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A Suitable Gift

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Work was miserable. Stiles usually enjoyed his job, even in a small town with an appropriately low crime rate, Stiles still liked the excuse to be nosy, the access to official databases (even if they weren’t has helpful as he’d thought they would be) and the nearly unimpeded access to wherever he wanted to go in town. He liked that people trusted him. But Stiles wasn’t optimistic enough to believe that whatever was going on with the stag was over and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it until he had more to go on. A familiar foreboding was sending his blood fizzing through his veins and making it impossible to be still. He tapped his pen, jigged his leg up and down beneath his desk, and bit viciously at his nails. Espinoza looked about ready to murder him – though that may have actually been last ditch plan to avoid her own paperwork.

At two o’clock Stiles conceded that enough was enough and shut down his computer, putting aside the truly scintillating rash of missing pets for another day. Derek was still in town, and Stiles still didn’t know why. Time to stop being a coward. The sooner Stiles found out why Derek was here, the sooner he could get Derek to leave, and the sooner Derek left…well. Stiles would figure out what that meant.

Driving through town, he took pity on himself and bought another caramel mocha entirely so he would have something to do with his hands when he got to the Den. When he arrived, Stiles didn’t bother to knock. Sure enough, one of Alpha Schwartz’s grandchildren popped up out of nowhere. Verity was tall for her age, thin, pale, and disturbingly quiet. Of course, you could hardly expect anything different when her parents had named her Verity. Her sister’s name was Wilhelmina. Cruel parents.

True to nature, she pointed silently towards Alpha Schwartz’s study. Stiles grinned and ruffled her stick-straight hair as he passed. “Thanks, Very!”

He caught her small, quiet smile out of the corner of his eye.

In the study, Stiles was obviously interrupting something. Alpha Schwartz, Bear, Isaac, and Derek were gathered there, which was convenient for Stiles. They were all standing, radiating tension at each other, despite Alpha Schwartz’s very comfortable chairs. Stiles flopped into one such chair and forced his hands to stay closed around his cardboard cup of caffeine and sugar.

Alpha Schwartz sauntered over and plucked it out of his grasp only to hand it immediately back, grimacing around her stolen mouthful. Stiles took a long, smug sip. Alpha Schwartz leaned against the edge of her desk, folding her arms across her chest.

“Nice of you to join us, Stiles,” she drawled.

Bear claimed the seat next to him. Derek, typically, moved to stand menacingly behind Stiles’ chair, and Isaac hovered over a third chair, obviously unsure of whether or not he should be sitting or standing in this display of posturing the other wolves were indulging in.

“Sit down, Isaac,” said Stiles. “We’ll probably be here awhile.” Isaac sat, sheepishly.

“So, what are we talking about?” Stiles asked with false cheer, his leg already starting its jigging again.

“We need to make a search of the surrounding forest,” said Derek, as abrupt as Stiles remembered.

“As I said, we already have –” started Bear, annoyance cracking his usual patience.

“What, five wolves in the forestry service? With how many humans? You don’t even know what you’re looking for.” Derek wasn’t bothering to try and turn his scorn into something more polite. Stiles sighed. He really should have come by yesterday, if only to play referee.

“This is our land,” Bear was saying. “We would know if –”

“Isaac and I have been tracking these deaths for over a thousand miles –”

“Those were human deaths!” Stiles sat up as Bear continued. “We’ve only had one dead stag.”

“So far,” said Derek, and Stiles couldn’t help but agree with the sentiment. And of course. Of course Derek’s sudden appearance and the stag were somehow related. His half entertained dreams of quick solutions to both problems popped like soap bubbles.

“What do you mean you’ve been tracking deaths for a thousand miles?” asked Stiles into the tiny pause before Bear started speaking again.

“Alpha Hale has been following a series of deaths –”

“Murders.”

“–that he believes to be murders perpetrated by the Fae,” finished Alpha Schwartz, ignoring Derek’s interruption.

