement was noticeable even in the odd lighting cast by the fire. “I know how much you care about your father and I'm flattered that you would consider me a worthy partner for him.”

Stiles opened his mouth to speak, but Sanuye silenced him with a gesture.

“In return, I will be equally honest with you. The possibility of this 'something' you're talking about is not zero. But neither one of us are people who rush into things. At the moment we are connected through you. It is a tentative connection, though there is the possibility for it to grow into something stronger. If it does, it won't be soon.”

Stiles nodded silently.

“Just to be clear, I-I won't be disappointed if you and my dad become just friends or casual acquaintances – okay, maybe a little bit, but I'll get over it. I just... I don't want to be the thing either of you thinks is standing in the way of it.”

She smiled at him. “I understand. And thank you.”

Stiles smiled back at her. Then he yawned. “And on that note, that lumpy, hard forest floor is looking way too appealing at the moment.”

Sanuye chuckled. “You probably won't think so in the morning.”

“Oh I know I won't.”

“Goodnight, Stiles.”

“Goodnight. Hey, do we need to do watch shifts or something?”

“Why, are you expecting bandits in this forest?”

“Uh, no. I hope not?”

“Goodnight, Stiles.”

“Right. Goodnight, Sanuye.”

Kik kik kik

“Yeah, you too Storm.”

 


 

Sheriff Stilinski bustled happily about the kitchen. It'd been a long time since he'd made dinner for the two of them since Stiles was usually home before he was so it'd just become habit for them to either order in or for Stiles to cook (they'd eaten a lot of macaroni and cheese for a while until even Stiles had gotten sick of it). He looked at the clock: he had about half an hour before Stiles was due to arrive. Perfect time to stick the fish into the oven.

No sooner had he done that, the doorbell rang. The sheriff threw his oven mitts onto the counter, set the timer and went to answer the door.

Melissa stood on the doorstep, looking lost, like she was barely held together. “He left,” she said quietly, her voice distant. The 'again' didn't need to be said.

He opened the door wider. “Come on in,” he said with a sigh.

He ushered her into the living room and onto the couch. He sat down next to her. “Does Scott know?” he asked.

She nodded as she looked down at her hands, her arms held close to her body. “He came to see me in the hospital. To say good-bye... Said he'd already said good-bye to Scott.”

“Have you been home yet?”

Melissa shook her head. “I tried to convince him to stay. I... I don't want Scott to hate his father. I don't want him to think he's not worth the effort, to get stuck on how his own father left him because it was easier or because he didn't love him enough or-”

“Melissa,” the sheriff gently interrupted her, taking her hands in his. There were tears in her eyes now, just waiting to fall. He met her anxious, heart-broken eyes and smiled. “Melissa, no matter what Rafe does, Scott still has you. He will always, for the rest of his life, remember how you stuck by him, how you didn't leave, how you loved him no matter what he did.” He paused. “No matter what he became.” Melissa chuckled humourlessly at that. “And the rest of us will also stand by him. He'll always have you and me and Stiles and, I suspect, the rest of the pack no matter where they scatter to after graduation.”

“Oh my god, don't even say that,” said Melissa as she wiped at the tears that had begun to . “That's only just over a year away.”

“I know. It's a bit terrifying to think that in just over a year, Stiles will be let loose on the rest of the world.”

“You think it'll survive the shock?”

“We'll definitely find out soon enough.”

“Way too soon for me.”

He took a deep breath and put his arms around her. “Yeah, me too.”

She returned his embrace and held on tight. He felt her trembling in his arms as she struggled to pull herself together and squeezed tighter. She was his oldest, most precious friend and he would be her rock for as long as she needed him to be. She'd been there for him when Claudia had gotten sick and then afterwards it'd been her who'd pulled him away from his bottles and forced him to see how he'd been neglecting his grieving son. He'd seen her through the last months of her marriage, stood by as she'd made the most difficult decision of her adult life and held her as she cried after the first time Rafe left with barely a good-bye to anyone.

The timer in the kitchen went off just as he heard the jeep pull up into the driveway. For what it was worth, his timing had been impeccable.

“Sorry, I'll be right back,” he said as he gently pulled away from her.

Melissa nodded, wiping at her eyes. “I-I'll just go use your washroom if that's okay?”

“Help yourself.”