Stiles slumped again, muttering “I fucking hate the Fae,” under his breath. “I’m going to need the details of those deaths,” he said, louder. He absently began shredding the sleeve on his coffee cup. He could feel Derek’s eyes itching at the back of his head.

Alpha Schwartz was watching him as well. “You believe there is merit to Alpha Hale’s claims? Very well.” She turned her regard on Derek. “If you will advise us as to what we should be looking for, I will have my pack sweep our lands.”

Stiles shook his head. “With all due respect, Alpha Schwartz—”

“–Amelia.”

“Amelia. Meadow Vale is beautiful and secluded and peaceful. You’re not used to dealing with anything more menacing than a few stray hunters. You need Derek–and Isaac–on this.”

“Why?”

“Because Beacon Hills isconstant danger, and fear, and betrayal. It’s a warzone, and if this is the Fae, you need wolves who know what that means.”

“Is that why you left?”

Stiles froze. Bear was looking at him, solemn and sympathetic and waiting for his answer.

Stiles swallowed and said quietly, “No.”

If anything, he had missed it.

Alpha Schwartz cleared her throat and turned away from the expression on her Second’s face. “Well, I suggest the four of you get a move on, then. There’s a storm rolling in tomorrow, so you’ll need to cover as much ground as quick as you can.”

“Wait, what do you mean ‘the four of you’?” asked Stiles, suspicious.

Alpha Schwartz huffed. “You may have vouched for them, but I am not giving another alpha and his beta unlimited access to my territory without sending members of my pack to accompany them.”

Stiles scowled. “I ’m not pack .”

Alpha Schwartz rolled her eyes, as unimpressed with the argument as ever. “But you are an allied magic practitioner.”

“So’s Magda.”

“Magda is seventy-five years old.”

Stiles snorted. Magda might be seventy-five, but she was hardly the frail, doddering old woman she pretended to be when it suited her. Stiles had no doubt that she would weather a winter hike through the forest just fine.

Alpha Schwartz grinned ruefully at whatever Stile’s face was doing. “Besides, she already refused. Now, there are boots and gear for you in the foyer, and Jamie can stay here for the evening.”

Stiles folded his arms and refused to budge from his seat. “If you were sure enough about this little expedition to ask Magda about it and get gear for me, why is everyone still here?”

“I keep gear for everyone in the pack here—”

“I’m not—”

“Pack. Yes, you said that already.” She showed her teeth in an approximation of a smile. “We were waiting on you getting your head out of your ass. It still seems to be firmly lodged, but we’ll take what we can get. Jamie’s out on the front lawn with the other kids if you want to speak with him before you leave.”

Resigning himself to defeat, Stiles rose just as Isaac, silent until then, seemed to catch up with what Alpha Schwartz had said. “’Jamie’ is your kid? How the hell do you have a kid?”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “How do people usually have kids, Isaac? Who did you think Jamie was?”

Isaac flushed and muttered, “I thought she was your dog or something.”

He is my son. Jamie is short for James.” Stiles very carefully didn’t look to where Derek was standing close to him as he made that last soft admission. He escaped before anything else could be said and let himself out onto the porch.

Stiles leaned his elbows on the railing and let his coffee dangle loosely from one hand. The cold snapped at his bare hands, but he left his gloves in his pocket. Meadow Vale Elementary let out early on Fridays, some quirk of scheduling Stiles didn’t pretend to understand. A couple of the moms rounded up all the kids that belonged to the Pack and ferried them to the Den for an end of the week melee.

Jamie was at the far edge of the lawn where it faded into the tree line, stalking a pre-teen who was too busy lobbing snowballs at his friends to notice Jamie. Some of Stiles’ sour mood lifted as he watched Jamie crouch in the shadows, preparing to pounce on the older kid’s back.

 

 

A shock of sound interrupted, terrifying and familiar.

 

A scream.

 

Stiles whited out.

 

Then he was across the lawn, a warm weight in his arms; tiny claws digging into his shoulders, leaving holes in another suit and pinpricks of blood on his shirt. His overcoat came off and Stiles draped it over and around Jamie; a borrowed instinct to envelop him inscent and hide him from sight.

Stiles raised his face from where he’d pressed it into Jamie’s hair to get a look at the group of smirking, somewhat grubby, men. He was vaguely aware of the pack arranging itself at his back, pushing the children toward the house as the claws and fangs made an appearance. Even so, Stiles stood in his own clear island at their forefront.

“Okay, puppies. Here’s how this is going to go,” started the shortest of the hunters. There were only three of them, each carrying a rifle and not much else.

Amateurs, Stiles’ mind sneered.

“Shut up,” said Stiles, voice cracking out across the snow. He was calm now, perfectly still. No jigging leg, no twitching fingers, no restless gaze. No babbling. All that fizzing energy was incandescent in him now. Every Spark was different. And Stiles’ had always been a force of sheer will and imagination. It was pulsing now, in the still heart of his rage.

The hunter frowned. “That was a courtesy, in case you missed it. The next round will be laced with wolfsbane, if you don’t mind your manners.”

“A courtesy,” Stiles repeated. “So far, you have trespassed, recklessly endangered the lives of children, and issued an unprovoked threat. I think you ladies need to go back to finishing school.”

“Look, just get the fuck out of the way. You’re not what we want, but truth to tell we ain’t going to have much problem getting rid of another goddamn monster fucker.”

Stiles shook his head. “You assume I’m human just because I haven’t flashed any fang at you? I’m gonna do you a favor, since you’re clearly all too stupid to live.” He shifted Jamie’s weight and fished out his badge with his freed hand. “Detective Stilinski, MVPD. Consider this an official warning: you have twelve hours to get the hell off these lands before I arrest you.”

The hunters shifted, apparently bewildered to be losing ground. “You arrest us, and we’ll tell them everything. All about your secret little cult up here in the woods. We won’t even have to mention werewolves. I’d wager you don’t want a bunch of humans up here, poking their noses into things.”

Stiles laughed. He almost missed the Argents.

“The Schwartz family founded this town. They help run the church bake sale. They donate to the library. They’re pillars of the community. The only people in Meadow Vale who don’t know the big bad werewolf secret are the ones who don’t want to.”

The short hunter turned red with more than cold. He snarled. “You talk big, but I don’t think you can back it up.” His friends shuffled nervously, obviously no longer completely on board with their spokesman. “What if we decide we want to settle this here?” He cocked his rifle. “You gonna let your pets off their leash to fight?”

Stiles took half a step forward. The air warped around him, leaving a strange, rippling almost-wake. Potential surged under his skin. “You shot my son. I wouldn’t let anyone else touch you.”

One of the hunters fumbled his rifle and dropped it in the snow. Stiles grinned at him, felt the feral stretch of it.

The other two hunters closed ranks in front of their weaponless comrade. Stiles’ opinion of them rose fractionally. “You have twelve hours.”

The hunters left without much more than a few parting hateful glares. Once they were out of sight and far enough out of earshot, Stiles dropped to his knees, running his hands frantically over Jamie.

“Let me see, let me see,” he muttered as Jamie stood still, eyes reddened, sniffling periodically. Two of the pack glided past him into the trees. No doubt on their way to make sure the hunters found their way off Pack land.

Stiles found a tear in Jamie’s shirt high up on his right arm, dried blood flaking away from the unmarred skin. Stiles knew, he knew, that Jamie had, of course, healed. It didn’t stop him from staring at it, feeling his heart settle in its rhythm.

“Can we go home, now?”

“Yeah.” Stiles laughed breathlessly, leaning his forehead against Jamie’s. “Yeah, kiddo. Whatever you want.”

He gathered Jamie to him, replacing his coat around him. “Even peanut butter cookies?”