He quickly turned off the timer and the oven, before running out to the front door. Stiles was just getting his gear out of the trunk.

“Oh, hey dad,” he said with a happy grin, looking dirty, rumpled and relaxed. His easy grin faded as he noticed the look on his dad's face. “Uh, dad? Is something wrong?”

“Stiles, go to Scott's,” he said. Stiles immediately shoved his camping supplies back into his trunk and slammed it shut. “Melissa's here and... she just needs a couple minutes.” He took a deep breath. “Rafe left.”

Stiles' expression turned hard, his jaw tensed and his eyes burned with anger. “Just like that? Did he at least say good-bye properly this time?”

The sheriff took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. “He went to see Melissa at the hospital. She has no idea what he told Scott, only that he did say good-bye to him in person.”

Stiles snorted. “That's a slight improvement.” He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. “Okay, I'll head over there now. I'll, uh, text you once I know what I'm doing.”

The sheriff nodded. “Melissa will probably come home shortly, she just...”

“Yeah, I get it dad.”

He watched as his son drove off to comfort his best friend. “Dammit, Rafe,” he whispered, wishing he'd punched the bastard when he'd had the chance.

 


 

Later that night, as Agent Rafe McCall sat alone in the dim-lit comfort of a family-run motel room staring at the striped wallpaper, he received three text messages.

Stilinski: You're a coward.

Stiles: You complete dick!!! If you're just going to come back and then leave again when things get tough then don't fucking come back!

Unknown: I put a good friend of mine in danger in order to save your life. That won't happen again. -Lydia

Rafe's grip tightened on the bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand. Then he threw his cellphone against the far wall, listening to the satisfying crunch it made as it hit the wall and then fell onto the stained brown carpet. He took another swig of his bottle.

Chapter Text


 

Lydia was waiting for him on the sidewalk when he got out of the jeep. Stiles greeted her with a smile and a wave before craning his head over to see if Scott's motorcycle was in its usual spot yet. He'd told Stiles he'd be in school today, but hadn't answered any of his texts this morning... He was probably running late and hadn't have time to answer.

Stiles sighed before grabbing his bag out of the back seat and locking the doors.

“Hey Lydia,” he said, trying to appear cheerful.

She gave him a look and he immediately dropped the fake smile. “Hello, Stiles. How's Scott?”

Stiles ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Scott's... dealing. Possibly not particularly well, but he's at least gotten past the point where he wants to tear things apart. Which, you know, is way worse now with the whole alpha werewolf thing.”

Lydia's lips quirked as they turned to head into the school. “I heard people talking about the unusual howling coming from the preserve over the weekend. Some are talking about the Beacon Hills Protectors, saying they killed the child-eater and are now patrolling their territory.”

Stiles blinked. “Really? I haven't heard any of that. Weird.”

“You've been with Scott all weekend.”

“Well, yeah. And his mom and my dad and Isaac.”

“Wait, this was a pack thing and you didn't invite me?”

“Ah, no, it wasn't a pack thing. I mean, Allison wasn't there for one.”

Lydia rolled her eyes. “Allison was off on some Hunter training thing for the week with her dad. I saw her yesterday; she got a broken collarbone as a souvenir.”

“Really? Ouch. What happened?”

“She didn't say. She did turn all red when I asked about it though.”

Stiles snickered. “And how was your trip with your dad?”

She raised an eyebrow. “I was back by Wednesday night. You know this, because you saw me at Scott's on Thursday.”

“Right, I remember now. Didn't get a chance to ask how L.A. was.”

Lydia shrugged. “Fine. Shopping with my dad's credit card is always fun. And your camping trip?”

“It was awesome. Learnt how to make fire without matches.”

“Using the power of your mind?”

“Ah, no, by rubbing two sticks together.”

“Hmm.”

They walked up the stairs into the school in silence and Stiles briefly wondered when this had become normal: when beautiful, popular, smart Lydia Martin had habitually started choosing him, geeky awkward loser Stiles Stilinski, to walk into school with. Junior high him would be absolutely giddy with excitement.

Danny joined them by the lockers, looking freshly tanned and wearing a string of seashells around his neck. “Hey guys, how was your March Break?”

“Not as good as yours,” said Stiles. “Wish I had grandparents that lived in Hawaii.”

Danny grinned. “Yeah, the weather was great and the waves were perfect.”

“And the people?” Lydia asked teasingly as she eyed the seashells.

Danny shrugged, smiling slyly. “There were a few that weren't bad.”

Stiles laughed. “Well, at least someone had a good break.”

Danny frowned at that. “What do you mean, did something hap-holy shit, Allison!”

Stiles and Lydia looked behind them to where Allison smiled awkwardly at them. Her neck was in a brace and there was a rather impressive-looking dark purple bruise covering her left cheekbone, along with some bandages on her lower arms.

“Hey guys,” she said, looking rather embarrassed.

“What the hell happened while I was away?!”

Stiles laughed. “Hey, that actually has nothing to do with us; Allison was off with her dad doing hunter stuff. We actually managed to have a relatively peaceful break – I mean there was drama, but not of the blood and violence type. Although I do second Danny's question: what did you do, decide to challenge a bear?! Daily dose of werewolf wasn't enough excitement for you?”

Allison flushed a deep crimson. “There was a slight accident.”

Stiles raised an eyebrow. “Accident I'll believe, but 'slight'?”

“Look, I made a little mistake and things, sort of... escalated. It's embarrassing, okay? My dad was worried after it happened and while he drove me to the hospital and then while the doctors looked me over. Even now he's still acting all sympathetic and stuff. But inside, I know he's laughing at me.”

Just then the warning bell rang, so they headed to economics. Stiles glanced behind them, hoping to catch a glimpse of Scott as he tore down the corridor. But Scott and Isaac didn't appear until after the final bell for class had rung, both of them slinking into the classroom like a pair of bandits. Stiles turned back to meet Scott's eyes, but Scott was busy staring at Allison in horror. Allison was glaring back at him, her eyes daring him to say something. Scott opened his mouth and then thought better of it.

Flintstock waltzed into the room and closed the room. “Welcome back, everyone, I hope you all enjoyed your March Breaks,” he said as he made his way to the front of the room. “McCall, Lahey,” he then barked. “Don't think I didn't notice both of you sneaking in after the bell; you're lucky I was on the other end of the hallway.”

Then he noticed Allison. “Oh my god, what the hell happened to you? Did a building fall on top of you?”

“Not quite,” Allison muttered under her breath.

“And oh, look, Stilinski!” Stiles groaned internally. “Finally decided to join us, have you? No more excuses to miss lacrosse practise?”

Stiles blinked. “Uh, I was in a coma...”

“I'll grant you points for creativity there, Stilinski, but I've heard better.”

“Really? Did they involve aliens?”

The class laughed and Stiles felt his phone vibrate inside his pocket. Once the coach's attention was drawn away from him by actual teaching, he sneaked a peak at the message. It was from Scott.

Sorry was running late. Pack meeting tonight after practise. My place.

Stiles turned around in his seat and flashed Scott a thumb's up. Scott grinned back at him.

 


 

“Really, Scott, did you have to invite the whole pack?” Stiles complained as he led the last arrivals into the McCall's living room. “You couldn't have just invited the whole-pack-except-for-Peter-Hale?”

“Stiles, Stiles, why all the hostility?” Peter drawled as he walked in behind him. “I've been so good lately too; haven't hardly killed anyone.”

“How do you hardly kill someone?” Allison asked from the farthest end of the couch and then looked like she immediately regretted it when it brought Peter's attention to her.

He blinked and pointed at her. “You! You've changed your look. I like it: the white and grey really suits you.”

Allison rolled her eyes.

Meanwhile Stiles turned to Scott. “Why couldn't your dad have gone after him? I mean did we seriously not once mention Peter Hale in the whole, what, two weeks he had you bugged?!”

Scott shrugged. “Maybe we didn't call him Hale so he didn't make the connection.”

“Or forgot to mention the psycho killer part,” Isaac added.

“You should keep it in mind for the next time you're being bugged,” Peter suggested amicably.

Scott's expression darkened. “There won't be a next time.”

“You're sure he won't tell anyone?” Derek asked from where he was leaning against the doorframe, glowering at the room.

Scott shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant (he wasn't fooling anyone). “He promised he wouldn't and, well, he might not exactly be great at keeping promises, but I'm pretty sure that no matter how much of a dick he is, he does want me safe.”

“But we should still watch out for a parade of black, unmarked vans?” Stiles asked.