Stiles swallowed. “Of course.” Jamie could have as many cookies as he wanted. Stiles started across the lawn toward his car.

Bear, Isaac, and Derek caught up to him halfway. Bear was saying something about pack, the safety of the manor, and hiking. Stiles kept walking.

“Stiles!” Bear sounded exasperated. “Stiles, where are you going?”

“To make peanut butter cookies.”

Bear’s face folded into his ‘placate the human’ expression. All born werewolves had one, and Stiles was not a fan. “Stiles, I know this was upsetting, but Jamie’s fine, and he’ll be safe with the pack. We still have work to do.”

Stiles stopped. Turned. “My son just had a close encounter with a bullet and learned that there are people out there who want to kill him just for existing. We are going home and making peanut butter cookies.”

“With extra chocolate chips,” chimed in a hopeful voice.

Stiles smiled and it almost felt normal. “With extra chocolate chips.”

 

***

 

Stiles is realizing just how little fun being the sober friend is, but he pours Scott another drink anyway. Lydia’s grand, werewolf-inclusive Halloween party is just a week away and the sedative laced Everclear isn’t going to test itself.

The stuff is noxious. It smells like industrial grade solvent and Stiles is convinced that so much as a thimbleful will kill him. Scott’s polished off half the bottle. But the latest Beacon Hills Special has ended in more blood than tears and everyone is coping differently. Lydia is throwing herself into this party. And Scott has volunteered to try Stiles’ latest experiment.

Scott lists sideways, bumps into Stiles and curls a warm arm around him. “… an’ ‘slike we’re all monsters, y’know?” Stiles has been largely tuning out Scott’s maudlin rant, but now it’s being slurred directly into his ear. “We’re all monsters, even Alls’n. I love’r, but we’re all monsters, man.” Scott shifts his lolling head on Stiles’ shoulder and gazes intently at the side of Stiles’ face. “’cept you, St’ls. You’re th’real good guy.”

Stiles frowns and has to lean away a little to see Scott’s face, because what?

“Alright, buddy. You’ve definitely had enough.” He caps the Everclear.

Scott lurches to grab his shoulders, nearly tumbling them to the damp forest floor in the process. He stares into Stiles’ face with intoxicated ardor. “No, Stiles. You’re a good guy.” He says it like it’s the most important thing in the world. “You’re Batman.”

Stiles cracks up. “Dude, I appreciate it, but literally everyone knows that I am not the Dark Knight in this dynamic duo.”

Scott’s face scrunches briefly in confusion but clears almost immediately. “You, like, always have a plan, and you’re smart, and you don’ kill people…”

Stiles’ heart breaks a little. “Oh, hey, no. Scott…”

No, listen!” He gives Stiles an imperative shake that rattles his teeth. “You don’ kill people, an' you save everyone. You save everyone, even Jackson. An’ Derek! You hate Derek and you’ve saved him like five times.” Scott abruptly bursts into laughter and falls backward, hauling Stiles with him. “Derek’s Catwoman!”

Stiles has to laugh at that absurdity. “What?

“Yeah! No. Wait.” Scott is frowning again. “Derek is def’ntly the girl. ‘sthe girl Batman always has t’save.”

Stiles snorts at that, still chuckling. “Yeah, okay. Maybe I’m Batman.”

They lie there together quietly, Scott’s stupid werewolf metabolism pushing him toward sobriety now that he’s no longer drinking.

Stiles catches a gleam of red between the trees.

 

***

 

Stiles opened his door and fought the urge to shut it again. The sun had gone down and the snow had started falling sooner than predicted. Bear stood on the step, smiling hopefully, snow melting slowly in his hair as Derek and Isaac shifted doubtfully behind him.

“No,” said Stiles.

Bear, damn him, pulled out the face that clearly said Stiles might as well have gone and kicked all of the puppies in the world. “You aren’t going to make us spend the night out in this, are you?”

Stiles looked past them at the snowfall. It wasn’t quite a storm yet, though that could change quick enough. “There is nothing out there that is going to kill the three of you before you can make it back to the Den.”

“You don’t know that,” said Isaac, adding his own wide eyes to Bear’s. Derek seemed to be the only one not on board with the plan to prey on Stiles’ obvious weakness for sad, pathetic things.  

Stiles thought about the stag, about a trail of death over a thousand miles long, about the cold and the dark and the snow. Then he thought about Jamie in the kitchen, undoubtedly listening to every word that was said.

Stiles sighed and stepped back, opening the door wider. “Fine.”

Bear beamed and stepped across the threshold after knocking the worst of the snow from his boots. Isaac attempted to follow suit but was repulsed by a crackle of purple-blue energy.

Stiles admitted to a mean little thrill as Derek lunged for the threshold and met with more of the same. “Stiles!”

He rapped a knuckle on the doorframe. “Mountain Ash.”

Twin glares were turned on Bear, who shrugged. “I forgot. Stiles added me to his wards years ago.”

“That’s possible?” asked Isaac as Derek pressed a hand against the barrier, apparently checking for weaknesses.

“Of course it’s possible. My son is a werewolf, why would I put up wards around our house that he couldn’t get through?” said Stiles. “Stop that. If Magda can’t get through my wards if I don’t want her to, I doubt you can.”

“The old woman,” said Derek, voice flat and neglecting to pull his hand back.

“The practitioner who taught me and to whom this territory belongs.”

Derek grimaced but pulled his hand back. “Let us in Stiles.”

There had to be lessons on how to pack the maximum amount of entitled annoyance in a single phrase that all alphas took. Graduate courses on how to get the same effect in a single word.

Stiles shook his head. “House rules first.” Derek rolled his eyes. Stiles ignored his face and continued. “In here? I’m the alpha. I don’t care who’s a werewolf and who’s not. I don’t care about pack status. I’m Jamie’s dad. No one else gets to make decisions for or about him.” And all the gods that were and are and will be help whoever thought any different.

Derek and Isaac glanced at each other. Isaac shrugged. “Anything else?”

Stiles thought. “No complaining about the food. And pick up after yourself.”

“Is that it?” asked Derek in the tones of someone waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Stiles frowned. “Is there something else I should be worried about?”

“No?” tried Isaac.

“Okay then.” He reached up and pulled a small section of wood from the frame, breaking the circle of Mountain Ash. A temporary measure, but Stiles remembered werewolves in and out of his window, bleeding in his car, sleeping in his bed. He remembered being constantly on call, on alert. Stiles wasn’t ready to give them permanent access to his home again. He didn’t trust them that much. Not anymore.

Hurt flashed across Derek’s face like he couldn’t understand why Stiles was being so harsh. Which, typical. Like Stiles was the asshole here.

The door shut and Stiles headed back toward the kitchen, the wolves trailing after him. Jamie was standing on a chair at the counter, reaching for the platter of cookies. He froze, as though Stiles was somehow going to miss a three foot and change werewolf covered head to foot in flour attempting to unfairly pilfer more cookies. As Stiles raised his eyebrows, Jamie looked back over his shoulder, slowly. “Just one more?”

“No, you still have to eat dinner.”

“I haven’t had that many,” said Jamie, pouting as he hopped off the chair.

“You’ve had ten.”

Sensing a lost battle Jamie turned his attention to the men behind his dad. “Hi Mr. Bear. Who’re you?”

Derek looked mildly terrified at being addressed by a child. Isaac, however, crouched down and smiled at Jamie. “We’re friends of your dad.”

Jamie leaned forward and sniffed at Isaac. “You don’t smell like him.”

“That’s because we haven’t seen him in a long time. We’re still his friends though.” Isaac looked up at Stiles as he said it, like he was trying to impart some sort of deeper meaning than a simple explanation for a small child.