“Yeah.”

Lydia cleared her throat. “I think we have bigger things to worry about than the FBI,” she said, looking pointedly at Scott and Stiles. Both boys sheepishly nodded.

“So is there, like, an amulet or something we need to destroy?” Isaac asked. “A counter curse we need to sit around in a circle and recite?”

Stiles and Lydia both looked at him with flat, unamused expressions.

“Not unless you want to go digging up the Nemeton in order to destroy the old shaman-er, medicine man's grave, but I'm pretty sure that would only make it worse,” said Stiles

“Digging up the Nemeton plus destroying a grave would definitely make it worse,” Lydia added.

“The Nemeton?” Derek asked with a frown.

Stiles nodded. “I could see it a lot clearer from the air, but Silver Fox hinted at it too. And, well, the legend itself says the Hale family went into the forest and then came out with a tree that had apparently grown over the guy's grave. Their emissary died in the process and viola, we suddenly have a little druidic temple in the middle of non-druid North America. “

Lydia took up the explanation. “The part that Merlin had been pointing to, is that for some reason, this story, this legend died out shortly after taking place. No one knows about it, which means that it's like it never happened.”

“But it did,” said Scott with a deep, confused frown. “I mean the curse is real.”

“Yeah, it is, Scotty,” said Stiles. “Except that the only people who know about it are us. To everyone else the duende, the earthquake and all the other shit that's been happening around here were all bad luck and one crazy psycho. To them there is no curse.”

“So you're saying it's about perception?” Allison asked.

“In a way.”

“You're still not telling us how we destroy it,” Isaac huffed.

“We don't. We negotiate.”

“We what?” said Scott.

Stiles took a deep breath, but Lydia beat him to the explanation.

“We negotiate,” she said. “Well, Stiles does. There's a person at the centre of the curse, a spirit. We think the reason the Nemeton was planted there or put there or however they did it, was to combat the curse. That's why it's been drawing power, why it called Scott to itself in order to drain him.”

“And why it suddenly grew up during the earthquake,” Peter added, his eyes suddenly full of understanding. “The pack always treated the Nemeton like a protector, even though the stories were always hazy as to why...”

“Hm, I've been wondering whether the pack did that on purpose,” said Lydia thoughtfully.

Stiles cocked his head as he looked at her. “You mean make sure the curse was forgotten over time? That's sort of dumb; I mean, why would you want to forget about the potentially deadly curse?”

“To lessen its power,” Lydia answered. “If people didn't know about it, they couldn't believe in it.”

“Yeah, I get that, but it's super short-sighted of them. 'Cause now we're left with the worse-case scenario where the curse becomes active again and no one knows anything about it. I mean, we wouldn't have known anything either if not for Harris and then Merlin. Yeah, Sanuye knew about the curse, but would it have really occurred to us to go looking for help at the reservation?”

“Our ancestors didn't anticipate the fire,” Peter pointed out. “The old house had a large library full of books of lore and mythology, not to mention an entire wall of tomes on the family history – some dated back to the sixteenth century, before we came over from Europe. Unfortunately, it's all been lost so I obviously can't go check, but I'd bet the information about the curse was in there somewhere.”

He paused. “It's also possible that my sister, as the Hale Alpha, personally knew about it. Could very well have been information that was passed down from alpha to alpha.” He shrugged. “Well, we'll never know now.”

“Would the destruction of the pack have caused the land to destabilize to the point where the Nemeton wasn't powerful enough to contain the curse?” Derek suddenly asked.

Everyone looked to him.

“I thought it was the ritual to save our parents that did that,” said Allison.

Everyone looked to Stiles. Stiles took a few moments to realize all eyes were on him.

“Why are you all looking at me?” he exclaimed, throwing his arms up. “Even Merlin made it seem like it was all sort of half guesswork! The ritual definitely woke the curse up, but yeah, sure, maybe if the land was stronger it wouldn't have woken up as quickly or it would've been weaker or maybe it would've just fallen back asleep or something. The lack of wolf pack probably had some sort of impact, but hell if I know what it is!”

Scott chuckled at his friend. “I don't think it really matters what the difference is,” he said. “Unless the Hale Pack had a time machine hidden in the woods – which you probably would've already used by now if they did.”

Peter and Derek both looked at Scott with amusement.