Before Stiles could come up with some sort of response to that, Jamie moved on to Derek. He did the whole sniffing routine again while Derek stood there looking uncomfortable. 

“You’re an alpha,” said Jamie, staring up at Derek. “I’ve never met another alpha besides Alpha Amelia before. Is it fun?”

Derek gave this some thought. “Sometimes. Mostly it’s a lot of responsibility.”

Jamie nodded, like this made perfect sense to his six year old brain. “Like a king.”

“A king,” said Derek, with a total lack of inflection.

“Yeah. And the betas are like your knights. ‘Cause knights have to do what the king says.” Derek stared at Jamie, at a loss of what to say to that reasoning.

“I have knights too,” continued Jamie proudly. “Come on, I’ll show you.” He took Derek’s lax hand and led him, unresisting, from the kitchen.

Stiles watched them go, bemused. A not so small part of him wanted to run after them and snatch Jamie away, hide him from sight. Double his wards and forget even the idea of being fair and responsible.

“He’s not going to hurt him,” said Isaac, breaking into Stiles’ thoughts. Isaac kept his voice low, but it was laced with its own hurt and disgust.

“What? I know that, I’m just…” Stiles cast around for a word that wasn’t too incriminating.

“Overprotective?” said Bear with a hint of humor.

Stiles grimaced. “Yeah.” He straightened himself from the slump he had fallen into. “you’re helping me with dinner.”

He’d been in the middle of making lasagna, but with three extra wolves to feed that wasn’t going to cut it unless he doubled the recipe. Which he did not have the supplies for. Luckily, what he did have was a larder and pack of werewolves that either thought he was incapable of feeing himself and his son or were attempting to woo him with gifts of meat.

Dinner wound up being a strange hodge-podge. Jamie, who tended to be shy pretty much anywhere else was more than willing to bask in the attention of the adults in his own territory. He sat between Stiles and Bear and lectured Isaac and Derek on the importance of crests. (How else are the other knights gonna know who you are?) Afterward, Stiles relented and let him have another cookie. He reasoned that trauma cookies were not governed by regular cookie rules. Then it was time for bed, which meant and bath, and then a book, and then a song because Jamie was strangely wound up. Perhaps allowing Jamie to eat eleven cookies, even in the face of traumatic events, was not the best idea. Anyway, he refused to be embarrassed over the fact that there was literally no way anyone downstairs had missed his impromptu rendition of Blackbird.

Stiles made his way back downstairs and dropped onto the sofa. He raised his hand when Derek opened his mouth to speak. “No shop talk until Jamie is actually asleep.”

Derek nodded and leaned back. They all sat there in awkward silence.

Bear stood abruptly. “Who wants a fire?”

Bear did not do well with awkward silence. He operated well under pressure, but at his core he just wanted everyone to get along and hated being around those who didn’t. Which was something he should have thought of before dragging Isaac and Derek over in a misguided and painfully obvious attempt at forcing Stiles down the road to closure.

“So, this is a nice place,” said Isaac as Bear fussed around the fireplace.

“Thanks. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it, especially when I was just starting, but I bought it from someone in the pack.”

“But I thought you weren’t pack?” Stiles couldn’t tell if Isaac was being disingenuous.

“I’m not. But Magda, their emissary, is my teacher. And it’s good for Jamie to be around other werewolves.”

Bear looked up from where he was arranging kindling. “The only reason you’re not pack is because you choose not to be.”

“We lowly human types usually have to marry into a pack. Last time I checked I did not see a ring on this finger.” Stiles looked down at his hands. Turned them both ways. “Nope. Still single.”

“Usually. Not always.” Bear smiled, sitting back on his heals. “Anyway, even if you did have to marry in, there are plenty of pack members who’d more than willing.”

“Name one.”

“Gertrude thinks you’re ‘scrumptious’. Her word, not mine.”

“She’s eighty-six!”

“And very spry for her age.”

“She baked me a pie,” moaned Stiles piteously.