“Nope, sorry, no time machine,” said Peter.

“Damn,” said Isaac with a half-grin.

“So, when exactly are we doing this?” Allison asked. “This, uh, negotiating?”

“Saturday after the game,” said Stiles. “And, as a word of warning, we're really not sure how long this will take.”

Lydia turned to Scott. “You'll need to take turns guarding him, to make sure nothing hurts him while he's talking to the spirit.”

Stiles nodded. “Yeah, that would definitely not be cool.”

Scott looked worried. “You think this'll take a long time?”

Stiles shrugged and exchanged glances with Lydia. “Hard to tell. Could be over in minutes... or it could take days.”

Scott shuddered. Isaac quickly raised his hand. “Not It for telling the sheriff if Stiles can't come home on Saturday night.”

Stiles raised an eyebrow. “Uh, luckily my dad's working an overnight on Saturday, so the earliest you'd have to tell him is Sunday...”

“Still not It!”

“We should get Allison to tell him,” Scott said, looking over his shoulder at Isaac with a grin. “He'd never get angry at her when she looks so injured.”

Allison glared at him.

“Guys!” Stiles glared at all of them. “The point we're trying to get to is that in most legends and stories about the fae world or the spirit world or whatever, there's a distinct emphasis on the the fact that time flows differently there.”

Allison's eyes widened. “You mean like how when we did the ritual, it only felt like it had taken a few minutes - maybe an hour at most - but when we came out again it'd actually been 16 hours.”

Lydia nodded. “Exactly. So it might go really quickly on Stiles' end, but to us it could be days.”

“Which is why we need to make sure nothing hurts him while he's in there,” Scott agreed with a nod. “Okay, we can do that.” He looked around to the other wolves. “Should we make a schedule?”

 


 

Somehow, they'd managed to win the lacrosse game. Scott had no idea how. He barely remembered the game. He knew he'd played, had vague recollections of running around on the field, knew the coach had slapped him on the back at one point and congratulated him on something... Had he scored a goal? Probably. Someone had, since they won 10-2.

The game hardly mattered though, because now they were standing before the Nemeton – well, right outside its boundaries since Stiles couldn't actually walk up to it. Allison had stayed behind, but the rest of the pack – sans parents – had gathered here. Storm landed on a nearby branch with a soft rustle of leaves.

Kik kik kik

Beside him, Stiles looked up at the hawk and smiled. “Thanks, Storm,” he said. “I promise I'll be careful.”

“You'd better,” said Scott.

Stiles rolled his eyes. “You guys just make sure nothing eats me in the meantime.”

Scott nodded stiffly. He clenched his fists and met Lydia's eyes. She was trying to look unconcerned, but her rapid heartbeat and tense posture betrayed her nervousness.

Stiles took a deep breath. “Well, I guess there's no point in stalling,” he said before walking over to the tree Storm was perched in. He sat down and folded his legs in front of him. Then he looked up at them and grinned. “See you all on the other side of the rabbit hole.”

Then he closed his eyes and went still. Scott saw the moment Stiles' body slumped back against the tree and figured that was when he'd left his body. He looked to Lydia, who appeared to be listening for something. Suddenly, she perked up.

“Thanks, Stiles,” she said to thin air. “And good luck.”

“So, he's off?” Scott asked.

Lydia nodded.

They waited for a while. Nothing happened.

“Wish we could see what's going on,” said Isaac.

“Yeah,” Scott agreed. “You can't hear anything, can you?” he asked Lydia.

Lydia shook her head. “He's basically had to somehow travel beneath the Nemeton – or into the Nemeton.” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and sighed in frustration. “The biggest problem with this whole thing is that we really have no idea how any of this is going to work. I mean, realistically, we're even assuming that Stiles can find his way to the spirit in the centre of the curse in the first place.”

Silence greeted her statement and minutes passed before anyone spoke again.

“Well, since this could go on for a while, Derek and I are going to go back to the house,” Peter declared. “We'll see you this evening when we come to take over guard duty.”

“Call us if you need anything,” Derek added.

Scott nodded to them and then watched as the two Hale men ran off into the forest.

“Do you really think you'll need more than one person at a time here?” Isaac asked him as he came to stand next to him.

Scott shrugged as, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lydia sit down next to Stiles and pull her laptop out of the schoolbag she brought with her. “You never know. I mean, the curse caused an earthquake, remember?”

“Right, yeah, earthquake... that's not making me feel any better about this.”

Hours passed and nothing happened. Scott and Isaac amused themselves by playing games on their cellphones while Lydia tapped away at her laptop. Storm flew off at around mid-afternoon and then came back twenty minutes later with a small bird in her claws which she proceeded to devour much to the disgust of both werewolves, who could smell it and hear it as well as see it.

It was coming on to twilight when the wind picked up.

Both Scott and Isaac were immediately on alert. It felt like storm wind, like the prelude to a deluge of rain and cracklings of thunder, but it smelt wrong. There was no water, no hint of moisture at all in the air; it smelt... angry. They rose to their feet, slipping their phones back into their pockets. Scott heard Lydia following their lead, heard the zipper on her bag close softly as she put away her laptop.

“What is it?” she asked quietly as she came up behind them.

“I don't know,” said Scott, his eyes never leaving the forest as he scanned it for attackers. “It smells wrong.”

Kak kak kak

“Isaac, stay close to Stiles.”

“Okay,” Isaac said quietly and then Scott heard careful steps as the other wolf backed up to crouch next to Stiles.

“Scott.”

He turned at the tone of Lydia's voice. Her eyes were wide and she looked pale as she stared ahead. Her voice was barely a whisper when she spoke. “Something's coming.”

Just then an ear-splitting screech resounded from the forest. Scott whipped around, resisting the urge to cover his ears so he could scan the forest in search of its source. It came again.

“There!” Isaac cried and Scott looked over to see Isaac pointing to a spot in the forest. Scott followed his gaze, but there was nothing there. He lifted his nose to smell the air.

“I can't smell anything,” he said just as the wind picked up again, whipping around the clearing and swallowing his words as it blew leaves and twigs into his face.

“I can,” he thought he heard Lydia whisper just before another screech echoed from the depths of the forest. Only this time it was followed by several more. Something in the shadows moved and Scott took a step forward to get a closer look. The shadow leapt out at him.

Scott jumped out of the way as it raced past him, a dark grey blur that seemed barely tangible and felt like nothing more than a breath of smoke. It had no scent. To the other side of him, he heard Isaac cry out in surprise. He glanced to him quickly and then back to forest.

Then it felt like the forest exploded. Suddenly, the screeching was coming at them from all sides and the shadows - lightening quick and barely visible in the rapidly-disappearing daylight - besieged them from all sides. They flew at them like ghostly arrows from the dark and Scott dodged two more before he'd finally had enough. Growling, he pushed his wolf out, feeling his hands turn to claws and his face grow hair, forehead ridges and pointed teeth.

It was much easier to see the shapes through the red-hazed eyes of Alpha.

Not that it helped much as they were still too fast to get a proper look. Scott stepped in and swiped his claws at one that came at him from the side. His claws went through it and he stumbled as he encountered less resistance than he'd expected. The shape shimmered slightly, but continued on past him as though he hadn't touched it at all. Bewildered, he looked down at his claws. There was no blood, no sign that he'd cut through anything.

He looked to Isaac to see if he was having any luck. Isaac was fully transformed, growling at the quickly-moving shadows. Scott watched as the other werewolf struck out at them, watched as his claws sliced through the air and through the shape as though it were nothing more than a cloud of smoke.

Scott took a deep breath. Were these shadows even real? Maybe they were illusions.

He crouched down- and then darted to the side as one came right at his head. Snarling, he saw the next one coming and jumped, closing his arms around it as he tried to catch it. Cold. He fell to the ground with a dull thump he barely felt, his mind too preoccupied with the freezing lump that had suddenly lodged itself inside his torso.

“Scott!”

Kak kak kak

He tried to breathe, but his lungs felt stiff, frozen, air coming out of them in narrow wisps. His chest hurt: it felt heavy and hough his heart beat quickly, it felt constricted, encased in a layer of ice. Scott squeezed his eyes and fought the pain just as he fought for every breath, this ritual so familiar and yet so foreign since becoming a werewolf. Something was shaking him. He inhaled a scent that was full of fear, but friendly.

Dammit, he thought to himself, I'm an alpha: I'm supposed to be protecting them!