Bear nodded solemnly. “It’s a well known fact that wolves court potential mates with food.”

Stiles snorted. Now that was ridiculous. They were werewolves, not actual animals. Besides, Bear brought him food all the time.

“So I’m a hit with the geriatric werewolf community. Awesome.”

Bear chuckled, standing up from the burgeoning fire. “I’m getting the cookies.”

Stiles waved a hand. “Go ahead. I think we made like four dozen. Hey, make some coffee while you’re in there.”

Bear wandered toward the kitchen, leaving Stiles alone with Isaac and Derek. Which, again. Awkward.

Isaac fidgeted, looked around, stared at the fire. “Why aren’t you pack?”

“Oh. Uh, I’m just not sure I could do the whole pack…thing.”

Isaac’s nose scrunched up in confusion. “Why not? You did before.”

“What do you mean I did before? I did not. I think I would remember joining a werewolf pack.”

“Apparently you don’t, because you were definitely a part of ours.”

“What? No I wasn’t.”

Yes, you were. What did you think all that life saving and training and enforced togetherness was?”

“Well, I mean, obviously you guys were—are a pack, but–“

“But what? Stiles, what else would you have been?”

“Scott’s pet human?”

“Stiles.” Derek spoke softly, yet firmly. “You were pack.”

“Yeah,” Isaac added. “Technically, you were pack before Scott was.”

“How do you figure that?”

“Well, you know Scott was always talking about how he didn’t need a pack and the bite being a curse and whatever. But you always just got on with researching and coming up with some bizarre plan. You were definitely pack before Scott.”

“But Erica hit me over the head with a piece of my own car! I got a concussion.”

Isaac shrugged. “Erica had anger issues. She’s much better now. She does yoga.”

“Yoga.”

Isaac nodded earnestly. “Anyway, that was before the whole pack thing happened.”

Stiles…didn’t really know what to do with any of that. He felt like his entire worldview had just taken a major hit. What the hell?

“Jamie’s asleep,” said Derek. Stiles closed his mouth and nodded. He levered himself up and headed into his office.

It was a small room, his desk, gun safe, bookshelves, and an apothecary cabinet all crammed inside. It really wasn’t anything like Magda’s workroom. Barren in comparison, and unscented. The only plants he kept on hand were various strains of wolfsbane and mountain ash. He did, however, have significantly more books. He rubbed a hand across the worn spines, greeting them like old friends.

When he got back to the sofa, laptop under one arm, Bear handed him a mug of coffee – dash of milk, three sugars – as he sat. He grabbed a cookie from the platter, waiting for his programs to open. He looked up at Derek.

“Start at the beginning.”

The good thing about interviewing Derek was he knew to go slow, be thorough and exact. There were no softening euphemisms, or pauses to collect himself. Just Derek’s steady voice laying down the facts in gruesome detail. It was like being in high school all over again.

The first murders, of course, took place in Beacon Hills. On a chilly February night five year old twins had been vivisected and left on the porch of the pack house for Derek to find first thing in the morning. Luckily for him the entire pack had been over providing an alibi that the police investigation was ultimately unable to break. It also meant that six werewolves had sat watching a movie while two children were brutally murdered not fifty feet away. Stiles shuddered. Last February Jamie had been five as well. Including the twins, there were fifty-two deaths Derek could account for. Each out of the way, bloody and marked by a complete lack of physical evidence. There was no followable victimology, no pattern, no timeline.

When Derek finally stopped speaking Stiles sat back, pinching the bridge of his nose. His eyes felt hot and gritty. He glanced at the time in the corner of his screen. He shut his laptop and stood, stretching. They’d been sitting there for three and a half hours. His head was stuffed full of gory detail and Derek’s emotionless voice, brief glimpses of Isaac’s haunted face.

“It’s past midnight, I’m going to bed.” Stiles gestured at Bear, who was pale and drawn. “You know where the extra blankets and pillows are.”