In his mind's eye he could see Stiles lifelessly slumped against a tree, Lydia hovering above him helplessly – she would protect him, he knew she would, but what could she do against creatures that not even the big, strong werewolves could hurt – and Isaac, scared but loyal, refusing to run when his friends were in danger. They were his friends, his pack. His to protect.

He dug a clawed hand into the earth beneath him and pushed against the pain, ignoring the cold lump in his chest. He was a werewolf; he was faster, stronger and could hold his breath for longer than before. He pushed himself up, feeling Isaac's presence at his back. He got to his feet, still feeling the ice around his heart, but also feeling suddenly stronger – it was with some surprise that he realized his limbs shook with exhaustion as much as they did with energy.

Suddenly, Isaac pulled him to the side. He looked up in time to see a shape dart through the spot they'd been standing in.

“Are you okay?” Isaac asked him.

Scott took a deep breath, noting how much easier it came. “Yeah, I'll be okay, thanks. Those things are definitely not harmless though.”

“Yeah, figured that out for myself.”

He held his arm out and Scott looked down to watch as an ugly jagged scratch slowly healed itself. His eyes widened and his head whipped over to Lydia and Stiles. Lydia was holding a large branch in front of her like a sword and swung it at the shapes as they came close.

Although, oddly enough there weren't many coming close to her. Scott didn't have time to think about that, however, as he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and ducked. He rolled to the side as a second whizzed past him, growling in annoyance and brandishing his claws against a third. Once again, they slid harmlessly through the dark shape.

“What the hell are these things?!” Isaac growled in frustration.

“I think they're spirits of some sort,” Lydia answered before Scott could.

Scott glanced to her in question. She noticed his look, but her eyes darted back and forth, watching for shapes coming at her. “They feel like death. Like Abigail did, only different. I don't think they're quite as powerful.”

“They don't need to be, there's so many of them,” Isaac grumbled.

Scott cried out as pain shot across his left leg. He looked down and saw a jagged cut. It was deep, right down to the flesh, and burned as though the blade had been heated first. Movement out of the corner of his eye had him dodging again. And then another was coming at him so Scott just let himself fall to the ground, saw it dart above him.

The trees ahead of him rustled and he flipped himself to his feet. He heard Isaac cry out in pain. Derek and Peter rushed out into the clearing. Scott blinked.

“What are you two doing here?” he asked.

Derek's eyebrows rose. “We came to take over guard duty,” he said and then ducked out of the way of an oncoming shadow.

“So much for a boring evening,” Peter quipped. “I even brought a book.”

“Depending on the book, it might be a better weapon than anything else we've tried,” said Isaac.

“Hm, as much as I do believe in the power of words, I-aah!”

Peter stumbled forward, a long cut blossoming across his shoulder. Next to him, Derek crouched and growled as he shifted into a werewolf. Peter hissed and tried to get a look at the cut. “How very unsportsmanlike,” he said. “And I liked this shirt.”

Derek stopped growling for a moment in order to raise an eyebrow at his uncle. “You've been working on the house in it all day.”

Peter rolled his eyes as he dodged a shadow. “Alright, fine, I don't actually care about this shirt; it just seemed like the thing to say.”

Then he, too, shifted and swiped at one of the on-coming shadows. He examined his hand for a few moments after it came up empty. “I don't think we're going to hurt them this way.”

“Funnily enough, we figured that part out for ourselves,” Scott said, growling in frustration as he dodged around two more shadows. “Anything else obvious you'd like to add?”

“Oh I don't know, Scott, you're the Alpha,” Peter drawled back and Scott could hear the amusement in his voice.

Scott growled in annoyance. That was not helpful at... oh. Of course. He was the Alpha and this was his territory – and they didn't really need to kill these things: chasing them away would do just fine too. He took a deep breath, pulling it into the werewolf within him, felt as it swirled inside until it was like a warm ball of bright red light, destroying every last bit of ice left by the shadow.

He threw his head back and howled. The earth echoed with his voice and the forest trembled.

When every last breath of sound had been forced from his throat, he lowered his head. The silence that fell across the clearing was as deafening as his howl had been. The forest around them was equally silent, not a single movement to be seen.

Lydia gasped.

Scott spun around, his claws up and teeth bared, power thrumming through his limbs. Thirst for the hunt was fresh and powerful in his veins. But Lydia's eyes were w